Pining for Thelma

November 22nd, 2014

Late on a Sunday night, the old Philco was on and between the crackling of the busted speaker, I was listening to Thelma Thorax and the Famous Drifting Tumbleweeds singing their hit, “If I had to do it all over again, I’d do it all over you.”
Sunday nights afforded the widest range of reception for the AM stations. Up in the hills of northern NJ I could tune-in station WWVA from Wheeling, West Virginia.
And there she’d be, twang and all. One night Thelma was in especially good voice – best since she’d just got out of prison having served time for taking her pickup and running over her philandering ne’er-do-well husband, Festus.
The sponsors on that station were of great interest. I could order a prayer cloth pre-dipped in holy water and personally blessed by the Reverend Billy-Bob Hargrove to “lay gently upon any area of affliction” for “complete and fast pain relief and healing.” I could also, at the drop of a postcard into the ol’ mailbox down on the corner, order C.O.D. 1000 baby chicks, “Guaranteed live delivery!”
Raising chickens sounded like fun but I’m not sure mom would’ve been thrilled with them in our already crowded basement. Since the spring thaw, it’d been overrun with frogs from a science project gone awry. I had no idea the frog eggs I’d collected at the nearby pond would hatch so quickly and trade in their tails for legs. My teacher said that fact, in itself, made my discovery one of educational significance.
I stared up at the framed picture of Thelma on my wall. There she was, before the microphone, adorned in her signature glittering sequined vest, One “T” in ten-inch 14 carat gold over each breast, gold-fringed skirt and white and gold patent-leather cowgirl boots. Her beehive hairdo, twisted and piled reaching just below the dust-crusted ceiling fan hovering over the dimly-lit, cigarette smog shrouded stage. She crooned away – sooo beautiful! A twelve-year-old boy’s vision of a fantasy in sparkling white leather, gold and flesh! She was exactly what the moralistic Boy Scout Handbook and gym teacher, Mr. Gatorskin, had warned about.
Good girl gone bad.
Thelma’d traversed the fashion world from sequins to prison garb and now, thank goodness, back again.
Her lament,
“If ah had to do-it all over again,
What ah know now,
If ah’d knew-it then,
Ah’d fire up mah truck and head yer way,
Ah’d do it-all over again.”
Oh, what sweet strains of revenge and backwoods justice!
Just at the right moment, the banjo player’d break into his solo, followed by the fiddle, then the Dobro. Lastly it’s just Junior on his acoustic bass – then each taking eight bars. They’d trade off “fours” while Thelma slugged down a gulp or two of Jack and toasted each Drifting Tumbleeed as he played. Classic.
Poor ‘ol Festus, his momentary lapse of judgement out behind the town’s grain elevator with the nubile Daisy Mellen changed lives forever, ultimately ending his.
His sacrifice was my gain for without it, there’d be no lament across the airwaves by the dear Thelma. She was the real deal.

Autumn Leaves

November 17th, 2014

Not to get too picky, just trying to be helpful, I must report a jobs program that is having great success in merry old England. My friend, John Chaircaner, alerted me to this one. In the autumn of each year, around the grounds of the famed Westminster House of Commons, stepladders are posted near all the trees. Upon those stepladders stand women with arms extended and fingers at the nimble. What are they doing? Picking apples or other fall fruits? No, you silly person, they are engaged in the all-important task of preventative gardening. Their job is to pick each leaf off each tree BEFORE it disengages from the branch and crashes to the ground.
Professional leaf picker, Thelma Thorax, put it this way…
“Have you ever heard a leaf crash to the ground? It is most distressing and distracting to our lawmakers inside the Commons as they ponder how to maintain strict cuts to our renowned British dental care programs. Oak leaves are the worst!!”
Thelma continued picking for she knows the constables are on high alert…that if one – just one – leaf hits the ground, she is fined threepence. It goes up from there – doubling each time another falls. Pence to Quid, all the way to Pounds. It is a maddening existence. “But someone’s gotta do it, dearie…” she said.
“I’ve been well-trained. Timing and precision is essential.” As she extended her arm and stretched her fingertips for the last leaf on the end of the branch. She pinched it off in one deft motion; surgical precision at its finest.
That side of the tree completed, she scurried down the four rungs and deftly moved the ladder 90-degrees counterclockwise around the trunk.
Thelma continued, “When I got out of my Prep, I had no direction in life. I tried peddling various things over at Piccadilly, you know the usual apples, pencils and the like. I tried selling bootleg copies of BBC shows and fake Rolex’s. The faux Gucci purses left me starving and hopeless. Want a free purse? I got a lot of ‘em (she laughed).”
Her training? “One day I noted the tag on my teabag, there was an ad on it for the Royal Academy of Gardening, you know, just like you have on matchbooks over in the colonies. ‘Earn quick quid as a master leaf picker!’ it said. Having few alternatives, I called the toll-free number and here I am. Oh, it wasn’t instant or easy. My apprenticeship was three years – that’s a long time to live in their dorms and eat the daily rations of gruel. One cup of tea per day! It was tough but I survived. Each morning the barracks grew emptier as the weak ones packed it in but I persisted and this is my reward!”
She handed me down a stuffed canvas bag, “Pass me an empty, would you dearie?” I handed it up to her.
I took a few steps back, wanting (and needing) to visit the pub on the corner. I thought of the unemployment problems we had across the pond and began to wonder….
As I walked away, I heard that cockney voice muffled voice through the veil of her poorly concealed pride, “We’ve killed the leaf rake business.”


October 25th, 2014

The Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits any United States citizen from being denied the right to vote on the basis of sex.
So, please make sure you are a consenting adult before you enter the voting booth.

Shopping at Sears

October 25th, 2014

Like to buy things but I am not nuts about shopping.
“See, grab, pay.” That is my motto for procurement of items. I might read online reviews and even consult our back issues of Consumer Reports for items of significant value so I usually don’t go into a store blindly.
But time constraints on consumer decision making are creeping into the mix.
Yesterday, we bought a microwave but returned it an hour later when we saw one we liked better at a nearby store. But that is not the issue at hand. What’s at issue is the paperwork spewed from the register during the checkout and return.
Checkout clerk, “Would you like to become a member of the Boapadon Club? If you do, you get 1400 points and ten dollars off this purchase. OMG! $10? 1400 points? That’s a lot of points…but then I wonder, what are the points worth? I know for a fact that the 12,876 points I earned over a year’s time at our local Skye-Rocket-Val-U-Grocery got me a free donut. A whole FREE donut!!
“All I need is your email address, your social security number and your checking account routing number”
I shrugged and agreed. Bells clanged, horns tooted, lights flashed!! A manager had to come over, insert his special key to the machine and present me with a membership certificate.
The checkout area immediately became like a ticker tape parade down the Avenue of the Americas. Yards of paper with bar codes began flying out of the machine as if I’d just won the big deal of the day at the casino. So now the pressure is really on because of all the wonderful offers that spewed forth!
Here is what I got:
• 12% my next purchase of power tools, lawn, garden or outdoor storage. It is good for the next seven (7) days!! On the back of the coupon, is a microprinted listing of all the exclusions, too numerous to mention.
• $16.99 Conventional Oil. Holy Toledo!! When I asked what that meant I was told it had to do with an oil change for our car. This one is good for an entire month! (I can get a cheaper oil change anytime I want a mile away at my car dealer).
• 25% off Lands’ End purchase; good for the next seven days.
• “Take $5 off shoes for the entire family!” during the coming week. Let’s see, a family of five…that would be $1 a pair. BFD!!
• $50 in points on cooking appliances for the next two weeks! (If I spend $499 or more. That is 10% – or less on items that are usually marked up exponentially. How generous! Good for two weeks.
• “Congratulations, you have $40 in surprise points on your next purchase of $200 or more!” Expires in one week.
• “$10 points for Sears paint or tools when you redeem your points” (during the coming seven days.

Gotta get busy and get back to the store to save more money!
How stupid do they think we are?

Yes! There IS a Symphony in Holland, Michigan

October 3rd, 2014

Hershey’s chocolate company has a Symphony bar but Holland, Michigan has a Symphony Orchestra! Both give great pleasure but the Holland Symphony comes without the calories.
Last Saturday evening’s performance at the DeWitt Performing Arts Center in Zeeland was met with enthusiasm by all in attendance – especially the touring feature performers, Genghis Barbie. One of the visiting performers remarked to Music Director and Conductor Johannes, Mueller-Stosch, “You have a REAL symphony orchestra here!” But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That piece of the program was second on the playbill.
The Overture to Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute opened the program. Breathtaking is an apt word to describe the technical excellence, balance, precision and dynamic range expressed that evening. This was one of Mozart’s final compositions and is an iconic example of the Classical era of serious music. There seemed to be an electric current emanating from the tip of Mueller-Stosch’s baton into the fingers and soul of each musician. As a result, he got exactly what he wanted. It could not have been played better. The bar had been set high for the evening.
Guest performers, Genghis Barbie, followed. The four young women carrying their French horns walked onto stage, they were dressed in the traditional basic black but that was as traditional as it got. The bells of their “axes” were done in bright colors. Edgy. Brassy (pun intended). They combine a rock and roll attitude with traditional classical music. The visuals were the perfect precursor to their performance. In the excitement of the moment, Genghis Barbie drove the tempo of Schumann’s “Konzertstuck for Four Horns and Orchestra” at a surprising pace for the orchestra and the orchestra matched them beat for beat! Not too shabby for our local, community-based orchestra. In fact our Holland Symphony’s expertise has transcended what any of us has a right to expect – but don’t feel guilty about that. The audience is joyfully accepting that right. The Symphony’s performances and artistic development continues on the upward curve and can now be favorably compared with regional and nationally known orchestras. It has been twenty-five years in development and this is a year of well-deserved celebration.
Genghis Barbie then surprised and delighted the audience with an encore of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah!” complete with a verse expertly sung by “Velvet” Barbie.
The second half of the program featured the Beethoven’s 7th Symphony. To this reviewer, the challenging aspects of this piece involved not only the notes and tempos (which were done with flawless expertise) but also the dynamic balance with woodwinds, brass, percussion and, of course, strings. Watching the tympani player alone, was akin to watching the inner workings of a Swiss watch. The orchestra achieved the Gestalt sound so characteristic of Beethoven orchestral pieces. It is hard to describe but to the trained ear, one knows when it’s there and it was there.
As the audience left, each was handed a full-size Hershey’s Symphony bar in celebration of the orchestra’s silver anniversary. Nice treat, indeed! But the best treat of all was the music for the evening.
To be thrilled by our Holland Symphony Orchestra, you don’t need a formal gown or tuxedo, drive an upscale car or be on Medicare. The music scene in Holland stands on a legacy that began a century ago. It is vibrant and extends from youth programs to private studios, colleges, universities and onto our local concert stages. The dedication of those involved is unparalleled and those of us who tune in to it are the real beneficiaries.

The Art of Being Human

September 29th, 2014

First day of Art Prize 2014 – Ford Museum. On this beautiful, warm, bordering on hot-in-the-sun autumn day the entire city of Grand Rapids came alive as it celebrated the “coming out” of creative abilities often hidden away in too many of us.
The electricity in the air was fueled by this amazing event called “Art Prize” with crowds drawn from all over to see and interact, each in his or her own way, with the finest of human creative achievement.
The fountain in front of the Ford Museum was a gathering place for many and for people-watching it was supreme. The jets of the fountain shot up a central spray 30 – 40 feet into the air. A very slight breeze sent a mist of cool around its perimeter.
Two young women, one pushing an empty stroller, approached. Their little boy, 14 months old or so, just beyond the controlled fall stage of learning to walk was toddling along. With little bursts of running, he was taking it all in. To a child his age, the entire world is opening before him. It can often be seen as a chaotic mass of wonder that he works very hard at organizing and understanding. His joys of discovery have not yet been tempered with the concept of fear. The energies in his young mind and body are working at full capacity.
They had just left the giant letters of “NOW” that were covered with clocks -perhaps that work is a statement of living in the moment. This little guy already has a PhD in that concept. He gets the idea without the art. For the rest of us, we need a little nudging from time to time and art helps.
Toddling along, he’d be suddenly fascinated with a pebble or cookie wrapper seen on the ground but at one point, he looked up and saw the spray of water shoot up into the air. He was instantly captivated. His eyes grew huge as he ran toward the fountain. Right up to its edge he went, jumping up and down with joy, he slapped his hands on the chest-high wall that kept him safely out of the reflecting pool.
Soon, he was delightfully distracted by something else, one of the artist/exhibitors was walking her dog nearby. He ran off to approach the dog. The three wandered off to take-in more of the day.
Just a few moments later a street person shuffle-staggered over. Through the haze of whatever was easing the pain of his life he slurred, “Please don’t be angry with me, but do you have any spare change?”
And there it was right before us in a short period of time and human experience – the full range of what life has to offer. One had the spark of living in this world just beginning to ignite while the other was desperately trying to keep it from dimming to black. Most of us live somewhere in the middle of that range and Art Prize is one of the wonderful things that draws us closer to the end of that spectrum where that little boy resides.

Saving Money

September 27th, 2014

In these days of belt tightening, it is always good to seek out great savings on our purchases. I am SO THANKFUL our friends at local retail clothing chains have received the urgent message of the consuming public.
Well-trained and carefully scripted Customer Satisfaction Associate Team Leaders (checkout clerks) excel at giving the proper corporate-speak as we dig through our wallets and purses for the right piece(s) of plastic to pay for our selections. That, in itself is a challenge with all our communication devices and bonus points cards we carry.
“One shirt $29.95” she reassuringly states as the barcode is swiped.
“One hooded sweatshirt, on sale for $42.00”
My endorphins begin to seep into my bloodstream or wherever they are supposed to go. As I have aged, they don’t seem to find their way to some places they once did. It‘d often get quite embarrassing.
Then comes the big payoff – time for the “Reveal” that the Checkout Clerk Training Film depicted in stop-action, slow-motion. The register tape rolls out of the machine. Our Customer Satisfaction Associate Team Leader turns it toward me and takes out a pen. With cheerful inflection and a pirouette of her wrist, she circles a number… “You saved $635.00 today!”
“Wowie!!” I think. “Holy Sha-mackrel!” I am overwrought with joy.
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, sir.” She adds. Your shirt was originally $340.69 and your hoodie was (whatever the difference was but I have run out of toes to report the accurate number.)
“Wow! What a deal!! This must be one hell of a shirt!”
“It is the finest JC Penney has to offer.” Her tones are so affirming.
Those endorphins are now in the midst of a tidal wave throughout my system! This is the ultimate consumer Vicodin and (Medical, of course) marijuana, feel- good cocktail. Lots of buzz but no calories!
Never mind the plight of the less fortunate, the downtrodden and the chronically angry eyecandy experts on FOX News. Never mind my aching knees, those pesky back spasms and my personal heartbreak of flaky dandruff. I have saved a TON of bucks on these two items.
“Now we can really help our children!” I say, but first (I turn to Lovie) “Let’s go over to the Texas Roadhouse and grab us a steak or two!!”
“With all the trimmings…” she adds as she wraps her hands around my arm and leads me out the door to the car.

Please pass the Clearasil

September 22nd, 2014

High School Yearbook Wisdom
“Westward Ho”
West High School
(1957) Madison, WI
To: Lucy Shinn

“It’s been a lot of fun being in Latin class together. Lots of luck always…”
- Ginny Jackson
“I wish I’d gotten to know you better in Latin. Lots of luck in 10th grade.”
- Gail Gilbert
“I don’t have to say, ‘Have fun!’ because you will. It’s really been swell. I’ll see you in that swimming suit!” -Eddie Corcoran

“You are a smart girl and thanks for the help on the test. I’ll see you this summer (nope, never) and with fuzzy hair and everything.” – Juan

“You are a ball of fire!…..” – Sandy
“Have a ball with ‘Ned’ this summer!” – “Hutch”
“Better teach Ned how to drive a shift car…” – Tom Thomsen
“I will be over soon to take you for a sail and to go water skiing.” – Fred
“Only two wrong on the test? You must have cheated!” – Neil
“Honey, you are the sweetest thing that ever was…Take it easy with all the boys because you are really dynamite!” – Love, Norma
“The next time you have $256 look me up…” – Jim Beels
“We weren’t in any classes together….” – Nancy
“It was fun being a hall monitor third period but all good things come to an end.”
– Barry Gabemann
“Although I don’t know you, I’d like to improve on that relationship.” – Bubba

Please pass the Clearasil and that Jim Beels must have been really something…

It’s Negative Political Ad Season

September 19th, 2014

It’s begun again. Negative political ads. They are focusing more and more on deriding the opposition rather than illuminating how their candidate is going to save the world.
• “Joe Paffufnik leaves the seat UP in his penthouse apartment while his wife struggles with their 6 kids in Salem, NC. Is that who you want in Washington?”
• “Governor Blanton Holiday was playing golf and drinking BEER on August 15 when it rained on the town parade. He was nowhere in sight to stop it.”
• “Congressman Gelbert does not pick up his underwear from the floor!”
• “Hypocrisy is on the loose! Supposed environmental advocate, Fred Helsinki, farted in a crowded elevator.”
• State Senator Munch comes from a long line of moonshiners and scallywags!”
• “Candidate Billy Bob Nunca refuses to wipe his feet when he comes into the house after slopping the hogs. Don’t let him leave his footprints in the State House!”
• “Millie Robinson voted FOR Gregory Smith when he ran for seventh grade class president on a platform of free lunch for all. Don’t let HER pass out more freebies to the lazy freeloaders in our District! (Sponsored by Citizens for Pay-As-You-Go).
• “Candidate Rebby Nowitzke plays tic-tac-toe on the bulletin during the sermon in church. We cannot have such a person of weak faith representing us!”
• “Congressman Monty Yeskendrick’s golden retriever had a litter of 9 puppies. When asked how they were, he responded, ‘Delicious’”
And so it goes…

Being on Telephone “Hold”. A music review.

September 8th, 2014

Dear Corporate Robots,
First of all, please allow me to congratulate you on your genius of the music you play while your robotic answering service places me on “Hold” because “All our representatives are serving other customers. Your call is important to us.”

The music was HORRENDOUS!! For fifteen minutes and 27-seconds my brain and aesthetic senses were bludgeoned with the harsh, poor quality tones of some irritating Kenny G wannabe muzak. Kenny G is bad enough but this is worse. It makes fingernails on the blackboard seem soothing by comparison.
I realize that in this age of technology, no one would ever even try to play this kind of stuff outside a padded cell in the back ward of the funny farm. It was created by some computer geek with a warped sense of humor or a passive-aggressive personality profile.

This muzak made the grade school filmstrip music of my youth sound like Debussy in comparison. During this irritating hold noise, I could imagine a voice-over saying, “and so…the double breasted Mulusks of the Trobajalad Islands in the remote Pacific atolls lead a happy, productive life amid the native peoples who leave them alone except for the brief hunting season when their tail feathers are favored to adorn stone platforms for their fertility celebrations.”
…and as soon as “fertility celebrations” was said, all the boys awakend from their slumbers by instinct and began to punch each other in the shoulder and the girls blushed and ran off in mass to the girl’s room.
It was THAT kind of music.
It is music designed to make one want to hang up or puke or both.
It was the kind of music to make me want to rip out my hearing aids and take a vow of silence. (I am a senior citizen).
It is music designed to pay an unwarranted bill just to shut it off.
It is music designed to make it unnecessary to for them hire enough “representatives” to work their phone banks so the corporate head decision makers can earn bigger bonuses for saving the company capital expenses of equipment and personnel.
Congratulations for a job well done!