Saturday, January 31, 2009

It all makes sense now.

A long time ago, before anyone had even thought of a Super Bowl, a very young Andy Griffith explained football all to us.

Turn up your volume and listen to What it was, was football.

Super bowls

On Sunday, the forty-third Super Bowl football game will be played in Tampa, Florida. Millions and millions of football fans will be glued to their television sets to watch the Arizona Cardinals play the Pittsburgh Steelers (what ever happened to Lynn Swann and Franco Harris and Terry Bradshaw, anyway?). Millions and millions of dollars will be spent by advertisers to roll out new television commercials for their products to not only a captive audience but also a very willing one. Millions and millions of cans of beer and packages of pretzels and potato chips will be consumed in the process.

As Samuel Finley Breeze Morse tapped into a telegraph machine on May 24, 1844, “What hath God wrought?”

But I’m not going to write another word about that Super Bowl.
Mr. Speaker, I rise today to speak about a different kind of Super bowl. I’m referring, Mr. Speaker, to these:

Those objects in the photo above are not the rings of Saturn; they are “vintage Pyrex bowls®” that I found on the Internet. Mrs. RWP and I have the same bowls in our kitchen cupboard, plus the one that is missing in the Internet photo. They are a wonder to behold and always make me smile. The smallest bowl, the innermost ring, is bright blue. The second one is bright red. The third bowl, missing in the photo, is bright green; and the largest one of all is bright yellow. Their colorful exteriors and concentric appearance, Mr. Speaker, are nothing less than a testimony to their beauty and symmetry, their artistic design and utter usefulness.

We have used our four bowls for almost forty-six years now, ever since our friend Stanley M. gave them to us as a wedding present in 1963. Other wedding presents we received have been re-gifted (we received three irons), broken (I still remember the day two tall ceramic Chinese figurines, painted pale green to resemble jade, crashed to the floor), and forgotten (don’t look here for an example;
I told you they were forgotten), but these Pyrex bowls® have kept on going and going and going, just like the Energizer bunny, and have served us well over the years.

After forty-six years, I suppose Mrs. RWP and I could also be considered “vintage.”

Here’s hoping that all of us will be around for many more years.

(Photo of Samuel F. B. Morse
by Matthew Brady, 1866)

Friday, January 30, 2009

I always loved The Waltons.

I really identified with that show. It may have been set in the wrong decade, but it was the right poverty level. And, of course, it was ideal because the people in that home all loved one another. I had longed for a home like that when I was a child. Eleven people lived in the Walton home and only three lived in mine. I guess two out of three isn’t bad.

Here’s a little quiz for you (and looking answers up is cheating):

1. From oldest to youngest, what were the children’s names? The parents? The grandparents? (I’m asking for the character names, although you will earn extra credit if you can name the actors who portrayed the grandparents, the parents, and the first-born son. And you know what that means.)

2. Where is the Walton Family Museum?

3. When Grandma came home from the hospital after her stroke, what were her first words and to whom did she say them?

4. Who played the mother in the pilot episode? In the series?

5. What was the name of the next town over from Walton's Mountain?

6. Name the book that inspired the series. Name its author.

I suppose if you just have to peek, or if you genuinely want to learn more about The Waltons, this place is as good a one to pick as any.

Good night, Jeannelle. Good night, Pat (an Arkansas stamper). Good night, Ruth Hull Chatlien. Good night, Putz. Good night, Dr. John. Good night, Tracie. Good night, Vonda. Good night, Sam. Good night, Yorkshire Pudding. Good night, Ian. Good night, Daphne. Good night, Reamus. Good night, Mary @ Annie’s Goat Hill. Good night,...oh, the heck with it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

“Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe”

Raven, a large, black crow-like bird found in wilderness areas in the Northern Hemisphere. The raven is a scavenger, feeding on carrion, small birds and rodents, birds’ eggs, insects, fruits, and seeds.

The raven is a large, black crow-like scavenger.

Ravens mate for life. They usually nest in dense forests or on rocky coasts. The nest, built in trees or on cliffs, is made of sticks and lined with fur, moss, and lichens: The female lays four to seven greenish eggs with brown spots. Both parents feed the young.

The common raven, found throughout Asia, Europe, and North Africa, grows more than 24 inches (60 cm) in length. Its glossy black plumage has a bluish sheen. The American raven, a little smaller than the common raven, nests from British Columbia southward to Nicaragua. The northern raven grows as large as the common raven. It lives in Greenland, Alaska, British Columbia, and Washington. It has been found in the Appalachians as far south as Georgia. The white-necked raven grows about 20 inches (50 cm) long. Its neck feathers have white bases. It is found from the Great Plains southward to Nicaragua.

Ravens belong to the genus Corvus of the crow family, Corvidae. The common raven is C. corax; American, C. corax sinuatus; northern, C. corax principalis; white-necked, C. cryptoleucus.

(The preceding is from, “Raven,” 22 April 2008.)

According to today’s edition of Writer’s Almanac, it was on this date, January 29, in 1845 that Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” was first published in the New York Evening Mirror. People of a certain age will remember it. [Note. The poem, I mean, not the date when it was first published! --RWP]

People who are not of a certain age, let me enlighten you:

The Raven
by Edgar Allan Poe

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
‘ ’Tis some visitor,’ I muttered, ‘tapping at my chamber door --
Only this, and nothing more.’

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; -- vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow -- sorrow for the lost Lenore --
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore --
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me -- filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
‘ ’Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door --
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; --
This it is, and nothing more,’

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
‘Sir,’ said I, ‘or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you’ -- here I opened wide the door; --
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, ‘Lenore!’
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, ‘Lenore!’
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
‘Surely,’ said I, ‘surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore --
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; --
’Tis the wind and nothing more!’

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door --
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door --
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
‘Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,’ I said, ‘art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore --
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night’s Plutonian shore!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning -- little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door --
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as ‘Nevermore.’

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered -- not a feather then he fluttered --
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before --
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.’
Then the bird said, ‘Nevermore.’

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
‘Doubtless,’ said I, ‘what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore --
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of “Never-nevermore.”’

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore --
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking ‘Nevermore.’

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom’s core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion’s velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o’er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o’er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
‘Wretch,’ I cried, ‘thy God hath lent thee -- by these angels he has sent thee
Respite -- respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil! -- prophet still, if bird or devil! --
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted --
On this home by horror haunted -- tell me truly, I implore --
Is there -- is there balm in Gilead? -- tell me -- tell me, I implore!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Prophet!’ said I, ‘thing of evil! -- prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us -- by that God we both adore --
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore --
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

‘Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!’ I shrieked upstarting,
‘Get thee back into the tempest and the Night’s Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! -- quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!’
Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore.’

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon’s that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o’er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted -- nevermore!

Friends, after much contemplation, it is my considered opinion that the reason so many photographs from nineteenth-century America contain serious-looking people with unsmiling faces, vacant eyes, and hollow gazes is that as innocent children they were forced by stern and unrelenting schoolmasters to memorize that poem.

So if you say “Raven,” people of a certain age remember this image:

And people who are not of a certain age remember this one:

Before bringing this post to a close, I would like to state for the record that I definitely have one bone to pick with that raven in Poe’s poem. There is a balm in Gilead.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The song is ended, but the melody lingers on...

It has been a week now since Barack Obama was inaugurated as 44th president of the United States.

The crowd, estimated at two million people, stretched for nearly two miles from the Capitol steps, beyond the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial.

Newspapers reported that new Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel “made a funny gesture” at former congressional colleagues. Right.

Miss Aretha Franklin sang a rock-and-roll/rhythm-and-blues/Motown version of “America,” which Senator Dianne Feinstein of California called “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” in her introduction. For those of you who care about such things, Miss Franklin’s hat was a cloche, decorated with a Swarovski crystal encrusted bow. It cost $179 (£129) and was made by Luke Song of Detroit, Michigan. The next night, comedian Jay Leno, host of the Tonight television program, said in his opening monologue that Barack Obama had announced that his first act as president would be to pardon Aretha Franklin’s hat.

If you look past Aretha you can see forty-second president William Jefferson Clinton on the left and his wife, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton (now Secretary of State), on the right. Almost-forty-third-president Al Gore is at the top behind the Swarovsky crystal encrusted bow on Aretha's hat. And Barbara Bush The Younger (sister of Jenna and daughter of George W. and Laura Bush, as opposed to Barbara Bush The Older, wife of old forty-one, George Herbert Walker Bush) is at the lower right.

And the piéce de resistance:

(All AP photos)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Non sequitur of the day.

According to and The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition, Copyright © 2006 by Houghton Mifflin Company:

non se·qui·tur (nŏn sěk'wĭ-tər, -tŏŏr'), n.

1. An inference or conclusion that does not follow from the premises or evidence.
2. A statement that does not follow logically from what preceded it.

[Latin nōn sequitur, it does not follow : nōn, not + sequitur, third person sing. present tense of sequī, to follow.]

I told you all of that to say this.

Today at a website called Times Online, writer Jane Macartney began an article entitled “Fireworks and feasting herald arrival of Chinese Year of the Ox” with this paragraph:

“The Great Wall of China is not visible from the Moon, but new year fireworks can certainly be seen from a plane. Celebration of the arrival of the Year of the Ox at midnight was no exception.”

Say what???

Maybe I’m crazy, but I submit that even if you read that paragraph over and over, you will never know what Ms. Macartney was trying to say.

I have nothing further, Your Honor.

Another time, another place.

Let’s ignore that photo for a moment and think about the ones in my previous post, “Your mission, should you decide to accept it,...” (January 23, 2009).

Starting at the top and working downward one at a time all the way to the bottom -- I know, it’s a strange way to operate -- the buildings shown in that post are:

1. The Calvin Coolidge Presidential Library & Museum in Northampton, Massachusetts
2. The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library in West Branch, Iowa
3. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York
4. The Harry S. Truman Presidential Library in Independence, Missouri
5. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas
6. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston, Massachusetts
7. The Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library in Austin, Texas
8. The Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum in Yorba Linda, California
9. The Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library in Ann Arbor, Michigan
10. The Jimmy Carter Presidential Library in Atlanta, Georgia
11. The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, California
12. The George (Herbert Walker) Bush Presidential Library in College Station, Texas
13. The William J. Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas

Plans are already underway for a George W. Bush Presidential Library in Dallas, Texas.

Here is an interesting article about presidential libraries from Wikipedia, the online encyclopedia. If you read it, you will find out which photo doesn’t belong with the others. But I will save you the trouble. Here is a quote from the article:

“Libraries and museums have been established for other presidents, but they are not part of the NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] presidential library system, and are operated by private foundations, historical societies, or state governments, including the William McKinley, Rutherford Hayes, Calvin Coolidge, Abraham Lincoln and Woodrow Wilson libraries. For example, the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is owned and operated by the State of Illinois.”

So the photo that didn’t belong with the others in the previous post was the first one, the Calvin Coolidge Library, because it is not part of the NARA system. Which brings us back to that distinguished-looking couple in the photo at the top of this post. They are none other than Calvin Coolidge and his wife, Grace Goodhue Coolidge, who were President and First Lady, respectively, a mere seventy-five years ago.

How times have changed.*

Just for good measure, and to make our collection complete, here are links to the other four presidential libraries (the ones not run by the National Archives people):

1. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum in Springfield, Illinois
2. The Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Center in Fremont, Ohio
3. The William McKinley Presidential Library in Canton, Ohio
4. The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library in Staunton, Virginia

Here are photos of three of them:

I don’t want to do all the work. To find out which three they are and to see the fourth one, you’ll have to open the links all by yourself.

*Times have changed in other ways as well. For example, nowadays there is an acronym for just about everything. You may be familiar with POTUS (President of the United States). Well, today I read an article in which Michelle Obama was referred to as FLOTUS.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Your mission, should you decide to accept it,... to look carefully at the buildings in the thirteen photos below, and then, without cheating (such as enlarging the photos or peeking at the HTML source code), to answer two questions:

Question #1: What do the thirteen buildings have in common? It’s not their architecture, obviously. Here’s a hint: Although it has nothing to do with the thirteen original colonies, it has everything to do with the thirteen original colonies.

Question #2: Which building doesn’t belong in the group, and why doesn’t it?

You will receive extra credit if you know the location of each building. As you should all know by this time, when you have amassed enough extra credit, something wonderful will happen to you. I have no idea what.

If you are killed or caught during the execution of this mission, the Secretary will disavow any knowledge of your actions.

This post will self-destruct in five parsecs.

Update, 1/24/2009: Thanks to everyone who participated! I achieved a first by completely stumping Ruth Hull Chatlien! However, Angela and Pat (An Arkansas Stamper) are both right; the pictures show Presidential Libraries. But neither Angela nor Pat provided any identifying details. Yorkshire Pudding in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England gets a bye because, well, because he is in Sheffield, Yorkshire, England and so is not expected to be all that familiar with the minutiae of American life. Dr. John had no idea and kept Ruth company, which turned out to be fairly easy because he is in Wisconsin and she is so far north in Illinois as to be practically in Wisconsin. And I knew I could count on Putz to come through with something different; he was correct and still wrong when he offered “They all are heated. And have plumbing.” Maybe the Great Salt Lake has caused saline intrusion into all the drinking water in Utah. Reamus out in California got the big picture (no pun intended) but the devil was in the details. Wrong, wrong, wrong, unless I just don’t understand his numbering system.

The answers will appear in my next post on January 26, 2009.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A picture worth ten million words...

...and one worth ten million more...

Six continents heard from.

Despite what the little map thingy over there in the sidebar may say, this blog has now had visitors from six continents in the six weeks or so since I installed the little map thingy. I am amazed! But red dots indicating visitors from Brazil, Argentina, Aruba, Israel, China, India, and Mongolia have now disappeared. Does anyone know how long the red dots stay? They are a fickle lot, I must say.

An interesting fact about the little map thingy is that New Zealand does not appear on it at all. But this blog has been visited a couple of times by New Zealanders (Hi, Katherine!) and their flag showed up, but their red dot did not.

Who lands on what is a fascinating study in itself. One of the most surprising trips through cyberspace occurred a couple of days ago when a visitor from Uganda landed on a post of mine about Ira Gershwin and a song he wrote called “Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Moon”!

Here is a list, in alphabetical order, of the flags I have seen in the live traffic feed:

Argentina, Aruba, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Italy, Israel, Mexico, Mongolia, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Philippines, Romania, Saudi Arabia, Serbia, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Turkey, Uganda, United Kingdom, United States, Vietnam.

That’s 35 countries. I managed to save most of the flags on my hard drive, and I would show them to you, but that requires more work than I want to do at the moment. Suffice it to say that when I began keeping track of visitors I had no idea that so many people from so many places would find their way here.

I suppose I must be satisfied with six continents. The seventh one, Antarctica, is uninhabited. But I’m still hoping to see Iceland and Ukraine and Sweden and Uruguay and Nepal and Hungary and Ghana and Chile and Zimbabwe and....

Update, 1/20/2009. Chile showed up as if summoned, barely after I got the words in the previous paragraph onto the screen. Ugandans may like Ira Gershwin, but Chileans apparently go ga-ga over Beethoven. Who would have thought? Perhaps I should not make such sweeping generalizations from such a small statistical sample. --RHB

Update, 1/24/2009. Finland, South Africa, and Hungary have also showed up here in the last four days. Thirty-nine countries to date. I’m seriously considering applying for the position of Secretary-General of the United Nations, unless the nod has already been given to Caroline Kennedy. --RHB

Monday, January 19, 2009

Give me a minute and it will come to me.

Today is set aside to observe the birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which actually occurred last Thursday, and tomorrow is set aside to observe the inauguration of Barack Obama as 44th president of the United States, which will actually occur tomorrow. For more on those subjects, check out this post on Dr. Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog.

But I have decided to post about something else. This is not to disparage in any way either Martin Luther King, Jr., or Barack Obama. I’m just funny that way. Sometimes I happily go along with the crowd, and sometimes I don’t. I have never tried to live my life according to majority opinion. In fact, when the whole world seems to be advocating A, it often happens that I consider the merits of B.

Can you name these four people? Do you know why they had their photo taken together?

You will receive extra points if you can also name the husband of the woman on the lower left and tell what he had to do with the people in the photo (besides being the husband of the woman on the lower left).

When you have amassed enough extra points, I have received enough emails to know that something wonderful is going to happen to you. I have no idea what.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Hyde Park, Mon Amour?

The lovely home in the preceding post was the residence of this happy couple:

Here they are in another location with some friends who dropped in for a visit. Unfortunately, I have no idea who the gentleman resplendent in white in the center of the picture is.

Without straining your eyes to read the photo caption, can you identify the husband and wife who are serving as bookends or hazard a guess as to what year the photo was taken?

When I said the mystery home was “very close to a place that has been in the news lately” I was referring to the Hudson River, not the Gaza Strip as one person guessed, but he is more to be pitied than censured as he makes his home in Utah. The Franklin D. Roosevelt Home and Presidential Library in Hyde Park, New York, is indeed quite near the Hudson River, about 75 miles north of where a passenger on a ferry bound from Manhattan for New Jersey snapped this photo with his mobile phone a few few days ago:

(Photo by Janis Krums of Sarasota, Florida)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Who lived here?

I have a black-and-white snapshot of this house taken around 1967 or 1968 and another snapshot, taken closer up, that shows my two oldest children and their two cousins from Florida sitting on the front steps.

I will give you two hints.

Hint #1: The person who lived here is also buried here.
Hint #2: When I took my snapshots, I worked for IBM in Pough-keepsie, New York.

I will throw in two more hints for good measure.

Hint #3: At one time this was one of the most photographed homes in the world.
Hint #4: It is very close to something that has been in the news lately.

Anybody want to take a crack at answering?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Shall we dance?

Some of you will recognize these couples instantly. Some of you won’t have a clue who they are. I am in the former group. On the right are Bob and Justine, and the couple below are Kenny and Arlene. Ring any bells?

So now you know Who. But what about Where? And When? And perhaps most importantly, Why???

I will tell you.

Where is a television studio somewhere in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

When is 1957, 1958, 1959.

Why is two words:

American Bandstand!

I was there in the summer of 1958, visiting relatives in suburban Philadelphia all the way from Texas. I was seventeen years old. Going to American Bandstand was a pilgrimage more to be desired than the one that resulted in Chaucer’s writing The Canterbury Tales.

I boarded an early southbound commuter train in Jenkintown and made my way past Elkins Park, Melrose Park, Cheltenham, past City Line where Old York Road becomes Broad Street, past Allegheny, Lehigh, Girard, and Spring, all the way down Broad Street to City Center where William Penn’s statue stands atop City Hall. There I switched to the east-west line and, still searching for the Holy Grail, headed out West Market Street. At 46th Street I got off the train and there it was: On one side of the street were brick tenements with people’s laundry drying on the fire escapes. But on the other side of the street was the Holy of Holies: WFIL-TV, Channel 6, home of the one and only American Bandstand, the Magna Carta of teenage dance programs.

I stood in line for at least six hours, hoping to be admitted with the other pilgrims when the doors opened. Men with pushcarts came by selling pretzels with mustard, a Philadelphia staple, and hot dogs to fend off our hunger pangs. No one was about to leave the line to do an unimportant thing like eating. And because I had made sure to arrive early, I was near enough to the front of the line that I saw the regulars arrive and when the doors finally opened to the rest of us I made it in.

All the regulars were there. Bob and Justine, and Kenny and Arlene, and Pat, and Fran, and others whose faces I recognized but whose names I didn’t know. Dick Clark was there, of course, looking all of 18 even though he was 28 years old at the time. We all were there, dancing to Bobby Day’s hit, “Rockin’ Robin (Tweet, Tweet, Tweedly-Deet)” and Bobby Darin’s hit, “Splish, Splash, I Was Takin’ A Bath” and “Heavenly shades of night are falling; it’s twilight time” by The Platters and “All I Have To Do Is Dream” by The Everly Brothers, Phil and Don, and saying such profound things to Dick Clark as “It has a good beat; I give it a 90” on national television!

I went for three days in a row.

Two months later, back in Texas, I stopped by my old high school after classes had resumed and before I went away to college. I was treated like a celebrity because everybody had been watching American Bandstand five afternoons a week for over a year. (Actually, there wasn’t that much to do in small towns in Texas in the fifties. If you saw The Last Picture Show or Places In The Heart, you will know exactly what I mean.) It wasn’t that I was great personally, but I had been in the presence of greatness.

Any other acclaim I might have received since then has been pure gravy. My fifteen minutes of fame happened early, when it could be properly appreciated by the only people who mattered, the new crop of high school seniors.

Photo by Dick Clark Productions, Inc.

Later on, American Bandstand was televised in color. It moved to California and became a once-a-week show, broadcast only on Saturday afternoon. It was slicker, and over-produced, and lasted until 1989, but it was never as good as the original, more innocent, five-afternoons-a-week, black-and-white version from Philadelphia. It may have still had Dick Clark, but it didn’t have Pat. It didn’t have Fran. And it certainly didn’t have Bob and Justine, or Kenny and Arlene. The kids today know nothing about American idols. Ours were not Fats Domino and Elvis Presley and Ricky Nelson. Ours didn’t even have to sing.

Dick Clark became “America’s Oldest Teenager” and Ryan Seacrest is trying hard to succeed him. Saint Paul, who said a lot of things, probably said it best. To the Corinthians he said, “When I was a child, I thought as a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child. But when I became a man, I put away childish things.” And to the Colossians he said, “Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory.”

That will be a real celebration. There may even be dancing in the streets.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Happy Birthday, Uncle Jack!

My Uncle Jack was born 102 years ago today. He died in 1987 at the age of 80. He was the third of four children in the family where my mother was the youngest, three years his junior. Born near Philadelphia, he lived his entire life in the state of Pennsylvania. In his later years he also owned a winter home in Tequesta, Florida. He earned an M.D. degree from the University of Pennsylvania around 1930 and set up medical practice in the little town of Annville, between Hershey and Lebanon, where I believe he was also the campus doctor at Lebanon Valley College for a time. He ended up marrying his nurse, my Aunt Ruth, who hailed from Pittsburgh.

During my senior year of high school, my mother died at the age of 47 after a long bout with cancer. I was valedictorian of my class that year and received a one-year, tuition-only scholarship from the small school district, but most of the money my parents had tried to save for my college years went to pay for my mother’s hospital bills and funeral expenses. The summer after I graduated, I traveled all the way from Texas to Pennsylvania on a bus to visit various members of my mother’s family I had met four years earlier. While I was there, Uncle Jack presented me with a check for $750.00 (a lot of money in 1958), enough to pay for the dormitory and cafeteria fees and all of my personal expenses for the whole year. He also gave me a plane ticket so that I could stay a little longer and return home on something other than a bus. (“Now I know why they call it Greyhound,” my mother’s sister said after one trip, “it’s because you feel like a dog when you get off.”) It was my first plane ride, and I traveled on a DC-3 from Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, where I changed to a DC-6 and flew on to Fort Worth. It was heady stuff for a kid of seventeen who lived in a house without indoor plumbing.

Years passed.

When our children were small and Mrs. RWP and I were living in south Florida, Uncle Jack and Aunt Ruth flew to Fort Lauderdale to go on a Caribbean cruise out of Port Everglades. They invited us to meet them aboard ship before they embarked so that they could meet their great-niece and two great-nephews, and we went. I presented them with a bottle of champagne I had won in a contest on a big jet plane while returning from a business trip for IBM.

More years passed. Each family is different. Some families live close together and gather frequently. Our family never gathered at all and lived hundreds of miles apart. But if we didn’t see each other for ten years, we still loved one another and were glad it hadn’t been twenty.

A couple of years after my Aunt Ruth died, Uncle Jack married for a second time to Aunt Harriet, the widow of a doctor friend of theirs. Although we had never met, I spoke with her on the telephone after his death and told her how much Uncle Jack had meant to me and what he had done to help me through my first year of college. She said that she had received calls of a similar nature from several other people also, and that she hadn’t known he had helped so many because he never spoke of it. He just did what he thought was right and didn't look for applause.

Here’s Uncle Jack and my mother around the time he graduated from medical school.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Butcher? Baker? Spark Plug Maker?

No, the mystery objects in my January 10th post have nothing to do with butchering, baking, or spark plug making, but those were all good guesses. The word “itinerant” might have helped define the field more narrowly, but Scissors Grinder and Encyclopedia Salesman can also be eliminated.

Although no competition had been announced for Best Comment, Mr. Yorkshire Pudding of Sheffield, Yorkshire, United Kingdom, wrote a magnificent one: “Clearly all three items are used by traditional clockmakers,” he said. “The first is called a Whitaker's Noggin invented by Baltimore based clockmaker R. Henry Whitaker in 1857. The second is a traditional French clockwinder. The third item is a simple cogstopper (half inch gauge). I await my prize with unbridled glee.”

For sheer inventiveness, it is a top-drawer comment, worthy of emulation, and brimming with the audacity of hope. Nevertheless, I regretted to have to inform Mr. Pudding, “As Tonto used to say to The Lone Ranger, ‘Wrong, Kemosabe.’ But extremely clever!”

Therefore, Mr. Yorkshire Pudding is the recipient of a special honorary award, the coveted Medium Fries With Triple Ketchup Packet Cluster. If his noggin, Whitaker’s or otherwise, is ever in my neighborhood, I will be happy to present the award to him in person. We might even go out afterward and try to stop a cog or two.

Okay, okay, enough of this chitchat. I hear you clamoring for the right answer, so I will tell you without further delay.

Cue the ruffles and flourishes. Trumpets in the background. The answer to the burning question, “Who would use the mystery ojects shown in the January 10th post?” is (tah-DAH!):


In order of their appearance, the mystery objects are:

1. Piano String Size Gauge Tool For Tuning Repairs
2. Piano Tuning Pin Stringing Crank
3. Stainless Steel Piano Voicing Tool For Tuning, 3 Needles

The first two are self-explanatory. I have no idea how the third one is used, or whether it is also available in versions with more or fewer Needles. And I never even knew there were stainless steel pianos.

Finally, here’s a piano tuner at work using still another (and perhaps more familiar) tool of his trade:

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Mystery Objects

Anybody care to guess what this is?

Or this?

Or this?

These are all tools of a certain trade. Anybody care to guess who would use them?

I will give you a hint. They have nothing whatever to do with pornography.

The correct answer plus one dollar will entitle you to a double cheeseburger at your local McDonald’s. With extra pickles, even.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Announcing a second blog.

I am unveiling a second blog today.

Make your way, if you dare, to Billy Ray Barnwell Here.

Ssshhhh! Don't tell anybody, but today's secret birthday boy is...

...only a click away.

This picture reminds me of something...

Oh, I know!: The Five Little Peppers And How They Grew! Well, they do have something in common, sort of: the Five Little Peppers lived in a little brown house, and the photo above is of people who lived (or soon will live) in a little white house.

And it reminds me of Rodney King of Los Angeles, California, who said, “Can’t we all just get along?”

And it reminds me of ’N Sync, but I can’t decide whether President Clinton is Justin Timberlake, Lance Bass, or Joey Fatone.

And it reminds me that I live in the greatest nation on the face of the earth (my apologies to all who respectfully disagree).

What does it remind you of?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

The Cremation of Sam McGee

In a comment on yesterday’s post, Dr. John Linna of Neenah, Wisconsin, allowed as how I am the first person he has run into who has read The Cremation of Sam McGee besides himself. That’s pretty hard to believe, but I believe you, Dr. John, because you are a retired Lutheran minister and not given, I would assume, to bearing false witness.

Thanks to the greatest high-school English teacher who ever lived, the one and only Mr. D. P. Morris, our entire ninth-grade English class had to read The Cremation of Sam McGee, but that was way back in 1954 or 1955 and the world has changed a lot since then. And granted, it may not rank as great poetry when compared to the stuff John Keats produced (“When I have fears that I may cease to be before my pen has glean’d my teeming brain...”) or Percy Bysshe Shelley (“Hail to thee, blithe spirit! Bird thou never wert”) or George Gordon, Lord Byron (“The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold and his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold...”) or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (“This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks...”) or Alfred, Lord Tennyson (“Cannon to right of them, cannon to left of them, into the valley of death rode the six hundred...”), but Robert W. Service, in his own way, was no slouch either.

So without further ado, Damen und Herren, Mesdames et Messieurs, Ladies and Gentlemen, and Children Of All Ages, I direct your attention to the center ring, where, for your reading pleasure and educational edification, I give you:

The Cremation of Sam McGee
by Robert W. Service

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Now Sam McGee was from Tennessee, where the cotton blooms and blows.
Why he left his home in the South to roam ‘round the Pole, God only knows.
He was always cold, but the land of gold seemed to hold him like a spell;
Though he’d often say in his homely way that “he’d sooner live in hell.”

On a Christmas Day we were mushing our way over the Dawson trail.
Talk of your cold! through the parka’s fold it stabbed like a driven nail.
If our eyes we’d close, then the lashes froze till sometimes we couldn’t see;
It wasn’t much fun, but the only one to whimper was Sam McGee.

And that very night, as we lay packed tight in our robes beneath the snow,
And the dogs were fed, and the stars o’erhead were dancing heel and toe,
He turned to me, and “Cap,” says he, “I’ll cash in this trip, I guess;
And if I do, I’m asking that you won’t refuse my last request.”

Well, he seemed so low that I couldn’t say no; then he says with a sort of moan:
“It’s the cursed cold, and it’s got right hold till I’m chilled clean through to the bone.
Yet ‘taint being dead -- it’s my awful dread of the icy grave that pains;
So I want you to swear that, foul or fair, you’ll cremate my last remains.”

A pal’s last need is a thing to heed, so I swore I would not fail;
And we started on at the streak of dawn; but God! he looked ghastly pale.
He crouched on the sleigh, and he raved all day of his home in Tennessee;
And before nightfall a corpse was all that was left of Sam McGee.

There wasn’t a breath in that land of death, and I hurried, horror-driven,
With a corpse half hid that I couldn’t get rid, because of a promise given;
It was lashed to the sleigh, and it seemed to say: “You may tax your brawn and brains,
But you promised true, and it’s up to you to cremate those last remains.”

Now a promise made is a debt unpaid, and the trail has its own stern code.
In the days to come, though my lips were dumb, in my heart how I cursed that load.
In the long, long night, by the lone firelight, while the huskies, round in a ring,
Howled out their woes to the homeless snows -- O God! how I loathed the thing.

And every day that quiet clay seemed to heavy and heavier grow;
And on I went, though the dogs were spent and the grub was getting low;
The trail was bad, and I felt half mad, but I swore I would not give in;
And I’d often sing to the hateful thing, and it hearkened with a grin.

Till I came to the marge of Lake Lebarge, and a derelict there lay;
It was jammed in the ice, but I saw in a trice it was called the “Alice May.”
And I looked at it, and I thought a bit, and I looked at my frozen chum;
Then “Here,” said I, with a sudden cry, “is my cre-ma-tor-eum.”

Some planks I tore from the cabin floor, and I lit the boiler fire;
Some coal I found that was lying around, and I heaped the fuel higher;
The flames just soared and the furnace roared -- such a blaze you seldom see;
Then I burrowed a hole in the glowing coal, and I stuffed in Sam McGee.

Then I made a hike, for I didn’t like to hear him sizzle so;
And the heavens scowled, and the huskies howled, and the wind began to blow.
It was icy cold, but the hot sweat rolled down my cheeks, and I don’t know why;
And the greasy smoke in an inky cloak went streaking down the sky.

I do not know how long in the snow I wrestled with grisly fear;
But the stars came out and they danced about ere again I ventured near;
I was sick with dread, but I bravely said: “I’ll just take a peep inside.
I guess he’s cooked, and it’s time I looked;” . . . then the door I opened wide.

And there sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
And he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said: “Please close that door.
It’s fine in here, but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm --
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”

There are strange things done in the midnight sun
By the men who moil for gold;
The Arctic trails have their secret tales
That would make your blood run cold;
The Northern Lights have seen queer sights,
But the queerest they ever did see
Was that night on the marge of Lake Lebarge
I cremated Sam McGee.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A mini-challenge in two parts

If you can name the two young women kissing Woody Allen in the photo in yesterday’s post, you will get extra points when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name*. Oh, and googling or yahooing is verboten.

I recognized one of them immediately but it took me 24 hours to figure out who the other one is.

*For when the One Great Scorer comes
To write against your name,
He marks -- not that you won or lost --
But how you played the game.

Speaking of recognized, many people recognize the lines above but have no idea who wrote them or where they came from (for my readers in the U.K., from whence they came). Well, they are part of a longer poem called “Alumnus Football” by Grantland Rice, a famous American sportswriter of an earlier generation. The poem appeared in Rice’s Only the Brave and Other Poems, published in 1941.

In honor of the valiant but losing effort put forth by the outmatched boys’ basketball team of Readlyn, Iowa, last night (full story at Jeanelle’s blog), here is the entire poem. As poems go, it’s not a great poem, but it does have a message for all of us. Those with a literary background may hear echoes of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress or Robert W. Service’s The Cremation of Sam McGee. Or not. For purposes of our post today, the only thing that could have made the poem any better is if it had used imagery from basketball.

The second part of today’s mini-challenge, class, is to get through the entire poem without having a single cynical thought. This part of the challenge may prove much more difficult than the first:

Alumnus Football
by Grantland Rice

Bill Jones had been the shining star upon his college team.
His tackling was ferocious and his bucking was a dream.
When husky William took the ball beneath his brawny arm
They had two extra men to ring the ambulance alarm.

Bill hit the line and ran the ends like some mad bull amuck.
The other team would shiver when they saw him start to buck.
And when some rival tackler tried to block his dashing pace,
On waking up, he’d ask, “Who drove that truck across my face?”

Bill had the speed -- Bill had the weight -- Bill never bucked in vain;
From goal to goal he whizzed along while fragments strewed the plain,
And there had been a standing bet, which no one tried to call,
That he could make his distance through a ten-foot granite wall.

When he wound up his college course each student’s heart was sore.
They wept to think bull-throated Bill would sock the line no more.
Not so with William -- in his dreams he saw the Field of Fame,
Where he would buck to glory in the swirl of Life’s big game.

Sweet are the dreams of college life, before our faith is nicked --
The world is but a cherry tree that’s waiting to be picked;
The world is but an open road -- until we find, one day,
How far away the goal posts are that called us to the play.

So, with the sheepskin tucked beneath his arm in football style,
Bill put on steam and dashed into the thickest of the pile;
With eyes ablaze he sprinted where the laureled highway led --
When Bill woke up his scalp hung loose and knots adorned his head.

He tried to run the ends of life, but with rib-crushing toss
A rent collector tackled him and threw him for a loss.
And when he switched his course again and dashed into the line
The massive Guard named Failure did a toddle on his spine.

Bill tried to punt out of the rut, but ere he turned the trick
Right Tackle Competition scuttled through and blocked the kick.
And when he tackled at Success in one long, vicious prod
The Fullback Disappointment steered his features in the sod.

Bill was no quitter, so he tried a buck in higher gear,
But Left Guard Envy broke it up and stood him on his ear.
Whereat he aimed a forward pass, but in two vicious bounds
Big Center Greed slipped through a hole and rammed him out of bounds.

But one day, when across the Field of Fame the goal seemed dim,
The wise old coach, Experience, came up and spoke to him.
“Oh Boy,” he said, “the main point now before you win your bout
Is keep on bucking Failure till you’ve worn the piker out!

“And, kid, cut out this fancy stuff -- go in there, low and hard;
Just keep your eye upon the ball and plug on, yard by yard,
And more than all, when you are thrown or tumbled with a crack,
Don’t sit there whining -- hustle up and keep on coming back;

“Keep coming back with all you’ve got, without an alibi,
If Competition trips you up or lands upon your eye,
Until at last above the din you hear this sentence spilled:
’We might as well let this bird through before we all get killed.’

“You’ll find the road is long and rough, with soft spots far apart,
Where only those can make the grade who have the Uphill Heart.
And when they stop you with a thud or halt you with a crack,
Let Courage call the signals as you keep on coming back.

“Keep coming back, and though the world may romp across your spine,
Let every game’s end find you still upon the battling line;
For when the One Great Scorer comes to mark against your name,
He writes -- not that you won or lost -- but how you played the Game.”

I will post my answers to the first part of the challenge (the two women kissing Woody Allen in yesterday’s post) here after some of you have had a stab at it in the comments section.

Update: To find out who the mystery kissers are, please proceed at once to the comments section. Do not pass GO; do not collect $200.00!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Words of wisdom, or Sayings To Live By

In honor of Daphne of Leeds, Yorkshire, United Kingdom, a recent visitor to Paris (France), Barcelona (Spain), and Cape Canaveral (Florida, U.S.A.); and also in honor of Dr. Jim, a resident of that vast uncharted territory that spreads away from Houston (Texas, U.S.A.) who at this very moment is a passenger on the QM2 ocean liner and is planning to spend much of January on the island of Grenada in the Caribbean; and, belatedly, in honor of Sam and Dorothy G. who left frozen Ohio for Cabo San Lucas in Baja California before Christmas and Cocoa Beach in Florida after Christmas; and especially for all the fine folk everywhere who long to travel but for various reasons must stay at home, I post these words of wisdom:

“We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” --T.S. Eliot

“The only real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.” --Marcel Proust

“If I had to live my life again, I’d do everything the same, except that I wouldn’t see The Magus.” --Woody Allen

Saturday, January 3, 2009

They’re back!

(photo courtesy of

I didn’t blog for an entire week. Knowing that Mrs. RWP and I were going to be taking a little trip to Alabama to visit our daughter’s family, I very shrewdly prepared posts in advance for December 29, 30, and 31 before we left. Fooled ya!

We had intended to return on Wednesday to avoid the phenomenon known as traffic-on-the-interstate-on-New-Year’s-Eve, but on Monday afternoon I suggested to Mrs. RWP that we stay until Thursday so that our daughter and her husband could “go out and do something” on New Year’s Eve and we could stay with the grandchildren. Hardly had these words made it out of my mouth when our son-in-law telephoned with some unexpected, exciting news. A local radio station had called to inform him that he had won two free tickets to the Alabama Symphony Orchestra’s New Year’s Eve concert at the Alabama Theater, complete with holiday masks, a champagne toast, and a balloon drop! Even better, he had been chosen as the V.I.P. winner from among the twelve winners of tickets and was also being given a one-night’s stay for two in a king-sized room at the Tutwiler Hotel in downtown Birmingham!

So while the children’s mommy and daddy whisked themselves away for an evening of adult-style fun and games, here is how Mrs. RWP and I spent New Year’s Eve:

5:30-6:00 p.m. - Pizza for the boys, leftover tortellini for us.
6:00-7:00 p.m. - Played Yahtzee.
7:00-8:00 p.m. - Played Sorry!

The original plan, drawn up by the boys, also called for playing Clue! and playing Checkers (no exclamation point required), but as often happens, the plans changed. We tore ourselves away from the board games and the evening continued:

8:00-9:30 p.m. - Watched reruns of America's Funniest Videos until I could stand it no longer.
9:30-11:00 p.m. - Watched DVD of Kung-Fu Panda.
11:00-???? - Watched unidentified motorcycle daredevil leap onto and off a ten-story building in Las Vegas; watched big crystal ball drop in New York’s Times Square; watched former president Bill Clinton kiss Hillary Clinton in Times Square; watched Hillary Clinton kiss Mayor Bloomberg in Times Square; watched various and sundry anonymous couples kiss in Times Square; watched motorcycle daredevil Robbie Knievel (son of Evel Knievel) jump over a volcano at the Mirage hotel in Las Vegas. Yes, you read that right. A volcano.

And then it was bedtime for all.

But life did not return to normal. After we returned home Thursday afternoon fully intending to resume blogging, our computer decided not to grant us access to the Internet, and it stayed obstinate until earlier today, when our son drove over, figured out why, and told it to cut out the funny business.

So, regarding the Rhymeswithplagues, as that little girl up there said in Poltergeist II, and I quote, “They’re back!”

And you didn’t even know they had gone!

(Photo by Sam Morris)

You were expecting maybe Mount Vesuvius?

Test from phone

Now is the time for all good men to blah blah blah Well, what do you know! I did it! From my phone! For the first time! Live and learn,...