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 Loose Ends

While the Northeast is buried under snow, I look out onto a patch of northern Illinois — my yard — that’s brown. The heavy snow of December gave way to a moderate January, by local standards, and all the white went away. It’s cold out there, but it doesn’t look like February, which is usually marked by unmelted snow in some spots, or at least in the shadows.

I noticed the other day that My Favorite Martian was on demand, so I watched the first episode. I don’t have much memory of its original airing, from 1963 to ’66, and I don’t remember seeing it in syndication, so it’s essentially new to me. Verdict: mildly amusing at times, mostly because Ray Walston and Bill Bixby had some comic talent. But I don’t think I need to watch many more episodes, thus putting it in the same class as Mister Ed or Leave it to Beaver.

Reading a bit about the show, I learned that Bill Bixby’s full name was Wilfred Bailey Everett Bixby III. In our time, that would be the original name of a hip-hop star. Also, just before he died, he married Judith Kliban, widow of B. Kliban.

Hadn’t thought about B. Kliban in years. Didn’t know he was dead, but he has been since 1990. Somewhere at my mother’s house (I think) are collections of his cartoons that I bought. One is called Never Eat Anything Bigger Than Your Head. Words to live by.

At a magazine rack in a big box store not long ago, I saw a copy of Rolling Stone. I was shocked. It was so thin you could put it in a box and use it for Kleenex. The magazine was also standard size, or smaller, not the tabloid that by rights it should be. It was like running into an old acquaintance who’s now dying of a wasting disease. Guess its real presence is online now anyway.

“Acquaintance” because I never read Rolling Stone that much. Not all together my kind of magazine. But I would pick it up and look at in doctors’ offices or from friends’ coffee tables or the like. And I have to say it often had interesting covers, even if they depicted celebrity musicians I cared nothing about.

Last Friday, I dropped by the visit the Friendship Park Conservatory, a small conservatory that’s part of the Mount Prospect Park District. Nice to see some green now, even if the pit of winter this year isn’t too deep.

Friendship Park Conservatory, Mount Prospect

Friendship Park Conservatory, Mount Prospect

The last time I remember being there was in late summer, when it was green outside the conservatory as well as inside. Back in 2005. The girls were a lot smaller then.

Friendship Park Conservatory, Mount ProspectEarly this week, Junk King paid a visit to a house on my block.
I’d heard of the company, but never seen one of its distinctive red trucks before.

Divers Content on a Freezing Cold Thursday

Inspired by yesterday’s natterings, I stopped at the library and checked out River of Doubt (2006) by Candice Millard. Subtitled “Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey,” it’s about TR’s expedition into darkest Amazonia in 1913-14. As the book makes clear from the get-go, the journey nearly killed him. Even he-man action presidents have their limits, after all.

I didn’t know until today that Andrew Sachs died not long ago. There are many clips available of him in fine form as Manuel, such as this one or this one or this one.

I’ve had these glasses for a few years now. Bought them at a garage sale for (I think) a quarter each.

Coke Cans Make of Glass

They were clearly some kind of promotional item from Coca-cola but also McDonald’s, because three of them have McDonald’s arches on the bottom. The interesting thing to me is that they’re precisely the same size and shape as a 12 oz. soft drink can.

While writing about a hotel today, I encountered something in the hotel biz known as a “spiritual menu.” The concept isn’t exactly new, but I’d never heard of it. The following is from the Christian Post in 2008.

“A hotel in Nashville will be the first known in the nation to remove the standard Holy Bible from its rooms and replace it with a ‘spiritual menu’ that includes other religious books… Hotel Preston, a boutique owned by Oregon-based Provenance Hotels, will require guests to call room service to order their religious book of choice…

“The religious book list includes the Book of Mormon, the Qur’an, the Torah, the Tao Te Ching, The Four Noble Truths of Buddhism, Bhagavad Gita (a Hindu text), books on Scientology, as well as the King James and New American Bible versions.” @#$%&! Scientology?

Hm. The Gideons can’t be too happy about being replaced. And the following lyric just doesn’t have the same ring: Rocky Raccoon/Checked into his room/Only to find a spiritual menu.

Lull-Time Entertainment

We opened our presents early on the morning of December 22, since Yuriko and Ann were off to Japan later that day. Christmas itself passed quietly, though we did prepare a nice dinner. As for New Year’s Eve, Lilly went out with friends — as you should do at 19 — while I stayed home with the dog, a more fitting evening for middle age.

In between those moments, work slacked off, and I enjoyed the lull. Among other things, Lilly and I watched various TV shows when she was home, such as episodes of Frasier (it holds up well) and the newer and considerably different, but also very funny Louie. I also had her watch the “Turkeys Away” episode of WKRP in Cincinnati.

We saw an episode of Bob’s Burgers that involved a gingerbread house contest. Could those really exist? I asked myself later. Yes indeed. Just Google “gingerbread contest” or the like and you get many hits about various events, such as the 2016 National Gingerbread House Competition at the Omni Grove Park Inn in Asheville, NC, held just before Thanksgiving.

“It all began with a small group of gingerbread houses built by community members in 1992 as another way to celebrate the holiday season with no plans to continue the following year,” says the competition’s web site. “There was no possible way to know that more than two decades later The Omni Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition™ would be one of the nation’s most celebrated and competitive holiday events.”

We’ve tried to build those things before. We aren’t dedicated much to the task, so it usually ends up more like a gingerbread trailer park after a tornado.

On the evening before New Year’s Eve, Lilly and I went into the city to see The Christmas Schooner on stage at the Mercury Theater, a mid-sized Chicago venue on the North Side not affiliated with Orson Welles that I know of.

The play is a musical set in the 1880s, involving a German-immigrant ship captain in Manistique, Mich., who hits on the idea of shipping Christmas trees to Germans in Chicago. The trouble is, sailing on Lake Michigan in late November/early December is dangerous, especially in the days of small wooden vessels and no weather reports. Eventually the captain goes down with his ship but his widow and son figure out a way to keep the trade going. The story is a fictionalized account of the real Christmas tree trade between the UP and Chicago in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which claimed a number of ships and men, notably the Rouse Simmons, which went down with all hands in Lake Michigan in late 1912.

I’ve long been impressed by the level of talent involved in the Chicago theater, and The Christmas Schooner was no exception. The acting, singing and dancing — or rather, motions on the stage, not a lot of formal dancing — were all first rate. It reminded me that I need to see more live theater in the city, now that the logistics of parenthood isn’t quite as complicated as it used to be.

Xmas Oddities

From the December 21, 1976 episode of Laverne & Shirley, “Christmas at the Booby Hatch” or “Oh Hear the Angels’ Voices.”

Featuring Michael McKean (Lenny) and David L. Lander (Squiggy). I don’t think I saw it 40 years ago — I only watched the show intermittently — but nothing every really goes away on the Internet.

Next, “Ríu Ríu Chíu,” as sung by the Monkees on their show on Christmas Day 1967.

I’m pretty sure I didn’t see that when originally shown either. But it was an inspired choice for the Prefab Four.

Finally, something not about Christmas: “Sailing to Philadelphia” (2000), sung by Mark Knopfler and James Taylor. It’s about Jeremiah Dixon and Charles Mason.

We are sailing to Philadelphia
A world away from the coaly Tyne
Sailing to Philadelphia
To draw the line
A Mason-Dixon Line

Just how many songs are there about the Mason-Dixon Line? One, anyway. I happened across it not long ago. A delightful discovery.

Rasputin in America

Early in the morning on Thanksgiving, I dreamed about a TV sitcom, Rasputin in America, that I either was watching or had created. Considering that it was my dream, both are fitting. The Mad Monk, updated to the 21st century but with the same wild eyes and hair (but no beard, oddly), runs afoul of the authorities in Putin’s Russia and comes to America to live with relatives. Namely, Valerie Bertinelli. Hilarity ensues.

It was only a dream, but no worse than a lot of sitcom conceits. Ms. Bertinelli was either Rasputin’s aunt or his niece. The thing about her is that while the actress might be in her 50s now, she’s also always in her teens, at least in the sitcom universe.

I was also reminded of Ivan the Terrible. Not the tsar or the Eisenstein movie, but a TV show I expect almost no one remembers. It came to mind after the dream. I hadn’t thought of it in many years, but I did see it.

The show was a summertime replacement that didn’t catch on. Here’s part of the Wiki description of it: “Ivan the Terrible is an American sitcom that aired on CBS for five episodes during 1976… Set in Moscow, the sitcom starred Lou Jacobi as a Russian hotel waiter named Ivan Petrovsky, and the day-to-day misadventures of Ivan’s family and their Cuban exchange student boarder, all of whom live in a cramped, one-bedroom apartment… Harvey Korman appeared as a Soviet bureaucrat in an uncredited cameo at the close of each episode.”

The Surviving Kankakee Gazebo

One more thing about Kankakee: there’s only one surviving gazebo of the two that David Letterman gave the city. Of course I had to see that.

Kankakee Dave Letterman Gazebo, Cobb Park

It’s in Cobb Park, near the Kankakee River. Not the most impressive of structures, even among gazebos (this one’s better). It’s like something someone would buy at a DIY store and put in his back yard.

But that’s not so important. A sign inside the gazebo says, “this is one of the world famous [sic] gazebos as seen on the Late Show with Dave Letterman. Presented to Kankakee on air in 1999, in a spoof to nickname the city: “Home of the Twin Gazebos.” In 2015, the City of Kankakee returned their [sic] gazebo on air to Dave Letterman in the form of a rocking chair.”

Needed an editor, that sign. It meant that the city, at the suggestion of Kankakee high school students, tore down one of the two gazebos and used some of the wood to build a rocking chair for Letterman (to remind him of his retirement?). The other one still stands, or at least it did as of October 1, 2016, when I got out of my car — Yuriko wasn’t interested, and waited in the car — and crossed Cobb Park to see it. More detail is in the Chicago Tribune.

I vaguely remember Letterman making fun of Kankakee (“puts the ill in Illinois” and “puts the annoy in Illinois”) after the city ranked last in some places-to-live article. Giving the city a couple of gazebos was a Lettermanesque extension of the gag, I guess. Also, it doesn’t hurt that “gazebo” is simply a fun word to say.

Items from the (Very Large) Dustbin of TV History

I happened across a YouTube video the other day called “11 Intros to Tacky 80s Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV,” and decided to watch it. Not sure that “tacky” is the right word. Maybe “short-lived” or “justifiably obscure” or some such. But the thing that surprised me — though it shouldn’t have — is that not only had I never seen any of them, I’d never heard of any of them.

That might sound like bragging. Actually, I will brag a little. I didn’t own a TV in the 1980s, and with certain exceptions, such as the last episode of M*A*S*H or the airing of The Day After, I didn’t watch much. I’m certain I’m better for it.

(Then again, the ’80s had no monopoly on TV SF failure: these are intros from 1975-80, all of whom failed. I watched much more TV then, but only vaguely remember Time Express and Buck Rogers, and watched Battlestar Galactica for a short while, until its stupidity got to be too much to take. Whoever complied the video left out Quark.)

The 11 shows in the video from the 1980s are Automan, Manimal, The Wizard, Wizards and Warriors, Misfits of Science, Shadow Chasers, The Phoenix, Powers of Matthew Star, Starman, Outlaws, The Highwayman. I wonder what kind of coke-bender decision-making allowed some of them to go on the air, just judging from some of their ridiculous — that’s the word, “ridiculous 80s Sci-Fi/Fantasy TV” — intros.

I recognized a handful of the actors. The Wizard’s David Rappaport was easily the best-known dwarf actor of his generation, and I remember he did a good job in the underrated Time Bandits (need to see that again; maybe I overrated it 30 years ago). Glad to know Rappaport had his own TV show, even one that didn’t last long. Sorry to learn that he didn’t last long, since he shot himself to death in 1990.

Robert Hays is instantly recognizable in Starman, though there’s no way he’s getting away from Ted Striker and his drinking problem.

Among the 11, the prize for most ridiculous concept (according to me, and it’s a tough competition) goes to Outlaws, whose intro explains that a gang of Texas outlaws from 1899 is magically transported to the late 20th century, along with the sheriff who was chasing them. More than time travel magic, too, since they somehow or other ended up on the right side of the law in the 1980s. You’d think they’d take to knocking over convenience stores and passing bad checks in our time. Also, one of them is black, perhaps the most improbable plot element of all. Played by Richard Roundtree, who will never get away from John Shaft.

The prize for bad intro writing goes to The Highwayman. They are supposed to be supernatural guardians of the world, or something — and if so, why did the producers pick a word that means bandits on the road? Anyway, the intro, which sounds like it’s read by William Conrad (a job’s a job), goes like this:

“There is a world, just beyond now, where reality rides a razor-thin seam between fact and possibility. Where the laws of the present collide with the crimes of tomorrow. Patrolling these vast outlands is a new breed of lawman, guarding the fringes of society’s frontiers. They are known simply as Highwaymen, and this is their story.”

The “razor-thin seam between fact and possibility”? Whoever wrote that was trying for Rod Serling, and failing.

Togo, Lesotho, Tuvalu and Other Olympic Teams

Spent some time on Friday watching the Parade of Nations. This time around, NBC didn’t seem to cut anybody out, so it was quite long, and I didn’t sit through it all. Even so, it’s the part of the Olympics I usually get around to watching. Everything else, not so much.

As usual, I’m pulling for Togo in the Games. Along with Lesotho, with their wonderful hats, and other small teams, such as Tuvalu, Bhutan, Chad, Dominica, and Equatorial Guinea, just to name a few. I’m sure the U.S. athletes will do well, and I wish them well, but any fool can get behind a large delegation.

But what about Tuvalu? Good old Tuvalu, which has sent exactly one athlete to the Games this time around, former footballer Etimoni (Reme) Timuani, who will be in the 100 m sprint. This is the third Olympics for the Pacific nation, which as yet has won no medals. Hope they win something while their country is still above sea level.

As for Togo, it’s sent five athletes to seek Olympic glory and swat mosquitoes in Rio: a couple of sprinters, a couple of swimmers, and a competitor in women’s single sculls. Does NBC pay any attention to single sculls? I suspect not so much. Why bother with someone like Gevvie Stone (who’s on Team USA just as much as a swimmer or gymnast) when you can spend hours talking about Michael Phelps?

At least NBC’s coverage of the Parade of Nations seemed to a little less annoying this year than before. The announcers’ subtext wasn’t quite so, “Golly, I don’t know where that country is! Do you? It’s so little, it’s hard to believe it’s a country. Go Team USA!”

Naturally, unheralded writers at NBC did their research, so that the announcers could tell heartwarming stores about some of the athletes. “That’s right, his family was so poor they couldn’t afford oxygen when he was growing up in such-and-such TPLAC. But he had a dream, and he began training by running up and down burning trash dumps without shoes.”

No doubt they told true stories, and I’m glad that some of the participants in the Games were able to overcome awful conditions to get there, especially the Refugee Olympic Team, which is a new thing this Olympiad. I don’t mock them. NBC, on the other hand, deserves to be mocked for the dumbed down coverage the network is sure to provide to American audiences. Am I merely being nostalgic in remember that ABC knew better how to cover the Olympics? I don’t think so. The network had better ideas about international sports coverage.

Thursday Trifles

One more picture from Navy Pier.
Navy Pier, July 30, 2016Saw about a half-dozen ASK ME sign holders on Saturday, and I did ask one which way it was to the tall ships entrance. He told me.

Oh, God, Not that!Occasionally I still flip through TV channels, just to see what I can see. A few weeks ago I was doing so, and happened to have my camera handy. Here’s something I found.

By gum, it was original cast Three’s Company. Accept no substitutes. I spent all of about a minute watching it. Enough to get the gist of that week’s comedy of errors: a holiday show that saw Jack and the girls wanting to get away from the Ropers to attend a more interesting Christmas party, while the Ropers were doing their best to bore their young guests, so they could attend a more interesting Christmas party. The same one. Har-dee-har-har.

Yep, it's thatThen I became curious about Man About the House. It occurred to me that I’d never seen it. In the age of YouTube, there’s no reason not to, so I watched Series 1, Episode 1 (since removed, but it’ll probably be back). It was no Fawlty Towers, or even Steptoe and Son, but it wasn’t that bad. It had a couple of advantages over its American counterpart, such as better comic acting, especially the part of the landlord, and no Suzanne Somers. Remarkable how much of a difference that makes. Well, not that remarkable.

Some of the Man About the House lines were so very completely, breathtakingly British. The last line of the episode, for instance. Off camera, the brunette roommate persuaded the landlord to let the male character move in, as he was on camera in the kitchen with the blonde roommate. When the male character asked her how she did that — the landlord was gone by this time — she said, “I told him you were a poof.”

An announcement on Wednesday from the IOC: “The… IOC today agreed to add baseball/softball, karate, skateboard, sports climbing and surfing to the sports programme for the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020.”

What, no tug-of-war? Skateboarding, but not tug-of-war, a sport that’s easy to understand, telegenic and opens up the possibility of beach tug-of-war?