Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Quips and Quotations (Yuletide Edition)

The Supreme Court has ruled that they cannot have a nativity scene in Washington, D.C. This wasn't for any religious reasons. They couldn't find three wise men and a virgin.

--Jay Leno

Aren't we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas?
You know...the birth of Santa.

--Bart Simpson

I once bought my kids a set of batteries for Christmas with a note on it saying, toys not included.

--Bernard Manning

Once again we find ourselves enmeshed in the Holiday Season, that very special time of year when we join with our loved ones in sharing centuries-old traditions such as trying to find a parking space at the mall. We traditionally do this in my family by driving around the parking lot until we see a shopper emerge from the mall, then we follow her, in very much the same spirit as the Three Wise Men, who 2,000 years ago followed a star, week after week, until it led them to a parking space.

--Dave Barry

Christmas is a time when everybody wants his past forgotten and his present remembered.

--Phyllis Diller

Christmas at my house is always at least six or seven times more pleasant than anywhere else. We start drinking early. And while everyone else is seeing only one Santa Claus, we'll be seeing six or seven.

--W.C. Fields

Three men died on Christmas Eve and were met by Saint Peter at the pearly gates. "In honor of this holy season," Saint Peter said, "You must each possess something that symbolizes Christmas to get into heaven." The first man fumbled through his pockets and pulled out a lighter. He flicked it on. "It represents a candle," he said. "You may pass through the pearly gates," Saint Peter said. The second man reached into his pocket and pulled out a set of keys. He shook them and said, "They're bells." Saint Peter said, "You may pass through the pearly gates." The third man started searching desperately through his pockets and finally pulled out a pair of nylons. St. Peter looked at the man with a raised eyebrow and asked, "And just what do those symbolize?" The man replied, "They're Carol's."

--Anonymous (who may have had a little too much egg nog when he told that one.)

Let me see if I've got this Santa business straight. You say he wears a beard, has no discernible source of income and flies to cities all over the world under cover of darkness? You sure this guy isn't laundering illegal drug money?

--Tom Armstrong

Top Ten Signs Your Mall Santa Is Overworked:

10.Instead of, "What do you want for Christmas?" Asks, "Where the hell am I?"
9.Calls every kid he meets "Ricky"
8.Constantly breaks down sobbing like John Boehner
7.Excuses himself to bathe in the fountain
6.Will only hear what you want if you go through a pat down or full body scan
5.Barricades himself under the escalator brandishing a sharpened candy cane
4.Angrily tells everyone, "You're getting a Waterpik"
3.Many times a day, mall security has to taser him
2.Asks every kid, "You're not Jewish, are you?"
1.Instead of milk and cookies, asks for Xanax

--David Letterman

And he, he himself, the Grinch, carved the roast beast.

--Dr. Seuss

(Merry Christmas, folks--KJ)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Old Standard

(Originally posted on 12/10/2008--KJ)

The one disease where you don't look forward to the cure.

--Citizen Kane

I dread getting old.

Not that it's imminent, but I do have a birthday coming up, so it'll be just a little bit closer this year than it was this same time last year. Which was just a little bit closer that year than that same time the year before.

Nice, leisurely pace, huh? Then how come it feels more like justalittlebitcloserthisyearthanitwasthissametimelastyear whichwasjustalittlebitcloserthatyearthanthatsametimetheyearbefore?

And that's just during the waking hours.

Why should I look forward to the aging process? Liver spots change your complexion. There's wet spaghetti where your neck used to be. Your fingers and toes petrify. Your flesh turns to corduroy. A speed bump sprouts from your back. And, if your male, your pelvis apparently disappears so that you have to pull your waist band all the way up to your nipples.

When you're old your voice hushes up. Maybe that's where the phrase "dirty old man" comes from. If you're going to talk like an obscene phone caller anyway...

You walk, talk, think, eat, breathe, and do absolutely nothing, at a much slower pace. You become more susceptible to gravitational force. Why else do so many elderly people walk with their heads bent over like they're at Catholic Mass?

When you're old your eyesight deteriorates so that your squint is just one more line on your face. Your hearing deteriorates so that you tip sideways, like a buoy, trying to understand what people are saying. And, finally, your mind deteriorates so that you no longer have to squint or tip your head sideways, as you can now see and hear people who aren't even there!

Getting old is a bummer. Huh? What's that? Nobody says "bummer" anymore? That's another problem with the aging process--your vocabulary deteriorates.

Thinking about all this the other night left me in a very bad way. So I did what I often do when consumed with despair. I reached for the remote and started channel surfing.

I came upon Entertainment Tonight. This show has been on the air for a very long time now. In fact, I think the year it premiered, the term "bummer" was at the height of it's popularity. Anyway, watching ET I flashed back to a segment that aired, oh, God, some twenty-five years earlier.

Estelle Winwood was an acclaimed British stage actress who, in her later years, played character roles in Hollywood movies. In 1983, she turned 100. About this same time, comedian George Burns, then 87, came out with a book titled How to Live to be 100 or More. Some publicist got the clever idea that Miss Winwood should appear at a book signing with Burns.

She agreed to do it, but may not have been vetted properly. As they both sat there before the assembled media (including Entertainment Tonight), a reporter held the book, about the positive aspects of aging, up to Miss Winwood. She took one look at the title and said, "Oh, dear, don't remind me!"

A moment later, she turned to George Burns, whom she had apparently never met nor, in spite his being very well-known in 1983, heard of before, and asked, "Are you some sort of doctor?"

Never one to take offense easily, Burns answered, "No, I'm an entertainer. I sing a little, dance a little, tell a few jokes."

"Oh," exclaimed Estelle Winwood. "Why, how marvelous!"

If I could just hang around with the likes of those two, I think I'd look forward to aging.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

In Memoriam: Harry (Henry) Morgan 1915-2011

Actor. The Ox-Bow Incident (watch how the focus is on Morgan during Henry Fonda's monologue). Dragonwyke. All My Sons. The Big Clock. Race Street. Scandal Sheet. High Noon. The Glen Miller Story. Inherit the Wind. What Did You Do in the War, Daddy? Dragnet (1967-1970 TV series). Support Your Local Sheriff. Support Your Local Gunfighter. Viva Max. The Apple Dumpling Gang (believe it or not, it was a box office hit, so I felt I had to include it.) MASH (TV series). Dragnet (1987 movie).

"He [Colonel Potter on MASH] was firm. He was a good officer and he had a good sense of humor. I think it's the best part I ever had."

(That may have been the best part Morgan ever had, but it wasn't the funniest character he ever played on MASH. A year before he became a regular member of the cast, when the man he eventually replaced, McLean Stevenson, was still on the show, Morgan played Major General Bartford Hamilton Steele. But first, a number --KJ)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Jingle Bawls

Religious Persecution 64 AD

Nero: I command the hungry lions be sent into the arena!

Christian: AAAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

Religious Persecution 2011

Retail sales clerk: Happy holidays!

Christian : AAAAAUUUUUGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Quips and Quotations (Moving Pictures Edition)

When we were growing up and saw a Ray Harryhausen movie, we were interested in how it was done. But thank God we got to go through the magic of seeing it before we knew how it was done. You were able to get this beautiful, pure, visceral response to something without knowing too much about it.

--Tim Burton

It's funny how the colors of the real world only seem really real when you watch them on a screen.

--Anthony Burgess

I don't think you go to a play to forget, or to a movie to be distracted. I think life generally is a distraction and that going to a movie is a way to get back, not go away.

--Tom Noonan

That [The Wizard of Oz] was my one big Hollywood hit, but, in a way, it hurt my picture career. After that, I was typecast as a lion, and there just weren't many parts for lions.

--Bert Lahr

Several tons of dynamite are set off in this picture--none of it under the right people.

--James Agee (Sorry, don't know the exact picture he's talking about, but there are no shortage of examples, including some made long after Mr. Agee passed on--KJ)

Monday, November 14, 2011

Archival Revival: Futures Market

(originally posted on 4/19/2009)

I once went to a psychic fair. I don't really believe in that stuff, but, like Fox Mulder on The X-Files, I want to believe. In anything. God, Zeus, Ouija boards, fortune cookies, eight balls, etc. If you don't believe in anything, then you're just stuck with, and stuck in, a cold, meaningless Universe, constantly seeking succor in soulless materialism. Quite frankly, I'm sick and tired of soulless materialism. At least I am when I get my credit card statement. With that in mind, I set out on my spiritual journey. Holiday Inn. The Cypress Room. 12-8. $10 entrance fee.

I entered the Cypress Room, and sat down with the first available soothsayer. I had expected an exotic looking woman dressed like a gypsy, but this was just a 40sh lady in a blouse and slacks who looked like she could have been a cub scout den mother.

"What can I do for you?" she asked cheerfully.

"I want you to tell my fortune," I replied.

"Palm reading or astrology? I do both."

"Which is more accurate?"

"That all depends which one you believe in more."

"I'm not sure I believe in either."

"Oh, you don't believe? But you should always believe, because if you don't--"

"Give me those two choices again"

"Palm reading or astrology."

"You said palm reading first. I'll go with palms"

"That's an odd way to decide, but OK. It'll cost you $20.

"Um...Is astrology cheaper?"

"Nope. They're both $20"

I pulled $20 out of my wallet, and handed it to her. She took the money, and then my right palm, and studied it carefully.

"Ah, you have one line going across, and then a smaller one running parallel, and then one long slant. See?"

I looked at my palm. Sure enough, I had one line going across, a smaller one running parallel, and one long slant.

"So, what does that mean?" I asked.

"I won't know until I examine your left palm."

So I held out my left palm.

"Ah," she said. "You have two kind of parallel slants that fade away."

I looked at my palm. Sure enough, two kind of parallel slants that faded away.

"And?" I asked.

"Hold on," she replied. From under the table, she pulled up a soft cover book about half the size of the metropolitan yellow pages. It was titled Bilgewater's Complete Guide to Palm Reading .

"You're consulting a book?" I asked.

"Well, you said you're not sure whether you believe or not. I thought a book might seem more credible."

She lay the book out in front of me so I could read along. She flipped to a chapter or section titled RIGHT PALM, and from there to a subsection titled PARALLEL LINES and from there to a sub-subsection titled LONG SLANT, eventually coming to a drawing that sort of looked like my right palm, except there seemed to be more space between the parallel lines. Anyway, she went to a left palm box on the right hand side. She guided her index finger down until she came to sub-sub-subsection titled FADE AWAY. She turned to the next page, and found a sub-sub-sub subsection titled PARALLEL LINES. Underneath all that was a prediction:

You are due for a surprise.

"What kind of surprise?" I asked.

"Oh, the book won't say. If you knew what it was, it wouldn't be a surprise, would it?"

"Well, when will this surprise happen?"

"The book won't tell you that either. If you knew the exact day and time of the surprise, you'd be expecting it, and there'd be no surprise."

"Can I see that book a second?"

She slid the book toward me.

I looked at the copyright. "This book came out four years ago. How do I know the surprise didn't happen in the last four years?"

She slid the book back toward her, and flipped through a few pages. "OK, it's right here in the introduction. 'Prophecies are not retroactive. Recipient must be fully informed'"

"I don't feel like I'm fully informed."

"Let me see what they mean by 'fully informed'. I'll look in the index."

"I'm surprised you're so dependent on a book. It kind of takes the mysticism out of it."

"Ah! Did you hear what you just said?! You're surprised! The prophecy came true!"

"What are you telling me? That the prediction is the prediction?!"

"As long as you heard the prediction before the prediction came true. There's nothing retroactive going on here!"

At that point I was ready to walk away in anger, except...the prediction had come true. I was surprised. But wait--when she first plunked that book on the table I was a bit surprised, and that was before the prediction. Of course, after the prediction, I was even more surprised that my surprise was the surprise.

"Do degrees of surprise count?" I asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Never mind. You said you do astrology?"

"That will be another $20."

Another $20! I had already spent $10 to get into the fair in the first place, and then $20 on the palm reading. This spiritual journey was costing me more than soulless materialism! Still, when better to take the leap of faith then when you're in the hole? I gave her another $20.

"First off," she said. "When's your birthday?"

"December 15."

"So you're a Sagittarius. What year were you born?"

"1961"

"What time?"

"I don't know the exact time. It was in the morning."

"Predawn or post dawn?"

"Um, predawn, because I remember my father once telling me he was about to go to bed, when he suddenly had to rush my mother to the hospital."

The fortune teller nodded, reached under the table, and produced a book titled Bilgewater's Complete Guide to Astrology. Again, she laid the book out in front of me to see. She flipped the pages to a section or chapter titled, not surprisingly, SAGITTARIUS , then to a subsection titled DECEMBER, 15, then to a sub-subsection titled 1961, and to a sub-sub-subsection titled MORNING, and finally, a sub-sub-sub-subsection titled PRE-DAWN . Underneath all that was a prediction:

You shall experience sorrow.

"What kind of sorrow?" I asked.

"Oh, the book won't tell you."

"Now, why not? There's no surprise involved!"

"Maybe not. But if you know what the sorrow is, you'll steel yourself against it, and it won't be as sorrowful."

"OK, this is enough psychic phenomenon for me. I'm sorry I even came."

"Ah! Did you hear yourself? You said you were sorry!"

"So?"

"The word sorry is derived from sorrow. Or sorrow is derived from sorry. One of the two. Sorry-sorrow, sorry-sorrow, sorry-sorrow!"

I guess she had me there. I had come in contact with the supernatural. If only the supernatural hadn't ended as soon as it had begun.

"I don't suppose you read tea leaves?" I asked.

"Oh, I left that book at home."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Quips and Quotations (Baby Boomer Nostalgia Edition)

What a field-day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and they carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
It's time we stop, hey, what's that sound
Everybody look what's going down

--Buffalo Springfield

Picket lines and picket signs
Don't punish me with brutality
Talk to me, so you can see
Oh, what's going on, what's going on
Yeah, what's going on, oh, what's going on

--Marvin Gaye

We shall overcome,
We shall overcome,
We shall overcome, some day.
Oh, deep in my heart,
I do believe
We shall overcome, some day.

--Pete Seeger, Joan Baez, many others.

(Guess I'm just an old fogey living in the past. I'll have something more contemporary next time. Promise--KJ)

Friday, October 7, 2011

Computation

With the recent passing of Steve Jobs, I felt I should say a few words about him and his legacy. After all, this blog does try its best to keep up with current events, and his demise made the front page in newpapers all over the world. In what newspapers his products haven't driven out of business. But what to say? I'm rather ignorant on the subject. You see, I don't own an iMac, iPod, Mac Pro, iPhone, MacBook Air, or iPad. I'm not even sure what some of those things are.

It's not that I wouldn't mind owning all that (according to some obits I've read) civilization-revolutionizing stuff. It's just that...

iMac............................................................................$1199
iPod.............................................................................$299
Mac Pro......................................................................$2499
iPhone.........................................................................$199
MacBook Air................................................................$999
iPad..............................................................................$499

...I'm on a budget.

My wallet could use some revolutionizing.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Quips and Quotations (Homespun Edition)

Politics has got so expensive that it takes a lot of money even to get beat with.

You can't say civilization don't advance, however, for in every war they kill you in a new way.

We are the first nation to starve to death in a storehouse that's overfilled with everything we want.

When you get into trouble 5,000 miles from home, you’ve got to have been looking for it.

We all can't be heroes, for someone has to sit on the curb and clap as they go by.

An onion can make people cry, but there has never been a vegetable invented to make them laugh.

Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can't buy enough to eat.

When the Judgment Day comes civilization will have an alibi, "I never took a human life, I only sold the fellow the gun to take it with."

The more you read and observe about this Politics thing, you got to admit that each party is worse than the other. The one that's out always looks the best.

The fellow that can only see a week ahead is always the popular fellow, for he is looking with the crowd. But the one that can see years ahead, he has a telescope but he can't make anybody believe that he has it.

I bet you if I had met him and had a chat with him [Leon Trotsky], I would have found him a very interesting and human fellow, for I never yet met a man that I dident [sic] like. When you meet people, no matter what opinion you might have formed about them beforehand, why, after you meet them and see their angle and their personality, why, you can see a lot of good in all of them.

--Will Rogers

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Following Update (Berlitz Edition)

OK, let me see if I can get through this without causing an international incident.

I'd like to welcome caterina serra, who may also go by the names "Stella" and "Star". More about that in a moment.

Regular readers of this blog know that I usually welcome new followers, as I did in the above paragraph, and add their web site to my "List of Blogs" as long as I don't find find it objectionable, which to date hasn't happened. This time around, something happened that almost did keep me from adding a blog. Nothing objectionable, just perplexing.

Ms. Serra is Italian. Or at least she lives in Italy, and her various blogs are written in Italian, a language I unfortunately do not speak. I did take about two weeks of Spanish, a language I'm told is closely related to Italian, in the 9th grade. Unfortunately, I couldn't seem to master the whole thinking-in-one-language-while-talking-in-another bit, and the teacher suggested I drop the course (speak a language from early childhood, as was the case with me and English, and it's easy to forget it's a learned behavior. It seems instinctive, like breathing, doesn't it?) None of this is Ms. Serra's fault, but the problem remained, how do I read her blog? Blogger doesn't seem to provide any way to translate a blog written in another language. They've got more important things to do, like redesigning the sign-in page.

Here's what I ended up doing. I went outside of Blogger, and googled Caterina Serra, and the title of one of her blogs. Just as I had hoped, the blog came up, with this written right next to it:

Translate this page

I translated.

Here's something interesting I came across. When I originally looked at the Italian version of her blog, I noticed the name "Stella". From repeated viewings of A Streetcar Named Desire, I've always assumed the name Stella was, um, American. And so I wondered, why would an Italian have such an American name? Once I read it in English, I saw my mistake. Her name was Star! Apparently, Stella is "star" translated into Italian, and probably Spanish and every other Romance language out there. Did you know that? Did Stanley Kowalski know that? Actually, it makes sense now that I think about it. You've heard the phrase "interstellar travel", haven't you? Well, stellar-star. Get it?

OK, I've lingered on the name game long enough. Warp-speed ahead.

Once I had the English version of her blogs, I decided to add one of them to my blogroll. As I usually do, I copied the "http://...", went back to Blogger, clicked on "Design", pasted it in, clicked "ADD", and was immediately informed that it wouldn't post! I tried it a second time, and still no go! I didn't want this poor woman in Italy thinking I was snubbing her. How's that for being an Ugly American? Finally, I went back to the Italian version of the blog, copied that web address, and, viola, it worked. Unfortunately, if you go to the blogroll and click it on now, you'll see the Italian, and not the English, version. For that reason, I chose a blog--she has four--that focuses mostly on photos of nature, with very little text. If you're curious about the other three blogs, just go the the Follower section, and click on the little picture. If you're curious but can't speak Italian, do what I did, and google the title of the blog and "caterina serra", and then the translation. The other three blogs look interesting. One seems to be photos of the Italian countryside, one is about UFOs, and the the third is about archaeological mysteries (that's the one I originally tried to add to my sidebar.)

One other monkey wrench has been thrown into the search engine. Ever since I added her blog onto my sidebar, I'm not allowed to read the English version as long as I'm still logged into Blogger. If I try, this is what I see:

Internet Explorer has modified this page to help prevent cross-site scripting.

Cross-site scripting? I don't want to cross-site script, just cross-site read. Oh, well.

Say, look how much I've written! Usually these Following Updates are only a sentence or two. I got a full-blown essay out of this one. Good ol' American know-how! Either that, or good ol' American groping in the dark for the light switch.

Again, welcome Caterina. Stella, too.

Monday, September 19, 2011

In Memoriam: Tom Wilson 1931-2011

Cartoonist. Ziggy.

"Is Ziggy me? I'm afraid so. Everybody is, to some degree."

"He's such a small person in such a big world."

(A short drive from where I live, if you lift up your head, you'll see this --KJ)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Dispatch

I was looking at one of those online news aggregate sites when I came across the following...

NEWS YOU MIGHT LIKE:

Woman Dies From Gas Fumes

Now, I ask you, why in the world might I like THAT? I have no quarrel with the woman. I never even met her!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Quips and Quotations (Spiritual Enlightenment Edition)

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter - and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking - thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I'd see him standing my watch on top of his'n, 'stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:


"All right, then, I'll go to hell" - and tore it up.

--Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain










Tuesday, August 23, 2011

In Memoriam: Nickolas Ashford 1942-2011

Singer. Songwriter. One half of the duo Ashford & Simpson. As a songwriter: "Let's Go Get Stoned" "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" "Aint Nothing Like the Real Thing" "You're All I Need to Get By" "I'm Every Woman" As a singer: "Don't Cost You Nothin'" "It Seems to Hang On" "Found a Cure" "Solid".

"One of the guys in the park told me, he said, 'There's a place up in Harlem, where you can get something to eat at White Rock Baptist Church. I went up there and I got my things out of Port Authority. I put water on my jacket and on my suit, to get all the wrinkles out. They didn't know I was homeless when I was in the church, and I saw Valerie."

--Nickolas Ashford. In addition to being a songwriting (she wrote most of the music, while he wrote most of the lyrics) and performing duo, Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson were married for 38 years.

If you need me call me
no matter where you are,
no matter how far (don't worry baby)
just call out my name.
I'll be there in a hurry
you don't have to worry
'Cause baby there
Ain't no mountain high enough
Ain't no valley low enough
Ain't no river wide enough
To keep me from getting to you babe

--Performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. Diana Ross also had a big hit with it a few years later.

I see your picture
Hanging on the wall
But it can't sing
Or come to me
When I call your name
I realize it's just
A picture in a frame
And I read your letters
When you're not here
They don't move me
They don't groove me
Like when I hear
Your sweet voice
Whispering in my ear
There ain't nothing
Like the real thing
Baby
There ain't nothing
Like the real thing

--Performed by Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell

When they come with there evilest thoughts i just listen whenever they talk
Jah is the light into my dark, he cut and tear my path
They fight without a cause tryin to make my life so hard
The king of kings and the lord of lords, give it all rewards
Cause I'm so solid as a rock they just can't stop me now
Even when they set up there traps they just can't stop me now
People will say this and that they just can't stop me now
Even when they set up road blocks they just can't stop me now

--Performed by Ashford & Simpson

(First, Jerry Leiber, now Nickolas Ashford. Not a good week for songwriters so far, huh?--KJ)

Monday, August 22, 2011

In Memoriam: Jerry Leiber 1933-2011

Songwriter. "Hound Dog" "Jailhouse Rock" "Yakety Yak" "Charlie Brown" "Stand By Me" "Love Potion No 9" "Spanish Harlem" "I'm a Woman" "Is That All There Is?"

"Jerry was an idea machine...For every situation, Jerry had 20 ideas. As would-be songwriters, our interest was in black music and black music only. We wanted to write songs for black voices. When Jerry sang, he sounded black, so that gave us an advantage . . . His verbal vocabulary was all over the place – black, Jewish, theatrical, comical. He would paint pictures with words."

--Mike Stoller, Leiber's longtime collaborator. Stoller mostly concentrated on the music, Leiber mostly the lyrics.

"I felt black...I was as far as I was concerned. And I wanted to be black for lots of reasons. They were better musicians, they were better athletes, they were not uptight about sex, and they knew how to enjoy life better than most people."

--Jerry Leiber With the exception of Elvis Presley, Peggy Lee, and a few others, Leiber and Stoller wrote mostly for black artists.

The sad sack was a sittin' on a block of stone
way over in the corner weepin' all alone.
The warden said, "Hey, buddy, don't you be no square.
If you can't find a partner use a wooden chair."
Let's rock Everybody, let's rock.
Everybody in the whole cell block
was dancin' to the Jailhouse Rock.

--Performed by Elvis Presley

I didn't know if it was day or night
I started kissin' everything in sight
But when I kissed a cop down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine
He broke my little bottle of Love Potion Number Nine

--Performed by the Clovers.

When the night has come
And the land is dark
And the moon is the only light we'll see
No I won't be afraid, no I won't be afraid
Just as long as you stand, stand by me

--Performed by Ben E. King

I know what you must be saying to yourselves.
If that's the way she feels about it why doesn't she just end it all?
Oh, no. Not me. I'm in no hurry for that final disappointment.
For I know just as well as I'm standing here talking to you,
when that final moment comes and I'm breathing my last breath, I'll be saying to myself,
Is that all there is, is that all there is
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

--Performed by Peggy Lee.











Monday, August 15, 2011

Archival Revival: Star Search

(originally posted on 4/04/2009)

Lately, I've been thinking quite a bit about Lindsay Lohan and Rich Little.

First, Lindsay Lohan. A couple of weeks ago I stumbled across an article about her on The Huffington Post that was actually a link to some gossip site. It seems Ms. Lohan had just had a lover's quarrel with her girlfriend, one Samantha Ronson, and was seen standing outside a nightclub screaming "The bitch left without me!"

OK, that's about as salacious as this post is going to get. Remember, Rich Little's coming up. He's anything but salacious.

To be honest, that Huffington article was just salacious enough that I had to read it twice. I swear I had no idea until right then that Ronson was Lohan's girlfriend. In fact, I had never even heard of Ronson. But here's the real scary part:

I wasn't entirely sure I knew who Lindsay Lohan was!

I mean, I had heard the name before. A couple of years (or perhaps months) back, when Britney Spears and Paris Hilton were getting in all sorts of trouble, Lohan was often lumped in with them, usually as an afterthought. It was often something along the lines of: "Britney and Paris were driving drunk and naked through the streets of LA, swearing at the top of their lungs and making fun of chess nerds. Oh, by the way, Lohan was seen the same night upchucking into an open manhole!"

Like I said, she was an afterthought.

Not anymore. I read the Huffington article/link twice, and there was no mention of either Britney Spears or Paris Hilton, thus forcing me to finally confront a question I had long avoided--who is Lindsay Lohan?

I asked an acquaintance, who promptly answered my question with a question:

"YOU DON'T KNOW WHO LINDSAY LOHAN IS?!"

I answered her question to my question with yet another question:

"Well, why should I?"

Finally, she gave a straight answer.

"BECAUSE SHE'S FAMOUS, THAT'S WHY!"

"Well, if she's famous, how come I'm not exactly sure who she is?"

"Have you tried to find out who she is?"

"Other than this conversation...no."

"WELL, YOU HAVE TO MAKE THE EFFORT!"

You have to make the effort.

So I googled Lindsay Lohan and here's what I found out. She's a model, actress, and pop singer. In the last ten years, she rose to stardom in such Disney remakes as The Parent Trap and Freaky Friday.

How could I not know that? The answer lies with Rich Little.

About a year ago I caught Little on David Letterman. He was the very last guest. Not even that if you define "guest" as one who sits down and talks to Dave. Little just did his stand-up routine, as if he was some unknown getting his big chance on a nationally televised program. It was really kind of a comedown for Little, who was quite famous in his day. Famous mostly for imitating other people quite famous in their day. And my day. By that I mean I recognized every person he imitated. Had I gone into a coma in 1980 and emerged sometime after 2005, I still would have recognized every person he imitated. He did Jimmy Stewart, Richard M. Nixon, Carol Channing, Truman Capote, George Burns, Jack Benny, Paul Lynde, Archie Bunker, Ronald Reagan, Walter Cronkite, and...Howard Cosell. Howard Cosell? Man, I hadn't thought about Howard Cosell in years! He also was quite famous in his day, but unlike old movie or music stars, there was little chance of an old sportscaster being rediscovered by a whole new generation. Unless that whole new generation happened to catch Rich Little on David Letterman.

Whatever the generation of Dave's studio audience that night, Rich Little's routine did get a lot of laughs. As soon as it was over, a surprisingly pleased Letterman (he does have a reputation as a cynic, you know) walked over, shook Little's hand, and asked, "So, what you been doing with yourself?"

I was less concerned with what Rich Little had been doing with himself lately, and more curious as to why he didn't imitate anyone who had become well known after 1980. According to Wikipedia, Little's about 71. So, maybe he's just an old coot stuck in the past. But why that past? And, at any rate, he was 42 at the beginning of the 1980s, and 52 by decade's end, and not even eligible for Social Security by the millennium's end, so I didn't think senility was the answer. And remember, the studio audience, most of whom looked younger than 71, got all of the jokes.

I picked up the remote and started channel surfing.

Cowabunga! I had my answer!

You couldn't channel surf before 1980. Well, you could, but it would have been a pretty small wave. Just the three networks, public broadcasting, and UHF. Then, in the 1980s, came cable, and, in the 1990s, the Internet.

Now, I want you to remember what my acquaintance said: You have to make the effort. Not before 1980. In that three network era, finding out who was famous required no effort at all. You had the luxury of total passivity. The burden lay entirely with the famous person. That's why he or she had to hire publicists, press agents, personal managers, media spokesmen and the like. The non-famous just had to sit back in front of the tube and absorb it all, even if they didn't particularly want to.

Here's an example. I have never seen a single episode of Kojak. Yet, by 1976, when I was 14, I somehow knew that it starred a bald-headed actor named Telly Savalas who sucked lollipops and asked, "Who loves ya, baby?" Now, I didn't seek that information out. But, by some peculiar cathode ray osmosis, I just knew.

And it wasn't just TV stars. The small screen was also informed by the big screen. Or vice-versa. That's how I knew, at a very tender age, that some guy with cotton in his mouth named Marlon Brando played a bad guy named Godfather who wanted to make people offers they couldn't refuse. It's not from sneaking into an R-rated movie at the age of 11 that I knew all that. The film's trailers were on TV, and, more important, everyone from Fred Travelina to Frank Gorshin to, well, Rich Little, imitated the guy (It was a few years later that I found out about the other Marlon Brando, the young guy in a motorcycle jacket or torn T-shirt who coulda' been a contender while screaming for Stella.)

You even knew, again without particularly wanting or needing to, about public figures outside of entertainment. The President, obviously. But how about Henry Kissinger? Why is it exactly that he is, or was, a more famous Secretary of State than either Dean Rusk, who served under LBJ, or Cyrus Vance, who served under Jimmy Carter? Well, I suppose you could say, "Henry Kissinger was the architect of the policy of rapprochement with China blah, blah, blah...", but I think his real claim to fame was his weird accent, mimicked by everyone from Robin Williams to John Belushi to, well, Rich Little.

But that's now all in the past. With hundreds of networks and web sites and whatever it is people Twitter on, the burden has shifted from the Lindsay Lohans of the world to us, the non-famous. We no longer have the luxury of being passive. We have to make the effort.

Hmm. Maybe I should hire a publicist.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Quips and Quotations (AA+ Edition)

By the way, the ratings agency is Standard & Poor's. Who's going to listen to a company whose name translates to Average & Below Average?

--Jon Stewart



Saturday, August 6, 2011

Did I Ask Your Opinion?

According to my site meter, somebody from howtogetridofstomachfat has checked out this blog.

I like to think of them as love handles.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Archival Revival: Torched Song

(Originally posted on 5/19/2009)

I recently paid a visit to my rock star friend, Spit Blitzkrieg. His butler answered the door, and told me Spit would be right down. As I waited, I could hear laughter and shouting and screams of ecstasy emanating from somewhere in his 96-room mansion. I wondered if maybe I wasn't interrupting something, then I realised there was always laughter and shouting and screams of ecstasy emanating from his mansion, summer cottage, hotel room, limo, tour bus, even his tent on that one camping trip to Yellowstone Park. So that made me feel more at ease. At least it did until I saw Spit stagger down a long flight of stairs. I was shocked at his appearance. He looked tired, worn, pale, undernourished, and disheveled. That's not what shocked me. In fact, all that was usually to the good. Especially when immediately preceded by laughter and shouting and screams of ecstasy. No, what shocked me was his expression. He looked sad, heartbroken even.

"Uh, hey, Spit," I said. "Long time no see."

"Hey, Kirk." He replied, glumly.

"Anything wrong?"

"I'm sad, heartbroken even."

"What happened?"

"My girl dumped me"

"Which one?"

"You know. The love of my life."

"Oh," I replied, trying to remember who exactly that was again.

Spit then let out a long sigh.

"Spit," I said, hoping to make him feel better. "Maybe you could channel your heartbreak into your art."

"Oh, I have. In fact, I've written a song. Want to hear it?"

"Sure."

Spit plugged in his Fender Stratocaster, and proceeded to perform his lyrical lament about a love lost.

She was everything to me
She was all that I could see
She was in my every thought
In my every dream
We were such a duo
We were such a team

But when another came along
She decided I'm all wrong
And she cast me right aside
Like a shell left from the tide

Now I sit in front of my TV
Thinking, woe, woe is me
And guzzle down the booze
As I watch the evening news

Brian William's warning
About the spread of nukes
This country's got 'em
That country's got 'em
And so soon will the Third World kooks

And it was then I had my epiphany
This could be Earth's final symphony
So I'm...

Prayin' for a nuclear war
One with lots of blood and gore
Hopin' for the end of the world
To take my mind off of you, girl

I know it'll mean the deaths
Of a billion innocent souls
But what do I give a damn
When my aching heart is filled with holes?

And with that, Spit Blitzkrieg wiped a tear from his eye, put down his Fender Stratocaster, excused himself, and disappeared to somewhere inside his 96-room mansion, where there still could be heard laughter and shouting and screams of ecstasy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Garment District

Saw something interesting on my site meter the other day. For those of you who don't know, a site meter gives the blogger some inkling on the nature of their audience. Don't worry; it gives neither names nor addresses. If the blogger's lucky, though, they'll learn the country and city of the person checking their site out. The meter seems to work best if it's a direct connection between one person's computer and the blogger's. If the blog is accessed through a third party, the trail is often lost. Even so, the site meter may still state who that third party is, and that's always good to know. It can also raise more questions.

According to my site meter, someone accessed my blog from this site:

http://risingtaste.com/

Rising taste? I wondered, was that the same as good taste? Was it a way of achieving good taste? Was that site perhaps telling people that if they want good taste, then they should read Shadow of a Doubt? Was my blog now right up there with classical music, William Shakespeare, Chippendale furniture, and white Christmas tree lights? At long last, the aesthetes had discovered me!

When I clicked on the actual site, I saw the focus was a bit more narrow than all that:

Risingtaste - where taste meets fashion

It was an online clothing store. Well, that leaves Shakespeare out.

Still, it was flattering to think that the fashion mavens had discovered me. Strange, too. There are no photos of me on this blog, but, trust me, such a photo would never be confused with the cover of GQ. But perhaps tastes were changing. Was disheveled "in"? Come next spring, will frayed T-shirts with stubborn mustard stains (I rubbed Tide on it; nothing works), faded jeans with the back pockets coming off, socks that fail to adequately cover the big toe, and scuffed up shoes tied in quadruple knots because the damn laces keep coming undone, be all the rage on the Paris runways?

I examined the web site more closely. In small letters, right underneath the heading, it read:

Wholesale clothing from China

They must have found out I live near Wal-Mart.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

In Memoriam: Borders 1971-2011

Bookstore chain

“Following the best efforts of all parties, we are saddened by this development...We were all working hard towards a different outcome, but the headwinds we have been facing for quite some time, including the rapidly changing book industry, eReader revolution, and turbulent economy, have brought us to where we are now...For decades, Borders stores have been destinations within our communities, places where people have sought knowledge, entertainment, and enlightenment and connected with others who share their passion. Everyone at Borders has helped millions of people discover new books, music, and movies, and we all take pride in the role Borders has played in our customers’ lives...I extend a heartfelt thanks to all of our dedicated employees and our loyal customers.”

--Mike Edwards, Borders Group President

"Well, at least I got to use the gift card while I still had the chance."

--Kirk Jusko, loyal customer who lived not far from a Borders.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Archival Revival: Rock, Paper, Caesar

(originally posted on 6/21/2008)

The following conversation took place a couple of years ago at work:

"What's this paper doing on the floor? Now it's covered with footprints!"

"That's because everybody's been stepping on it."

"Well, I can see everybody's been stepping on it. Why is everybody stepping on it?"

"To get to the tape machine."

"Why don't they just move the paper?"

"Where? You see how crowded it is."

"You can move it to, uh, hmmm...I have to use the tape machine, so I guess I'll just step on the paper myself. When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

"Why don't you piss against a rock?"

"What?"

"Why don't you piss against a rock?"

"Why should I piss against a rock?"

"You just said, 'When in Rome, do as the Romans do'. Well, in Ancient Rome, didn't they piss against rocks?"

"What makes you think they pissed against rocks in Ancient Rome?"

"'Cause they didn't have toilets."

"Why wouldn't they have toilets? They had aqueducts."

"What's an aqueduct?"

"An aqueduct is--well, it's kind of like a pipe. A big, long, pipe. A canal-sized pipe. Or, it is a canal. Part pipe and part canal. A combination of the two. And it brings water, fresh water, over long distances. For instance, I think it's an aqueduct that brings fresh water from Lake Erie all the way to Akron."

"Really? That's pretty impressive."

"It is."

"Just think, piss from Ancient Rome is going all the way from Lake Erie to Akron."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Quips and Quotations (Lucifer's Lexicon Edition)

absurdity n.: A statement or belief manifestly inconsistent with one's own opinion.

adherent n.: A follower who has not yet obtained all that he expects to get.

admiration n. Our polite recognition of another's resemblance to ourselves.

circus n.: A place where horses, ponies and elephants are permitted to see men, women and children acting the fool.

fashion n.: A despot whom the wise ridicule and obey.

mad adj.: Affected with a high degree of intellectual independence.

ocean n.: A body of water occupying two-thirds of a world made for man - who has no gills.

patience n.: A minor form of despair, disguised as a virtue.

selfish adj.: Devoid of consideration for the selfishness of others.

sweater n.: garment worn by child when its mother is feeling chilly.

--Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Archival Revival: Slapdashboard

(This post originally appeared on 12/04/2008--KJ)

As the US auto industry teeters of the edge of oblivion, there's been no little debate over the mechanical quality of the American car, or lack thereof. I'm not sure of that quality myself. I've only driven used cars, usually junkers. Or are all used cars junkers? Are all junkers used? If there are junkers that are new, no wonder the industry's teetering.

One area of possible improvement, aside from the mechanical condition of the vehicle itself, are those devices meant to inform, and then warn, us of that aforementioned mechanical condition. I'm speaking of all those little lights on the dashboard that come on when you start the car, and that are only supposed to come on again if there's an emergency. Unless they're broke, in which case that's the emergency.

First up is the OIL light. Back when I first owned a car, and was relatively inexperienced about their strange ways, I assumed the OIL light came on when the car was about to run out of...oil. And so, I'd put in more oil. The red light would go off for a little bit, then go right back on. So I'd put in even more oil. The light was off for another little bit, than on again, and yet again I'd put in more oil...This went on until my car emitted so much black smoke it looked like a crematorium on wheels. I finally took it to the mechanic, and was told the OIL light doesn't come on when the car's actually running out of oil, but when there was something wrong with the engine (like it having too much oil. God knows what the original problem was.)

Now, I had an acquaintance who was similarly ignorant. In her case, the OIL light didn't go on, and she assumed the car didn't need oil. She kept on assuming her car didn't need oil, even after she heard a slight rattle. Maybe the doors weren't shut tight enough. Eventually, the rattle turned into a RATTLE. In fact, the car rattled even when it would no longer move. Then the SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE ENGINE light came on. The car was towed to the shop. The mechanic explained the problem. The car had run out of oil. But why, she asked, hadn't the oil light come on? Well, he explained, that's the whole purpose of the SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE ENGINE light.

If any members of Congress are reading this, next time those auto executives are seated before you, how about getting them to produce a car where the OIL light comes on when it's actually low on oil, and the SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE ENGINE light comes on when there's actually something wrong with the engine?!

Another problem with these lights are their timing. For instance, the BRAKE FAILING light usually comes on about 3.7 seconds before you're about to hit the back of an eighteen-wheeler. The NEEDS WATER light comes on about 8.4 seconds before you're about to pass out from smoke inhalation. And, of course, the BATTERY light comes on when the car's having trouble starting. Unless the car doesn't start at all. Because the battery's dead. So nothing works. Including the light that tells you the battery's dead.

One thing you don't have warning lights for, at least not in any of the junkers I've ever driven, are, well, lights. The ones outside the car, I mean. They do now chime to you when you've forgot to turn them off. But how about when they burn out? OK, you don't really need to be warned about headlights. You can see when they're not working. But what about the lights in back? The brake light? The tail light? When one of those burn out, there's no warning light whatsoever.

Unless it's the light on top of the police car in the rear view mirror.

Friday, June 24, 2011

In Memoriam: Peter Falk 1927-2011

Actor. Murder Inc. A Pocketful of Miracles. It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Robin and the 7 Hoods. The Great Race. Husbands. A Woman Under the Influence. Murder by Death. The In-Laws (1978). The Princess Bride. Wings of Desire. And, of course, Columbo.

"The joy of all this is watching Columbo dissemble the fiendishly clever cover stories of the loathsome rats who consider themselves his better."

--Variety columnist Howard Prouty

"Before we ever had a script or anything, I was attracted to the idea of playing a character that housed within himself two opposing traits...On the one hand (he was) a regular Joe, Joe Six-Pack, the neighbor like everybody else. But, at the same time, the greatest homicide detective in the world. Now that's a great combination, and you can do a lot with that combination."

--Peter Falk.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

In Memoriam: Clarence Clemons 1942-2011

Musician. Sometimes actor. Longtime saxophonist for Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

"Creating is like religion...I've had people say to me, 'That sax solo saved my life.' So I did my job."

--Clarence Clemons

“When you look at just the cover of ‘Born to Run,’ you see a charming photo, a good album cover, but when you open it up and see Clarence and me together, the album begins to work its magic...Who are these guys? Where did they come from? What is the joke they are sharing?”

--Bruce Springsteen

(In addition to Springsteen, Clemons also worked with Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes, Ronnie Spector, Janis Ian, Michael Stanley Band, Joan Armatrading, Gary "US" Bonds, Ian Hunter, Ringo Starr, Jackson Brown [vocal duet], Aretha Franklin, Twisted Sister [!], The Four Tops, Todd Rundgren, Joe Cocker, Roy Orbison, Luther Vandross, and, most recently, Lady Gaga
[!!] How's THAT for versatility?--KJ)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Quips and Quotations (Grover's Corners Edition)

It’s like what one of those Middle West poets said: You’ve got to love life to have life, and you've got to have life to love life…It's what they call a vicious circle.

They're waitin'. They're waitin' for something that they feel is comin'. Something important, and great. Aren't they waitin' for the eternal part in them to come out clear?

Does anyone ever realize life while they live it...every, every minute? No. Saints and poets maybe...they do some.

Yes, now you know. Now you know! That's what it was to be alive. To move about in a cloud of ignorance; to go up and down trampling on the feelings of those...of those about you. To spend and waste time as though you had a million years. To be always at the mercy of one self-centered passion, or another. Now you know — that's the happy existence you wanted to go back to. Ignorance and blindness

There are the stars – doing their old, old crisscross journeys in the sky. Scholars haven’t settled the matter yet, but they seem to think there are no living beings up there. Just chalk…or fire. Only this one is straining away, straining away all the time to make something of itself. The strain’s so bad that every sixteen hours everybody lies down and gets a rest.

--Thornton Wilder, Our Town

Thursday, June 9, 2011

In Memoriam: Leonard Stern 1923--2011

Writer. TV producer. The Honeymooners. Get Smart. Co-creator (with Roger Price) of Mad Libs.

"(exclamation!)_____________! he said(adverb) ________ as he jumped into his convertible (noun) ______ and drove off with his (adjective) ___________ wife."

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Didn't Give A Damn

When I was a junior in high school I took an elective called "The Novel". Among the novels we read were For Whom the Bells Toll, All Quiet on the Western Front, Siddhartha, Catcher in the Rye and Gone With the Wind. Of all those novels, the one the teacher seemed the most embarrassed, the most apologetic, about teaching was Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell. Why? The rural-like Cleveland suburb where I went to high school was a tad conservative, so you might think she'd have qualms about teaching Catcher in the Rye, with its cuss words, or Siddhartha, with its emphases on non-Christian religions, or For Whom the Bells Toll, with its communist guerrillas. No, the teacher wasn't worried about community values so much as academic ones. Gone with the Wind was no classic, she warned us, and had an "old-fashioned narrative." At the time, I didn't know what she was talking about. Both Siddhartha and All Quiet on the Western Front were written before Wind, so why weren't they old-fashioned? Many years and how-to-write-fiction books later, I finally realized that the teacher meant that Wind lacked such modernist literary techniques as stream-of-consciousness:

ashley put his arms around me to comfort me oh no the busybodies see us spread gossip we're having an affair I come home rhett is drunk and all pissed off picks me up walks up stairs into bedroom maybe rapes me no because i'm not resisting maybe this will smooth things over between us no it doesn't he takes the kids somewhere i don't see him for months he's back asks me why i'm pale i tell him i'm pregnant he tells me to cheer up maybe i'll have a miscarriage i'm pissed off he said that i start hitting him oh no i lost my balance i'm tumbling down the stairs i have a miscarriage after all i hope rhett is satisfied i recuperate little bonnie blue tries to jump horse over fence breaks her neck oh how tragic melanie wilkes dies me and ashley can finally marry oh he loved melanie after all guess that means i really love rhett too bad he's leaving me i ask him what will become of me he says i don't give a damn oh what will i do now i can't think about it now i'll go back to tara mammy pack my bags tomorrow is another day

Whatever its literary merit, I was more eager to read Gone With the Wind than any other book on the list. I know, I was a teenager, a neurotic teenager at that, and should have been more eager to read Catcher in the Rye, about a neurotic teenager, but I had never heard of book before taking the class (good thing I didn't drop out of school before reaching the 11th grade, as I had often fantasized; I would have gone through life believing cuss words hadn't been invented until the late 1960s.) I was anxious to read Wind because a few years earlier the movie version, starring Vivian Leigh, Clark Gable, Leslie Howard, and (still alive as of this writing) Olivia de Havilland, had premiered on TV with much fanfare, and, for a change, something lived up to the fanfare. I enjoyed the film. It wasn't just me with my peculiar tastes (though, God knows, I had enough back then), my classmates liked it as well. If it seems odd that teenagers in the 1970s should like a movie from the 1930s, remember that, while there was certainly such a thing as teen culture back then, it didn't extend to television too much. There was no such thing as MTV to cater to our every liking, so, other than something like Don Kirshner's Rock Concert, we watched the same shows our parents watched, and generally liked them. I suspect the movie's popularity is one reason my school added Wind to the list. The thinking may have been, as long as they're reading something. I also enjoyed the book the movie was based on. In fact, I found Margaret Mitchell's tome such a rich reading experience that it made the movie seem a bit superficial by comparison (though I would still recommend it.) Of all the books we had to read in that class, only Wind and Catcher in the Rye has stayed with me over the years. Unfortunately, when I cast an objective eye on Gone with the Wind, I have to conclude the teacher was right: it is old-fashioned, though for reasons having nothing to do with prose style or narrative structure. Too bad, as so much of the book is new-fashioned.

A brief summary, assuming a 423,575-word book can be summarized briefly. At the outset of the Civil War, 16-year old Scarlett O'Hara lives with her family and her slave Mammy on the cotton plantation Tara, not far from Atlanta. A flirtatious "southern belle", Scarlett is popular with the boys, but has her heart set on Ashley Wilkes. At a barbecue at Twelve Oaks, Ashley's father's plantation, Scarlett learns he going to marry his cousin, Melanie Hamilton. Upset at the news, Scarlett lashes out at Ashely. Another guest at the barbecue, Rhett Butler, a man with a roguish reputation, overhears this not-quite-lovers quarrel, and later tells Scarlett he admires her spirit. Too upset to take a compliment, and probably too socialized in ways of bellehood to even recognize it as a compliment, she spurns Rhett. Meanwhile, she decides to get back at Ashley, who has admitted he does have feelings for her, by marrying Melanie's brother Charles. This union produces a son, Wade. Charles is shipped off to war, and soon dies from the measles. Now a widow and single mother, Scarlett moves to Atlanta, where she lives with Melanie (now her sister-in-law) and her aunt. She keeps busy with hospital work, and renews her acquaintance with Rhett, who's getting rich by running supplies through the naval blockade the North has on the South. A friendship gradually develops between Scarlett and Rhett (something that's not always clear in the movie). Ashley returns home on leave, and asks Scarlett to watch over Melanie, who's now pregnant. Ashley returns to the war, which has turned decidedly bad for the South. General Sherman siege of Atlanta comes to a head, and the fleeing Confederates set the city on fire. Melanie has the bad timing to give birth that very night. Rhett helps Scarlett, Melanie, her newborn son, and a slave, Prissy, escape from Atlanta. Later, Rhett abandons them on the road to Tara, and joins the Confederate army. Scarlett returns home to find her mother dead, her father crazy, her sisters ill, the field slaves all gone, and the plantation burned. The war ends, and the victorious Yankees levy a particularly harsh tax on Tara. To keep from losing Tara, Scarlett first attempts to ask Rhett for the money, only to find he's now in jail. She then runs into Frank Kennedy, who's always been sweet on her sister Suellen. Frank tells her he's now a prosperous grocer. Hearing that, Scarlet seduces Frank into marrying her and paying off the taxes on Tara. Afterwards, she finds out he may not have ready cash on hand as a lot of people owe him money. Scarlett takes over the store herself, and then, with a loan from a friend, buys a sawmill, and proves herself a good businesswoman. She also finds time to give birth to a daughter, Ellie. Scarlett is soon back on the job. While riding home from the mill one night, she's accosted by a couple of thieves. A former Tara slave comes to her rescue. Afterwards, her husband Frank, Ashley, and several others of a vigilante bent, attack the shantytown the thieves hailed from. Frank is killed in the ensuing melee. A widow and single mother once again, Scarlet agrees to marry the now extremely wealthy Rhett Butler, who builds a fantastic mansion for them to live. Neither spouse particularly trusts the other, hardly a good foundation for a successful marriage. Still, the union produces a daughter, Bonnie Blue. By now, Ashley is running the mill for Scarlett. Still carrying a torch for him, she visits him in the office, and they reminisce about the good times before the war. The memories move Scarlett to tears, and Ashley takes her in his arms to comfort her. His sister walks in at that point and gets the wrong idea. Scandal ensues, though Melanie refuses to believe it. Rhett does believe it, and drunkenly confronts Scarlett. They argue and, arguably, have sex. The next morning Rhett takes Bonnie Blue and leaves town for a couple months. The child misses her mother, so Rhett returns. When she finds out he wants to leave again without his daughter, Scarlett informs Rhett she's pregnant. Rhett jokes that maybe she'll have a miscarriage. Angry, Scarlett lunges at Rhett, but loses her balance and falls down a flight of stairs. She does have a miscarriage, as well as breaking a couple of ribs. Scarlett goes to Tara to recover. Later, she returns to Atlanta, and an uneasy truce with Rhett. Meanwhile Rhett buys Bonnie Blue a Shetland pony. He should have got her a hamster instead. Bonnie tries to jump the horse over a hedge, and is killed. Both Scarlett and Rhett are heartbroken, though Scarlett, in the long run, handles it better. Melanie soon dies. Scarlett realizes that Melanie, not she, was the love of Ashley's life. She also realizes that Rhett, not Ashley, is the love of her life. But too late. Rhett leaves her. Finis.

Whew!

OK, so what did I find so new-fashioned about this novel? Even today, a southern belle might strike at least some young women as a rather pleasant thing to be. Margaret Mitchell, the daughter of a suffragette, knew better. Amid all the fan fluttering and flirting with dashing, young beaus and sipping iced sweet tea daintily on a hot Georgian day, bellehood was just another way for a patriarchal Southern hierarchy to keep its women in their place. In fact, the novel occasionally reads like a feminist tract. As changing times reveals just how unprepared women with such an upbringing were to a sudden reversal of fortune, Scarlett rebels against the role plantation society (which, through the course of the novel, seems to survive the plantations themselves) stubbornly insists she play:

"I'm tired of everlastingly being unnatural and never doing anything I want to do. I'm tired of acting like I don't eat more than a bird, and walking when I want to run and saying I feel faint after a waltz, when I could dance for two days and never get tired. I'm tired of saying, 'How wonderful you are!' to fool men who haven't got one-half the sense I've got, and I'm tired of pretending I don't know anything, so men can tell me things and feel important while they're doing it."

--Gone with the Wind, chapter five

Scarlett's first husband dies, and then, as now, she's expected to wear black. Then, as not now, she's expected to wear black for the rest of her life. She's also forbidden to smile, or show any indication that she's nothing less than miserable. Suppressing the indication does indeed make her nothing less than miserable. Who knows? Maybe that was the whole idea behind the rule. Scarlett finally ends her period of mourning by accepting a dance at a wartime charity ball, scandalizing all of Atlanta as a result. The scandalizing doesn't stop there.

Scarlett is pregnant three times in the novel, something that she's not expected to acknowledge, to the point of staying indoors with the windows drawn at the first hint that she no longer has the thinnest waist in three counties. Nevertheless, by the time she's expecting her second child, she's a successful businesswoman, and has to go out in public, thus shattering any belief that same public might have had in the stork. Of course, that Scarlett is a successful businesswoman, that Scarlett's any type of businesswoman, is most scandalous of all. Businesswomen were exceedingly rare back then. The only other successful businesswoman in the whole novel is Belle Watling, and she keeps a red lantern out in front of her establishment.

Yet, for all of her scandalizing, Scarlett's not even the most modern thinker in the novel. That would be Rhett Butler. While hardly a sensitive male (especially not after a few drinks), it is he who dances with the widowed Scarlet at the charity ball. "Until you lose your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was or what freedom really is," he tells her. At another point in the story, Rhett acknowledges Scarlett's pregnancy: "You are a child if you thought I didn't know, for all your smothering yourself under that hot lap robe." And it's Rhett who lends her the money to buy the sawmill. All throughout the novel, Rhett encourages Scarlett to defy convention, and applauds her when she succeeds: "Now you are beginning to think for yourself instead of letting others think for you. That’s the beginning of wisdom."

So why, if Scarlett and Rhett were so likeminded, did their marriage go south (if you'll pardon the pun)? Well, neither one was ever sure the other one loved them. Rhett only tells Scarlett when he's drunk and about to commit what a century later might be considered spousal rape. Scarlett only tells Rhett when he's ready to leave her. It doesn't help matters any that Ashley tells Scarlett at several points in the book that he loves her. It should occur to the reader long before it occurs to Scarlett that he's talking about familial, rather than romantic, love (after all, they are in-laws.) Why can't Scarlett figure that out? I suspect Ashley represents a little bit of the past, as restrictive as it was, that Scarlett wants to hold on to. When she finally lets it go, she doesn't even mind. By that time, of course, Rhett has had enough. I imagine most people regard Gone with the Wind as having an unhappy ending, but Scarlett's situation is far from hopeless. At the novel's conclusion, she's only 28, and can now go forth in life with a better understanding of herself and the world around her.

OK, that's the new-fashioned part of the novel. What's old-fashioned? Margaret Mitchell's seemed to have blinders on when it came to blacks, or, as Scarlett O'Hara affectionately refers to them, "darkies". As restrictive as the Old South must have been for white women, their rights were downright unalienable compared to the 3/4th of a people that were picking their cotton. Scarlett muses: "Negroes were provoking sometimes and stupid and lazy, but there was loyalty in them that money couldn't buy, a feeling of oneness with their white folks..." No, you couldn't buy their loyalty, just their bodies. The idea that the Civil War is being fought over slavery is scoffed at by Rhett Butler. Upon Emancipation, the former slaves act "as creatures of small intelligence might naturally be expected to do. Like monkeys or small children turned loose among treasured objects whose value is beyond their comprehension, they ran wild--either from perverse pleasure in destruction or simply because of their ignorance." More ignorant than smothering oneself in a hot lap robe to hide a pregnancy? Why was Mitchell so attuned to the problems of women but not blacks in such a backward society? Well, she was a woman. Females were relatively more emancipated by 1937, when Gone with the Wind was published (of course, there was more emancipation to come.) In doing research for the novel, Mitchell must have taken a good, hard look at the etiquette of 1861, and decided it wasn't her glass of mint julep. Unfortunately, the daughter of a suffragette also, in the 1920s, lived down the street from the national headquarters of the Ku Klux Klan. Speaking of the Klan, that was the vigilante group that Ashley Wilkes and Scarlett's doomed second husband both belonged to. You can argue that Mitchell was the product of her times, but other Southern writers such as William Faulkner, Harper Lee, and Mark Twain were able to look at black-white relations with a critical eye. Speaking of Twain, who died when Margaret Mitchell was ten and actually lived through the Civil War, he comes periodically under fire for the number of times the word "nigger" appears in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 216 times in Finn, compared to 104 times in Gone with the Wind, a much longer book. Mitchell is selective about her wording, often using "darkie" to describe good blacks like Mammy, and the n-word to describe bad blacks like the one that tries to rob Scarlett. Twain, having grown up in a slave state, and whose father occasionally owned slaves, uses the n-word no matter if the black in question is good, bad, or in-between. But don't condemn Twain for his accurate use of the era's vernacular. After all, his book is about a boy's moral growth as he helps a slave escape to freedom. Scarlett grows, too, but her racial attitudes stay the same. Some will argue that Gone with the Wind isn't even about slavery. It's about the Civil War. So what was it fought over, hoop skirts?

I suppose Mitchell isn't unique in identifying with her own group. When California passed Proposition 8 banning gay marriages, it was said to have been overwhelmingly supported by black voters. Every minority for himself. Meanwhile, political strategists for years have been trying to form a coalition among poor whites and poor blacks, to no avail. Too many poor whites blame poor blacks for all their troubles, as if welfare caused the collapse of manufacturing in this country (incidentally, there are more whites than blacks on welfare.) There's been a rift in recent years among blacks and Jews, but the still-extant Klan refuses to take sides. Women complain about being kept out of private clubs that cater to wealthy businessmen. We demand equal-opportunity elitism!

So who's to blame? The whites? Some of them are women. The males? Some of them are poor. The rich? Some of them are gay. The evangelicals? Some of them are black. The reactionaries? Some of them are Jewish. The Gentiles? Some of them are secular humanists.

I sound like a conservative decrying identity politics. No, I'm a liberal asking for a more expansive view of identity. I want everybody to identify with homo sapien.

There's a subplot in Gone with the Wind that I left out. Will Benteen is a one-legged Confederate soldier retuning from war who wanders onto Tara. He's made a foreman, and eventually marries Suellen, Scarlett's sister. Such a thing would have been unthinkable before the war. You see, Will is a cracker, a poor white. But post-war, Scarlett happily, and the rest of the local aristocracy begrudgingly, give their blessings to the union. The Yankee carpetbaggers are at the top of the socialeconomic pyramid now, and southerners of all stripes have to stick together. Really, any group at any time can find themselves at the top of such a pyramid. But it's always temporary. Met any Yankee carpetbaggers lately?

As out economy burns down faster than Atlanta, we all soon may find ourselves at the bottom. Climbing back up might be easier if we all recognize our common humanity. Do so, and tomorrow might be a better day.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Quips and Quotations

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it without a sense of ironic futility.

--Errol Morris

Friday, May 20, 2011

Reproductive Services

Photoshop is so cool, isn't it? You can get rid of the rust on your car, the peeling paint on your house, and the crabgrass on your lawn. You can also make your wife's breasts bigger, eliminate your husband's beer belly, give your bony teenage son some pecs and biceps, and remove your daughter's overbite. As for yourself, you can have a nose job, an eye lift, lips enhancement, hair extensions, and a Florida tan, all with the click of a mouse. Why, even God never had it so good.

Just make sure you don't walk outside or look in the mirror. For that matter, don't even look away from the computer screen. All your hopes, dreams, and aspirations are right there, in digital form, if nowhere else.

The popularity of Photoshop makes me wonder if we'll ever believe a photograph again. And if we can't believe a photograph, where exactly does that leave us? It leaves us right where we were for most of recorded history. Photography, after all, is only about 185 years old. There are New England bed-and-breakfasts older than that. Before the invention of photography, if one wanted a reproduction of reality, one had to draw, paint, or sculpt it. And if one wanted a reproduction of reality but was too lazy to draw, paint, or sculpt it themselves, one had to to watch somebody else do it, and give them the benefit of a doubt that they did so with a minimum of exaggeration.

The earliest known reproductions of reality are prehistoric cave paintings. These were usually pictures of bison and horses and anything that could be found outside of the cave. No prehistoric artist ever seemed to draw or paint anything that could be found inside the cave. Such as other people. No, only animals. My theory is some cavemen were brave enough to wander outside, while others less brave stayed inside and consisted on a diet of worms and spiders while gradually going blind from the lack of sunlight. So the caveman that did go outside and live to tell about it was essentially bringing back news from the outside world when he drew on those walls, the leading story apparently being that there were a lot of bison and horses out there. Big bison. Enough to scare the other cave man from ever venturing outside. Horses are pretty fierce-looking on those walls, too. As is the case with Photoshop, there was really nothing stopping the cave man artist from turning a Shetland pony into a fire-breathing dragon with a mane. If the other cave man questioned it, let him go out and look himself. He was going blind, anyway.

Now lets jump ahead a couple of centuries or eons or millenniums or however long it took for people to exchange their fur skins for togas. By the time the Ancient Greeks and their aesthetic wannabes, the Romans came along, sculpture had been perfected. And no one in all the passing centuries or eons or millenniums or however long it's taken for people to trade in their togas for polyester, has really improved on that perfection. Or maybe the Greeks and Romans themselves did. If we just go by the artwork that was left behind, apparently nobody in Ancient Greece or Rome had love handles, pot bellies, or cellulite. Must have been that Mediterranean diet. Another thing about the ancients, they certainly weren't prudes, producing naked figures of such anatomical exactitude that I had to put my hands over the computer screen lest a vigilant librarian accuse me of pandering.

Rome eventually fell, and the Dark Ages commenced. It didn't last forever and once the Renaissance arrived, so, too, did a new way of depicting reality: perspective. Before perspective, nothing was drawn from a particular point of view. The sizes of people and things tended to be somewhat haphazard. Everybody and everything in the background was often the exact size as everybody and everything in the foreground. This wasn't necessarily inaccurate. Objects aren't really smaller when they're farther away. But that's how they look to an observer. It was the Renaissance artists who drove this point home.

Perspective was the last word in pictorial accuracy for hundreds of years. Then, in the early 19th century, came the camera. When it comes to accurate portrayals of reality, a photograph trumped anything a Renaissance artist could paint. Only one minor detail about photography wasn't realistic, but it was a long time until anybody cared about that. I'll get to it later.

The introduction of photography threw artists for a loop. For years, forever, it had been their job to reproduce reality, something that took a fair amount of time. Now, these jokers come along with their strange little boxes on pedestals, and telling people to watch the birdie or say cheese or whatever cliches they used way back when, followed by a flash of light, and less than a week later (pre-Polaroid), there's the picture. For a while, painters and sculptors and their ilk went on their way acting like the camera had never been invented. The older, more established painters and sculptors, anyway. The young radicals among them, however, began to ask this question: if a painting can never be as realistic as a photograph, then why be realistic?

Thus, modern art was born.

First up were the impressionists. Oddly enough, the impressionists insisted they were being realistic. A photograph captures only a single moment, they insisted, while the human eye captures many, many moments coming at you all at once, especially if you're in a big city. All I know is that if I take off my glasses and look at some water lilies, things can get very impressionistic.

Impressionism shocked some, and delighted others. Those that were delighted won out, and by the end of 19th century, it was an established art form. As often happens when a art form has been established, there are those who will rise up against it. Oh, these weren't traditionalists rising up against it. This new set of troublemakers had no intention of returning to the style of the Old Masters. No, they felt Impressionism was a bit too passive. "Oh, well, that's just the impression it left on me." No, these new radicals wanted an emotional investment in their art. Thus, Expressionism was born. A lot of what's called Expressionism resembles Impressionism, as well as other forms such as Cubism, which I'll get to in a second. Expressionism really seems to be more about the artist's mood than his style. And that mood just couldn't be one of complacency. To be sure, getting all emotional everytime you wanted to paint a picture could take a toll on one's mental health. Perhaps what was called for was a little introspection.

Another exciting, if sometimes puzzling, movement that both influenced and competed with Expressionism was Cubism, so called, I imagine, because there wasn't much in these paintings in the way of circles. Though one of the movement's leading lights did get around to using curves later on.

I hope nobody's basing their college thesis on what I'm writing here, because I'm skimming through these various movements, such as Primitivism, Fauvism, Dadaism, Futurism, and Surrealism, pretty quickly. If I were a rich man, I'd take the time to try to find out just what the difference is between some of them. Let's just say the artists of the early 20th century seemed to be in a race to see how far they could escape from reality. Sculpture was similarly affected. Still, no matter how wild things got, these artworks were representations (or misrepresentations) of things that existed in the real world. Then along comes Abstract Expressionism. This kind of art existed nowhere in the real world, other than on the canvas itself. Still, this new breed of artist seemed to take their work seriously enough.

Abstract Expressionism was the be-all and end-all of abstract art. Afterwards, there was a return to the real world. At least a real supermarket.

Now, what about photography, the invention of which I believe inspired all this craziness (I mean that as a term of affection; I've thoroughly enjoyed perusing all this art, and I DO think it's art.) Earlier I said a photo was more realistic then a painting, with the exception of one minor detail. That one minor detail was monochrome, i.e. black-and-white. Look around you. The world is in color. Researching this piece, I was surprised to find out that the first color photograph was taken as early as 1861! It was awfully expensive though, and black-and-white ruled for over a century. The price came down after World War II, people began buying cameras that took color pictures, pictures that accurately reflected the real world, and black-and-white gradually fell out of favor. Or did it? Black-and-white photography is now and has been for quite some time in the same place as painting was in the 1820s, outdone by a technology capable of greater accuracy. However, if black-and-white film is not longer accurate, what is it? For the arty among us, black-and-white is not a depiction of reality, but an impression of it. It's surrealistic. It's abstract. It's dreamlike imagery. After all, we do dream in black-and-white, or so they say. Like Cubism, reality is seen through a different lens, if you'll pardon the pun. Black-and-white photography is now modern art (I'd even say it's post-modern art, except I'm not sure of the difference, and suspect they came up with the term only because the original modernists are now all dead and buried.)

Now, how about color photography? As I said at the beginning of this piece, Photoshop has rendered even that untrustworthy. Sure, you can have a lot of fun with it. However, I'd like to make a case for taking pictures of things as they are. "As they are" doesn't have to stop with the human eye. You can take pictures near or far, below or above, moving or still, in shadows or in light.

You know, something just occurred to me. Maybe reality is abstract.

That would explain a lot, actually.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Quips and Quotations

What is dirty? And what is clean? Now, if I had to make a choice, man, I would rather my kid watch a stag movie than a clean movie like King of Kings. Why? Because King of Kings is full of killing and I don't want my kid to kill Christ when he comes back.

--Lenny Bruce

Sunday, May 8, 2011

In Memoriam: Arthur Laurents 1917-2011

Playwright. Screenwriter. Librettist. Home of the Brave. Rope. The Snake Pit(uncredited). Anastasia. West Side Story. Gypsy. The Way We Were. The Turning Point.

"I love to write and I had something to say."

Action: What the hell's a matter with you?
Snowboy: I got caught sneakin' outa the movies.
A-rab: Sneakin' out? Whaddya do that for?
Snowboy: I sneaked in.

--West Side Story

Rose: [uber-stage mother--KJ] Just wanted to be noticed.
Louise aka Gypsy Rose Lee: [Rose's daughter] Like I wanted you to notice me.

--Gypsy