Mid-February Natterings

Remarkably foggy day Thursday.
Above freezing, too, reducing the snow cover and making random puddles.

Reading a book about Lincoln’s assassination puts me in a counterfactural frame of mind. Not so much What If Lincoln Lived — a lot of consideration has been given to that — but what would have happened to Booth had he capped his murderous impulse that day, and not gone through with it? What would have happened to him?

I picture him living into the early 20th century, since he was only in his mid-20s in 1865, a star of the American and European stage in the pre-movie years, so he was mostly forgotten by later generations. He did have a small part as an elderly wise man at the court of Cyrus the Great in D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (but nothing in The Birth of a Nation, which was never made). Also, one of Booth’s sons founded Booth Studios in the early 1900s, which was later acquired by MGM.

In his memoir, published in 1899, Booth confessed that he had a strong impulse to murder Lincoln right at the end of the war, and was glad he never acted on it.

Got a form letter from the chancellor of the University of Illinois the other day. Let’s call it a worrywart letter. It seems that the public houses in old Champaign-Urbana are encouraging students, perhaps tacitly, to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day in a blotto state of mind. The university frowns on such goings-on and wants me to know it will do what it can to educate the students about the perils of demon rum. Or more likely in this context, whisky.

Not that alcohol isn’t a form of poison, with risks. I expect that a handful of students manage to off themselves across the years under its influence, mostly via reckless driving. But do I need a form letter about this?

Dog in Snow

Sure enough, a lot of snow fell Thursday night into Friday morning. Maybe a foot. But it was no blizzard, and no big deal. Even the side street on which I live was cleared by Friday afternoon. A little more of the same fell Saturday morning and then much more on Sunday morning. More shoveling and that was cleared too.

For the dog, this much snow means romping around in the back yard.

Every time it snows this much, a truck comes to clear the blacktop next to the school behind the house. Why this was necessary Friday, when school was cancelled, I don’t know, but anyway the dog rushes to the back fence to bark at it. And then along the fence as it drives nearby.

From the point of view of the dog, this must be effective. The truck goes away before long.

Campaign Cards Are Coming

There’s no official moment when it happens, but I think it’s happened all the same. We’ve passed into the Pit of Winter. All days in the pit are cold, as in well below freezing, but they come in varieties: cold sunny days, cold overcast days, cold snowy days. With the potential for a blizzard thrown in for grins.

We can only fondly recall High Summer days, or imagine ones to come, at the remote opposite end of the calendar. They looked like this, at least from my deck.
The first political postcard of ’18 came in the mail a few days ago, sent by a candidate for a relatively minor local office. Not particularly creative: a touch of “next to of course god america i,” a dash of tough on crime, a serving of motherhood (in this case, the candidate is a woman. For a male candidate, a serving of loving family man.)

It’s easy to be cynical about that sort of advertising, as you can see, but it’s the formula that inspires contempt. I don’t really know anything about the candidate. In any case, I expect I’ll be seeing more soon, since the primary is March 20.

YouTube ads for Illinois governor have already started appearing. But at least we won’t hear campaign trucks making noise with loudspeakers, as you do before parliamentary elections in Japan.

Adios, November

Three yawning months of meteorological winter ahead. That’s what counts for winter: December, January and February. Never mind what anyone says about the solstice. But at least no heavy snow or ice is forecast for now.

Back again to posting around December 10.

What did we do to deserve this sunset? A late November event, as seen from our deck.
On Thanksgiving, the girls and I watched Airplane! on demand. What is it about that movie and its rapid-fire, throw the jokes against the wall to see if they’re funny structure? I’ve watched it a number of times since I saw it when it was new, and it’s funny every time.

Unlike another movie I paid good money to see in 1980: The Hollywood Knights. That was a mistake. So much so that sometime afterward I invented my own personal scale of movie quality: The Hollywood Knights Scale, from zero to some unspecified large number, zero being the worst.

The Hollywood Knights comes in at exactly 0 on my idiosyncratic scale. I’ve seen some bad movies in my time, but that ranking is still valid as far as I’m concerned (though I’d have to put, say, Patch Adams at 0.1).

Not familiar with The Hollywood Knights? Wiki gives a pretty good summation: “The ensuing antics include, among other things, a sexual encounter involving premature ejaculation, a punch bowl being spiked with urine, an initiation ceremony involving four pledges who are left in Watts wearing nothing but the car tires they are left to carry, a cheerleader who forgets to put on her underwear before performing at a pep rally, several impromptu drag races, and the lead character of Newbaum Turk (Robert Wuhl) wearing a majordomo outfit and singing a version of ‘Volare’ accompanied by the sounds of flatulence. Mooning also plays a prominent role in the film…”

None of those things necessarily make the movie unfunny. After all, Airplane! includes jokes about drug abuse, pederasty, oral sex, a sick child, and African-American dialect. There are ridiculous visual gags, such as Ted Striker’s drinking problem or pouring lights on the runway. Punning is rampant (don’t call me Shirley). Yet it all works as a comedy. The writing, directing, acting, timing and entire conceit as a spoof of more serious movies are vastly better than anything The Hollywood Knights did.

Speaking of odd things in movies, this is a still from Animal Crackers.

That’s supposed to be part of an outdoor patio of a lavish home on Long Island. The characters, who are not really that important in the scheme of the comedy, are the wealthy homeowner’s daughter and her honest but poor boyfriend. What caught my eye was that structure behind them.

According to the imdb, the uncredited art director for the firm was the German-born Ernst Fegté, who was working in Hollywood by 1925, and who had a busy career. Now what, I can imagine him thinking, would a wealthy Long Island socialite want for her patio? Something — modern.

The movie was made in 1930. Here’s something else from exactly then, a cover of Radio Listener magazine that I saw at the early Soviet art exhibit at the Art Institute last weekend.

It’s a Peakaboo Stalin. Lenin figured in a fair number of the works, but Stalin was only an up-and-coming character during most of the period. A little like Fonzie, though — pretty soon he’s going to take over the show.

One more thing, and naught to do with movies or the Soviet Union. I took Lilly back to UIUC on Sunday, and en route arranged to take a picture of this roadside attraction in Kankakee. Almost literally roadside, since it’s best seen from I-57.
“28 feet tall, Abe stands in front of a heavy equipment rental lot, and holds signs that promote whatever its owner feels strongly about at the moment,” says Roadside America.

I’ve seen him with a sign, but for the moment he holds none. Just as well, I figure. A sign in Honest Abe’s hands is gilding the lily.

Speedy Gonzales 420

Rain, rain, rain. To balance the pleasant weekends we’ve had in April, the last one was cold and very wet. On Saturday the water came down practically all day, pausing in the wee hours of Sunday and early in the day, and then starting again.

I looked at a national temperature map on Sunday night and a weird blue gash of a cold front extended southwest from the Great Lakes as far south as western Oklahoma, signifying temps in the 40s and 50s. Thus Chicago was colder (at 43 degrees F) than either Billings, Mont. (61) or Fargo (57), both of which are west of the gash. And it was 65 degrees in Indianapolis, 71 in St. Louis. But those places had the cold front to look forward to.

One thing to do during such days is to stay home and watch cartoons. We happened to have a disk around the house featuring an assortment of ’40s and ’50s Termite Terrace shorts. One was “Gonzales’ Tamales” (1957). Been a long while since I’d seen a Speedy Gonzales cartoon, maybe 40+ years since I’d seen this particular one, and I’m not sure Ann had ever seen one.

The closed caption titles happened to be on. Things were moving along: Speedy was being speedy, outwitting the gringo Sylvester, and so on, when Speedy sings a version of “La cucaracha.” Then I had a Did he say what I thought he said? moment. I rewound a bit, and sure enough, he did.

The imdb describes the scene: “Around 4:42, Speedy is heard singing a spoof of the Mexican folk song ‘La cucaracha’ with nonsense words in odd Spanish which could be transcribed as: ‘La cucaracha, la cucaracha, ya no puede caminar. ¿Por qué no Fanta? ¿Por qué no tiene marijuana par fumar?’

“This would seem to mean: ‘The cockroach, the cockroach, she can’t walk any more. Why not Fanta? Why doesn’t she have marijuana to smoke?’ The Fanta reference is the most puzzling part of the verse. But the mention of marijuana is clear, and how the artists got it past the censors would probably be a good story in itself.”

Heh-heh. I’d guess that there wasn’t much of a story in getting it past the censors. Probably Friz Freleng and Warren Foster (the writer) put it in to see whether the censors would notice. No one did. That’s entirely plausible. I’m sure I didn’t notice all those of years ago, and I might not have noticed this time had the titles not been on.

Flowers in the Snow

Not the Blizzard of 1888, but they say the Northeast got a lot of snow. We got three or four more inches last night and into the morning. More than in January or February, and enough to catch the back yard croci in early blossom.

Flowers in the Snow 2017They’re hardy flowers. I’m sure they’ll survive the day or two of snow cover.

The snow’s already mostly melted off the streets and driveways and sidewalks, so it hardly counts as a nuisance. Still, it’s hard to believe the view from the back door will look like this in three months.

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.

Thursday Residuum

Remarkably rainy January so far. Even when it hasn’t been raining these past weeks or so, the skies have looked pregnant with rain. So it’s been a wet January, not an icy one. That was the case at UIUC, as the last of clinging frozen matter thawed, as it might in a normal northern March.

UIUC January 15, 2017

Blame it on climate change? I’d be tempted, but weather isn’t climate. Besides, there’s a blizzard lurking out there in the near future, or at least heavy snow. Winter will not be denied.

A few days ago, I approached a four-way stop to make a left turn. Directly across the intersection another car arrived to make a left turn. To my left, a third car arrived to make a right turn. We all got there at about the same moment. We all made our respective turns concurrently. Can’t remember when that happened before. Had a fourth car to my right wanted to make a right turn, it would have been truly remarkable, but we had to settle for a three-way synch.

At a World Market last week, I saw bottles of Tito’s Handmade Vodka for sale. I couldn’t ever remember actually seeing any before, as opposed to hearing about it, though I don’t go to a lot of liquor stores.

Last month, I heard Tito himself on the radio, pitching his creation. He didn’t quite sound like his high school self, no one would, but it was him all right. I was pretty sure I hadn’t ever heard advertising for Tito’s beyond sponsorships on public radio (the ad I heard was on a commercial station). Maybe Tito’s needed to up his ad budget in the face of competition.

I’m most of my way through the book River of Doubt, about the Roosevelt-Rondon expedition into the deep Brazilian rainforest. Reading it, you think, how did anyone survive that trip? They faced untreatable diseases, looming starvation, dangerous animals, venomous bugs, an extremely hazardous river, a murderer among their crew, and the potential for Indians to attack at any time and wipe them all out. At one point, a very sick Theodore Roosevelt seriously contemplated overdosing on morphine. Not too end his pain, but to avoid being an impediment to the rest of the expedition. His son Kermit wouldn’t allow it.

Amazing how close TR’s bio came to ending with, “Led expedition down the River of Doubt in Brazil, 1914. Never seen again.”

The Ambassador in His Salad Days

Today was about as foul a day as can be, marked by cold rain that varied unpredictably from drizzle to downpours. Strong winds blew nearly all the time. As much as 60 MPH, the National Weather Service said. At least it was warm for January, above freezing, or it might have been a blizzard.

Did a short item about Bill Hagerty recently, who will probably be the next U.S. ambassador to Japan. A little research told me that he went to Vanderbilt. A little more research told me he was Class of ’81, or two years ahead of me. I didn’t know him, and he certainly didn’t know me, unless it was as one of those characters who wrote for the student magazine Versus. Which he wouldn’t have, because no one pays attention to bylines, even if they read the articles.

I hauled out my copy of the ’81 VU yearbook, The Commodore. The spine cracked a little. Grumble. Anyway, Bill Hagerty’s with the other SAEs on p. 301 and his senior picture is on p. 396, which lists him as William Francis Hagerty IV, econ.

Bill Hagerty at Vanderbilt 1981

The girl immediately to his left — who presumably had nothing to do with him except for alphabetical placement — is a sad story I don’t know, and didn’t know then. Her caption reads, “Haberman, Harriett Susan, elem ed. May 20, 1959 — January 23, 1981.”

It Flings a Crystal Veil

The other day, I thought to look at NOAA’s forecast for the winter. It seems to be a La Niña year.

“The current seasonal outlook for… 2016-17 favors above-average temperatures and below-median precipitation across much of the southern tier of the U.S., and below-average temperatures and above-median precipitation in portions of the northern tier of the U.S.”

Snowfall Schaumburg Dec 11 2016Uh-oh. Looks like that’s already under way. Snow fell Saturday and Sunday, pretty much straight down. No major storm, but ’tis enough, ’twill do.

Nearly six inches all together, according to my wooden ruler measuring snow on a flat surface. Ann went off on Sunday to go sledding with her friends, something I never did at 13, and reports having a fine time.

That’s not bad, but the days ahead are supposed to be pit-of-winter cold.

Which can make for nice clear-light twilight. Looking east.

Moon Over Schaumburg

And looking west (both pictures taken December 12, about 42 degrees North).

Schaumburg Dusk Dec 12, 2016No more snow pics this year unless there’s a real corker of a blizzard, something along the lines of 2011. I might post dogs or daughters in the snow, though.