December 18, 2002

Learn-Something-New-Every-Day Department.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 7:58 pm

If manhole covers didn’t do it for you, how about pencils? Turns out that there is a lot going on in the world of pencils, and this is the place to get up to speed. With a couple clicks, you can learn the history of pencils, how they are manufactured, who manufactures them, and exactly what a ferrule is. The site contains pencil jokes, pencil trivia and even pencil FAQs. There is also a classified section for people seeking to buy or sell particular types of pencils. A pencil as a Christmas gift? Absolutely One fellow is offering to sell “a Faber BLACKWING 602 and will be taking the best offer before Christmas.” (I wouldn’t wait on that one, if I were you.) Don’t miss the photo gallery, with lots of photos of ….. well, pencils, including a picture of the world’s largest pencil. (via The Ultimate Insult)

December 17, 2002

Musical Altercations.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 10:51 pm

The other day, I found myself humming Lloyd Price’s “Stagger Lee,” the song about a gambling dispute in a bar that led to the shooting of “Billy” by “Stagger Lee.” That led me to think of a couple other tunes involving a fight, often involving a weapon and almost always resulting in casualties.

I sat down at the computer to make sure that that I was recalling the lyrics accurately. It was then that I learned that the song “Stagger Lee” is based on an actual event in St. Louis in 1895, when Lee Sheldon (known locally as “Stag Lee”) fatally shot his friend William Lyons (“Billy”) following a political argument. A quoted portion of the text of the original newspaper report is here. I was struck by the contrast between the poetry of the song and the cold, factual reporting in the 1895 St. Louis Globe Democrat.

I wondered how newspaper reports of the other “fight songs” I remembered would look.

Man Slashed in Bar Room Brawl

Details recently emerged about a fight that took place in a bar on Chicago’s South Side resulting in serious injuries. According to eyewitnesses, a well-dressed gambler, named LeRoy Brown was playing craps at a local gaming and drinking establishment when he became involved in an altercation with the jealous husband of another patron named “Doris,” who prior to the fight had been seated at the bar. The jealous husband, who remains unnamed, claimed that he had become enraged when he saw Mr. Brown staring at Doris. A fight broke out almost immediately between the two men.

Mr. Brown suffered multiple slash wounds and some apparent dismemberment. Authorities are not certain that both men were armed, although Mr. Brown is generally known to carry a razor in his shoe. Sources close to the investigation speculate that the unidentified man may have disarmed Mr. Brown during the fight and used the weapon against him.

In the hospital recovering from his wounds, Mr. Brown conceded that the unfortunate event taught him a valuable lesson. He stated, “I ain’t gonna be messin’ with some jealous guy’s wife anymore.” The unidentified husband remains at large.

Former Showgirl Recalls Lost Love

New York. Looking out of place in an old, low cut dress and wearing faded feathers in her hair, Lola, a former showgirl at the Copacabana Night Club, now a disco, recalled the night thirty years ago that changed her life.

“I was a top showgirl in this place once, you know.” As she stared into the swirling disco ball, she remarked, “Oh yeah, they used to have great shows here. You’d never know it by looking at this crowd.” She paused to order another drink, which must have been her fifth or sixth. “It was great, I tell you. I worked six nights a week from 8 till 4. And then there was Tony — my dearest Tony. He was a bartender here. Right across the floor there. I’d dance and he’d keep the bar popping. We fell in love. Who could ask for more?”

“So, one night this guy Rico walks in the place. He really thought he was something, wearing that big diamond and all. So, the maitre d escorts him to his chair; he sits down and watches me dance. At the end of my act, he calls me over to his table. Well, the guy was not very nice. I’m used to jerks coming on to me, but he just went too far. Next thing I know, I see Tony sailing across the bar at Rico, and the two of them went at each other like wildcats. I saw blood on the floor, and that is when I heard the gunshot. No one could tell who was shot.”

When asked what happened to Tony, Lola simply replied, “I lost him.” She refused to elaborate further, stating simply, “I’m thirty years older now, and I’d rather not discuss it.”

Violent Disturbance at Local Tavern

The usual evening revelry in a local corner tavern on Honky Tonk Street was interrupted when violence broke out between two patrons, both of whom were armed. Police reports indicate that at some point in the evening, a cigar-smoking man wearing a tailor-made suit, a Stetson hat, cowboy boots and several diamond rings, emerged from a Cadillac (presumably a limousine), and boisterously entered the tavern. The man, identified himself as “Big Boy Pete” and warned the customers not to trifle with him, or he would “cut them down.”

With this, the music stopped and the only voice that was heard was that of a Mr. Brown (a/k/a “Bad Man Brown”), another patron. Mr. Brown reportedly smiled and warned Pete that if he were to take three more steps, Mr. Brown would “do him in.” Pete responded with his own warning, which included advising Mr. Brown that he was armed with a loaded 45-caliber pistol.

Undeterred by Pete’s warning, Mr. Brown pulled a knife and attacked Pete. A savage fight ensued, which ended only when Mr. Brown reportedly cut the cigar from Pete’s mouth and knocked him to the ground. Witnesses reported that Pete grabbed his Stetson hat and ran from the tavern. No arrests were made.

Patrons of the tavern often refer to this incident when warning others who come to the tavern not to “mess with” Mr. Brown.

Posse Locates and Kills Murder Suspect

El Paso. An unidentified man, believed to have been a resident of El Paso, was fatally wounded by one or more members of a posse as he returned to El Paso from having previously fled to New Mexico following his involvement in a fatal gun fight with a young Texas cowboy. Witnesses who recognized the dead man reported that he had become infatuated with a young Mexican woman named “Feleena,” and that he spent virtually every evening at a nightspot called “Rosa’s Cantina,” where he would longingly watch Feleena dance. The alleged murder took place when the El Paso resident became angry at seeing the Texas cowboy drinking with Feleena. The El Paso resident challenged the cowboy, who immediately drew his gun, but not before the El Paso resident fired the fatal shot.

Following the incident at Rosa’s, the El Paso resident fled on horseback in the direction of New Mexico. The evidence suggests that his decision to return to El Paso and Rosa’s Cantina was driven by his continuing infatuation with Feleena, who reportedly ran to him as he lay dying from the wounds inflicted by the posse.

The songs and artists are, of course:

Bad Bad LeRoy Brown” by Jim Croce
Copacabana” by Barry Manilow

Big Boy Pete” by the Olympics
El Paso” by Marty Robbins

Roadies.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 2:23 am

Those of us who countless times have lugged speakers, amps, soundboards, drum sets, wires, microhpones, keyboards and guitars to a gig, set it all up before everyone arrives, played the gig, tore it all down after everyone has gone home, and lugged it all again in the wee hours of the morning can appreciate what these unsung heroes of rock and roll do for a living. (via The Ultimate Insult).

December 16, 2002

Holiday Spirits, the Drinkable Kind.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 1:50 pm

Here’s the situation. You are expecting guests, and you would like to serve cocktails, but you don’t know the first thing about booze. Perhaps you prefer beer or wine, or maybe you drink only non-alcoholic beverages?

Fear not, for I will tell you the absolute essentials you need to set up a basic bar, which will please all but the ultimate liquor snob, the type of person who would complain that the bar in the Plaza Hotel did not serve his or her preferred liquor. I do not hold myself out as an expert, but I have had many, many years of experience doing my favorite things – shopping for, tasting and enjoying various kinds of liquor and serving drinks to friends.

The focus here is liquor and a couple other necessities. This is not intended as a mixing guide, although you’ll be happy to know that most drinks that people will want will require only liquor and one of the mixers mentioned below. Besides, a minute or two on a search engine will produce lots of sites containing instructions for making cocktails. Here is one of many such sites.

Most importantly, you need not spend a lot of money. The following guide provides choices to fit your budget.

Liquor.

You will need one bottle each of the SIX BASICS: Vodka, Gin, Bourbon, Scotch, Rum and Rye.

Vodka: My first choices would be Ketel One “or Finlandia. Both are widely available and either will keep even a vodka martini drinker happy. If either of those costs a few dollars more than you wish to spend, I recommend Smirnoff. Grey Goose and the other boutique vodkas are generally overpriced and are not necessary.

Gin: My favorites are Bombay Blue Sapphire (the gin is clear; the bottle is tinted blue) and Tanqueray. Either makes an excellent martini, which for me is the true test of gin. However, if you wish to save a few dollars, or if you know your guests are gin and tonic drinkers, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Gordon’s Gin, even for martinis. In fact, a friend of mine, who makes wonderful martinis uses only Gordon’s gin.

Bourbon: The first choices are Maker’s Mark and Wild Turkey. Either will please even those who drink bourbon neat (straight). The money saver here is Jim Beam, which is a great bourbon and a staple in my home.

Scotch: It is difficult to imagine a scotch whiskey drinker who would not be delighted to be offered Johnny Walker Black Label scotch. However, if you are seeking to keep costs down, you cannot go wrong with Dewar’s White Label scotch. Avoid the very pricey single malts, unless you wish to buy a scotch drinker a nice present.

Rum: You may not get much call for this, other than from those who drink rum and coke. The sellers of rum tout it for use in martinis and other drinks, but other than its use in tropical drinks (which are summery and are not the stuff of a basic bar), you will likely need it only for rum and cokes. For that, Bacardi rum is really the way to go. It is not expensive. The only time I tried a cheaper brand I did not like it. The dark rums are excellent, but they are not necessary for a basic bar.

Rye: When I was a boy, this was THE drink of choice: rye and ginger ale, rye and club, rye with ginger ale and club mixed, and rye and Seven Up (“7 & &”). Some folks still like it; it is not expensive, and it still qualifies as one of the six basics. I recommend either Seagram’s 7 or Canadian Club. If you wish to spend a couple extra bucks, try Seagram’s VO. Seagram’s also makes Crown Royal, which is excellent, but not necessary for a basic bar.

Miscellaneous.

I suggest one SMALL bottle each of white and red vermouth. There are a couple brands widely available and both are inexpensive. The white is for martinis and the red is for Manhattans and Rob Roys (Manhattans, only made with scotch instead of rye).

Mixers/Fruit.

You will need ginger ale, club soda, seven up, and tonic water. Any brand will do. I prefer cans or small bottles, as it is easier to have cold mixers available and you avoid losing the fizz from open bottles. In addition, you should have on hand orange juice, grapefruit juice, cranberry juice, and perphaps a bottle of pre-mixed Bloody Mary mix (e.g. Mrs. T’s). Finally, I suggest buying a couple bottles of nice bottled water (e.g. Poland Spring) for those who like liquor and water drinks. It just makes a nicer drink than does tap water, which around here is full of minerals.

Buy a couple lemons and limes and slice them into small wedges in advance. You should also pick up a SMALL jar of maraschino cherries (for Manhattans and for non-alcoholic “Shirley Temples” for the kids) and a jar of olives.

Ice.

By all means, buy a couple bags of clear ice. It makes the drinks look better than they do when made with the milky-white cubes that most home freezers make.

Glasses: You will need some 12 oz plain glasses for most drinks and a few 6-8 oz glasses for those who prefer drinks on the rocks. If there are martini drinkers who prefer martinis straight up, you will need a couple martini glasses. You can spend a fortune on glassware, but glassware from stores like K-Mart will do the trick. As for things like martini shakers, they are nice, but not essential. My friend who makes the best martinis (the Gordon’s gin guy mentioned above) used to make them in a clean mayonnaise jar!

You should be good to go. Here’s to you!!!

December 13, 2002

The Great One.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 10:03 pm

My dad was never really big on comedians. It wasn’t that he lacked a sense of humor – he loved to laugh at funny stories and real life situations, but comedians, especially television comedians and comedy programs, generally left him cold. There was, however, one gargantuan exception, and that was Jackie Gleason.

I can recall being a boy and watching the Jackie Gleason variety show on Saturday nights with my dad – he with a beer and I with a Dad’s Root Beer. As much as I would enjoy watching Jackie portray the “Poor Soul”, “Reginald Van Gleason III” “Joe the Bartender” and “Charlie Bratton, the Loudmouth,” I got the most pleasure out of watching my dad howl with laughter. All these characters, in one way or another, spoke to him.

The variety show began doing a regular sketch about a working-class bus driver who lived in a cold-water flat in Brooklyn with this wife and their goofy upstairs neighbor. Of course, this was the Honeymooners, which ultimately became a regular network program and ultimately a syndicated series that still airs today. If standing the test of time is a critical ingredient to greatness, the Honeymooners more than qualifies.

I don’t think that there ever has been a time when the Honeymooners has not been on TV somewhere. In the New York metropolitan area, local stations run Marathon Honeymooners Weekends, which repeat, back to back, episodes that we all have seen so often that we know the classic scenes and lines by heart.It doesn’t seem to matter, though, for they are still just plain funny. One needs only sit in a tavern and strike up a Honeymooners discussion, and in no time people will quote their favorite lines or describe their favorite scenes. Here’s one of my favorites:

In a train on their way to a convention of the Loyal Order of Raccoons, in full Raccoon Lodge Regalia, Ralph and Ed Norton find themselves handcuffed together in their sleeper car because Norton was unable to open the trick handcuffs he demonstrated for Ralph. Ralph decides that they should try to get some sleep, even though they remain joined at the wrists. They spend the next few hilarious minutes each trying to climb into his berth. Once they finally managed to get into their berths, there is a moment of silence when Norton breaks the silence:

Norton (from the top berth) “Ralph?”

Ralph: (from the lower birth) “WHAT?”
Norton: “Mind if I smoke?”
Ralph: “I don’t care if you BURN.”

Gleason and TV, with its close ups, were perfect together because, among his other comedic talents, Gleason could convey a wide variety of emotions with his facial expressions alone. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do it better. A raised eyebrow as he was approaching critical mass at Norton’s antics would start the laughter that would crescendo and ultimately erupt when Ralph finally would explode at the hapless Norton. By contrast, we would watch his pained face and false starts at an explanation as he stood behind Alice after pulling a stunt that angered her, but more importantly, disappointed her. His expressions were funny, but at the same time we felt sorry for Alice and even more sorry for Ralph, who let her down, yet again. However, we always knew that everything would turn out OK in the end, and Ralph would tell Alice that she was “the greatest.”

Jackie Gleason is gone now and so is my dad. I wonder if Jackie would be happy knowing that a few years ago, during the final days of my dad’s terminal illness, we would sit together and watch the same Honeymooners re-runs that we had watched together more than thirty-five years earlier, and as sick as he was, my dad still howled with laughter, and I howled right along with him. For those 22 minutes, The Great One took us both back to a better time.

Jackie Gleason was a big man who lived large. Somehow I was not surprised to learn that his epitaph reads, “And Away We Go.”

December 12, 2002

“Greeting”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 12:17 am

That’s what it said – not “Greetings,” but “Greeting.” To this day, I wonder if it had been a typo. We had always been told that draft notices opened their chilling message with the cheery salutation “Greetings.” It was one of many things we were told that turned out to be wrong. December 12th marks the 35th anniversary of my induction into the U.S. Army. It was 1968, and all hell was breaking loose at home and war casualties were peaking.

Being drafted did not come as a surprise. Several months earlier, during our senior year in college, I, along with several guys I grew up with, had been ordered to report to the Induction Center in Newark for our pre-induction physicals. Our first taste of the military was being barked at by an immense sergeant who seemed to be all stripes from his shoulder to his elbow. He hollered, “Take off everything except your undershorts, socks and shoes.” Barely five minutes in and already it was surreal. A hundred or so men looked like actors in a black and white, 35 millimeter stag film.

Back then, most college seniors were not terribly keen on the idea of being killed or maimed in Southeast Asia, so stories circulated about ways to avoid being drafted without having to flee to Canada or serve out your time in a federal prison, where we were told that the inmates just LOVED “college puke draft dodgers.”

According to some of these stories, you could avoid being drafted by showing up for the pre-induction physical in a dress. However, given the choice between being drafted and possibly being shot or blown to bits in some godforsaken place like the Mekong Delta and showing up at the Induction Center in drag, most men, myself included, took the easy way out and opted for possible death or dismemberment There was, however, that ONE GUY who wore a dress.

I hadn’t noticed the guy in the dress, and I suspect that not many others did either. After all, he was not wearing sequins and a boa, but rather he sported a tasteful, rather understated cotton shirtwaist number. But once we all got down to shorts, socks and shoes, as ordered, we couldn’t help but notice the Dress Guy, because despite the unmistakable order to “take off everything but shorts, socks and shoes,” the Dress Guy remained dressed.

We all buzzed, “Holy shit. Check it out. There’s a guy over there in a DRESS!!” Virtually every eye in the room was fixed on the Dress Guy – that is, until Sergeant Bulldog re-entered the room. We looked back and forth between the Sergeant and the Dress Guy as if we were watching two gunfighters squaring off on Main Street in Dodge City.

The crusty lifer scanned the ridiculous looking, scared shitless array, until he spotted the Dress Guy and placed him in the crosshairs. We all held our breath, for this promised to be a moment of high drama and the confirmation or refutation of all the “beat it by wearing a dress” stories we had so often heard. Would Sergeant Bulldog ridicule the Dress Guy? Would he smack hell out of him? Maybe he would drag the Dress Guy off to a special room reserved for dealing with guys who show up in dresses?

None of the above happened. Sergeant Bulldog looked directly at the Dress Guy and said, “ Hey you!”

The Dress Guy pointed at himself and said, “Me?”

Sergeant Bulldog matter-of-factly replied, “Yeah you. Take off the dress. Shorts, socks and shoes.” The Dress Guy, who probably had mentally rehearsed his lines for months in anticipation of a major confrontation, was so caught off guard that he sheepishly removed the shirtwaist and instantly became just another guy in the shorts, socks and shoes crowd. And, just as instantly his plans to beat the draft evaporated.

For my part, I held tightly to the note from my podiatrist certifying that I had “second degree pes planus that sometimes became symptomatic.” In other words, I had (and still have) flat feet that sometimes hurt. I was hoping that the Army would have no need for a guy with second-degree pes planus, for Heaven’s sake.

My chance would come at the final step in the physical when each man was to get a one on one with a doctor, at which time we would be able to explain all the reasons why the Army might not want us. This is the time, so the stories went, that you could beat the draft by telling the doctor that you are gay, schizophrenic, depressed, or who knows what. None of that for me. I was going with pes planus, second degree.

So, I endured the “bend over and spread ‘em” indignity, I dutifully peed in the bottle, I turned my head and coughed (twice, as some of you know), and cooperated with the Army guys who herded us around like cattle, but cattle wearing shorts, socks and shoes.

When I finally got to the doc, I proudly presented my flat feet note. He read it and, showing off either his knowledge of medicine or Latin, said, “Flat feet, huh?” I nodded in the affirmative. He told me to take my socks off. Great sign, I thought. Here is a guy who appreciates how serious pes planus, second degree is. He said, “Stand on your toes,” which I did. He muttered, “Uh-huh,” stamped something on my note, kept it, and said, “Put your socks back on and move on. Next man.” So much for pes planus, second degree.

I found myself in a large room with all the other guys who were found to be healthy enough to be shot or blown to bits in the Mekong Delta. I couldn’t believe it was all happening to me. Oh yeah, the Dress Guy was there too.

A few weeks later, we got our “Greeting” letter, and a month or so after that, on December 12, 1968, we reported again to the Induction Center, this time to be formally inducted and transported to Fort Dix, for basic training, which made the pre-induction physical seem like a day at the beach.

But that’s a story for another day.

December 11, 2002

Hungry?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 8:40 pm

How about ordering up some Christmas Fries? Ding, they’re done!

Step Lively.

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 10:42 am

Although a walk through this is probably a valuable learning experience, do you think some people may come out feeling like a piece of shit?

December 10, 2002

Harmony!

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 10:31 pm

There aren’t many things about music that captivate me more than close harmony, sung with letter perfect phrasing, and without any gimmicks. There aren’t many people who can do that better than the Dixie Chicks. I just watched their special on TV, and I was, quite simply, knocked out by their depth of talent. Not only are their vocals extraordinary, but they also happen to be ass-kicking musicians. I have been a fan for quite some time, having all their CDs, but tonight was the first time I really had the chance to watch them perform. What strikes me about the Dixie Chicks, and other great harmony groups such as the Everly Brothers and the Mills Brothers (more about them another time), is that they are the music. They could perform in a living room with a couple instruments and sound just as they do on their records.

One has to wonder about the odds against three such extremely talented people whose voices perfectly melt into a chord coming together. I hope they stay together and continue to make music that gives me goose bumps.

December 9, 2002

What Exit?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Jim @ 9:31 pm

This question has become quite popular with comedians. You know who I mean. The guy who bounds onto the stage, picks up the microphone stand and swings it back and forth like one of those metal detectors, while he asks the audience, “Hey, are you guys having a good time? Great. I’m happy to be here tonight. Where are you guys from?” He hopes that some glutton for punishment in the audience will say, “New Jersey,” so he can say, “New Jersey? What exit?” Of course, what “Shecky” is referring to are exit numbers on the Garden State Parkway (here, it’s just “the Parkway”) or the New Jersey Turnpike (here, “the Turnpike”). On one level, we realize that we’ve just heard a joke because some folks are laughing. However, we’re not laughing because our first instinct is to answer what we understand to be a legitimate question.. So, amidst the laughter of those not from here, one hears numbers being shouted by audience members, “145! 151! 82! 15W!”

These numbers tell us a wealth of information. “145” means Newark/East Orange. “151” means Nutley/Bloomfield. “82” means Toms River/Seaside Heights, and “15W” (the “W” gives us a clue that this is a Turnpike Exit) means Kearny/Harrison. In addition, because the exit numbers are keyed to mile markers, we know approximately where in the state a particular location is. So, if you live off Exit 145 and you are headed for Exit 100, you know you will have to drive south for approximately 45 miles. It’s simple. No baloney. We like it.

Join me in a virtual road trip on the Parkway and other New Jersey roads. Unlike most trips in Jersey, this one is toll free. Oh yeah. One other thing. Here, if someone passes you on the right, it means that you are going too friggin’ slow for the lane you are in. MOVE TO THE RIGHT. They just don’t seem to get this in New York or Pennsylvania.

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