Monday, July 24, 2017
Doris Day got a special surprise this past April when on her 93rd birthday somebody dug up her birth certificate and told her it was her 95th. So she had to skip 94 entirely, which must have felt weird. If you have to skip a year in your life, probably 14 would be my first choice. I’m sure Ms. Day would not be offended if I mention that 95 is real old. Also very old: Olivia de Havilland, who is 101. And Issur Danielovitch (Kirk Douglas) is 100 years old. I assume that he no longer does his own stunts.
Monday, July 17, 2017
Wall Street is named after a long-gone wall. There’s a road called Watertown Plank Road, which started out as a plank road (well, duh) between Milwaukee and Watertown, Wisconsin. My buddy JP saw the old planks when they tore it up for resurfacing when he was a boy. Near to my house we have Lapalco Boulevard, which started out as the access road to the Louisiana Power and Light Company. I said all that to say this: Until I saw an exit sign on I-55, I had not known there was a place on the outskirts of Memphis called Whitehaven.
Monday, July 10, 2017
First this update. A global consortium of news organizations is meeting in Brussels to decide once and for all how they’re going to pronounce “Qatar.” Now, about hospitals. They like to build them with big windows looking out over some pleasant vista. For the lucky customer lying on the bed while enjoying a life-threatening ailment, this is sort of useless since what they’re looking at is ceiling tiles. The window is for visitors, to give them something to say. “They feeding you alright?” “Say, you got a great view from up here.” Anything’s better than “Jeez, are you gonna die?”
Monday, July 3, 2017
You know those machines where they put a silvery helmet on your head and another one on a chicken and ZAP your mind goes into the chicken while your body starts pecking around for grubs? I want one of those. I would hook it up to a long-distance phone line and use it to visit relatives in distant cities. Back at the house, I would simply spread newspaper on the floor and sprinkle a bunch of cracked corn everywhere. Sure, the family would have to get used to talking to a chicken. But it would save a lot of driving.
Monday, June 26, 2017
A dashboard is called a dashboard because that was the term for the front of a buggy that keeps mud from the horse’s hooves from splattering you. It’s still called “film school” because “movie college” sounds stupid. My grandpa called the refrigerator an icebox and my tricycle a velocipede. It’s like we repurpose old words because we’re afraid of running out of noises to make for all the new stuff. But if you visit any tavern at closing time, you’ll hear plenty of words just begging for a definition. Fnarf and blararararh are out there, waiting to be given meaning.
Monday, June 19, 2017
In 1856, on the floor of the U.S. Senate, South Carolina Representative Preston Brooks beat Massachusetts Senator Charles Sumner nearly to death. He broke his cane to pieces on Sumner’s head. Sumner, a radical abolitionist, had recently made an anti-slavery speech that Brooks found offensive. Sumner suffered head injuries that plagued him the rest of his life; Brooks was fined $300 and received dozens of replacement canes from supporters. Sumner came back and kept talking. He said, “Say, sir, in your madness, that you own the sun, the stars, the moon; but do not say that you own a man.”
Monday, June 12, 2017
In movies, gunshots often cause something called a “flesh wound,” which is no big deal although it really smarts. This can’t be right. Neither is the next step, which is finding a very drunk doctor and making him drink a pot of piping hot coffee so he can dig out the bullet. Having experienced the effects of alcohol and caffeine, I can report that they do not in combination qualify one to perform shade tree surgery. Could the movies be wrong? Will we not in our blasted and arid post-apocalyptic future be somehow motivated to wear goggles and fingerless gloves?
Monday, June 5, 2017
“Plumbum” sounds like slightly naughty term of affection. It’s not, though; it’s Latin for the element lead. Pliny the Elder named some flowers Plumbago, maybe because the white dust on the leaves reminded him of white lead, a terrific but poisonous pigment. Plumbago is also an archaic word for graphite, which looked like lead ore to the folks who mined it in Seathwaite, England. They first used it to mark sheep, an early pre-subway form of graffiti. But there’s never been any lead in pencils. There’s plenty in water pipes, though, so the folks who fix them are called plumbers.
Monday, May 29, 2017
I’ve never enjoyed anything with the word “gym” in front of it. Gym class, along with gym teachers, did not appeal to me at all. They demanded a lot of unnecessary movement, while the outside world offered a treasure trove of sedentary occupations involving Mad magazine and Milk Duds. And gym class tended to provoke more breathing in one class period than I liked to do in an entire day. I believe that building upper body strength can shift one’s center of gravity, leading to potentially hazardous instability. Anyway, who wants broad shoulders? They make your head look so small.
Monday, May 22, 2017
On January 1, 1802, the town of Cheshire, Massachusetts presented President Thomas Jefferson with a 1,234 pound cheese, known as “The Cheshire Mammoth Cheese.” It was engraved with the motto “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God,” and came with a letter certifying that “the cheese was procured by the personal labor of freeborn farmers with the voluntary and cheerful aid of their wives and daughters, without the assistance of a single slave.” That’s what America once was and God willing, can be again. Free cheese. Free people. Grandiose and looney gestures that actually make absolutely no sense at all.
Monday, May 15, 2017
You’re walking home from the tavern. You have enjoyed as much Pabst Blue Ribbon as you can possibly contain. The quickest way home is across the park, right over the Little League diamond. It’s dark. There’s a small cinderblock equipment shed, and you’re passing right behind it. Hm. This is probably a good place to urinate. Definitely. So okay, stand at the wall and – wait – is that a flashlight? Is it pointed directly at your crotchal region? Yeah. It’s the security guard, who was standing in front of the little building. Next time, walk once around. Loop before you leak.
Monday, May 8, 2017
Vitamin B12 is an important nutrient, abundant in meat, fish, eggs, and dairy. Rabbits are vegans, and they have evolved a strategy for getting enough B12. There are bacteria in the large intestine that excrete the vitamin, but that’s too far down the alimentary canal for effective absorption. So bunnies eat their own poop, accepting halitosis as the cost of avoiding a dietary deficiency. Hence the phrase “hare's breath escape.” Feces is a rich source of B12. It’s good to know that even with the excellent health care their high office affords them, House Republicans are still taking their supplements.
Monday, May 1, 2017
Okay, so what happens is the sun shines on the oceans and evaporates water and makes clouds. And then it rains everywhere, including on land, which is largely water soluble. So some of the land melts and runs off into rivers. And the rivers flow downhill until the water ends up back in the ocean. And when it gets evaporated again, it leaves all those bits of the surface world behind. Doesn’t it seem like the water cycle would eventually dissolve all the dry land and wash it down into the sea? Is this something I should be concerned about?
Monday, April 24, 2017
I don’t know why I bother. All the good writing has already been done, creating a rich natural resource. It’s just a matter of judicious harvesting. Like I found 58 percent of today’s rant on Wikipedia, ripe for the cutting and pasting: “Handfeeding or touching large barracudas in general is to be avoided. Spearfishing around barracudas can also be dangerous, as they are quite capable of ripping a chunk from a wounded fish thrashing on a spear, or out of the arm which is holding the spear. Humans are not on their preferred menu, but haste can lead to confusion.”
Monday, April 17, 2017
Imagine you have your head in the refrigerator and notice that the cottage cheese is about to pass its sell-by date so you grab a spoon and some celery salt and sit down and eat that stuff until you feel soggy and morose. Arkansas was going through something like that with their death penalty drugs; they needed to hurry up and kill eight people in 11 days before their poison expired. I’m picturing Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson sitting on the edge of his bed reading the Viagra bottle and saying, “Honey, we need to have intercourse seven times before May.”
Monday, April 10, 2017
Here’s an experiment you can conduct in the privacy of your own head. Find a photo of Pablo Picasso as a young man, an early picture of George Szell, and one of 30-year-old Henry Miller. Okay, now compare what they looked like as old men. Holy crap! They’re like, um, triplegangers. I call this MFC (Male Facial Convergence) and it strikes an alarming percentage of us. Beyond a certain age there’s just three basic models: Geezer, like the previous examples, codger (Mao, Churchill) and coot (George Burns, Amiri Baraka). Of course, there’s also a strong family resemblance between all newborns.
Monday, April 3, 2017
Leaf blowers are a great way to create a market for small engines and gasoline. They’re perfect from the seller’s point of view – a solution that creates its own problem. You blow leaves and other garden detritus over your property line, and your neighbor has to fire up his own leaf blower. You could always use a broom and rake, but that would be cheaper and quieter, plus those are food-fueled technologies which improve the user’s health and reduce gym expenditures. Better to buy something to address the sense of need created by the previous purchase. Like I said. Perfect.
Monday, March 27, 2017
Saturday was voting day, a small election to choose between three lawyers who want to be civil court judge. Nobody shows up for these; probably the candidate with the biggest family has the edge. I voted for the one whose campaign invoked Faith the least. The next day I saw a Vermont license plate, pretty rare down here. The motto was “Green Mountain State,” which is sort of silly, because that’s what “Vermont” means. Like if Pennsylvania’s said “Penn’s Woods State.” Then I passed a leftover sign that said “Vote Today.” And I thought, “Actually that should say ‘Vote Yesterday.’”
Monday, March 20, 2017
The first LP I ever bought was called The Beatles' Second Album. I must have recently turned 10. Took it home, put it on the turntable. My dad’s stereo was, as we used to say, bitchin’. A McIntosh 240 into a pair of AR 2a speakers, which if you had that stuff today you could sell it a collector and use the money to buy it back. Anyway, the first song started with this great guitar intro and then George Harrison’s reedy double tracked voice came in and that was it. “Roll Over Beethoven” is still my favorite Beatles’ song.
Monday, March 13, 2017
Look, you don’t have to like anything about Steve Bannon and his ideas to concede that he is an educated, intelligent, accomplished, and imaginative creature. Yeah, he’s some kind of monster. He’s also a working-class guy who’s managed to earn a couple of master’s degrees and had successful careers as a naval officer, an investment banker, a media executive – before becoming maybe the most powerful grownup in the entire world. He gets paid to tell a rich kid what to do. Tough gig. I’m guessing probably the hardest part of the job is concealing his utter contempt for Donald Trump.
Monday, March 6, 2017
If you’re like me, you’ve had it pretty good so far. We got to watch Howdy Doody and Whirlybirds and Man from UNCLE. We listened to Chuck Berry and Brenda Lee and Sheb Wooley, noshed on McDonald’s and Hostess and Bonomo Turkish Taffy. They dressed us in Keds and Levis, drove us around in Fords and Chevys and Oldsmobiles and Kaisers, immunized us against polio and smallpox and diphtheria and pertussis and tetanus. We had Schwinns and Yoyos and Silly Putty and Barbies and GI Joes. Nobody’s ever had it better. Ever. So where did all this meanness come from?
Monday, February 27, 2017
When a really terrible viral infection started killing off millions of people in 1918, Europe was still having what we call the First World War (they called it the Only World War). To keep up wartime morale, newspapers in countries like Germany and England didn’t report on the deadly epidemic. But Spain was neutral, and those death tolls were made public earlier. So that’s why it got called Spanish Influenza, though it actually may have come from Kansas. Graham crackers also come from Kansas, and are sometimes given along with lukewarm tea to people who have the flu. Coincidence? Perhaps.
Monday, February 6, 2017
I like going to Walmart, because that’s where America is. One time I was in the Walmart in Lewisburg, West Virginia, and a little girl said, “Come on, Daddy, the shoes are over yonder,” and he said, “Alright.” Bet nobody says yonder at Nordstrom. Yesterday I rode to the one on Tchoupitoulas and we were all cheerfully bumping into each other and saying excuse me and I got 11 dollar pants and a cellophane package of Israeli tea biscuits. The package fit nicely in my shirt pocket, so I rode my bicycle home at dusk, eating cookies all the way.
Monday, January 30, 2017
No no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no no.
Monday, January 23, 2017
It’s not the hats. You can tell the good guys because they spend their days teaching young’uns how to whittle and helping schoolmarms off stagecoaches. Bad guys, when they’re not kidnapping the daughters of ranchers whose spreads lie over rich veins of gold, tend to sit around in ramshackle hideouts playing cards and drinking whiskey. They lie and cheat and are not nice to their horses. It’s not like the two sides on a checkerboard. It’s asymmetric, like two different games. To win, the bad guys have to kill the good guy. Good guys win simply by remaining good guys.
Monday, January 16, 2017
Questions for this week: Are all the angry white men going to stop being angry now that they’ve run the table? Or is being angry the whole point? Will we finally get back all the guns that Obama took away back in 2008? Will the pace of global warming accelerate as a consequence of the tremendous friction of 38 dead presidents spinning madly in their graves? And finally, how could anybody imagine that a smart businessman would pay somebody in Moscow to piss on him when there are millions of Americans who would be happy to do it for free?
Monday, January 9, 2017
You can dig in your heels all you want, but if like me you are a member of the Biggest Generation you’re on a steep slick slide to oblivion. The void looms ahead. For some of us, it feels like the bright promise of decades of fatalism is finally paying off. Whee! Meanwhile there’s a lot of loose talk about staying independent in our Golden Sunset Years, which is really crap if you think about it. Seriously, for your whole life you’ve had shelter without building, bread without baking, meat without slaughter. It’s been assisted living from the git go.
Monday, January 2, 2017
We’ve had ninjas all wrong. The real deal is they make themselves invisible in whatever environment they‘re in. For some theater production in the past, the director dressed his sneaky murderer as a sceneshifter, because audiences were used to seeing these figures in black lurking around the set and wouldn’t expect them to interact with the plot, much less kill somebody. So what we think of as a ninja costume is just a Japanese stagehand outfit. To be really ninja-like, you’d want to dress as someone truly invisible. Like a homeless veteran. On a busy corner. With a cardboard sign.