Olde Towne Old Timer

I am in Philadelphia on the last weekend of April, first time back home — I still think of it as home, although Guido and I left permanently in 1985 — in several years. I’m walking south on Market Street down by Independence Mall, where I encounter this marker.

Even though it’s Saturday, there are what appear to be flocks of school children accompanied by teachers visiting the historic site where the Declaration of Independence was signed, the Constitution debated and written, and the nation itself born. Growing up, us kids took all this venerable shit for granted — it had always been here, everybody took numerous tours (both in school and otherwise), and it was all just part of the big dirty city like the dive-bombing pigeons, stinking buses, puddles of mysterious substances in the streets, weirdoes everywhere we learned to avoid looking at, and ubiquitous cigarette smoke.  Have I ever mentioned how the fifties sucked? That’s another post or two.

So I determine I will light a small cigar, linger a moment, and eavesdrop on the lessons presented by these earnest Saturday morning tour guides to their young charges. Sixty years since I got schooled myself, how do they discuss the First Amendment?

Teacher gives the standard textbook speech — if I were assigning hash tags I’d include freedom, rights, expression, speech, American, protection, government, and the like. Her elementary school-age kids behave, at least, standing quietly if not especially attentively, shuffling a trifle but not picking noses. Teacher stops and asks for questions.

One little fellow raises his hand.  “If we’re allowed to say anything we want, how come you won’t let me call Eduardo an asshole?” he asks. He’s utterly serious. Or a great actor. I stifle a smirk.

Give Teacher credit for handling this one as well as she does: she’s clearly a veteran and knows her kids well. I am also amused that before she answers she shoots a look over at my mocking face, sending me back half a century to that anxious, watery-bowelled what-did-I-do-now-am-I-in-trouble miasma of guilt and fear that school instilled on me, like the dreaded “permanent record” they would threaten us with. Posing Double-O Sevenishly with my cigar, I try not to let on. Fat chance! She caught me. She knows.

Another kid wants to know why, if this is so important to rate its own memorial tombstone (as she calls it), it had to be amended to the Constitution, and didn’t rate inclusion in the first place. Bear in mind this is like maybe a 5th or 6th grader.

Teacher is impressed — so am I — and gives an answer that makes sense (along the lines of, The amendments are part and parcel of the original, not afterthoughts; this was a decision based on style and structure), but maybe the class could research it further and get more information when they return to school.

Time for one more. Little girl asks why there are only Founding Fathers, no Founding Mothers.

I imagine this is as good a time as any for me to slip the old moccasins back on the hooves and get my ass moseying on, but out of nowhere, Teacher points right at me — I feel a familiar stab of horror — and says, “Maybe that gentleman can answer your question.”

About 14 little expectant eyes swing over in my direction. In that moment, I understand my role — I become the city, the pigeons, the filthy puddles, the buses, the weirdoes, the taken-for-granted urban background into which kids have always immersed and matured, unaware of its ongoing evolution until they, too, switch roles. As I just do.

So I tell them that times change, and what is so clear to us today after literally hundreds of years of civilization wasn’t always so clear to even the best and brightest of our species even ten years ago, let alone 240. And that today there would be Founding Mothers, and we’d be better off for it. Which is why you’re here today, on a weekend, because this lesson and these experiences don’t have days off, and need bright beautiful kids like you to learn them well so you can not only apply them, but teach them to kids just like yourselves, when you kids get to be older.

Pretty good, innit, for extemporaneous bullshit? That Toastmasters training was worth every session.  Even Teacher reshapes her cracked-plate rictus and manages a smile. I’m feeling pretty good when one of the kids pipes up, “Did you know Ben Franklin when he was here?”

Punk. Pustule. You must be Asshole Eduardo. I hearda you.

I assure them Ben-Fran and I were great chums, and in fact I’m off to visit his post office in the next block. So, with a nod of acknowledgment to wily Teacher, off I limp, into history.

Posted in Shaken and Stirred | 4 Comments

So Wet’s New?

It’s been raining so relentlessly over the last week that people have stopped complaining about the heat and humidity. Then again, there aren’t many people around to complain: the streets are empty, except for the virtual ponds that have formed, the stores deserted. Everybody’s huddled inside, moping, grumbling, tweezing their moles for entertainment.

My lawn is so thick and tall there are tribes of aborigines moving in. I’ve seen their cave art. Tree frogs and buffo toads are out in force, singing all through the night. They’re doing a benefit concert this weekend (“Legs Dance!”), proceeds to support an environmental group.

Two royal palm fronds came down on my roof — that’s about 40 feet of foliage — but I’m not going up there until the rain stops. Hauling giant chunks of wet, heavy tree parts on a slippery surface 12 feet off the ground sounds like the preamble to a hospital visit. Did I mention that one of them is straddling an electric cable?

On Sunday I took the inside house plants outside, as I do weekly, for watering. They’re still out there because they haven’t dried, and they won’t for days. But they seem to be enjoying themselves, don’t they? Turns out everybody appreciates a drink now and then.

Say, there’s an idea.

 

Posted in Shaken and Stirred | 10 Comments

Expired

parking signIf you’ve been following my history with this, well, two things: (1) You really need a life, and (b) You know I have a real issue with parking machines. Yoooge problems.

Can’t help you with #1, except to recommend more alcohol. So let’s move on.

Last week I park in a downtown Ft Lauderdale garage by the county administration building. I note the floor I park on (4), then walk down the urine-stench steps to the sidewalk, cross the street, attend the meeting, and prepare to return home.

There’s a big sign on the first floor of the garage: PAY FOR PARKING HERE. It stands above a menacing parking machine, not 25 yards away from an enclosed (bulletproof) booth for CUSTOMER SERVICE occupied by two morbidly obese bored-looking idle uniformed agents, who presumably are too dull-witted and untrustworthy to handle payments in their own lot.

Miraculously, the machine functions! It tells me how much I owe, takes my three dollars with only minimal delays and returns, and spits back my stamped receipt.

Then I look around for the  stairs to ascend to retrieve my car. Evidently in the two hours I spend at my meeting, it’s been removed because I can’t find it anywhere. David Copperfield couldn’t make a staircase disappear as efficiently. So I approach the corral where the obese pair are lazily grazing, explain my desire to find the fourth floor so I can drive home, and ask where the stairwell is.

Neither wants to talk to me, but the one I make eye contact with holds up three fingers and says, “The 3rd and 4th floor are confusing.”

I kind of just stare at them both. The hell?

“Look,” I say, trying to sound reasonable. “I’m not confused about 3 and 4. I just don’t know what where the stairwell I walked down is because I don’t see it. Just tell me where the stairs are, okay?”

This inspires a quick conference between the two that I don’t quite hear — goddam glass booths with the tiny air-hole speakers — and then they say they can’t help me, go ask Security, in the person of yet another obese uniformed employee occupying the front seat of a open-air vehicle off to the side of the (HA!) Customer Service booth.

“You don’t know where your own stairwell is?” I ask. I love government workers.

Security at least has a personality. He laughs when I tell him I can’t find the stairs. “They outside,” he explains, “and they locked. You can exit, you can’t enter. Take the elevator. What color was your floor?”

Shit. Color? Who can see color in a parking garage where the outside light is blinding, and the inside is dark and dingy as a Republican’s brane? “I dunno,” I say. “But there was a big yellow 4 on the wall. So I figure that’s the 4th floor, right?”

“Yeah,” he says. “But the elevator is color-coded. Four is green.”

I thank him, head for the elevator. It’s NOT color coded. To quote Casey Stengel, Can’t anybody here play this game? I push 4, find my floor, find my car.

I wind my way down to the exit where I confront yet another fucking machine guarding the way. If they pay for 2 stooges sitting in a booth doing nothing all day, why do we have to deal with all these fucked-up machines? This one has caused me a load of grief in other encounters because it says insert receipt first and then credit card. But since I already paid in cash, why does it want my credit card? Well, it doesn’t. But you can’t know that from the instructions. I know that from previous shouting matches with the Customer Service fatties, back when customers could actually walk up the steps as well as down.

So I put my receipt in, press the button to get a paid receipt back, and the gate goes up……but no stamped receipt comes out. So how do I get my proof that I paid for parking? I press it another half-dozen times and nothing happens. “Work, you prick!” I shriek. “You have one goddam fucking function in the entire world and you can’t deliver?”

It takes a special personality to shriek at machines.

A car pulls up behind me. It’s probably not the mayor or the parking authority chief, so there’s no reason to ruin another citizen’s day. The gate remains open. I go through, and never get my receipt. Fuck it.

Can’t wait for the customer satisfaction survey.

Posted in Shaken and Stirred | 5 Comments

Exemplary

I don’t hear much anymore about the Russian comedian Yakov Smirnoff, but he was a big thing for a while, lots of appearances and interviews, people repeating his jokes, etc. I remember when he was asked about growing up in Russia —  did he ever see American teevee programs? He said the Three Stooges were very popular: the kids were told that these were typical Americans, behaving as most American behaved and that was what America was like.

That always got a good laugh from the audience.

Click forward to the present. Thanks to this internetish thing, if Russian audiences want to see American (or any other) teevee, they have plenty of resources. What this suggests is that if Russian authorities want to show impressionable children what typical Americans say, think, do, and look like, they could show President Trumpf in action.

“Look — that’s their leader! President Felthercrotch! Freely elected, just like our own President Putin!”

Scary thought, innit? We were better served by Moe Larry & Curly.

My favorite Smirnoff observation: asked to name something entirely unheard of in the Soviet Union but commonplace in the United States, he said, “Warning shots.”

Posted in Gen. Snark, Maj. Snafu, Corp. Punishment | 5 Comments

Free Basing

Vera Lu Senz grew up in post-war Chicago, one of three girls and 8 boys in a family of working class Poles where uncles, aunts, cousins, and undifferentiated relatives lived on the streets and in the alleys, beat the crap out of each other, and loved and hated with equal fury. She was cursing from the cradle, smoking at 10, drinking at 12, and, as she put it, “ate before she was seven.” Her mom offered her exactly one social instruction: “Girls don’t spit.

Lu went to work for the Chicago Sun Times — she knew Mike Royko! — and eventually became a sportswriter, specializing in baseball, covering the Cubs. When the Sun-Times went to hell, she didn’t follow the crowd over to the Tribune, but became an independent. Her stuff was great: edgy, insightful, even prescient.

Now retired, she roosts at the Liquor & Rubber Balls Sports Emporium & Custom Footbinding where she smokes, drinks, curses…but never spits. Until now, that is, when I ask her what she thinks about MLB’s latest brain-fart: shortening games by starting extra innings with a runner on second.

2nd-base“The idea is so damn dumb it drools,” she tells me (as I wipe my face). “You’re basically introducing a ‘simulated game’ component. The geniuses who cooked this up couldn’t find a smoked kielbasa in their own asses without a GPS.”

Duck Diamonds, professional gambler (and master goader), as well as another regular at this otherwise lesbian sports bar, shoots her a bemused look. “So you like these 5 hour games where the middle infielder comes in to pitch, is that it, Lu?”

Lu crushes her cigarette into an ashtray. “Tell me, Duck — are you ever sorry your mother didn’t have any children who lived?”

“Lu, the game is losing its audience — younger people just don’t have the patience to sit through 4-hour sleep-a-thons anymore. Nine innings is enough. Anything that shortens it quickly after that is a blessing, especially in these barbaric ballparks where they cut off the alcohol after the 7th. ”

I agree with Duck on that one, anyway. After 9 innings, they should sell nickel drafts. And open the bar to both teams.

“Think this through, Duck,”  says Lu. “Top of the 10th, tie score, a guy trots out to take his free second base. Even before that — who gets to be the runner? Because what you’re now asking for is teams rebuilding their benches to include a speedy little asshat who can’t pitch, hit, or field, just kept around for situations like this. As bad as the DH is, the Designated Runner is worse.

“Anyway, there he is. So what does the batting team do any time there’s a runner on 2nd with no out? They bunt him over so they have a man on 3rd with one out where a long fly or a wild pitch can score him, right?  Or maybe the fielding team’s first move is to intentionally walk the first batter to set up 1st and 2nd for a double play.

“No matter what, you’re asking both teams to play small ball for the rest of the game. Bunts, walks, drawn-in infields, rotation plays. There’s nothing wrong with this when it happens in the course of an entire game. But setting it up with a free runner in scoring position to start the inning is anti-everything baseball is built on. You’re essentially dictating to each team the strategy they gotta use.”

Duck shrugs dismissively. “Like you say, there’s nothing wrong with small ball. Maybe changing benches to include more runners and bunters is a good way to push back against the big boppers who strike out too much.”

“Get real, Duck. Teams can’t afford to carry players with roles that limited unless they want to jeopardize every game that doesn’t go into extras innings. It’s like drilling holes in a sinking boat to let the water out.”

“Really — is that worse than a 15 inning game where managers burn out their bullpens, pitchers play the outfield, and utility players come in to get three outs? You like that shit?”

Lu lights a smoke and smiles. “Yeah, I do. I like watching athletes pushing their boundaries, scratching for an edge. I like seeing managers improvising, maneuvering through tough situations. Not every day, not every game. But these are the sort of juicy, off-beat, bust-the-mold activities that make baseball so interesting. Bend the rules. Play head games.”

“Y’know, Lu, you make everything more difficult and mysterious than it has to be. How about this — if the game is tied after 9 innings, call it a draw and go home. Add a line to the standings –Wins, Losses, Ties. After 162 games you still have records to go by.”

“Well, hell — why not just fucking flip a coin? Or have a one-round cage match between the team’s mascots on the pitcher’s mound? I mean, if you don’t want to finish the actual baseball game by playing actual baseball, don’t do it half-assed. Do it full-assed.”

Duck looks at me. “I think we should go back to your idea of the nickel drafts.”

Works for me. Let’s start now.

Posted in Playing With Balls | 10 Comments

Keep It Wrinkled

In sentencing a 19-year-old who pleaded guilty to statutory rape last week, a judge in Idaho made it clear his punishment would include an extra wrinkle: government-mandated celibacy. — New York Times

Too funny. And it doesn’t help that the learned judge is named Randy Stoker.

Sorry. No photos this time.

Posted in Gen. Snark, Maj. Snafu, Corp. Punishment, NIMBY | 2 Comments

Is That a Lump In Your Throat or Are You Just Angry?

I come across this passage in a long-ish NY Times Magazine essay on the demise of the socialist party in France:

…as for Hollande personally, Sailliot raised his hand in a gesture, not uncommon among Frenchmen, to indicate his testicles’ springing up to his neck in anger. “He’s a traitor.”

balls-in-throatTrying to remember if I’ve ever actually seen this gesture, I think not. And do one’s testicles ever rise in anger, let alone up to the neck? Mine sure don’t, but I check with Guido.

“Why would I grab your nuts when you’re angry?” she asks, sensibly.

Maybe he has it backwards, and is trying to describe Extreme Teabagging?

“Maybe you better find something else to write about,” she advises. “Or at least somebody else to ask. ”

When Guido offers advice about testicles, I listen, which is one reason mine remain attached.

Problem is, I just don’t know any Frenchmen. I have one French friend I can ask, a gay woman, so I text her. She texts back that she’s familiar with the gesture, and uses it herself, so she’s skeptical about the origins. “Women don’t have balls,” she reminds me, “but we do get angry, especially at people who do.” (She finished with a smiling emoji.)

I ring my friend Raddy — Radicchio R. Peggio, Jr. — a worldy fellow who speaks numerous European languages, having grown up in the cockpits of his father’s post-WW II airline business (Air Hellair) and traveling extensively through France, the British Isles, Scandinavia, etc. “Sure, I’ve seen that,” he says, chuckling. “Never knew that about the ‘nads. I thought it had more to do with rising bile, or something. The French seem to have a lot of that.”

Down at the beach, I ask a French Canadian couple I encounter as they grease their massive Speedo0-clad bodies with Dollar Store oil. The man squints and frowns stereotypically as he listens, then translates for his wife, who breaks out laughing and tells me, “How can zis be? Ze French zey have no balls to rise!”

Okay, I’m done. Three strikes and you’re out at the old ball game.

Posted in Gen. Snark, Maj. Snafu, Corp. Punishment | 8 Comments