September Pause

Back to posting again around September 17. Constitution Day. Maybe I’ll have finished the Federalist Papers by then.

It might also be warm again. A distinct October-like coolness has settled on northern Illinois since Labor Day.

Saw a cherry picker in the neighborhood recently. The man atop the equipment was repairing a street lamp that had gone a little funny. Not out, just flickering from time to time.

cherry picker

Why a cherry picker? Why not apples or lemons? And why do careless or unscrupulous researchers cherry pick their data? Why not grape harvest it?

Speaking of fruit, completely by chance down an Internet rabbit hole recently I came across the Citronaut — the first mascot of Florida Technical University, which eventually became the University of Central Florida. He’s an anthropomorphic orange wearing a space helmet, dating from 1968.

Florida produces citrus and shoots men into space, so it must have seemed like a bright idea. For a very short time. Says Wiki: “After one year, students petitioned the Student Government to establish a new mascot for the university.” Poor old goofy Citronaut was ignominiously dumped. You’d think he could have gone on to shill Tang or something.

The thought of Tang led me to another Internet rabbit hole. Eventually I came across the Tang Pakistan page. Is Tang popular in Pakistan? Could be. At least it seems more advertised there than its country of origin.

The About Tang page is in English, and includes such sentences as: “Being the king of flavours, its fruity and refreshing taste wins millions of hearts every day. Be it family gatherings, group studies, play days or summer struck – Tang is the Neverland for everyone to indulge, lift their moods and bond together to share good times.”

Not a peep about astronauts.

Over the Labor Day weekend, I watched The General on DVD. I’d only ever seen clips of it. It’s one of the most kinetic movies I’ve ever seen. Fittingly, with locomotives chasing each other and Buster Keaton all over the place, doing his own stunts. Funny stuff. I’m glad a movie more than 90 years old can still be so amusing.

Some scenes were flat-out amazing. Best known, probably, is when a locomotive causes a trestle to collapse, precipitating the engine into the river below. As I looked at that, I thought, that looks awfully real, not like a model. Turns out it was a real locomotive shot falling into a river (like the train fall in Bridge On the River Kwai).

Sean Axmaker writes in Silentfilm.org: “For the scene in which Johnnie sets fire to a bridge to prevent the North’s engine from crossing the river, Keaton had [set designer Fred] Gabourie construct a stunt trestle designed to collapse under the train’s weight. It was the only sequence that did not use existing track and it has been called the most expensive single shot in silent film history (Keaton biographies put the cost at $42,000).

“It is certainly the most expensive that Keaton ever executed. He had only one shot at the scene and ran six cameras to capture the spectacle. The engine that plunged into the river was one of the doubles used to stand in for the working engines and it rested there in the water, rusting away for 15 years until it was hauled out for salvage in the scrap drives of World War II.”

Later I looked up the female lead in the movie, Marion Mack, a one-time Sennett Bathing Beauty. She got tired of being in movies around the time talkies started, and lived a long time after, until 1989, including a career as an Orange County real estate broker. As for Glen Cavender, an original Keystone Cop who played antagonist Capt. Anderson, he lived until 1962. He seems to be an example of one of those actors that didn’t transition well to talkies, though he kept working.

The actual leader of the 1862 Great Locomotive Chase was James J. Andrews, a civilian scout for the Union Army. Things didn’t turn out well for him, since the Confederates hanged him. He lost out posthumously, too. This from Wiki: “Some of the raiders were the first to be awarded the Medal of Honor by the US Congress for their actions. As a civilian, Andrews was not eligible.”

You’d think Andrews should get something, even now, such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom or the Congressional Gold Medal, which go to civilians.

One more thing about a movie. Recently I happened across this video on You Tube.

It’s a remarkable bit of editing to go along with Elmer Berstein’s justly famous, magnificent Magnificent Seven main theme, right down to Steve McQueen’s smile in the last frame. The video featuring the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is also worth a watch.

The Act You’ve Known All These Years

On the radio the other day, I heard an ad for the upcoming Fest for Beatles Fans at a Chicago-area venue, which is what I got for tuning into geezer radio at that moment. Not that I dislike the subject matter. Quite the contrary. But I don’t feel the need to attend a convention about the Fab Four.

Still, I was amused to hear that one of its featured speakers is Leon Wildes, senior partner of Wildes & Weinberg P.C. He’s the attorney who successfully represented John Lennon in his deportation proceedings in the 1970s, which ultimately allowed him to stay in the United States. It probably would have been better for Lennon had he been out of the country in 1980, but no one could have known that beforehand.

In June, I was reminded of the 50th anniversary of the American release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, which I have on CD. I hadn’t listened to it in quite a while, so I decided to during a somewhat rare daytime moment when I didn’t have any pressing business, and no one else was home.

But the only device I have now to play CDs is the DVD player connected to the TV. Older standalone CD players have all gone kaput, never to be replaced, and the CD trays of our laptops have all likewise broken, one after the other — a clear mechanical weak spot in laptops. So I played the disk (I really want to call it a record) on the DVD player, using the TV speakers.

My conclusion? Those speakers aren’t nearly good enough for a work of sonic charm like Sgt. Pepper’s.

An Exaltation of Victrolas

Supposedly the collective for larks is an exaltation, though I don’t know that anyone familiar with larks actually uses it. Seems like one of those made up, like so many others, for the Book of Saint Albans in 1486, and surviving on lists to this day.
That comes to mind because I was wondering what the collective for Victrolas might be. Exaltation fits. An Exaltation of Victrolas.

The suburban mansion we toured in July not only had massive orchestrions that played orchestral music without any human musicians, and many arcade machines of yore, but also Victrolas and other phonographic systems with pronounced horns. A lot of them. An exaltation of them.

I went all snap-happy and spent time taking pictures of them. The horns, not so much the mechanisms. I’d never seen such an array. The only thing close was the selection of 78 players for sale at Harp Gallery in Wisconsin.

Note the collection of Edison Records cylinders that the machines above use.

In this room there was one machine — not pictured — that was powered by the heat of a candle. Light the candle, put it inside the cabinet, let it play. “I wanted to show you this machine,” the guide said as he held up the candle. “But we almost never play it. It can catch fire.”

All of the mansion’s Victrolas are in working order, I understand. All you need is a vinyl record (or cylinder) of some early kind, which are still around. In a century’s time, will there be a collection of iPods and other gizmos like this? They will probably be hopelessly unplayable.

Thursday Odd Lots

“What’s so funny, Dad?”

“That sign across the street.”

We were in Wisconsin during our recent trip, and had stopped at a place where I could access wifi. The sign was visible from there.

“That’s not funny.”

“Maybe it will be for you someday.”

What would happen if you used this granite for landscaping? Would your back yard suddenly cause you dread? Kafkaesque landscaping, now there’s a concept.

Looks like Kafka does some good work, though.

Here’s a sign you don’t see much any more, though I’m pretty sure that they were common once upon a time. I think even my high school cafeteria, which was in a basement, had one in the late ’70s. They’re so rare now that when you do see one in situ, you take note. Something like a working public pay phone.

Fallout Shelter Sign, Calumet, Michigan

This one is on Sixth St. in Calumet, Michigan. It even has a capacity number. What was once an unnerving reminder of the nuclear Sword of Damocles can now “add a cool tone to a man cave or retro game room,” according to Amazon, where you can pick a reproduction up from the Vintage Sign Co. for (currently) $18.99. The note also calls the item a “vintage style WWII metal sign.” What is it about basic chronology that flummoxes so many people?

Something else I saw, a little more recently, in Bucktown.

Bucktown, Chicago Shiva Shack

Shiva Shack? C’mon in for a bit of destruction and then transformation.

Also in Bucktown: a game of beanbag on the sidewalk.

Bucktown 2017

Maybe there to remind us what politics ain’t.

Recently I picked up The Happy Isles of Oceania (1992) by Paul Theroux. It’s been sitting on my shelf for a number of years. So far it’s a good read. I understand that he has a reputation as a snob, and some of that comes through in his writing, but I don’t know the man personally, so I wouldn’t have to put up with him anyway.

He writes well, at least about the places he’s been, and that’s all that counts. His description, early in the book, of hiking on the South Island of New Zealand, is a fine bit of work, and had the unfortunate side effect of making me want to drop everything and go do that. The mood passed.

Theroux’s work did influence me to go one place. In the early ’90s, I read his Sunrise With Seamonsters, a collection of essays and travel bits, and one piece included a mention of the Cameron Highlands on the Malay Peninsula. It’s a former British hill station, more recently a getaway place for Malaysians and the trickle of tourists who’ve heard of it. His mention of it was probably where I first heard of the place.

When I went to Malaysia for the first time, I made a point of going there, and did not regret it. Besides cool temps, you can enjoy jungle walks (unless you’re Jim Thompson), a butterfly garden, a nighttime view that can include the Southern Cross, and eating Chettinad cuisine on a banana leaf, with your hands.

This is what life is, according to the song.

Life's a Bowl of Cherries

Rainier cherries, which are in season now. Very popular around the house, and we buy them in large quantities while we can. I’m glad that there are still some foods, some fruits, that have a season.

I’m not all that keen on Rudy Vallee, but his version of the song is good. And the lip sync from Pennies From Heaven (1981) is amusing. I saw that movie when it was new, probably because Steve Martin was in it, but I don’t remember very much about it. Maybe I should watch it again. I know I was too young then to appreciate its songs.

Slacking Off For Summer

Back to posting around July 9. These mid-summer days — Juneteenth, the Solstice, Canada Day (150 this year), the Fourth of July — ought to be the High Summer Holidays here in North America.

Days when, if you have the time and inclination, you can watch the clouds drift by.
The sky is gray and white and cloudy

Or listen to silly electronic entertainment. Technically, we aren’t in the Silly Season, which is late August. But maybe like Christmas, the season creeps forward.

Here’s a song in the big genre of songs known as “nonsense.” Artful nonsense, but still nonsense. Thus the video that goes with this cover is just right for it.

I had no idea until recently that anyone had done a cover of “Turning Japanese,” much less the fetching Kirsten Dunst. Lately I’ve been watching her do a fine turn in the second season of Fargo, and she also did well as Marion Davies in The Cat’s Meow.

Thursday Codswallop

Had about an 18-hour period of on-off heavy rain ending around dawn this morning. Till then, June had mostly been dry, with enough wind sometimes to blow dust off the ball field behind my back yard.

I looked up codswallop recently, curious about its origin, and was not surprised that Merriam-Webster says “source unknown.” I was surprised that the earliest known use was 1963. I’d have guessed 100 years earlier. Has a Victorian ring to it.

Not long ago I heard a song on WDCB’s Folk Festival that wasn’t exactly my idea of folk, but not bad, except that the singer kept mentioning the “some-or-other” blues. I couldn’t figure out what she was saying. After the song, the host said it was the fomo blues (or FoMO or FOMO): pronouced Foh-Moh, an acronym for “fear of missing out.”

I looked into it further. I find it hard to believe it’s a real thing, or very important if it is.

Not long ago I found that some of the animation work of the strange Harry Smith is on YouTube. Wonder if he had any influence on Terry Gilliam’s animation.

I’d never heard of a novelty song called “Crawl Out Through the Fallout” by Sheldon Allman until last week. Found it on YouTube as well.

The album, released in 1960, is called Folk Songs for the 21st Century, but the style of “Crawl Out” is more ’50s jazz. I checked a little more, and other songs from the record are also posted, including the amusing “Big Brother is Watching You.”

You’ll disappear in a wink
Unless you can doublethink

Allman’s voice reminds me of Tennessee Ernie Ford, which just adds a layer of strangeness. Now there’s a concept album: Tennessee Ernie Ford Sings His Dystopian Favorites.

More about Allman is in his 2002 obit. He composed the theme song for George of the Jungle. For that alone, he ought to be remembered.

Maunday Thursday Misc.

A good Easter to all. Back on Easter Monday, which is a holiday in a fair number of countries, so why not here? Or at least something like in Buffalo, which seems to celebrate a thing called Dyngus Day.

The other day I noticed that I’ve nearly made 1,000 postings here. Not quite, but getting there. WordPress helpfully tells me the Top 10 Categories (out of 15, not counting Uncategorized) among all those posts.

Been There (526)
History (227)
Entertainment (160)
Over the Transom (152)
Public Art (105)
Food & Beverage (102)
Weather (100)
Family (83)
Holidays (66)
News (65)

I guess it’s fitting that Been There is first. It’s in the title, after all. Over the Transom is a little tricky: that’s any fool thing that comes my way without any plan, so it covers a lot of ground. Otherwise, I won’t put much stock in the ranking. For instance, I’ve posted more about weather than my family, but that hardly means I care more about the weather than them.

This made me laugh. Jonah Goldberg on the Trump administration: “I feel like I’m watching a Fellini movie without subtitles: I have no idea what’s going on.”

Here are some things young women get up to in Brooklyn. Or did in 2011.

Something to see in Denver. For the colorful art work, of course.

And maybe there is something new under the sun.

Afternoon Music Selections

Ann and I were in the living room yesterday, and I called up YouTube on the TV. It’s one of the things you can do with a modern TV and wifi. She wasn’t really paying attention, since she had her smaller electronic gizmo handy, so I decided to play “Telstar.” The video shows mostly unrelated space images, but never mind. I thought it might get her attention.

I was right. “What is that?” she asked. Or maybe it was, “What is that?” But I don’t think she really wanted an answer.

After it was over, naturally I had to play the Tornados’ “Robot,” whose Scopitone doesn’t look very good on a bigger screen. But the YouTube poster’s (in 2006!) description is apt: “Tornados rock the twang in a back-woods sci-fi robotic dance party! And then kiss girls!”

She wasn’t impressed by that, either.

If it had occurred to me, I would have dialed up “Trans-Europe Express” (English or German). It’s been 40 years this month since the album of that name was released. Of course I didn’t hear about it at the time, but in the early ’80s, and even then I had no idea that it had been received so well by critics, for what that’s worth. All I know is I’ve always liked it.

When I looked it up recently, I was surprised to learn that the Trans-Europe Express, as in the train system TEE, doesn’t exist any more. Probably because I confused it with the TGV, which is very much still around.

Or maybe I could have played Kraftwerk’s “Tour de France,” another fun tune from some other zone, or “Beatbox” by Art of Noise. If your children don’t think you’re just a little strange, you aren’t trying very hard.

Peanut Butter, Honey & Banana

Around lunchtime today, I had a hankering for a peanut butter, honey and banana sandwich. It had been good while. All of the ingredients were on hand, so voila!

I don’t take nearly enough pictures of the food I’m about to eat, so here it is. (I don’t think it’ll end up on Facebook, though.)

peanut butter, honey and bananaTom’s Tabooley in Austin used to serve a dandy pbh&b sandwich for a very modest price. At least it did in the summer of 1981, when I would eat there occasionally. I checked today and discovered that Tom’s Tabooley has closed. That didn’t surprise me — that’s the way it is in the restaurant trade — but what did surprise me was that it closed in 2016.

As I enjoyed my homemade pbh&b creation, it occurred to me that Elvis was fond of them, too. Or at least I thought I’d read that some years ago in Amazing But True Elvis Facts by Bruce Nash and Allan Zullo (1995), which I picked up on a remainder table sometime in the late ’90s. I know that because the price tag on the back of the book says, “Originally $6.95 SALE PRICE $.97,” a bargain for sure.

So I checked. I wasn’t quite right. Memory is an unreliable narrator. P. 59: “At home, [Elvis] loved to munch a sandwich of peanut butter, sliced bananas, and crisp bacon.”

In the same book, p. 143, you can also discover that, “Elvis’s favorite film was Dr. Strangelove: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. It featured one of the King’s favorite actors, Peter Sellers, in three different roles. Elvis watched the 1964 British-made film at least fifty times in his life.”

Remarkable, considering he only lived to be 42. Apocryphal or not, that “amazing true Elvis fact” makes me smile.

Thursday’s This & That & Maybe the Other

Last night was clear and below freezing. I was out at about 10 and noticed Orion out for his evening stroll, way off to the southwest. He’ll be gone for the warm months soon.
I suspect I might not ever see him standing on his head again. That was a marvel to those of us used to the northern array of stars.

Years ago, my friend Stephen Humble told me that Turkish, which he studied to entertain himself, had distinct words for “this” and “that” but also “the other.” I’ve never verified that. I don’t think I will. Absolute certainty about small things is overrated. I overrate it myself.

Here’s one way, among so very many, to realize how little you really know: watch a few episodes of Only Connect. Then again, some of the clues are like those given in crossword puzzles sometimes, so vague as to be worthless. At least that’s why I believe I’ve never had much use for crosswords.

For something completely different, listen to a few songs by the Chickasaw Mudd Puppies. I like that name. Apparently they had their moment in Athens, Ga., in the early ’90s. Their sound reminds me of some of the live music in Nashville in the mid-80s, which inspires a touch of nostalgia.

Today I read that there aren’t any Goodyear Blimps any more. Not really. Goodyear now markets itself with semirigid dirigibles, which will be called blimps anyway. I would ride in a semirigid dirigible, certainly, but that isn’t quite the same as a blimp, is it?