Friday, June 25, 2010

The Clown Prince

Found this clip in doing research for a show i'm performing this weekend. George Formby's work has kept generations laughing since the 1930s. He writes the songs he sings, and has a delivery style reminiscent of Pee Wee with a banjo ukelele. Deservedly crowned the "Clown Prince of England".

my only regret is I couldn't find a clip of the Formby song I'm using - "Swimmin with the Women". Maybe our show video will be good enough to post...

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Is It Just Me or Is It Getting Darker in Here?

We've passed the Summer Solstice this week. The sun has gone as high as it will go, and each day will travel in an arc closer and closer to the horizon. Days are getting shorter, and the sunrise and sunset will be at points further and further to the south until next December.

But, now, here is the question. Only one day into Summer can't you feel it already? Don't you look up at the way the sun casts a shadow, and say to yourself "Something is different". Don't you have brief intuitive glimpses at how precious and beautiful Summer is, and how fleeting?

Most people dismiss this, thinking to themselves "Probably never noticed it before, that's all!" But, no -- your body has a very precise internal clock. And it's mysteriously and wonderfully constantly updating itself using the overwhelming sensory information provided to the brain. Without your thinking about it, your body tracks a correlation between shadows and light, and time, and makes its long-range plans. And it knows - your body knows with certainty of its integrated role in the clockwork of the universe.

Here's an experiment - as you're going to bed tonight, just look at your bedside clock and tell yourself to get up just three minutes before the alarm goes off. Next morning, you'll wake up, and if you look at the clock, you'll find it's exactly three minutes before your alarm is set to sound -- and then you'll curse Excelsior for cheating you out of three minutes of sleep!

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Pea Truck

It's the mid-1950s in Watertown, Wisconsin on a fragrant June morning. Marsha, my personal life instructor, is about to initiate me in yet another one of those mysteries of life that makes it so great to be us.

A certain part of the road – the asphalt is broken and there are pieces of broken pavement strewn around. We wait by the roadside. It's a fairly busy road - Center Street becomes Dodge County Highway M as it leaves Watertown. County M is a thoroughfare for trucks laden with produce heading from the all the farms and fields to the canning factory in nearby Clyman. And this time of year, there was only one type of produce going by – pea vines!

A truck appears in the distance. As it gets closer, we confirm – yes, it's a pea truck! We stand by the bump in the road, and wait for the truck. The truck is a huge wooden box, overloaded and heaped up over the top. The trucker proceeds slowly, knowing how overloaded his truck is. But he hits the inevitable bump, and about a half-bushel of pea-vines fall off and hit the pavement.

Swooping in like a flock of vultures, we grab armfuls of the peas and run! Stopping behind the house, we sat on the back porch examining our plunder. We'd just break open the pods and scrape them off with our teeth. It doesn't get any better than that! If they had pesticides in those days, they were not poisonous. These were the tastiest peas on earth.

When we later told our parents about it, the only comment was disappointment that we had not saved them any. This had been one of their own childhood rituals as well – passed along to the next generation.

written 06.23.10. excerpt from "45 rpm" Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Day After the Tornado

Who decides how much confusion, obstruction, misery and misfortune to pass out to each individual on any given day? I think I got an extra portion today by mistake!

I woke up this morning at 6 am, a hot damp morning after the tornadoes last night that leveled six houses. Lots to do before work - I headed for the computer. A new payment from Ebay for an item that I haven't packaged yet - a set of 3D prints of Jesus. Jesus! You'd think I'd get a shipping break! But noooooo, even for 3DJC I must pay my karmic debt. It's an over-size package, and I don't have a box that size. So I have to hunt around the workshop, overturning everything, and when I finally got the pictures all bubba-wrapped and fit into the box, I noticed that the outside of the box is a bit moldy. I sprayed some Windex on it, which usually counteracts that sort of thing. But I didn't have a shop rag to wipe it off, and all the Windex soaks into the cardboard while i'm looking for the rag, making a large squishy spot on the box that the Postal Authorities will probably reject as a device of impending terror. It's WINDEX, for Chrissakes! I finally get the carton hung together with extra shipping tape, and i'll keep it in my mini-van all day while i'm at work, which will dry it out without melting it or having it stolen, if i'm lucky.

So, I get back to the computer, and print up the shipping label - and I find that I've over-done it a bit on the multi-item shipping break I gave the customer. And now, instead of making 20 dollars, I'm only making five on the whole works. Why does it cost so much to ship to Seattle? And then I ran out of shipping tape when trying to attach the label - another trip downstairs to get another roll of tape.

Time for a quick check on other ongoing projects. At least the roof repairs are holding after all that rain last night. However, a stairway carpet I had shampooed last Sunday was still wet, due to our excessive humidity this week, and I had to speed that up a bit. Next project -- to hunt up my box fan, last used last Winter in some remote corner plumbing fixture. I found it in the janitor's closet. Of course, the cord's not long enough! Now we're looking for an extension cord, Got one! Too easy. The whole 3-prong vs 2-prong vs odd-shaped prong thing comes down on me at once, and I'm lost in adapters and extension cords that don't fit with one another or the wall socket. Finally got the fan turning, and it's time to gulp a half-warm coffee and bolt out the door for work.

By then, my wife's up. "Why are you sweating? How come your shirt is all wet?" Probably because I have 25 miles on the odometer already and haven't left home!

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52

Monday, June 21, 2010

In Summertime

if you don't see a video here click on this

Here's an anthem to get your first day of summer off to a proper start. What says "Summertime" more than Roger Miller dressed as Rex Harrison singing "In Summertime" with a chorus of singing watermelons? (are they Muppets?) Happy First Day of Summer. And for all of you who hate the heat remember this: the days are getting shorter, now!

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Mall Show

Southridge Mall is a large prestigious suburban shopping center in Greendale, an adjoining Milwaukee suburb. My wife worked on the modeling staff of some of the stores there. When the mall installed their new stage in the center of the mall, a group of stores decided to "take it to the street" and put on a fashion show. A relatively large stage area was centered in the main atrium of the mall, visible from the audience seating area, and also over the balcony of the courtyard area - a spacious urban environment to show the newest fashions of the mall vendors.

(that's Joyce, front left) The day of the show arrived. It was a glamorous show, of course, well-attended by the enthusiastic mall patrons. The stage backdrop doubled as a backstage changing area for the models, and though somewhat crowded at times, they kept the outfits coming out, right on schedule with the commentary - these were professionals - masters of the quick change.
During the show, one of the models discovered something about the stage set. Something that the audience had already discovered. The backstage changing area was a series of room dividers decorated with fans, arranged into a protective corral. Nobody could see into the area where the models were frantically changing outfits - sometimes complete outfits, if you get the drift. ;> Nobody, that is, except for the people standing in the upper walkway - because the stage managers had not thought to put a ceiling on the changing area. So, that day, some people saw a fashion show, and some saw a delightful uncensored reality show! Hellooooo ladies!

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Needs of Others

Different people have different needs. And our culture is desensitizing us to the fulfillment of needs.

For instance, I've learned from watching television that when a policeman shares his needs, such as "I need you to get out of the car and put your hands on your head" - that is a very real need, and if one didn't meet that need, one would be foolish indeed. Oh, some try to avoid the needs of policemen, they say to themselves "Perhaps a quick hop over the fence of this trailer park would help that angry policeman get over his needs". But, no, the needs of the policeman must be met.

The needs of bureaucrats are sometimes important, because an encounter with a bureaucrat has become an exchange of needs. "I need you to fill out this form" usually means that you should fill out the form, if you would like to proceed with whatever it was that brought you there. Although it's kind of pathetic, a bureaucrat will not let your life take your intended direction until the needs of the bureaucracy are met. Because, you yourself have come to the bureaucrat for fulfillment of a need of your own, and your needs always come second. If one didn't know better, one would think that the bureaucrat's "needs" are just a euphemistic way of saying "You Vill Do Vat Ve Hef ORDERED!"

And then we have people phoning in their needs to us. "I need to speak to the Ownah!" Well, now, there's a misplaced need! The one expressing this sort of need does not even realize what the true need is. Gently, one must offer them guidance. "No, a chat with the Ownah is not what you need. What you really and truly need is a career change. "

There are people in need, truly in need. But if meeting the needs of others is your goal, you NEED to seek out the needy, because they do not exploit your willingness to meet their needs.

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Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Sara the Cat

Sara was born in a lumber yard I worked in in the mid-70s. She had five brothers and sisters, but Sara was the smartest of the lot. Katie was her mother, a wise old calico cat. I used to travel by bicycle in those days, and Sara began riding with me on my shoulder. She would howl a lot, just trying to clear the way, I guess. It was like having a siren. Sometimes she'd hang on too hard, or maybe she was trying to steer, but she always had to ride along!

At home (in my parent's basement at the time) she'd want to get out now and then. Dr. Wagner took care of that "wanderlust" thing, but she still liked the glamorous outside city life. She had a favorite spot - one of Benny's shrubs. Benny was our neighbor, and he had a lot of bird feeders out his window, right next to the shrubs. Birds would come from all over to sing to Benny. Sara enjoyed the concerts, too, and there was plenty of exotic food during intermission. But Benny didn't want Sara in his yard - she ate too much, I guess.... Sometimes she'd even pack a "doggy bag" and bring home a live bird, and release it in the basement for a "private concert".

And I'd get these calls from the neighbor. "Your dam cat is on the roof again!" I don't know how she got up there. I'd call her, and she'd come to the edge of the roof and howl, as if to say "I can't get down! Please rescue me!" So, I'd have to get the damn ladder out and lean it against the house. Sara, curious about the ladder, would walk down to safety, usually by herself.

So, if Cat Heaven has a roof, that's probably where Sara is now. Somebody get the dam ladder!

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Thursday, June 10, 2010

Deep Freeze

It was a summer day in the late '50s. A miraculous mystery was about to change our life. My father got a second-hand deep-freeze. Benny and Elroy, the neighbors, helped him move it into the basement. A huge white box with one silver handle on the side. They got it in place, shimmed it up with 2x4s, and fired it up. Suddenly, everything went dark - apparently you couldn't plug it in with an extension cord to an outlet screwed into an overhead light socket... Eventually, they got it on the workshop circuit using Grandpa's heavy-duty extension cord, but just for now, because he needed that on paint jobs.
The deepfreeze was such a mystery. It made a deep distant whirring sound when it ran. It had a wonderful smell that I can remember to this day, not a food smell, but a musty cork insulation smell, the smell of artificial cold.
Now there were new family chores -- we filled freezer cartons. From the garden, there was asparagus, rhubarb, green beans, we even tried buying a huge 25-lb can of cherries, and divided it up into quarts.

And now, we could strut into Habhegger's Butcher shop and buy half a cow - it raised one's social status to be a Wholesale Meat Buyer. The meat came frozen in all sorts of new and odd shapes, all sealed in white paper, and marked with purple rubber stamps as to what was in it. “Hamburger” “Liver” “Ribs”, etc. With our newly fixed-up basement, even relatives coming over for one of the kids’ birthdays became a full-fledged party occasion, opening up Grandma’s old dining room table in the basement and inserting all the leaves.

And there was an aluminum pail (must have been 3-gallon, but it seemed to much larger at the time) of Mullen’s vanilla ice cream. In the white metal cabinet usually reserved for laundry supplies, there were boxes of cones. They weren’t quite the same as the cones at A&W or Schuett’s, they were kind of boxy, without the reinforced edge at the top. Some of them were colored, kind of brownish versions of red, green, and blue. Those tasted the same as regular cones - that is, they had no flavor at all. But the important thing was – we could now make our own ice cream cones – such a great degree of independence! The ice cream was too hard for kids to scoop, so we couldn’t snitch any. That didn’t stop us from opening the freezer, prying the lid off the pail, just looking at it and smelling that wonderful smell.

And we were constantly nagging for an ice cream cone. Once the pail ran out, Dad didn’t get another one, until the next party. Ice cream usually came to us at home in half-gallon cartons, which opened at the end, not on the long side. That same freezer from the 1950s is still running in the basement of our old family house. They don't make 'em like they used to....

written 06.22.07 - from "45 rpm", an on-going unfinished project about life as I knew it as told from the POV of the appliances that changed our lives.

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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Got No Money Oh But Honey Ain't We Got Fun? ♪ ♫

This past winter, I found out something about my employer. Business dropped off due to the Obamanation of America. And when the chips are down, I discovered that my employer will pitch employees overboard, rather than make an effort to restore business volume. Our competitors deployed survival tactics (ads, sale prices, etc.) and are almost as busy as ever. But my company chose to chop. They reduced everyone's hours, reducing our capability to respond to customer inquiries, thereby in my opinion withdrawing from the market altogether. And the employees are trying to make ends meet on as little as ten percent of their former income. My office compadre and I were reduced to three hours per day, though the workload was not correspondingly reduced - things pile up - (my job is 80% overhead operations, and 20% dependent on business volume.)

So, seeing how very valuable I was to my employer, I applied for unemployment for the missing hours (they hate that!), and started job hunting. That's where my discretionary time has been going. Sad to say, the job hunt took all my social networking time. Well, after a month I discovered that posting on Excelsior was more than just a social outing - it is essential to my mental health. And last week, I started posting again - my apologies to all the regular readers, (and you three know who you are!) So, that's the news from Gary Land, now, still job hunting, not tweeting yet, but i'll find a way to get back. . .

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Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Oldies for Oldies

I just got back from Walgreen's, picking up a prescription. While waiting in line, I noticed that the PA music had changed over the years. Where one used to hear the Muzak versions of standards from the Big Band Era, it's now tailored to the Boomers. And then, looking at the other people standing in line with me, hey! they were all in their fifties, and picking up on the music. It was as if the music programmers knew that we'd be there, standing in line waiting for our prescriptions. But the songs, if you stop and listen to them, have a whole new meaning, now that we're older.
  • "Now It's the Same Old Song, but with a Different Meaning ---- whooEE got that one right, Buddy!"
  • "Get your motor runnin -- Head 'er down the highway! -- no, on second thought, let's go home, that's enough for today."
  • "You Got Me Rockin and Rollin, Rockin and a Reelin Barbara Ann! Maybe it's just the meds."
  • "I'm not braggin' so don't put me down, but I got the fastest set of wheels in town, she's my little Motorized Wheelchair!"
  • "You're Sixteen, You're Beautiful, and I'm busted for Pedophilia!"
  • "When I Woke Up This Morning You Were On My Mind, but. now . . . I can't remember..."
  • "Wouldn't It Be Nice if We Were Older? --- NO!"
  • "Kicks Just Keep Getting Harder to Find - BINGO!"
  • "Everybody Wanna Dance With Sweet Little Sixteen . . . maybe later"
  • "It's So Neat to Meet Your Baby Where the Action Is! - and Tuesday is Senior Day!"
  • "Help! -- nuff said"
  • "My Baby Does the Hanky Panky -- In Your Dreams, Old Man"

  • ... and Walgreen's favorite

  • "We can Climb so High, and Never Gonna Die! Born to be Wild.... - Please don't die, little Boomers, we appreciate your prescription business!"

Who would have thought that "When I'm 64" could someday mean "When I Was 64"?

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Monday, June 7, 2010

Some Plants Can Surprise You

A seed falls on the pavement of a busy street, dropped by a passing black bird. It is trampled, kicked, spit upon and worse, and eventually ends up in a sidewalk crack with other ground-up bits of oily street dreck, dirt tar and dog urine. “I was between a rock and a hard place. There was nothing I could do”. But sometimes, worn-out excuses are not an option.

With nowhere to go but up, this seed finds moisture enough to germinate wherever it is, and sends out a tiny stem reaching upward and an exploratory strand of root downward. As the hot sun beats down on the tiny green stem, the new plant frantically explores the sidewalk crevice, and at last discovers the moisture beneath the concrete, and just as the leaves are about to wither and die, the roots start to pump essential moisture and nutrients to the leaves above. Having survived the first traumatic days, the plant continues to grow, roots getting longer and stronger, drawing strength from its surroundings. The muck in the sidewalk crack becomes a nourishing supply of minerals and nutrients. The moisture beneath the concrete is a well of plentiful strength, even on the hottest, driest day. The leaves fan out into beautiful mounds of urban greenery.

Living among the other tough plants that chose to make the most of what life had dealt them, the plant grows into a rugged and beautiful part of the summer urban landscape. Left to itself, the sidewalk weeds create their own world. Beautiful shades of verdant green, sometimes with flowers, sometimes with bursts of firework symmetry – all the traits we usually attribute only to the privileged plants of agriculture and botany. But these weeds achieved all this beauty themselves, asking for nothing, and making do with what they have.

Step on the crack, and they spring back!

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Friday, June 4, 2010

Protection Money

Back in 2006, when Syd was new on the job, you could tell that he was happy with the new place. One methodical inspection of every corner of the house, one cursory sniff of Gondi's butt (the other cat). food, water -- check! and Syd was ready for a nap in the new place. That night when I went to bed, he slammed himself up against me, and started purring, and we all fell asleep.

The following morning, i woke up to the cold wet caress of a kitchen sponge left lying near the pillow. Now, why did he do that? We soon found out that Syd was no ordinary cat. He had defined a rigorous list of duties for himself. There was so much responsibility on the work orders he made out for himself. All those boxes, in all the rooms - they all had to be licked! And rubber bands - they are one of Syd's duties. All of them have to be moved to the bottom step. And there's barely enough time to do it in a day and still get one's required sleep.

But, here in the new world, there is always food and water. The Humane Society told us that Syd had been picked up as a stray. When he tried to drink water out of the toilet, we showed him the water dish. Unbelievably cool and juicy. Beats toilet water every time! He seemed so grateful to have his own water supply. And the other cat, Gondi, although a real sissy, still, he could be accommodated.

And so, to reward those who had given him such a life, or perhaps he figured "protection tribute" was due to maintain his new position. He brought us gifts. And since he didn't have much money, he brought us things he found. A kitchen sponge. And to give it that extra "Syddiness" he dipped it in the water dish on the way.

In the following days we received other Syd treats in the morning - a tea bag, a grapefruit rind, and something else he found in the garbage disposal that we didn't know what it was. We are thankful that he found out that he didn't have to bribe us to maintain 'the good life'. After about a week, the gifts stopped, but he still loves us all.

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Thursday, June 3, 2010

June Night

-- click on the above audio clip (video is just the one picture) to experience this post in 3D!

Junes - how many Junes can you remember? June is the time of change, school’s out, try new things, looking for a job, waiting for a summer job to start, lots of things seem to start in June.

June in the 1950s - the radio is playing “Trumpeter’s Lullaby” by Leroy Anderson, sitting on the front porch at night with Mom and Dad. No chairs, just sitting on the concrete step, smells in the air of the humid night - nobody had air conditioning. We lived on the edge of town, and the frogs and crickets from the nearby vacant countryside were a constant musical backdrop for all memories. A real treat, maybe once a week, was to out for ice cream - soft-serve at the A&W, or the Penguin, a local drive-in. That little ring of ice cream on the top of the cone was the best-tasting part.

June in the early 1960s, the Eisenhower and Kennedy days. The basement is “fixed up”. My father bought a “hi fi” - a Capitol phonograph. It’s white and red, and looks like a suitcase when it’s closed. And it plays a stack of LP records. We kids weren’t allowed to touch those, because they were “hi fi”. But the music was sublime - Dinah Shore singing with an orchestra, Steve Allen playing piano, Dixieland bands, Jonah Jones, Roger Williams. And of course the ubiquitous bongos. There were Bossa Nova records, Harry Belafonte, Rhumba, and Caribbean, by unknown artists on budget labels, an exotic new sound we had never heard before in a land where Polka and Perry Como were the norm.

And Steve Allen played his piano on that magical album “Monday Nights”. My mother got it free with Kleenex boxtops. It was a glorious record. A version of Laura with bongos and tiny ringing cymbals, a dreamy piece called House Boat, done with a chorus, and a very scary sounding version of “Bell Book and Candle” from the movie of the same name, with the chorus. And we had comedy - "The Bickersons Fight Back" with Don Ameche and Francis Langford- we listened to that so many times. And, of course “The First Family”, a comedy album impersonating the Kennedy family. I still thought it was funny after President Kennedy got shot, but my mother didn’t want us to play it anymore.

excerpt from "45 rpm", something I wrote in 2007.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Political Machine Rolls into Bedford Falls

According to Wednesday's Journal-Sentinel, a proposed apartment project in New Berlin, a Milwaukee suburb, is meeting with opposition from the residents of New Berlin. The proposed apartment complex is intended to furnish housing to senior citizens and those earning in the range of $35,000 per year (don't I wish!). The mayor commented in an email that the people criticizing the project were perhaps bigoted and prejudiced.

Quoting the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel (click for full article) Mayor "Chiovatero stated: 'I am a prisoner in my own home. I have spent several hours a day last week listening and replying to concerned citizens. I spent all weekend doing the same. I went to Pick N Save to pick up a prescription and I was stopped by several people and it took an hour and a half to leave the store. I was asked NOT to attend two functions this weekend for fear it would distract and cause havoc by my presence. ' "

In other words, he is being held accountable by the people who elected him - the people whose money and property are forcibly confiscated each year by the government to give him his pay check.

The article further states "The mayor on Tuesday also said he was pulling his support for the project based on 'public outcry and public opinion.'"


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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Gravy Train!

Many times in the past week, state and local politicians have been promoting ideas that will save the taxpayers money by spending unbelievable amounts of money. How is this done? How can the customer bring $60,000,00 worth of stuff to the checkout counter, and only be charged $30,000,000? How is this possible? Matching funds from the Federal Government!

Allrighty, then let's build us a choo-choo train to go to Kenosha. Kenosha - Every child in Milwaukee dreams of one day traveling those 40 miles to Kenosha - just because, because... well, just BECAUSE, THAT'S WHY! And now the government will make this dream come true!! Of course, the local sales tax will have to be raised -- choo choo trains are not cheap! And it's just a temporary tax! It will only be imposed as long as you have money, so after you lose your job due to the ruined economy, you won't have to pay it any more! And when you can't afford to live in Milwaukee anymore, you'll have to hitch a ride to get to the train tracks!

And here's the best part. We know you all don't have enough money to buy a choo-choo, even with your new sales tax. It's so cute watching all you little people save your pennies, even though you barely have enough money to live on, what with your reduced work hours, and your closed industries, and your layoffs. So, here's the good news: For every dollar you spend on the choo-choo, the Federal Government will match your dollar -- that's right, you pay one percent of every dollar you spend on necessities to Build the Train to Kenosha, and the Federal government will match your contribution, dollar for dollar! That's right, the Federal Government will just write ya a check!

Don't you wonder where the Federal Government gets all that money? Don't you wonder how everybody can get out more than they pay in? Don't you wonder? Are you an idiot? Or are you one of the idiots who keeps re-electing this slime to your once-respected public offices?

Send me a post card from Kenosha, dumbass!

Thanks for listening and contributing. For up-to-the-minute thoughts, come on over to I'm @dimbulb52