Blind Mumbling

A compilation of writings that never got anyone excited.

Name:
Location: N. Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, United States

Former teacher, co-editor of Total Football and the author of more than 20 books and over 200 articles, most about sports history. His credits include Pro Football: When the Grass Was Real, The Hidden Game of Football (with John Thorn and Pete Palmer), Baseball Between the Lies, The Importance of Napoleon, and the Battle of Stalingrad. He is presently Executive Director of the Pro Football Researchers Association.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

GUEST LIST #4

Jerzy Bownz: manufactures rubber blow-up cows
Lou Kwaishus: radio talk-show host
Paddy O’Sama: Irish terrorist
Buck Shorter: welcher
Morris Bettah: corporate executive
Evar Reddy: lighthouse keeper
Patricia Cornfed: writes mystery novels about a forensic veternarian
Hugh Sehyellay: West Coast academic
Sue Grufftone: mystery writer; her latest & Is for Ambersand
Jock Kitsch: tawdry, vulgar and pretentious athlete
Lois Spirits: pessimist
Bev O’Wack: camper
Adam Mupp: C.P.A.
Yassar Trebaggsful: sheep shearing terrorist
Arch Support: shoe salesman
Ellen Wheels: wild, unpredictable lady
Dee Kupp: extremely well-endowed sweater model
Ice Berg: Jewish rap artist
Donna Party: non-vegetarian
Bjorn Tolouse: French biker gang member
June Moon: lyricist
Sammy Baughhumbug: famous grumpy NFL passer of 1940s
Imogene Clone: lacks originality
Ty Wonon: sot
Ida Sworn: shows extremely poor judgment
Ken Dew: energetic optimist
Lois Ann Clark: schizophrenic explorer
Marta Nan Lewis: singer-comedienne
Lupe deLoop: stunt pilot
Pierre Daily: suffers from chronic dehydration
Jesus Saves: born-again banker
Wolf Blitzen: celebrated newsman and sleigh-puller
Mucho DeNiro: daughter of Robert DeNiro and one of the Marx Sisters
Raleigh Mawnkey: extremely exuberant baseball fan
Diane Nonstege: seldom-funny comedienne
Freda Goeh: parolee
Helen Highwater: daredevil
Ali Glitters: not to be confused with Ali Gold
Lon Geray: cross-dresser
Hugh Tohpia: the man with perfect hair
Al Priori: conspiracy theorist
Anna Partridge: lady lumberjack and fruit picker
Hyman Howgozit: nightclub greeter
Dwayne DeOil: gwease monkey
Polly Unsatcherate: fat girl
Lily Putian: female jockey
Sarah Togatrunk: legendary mover of ancient Rome
Len Mehyerkome: kooky valet parker
Lola Palooza: sexy Italian actress
Al Ackrety: a very quick guy

Saturday, April 23, 2005

ELEVEN O'CLOCK MUST-SEE

At five till eleven every night I’m edgier than a serrated scimitar. What’s happening out there that I don’t know about?

What if Hurricane Butch blew Louisiana into Vermont tonight? What if that serial killer left Florida and is headed for my door? What if someone I never heard of died in Monroeville? What if there’s corruption in the government? What if an asteroid is smashing into Montana right now and destroying all life on earth? I’ll feel pretty silly if I miss that!

I was going to say I like to watch the eleven o’clock news, but I really don’t. I watch it as a bad habit like smoking -- I don’t enjoy it anymore but I start to twitch if it’s not there. I need the news to sleep. Otherwise, I’ll toss and turn like a penny in the dryer and wake up every hour to check how long to go before I can wake up. I guess I need the news because I subconsciously realize that no matter how scary my nightmares might get later, they’ll never match the horrors TV confided to me at bedtime. I’ll sleep right through my dream of being devoured by a scaly dragon if I know there are worse things in the real world. Because of the eleven o’clock news, I’ve enjoyed many a night’s sound sleep (and several scaly dragons grew fat).

But lately the news doesn’t have its old zing. Oh, there’s plenty of bad things happening. It’s not that the message got better; it’s the messengers who are slipping.

My town has three stations offering news at eleven, but two of them are in the category I call "Only-Watch-at-Gunpoint."

The gunpoint station with the highest channel number used to be my favorite. That had nothing to do with its news content -- which was probably no better or worse than the others -- But what they offered as a bonus was the best unintentional humor in local TV.

In its quest to appear to be an equal-opportunity employer, the station hired a blonde ditz named Beverly. Talking without a teleprompter totally defeated her. Once, when the studio sound was lost to an on-the-scene reporter, she began: "John, I know you can’t hear me but I want to ask you this question ...." To her surprise, John continued to stare blankly into the camera. She led off one newscast with: "Groucho Marx took a turn for the worse tonight. In fact, he died." On another occasion, she turned to a co-anchor, "Adam, I’m not from around here. What does NATO stand for?" Perhaps her most memorable moment came when a piece of film failed and she tried to explain to viewers what they would have seen if it hadn’t. At the end of thirty seconds of rambling, she somehow gave the impression that a local dog had shot a local man. Mercifully, the director went to an unscheduled commercial.

Beverly shared the anchordesk with a veteran newsman named Adam and a features reporter named Jack. Virtually every night viewers could count on Beverly to ad lib some god-awful non-sequitar to Adam or Jack who, in staunch newsman-style would nod sagely and bite their lips. There must have been blood all over the anchordesk. One night the show opened with Beverly alone at the desk. She solemnly informed the viewers: "Adam’s in the hospital and Jack’s off too."

When she was simply reading from a teleprompter, Beverly could still be disastrous. Her forte was mispronouncing names, but even common English words could baffle her. My favorite was the two minutes she devoted one night to a story about the rise of "Heat Disease" among women. She mentioned the dread malady Heat Disease at least six times while I scratched my head. When she returned from a commercial break, Beverly blithly confided that her earlier story had actually been about Heart Disease.

Sadly, Beverly left the station for a bigger market and was succeeded by a parade of pretty male and female strangers from far away who were uniformly defeated in their struggles to pronounce Monongehela. I finally gave up. If they didn’t know to un-Frenchify North Ver-SALES, they didn’t belong in my living room.

For a time I tried the middle-numbered channel even though I always felt if I admitted it to a priest I’d be saying Hail Mary’s until Easter. Perhaps "sleaze" is too strong a word, but this channel had less sensitivity than an octogenerian’s private parts. They never met a bloody accident or a dead body they wouldn’t film in living color. After one too-many of their reporters asked a dazed survivor how it felt to watch his house burn down and his children burn up, I burned out.

I’m down to my last local eleven o’clock news, but I can’t say I’m thrilled.

The anchorheads spend a lot of time telling me what they’ll be telling me and very little time actually telling me.

For example, before the first commercial break I hear: "Eight people die in a shootout. We’ll tell you the details!" After an eternity of ads for new cars that look like last year’s, diet drinks that pretend to taste like milk shakes, and lawyers who promise to get me money if I’m even in the same time zone as an accident, the anchorhead returns to voiceover film on the rescue of some guy’s pet boa constrictor from a phone booth in San Diego, briefly mention a new pill that’s coming on the market to fight five o’clock shadow, and dazzle us with a photo of a rock on Mars which looks suspiciously like any number of rocks in Wilmerding. Meanwhile, I’ve been mentally running through a list of all my acquaintances who might possibly be involved in a large scale homicide.

Just before going to another break, I get the details of the shootout which may have killed eight of my closest friends: "In Spagnu, Czechoslovakia, today, eight people were killed in a shootout."

I don’t know anyone in Spagnu.

"Next, the pictures on your wall can give you cancer. We’ll tell you how!"

Much of the program is given over to self-congratulatory promos about the advantages of watching their news in your hometown because their news people really care. I guess the other stations are just in it for the money.

Eventually we get to the weather. I’m not very good with weather. I still can’t tell partly cloudy from partly sunny. I always have to find out what someone has decided it’s going to be partly like tomorrow, but by the next morning I always forget what was predicted. I’m always surprised by the snow storm, rain squall, heat wave, or partly cloudy. Or sunny. It’s not all my fault. The secret of successful weathermanning is to perform the task with so little charisma that viewers forget what you said as soon as you’ve said it. Then they won’t blame you when a blizzard blots out their picnic. The actual prediction takes all of seven seconds but it’s couched in two minutes of camouflage about highs, lows. inversions, and a weather map that looks like it is being digested by amoebas. The station’s super-duper weather radar is so advanced they gave it a name that sounds like you could fly it to Saturn and blow up the ring.

Someone should tell them it’s still just radar.

After years of watching, the only thing I remember is it’s usually colder in Canada. At least in the top part.

The best part of the sports news is the sportsguy’s eyebrows; they jump up and down like first graders on a sugar diet. He could be semaphoring the Steelers’ Game Plan to Bengals spies, but it’s probably just show. After all, he’s a "hometown guy."

The sports segment serves roughly the same purpose as the editorial page in a newspaper -- that is, the sportsguy treats us to his opinions and occasionally makes vague references to signings, salaries, and scores. There’s often a filmed interview with a local athlete who earnestly reveals he’ll play one game at a time while giving one-hundred-and-ten-percent. He just wants to make a contribution to the team. So long as it’s not monetary. The sports news ends with a "Watch This!" segment so we can see a fiery car crash in Florida, a basket from midcourt in Oregon, or an ostrich race in New Mexico.

After one last piece of important breaking news -- usually involving film of a cute animal -- the weatherguy reprises his soothsaying in case you couldn’t figure out what he was talking about the first time. Then, after threatening to return tomorrow, the anchors banter small talk about the Pirates until fade out. I keep expecting one of them to ask, "That IS baseball, isn’t it?" but I can’t decide which one will say it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

THE BEST MOVIE EVER

One June day when I was eight, I pestered my mother into giving me sixteen cents so I could go with my buddy Bice to a movie. In those days you could go to a movie for sixteen cents. And in those days two eight-year-olds could walk four city blocks unchaperoned and spend a summer afternoon in a theater without any grown-ups to order them around. Bice and I did it all the time.

There were five movie theaters in town, but our preferred picture palace was the State Theater. One of its features was always a western. We liked to get there early so we could get seats down front if it was crowded. This day it wasn’t crowded, but being early was still good because we got to see a newsreel, two different Previews of Coming Attractions, a Three Stooges short, a chapter of the latest serial, and a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

The main feature was "Island of Rainbows" or "Rainbow on the Island" or something to do with islands and rainbows. It was sort of a South-Sea-island-comedy-adventure. With music. It came on in glorious technicolor and was thrilling and funny all the way through. I even liked the love story part – the boy and girl mostly argued and only kissed once..

Next, we watched the second feature – a western with Bob Steele -- called "Rangers of Dirty Valley" or something. Bob Steele was my favorite cowboy, but I really couldn’t get excited. My mind was still going over "Isle of Rainbows." I tried to compare it with something else that was wonderful, and I decided it was like Christmas. Not last Christmas when I got mostly socks and underwear, the Chrismas-before-last when I got a baseball glove.

When the western ended, Bice went home. I stayed so I could watch "Rain on the Bow" again. In those days you could do that, pay one admission and stay and watch the movie again and again right up until the theater closed. I didn’t mind sitting through one newsreel, two previews, three Stooges, the fourth chapter, and a cartoon to see what I’d already decided was my all-time favorite movie.

"Island Blowfish" was just as good the second time around. I would have stayed for the next showing, but I was already late for dinner.

Without a doubt, "Isle of Raining" was the greatest movie ever filmed. I would have bet it won the Oscar that year hands down if I’d know there was such a thing as an Oscar. During the rest of the week, I went to the State Theater three more times and watched "Rain on the Isle" twice each time. What a great movie!

For years, whenever I saw a good movie like "On the Waterfront" or "Dr. Strangelove," I’d think, that it was terrific – but not as terrific as "Rainbow Whatsis." That was the nonpariel I rated all other movies against.

I kept hoping it would show up on television. Finally, more than forty years after I first saw it at the State, it was listed on the late, late, late show on Channel 2. Forty years, but I still treasured my moments on the celluloid South Seas. I had to sit up until three o’clock in the morning. As the big hand approached twelve, I got my snacks ready and snuggled down in my favorite chair.

The screen broke out in glorious technicolor. After forty years!

Ten minutes later, I turned off the TV and went to bed.

I guess one’s opinion of what’s funny or exciting or tuneful or good acting changes as you grow older. Oddly, since I turned off the TV that night, I haven’t been able to remember the real name of the movie.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

TEN THINGS YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO KNOW ABOUT THE CLINTON SCANDAL BUT WERE TOO NAUSEATED TO ASK

1. What did the Washington Press Corps do when this scandal passed?
Go back to roaming the streets in packs searching for carrion.

2. What was Paula Jones greatest fear?
That someone would throw a bucket of water at her when she reached for the ruby slippers.

3. What was in that bag Ken Starr threw in the trash?
His integrity.

4. Does Monica Lewinsky have a future in politics?
She’s connived, lied, extorted, made an advantageous deal with the prosecutor, and will earn tons from her book. Hell yes!

5. What did Ken Starr’s staff do when they were not gathering evidence?
Eat their young.

6. Are Orrin Hatch’s collars really too tight?
That’s an optical illusion caused by his stiff neck.

7. Who are Linda Tripp’s friends these days?
Only Marcel Marceau.

8. Where might Dan Burton clones be found?
Lying used and discarded at the ends of Lovers’ Lanes.

9. When they make the movie, what music will they use?
Devil with a Blue Dress On.

10. What is the Latin for Stephanopoulos?
Brutus.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

MY GREATEST HIT

Mother always says my Uncle Alfie spoils me rotten because "he don’t have any kids of his own to spoil." She is probably right about the spoiling. One Christmas when I was, I think, seven he gave me a whole cowboy suit, with a white hat, two guns I could put real-looking plastic bullets in, holsters with tassels, a vest, funny imitation-leather things I snapped on my wrists, and chaps to wear on my legs. The chaps chafed, but I played with the rest of the stuff until I lost the bullets, got too big for the vest, and broke one of the wrist-snap things. By then I was too grown up to play cowboys anymore anyway. I was a baseball player.

For my tenth birthday Uncle Alfie gave me a ten dollar bill.

"That’s too much, Alfie," Mother said. She wasn’t smiling when she said it either. Mother believes in giving socks and underwear.

"That’s only a dollar for each year," Uncle Alfie explained. Then he asked me what I was going to buy with it.

I couldn’t imagine anything in the world that could be worth as much as a real ten dollar bill except ANOTHER ten dollar bill so I said I’d have to think about it.

And that’s all I did the rest of my birthday -- thought about that ten dollar bill folded carefully in my overalls pocket. When I checked for maybe the millionth time to see that it was still there and safe, Mother told me to stop touching myself because "it looks a scene."

Just before Uncle Alfie left to go home to Aunt Lil and "get the fight started," he looked at me very sternly and said, "You know what you ought to do with that ten dollars?"

I shook my head.

"You should" -- and then he smiled his big, wrinkly smile -- "buy exactly what you want to buy. Think about what’s most important to you."

Baseball was the most important thing, of course. But I didn’t really need anything. I already had a George Stirnweiss glove. My friend Chuckie had a Nick Etten bat. For a while, I thought maybe I might buy an Ethan Allen Baseball Game like my friend Billy has. But then I thought some more because Billy and I are the only ones who play it and Billy already has one.

When we finished supper, we listened to Inner Sanctum on the radio. Just after the creaky door and the host welcoming us, Mother suddenly said, "You could put it in the bank."

"Huh?"

"I said, you could put it in the bank. Your ten dollars."

All I knew for sure about banks was that, if you put money into them, you couldn’t go to Murphy’s or Kresge’s or Key’s Drugstore and buy something with the money you didn’t have anymore.

"Well ...," I argued.

"Or you could buy a war bond. That would help your father." My father was beating the Germans at the time. The twin appeal to my patriotism and my duty as a son was nearly overwhelming -- and, I’m sure, calculated to be. But I bought stamps every week and pasted them in my book. I figured I was already a couple of B-17’s ahead.

"Why isn’t Uncle Alfie in the war?" I segued.

"He was, but his ship was torpedoed."

"Won’t they let him back in?"

"He was injured. His leg."

Uncle Alfie limped, but it had never occurred to me that there was a reason for it.

"My father won’t get hurt," I said.

After a second or two, Mother said, "We’re missing the program."

That night I went to bed and I put the ten dollars under my pillow so Mother couldn’t sneak in and wash my overalls with the ten dollar bill still in them. Mother is always doing things like that, which is how I lost my pet caterpillar. Then I stayed awake for hours checking that no one stole it from under my pillow and wondering how I ought to spend it.

I wanted to make a good choice because being ten is right on the verge of being a bigkid. Bigkids are the ones who when we ordinary kids are playing baseball in the schoolyard and the score is close, like 34-28, come over and take the bat away from me and say "Pitch it in here" and hit our ball over the schoolyard fence into Mickey’s Yard and then laugh and go away to do bigkid stuff while we chase the ball. Sometimes they even hit it over Mickey’s Yard into the yard of The-Lady-Who’ll-Call-the- Police and we have to run in and get the ball and get out before she can. All us ordinary kids hate bigkids and can’t wait to be bigkids ourselves.
Making an ordinary kid choice, like buying Key’s Drugstore out of comic books or getting enough candy bars to get sick, was all right when I was nine. But now, as an almost bigkid, I wanted to make a bigkid choice. Only I didn’t know exactly what bigkids did when they weren’t hitting our ball over the fence into the yard of The-Lady-Who’ll-Call-the-Police.

In the morning I put my ten dollar bill back in my overalls pocket and walked down to Mickey’s house. Mickey had been ten for weeks and weeks, but he’s all little and skinny and freckles and trying to be funny. I don’t think Mickey will ever be a bigkid. So I didn’t tell him about my ten dollar bill because he’d just say candy or comic books. When he asked why I kept touching myself, I told him I had poison ivy.

Mickey had a brand new wizard baseball. I don’t remember what they were really called, but we always call them wizards. A wizard ball looks like a real baseball and even acts like a real baseball until you hit it a couple of times. Then it gets all mushy and lopsided like a dumpling and goes THAP! when you hit it. When the cover gets torn, something like sawdust comes out.

So we went over to the schoolyard to wait for Chuckie to bring his bat. Wizard balls are perfect for the school yard because after they get lopsided bigkids can’t hit them even into Mickey’s Yard. Best of all, a wizard only costs a quarter.

The school yard is paved with bricks and always tears up our baseballs. Still, it is the best for baseball because of the fence, even though none of us ordinary kids had ever hit one better than a bounce in front. The fence was our target. I don’t know if we ever said it exactly, but hitting one over the fence was a bigkids thing.

When we got there, I asked Mickey if he’d called Chuckie.

No. Did you?"

I shook my head no. "What if he doesn’t bring his bat?" I was thinking how I could surprise everybody and say ‘Don’t worry. I can BUY a bat for us.’ Then I remembered that Murphy’s was six blocks away and Chuckie only lived two blocks away. It would probably be easier for him to go home and get his bat.

"Chuckie always brings his bat," Mickey said.

"Yeah, I forgot."

"Or he can go home and get it."

"Yeah."

"He only lives two blocks away."

I nodded.

"Did you forget that?"

Chuckie was always punching Mickey. Ross did it a lot, too. So did Billy. I only did it once or twice when he really deserved it. Bigkids punched Mickey for no reason at all.

"What do you want to do until they come?" I asked. You want to practice running the bases?"

Another good thing about the school yard is the bricks are shiny-smooth so you can slide into the bases. Except third base where a couple of bricks are missing. Chuckie always slides into bases even when he doesn’t mean to. Lucky for him he almost never gets to third base.

Mickey slides into bases better than anybody. He is a good fielder too, but he doesn’t bat very well because a lot of times he likes to hold the bat by the barrel and hit the ball with the handle. That’s one of the main things Chuckie will hit him for. Chuckie arrived with his bat and Billy and Ross. We had to send Ross over to get Jimmy the Fat Kid, so we could have full teams of three on a side. We sent Ross so we didn’t have to hear him yell when we chose up sides and he got picked after Jimmy the Fat Kid. Then Billy and I tossed the bat to see who’d get Mickey.

Billy and I are the best hitters, but Billy is better than me because he runs so fast. Whenever he doesn’t strike out or pop up to the pitcher, he hits a home run. None of us could catch him. One day he hit 59 homers and then went home because he had to go to the dentist. Later, when I learned what 60 home runs meant, I wondered if he knew how close he’d come to immortality.

Billy won the bat toss which meant my team got to hit first.

While we waited for Ross and Jimmy the Fat kid, I thought about telling Billy and Chuckie about my ten dollar bill. Billy was almost a bigkid too, and Chuckie was big enough to be one, except he was just big and was always falling over his own feet. Chuckie could fall down from combing his hair.

But then Ross came back with Jimmy and I knew they’d just say candy.

Especially Jimmy the Fat Kid.

"You’re up, Ross. I chose you first."

Mickey started to say something, but Chuckie punched him in the arm.

After Ross struck out, Chuckie hit a grounder to centerfield, but he fell down at home plate and Mickey threw the ball in to Billy who was pitching and playing first base.

Before I went up to hit, I made sure my ten dollar bill was still snugged down safe in my overalls pocket. Mickey yelled from the outfield that I’d better not get poison ivy on Chuckie’s bat.

We always play slow-pitch in the schoolyard because hitting is a lot more fun than striking out. A good game might end up 68-56. But Billy and I always throw just a little faster to each other. This time he threw very fast.

The pitch came in low, about knee-high. I swung as hard as I could. And hit it square! Even though it was a wizard ball, it wasn’t lopsided yet. It went CRACK! and I felt good all the way down to my ankles. [Author’s note: I think it was the best feeling I ever had until I was seventeen and went to the drive-in with Chuckie’s sister.]

I stood at home plate and watched it go. For a second, I was afraid it’d clip the corner of the school, but it slipped past, just starting to fall, and disappeared into the girders of the fire escape that jutted into left field.
Mickey ran over, ready to play the ball off the girders, but when I saw him jump up in the air with his back to me, I knew it had cleared the fire escape and gone over the fence. I acted real casual, like I’d done it a million times, as I trotted around the bases with my first bigkid home run, but inside I hopped and skipped all the way.

After I stepped on the home plate brick, I looked out and saw Mickey just sitting down in the outfield.

"Go get the ball," I yelled.

"I’m not getting it," he yelled back.

"You have to go get it."

"No, I don’t."

"You BETTER go get it!"

"Go get it yourself."

Then I knew the ball must have gone all the way into the yard of The-Lady-Who’ll-Call-the-Police. Mickey would never go into her yard even if Chuckie hit him.

"If I go," I said, "I’ll keep the ball."

Mickey shrugged. It was only a wizard, by now probably lopsided.

My need to see the whole distance of my home run -- my first bigkid, over-the-fence home run -- was greater than my fear of The-Lady-Who’ll-Call-the-Police.

"All right for you," I said. "And I’m keeping it!"

I climbed over the school yard fence into Mickey’s Yard, and after a long look at the house of The-Lady-Who’ll-Call-the- Police, I climbed over her fence. But I couldn’t find the ball. I looked behind her umbrella tree and under all her hollyhocks, but I still couldn’t find it.

Then I heard someone say, "Up here, little boy."

I looked over the NEXT fence and saw an old woman -- even older than Mother. She wasn’t The-Lady-Who’ll-Call-the-Police, but she looked like A-Lady-Who’ll-Call-Down-the-Wrath-of-God. For a second I even thought there were streaks of lightning shooting out of her head. But what I really saw was her standing in her kitchen staring at me past light reflecting off the shards of broken glass in what used to be her kitchen window. She was holding a very lopsided wizard ball.

When I got home, Mother asked what I bought with my ten dollar bill. I told her about my three-yards-over, bigkid home run and the lopsided wizard.

Mothers are funny. She got more excited when I told her I’d bought a ten-dollar window.

Monday, April 11, 2005

SON OF ADAGES FOR AN AD AGE

Those who don’t read history have extra time to make some.

You can kill two birds with one stone if you keep throwing it.

A penny saved is the one under the sofa.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps he hears a different drummer or maybe he’s just a klutz.

The child is father to the man . . . at least that’s how it works sometime in West Virginia.

All work and no play means the boss has a clear view of your desk.

They can’t pay you enough to do that job. So do it badly. That’s only fair.

A rolling stone is most likely going downhill rapidly.

"Penny wise and pound foolish" is buying a used car instead of walking to work.

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, that and the big, hairy thing with fangs hiding in the closet.

Friday, April 08, 2005

LIST FOR A THIRD PARTY

Amahd Elayr Plein: Egyptian hobbiest
Esther Bonnett: last seen all in clover and when they looked her over she was the finest
Omar Dale: follower of Omar Hill
Ginger Bradman: sweet-tasting runner
Ceilia Uptite: owns and operates a mausoleum
Al Soeran: loser
Zane Greymatter: author of psychological westerns
Lois Thaycum: tobacco lawyer
Doug Yersax: former jazz fan
Jill Tedbride: spinster
Chuck Waggin: chef at Ponderosa
Cassius Rekwired: merchant who doesn’t take checks or plastic
Golda Stacka: Italian miser
Bud Muchwiser: designated driver
Leo Tard: aerobics instructor
Jay Walker: (address cards and flowers to Room 203, City General Hospital)
Justin Tyme: delivery driver for Organ Transplant Inc.
Di O’Rama: temperamental artist; often makes a scene
Drew O’Blank: forgetful quiz show contestant
Tami Ann Migal: lesbian
Al Fresco: picnicking gangster
Clara Fication: voted Teacher of the Year
Bea Smerch: editor of National Inquirer
Frank Lee Skarlett: missing since the hurricane
Ben Louden: unfortunately-named owner of now-defunct Ben Louden’s Tourist Flights
Homer Sapiens: an average man
Lloyd DeLock: Jimmy’s brother; also a burgler
Hiram Firam: personnel director
Dana Mont: finalist
Booker Asap: impatient vice cop
Rod Spared: a spoiled child
Ann Thrax: dunned for overdue bills; she insists her payments were returned unopened
Fay Takahmpley: certain winner
Al Fahromeo: race driver / lover
Barb Whire: prickly prison guard
June Grad: soon to be unemployed
Tom Angst: star of the movie The Anxiety of Forrest Gump
Tillie Bann: anti-feminist
Anna Gesic: nurse
Will O’Butter: easily discouraged arm wrestler
Jenny Tickode: DNA expert
Theda Bareassed: silent porn star
Dot Matrix: lady printer
Anna Fillaktik: shocker
Janet Talia: nudist
Raleigh Roundeflagg: super patriot
Mary Narra: a saucy wench
Burr Blubotham: president of the local Polar Bear Club
Graham Atter: member of Mensa
Reece Crispey: inspirational speaker known for his snap and crackle

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

FOUR RULES FOR ONE-ON-ONE TRIVIA


1. DON’T STUDY. The questions for a trivia match should arise naturally out of the participants’ mutual interest in a subject. The whole point is to prove that your mastery of the subject is superior to your opponent because you have had a greater interest over a long period of time, not that you stayed up late last night memorizing a book. You might be able to learn the name of D.W. Griffith’s cameraman for today, but a month from now you’ll forget. Won’t you look like an idiot when the same opponent asks you to name him?

2. THE ANSWER SHOULD BE SOMETHING YOUR OPPONENT KNEW AT ONE TIME BUT FORGOT. If your opponent never knew the name of Napoleon’s favorite haberdasher, he’ll just give up immediately. Not much fun for you! But if you ask him to name Colonel North’s secretary, you can have a wonderful time watching him screw up his face as he tries to wring Fawn Hall out of his memory. Except for special areas of interest, it’s probably best to confine your questions to events and people that made news since your opponent learned to read or watch television. In other words, if your opponent is 30, don’t ask him about the Battle of Midway.

3. NAMES, NOT NUMBERS. This is particularly true with sports trivia. For example, every football fan knows the NFL single-season rushing record is held by Eric Dickerson, but who knows or cares that it’s 2,105 yards?

4. THE ANSWER SHOULD BE UNIQUE, SURPRISING, OR AMUSING. Just stumping your opponent is heartwarming, but extra fun can be had when the answer is completely unexpected. A favorite sports trivia question is ‘Name three Hall-of-Famers who hit home runs in their first major league at-bat.’ Most third-graders will remember baseball greats Earl Averill and Hoyt Wilhelm, but the third home run hitter will elude them. You’ll enjoy zapping them with Ace Parker, who is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame but had a brief baseball career, and indeed homered the first time he batted. A movie question might be ‘Name the biggest star to appear in Peter Bogdanovich’s first film Targets.’ Although Boris Karloff was the biggest name in the credits, the climactic scene takes place at a drive-in theater and several times we see that the film playing there boasts an uncredited Jack Nicholson.

THE AWFUL DEATH OF "FIG" NEWTON

[Previously published in Olde Tyme Baseball News]
Guest Blogger: Dr. Charles T. Gregory
Professor of Tactical Leisure History and Comparative Phrenology, Mountebank University

Dear Professor Gregory:
I remember my grandfather speaking of the "awful death" of an ex-baseball player named "Fig" Newton. What happened to him?
(Signed) Morbidly Aroused

Dear Morbidly:
I referred to Newton’s awful demise, though only obliquely, in Chapter 186 of my book A History of Balls of the Base Variety. As a matter of fact, his fate was one of the first pieces of baseball-bilia I ever heard and may well be the genesis of my lifelong quest to know everything about baseball. As I remember, I learned of Newton on the day my Uncle Alfie told me about the hoop snake.
"The West Virginia hoop snake," Uncle Alfie said, setting his glass down firmly on the cabin table, "is the single most dangerous animal put upon this earth. If it is ever your misfortune to meet up with one, my boy, that will be a dark day for you indeed."
In all my eight years, I’d never met up with a hoop snake, or even heard of one. I knew about rattlesnakes and even once saw a dead copperhead coiled menacingly in a jar of formaldehyde, looking like a fat, rubber spring. But never a hoop snake. However, Uncle Alfie’s knowledge of the world and its ways went far beyond mine. Uncle Alfie had been a sailor in The War.
Every evening that week at the fishing camp, Uncle Alfie and my father put their poles and bait away and played euchre with my mother and Aunt Lil. They let me watch until they took their sandwich break. After my snack, it was off to bed for me.
"Fortunately for the human race," Uncle Alfie continued, "the hoop snake confines himself exclusively to the environs of the sovereign state of West Virginia."
As a lifelong resident of West Virginia, I found little consolation in the hoop snake’s choice of home. My father took a sip from his glass and asked, "Why is that, Alf? Why do they live only in West Virginia?"
Uncle Alfie’s heavy black eyebrows went up, down, then up again. "Because of the hills," he said. Certainly I had to admit that West Virginia had more and steeper hills than any other place I’d ever seen. Of course, I’d never seen any other place.
My mother, slicing ham by the sink, said, "I don’t think you should talk about snakes right before his bedtime."
"His," of course, was me.
"Knowledge is power," Uncle Alfie said, and my father nodded very seriously. "You see, my boy, the terrible hoop snake needs these steep hills for his peculiar mode of locomotion. When he wants to get from one place to another, he grasps his cruel tail in his ugly mouth and rolls like a hoop." Aunt Lil, buttering bread alongside my mother, giggled.
"Down the hill he rolls" -- Uncle Alfie made a wide vertical circle with his large right hand -- "building up speed! Faster and faster! Until he’s traveling at such an awful clip he rolls right up to the top of the next hill."
My father nodded. "I’ve only seen one or two. Down by the rapids," he said. I gulped. I’d sat on a big rock by the rapids that very afternoon while watching my father cast for trout.
"Oh yes, they are rare. And thank heaven for that!" Uncle Alfie reached over and gripped my shoulder. "The hoop snake’s venom is so lethal that one bite, even a slight nick, and it’s --" Here he lowered his eyes and shook his head sadly over the hopelessness of it all.
I asked, "Isn’t there any anti -- anti --?"
"Antidote? Only one."
"Swearing on a Bible," suggested Aunt Lil.
Uncle Alfie frowned, a heavy black V forming above his eyes. "No, the only known antidote for the deadly venom of the hoop snake is West Virginia White Lightning. Corn liquor."
I wondered if my mother would let me drink corn liquor even if I got bit. Probably not.
"I am reminded of the melancholy fate of that farmer." He turned to my father. "You remember the old fellow."
"You mean MacDonald?" my father asked.
"Schuetz! That was his name," Uncle Alfie remembered. "He was a poor dirt farmer with only three rocky acres and a shack up on Cherry Hill. He raised corn, as I recall."
"No doubt, you supplied his fertilizer," Aunt Lil said.
"One day, old Schuetz was out hoeing his cornfield -- a few tattered stalks -- when he happened to look up the hill. And there, rolling down upon him like Armageddon itself, came the biggest, most angry hoop snake he’d ever seen in all his miserable life."
"What did he do?" I asked.
"Why, he dropped his hoe like a hot rock and leaped for his life! But before the old hoe could hit the ground, that hoop snake collided with it, wrapped around it like a whip, sank its horrid fangs into the handle, and injected every drop of his pernicious venom into the wood. Then the monster crawled away on his belly. That’s what they do when they’re out of venom -- crawl."
"Then Schuetz was saved," I said, glad for him.
"At first. In fact, at first he thought his luck had changed. With all that hoop snake venom in it, the hoe handle began to swell. It swelled and swelled until it reached such a prodigious size that the next day he took it to the saw mill and had it cut into boards. He got so much lumber that he was able to build himself a five-room house slicker than cow slobber and had enough left over for a nice-sized chicken coop."
"It’s late," my mother said flatly, as she handed me my ham sandwich and glass of milk. Aunt Lil was giggling again.
"Well, one day old Farmer Schuetz is sitting on his rocker in his new living room, thinking how lucky he is. Naturally, he had his jug of White Lightning right there beside him."
"That’s the antidote," I said.
"A very powerful antidote," my father said solemnly.
"As luck would have it -- bad luck, that is -- old Schuetz had been nipping the Lightning heavily that day. So when he reached once more for his jug -- wouldn’t you know -- he knocked it over, and that liquor began to pour on to the floor.
"Right away, the wood absorbed that antidote -- and it began to shrink! Old Schuetz tried to get out. He took a flying leap for the window and almost made it. But he went out feet first! Before his head could clear the window sill, the hoe handle shrank back to normal.
"That poor old man was strangled by his living room window!"
Aunt Lil rapidly chewed her sandwich. My mother, at the sink, mumbled something and dropped the butter.
My father shook his head. "A sad story," he said.
Uncle Alfie drained his glass. "The epilog was even sadder. You remember, they auctioned off Schuetz’s few acres and his chicken coop to a fellow named Newton. Everyone called him ‘Fig.’ I never did know why."
"Maybe he liked figs," Aunt Lil suggested.
"Oh, of course," my father said. "Fig Newton, the baseball player! He hit .270 for the Reds one year."
"Be that as it may, young Newton was by this time out of baseball and attempting a career as a farmer. Which was why he purchased old Schuetz’s land and coop. All went well until the day he decided to paint his chicken coop. Sad!"
"Very sad," said my father.
"What -- what happened?" I asked.
"He was painting up a storm, with all of old Schuetz’s laying hens clucking away inside, when he noticed he was running out of paint. Well, it so happened there was an old jug filled with some liquid just sitting there beside the coop. Newton pulled the cork and dumped the contents into his can to stretch out his paint.
"What he didn’t know was that old jug contained some of Farmer Schuetz’s White Lightning. He no more than touched his paintbrush to the coop and the building started to shrink like air out of a balloon."
"But Newton was outside," I said hopefully.
"Ah, yes. But the hens were inside. And poor Newton was machinegunned to death by flying eggs."
Aunt Lil began shuffling the cards -- the signal it was my bedtime. My mother sat down as I got up. "Why did you tell him that story?" she asked.
"Think of the moral," Uncle Alfie said. "Stay away from hard liquor -- unless you’re bitten by a hoop snake."
"You used to be bitten a lot," Aunt Lil laughed.
Uncle Alfie laughed too. "Sometimes it took me hours to find a snake. It’s my deal, I think."
I went to my little alcove at the back of the cabin and climbed into my bed, but I wasn’t sleepy. I could hear them at the table talking about trump and bowers. I thought about what Uncle Alfie had told me. There wasn’t really a hoop snake, I’d bet.
After a while, I noticed that my window was open. It faced a hillside and was covered by only a thin screen. A hoop snake would break right through, I thought. If there was a hoop snake.
Which there wasn’t.
It was a warm night, but I decided to get up and close my window. It might get cold while I was sleeping.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

MORE ADAGES FOR AN AD AGE


Sticks and stones can break your bones. Damn straight!

The early bird makes a helluva racket outside my bedroom window.

Where there’s smoke there’s someone bitching about breathing it second-hand.

All’s fair in Love, War, and lately in Baseball.

If a tree falls in the forest, the Sierra Club will blame the loggers.

A stitch in time is all some actresses wear to the Oscars.

The future is unwritten, but a bunch of people are already trying to edit it for us.

It’s better to have loved and lost than to have lost your lover’s liver.

If at first you don’t succeed, you’ll delight the people who hate you.

Early to bed and early to rise means you probably didn’t pay your electric bill.


DEAR FRAT FUND RAISER:

I was surprised to receive your newsletter and appeal for monetary help. It’s been ages since I’ve thought of my old college fraternity. Perhaps that is because of the incident that led to our parting.

In early 1957, I had the responsibility of writing and directing most of the annual frat show, which was at the time the fraternity's only money-making activity. Our profit came more from selling ads for our program than from ticket sales. As I recall, our show that year was the usual sophomoric hodgepodge of songs, skits, and comedy routines that, needless to say, will never be listed when I'm asked to enumerate my literary credits. Our greatest accomplishment was to get at least half the cast to rehearsal semi-sober.

About a week before we were to open, the members were informed that a couple of our more comical brothers had sold ads to a pair of houses-that-were-not-homes in the red light district of south Wheeling. Moreover, the ads had already been printed as part of our program. That the school administration would frown on such advertisements was manifest. The administration at that time had never been known to condone any acts not specifically authorized in Exodus XX 1-17.

The fraternity met to consider our options. We could, for example, throw the programs on the nearest conflagration and return the money that had been paid for all the ads. This wasn't wholly practical in that most of the money had already been spent.

Another possible solution was to take Magic Marker and cover the two telltale ads. We felt, however, that several large black spots in the program might suggest we were trying to hide something. We certainly didn't want to LOOK guilty.

Finally, the members settled on a tried and true solution -- keep our mouths shut and hope the administration would think that the ad for "Sweet Georgia Brown" was simply placed by a thoughtful young woman who wanted to contribute to our treasury. Perhaps a relative of someone in our cast.

Well, the show went off without a hitch. No, that's not true. The show itself had more hitches than a frigate's rigging, but some of the audience and a few of the cast members stayed awake to the end. The best news was that we heard not a murmur of discontent from the administration.

For several months.

Then, just as school was winding down that spring, the frat president and I were instructed to report to the main office. The feces had collided with the rotary blades! In the lengthy discussion that took place in the main office, the administrators were at a disadvantage. Although they knew about the ads and who had paid for them, they did not know which fraternity brothers were responsible for soliciting them. That this was a piece of information they were determined to elicit was made apparent by the number and force of their threats. The phrase "boil in oil" runs through my mind, but my memory may be playing tricks.

Meanwhile, the frat president and I expressed shock, dismay, doubt and certainly no knowledge that such a dastardly deed had occurred. Admittedly, that wasn't the whole truth -- well, actually, it was an out-and-out lie. We both knew who was responsible. However, we salved our respective consciences with the the thought that WE were not responsible and were being placed in an undeserved middle by these academic bullies. We were being accused of whore-mongering in order to make us informers.

The frat president and I insisted WE were actually law-abiding, moral, young men of the finest ilk who had been used as catspaws by some of our degenerate (but unknown) brothers. IF such a terrible act had actually taken place. Which we weren't yet ready to believe. After all, one of our brothers MIGHT have a cousin named Georgia Brown. And she might be sweet. It was POSSIBLE, wasn't it?

When the frustration level on both sides reached the red line, we were excused. The net result was that the president, and I, and the fraternity were all placed on probation. Considering the puritanical bent of the administration at the time, anything short of being burned at the stake was considered a victory for our side.

Several of my brothers -- the ones who'd purchased the now-notorious ads -- swore their undying gratitude that our obfuscation had enabled them to continue their college careers. I wasn't exactly proud of meandering around the truth, but there was a slight chill of heroism in that I had danced successfully with expulsion and at the same time helped keep my dear, still-anonymous brothers from becoming persona non campi.

Probation meant nothing to our president who graduated within a few days. It didn't mean a whole lot to me either as it turned out. When I arrived home that day, I learned that my fiancee had died that afternoon. She had been seriously ill, and this wasn't totally unexpected. As a matter of fact, the fiancee bit was a ploy thought up by her mother to buoy the girl's flagging spirits. Nevertheless, I WAS fond of her.

The combination of probation and death led me to make one of those really intelligent decisions for which I've become famous. I joined the U.S. Army. I'm sure cheers went up all over the Kremlin.

It didn't take very long to discover that the army and I were totally unsuited for each other. If I remember correctly, the revelation came with the first note of Reveille. I'm not saying the army was all wrong and that I was blameless in our relationship. I've always kept an open mind about large organizations. Fortunately for the sake of the nation's preparedness, I developed a back problem and was given an honorable medical discharge two and a half months after entering the service. Today, I'm legally entitled to call myself a "veteran," though I'd blush if I ever seriously referred to myself as such.

Discharge in hand (now, THERE'S a mastabatory phrase!) I returned to my college campus to pick up the tattered remnants of my education. One of the first things I did was seek out a few of my fraternity brothers and ask them about our next meeting. I received disturbingly vague answers.

At last, after a week of being put off, I was invited to a special meeting at which the subject for discussion was to be, surprisingly, me!

It seems my dear brothers had decided that they could remove the stigma of probation from the organization by the simple expedient of removing me from their organization. Somehow I had mutated. I'd started as one of the victims of the nefarious south Wheeling ads. Then I'd been the hero who risked all (and incidentally saved some of the brothers sitting in that very meeting room from expulsion) by talking fast and loose with the administration. And now I had become the one responsible for the landing the fraternity on probation. Sic transit gloria hell! This wasn't gloria at all. It was just sic!

I explained this at length to my frat brothers, along with a few sidebars on loyalty and fraternity. It seemed clear enough to me, but perhaps I should have used only one-syllable words. They, in their infinite wisdom, recessed into meditation. And quicker than you could say, "Screw you, Buddy!" popped me out the brotherhood like the pus in a pimple.

I had been a member of the fraternity for three years, and, on the whole, enjoyed it. However, as it turned out, I enjoyed being a non-member even more. For one thing, I was no longer obligated to fraternize with a few of my brothers for whom I felt no brotherly love whatsoever. Those other brothers whose company I enjoyed were still available, and, so long as I didn't turn my back on them, we got along fine. But the greatest benefit was to discover that there were so many pleasant, interesting and trustworthy people who were not frat members. Amazing!

After all these years, any trauma I may have suffered from my fraternity experience has dissipated. I am no doubt more cynical than most on hearing earnest expressions of fraternal loyalty and brotherhood, but I certainly do not immediately mark down any fraternity man as an automatic asshole. I suppose any organization has its share. It was no doubt simply serendipitus that so many congregated in one place during 1957.

At any rate, since I was booted out by my dear brothers nearly 50 years ago, I'm not certain why you are sending your newsletter to me. Nevertheless, it's always fun to read about people I've mostly never heard of. And if you ever get around to printing obituaries, I definitely want to see them. I'm particularly interested in members from 1957.

Sincerely,

Friday, April 01, 2005

ANOTHER GUEST LIST FOR ANOTHER PARTY

Doug Ahbigdich: Panamanian construction worker
Aaron Seeforce: captain of aircraft carrier Corrigan
Douglas Furrs: tree surgeon
London Derriere: British pimp
Nick L. Beer: cheap drunk
Sleepy LaGoon: laidback, French legbreaker
Hugo Gorrill: publicist for feminism
Anne Drogenous: dainty lumberjack
Noah Baltimm: deceived husband now suing for divorce
Manny Fultz: imperfect hero
Hans Zupp: German armed robber
Donny Brooke: barfighter
Pat Pending: copyright and patent attorney
Connie Lingus: kinky sex therapist
Rene Nozenkauff: fellow particularly susceptiple to colds
Les Manley: gay activist
Don Weennal & Gay Apparell: anchors on the all-Chrismas-all-the-time cable station
Bobby Furapples: caterer of kids’ parties
Wayne Enhopes: after strong beginnings becomes easily discouraged
Penny Antie: unsuccessful entrepreneur; failure is related to her being a cheapskate
Les Izmore: minimalist artist
Gale Solafter: extremely popular comedienne
Aaron Nitout: nudist
Babe Indewoods: naïve baseball player
Sam Francisco: recipient of heart transplant
Alf Weederzane: retired person, recently moved to Bavaria
Neil Lanprey: demonstrative minister
Gar Rentyjob: longtime union activist; has struck more often than Big Ben
Grey "Tex" Pektashuns: cowboy authority on Charles Dickens; never quite lived up to hype
Cal Tow: well known yes-man; hasn’t stood up to anyone since he got out of his crib
Bo Deodoe: Laverne DeFazio’s euphemistic lover
Titus O’Lord: nouveau riche alcoholic
Carrie Onnurse: supporting actress in many British comedy films
Lance d’Boil: E.R. intern responsible for minor surgeries
Parson Monius: stingy religious leader
Beneto Mutch: obese operatic tenor; most famous for role of Mt. Fuji in Madame Butterfly
Marion Haste: unhappy wife
Karen Little: apathetic therapist
Clement Siebord: parole officer
Shirley Yujest: unabashed skeptic
Gene Therapee: clone
Peter Principle: airline CEO
Mercy Sakes: easily impressed traveler
Murphy Slaw: chef whose side dishes always go wrong
Ellie Gant: the epitome of class
Collin Nallkars: police dispatcher
Burr Dinnahan: pragmatist
Allie Ess: a fictitious person
Aaron Hubby: womanizer
Sir Veil: Britain’s most successful manufacturer of hidden cameras
Terry Toolong: laggard