Tuesday Before Thanksgiving Leftovers

Back on Sunday, November 26. A good Thanksgiving to all.

At about 9 p.m. on November 21, I went outside and there he was. Orion, just rising in the southeast. Winter’s here. Fitting, since it will be well below freezing until tomorrow morning.

Visited the library again recently. Did another impulse borrowing: a box set with five Marx Brothers movies on five disks. Their first five — The Cocoanuts, Animal Crackers, Monkey Business, Horse Feathers and Duck Soup. I’m going to work my way through them over Thanksgiving because it occurs to me that, except for Animal Crackers and Duck Soup, I haven’t seen any of them in more than 20 years. Maybe 30 in some cases.

A booklet comes with the box, including reproductions of the movie posters. The Cocoanuts is praised on its poster as an All Talking-Singing Musical Comedy Hit! Talkies came along just in time for the Marx Brothers.

I’m glad the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville is a long-standing success. I remember visits there as far back as 1984, for meals or music, such as a show by Kathy Mattea sometime in the mid-80s, and always chocolate chunk cheesecake. But I wasn’t glad to read the following in the Washington Post this week:

Nashville, first on ABC and now CMT, has made the 90-seat venue so incredibly popular over the last five years that it’s impossible to get in unless you have a reservation (snapped up seconds after they’re available online) or wait in line outside for hours.”

Hell’s bells. Not that I visit Nashville often enough for this to affect me, but still. The thought that the Bluebird has lines like a Disneyland ride bothers me.

Still, I have many fond memories of the 1980s Blue Bird, along with a number of other small Nashville venues I used to visit, such as the Station Inn, Exit/In, Springwater, 12th & Porter, the Sutler, and Cantrell’s.

The Station Inn offered bluegrass. One fine evening ca. 1985 I saw Bill Monroe himself play there. Some years earlier, I went now and then with friends Neal and Stuart. After ingesting some beer, Stuart in particular was adamant that the band, whoever it was, play “Rocky Top” and “Salty Dog.” Usually the band obliged.

Something to know: the Osborn Brothers released the first recording of “Rocky Top” nearly 50 years ago, on Christmas 1967.

While putting the “detach & return” part of my water bill in the envelope the other day, I noticed in all caps block letters (some kind of sanserif): PLEASE DO NOT BEND, FOLD, STAPLE OR MUTILATE.

Two of the classic three. Poor old “spindle.” As neglected as the @ sign before the advent of email. As for “bend,” that’s an odd choice. I bend paper a lot, but unless you fold it, paper pops right back.

Correction: Not long ago, I recalled a kid that came to collect candy at our house one Halloween in the late ’90s, dressed as a Teletubbie. I had the time right: it was 1998. But oddly enough, I actually saw two little kids as Teletubbies, at least according to what I wrote in 2004:

“That year, all the kids came during the day, and I have a vivid memory of two kids aged about three to five, dressed as Teletubbies in bright costumes that looked like they could have done duty on the show itself.”

Odd. Memory’s a dodgy thing. How much remembering is misremembering? Or are the details that important anyway?

Thursday Havering

A lot of the ads popping up lately on YouTube have been to promote Canadian tourism. Mostly the ads depict, in music video style, young people doing the kind of vigorous activities that (some) young people must imagine is the essence of traveling to exotic places like Saskatchewan. Actually, one today featured the Yukon.

I’m all for visiting Canada, and encouraging people to do so, but the ads don’t really speak to me. Besides, Canada’s not really top of my mind in November. Then again, it’s good to plan ahead, so you can visit Canada, and even the Yukon, during that short window of opportunity when the place is pleasantly warm.

I never knew until recently that The Proclaimers did a charming version of “King of the Road” back in 1990. No one does it like Roger Miller, but I smile when I hear lyrics like, “destination Bangor, Maine” in that burr of theirs.

“King of the Road,” in the way things go on the Internet, soon leads to a song stuck in mid-60s amber, “Queen of the House.” Even better, the song is done in a Scopitone.

I was in the city not long ago with a camera in the front seat, so I took a few pictures while stopped at traffic lights. Such as this place. So very Chicago.
Then there was Thunderbolt.
It’s an ax throwing venue, only the second one in Chicago, according to the Tribune, opening this spring.

“Ax throwing — indoor or outdoor — is a skill-based sport; [owner Scott] Hollander likens it to pool or darts, where participants can take the competition as seriously or lackadaisically as they please,” the paper says.

“Easygoing ax throwers can book an hour at a lane for $15 per person Wednesdays and Thursdays, and for $20 per person Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. Food and nonalcoholic drink is allowed and can be consumed at the plywood stands behind each pair of lanes or at the picnic tables in the building. Thunderbolt also is available for bachelor or bachelorette parties, birthday parties and corporate events.”

What do I think of when I hear about ax throwing? Ed Ames, naturally. Tomahawk, but close enough.

Autonomous Pods, The Black Mirror Version

Something I read today: “[He] spoke at length about the future he imagines for the automobile industry: autonomous pods that consumers hail on demand rather than owning, networked together in ways that render such familiar 21st-century headaches as traffic jams and car accidents largely (perhaps entirely) a thing of the past.”

Oh, really? Call me a skeptic. Or maybe it’s just that I can imagine some of the new inconveniences, or worse, of such “autonomous pods.”

Hail a pod? Maybe that would work well in a dense city. Here in the suburbs? I don’t have to wait for my car at all. It’s here. It’s now. How can pods possibly match that?

Every trip you take will be monitored. Some system somewhere will know everywhere you go. That kind of thing is bad enough already, this will make it worse.

There will be advertisements in the pods, based on where it thinks you might go. Or just advertising. Maybe it will be loud. It isn’t your car, so you can’t turn it off. Or maybe you can, for a price.

Will pods refuse you service if you want to pay in cash (assuming there is such a thing)?

What happens if you’re mistakenly put on a terrorist watch list, and the pods refuse to pick you up?

Impulse destinations will be, sadly, a thing of the past.

Demand pricing for the pods, just like Uber. That’ll be terrific.

Of course the systems will be privately owned. This is the USA. What happens when cities start granting local monopolies for pods and price increases far outstrip the rate of inflation every year?

Taking items with you will be no extra charge. For a while. Then items will become revenue streams for the autonomous pod companies.

No eating or drinking allowed in the pods. Except for food and drink purchased from the glove compartment minibar.

Your pod will pick you up in 10 minutes. Except, there’s a system failure on a road nearby, so it doesn’t come for two hours. Your alternative? Not that car in your garage.

If you’re late for work, I imagine “the pod was late” will be no excuse.

What happens when two autonomous pods run into each other? Impossible, say the engineers. Ha, ha, say I. Of course it’s going to happen.

One reason for traffic jams is that too many people want to go the same place at the same time. So will a pod ever say, sorry, you can’t go there because there’s too much traffic already?

Thursday Tidbits

Last night Northern Illinois dropped below freezing, and it wasn’t a lot warmer during the day. A taste of winter, dressed like fall.
Fall colors, ChicagoI didn’t know until recently that Lotte Lenya, who can be heard here singing “Mack the Knife,” or maybe more properly “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer,” played Rosa Klebb, the SPECTRE operative who tries to off James Bond with her poison-tipped shoe in From Russia With Love.

Not an important thing to know. Just another one of those interesting tidbits to chance upon.

A rare thing: a YouTube comment that’s actually funny. It’s at a posting featuring “Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag and Smile, Smile, Smile!” sung by Oscar Seagle and the Columbia Stellar Quartette, recorded January 25, 1918.

Someone calling himself Xander Magne said: ” ‘Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition’ ain’t got s–t on this, sonny. Damn 30s kids with their jazz and their swing and their big band and their ‘World War 2.’ We used to have a Great War and it was Great and you liked it!”

One more thing I saw at the International Museum of Surgical Science, a polemic cartoon by Edward Kemble that was part of a display about patent medicine, the Pure Food & Drug Act, etc.

International Museum of Surgical Science, Chicago“Palatable Poison for the Poor.” Whew. Good thing that’s not possible in the 21st century, eh?

Again, too melancholy a note on which to end. Here’s something I saw just before Halloween. Pumpkin π.

Pumpkin π

A bit o’ pumpkin whimsy.

The Form Letter of Babel

It’s a formality, a throwaway bit of corporate bureaucratese, this paper I found on my desk today. Things tend to get buried. Got it a few months ago from an insurance company that I deal with.

Or is it just a formality? For me it is. But it might contain important information for other people who received the page. It’s a list of languages that the company says it will assist people in, if need be.

It includes one sentence in each language, presumably saying the same thing as the first sentence, which is in English: For language assistance in your language call the number listed on your ID card at no cost. All together, counting English, the sentences represent 66 languages.

Maybe this is a government mandate. Not just the letter, but the assistance. Maybe that’s onerous and adds to the cost of insurance. And maybe this kind of thing would upset the Know-Nothings who’ve been emerging from under rocks lately, as they do periodically.

Still, you could also argue that the list is a marvel of the age. A speaker of anyone of 66 languages can pick up the phone and get some kind of specialized assistance. Considering the state of customer service by phone, it might be as uneven as it is in English.

Even so — what a thing, this complex, real-time linguistic offering. Would that have even been possible at the beginning of this century? Certainly not before that.

The languages are, in order, English, Spanish, Chinese, French, Tagalog, Navajo, German, Albanian, Amharic, Arabic, Armenian, Bantu-Kirundi, Bisayan-Visayan, Bengali-Bangala, Burmese, Catalan, Charmorro, Cherokee, Choctaw, Cushite, Dutch, French Creole, Greek, Gujarati, Hawaiian, Hindi, Hmong, Ibo, Ilocano, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Karen, Korean, Kru-Bassa, Kurdish, Laotian, Marathi, Marshallese, Micronesian-Pohnpeian, Mon-Khmer/Cambodian, Nepali, Nilotic-Dinka, Norwegian, Pennsylvania Dutch, Persian, Polish, Portuguese, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Samoan, Serbo-Croatian, Sudanic-Fulfulde, Swahili, Syriac-Assyrian, Telugu, Thai, Tongan, Turkese [sic, I think Trukese is correct], Turkish, Ukrainian, Urdu, Vietnamese, Yiddish and Yoruba.

Overthinking a Coupon

Classic November to begin the month: overcast skies, drizzle, cold but not cold enough for anything to freeze.

Not long ago I found myself taking a close look at a coupon for a bagel shop we patronize sometimes. Though a chain, it has better bagels than most places I can get to easily.

They’ll do, in other words, till I can visit New York again. Say what you want about that city, I agree with the idea that its bagels are really good. I found that out back in 1983. Some days I’d buy a half dozen in the morning and they’d be gone by the end of the day — and I was staying by myself.

Anyway, here’s the coupon.

Look carefully at the expiration dates.

When I saw that, I started overthinking the thing. What does it mean that the coupon expires on a day that doesn’t exist by conventional Gregorian calculation, November 31, 2017?

1. The entire coupon is invalid.

2. Only the expiration date is invalid, so it never expires.

3. It actually expires on December 1, which is the day that actually exists after November 30.

4. It expires at the end of November, regardless of what it says.

5. It means whatever the employee at the bagel shop says it means, when asked.

6. The national chain has a SOP for these cases. Call the franchising headquarters.

7. Illinois state consumer law has a provision that kicks in these cases. Refer to the appropriate regulations.

8. The circular in which I found the coupon slipped into our universe from one that has a November 31, and I’d better watch for (or watch out for) other items from that reality.

9. It’s Russian disinformation, designed to destabilize America.

10. It doesn’t mean a damn thing. It’s just a misprint.

Though it’s the prosaic choice, I’ll have to go with 10 and, as a practical matter, 4. Within the perimeters in which I live my life, that’s the sanest choice.

Halloween ’17

A chilly Halloween. That might account for the seemingly low numbers of kids coming by for candy. As of about 8 p.m., a total of 22. Or maybe that’s about the same as every recent year. I haven’t been counting. This year I decided to, just on a whim.

Ann did not go out. As far as I can tell, no high school kids came by — unless a couple of those tall(ish) skinny kids in one party were in high school, but I took them for junior high.

This is a good development. When we first moved here in the 2000s, high school kids used to show up. But if you’re in high school, you’re too old to trick-or-treat. If it were true 40 years ago, it should still be true.

This year I sprang for a box a full-sized candy bars to give away. A bulk box of Mars products, acquired at a warehouse store: Snickers, Milky Way, M&Ms (plain and peanut) and Twix. A little more expensive, but the leftovers are better. We got an audible reaction sometimes: as two girls walked away, I heard them both squeal, “Full sized!”

A moderately interesting selection of costumes was on display among the kids who came to the door. I didn’t recognize all of them.

“What was that movie, set in Hawaii, with an alien and a girl?” I asked Ann.

I think I took Lilly to see it when she was four. Or maybe we saw it on tape. Anyway, I couldn’t remember the title, but I remembered what the character looked like. I assumed Ann had seen it at some point. I was right.

Lilo and Stitch.”

“Right. That kid had a Stitch costume on, though the hood wasn’t up.”

The very first kid, a little boy of about three with his mother at the door, wore some kind of blue dinosaur outfit. At least the purple dinosaur seems to be dead and gone. (Or is he?) Years ago, 1998 or ’99 I think, a little kid in a strikingly full Teletubbies costume came to the door. I expect he’s a grown man now. I hope his parents took pictures of his foray into Teletubbie-ness to embarrass him occasionally.

Like I documented Lilly in her paper space armor, ca. 2001.

She didn’t actually wear that trick-or-treating, though she could have. If I remember right, it came folded up in a Japanese magazine. Unfold it and you have a cheap costume.

Later a somewhat older boy came by fully dressed as Flash. Other kids mostly wore head pieces for the desired effect: a pirate hat, mouse ears, a karate band, a flower crown and antlers — a nice array, but odd — and a girl in a zebra coat and… a pork pie hat?

I didn’t get a good look at it, but that was my impression. Maybe that’s just because I finished Breaking Bad not long ago. And I don’t remember any zebra coats in that show. Could be from a kid’s show I know nothing about. There’s an increasing number of those, and I don’t mind.

What’s the Use of Worrying? It Never was Worthwhile.

Odd, not many Christmas catalogs yet. But I did get a Coleman’s Military Surplus catalog this week. Why I’m on that list, I can’t say.

Air Force Base Guards: You sure gotta hand it to those commies… Gee, those trucks sure look like the real thing, don’t they?… I wonder where they got ’em from?… Probably bought them from the Army as war surplus… OK. Open up at 200 yards. 

Name that movie.

Coleman’s offerings are international. Some random picks: a Bulgarian military officer’s sheepskin-lined wool coat, Czech border police parka, French military waterproof rain coat, British military thermal underwear, Swedish military universal bandana, Italian navy mechanics coverall, Turkish military combat backpack, Polish military attaché case, Russian sailor’s blanket, Greek military NATO sleeping bag, Swiss military ice pick, German military four-piece utensil and can opener set, and an East German military shovel.

Plenty from the USA as well: some GI cold weather gloves, GI wool boot liners, GI cold weather bibs, GI waist/butt pack, GI tactical shotgun shell/ammo pouch, GI mesh laundry bag, GI GP medic’s bag, GI improved combat shelter, and of course a GI duffel bag.

Everything for the GI. Am I wrong in thinking that term is pretty much historic, and not current? Everyone knows what it means — maybe I shouldn’t be too sure about the rising generation — but usually you only see it in a historic context.

Best of all in the catalog: a GI all-purpose rugged kit bag. A kit bag! Only $39.95 and you get something in which to pack up all your troubles.

Voice Mail in the Digital Age

Here’s how not to set up your answering machine, if you’re a business that wants contact with the outside world. This is more-or-less what happened when I dialed a nunber recently in pursuit of my work.

Machine Voice: You have reached Three Initial Corp. If you know your party’s extension, please dial it now. To search by last name, please dial 1.


As it happened, I didn’t know the name of the person who could help me. That was one of my questions.

Continued silence.

I thought about dialing 1, just to see what would happen. Or picking a name like Smith, just to see what would happen. But I had some business to conduct, so I didn’t want to go off on a whimsical tangent, as much as I like those.

Click. Click.

Machine Voice: You have reached the voice mailbox of Random Name. Please…

I had no idea if that was the person whom I needed to talk to or not. I left a message. I’ve yet to hear back.

Atatürk at the Stoplight

Sometimes you’re driving along and you see something odd. Not long ago I was driving with Ann in the front seat, and we stopped at a light behind a white truck — unadorned except for one thing.

Ataturk 2017I had her take a picture, since I didn’t have a camera with me. I told her that the face was that of Atatürk, father of modern Turkey. She hadn’t heard of him. Now she has. What he’s doing on a truck in the northwest suburbs of Chicago is another question, one for which I don’t have an answer.

As far as I’ve been able to determine — and I’m not at all knowledgeable about Turkish — the words at the bottom mean, “We follow in the footsteps of Atatürk.” Well, why not? Still, it’s a little like a truck with the face of George Washington plying the streets of suburban Istanbul. Maybe that happens, but it would be odd, wouldn’t it?