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Dispatches from (deep beneath)
Downtown California

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August 14, 2015

...and a How Do You Do?


"Mayor" Art Finley, beloved kiddie show host, has retired to That Big Set In The Sky.
Finley, known also as a radio host and newspaper cartoonist (of sorts), died of a heart attack at 89 in Vancouver, Canada.
After two sessions in the Army Air Corps (and later the US Air Force), Finley began his broadcasting career in NYC, later moving to Stockton, CA to begin his tenure as an afternoon cartoon show host in the mid-1950s.
In 1959 he moved to San Francisco' KRON, hosting a live kid's show featuring Popeye cartoons, lasting until 1966. Not content to merely introduce cartoons, Mayor Art also had short science-related segments, and used his hand puppet "Ringading" to teach kids some introductory foreign language phrases. Another feature was his reading of the upcoming week's San Francisco School District's School Lunch Menu, which he always concluded with "..and a How Do You Do." (That was actually more interesting than it sounds...)
Finley also hosted "Mayor Art's Almanac," a news show for children, which won Finley two gold medals from the state of California.

Popeye - and maybe even Bluto - undoubtedly have a tear in their collective eye. (Certainly Olive Oyl....)

August 9, 2015

2015 IMSA Results


The wait is over and the results are in! This year's International Musical Saw Association annual Picnic and Saw-Off has determined that Thomas Spearance (pictured above, with medal) is 2015's World Champion. (no pressure, Tom....)
Under sunny Roaring Camp skies, Spearance breezed thru the compulsory number Auld Lang Syne. Spearance's rendition of Yesterday, Moon River and Over The Rainbow wowed the judges, and cinched the crown. He has appeared at the Picnic many times throughout the years, and has served as MC, hiatus-filler and all-around good guy.

Second place went to Egon Kafka, a relative newby, but a crowd-pleaser nonetheless.
Shou Bai, who traveled all the way from China for the event, placed third, and also swept the prize for having traveled the farthest to participate.
As always, the event was preceeded by the Saw In in downtown Santa Cruz and jam session in the Roaring Camp parking lot, and drew an amazing cornucopia of colorful characters, including Brownie, pictured at right.
After crowning the reigning champion, the festivities

concluded with a rousing Chorus of Saws, during which any and all comers were invited to the stage to saw along together for such evergreen tunes as Oh, Dem Golden Slippers, and a highly instructional workshop about the finer points of How To Play The Musical Saw.

June 23, 2015
Another Legend Bites (Pecks At ?) The Dust
Don Featherstone, creator of the iconic pink lawn flamingo, has died, darn it.
I had the pleasure of meeting Don and his wife Nancy during a taping of the revived game show "I've got A Secret" years ago in Hollywood. Don and Nancy's secret (which can now be revealed) was not of his most famous creation, but the fact that, for decades, Don and Nancy wore matching outfits, most of them made by Nancy. When asked if she worked, Nancy said that when she got out of college she eschewed a career, having "earned her MRS."
Don was an unassuming guy, ready with a handshake, a smile and another good story about the world of lawn ornaments. Don actually created hundreds of different animal sculptures, eventually becoming president of the company that manufactured them, Union Products.
Don liked to tell about how he would sometimes put many penguin sculptures out in their yard out of season, just for fun.
Don also warned people to beware of imitations of his flamingoes, noting that the genuine article has his signature molded into it 'just beneath the tail.' >ahem!< (Be sure to check yours, folks!)

June 10, 2015
Recent Bathroom Contents, Boston Harbor Hotel

5' x 2.5' Brilliant White, Thick Pile Terrycloth Bath Towels (2 ea.)
4' x 2' Brilliant White, Thick Pile Terrycloth Bath Towels (2 ea.)
1.5' x 2.5' Brilliant White, Thick Pile Terrycloth Hand Towels (2 ea.)
1' x 1' Brilliant White, Thick Pile Terrycloth Face Towels (2 ea.)
Brilliant White Terrycloth Washcloth, Rolled Up On Tub Corner Shelf (2 ea.)
Brilliant White Terrycloth Bath Mat (2 ea.)
. . . . (More cloth than a Windjammer!)
Spare Toilet Paper Roll, Neatly Gift Paper Wrapped, Tied With Sateen Ribbon With Hotel Logo Woven Into It
Blow Dryer (In Cloth Bag)
Manicure/Pedicure Kit Including Orange Stick and Emery Board
Shampoo (2 ea.)
Shower Body Gel (2 ea.)
Conditioner (2 ea.)
Hand Lotion
Bar of Purple Soap
Small Canister Containing Packets (2 ea.) Of:
. Lotion
. Woolite
. Spot Remover
. Moist Towelette
. Cotton Swabs
Box (To Match Counter) Of Facial Tissue
Some Stuff That I Couldn't Identify
Wall Phone (Presumably To Call Housekeeping To Bring Even More Stuff....)

June 7, 2015
Note To Self / Shopping With Ralph

Do you ever find notes that you have left for yourself? Aaand, maybe, just maybe you're not quite sure when you left it for yourself....?
I have just unfurled a crumpled piece of notebook paper that I found in a shirt pocket (that was uncharacteristically laundry-bound) and decrypted the message. A bit dated now, perhaps, but nevertheless ponder-worthy:

A few months back, in the midst of the 50 Shades of Gray movie/social phenomenon/commercial frenzy, I was a bit taken aback to find that even Target stores had jumped on the bandwagon, and was touting their special "50 Shades of Gray" collection. This included a panoply of merchandise as neckties, cologne and, well all sorts of stuff that one might not expect to find in your typical mass-merchandiser. (see also shopping With Ralph).

This brings up another question: how would various other retailers approach this ticklish issue? I can just picture Costco's approach: sure, we handle all this stuff, but you have to buy an entire orgy....

My terror: What happens when Walmart gets a hold of this concept.....?

April 7, 2015
Dogbone It! Yet Another Legend Gone.....

The world lost another giant today: Stan Freberg, dead at 88.

One of the true media geniuses, Freberg was known for his voice over and cartoon voice work, audio comedy (his radio show replaced The Jack Benny Show, and was awash with music parodies) and brilliant advertising.

"Green Chri$tma$," a timeless take on the crass commercialism that the holiday has become, "St. George and the Dragonet" his spot-on sendup of the "Dragnet" radio show (which is where the phrase "just the facts, m'am" came from - Joe Friday never uttered it) and "Stan Freberg Presents The United States of America," where our Founding Fathers have a wee bit of trouble with the penmanship of The Declarationof Independence ("the purfuit of happineff....?")
With a near-total command of sound, Freberg never skimped when it came to production values. Using major name voices (Jessie White, June Foray, Daws Butler) and top name orchestras (Billy May, among others), he built new worlds of sound, infused with great mounds of humor. Check out his tribute to Omaha!

Another favorite target of his skewering were popular songs. Freberg didn't just take on the material, but delivered great broadsides to their styles. He took on calypso and beatniks("Banana Boat Song" aka "Day-O"), folk music ("Rock Island Line") waaaay before Christopher Guest's "A Mighty Wind," Johnny Ray's tear-drenched "Cry," sing Along With Mitch ("Yellow Rose of Texas") and Eartha Kitt ("C'est Si Bon"). Oh, and don't forget Lawrence Welk, and Stephen Foster (and rock and roll), even.

He anticipated Political Correctness decades ahead of the rest of the world with "Elderly Man River," (with Daws Butler) which still stands out as a terrific antidote to the overly-sensitive among us.

A series of promotional bits for the radio industry ("Who Listens To Radio?" employed the talents of Sarah Vaughan and Quincy Jones) are still amazing productions, particularly this one (you'd better like hot chocolate....)

Yeah, I really miss the guy already.......

April 6, 2015

"You Can Tell It Goodbye!", dangit.......


Longtime - and we do mean loooooong time - sports broadcaster Lon Simmons died yesterday at the age of 91.
Simmons, for many years the voice of the San Francisco Giants (and a few other local sports teams) joined up with the team when they came out from New York, and was more or less 'the kid', paired with veteran announcer Russ Hodges. (<---- click on that link to hear 'em both describing a terrific 1962 old fashioned rhubarb.)
Since my childhood, I can't recall ever hearing (seeing? * ) a Giants broadcast without Simmons. Hearing recordings of his voice make the warm summer air on the front porch of my parent's house almost palpable again.
If Simmons had anything besides a wonderful set of pipes, it was his always-at-the-ready sense of humor, something that I feel is essential to sports in general.** I once - quite by wonderful accident, sometime in the late '70s - heard his evening sports commentary show on KSFO when the infamous Don Sherwood dropped by the studio unheralded to banter with Simmons on the air. Any serious topics went out the window immediately, and some near life-threatening hilarity ensued, all of it unanticipated.
Simmons voice still rings in my ears when, after every Giants home run, he would proclaim that "You can tell it goodbye!" (a logical successor to Hodges' "Bye bye baby!")
Sad to have to tell him "Goodbye," too.

* a good friend, whose father was, coincidentally, a former major league relief pitcher, always insisted that baseball was better on the radio. While I do marvel at some of the high tech effects used in modern televison sports broadcasts, I gotta agree with him.
** Sometime around the mid-to-late '70s, I can recall driving up to San Francisco for a date and hearing Simmons and whoever his broadcasting partner was banter a bit while trying to wait out a rain delay. This is undoubtedly some difficult work, as there is no script or even any idea how much air time that needs to be filled, so all bets are off. As the conversations drifted around from one thing to another, the subject of Acapulco cliff divers came up, which was good for fillng a few minutes. The capper for this one was Simmons remarking "The one time that I took a dive, her husband came home." This was immediately followed by about 5 seconds of dead air and my barely regaining consciousness in time to swerve back onto the freeway, dizzy from laughter. The suject was quickly - and desperately - changed.
Geez, I miss those days.......

March 26, 2015
"click here to see Berman not crash "I've Got A Secret.""

They don't make 'em like they used to....


... at least as far as gate crashers go. Benedict Cumberbatch has recently garnered much attention for his humorous 'photo-bombing' at scenes such as the Oscars. As fun as it is, it's not much compared to some of the invasions and intrusions of late; not sitting on The Queen's bed or scaling a White House fence, f'r'instance.

No siree, not like the good old days:

This is from the United Kingdom's Independent (please do visit their site) :

"...And the king of them all was Stanley Berman, a New York taxi driver who styled himself, with no mean justification, as "The World Champion Gatecrasher". In a 20-year career cut short by his death at age 41, Berman wore out three tuxedos with his illicit attendance at more than 1,000 parties and 1,200 official receptions. He often styled himself Charles du Pont III, in spite of a strong Brooklyn accent.

Berman began in the mid-1940s, when he talked his way into meeting President Roosevelt (one of seven White House incumbents he was to meet socially). He then moved to Hollywood, where he would shin over studio walls and try to appear in crowd scenes. By the time he returned east, he was a practised gatecrasher, and in 1962 made one of his cheekiest forays, at the wedding of TV star Lucille Ball. As her limo drew up outside the church, the tuxed-up Berman leapt out, opened her door, and said: "I'm your bodyguard, come this way." She did, and whispered to him as they left the church after the service: "Check the guest list for the reception. Make sure no crashers get in."

His crowning achievement was to insinuate himself into President Kennedy's Inaugural Ball. There the tuxedoed Berman was, according to a subsequent article in Life, "standing in the lobby of the Mayflower Hotel, when he spotted a ticket to one of the inaugural balls lying on the floor." He used that to attend first one, and then another, where he met a woman member of the ball committee, who "assuming he was a bewildered dignitary, motioned him to follow her. The next thing he knew, he was standing next to the presidential box, and the band was playing 'Hail To The Chief'. Naturally, when the presidential party sailed in, Stanley piled right along with them, settling himself next to the president's father in the chair reserved for brother Bobby."

March 8, 2015

Another Legend Bites The Dust....

Some of us called it "Rassling On Wheels." Some called it "a morality play." Some just called it "Fake." (They were infidels.)
But whatever you wanted to call it, Roller Derby was a formidable part of the landscape (especially the tv landscape) in the '50s and '60s.
The Bay Bombers - our local team - had some of the more fearsome members, among them Joanie Weston and Charlie O'Connell, a member of the Roller Derby Hall of Fame. "Mr. Roller Derby," as O'Connell was known, died February 9th in Oakdale, CA at age 79. (Why we are not hearing about it until now is the big question. Is it a conspiracy of silence? * )
The San Francisco Chronicle's Steve Rubenstein covered it quite well in today's fishwrap. You can find it here.[at least as long as SFGate keeps it posted....] Thanks, Steve!

* probably not, tho, as silence was never, ever a part of Roller Derby

Spring 2015

Ok, it's not actually Spring yet....

... altho ya wouldn't know it by the early blooming things (daffodils, crocus and this blooming idiot, pictured at Daffodil Hill, Amador County).
On the surface, above our grotteaux, things are rosy (ok, except the roses), but it also brings a chill when we consider the long drought that is responsible for it. (And what is responsible for the drought? Could be politics, I suppose, its hot air being a major source of global warming....)
We are happy to say, however, that we are back from our loooooong winter's nap - more like a coma described as hibernation, actually.
We are also happy to announce that production* has resumed, albeit with a pronounced inertia that we are striving to overcome.
Look for us soon at the Bead Society of Northern California Bazaar, which has a new location: Richmond's Craneway Pavilion (also the East Bay home of Roller Derby, wow! Dont' worry, there probably won't be a lot of blocking and jamming at the show. Probably not......)
Also, some upcoming appearances will be at The Crucible's Open House April 11 (with a Science-y theme), San Mateo's bigbigbig Maker Faire May 15 - 17 and the San Diego Bead Society's annual show August 1 - 2.
There will be a few more events climbing on to our ever-expanding (like our waistline) calendar, so do keep your peepers peeled for them.
We'll be looking for you there!

* we are back to producing copious amounts of beads, glass objects and methane - I guess that ya can't win 'em all.....

August 2, 2014
Click here to get the whole story....

San Diego's Bead Bazaar


We hope that you'll jon us at the San Diego Bead Society Bazaar (which promises to be rather bizarre, too) this weekend.
We will be back to the Grotteaux to gleefully process your orders on 5 aug 14. Thank you for your patience.

BURGLARS PLEASE NOTE: Just because we're not at the studio we think that you should be warned that the premises are being fiercely protected by a ferocious house-sitter and her dog. (ok, it's our dog, actually, but they both have big, rapier-like teeth and aren't afraid to use them. On you. * )
* we're not kidding about this...

August 1, 2014

True, Grit!

I used to laugh at the corny (ahem!) ads in publications such as Boy's Life that touted "Sell Grit! Earn valuable prizes!"
My grandmother even had a copy or two of it swimming around in her pile of Capper's Weekly * back issues(which she really liked for the jokes - they were better than the ones in PG&E Progress **, even!)
But I recently took a gander at their online version and was at once dazzled and amused, but not altogether surprised, either.
The Maker Movement has revived a lot of long-dormant feelings in people, bringing back such things as urban farming, mini-farming, beekeeping and tiny houses.
Well, danged if I didn't find links to articles about such things right there on their home page! ("How To Build a Root Cellar and Storm Shelter" was there, too, and it was made out of dirt and old tires.)
My biggest chuckle (of surprise and wonder, not derision) was seeing an ad for and iPhone app that could help you to determine which was the right breed of chicken for you. No mention of horoscopes (yours or the chickens'), tho.

The other pages were the sort of things that you might have expected: shopping sections devoted to books (left, maybe) and supplies that cater to bunker-hunkering survivalists (do be sure to read the copy down toward the bottom of that page....)

The recipes run the gamut, from the new-agey-popular stuff (Homemade Hummus, Shrimp Curry and"Continuous Brew Kombucha" should you ever want to torture yourself with such swill) to what is likely one of their longest-running recipes (Lemon Meringue Pie or Chocolate Icebox Cake ***, but I'm not sure which is the winner).

You can bet that I'll be checking in with them from time to time; I must keep abreast of such riveting topics as "How To Build A Workbench With An Engine Block Base" (coming from - yep, you guessed it - deep in the Ozarks) and the"Positive Role Algae Plays with Livestock Manure." That last one might get me ready for the next Downtown California City Council meeting.

* Grit is evidently now under the Capper's umbrella

** Pacific Gas and Electric Company's monthly newsletter was enclosed with the bill that was mailed to you monthly (so that you could walk to a nearby, convenient location - such as your friendly, local druggist - and pay your bill with the change from the sugar bowl.) Nowadays, PG&E has managed to get itself deregulated (from its former incarnation as a regulated, dividend-guaranteed monopoly) and has eliminated the newsletter, presumably so that they don't have to publish explanations as to why their pipelines detonate and remove entire neighborhoods.

*** hasn't the definition of 'icebox' changed over the yea
rs, from something found in every kitchen to one that is found on truck tailgates full of brewskis....? Not In Grit, nosiree!

July 25, 2014

Two Items


Item One:

The Deborah, channeling Mitch Hedburg: "As a color, I like brown; it's sorta like black, but without all the committment."

Item Two:

Hope to see y'all at the San Diego Bead Society Bazaar coming up August 2 - 3.

July 24, 2014
Department of Defense Announces New Field Rations
(and, unfortunately, this is real....)

After perusing NPR's site "The Salt," I followed a link thru to a story about how the U.S. Army has (at long last) managed to find a way to keep a sandwich fresh for two years. Tears of joy will undoubtedly flow from the eyes of our brave warriors at this news (instead of the usual tears caused by being issued sandwiches which are probably old enough to vote.)
The following link (click on the photo above) gave me even more pause, and I think that I will join the next anti-war march, if only to help save our stolid troops from more ill-advised decisions filtering down from the top echelons.

A few questions are prompted by the document (and do click on it and read as much of it as you can stomach), to wit:

Are these really better than MRE's?

Will it remove the urge to surrender after wolfing down "Cinnamon Zapplesauce ®" and chasing it with some "Arctic Mint" caffeinated gum and Albacore Tuna Filled French Toast ...?

Who The Hell thought that it was a good idea to include something called "Whole Grain Toaster Pastry" in a kit like this? ("Dammit, I shouldn't have shot that last toaster.")

And just what are the ingredients in an "Italian Pocket"....? Lint and some small change? (Lira, probably))

But, the big question remains: why don't the airlines offer anything even this appetizing? (because it would be at Defense Contractor Prices....?)

I particularly liked the photos (page 1's guy looking into the food pouch after the first bite and wondering "WTF is this?" (it's probably a "Hog's Ass and Grits Energy Bar") and at the bottom of page 2, the pile that doesn't really indicate if it's a "Before" or "After" shot....)

Next war, BYOB!

May 28, 2014
A Trip Down (An Ever-Fading) Memory Lane

Ya never know what you'll find when you clean out a long-closed closet, or open up a dusty cigar box that was at large under a chaise lounge for many years, do ya? Well, the same thing applies to plowing through some long-ignored directory on your computer's hard drive. I found this screed in such a place today, evidently written about 8 years ago (I think it was a pitch for casting for some reality show that I'm now thankful we weren't selected for) :

The Evolution of Romance

Romance in Society

Romance, at least as it is portrayed in Hollywood films, has certainly changed over the years. At a time not that long ago, in one of the most infamous celluloid scenes, Paul Henreid lit two cigarettes and slowly offered one of them to Bette Davis, and the rest of the scene had the two of them just smoldering across the table at each other. If someone made that offer today they would probably be charged with attempted murder.

Condominium associations have fairly strict rules about amorous swains clambering up vines onto balconies. Poetic moonlight serenades seem to have given way to chest-imploding car stereo blasts.

The deep impact of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers’ deaths are now replaced by matching tattoos; serious, for sure, but no more permanent that many of today’s relationships.

So, romance has definitely changed in the larger sense. It morphs and evolves in smaller ways, too.

Romance on the Home Front

After 23 years of marriage, I’m not about to say that all of the romance has gone out of it, but I’m pretty sure that it’s lying around here somewhere, perhaps under a long-obsolete box of Pampers or behind a dusty stack of Boys Life magazines. Maybe if I were to rummage around through the stack of veterinarian bills that are atop the smog certificates and income tax forms under the orthodontist invoices I could find a clue to its whereabouts.

After all, I see my wife every day, and she is just as wonderful as the day that we met again for the first time, and she can still see fit to talk to me, and often on friendly terms.

But, to be sure, it’s just not as spontaneously romantic as it was those decades ago. It’s been a wonderfully thrilling roller coaster ride, from those first days clattering to the top of the drop and those wild, dizzying descents and unexpected screaming curves.

I once met a guy who was trying to set a world’s record by riding the same roller coaster for 58 days straight. He was about two weeks into it at the time. When I asked him how he was able to take the exciting, mind-bending, gut-wrenching forces all the time, he paused for a moment and offered that he just “got used to it,” and then excused himself to head for the rest room again, yawning. I don’t want to become that guy.

What begins with a spark, builds into a raging, all-consuming inferno must eventually burn itself out, right? I, for one, don’t want to be left with a mouthful of ashes. I’m desperately seeking a can of gasoline to fling on it while there is still some heat; truth be told, though, I’d be happy with just a handful of kindling. I feel confident that I could re-kindle something with just the right tools and a fair wind over my shoulder.

But how does one avoid becoming mired in the humdrum existence that a marriage can easily descend into in a torrent of mortgage coupons, PTA meetings and Little League practices?
“Casserole again?”
“Yup, unless you’ve got another idea.”
“Well, I could swear that I did, but —darn, there goes the phone again.”

We once had a pair of friends that decided that salsa dancing lessons were just the thing that they, as a couple, needed. My wife and I watched, both admiringly and strangely fascinated, that they could get away from the kids and make time for that, amid all of the other demands that modern life makes on families. We also watched, soon thereafter, that they could make time for all of those visits with attorneys amid all of the other demands that modern divorce makes on families. Somehow, I guess that the salsa dancing wasn’t it. Should’ve tried mambo, maybe...?

Re-Defining Romance?

Marriage and romance can, and I’m afraid often do, exist independently. They can even involve distinctly different sets of people (see salsa lessons, above.)

But they needn’t.

After the wearying, often demoralizing, gantlet that maintaining a household, raising children, being part of a community and, oh, yes, did we mention making a living in order to finance all of this, can reduce a relationship to a state of zombie-like automatonship. One awakens one day (hopefully, anyway) to wonder how one got from the Point A of Romance 101 to the Point Z of “Who the Heck Are You?”

In this grinding, erosive process, the definition of romance often distills down to the littlest of the little things:

Flowers? No, just putting the seat back down.
Furs? Not treating her to my ice-cold toes and just letting her sleep.
Diamonds? Putting a new roll in the little holder is almost as good, right?
Chocolates? (Ok, that one is easy. Who doesn’t like chocolate, especially if it’s community property?)

In short: Romance yields to Logistics. The last time that I came home with blossoms and chocolates for my bride, while we were getting a vase for the poseys, the dog tore into the heart-shaped box and our dinner reservations were spent in the veterinarian’s waiting room. (Come to think of it, that’s where we left the price of the dinner, the movie and about three rounds of drinks, to boot.)

Ours is not a marriage in danger, but the romance (that should be the cherry center in the middle of the rich chocolate truffle that is our marriage) could, and should be revived.

All that is lacking is some sort of a lever to pry us out of our normal routine and force us to put Us on our To Do List.
After all, CPR Certification needs to be renewed every two years -— why not Romance, too? It could be every bit as much of a lifesaver.

All still true, these many years later, but I am happy to report that - even tossing some grandkids and a new dog into the mix, too - we are able to find those elusive opportunities every so often. Yay!

May 12, 2014

Private Bar Menu


Found this list recently in our Denver hotel room; some of the items (all for real):

"(Airline Size Bottles)
Jim Beam Bourbon $5.50
Maker's Mark Bourbon $6.50
Glenlivet Scotch $7.50
Bailey's Irish Cream $7.50

Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay 375ml $19.00
Francis Ford Coppola Merlot 375 ml $24.00
Sophia Blanc de Blanc Sparkling Wine $45.00
Veuve Cliquot Champagne $125.00

Coors Light $5.00
Corona $5.50
Fat Tire $5.50
Dale's Pale Ale $6.50

Coca Cola $3.50
Tonic Water $3.50
Red Bull $6.00
Starbucks Mocha Frappucino $6.50

Chocolate Chip Cookies $5.50
Snickers $5.50
Peanut M&Ms $6.50

Ibuprofen $5.00
Playing Cards $7.50
Portable Canned Oxygen $24.00

Rawhide Chew $5.00
Cool Treats Frozen Dog Smoothie $5.00
Gourmet Dog Treats $7.50
Yip Yap Breath Mints for Dogs $8.00

April 29, 2014

Here's Wishing You A Happy Birthday, Willie Nelson....


...even if ya don't remember.......

March 31, 2014
Even More Shopping With Ralph

OK, so I didn't major in math, but can someone explain to me how my home phone service is going to be free, if I have to pay $189.99 for it.......? (do I have to pay it in Bitcoin, or something.....?)

March 15, 2014

More More Shopping With Ralph


Has pornography (as some claim) become so absorbed into our culture that we don't even really notice it any more?
Television shows titillate us, movies have become steamier and it turns out that there are more than 49 Shades of Grey in literature.....
The proliferation of tantalizing cel phone photos of restaurant dishes has even been dubbed "Food Porn."
So it appears that things have moved a step earlier in the process: Cooking Porn. Those wonderful and oh-so-creative folks in the kitchen appear to have, at long last, lost all sense of proportion. The latest? Meatballs In Bondage (pictured above). It's more than just a great title for a Frank Zappa tune.

March 1, 2014

More Shopping With Ralph


Given our (We, The People's) penchant for holiday gewgaws and things to stuff into our faces, what better way to observe The Holidays by making something that is both decorative and chock full o' calories?
Edible Christmas Tree Ornaments!
If that freshly-cut-tree scent isn't enough to get you into the holiday spending mood, think what the tempting aromas of prawns, marinated lamb and onions will do!
(Just make sure that your furry "Santa's Helper" can't reach 'em.....)

February 12, 2014

A New Feature -
Shopping With Ralph


When the going gets tough (and, let's face it: with all of the celebrity deaths lately, it's been tough) the Tough Go Shopping! After all, this is America, right?
Some stuff out there is, well, pretty Out There, and it always seems to find me when I'm not looking for it.
Our opening salvo comes to us in the form of two products, both of which are ready to curl your hair. Only one of them, however, is actually designed as a hair styling product.

Can you tell which is which?
(btw: one of the sites has a "Live Chat" button......)

January 31, 2014

Another pair of greats gone.....


I can still hear the slightly scratchy phonograph record in Mrs. Nicholson's third grade class, with some finger-pickin' banjo (even though we didn't know to call it that) and an enthusiastic guy's voice leading us through a couple of choruses of "This Land Is Your Land." No doubt that Woody Guthrie was a bit too radical (and any recordings of his version were probably even scratchier-sounding) for our tender and unsophisticated ears (and politically innocent, as well; like the rest of Our Land, as it wasn't November 22, 1963 for a few more days.....)
T'was Pete Seeger, who was considered a troublemaker because he was brave enough to tell Congress to go take a flying leap at itself for asking U.S. citizens questions that they had no business asking.
Seeger, a Guthrie apostle, used folk music to spread the word of, and reinforce the concept of, civil (and basic human) rights.
Seeger, who learned how to hop a freight train from Guthrie himself,* spent most of his 94 years as a folksinger, and wrote many of the titles that would come to mind when you think of the term "folk songs."
As a member of The Weavers, Seeger was eventually 'blacklisted' in the 1950's, a practice which finally had its nose pulled by the Smothers Brothers, when they invited him onto their network television show. (and three cheers for them, too!)
A parting quote from Seeger: "I like to say I'm more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other."

Amen, Pete!

And, Speaking of Spreading The Word About People's Rights.....


Morrie Turner, an Oakland (and later Sacramento) cartoonist, drew the comic strip "Wee Pals" from 1965 until just days before his death this week at the age of 90. Turner's "Pals" strip was always upbeat, and the cast of characters was at least as varied as a Benneton ad. Sometimes appearing as though drawn with a Sharpie, the strip nevertheless had a razor sharp message: We Can All Get Along. Even "Ralphie," (no relation) the often cranky kid who would always get his comeuppance, was likable. "Pals'" 'Soul Corner' was a biographical feature that could enlighten and inform. It must have been a good formula, as he had over 25,000,000 readers!
Turner, a good friend of "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz, devoted a great deal of his time and energy to youth projects.

We'll miss ya, Morrie!

* his first attempt to dismount a moving train cost him his banjo when he tumbled over it, shattering it

January 16, 2014
Another Name For It

"Pre-Need Embalming"
Why wait until the last minute?

I was once told, by a reliable source on such matters *, that formaldehyde makes your tongue swell up (if you're still around to appreciate it.)

Ethanol sounds like a far better choice.

* an experienced imbiber, who learned, first-hand, that Prohibition was a lousy idea.
Another, similarly-experienced veteran of ethanol famines, was somehow convinced by a similarly impoverished buddy that the reformulated Sterno could be made safe through a combination of sugar, 7Up and the efforts of a Zippo lighter. Three days later, as their Liberty was expiring, they regained consciousness and concluded that, altho it wasn't lethal, it also wasn't quite worth it.

October 10, 2013
Yeah, even heroes have to go sometime, too..... *
Scott Carpenter, one of the original Mercury astronauts (and among my personal heroes) died today. I guess that space flight (provided you actually get off the ground) isn't as hazardous as one might think. He was 88 years old. The fourth American to go into space, he went but once, and entered the record books forever. He later found that undersea exploration was his cup of tea, and he spent a lot of time involved in projects like SeaLab. (Outer space, Inner Space, Underspace - it's all good.)

I'm going to watch The Right Stuff again, dangit. (He was portryed by actor Charles Frank - go ahead, see if you can visualize that.)
* and I don't mean Alan Shepard's pre-liftoff, monitoring sensor-nullifying relief, either.....

September 13, 2013

What would you get if you crossed Russell Crowe with Moe Howard.......?

Bruno Kirby, maybe......?

I happened across an over-the-air broadcast (yes, they still do that) of This Is Spinal Tap one recent verrrry early morning (we're called "Nightide Studios," remember?) and was reminded of Kirby's versatility as a character actor. You have probably seen him a lot more often than you think.
The film itself, which I had not seen in a decade or two, just about knocked me out of my seat (which wouldn't be easy, as I was flaked out on some floor pillows.) No wonder it has turned up on so many "Best Of' lists; check out the IMDB listings, and consider the film's impact on our society (at least conversationally.
If you don't believe me, 'Turn it up to eleven.')

20 June, 2013

A Few Facts That I Have Learned Since That Last Blog Post...

The average economy class airline seat is approximately 3 inches narrower that the average coffin.

The Transportation Security (not 'Safety') Administration is a non-profit theater group, evidently.

The Kailua-Kona airport's troupe (see above) is mainly doing comedy.

The air in Hawaii still feels like soft skin.

The ocean water in Hawaii still feels like silk.

The Fukushima tsunami beat the living Christmas out of some of Hawaii's beaches (since repaired, but not undetectably.) This, somehow, did not make the news in Downtown California.

The coral reefs (reeves?) are still an unending source of fascination.

You can, indeed, get a dandy sunburn in the shade, despite sunscreen.

Pina coladas in the daytime, under a palm tree, seem to cancel out sunscreen's beneficial effects (see above).

A sushi/sashimi combo plate is always ok with my palate and digestive works, even while being blasted by karaoke folk.

Rental cars just continue to get weirder.

There doesn't seem to be a single un-cool local park on the Big island.

There don't seem to be any non-knockout botanical gardens on the Big Island.

Ono's in Honolulu still serves great Island Soul Food.

Kalua pork, steamed taro leaves and lomi lomi salmon are still great.

Ono's evidently has not redecorated since about the Korean War Era.

Honolulu's Bishop Museum is still an excellent source of wonder; the historic implements, weapons and general evidence of daily life can absorb one's attentions for many hours.

Honolulu's Crack Seed Store has more things to nibble on than a Las Vegas chorus line.

Honolulu's Goodwill Store, near the Crack Seed Store, yields many fresh (to us, anyway) designs of Aloha shirts.

Taking Mary Roach's latest book along will not distract you from the sun, sand and water. Nope. Not much. Nosirree. ("wow, did we go on vacation? why didn't you tell me?")

It's still a lot colder getting off the plane in San Francisco than it was getting on the plane in Honolulu.

Airline travel has really deteriorated over the years, at least for non-1% travelers.

If I could take a train to the islands, I surely would.

Thirty years is not a long time to be married to the same, loving person: it's merely a great start.

The Maker Faire is still a fantastic, wholly-absorbing event (altho not without its challenges. One of those challenges is to keep from letting the Surrealism Bar get raised constantly.*)

The weekend of the Maker Faire was also beset by every other event that was planned for the year happening then, too. (Bay to Breakers, Greek Festivals, Amgen Bike Race, Car Shows, You-Name-It). The telling detail here was that the Bay Area actually ran out of barricades for rent!

The Dyson company really knows how to move air.

You really are a mile high already in Denver.

Denver University offers a "Masters In Taxation" degree.

I never before thought that I would want to boo someone at a Commencement Ceremony.

Denver University couldn't find anyone significant to provide the usual "Now go out there and make a change" commencement speech, so they had to settle on Ban Ki Moon.

A United Nations Secretary general can be pretty funny.

It appears to be impossible to enter a commercial establishment in Denver that doesn't have some incense going.....

A great dane puppy can weigh upwards of 150 lbs.

A great dane puppy still acts like a puppy.

TSA screening in the Denver airport takes place in what resembles an enormous circus tent, lending the situation all the seriousness that it deserves.

Train seats are larger than an average coffin.

Next time I'm called to Denver, I'm taking the train again.

Dogs actually do get old after about 14 years.

I may be part dog.

... and, finally, time really flies when you're being had by fun!

* seriously, in the morning, somebody dressed as a giant banana goes whizzing by on a skateboard, and it's a major event; by 1400 hours, a giant-wheeled, steam powered quadricycle chugs past, with scantily-clad passengers hanging off of it handing out opossum-flavored lozenges wouldn't trigger a second glance...
also, the first 30 or so 3-D printers were kinda fun; after that, the remaining 150 or so sort of lost their novelty. One cool thing that I saw was a guy with (what I thought was a large parrot cage) a 3 D printer strapped to his back, fabbing something whilst he wandered about enjoying the Faire. It made me think of itinerant tinkers of yore....."Oy! Printing today! Bring out yer plans! Printing right 'ere & now, Guv'nor!")

4 April, 2013
A Worthy Cause To Consider....
(direct from The Crucible) The Crucible has the chance to win a $25,000 grant from State Farm for our Bike Program, and you can help. All you have to do is vote on Facebook every day between today and April 22. And if you’re really excited you could vote up to 10 times a day!
Click here to vote on State Farm’s Facebook App. (You’ll have to give the application permissions, but only the first time.) After that, all you have to do is click “vote” to lend your support for Bikes for West Oakland, and it's super easy to click 10 times in a row.
The Crucible’s Bike Program serves our West Oakland community with Bike Fix-a-Thons, Earn-a-Bike, Art Bike, and a drop-in repair times. This year six Bike Fix-a-Thons will enable at least 300 of our neighbors to access free repairs. 20 students in Earn-a-Bike will learn how to weld and explore other industrial arts in order to fabricate two bicycles and keep one – bikes are donated to community organizations and toy drives or sold to support the program. And Art Bike participants conceive and create unique artworks from frame to finished project.
The Crucible’s Bike Program was one of 200 causes (from over 3,000 entries) selected, which is a huge honor, and we only get funded if we reach the top 40. So please take a second to vote (or 10 seconds to vote 10 times), share with your friends, and check out The Crucible’s Bike Program in person soon. There’s something here for everybody.

1 April, 2013
Whew! What a job.....!

Small wonder that we've been out of touch (in so many ways) for so long. We've been in the throes of a cleanup job like never before! It seems that a rather large (and potentially dangerous) chemical spill has had us in a state of near-total concentration for most of the season, attempting, sometimes vainly, to minimize its ill effects.
We can't be altogether certain of its origins (given the still-uncertain effects of global warming and weather pattern disruptions, we can't clearly put the blame on China, Iran or the ever-popular mini-villain North Korea) but it certainly blew in with the prevailing winds.
OK, I know, I shouldn't be whining about this; after all, Superstorm Sandy brought even more of the unwelcome stuff to the East Coast, but we've still got to take care of it all over our place.
Yeah, we've had a lot of dihydrogen monoxide falling all over the place, contaminating large portions of our property. I can't seem to keep the stuff off of our car, either.
You can learn more about this dangerous stuff here, and see what we're up against.

Hopefully we'll have this ever-expanding problem under control by the time summer rolls around, but, in the meantime, we'll try to sneak out to some shows now and again.
Next one: The Crucible's Open House, saturday 6 April 2013. Hope to see ya there, and we can explain what we're dealing with here......!

8 January, 2013
“So what’s on ‘California’s Gold’ tonight?”....
... is a clarion call that has echoed through Downtown California every night around 7:30 when nothing else is going on (packing for a show or a trip, going to a meeting, whatever) - for at least 15 years.

We discovered “CG” when the Ralph’s friend, a former California State Parks ranger, mentioned it, and soon became charmed by its improbably genial, folksy host, Huell Howser.

Huell - it just seems too stiff to call him “Mr. Howser,” New York Times-style - quickly became a part of our lives, appearing so regularly in our Downtown California living room that we soon memorized the opening credits where he announced that the show was endorsed by “the California Teachers Association, the California School Boards Association and the California Library Association.” It’s a Downtown California tradition to recite this right along with Huell, doing our best to mimic his Tennessee accent.

But our love of Huell never was ironic. Much as we liked him as a presenter, we loved the way he stood back and let the people and places visited take center stage. Everything was “aMAYzing.” There were always remarkable “juxtapositions.” And frequently things “just get better and better”...unless “it doesn’t get any better than this.”

We even indulged in the California’s Gold Drinking Game - the triggers being all of the above, as well as any time Huell repeated back to a person whatever they had just said. (Local person: “So this is where the goatherders would come for dinner on Saturday nights.” Huell: “So you mean this place was filled with goatherders on Saturday night?” OK, that’s not a real example, but it gives you the idea.)

We liked to find out about places to visit from “California’s Gold” -- one memorable trek took us to the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah -- and also enjoyed watching Huell do shows on places we had already seen, such as Daffodil Hill.

Part of his charm did indeed come from the, er - juxtaposition - of his gentle, enthusiastic approach and his bodybuilder, Marine Corps physicality. And even more, we think other fans, like ourselves, could sense that all of his enthusiasm or positivity was completely genuine.

Should any of us have doubted this, on Twitter the day after Huell’s death, @jacobsoboroff wrote, “RIP Huell Howser, CA legend. He launched my career with this unplanned moment: Always wanted to be Huell 2.0.”

In Soboroff’s video, Howser -- mid-interview -- is taken completely by surprise by the young cameraman’s sudden appearance and not only does not blow his top - he incorporates Soboroff into his show. They became friends after that. Soboroff also noted in another tweet that there were already more than 300 comments @HuffpostLA.

Just a day after Huell’s death was announced, the rather unfortunately-handled “toodeadfordreaming” posted this lovely tribute video -- which caught the man’s spirit as well as anything could. There were already 129 comments and 224 “likes” on the post as of Jan. 7, the day after Huell died.

The outpouring of sadness, humor and warm memories captured in multiple forms of media served to remind us that thousands of other Californians must’ve felt much as we did - that Huell was our own special find and friend. And yet, rather than feeling jealous that others loved him too, we find it heartening that this gentle man was appreciated by so many.

We hope he knew how beloved he was. The shock that greeted the news of his death suggests that he was a private man who wanted his legacy to be the work that he did, bringing to light the many aMAYzing facets of the adopted state he loved so well.

A consummate TV professional and businessman, Huell had planned for the future, donating all episodes of his life’s work to Chapman University, as well as three houses. The university has digitized all the episodes, and has placed them online for free public viewing.


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