Sunday, July 31, 2016

Blarg in the night.

Posting late today. Last night was a doozy.

All day Saturday we had a real New York rain, constant, miserable, soggy, steady, but not torrential.

In the dead of night it turned into a tropical deluge.

Which wouldn't have been too bad, except there was lightning.

Which caused a power surge.

Which set off the burglar alarm.

That freaked out the dog.

Then the power went out.

But that didn't stop the alarm, which has a backup system.

But the backup system has a battery, which had run very low, so the control panel was unresponsive.

And the new battery that I had requested a week ago was not installed yet.

And now the dog had to pee from terror.

And the rain was coming down in typhoon intensity.

And all the flashlights were downstairs.

The outage lasted only half an hour, as did the dog's freakage. Dogs are great help in many ways, but in this kind of situation they are as useful as toddlers.

Reflecting back on it this morning as I slumped wearily in a pew, I thought about the old saying (I heard it was Kipling, but it doesn't seem to be) that adventure is some other poor slob having a hell of a time of it on the other side of the world.

Well, comedy is some poor slob having a frustrating time of it closer to home.

For your viewing pleasure, Exhibit A.


Saturday, July 30, 2016

Put the lime in the do-doughnut...

This summer, our dealer has a new and powerful drug to lead us to perdition. I am of course referring to Dunkin' Donuts and their seasonal doughnut selections:

Now, you may have noticed that I haven't been updating you as much lately with all the garbage I eat, largely because of late I have been trying to cut down on the crap and load up on the (ugh) healthy foods. And I've lost a little weight. And so no WAY was I going to try one of those silly Lemon Croissant Donuts. No, SIR! Not ME! That's ridiculous! Nuh-UH!

I got the Key Lime Square instead.
As fond as I am of Dunkin' Donuts coffee, and of sweet things, I have had issues with some of their specialty items in the past. The cheesecake squares were weird. The Chips Ahoy! Creme doughnut was too sweet even for me, and the spooky pumpkin doughnut was even worse. But the Blueberry Cobbler Croissant Donut was good, not like chewing a mouthful of sugar. Could they have been catching on to the too-sweet problem?

I think so! Much to my surprise, the filling in the Key Lime Square, while having a good lime flavor, was not limeade-sweet. They seem to be relying on the icing on top to provide the sugar kick on its own. On the whole, it was a pleasant, albeit still indulgent, treat.

Good work, Dunkin!

Of course, now I have to decide if I dare sneak in that Lemon Croissant Donut after all....

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Gaga for logos.

I confess a strong fondness for the logos of sports teams, especially for teams that are completely defunct. I'm not talking about teams like the Seattle Pilots (fine as their logo was)...

Cute!

...because they moved to Wisconsin and became the Milwaukee Brewers.

The old "M-B" glove logo was great.

But I'm talking about teams that completely fell apart, sometimes in leagues that completely fell apart. I almost bought a Baltimore Terrapins jersey at Cooperstown once, even though it was far more than I could afford at the time, and that I've only spent about 18 hours in Baltimore in my life, because the logo was cool and the Federal League was kinda cool and the whole thing went to blazes in three years.

See the diamond? See it?

The Chicago Whales were in that league, although their logo doesn't grab me quite as much:

Not sure what's going on there. A bit whaley, though. 

But there were so many leagues and expansion teams and teams that fell apart in our major pro sports over the last century and a half. Speaking of the Windy City, what about the Chicago Stags, cagers who played in the NBA from 1946-1950?

Pretty butch, there, Stags; nice mid-century lettering.
In those days, National Basketball Association teams that couldn't draw didn't always move. Sometimes they just went away. But now, in the big leagues of any sport, once a franchise is created, it never folds. It may move to a different city, may change its name (or sometimes, inappropriately, not--looking at you, Utah [nee New Orleans] Jazz!), but franchises are like Constitutional Amendments; they can't just be erased, they have to be repealed. So to find a really defunct team modern logo takes some looking.

Many logos today don't show you what sport the team actually plays, let alone what league they're in, but that wasn't the case for the Miami Floridians of 1968-1972:

Is that kid orange?
Compare that to the Los Angeles Dons (as in a Spanish nobleman) of the All-American Football Conference:

You sack my father. Prepare to die.
That looks like the label on a bottle of cheap wine.

At least the Memphis Mad Dogs (1995 only) of the Canadian Football League's ill-fated U.S. expansion, looked like they came to beat someone at something.

woof
The U.S. CFL franchises all just dissolved, I believe.

Also dissolved: All the U.S. Football League franchises, including the at-the-time quite popular New Jersey Generals:

Five stars = good general

I can tell you that among the working-class guys in New York and New Jersey, the Generals were a very popular team during their brief 80's run, and I'm not saying that because Donald Trump was the owner for a while. They signed some well-known talent and yet it cost a lot less to go to their games than the NFL's. Plus, they played in the spring, when football fans were in withdrawal. A summary of the sad tale of the USFL collapse can be read here.

The NFL had kind of a Waterloo of its own, in Europe, with the World League of American Football (later NFL Europe). As originally composed the league did have some American teams, like the New York-New Jersey Knights, who had a cool logo. Nothing like the logo for Army's Black Knights, playing just an hour north at West Point.

Have at thee!

I actually did go to a Knights game. The stadium was about a quarter full and they didn't sell beer.

But I almost bought a pricey shirt in the Sports Authority at Penn with this logo:

Fancy a game of gridiron, old thing?

The whole thing cost the NFL millions. As I say, it was the NFL's Waterloo. Although note that none of the WLAF or NFL Europe teams were actually based in Waterloo, or Belgium at all.

(I'm not getting into the XFL today. It makes me wince.)

Speaking of non-American teams: Hockey fans know that in the early years of pro hockey, Western Canada had distinct leagues. Some very good hockey was played out there.

With lousy logos on their sweaters,

The Vancouver Millionaires was not a team composed of millionaires. Ironically, all NHL teams are composed of millionaires now. If the Millionaires had really been rich, they could have gotten a logo that didn't look like it came from Vancouver Junior High. But they did win the Stanley Cup in 1915, so they had that going for them. Still, as with all the major sports in their early days, they had many financial problems, and the Millionaires (also ironically) went bust. They changed their name to the Maroons in 1922, but it didn't help.

And finally, here's one of my favorites:

Rubber soles

The National Industrial Basketball League was not exactly a pro league, but a league formed of company-sponsored employee teams. I get the feeling a lot of these "employees" were just employed to play basketball, because in its heyday, when "the salaries of NBA players and industrial league players were comparable in the 1950s, top-notch players saw little advantage to joining the pros." When the NBA players' salaries began to increase, the NIBL could not compete.

The Akron Goodyear Wingfoots team was sponsored by Goodyear, obviously, but the most successful team in the league was the Bartlesville, Oklahoma Phillips 66ers. But I get a kick (har!) out of the Wingfoots name.

That's a tour of some old sports logos I have enjoyed. Maybe next time we'll look at some crappy logos from teams that still exist!



Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Hudson Valley summer.

The great thing about writing fiction is that you don't have to look up stuff. It's fiction, dude! Make stuff up! 

So here's some scenes of the Hudson Valley summer, with completely bogus information I'm just making up as I go. Enjoy! 



New York's Hudson Valley is known for its many majestic trees. These are the leaves of the Red Zirble tree, which were featured in the 1825 Washington Irving story, "The Red Zirble Tree." In the story, Persimmon Dale promises to meet her lover, Jeremy Procter, under the magnificent Red Zirble in the town square on the day he returns from England, and then they shall be married. But Procter is untrue, having married a baloney heiress from Twombly-on-Kent before leaving Dover, and he does not show. Meanwhile, Persimmon has also been untrue, and run off with her harpsichord instructor, a man called Phil. No one shows at the tree. The tree doesn't care.


We take our tree houses very seriously in the Hudson Valley. This one, a 500-square-foot model (including finished basement), is in the process of being remodeled. The tree, too, is also being remodeled, its oak being stripped out and replaced by Red Zirble. It is owned by a family of eight by the name of Goolk. They paid too much for it. 


The scenic Hudson Valley town of Sprunt is very proud of its founder, Thos. A. Spruntte, inventor of the annoying overhead wire. Spruntte suggested in letters to eminent men of his day that "a stringe of supficient lengthe, being strunge from place to place over a towne or hamlett, may accomplish several objectives: these being obstruction of viewes, disruption of 'radio waves' (should suche be discovered), and running alonge heads of statues." He festooned his town with long cables of yarn, to no apparent purpose. Sprunt celebrates him at its Founder's Day Parade every year on August 4, when the statue above, carved out of Red Zirble, is pulled down Main Street in a cart by yarn ropes.



The clouds of the Hudson Valley are caused by peculiar atmospheric conditions related to the chilly water flowing from Canada, the humid, swampy air surrounding New York City, and the lack of sunshine deep in the river valley. Called Hudson Clouds, these are known to drop large amounts of snow on random days in August. It is this sudden and brief chill that provides perfect Red Zirble growth seasons. 


And these Yellow Zirbles just looked nice, so I put them in. Enjoy.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Mess and Supermess.

I was a longtime reader of comic books, as you may be aware, but started to phase out of it when I was in college and was broke all the time. I know I had to buy books and things, but really, I can't imagine what I was spending my money on. Maybe my studies of chemistry.

Nowadays when I see superheroes on TV screens, movie screens, apps, and fan pages, I sometimes think about those characters whose adventures I followed so assiduously, and I wonder if they're still around. As I've noted on this space before, over the decades the lives of comic book characters have become hopelessly complex. Reasons for this include:

1. Time: Characters born in the 1930s and 1940s have to have some reason for being around now. For example, Captain America was frozen in ice from the 1940s to the 1960s, as his excuse for surviving from World War II... but that was 50 years ago.

2. Endless publication: A-listers like Batman have thousands of adventures every decade; that makes for a lot of villains, allies, death traps, subplots, and whatnot that have to be accounted for. Eighty years on, that's a hell of a lot of complexity.

3. There's a constant pressure on writers and artists of comics to innovate, but also to protect copyrighted and trademarked properties.

We usually hear about any changes to famous characters, but the B- and C-listers don't get that kind of attention, and as they are not well known outside the fan world, are often altered in unspeakable ways. Every now and again I get curious about an old favorite hero or villain (maybe a good guy like Hourman or a bad guy like Killer Moth), and read something like this:

Wowie Comics Database
MUTTON MAN


Created: 1940

Occupation: Superhero

Premiered: Blurg Comics #27 

Origin: The original Mutton Man, Steve Pate, became a costumed vigilante following the theft of his sheep from the lawn of his mansion in midtown Square City. Pate, frustrated by the inability of the police to find the rustlers, donned the costume of Mutton Man for the first time to bring the thieves to justice. He had no superpowers except for the hard shell and horns on his helm, which he could use in combat, to break down doors, and at least on one occasion to stop a moving Studebaker. From 1943 on, Pate was often accompanied by Daniel, a trained combat sheep. Most of his early adventures involved fighting gangsters, Nazi or Japanese spies, mad scientists, themed criminals enterprises (e.g., "The Arithmetic Crimes!" Blurg Comics #79, June 1944), or the occasional costumed villain like Honey Bee or Checkers Man. 

Blurg ceased publishing in 1950, and its characters, including Mutton Man, were purchased by Wowie Comics. Wowie brought an older version Mutton Man back in 1963, as an inadvertent foe of Wowie's popular hero, the Blue Puncher ("Enter... THE MUTTON!" The Unbelievable Blue Puncher #45, September 1963). Mutton Man (in an updated capeless costume) and several other Blurg heroes appeared in one-off adventures in the Cavalcade of Wowie series throughout the sixties, which also revived Checkers Man and some of Pate's other enemies. Daniel did not return.

Steve Pate was killed along with several other heroes in the 1982 series Challenge of the Battle of the War, which pitted every Wowie hero against every Wowie villain. In the fourth issue, Mutton Man was stepped on by Biggy Gorilla during combat, "shattering 205 of the 206 bones in his body" and killing him.

In 1989, Pate was brought back to life by arcane villain Doctor Mischegoss, "using the heroic power in that 206th bone," but Pate was under the villain's control. Infused with the dark power to command ruminants, Pate was given the name Bellwether. He attacked New York City with every sheep, cow, goat, and moose in the Tri-State area. He was defeated by superheroes and freed from the control of the evil doctor ("Night of the Sheep!" The Chastisers #298, January 1989). Pate, still looking about as old as he did in 1963, retired to the country. 

In 1993, Pate returned as Bellwether, this time to aid the Chastisers against aliens from Dimension Kronq ("Calling All Heroes!" The Chastisers #348, May 1993). He and his battle sheep were destroyed stopping Kronqian forces from crossing the Bronx River Parkway. This time even his 206th bone was broken. 

An undead Steve Pate was seen in the four-issue special series The Inimitable Mr. Faze, when Doctor Mischegoss sends a host of dead heroes' ghosts after the occult hero Mr. Faze. Pate appeared in ghostly form as Mutton Man, but didn't do much.

A new Mutton Man appeared in 1998 as a part of the New Chastisers. Alexander Pate, Steve's great-nephew, donned the horned helm, calling himself Muttonhead. Using a mechanical titanium exoskeleton and mechanical titanium horns, Muttonhead had a number of powers, including flight, superstrength, and ramming. In 2001 Alexander was transformed in a bio-electrical accident while fighting Thingamabob of the Organization of Indefatigable Villains; following this, he could turn from human to mechanized Muttonhead form at will ("The Villains Return Again!" New Chastisers #37, July 2001). But Alexander was killed in 2006 when Earth was attacked by Goglagloglagul (Wowie Showcase #89, May 2006). 

A new Muttonhead, with similar but advanced powers, was created in 2011, when genius Natasha Akbar, a handicapped black female lesbian socialist Muslim with psoriasis, re-created the Muttonhead suit. An evil government agency, trying to assassinate her, accidentally effected the same circumstances that gave Alexander his powers. Natasha joined the Social Justice Society (SJS #4, March 2011). 

When evil billionaire Milo Mentos declared war on humanity in 2015, he used his mental domination to transform Natasha into the AutoMutton (SJS #59, October 2015), increasing her power and causing her to wreck Hoover Dam and destroy Las Vegas, killing millions. Once the SJS killed Mentos, she reverted to normal. Saddened by her experience, and wanted for questioning by the Senate Un-American Destroying Activities Committee, Akbar went into hiding, vowing not to use her powers again. 

It all starts to get depressing after a while. You should see what they did to Checkers Man.

Monday, July 25, 2016

A film classic.

One of the advantages of being a cultured and refined creature of arts like myself is that you discover fine works of which the standard-issue bourgeoisie remain entirely ignorant. All one must do is turn on the television set to see what kinds of things entertain the great unwashed. Golly!

But that is not to say that there is nothing redeemable about the vast wasteland that is television in general. Oh, no! Fortunately there is the Public Broadcasting Service. What a treasure trove for we of elevated sensibilities. All my friends in Park Slope and Lenox Hill enjoy PBS. And it's all free! The government pays for it, you know.

I do want to give you an example of the kind of truly fine television one can only find on PBS. I had seen this short film on PBS years ago, and was thrilled to find it now available on the You Tube. I believe its English title is "Three Spheres":


What a fine piece of work! Such pathos, such representation of striving in the human heart! And yet so fascinatingly open to interpretation.

The stark, black-and-white (dare I say noir) photography reminds us of a comfortless world of hard choices. On one level it's easy to see this as a racial struggle---as African Americans struggling to fit into a white world they have not made, where expectations limit their options, delineated by white society.

And yet, in a wider scale, isn't this the struggle we all face? Trying to "fit in," to "find our place"? The balls initially fail in their quest, but through persistence they nestle in their predetermined spaces, apparently finding peace.

But is this really peace? Have they been trying to fight societal demands all along, and is this the sigh of contentment---or of acquiescence, of giving in? The point is crucial, but the director is purposely ambiguous.

Further ambiguity is caused by the choice of Gibberish for the dialogue, leaving us to wonder about the motivation of the balls, their desires and ambitions, and their conclusions from their experiences. The director keeps us guessing---and that keeps us thinking.

This is the kind of deep, demanding film that can only be seen on the television thanks to the Public Broadcasting Service. I cannot imagine this kind of thing appearing on any other venue. Three cheers for government film!

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Heat dome.

Remind me of this weekend when you hear me bitching about the cold next January.


Those Canadian province borders look like waves of sizzle rising from the U.S.'s overdone steak, don't they?

Just one of those hot and miserable weekends, the kind where even families that ignore their own swimming pools for 51 weeks of the year jump in wholeheartedly. Our huge hairy dog doesn't want to be outside at all. If ever there was a time we could teach him to use the toilet bowl, this is that time.

This term "heat dome" was a new one on me. Nor can you find it in Merriam-Webster's. The Weather Channel describes it as a huge (in this case, nationwide) dome of high pressure that is conducive to holding in a mass of hot air. Sounds like a political convention. (Har har.)

Makes one grateful for the bright boys who invented and refined air conditioning over the years, doesn't it?

Copyright Rob Sneed -- thanks, Mr. Sneed!

The Gothamist had an article about how people in New York City used to deal with the heat in the summer, often by sleeping on fire escapes. It mentioned in passing that thousands would sleep on the beach at Coney Island. One of the older, now passed on, men of my family remembered summer nights sleeping in the family in the park, with blankets, like a picnic for sleeping.

New York hardly gets the worst heat in the country, although sometimes the humidity does keep it in contention. The city generally gets a little bit of everything awful -- high winds, minor earthquakes, occasional hurricanes, torrential rains, sometime blizzards, godawful heat waves, ice and hail, even the rare but terrifying tornadoes. But the city and the state are sharing the misery with the rest of the nation this week. We'll just complain loudest.

The Weather Channel also says that high heat is the deadliest kind of weather. I disagree, because they're going by total number of fatalities nationwide rather than fatalities per event---I think desperate cold is more dangerous, but it doesn't affect the whole country the way heat waves do. But wherever you are, if it's hot, take it easy, keep to the shade, wear your sunblock, enjoy the A/C. And remember---stay hydrated out there.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Kickin' it old schoo.

When I was in the shoe store last week, I was amazed to see one of these on the counter. 


I was the last generation of kids who went to shoe stores where shoe salesmen waited on you, ran back for shoes in stock, and always measured your feet with one of these. I felt like every time I left the house I was getting my foot smushed in one of these. Probably happened twice a year. I figured it would always be part of the shoe-buying process. I didn't know that A) shoe stores would become like grocery stores one day, everything laid out for the grabbing, and B) eventually your shoe size kind of stabilizes. The latter I should have known, and the former I could have guessed. We had a Fayva nearby, after all, although I think we only went there a couple of times.


The tool pictured is the amazing Brannock Device, a hard metal gizmo that measures for length, width, and arch length to get the best fit possible. Charles Brannock invented the thing in 1927, and it is still made in the U.S. by his company today. I was very happy to find one in a Famous Footwear, and judging by the Brannock site, Payless uses them as well.

So we salute you today, Charles Brannock! With a simple but complex idea, persistence, and an erector set, you changed footwear and podiatric health for the better. Those devices were the very symbol of the adult retail world to me, along with items like cash registers, rubber stamps, deli scales, adding machines, and of course the credit card imprinter with the gas station logo on it.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Blade or electric?

Okay, boys---and girls too, if it applies---which do prefer?

Blade?
 Or electric?
I hate to shock anyone, but I swing both ways on this issue. I use both razors and electric shavers. I know. Decadent.

The thing is, they each have their advantages:

RAZOR: Closer shave, no matter what the Remington commercials say.

ELECTRIC: Faster shave.

RAZOR: Easier to get the thicker beard on the chin.

ELECTRIC: Easier to get the sensitive areas, like around the lips and under the nose.

RAZOR: Disposable; doesn't need a big cleaning or expensive new blades.

ELECTRIC: Not as disposable, so fewer trips to the CVS.

RAZOR: Lower initial investment.

ELECTRIC: Generally lower cost in the long run.

RAZOR: More portable for travel.

ELECTRIC: May irritate the skin, but will never cut it.

RAZOR: Don't have to keep going over the same spot to clear it.

ELECTRIC: With standard attachments, can remove a full beard on its own.

RAZOR: Easier to not miss a spot, as shaving cream delineates shaved/unshaved areas.

ELECTRIC: Attachments can be used to get (sorry!) ear hair et al.

RAZOR: Wife prefers razor shave on my face.

ELECTRIC: Easier to face earlier in the morning.

RAZOR: Manlier.

ELECTRIC: Santa can ride on it.


So what do you think? Razor or electric? Or are you just a slob? (Or is your last name Robertson?)

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Name Game.



Come on everybody!
I say now let's play a game
I betcha I can make a rhyme out of anybody's name!
The first letter of the name, I treat it like it wasn't there!
But a B or an F or an M will appear
And then I say bo add a B then I say the name and Bonana fanna and a fo
And then I say the name again with an F very plain
and a fee fy and a mo
And then I say the name again with an M this time
and there isn't any name that I can't rhyme!

What's your name?

"Buck."

Buck!
Buck, Buck bo uck, Bonana fanna fo F--
Uh, what's YOUR name?

"Art."

Art!
Art, Art bo art, Bonana fanna fo F--
Huh?
All right, what's YOUR name?

"Rich."

Rich!
Rich, Rich, bo B--
Damn!
Never mind; what's YOUR name?

"Castor."

Yeah, rhymes with Bastor, right? You?

"Taggart!"

No. Next?

"Duff."

Skip it.
I'm not taking chances with you people.
Anyone got a normal name?

"Rumplestiltskin."

Ooookay... anyone else?

"Chiranjeevi!"

Chiranjeevi?!

"It's normal in my country."

All right... [deep breath]

Chiranjeevi!
Chiranjeevi, Chiranjeevi bo Bhiranjeevi Bonana fanna fo Firanjeevi
Fee fy mo Miranjeevi!
Chiranjeevi!

That's enough
I'm gonna go lay down
From now on I'll stick to chess
When you bonana fannas come to town

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Supermarket archaeology.

Yesterday I posted a picture of a *blecch!* back-to-school sale in one of our Hudson Valley Dollar Tree stores. Dollar Tree stores pop up in new developments, old strip malls, any old place. Here's one I was driving past the other day:



Any American of a certain age recognizes that structure immediately, and knows exactly what should be on the peaked brick face in front:

That, or one of A&P's many other logos.

A&P supermarkets had distinctive roofs, whether in town or country. You'd recognize them anywhere...

Excelsior Springs!


Norwood, NJ!

Active one back in the day

Various chain restaurants have similar uniformity of construction, which sometimes persists long after the restaurant closes. The peerless Not Fooling Anybody site maintains a photo library of Hojos, A&Ws, Pizza Huts, and so on that have survived as other businesses but kept the original architecture. No one has made a comprehensive list of old A&Ps, although Groceteria has quite a few.

A&P was sort of the Walmart of its day; at its peak there were 15,709 stores in the U.S., much more common than the ubiquitous Carnegie libraries (a mere 1,689). Now A&P is the Ozymandius of this day, a destroyed giant whose collapse was amazing.

Sadly, tales of bad heirs, poor business judgment, blindness to competition, and inability to adapt to changing times are as ubiquitous as A&Ps at their peak. It's a pity; we were a solid A&P family for decades, and we've all had to move on, in sorrow.

But apparently those old stores were really well built, weren't they?

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The cruelty of retailers.

Welp, kids, summer was fun, but it's aaaaaaaallll over!

Dollar Tree, last Saturday morning
Yep, the back-to-school stuff is in the seasonal section. The flip-flops and suntan lotion have been shoved aside. It's all pencils, books, and teacher's dirty looks from here until next June.

This actually is an improvement over last July, where I'd seen my first big B2S display by July 12, and my first freaking Halloween candy on July 27. But I still think it's unfair.

I just don't remember retailers loading up the stores with this stuff before August when I was a kid. Maybe I was just in flat-out denial. "Noooo! It's not a stack of notebooks! They're... beach blankets! That's it! Little, rectangular, black-and-white beach blankets... by Mead..."

Not that my summers were an endless string of crazy, fun-filled activities. We didn't go to camp; we often didn't do any vacation trips at all. My folks worked a lot, and they did their best by us. What I remember best from my childhood are sweltering (A/C was not the omnipresent force it is today, neither in our home nor elsewhere), daytime TV, bugs, the playground with metal swings that could fry a steak, the local amusement park or mini-golf once in a while, helping Dad with the lawn and other chores, reading, and being bored.

So I've never gotten so hung up on summer that I can't bear to see it fade. But I do feel for the kids. Even the dullest, hottest, most miserable summer was better than going to school. Ah, freedom, sweet freedom!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Modern LIFE.

If you grew up at any time in America after 1960, you probably played the board game known as the Game of Life.



As the incomparable Board Game Geek describes it:

This game attempts to mirror life events many people go through from going to college, raising a family, buying a home, working and retiring.
The intent of the game is to have the most assets at the end of the game, assets are earned primarily by working and earning tokens with dollars amount on them. Additionally the first person to complete the course gets additional money tokens.

They've made changes to the game in various editions, as inflation has raised costs and salaries, unfriendliness was reduced ("Revenge" and "Poor Farm" were changed to "Sue for Damages" and "Countryside Acres"), and, worst of all, in the new edition they let kids pick careers. The game was supposed to teach children about being a grown-up; if the careers are Badass Rap Star and NFL Quarterback, they're not going to learn much.

So that's where I'm stepping in.

Here are some new board spaces I recommend for the next edition of the Game of Life, spaces that will bring the game back to the sense of reality, what it means to be a grown-up in America now. I'm sure you'll agree they would make the game more risky and more interesting.

DRIVE DRUNK!
Lose all turns; game over

MARRY A DUGGAR
Collect prizes
BITTER DIVORCE
Wife leaves you for woman; gets the car;
move only 1 space at a time until you get over it

UNDERWATER MORTGAGE
Bank takes home; live in car

KIDS IN COLLEGE
Lose all money; collect a handful of promissory notes
LAID OFF!
Choose new, lower-paid career;
tell everyone it's been your dream for ages

JUST GIVE UP
Stay home on sofa; lose about five or so turns, whatever
HEAR STRANGE NOISE
What's with this mansion?
MIDLIFE CRISIS
Buy new car; take girlfriend to Paris
GET INVOLVED WITH STUPID TRIVIA
Waste time, lose turn
UH-OH
Ponzi scheme unsuccessful; game over



Sunday, July 17, 2016

Demanding Dora.

The grandchild of a friend of mine recently faced a terrible crisis, one that caused a massive tantrum. 

He'd failed Dora. 

Some background is in order if you, like me, are not acquainted with the genre: Apparently in the course of an episode of Nick Jr.'s Dora the Explorer, Dora has some puzzles to solve. Toward that end, she requires the help of the children in the TV audience who, if I know anything about children, gleefully scream the answers out to Dora, even more loudly if Daddy has a hangover.  


Dora the Dictator, shown here with Boots the monkey,
because she can't do a freaking thing on her own.

The young preschool grandson of my buddy had a complete meltdown the other morning because he had been unable to solve one of Dora's puzzles for her in time. He'd let Dora down. He'd failed. The episode ended, and he knew he would have to endure the shame and dishonor of being a Dora Failer.

He couldn't bear the disgrace.

Fortunately his mom convinced him that Nick Jr. would rerun the episode later in the day, and that Dora would be just as happy if he helped her when he watched it later. And he'd be better prepared!

My question is: Since when do we let TV characters dictate to our kids what they should be doing? I asked my friend if Howdy Doody was giving him orders when he was a boy, and he said no. Cookie Monster wasn't telling me what to do. I know that Steve of Blue's Clues wanted help to solve his dog's puzzles, but I don't think kids were hysterical about letting down the Steve side.

Then again, there was this:


So like Dora, Little Orphan Annie inspired slavish devotion in her audience.

Dora may even be worse, though. Apparently Dora is blamed for bullying a teenager into vaping. How much lower will she sink? And what's Boots's responsibility? Is he the brains of the outfit? Maybe Boots is getting kids to drink liquor and commit crimes!

I'm just saying, if your kids are hooked on Dora, keep an ear open to any untoward orders being issued. Words like "heist," "money," "riot," "revoluciĆ³n," and/or "blood in the streets" are red flags.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Dog in love?

[Names of other dogs in this story have been changed to protect---
me, from the wrath of their owners,]

I think my big giant dog, Tralfaz, may be in love, and I'm rather confused.


A new dog moved into the neighborhood, and brought her family with her.

Tralfaz is over the moon when he sees her. But there may be irreconcilable differences. The new dog, Phoebe, is a tiny white pup, about 18 pounds. My big boy is about 120 pounds.

Seriously, the equivalent would be a 100-pound woman dating a 700-pound man---a 700-pound man who is naturally supposed to be 700 pounds, not an unfortunate soul on a TLC program. Conversely, it would be like a 200-pound man dating a 30-pound woman.

Are we really sure that dogs are all the same species?

Tralfaz certainly seems to think so; he's in love with Phoebe. He'd take time with her over treats.

Just so you know, Tralfaz did have the little operation in his first year. Some people think it's cruel to fix a dog, but if you're never going to mate him, isn't that cruel?

(Besides, some people also would note that having your spheres removed is no bar to being in love, and point out long-married men as examples. These people are jerks.)

Phoebe seems to be quite fond of my fuzzy pal here, trotting up to him, tail wagging, giving little yips of joy. He does the whole front-down-tail-wag play position. It's like seeing an elephant crouch down to say hi to a chipmunk.

But Phoebe could wind up being like one of those hot women in an old picture who go into a small town and throw all the men in a tizzy. Up till now all the dogs Tralfaz has gotten to know best are boys. Grady across the street, Flash up the hill, old Dooley down the hill, Walker around the corner, the General and Bitsy on the next block. If Phoebe starts flirting with all these guys, there's bound to be jealousy, recriminations, badmouthing, and fights. What then?

Hmm.

Hey, Illumination! Could have the idea for a sequel to that little film of yours... drop me a line!

Friday, July 15, 2016

Bring Down Big Horse!

DATELINE: JULY 15, 1898, WASHINGTON, D.C. -- President James Weaver today announced a new plan to "free our cities from the grip of the vested interests of 'Big Horse'" and "bring our nation into the twentieth century."

"Too long have we subjected our citizens to the environmentally crushing load of horse manure in our streets, causing disease, disgust, and a stink fit to wake the dead," said the president, a scented handkerchief over his face, from the corner of 14th Street and Constitution Avenue. "Boundless heaps of horse droppings are causing an environmental catastrophe that may well bring an end to human life as we know it. Fortunately today there is an option: the internal combustion engine!"

"The Salvation of Our Cities Is the Internal Combustion Engine"

The president went on to say that with this advanced technology and "America's endless supply of gas and coal, the horse will be obsolete in decades---but only if government acts now."

Mr. Weaver outlined his proposal, including allotting millions of dollars to the Winton Motor Carriage Company, to help the company develop the "auto-mobile."

"Without government intervention and support," he said, "it is a certainty that these 'horseless carriages' will never be successful, will never free us from our dependence on animal power and all the pollution that comes with it, which threatens even the mightiest cities on the globe."

Prominent members of Congress have disagreed with the president's position, saying that if the "auto-mobile" is a benefit for mankind, then consumers will be the driving force behind it, by buying the mechanized vehicles instead of horses.

But Mr. Weaver disagrees. He concluded his remarks by saying, "We can be certain that, unaided by government, no advance will be possible. So I urge Congress to act on my proposals immediately. Failing that, let me say, I've got a fountain pen and I've got a telegraph, and I will ignore Congress and do what must be done."

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Something fishy.

A few months ago I had the opportunity to visit the campus of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. It's a beautiful campus, a former Jesuit novitiate on the Hudson.


I was thinking about the place after seeing a clip of the Franz Kafka sculpture in Prague, the one that moves and reforms (the "Metamorphosis Sculpture," it's called):


I like a clever idea, but it must be well performed. If the Kafka head looked like any old dingdong it wouldn't be so great, but it is a good likeness of the man, at least when it's at rest.

I was equally impressed with the sturgeon sculpture on the CIA campus, "Old Diamondsides":


So... it's a good 12-foot likeness of an Atlantic Sturgeon, right? The former staple of the Hudson Valley diet? What does it do, jump in the air? 

No, my tiresome inner voice. It doesn't do anything. It's what it's made of that counts:


John F. Sendelbach made the sculpture out of 1,700 old forks, knives, and spoons, as you can see on this official close-up (my picture wasn't as good). All those scales and fins are made of common eating utensils. The eyes are hand-blown glass. 

When I came across it I didn't know what it was---I actually had gotten lost on the way back to my car---and when I went in for a closer look I was stunned to realize that forks composed the shimmering scales I was looking at. It was one of many little gems one encounters at the CIA, and one of my favorites. 

I applaud the artist and the CIA. On its own this would have been a well-depicted fish, but the way it was put together makes it wonderful. And in keeping with its surroundings, it is appropriately a work of art done in good taste.