Monday, August 30, 2010

Apparently it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

From 1947 to 1961, comedian Groucho Marx had a radio and television program called You Bet Your Life. The program was revived in 1992 with comedian Bill Cosby as host. (Actually, the program was also revived in 1980 with comedian Buddy Hackett as host, and a pilot was produced in 1988 for a revival with comedian Richard Dawson as host that never made it, but I don’t want to bore you with details.)

I can’t think of a good reason to show you these clips, except that I find them insanely funny. Contestant Marcia Brody is more hilarious than all of those professional comedians put together.

Part 1 (7:41)

Part 2 (7:01)

You are now free to return to your otherwise drab and uninteresting lives.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Once upon a time there were two brothers...

I hope this is not blasphemous.

My oldest grandson made the varsity football team at his school this year. His jersey number is 48. His younger brother, who does everything at full tilt, is one of his (and the team’s) biggest fans. The following photographs remind me of an old Christian hymn, and when I say old I mean that in 2012 it will have been around for 200 years.

I do hope I’m not being blasphemous:

The Son of God goes forth to war,
A kingly crown to gain;
His blood-red banner streams afar,...

Who follows in His train?

Same song, second verse:

I don’t know about you, but I think it’s kind of cute.

But I do hope I’m not being blasphemous.

Monday, August 23, 2010

American History, rhymeswithplague style

In the European version of things, the New World (that is, actual land in the Western Hemisphere as opposed to more ocean) was discovered by the Vikings or Leif Ericson or somebody more than a thousand years ago. This event was commemorated in the British comedy film, Carry On, Norse.

(Note.The native population of the New World, who pointed out that the European version of things is not always accurate, were considered irrelevant and a bit of a nuisance.)

Later, during the year that Michelangelo sculpted this and this for Lorenzo de’ Medici, Queen Isabella I of Castile sent out one Christoffa Corombo of Genoa, Italy, and his merry men in three ships called the Nina, the Piñata, and the Santa Gertrudis. Christoffa Corombo, whose name morphed into Christoforo Columbo in modern Italian and Christopher Columbus in English, was known as Cristóbal Colón in Spain. This is fortunate, because Cristóbal and Colón are the names of two places on the isthmus of Panama, where Spanish is the predominant language, and Panamanians might otherwise have thought Cristóbal was part of a gypsy fortune-teller’s act and Colón referred to the part of the body between the stomach and the anal sphincter.

It’s not every day a person gets to use the word isthmus, and I am honored to have been able to use it today.

Lorenzo de’ Medici died in Florence, but we aren’t going to go there.

Christoffa Christoforo Cristóbal Christopher Isabella’s new friend set out from Spain on August 3, 1492, and returned a few months later saying he had claimed the entire New World for Spain on October 12, 1492, just because he had landed on a small island in the Bahamas. He returned to Lisbon, Portugal, in March 1493, and made four voyages in all to the New World, causing thousands of schoolchildren over the ensuing centuries to have to recite this little poem from memory:

“In fourteen hundred ninety-three,
Columbus sailed the deep blue sea.
He did the very same thing too
In fourteen hundred ninety-two.
He liked to sail so he sailed some more
In fourteen hundred ninety-four.
Though hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers fourteen ninety-five,
He made more trips ’til Spain said ‘Nix’;
He died in the year fifteen naught-six.”

Or something like that.

Portugal was definitely not a happy camper and wanted Pope Alexander VI to divide the newly discovered lands between Spain and Portugal. He did so, although by whose authority is a little murky, along a meridian 370 leagues west of the Cape Verde Islands, leading King Ferdinand II of Aragon, Isabella’s husband and also her second cousin, to wonder aloud, “How much is a league, exactly?”

A century later the English navy defeated the Spanish armada, Portugal had faded into obscurity, and it became a moot point how much a league is exactly, because the English, the French, the Dutch, and the Swedish (and, for all I know, the Maltese, the Luxembourgers, the Lithuanians, and the inhabitants of the Outer Hebrides) began to explore the northern part of North America and claim it for themselves. Spain had everything else in the new hemisphere from Mexico south except Brazil, which belonged to Portugal, and that is why to this day Brazilians write San Paulo as São Paulo.

Eventually the French had Quebec, downtown Pittsburgh, the federal prison in Joliet, Illinois, and Louisiana, which at that time included Montana. The English threw the French out in 1763, however, at the end of the Seven Years’ War, which had begun, conveniently, in 1756. The French got to keep Louisiana for another forty years, which is why one of the first sentences everyone learns in French is “Quelle temp est-il?” and another one is “Laissez les bons temps roulez!” Then they sold it to Thomas Jefferson, who considered going to New Orleans during Mardi Gras one of his unalienable rights.

Not to be outdone, the American colonists threw England out in 1776 after Patrick Henry cried, “Give me the Statue of Liberty or give me death” but Lord Cornwallis didn’t surrender until 1783 at Yorktown, not to be confused with York (Pennsylvania), New York (New York), or Yorkshire (home of Leeds, York, Sheffield, Bradford, and Hull, which, despite what you may think, is not the name of a Wall Street law firm).

Shortly after that, everything became George W. Bush’s fault.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Uncle Junior

This, my 600th post, is about the life of one ordinary man, Russ Williams, Jr. He was one of my stepmother’s brothers. There were ten siblings in all -- Cleo, Mildred, John, Margaret, Russ, Billy, Marvin, Faye, Fred, and Sue.

Russ, or “Uncle Junior” as we all called him, was the last surviving child of Papa Russ and Mama Pearl Cannon Williams. He died last Saturday, August 14th, in Carrollton, Texas, one day before he would have been 88 years, 8 months old. He had been married to Dorothy for 64 years. They had one child (a daughter, Carol), three grandchildren (Ben, Brent, and Michelle) and two great-grandchildren (Ella and Logan). His obituary in The Dallas Morning News contained the facts. But it didn’t come close to containing Uncle Junior. He loved to hunt. He loved to fish. He worked in his father’s cotton fields when he was young. He was a tall Texan with a hearty laugh. He grew rather deaf in his later years. He walked with a cane. None of that was in the obituary.

I may have told you some of this before. I came into the Williams clan when I was 17. After my mother died, my dad met Mildred Williams Houston, the widowed sister-in-law of Fritz Ihnfeldt, one of his co-workers at the aircraft factory. On June 6, 1958, Dad and Mildred were married. Dad and I moved from our house in Mansfield to Mildred’s house in Coppell, 30 miles away. It was a complete change of culture for me. I had been an only child with no relatives living within a thousand miles of our little family of three. Suddenly I was the middle one of five children, and the Williamses, all but one of whom lived in Dallas County, Texas, were together almost constantly. There was always a “passel of relatives” about. They loved being together, and it showed. Any time two or more members of the Williams clan gathered together (and there were usually a lot more), there was laughter and there were good times. Mama Pearl had passed away a few years earlier. Papa Russ, who worked at the Adolphus Hotel in downtown Dallas, was married again, to sweet Virginia, the hotel’s telephone switchboard operator.

Of the siblings, Margaret, a hairdresser and the wife of Fritz Ihnfeldt, died first and Sue, the youngest of all, died second, both of cancer. Billy also died of cancer. Cleo, J.D., Marvin. One by one they have all left us. Mildred died in 2004 at the age of 89. Fred, the youngest and tallest boy, died two years ago (cancer). Beautiful Aunt Faye died last fall in California (cancer); I wrote about her here.

With Dorothy’s and Carol’s help, a family friend put together a collection of 110 photographs from Junior’s life that I hope you take time to look at. Papa Russ and Mama Pearl are in there (#12), and all of the siblings (#13, #15, #50, #65, #66). (After you click on the link below, click the symbol at the lower left of the photo box for a full-screen presentation. The guy singing is Jim Reeves, I think.)

Russ Williams, Jr. (1921 - 2010)

In lieu of flowers, the family requested that memorial donations be made to the American Cancer Society.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Quote of the day

While watching Judge Jeanine Pirro today (an unscripted American television program on the CW network in which plaintiffs have their cases heard by an arbiter in lieu of incurring the costs associated with going to Small Claims court), I heard the following exchange:

Judge: Did the police interrogate you?

Defendant: No, they just asked me a bunch of questions.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Kitten on the keys, or Nora the Explorer

Somehow I missed hearing about Nora, the piano-playing cat, who first surfaced on YouTube in 2007. A man in Lithuania, where the nights are long and there is apparently very little to do, has now composed an astonishing piece of music that uses video clips of Nora. Here it is:

CATcerto by Lithuanian composer Mindaugus Piečaitis, conducted by Mindaugus Piečaitis, soloist: Nora the Cat

The world premiere was performed in the Klaipėda Concert Hall in Klaipėda, Lithuania, on June 5, 2009. A second performance of CATcerto occurred earlier this year at the Hot Springs Music Festival in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on June 14, 2010. We can only hope that our blogging friend Pat, an Arkansas stamper, was in attendance that evening. Perhaps, if you begin a letter-writing campaign now, Catcerto will come soon to a town near you.

To learn more about the sort of person who could or would write a catcerto, click here.

Actually, I think the cat, the composer, and the composition are all remarkable.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

It’s all in how you look at it.

This little church somewhere in the north Georgia countryside has just hired a new pianist.


A mutual friend recommended me to the pastor, the pastor called me on the telephone, and one day last week I went in for an interview and an audition.

After the whole congregation heard me play on Sunday morning, I was offered the position on Tuesday.

I accepted.

The congregation was formed around 80 years ago, and the church, which seats about 200 people, has a central aisle and two side aisles. Several stained glass windows line both sides of the sanctuary. Behind the pulpit and choir loft is a circular stained glass window based on Heinrich Hoffman’s 1890 painting Christ In Gethsemane, except in more vivid colors.

Here is a sort of wrong-end-of-the-telescope view of the interior:

The original of Hoffman's painting hangs in Riverside Church, New York City. The interior of the Riverside Church looks like this.

When you look through the right end of the telescope, my new place of employment looks exactly like that.

And no, I don’t have delusions of grandeur, but thank you for asking.

Monday, August 9, 2010

I have “been to” Canada in the same sense that I have “been to” Mexico.

Poking around on Carolina's blog the other day, I discovered a blog called Skittles’ place, and poking around Skittles’ or Skittle’s or Skittles’s place (pick one) landed me on Bernie’s blog, which has led to the post you are now reading.

Let me interject here that the more I “poke around” in cyberspace, the more I find blogs that almost make me want to give up blogging altogether. Some of them are that good. Most of those people even own digital cameras.

It turns out that Bernie lives somewhere in British Columbia in Canada in a Mobile Home Park (capitals hers) with her 72-year-old husband, Dave. They moved there a couple of months ago from somewhere she keeps referring to as “up north.”

[rant on]

[rant off]

But I looked at another map and learned that Bernie’s previous residence, Granisle, is at about the same latitude as the southern tip of Alaska, so maybe she has a point, after all. Way down in the southwestern corner of British Columbia, I spotted Vancouver Island.

It reminded me that I have “been to” Canada two times, but just barely (three times if you count the time I was in downtown Detroit, Michigan, and looked across the river and caught a glimpse of downtown Windsor, Ontario):

1. I was in downtown Detroit, Michigan, and looked across the river and caught a glimpse of downtown Windsor, Ontario.

2. In 1991 or 1992, while visiting our son, who was a graduate student at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, the three of us drove along the edge of Lake Ontario all the way to Niagara Falls. We ate lunch on the American side, then crossed over into Canada and took in the much better view from the Canadian side. Then we drove south along the Niagara River and re-entered the U.S. at Buffalo. We spent all of about an hour in Canada.

3. In 1984, my other visit to Canada occurred clear on the other side of the continent. We drove up I-5 from Seattle, Washington, and crossed into Canada south of Vancouver. We never made it to Vancouver proper, though. We took a BC ferry from Tsawwassen to Sidney on Vancouver Island, and spent the night in the city of Victoria. Before returning to the States the following afternoon, we toured both the Provincial Museum and world-famous Butchart Gardens. It was a short but wonderful stay, as clicking on the words "Butchart Gardens" in the preceding sentence will prove.

So I have been to Canada, though just barely.

Other places I have been to, also just barely, include:

1. Matamoros, Mexico, across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas. Note that I did not say the Rio Grande River, which would be redundant. I walked across the International Bridge, bought some souvenirs for the folks at home, and walked back into Texas. I spent all of about half an hour in Mexico.

2. Nassau, Bahamas. My plane landed there briefly on the way home from a month-long business trip to Sweden in 1969.

3. Hamilton, Bermuda. My plane landed there briefly on the way home from a month-long business trip to Sweden in 1969.

4. London, England. I spent one night there on the way home from a month-long business trip to Sweden in 1969.

5. Amsterdam, Netherlands, International Airport. My plane landed there briefly on the way home from a month-long business trip to Sweden in 1969.

6. Copenhagen, Denmark, International Airport (twice). My plane landed there briefly on the way home from Sweden. I also landed there briefly on the way to Sweden. Did I mention that it was a business trip? And that it was a month long? And that it happened in 1969?

So there you have it. I, rhymeswithplague, qualify as a world traveler. I have stepped foot in eight countries outside my own, my native land.

My travels pale, however, beside those of Lord Yorkshire Pudding of Yorkshire Towers, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, in the United Kingdom (that’s the British Isles, for those of you who don’t get out much). Just in the year or so I have been reading his blog, he has visited Singapore (or was it Hong Kong?), Chile, Easter Island, and God only knows how many other places before that. Through it all, he has remained his irascible, jolly, imperturbable, curmudgeonly, and lots of other adjectives not allowed on family blogs self.

But I need to tell you that I am not, as he would have you to believe, the subject of his August 8, 2010 post. I haven’t been to the UK since, when was it? Oh, yes, I remember.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

Everything you ever wanted to know about...

...the color green, practically, can be found here.

If you never wanted to know anything about the color green, move along, please. Another post will be along shortly.

Before you go, though, watch this.

How many shades of green can you think of? Let’s see, there’s Kelly, hunter, forest, emerald, lime, chartreuse, celery, sage, seafoam, teal (or is that blue?),....

Oh, yeah, and pea and olive and....

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Time marches on. Me? I go backward.

In my July 8th post I waxed eloquent (work with me, people) on the subject of followers. On that particular day, the tally of followers on blogs I read regularly that keep track of followers (as opposed to blogs I read regularly that do not keep track of followers) was:

Jinksy: 158
Snowbrush: 149
Grumpy Old Ken: 98
Carolina in Nederland: 72
Jeannelle of Iowa: 60
Pat, an Arkansas stamper: 51
Vonda: 46
Katherine DeChevalle in Bay of Plenty, New Zealand: 44
Me: 35

Today, August 3rd, I decided to check again, just for the fun of it. This is what I found:

Jinksy: 171 (change: +13)
Snowbrush: 158 (change: +9)
Grumpy Old Ken: 105 (change: +7)
Carolina in Nederland: 74 (change: +2)
Jeannelle of Iowa: 61 (change: +1)
Pat, an Arkansas stamper: 50 (change: -1)
Vonda: 48 (change: +2)
Katherine DeChevalle in Bay of Plenty, New Zealand: 47 (change: +3)
Me: 35 (change: zilch)

Some fun, huh?

If I wanted to be mean, I would go “Nyah, nyah, nyah” at Pat, an Arkansas stamper, whose following decreased ever so slightly, but Pat is much too nice a person to be mean to, so I will just bite my tongue instead. Also, going “Nyah, nyah, nyah” at Pat, an Arkansas stamper, would be a bit like the pot calling the kettle black.

I have the same number of followers as I had a month ago. However, there has been activity, people. An Englishman named Brian who has been living in Spain for the past 22 years came alongside and joined himself to my little crowd and my total leaped, leaped I tell you, to 36. But then, a couple of days ago, someone else abandoned me left me high and dry apparently found a better way to spend his or her time.

As they say in France, La plus ca change, la plus c'est la meme chose (The more things change, the more they remain the same). Add your own accent marks to the French phrase, if you can. If you can’t, don’t. It doesn’t matter to me. I’ve given up the will to live.

Carolina said, and I quote, “Sometimes I think it would be better not to keep track of the ‘followers’. Every time one disappears I need therapy. But on the other hand, every time one is gained, we have champagne.”

As one whose sphere of influence seems to have, shall we say, stabilized, I propose the following change in our By-Laws:

Inasmuch as Jinksy, Snowbrush, and Grumpy Old Ken have had the largest increase in followers since our last meeting, they shall, both jointly and individually, provide champagne to the rest of us as a sort of consolation prize and incentive to continue, seeing as how our own monies, meager as they were to start with, cannot possibly cover the cost of both therapy and champagne.

All those in favor, say “Aye.” All those opposed, go pound sand.

The “ayes” have it.

Truth in blogging: I am not an official follower of anyone, but I am a loyal reader.

And just for the record, Virginia at Birmingham, Alabama, Daily Photo has 294 followers; Ryan at This Is Reverb has 2840 “readers” (whatever that means, probably something different from “followers”); and Ree Drummond, a.k.a. The Pioneer Woman, receives more comments on each one of her posts than all the numbers in this post added together.

Monday, August 2, 2010

A study in contrasts

My favorite beach photo:
Mr least favorite beach photo:
The first was taken in 2010. The second was taken in 1945. The first is of New Smyrna Beach in northeast Florida. The second is of Coney Island beach in New York. The first might be called “Atlantic Solitude.” The second might be called “Oh, the humanity.” In the first, the crowd has left for the day. In the second, the crowd has not yet arrived.

<b> Mundane is also a word</b>

My blogger friend Rachel Phillips is currently in the midst of a series of posts (three so far) about a trip she took with her friends Liz...