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Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Song that Changed Christmas

Irving Berlin's famous song, "White Christmas" isn't at all what you think. It has a backstory that literally changed the way we celebrate our most cherished--and profitable--holiday.

"Legend has it," says WSJ writer Will Friedwald, "that Irving Berlin was in Hollywood working on a movie, and missing his family in New York, as he wrote the musical score for (the movie) Holiday Inn.

Berlin was a prodigious song writer with about 1250 to his credit including 25 that reached number one on the pop charts of the day. He wrote "Alexander's Rag Time Band" in 1911, God Bless America in 1918, Easter Parade in 1933, There's No Business like Show Business in 1946  and a LOT MORE , mostly sentimental old favorites... so old and so sentimental that if you are under 40, you perhaps can't even hum the tune, let alone know the song. Hey, times change as they must. I just put my spats in a garage sale last week.

White Christmas, was first sung and played by Bing Crosby for his leading lady as he sat at the piano, and it is still one of the most played songs every Christmas season. If the words are not engraved in your heart, here are the first two verses:

I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
Just like the ones I used to know
Where the treetops glisten and children listen
To hear sleigh bells in the snow
                                                       I'm dreaming of a white Christmas
                                                       With every Christmas card I write
                                                     May your days be merry and bright
                                                   And may all your Christmases be white

Christmas just wasn't as big then as it is now. Oh sure, trees and gifts and Santa... but it was so toned down by comparison that nobody had Christmas sales starting before Thanksgiving. 'Black Friday' was unheard of and sometimes, an apple (not the computer) was a worthy gift. Jingle Bells was the top Christmas song of the day and worse, there was no Charlie Brown special! How did we survive?

White Christmas was first written as a variety number to represent that season in a mix of others, but it was taken to heart and resonated deeply as we were just eight months into World War II, deeply worried and needing something that lifted spirits. There was no Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer or I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus. White Christmas was richly flavored to where our hearts and dreams were.

It became the centerpiece of that day's blockbuster movie, Holiday Inn. "The song's first audience," said Friedwald, "comprised soldiers and those on the home front who embraced it as a prayer for peace." And it came on the scene just in time for the introduction of the long-playing record and that new medium, television. It was those two that virtually reinvented Christmas for all the emotionally needy of the time.

As Friedwald said, the song "created its own holiday mythology with itself at the center as a hymn for peace, love and family." And it changed Christmas sentimentality forever.


Two years later, still in the midst of "The Great War,"  Berlin wrote the perfect seasonal follow-up,  I'll Be Home for Christmas  . This link is my blog post on that classic, based on an actual experience. And cry if you must. I did.

Imagine Christmas today without these two songs. It just wouldn't be the same.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Old habits die hard... or "Over my dead body."

Betcha can't do this: zipper merge, that is. And if you are forced to it, bet it makes you mad.

Yes, the incredible, hard to believe, impossible, nonsensical, ridiculously wrong perfect thing is as logical as understanding climate change but it really (*substitute word to follow) 'ticks' us off.

Honk. Honk! HONK! HOOOOOONK!!!!

But it works. The zipper merge has been studied by experts for years and we ALL KNOW it works. It just isn't us. The 'zm' flies against bad logic when we know that driving right up the tail pipe of person in front of us is far more satisfyingly-right?... especially if we are frustrated or in a hurry. And letting some 'rule-breaking scum' into your traffic lane... "Over my dead body."

So I know I sure as heck won't do it*... except sometimes, and then not at the first honk or 'finger.'

I'll tell you, just a few months ago, I was returning to NC from St. Louis and took I 40 because I could 'get away' with 70-75 mph and still not be a radar magnet. (In all fairness, my Vespa scooter is not red so I might have gotten away with a little more.) But on a very pleasant Sunday when traffic is supposed to fly, there were two construction stops that added--no exaggeration-- 2 1/2 stop-and-go hours to the journey. I know, bridge needed repairs, but on Sunday with no workers present, big jam none-the-less.

"I'll get ya' through, baby... "
So if all thousands of us drivers did the zipper merge (to the tempo of "All the way" by Frank Sinatra), we would have zipped home hours earlier, and in a far better mood.

We could have slowed to a decent funeral procession speed, allowed a 3-or-4 car space between us and the driver in front, bobbed our heads back and forth in time with the music and smiled through every slow, God-help-us, mile without speeding to close the gap then slamming on the brakes and stopping till we get to go and speed again, then repeat forever. The catch: everyone has to do it or it doesn't work. (That's like never being able to take an in-focus picture of earth from space because somebody moved.)

OK America, that's the plan. Now let's get out there and just 'do it!'

Right everybody?... Anybody?... aw, never mind.

Notice: This has been a public service blog post because I couldn't think of anything fun to write.

*I actually do, most of the time.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The secret "Yes, and... " trick

Amy Poehler

Don't you wonder where so many of our favorite comedians "cut their chops?" 

(Say Yes, and... )

Have you ever seen any of the improv comedy shows? That's where Amy Poehler and Tina Fey started... oh, and John Belushi and Steve Caroll and Will Farrell and Seth Rogen and the incredibly talented Canadian group from SCTV who brought us "Waiting for Guffman" and "Best of Show" as well as Monty Python and a good number from improv theaters around the country who became SNL cast members... and on and on.

Tim Conway
How did Robin Williams and Tim Conway and Johnathan Winters learn to make people laugh? Ok, so it's talent... I'll give you that. Oh, and a rich sense of humor... oh, and timing and imagination and on and on... but I mean, how did they practice their trade when they didn't know all the secrets?

That's where improvisation comes in. The good ones are quick on their feet and ready to be ridiculous at the drop of a hat. And here's one of their secrets--a four-lane expressway to the next best line:

It's referred to as the "Yes, and..." trick, never to be confused with "Yes, but... "

"Yes, and... " continues a thought, no matter how ridiculous, with an addition to that line of thinking but even more ridiculous. Someone starts:

"I had an aunt who thought she was a chicken... " 

Then you say "Yes, and she had drumsticks to die for."

And he/she says "Yes and did you see those silly little claw-like shoes she had on?"

And you say, " (Yes, and implied) They were the talk of the San Francisco Fricase-Fried Chicken Festival in February."

"Yes and she was especially popular around Easter... for the eggs."

Etc., etc.        

Get the idea? It's Yes and... until you have told the story for laughs or gotten booed off the stage... Yes and if you're new to the concept, you will be booed off the stage. But you get the idea.

Oh, there's lots more to comedy of course, but this shows how to keep a story going... and it works at cocktail parties too, though it comes with inherent dangers. Says one who knows, "You find yourself in a place where you're, like, how did I get here?" But nonetheless, it is a positive transition to whatever happens next. It could even lead to the next improve technique, "If, then..." and next thing you know, you are on SNL...  or the life of the party, or people avoid you like the plague.

Yes, and there is an improv school for you if you really care. Comedian Amy Poehler was one of four who founded the Upright Citizens Brigade, a New York 'cultural reach' for comedy where you can take lessons until you are good or run out of money, whichever comes first. An alum of the process said it is especially good if "you want to take the slow train to crazytown."

Yes, and the process is proving so helpful in boosting self confidence that it is sought by business men and women. Being comfortable in any communicative process is greatly enhanced by the confidence that is built over knowing you can always 'Yes, and...' Such confidence, those 'Yes, and' folks say has a holistic side for maximum feel good benefit.

All that is all especially complimentary if you are a comedian who's fortune is built on the next funny line. It's what you do if you choose to "be in the club." It's hard not to appreciate the many who make us laugh. And doesn't the world need more of that?

Yes, and... wait til you see my next exciting blog post.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Perfect day for Singin' in the Rain

... and a pretty darned fun movie, rain or shine. Released in 1952, Rotten Tomatoes today has it at its 10th best rated film. In 2007, The American Film Industry called it the 5th greatest movie of all time. And Entertainment Weekly names Singin' in the Rain it's highest ranked musical. Wow!

The reason I love this film is not only for it's title song but for Good Morning, the richest song and dance number I have ever enjoyed. Its opening line by Debbie Reynolds is still heard today on one TV network's morning show to open its broadcast.

Gene Kelly's script for the movie
And there is a rich backstory of the movie itself. It is set back in the 1920s when silent movies were transitioning to 'talkies' and the three principal characters were mirrored after real actors of the day, anxious about their future in this technical new world. (Sound familiar?)
Aspiring actress Debbie Reynolds was a newcomer in those days. When hired, she lived with her parents and had to leave home at 4 a.m. and take three different buses to get to the studio on time. She often slept on the set.

She had a good face and great voice but couldn't dance. Gene Kelly, who directed, choreographed and starred in the movie, was known as somewhat of a tyrant and was verbally critical of Reynolds inability to dance. The film's third star, dancer Donald O'Connor found Reynolds crying under a piano and promised her that he would help her learn.

Reynolds had gymnastic talent and, it was discovered, was a very quick study as the dance numbers will prove.

My favorite dance number started filming at 8 in the morning and concluded at 11 p.m. It required 40 takes before it was director-satisfied. Reynolds had to be carried to her dressing room after having ruptured blood vessels in her feet. She later said that having a baby and doing this film were the two most painful things in her life.

Filming was so demanding that several of the stars had to take time off after strenuous segments were filmed. In one segment, Donald O'Connor tap danced across the floor and up the walls before a backward flip.

Gene Kelly
He recalled,  "I was smoking four packs of cigarettes a day then, and getting up those walls was murder. They had to bank one wall so I could make it up and then through another wall. We filmed that whole sequence in one day. We did it on a concrete floor. My body just had to absorb this tremendous shock. Things were building to such a crescendo that I thought I'd have to commit suicide for the ending. I came back on the set three days later. All the grips applauded. [Gene Kelly] applauded, told me what a great number it was. Then Gene said, "Do you think you could do that number again?" I said, "Sure, any time". He said, "Well, we're going to have to do it again tomorrow". No one had checked the aperture of the camera and they fogged out all the film. So the next day I did it again! By the end my feet and ankles were a mass of bruises."

The first time they tried to film the famous "Singin' In The Rain" song and dance sequence, they shot it in the late afternoon. Unfortunately the homeowners in the area had just come home from work and had turned on their lawn sprinklers so there was not enough water pressure for the "rain" to work. They finally filmed the sequence the next day, early enough so that everyone was at work and the water pressure was adequate for the shot. And this is how it turned out.

Donald O'Connor, Debbie Reynolds, Gene Kelly

Monday, September 12, 2016

Best dog book ever!

Aren't we suckers for dog books? Seems most 'must read' books about dogs are either instructional or touching tales, real or fictional... but I hate it when the dog dies in the end. By last count, we've more than 30 here and there, not counting what we've given away or 'rummage sold.'

But there is one that is a must. It has delighted every grandchild--17 in total--and every adult reader. And it gives a message so real and pure.

That would be Flawed Dogs: The Year-End Leftovers at the Piddleton "Last Chance" Dog Pound by Berkelley Breathed. It is probably the best dog book ever. It fancifully tells the story of every 'rescue' and how each got that way. Every ending will earn a smile and milk a tear. AND BEST, No dogs died in end.

The sign on the door of the Piddleton Last Chance Dog Pound, Piddleton, Vermont, Pop. 327 (People 243) reads:


So hurry lest you miss out.

It is whimsically drawn and told by Friends of the Piddleton Pound, Tammy Quackenbush, President (who is also President of the Piddleton Poetry Club, the Vermont Booster Broads, Vice president of Vegetarian Quilters against Land Mines and Bazookas and Treasurer of the Chicken Liberation Front.)

You'll read about flawed dogs Bipsie and Noodles, Tina and Lulu, Rollo and Titus, Jeeves and Pete, Pepe and Willie Wonker, Buttercup and Heather, iBoo and Ben, Sal and Barney, Spanks and my favorite, Sam the Lion. And here's the secret that's not so secret:

So in this world
Of the simple and odd,
The bent and plain,
The unbalanced bod, 
The imperfect people
And differently pawed,
Some live without love...
That's how they're flawed.

I promise you will fall in love with the story, the dogs, and especially the drawings. It is a richly told and illustrated tale of morality and kindness that applies to all creatures and touches humanity where there seems to be a need.

Ask for Flawed Dogs by Berkeley Breathed (published in 2003) at your bookstore or electronically here where you can thumb through a few pages to see what I mean. Its cover may also look like this... but I like my cover best.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night...

That's a 12 cent stamp on her forehead
Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night shall stay these couriers from swift completion of their appointed rounds. The U.S. Postal Service has no official motto but these words, engraved across the front of the U.S. Postal Building in New York are familiar to most of us.


Smoke signals were probably our first 'expedited' method of conveying information rapidly a long distance. Then came The Pony Express followed by telegraph, telephone and beyond.

The U.S. Mail was founded in 1775 with Ben Franklin as its first postmaster general. It is legally obligated to serve all Americans, regardless of geography, at uniform price and quality. And they always did.

In the 19th century, much of the country was 'rural' and the Post Office deemed door to door, mailbox to mailbox, the mail must be delivered. Before this, most had to venture to the closest post office periodically to get their mail... often a lengthy trip over bad roads in horrible weather. To go with this, a new level of delivery--parcel post-- assured many things of different weights and shapes could be mailed at costs below postal expenses. And everything, up to 50 pounds, could be mailed.

And for a while, the United States Post Office delivered children. (Yes, really.) This photo (right) is real. The one above is someone's modern day recreation.

It was felt, at the time, that this was an accepted service to help parents get their children to grandma's house a few miles down the road, or in one Oregon instance, from Grangeville to Lewistown --70 miles for 53 cents. For just 15 cents, a 6-year-old was mailed 725 miles from Florida to Virginia.

Actually, the kids were treated like kids, not sacks of mail, often riding in mail cars and being given food and water on the journey.

It wasn't until June 13, 1920 when kids were officially taken out of the mail sack for good.

It was the giant mailers of that day, Montgomery Ward and Sears, Roebuck & Company that drove the demand for parcel post to deliver their mail order goods to rural America that led to human cargo. Oh, and pets too.

Sears Kit Home
From 1908 all the way up to 1940,  Sears, Roebuck & Co. (today, Sears) sold and shipped 70,000 mail order kit homes, complete from instructions to nails and everything else needed to assemble and live in. The homes were  freighted but so much of everything else in the giant catalog was borne on the backs of the postmen.

One of the strangest (if you don't count a severed ear or and the slave who escaped by mail) was the shipment of 80,000 bricks from the foundry to a Utah building site 127 miles away. They were sent in parcel-post-package-limits of 50 pounds each. This was deemed the least expensive way to get them from point A to point B. That would be about 3,200 packages if my postal scale is correct. And I do hope you appreciate my fact checking but I'm out the cost of 80,000 bricks and now don't know what to do with them.

Bless the USPS for its diligence over the years but today, it cost lots more to mail less... and our postal system is loosing billions of our money every year. Darn that email. This, however, will be corrected when I complete my new teleporting booth and sell it commercially for less than the cost of an EpiPen. Hope I'm luckier than the guy in The Fly.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Challenge match: Who is funnier, The Brits or the Colonists?

Confession: This post is 3 years old but I liked it... so here it is again. With the exception of Monty Python and Peter Sellers, we (the USA) are definitely funnier, Brexit or not, than the Brits.
The ten best jokes at the Fringe Festival in Scotland have just been announced. The headline in the British newspaper read "... These are the best jokes, bar none." Oh yeah? The jokes are so lame that I am challenging them to see which side of the pond has the funniest jokes. You be the judge.

Number 10

Theirs: The good thing about lending someone your time machine is that you basically get it back immediately.
Ours: I was in Rome recently and wanted to say "Hi" to the Pope, so I looked up his number in the phone book. It was et cum spirtu-tuo. (OK, so maybe you have to be Catholic, but it was funny in third grade... and beats the pants off their joke.)  Score: 1-0 USA

Number 9

Theirs: I was adopted at birth and have never met my mum. That makes it very difficult to enjoy any lap dance.
Ours: What songs do cows like to dance to? Any kind of mooosic will do. (A simple kid joke wins again!)  2-0 USA

Number 8

Theirs: The Universe implodes. No matter.
Ours: Chuck Norris counted to infinity--twice! (Cha-ching!) 3-0 USA

Number 7

Theirs: You know you are fat when you hug a child and it gets lost. (No!)
Ours: What does a snail say when he is riding on a turtle's back? Weeeee!! (Another kid joke is all it takes.) 4-0 USA

Number 6

Theirs: The Pope is a lot like Dr. Who. He never dies, just keeps being replaced by white men.
Ours: The Vatican announced it will begin selling its ceremonial incense mixtures that were previously only used in worship services.  The first scent will be Popepourri. (Now that's funny!)
5-0 USA

Number 5

Theirs: I can give you the cause of anaphylactic (sic) shock in a nutshell.
Ours: What happened when the monster ate the electric company? He was in shock for a month. (Kid jokes are better.)  6-0 USA

Number 4

Theirs: My friend told me he was going to a fancy dress party as an Italian island. I said to him "Don't be Sicily." (Their best attempt yet. Awkward but cute.)
Ours: Q: Did you hear about the Italian chef that died? A: He pasta way. (We really would have won but I'm giving them this one for sentimental reasons... I'm Italian.)  6-1 USA

Number 3

Theirs: I'm in a same sex marriage... the sex is always the same.
Ours: Take my wife... please! (Ta dah!)  7-1 USA

Number 2

Theirs: I used to work in a shoe-recycling shop. It was sole-destroying.
Ours: Man finds a shoe repair claim ticket in an old suit he hadn't worn for 12 years. Thinking he would play a joke on the cobbler, he presented his ticket with a straight face. The repairman, showing no emotion, checked in the back room then hollered, "They'll be ready Thursday."  8-1 USA

And the Number 1 British winner

Theirs: I heard a rumour (Britspeak) that Cadbury is bringing out an oriental chocolate bar. Could be a Chinese Wispa. (Really? Is that the best you've got?)
Ours: The doctor sadly tells the patient, "Sorry but you have only one month to live." The patient, crestfallen, grabs the doctor by his lab coat lapels and desperately asks "Isn't there something... anything I can do?!" The doctor pauses, then says, "Well... you could take two mud baths a day... " Hopeful, the distraught patient says, "Oh, thank you doctor... will this cure me?" Doctor shakes his head, "No... but it will get you used to the dirt." (Always save the best for last, right?)

Final score: USA 9, Great Britain 1
The elegant solid gold Knee-Slapper Trophy goes to America for the first year in a row!

Now don't you all go rioting like this is a football (really soccer) game... just be graceful and give us a "Jolly good, old chap" ... and send more episodes of Downton Abbey.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!: Signs of the Apocalypse, Part 3

No, it's NOT all about Marcia (top left),  It's about Jan (middle left), who spoke those catchphrase words in the frustration that only a middle sister could understand.

Note: Signs of the Apocalypse are those seemingly unworldly happenings that run dramatically counter to the real world normal. Could these events be foretelling that the end is near? Nah! Things ARE getting crazier and that's the new normal.

But this time, the last laugh is Jan's (Eve Plumb in real life). It was 1969 and Eve was one year into her most noted role as Jan on The Brady Bunch which lasted on TV until 1974... and then in syndication perhaps forever.

So 11-year-old Eve bought her first house, a little 850 square-footer with a wrap-around deck, for $55,300. She just sold that house for a mere $3.9 million. Not bad appreciation for a starter home. Near that time, I bought my first house, 900-square feet, for $14,900. Then made a killing when I sold it three years later for $16,100. I was rich!

Her secret: Location, location, location. Her house was on the ocean in Malibu Beach. I guess the ocean wasn't there in 1969 which is why she bought it cheap(er). Mine was in Peoria, Illinois which is nowhere near the ocean... or anything else.

The Hermes Bolide 45 Shark

Want a new travel bag? This little bugger caught my eye. Saw it in Vanity Fair magazine... a must have. It's the Hermes Bolide 45 Shark " for a weekend get away or an extended sojourn" It's only $12,800, not counting tax, postage and handling and looks to be well worth it. I think the folks at Motel 6 will be green with envy when I check in with this beauty.

Medical bills got you up against the wall? I remember in the publishing biz (my life's work), every year, employee medical costs would increase by double digits, year after year. This was a number of years back and I'd always wonder why medical stuff just kept getting more and more expensive.

My nifty back belt
So maybe I shouldn't have been surprised when I had back surgery earlier in the year and I (and my insurance company) had to buy and use this back support for about a month. This is the one my surgeon said was the best and he wanted me to have it. So I did. Later, when the charge came through, I was a teensy bit taken aback. Would you guess it cost $1,550? Amazon had one from the same company that looked vaguely familiar. It went for $250, on Amazon Prime no less, but I'm sure it couldn't possibly match my Cadillac version.

Then there are the medications that suddenly increase in price overnight when the rights to manufacture are sold to another pharmaceutical company. A few of the notable:  

  • Cycloserine for tuberculosis, from $500 to $10,800 for 30 pills.
  • Ofirmed, an injectable painkiller, from $410 to$1,019.52 for 24 vials.
  • Vimovo for symptoms of arthritis, from $160 to $1,678.52 for 60 tablets.
  • Edecrin, a duretic, from $470 to $4,600 per vial.
  • Benznidizole, treats Chagas disease, a $60,000 per treatment increase.
  • EpiPen, for kids with life-threatening allergies, a 400% increase since acquisition.
  • But the ignominius topper is Daraprim. The day after purchase by Turing Pharmaceuticals, CEO Martin Shkreli bumped the price of this 62-year-old drug from $18.50 to $750. and bragged about it in the press. The medication is a critical treatment for a parasitic infection that could be fatal to those with compromised immune systems due to conditions like AIDS/HIV and cancer.

These increases are called "I gotcha now pricing," befitting the twisted 'golden rule' of capitalism gone mad: "Those who have the gold, rule."

Is it any wonder medical costs continue to amaze?

BTW, Don't you love the new medication names? The good ones have at least one or two Z's and an X or two and a Q without a U. And that supper time is the best TV time to promote laxatives with live action graphics showing the bowel in action. YUMMY! Makes you want to wear  "I (heart) my Laxative." on a T-shirt.

What Harry Potter looks like dead

Then there's Daniel Radcliffe's soaring acting career after Harry Potter, landing the role of a dead person in Swiss Army Man. really. It's the best dead role since Weekend With Bernie. Danial is dead from the first scene to the last and in it, he farts amazing, miraculous farts, and saves a life! Yep, that's true too in the movie.

Next thing you know, Missouri will pass a law that allows people to carry concealed guns without a permit. See? The apocalypse. (Late news flash... the Gov did not sign the bill into law. We are saved!)

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Laugh and the world laughs with you... continued

Remember this Gary Larson cartoon?

His The Far Side syndicated cartoons made us laugh every day with creative humor. His last 'strip' was published on New Year's Day, 1995 though books of his compiled cartoons and newer works continue to sell and fill our shelves. A favorite that made the NYTimes bestseller list: There's a Hair in my Dirt: A Worm's Story.

I always thought he was at his best when he used animals as his subjects. One favorite depicts a family of spiders driving in a car with a "Have a Nice Day" bumper sticker featuring a 'smiley face' with eight eyes.

While visiting my sis in San Francisco a number of years ago, we were driving past the California Academy of Sciences when we saw a current exhibit sign announcing Gary Larson's work. We immediately did a 180 and spent the most enjoyable next hours laughing, tittering, snickering, nodding and smiling. What was amazing, as we and others in the exhibit silently read the 450 captions mounted 16 to a panel, were the shared similar outbursts from all corners of the exhibit room.

Our group of strangers were a truly happy bunch as we nodded and smiled to each other, sometimes sharing a favorite with a pointed finger or nod.  I don't recall a word being spoken but everyone left with a far richer disposition than when we walked in the door.

Without being specific about how humor makes our world a better place, we all have personal evidence that it definitely does.

Take a few minutes now to make your world richer today by enjoying a cartoon slide show of The New Yorker magazine's "reader's favorites," shared graciously by the magazine's cartoon editor, Bob Mankoff. My favorite is the one with the praying mantises.

FYI: The New Yorker publishes weekly and features more really good cartoons in every issue from the best cartoonists... more fun than you can find anywhere else... and it is also rich with topical editorial content. That in itself is worth a look.

Funny is, and I quote:

Always remember, you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else. Margaret Mead

We are all here on earth to help others; what the others are here for I don't know. W.H. Auden

Get your facts first, then you can distort them as you please. Mark Twain

People who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do. Isaac Asimov

Roses are red, violets are blue, I'm schitzophrenic and so am I. Oscar Levant

I never said most of the things I said. Yogi Berra

Go to heaven for the climate, go to hell for the company. Mark Twain

A day without sunshine is like, you know, night. Steve Martin

And the piece de resistance quotes by Jack Handey (a real person):
  • To me, boxing is like a ballet, except there's no music, no choreography, and the dancers hit each other.
  • Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you criticize them, you are a mile away from them and you have their shoes.
  • I hope life isn't a big joke, because I don't get it.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Be All You Can Be


A little background: The respected London Review of Books introduced a 'Personals' category to its classified pages in 1998.

Known to all literati, the well-respected magazine opened its doors to some of the most witty, fun-to-read personal ads from brainy readers, each, in all seriousness (more or less), trying to outdo the other. 

Originally designed to match intelligent people based on their literary interest, readers immediately ganged up on the personals section for their own purposes. "They were instantly very, very silly," said its originator.

This is the fictional back story of one of those ads, as I imagined. The ad is as it appeared below, names and addresses made up, of course:


“Female, 54. Own all limbs. Seeks man with low priorities. Contact Box 347, this magazine.”

When you are brand new in town and lonely at night, you get desperate.

“Dear Box 347: Where I came from, limbs were optional. Only priority was to wake up the next morning. I am a used-to-be cowboy, also 54, have three of my four limbs but am passionate for someone who can scratch my elbow. I like that about you. Have you a name? I’m box 1438. I want to know more.”

“Dear Lefty: Easy pardner. Let’s go slow-mail to start. I’m intrigued… and a very good scratcher. You can call me Chase, as in ‘the fun of the...’ I’m blond at the moment but can be any color that suits you, tall-ish for a girl and 32-28-34, though not necessarily in that order. Your turn. More please. Chase”

“Oh Chase: Be still my heart. I truly think we may be on to something. I am also on the tall side, lightly graying but full hair, and trim as a ship under full sail. I wear glasses now and size 12 cowboy boots—no innuendo intended. How am I doing so far? Lefty.”

“None taken, Lefty. You are doing fine. I’m a schoolteacher, 6th and 7th grades. I’m molding tomorrow but anxious about today. And you?

“Me too. I’m a cowpoke, ma’am, Was masquerading as a corrections officer one state to the left, as of six days ago, but couldn’t hack the humanity. One-armed cowboys aren’t in great demand these days. My tomorrow is probably a lot less promising than yours. Can we meet?”

“So soon? I thought foreplay lasted longer cowboy.”

“When you are chasin’ a wild mustang, Chase, it lasts as short as it takes. You’re the only thing keeping me here at the moment, and you know cowboys… always looking for the next arroyo.”

“Will 5pm Wednesday at Starbuck fit?”

“Like a rodeo glove. How will I know you?”

“Trust me, you will. And you?”

“Ditto. Can’t wait.”

4:45 p.m: Wednesday, Starbucks: A busy time. Drive-thru filled, line five deep at the counter. Only two open tables, one with a good view. Plunking his cowboy hat on one empty chair, Lefty folds his 6’3 body into the other. With piercing blue eyes centering a weather-chiseled, sun baked face, he watches everyone in the door like a cowpoke checking his herd.

5:15 pm: Cold coffee smells like day-old campfire poison. Late out of the gate means she is a playful tease… I hope. OK, you got me Chase. I’m ready as a bull rider at 3-2-1-let ‘er rip.

5:25 pm: OK Chase… git along little doggie.

5:45 pm: Please, Chase.

6:12 pm: She ain’t comin’. She ain’t comin’. I woulda liked to try. I really… Damn!

6:20 pm: I’m outa here… for good. Hit the road, Jack, one more time.

6:23 p.m Wednesday, same Starbucks: With tears streaming down her cheeks, she watches him walk out of her life. Slowly and with great effort, the gaunt, tall-ish lady holding her two-hour-cold tea, rises from a corner table. She knew in her heart she couldn’t. The imagined, caring romance had gone far beyond her reach, much too soon to be fully savored. The rejection sure to come would be one more blow to an already overwhelmed psyche.

Frightened and feeling even more alone, she adjusts her pink ball cap on the brunette wig that covers her bare head and brushes through the bustling coffee crowd of friends and lovers, all too involved to notice.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

A reprise from 2011: "Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!"

 "Lions and tigers and bears! Oh my!"
... A direct quote from Mrs Noah as she watched the animals, two-by-two, board the ark...  NOT!

Actually, Dorothy (Judy Garland) said it in The Wizard of Oz when all she had to contend with was a tornado, the Wizard, the wicked witch of the West, a bunch of Munchkins and her friends, a cowardly lion, a scarecrow without a brain and a tin man without a heart. Sounds like my old bowling team.

Anyhow, the subject today is animals...  human and the other kind. And if you want to see how it all began, (evolutionists, you can skip this part) take a look at Robert Crumb's illustrated Book of Genesis. It is truly cool.

Crumb, known for his comic book style and some rather "unusual" drawings and underground comic characterizations, stuck right to the book (that is, The Bible) for this one. Actually, his depiction is from the King James Bible and a 2004 translation called The Five Books of Moses... so Catholics, sit this one out unless you go immediately to confession. As an added bonus, you will finally get to see what God, Adam and Eve and that damn snake look like.

Other big news on the animal front... as told by Associated Press writer Jennifer Quinn who reported it so 'Milnesque:'

When we left them, Christopher Robin was going away, and Things were going to be Different. 

Now, more that eight decades later, a rumor is sweeping the Hundred Acre Wood. According to Owl, who heard it from Rabbit, who heard it from Piglet, the adventures are about to resume. It falls to the bear to pass on the news to Eeyore.

"It's Christopher Robin," said Winnie-the-Pooh. "He's coming back. "

And so it is... after 84 years, the first authorized sequel to A.A. Milne's classic tales, Return to the Hundred Acre Wood, is now on sale. Just that thought brings back rich memories of those bed time stories read when my kids were as young as theirs are now.

Alan Alexander Milne, 1882-1956,  was an English novelist and playwright who gained legendary status as the author of the Winnie-the-Poo series of children's tales and poems. As beloved as his characters in the series were to the children, the stories weren't written for his son... or children at all.  They were intended, he said, for the child within us, as simple lessons of life.

And, looking as some of Pooh's quotes, what lessons they are:

When late morning rolls around and you're feeling a bit out of sorts, don't worry; you're probably just a little eleven o'clockish.

When looking at your two paws, as soon as you have decided which of them is the right one, then you can be sure the other one is the left.

To the uneducated, an A is just three sticks.

Those who are clever, who have a Brain, never understand anything.

Owl hasn't exactly got Brain, but he Knows Things.

If you want to make a song more hummy, add a few tiddely poms.

The more it snows (Tiddely pom),
The more it goes (Tiddely pom),
The more it goes (Tiddely pom),
On snowing. And nobody knows (Tiddely pom),
How cold my toes (Tiddely pom),
How cold my toes (Tiddely pom),
Are growing.

Don't underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can't hear, and not bothering.

Just because an animal is large, it doesn't mean he doesn't want kindness; however big Tigger seems to be, remember that he wants as much kindness as Roo.

If the person you are talking to doesn't appear to be listening, be patient. It may simply be that he has a small piece of fluff in his ear.

My spelling is Wobbly. It's good spelling but it Wobbles, and the letters get in the wrong places.

It is more fun to talk with someone who doesn't use long, difficult words but rather short, easy words like "What about lunch?

If you live to be a hundred, I want to live to be a hundred minus one day, so I never have to live without you.

Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again?

I used to believe in forever
But forever's too good to be true.

I've missed you, Pooh Bear... in more ways than you know.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Life has its ups and downs but architecture is forever

You could live here... but if the cost doesn't kill you, the commute might.

Yeah, it could be a touch pricey at $100 mil (plus annual upkeep charges of $150-200,000 per year) but you have to admit, not having to mow the lawn could be worth it. The commute however, is another story.

Mumbai Tower
For people living near the top in tall places--the 80th floor of 111W 57th, overlooking Central Park in NYC or the world's tallest residential structure, the Mumbai World One Tower--your annual elevator rides alone could total 400-plus miles... and not an inch of it is exercise.

You're talking about the equivalent of one full work week of elevator rides, not counting that bratty kid downstairs who runs in and presses all the buttons before you can stop him. And if you have varicose veins, bad feet and/or claustrophobia, you learn money can't buy you everything.

Despite the thought that living high is the exclusive option of the very rich and bold, especially because your building looks like a thin stick high in the air, subject to wind, violent storms and clouds, it is the elevator itself that imposes strict limitations on viability.

111 W 57th St. NYC
Most of today's elevators are limited by how much cable is needed to raise and lower the elevator car and how much will fit at the top by its weight and the space required. If you think 100 floors of fishing line takes a lot of space, imagine if it is thick cable strong enough to support an elevator-full, plus an occasional grand piano and more. Even super piano movers Laurel and Hardy couldn't hack that.

Tall buildings hold their own fascination. Tallest today is the beautiful Burj Kahlifa in Dubai rising about half-mile into the clouds. But that will soon be eclipsed two or three times in the next five years. A building today, because of innovations in elevators and a better understanding of the laws of nature, could be a mile high. How would you like to live on floor 357? What a ride that would be.

Elevators, the biggest drawback to date, will soon be able to travel up, down and sideways at rapid speed, with multiple cars in the same channel, as maglev technology comes into play. These cars will speed along on rails using counter-affecting magnets that allows them to travel on a thin cushion of air... no more cables and lots more control!

Architects have also come to understand that putting counter-weights at the top of such buildings reduces sway and a feeling of "seasickness" and unease... but maybe not for me. Fortunately, being 'much less than rich' has its benefits. Counter weights can be anywhere from 300 to 800 tons apiece. That's the equivalent of 100 African elephants or 20 tractor-trailers or 20 humpback whales or 6 Boeing 787's. How's that for wow factor?

So you like high? How's this for someone who builds those tall things. (Photo from NYTimes weekly magazine.) 

Tall and ultra-tall buildings are majestic and awesome but good architecture at any level is like a symphony. All one has to do to enjoy is visit Columbus, Indiana. This city of 45,000 just south of Indianapolis has many attributes but perhaps the greatest is that it is the home of the Cummins Engine Company. Its Chairman of many years ago, the late J. Irwin Miller, launched a charitable foundation that helped subsidize a large number of building projects in the city... churches, homes, office buildings, parks and the like, by-up-and coming engineers and architects. Columbus is visited annually by architectural students and tourists for its wealth of beautiful structures throughout. It is designated a National Historic Landmark by The National Park Service and is well worth the trip.

Every great architect is--necessarily--a poet. He (she) must be 
a great interpreter of his time, his day, his age.
Frank Lloyd Wright

We shape our buildings; thereafter, they shape us.
Winston Churchill

The mother of art is architecture. Without an architecture 
of our own we have no soul of our own civilization. 
Frank Lloyd Wright

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Wanna hear a good story? Listen...

Paul had lost his precious heirloom pocket watch... the family treasure his father gave him; the one his dad got from his father; the one that would go to his son someday... now lost.

Paul had been working all day in the barn, sweaty and tired when he reached in his pocket in hopes suppertime was near.

BUT IT WAS GONE! He quickly searched all his other pockets. His watch was gone, lost somewhere in the barn, sometime during the day.

The whole family was called to the search. They scrambled, they raised dust, they searched and shouted back and forth.  "Where do you THINK you may have lost it?" they asked.

"If you THINK I know that, wouldn't you THINK I would be looking there?" he hollered back in sarcastic desperation.

Anxious panic was the order of the search as everything that wasn't attached was moved, turned over or rolled away in hopes the watch was waiting there. Pitchforks cautiously turned over every shock of hay. Animals were moved here, then there, to great discord. Hens' nests were examined but only turned up eggs.

After what seemed like hours, mom called a stop. "Let's quit for the day. It's past suppertime and we are all dirty, tired, frustrated and hungry. We'll look again tomorrow."

At the table, Paul moaned, "It's gone. I know it is."

"Now Paul, it's somewhere. We'll find it," mom promised in a hopeful tone. "Where is Mary?"

The screen door banged shut and Paul turned to admonish his 5-year-old daughter.

"Mary, how many times have I told you not to slam... " But Paul stopped short.

With a big smile on her face, Mary was dangling the precious watch on its chain.

Everyone rose and cheered. "But where," Paul asked, "and how did you find it?"

"After everyone left," Mary explained, "the dust settled and the animals quieted, I sat on that hay bale in the center of the barn and listened real hard. Then I heard a tiny tick-tocking near the chicken feed. You know that space beside the post...  the one that drops into that split in the floor? That's where it was hiding."

Mary listened, because she could. She just listened.

Don't you sometimes wonder what we might learn if we just listened more instead of thinking about what we are going to say when it is our turn to talk? We might actually remember the name of the person we were just introduced to.

In today's world, everyone talks all the time. Social media demands it and we all have something vitally important to say it seems.  We are bombarded by commercials telling us things we choose to tune out. Ordinary conversations carry on with one response overlapping the other. Politicians incite us with no chance to respond other than "Well that's for sure," or "Gimmie a break!" Forced listening creates a habit of accepting coercion without thought.

Where is the intelligence in all of that? Well programed robots are ruling the world... and we are becoming them.

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. 
Most people never listen. 
Ernest Hemingway

One advantage in talking to yourself is that you know
 at least somebody's listening.
Franklin P. Jones

One of the most sincere forms of respect is 
actually listening to what another has to say.
Bryant H. McGill

Listening is a positive act: you have to put yourself out to do it.
David Hockney

Congress is so strange. A man gets up to speak and says nothing, 
nobody listens then everybody disagrees. 
Will Rogers

A good listener is a good talker with a sore throat. 
Katherine Whitehorn 

Make sure you have finished speaking
 before your audience has finished listening. 
Dorothy Sarnoff

History repeats itself because no one listened the first time. 

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, 
does it make a noise?
Nothing happens if we don't listen

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

It takes two to tango, but how many to repopulate the earth?

If... just supposing... if two astronauts-- a handsome, virile male and attractive, fertile female-- were returning to Earth from a six-year mission to Mars, discover that while gone, the whole population of Earth has been decimated by a super-bug and they were the last of their species. Could they, upon return to Earth with all its resources intact but no other living humans, repopulate our planet?

Oh, before we go further, understand this is not (yet) a true story. The super-bug is no longer a factor as it died with the last of us. So... could they?

Believe it or not, while most of us seem to be thinking about The Kardashians, Donald Trump and The Bachelor, this is an oft-discussed topic... at least in the pseudo-scientific and sci-fi worlds.

Most practical thinkers of that crowd have a ready "NO WAY!" answer... but a few deeper thinkers theorize there is a way... not likely, but theoretically possible. Wanna read more? These are a variety of answers for that question on the website Quora, something for every possibility. It's a long read--with pictures--and interesting, if you care.

Meanwhile, here's what I had to say about that, old age, Adam and Eve and how they did it in The Bible version:

Methuselah holds the record at 969, according to The Bible. It issaid thathe didin't look a day over 900. He actually lived from Adam to Noah. But the first people had to live longer or where would we be? With more than 7 billion people on Earth now, we gotta die sooner... or else.

After Methuselah's 969 came Noah who made it to 950 and Seth was 912. Eve was up there in the 900's so it is said, but she gets extra credit because she had 56 children--33 sons and 23 daughters--all of them after her 100th birthday. Talk about late in life babies...

There's lots more of this interesting stuff including today's battle for the oldest on earth. Read the whole thing here

And remember... it you happen to find yourself as one of the last two, you've got a real job ahead of you.

He might look like Anthony Hopkins
"So where do you see yourself in 100 years?" Methuselah was asked in a job interview, or so the story goes.

"Oh, same old, same old."

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

More signs of the Apocalypse... ?

Tires! Do Not Shoot.


It is against F.B.I. policy to shoot a tire (or automobile) trying to stop anyone attempting to escape.

That said, it is perfectly legal to shoot the escapee if it might protect the public from being recklessly driven into.

In Maryland a few years back, this happened. In a recent review of the incident by the Bureau, the agents were jdeemed ustified in firing six bullets into a suspected drug dealer trying to evade capture, killing him. But they were NOT justified in putting two bullets into the car's tires.

Recap: Killing suspect, justified.  Shooting tire, not justified. Tires win!

Gorilla' My Dreams

When a 3-year-old boy fell into Cincinnati Zoo's gorilla enclosure, authorities had to shoot the magnificent 400-pound animal that grabbed the child. It was the only way to safely rescue the boy said all authorities who know, study and work with gorillas. The sad incident brought a firestorm of comment from everyone with an emotional but unknowledged opinion on how it should have been done to avoid killing the endangered beast.

But not everyone agreed the safety of the child was top priority. One person texted "NO. Attempt a tranquilizer. If it doesn't work (and the child is killed), it's a sad tragedy. Let the animal live."

So to re-recap the first two items: It's Gorillas and Tires 2, Humans 0

The Real Estate Market sucks for the rich!

The owner of a 13,000-square-foot home listed recently for $450 million has joined 27 other unsold properties listing for $100 million or more. So disturbingly, there's a glut in the 9-figure category home buyer's market. Knowing how difficult it is for some of us to find a buyer for homes in the $100 thousand -plus range, it sure makes one feel sad for those who can't unload their $100 million-plus bungalows.

The good news for average us is... it's a buyers' market!

Relaxation Hoodie!

Relaxation Hoodie
While we all can't afford a home in the $100 million-plus range, certainly we do have something in common with those who can. We all need to relax. So when this neat little relaxation hoodie hit the market, I thought everyone of us can afford this. It's only $330.

"What makes it so appealing," says the manufacturer, "is that it's not just your standard heaven-sent sweat shirt with a zipper; it's a hoodie designed to calm you down like a wearable tent. Named after Baker Miller pink--the classic, if somewhat debatable, psychological theory that painting prisons pink can calm down inmates--the hoodie zips all the way over your face to filter everything you see the tranquil color. Meanwhile, you stick your arms into two specially configured pockets that rest directly over the diaphragm, so you're naturally in tune with taking deeper, lower breaths."

And yes, it is a real product that you can buy today.  Julia Louis-Dreyfus says in Vanity Fair, "Putting on a pink straitjacket and zipping your entire head into a polypropylene bag has been scientifically proven to reduce anxiety? I'm claustrophobic, so when I tried this--while driving--it was ineffective."

But of course, that's her... and she's not like us. We are connoisseurs.

Golf's Wonders!

Tiger Woods, the greatest golfer who ever pitched and putted, went 3 for 3 balls in the water on a short par 3 over a lake in an exhibition, then said to an anticipating crowd, "All right, that's good for me." OK, so maybe he had a bad back... but 104 yards with a pitching wedge, really! When we're used to seeing miracles from this man, it's a sign.

Even more amazing, Ernie Els, the former World No. 1 golfer, 6-putted from 2 feet for a 9 on the first hole at this year's Masters--the highest score ever in the 80-year-old tournament on that par 4 hole. Still, at 5-over after the first hole, he completed the next 35 holes at just 3-over par, still, sadly, missing the cut. 

Jefferson's Hair!

A lock--14 strands--of Thomas Jefferson's hair sold at an auction in Texas for $6,875 nearly 190 years after the former president died. I recently had to pay to have my hair cut, then swept and thrown away. Go figure.

It was Jefferson who wrote, "We hold these truths to be self evident: All men are created equal; that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

As the principal author of our Declaration of Independence and our third President, maybe his hair is worth something special... he was.

And maybe, if we pay more attention to those words 1.1 million have died for in our wars, we just might gain back some of what we seem to have lost over time.

The Chicago Cubs!

World Series winner, 1908
Last World Series winner, 1908--108 years ago. Last appearance in a World Series, 1945. It's time! The Cubbies now have the best record in baseball and are 7 games ahead of their closest competitor. Magic number is 94 for God's sake! And they are favored in Las Vegas.

Sigh... it's a long season and Cub fans (me) have been here before... but hey, once more before the apocalypse... please.


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh my...

Click here for a delightful 34 seconds
Have I got a blog post for you today! Not only lions and tigers but elephants and giraffes and monkeys and wildebeests and zebras and ostriches, oh my.

It all started when Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus rightfully decided to retire their elephants for good. Elephants in the circus had served, to the delight of big-top patrons everywhere, for more than 100 years. We all said goodbye to Mable, April, Asia, Luna and Tonka on Sunday, May 1st. They we welcomed with a full banquet at Ringling's 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in Florida where they will live.

Also able to retire--at last--were 33 lions rescued from Colombia and Peru circuses that were airlifted to their new South Africa home. Bred in captivity, many of the lions were mistreated and mutilated by breaking their teeth and removing their claws. Because they cannot hunt, their Eden will be the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary where they will have large African expanses to enjoy at long last.

And as if to prove our love of these creatures is no fluke, The movie remake of Jungle Book is one of this year's biggest hits. We are true believers. We LOVE pets, to the tune of 150 million dogs and cats--about one for every two of us. And about 80 % of us refer to ourselves and mom and dad when talking to them. Only parrots answer back and they think it is ridiculous... but what do parrots know?

Nothing of our love of these animals, however, was a greater thrill than being able to travel to Africa and experience them in their own environment. Going to Kenya, Tanzania, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zambia three times only makes you want for more.

Another 'average' elephant encounter

Yes, we saw elephants almost everywhere and so close that it was sometimes frightening. At one point, our open vehicle was stuck in a rut and before help arrived, a pack of 20 or more elephants surrounded us while walking by, wondering what to make of the whole thing. I was less than 10 feet from a big bull at eye level... and as he flapped his ears while staring at me, I was as dead-still and non-staring as I could be.

Then there were lions, perhaps the most majestic of all. With our guide and in open vehicles, you can get so very close to animals who would attack if you were outside the vehicle. The animals though accept the vehicle as just part of the territory and pay little attention.

And yes, it can get a little scary. We sat for 30 minutes once as we watched two close lions in their mating ritual.  The male walked casually withing a few feet of our vehicle at one point... and you know that in a second, a lion could have you for a snack if desired. The guides who do not carry guns--are natives that have been thoroughly trained for the job, and they do know their stuff. They have to.

Like ostriches? I do. There were plenty of them.


And Cheetahs! We saw this mother teaching her two youngsters how to stalk and how to hunt. They were eyeing a zebra when they were spooked and ran before the attack.

And monkeys, lots of monkeys. No, we didn't doctor this photo. That's what he looked like.

Zebras too... the prey. We saw one with a bloodied shank. Obviously, our guide told us, he escaped last night... and tonight he will be taken.
We wondered why the animal was not killed to avoid that terrifying fate. The guide said they do nothing to alter the nature of the battle for survival.

Wildebeest are also a delicacy for the predators.

 And the African sunsets... they were always magnificent!

Yep, we took all the pictures... and there's more, of course, which I will share later. Hopefully, this will do for now.