Monday, November 30, 2015

Blame it on Rio

It's never too soon to start tryouts for the 2016 Summer Olympics, being held next August in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.  One leading contender for the high jump team is Joseph Caputo, 22, of Stamford, Connecticut, who is appearing in federal court this morning after being arrested on Thanksgiving Day, a holiday he chose to celebrate by jumping the totally impenetrable fence surrounding the White House.

Always on the alert, the Secret Service dropped everything they were doing, and hauled young Caputo off to detention, shortly after he landed near Mrs Obama's vegetable patch, near where Sam Donaldson used to deliver his news reports while hoping his toupee would not blow off. 

Caputo's the first to jump the fence by using his own two feet since spikes were added to the fence in order to make it completely unjumpable.

The Secret Service, reeling from a cascade of news stories about drunken agents smashing up patrol cars and consorting with prostitutes, was quick to claim credit for tackling Caputo, and also wants us to know that the blimps that used to fly over Northeast Maryland only allowed one mailman from Florida to land on the White House grounds in a gyro-copter.  Later, one of the blimps decamped, and the other deflated quicker than the Ravens' playoff chances.

Apparently believing this to be a suicide mission, Caputo left behind a note reading, in part, "Death is a natural part of life. Rejoice for those around us who transform into the Force." 

I'm told that this is a reference to "Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith."  I wouldn't know anything about that.  I will shuffle off to Buffalo not having a second of my life invested in any Star Wars movie, anything to do with Star Trek, or Indiana Jones, or an pasted-together teen zombie romance with brooding pasty-faced romantic teen zombies.

Nor will you find me in DC wearing the American flag as a cape, carrying a flash drive in the shape of a Captain American shield, weightlifting gloves, or a pocket guide to the Constitution, all things Caputo had on his person when he leaped into history.

However, if I am apprehended and charged with aggravated pluralism, I can explain it if I am carrying a bag with CDs by Enya, Adele and Yo-Yo Ma. Trust me; they are gifts.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Sunday Rerun: The Department of Redundancy Department

Here's an interesting word: "tautology," defined as saying the same thing two or more times. The word comes from the Greek words “tauto” (the same) and “logos” (a word or an idea).  Saying that "applesauce is a sauce made of apples" would be an example.  

Dan Snyder owns the Washington team in the National Football League.  I'm not going to get into the whole thing about the team's name, which many people regard as offensive, but Snyder, whose name comes from the Greek words "Sny" (smug) and "der" (rich guy), is on the record as saying "The name of the team is the name of the team," which makes me wanna holla, and shout, and call out, and shriek.  Repetition is unnecessary and uncalled for.  Do you see what I mean, do you understand?

I'll tell you why that sort of verbal excess annoys me, and that's because it's usually done in an attempt to pose the speaker as some great thinker.  The first person who said, "It is what it is" must have thought they were really onto something.  Now it's the catchphrase for when we don't know what to say.  Your boss came in and laid down an order banning use of your personal social media during the workday? "It is what it is!"  You were making a nice roast for dinner but the timer didn't ding and now that rump roast is a smoldering cinder?  "It is what it is."  You wanted to have a picnic, but a tropical storm swept through your town?  "The weather is what the weather is."

This old songbook hangs around in my den,
where I do no algebra (and hardly any geometry!)
In my 10th grade Algebra II classroom, the teacher, Mr Dittmar, had a huge banner across the breadth of the chalkboard.  In freehand calligraphy, the banner read "Any number multiplied by zero equals zero." When I took Algebra II again that summer, that fact stuck with me, as it does today, every time I use algebra in my daily life. 2(3h-1)+4h=10(2-3h)+38h, you say?   That's a long way of saying "h=11."

Why not just say h=11 in the first place?

Saturday, November 28, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, November 25, 2015

I think we've all been in this get to somewhere really cool, but all the while, you're wondering how you're going to get out of it!
This is no way to make friends, but it will be snowy season here in Baltimore soon enough.  Time to gather tiny doll-sized hats, scarves and gloves to make a little snow family of your own!
In the tradition of overstuffed holiday go along with the Turducken (a chicken within a duck within a turkey) we present for your approval the piecaken: apple, pecan and pumpkin pies baked within a cake.  Your doctor said, "Go's fine!"
I don't know where this is, but it looks like the setting for one of those "It was a dark and stormy night" mystery stories!
A man in Russia decided that the best way to keep his money safe from thieves was to put it in plastic bags and hide the bags in his giant jars of raspberry compote.  But the juice turned so tart, the bags and the money dissolved!
Best part of Thanksgiving dinner is leftover sandwiches, with cranberry sauce and stuffing and turkey!  Ummmmmmmmmmm!
This had to be 1965 or '66.  If you don't remember the name "Norma Tanega," you certainly remember her big record, "Walking My Cat Named 'Dog' "!

A tobacco barn in Kentucky.  I saw on the news that medical science is working on a cure for HIV by growing certain proteins on tobacco plants, thereby giving a plant that has caused so much sickness over the years a chance to end so much sickness.  It's a remarkable world!

Friday, November 27, 2015

Adding injury to injury

It's a tough life if you are a player in the National Football League, especially for quarterbacks, who often find themselves being tossed around like sacks of flour by large men wearing different colored jerseys.

Or having their knee torn up by being rolled over by a large man wearing the same colored jersey.

Either way, it hurts to get hurt. We only get one brain, and because we are prone to conking ourselves, the brain was designed to be protected from impact by cerebral spinal fluid. But if you slam the melon hard enough, you get a concussion. That's when a blow to the head causes the brain to hit the skull.

The league has clear rules and protocols for when a player "gets his bell rung" and is staggering about on the field like your cousin Ronnie that time he was 13 and found some beer in the basement. That's how St Louis Rams quarterback Case Keenum looked in the closing minutes of Sunday's game against the Baltimore Ravens.

The policy is clear. Twenty or more medical staffers are paid to monitor players during games, and there is a spotter up in the press box who can stop the game, and have removed any player who needs to be checked for concussion.

So why did the Rams allow Keenum to grab his helmet (a sure sign of an aching head) and reel about woozily as the game was coming to end and they were trying to win over the Ravens?

"There is no TV replays on our sideline, and we did not see it on our Jumbotron," Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said. "Had we seen that, we would have taken a different course of action. But we were not aware of that."

So the League was holding a "mandatory conference call" the other day to holler at the athletic trainers. No one will ask Jeff Fisher to take time from his busy Grecian Formula-applying schedule to explain why he failed to replace the reeling Keenum for even one play. As it happened, Keenum was not at his best, and who knows if a substitute would have turned the ball over to Baltimore in the final minute, allowing the hapless Ravens to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?

And as that game wound down, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco suffered a serious knee injury at the hands, or more accurately at the feet, of a teammate who rolled back over him.  Flacco finished the last several plays, putting the Ravens in position to win with a field goal, even though he had a torn anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and a torn medial collateral ligament (MCL).

This meant that for the first time in his career, Flacco will miss games because of injury.  That's called being short on luck (SOL).

I wish him the best, and salute his courage.  Most of us would have been calling out sick with that sort of hurting.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Hip Huggers

Haggis, I guess
Lutefisk, I suppose
I have to realize that with every topic I might talk about here, there's a chance that someone out there might be...involved...with what I'm writing about.  For instance, I might talk about how I am not interested in eating haggis or lutefisk, but someone out there somewhere might be a big fan of "pudding containing sheep's pluck (heart, liver and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock" (that's haggis, a Scottish delicacy) or "dried whitefish treated with lye" (that would be the Minnesota favorite lutefisk).

If you're serving either of these gastronomic ghastlies, please include me out!

Now, then. (Ever wonder where that came from? Now is not then, nor is it right the other way around.)  At any rate (6.86%) I don't think I know anyone who has engaged the services of a professional cuddler.

They do exist. A fella named Evan Carp up in Pennsylvania opened it up a couple of years ago, and there are others in of them in Anne Arundel County, MD. 

Mr Carp has a disease that causes extreme pain in his hands and feet and was so alone that he said he only went out once a month, and that was to go to the doctor. He had heard of other cuddling operations around the country, felt that cuddling would help him in physical, emotional, and financial ways, and started a company to handle the business.  And it's going strong.

He now has 30 employees taking in $80 per hour ($400 all night) for totally platonic snuggling.  Most of them are women whose customers are men.

You might want to sit down and catch your breath after that news.

Lonely businessmen, widowers, people who just abandoned their campaigns for president: all of these types are naturals to part with 80 clams to lie down with a woman whose nails are drying anyway for the next hour.

They guarantee that nothing untoward happens at these cuddle palaces, and I believe it. It's just a sad, lonely world when people can't find other people willing to hold them in their arms for a while and listen to NPR or some old records or watch anything or work the Jumble ("That Scrambled Word Game").

Julie Swope, a psychologist, says there's a benefit to snuggling, and that it can change the brain. “It increases the endorphins, and endorphins are the substances that help us feel good, so we get a jolt, we get a glow, we get a smile” said Swope.

This is for all the lonely people.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Tale of Two Blood Samples

Peggy goes to the Q. Diagnostic Center:

The whole way over to Towson, her car is borne aloft by the wings of angels, and it seems to park itself in the giant garage, where a team of valets waits to detail the Corolla in the 4 minutes she will be away from it.

She steps into the lobby as a man in a big red coat and snappy uniform hat holds the door for her.  An elevator attendant has the car ready for her to step into.  A sofa is in the elevator for her to rest while she rides up four stories, and then she steps off the elevator just as a smiling employee holds the door, offers her a nice cold water and takes her right back into the blood draw area, which has opened long before the scheduled 7:30 start just because.

Robert Wagner, wearing a velvet blazer with a silk scarf and shirt, is there waiting for her with a dozen mixed roses.  They chat amiably during the 13 seconds it takes to select a vein and draw enough blood.  As she leaves the room, Celine Dion music is on the radio, and Peggy wafts back to the car on an ocean breeze of love and good feeling.  On the way home, cars seem to part like Moses and the Red Sea, and she is home in minutes.

Mark goes to the Q. Diagnostic Center:

Every nutball between here and Towson is out this morning, making left turns from the right lane, pulling out of Dunkin Dognuts with a Bavarian Creme in their right hand and a Mocha Chocolata YaYa in the other while steering with their knees, and speeding like it's Indianapolis.  OF COURSE the person pulling into the garage ahead of me miscalculates how to pull up to the parking ticket dispenser, so they have to get out and take 20 minutes to get their ticket.  Once parked, I get in the elevator and get to the blood center at 0704.  Minutes later, a lady comes along to be second in line, but she asks if I am in a hurry because SHE has to go to work and it doesn't look like I have to. And then along comes a senior couple, and the lady starts jawing with them about how there didn't used to be a bench to sit on but now there is and her daughter moved back in with her two kids and a baby and the dogs and she had to teach her daughter how to roast a turkey so they did that yesterday and for Thanksgiving she is making the Lithuanian side dish that everyone loves so much, and also a pie, but pumpkin this year because apple is too sugary, and we had a pecan pie and we were going to freeze 1/2 of it but we kept eating until there wasn't enough to freeze and isn't a shame about Joe Flacco.

They run through every vegetable, appetizer, side dish and entree that has ever been served at any Thanksgiving dinner.  Of course, because I have to fast, hearing about great heaping plates spilling over with turkey and mashed potatoes and gravy does not bother me a bit.

The receptionist opens the door at precisely 7:30 and we file in. No phlebotomist is around, but she walks in at 0733 with a cheery greeting for her coworker ("What you opening early for?" "I didn't!") and five minutes later calls me back with this pleasant invitation ("Clark!  Room 1!").

"In The Air Tonight," the most deadly horrible of all the awful songs in the Phil Collins canon, is pounding off the walls and into my ears as I sit gently upon the Throne Of Blood.  The phlebotomist can't get enough red stuff out of my right arm and mumbles that I need to drink more.

Finally! Just what I've been waiting to hear!  And from a medical professional, no less.  I go home and take her advice.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Fun and Games in Pittsburgh

Oakland Raiders player Aravious "Ray-Ray" Armstrong, 24, is in trouble in Pennsylvania. His offense?  He lifted his jersey and pounded his chest at a dog who was attending the game at mustard-colored Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.

To be correct, the dog was at the game because he is a police K-9 pooch whose handler was on duty there. I mean, who would choose to go to a game there?

It is a third degree felony in that state to taunt a police dog.

Deputy Maria Watts told a Pittsburgh TV station that Armstrong was hollering, "Hey dog!  Hey dog!" as he came out of the locker room for the pregame merriment.  The dog, known as Bandit, became agitated at this, so Armstrong toyed with it a bit more. And then Deputy Watts filed charges.

This increased the dog's angst level, which was already considerable to begin with that day, considering that Michael Vick was also there.

Two things about this:  a) when I walk around our neighborhood I encounter two dogs within fences who bark their fool heads off as I ankle by.  My customary reaction is to bark back at them.  I speak fluent dog.  And this generally settles them down, as they are not used to having people speak their language.

2) it is so good to know that all the crime in Pixburgh is under control and that no miscreants are at large, thus allowing Deputy Watts to pursue felony charges against a man for speaking to a dog. 

My free advice to Ray-Ray's attorney would be to point out that Bandit The Dog needs glasses, so how can we be sure that Armstrong is the one who called him a dog?

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Rerun: Book 'Em!

My dear friend Amanda Sheridan-Stokely, as kind a person as there is on this earth, challenged me to name ten books that have stayed with me. Well, I sat down and listed ten books without even blinking, and then, with a moment's thought, typed five more titles and thought I'd better slow down.  Sorry to exceed the request, but books are my friends, and have been since I figured out that's where all the information was. Who can limit the number of friends they love?

My list follows:
The Catcher In The Rye - J.D. Salinger Show me a teenager who hasn't read this, and I'll show you a teenager who hasn't read it yet. It sums up everything there is to say about being between Phoebe's age and Holden Caulfield's parents' ages, with nod to the ageless Allie, somewhere between the two forever.

The Ring Lardner Reader - Ring Lardner The master of American colloquial writing, Lardner was an expert chronicler of baseball, war, and life among the hopeful and hopeless.

How To Talk Dirty and Influence People - Lenny Bruce -When I was a kid, people said Lenny was a "dirty" comedian, which is like describing the Mona Lisa as an "old" painting.  Lenny skewered the hypocrites, the racists, and the warmongers like they had never been skewered before or since.

Up In The Old Hotel - Joseph Mitchell - Mitchell wrote for The New Yorker about life on the more seedy and salty sides of New York from 1938 - 1964, although he remained in the employ of the magazine until his death in 1996. He suffered 32 years of writer's block, never publishing another word after his final book, "Joe Gould's Secret."  Fascinating man.

In Cold Blood - Truman Capote - Capote took the notion of writing about a real crime as if it were a novel in the story of the murders of the Clutter family in Kansas in 1959. Not a whodunit or a how-did-he-do-it, more of an example of great writing and investigation.

Yes, I Can - Sammy Davis, Jr. - If this story of a man who never attended school or had formal instruction in singing, dancing, acting, doing impressions or playing music, and yet became a master of all those arts, had been fiction, people would have considered it too far-fetched. There was only one Sammy, the man who once said "There are only three people who matter to me: Sammy, Davis, and Junior."

The Keillor Reader - Garrison Keillor - The Bard of Lake Wobegon recently published this collection of radio transcripts, speeches, newspaper columns and the like.  A multi-talented man, much like Sammy, but with the ego pointing inwardly.

Washington Goes to War - David Brinkley - Longtime NBC news anchor, and the man for whom the word "wry" seems to have been invented, wrote about DC in the World War II era.  His autobiography is also fascinating, if only for being the only autobiography I can recall by a person who said his mother just didn't seem to like him very much.  Hey, I guess it happens.

Chips Off The Old Benchley - Robert Benchley - Essayist, Broadway critic for The New Yorker, movie actor, and wit. In all his comic essays, he portrayed himself as a whimsical semi-fool, hiding the fact that in real life he was a serial philanderer and serious alcoholic.  I'm grateful for not having known that when I fell in love with the words of the bumbling semi-fool.

On The Road - Jack Kerouac - The beatnik bible, the story of the man who fell under the spell of wanderlust in postwar America and started an entire new trend in writing.

The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby - Tom Wolfe - speaking of new trends in writing, this is the first volume collecting former newspaperman Wolfe's writings as he led the way into the New Journalism - telling the facts with pizzaz and lots of onomatopoeia.  Bang!  Zoom! You gotta read this book! Here is one sentence from his article on stock car racer/moonshiner Junior Johnson: "Cars, miles of cars, in every direction, millions of cars, pastel cars, aqua green, aqua blue, aqua beige, aqua buff, aqua dawn, aqua dusk, aqua Malacca, Malacca lacquer, Cloud lavender, Assassin pink, Rake-a-cheek raspberry, Nude Strand coral, Honest Thrill orange, and Baby Fawn Lust cream-colored cars are all going to the stock car races, and that old mothering North Carolina sun keeps exploding off the windshields."  Not the sort of writing we had seen before.

Crackpot: The Obsessions of John Waters - John Waters - Baltimore's gift to oddball living shows his versatility: filmmaker-turned-essayist.

The Entertainer - Margaret Talbot - I love this book, written by New Yorker staff writer Talbot about her father, character actor Lyle Talbot, the eternal sidekick in movies and TV (and also father of Stephen Talbot, who played Gilbert on "Leave It To Beaver" and is now an award-winning documentarian). Lyle's career began in tent shows and medicine shows and circuses, and the story is the story of American show business in the 20th Century seen through the eyes of someone who worked in most aspects of that business.

The Little Engine That Could - Platt and Munk - The first book I ever read, and it gave me encouragement to read more, so I haven't stopped.

Webster's Dictionary - Noah Webster et al -  Because, every word in the other books is in this one, too.  It's just a matter of arranging them nicely.

And now that I finish, I realize I left out Jean Shepherd, John Updike, Studs Terkel, Roger Kahn, E.B. White, and dozens of authors I also love.   

Let's do this again soon!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, November 21, 2015

50% of the people who live in our house love accordion music.  I even have a CD called "Legends of Accordion." Nothing beats a squeezbox for fun music, and yet, here's what some people do to a helpless accordion.
Grapes are such a versatile fruit.  They can turn into alcohol (wine) or just a plain beverage (grape juice) but I like them best when they get jammed up with peanut butter on a sammidge.
When the miracle of TV came along, and flickering black-and-white images on a tiny screen were the top of the line in techno, who would have dreamed that in a few decades we could still see football played on a screen that was almost lifesize?
I love the impedimenta of ceremonies, like the giant check that charities receive as donor and recipient grip and grin, and also these huge scissors that they use in our county to cut the ribbons to open a new road that was built solely to help me get to Geresbeck's faster.
Thanksgiving dinner by Rockwell...but does anyone understand why they would carve the bird at the table?  Makes more sense to slice it up in the kitchen and put it on a platter, but that's just me...
A friend asked me for a recommendation for a romance movie. There's never been a better one than "Casablanca," if you ask me.
Traveling this week, are you?  Happy Thanksgiving!  Tell Mr Griffith I said hi, if you meet him on the road...
I've been eating sweet potato pie since before Patti LaBelle was a Bluebell, and for my money, it's better than pumpkin pie any day...especially this Thursday!

Friday, November 20, 2015

He's no hero

The bland food options offered in federal prisons are unlikely to appetize the Subway pitchman.
Dinner is served...

When Jared Fogle was arrested earlier this year, Peggy and I looked at each in the same way that millions of others looked at it. We knew he was nerdy; we didn't figure on the pervy part.

But off he goes now for 15 years in the federal prison system, after committing sex crimes that would make both Caligula and Charlie Sheen cringe and shudder with dismay. 

There will be no Subway subs, no five-dollar foot loooooooongs, for Fogle until the year 2030.  The BMT will not be stopping by his cell.  As it said in the New York Daily News, "(t)he Federal Bureau of Prisons’ national menu only offers a bland buffet of daily options that make a Subway restaurant seem like five-star dining."

If you're new to the story, the sandwich chain was paying Fogle a king's ransom for advertising their products, since he said their turkey and veggie subs helped him pull down a 245-pound weight loss. Turns out he was pulling all our chains.

But in the Big House, he'll be served about 2,200 calories a day, more than he'd be getting on his old diet, and more than Dr Oz would recommend also.

But while he sits and stews and doesn't get to eat stew, it might be good if he beefs up a little more, because his attorney said in court that losing all that weight set off "insatiable hyper-sexuality." And what recourse does a hypersexual have, but to get into kiddie porn and sex with children?   

He'll be seeing a lot of bean soup and baked fish, boiled eggs and PB & Js for the next decade and a half.

I'm no expert in this matter, so all I can say is, if losing weight gets us all that worked up, maybe we all should keep our fat pants on. 

Poor Jared will be dressed in orange for fifteen years. I hope it seems to take 15 decades.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hu said coffee is good for you?

Everyone's got a deal, and here is mine: It's just like the weather...if you hear something is bad for you, wait ten minutes and someone else will come along and tell you it's ok.

Red meat bad!  No, red meat is ok as long as you don't grill it! Wait a while; red meat is ok but chicken is bad and eggs are worse!  Undercooked pork used to be bad and we were told we'd get lockjaw, and maybe some of us should have, but trichinosis turned out to be less of a threat to us than slipping on banana peels, which was a staple of cartoon fun, but you never saw it happen to anyone in real life.

And now, for those who were told that coffee and its caffeine would send you to the Pearly Gates Starbucks way too soon, you can sip easily. Harvard University did a study and they say that coffee drinkers are likely to live longer.  They followed 200,000 java junkies for almost 30 years and find that those who guzzled 3 to 5 cups per day had a lower mortality rate - up to 15 percent lower! - than those who made do with Postum or water or whatever.

Frank Hu, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H, is the author of the study, and he says the reason for this kick in the years is a powerful antioxidant called chlorogenic acid, which is super abundant in coffee.

Dr Hu also says that those who average swallowing half a Big Box of Joe from Dunkin Donuts are 37 percent less likely to die from a neurodegenerative disease such Parkinson's, and 36 percent less likely to die from suicide, compared to nondrinkers.

Insert obvious joke about people who can't get their coffee fix ending their lives way too soon...

Dopamine seems to be the key here...all that coffee produces a ton of dopamine for you, and a large feature of Parkinson's is a lower level of dopamine, the chemical that plays a large part in both animal and plant lives. And plenty of dopamine means plenty of nerve transmitters in your brain, and that produces an antidepressant effect. And that's a good thing.

Dr Hu did not answer the puzzling question about what would happen to a person who drinks coffee while listening to Adele. For some, that's really having it all!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Going my way?

After we got our pneumonia shots the other day (retirement is a continuing series of thrills!), Peggy and I headed down to my old high school to walk around the track four times and get fresh air and exercise.

As I love to do, I reminisced about my high school days, and showed Peggy where the sub shop and delicatessen called Smetana's used to stand on York Rd.  And how, after detention, I would hurry to get there to join the crowd for a cold cut sub, chips and soda, and how after that I would walk up to Read's Drugstore for an ice cream before cutting through Hutzler's and Towson Plaza so I could get to Goucher Boulevard and Providence Road and hitchhike home for supper.

By the way, I weighed 140 lbs at the time, and had to run around in the shower to get wet.  I could not drink from a straw, lest I fall in.

Anyway, that word hung heavy in the air. Hitchhike! When is the last time you saw someone hitchhiking around here?  Man oh man, the time was that you would see guys and the occasional teenaged girl with their right arm and thumb akimbo, waiting for a ride from a suburban mom in a Buick Estate Wagon, a businessman with time to tell a young person his theories about personal and business success ("And one thing I learned from taking that course is, no matter what you think you're selling, be it cars or buggy whips, you're really selling yourself !"), or a three-time loser with nothing else to lose, driving a stolen Dodge.

Sorry.  That last one was from Dragnet.

Maybe this kind of movie ruined everything
If you moms of teenagers can even think of it, yes, there was a time when we got around by hopping into cars driven by total strangers, without a cell phone or tracking device of any sort on us for our parents or Inspector Flanagan from Police Headquarters to track us with. I know the last time I saw someone thumbing a ride, gas was about 45 cents a gallon but I still didn't pick the guy up.

Frankly, I don't know who stopped hitchhiking first - the kids who were afraid to get in the car of Harry Homicide, or the innocent driver scared to death to stop for Stanley Slasher with his algebra book and his looseleaf notebook with "ME + YOU = ?" on the front in magic marker.

Good times.  Good times.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


It happens every so often and it always makes me smile.

I saw a lady I know, mother of a teenager, mention the other day her son was learning to "drive a stick," which is slang for learning to drive a car with a manual transmission.  Literalists would think that the poor kid is trying to get around town on a broken branch, and how would that look?

She did mention that he stalled the car once. Hey, it happens to the best of us.

I learned to drive on a 1960 Volkswagen, one of the first cars equipped with "260" air conditioning (roll down 2 windows and drive at 60 mph.) It had a manual transmission...four on the floor, plus a handy reverse gear to get out of parking spaces and driveways.

What's really handy about a manual transmission, and I don't know that many people realize this, but you can start a stick-equipped car with a dead battery by getting it to the top of a small hill, letting it roll down in neutral with the clutch engaged and the transmission in 1st gear, and then popping the clutch once the car gains a little speed. Of course, getting your brokedown car to the top of the hill requires three other guys... I did this plenty of times before I came up with the scratch to buy a battery from the Pep Boys.

And this was so long ago, Manny was still smoking!

Now, the only Manny who matters is Machado, and I don't know what he drives, but I think everyone should learn to drive a stick...and then not drive a stick.  Sure, it's fun when you first get a truck or car, yanking that lever, pushing in the clutch, letting out that clutch...and that's just your left leg.  Your right leg is working the gas.  Your right arm is working the radio or holding a soda, and there is some steering being done by the left hand, which is also holding a taco or an electric razor or a mascara wand.

And then, after a month or less, shifting gears every three seconds is far less fun than it was when you were playing Indy Champ video games, and you are ready for an automatic transmission.  

But you won't forget how to drive a stick! I once had to borrow a buddy's truck to haul home some paneling from Hechinger's, and first I had to jump start it, and then I remembered how to shift, after 17 years of being shiftless. 

It's like falling off a bike. You never forget how!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Is that a Balsam, Fir, or Pine tree? I can't deciduous.

You know, one lawn chore I really don't mind doing is raking leaves.  We don't have that many leaves because we don't exactly have a forest of trees here at the Lazy 'C' Ranch, you understand, but when they come down, they have to meet their fortune at the hands of a rake.

It's my long-held contention that most leaves that people rake are not their own.  A lot of what's on your yard right now belongs to your neighbor's maple or elm or ash or pecan (Southern US only) tree. But it all works out, because YOUR leaves wind up next door, or around the corner.  And then someone else is raking them up.

Next time you find yourself raking up the pieces of tree remains that cover your yard in a foot-deep river, here are some leaf vocabulary words to run over in your mind. 

The abscission layer is the barrier of special cells created at the base of petioles in autumn.  The petiole, as any schoolkid knows, is the stalk connecting the blade of a leaf to the stem.

Now, where's a schoolkid, preferably one with a rake, now that the leaves are all over the yard?  Oh, that's right, they're up at the school, learning about abscission layers and petioles and I don't know what-all else.

The forest gumps who know about these things estimate that the average big oak tree dumps 254,480 leaves on an unwilling homeowner, all of which have to be scooped up and put in XXX large plastic bags.  These bags are sold in packs of 24 and come with cuts and rips in them, made by the guy who boxes them up at the factory, so that just after you fill them up with leaves, the bag breaks, and leaves spill all over the yard.

Just so's you know, he used to work for the Trojan company, doing the same work...

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Sunday Rerun: Don't Talk Back!

You like to sing in the car, don't you?  Come on!  I see you at stop lights and making sharp turns, belting out a medley of Broadway show tunes, country classics and rock 'n' rollers.  I do too.  It's amazing how great I sound in the truck, and I always think some sharpie ought to hook up a recorder in here and really make some fine records.  Of me singing along with someone else's records.

To someone else's songs.  Just think of how great it would be if we could compose a lilting melody and smart lyrics of our own!  Just think, if we had a happy day and were in the Biscayne heading home and could just write a happy-day song about it all!  How great would that be!

Also great: being Jerry Leiber, who, along with partner Mike Stoller, wrote a few songs you might have heard over the years.  A few!  Such as, for starters:

"There Goes My Baby"
"Hound Dog"
"Kansas City"
"Smokey Joe's Cafe"
"Yakety Yak"
"Poison Ivy"
"Charlie Brown"
"Ruby Baby"
"Stand By Me"
"Jailhouse Rock"
"Love Potion No. 9"
"Young Blood"
"Is That All There Is?"
"I'm a Woman"
"On Broadway"
 Baltimore claims Jerry Leiber as a native son, although he didn't hang around here for long.  In fact, he was in Los Angeles, finishing high school in 1950, when he met Stoller and began their collaboration with the tender love ballad "Real Ugly Woman."  (They got better after that.)

Leiber and Stoller wrote "Hound Dog" for the King (left) and also gave him "Love Me," "Loving You," "Don't," "Jailhouse Rock" and "King Creole."

Leiber and Stoller were among the crowd that made what's called "Brill Building" music.  The Brill Building is an office building on Broadway in fashionable New York City, where songwriters sat around all day in the 60's - people such as Carole King and Gerry Goffin, Neil Sedaka, Burt Bacharach and Hal David, Neil Diamond, and Ellie Greenwich and Jeff Barry - and wrote songs that got lots of dimes dropped into lots of jukeboxes in lots of malt shops. You've done songs like "Be My Baby," "Save the Last Dance for Me," "Stand by Me," "Up on the Roof" and "On Broadway" while you were nowhere near Broadway!  But I bet you were somebody's baby, up on the roof dancing with him or her one summer night, and those songs remind you of the then that is always part of the now.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, November 14, 2015

This guy is running for president at the Elks Lodge on a platform of deporting 11 million moose (mooses??)  He promises to be fabulous if elected!
Vending machine people will tell you that people get crushed by tilting the machine to get what they paid for. But what are we to do? NOT have our Diet Mt Dew?  This machine is doing someone a favor!
This man's name is Jimmie Nicol.  In 1964 at the very crest of Beatlemania, the Beatles were on tour in Australia, and Ringo Starr took ill with tonsillitis.  They sent home to England for a fill-in and Jimmie got the job, flew off down under to do 8 shows as a drummer in 10 days, and here he is at the airport in Sydney, about to fly back to oblivion, except that he is still an answer in trivia games along with Carroll Hardy (the only guy to pinch hit for Ted Williams) and Wally Pipp (the guy who took off for a headache and lost his job to Lou Gehrig.)
I firmly believe that these pyramids were built as burial sites for Egyptian pharaohs. Of carson, I might be wrong. I've ben wrong before.
This mosaic of the Great Seal of the US is at a park in Anthem, AZ, and was so constructed that every year on Veterans' Day at 11:11 AM (the time of the signing of the Armistice of World War I) the sun perfectly illuminates the seal.
This is York Rd, the Main Street of my old hometown of Towson, Maryland.  They are always building something new, and I miss the way it used to be. They say that in the old days, you could roll a bowling ball down this street after 8 at night and never hit a person or a car.
If you've never had oyster stuffing for your turkey dinner, you don't want to wait another year.  "They ain't nothing like it," as we say.
In 1964, 2 semolians got you a lot of music! The Kingsmen did "Louie Louie" and "The Jolly Green Giant," Jimmy Griffin went on to co-found Bread, Freddie "Boom Boom" Cannon did "Tallahassee Lassie" and "Transistor Sister" and the Beach Boys did all right for themselves too.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Ad nausea

I heard an intelligent Baltimore County Police Officer, Officer Bridges, talking to NPR about the duties and limits of being a school resource officer, in the wake of the incident down south where an SRO dragged a young woman out of her chair in an alarmingly brutal fashion.

Officer Bridges correctly pointed out that classroom discipline is not the purpose of school police.  The teacher who cannot handle his or her own students ought to find another line of work.  

And he said that he and his colleagues are trained to deal with adolescents, and reminded that the mind is not totally formed until the age of 21.

I bring this up because one of two things happened in the advertising people of Bloomingdale's, the big deal department store in Gotham. It's either that they hired a 13-year old to write the copy for their Christmas catalog, or the person who did write the words for the picture below is, indeed, above 21 years, supposedly educated, but insufficiently mature to realize that date rape is not so funny.

You realize that most of advertising is based on the power of suggestion. As in, just plunk down some money and make a few dozen lucky choices among football players, and make $137 million.  Or use a certain brand of makeup and have strangers mistake you for Christie Brinkley.  Or drink more beer and have more friends than can fit into a stadium.

Or be a sneaky perv and surreptitiously put alcohol in a woman's holiday egg nog so you can lower her inhibition and decision-making ability and have your filthy way with her, because you know she would never have you if she were stone cold sober.

It's a shame that whoever wrote this and decided to have a Robin Thicke lookalike pose for it doesn't know any better, but (most of) the rest of us have moved along and do not approve of drugging women in order to seduce them.

Of course, once this was pointed out to the Bloomingdale's bigwigs, they about broke their necks to tweet the following: 
So did they also send this ephebic, unsophisticated copy writer back to school for some growing up?  We'll have to see if their spring catalog recommends throwing mud on girls on the playground.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Dream a little dream with me

I really should give up snacking on nuts and sesame stix, because my nights and naps are filled with the craziest dreams anymore.

Take the other night.  Please. 

I woke up thrashing about, having just nightmared that ET came back.  At first, when I heard ET was coming back, I thought, great! The more Ernest Tubb, the better.

But no, it wasn't the legendary country singer still known as "The Daddy of 'Em All" who populated my dreamscape.  It was that little extraterrestrial dude from the movie.

"I haven't been back to earth for 30 years," he said, "So I thought I'd drop down here and see what's going on. What's going on?"

I told him that although many people are hungry and unsheltered, many others are more concerned about the color of the cup of expensive coffee that they guzzle every day than that. I told him that one of our major political parties, facing an election in just one year, has as its two leading candidates a bloviating blowhard whose greatest accomplishment was being born rich, and another man of great accomplishment who nonetheless brags that he threw rocks at cars, padlocks at his friends, scissors at his mother, and caution to the wind, any time he discusses his earlier days.

ET's little brow wrinkled when I told him that America is obsessed with physical fitness, that people spend fortunes on gyms and workout gear, and then have the school bus stop every six feet, lest little Marmaduke or Agatha May be forced to walk further than that to be educated. He also shook his little head when I told him that most of us will leave Home Depot and go get in the car to drive to Office Depot a hundred yards away, wishing that someone could open a mega HomeOfficeDepot to make life easier.

He wanted to know why we blush, and censor the sight of a human body, unless that body is being shot 27 times or run through a log chipper as part of a popular TV series about zombie vampires.

E, as he likes to be called, prefers fruit juice boxes to coffee, but he is stunned that people wait all year long to consume pumpkin-flavored coffee that contains not one iota of pumpkin. "Why do you not just buy some canned pumpkin and put a teaspoon of that in your coffee, if it's so important that coffee taste like pumpkin?" he asked, and received no answer.

He was also puzzled that we have a coin worth one cent which costs the nation more than one cent to make, that people pose seeming questions ("What's up?" and "How ya doin'?") without expecting answers, and that very few of us can name their congressional representatives or 5 Supreme Court justices, but can identify the quarterback and coach of the New England Patriots.

But he was stunned when he saw people watching television ads for car dealers in which the claim is made that this company will sell you a Dodge for less than they paid for it from the factory, and will take that loss of money because they really, really like you!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

War! What is it good for?

Of course, it all started with the Nixon-era War On Drugs, and any fool can see how well that has turned out. 

It seems there's another war being fought everywhere you look anymore, and lately, because there just is not enough for Americans to fret about, sage people like Billow Reilly have taken to informing us there is a War On Christmas.

To listen to him, anyone who dares to wish a friend a Merry Christmas will be hauled off in legirons and sentenced to sing all the verses of The Twelve Days of Christmas while sipping egg nog and gorging on cookies and fruitcake until visions of sugarplums begin dancing in their heads.  And they get all spun out of control about store clerks not being able to thank Jews, Muslims, Hindus and atheists with a wish that they will enjoy a holiday they don't celebrate.

America has been defined as a large nation full of almost 320 million people, all of whom are looking for something to get sore about.  I celebrate Christmas and I wish a Merry Christmas to people whom I know to be fellow celebrants.  To all others I extend greetings for a happy holiday season.

I mean, gee whiz. It's Veterans' Day and we're already all churned up about the holidays, and this year, it's the color of the Starbucks cup we are bickering about.

Really.  They use a different color cup every Nov and Dec to sell you 32 cents worth of coffee and caramel color, 50 grams of sugar, carageenan, and bean residue for 6 dollars. This year, in place of the former holiday cups that used to have images of snowflakes, pine trees and reindeer, they are servin' up the java in a red cup with just their logo.  And people are screaming about this being another bulb dropped in the War On Christmas! (Remember, while people are raving mad about what's ON the cup, they don't seem to be concerned with what's IN the cup, such as NO pumpkin in a "Pumpkin" Spice Latte.)

Not even knowing that the stores sell Christmas coffee and Advent calendars, suitably decorated, could mollify the easily-riled.

As always, I see this commotion unfolding and I offer these helpful tips:

  • First of all, if the color of the cup in which someone sells you a cup of coffee, coffee that you could make better at home for cheaper, upsets you to the point of having to write to about it, you might want to consult a physician or therapist or reiki healer.
  • Many Starbucks are located in Target stores.  Why not stop by the stationery department before tossing away your hard-earned money on mocha java?  Buy some crayons and draw whatever Christmas symbol strikes your fancy on the cup, and then be transported back to first grade in your mind as the crayon aroma fills your SUV with the scent of melting Crayolas.
  • Someone, please, start a War on War.  

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Wasted away again

You know the old line..."He was told to walk five miles a it is a week later and he's 35 miles from home."

Well, I know why "he" didn't come home.  He went to the Perry Hall Park, the magnificent multimillion dollar facility that Baltimore County built for us, right across from the terrific library they built for us.  Any time you hear people hollering about taxes and whatnot, remind them that we have these amazing things available to us, a huge building filled with books, videos, and tons of resources for free use, and lighted fields for people of all ages to play games and get some fresh air in your lungs and dog doody on your shoes.

Yes, I said it. Dog poop, Samoyed stools, Pekingese plop, Newfoundland Number Two, Mastiff muck, Labrador logs, Kerry Blue Kaka, French Bulldog Fudge nuggets, Chihuahua crapola. It's everywhere.

Here's the sitch.  Peggy and I like to walk, we like fresh air, and we don't especially enjoy dodging cars in the street. So now that the temperatures allow people to go outside without passing out from heatstroke, we like going to the local rec & parks facilities and making the pedometer on my phone click off 6,000 steps.  Most of the school and soccer sites near us are remarkably well-kept: the grass is trimmed, trash is picked up, and they are remarkably nice places for a stroll.

But we see people who, if asked, would describe themselves as good, law-abiding, public-spirited citizens, willfully violating Baltimore County Code § 12-3-110, which states that any animal off the owner's property must be on a leash.  Simple.  But we see dog owners bringing good old Fido to the park and standing there as the hound runs around dropping deuces all around.

And then they leave, violating Code § 12-3-106, which states "The owner of an animal shall remove excreta deposited by the animal on public byways, recreational areas, or private property."  Sad to say, the framers of the Baltimore County Code did know as many snappy terms for Airedale apples as I have learned.

Dog owners in the area fought long and hard to get a paw park where their pets can run around for exercise in a vast, fenced area.  It's about a half a mile away at Honeygo Run Park.  But all the dogs are at Perry Hall Park, doing the squat-and-scoot.

The problem is the same syndrome that we see at parades and festivals where people are asked not to bring the dogs out.  But here they are, strutting around, and if asked, the owners will aver that, "Oh they didn't mean Verdell!  Everybody loves to see Verdell!"  And by extension, we all should just step over whatever Verdell had for dinner last night.

Dogs are going to leave their leavings.  Please don't leave the park and leave it behind.  Thank you!

Monday, November 9, 2015

"...And all the sinners, saints..."

Tough guy Gliniewicz
We think we know, and we stumble over the ottoman, rushing to answer the doorbell when Mr Quick Judgement is ringing.

We hear that three men - two white, one black - jump a cop from a small town in Illinois and shoot him with his own service gun, and we turn on the news to hear Megyn Kelly and Ted Cruz and other sagacious observers of the American landscape lay it all at the feet of the Black Lives Matter movement and we say, well, these words came out of the 45" magic picture box on the living room wall, so they must be true.

And then comes news that the cop in question, Charles Joseph Gliniewicz (I'll not use his rank out of respect for those who have earned the right to keep using that worthy title) killed himself. He used his gun to shoot himself once and then fired a second, fatal, shot, and he put it up to look like he was the victim of ruthless American killers.  And then you read the list of charges against this man, ranging from threatening to shoot a dispatcher to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from the police Explorer program he was supposed to supervise to not showing up for work now and then (drunk) to having sex with a subordinate to deliberately putting the wrong court date on summonses he issued...not to mention the story coming out that he tried to hire a hit man to take out the town administrator who was about to topple over his little pile of ill-gotten gain. I tell you, the list of charges against the man is longer than the grocery list I take to the Giant on Fridays. His complete personnel file, for your head-shaking wonder, is here.

And people say, that doesn't sound like the man some of us knew. But others in the police department out there knew what kind of creep he was, and yet, he stayed employed.

Not staying employed is Ben Golden. He was a big marketing executive at Taco Bell.  You know, one of the people who decide that it's time to have a big special on Steak Boss Wraps or Doritos Locos Tacos.

But he went out on a Friday night a couple weeks back and had himself a time, all right.  So he was drunk when he piled himself into the back seat of Edward Caban's Uber car, and when Golden was unable to articulate clearly the destination he wished to reach, he belted Caban roundly about the head and shoulders instead.

Drunken mug shot
Since everything that happens in the world is now on HD video, the images of the Taco Belt were seen on TV, at Caban's lawyer's office, and at the Los Angeles Police Department, where assault charges were filed.

Golden, whose job, after all, was to sell stuff to people that people really don't need, immediately appeared on another camera with a heartfelt mea culpa. He said he is ashamed, extremely remorseful, and hopes to offer a personal apology to Caban.

All good, for what it's worth.  Golden has previous convictions related to drunken misbehavior in his past, so maybe it's twice bitten, thrice shy, and maybe not.  

But then he said the worst thing he could have said, to my mind.
“I’ve seen the video a couple times, and it’s not me, in the video, you know?” Golden said. “It’s not me. And it was hard to watch, and I’m ashamed. What’s taken me so long to talk to anybody is because I’ve been scared. I lost my job, I don’t have a lot of resources behind me, you know? So I just didn’t know what to do. 
There it is. "It's not me."  

Bart Simpson keeps this saying on hand for times of trouble: "I didn't do it, nobody saw me do it, you can't prove anything."  But Bart Simpson is an amusing cartoon character on a comedy show. Ben Golden is the sort of man who gets shafazzed and suckerpunches a guy trying to drive him home.

And Gliniewicz sucker punched us all, too.  No one wanted to believe it was he who did that ultimate betrayal of his badge, as his supervisor put it, but it was, indeed.

We think we know.