Thursday, March 31, 2016

Where Hank Died

You know who George Clooney is, right?  And you might know he had a rather famous aunt Rosemary who sang beautifully for years.

One of the songs she made popular was a country song by  the man who more or less invented the modern sound of country music during his short (less than 30 years) lifetime. Rosemary recorded "Half As Much" with Percy Faith and His Orchestra, and although the good people at Columbia Records oddly list the composer as "C. Williams," "Half As Much" was written by Hiram King "Hank" Williams, and you can compare and contrast his version with hers here.

I Saw the Light; Movie; Review; Tom Hiddleston; Elizabeth Olsen
Hiddleston as Hank
There's a new movie out about Hank, called "I Saw The Light," and although we plan to go see it this weekend, it looks like the delayed release of the picture - it was supposed to be out last Thanksgiving - has more to do with it being a poorly written movie than anything else.  Tom Hiddleston, a British actor, took on the unenviable task of portraying Hank, as downhome a guy as ever walked on and off the Grand Ole Opry stage.  But the critics are saying the movie focuses on Hank's marital problems and substance abuse instead of shining a well-deserved light on his amazing talent at writing and performing songs that spoke to every person who ever had a heart broken.

The legend of Hank's life is as well-known among country fans as any.  His congenital spinal malformation led him to a life of pain, and to the abuse of alcohol and drugs to try to alleviate it.  This led to certain irregularities of lifestyle, and there were marriages and firings from the Opry, the traditional home of Nashville's top stars, but never was there a loss of ability to write a song and sing it.  It's said that Hank Williams, with the simplest of bands behind him and his guitar and voice, could hold any audience spellbound. Compare that with today, when country singers more or less have to have stage shows that rival the Battle of Fort McHenry for volume and pyrotechnics.

So, we'll see the movie and I'll see what we think.  I did want to show you an interesting picture I stumbled across the other day, reading about the town of Oak Hill, West Virginia putting up a plaque to commemorate the spot where Hank left this earthly stage for the last time, in the early hours of New Year's Day, 1953.

On New Year's Eve, Hank had been scheduled to play in Charleston, WV, but could not make it because of an ice storm. He needed to be in Canton, Ohio, on January 1 for another show, and was given shots of vitamin B12 to augment the chloral hydrate and alcohol he had consumed, and was on his way, driven by a college kid named Charles Carr.

Hank was still conscious as his Cadillac drove through Bristol, Virginia, but the next time Carr checked on him, at a Pure Gas station in Oak Hill, the great composer was unresponsive and pronounced dead by a local doctor.

Hank went home to Montgomery, Alabama, one last time, and 25,000 people attended his funeral on January 4. I could not attend, being eighteen months of age at the time, but as soon as I found out who Hank was and heard what he did, I wished I could have met him to say thanks.

The people of Oak Hill seem divided in their sentiments toward HW Sr (you may have heard of his son, Hank Jr,  a fairly talented but oafish performer).  Some of them wanted to put up the plaque about his death location and make a museum out of the closed gas station, while some of them tore down the station in 2006 to make sure there would be no museum.  The plaque sits across the street by the town library; the photo below shows what the station looked like before the town fathers showed up with a backhoe and a bulldozer. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

With a name like Smuckers

NPR had an interesting story the other day about the despair being felt in Newfoundland.  The hardy seafaring people of that eastern Canadian island like their mustard pickles, they do. I've never heard of putting up pickles like that; it turns out that it's a zesty side dish made with cucumbers and onions, pickled in mustard sauce along with turmeric and celery seed.

Newfoundlandians (Newfoundlers?) enjoy mustard pickles with lobster (that is prime lobster territory for those lucky folks!) and other dishes, and they are very fond of two brands, Habitant and Zest.  (We have Zest bath soap in the USA, but it does not go well with lobster.)  The good people over at Smuckers have made Habitant and Zest for years, but now they are ceasing production of mustard pickles, leading to panic in the streets.

As you might have heard in an Econ 101 class one sunny afternoon, there is such a thing as the law of supply and demand, and if more people demanded mustard pickles, the Canadian division of Smuckers would keep sending it to the grocery shelves of Newfoundland and everyone would be happy. I mean, if a jar of pickles is all it takes, that is.

That's just sound business practice; taking a loss just to continue to produce something that hardly anyone wants doesn't make sense. This explains why you can't find Martin Shkreli brand pretzels and snacks. 

Years ago I came down with a bad case of poison ivy, because my immunity to it had been used up in my rural childhood. There was a vaccine available at the time that restored my body's defenses against that dreaded itchmaker, but the vaccine is no longer made, because, as my dermatologist put it, the cost of research and testing to satisfy the FDA would far exceed whatever profits could be made from people who needed the vax.

My idea is to tie all this together and find a way to put poison ivy vaccine in mustard pickles. It's a win-win.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Today in History - March 29, 1984

This little blog has readers from all over...some close to Baltimore, but also many others who are out of town, out of state, out of the United States, or out of their minds.  And the guy who writes it might be one of the last group, I'll tell you that right now.

But it's always hard to tell people what it was like when The Beatles came along to save pop music and pop culture. Only people who were around in late 1963 when John Kennedy was assassinated could understand the torpid state of the nation after our young leader was taken away.  When John, George, Ringo and what's-his-name got to our shores in early '64, it was like peeling back the clouds, and everyone got an ice cream cone.

So two decades after that, when, on this very day - March 29, 1984 - the Baltimore Colts football team packed up their jockstraps and departed for the ridiculous little town of Indianapolis, hearts hung heavy and tears fell all around Baltimore.  The trouble began when the original owner of the Colts, Carroll Rosenbloom, wanted to swing with the cool cats and chicks of LA, so he arranged to swap teams with Robert "Beelzebub" Irsay, who had arranged to buy the Los Angeles Rams, and moved to the West Coast. Rosenbloom would not come to a pretty end, but that's a story for another day. Remind me to tell it to you some day.

Over the 13 years that Satan On Earth (that's what Irsay's own mother called him, so you gotta think...) owned the Colts here in Baltimore, his ham-fisted management technique and his two-fisted alcohol intake ruined a once-proud franchise, to the point that not many people went to the games, giving The Angel Of The Bottomless Pit a half-fast reason to move the team so he could wring some money out of the pinched-faced midwesterners who populate Indianapolis.

Here's the amazing part of the story for me.  The Colts had a marching band who strutted around playing the Colts Fight Song, a song that to this day delights my very soul. Since it was the offseason when Lucifer moved to East Hell, the band uniforms happened to be in storage at a dry cleaning establishment up in Lutherville, MD.

They looked like this
The band director called the dry cleaner not long after the Mayflower trucks completed their voyage up the River Styx to inquire about the suits, and was told that the uniforms were safely locked up in the back room, but he planned to leave early that afternoon and just might forget to lock the back door, and wouldn't it be a shame if someone came along with a couple of trucks and drove away with all those band uniforms, and please lock the door on your way out, thanks.

And so it was that the Colts band played on for the twelve seasons that we were without the NFL here in Baltimore, and when Ravens arrived in 1996, the band was ready and well-rehearsed.  All they needed was some new uniforms - this time, purple and black.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Throwing Shade

Instead of reading semierotic thrillers like "Fifty Shades of Grey" late at night, I like to listen to a radio news show on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. called "As It Happens."

That is a great name for a radio show, as it happens. And it was there that I heard the story about a charity shop in Swansea, Wales, that has asked people to stop dropping off copies of that pageturner potboiler "Fifty Shades of Grey" because they just have too doggone least 50 times too many, you might say.

The book came out in 2011 and was the first in a trilogy involving a young woman named Anastasia Steele (there's a fakey name if I ever heard one) and hard-driven young business dude Earl Christian Grey.  The writer, one Erika Mitchell, who churns out this turgid prose under the nom de porn E.L. James, realized early that hardcore porn written with the same sensibility as Penthouse Letters will always sell if you dress up the tawdry prurience in a nicely tailored suit.  There are lengthy sections in the book involving S&M, B&D, BDSM, and AAA, when the car breaks down.

The book sold 125 million copies in 52 languages, one of which was English, sad to say.  The entire Grey series has now sold more copies than the Harry Potter series, although the flying broomstick has demanded a recount.  It is estimated that only about 275,000 of those Grey books were actually read.  The rest were only thumbed through, you should pardon the expression, for the "good parts."

The inevitable movie came out in 2015 and had no "good parts." Don Johnson's daughter played the female lead, and one Jamie Dornan was Grey and then he became Invisible.

The books have piled up so deeply in the Oxfam Shop in Swansea, Wales that the staff has built a little house out of just a fraction of the inventory of "FSOG" books that people once ran to the bookstore panting to buy.

So they have asked the public to stop dropping off the books, but the manager of the shop says she has heard from a man who wishes to build a wall using the books as bricks, since they are all the same size.  But this might just be some crazy plan, because the man insists that he will get Mexico to pay for this wall.

***************************************************************** Please let me once again ask that Baltimoreans donate what funds they can to the Book Thing of Baltimore, which recently suffered a devastating fire.  Info on their website: This is the amazing FREE book exchange where you can drop by and walk away with an education...but they need money to help rebuild. And you have money to spare...maybe just a little? 

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Sunday Rerun: My Salad Days had no salads in them

My mom was, in her day, a great cook.  Holidays at our house were always filled with splendid eats.  

My dad was not up to that level in the kitchen; he could fix himself a bowl of cereal, maybe toast some white bread.  BUT he had a recipe for a deep-dish olive pie that he poured almost every day, so there's that.

This all comes to mind because my sister gave me a copy of Better Homes and Gardens magazine from December, 1956.  The food ads and recipes in there are good reasons to help understand why everyone walked around feeling awful during the 1950s.  The food was disgusting. Don't take it from me!  Google "Disgusting 1950s food" and see a veritable cornucopia of jellied, sauced, overcooked improbable mixes of terrible chow.

Last week, one of those things was going around on Facebook showing oldtime foods, and I mentioned that we were often served a meal of hot tuna in a casserole with peas mixed in and crumbled potato chips on top.  My buddy Ralph down in North Carolina pointed out, in response to my bellyaching about putting that gruel in my belly, that we ALL ate like that back then.

Listen to some of the recipes in that magazine:  Calico Bean Bake! Lemon Mayonnaise! Tomato Aspic! Nesselrode Pie! (we used to have this all the time until I took my little hatchet and cut down the nesselrode tree.)  Fluffy Mustard Sauce!  Snowball Loaf!  Peppermint-Marshmallow Sauce! Upside-Down Date Pudding Brown Sugar Sauce! Hot Turkey-Salad Souffle! Cookie Tart!

No, wait.  Cookie Tart was the name of a girl I kept company with one summer.  It was her mom who was to teach me all I would ever learn of the world of Fluffo, the butter-colored shortening that was so integral to the recipes for both Devil's Food Cake and hellishly greasy fried chicken (fried for 45 minutes in 4 inches of boiling fat.)

Those peas aren't just STACKED there, you know.
They're held in place by unflavored gelatin, made from
the skin, bones, and connective tissues of animals
 such as domesticated cattle, chicken, pigs, and fish. 

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Saturday Picture Show, March 26, 2016

I have not a single word to add to this wise woman's remarks.
So this is the perfect hat to wear if your bark is worse than your bite.
This is the 1964 Ford Aurora station wagon, which you never rode in, because it was an experimental car that Ford made to trot out some technical advances, such as the seating looking more like a living room and a map display on the dashboard.  You can read more about this show car here.
Ladies and gentlemen, The Doors!

Take away the Savage Death Claws and the stank, and this little skunk is just as cute as a bug!
This is literally a cup of coffee.
Continuing my series of pictures to show on a Saturday morning that will help decide what I get for Saturday's hard to top a nice rack of ribs!

No, the Orioles will still sport their orange and black uniforms this year, but this was a special jersey for St Patrick's Day in spring training.  We all have those shirts we can only wear once a year, right?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Running the risk

When you're young, you see every day as part of an endless vista of opportunity, with plenty of time to do anything and everything, and room to take chances.  

That's where the rub comes in. Yes, our lives all have a finite amount of time in them. There are two problems with that: we don't know HOW much time there is, and when you're 15, or 23, man, it seems like it's first down and forever to go.

But not always.  Last week in West Virginia, a 15-year-old boy was killed when he was struck in the head while playing a game of "dodging arrows" at a friend's house.

Caleb Fairchild, an eighth-grader in Chapmanville, WV, was playing a game in which one kid shoots an arrow toward another kid, whose goal is to dodge the arrow.  Caleb did not avoid the arrow, and so he entered eternity at 15.

State Police Sgt. C.R. Sutphin said, "They were just goofing around, thought it was a good idea. It's just a bad decision, if you ask me."

Yes.  But don't say, oh, he was only 15, and assume that someone who was days short of turning 24 and had spent time in college and a year of playing in the National Football League would be less likely to engage in foolhardy behavior.

Because that was the story of Baltimore Ravens cornerback Tray Walker, who was riding a Honda dirt bike with no lights, and wearing dark clothing, when he collided with a Ford Escape in Miami a week or so ago.  He died the next day. 

Tray Walker
Life gave Tray athletic talent that he developed into enough skill to make a spot for himself as a pro football player. His rookie season last year seemed to promise much bigger things for him on the Ravens in the coming seasons.

I don't know that I agree with the old aphorism about youth being wasted on the young.  I know plenty of young people who take their lives and make wonderful things out of them. 

And let's face it.  Plenty of people fool around with bows and arrows, and lots of people do unwise things with motorized vehicles, and survive.  I don't know that there will ever come a day when we older types can say no one young is doing anything risky and so we don't have to worry about them. 

We can just say, as always, we hope people of all ages will hedge their bets by not taking too many chances too often, and, that said, we'll all live long and enjoy the best of things.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

I stashed the bill in my shirt

She was never gonna be an actress and he was never going to learn to fly, since her father had an airline and didn't want him hanging around his pride and joy.

He never drove a cab, but he came very close, close enough to turn a broken heart into a hit record, and what better way to mend a broken heart than to write a song called "How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?"

But we're not talking about the Bee Gees.  We're talking about that looooooooong song "Taxi" by Harry Chapin, the one about the guy who is pushing a cab around town and picks up his ex, a rich girl who lives at "16 Parkside Lane."  You can tell she lives in Swankytown, just from that address.  Otherwise, Harry would have written that she lives at 16 Woetown Avenue.

In the song, the couple recognize each other and ruminate on what might have been. But they're star-crossed lovers, see, and it's just not going to work out.  Click on the song and listen, if you don't remember it or never heard it or want to hear it again since the last time you heard it was on WLPL in 1972, sandwiched between The DeFranco Family and The Chi-Lites.

The lady's name in real life was Clare Alden MacIntyre-Ross, out of Scarsdale, N.Y.  She died March 9 of complications from a stroke at age 73, having spent her final years in Falls Church, Va.

Harry Chapin was a folkie singer/songwriter from Brooklyn.  The two met as summer camp counselors in the 60s.  Her dad was Malcolm MacIntyre, a big shot lawyer who ran Eastern Airlines from 1959 to 1963.  Much to her father's dismay, Miss Clare, daughter of privilege, took up with a wrinkled, denim-clad troubadour.

And you know how those things go.

During one of their breakups, Harry's musical fortunes were taking a dip in Lake Unemployed, and so he got a hack license in New York and was to start driving on a certain Monday.  The weekend before, he fretted over whether Clare would be outside some tony bistro and hail a cab he was driving.

But, as life works out, over that weekend he picked up two music jobs and never sat behind the wheel of a cab for real.  But he still wrote the song, based on his feelings about seeing Clare, or "Susan," as he called her in the song.

Harry Chapin's career in the spotlight began when "Taxi" hit the charts in 1972 and came to an end in 1981 when he was killed in a highway wreck on the Long Island Expressway.

Life took Clare to Argentina with her first husband.  By the late 70s she was a securities sales executive at Drexel Burnham Lambert, becoming one of the first women in such a position. She married a Washington lawyer, David Ross, and was forced into early retirement by rheumatoid arthritis and other ailments.  

Friends said that Harry never got over his first love, nor did he ever write a better song than "Taxi."  He did have a bigger hit in 1974 when "Cat's In The Cradle" went to #1, but that will have to be a story for another day, because my cab is here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Music Hath Charms

I'm going to give a plug to a nationwide clothing company here because I appreciate the good people at L. L. Bean for what they don't do.

That's right.  What they don't do.  They sell me pants and t-shirts and the occasional hoodie (Hoodies are good for all occasions!) and I always enjoy calling them to order things.

I enjoy it because I get to talk to a real live human being, who takes my order and credit card number (I'm not saying I'm old, but my VISA card # is 127) and sends me pants or whatever.  You will not be surprised to hear that I engage the calltaker in a moment or two of good-natured confabulation as we discuss the size and color of whatever I'm buying.  l find talking to people an endless fascination, and it's nice to learn about how life is for someone working the call center in Freeport, Maine.  I know they can't tell me all the good stories, but still...

Here's what they DON'T do that I really appreciate!  If you have to wait on the line for a minute or two for a calltaker to become available to help, they DON'T play annoying Muzaky music while you wait.

I told the guy who took my call, after maybe two minutes, how much I appreciated the silence! 

It was refreshing, just to sit in peace and quiet and wait for my turn.  Two things always come to mind about background music like that.  One is that obviously, the music they play has to be inoffensive. It doesn't matter if anyone likes any of that "elevator music;" what matters is that no one is driven to smashing their phone with a hammer (therefore costing the company a sale). It has to be bland, like the applesauce and plain dry toast that you have to eat after finally kicking that stomach bug the kids brought home. So it's the syrupy sweet string version of "And I Love Her," or "Nights On Broadway" as rendered by Hell's synthesizer. 

The other thing that concerns me about that music is that the musicians and arrangers who work on muzak-y music in the dim recesses of some office building in Trenton were once the star musicians in their crowds back home. They are the people who actually know their brass from their oboe, and they studied long and hard and practiced night after night. And for this, they wind up making very light, palatable music, their dreams of playing for the Baltimore Town Band (the Symphony) or the Grand Ole Opry on hold while they saw their fiddles to "Yesterday."

It must tough for them. Meanwhile, my trousers should be here today.  I'll put them on and see you later!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

K - E - double L, O double good...

There was a story on the wire the other day that said that cereal consumption among young Americans is way down.  It seems they would rather grab a granola bar or McDonut or whatever, eschewing cereal because...believe it or not...eating cereal means you have to clean up the bowl and spoon afterwards.  And these people are too busy to do that, you see, since they have to get back to their video games and social media feeds and not wearing ties to work.

And here comes a more valid reason to leave the Corn Flakes out of your morning chow. The story, as reported in the Washington POST, says a video surfaced online showing a man tinkling on a Kellogg factory assembly line.  Kellogg's learned of the video last week and contacted law enforcement and federal regulators.

It's been determined that the video was recorded in 2014, and, "It is important to note that any products that could be potentially impacted would be very limited and past their expiration dates,” the company said. In other words, he PROBABLY didn't splash much on your Rice Krispies Treats, granola clusters, or puffed rice, and even if he did, you already ate it and you didn't die or anything.

"We are outraged by this completely unacceptable situation, and we will work closely with authorities to prosecute to the full extent of the law,” the company went on, admitting they haven't the slightest idea who this person in the video is.  

Snap, Crackle and Pop have reportedly been brought in for questioning and released. Reached at his million-dollar lair, Tony the Tiger refused to comment.

Monday, March 21, 2016

I love it when they smirk for their mugshot

It does take a village to raise a child, so the village that brought Kenneth Borys of Bel Air, Maryland has some explaining to do, because Borys, 24 years of age, has not learned something that most toddlers learn while still wearing Garanimals: that if you do something wrong, even by accident, the grown-up thing is to is to remain at the scene and deal with the consequences.

On March 5 of last year, as darkness fell on people cleaning up after a late-season snowfall, Christian Widomski of Fallston was walking down Harford Road, returning a borrowed snow blower, and was fatally hit by a vehicle in front of his home.

The Jeep that hit him and left him for dead sped away from the scene.  It took hundreds of hours for the Maryland State Police (and probably one good phone call from someone who knew something) for an arrest to be made last September, and Borys, identified as the driver, was charged with failure to stop his vehicle and remain at the scene of a collision, failure to immediately stop his vehicle at the scene, failure as the driver involved in an accident to render aid, failure to stop after an accident involving damage and failure to stop his vehicle and remain at scene of accident involving bodily injury, police said.

These are all things that a mature responsible man or woman would have done.  A craven coward leaves the scene, leaving the victim to die.

But Borys has reached a plea deal with prosecutors, and could serve just a year and a day in jail when he is sentenced this month. As it happens, Harford County State’s Attorney Joseph Cassilly says Borys had “no criminal liability” in the death of Widomski. Cassilly says that Widomski was walking on an unlit section of road while wearing dark-colored clothing. 

In fact, Cassilly told The Aegis newspaper that if Borys had remained at the scene, “he probably would not be charged with anything.”

"If ands and buts were candy and nuts, what a sweet Christmas this would be" - - "Dandy" Don Meredith

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Sunday Rerun: Pop Tops

Good old George "Hannibal" Peppard on The A Team used to exult, "I love it when a plan comes together!"

I was thinking of that quote while sliding down Perring Parkway on the way to work in the morning.  At the time, I was listening to Elvis sing "Suspicious Minds," and it struck me that when people work together, they can really pull off some wondrous things.

It was between 4 and 7 on the morning of January 23, 1969 when a group of musicians gathered with The King in Chips Moman's American Sound Studios in Memphis, TN to cut this record.  Since I am not Marilu Henner, I can't tell you exactly where I was during those hours, but since I was a senior in high school at the time, I can pretty well state with certainty that I was not engaged in any form of studying.  It was a Thursday morning, and I was probably resting up in preparation for a big weekend of hanging around the firehouse.  Down on Elvis Presley Boulevard, E was in the midst of a nice career recovery at the time; the month before, his '68 Comeback special had been on TV and we all got to see that he had not forsaken his music for the sake of dumb movies where he played playboys and cowboys and Indians.  The single was released in the fall of '69, following "In The Ghetto" on the Billboard charts, and it was E's final #1 record during his lifetime.  The followup was "Don't Cry Daddy."

The producer of "Suspicious Minds" was Felton Jarvis, and he came up with an idea that was to confound disc jockeys the world over.  At 3:33 of the song, the instrumentals and voices fade out, leading half-awake jocks to spin around, grab their headphones and prepare to do a time-and-temp check, only to realize that the song had another minute to play.  This is the second most popular way to fool a disc jockey, the first, of course, being to call on the phone and promise to bring a sub and some snackage down to the station, and then not to do so.  That one never gets old.

If you will, go here and listen to the song and enjoy all of its many aspects.  What I was saying about when a plan comes together is that:  all those horn players, guitarists, drummers, others in the session were once kids whose parents sent them off to horn, guitar, drum or whatever lessons.  All that practice, all those years of playing scales and earning scale paid off early in the morning almost 42 years ago.

Same for the vocalists.  That plaintive female voice backing the King?  Her name was Donna Jean Godchaux, and she went on to become a member of the Grateful Dead.  It's only right that she went from singing for Elvis to singing for the Dead, since Elvis was hip before there were hippies.  

On the other hand, in 1965 the Beach Boys released their version of Bobby Freeman's hit "Do You Wanna Dance?" Curiously, Brian Wilson, leader of the group, allowed his brother Dennis, the drummer, to sing lead on this song, but it's hardly a masterpiece of production.  Dennis's vocals sound a little thin, and then when the chorus comes up, it's a sonic wash of texture - led by Brian, who produced it.  On the second verse, Dennis goes to sing, "Do you wanna dance, under the moonlight, kiss me kiss me all through the night..." but momentarily mixes up and thinks it's the verse where he's to sing "...squeeze me squeeze me" so it comes out "...skiss me kiss me."  And Brian left it that way!  Was Brian attempting to show up his younger brother, who was the only surfer in the family, a popular athlete who was regarded as being way cooler than Brian? After all, Dennis had to go to their mom and have her force Brian to let him in the group in the first place! Listen here and tell me what you think. 

I sure can read a lot into pop tunes from the 1960's, but man, don't they all sound sweet? 

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Saturday Picture Show, March 19, 2016

Nature has this wonderful way of camouflaging itself, and it does not have go to outdoor stores to buy "camo gear."  You can't stop looking at this picture until you see what I'm talking about here!

Say hi to Khamprasong Thammavong, who joins us from Los Angeles, California. As you'll notice, he has been good enough to label his eyes for us, but ran out of room before he could get around to tattooing his name on his face. 
Something to wash out your eyes...wisdom from a wise man.
There are people who love Jerry Lewis, and I am one of them.  So is he.  He turned 90 the other day, so let's have a nice loud "Hey LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAADY!"
There is nothing in this world like a real Maryland-style crab cake. Kansas has better beef and New York has better bagels and Los Angeles has better kardashians, but you cannot top this, except with a dash of Worcestershire sauce.
It's odd that my first comedy hero is Jerry Lewis (born Joseph Levitch) and my musical hero is Jerry Lee Lewis (born Jerry Lee Lewis, Ferriday LA, 1935). They are two entirely different people, but they do share one trait - total self-absorption and egomania to an incredible degree. Each of them even speaks of himself in the third person constantly.  But are they talented? Yessir.
This is Sherwood Gardens here in Baltimore, a couple of acres in the city's Guilford neighborhood where tulips bloom in spring and picnickers eat brie and kids gambol and frolic!  See you there soon!
My review of A Movie We Watched On Pay-per-view Because The Cineplex 27 Is Such A PIA:  Two hearty thumbs up for this one, a nice blend of old guy savvy and young woman smarts. Plus, DeNiro actually takes the time to act, rather than just mumbling and posing.  Perhaps being around the stellar Ms Hathaway inspired him! Well worth the $4.95, Comcast!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Just ask Pete Rose, Jr.

It was one of those odd coincidences that the story of Adam LaRoche came along at the same time that we learned of the death of Frank Sinatra, Jr.  LaRoche is the baseball player who quit playing baseball - as of now - because he quit the Chicago White Sox, who were all set to back up the money truck and dump 13 million semolians on his front porch this year in return for his awesome skills (a .207 batting average last year) had the well-traveled 12-year veteran not taken his ball and bat and walked away in a huff.

Sinatra, Jr. spent all his 72 years trying to live up to the image of his father, traipsing around the country singing at music fairs and night clubs for a smidgen of the fame and reward that music brought his father.  

LaRoche is steamed because the White Sox asked him to dial back the amount of time his son spends with the ballclub. His son, Drake, 14, has his own locker and little uniform and spends day and night in the company of men two or three times his age. The club did not forbid the kid from being there, just that he be there less. Drake is said to be homeschooled, after a fashion, and it is of course indisputable that the best place to get first-hand knowledge of Thackeray, calculus and cell mitosis is at the hands of second basemen and relief pitchers.

Listen, I would have loved it if my father had been a major league baseball player and I would have jumped at the chance to spend more time around the ballyard and the clubhouse, chewing tobacco and fielding pop flies, rather than sitting in a classroom eating graham crackers and flunking pop quizzes.  That doesn't mean it would have been the best thing for me to do.

The fact is, the White Sox organization asked that young Drake limit his time with his dad because not every day is Bring Your Child To Work Day.  At some point, the parental influencing should be done at home, and while at his workplace, LaRoche the elder should concentrate on hitting and catching baseballs, and sonny boy should be doing what 14-year-olds should be doing.

And if Adam is so intent on showing his son the right path to walk, a case can be made that by setting the example of walking away from those 13 million bucks just to prove some silly point, he is showing the boy a pretty poor choice.
Grow up, both of you.

And what if every member of the White Sox started bringing their children and wives and third cousins once removed and accountants to the dugout?

Pete Rose used to bring his son Pete Rose Jr around and dress him in a little uniform too, and that did not work out well. Sinatra Jr. donned the tuxedos and toupees that were his father's uniform as well.

Here's to parents bringing their children to the workplace, showing them around, and then taking them home to a child's world while the adults do the adult thing in theirs.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Well, here we are again, March 17, St Patrick's Day.  Since I don't care for green beer or corned beef and cabbage, and I look like a lawn in green clothing, I thought I would spend the morning finding out just who Patrick was, and what he did.

Patrick (c. AD 385–461) is the foremost patron saint of Ireland.
Saint Patrick's Day has been an official religious holiday since the early 17th Century. By the way, I used to work with a woman from Ireland, and every March she recoiled in horror at the dissolute way in which Americans guzzle and gobble their way through what is, in Ireland, a very sacred religious holiday.

But that's none of my beeswax. The original point of celebrating Patrick's day was to commemorate the arrival of Christianity in Ireland and shed a light on Irish culture and the goodness of their people.  There are parades in many cities, and people wear green clothing and shamrock decorations. 

Patrick was born in Britain, in the days of the Roman occupation, and became a missionary in Ireland after being kidnapped as a teenager and taken in slavery to Gaelic Ireland.  He was a shepherd there for six years and had a dream in which God told him to flee to the coast, where he would find a ship to take him home.

He did get home and went a seminary, becoming a priest.  Later he returned to Ireland and, in his missionary work, led thousands of pagan druids to Christianity.

Remember hearing that "St Patrick drove all the snakes out of Ireland"?  Well, guess what?  Ireland never has had native snakes!

The legend was spun that he was in the middle of a 40-day fast and some snakes attacked him, so he chased them into the sea. What he chased away was the paganism, after all.

This legend was likely made up and spread by people who know nothing about snakes, because those of us familiar with slithering reptiles know doggone well they don't respond to being chased or even to being hollered at (no ears).

Scientists figure that it was the most recent Ice Age that froze the snakes out of Ireland.

But Patrick died on this day, March 17, 461, and is recognized for what he did do - bringing modern Christianity to a pagan land - as much as for what he didn't do - driving snakes away.  

Enjoy your day, have a good time, and be safe!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Willow weep for Willow

We talked here before about the children of Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith and their amazing egos, fed by their parents' similar overwhelming senses of self regard.

Every time some magazine interviews these kids (Jaden, soon to turn 18, and Willow, who will turn a bewitching 16 on Halloween this year) it's a gold mine of silly solipsistic quotes, e.g:

"It’s proven that how time moves for you depends on where you are in the universe. It’s relative to beings and other places. But on the level of being here on earth, if you are aware in a moment, one second can last a year. And if you are unaware, your whole childhood, your whole life can pass by in six seconds." - Jaden

"I have a goal to be just the most craziest person of all time. And when I say craziest, I mean, like, I want to do like Olympic-level things. I want to be the most durable person on the planet."  -Jaden.

"There are no novels that I like to read so I write my own novels, and then I read them again, and it’s the best thing."  - Willow.

"I mean, time for me, I can make it go slow or fast, however I please, and that’s how I know it doesn’t exist." - Willow.

Jaden also points out that there is no sense in anyone taking driver's ed, because look at how many accidents occur every day! 

I don't mean to pick on these kids too much; I know their parents Will and Jada (local Baltimore woman) have a lot going on and maybe they don't have time to take the kids on a trip to the real world.  And heaven knows, we all know how we can make time go fast (go out to dinner with friends, or watch a great movie, or take a walk in the park) or slow (have a root canal, wait for your car to have new ball joints installed, listen to a Yanni CD.)  

But young Willow intrigues me with the idea of writing one's own novel!  Why bother with the pedestrian ramblings of Kerouac, Dickens and Wolfe, when we can just write our own novels?

Home decor?  Who needs Rembrandt, Rockwell or Wyeth, when something you did yourself in third grade  - a lifelike drawing of a Thanksgiving turkey, using your own hand for the outline - can light up the atrium all year long?

And why bother listening to Mozart, Jagger and Richards, or even Jerry Lee Lewis, when you can get out your old cassette recordings of when you played "Glow Worm" on the saxophone at the church basement teenage dance?

Willow, as crazy as it sounds, you just might be onto something here!  

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Your legislature inaction

If you go way back with the National Lampoon magazine (as I do) you will remember the feature they had with special license tags that reflected the special character of each state.

Maryland's tag motto, according to them, should have been "CRADLE OF GRAFT."

As much as I used to enjoy showing visitors to the Baltimore County Courthouse the rooms where Spiro Agnew, in his days as county executive, used to take bagsfull of bribe money from paving contractors seeking county contracts, that was hardly the first and only crime committed by a public official.  

All of his shenanigans took place in a state with an outdated, offensive motto. And with the Maryland Legislature now in session, the fight over our unofficial state slogan rages on.

They are words in the Tuscan language, a forerunner to Italian: "Fatti Maschii Parole Femine."  

Translated, it means that if you eat too many mashed potatoes, you will be plump and your parole officer will be a woman.

No, it means "Manly deeds, womanly words," which is about as sexist as it can be. State Senator Bryan Simonaire (R, Anne Arundel) has submitted a bill to change the slogan to "strong deeds, gentle words." Sen. Simonaire says, "There's one thought that basically is very disparaging and I think is sexist toward women, which basically says men do work and women just talk about it."

Maryland's Governor, Larry Hogan (R) says, "It's really kind of silly, and we're not focused on any of that. We're kind of busy with the budget and our legislative package here and there's going to be 2,500 different pieces of legislation about changing mottos and songs and maybe the state bird and the state cat. I don't really care much about that."

Hogan said that while taking time from his practice of campaigning in other states in support of the presidential candidacy of Chris Christie (since suspended.)

But Sen. Simonaire says, "I think it is an important issue. It's not about political correctness; again it's about being correct and correcting what we have throughout the state and Maryland law."

Remember, to be politically correct is to avoid forms of expression or action that are perceived to exclude, marginalize, or insult groups of people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against.

I don't think it's right, or fair, or smart, or kind to treat women as second-rate. And as long as we remember the deeds of men like Agnew, we should not brag about much at all.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Crime 101

Patty Bouvier enjoys a Laramie

The other day, Maryland Transportation Authority Police stopped a car for speeding along northbound I-95, which is the superslab running from Maine to Florida, built mainly for drug mules and Winston smugglers to run up and down America's east coast.

I don't do drugs and I haven't purchased cigarettes since 1988, so I have no interest in either vice, but here is some advice I can offer for those who seek to make a living plying the smuggler's trade.

Don't speed on the highway when you're carrying 20,000 packs of untaxed cigarettes!

Ammar M. Shamakh, 32, of Pikeville, N.C., was pushing his 2015 Chevy Suburban Cigarettemobile at 72 mph in a 55 mph zone when he was pulled over near the exit for I-695, the Baltimore Beltway, on Saturday.

Shamakh had been hauling the smokes from North Carolina to New Jersey, and when he was pulled over, the police saw 30 cases of ciggies in the car.

That many tobacco tubes would have sold for more $133,000 in Maryland, and brought in tax revenues amounting to $41,340.

So instead of adding to the state's tax coffers, Shamakh, charged with willfully transporting and possessing unstamped cigarettes, will cost us money for a trial and possible incarceration.  He appeared before a Baltimore County District Court commissioner and was released on $75,000 bail.

I always like how they say someone "appeared" before a commissioner or judge, as if they were there to do a nightclub act or something.  
"Appearing nitely at the Sin Bin Room at Baltimore County District Court, the song and piano stylings of Mr Ammar Shamakh, for your dining and dancing pleasure..."
Incidentally, those interested in following Mr Shamakh on his carefree lifestyle can read 'n' heed the following advice from veteran police:

  • Don't speed and smuggle
  • Don't paint "GETAWAY VEHICLE" on your car and then expect to break traffic rules
  • When using the trailer hitch on your pick-'em-up truck to pull an ATM out of the wall down by the VFW hall, make sure your bumper doesn't come off and lie among the rubble
  • Spelling counts, especially when you're forging a man's name on a check
  • It's only polite to look up and wave at bank cameras.  No one likes a surly holdup man, one who scowls and looks away from the surveillance equipment.
  • When committing residential breaking and enterings, if you forget to bring your gun along, ask the homeowner to lend you his.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Sunday Rerun: In Heaven there is no beer bread

 Not so long ago I got involved in one of those modern versions of a chain letter: an email recipe exchange.  So far, I have gotten quite a few recipes back, and one was for something I used to make all the time, but haven't of late, and I pass it on to you today.

It's that rarest of recipes that does two things well: first, it makes a delicious loaf of bread, and second, you can forget about lighting all those Yankee Candles® on the day you make this recipe.  Your entire house will have that yeasty smell so common in bakeries.

It's Beer Bread.  And it's about as simple to make as it can be. Three simple ingredients:
cups self rising flour
3/4 cup  of sugar
1 can or bottle of beer - it can't be light beer and it needs to be at room temperature

Mix in loaf pan (spray sides and bottom with Pam)  and let sit 1/2 hr
Bake 40 mins @ 350

And there you have it. Let that loaf cool a while, slather with olive oil or butter or some cheddar spread and go to town, all the while enjoying the sweet smell of Kwik 'n' E-Z home baking!

Happy Sunday! 

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Saturday Picture Show, March 12, 2016

Quick, everyone make sure you're wearing "Saturday"!
I love pointing out (to myself, primarily) that nothing is ever improved by worrying about it!
A Japanese Navy ship, sunk in battle in 1944, was recently explored by a diver who found wine and dining provisions intact at the bottom of the sea all these years later.
I happen to love buckwheat pancakes; I know they are not everyone's favorite but I look for them everywhere!  Why not try a tall stack today?
Deep in the Avava Valley in Israel are old copper mines, believed to be the site of King Solomon’s mines. There is an archeologic dig in progress there, and they are finding bits and pieces of 3,000-year-old organic materials, including seeds, leather and fabric, remarkably well-preserved.  As a matter of fact, if old Sol had bought this shirt from L.L. Bean, they could still fix it up, good as new.
We watched this movie on Showtime - "Big Eyes" - about how a woman named Margaret Keane painted these ubiquitous images of kids with gigantic eyes, but her worthless husband stole her work and passed it off as his own.  We loved the movie. Amy Adams did her usual wonderful job as Margaret, and we were shocked to find it got exactly ZERO stars on the TV Guide. I give it two paint-stained thumbs up!
When you go to a ball game, even a spring training game, you have to pay attention to the game, not your phone. The alert fan here just saved this young man from a ton of facial and dental surgery.
Joining the crowd waiting for the movie about Hank Williams to come out (later this month??), here is Hank Williams III, trying on one of his granddaddy's original stage suits while a cardboard replica of the man who created modern country music looks on approvingly.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Cross your fingers AND your eyes

I'm the kind of husband who really likes to roam around while my dear wifey is shopping.  I've never been much of one to stand around while people decide among purses and sweaters, and it's best for Peggy to send me off to other stores in the mall or wherever and give me a time to meet up later, rather than me standing there making inane comments and inappropriately ogling mannequins and womannequins.

If there's a bookstore handy, I'm headed for the Magic Eye books so I can get all crosseyed and see the Statue of Liberty and platypuses and Superman flying to the aid of those below.

Remember those books?  They came out starting in 1993, featuring what they call random dot autostereograms.  Focusing on 2D printed designs, you just let you eyes go all kitty-wompus, and then two things get to see a 3D image all of a sudden, and you call the closest person and hand them the book and say, "Hey! Look at this!  You see the mermaid, right?"

And they kind of just sidle away...

Magic Eye was a big deal when it first came along, and it held one advantage over the other big publishing deal of the time, Sudoku. That was that game that combined the fun of calculus with the desperation of a crossword puzzle, except there were no words, just numbers.  The advantage for me was that I could do Magic Eye. I have never, in over 127 tries, successfully sodokued.  My problem is the age-old story: premature capitulation.  I give up after about 13 seconds.

Before 1979, the world had to get along with no autostereograms. That's when Christopher Tyler and Maureen Clarke created the first of them, and it was 1991 when Tenyo Publishing of Japan published a book of the pictures.  The book was called "Miru Miru Mega Yokunaru Magic Eye ("Your Eyesight Gets Better & Better in a Very Short Rate of Time: Magic Eye").

With a catchy title like that, how could Magic Eye not become a worldwide sensation by 1993, the same year that Tag Team gave us "Whoop! There It Is!" and we all fell under the spell of "Sleepless In Seattle"?

And besides the books that flooded the Barneses and Nobleses, there were Magic Eye postcards, mousepads, lunch boxes, neckties and a Sunday comics section feature in the newspaper, so that the kids could show up for church all goggly.

It works by printing a horizontally repeating pattern that's a little bit different with every pass.  That's what gives the illusion of tricks each of your eyes into focusing on a different part of the pattern.

If only it could trick one eye into making you a sandwich while the other reads the sports pages!

Some examples:
 Look for the name of a certain automobile manufacturer here.
Bless your heart!

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Sopping Wet Ghost Town

Now and then I drive past the spot where Baltimore's Memorial Stadium once stood in glory and triumph. But it was man who decided that the old brick lady was too old and dowdy, and so down she came, to be replaced by twin stadia downtown. It was different with Holland Island down in the Chesapeake; it was nature who took that body of land away, and it all happened gradually.

Holland Island was first settled in the 1600s and saw its population grow to around 350 persons by 1910, making it one of the most populated islands in the Chesapeake Bay. Most of the residents were fishermen, as you would expect, bringing in fish or oysters, and there they built their homes, a post office, a school and a church. 

So it was ironic that the water that provided their livelihoods (and probably a good deal of their food) was what took away their homes starting in 1910. The three hundred years of settlement began wearing away the soil of the island, and as the sea levels rose, erosion whittled away at the land, chiefly composed of silt and clay. It didn't take long before all the inhabitants were forced off; the last of them moved away in 1918.

The last house standing on the island sank in 2010 .

But at least the buildings, made of wood frame, could be disassembled and moved to the mainland for reconstruction. The church was moved to Fairmount, MD, in 1922, and houses received a similar second life with firmer ground beneath.
The yellow oval shows the location of the erstwhile Island.
But a curious thing happened as Holland Island went from terra firma to swampy marshland, or marshy swampland, if you will. One house, which ended up looking like something out of an Andrew Wyeth painting, stood against the ravages of nature until a storm in November, 2010, reduced it to rubble.

And by 2012, Holland Island was no more, just a dot in the old nautical map books. People who go out on the bay say you can't see the town down there in the water, but they know it's there - right where it used to be, just lower.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Building a mystery

The big whimsical building you see above has been the world headquarters for the Longaberger Basket Company, out there in Newark, Ohio, right in the middle of the basket belt.

(I have to wonder..if there is a concentration of factories where they make devices for holding up men's pants, is that the Belt belt?)

But things have not been going so well for the Longaberger people, ever since wise homemakers found out you could get baskets just as good in quality at Michael's for a fraction of the price.  So they are shutting down this building for good, apparently hoping that it will be an attractive lease for a picnic supply company or a baguette and wine wholesaler.

As a public service, I mention to the Longaberger people that the town of Twinsburg, Ohio is home to Case Industries, a firm devoted to the manufacture of plastic items.  I suggest that the two firms merge, forming a giant conglomerate to be known as Basket-Case Incorporated.

I guess it was a good idea at the time to build a building that looked like what was being sold in the building.  For instance, this building in Ontario, Canada, was built this way to commemorate an 8.0 earthquake in 1812, and to sell tickets to the Ripley's museum downstairs.

And to the right, we see the headquarters for the Kansas City (MO) Library!  Very cool. Nothing says "books inside" like books outside.  

America is the worldwide home for cool architecture, and we are proud of our oddly-shaped buildings!  And to get in the spirit, I am looking into building myself a little shed in the backyard that looks for all the world like a hammock.