The Honeymoon is Over

The Honeymoon is Over.
The first few weeks of the Social Distancing and Home Sheltering went smoothly.  With the exception of the “Black Friday” rush for toilet paper, people everywhere were helping their neighbors. My friend Tilda, a seamstress, is making masks for all 50 people in her building. My upstairs neighbor, Shawn, brought me two boxes of wine. There were a lot of stories like that. But recently I’m noticing that some people are starting to come unglued. For them, the honeymoon is over.

The Shining - Ax Scene - Toilet Paper

I have been de-stressing by using my phone to video myself playing the clarinet, and I’ve been posting some of the less squeaky songs on Facebook. I can’t post video on this blog, so I’ve been posting them there. Count your blessings. My Facebook friends have been very supportive, though, making positive comments, and even offering some suggestions. I played The Ballad of Davy Crocket and my friend Denise suggested I wear a coonskin cap. I just so happen to have a coonskin cap. So, I’m going to “Head back into the studio” for that one.


I started making lists of songs I can play that might be fun on the clarinet. I can do those notes at the beginning of Smoke on the Water, and it sounds pretty cool, but it goes immediately downhill after that. It’s just not a good clarinet song. Yankee Doodle sounds good on a clarinet. I added that to my song list, and I’ve got notes on what would be good to wear while playing those songs, an appropriate t-shirt or hat, like a ballcap for Take Me Out to the Ballgame. Now, I’m starting to wonder what I should have in the background while I’m playing. Pictures???  Maybe I could add sound effects???
It’s getting crazy out there, and I have a feeling that I’ll be right near the front of the crazy parade, at least virtually. Hey, I wonder if Seventy-six Trombones would be a good song on the clarinet. I wonder what kind of outfit would go with that song.

Avoid the crazies.  Be safe at home.

Safe at Home

Peace & Love and all of the above,
Earl

Sitting in La-La, Playing with my Ya-Ya

The End is Near

Whether you’re self-quarantining, home sheltering, or just plain hunkering down against this Covid-19 pandemic, I hope you have plenty of food, drink, and, of course, the current Tickle-Me-Elmoish/Cabbage-Patch-dollish-must-have item of the year, toilet paper. I, personally, was more concerned on stocking up on rolling papers, but we all handle crisis differently. Besides, my buddy Tommy provided me with a solution to the toilet paper shortage. Spray your butt hole with a little WD-40 every morning and the poop will slide off. Thanks Tom. I sure hope your wife Lydia doesn’t kill you during your home sheltering. Nobody falls for that “I just want to lubricate your butt to save toilet paper ploy” anymore.

While many of us are home sheltering to avoid the Covid-19 virus, we should also be wary of the symptoms of Cabin Fever. It can quickly lead to I’m-gonna-kill-you-if-you-don’t disappear-for-a-while Disease. So, wash your hands, wipe the table down with a bleach rinse, break out a fresh deck of cards and have some fun with the family. Just be sure to switch to another fresh deck, whenever somebody coughs on their cards.

What can go wrong

You know what they say, “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.”

I noticed that half the stories on the internet are about the virus, and the rest are sick jokes about the virus. Laughter is the best medicine. (Unless you have lots of insurance, a really good doctor, and a great prescription plan.) That’s one thing about Americans, though. Give us a disaster, any disaster, and within 24 hours we can do a whole routine on it. The World Trade Center broke us, though.   We didn’t have any quick one-line comebacks for that. This disease is bringing us back together again. We know it’s not funny, but we can laugh at ourselves, and keeping a sense of humor is important. I recently read that the very hot Carmen Electra said that most women will choose a funny guy over an interesting guy. She went on, however, to say that they will eventually become irritated with the funny guy, though, and dump him for an interesting guy. So, gents, keep your sense of humor, but try to make yourself more interesting, too.

shaking hands

One way to be more interesting is to read more books. The little tidbits you pick up in your reading will make conversations with you more interesting. Unless you are like me. I just finished Spillover by David Quammen. It’s all about how viruses spread. Cool, huh?

Well, I have to get back to washing my hands. I used to do it for as long as it took me to sing Happy Birthday twice. I’ve switched to singing American Pie…twice.

Be safe; Be healthy; and Be grateful to all the Superhero Health-Care professionals and others who are on the front-line fighting this thing.

Health Care Superheroes

 

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

 

I’ve Seen the Lights go out on Broadway

I wrote this story last week, but with the Library being closed I didn’t have any internet access.  So I ordered a mobile hot spot, and I just got it activated.  I’m back on the grid.

 

In 1965, I was walking along Rockaway Boulevard when suddenly all the lights went out. Most of the Northeast and parts of Canada lost power. I went to see Tommy Powers and Donnie Mazurkiewicz, my two best friends. We spent most of the night in Tommy’s basement on 132nd Street listening to radio broadcasts on our transistor radios. The city came together that night. Citizens were directing traffic, and traffic flowed smoothly. Good Samaritans were everywhere. Everyone was getting along with everyone. People were helping one another. The City was having a grand celebration of itself, with everyone eating all the ice cream that was melting in the freezers across the city. The three of us were stuck with nothing to do but listen to our radio in a basement in South Ozone Park.

In 1977, I lived in Jersey City, and there was a blackout. I immediately jumped on a bus to N.Y. I wasn’t going to miss all the fun, this time. Unfortunately, that was the year that looters and rioters grabbed all the headlines. You win some. You lose some. I do remember one happy moment, though. I was sitting by a big square water-filled fountain. The water was still. The entire area was pitch black. I looked at the reflection in the water and turned to look up. I saw a night sky that was as brilliant as anything the Hubble spacecraft has ever photographed. Without the lights of Manhattan overpowering them, thousands of stars beamed brightly overhead. Thousands and Thousands. Millions. Billions even.

I went to New York on Friday the 13th this year for the annual party Marianne and Tres throw each year around St. Patrick’s Day. Unfortunately, the party was cancelled as a precaution, since Covid-19 is poking its unwanted ugly face everywhere. So, this trip, I spent some time in Manhattan. The stars were not out this time, not in the sky or on the Great White Way. The threat of Covid-19 caused the cancellation of every show on Broadway, and a Billy Joel concert at Madison Square Garden. So, I’ve witnessed the lights being out on Broadway, twice now, but this time the problem was bigger than the lack of electricity.

Some Television shows tried to continue without an audience on Friday, but most just went to re-runs immediately. Eventually, they all closed-down production for safety’s sake. March Madness was cancelled. All sports are closed. Yonkers Raceway is closed even though their attendance can’t be more than a handful of people, who wandered from the casino and got lost.

So, with no shows to watch, the audience went shopping, and they bought toilet paper, lots and lots of toilet paper. They were also looking for Purell and face masks, but those items have been out of stock everywhere for weeks. TV News cameras on every station featured zoom-in shots of bare shelves in the toilet paper aisle.

There weren’t nearly as many people on the streets of Manhattan, as there usually are, and half of them were probably just out looking for toilet paper and Purell. Remember that old Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the beef?” Competitive toilet paper manufacturers will probably be running “Where’s the toilet paper?” ads soon with a hologram of Clara Peller.

Where's the Toilet paper

Because of the consequences of Covid-19, the stock market faced a huge drop, and even God’s stock took a big hit. The Catholic Church excused all their members from church for three weeks. I guess that collection plates will probably be mailed to their houses.

Among the party people, I noticed that kissing, shaking hands, and even fist bumping are all “out” now as forms of “hello.” Elbow bumps are the “in” way to greet friends, and now, when people want “elbow room,” they mean six feet. All touch is with the elbows, even though that is where you are supposed to sneeze now. The hands are shunned for everything. The bartender asked me if I wanted another drink, and I said, “Twist my elbow.” In the old days, that might have gotten a laugh. People are very serious now, though. Nobody is passing around joints anymore, either. Everybody just Bogarts their own.

My return train trip home was cancelled three times by Amtrak before I finally found a train going to Norfolk that stopped in Philadelphia, where I was able to connect with a train going to Lancaster. Despite the cancellation of half the scheduled runs, the trains are still practically empty, though. The 6-foot social distancing guideline, that is becoming so popular, was easy to maintain. And the trains have to be clean, even if the company is doing nothing, since just about every passenger wiped down their entire area with bleach wipes before they sat down.

So, now I’m back home, and the state has closed down all the liquor stores. Oh Covid-19, now you’ve gone too far.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

Banned in the U.S.A.

Bart Simpson

Today, March 7th, is the 26th anniversary of 2 Live Crew’s Supreme Court victory, which protected parodies from copyright infringement lawsuits. The song they parodied was Pretty Woman, by Roy Orbison. Freedom of Speech was honored. The Supreme Court ruled that parodies are covered under the fair use doctrine. Weird Al Yankovic and a host of comedians breathed a big sigh of relief.

In celebration, 2 Live Crew then recorded a parody of a popular Bruce Springsteen song which they called “Banned in the U.S.A.” Bruce didn’t sue them. Yay Bruce!

I loved the original, Born in the U.S.A., but I never heard the parody before today. Maybe you haven’t either, so here’s a link.

When you finish watching that clip, you might want to enjoy President Andrew Shepard’s speech from the movie The American President.

 

 

Then, to put it all in context read the words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

This was so important, that it was the very first Amendment in the Bill of Rights, but the ink was barely dry when Congress passed the Sedition Act and President Adams signed it into law on July 14, 1798. Fortunately, that was quickly repealed, but Americans have always had to fight to keep this right to the free expression of controversial subjects. Comedians, musicians, and writers have led the fight, but it’s an uphill battle we all face.

 

The tough part, of course, is defending the right of free speech for those with whom we disagree, but that is the core of the Amendment. The only way for us to understand both sides of an issue is to listen to both sides of an issue. Unfortunately, most of us on the left are now glued to MS-NBC, while those on the right are joined at the hip to Fox News. I admit that I’m guilty. The Internet doesn’t help me, either. It records what I watch and then steers me to more like-minded material. Once in a while, I can watch a right-leaning comedian like Nick Di Paolo, but I still don’t watch Fox News.

 

The thing is that when we stifle free-speech we impede our chances of learning something new. I read yesterday about a government employee who got fired for his controversial ideas on handling the Coronavirus epidemic. He kind of suggested that, because 80% of cases are mild and many will show no symptoms, instead of strict quarantines, we should all mingle freely so that the epidemic could spread rapidly and then be over just as quickly. His main idea was that in the long run the virus was going to infect just as many people, but instead of the epidemic lasting for years and destroying businesses, it would just be a short time before things could get back to normal.

 

This sounds like a crazy idea, but I remembered back when I was a little kid. If either my brother or I caught something like measles, my mother, a nurse, would immediately tell the other one, “Go play with your brother.” This way both of us had it at the same time and she could take care of us both at the same time, instead of having to deal with two sick kids at two separate times. Instead of having the illness in the family dragging out for a month or more, it was all over in a week or two. Just look at how many large conventions were cancelled recently, and how the stock market tumbled. Imagine what will happen if this drags out for years.

So maybe there was some merit in the idea, even if it was a bit harsh and hard to swallow. The thing is that he was just expressing an idea, “spitballing” the problem. By firing the man, it, in effect, stifled any new thinking on how to handle the emergency. What good is a think tank, if it is limited to ideas that are only “inside the box”? The whole idea of brainstorming is to explore as many ideas as possible, even bad ones, in hopes of finding the best ideas.

 

People getting fired for expressing their ideas is not unusual, but it is wrong. Some ideas are terrible ideas, but in rebutting these ideas we might come up with some good ideas. Some ideas, like Nazism, are repulsive, but people should still be allowed the free expression of their ideas. I know that when I listen to someone with whom I strongly disagree, I try to pay closer attention to what they are saying, so that I will be able to present a better argument against them. Some ideas may be dangerous, but controlling ideas and punishing free thinkers is even more dangerous.

 

Long after his death, the spirit of Lenny Bruce still lives.

 

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

The Monkey Wrench, A Labor-Saving Device?

Monkey Wrench pic

Labor-saving devices in the home are great. Throwing a load of laundry in the washing machine is surely better than dragging a load of laundry down to the river and beating it with a rock. Labor-saving devices in industry, though, can be hazardous to the financial health of the laborers.

Labor-saving devices reduce the amount of work necessary to perform an operation. This makes things easier, but it doesn’t make thing better for a company’s workforce. If one person with a labor-saving device such as a computer can do something that used to take 10 people to do, 10 people don’t wind up with really easy jobs. One person winds up doing all the work, and 9 people are let go. Labor-saving devices are very good for the owners and stockholders of companies, but they do absolutely no good at all for the employees, or should I say former employees, of those companies.

This wasn’t always so. Back in our hunter-gatherer past, any labor-saving device was a boon to the entire tribe. The invention of the wheel, for instance, made it much easier to haul a big ole wooly mammoth from the spot where it was killed to the tribe’s cozy kitchen. Since the whole tribe didn’t have to drag the heavy carcass for miles, more people would be available to gather the fixin’s to augment the meal, the various grasses, tubers, nuts, fruits, and seeds that grew in the area. After the invention of the wheel, simple meals could become feasts, and back in those days, anything that made work easier for anyone in the tribe made life better for the whole tribe.

Then somebody invented money, and people started paying others to work for them. It was a fair system, at first, with each side getting what they wanted, until around the Industrial Revolution.   Since then, thousands of labor-saving devices have been good news for employers, and bad news for their employees. With each new labor-saving invention, the employers could save money by cutting employees from the payroll. The rich got richer, and the unemployed went hungry. Income inequality on steroids. This led to some desperate employees trying to save their jobs by sabotaging the new equipment.

Back in 1991, I learned from watching Star Trek VI that the word sabotage came from poor workers in France, who wore wooden shoes called sabots, and tried to break the job-stealing machines by throwing their sabots into them.

Sabots

Today I learned not to believe everything I see in the movies. I learned that, however, from another notorious font of misinformation, the Internet. According to Wikipedia, “those sabot-wearing labourers interrupted production by means of labor disputes, not damage.” So, I don’t know which story is true, but the Star Trek version makes a much better movie.

Either way, sabotage became a tool of organized labor.

Sabotage

Today, industrial workers have another expression, “Throw a monkey wrench into” which means to sabotage or frustrate a project or plans, as in She threw a monkey wrench into my plans for a one-night stand, when she told me she didn’t drink. Workers today are a lot smarter than those old French Sabot tossers. They know that a metal monkey wrench can do far more damage to a piece of equipment than some old wooden shoe. Plus, you don’t have to go home barefoot after you’ve completed the destruction.

Sabotage, like riot, though, “is an ugly thing.” In the end it hurts everyone. The employer loses money and the saboteurs wind up in jail. So how can we encourage the invention of labor-saving devices, without hurting organized labor. I think the simple answer is for employers to give stock in the company to the employees. Let the employees finally share in the benefits of new inventions. I know what you’re thinking.

Socialism

I’m not saying that the employees should own the entire company, though, just a fair share of the company, enough to make them want to see the company prosper. That way when the company moves the factory to a foreign country, they won’t be completely screwed. They will, at least, see their stock rise.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

Goodness Gracious, Great Balls of Buchanan

Since I’ve been here in Lancaster. I’ve enjoyed many lectures at Wheatland, the former home of James Buchanan, our 15th President. The scene shifted on President’s day, though, and the lecture was held at a local bar, The Shot and Bottle, just a few blocks from my apartment. It was the best lecture so far. Stephanie, from Lancaster History, spoke on the theme of the evening, the life of Harriet Lane, Buchanan’s niece.

Since it was a bar, I started the evening, of course, with a beer. Then I looked at the President’s Day appetizer menu. The items included Buchanan Balls, Polk Stickers, Eisenchowder, Roosevelt Fireside Catch Tacos, Barackoli and Shrimp Salad, Bernie Sandler, Kennedy Fried Chicken, Trump Roast, Sherbert Hoover, and Washington Apples. I began with Buchanan Balls, breaded and fried sausage, beef, onion and sauerkraut served with sprouts, Dusselforf mustard and cucumber aioli.

It reminded me of the old joke about the tourist in Spain who looks at the menu and orders the Matador’s Surprise. It turns out to be a huge pair of baked bull balls. Though a little odd, they are so delicious than on his second night in Spain the tourist goes back to the same restaurant and once again orders the Matador’s Surprise. This time, however, he receives two very tiny balls, and he asks the waiter, how come it is so different from the meal he had on the first night. The waiter quickly explained that “Sometimes, senor, the bull wins.”

20200217_173839

They turned out to be delicious, and the effect of the positioning of the sprouts got me laughing even more than that old joke did.

Two actors dressed as James Buchanan and Harriet Lane wandered around the room all evening, chatting with all the attendees and making themselves available for pictures. “Harriet” and I chatted for a long time, and she even displayed her Victorian-era curtsy move, but, unfortunately, I didn’t get that on camera.

20200217_181054

I had a nice chat with the speaker, Stephanie, before she got up to present her lecture on Harriet Lane, and, unfortunately, the picture below does not do her justice. She, and the blonde on the far right of the bar, both had very pretty eyes, which were nothing like the “deer in the headlights eyes,” which reflected the bright flash of my camera.

Stephanie at Shot and Bottle

When the talk was over, I spoke with Robin from the Lancaster History, who reminds me of Robin Scherbatsky from How I Met Your Mother. We debated the merits of James Buchanan’s Presidency. Since I seemed to be Jimmy’s biggest fan in the room, a member of the LH invited me to volunteer to be a guide on the Wheatland house tours. I’m going to take them up on the offer, and I pity the tourist fool who tries to tell me that James Buchanan wasn’t a great President. They just might find themselves drowning in James Buchanan’s bathtub.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl

The Search for Intelligent Life

Two Aliens out in space were looking down on our planet. The first alien said, “It seems the dominant life-forms on Earth have developed satellite-based weapons.”

The second alien asked, “Are they an emerging intelligence?”

“I don’t think so,” the first responded. “They have the weapons aimed at themselves.”

– joke I read in Playboy

 

I recently attended a lecture given by David Quammen at Franklin and Marshall College. The lecture was on the importance of Grizzly Bears, wolves, and other predators in the wild. For many years in our National parks the rangers concentrated on trying to eliminate predatory species and keep only the “nice” tame animals. They only wanted the bears that acted more like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo. It turns out that circus bears who can ride bicycles are not what the park needs. Now, they realize that biosystems work best when predators such as grizzly bears and wolves are not driven away or killed. You shouldn’t take the WILD out of wilderness.

We, as a species, are very worried about predatory animals. On land there are lions, and tigers, and bears, and oh my how they scare us. In the ocean, predators such as sharks are widely feared by people, especially people who have seen the movie Jaws.  Alligators scare us both in and out of the water. All these animals are potential man-eaters, and we should take precautions not to come into close contact with them, but we go way beyond being careful, we try to exterminate them.

Okay, if a bear leapt into my backyard while I was grilling a steak, I would shoot it (if I had a gun). If an alligator was chasing my dog, I would shoot it (if I had a dog and a gun). If a shark was chomping on my surfboard, I would shoot it (if I had a spear gun and knew how to use it). We have every right to protect ourselves, especially on our property. The problem is that we are taking over almost the entire planet and making it all “our property.” Except for the penguins in Antarctica, where we don’t want to live, we’re not leaving any room for the wild animals of the planet to have a space where they can do their own thing and mind their own business. They would leave us alone and not eat us, if only we would just leave them alone, but we don’t.

We justify killing predators, with the argument that it’s a matter of kill or be killed, but we go overboard. There are several dozen shark-attacks every year, but mostly it is a case of mistaken identity. When we paddle around in the water, we look like tasty fish treats to them. One bite, and they often spit us out like a child would a vegetable. Unfortunately for us, one shark-bite can do a lot of damage and even be fatal, but, still, worldwide, fewer than a dozen people actually die from shark attacks in any given year. Meanwhile, we retaliate by killing about 7 million sharks a year. That seems like overkill to me. Shark fins are used in soup, so I can see fishing for them as a food source. That’s natural. But the fishermen catch the shark, cut off the fins and dump the rest of the shark back into the ocean to die. Killing sharks just for their fins is just plain cruel.

We’re at the top of the food chain, and, as such, we can feed on whatever we want. Years ago, I went to a restaurant in Manhattan that served blackened alligator. I gleefully ate it, even though no alligator has ever threatened me. Heck, I’ve eaten plenty of cows, pigs, and chickens, and they certainly don’t even pose the slightest threat to me. I figured that eating a predatory alligator was kind of a public service (and it provided a short breather for cows, pigs, and chickens). Actually, the alligator did taste like chicken though.

The point I’m trying to make is that killing for food is natural. Killing purely for the fun or luxury of it, is unnatural. Plus, maybe we should have a tiny bit more consideration for big predator animals, especially since we humans are the biggest predators on the planet. Call it “professional courtesy.”

The irony is that as much as we fear death by some big predatory animals, it’s really the tiny bugs that kill the greatest numbers of us. Millions of people in poverty-stricken areas get sick and die from bugs in the unhealthy water they drink. Tiny mosquitos infect great numbers of people with deadly malaria. Some tiny virus is currently killing a lot of Chinese people. We’ve got our weapons trained on species that look scary, instead of the really scary things. The only big predatory animal we really need to fear is ourselves. People kill more people than lions and tigers and bears and sharks combined. People kill thousands of people every year, and, unlike lions, tigers, bears, and sharks, it’s not because they are hungry. It’s because they are cruel.

Many hunters explain that even non-threatening animals need to be kept in check. Overpopulation of deer in an area can lead to fatal car accidents when they wander on the road. So, instead of giving the deer more land to roam, we thin the herd. Maybe things like the Coronavirus are just nature’s way of thinning the herd of the most dangerous beasts on the planet, us.

Peace & Love, and all of the above,

Earl