Yesterday, before watering the grass in what remains of the front yard, I got a whiff of it. The smell of hot, dry grass brings memories of the August start of rugby practice strongly to mind, with associated memories of joy, fear, nervousness and danger. A heady mix. Of course, there are other smells in rugby - oh, yes. In fact, given that the game involves a bunch of big guys sweating profusely, it's a literal riot of smells... especially if you're a forward and take part in the scrums.
I recall being able to identify guys by their smell. One time we all set off to run our two laps prior to stretching and starting practice formally. Earlier I looked around for one guy, Pete, but didn't see him. (You always check out who about your size is present because you'll usually end up pairing off with him for drills.) As we were running I immediately thought, "Pete's here," without understanding right away how I knew that. I looked behind me and sure enough, there he was. It occurred to me that I smelled his arrival! (This story invariably makes the females I tell this to go "Ewww.")
My wife and I are still enjoying the The Tick DVDs my son got me for Father's Day. The weirdest metamorphoses happen to that character... in one episode, he and his sidekick have their arms removed, and are forced to battle evil by kicking and biting. In another, his alter-ego head spouts little wings and flies around him. In one of last night's stories, he is reduced in size, turned into a chicken, given two heads and forced to speak only in high school level French ("Ou est la Tour d'Eiffel?"). He lays an egg and finds out that it contains chocolate, which he offers to his superhero friends; they, of course, are disgusted (as are the viewers). The episode ends with an image of his gloved finger dipped in brown chocolate. My guess is that the concept was so unusually bizarre and disgusting that the censors didn't know what to do about it and let it pass.
One of my favorite characters on the show is American Maid, "America's Most Patriotic Domestic." Who couldn't like a lady dressed in an American flag offering people canapes and throwing her stiletto heels around? There was a superhero reality show a few years ago hosted by Stan Lee, one of the entrants called herself Hygena. I'm guessing that American Maid inspired her schtick to some degree.
Audie Murphy's book is one of the best war accounts I have ever read; it is engrossing and excellent. I'm nearly done with it. Not only was he an impressive soldier, he was obviously an accomplished writer and actor. He capably portrayed the frightened Civil War soldier Henry Fleming in John Huston's 1951 The Red Badge of Courage. He was believable in the role because he lived it. That film, by the way, remains my all-time favorite Civil War movie - it is nearly perfection. The cast couldn't be improved upon, and if the uniforms and close order drill are wrong, so what? It gets the most important things like cast, plot, pacing, direction and acting so right.
Today in Burbankia: John Burroughs High School Memorial Field - before it's torn down and re-done. There is something moody and evocative about an empty high school athletic field, especially, I'd imagine, for those who played football there, or took part in field meets. Think of the Friday night crowds for the annual Burbank-Burroughs rivalry in days gone by... all the students down through the decades who met there...
Yesterday I had a short conversation with a friend on the subject of the level of planned activity needed for a young boy during the summer; an outgrowth of the current parenting belief that children must be kept scheduled and active. Well... perhaps. These days there's no end to the level of deviltry they can get up to. (Even innocent web browsing in the home can lead to evil results.) But when I was a kid it was different.
I remember summers when my parents were either too busy with work or self-occupied to schedule my days for me. As a result, I manufactured my own fun just as I saw the Little Rascals do during the Depression in their comedy films. The mornings always started with television, reruns of sitcoms from the 1950's, usually. I Love Lucy was a favorite - it still is. For me, very few modern sitcoms contain as much real laughs as that one. (We watched a few minutes of The Office last night. Dreadful. Nowhere as funny as the British version.) Then lunch, which was always peanut butter, bologna, hot dogs or some other substance now considered semi-toxic. But I survived. At about Noon I'd make my way outdoors and link up with my friend Jimmy (we're shown above in 1964). We'd either spend most of the day in the backyard pool or go adventuring in the neighborhood.
I remember one time when an apartment building was being built up the street - Jimmy and I explored in the basement where the utilities were being installed. I recall seeing a water heater manufactured by a company named "Day and Night." Their logo was a sun and a moon incorporated together in a circle. We were so struck by the talismanic power of this image that we went home and drew ourselves circular imitations with crayons on card stock (the stiffener that came with Mom's nylons) to keep in our pockets.
Back on the front porch with the crayon boxes open, we discussed the basement. It occurred to us that some evil power (our mortal enemies in the Black Cat Club, perhaps?) was in residence the apartment basement. So we prayed about it and received the revelation that if we made ourselves rings out of paper incorporating my favorite color, green, and Jimmy's, blue, we would be protected. So we did that and mounted another expedition to the construction site which went without incident. I found a nice, small section of 2 X 4 which I took home and turned into a rocket ship control panel with my crayons and a couple of bottle caps.
Another time we got some of those foam blocks used to cushion major appliances in cardboard boxes and, with crayons, made ourselves a torture chamber - monsters being "in" in 1964. I recall one especially ghastly room, scribbled knee deep with red crayon with nails sticking up. Jimmy was especially adept at drawing disembodied heads.
One other occasions we played Beatles; Jimmy was always Paul and I was always John. We read in a fan magazine that John liked black and Paul blue, so the colors of our plastic sandals (we called them "Jap flaps" in those unenlightened days) were chosen for their appropriateness. Oddly enough, Liverpool, England looked a lot like the Silver Lake district of Los Angeles - this was before my family moved to Burbank - but those girls screaming at us seemed to be much more mysterious.
When we moved to Burbank my summers were also unscheduled; I thought of myself as being free from my parents' unwanted involvement in my affairs. There was a park near my house, and, after a morning filled with sitcoms, I'd bike over to the park to take part in their summer crafts activities, run by teenaged girls who seemed to be really, really cool. Just having one take notice of me was a treat. I weaved baskets and painted ceramics, but my favorite activity was what we called gimp, also called these days "boondoggles" - the classic summer camp time-waster. (I made sure that my scouts at scout camp always had this as an option.) I made many of these in all sorts of colors. I still recall my first one, made in honor of Jimmy and I in green and blue. Later on I'd bike over to the Rexall drug store to relax in what I considered as my Boy's Lounge, the comic book section. (I have vivid memories of this, here's an account of the heroic life and death of Ferro Lad.)
I am gratified to report that my own three children, now grown, report that they all had wonderful childhoods. Certainly, my wife and I did everything we could to ensure this would be the case. During the summers, this frequently meant leaving them to their own devices and simply allowing them to play outside all day. Ethan climbed trees, played army and explored the surrounding woods with his friends, and Julie and Meredith fondly recall many mud tacos created on the traffic island across the street. They also played Barbies, and when we moved to our current address our girls would organize the local kids in a circus, the Olympics, the Orphanage (Meredith's musical) or extensive sidewalk chalk creations. The space under our staircase still has the felt marker decorations my daughters employed when they created a girls' lounge.
Lately I have begun to nurse a fond hope that my retirement years - will they ever arrive? - will seem to be a lot like my boyhood summers in tone and spirit... Perhaps I can introduce the art and science of purposefully spending entire days creatively doing nothing to grandchildren.
Burbankia update: Memorial Day, 2010 - honoring those who served.
I am now reading Audie Murphy's "To Hell and Back," an excellent book and an account of how he came to be the most decorated American soldier of World War II. At least I think it is. I'm about a third of the way through and he hasn't done anything especially heroic yet. Which reminds me of another part of the short conversation I had with my friend yesterday, in addition to the subject of summer boyhoods...
He briefly lamented not ever taking part in some branch of the U.S. military. It brings to mind a quote: "Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier." - Samuel Johnson. But it's like this: I was in the Marine Corps for four years, but was never deployed overseas. I think meanly of myself for having stayed stateside and not ever seeing combat. Some soldier might think meanly of himself for having been deployed in, say, Germany during the Vietnam years instead of Vietnam. Another soldier, while in Vietnam, might think meanly of himself for being in, say, motor transport or admin instead of a combat unit. My friend Don was in the Navy in Vietnam and in a combat unit; perhaps he compares himself unfavorably to a Green Beret who was wounded in action and granted a Silver Star. And that Green Beret perhaps compares himself unfavorably to Audie Murphy, the most decorated American soldier of World War II.
Why torture yourself?
Absolutely nothing good came of attending yard sales on Saturday. I found a six DVD set of BBC Jane Austin productions for only $5 that I inflicted upon my friend Chris via his wife. 1,334 minutes of concentrated boredom. His wife will love it; he'll catch up on naps.
It is idiomatic that females love Jane Austin's works and males find her excruciatingly dull. I sometimes flout gender-based lines (for instance, I read and liked the Anne of Green Gables books and have even read a few Nancy Drew mysteries), but even I cannot get through a Jane Austin work. Her unrelenting fixation on the complexities of relationships bore me to tears. At the end of a Pride and Prejudice teleplay I watched with my wife I was hoping that a mad bomber would suddenly show up and blow Fitzwilliam Darcy to bits - anything to inject some interest. (Good heavens, while just doing fact checking for this blog a quick scan of the wikipedia character list for P&P had my eyes glazing over.) In fact, I once picked up a thin yard sale volume of Jane Austen's account of the kings and queens of England - one of my favorite historical topics - and it put me off the subject for months.
And I suspect whatever Jane Austen fans - "Janeites" - share is contagious among them. Get a load of this sentence from the wikipedia article on Austen: "Early in 1816, Jane Austen began to feel unwell." "Unwell," notice, not "frequently sick." That Austenite regency formality even creeps into wikipedia...
I'm not sure, however, who the true Master of Literary Boredom might be: Jane Austen or Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Probably the Russian. They have ponderousness going for them.
The U.S. Army Strings concert Saturday night was great! It was the alumni concert, and so they had more musicians on stage than usual. The string tone was wonderful... they played the ever popular four movement Tchaikovsky Serenade for Strings (which I got to know as a teen), the Barber Adagio for Strings and the Greig Holberg Suite - plus some lighter fare. They did the "roaming violinists" thing for a few of the numbers, where they send musicians out to play among the audience. My one experience with this was at a restaurant with my parents as a kid - I didn't like it at all. Having a violinist come by to leer at you while you're eating is embarrassing. But it worked well in a concert setting; it made the string tone come from all directions, like surround sound. It sounded quite nice.
I'm almost done with "The Professor and the Madman" by Simon Winchester; an excellent book. I always knew that the construction of the Oxford English Dictionary - known colloquially as the OED - was a massive undertaking, but I didn't appreciate how big an effort it was until I read this book. It contains every word in the burgeoning English language, traced through all of its changing meanings through all history. Egad.
I saw a bad film noir last night: Lady in the Death House (1944). It had no real narrative flow to speak of - I had a hard time tracking what was going on. And at 56 minutes, it was too long!
Today on my Burbankia website, the subject is still Lockheed. Check out the camouflaged plant image; a major wartime producer of aircraft (think P-38), the Lockheed plant was skillfully hidden from aerial observation by the Army Corps of Engineers. Check this out: How to hide an airplane factory. Amazing...
There is a Robek smoothie cafe near by where I work; lately I've been trying their exotic Brazilian "superfruit" smoothies. I didn't care for the cupuaçu (koo-PWAH-soo) one. It has a taste vaguely like a coconut. I've been drinking the Açai Energizer for a year or so now; I really like it. Açai has a nice, subtle berry-chocolate taste. Last Friday I tried the Caja smoothie - that one's good, too. It has a melony taste that reminds me of an orange creme ice cream bar. Perhaps if I drink enough of these I'll become handsome like a Brazilian...
Today a concrete crew is slated to show up at my house, sweat profusely and tear up and replace my 40 foot driveway; an expense that has been needed ever since we moved into the house. Thanks to a really crappy fill job from the builder (Van Metre), the driveway doesn't match the garage pad. At the worst there's about a 4 or 5 inch difference that has probably been causing front end problems with my cars. And walking on the driveway in bare feet is like having your feet buffed with a power sander loaded with 40 grit paper. I hope it goes well. My wife will supervise.
I was also interested to read about what are called prestige dialects. For instance, among Francophones it would be Parisian, not the French spoken in Quebec. In the U.S. in the 30's and 40's, the prestige dialect in films was Mid-Atlantic English, and I can assure you that it's pretty hard to listen to in older films. Hearing Katherine Hepburn's voice makes me ill, and Joan Bennett was another purveyor of this artificial noise, which sounds ridiculously hoity-toity to our modern ears. (All the more so given that she was originally from Paramus, New Jersey.)
My favorite variety of English is RP, or Received Pronounciation - the accent BBC broadcasters are associated with. I think it is especially pleasant to the ear. The most mellifluous RP speaker I know of is Tom Baker (pictured above), the actor who portrayed the fourth Doctor Who. I read somewhere that his is the fourth most readily recognized voice in Britain, after the Queen and two others (whom I forget). In fact, his voice is so well-known and liked that there's a web site of quotes, Tom Baker Says.
The most surprising thing about Tom Baker's RP, however, is that it is probably learned and not natural for him, as he was raised in working class circumstances in Liverpool. I'm guessing that his natural dialect would sound more like scouse, like that of the Beatles. Now that I think of it, I wonder... is anyone in Great Britain raised speaking flawless RP? Possibly not, outside of Buckingham Palace.
But the most unusual dialect I have ever encountered was from a former reenacting friend who was raised in Northern Virginia - which meant that his natural voice was close to general American English. (Especially as his parents - whom I have met - were also general American English speakers.) His dialect, however, was a sort of south-of-Richmond twang I have heard nowhere else save on television. In fact, it sounded like a more intelligible version of the gibberish Boomhauer speaks in King of the Hill. It must have required a lot of concentration to keep that up. (Why keep it up was the question I had. He was always evasive in his responses.) Needless to say I picked it up as well and used to chat with him in it.
What kind of American English do you speak? Mine is 75% general American English with 15% Yankee, undoubtedly from my parents, who were Northeasterners.
I am now reading "The Professor and the Madman - A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary" by Simon Winchester. I haven't gotten into it far enough to judge it yet.
What's new for today at Burbankia: Lockheed. I used to work there, my Dad retired from there, Mom ran a cafe where Lockheed employees ate lunch, my father-in-law worked there and so did his mother. It was one of the big employers in Burbank. But then the California legislature became excessively pro-environmental and anti-business, and Lockheed moved to Georgia. (A lot of residents also moved away - my in-laws, for example.) The Telegraph, a British newspaper, wonders if California will be the United States first failed state. Good question.
Have a great weekend!
Why is this particular translation so good? Because it doesn't sing with flowery words... it thrums, like the beating of an appropriately fatalistic drum. It is spare, direct and no-nonsense. Take, for instance, the very first word in the work, "hwaet." Most translators render it "hark!" or "listen!" Heaney decided upon the altogether more grim and purposeful, "So." Heaney is an Irishman, with the gifts of blarney the Irish possess, and infuses this version with all sorts of interesting words. At times I think he makes them up! Take one line: "He (Grendel) is hasped and hooped and hirpling with pain, limping and looped in it." I'm not sure if "hasped," "hooped" and "hirpling" are real words, but they effectively convey the notion of a monster in distress upon having his arm ripped off. It also emulates the alliterative Anglo-Saxon nicely.
It is funny that the best translation of this foundational English work is given by a Celt - a member of a race the English suppressed. (In the same way it is ironic that the English made a hero out of the very Celtic Arthur, who, if he lived, waged war upon the English and held them at bay for a generation.) Anyway, the Heaney Beowulf... certainly one of my better $1 yard sale purchases!
Merriam-Webster's Top Ten New Words for Old Things
Yesterday I got an e-mail notice of somebody who took a YDNA test and matched mine. Problem is, however, he's not a Clark, so it's probably not worth following up. (A YDNA common ancestor could date back to a 1,000 years, before surnames were generally in use and before documentation is available.) His family, however, is originally from Sligo, Ireland, which is about 100 miles from where my Irish Clarks are from. Perhaps it's a case of an adoption, or somebody being a father who was not credited as being the father...
My son told me about this: Batman: City of Scars. It's a half-hour fan film made in HD for about $27,000. It's not bad. In fact, I liked it better than that recent movie with Heath Ledger - which I didn't like because it was ponderous. (What was Batman doing in Hong Kong?) Despite the excellent reboot of Batman with the Brave and the Bold cartoon series, I'm tired of the character. I never thought I'd write that. Fact is, I am now burned out with all the various retellings of the story - and I must have seen four or five different Jokers. Enough with the grim and the obsessed, already. It's been done to death.
How about a Pixar retelling of one of my favorite comics from the Sixties, the Metal Men? That might be fun, fun being an element conspicuously missing from most of these super hero productions...
Today's Burbankia update concerns my friend Mike's photos of a 1924 Burbank attraction known as the Portal of the Folded Wings Shrine to Aviation. My parents are buried near it.
Mike sent me a big collection of old photos. This one is interesting: former heavyweight champion of the world James J. Jeffries dressed as Santa Claus with Debbie Reynolds (Miss Burbank 1948). Is that Shirley Temple in the middle? I also like this old photo of the Burbank Junction Tower. After the big overpass was put up next to it in the early Sixties, I used to walk by it after school to go home. It no longer stands.
By the way, Happy Birthday, Mike!
We're still watching old animated episodes of The Tick, and last night I got about halfway through "Riverdance" (I bought the VHS tape at a yard sale for a quarter). I must be the only person I know who has never seen it. I am not terribly into all this New Age Irishness, to be honest. I've seen Michael Flatley's "Lord of the Dance" (yes, another cheap yard sale VHS tape) - that left me cold as well.
I got about halfway through a film noir last night, Heat Wave (1954). I agree with the review: it's isn't first rate or even second rate. It's too derivative; a really poor man's "Double Indemnity." Back in the 1950's a fellow named Robert L. Lippert produced what we now call films noir with American actors at British studios. But I haven't yet seen one of those Lippert noirs that I have thought well of... they seem really stale. In fact, I often fall asleep while watching them!
I got this mailing from the Kennedy Center the other day; I found it amusing. Liberace was a guy who performed Chopin with Chopsticks. But, when you consider it, lowbrow culture is still culture...
I feel a strange sense of ennui this morning that is keeping me from writing anything with any sense of enthusiasm. It's kind of like an "Is that all there is?" feeling, if you're familiar with the old Peggy Lee song. I am generally cranky and hard to please right now. I have no idea why. I feel like I want to be on vacation again but wouldn't be happy were I on one. I know I have the problem of needing to be entertained a lot, and right now it seems there's not much entertainment to be had. Perhaps my expectations are too high.
I'll close and hope for inspiration tomorrow!
My weekend was a lot of fun. Saturday was great; I got a lot done. Yard sales, lawns mowed, scrapbook pages completed, pool time...
I was at one yard sale talking to a group of kids (early twentysomethings), one of whom had a collection of (undoubtedly pilfered) street signs he was willing to sell. I used to have one of the I-5 signs from Southern California in my garage I once ripped off from an abandoned section of road near Camp Pendleton - I'm really sorry it got sold or given away when my mother moved to New Hampshire when she retired. I'd like to have that sign again, as much as I drove that route when I was in the Marines. (Hey, you can buy them new here!) Anyway, for some reason before I drove off I asked on a whim, "Have you guys ever heard of the Bunnyman Bridge?" As it turned out they were trying to find the location the night before. So we talked about some of the various Mysteries of Fairfax County.
They told me about the Remey Tomb/Crypt in the woods behind the Pohick Church, about ten minutes from where I live. I've lived here since 1987 and I've never heard of it! Read this Fairfax Underground site about it - it's pretty interesting. I may have to go check out what's left above the ground...
I bought a paperback book from the kids, which I read yesterday: "Is Tiny Dancer Really Elton's Little John?: Music's Most Enduring Mysteries, Myths, and Rumors Revealed" by Gavin Edwards. I like reading the back stories about pop songs and lyrics; I once read an entire book about "Louie, Louie." Of course there was a section on one of the great mysteries of pop music: Who is Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" written about? Based on other articles I read I had always supposed this was about Warren Beatty who was famously vain, but surprisingly, no. Read that section here. (And to answer the question posed by the book's title, Elton John lyricist Bernie Taupin confirmed that the "tiny dancer" of the song is in fact poetic license of a style of 1970's hippie Southern California girls, who were so unlike the English types he was used to.)
The book also confirmed what I suspected: Pete Townshend of the Who occasionally sliced open his hand doing those windmill guitar strokes, as well as occasionally ripping off his fingernails and impaling his hand on a whammy bar... got blood all over the pick, making it hard to play. Ew.
Seriously, how lame is the Soccer World Cup? One word: vuvuzelas.
I am learning an interesting Bela Bartok piano piece, a little Hungarian song. It's an odd piece, with unintuitive pauses and runs. It's in C major, but is based on a G major chord so it really has a bright, G major sound. The F sharp in the G major scale is never used, so it's in C. Clever Bela Bartok...
Re: Shaving - I found an even better source for blades for my Matrix3 razor: the manufacturer's website. Only $4.49 for four, with free shipping. That's $1 less than Safeway. The American Safety Razor Company, ASRC, has "Personna" as a brand name. I seem to recall an ad campaign in the dim recesses of my mind: Personna 74 (intoned with deep, manly voices), or some such thing. I guess they abandoned national ad campaigns to Gillette and Schick in favor of marketing directly and developing products for store brands.
I sat down at the piano last night after my vacational absence and discovered that I did not do the total mind and ability dump I had feared. I read the music right off the sheet and did passable performances of an Arabian-styled piece and my newest Hanon scale runs rather quickly. I am learning to read music after all! How totally cool!
My pal Mike sent me a bunch of Burbank images for our Burbankia website. Next year the city celebrates 100 years of incorporation; Mike is on the history committee. He told me that when he introduced himself in a big kickoff meeting as being associated with the website, approving murmurs ran throughout the audience. Burbankia is apparently well-known in town. Cool! You'd think the city would present us with a key or something. (Wait - never mind. Mike has the mold for the key! He could do one up himself out of chocolate or plaster of Paris and we could present to ourselves...)
I exchanged e-mails with one of the Clark YDNA matches I learned about earlier this week (a person with whom I share a forefather - we exchange documentation to see if it provides any clues to ancestors further back in time). As usual, nothing useful. There is one other Clark who took a YDNA test, however. He scored a match with a genetic distance of 1 on a 25 marker test with me. I sent him an e-mail; no reply yet. I am hoping his Clarks are from New Jersey, like mine...
I have written on this subject before, but genealogical research is daunting. You scratch and scratch for bits of information to put together a story - it takes years. Even decades. Every now and then you come across odd pieces of information. For instance, the twin targets of my research, the identity of the father or mother of my great-great grandfather Wesley H. Clark, remains hidden. But during a search in March I learned that Wesley distilled whiskey on his farm in 1863. (So much for my desire to have a direct ancestor who fought in the Civil War.) Does this help in any way with learning who his parents were? No. But it fleshes out the story.
A wise old lady genealogist once told me, "The historians record history. But if you really want to know what happened back in time you have to pursue genealogy."
I read in the media that the Soccer World Cup is heating up. Sure it is.
Elsewhere in the news, gentlemanly Lakers fans riot. Check out the quote: "You isn't from L.A.! This is L.A. No burning!" Since when? I well remember the Watts Riots of 1965. My Mom put an ax under the bed, just in case. (Mom was strong for a woman. One of the floor shows in the cafe she managed was her hefting full beer kegs into place. An enraged Madeleine Clark defending home and child with an ax would be a fearsome sight for any rioter.)
I dislike basketball almost as much as I dislike soccer. I am nearly 6'4"; growing up all I heard was, "Wow, you're tall! Do you play basketball?" After some years I came up with a riposte: "Wow, you're short! Do you play miniature golf?"
I had a pleasant surprise after I awoke this morning: I stood on the bathroom scale and discovered that I had not gained any weight in the last three weeks since I weighed in. I figured that with all the road food and restaurant dining we did during our trip to Utah that I had certainly gained weight. In fact, I lost .4 pounds. I was partially dehydrated, I guess. So, thus encouraged, I rebaseline and begin again with my calorie counting. I am presently a hefty 270.4 pounds. My target is between 255 and 260. Lower, if possible. But I suspect it won't be, unless, of course, I get some a hemorrhagic fever or some such thing. The weight set point of middle age is a tenacious thing.
We have a Five Families dining thing tonight and yard sales tomorrow for me. And the various Armed Forces bands have begun their summer concert series - hooray! - there's an Army Ceremonial Trumpets performance tomorrow night at the Mormon Temple I might catch.
Y'all have a great weekend.
If there's one thing I like it's a close shave. After using Gillette plastic disposable razors for the last year or so (a decision caused by a fit of pique over the high cost of replacement cartridges), I decided to buy myself a Gillette Fusion MVP (see image at left), one of those recent high-tech razors with the five blades and the battery-powered vibrating head. It's silver and orange and looks like Borg technology. I suppose the marketing people at Gillette figure this is what attracts males. I go in for retro styles, myself, but whatever - I'm in nobodies target demographic. This purchasing decision was partially precipitated by an upcoming Father's Day and a totally wrong purchasing decision by my wife for cheap, two-bladed Trac II style disposable razors at COSTCO. I tried shaving with one of those one morning; it was like torture.
The Gillette Fusion MVP was very unsatisfactory - the head felt too big and the vibration seemed to have no effect at all. So I took it back and instead bought cartridges for my metal razor with the three blades mounted on a pivoting head - much better. It's a Matrix3, a Safeway brand knock-off of the Gillette Mach 3 Turbo (ridiculous name). It's the same shave, except the cartridges are less expensive. I see others agree with me - this razor has a good reputation. And to me a metal handled razor has a feel that no plastic disposable can match. So no more disposables for me.
When I first started shaving at age 13 I used a flat, single-edged safety razor; always Wilkinson "sword" blades because I was an Anglophile. When I got into Marine Corps boot camp in 1974 I was issued a Gillette Trac II, which was a revelation - and once again proved that the Marine Corps always knows best. I well remember the first time I used it, "Hey, this is great!" I thought, while twenty other recruits crowded around the mirror to shave at the same time.
Sometime in the Nineties, I think it was, I switched to triple-bladed razors. Have you ever seen that Saturday Night Live ad about razors? The one with, like, ten blades? The first blade insults the stubble's appearance, and blades 2-4 insults the stubble's parentage. Blades 5 and 6 call the stubble a homo, and blade 7 begins to nick and scratch up the stubble. Blade 8 performs initial cuts, etc. Pretty funny.
My wife doesn't appreciate that a three-bladed razor is far better than a two-bladed one and claims that there really is no difference. BUT THAT DOESN'T STOP HER FROM OCCASIONALLY STEALING MY RAZOR TO SHAVE HER LEGS which really, really annoys me.
When I first started shaving I used foamy shaving cream because that's all there was. The Marines issued me Barbasol, which came in red (regular) or green (lime) striped cans. It was okay. Then, a year or two later, Edge Gel arrived on the market, and I've been using that ever since. I consider Edge Gel to be one of the indispensable features of civilized living, by the way, like recorded music, air conditioning and automatic transmissions on cars. I can't imagine life without it.
By the way, I tried using an electric shaver in the mid-Eighties, that Remington shaver that gave such a great shave that the user bought the company. Remember that ad campaign? Problem was that I could never get a close enough shave with the thing so I abandoned it and have been a "wet" shaver ever since.
Before I leave the subject of shaving I should mention that, except for occasions when I haven't shaved in three or four days, I have grown a beard or a mustache only once in my 54 years of life. The mustache was a whim while I was in the Marines; one of the crusty old former Marine civilians with whom I worked made an incredibly vulgar and disparaging comment about it and I shaved the following morning. The beard was grown one month in the Summer of 1984 so I'd look like a more authentic Civil War soldier (back when I was concerned about such things); here is the only photo existent of me with a beard. The camp was at a mansion in Maryland called Riversdale.
I am now reading "To Engineer is Human - The Role of Failure in Successful Design" by Henry Petroski. It's merely okay. I am about halfway through it. I think I may pitch it in a trash can at the Metro station later today and begin another yard sale book...
Meanwhile, in Beautiful Downtown Burbank - okay, on the outskirts, technically - I created a page about the Aviator's Shrine in Valhalla Cemetery. My parents are buried near this. I thought it was appropriate because the site is on the flight path of traffic near the Pasadena-Hollywood-Burbank Airport, and Mom and Dad were associated with the aviation industry and Lockheed for decades. The roar of aircraft wouldn't have exactly been "music to their ears," but it fits somehow.
I also created a page in honor of the Golden Mall Playhouse - a theatre I never attended while living in Burbank.
I'm sure there are a lot of things more pathetic than soccer, but they're not springing to mind.
I had a meeting at work yesterday, and we had to navigate past a room full of third worlders in a break area watching the world cup (lower case spelling intentional) on television to attend. While there I decided to play The Ugly American and issue snide references to the game to a co-worker as we passed by.
The thing I really hate about soccer - in addition to the total boredom of ninety minutes passing by with a 0-0 score, of course - are the theatrical injuries the players feign. As it turned out, just as I was commenting upon this, the screen flashed an image of some poor little soccer weenie pretending to be in pain, clutching something or another and writhing in pain upon the grass. Geez.
Some useful soccer links:
The Czech translation is, "Soccer is for Wussies - Play Rugby."
The Difference Between Soccer and Rugby.
Do You Coach Soccer?
Yeah, Right. (How is that even possible?)
Soccer started to become popular in the U.S. when I was in high school. In Southern California it was the Mexican Game. Every now and then the gym coaches would compel us to play it; I was perfectly happy to be the goalie (no running about pointlessly). It went like this: on the days we'd have to play soccer, little fleet-footed Mexican guys ran around us with the ball. On the days we played football, guys like me would send the Mexicans off the pitch clutching their arms, legs, ribs, shoulders, etc. Very little acting there, I assure you.
Ugh. I am still jet-lagged, I think. I had a good night's sleep last night, but I really, really did not want to get up out of bed and go to work. I suppose this crappy gray weather doesn't help. I don't feel rested from a vacation and enthusiastic to resume normal life - I just feel worn and put-upon. What gives?
I got a couple of e-mail notices last night to the effect that two people who took a YDNA test surnamed Clark have genetic matches to me. That means we share a Clark ancestor somewhere. The next step is contacting them via their supplied e-mail addresses (done) to see what kind of genealogical documentation they have. The hope is that I find some leads to help me identify my 3rd great grandfather Clark - a pursuit I have been engaged in since 1982. The ideal situation would be to find somebody who helpfully writes, "Wesley H. Clark, born circa 1818 and died in 1888? Married to Phebe Gaskill? Sure, I have him in my line! His father and mother were..." but I have a feeling that's not going to happen.
When I was in Salt Lake City last week at the big LDS Family History Library I took some microfilm numbers with me to follow up on Mercer County (NJ) Deeds to look for leads, but those turned up no obvious smoking guns. Genealogically speaking, I feel like poor Charlie Brown, who continually lives in hope that Lucy will not pull the football out from him when he attempts to kick it. But I continue on. Some day I will solve this puzzle.
My son gave me DVDs of The Tick (1994) cartoons for Father's Day - remember those? They were hilarious. My kids and I used to watch them on Saturday mornings. Last night my wife and I watched a couple of episodes - they are still as funny as I recall. Fun fact: I used to attend church with the guy who voices the character Die Fledermaus (German: "the bat" - a Batman-like character who is always the first to run away at the sight of danger.) Other funny supporting characters are American Maid - the world's most patriotic domestic - and the Tick's sidekick Arthur, a nebbish little Jew whose battle cry is "Not in the Face!" Funny stuff.
My mention of the Dip yesterday inspired me to write an epic saga: Walking Home From School.
For some reason I remembered a fun old thriller from 1960 I once saw with my Dad, "Midnight Lace." The plot: Doris Day is menaced by a voice in the fog. You can see that part at about the two minute mark, here. Dad and I used to converse with one another in that creepy little voice.
Yesterday I stumbled across a restored bust of the Roman emperor Caligula while searching for a definition of the U.K. slang word "ginger" (!). The interesting thing about this bust is that it was restored to its original color based on particles of paint trapped in the marble. It's a bit surprising to look at... we're used to statues of classical figures in pure white. The fact is, they were often painted. I once read a quote from a Greek classicist (I paraphrase): "We used to seeing classical figures in austere white marble. But that's wrong. In general, if it wasn't vibrant and colorful and full of life, it wasn't Greek."
It wouldn't surprise me at all that an ancient color palette would seem overly pigmented and loud to modern eyes. Ever visit Mount Vernon? The rooms are all garishly colored - to an 18th C. gentleman, deep hues meant affluence. So much for the "colonial" pastel hues I grew up with... There is even considerable latitude for color palettes within modern Western societies. I recall seeing some truly hideous colors being worn by German men when I was in Berlin in 1991. A guy would wear rust-colored pants with a sea green sweater and a lavender shirt - egad.
Fact is, modern "tasteful" American colors are considerably restrained compared to most other societies. I'm guessing a walk down Wall Street during rush hour will reveal navy blues, charcoal grays and glimpses of maroon and subdued blues, greens and golds. Not too different than what I saw in London... (But in London, the clothing is tailored differently. A tighter fit is more the norm.)
Blog updates will be different next week; we're driving to Utah. We're taking a Honda out to our youngest child and spending some time with our family out there. I will probably post photos. Perhaps I'll see this vehicle out on the road - which my son shot with his cell phone camera in Orem, Utah.
Have a great weekend!
Crossroads are an interesting netherplace. Superstitions about them are everywhere. It’s the reason why criminals were often hung at crossroads – nominally to serve as a warning, but also as a means of trapping any evil soul that escaped the devil’s grasp. Superstitious Eastern Europeans used to bury some really bad people at crossroads with wooden stakes pounded through their hearts, just to make sure the body never arose from the grave. And, yes, that’s where Stoker got the stake-through-the-heart thing for his novel. Ah, Eastern Europeans – they always have the best superstitions.
I read somewhere that crossroads are a significant archetype for magic. The reason, I believe Joseph Campbell once surmised, was that crossroads represent a border, an area that is neither this nor that – it is simply a nothingness that exists between two places. This ambiguity creates a notional singularity for two worlds that are normally distinct in which its respective denizens commingle. Bad things can happen in such instances; especially between the living and the dead (most religions clearly demarcate these worlds), gods and mortals, etc. Crossroads are a physical manifestation of this belief. This is why they are often associated with scary things.
Or so the story goes. Alas, my only sense of awe regarding crossroads is how frustratingly short those left-turn signal lights can be sometimes.
My sense of awe concerning crossroads is well-developed. I think the fact that crossroads represent a decision point - which way do I take? - is significant. Seen in that way they can be representative of life. Perhaps they get a negative connotation because we'd just as soon continue on down the road without having to concern ourselves with turns and decision points. Humanity is maybe lazy in that regard.
One of my favorite crossroads is the one in what is called the Wilderness of Virginia, on the intersection of the Orange Plank Road and the Brock Road, where a major battle was fought on May 6th, 1864. And there's definitely an odd vibe at the Virginia battlefield location of Five Forks - the "Confederate Waterloo." I must much impressed with the site when I visited last August.
I like a good forest crossroads; they are to me significant somehow. They seem to pop up in Grimm's tales... anyway, have you ever seen the great old 1951 animated Disney version of Alice in Wonderland? It is by far and away my favorite animated Disney flick, and I always enjoyed watching it with my daughters. (I understand that during the 1960's it was a favorite film for potheads to attend while high.) The part I liked the best were the scenes in the mysterious Tulgey Wood, rendered in shades of ultramarine and black. That same scene in the big children's book is rendered a lot brighter, but gives a stunning visual depiction of utter confusion. Note how the road keeps splitting off. Could there be a better visual metaphor for a child's bewilderment of an adult world? Lost in a dark and mysterious place, with roads splitting off everywhere?
A favorite film (yes, a film noir) has this kind of thing as a setting as well: The Red House (1947). The film is adapted from a novel set in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey - an odd place where trails lead off into nowhere and it's easy to get lost. (It may surprise you to learn that a good 20% of New Jersey is thick pine forest.) The film doesn't state the New Jersey setting, but emphasises a farming valley. The spoken introduction, however, invokes a place where trails follow through the woods, sometimes branching off, sometimes doubling back. It's a mythopoetical setting where there are secrets and revelations about the past contained within the woods and within the titular Red House.
I was channel surfing one Saturday night and was almost ready to go to bed at 1 AM when I stumbled across this film. I was immediately hooked, and stayed up until 2:30 to see it through to the end. Yes, it's that good. It should be much better known than it is. Here's a perceptive review.
A notable crossroads from my youth was the Burbank "Five Points" (a far cry from the one in Virginia or in the Tulgey Woods!), where a sandwich place called the Dip used to be. I used to get a malt from Paul and Gail every day on the way home from school...
NOTE: I got into a conversation with somebody about crossroads, and have decided to reprint some old text I once wrote. It follows.
Yesterday I was reading a wikipedia entry about Robert Johnson, an early bluesman who, it is said, met the devil at a crossroads to exchange his immortal soul for musical talent.
There is a reference to this in "O Brother Where Art Thou?," when the escaped convicts meet Tommy the guitarist at an isolated crossroads. ("What about your immortal soul?" "Hell, I wasn't using it.")
A cover of the the Johnson song "Cross Road Blues" was recorded by Eric Clapton when he played with Cream.
My guess is that a lot of you already know about the Johnson/crossroads story. But did you know that the rumored crossroads was at the intersection of highways 61 and 49 in Clarksdale, Mississippi?
By the way, a good Johnson/crossroads website is here.
Evil things happen at crossroads. In ancient Greece - so the story by Sophocles goes - Oedipus met his father (whom he did not know as such) at a place "where three roads meet" on the way from Delphi to Thebes and murdered him. He later unknowingly married his mother and had children by her. A photo of that famous literary crossroads is here.
And in May 1865 (after the Civil War ended) the Army of the Potomac and the Army of the Tennessee - both Union - came into contact with one another at Bailey's Crossroads. According to John West Haley of the 17th Maine: "Sherman's army passed through our 'sweat box' on their way to Bladensburg to camp. There isn't room enough for both these armies on this side of the Potomac, I am convinced, until those braggarts learn better to taunt this army with being 'bread and butter men,' a most insulting term, considering the circumstances. Their impudence was promptly hurled back into their teeth when they ventured to insult us as they passed by. Hot words were followed by blows and then by a resort to firearms. Two were killed and several wounded. After this little exchange, all ammunition except two cartridges each was taken away from us."
(Earlier, Bailey's Crossroads saw a notable 1861 review of the troops by President Lincoln.)
My own experience with the wickedness of crossroads is less eventful. When I was a kid in Southern California I once read an occult book that stated that if one urinated at a crossroads under a full moon one would turn into a werewolf - an old peasant superstition. So, at midnight, I snuck out of the house and trotted off to an intersection of two nearby Burbank (California) residential streets not well lit by streetlights. Positioning myself to be able to see the full moon over the houses, I duly urinated, keeping a watchful eye opened for an irate homeowner. While it is true that from about that time on I became decidedly hairier, I cannot claim that this had anything to do other than with puberty.
Over the long weekend I watched the endearingly goofy 1982 CBS mini-series "The Blue and the Gray." It is very corny. If there's a Confederate artillery battery out in the middle of nowhere and they fire, tragically they're firing upon their cousins. (Of course - it was a Civil War, wasn't it?) Seemingly everyone meets Mr. Lincoln. Infantry sergeants mouth story exposition at length for the benefit of the television audience. The artist for Harper's Magazine draws in a style reminiscent of Goya. One branch of the family is from an obscure little town in Southern Pennsylvania named... GETTYSBURG. And so on. But I like it. It's an earnest production and is obviously excited about sharing the subject of the Civil War with the television audience. It reawakened my teenage interest in the subject when it first aired when I was in college, which more or less led to our choosing to live in Maryland and Northern Virginia for the last 26 years. It's also fun to watch.
Oddly enough, it is now having the same effect upon me that it did in 1982. I am once again interested in the Civil War... I guess I'll have to visit a battlefield or something to get it out of my system.
Saturday yard sales were great! At one place I bought twenty music CDs for $10. And these weren't bizarre, off-label CDs, either. They were major label classical, major label rock, etc. Good stuff. Why shop elsewhere for music? It seems this year I'm finding everything I like at yard sales. (I got to like the Doors' "Peace Frog" from a yard sale CD earlier this year.)
The neighborhood pool is now open, so it becomes a focus for my social life. Lazy evenings swimming and then sitting around, hearing a lifeguard utter the immortal line "Clark, your pizza is here, Clark" over the P.A. system...
I watched a lame film noir over the weekend - a prison break story called "Revolt in the Big House" (1958). Even the eccentric presence of film noir's mumbling, leering chief resident nutcase - Timothy Carey - doesn't elevate this film past the poor direction and slow pace. Emile Meyer, another favorite, has a minor role as the warden. But it was nothing I haven't seen done better elsewhere.
I am now watching Humphrey Bogart in an entertaining early starring film, "Black Legion" (1937), where he portrays an average joe who joins a Ku Klux Klan-like outfit out of resentment over the foreign-born. It's what my wife would call a "Gee, you're swell!" film because so many characters in 1930's productions seem to say that. It's not a film noir - it's a Warners "social problem" film, a slightly different thing. Bogie is, as he nearly always is, great. (In fact, I know of only one unwatchable Bogie film, "Beat the Devil," from 1953.)
He buys at big new car at one point, and proudly points out to his friend, "See those gauges on the dash? Airplane stuff!" For some reason that line sticks with me... And the Oath of the Black Legion sounds like a grown-up version of the one Spanky McFarland administered as a member of the He-Man Woman Hater's Club. Pretty funny. I hasten to add, however, whereas parts of the film seem quaint and funny, the real historical Black Legion was anything but. (Okay, maybe those pirate hats...)
Generally speaking, however, I tend to avoid films from the 1930's. I can't deal with those phony, high-falutin' theatrical Eastern dialects that women affect; Joan Bennett was Exhibit A. Not to mention those ridiculous pencil-thin eyebrows. (They came back in during the Seventies, I am sorry to say. Another feature of a really ugly decade.)
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