Sunday, February 18, 2018

Some Problems Are More Easily Solved Than Others

In the wake of another mass murder at a school by a perpetrator wielding an assault weapon (this time in Florida) the most brilliant of all reactions was that of House Majority Leader Paul Ryan (R-WI): "This is one of those moments where we just need to step back and count our blessings.” 

(All together now—Let’s Irving Berlinize:

When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings)

OK, wake up now.

A few other politicians who can’t use four-letter words (like “guns”) decided that all was not blessed. But they spoke about “school safety.”

Pres. Trump: "We are committed to working with state and local leaders to secure our schools . . .”

Gov. Rick Scott (R-FL): "We cannot lose another child in this country because of violence in our schools."


While the solution to the school safety problem of kids throwing blackboard erasers at each other is not an easy fix, the problem of firearm assaults is. Remember how the country cured the problem of drug usage in schools and their vicinity?

Here’s the answer to guns in schools and their vicinity (and those legislators who are really concerned about budget deficits need not worry about breaking the bank on this). Just replace the existing signs with these:

Assuming the would-be firearms wielders are literate, they are sure to be warned off attacking schools.


So, we’ve now ensured that there will be no future Columbines, Sandy Hooks, or Parklands. But what about firearms attacks on venues other than schools? What of Aurora, Colorado (movie theater)? Orange County, Florida (Pulse nightclub)? San Bernardino, California (workplace)? Sutherland Springs, Texas and Charleston, South Carolina (churches)? Omaha, Nebraska, Burlington, Washington, etc. (shopping malls)? Las Vegas, Nevada (outdoor concert)?

I suggest that the same solution will work for the prevention of gun violence in those places: Place the “Gun-Free Zone” signs in those venues. That’ll stop the miscreants. And since those sneaky buggers might search out other vulnerable public places—such as airports, train stations, supermarkets, etc.—we should place the signs all over the country, in every public space.

Think of it: Since firearms would be forbidden to be carried into any public space, the AR-15 lovers of the USA would be restricted to fondling them only in their own homes. 

Problem solved!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Marco the Messenger

Today’s Absolutely True, Real Life Playlet

The Scene: The United States Senate floor.

Enter (stage right) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky).

Glancing around the floor, McConnell spies who he’s looking for.

McConnell (waving): “Marco, can I have a word with you?”

Senator Marco Rubio (R-Florida): “What’s up, Oh Leader of the Senate?”

McConnell: “You heading home to the Sunshine State this weekend?”

Rubio: “I’m on a 3 o’clock flight.”

McConnell: “If you’ve got room in your carry-on, I’ve a favor to ask of you.”

Rubio: “Yeah, sure.”

McConnell (pulling a manila envelope out of the inside breast pocket of his suit jacket): “I would appreciate it if you’d take this down home with you.”

Rubio: “Er, what is it?”

McConnell: “It’s the prayers of the whole Senate, for victims and their families, for the community of Parkland, and for the first responders.”

Rubio: “Oh gee, that’s great. Really à propos. But what am I supposed to do with it?”

McConnell: “Come on, Marco. You know your damn state better than I do. You must know who to give that to. Like the governor or the sheriff or the schools boss.”

Rubio: “Yeah right! But isn’t something missing?”

McConnell: “Huh?”

Rubio: “ Like “thoughts.” They go with “prayers,” don’t they?”

McConnell: “Damn, you’re right. How stupid of me. I’ll go around hustling them up now.”

Rubio (pointing to his watch): “Too late, Mac. I got to get over to my office right now, pick up my stuff, and scoot to the airport. My ride is probably waiting outside as we speak. Maybe you can save the thoughts for the next shooting.” (Exit)

McConnell (to himself): “Let's see: 'Schools should be places where children can learn, and faculty and staff can work, without fear of violence.’ . . . I wonder if I can work that in somehow. Ah, I get the picture!” (Exit)



What, You Don’t Believe me?

I got it straight from the horse’s mouth:

(Via The Atlantic)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

All was as cold as any stone

To start with a silly question: Is Shakespeare a great writer?


Let’s ask a better question: Why is Shakespeare a great writer?

Right: “Star-crossed lovers,” “To be, or not to be,” “Friends, Romans, Countrymen,” and so on and so forth through the Bard’s Greatest Hits.

But I want to approach the answer in an unorthodox way—by looking at two unnecessary inclusions in his plays—unnecessary, that is, for the advancement of the plot.


Act I, Scene 1 of Hamlet

Horatio, Marcellus, and Bernardo have, in the freezing night, seen a ghost—that of Prince Hamlet’s father. Now it is time to get these guys off the stage.

Horatio [looking at his Rolex]: My god, it’s almost six o’clock and the sun is starting to rise. Let’s get out of here and catch some zzz before we break the news to Hamlet. [Exeunt]

Or the Elizabethan equivalent.

Here, though, in part, is what Shakespeare gives us:

Horatio: But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill:
Break we our watch up; and by my advice,
Let us impart what we have seen to-night
Unto young Hamlet . . .

Every time I read these words—the morn, in russet mantle clad,
Walks o'er the dew of yon high eastward hill—I am awestruck. What a description of daybreak—and it’s just something tossed out, seemingly hastily scribbled down. And, as I stated above, unnecessary. 

OK, guys, let’s split. Catch you up at the court—say, elevenish?


Act II, Scene 3 of Henry V

At the end of Henry IV, Part 2 Prince Hal, newly crowned as King Henry V, exiles from the court Sir John Falstaff [That villanous abominable misleader of youth, Falstaff, that old white-bearded Satan—1 H IV]:

King Henry: I banish thee, on pain of death,
As I have done the rest of my misleaders,
Not to come near our person by ten mile.

One problem, though: Falstaff was one of the playwright’s most popular characters. How could he write him off like that? Bowing to two kinds of pressure,* Shakespeare composes an epilogue, in which, among other things, he promises to bring Falstaff back:

our humble author will
continue the story, with Sir John in it, and make
you merry with fair Katharine of France.

But Shakespeare does not keep his promise. Probably because the disorderly, out-of-bounds nature of Falstaff would detract from the heroic stature of the king who famously overcame the odds to win at Agincourt. 

So he kills him off.

And here’s where artistic choice comes in. Of all the ways that he could have the character die, Shakespeare chooses to have Falstaff die in bed. But most importantly, he chooses not to have the death scene played out on stage. The audience will be told of the death. Who to relate it though? (And here’s greatness.) Not some gentleman of the court, someone of education and fine upbringing; but the low-comic denizens of the tavern world, and of these, most especially Mistress Quickly [AKA Hostess], a malaprop avant la lettre.

Pistol: Boy, bristle thy courage up; for Falstaff he is dead,
And we must yearn therefore.

Bardolph: Would I were with him, wheresome'er he is, either in
heaven or in hell!

Hostess: Nay, sure, he's not in hell: he's in Arthur's
bosom, if ever man went to Arthur's bosom. A' made
a finer end and went away an it had been any
christom child; a' parted even just between twelve
and one, even at the turning o' the tide: for after
I saw him fumble with the sheets and play with
flowers and smile upon his fingers' ends, I knew
there was but one way; for his nose was as sharp as
a pen, and a' babbled of green fields. 'How now,
sir John!' quoth I, 'what, man! be o' good
cheer.' So a' cried out 'God, God, God!' three or
four times. Now I, to comfort him, bid him a'
should not think of God; I hoped there was no need
to trouble himself with any such thoughts yet. So
a' bade me lay more clothes on his feet: I put my
hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as
cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and
they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and 
upward, and all was as cold as any stone.

Nym; They say he cried out of sack.

Hostess: Ay, that a' did.

Bardolph: And of women.

Hostess: Nay, that a' did not.

Boy: Yes, that a' did; and said they were devils

Hostess: A' could never abide carnation; 'twas a colour he
never liked.

Writers are often offered the advice: “Show, don’t tell.” But Shakespeare knew better here; telling (and especially by someone who mangles the language) was better than showing. Could showing give the audience this poignant word picture:

So a' bade me lay more clothes on his feet: I put my
hand into the bed and felt them, and they were as
cold as any stone; then I felt to his knees, and
they were as cold as any stone, and so upward and 
upward, and all was as cold as any stone.

And to return to the point of my demonstration: the scene was unnecessary, extraneous to the heroic plot of the play. 

Greatness is not only evident in the words given to the Hamlets (To be, or not to be) or the Marc Antonys (Friends, Romans, Countrymen), but also in those of minor characters who may not be advancing the storyline.


*The epilogue responds to the love of the populace for Falstaff, originally named Oldcastle, but more importantly, to the protestations of the descendants of Sir John Oldcastle, who were offended by the depiction of their ancestor as a debauched person (for Oldcastle died a martyr, and this is not the man, the epilogue informs us). 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Before You Wrap the Leftovers

Two Greetings

1A—If you say, “Good morning, little schoolgirl . . .” and you’re carrying a guitar—you’re under contract.

1B—If you say, “Good morning, little schoolgirl . . .” and you’re not carrying a guitar—you’re under arrest.

2—If you say, “Hey, little girl . . .”—you’re Jack Jones winning the 1964 Grammy Award for Best Vocal Performance, Male.


Greeting number 1 (A & B) is my bad joke riffing on the famous blues song recorded by, among others, Muddy Waters.

Greeting number 2, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David(1) is an unintentional bad joke of a song that competes for top spot in the Crappiest Song League, Sexist Division.

The song is entitled “Wives and Lovers—here are the lyrics:

Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up
Soon he will open the door
Don't think because there's a ring on your finger 
You needn't try any more
For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I'm warning you
Day after day, there are girls at the office 
And the men will always be men
Don't stand him up with your hair still in curlers 
You may not see him again
Wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
He's almost here
Hey, little girl, better wear something pretty
Something you wear to go to the city
Dim all the lights, pour the wine, start the music
Time to get ready for love
It's time to get ready for love
Yes, it's time to get ready for love
It's time to get ready, kick your shoes off, baby

There are three groups that are insulted in this 1960’s bundle of stereotyped sexism. 

The first—and most obvious—are stay-at-home wives. They have achieved their great goal—a ring on your finger. But they have turned into frumpy, disheveled little girls, who can be summoned with a demeaning Hey, be lectured to about how to please their husbands, and—most importantly—be warned that there are girls at the office

If the women who don’t work are insulted, so too are working women, the second stereotyped group. Unmarried, they are not submissive weaker halves to their hubbies; they are wanton(2) hussies, Loreleis, who, coldheartedly, lure faithful husbands onto the rocks of extra-marital dalliances. 

And that brings us to the third insulted group: men— And the men will always be men. Are these 1960s men counter-Harvey Weinstein types who have such a low libido that they have to be lured into making love at home by the hair-curlered drabs turning themselves into sexpots who can rival those man-eating typists—Hey, little girl, better wear something pretty
Something you wear to go to the city
Dim all the lights, pour the wine, start the music?

Or are they spineless creatures who, forgetting their vows, let uncombed hair turn them into workplace predators?


I was quite surprised in doing research for this post to learn that “Wives and Lovers” had preceded Marabel Morgan’s best-selling book The Total Woman: How to Make Your Marriage Come Alive by a decade. That notorious tome proclaimed, "It's only when a woman surrenders her life to her husband, reveres and worships him and is willing to serve him, that she becomes really beautiful to him.”(3) As Wikipedia puts it, the book was famous for “instructing wives to greet their man at the front door wearing sexy outfits; suggestions included ‘a cowgirl or a showgirl.’” This idea was expanded (apparently by a reader) to include greeting hubby while swathed in Saran Wrap. 

It was 35 years after The Total Woman was published that blogger “Bonnie” at “Peculiar Beauty” related that her search for the origin of the Saran idea led her to 
“Perfect Bodies Equal Perfect Sex” on Christianity Today. Teri Looney (which would totally be my pen name if I wanted to write about keeping sex alive in Christian marriage) writes:  "I remember feeling queasy the first time I heard the idea: if your love life seems stale, send the kids to a neighbor's house, prepare a candlelight dinner, and greet your man at the front door swathed only in Saran Wrap. First of all, Saran Wrap isn't cheap and I'm a size 12. Second, do I really want to send my husband the subliminal message that I'm just 'leftovers'? And third, what happens if I get too close to those candles?”(4)


Saran Wrap as a sexual come-on. Even Mel Brooks (as the 2000-year-old man) didn’t think of that:

[Carl] REINER: In the 2,000 years you’ve lived, you’ve seen a lot of changes.
BROOKS: Certainly. 
REINER: What is the biggest change you’ve seen?
BROOKS: In 2,000 years, the greatest thing mankind ever devised, I think, in my humble opinion, is Saran Wrap. You can put a sandwich in it. You can look through it. You can touch it. You can put it over your face and you can fool around and everything. It’s so good and cute. You can wrap it up. I love it. You can put three olives in it and make a little one. You can put 10 sandwiches in it and make a big Saran Wrap. Whatever you want. It clings and sticks. It’s great. You can look right through it.”(5)


(1) They also wrote "Raindrops Keep Fallin' on My Head,”  "I Say a Little Prayer,” "Walk On By,” "What the World Needs Now Is Love,” “Alfie,” and "Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"

(2) Bad speller that I am, I first typed “wonton”—I like that image better.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Clank of Music

Today on “Hockey Central at Noon” on the question was raised, “Who is your hero?” That got me thinking—not about my heroes—but about expanding my discussion about crappy (but famous) songs and poems. I think soppiness is the major offense that I focus on when deciding what goes on my list. 

The hero-cum-soppiness drivel is most evident in “Wind Beneath My Wings,” written by Jeff Silbar and Larry Henley and most famously unleashed to afflict the public in the rendition by Bette Midler. Here’s some of it:

Ohhhh, oh, oh, oh, ohhh.
It must have been cold there in my shadow,
To never have sunlight on your face.
You were content to let me shine, that's your way.
You always walked a step behind.
So I was the one with all the glory,
While you were the one with all the strength.
A beautiful face without a name for so long.
A beautiful smile to hide the pain.
Did you ever know that you're my hero,
And everything I would like to be?
I can fly higher than an eagle,
For you are the wind beneath my wings.
It might have appeared to go unnoticed,
But I've got it all here in my heart.
I want you to know I know the truth, of course I know it.
I would be nothing without you.

Here I am on top of the world—but of course it’s all because of poor overlooked you. I nominate this as the epitome of humblebragging. It even tops that bone-achingly foolish internet abbreviation “IMHO,” which, of course, has nothing humble about it. 

The song ends with a faux-religious touch:

Fly, fly, fly high against the sky,
So high I almost touch the sky.
Thank you, thank you,
Thank God for you, the wind beneath my wings.

While we’re on the spirituality trail, here’s a song that almost literally put me off the road. Back when I had my Austin Healey Sprite* I would sometimes take a spin along back roads with the top down, listening to either WMCA or WABC, the two major pop/rock music stations in the New York area (only AM radio in the car). On one sunny Saturday as I was driving along, the DJ announced that he was going to play a new release. OK. The sound dispersed into the countryside as I half-listened to a song called “Honey.” Here’s part of the lyrics:

And Honey, I miss you
And I'm bein' good
And I'd love to be with you
If only I could

One day while I was not at home
While she was there and all alone the angels came
Now all I have is memories of Honey
And I wake up nights and call her name

Now my life's an empty stage
Where Honey lived, and Honey played and love grew up
And a small cloud passes over head
And cries down on the flower bed that Honey loved

(Written by Bobby Russell)  

“While she was there and all alone the angels came”—did I really hear that? I jerked the wheel and the Sprite pulled toward the right. It can’t be that a grown man would describe death as “the angels came.” Even a slow 5-year-old wouldn’t buy that. I spent more gasoline driving around aimlessly for the next hour in order to confirm what I heard (I knew the station would repeat the new release during that time). Unfortunately, yes; what I had heard, I had heard. Angels!


While we’re on the subject of Bobby Russell (AKA Robert L. Russell and Robert Russell), let’s be crabby about his apples. He also wrote “Little Green Apples”:

Sometimes I call her up at home knowin' she's busy
And ask her if she could get away and meet me
And maybe we could grab a bite to eat
And she drops what she's doin' and she hurries down to meet me
And I'm always late
But she sits waitin' patiently and smiles when she first sees me
'Cause she's made that way

And if that ain't lovin' me
Then all I've got to say
God didn't make little green apples
And it don't snow in Minneapolis when the winter comes
And there's no such thing as make-believe
Puppy dogs, autumn leaves 'n' BB guns

God didn't make little green apples
And it don't rain in Indianapolis in the summertime

There’s our man God again. Not sending down angels to drag wives away to their death this time, but playing Johnny Appleseed. Are we out of Kindergarten yet?


Today in the Guardian there was an article entitled “Five classic songs that got sex right.” But that’s for another day.