Wednesday, October 22, 2014

! Spy Too Many Exclamation Points on !-95

While driving home from Florida, I passed this sign yesterday, which stands at Exit 169 on the southbound side of I-95 near Florence, South Carolina. It looks to me like writer Jake Jarmel now manages the Triple T Truck Center and he hired on-again-off-again girlfriend, Elaine Benes, to edit his billboard.

Of course, Elaine, upset that Jake’s latest endeavor lacked a certain emotion and intensity, apparently added unnecessary exclamation points—ostensibly to connote such messages as:

“It was a damp and chilly afternoon, so I decided to drive my semi!”


“I pulled the lever on the clutch, but the truck’s engine wouldn’t start!”

Okay, the dialogue implies a plot so banal that an inordinate number of exclamation points may be the only thing keeping this truck-repair place from being boarded up in bankruptcy, but Mr. Lippman isn’t going to see it that way and will want those exclamation points gotten rid of, should he drive by…

(Images from Seinfeld copyright NBC.)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Maybe the "T.S." Stood for "Terribly Similar"...

Jesse Lee Tally, known as “Doc” Tally, played baseball for the barnstorming Israelite House of David team from 1914 to his death in 1950. The House of David was a religious commune founded in Benton Harbor, Michigan, in 1903 and thrived through the 1920s and 30s. Its founders—not the most visionary of religious leaders—declared sex a sin (even for procreation), in principle dooming their movement after a single generation.

The House of David became a national phenomenon during that time for fielding a long-haired, long-bearded evangelizing baseball team (actually, several teams) that crisscrossed the country playing amateur; semipro; and professional opponents, including squads from the major, minor, and Negro Leagues. Sort of the Harlem Globetrotters of baseball, the House of David team grew famous for its fancy, yet very formidable, play. It even, for a time, boasted several former Major League greats, including Three Finger Brown and Grover Cleveland Alexander, as well as the legendary Negro Leaguer, Satchel Paige—all of whom were required either to grow their whiskers or don a fake beard.

The House of David even beat the Major Leagues to night baseball, playing its first game under electric light in 1930—five years before the Bigs. (Ever shrewd in enlarging opportunities to play for paying customers, the House of David brought portable lights on its buses to allow night games.)

Anyway, I find Jesse Lee Tally the spitting image of the recently deceased Robin Williams. Reputedly the House of David’s best player, Tally invented the famous pepper games with which players would wow crowds with their acrobatic and dexterous skills before, and during, contests. Tally thus seems like the same type of good-natured, entertaining ham that Robin Williams came to be. Interestingly, Williams was born little more than a year after Tally’s death and just a hundred miles from Benton Harbor (in Chicago).*

* Perhaps stranger still, Williams starred in the resemblant-named 2004 “dramedy,” House of D.

It’s almost as if Jesse Lee Tally’s spirit entered the newborn Robin Williams’ body in 1951—all it had to do was float to the far side of Lake Michigan, and it had more than a year to do so…

So, it is entirely possible that Robin Williams possessed great baseball potential, even if he never sensed it. However, the world is a better place for him taking the route that he did—not only because he left a legacy of laughter, but because Williams’ natural inclination to field a batted ball, then toss it in the air while declaring, “Fly, be free!” would have led to a catastrophic amount of unearned runs…      

(Image from Good Will Hunting copyright Miramax Films; image from Mork and Mindy copyright ABC.)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

No Breakdown of Communication at 7-Eleven

I walked into my local 7-Eleven last evening, and the radio that’s always kept at the back of the store, next to the freezers, was playing “Communication Breakdown”—one of my favorite songs by one of my favorite bands. Sadly, Led Zeppelin, following John Bonham’s death, disbanded just before I grew old enough to attend rock concerts, so I never got to see them play live (although I have seen each surviving member perform solo).

Even so, getting to hear the Mighty Zep launch into one of its most molten tunes from as close as just to the right of the Ben & Jerry’s pretty much made up for it. Naturally, I stayed for the entire song, blithely disregarding potential traffic hassles awaiting me in the parking lot.

Now if I could only get to hear the Jimi Hendrix Experience at my local Sherwin-Williams...  

Friday, September 5, 2014

Over There...Over There...Why'd They Put All the Words Over There?

Today is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First Battle of the Marne, the week-long bloodbath that marked one of the first major clashes of World War I. Fought just east of Paris, this Allied victory prevented the Germans from reaching the French capital and making quick work of the war. Unfortunately, with more than half a million casualties laying dead or carried off the battlefield, the First Battle of the Marne also set the pattern for the devastating trench warfare that turned much of France and Belgium into killing floors over the next four years—a pattern of seesawing advances and retreats so futile that, nearly four years later, witnessed another major clash along the River Marne.

Known, of course, as the Second Battle of the Marne (above), this smaller, but still murderous battle halted the German advance in the summer of 1918 and hastened the Axis’ surrender. More than 132,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded in this three-week struggle, including 12,000 Americans.

County Route 537, which passes less than a mile from my home in its long trek across the breadth of New Jersey, is known within the limits of Mount Laurel, Hainesport, and Mount Holly as Marne Highway. Commemorating the great sacrifice of American doughboys in that second sanguineous battle, a blue historical marker is mounted on a Marne Highway road sign just west of the intersection with Larchmont Blvd. The problem is that the marker—a small-fonted, two-paragraph explanation of the Second Battle of the Marne—stands approximately 150 feet from the stop-lighted intersection. There is no shoulder in which to pull over (and if one did, one’s car would dangerously—and illegally—obstruct the right-turn-only lane that begins a few feet beyond the sign). Furthermore, there is no hope of gleaning more than a sentence of the marker even while decelerating toward a red light. (Imagine trying to read the sign above while moving at anywhere from 25 to 50 mph—hell, try reading it right now!)

Thus, the only possible practical way of actually reading this small acknowledgment of American contribution to that pivotal battle is to be stopped in traffic backed up from the intersection, which, although a line of traffic often does form there, hardly ever backs up that far.

Or one could simply walk over to the sign and stand just a few feet from the roadway to read it—a monumentally inconvenient and not-entirely-wise option, especially on that stretch of non-residential road flanked by daily-active railroad tracks. (This is exactly how I took this photo, walking home from the auto-repair shop a quarter-mile down the highway from this intersection.)

Sure, one could keep driving around the block, hoping to glean the entire message a line or two at a time with each drive-byand this might just be most in the spirit of Great War stupidity, as driving around this block entails an approximate 2.2-mile trek, including three traffic lights, because none of the streets within this block exit to another side of it. I guess a family could make a day of this by driving down Marne Highway, spying a line or two, turning right onto Larchmont Blvd., eventually merging onto Route 38 West, making another right onto Hartford Road, taking it back to Marne Highway, turning right, and again driving by the sign at approximate 7-minute intervals until the reading is complete (there is an Italian restaurant, Chinese takeout, and a 7-Eleven on the opposite side of the Marne HighwayLarchmont Blvd. intersection should a family wish to stop for lunch during their reading). I suppose a savvy couple or family could pre-plan for each member to simultaneously read a different section of the marker, which, if performed and recited correctly and in order, would drastically cut down on the time, effort, and gasoline expense involved. But this is not an easily executed strategy and could backfire catastrophically—like many a World War I offensive. 

Thus, to say that this historical marker was poorly planned and futilely placed is an understatement—also very much in keeping with World War I, itself, given the many atrocities perpetuated by idiotic generals who, time and again, ordered regiments of men “over the top” and into the waiting graveyards of no-man’s land.

So Im torn...

If the State of New Jersey (or perhaps Burlington County) allocated the expense and effort to commemorate the battle at all, then why not do it right and set the sign where it could actually serve its purpose instead of in a place where its words would surely go to waste? It seems certain that the genius employee of the state/county/township responsible for the placement of this historical marker was the great-grandson of one of those World War I generals who so asininely sent their men off by the thousands to certain death for a few dozen muddy yards...

Did the war to end all wars teach us nothing about historical-marker placement? You can bet the Flemish sited their markers in readily accessible, easily readable locations.

And yet for all of its seeming idiocy, perhaps the Marne Highway historical marker is perfectly placed, ideally echoing the utter absurdity of the Great War, as if it were a modern-day, metal-plated Zimmerman Note.

Only Americans possess such a sense of irony...

Friday, August 29, 2014

With Twitter Abuzz About Keys of Bees, 'Twas Time to Channel Stevie and McCartney

This scientific fact has recently been making the rounds on Twitter: Bees normally buzz in the key of A, but when theyre tired, they buzz in the key of E.

No, I neither own a piano nor play the piano—but that didnt stop me from tickling the Ebony and Ivories about this bee-musing fact and writing a song that goes a little this:

Every bee that I can see
Buzz together in the very same key
Side by side in their hive or swarming, oh lord, theyre after me

We all know that bees bring the news in Sacramento
There is good and bad in every bee
Some are humble, some will bumble
But they wont bother us if we mind our own beeswax, thats a fact

Every queen in Ulees apiary
Could breed drones for a ten-pound beard of bees
Side by side in their hive or swarming, oh lord, theyre after me

We all know that bees buzz in A less their lids are low
There is sweet nectar in every bee
Some make honey, some cause you fright
E is the key when bees dont have the might to take flight

Every bee has got no knees
Its a phrase that was made up falsely
If Sting got stung, the beed die and hed cry profusely
John Belushi was killer singing Im a King Bee

Every bee that I can see
Buzzing together in harmony
Ruth Buzzi so funny
As angry Gladys Ormphby
Ruth Buzzi socked it to me
When whacking dirty, old Arte


(Image of Bumblebee Man copyright Fox Broadcasting; image of John Belushi copyright NBC.)

Saturday, August 9, 2014

If Only Clubber Lang Had Taken on Pyongyang...

Im watching a M*A*S*H episode from 1981. Thankfully, MeTV runs restored versions of M*A*S*H that include scenes, or parts of scenes, long ago hacked out by greedier broadcasters squeezing episodes for every last second of commercials. Some of these scenes likely have not been shown for decades—I certainly dont recall a lot of them despite being a M*A*S*H aficionado since the mid-70s. 

Tonight, it was Episode 223, “Give ‘Em Hell, Hawkeye,” in which Capt. Pierce, fed up with year-long peace talks that have achieved nothing, pens a letter to President Truman, narrating it in voice-over as he writes. And as Hawkeye writes his letter, he refers to Harry—in newly restored dialogue—as “Mr. T.”

Now, the actual Mr. T, Laurence Tureaud, took that name in the late 1970s, but he was, by and large, anonymous until appearing as “Clubber Lang” in Rocky III, which debuted over Memorial Day weekend in 1982.

So, clearly, Hawkeye using the name “Mr. T” in an episode filmed nearly a year earlier is unrelated to the yet-to-be celebrity of Mr. T.*

But I can’t help wondering: if Mr. T had only become a Hollywood name a matter of months earlier, he could have actually portrayed President Truman in that M*A*S*H episode (M*A*S*H already had a long history of employing young, ascendant actors in guest roles). I see the episode as a two-parter, in which President Truman, “Mr. T,” responds to Hawkeye with a letter of his own—and, as did Hawkeye, narrating his reply in voice-over as he writers it...perhaps over a montage of his training regimen in the Oval Office, such as jumping rope, using a speed bag, or whatever else passed for hardcore cardio training in the early 1950s. 

Dear Capt. Pierce,
Thank you for your letter pleading for me to end this police action. However, you don’t seem to understand politics. One doesn’t back down from international threats to peace. South Korea was attacked. Attacked! You get it? If that little man, Kim Il-sung, don’t wanna come to the peace table, then I’ll come to him. The United States is ranked No. 1. ONE! That means we’re the best. But that bum has been taking the easy matches, sneak-attacking its peaceful neighbor. I’m telling you and everybody else at the 4077th: the United States will fight North Korea anywhere, anytime, for nothing. No, I don’t hate Kim Il-sung…but I pity the fool, and we will destroy any man who tries to take what we got.  

In closing, my prediction for the war: pain. 

Yours sincerely, 
President T

With aggressiveness that would’ve made Gen. Douglas MacArthur look like a Salvation Army bell ringer and accountability that would’ve left Harry S. Truman resembling a shriveling buck-passer, Mr. T might well have provided a ratings spike and seriocomic possibilities encouraging the stable of M*A*S*H writers to continue for several more seasons—perhaps even long enough to necessitate a romance between Hot Lips Houlihan and SSgt. Rizzo that would have perfectly encapsulated the lunacy of war...not to mention paved the way for either the best or the worst spin-off in television history.

*Far predating this M*A*S*H episode, a Welcome Back, Kotter spin-off called Mr. T and Tina briefly ran on ABC in 1976, but the show was so short-lived and obscure that not even its star, Pat Morita, remembered it. Perhaps if he’d come up with the “Crane” a decade earlier…

(Image from M*A*S*H copyright CBS.)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

We All Lifted a Yellow Submarine...

So, I just turned on the TV and caught the last ten minutes of The Three Stooges in Orbit (1962), a film I hadn’t seen since I was a kid. And in that brief span, several elements immediately jumped out as closely presaging subsequent films—to the point that I wondered more than just fancifully if this predictably insipid film filled with recycled jokes and made on the cheap for a very over-the-hill comedy troupe could actually have been the source of certain concepts used in later, higher-profile works.

Look at the propeller-powered flying submarine stolen by the Martians (above). Is this not practically a real-life, full-scale model of the Beatles’ yellow submarine depicted in the 1968 animated feature film? The Three Stooges in Orbit predated Yellow Submarine by six years—yet looking at the similarities in concept and design, it’s not hard to suppose that the director of the Beatles’ film, George Dunning, was a Three Stooges fan who caught their movie upon its theatrical release,* perhaps even screening it privately six years later for the crew of animators to give them a definitive sense of the artistic style he wanted.

* In 1962, Beatlemania hadn’t yet swept England, so Dunning, a Canadian expatriate who had yet to become associated with the Beatles, likely was walking around London with little to do and thus had plenty of free time to see the new Three Stooges film.

Moments later in the film, Professor Danforth, played by long-time quasi-Stooge, Emil Sitka, displays an animated television segment of the Stooges dancing to stock, early 60s pop music. This is perhaps even stronger proof that George Dunning and his crew lifted ideas from this Three Stooges film. As you can see, that’s impressively sophisticated animation for 1962—and it appears very much the progenitor to the dazzling animation of Yellow Submarine. Granted, the Stooges weren’t as limber as the girl dancing to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” but their particular brand of fat, elderly elegance must have made a lasting impression on Dunning.

Okay, this weakest incarnation of the Three Stooges is no “Fab Four,” but consider the cumulative work of Moe, Larry, Curly, and the criminally underrated Shemp—that’s a four as fab as John, Paul, George, and Ringo, for sure.†

† Continuing the numbers game, the Three Stooges and the Beatles each counted six participating members among their ranks: the aforementioned four in each group, plus, of course, latter-day Stooges Joe Besser and Curly Joe DeRita as well as Beatles’ castoffs Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best.

Furthermore, the Three Stooges went into widespread television syndication in 1958, introducing them to a new generation—the Beatles’ generation. With the future Beatles all in their highly impressionable teens at that time, it’s a good bet the lads watched and enjoyed the Stooges’ tomfoolery—especially the angry, young man of the fledgling group, John Lennon, who probably would have appreciated them most. I can easily see the Stooges’ violent tendencies having rubbed off on the volatile Lennon. (The Three Stooges was actually removed from syndication for a time in the 1960s when mothers complained that their children were emulating the Stooges’ dangerous antics.) Now, I’m not saying that a few episodes of Moe bullying Larry, Curly, and Shemp led to Lennon kicking original bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, in the head—as has occasionally been alleged in the cause of Sutcliffe’s untimely death—but I am saying that an irate John likely was not above rapidly fluttering his hand in front of Sutcliffe’s entranced gaze, then snapping it down briskly, causing Sutcliffe’s head to do the same. Whether that facilitated Sutcliffe’s fatal cerebral hemorrhage, no one will ever know—but it sure looks like a lot of stress on the brain…

As an aside, yes, the Beatles’ animated TV series (which the Fabs had nothing to do with production-wise) debuted a month before The New Three Stooges cartoon in autumn 1965. However, the Three Stooges’ animated series included numerous live-action segments, so it’s highly probable that The New Three Stooges began development before the Beatles cartoon, although there may not have been enough time to permit cross-pollination specifically between the two shows.

Having presented all of this evidence, it cannot be overlooked that any discussion concerning the Three Stooges’ influence on the Beatles begins with the fact that Moe was wearing a Beatles’ haircut before any of the lads were born; thus, the Fab Four owe their most defining physical characteristic to Moe Howard.

But I’m not positing that The Three Stooges in Orbit was a creative well from which only the Beatles drew ideas. Far from it. Though meant to look comic, the Martians in this film actually appear disturbingly grotesque—even more so when the viewer subconsciously realizes that they strongly resemble the horrifying Grendel in the 2007 CGI version of Beowulf—or rather, that Grendel strongly resembles them. One wouldn’t think that the creators of a faithful and brutally explicit retelling of a violent Dark Age tale would look to a Three Stooges film for creative inspiration, but compare the Martians’ distended skulls, heavy eyebrow ridges, and lacertilian digits to Grendel and try to deny a connection…

Of course, Moe Howard—by several accounts, well-read in his youth and possessor of two months of high school study—may, himself, have based the Stooges’ brand of aggressive comedy on the original Beowulf

And as game-changing as was the granddaddy of all science fiction films, Star Wars,  it’s glaringly obvious from where in his movie-going youth George Lucas later pilfered the concept of the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star...

(Images from The Three Stooges in Orbit copyright Columbia Pictures; images from Yellow Submarine copyright United Artists; image from Beowulf copyright Paramount Pictures.)