Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Day Seven of Christmas; Eve of the New Year

Tonight, the finale of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, the Choral Symphony, will be heard as the stroke of midnight races around the world. Listen to An die Freude - "To Joy" - as performed by the NDR Sinfonieorchester, Chor des Norddeutschen Rundfunks, and Chor des Hambergischen Staatsoper, under the baton of Gunter Wand.

The chorus opens with these words, written by Beethoven, in an appeal to optimism and joy:

O Freunde, nicht diese tone!
Sondern lasst uns angenehmere anstimmen,
und freudevollerre
Freude! Freude!

Oh friends, not these tones!
Let us sing more cheerful songs,
And more joyful.
Joy! Joy!

With this, the Romantic Movement began in earnest. Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

On the Sixth Day of Christmas . . .

. . . it's time to prepare the punch for Twelfth Night - January 5 - that most ancient festival on the eve of Epiphany.

In 1977, I was introduced to Chatham Artillery Punch at the Lion's Den in the DeSoto Hilton in Savannah. It reminded me of rumtopf, only it was better. Much better. The container - pictured - was as elegant as the beverage. The elite military unit for which it is named, one of the oldest in the nation, has a storied history of defending Georgia and the United States for over two centuries, including service in Iraq. Today, the unit serves as the 1st Battalion, 118th Field Artillery. The punch always graces their celebration of Saint Barbara's Day and Christmas. I can think of no better way to end a traditional celebration of Christmas in Georgia than with one cup of this wonderful drink. And I do mean ONE cup.

In my opinion, the following recipe - derived from several formulations and an archival source that shall remain nameless - captures the historic flavors nicely, although, I'm sure they varied over the years, depending on the ingredients at hand. (A Georgia National Guard newsletter noted that a pair of soldier's socks, the stockings of a soldier's wife, and sand from Iraq were added to the punch in 2006.) We're not going that far.

Chatham Artillery Punch (for 50 guests)

2 quarts of strong green tea (soak about 1/4 pound of tea for a day, then strain)
Juice of 10 lemons
1 1/4 pounds brown sugar
2 quarts Catawba wine (a red muscadine will be easier to find and work just as well)
2 quarts Santa Cruz rum (use Virgin Islands style rum, light or dark)
1 quart brandy
1 quart dry gin (I like the flavorings in Bombay Sapphire)
1 quart rye whiskey
3 pints Queen Anne cherries
3 pints pineapple chunks
3 quarts champagne

To prepare, sterilize a 5 gallon crock or similar vessel. Mix the tea and lemon juice, then dissolve the brown sugar and gently stir in all the alcohol except the champagne. Add the cherries and pineapple chunks carefully. Cover the crock tightly and sit aside in a cool, dark place for at least one week. No sampling allowed. To serve, pour the mixture carefully over a block of ice, add the champagne, and stir gently. Never refrigerate to cool ahead of serving or serve with ice cubes.

This is a deliciously smooth, flavorful and potent drink to be enjoyed responsibly in an appropriate setting. It is not for every party. Also keep in mind that the longer it ferments, the more powerful, deceptive and tasty it becomes. I once brewed a batch for eight weeks. It was legendary.

Monday, December 29, 2008

On the Fifth Day of Christmas . . .

I think it's time for a childhood memory. In days of old, the Potomac Farms milkman made deliveries door-to-door in the early hours of the morning. It was my responsibility to retrieve the milk bottles from the small insulated box the company provided to keep it safe from summer sun and all-season predators. One morning, probably during the week before Christmas in 1953, I popped open the lid to that box and found this around the neck of one of the bottles:

It was a nice gesture on the part of the company, and a treasure to at least one seven year old. Ever since, Santa and his elf have bid their season's greeting to all as a decoration on the family Christmas tree. Today, our adult children are quick to point it out. I have yet to decide how to divide it into three sections so the "kids" can carry on the tradition with their families.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's the Fourth Day and First Sunday After Christmas

Time for some music composed especially for this day. For your enjoyment and contemplation, here is the first half of J.S. Bach's Cantata Das neugeborne Kindelein BWV 122.

The newly born, the tiny child,
The darling, little Jesus child,
Doth once again the year renew
For this the chosen Christian throng.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

It's the Third Day of Christmas . . .

and here's a fine Wiener Werkstatte-style card my family received in the '20s or early '30s.

Friday, December 26, 2008

On the Second Day of Christmas . . .

I give you What Sweeter Music, a poem by Robert Herrick set to the stunning music of John Rutter, one of my favorite contemporary composers.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

Monday, December 22, 2008

Biology, Physics, and the Defense of Reason

Sometimes, encountering the combination of sound thinking and the art of good writing leaves me with little to say. That is the case with the following articles.

I will say briefly that my first encounter with Leo Szilard came through watching Jacob Bronowski's magnificent television series, The Ascent of Man, back in the early '70s. Read more about Szilard and why we need more people like him at Timothy Sandefur's blog, Freespace - thanks to the link at Little Green Footballs.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that race in the United States is "a firebell in the night." The Bell Curve, written by RichardHernnstein and Charles Murray and published in 1994, reaffirmed the volatility of the subject for me. Now, one of my favorite bloggers, ShrinkWrapped, has updated his readers on race and decoding the human genome.

Whether you are on the left or right of the political spectrum, both articles raise interesting questions for political correctness and a few other afflictions that threaten our mental health these days.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

John Steinbeck

On this day forty years ago, John Steinbeck died in New York. He had a long and varied career as an American writer, but was best known for his Great Depression era novel, The Grapes of Wrath. I know the film and story line very well, but must confess that I have never read the book from cover to cover. In high school, Of Mice and Men was required reading, and I found great pleasure in reading Travels With Charley: In Search of America on my own shortly after its publication in 1962.

Steinbeck was among the best of participant-observers of 20th century America, in general, and the California experience, in particular. His work earned him a Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. These days, I don't think students - and teachers - of American history and culture give him the credit and attention he deserves. Perhaps I should be satisfied knowing that history is still taught in the public schools, but that's another essay for another day.

If you don't know Steinbeck or want to know more, start with an electronic visit to the National Steinbeck Center in Salinas, California. If you find yourself near Monterey Bay, the center is a "must see," as is the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The aquarium, located on a site made famous in his novel, Cannery Row, is a world-class exhibit of the marine biology Steinbeck enjoyed and studied. Better yet, just pick up one of his books and turn another page of what it means to be an American.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Clipper Flying Cloud Update

Here's a great video I overlooked preparing Wednesday's entry on the Boeing 307 Stratoliner. Has some good pop culture history as well.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Pan Am Clipper Flying Cloud

Airplanes have fascinated me almost from birth. If you read my Fall Tradition entry in October, you know I had the good fortune to spend my childhood summer vacations and frequent weekends next to a small airport. I'm happy to report that the apple really doesn't fall far from the tree. Unexpectedly last week, my son called me from the National Air and Space Museum's Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport during his company's Christmas party. He said he was standing next to a gleaming gem of an aircraft from the 1930s. He thought I would like to hear about it. The aircraft was the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, Pan American Clipper Flying Cloud, the only surviving example of the world's first pressurized commercial airliner.

Indeed, the 307 is a beauty. Thanks to photographer, Kaszeta, and Wikipedia Commons, we can enjoy this shot of the glittering Clipper in her exhibit mode. The aircraft went into service in 1940. Built on a B-17 airframe, only ten commercial aircraft came off the line before World War II ended production.

My son had no way of knowing that I knew this aircraft, inspected her in numerous walk arounds, visited the cockpit, and had a lengthy tour of every inch of her stunning art deco interior. It was 2003, and I was in Oshkosh at the Experimental Aircraft Association's AirVenture, the world's largest fly-in. I visited Pan Am Clipper Flying Cloud every day for a week. When I watched her lift off the runway to begin her final trip to Dulles Airport, it felt like a summer love had come to an end.

When I realized which aircraft had my son's attention, I got a big lump in my throat, maybe even teared-up a bit. It was for two reasons. First, he shares his father's appreciation for the flying machine. Second, he has a rare eye for the engineered aesthetic. There are scores of aircraft - unique, record-breaking, historic - in that center and he called me about the one I knew well and admired, perhaps loved. There was a time when I would have analyzed a call like that at great length. These days, I smile and let the moment embrace me. Good apples!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Waiting for the Mother of All Ponzi Schemes to Implode

It seems that Bernard Madoff managed to pull of an amazing scam over the last forty years that cost his investors $50,000,000,000. Unless "the government" - that's you if you pay taxes - steps in to restore the funds, a huge number of wealthy folks, charities, universities, assorted non-profits, and other organizations will go bust or near bust. Fifty billion is a really big number and forty years is a long time. I find it hard to believe that a scam of this magnitude and duration could be pulled off without inside knowledge on the part of more than one or two people. Victor Davis Hanson has a bit to say about it here.

The Madoff scam is big news today. It was a classic Ponzi scheme, a fraudulent investment scam that paid profits to its current investors out of funds invested by future contributors. By its very nature, the Ponzi scheme is destined to go broke because the number of new investors cannot grow fast enough to pay the profits required for the earlier investors. This definition should sound vaguely familiar to American citizens because most of them send part of every pay check to the biggest Ponzi administrator of all. It's called the Social Security Administration. SSA doesn't invest your money. Instead, they give your money to current recipients and promise you that you'll get yours, with appropriate cost of living adjustments, when you retire. The only problem here is the 76 million Baby Boomers who started retiring and collecting their social security benefits this year. Their benefits are generated by an ever-shrinking pool of workers. The pool is expected to shrink for decades. So who is going to pay these workers when it's their turn to collect? Bernard Madoff's investors found out the hard way. Don't let this happen to you, my friends. Take careful responsibility for your future. If you plan on using the SSA as your retirement plan, you will be in for a big surprise when the biggest Ponzi scheme of all makes for dire headlines. Bernard Madoff's $50,000,000,000 will look like small change.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Christmas Prep

Blogging has been light these past few days due to Christmas and New Year's decorating in and around the house. The season is full of wonder. We have some long-standing seasonal traditions from my dad's family, including decorating the tree with old ornaments. I scanned a few of them for you. They first graced my family's Christmas tree in Wheeling, West Virginia about 1880 or ten years after my great-grandparents immigrated from Bavaria.

America has been known as a throw away society for many decades. I suppose if anything runs counter to that among families it is Christmas ornaments. Five generations have used them. I'd like to think that, 130 years from now, they will still be cherished.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Shocking Revelations

I've had doubts over the last several years about the integrity of Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Representative Jesse Jackson, Jr., among others. Time will tell, of course, as Rezko and Blago squeal to the Feds over this latest political scandal that seems to have legs even among the Obamedia. Until we get the rest of the story, this wonderful scene from "Casablanca" will do.

The more change we can believe in, the more sameness we can expect.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Machine

I first saw machine politics at its worst in the person of Mayor Richard Daley at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968. Forty years later, I am appalled that the behavior persists in the person of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Is the Chicago Machine a cesspool of graft and corruption so deep that it has become an every day experience for people in that state? Is our president-elect a product of this thugocracy? Is he tainted by this civic rot? Let us hope not. The future of our republic deserves objective leadership, high integrity, and the selfless pursuit of commonwealth.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Laying Hands on Gold

As late as 2006, the average line worker in the Big Three/United Auto Workers auto industry was pulling down about $74 per hour in wages and costs of benefits for themselves and retirees. That's around three times the national average in the private sector. At yesterday's service at Detroit's Greater Grace Temple, in the shadow of SUVs parked at the altar, the Reverend Charles Ellis prayed for "bread" in the form of a government bailout to save the industry. All I could think of was Charlton Heston hurling the Ten Commandments at that golden calf back in 1954 when I was seven. (Cecil B. DeMille's "The Ten Commandments" is monumental; it's filled with classic special effects.)

I suppose if you're worth $153,000 a year making SUVs, those vehicles really are made of gold. And you'd think any industry capable of compensating workers like that must be rolling in dough. They're not. In fact, they're approaching bankruptcy. The reason is simple: after decades of opportunities to build a better product - and they are getting better - Detroit cannot compete with the other American auto industry called Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, BMW, and Mercedes. With a reliable, efficient, and stylish product, these automakers now account for more than 50% of industry sales in the United States. And they're making money. Here's something else: the line workers - happy at what they do - are compensated at about half of what those Detroit workers make.

So the big question here is simply, "Are we really bailing out an industry or are we bailing out an unprofitable segment of an industry that happens to be in Detroit?" My feeling is, and has been for many years now, that the American auto industry is doing fine. It's the Detroit model, an instant gratification love fest between management and its union that doesn't work. Fixing the problem starts with a realization on the part of all Big Three players that they are a failed and unsustainable model. If the Big Three were, indeed, doing well, Detroit would not look like an American Chernobyl. When you're broke, the private jets need to go, along with 73 bucks an hour total compensation for work on the line, the job security program that pays workers almost a full wage to show up and do nothing is out, and the cradle to grave health insurance that costs workers about $200 a year needs to change.

Helping workers and their families while weening the industry from its suicidal business practices will require time, patience, and a careful plan. I like the idea of a radical paradigm shift supported by a loan with airtight oversight or a closely managed bankruptcy. Whatever we do must support a capitalist model. Any drift towards nationalizing the industry and the taxpayers, like Moses those many years ago, will be hurling.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

December 7, 1941

National Archives and Records Service Public Domain Photographs

Friday, December 5, 2008

Mumbai - More Thoughts on Terror

A week ago, ten Islamic terrorists embarked from Pakistan and invaded Mumbai, a city of 13 million, where they killed and wounded hundreds. We will know more about their motive in the weeks to come, but it appears there are primarily two possibilities. First, the attack was intended to destabilize improved relations between Pakistan and India and deflect military operations from the Pakistan-Afghanistan border regions. Second, the assault targeted Westerners, especially American and British; Western values; and allied interests. I spent several hours this week reading the facts and commentary from many sources. A few pundits have hit on a realization that seems to be creeping slowly into consciousness among current reports from the dinosaur media. It is significant.

There were millions of targets in Mumbai when the terrorists hit. They could have killed vast numbers of Hindis and Christians - infidels - along with Westerners as they attacked hotels, restaurants, hospitals, transportation centers, a cinema, and a bank. Their careful planning also included one small, literally obscure target, about one half mile from the Taj Mahal Hotel. It was the Chabad House, a Jewish center. There, the terrorist killed six hostages, but not before torturing them. No waterboarding here. In fact, their techniques were so horrifying that surgeons who received the bodies could not bring themselves to describe what they saw.

Regardless of their larger international intentions, it would appear the Mumbai terrorists were willing to commit half their participants to finding and butchering Jews, a group that made up 0.0384% of the city's population. That is insanity, the likes of which we have not seen since the Holocaust. There is no room for kumbaya in this environment. One cannot reason with madness. America and the West - what's left of it - need to understand, accept, and act on that reality today.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

William Katz: Entertaining Observations

We all know that the entertainment and media industries can have an impact on American culture. Bob Hope made this political jab in the 1940 film, "The Ghost Breakers."

I'm sure it got a great laugh in theaters. Then again, I wonder if Hope, as a die-hard Republican, was attempting more than comedy?

For the past two years or so, William Katz has been blogging about entertainment and politics through his occasional articles at the political blog, Power Line. Believe me, he should be writing books on the subject. He is a gifted writer inspired by a broad background of life experiences that would leave most of us exhausted:

William Katz, during an extensive career, has been an intern for a U.S. senator; an officer in the Central Intelligence Agency; an assistant to Herman Kahn, the nuclear-war theorist; an editor at The New York Times Magazine; a comedy writer for Bob Newhart; an interviewer for The Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson; and an the author of ten novels published in many languages.

In short, he's an insightful participant-observer of the American scene, and still working after all these years. Reading him is a delight, and I'm pleased to see that he has his own political blog at Urgent Agenda. Unfortunately, I don't think he gets nearly the exposure he deserves, and this brief article is my small attempt at spreading the word.

Katz's latest Power Line entry enlightens us on the huge significance entertainers had on the outcome of our recent presidential contest. Don't have any interest in entertainment and its impact on culture and politics? You will after watching the scene from "A Face in the Crowd," available at the link in the last paragraph of Scott Johnson's comments.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Chambliss Check and Balance

Yesterday's run-off election returned Saxby Chambliss to the U.S. Senate by a 14% margin. I'll leave it to you to read the whys and hows elsewhere. The immediate impact of this win is the preservation of the check and balance approach to government that our Founding Fathers asserted in the Constitution. I think it is also a reaffirmation of the centrism of the American electorate. Could it also reaffirm BHO's shrewd political centrism we've seen lately as he selects his team?

I suspect BHO and his advisors knew all along that this race was a real long-shot for Jim Martin. That's why he stayed away. After such a brilliant campaign win, who wants to be associated with a loser? So that left Martin with second and third tier politicos working the state while Chambliss brought in the stars, including the Saracuda herself. Most pundits were predicting a Chambliss victory by 6% or so. Given that several of BHO's executive selections are garnering 80% approval ratings or thereabouts, the blowout win by Chambliss tells us that Obamania has its limits.

Speaking of limits, I think this photo says it all about the Martin campaign. It accompanied a Boston Globe article reporting how tough it was to run the campaign without help from BHO. The smiling Martin is flanked by T.I., Young Jeezy, and Ludicris. Surrounding yourself with three rappers might work in Atlanta, for an election in Atlanta. I doubt this would work in Peoria. I know it doesn't in Young Harris or Hopeulikit or any of the hundreds of other rural towns and counties in the rest of Georgia. As an example of racial pandering, it is unsurpassed. As an illustration of the perils of identity politics, it is an object lesson. But politics is a tough, unforgiving, messy business, where desperation can lead to tactical stupidity. Thus, at the hands of an electorate in search of balance, Martin joins a long list of folks under Obama's bus as it hugs the center line. And the Constitution speaks.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Mumbai - Reality We Can Believe In

The terrorist attack on Mumbai over Thanksgiving weekend should remind us that the United States has gone without a similar assault for over seven years. Defending against terror is difficult in a free society when vigilance and action must be balanced against rights and privileges. Only the most deranged Bush haters can ignore or debase the fact that his administration has provided us with security that works. And that brings us to January 2009, the Obama administration, and the campaign theme of "change we can believe in." I suspect the lefties will be very unhappy.

Later today, BHO is expected to announce that party rival Hillary Clinton - the better candidate, I think - will become his Secretary of State. This follows on the announcement that current Secretary of Defense Robert Gates will remain for at least a year, and retired General James Jones will become the senior national security advisor. All of this news comes after a host of old politicos and former Clinton administration types have signed on with the new boss. Even Karl Rove likes the selections. My friends, if this is "change," then I suspect things will remain about the same. If anything has changed, it has been BHO.

He ran his primary campaign as a new revolutionary, wrapping the unhinged, Commie retreads in rhetoric and posture that would have impressed any minister of propaganda. This left Hillary Clinton, the true centrist, with little appeal to the "coalition of the oppressed." By shifting into Clinton's centrist mold for the campaign against McCain, BHO silenced much of the opposition's thunder. And our national popular culture pitted the energetic, articulate, landmark candidate and media darling against a gentleman soldier in the sunset of his career. As January 20 approaches, the fantasy created by BHO as a master illusionist must come to an end. In preparation, the practical, pragmatic manager has emerged, and he is a centrist in a game of political and economic reality. It's funny how things change.

As I see it, the big elephant in the room staring at President Obama next month will be the mass of ecstatic special interests expecting immediate gratification. These affiliates do not function on reason. I think it is safe to assume that collective unrealized expectations will turn to anger and resentment when they realize they've been had. It will be an interesting age if the fawning media cannot suppress reality for these unfortunates.

And so, my friends, it looks like the center will hold. Yes, there will be change, but it will be tempered and come far slower than most of us expected. If BHO is as good at reality as he is at fantasy, he could be bound for greatness. Only time and experience will tell, but at this point, it appears the security and vigilance we have come to know will continue.

Friday, November 28, 2008


We had a wonderful Thanksgiving dinner for ten. Old traditions held strong, including the preparation of more than enough food and trimmings to last through the weekend. The Maryland recipe for Skipjack Oyster Dressing was a huge hit, even among the doubters. I don't recall my family's recipe being quite as sweet, but I didn't mind. The recipe called for diced apples to add tartness. I didn't use them; perhaps that was the difference.

One of our guests asked about the term, "skipjack." Skipjacks, the state boat of Maryland, are shallow-draft, sailing vessels developed on the Chesapeake Bay for harvesting oysters. They are the last working boats under sail in the United States, according to the Maryland State Archives. There's also a brief entry about them on Wikipedia, including a list of active boats.

I first saw them in the early '50s. At that time, there were about 100 working the Chesapeake. Only 33 remain.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

From our house to your house . . .

Happy Thanksgiving

Postcards from our family archives dated 1910-12

Monday, November 24, 2008

Old Bay Ranger

All of us have heard the story about the courage it took for the first troglodyte to slurp into a raw oyster. In all seriousness, I must give the guy credit, if reason was a part of his consciousness. The presentation hasn't changed much over time, so the aversion persists; however, some of us have courageously overcome it. I suppose growing up near the food source has made a difference.

For those who remember the Chesapeake Bay as a great seafood factory, oysters were a plentiful, essential food. My family enjoyed them in a variety of ways, but my favorites were always fried oysters and oyster stuffing. In Maryland, the oyster stuffing was reserved for Thanksgiving Dinner.

In 1976, I left the Chesapeake in a driving January snowstorm and, some years later, married into a family with other Thanksgiving traditions. It has been a losing battle ever since, with sage dressing gracing our holiday table for the past 27 years. This year will be marked by a bit of a concession as we will have guests, and there will be dressing options, including oysters. I could veer my thoughts toward the question, "Is it stuffing or dressing?" or "Is it essential to stuff in order to call it stuffing?", but I will not. Instead, I need to select a recipe as, unfortunately, my mother's is long lost.

The Maryland Department of Agriculture's Seafood Marketing Program has come to my rescue with this recipe. Anyone care to try my oyster stuffing?

Of course, I'll update you on the results following the big day.

Menu for U.S.S. Kentucky's Thanksgiving Day 1907 courtesy of the Navy Department Library, Washington. Here's more of their holiday menu collection. We're going to eat almost as good as the ship; no cigars and cigarettes this year.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Seven

This is the last day of our week-long celebration of the birthday of Johnny Mercer - November 19, 1909.

This week, I have provided you with some details about Mercer's life, his contribution to American popular music, and best of all, several examples of his words and music. In addition, for those interested in learning more about him, I listed several sources in a variety of formats. There's plenty more to know. If you do pick up a book or check out a website, you'll find that Mercer was both the source of the idea and a founding member of Capitol Records. You'll also read that he was extraordinarily generous. You'll also find out that, almost throughout his life, the fame and fortune came at great personal cost. That seems to be the rule. Still, Mercer's gap-toothed smile and performance talent brought pleasure to millions of Americans during the mid-century. That's how I have chosen to present him, and this video shows the lyricist and performer at his best, delivering a sermon we all need to hear:

It has now been more than a generation since Mercer's death in 1976. He may be gone, but that mountain of music and the ideas he left behind are very much alive and well. Today, we're going to focus on the people - the singers - and organizations that keep that Mercer legacy alive. You could say this information is an extension of the references I cited earlier, but the focus is more on appreciation than learning.


Margaret Whiting (Long associated with Mercer as a performer and family friend, she is probably the most significant individual promoter of Mercer's music.) Linked album has 24 selections, about half of them by Mercer.

Frank Sinatra

Nancy Wilson (Ginger Mercer gave family friend, Barry Manilow, several of Johnny's unfinished poems to be set to music. This album was the final product.)

Mel Torme (extensive recordings from the Mercer catalog, but no single album)

Sylvia Syms

Nancy LaMott
(outstanding interpretation; her untimely death was a great loss to the music world))

Susannah McCorkle

Diana Krall
(extensive recordings from the catalog, but - very sadly - no single album)

Bobby Darin
(a landmark album recorded with Mercer; it's a classic)

Maxine Sullivan (simply swinging jazz from a great vocalist)
Shari Lynn

Jenny Ferris


The Johnny Mercer Educational Archives I mentioned this site earlier. Just about everything you want to know will be here.

The Johnny Mercer Special Collection, Georgia State University This university in downtown Atlanta houses most of Mercer's personal papers and memorabilia. They also maintain a well-done exhibit room on "the bard from Savannah."

The Johnny Mercer Foundation

Friends of Johnny Mercer

Songwriters Hall of Fame Mercer was a co-founder of this organization in 1969

Well, my friends, that is about it for my Mercer celebration this year. I hope to be in Savannah next year at this time, so that should answer any questions about why I didn't wait for his centennial to do a splurge. I'd like to end with another big hit:

If you go to Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah to see his grave, you'll find a song title used as his epitaph. Very fitting, as the song was also a landmark in music in 1939. So here is Benny Goodman and his Orchestra with vocal by Martha Tilton, and Ziggy Elman on trumpet with Elman and Mercer's, And the Angels Sing.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Six

Today's entry is a simple one. It consists of my three favorite Mercer songs: Midnight Sun, Early Autumn, and Laura. Many, many artists have covered them over the last half century. Lately, they've been revived by the new crop of jazz and pop vocalists - you'll hear more about that tomorrow - who have recently discovered the timelessness of the Great American Songbook.

Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke wrote Midnight Sun in 1954 as an instrumental and had a big hit with it. The story goes that Mercer heard the tune on the freeway heading to his office. By the time he got there, he had the lyric. I think Ella Fitgerald "owns" this song, but Tony Bennett does a great job with it, too.

Your lips were like a red and ruby chalice
Warmer than the summer night
The clouds were like an alabaster palace
Rising to a snowy height
Each star its own aurora borealis
Suddenly you held me tight
I could see the midnight sun.

Early Autumn was composed in 1949 by Ralph Burns and Woody Herman. Herman had an immediate instrumental hit. Jo Stafford followed a few years later with this superb interpretation:

When an early autumn walks the land and chills the breeze
And touches with her hand the summer trees,
Perhaps you'll understand what memories I own.
There's a dance pavilion in the rain all shuttered down,
A winding lane all russet brown
A frosty window pane shows me a town grown lonely.

In 1944, the film, Laura, appeared with a theme song composed by David Raksin. The next year Mercer added the haunting lyrics. Here is Dick Haymes doing the vocal track to a visual tribute to Gene Tierney, who played Laura Hunt in the film:

Laura is the face in the misty lights,
Footsteps that you hear down the hall.
The laugh that floats on a summer night
That you can never quite recall.

And you see Laura on the train that is passing through,
Those eyes how familiar they seem.
She gave your very first kiss to you
That was Laura but she's only a dream.

Simply beautiful work. More tomorrow.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Five

In seven entries this week, you have an opportunity to learn about lyricist Johnny Mercer and listen to his music. If you're curious to learn even more about him, this is your day. Yes, it's reference day at Old Tybee Ranger.

Minimal immersion in Mercer requires three books, one website, and one audio disk.

The Books:

A good starting point is, Johnny Mercer: The Life, Times and Song Lyrics of Our Huckleberry Friend. It was collected and edited by television producer Bob Bach and Ginger Mercer, Johnny's widow. There's nothing scholarly about it. It is simply a nostalgic look at Mercer's career through photos, letters, notes, sheet music covers, lyrics, and tributes. Photos are always worth their thousand words, and the book gives readers the chance to study the lyrics to almost 100 Mercer songs. One highlight is the publication of the texts of four Christmas greeting cards. In two of them, Johnny worked his lyrical magic using all the surnames on his card list. The book concludes with incomplete lists of his published songs and motion picture contributions.

Philip Furia takes a more scholarly approach to Mercer in his book, Skylark: The Life and Times of Johnny Mercer. This book is a well-balanced treatment of a life characterized by great success as well as trouble and torment. It is well known that Mercer could be not only a gentleman and generous friend, when sober, but also a vicious drunk who frequently sent roses to his victims the day after his verbal assaults. But Furia is at his best analyzing the process of songwriting, devoting many pages to a single song, and detailing the origin and evolution of the lyric. If you want to skip the nostalgia and go straight to reading a very good biography, Furia has written your book.

Gene Lees is a music biographer, lyricist and jazz historian who knew Mercer late in his career. He brings more of a Hollywood insider perspective to the Mercer story, and does so with an entertaining, informal style. If this is what you look for in a biography, then Portrait of Johnny: The Life and Times of John Herndon Mercer is your book. The book doesn't have Furia's tight organization, but it is full of personal recollections and opinions from scores of close friends and associates. The high point for me is the author's extensive use of direct quotes from Mercer's unpublished autobiography. On the other hand, Lees gives his readers almost too much detail on Ginger Mercer as the terror in her family's life. Some readers may say the book is more of a layman's psychoanalysis than a true biography. Regardless, it provides a nice balance to Furia's book, in spite of the duplication.

The Website:

If you want to use the internet as a source of information on Johnny Mercer, there is no better site than the Johnny Mercer Educational Archives. The home page may look a bit plain, but don't let that fool you; the links open windows to hundreds of pages of media.

The Audio CD:

You can find scores of audio CDs featuring the songwriting and singing talent of Johnny Mercer. For me there is one essential CD and an "honorable mention." The essential is An Evening With Johnny Mercer, the 92nd Street Y Lyrics and Lyricists program Mercer did in 1971. I think it's a great hour to spend with the man and his music.

The "honorable mention" is Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook. Fitzgerald's brilliant eight-album Songbook Series was recorded between 1956 and 1964, at the height of her vocal quality. The Mercer tribute is included here because of her near-perfect diction. He was the only lyricist honored in the Songbook Series.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Four

Over three decades Mercer wrote the lyrics to hundreds of songs, collaborating with the country's top music writers, including Harold Arlen, Bernie Hannigan, Hoagy Carmichael, Harry Warren, Gene DePaul, Henry Mancini, Jerome Kern, Rube Bloom, and Matty Malneck. In 1971, Mercer appeared in what he called a "parlor evening" performance as part of the 92nd Street Y's Lyrics and Lyricists Series. At the end of the program, Mercer delivered an unforgetable medley of his "bread and butter" songs. I'd say most songwriters and performers would be pleased to have five songs in such a list. Mercer had twenty-nine. Regardless of your age and interest in popular music, you may be surprized at how many of these songs you recognize:

Lazybones (1933), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Goody, Goody (1936), music by Marty Malneck

Too Marvelous For Words (1937), music by Richard A. Whiting

Jeepers Creepers (1938), music by Harry Warren

Satin Doll (1958), written with Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn

You Must Have Been A Beautiful Baby (1938), music by Harry Warren

That Old Black Magic (1943), music by Harold Arlen

Accentuate the Positive (1944) music by Harold Arlen

Fools Rush In (1940), music by Rube Bloom

I Remember You (1942), music by Victor Schertzinger

Day In - Day Out (1939), music by Rube Bloom

Dearly Beloved (1942), music by Jerome Kern

Come Rain or Come Shine (1946), music by Harold Arlen

Tangerine (1942), music by Victor Schertzinger

Hooray For Hollywood (1938), music by Richard A. Whiting

Laura (1945), music by David Raksin

Dream (1944), words and music by Johnny Mercer

On the Atcheson, Topeka and the Santa Fe (1946, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Harry Warren

Something's Gotta Give (1954), words and music by Johnny Mercer

One For My Baby (1943), music by Harold Arlen

In the Cool, Cool, Cool of the Evening (1951, Academy Award for Best Music, Oroginal Song), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Skylark (1941), music by Hoagy Carmichael

Autumn Leaves (1950), music by Joseph Kosma

I Wanna Be Around (1962), words and music by Johnny Mercer and Sadie Vimmerstedt

Blues in the Night (1941), music by Harold Arlen

Charade (1963), music by Henry Mancini

Summer Wind (1965), music by Henry Mayer

Moon River (1961, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Henry Mancini

Days of Wine and Roses (1962, Academy Award for Best Music, Original Song), music by Henry Mancini

That's plenty of "bread and butter" on one man's plate, but we need to keep in mind that he had seven more songs nominated for an Academy Award that never made it into the medley. What a talent.

In 1942, the Academcy Award for Best Song went to Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein for The Last Time I Saw Paris. A "loser" that year was Mercer and Arlen's Blues in the Night - as was Chattanooga Choo Choo. All the Mercer sources like to recount the story that Hammerstein sent word to him that he had been "robbed." Hammerstein was correct. Today, the song is recognized as a landmark in the Great American Songbook. Here is Mercer with Jo Stafford and the Pied Pipers, and Blues in the Night:

Tune in tomorrow for more of the Mercer story.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Three

Today marks the 99th anniversary of the birth of Johnny Mercer. The Old Tybee Ranger is celebrating this big event in American music history with a week-long celebration. This is the third installment.

Happy Birthday, Johnny!

Mercer went on to great fame after I'm An Old Cowhand. He may have struggled through a few flop movies, but he learned the ins and outs of Hollywood, and continued writing poetry to music. Movies, records, and radio brought his folksy, common sense, "free and easy, that's my style" personality into homes across America and made him everybody's next door neighbor. Mercer could be serious with a lyric, but he was equally capable of making us laugh at our selves and our circumstances. Here are two outstanding examples:

I'd say almost every American can hum the title line of Hooray for Hollywood, but it's the rest of lyric that really sparkles. Here is Doris Day's interpretation, one that Mercer apparently said was the best ever. If you don't want to miss any words, the lyric is below.

Hooray For Hollywood

words by Johnny Mercer
music by Richard A. Whiting

Hooray for Hollywood!
That screwy bally hooey Hollywood,
Where any office boy or young mechanic
Can be a panic,
With just a good looking pan,
And any bar maid
Can be a star maid,
If she dances with or without a fan,

Hooray for Hollywood!
Where you're terrific if you are even good,
Where anyone at all from Shirley Temple
To Aimee Semple
Is equally understood,
Go out and try your luck,
You might be Donald Duck!
Hooray for Hollywood!

Hooray for Hollywood!
That phoney super Coney Hollywood,
They come from Chilicothes and Paducahs
With their bazookas
To get their names up in lights,
All armed with photos from local rotos,
With their hair in ribbons and legs in tights,

Hooray for Hollywood!
You may be homely in your neighborhood,
But if you think that you can be an actor,
See Mister Factor,
He'd make a monkey look good.
Within a half an hour,
You'll look like Tyrone Power!
Hooray for Hollywood!

If you were a soldier in World War II, you probably knew every word of G. I. Jive. You know Mercer had fun writing it; his word play was at its best. Sadly, most people will never hear this song. Here is the master singing his own words and music:

Now that's entertainment!

G.I. Jive

words and music by Johnny Mercer

This is the G.I. Jive,
Man alive.
It starts with the bugler
Blowin' reveille over your head
When you arrive.
Jack, that's the G.I. Jive
Root-tie-tee toot
Jump in your suit
Make a salute (Voot!)
After you wash and dress,
More or less,
You go get your breakfast
In a beautiful cafe they call the mess.
Jack, when you convalesce,
Out of your seat
Into the street,
Make with the feet (Reet!)

If you're a P.V.T. your duty
Is to salute the L.I.E.U.T.;
But if you brush the L.I.E.U.T.,
The M.P. makes you K.P. on the Q.T.
This is the G.I. Jive
Man alive,
They give you a private tank
That features a little device called fluid drive.
Jack, after you revive,
Chuck all your junk,
Back in the trunk
Fall on your bunk (Clunk!)
Soon you're countin' Jeeps,
But before you count to five,
Seems you're right back diggin' that
G.I. Jive!

Leaves me speechless. More tomorrow

Monday, November 17, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day Two

We're celebrating the birthday of Savannah's Johnny Mercer this week. This is the second of seven installments.

That chorus girl was Ginger Meehan. They married in 1931 after Johnny secured a staff job writing lyrics. The following year, his persistent work paid off when he partnered with Hoagy Carmichael, already well-known for his sensational song, Stardust. After several months, the collaboration produced Lazybones, Mercer's first hit song. It was full of black dialect and all the stereotypical perceptions of the day. Here's Carmichael, a folksy singer in his own right, putting his special style to work in an equally stereotypical vignette:


words and music by Johnny Mercer and Hoagy Carmichael

Lazybones, Sleepin' in the sun,
How you "spec" to get your day's work done?
Never get your day's work done,
Sleepin; in the noonday sun.

Lazybones, sleepin' in the shade,
How you "spec" to get your corn meal made?
Never get your corn meal made
Sleepin' in the evenin' shade.

When 'taters need sprayin',
I bet you keep prayin'
The bugs fall off of the vine
And when you go fishin'
I bet you keep wishin'
The fish won't grab at your line.

Lazybones, loafin' through the day,
How you 'spec' to make a dime that way?
Never make a dime that way
(Well looky hear,)
He never heared a word I say!

The New York music industry was in transition - thanks, in part, to the film industry - and Mercer's prospects there cooled. He made a trip to Hollywood and met his old friend, Bing Crosby, who had already made the transition to the West. By 1935, Mercer was in Hollywood struggling a bit until Crosby sang a Mercer song in one of his films. That song was I'm An Old Cowhand. Here's the Crooner with the song:

I'm An Old Cowhand

words and music by Johnny Mercer

I'm and old cowhand
From the Rio Grande,
But my legs ain't bowed
And my cheeks ain't tanned.
I'm a cowboy who never saw a cow,
Never roped a steer 'cause I don't know how,
And I sure ain't fixin' to start in now.
Yippy I O Ki Ay,
Yippy I O Ki Ay.

. . .

And I learned to ride
'Fore I learned to stand,
I'm a ridin' fool who is up to date,
I know ev'ry trail in the Lone Star State,
'Cause I ride the range in a Ford V-Eight

. . .

And I come to town
Just to hear the band,
I know all the songs that the cowboys know,
'Bout the big corral where the doagies go,
'Cause I learned them all on the radio.

. . .

Where the West is wild
'Round the borderland,
Where the buffalo roam around the Zoo,
And the Indians make you a rug or two,
And the old Bar X is a Bar B Q.
Yippy I O Ki Ay,
Yippy I O Ki Ay.

I think Mercer came into perfect form with this one. It made him famous - with a little help from his pal - and in great demand. More tomorrow.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Johnny Mercer Birthday Celebration - Day One

This Tuesday, November 18, marks the 99th anniversary of the birth of John Herndon (Johnny) Mercer (1909-1976) . For fans of the Great American Songbook, this is a significant event. Every day this week, I'll be posting something about this sentimental gentleman from Georgia who became one of America's greatest folk poets. (Photo/book link)

Born into wealth in Savannah, he often recounted how his Aunt Hattie hummed to him in his crib and "he hummed right back at her." It was the beginning of a career that would produce more than 1000 published songs and a major chapter in the history of American music in the twentieth century.

In Mercer's Savannah's, a rich Southern culture blended with a diverse and exciting port city. He spent his childhood fascinated by sounds and rhythms drifting from the black churches around town. He was thrilled by the chance to slip away from his mother's watchful eye and visit the black business district on West Broad Street - now MLK Boulevard - where he listened to race records. The family's summer home on the Vernon River, about ten miles south of town, immersed him in the natural world of Georgia's tidal creeks and salt marshes. In his teen years, he loved hearing the dance and jazz bands every summer at the famous Tybrisa Pavilion - lost to fire in 1967 - on Tybee Island. A musical career began to enter his mind.

When the family business failed in the late '20s, any hope of attending college dimmed, and Johnny shipped off to New York to become a Broadway performer. The demand for singers was weak, but he began tinkering with lyric writing when he wasn't singing or working odd jobs. Here is his first published song, complete with Gerard Butler pics for the women:

Lyrics are meant to be heard, but it's not always easy to appreciate them without the poetry on the page, so here is a sample of that early genius as work:

Out of Breath (1930)

lyrics by Johnny Mercer
music by Everette Miller

Mine's a hopeless case,
But there's one saving grace,
Anyone would feel as I do;
Out of breath and scared to death of you.
Love was first divined,
Then explored and defined,
Still the old sensation is new;
Out of breath and scared to death of you.
It takes all the strength that I can call to my command,
To hold your hand.
I would speak at length
About the love that should be made,
But I'm afraid.
Hercules and such
Never bothered me much,
All you have to do is say "Boo!"
Out of breath and scared to death of you.

Yes, it's pretty simple, comic stuff, but it had flashes of wordplay and bouncy rhythm. It was perfect for the Garrick Gaieties revue of 1930. One of the chorus girls left Johnny out of breath as well. That story and more tomorrow.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Life Force

The average date of the first frost at our home has come and gone without the freeze. I like that. When I was in college in suburban Washington, there was one good thing about the advent of freezing weather: Winter Break in Miami or the Keys. Now that I'm retired and puttering with a container garden, cold weather tells me that I'm about to lose some "close friends" unless they are potted and moved to the Florida Room. The tropicals, USDA Zone 9 through 11, are already inside, but most of the annuals will only see the Spring sun through the seeds they drop.

The annuals that remain outside, in spite of dry, gangly stems and withered leaves, are producing one or two blooms or fruits that would rival those of any mid-summer day. They are indeed being true to Dylan Thomas's plea to "rage, rage against the dying of the light."

On the other hand, the foundation plants - evergreens - don't seem to mind the changing weather, as they are on another cycle. We can enjoy the brilliant crimson pyracantha and the varieties of blossoms and leaf textures from our wonderful Encore azaleas - they bloom three times a year. The camellia buds are already an inch long and showing hints of color. They seem on track for an early February bloom. Maybe that's a sign of a mild winter, and a hot sun in Tampa instead of the Everglades.

Today, all of my garden paraphernalia sits ready for the coming cycle. The seed catalogs arrive in January. My wife will choose the color palate for the flowers. I will select the tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, bush beans, and lettuce. The average last day of frost at my home will be March 24. Virtually everything will be in containers. It will be wonderful.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Death of Journalism

The death of mainstream journalism in the United States, given its sad performance during the recent election, has been a hot topic lately. One voice of reason on the subject has been Victor Davis Hanson, but I'll leave it to you to link to his articles. On the other hand, I could not let the day pass without bringing this risible example (Time Marches On, 11-11-2008) to your attention, courtesy of William Katz. It comes to us from no less than TIME Magazine. I grew up with TIME in the 1950s. It is near impossible for me to believe that this can pass for writing at the national level. Enjoy, and do share with your writer friends.

One of today's journalists gathers just the facts.

Veterans Day

From the time I could hold a paint brush - probably 1951 - I was doing my part to honor veterans. A week before the holiday, Dad and I went to the local cemetery to paint markers, and install Old Glory in each, on the graves of veterans of the Great War who had been member of my dad's lodge. The lodge had a seventy year history in my small town; there were scores of holders to paint. My instructions were simple: paint carefully, leave no spatters, paint EVERY marker. The worst offense, by far, was missing a marker, but Dad made sure that didn't happen.

On Veterans Day proper, there was a brief service from atop a small memorial building. At its conclusion, the crowds descended from the hilltop cemetery to either watch or march in what seemed like an endless parade down Main Street. It was straight out of a Norman Rockwell illustration: flags, bands, fire trucks, politicians, the ladies' auxiliary, the soldiers. A most impressive event.

Ninety years ago, at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year 1918, World War I - the Great War - came to an end with the signing of the Armistice Treaty by the Allied forces and Germany. For the next 34 years, Armistice Day honored the service of veterans of that war. In 1954, Armistice Day became Veterans Day and its scope was expanded to honor all American veterans.

I am not a veteran. I'll never experience how military service shapes a person inside. But I know the cost of freedom is not free. Every veteran has paid a price that enables us to enjoy life in this bountiful nation. I offer up to all of them my sincerest admiration and thanks on this day.

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Share-Our-Wealth Society - A Reprise?

Why weep or slumber America
Land of brave and true
With castles and clothing and food for all
All belongs to you

Ev'ry man a king ev'ry man a king
For you can be a millionaire
But there's something belonging to others
There's enough for all people to share
When it's sunny June and December too
Or in the winter time or spring
They'll be peace without end
Ev'ry neighbor a friend
With ev'ry man a king

--words by Huey Long, The Kingfish

few weeks ago, I began thinking about the curious parallels between our President-elect Obama and The Kingfish. It's been more than 75 years since The Kingfish roared to prominence in Lousiana politics. I'd say he's never mentioned in high school history classes these days, and only an afterthought in college. But he is significant, in terms of his political strategy, charisma, and social philosophy given the near-flawless Obama campaign. Henry P. Wickham, Jr. in this American Thinker article, discusses the point in a most thought provoking way. None of us can predict the future, but we have no excuse for not shaping potential outcomes based on learning from the past. Perhaps that is why even President Franklin Roosevelt came to fear The Kingfish and his Share-Our-Wealth Society.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Old Tybee Ranger Predicts

So the word is that Obama is a poor finisher, always polling four to six percent more than the actual vote. I don't think that matters tomorrow. Barack Obama will become our President-elect in a close election. Come January, Obama and his leadership on Capitol Hill, may begin a dedicated move toward socialism, a failed economic philosphy that will lead the nation down the road to serfdom. On the other hand, he campaigned as a centrist, and could very well govern as one. Regardless, we will have four years to form an opinion before casting another presidential vote.

The one certainty in all of this is that the the nation and national conscience will endure through the political change. But this new politics and national introspection may lead the United States to embark on its own kind of cultural focus and revival much like that of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918 -1933. Please understand that it is a loose parallel. I have no expectation whatsoever that the experience will devolve into national socialism, as in Nazi. Quite the opposite, I see it as a recovery of the innovative spirit we seem to have lost over the past ten to twenty years.

And so I'll put politics aside until 2008 - maybe 2012. I'm not going to let the outcome of tomorrow's election affect my world. Instead, I'll look forward to the cultural evolution. I'll also pour a glass of ice cold gin and, as I often do, look into history. My baby and I will darken the room, find some comfortable chairs at a small table, and listen to this:

The girls, the cars, the clubs, the hot jazz, the dancing. I can envision some couple at the Berlin Cabaret in 1930 thinking about the States and its Roaring Twenties and American jazz, enjoying it all, with no thought to the political future. Unlike them, I can watch the culture unfold knowing that it rests on two centuries of constitutional law and republican principles. Endurance is on my side, left, right, and center. We are really blessed by God with the privilege of choosing our leaders. Let us look forward and enjoy.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Studs Terkel

With the passing of Studs Terkel this past Friday, the nation lost perhaps its greatest observer of the experiences of ordinary Americans in the twentieth century. In college, Division Street: America (1966) was my introduction to his witty, vibrant style of oral history. In the mid-'70s, I read Hard Times: An Oral History of the Great Depression (1970) on my own. As much as I enjoyed those books, over the next thirty years I came to realize he was at his best beyond the printed word. After all, the man pulled experiences out of people through conversation, a technique meant to be heard and seen. Seeing and hearing Studs was a treat. He had what I would call the Chicago delivery: entertaining, animated, flamboyant, sharp, and gritty, with a good cigar and a top shelf martini. He had all the markings of a working man who had "arrived" but wanted a bit more. And out of that reach came a body of work documenting the lives of thousands of men and women, great and small, being "America."

If you want to see and hear more, check out any of the the interviews on Youtube. Here's a taste of the man in action at 95:

Godspeed, Studs. My next martini - coming up after this post - is for you.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Football Break Through

From 1964 through 1970, I lived through a terrible period of football as played by the University of Maryland at College Park. Aside from watching Jerry Fishman give the midshipmen of Navy the middle finger during the 1964 season, Maryland football during that period was pretty much a wash. I got tired of "winning the first half" really early in my football career. Forty years later, with two children having graduated as Georgia Bulldogs, I now find myself rooting for a superior winning team ranked in the top ten and moving up. Not only that, I have a fine Maryland team under the guidance of Ralph Friedgen - Georgia Tech experienced - moving close to the Top 25. In other words, it's a great time for college football in my house.

It's even greater because we have a spousal break though! After many years, my wife, Nancy, has begun to raise her eyes from the spy novel she's reading to watch a notable offensive play from quarterback Matthew Stafford. This is a landmark moment in my life. Nancy graduated from a Lutheran college in the Midwest. She has no idea what it means for Fishman to give the finger to "Boystown" in 1964. Her college team was the "Saints." OMG

After forty years of personal frustration, football has become an unholy game for me. Still, I trust that all those midshipman can forgive a truly inappropriate gesture on the part of a frustrated Terrapin and schedule years of head-to-head competition well into the future. So Nancy sits on the couch opposite me, watching my twitches, listening to my verbal ejaculations. Gradually, though she may still refer to my team as "the turtles," she has come to understand that there really is something about a game that glues millions of fanatics to their stadium seats or their televisions every Saturday in the fall. Today, as LSU falls to the Dogs, I feel that Nancy will be there with me very soon, cheering them on to a bowl victory. After all these years, that's a damned good turn of events.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Fall Tradition Remembered

Every October 15, my mind floods with wonderful memories. From birth through my 27th year, the date marked an important event in my life. The story descends out of my dad's membership in the Uniform Rank of the Knights of Pythias. The URKP was an elite military-style company within a fraternal organization born out of the search for national reconciliation following the Civil War. Every good military organization needed a campground, with lodging, mess hall, recreation pavilion, and parade. The URKP had theirs in the small village of Burlington, West Virginia. It also served as a regional park, complete with playground, and was often rented for the day for family reunions, company picnics, church functions, and other large gatherings.

"Camp" at Burlington was paradise for a young boy. A creek bordering the camp offered hours of fun. You could explore the woods and fields forever. The frequent social events made the playground a great place to meet new friends. But "camping" at Burlington was, by no means, a wilderness experience. We were lucky to use a cottage that had every comfort of home. And there was a drive-in theater next door where I enjoyed the snack bar as much as the movies. Across the road was a small airfield with several Taylorcrafts and Piper Cubs, and a hangar that gave birth to many "homebuilts" over the years. I can say with confidence that Burlington was never boring.

Through the summer of 1974, I spent many weeks at "camp" every year, including several weekends of "cold camping" in the off-season. Opening the cottage and grounds for the summer, though exciting, was not especially memorable. Freezing temperatures lingered into May, so the campground usually opened on Memorial Day weekend. On the other hand, winterizing the place was like saying "Goodbye" to an old friend. Thoughts of family, friends, the big fish, fireworks, that scary movie, the old biplane, all those memories accumulated over the past six months filled your mind. Amid the blazing gold sycamores, brilliant fire oaks and maples, the smell of wood smoke, and a harvest of black walnuts, we went through the years-old closing procedure until the last item - pouring anti-freeze into sink traps - was checked.
At that point, it was time to load the car, proceed with all those repetitive tasks one does "just to be sure," then close and lock the big red door until Spring.

As American society changed, the URKP fell out of fashion. Lodge members grew old and passed away. In 1974, the lodge itself and all its assets dissolved. I haven't locked that big red door for 34 years now, but I still have the key and a remarkably detailed mental picture of the cottage and landscape that I loved.

In many ways, Burlington is with me every day, for my experiences there helped shape my values, and define my career, hobbies, and general interests. The impact has been so profound that I have asked my children to do their best to provide the same opportunity for their own families.

In weaving all of the memories about this weekend, I ask you, my readers, to do the same: Find a nearby paradise and escape to it often while your children are young. There will be no sorrow there.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

What Did You Do In The Great Depression?

A huge chunk of my 401k evaporated last week while I endured the roller coaster stock market along with millions of other happy retirees. Now I'm haunted by the growing awareness that my country could be managed by a messianic Marxist come January. These thoughts merged yesterday evening into several games of "Cat Bowling." My highest score was 158. Given that it's cool and damp, my arthritis is kicking in a bit, so my top score seems quite acceptable. After all, it only took eight games to reach it. By then, my thoughts had wandered elsewhere, including into a deep exploration of some political blogs. That led to an examination of some historic ups and downs in the nation's economy. For me, it means I end up somewhere in the Great Depression. That period is interesting for another reason: the marriage that produced me - in 1946 - took place in 1933, about the time that "hope and change" entered the White House in the form of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. My parents were never Roosevelt fans. They had to cope with hard times and political uncertainties, but I don't think "Cat Bowling" was an alternative.

Although my parents have long departed this world, I can still hear them talking about two of their favorite things: movies and dancing. I'm sure they weren't alone as millions who came of age in the 20s and 30s were value programmed, in part, by silver screens and dance bands found across America. So what did Mom and Dad do in 1933 to cope with the national uncertainties swirling around them? They probably saw this pre-code classic with its girls, airplanes, and a wedding:

Earlier in the same film, Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire paired up on the dance floor for the first time. Watch them in this clip, and take a second, closer look, at those girls on the airplanes.

So much for "Cat Bowling." They had a much better time.