Sunday, April 26, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Saturday Picture Show, April 25, 2015

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

Friday, April 24, 2015

How does the historical truth Affleck me?

News item (from the Hollywood Reporter):

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

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

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

How this affects me:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And Randolph said, "Your light was on." 

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The best teachers also learn from their students

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

His answer: A pencil.

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

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

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

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

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

And the sadness piled up on her desk.

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

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

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

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

Kyle Schwartz

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

What's your beef?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There ya go.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Playing the symbols

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh no.........

Monday, April 20, 2015

O, say can you see, McHenry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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