Boomer Twilight

Mostly Humorous Observations of Most Anything, with a Boomer Slant

3:10 to Yuma – A Movie Review

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Being born in 1950 has at least one benefit. Many of you reading this think “that’s a long time ago, and what could be good about being that old?” Well, it gave me an appreciation of the western movie.

In 1950 the Wild West had only been tamed for about 35 years. The last stage robbery took place in 1916 and Wyatt Earp died in 1929. Forty years ago from this year, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated, so thirty-five years in perspective doesn’t seem so long ago.

Some of the best TV shows in the 50s and 60s were Westerns. We had Wyatt Earp, Cheyenne, The Rebel, Bonanza, Rifleman, Sugarfoot, Zorro, Rawhide, Gunsmoke, The Texan, Bat Masterson, Maverick, The Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Have Gun Will Travel, Big Valley, High Chaparral, Wagon Train, Death Valley Days, The Virginian, Wanted Dead or Alive, etc. I think you get my point; there were a lot of shows devoted to Cowboys. Go to this website for an extensive listing.

In 3:10 to Yuma the cast gets my attention. I have enjoyed monitoring the career of Christian Bale. He was the kid in Steven Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun, and now he’s the newest Batman. If you had the pleasure of seeing his performance in The New World, you will most likely agree he is very good. He’s “movin’ on up” and it’s based on talent. In this movie he is great as Dan Evans, a rancher who is down on his luck. An Oscar for some performance is probably in his future.

Of course, Russell Crowe is terrific as the bad guy, Ben Wade. Mr. Crowe gets a lot of flack from the press for his “bad boy” ways, but his performance in virtually every movie he makes appears Oscar worthy. Throwing telephones at hotel employees is a bit much, but artists are often somewhat crazed (at least he didn’t cut off one of his ears). By the way, he was born in New Zealand, not Australia.

In my opinion (this is my review) the standout actor in 3:10 to Yuma is Ben Foster. You may have seen him in Boston Public as Max Warner or in the awesome HBO series Six Feet Under as Russell Corwin. In this movie he plays a really creepy, but slick killer, Charlie Prince, and he wears it so well.

Those of you who are familiar with Easy Rider know Peter Fonda, who is in this, too. He’s the son of Henry Fonda and brother of Jane, and even though he has a long career in films, most of which I have enjoyed, I think his greatest accomplishment is the fathering of Bridget. During the 90s she was the “It Girl” in my mind, and her greatest performances for me were in Point of No Return and Singles.

What I liked most about 3:10 to Yuma is the respect Russell Crowe shows for Christian Bale. Russell sees a father trying to impress his son, and willing to take on a job that can only lead to unfortunate circumstances. Bale is part of a group bringing Crowe to the town of Contention on behalf of the railroad he has been robbing, to be transported on the 3:10 train to Yuma for his trial. Bale is paid $200 to risk his life. All along the trail, Crowe’s gang, led by Ben Foster is creating havoc for the group, but Bale is committed to the task, regardless.

If you haven’t seen the movie, I won’t spoil it for you by revealing what happens. This was my second viewing, and I won’t hesitate to watch it again. If you like westerns, lots of action and very good acting, check it out. Our library has it on the shelf for free. Yours might, too.

“Saddle up, Pardner.”

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Written by Bake My Fish

October 12, 2008 at 12:40 am

With That Being Said . . . .

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OK, I have a bone to pick with a current trend in the English language. When did “That being said,” “With that said,” “Having said that,” “That said,” “With that being said,” and so on become so common? I don’t remember them being used several years ago. Now everyone is saying them, writing them, belching them, rapping them, and pissing me off by using them (but, not quite as much as Grief Counselors). Maybe they’re proper, but I don‘t care. They don’t really mean anything. It’s kind of like saying, “Hey moron, did you get that? I said it, and I’ll tell you I said it just in case you don’t know I said it. So, listen up and let me tell you I said it because I like to repeat myself.”

On ESPN Sean Salisbury used them about every third sentence. Fortunately he’s no longer working on ESPN. He stunk, anyway. All of his time was spent screaming at John Clayton and calling him a Nerd in thirty different ways (I think he had a problem with the idea John didn’t play football). Another abuser is Stephen A. Smith, whose ridiculous rants are particularly annoying, with or without “That being said.” He still does some discussion of the NBA, but I don’t care about the NBA, and can avoid his nonsense. Every time I watch a FOX NFL game, featuring Troy Aikman, I notice he uses “Having said that” quite a lot. I like Troy, but the use of the phrase has to go. He always gets the NFC Game of the Week, so it’s hard to avoid Troy if you like football.

Perhaps it is correct English; I’m really not sure. What bothers me is how they have become so vogue. They are certainly overused by the media. Enough that it really gets on my nerves. The use of “For sure” was the same way a couple of decades ago. Eventually it went away. I’m concerned “With that being said” is so ingrained it may take a century or two to become archaic.

If you use “That being said” quite a lot, all I can say is you are a follower. You’ve heard it so much you are regurgitating it without even knowing. I forgive you, because society has pummeled you so much “With that being said,” you probably don’t even realize you’re a phrase junkie. Maybe there is something in our drinking water forcing our lemming behavior.

I like the evolution of language. The writings of Chaucer and Shakespeare seem very strange to us today. We need an interpreter to understand the English that was contemporary during their time. College courses and entire curriculums are devoted to studying their words, with ongoing debates about their meaning. At the time those words were written they were understood by the lowliest of peasants as well as the upper crust of society. The Intelligentsia of today cannot come to terms with what exactly was meant back then. When was the last time you watched a Shakespeare movie or play and did not scratch your head just a few times during the performance?

I watch a lot of movies; history, action, drama, comedy, westerns, sci-fi, whatever. I don’t recall in any of them, regardless of the time period being depicted, “With that being said,” “That said,” “Having said that,” “With that said,” or “That being said,” ever uttered by any of the characters. It seems writers of dialogue don’t feel a need for the meaningless words among the thousands in their screenplays (they’re just a little busy picking the proper profanities for the scenes). The overuse seems to be a staple of today’s media, commentators and politicians.

Yeah, I like the evolution of our language. But, the ride on the “With that being said,” train is becoming a bit much. Eventually the phrase will grow old and lose its glamour. Society will replace it with something else that will be spewed over and over and over to ad nauseum. That’s what we do. We run things into the ground, causing idiots like me to moan and groan about it. I just hope it goes away before I die. It will probably take too long, so my gravestone will convey my displeasure.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

 

Written by Bake My Fish

October 4, 2008 at 7:11 am

O Phineas, Phineas, Wherefore Art Thou Phineas?

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I’m probably going to Hell, be struck by lightning, or meet a horrible end for this post, but the subject is too freakish for me to avoid. I just can’t help myself.

It would have been interesting to know Phineas Taylor Barnum. Probably every birthday party he gave for his kids included clowns, dwarf piñatas, lots of celebration, and just a damned good time. He was involved in a few nefarious activities, including running numbers, hoaxes and displaying odd humans, referred to as “Freaks, ” and he was considered by many people of his time to be a scoundrel. If you’ve ever attended the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, you are guilty of being an enabler. Phineas started it, and you bought tickets. I took my kids when they were young, but they spent the whole show counting the number of times the elephants pooped. We didn’t have a chance to see Freaks.

Some of you may be thinking you are “Holier than Thou” and that you look the other way when you see an unusually-figured person (mimes don’t count), but don’t kid yourself and don’t kid me. We all like to see strange things. We pretend not to notice, but the corner of our eye gets stretched as far as possible and at any opportunity, we peek. When was the last time you were stuck in traffic, and the only reason for the delay was rubber-necking? I know you looked. Don’t be ashamed. It’s acceptable to gaze. That’s how Barnum grew rich. He was the first Millionaire Showman. And if it makes you feel any better, the people who were displaying their oddities and/or deformities referred to themselves as “Freaks.” So, you’re off the hook for the curiosity or use of the word.

When I was a kid, my favorite school field trip was to the Medical Museum where we saw fetuses in jars, photos of disfigurements, skeletons, and the Elephantiasis leg (there was a rumor about John Dillinger’s wee wee, but I never saw it). Little did I know at the time that Elephantiasis is caused by a parasitic worm (again with the parasites, Bake) and it demonstrates how vulnerable we are to nature’s invasive activities that cause unwarranted agony.

I recently became aware of the Treeman of Indonesia, aka Dede. This story has been circulating for some time, but it just caught my attention about a month ago (maybe I’ve been “living in a tree or under a log”). Wow! This guy is messed up. And from a human papillomavirus (HPV). He grows these wood-like warts all over his body. His hands and feet resemble tree branches and he has a morbid fear of termites, beavers, woodpeckers and squirrels. The sad thing is his wife left him and he was fired from his job. I assume he was sacked because he couldn’t use his hands or feet and it was impossible to perform any normal task (I suppose they don’t have ADA protection in Indonesia). His wife was probably worried about splinters. Yet, he likes to smoke cigarettes. If I were him, no open flames would get anywhere near me.

There is a fellow in Indonesia, Hani Suwanto (their P. T. Barnum), who along with his assistant, Boy, display Dede and several other people with physical deformities known as the Sadaluk Clan. The Clan includes Dede, Bubble Man and Nose Man as featured performers. Hani thinks of himself more as Walt Disney, with a goal of 100 of these people under one roof. In his mind he is providing a social service for the “performers” who have no other opportunity for income. Before you feel aghast at the exploitation, be aware Dede is OK with it. It’s the only way he can make a living. The Welfare System in Indonesia is not quite as generous as here, so Dede has to work somehow to feed himself and his children, and the circus is the only willing employer. If Barnum was alive today, Dede would be his featured act and he would probably have Huang Chuancai open the show for him.

Alright, I’ve gotten my cheap laughs and perhaps freaked you out just a bit with the pictures displayed here. Click on some of the links (especially Freaks) and feed your amazement. But, the purpose is not really for amusement. I’m fascinated by how unforgiving nature can be. The more we mess around with it the nastier it can get.

The next time you see an abnormal human, think about the suffering they must be experiencing and how fortunate you are to be spared the misery. Working in a circus might pay the bills, but I’m sure it’s not the occupation they had in mind.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

I Went to the Animal Fair; the Germs and the Microbes Were There

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Many of you reading this probably attended the Maryland State Fair, or a fair or festival of some sort this summer; especially if you have children. Ours ran from August 22 through September 1st. It’s always the same number of days ending on Labor Day. My wife and I hadn’t been for several years. This year we were given free tickets from the car dealer where she purchased her auto. Oh boy, free! Gotta go, right? It’s free!!

The Sunday morning before Labor Day we went for a walk to get a little exercise. I enjoy our walks. It gives us some time to talk without interruption, and to share each other’s company. As we strolled I was trying to avoid the subject of the fair, because I really didn’t want to go, initiating conversation about anything I could think of just to keep the chatter going and suppress the thought of the fair. Even though I had agreed to go earlier in the week, it was not an enthusiastic endorsement. Then it came up. “What time do you want to leave for the fair?” she asked. “Do we really have to go?” I whined. “It’s kind of hot now, and later on, it’ll be too hot.” “You don’t want to go?” she asked, in that sort of wife way that tells you she’s annoyed, but not angry. “We don’t do much on the weekend,” she continued. The guilt honed-in and my love of hanging out at home was challenged. As a society we spend about a third of our life sleeping. Another third working. We spend a substantial amount of our income buying a home and equipping it with entertainment and furnishings so we can enjoy our stay. Personally, I want to hang out at my abode. But, I don’t want to be a creep and sloth of a husband, so I agreed to attend the fair. Fun, fun, fun. After all, the tickets are eight dollars each, and we have two, so we’re saving $16.

We left our home about 1:30 to drive the half-hour or so from Eldersburg to Timonium. In my mind I was singing “Our State Fair is a Great State Fair, it’s the Greatest Fair in our State.” It sounds hokey, but I really was (I bet you are right now, too). I’m just glad it wasn’t out loud, because that would be just too corny. Our drive was unimpeded and we made it with ease. The bowling alley across from the Fairgrounds was offering parking for $5.00. Another bargain. We pulled in and parked, and thus far our afternoon was thrifty.

If you are young or have children, the fair can be a grand time. There are rides, treats, animals to pet, things to see, and you can act silly, unencumbered by embarrassment. When you are older, without children, it’s hot, noisy, dirty, stanky, boring, expensive, and the food really isn’t that good. But, the tickets are free, so we become two Old Coots walking around the grounds hoping for some excitement. They don’t even have bumper cars, so what the hell was I supposed to do? “I know, let’s get some bad food.” And the fair has the baddest. Deep fried Twinkies and Oreos? You mean they are not artery-clogging enough, that they have to be dipped in batter, and fried in the grease pit called a fryer? Those cookers have never contained zero-trans fat anything, and I doubt the grease has been cleaned during the entire event, and we were there the next-to-last day. No, thanks. I’ll pass on the “treats.” My mind was tuned to the thought of some lamb. Mmmmm. I like lamb.

The adult food is stationed next to the petting zoo. Nice and sanitary. That’s where you’ll find the pit beef, pork stuff, burgers, turkey legs, chicken parts, and the lamb. There are sanitation stations nearby, and there is the assumption the “chefs” are keeping their appendages clean. One would hope. The food is cooked, even though there’s no guarantee once it’s in the “keep it hot” containers the temperature is high enough to prevent illness. The servers are using utensils, and some are wearing plastic gloves, in compliance with the lenient Board of Health rules. But, the tongs and gloves are used over and over, without cleaning or changing, so we have to trust the heat is high enough to kill anything living within the grub.

My desire for lamb got the best of me. I cozied up to the stall, paid my $6.50 for a lamb wrap (a Gyro in a spinach wrap, rather than a pita, with less sauce) and devoured it standing, while my wife joined the pit beef line. She did have a bite of my wrap to taste it, but apparently missed the bad part. I inhaled my wrap, because it was falling apart and I was concerned about losing it. She brought her $6.00 pit beef sandwich, along with her $2.00 coke over to a table (she’s more sophisticated than me) and we sat down for a short time. Next to us a couple planted their lard asses, violently shaking the table, and began eating a pile of deep fried Oreos. They were both wearing fanny packs, no doubt stuffed with goodies of some type. The wife used a napkin to sop up the food-lube, and I thought, “To what food group does that belong?

We left the fair after a couple of hours playing Hop Scotch with critter feces, and seeing most of the livestock. I have to admit the babies are adorable, when there are a few. I see cows when passing a Chick-fil-A, pigs in any Walmart, chickens in the supermarket, and sheep when trying to go to sleep, so I don’t need to go to the fair. But, the tickets were free. Fun, fun, fun.

This was the beginning of a truly horrifying experience that was developing in my innards unbeknown to me. I’ve written posts about Parasitic Friends and pandemics One Flu Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, but the two guys being given birth, although not considered the source of a pandemic, definitely are not friends. They were intent on mischief and evil.

That evening everything seemed fine. No problems. The next morning (Labor Day) my wife fixed a nice breakfast, which I enjoyed with a few cups of coffee. Still going well. Then around noon I started feeling a bit queasy as the incubation was beginning. I laid down for a nap, skipped lunch and reluctantly anticipated the rib steaks we were to have for dinner. I lounged around on the couch, dozing off occasionally, while trying to watch TV. Eventually dinner was ready, I had a few bites of the steak, wrapped it up as leftovers and went to bed. This was about 7:00; very early to retire for me.

Tuesday morning appeared to be a normal beginning. I felt a little under the weather, but not enough to stay home from work, so I got ready, had some breakfast, packed a lunch and headed to the office. There were a couple of bouts in the mid-morning with bathroom visits, but not an unusual number of sittings for me. Things seemed on par with daily life. At noon I had my sandwich at my desk, all the while feeling a bit groggy, attributing it more to age than illness. Around 2:00, the “boys” took over as I rushed to the latrine, in a state of emergency. I was feeling downright funky. After returning to my office, I packed up my things and left without saying anything to anyone, because I was feeling putrid. I drove home, clenching all the way, and made it to the potty (think Jeff Daniels in Dumb and Dumber). My dog was sitting outside the door because I had not properly greeted her upon my entrance. Little did I know at the time, she was in for a lengthy stay with Daddy. I changed into my home clothes and laid on the couch for a nap, and Holly joined me.

The “boys” made it impossible to sleep for more than 20 minutes at a time without a bathroom rush. I was popping generic Imodium like mints, but no relief was given. Eventually I read the label and realized the limit is four per day. Eight had already been consumed on Tuesday. The pill popping had to stop. It wasn’t working, anyway. I was drinking G2, Powerade Zero and water in “beer bong-style” gulps, hoping not to become too dehydrated, but it seemed nothing could stop the assault on my body. The exhaustion was overwhelming and frankly I thought I was dying. It continued into Wednesday.

Wednesday morning the first thing on my mind was Gene Upshaw (not to mention the wallpaper in the bathroom), who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer on Sunday, August 17th and died on Wednesday, August 20th. He was only five years older than me, so I was worried I might be next. The difficulty I was experiencing was worse than any other episode in the past. What little time I could muster to stay awake was used to delete files on my computer and organize my passwords for my survivors. The same routine (by now it was routine) from the previous day continued into Thursday.

Thursday morning I called my doctor’s office and they were able to fit me in at 4:00. By the time I arrived for the appointment, I was sweating profusely. The intervals were now about every hour, so I didn’t have an emergency situation in her office. While I was signing in, practically laying my head on the counter, the receptionist made sure I had my $10 co-pay. “No problem, I’ll give you my house for a cure.” After examination, “Doc” surmised it was something I ate, and she gave me a lab form to get the vials for samples. On the form she wrote the word Giardia, which at the time made no sense to me. I asked if there was anything she could give me to halt the deluge, but she said not until it is determined what was attacking me. So, I obediently went to the lab, got the necessary equipment (eight vials) and returned home to continue my suffering.

About 3:00 AM Friday morning I collected the samples, and started searching on the Internet for Giardia. It is such a common parasite, I’m surprised I had escaped its wrath until now. Based on my symptoms I self-diagnosed that my doctor’s suspicion was correct. Since she couldn’t prescribe anything, the Imodium wasn’t doing the trick, and a large cork was out of the question, I searched for natural remedies. Goldenseal Root and Garlic were mentioned in several different articles. After making my lab delivery around 10:00 AM, I mosied on over to GNC and bought a bottle of Goldenseal Root for $15.99 and Odorless Garlic for $12.99. And guess what? By Saturday morning, I started feeling better. Now, many of you may think it just ran its course. Everything I read indicates Giardiasis untreated lasts about two – three weeks. I’m convinced I “nipped it in the butt” with a natural remedy.

Here‘s the best part. My doctor called me on Wednesday — which was five days after dropping off the samples — to give me the results. “Which do you want first, the good news, or the bad news.” she joked. “I guess the bad news,” I replied. “Well, you have two things, Giardia and Clostridium difficile (C. diff).” I knew about Giardia because I had just researched it, but the other condition was puzzling. “So, what’s the good news?” I asked. “We have one pill that can get rid of them both,” she said. “If you were older the C. diff could have been an even more serious problem. And you must have gotten both from the State Fair.” C. diff is sometimes rampant in hospitals among older patients. I guess I was lucky. Now, I’m taking Metronidazole three times a day for ten days.

The next time you want to attend a fair to see cute and cuddly animals, keep in mind the possibility of illness. I probably won’t go again, but if we are fortunate enough to get free tickets, I’m going shopping for a new outfit. Since this fair cost me $42.48 net (plus time off from work), I’ll have to factor in the cost of the new clothes for the next event.

I should’ve had baked fish.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Written by Bake My Fish

September 13, 2008 at 6:32 am

Who’s on the Marlow, the Marlow?

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In August of 1973 I began attending Prince George’s Community College, while living in Imperial Gardens Apartments in Suitland, MD. After being discharged from the Air Force in February, I had been through an attempt to sell pots and pans and one season of driving a Good Humor truck. Now it was time to start working on an education. After several months of growing my hair and beard, my Hippie Wannabe look was beginning to take form. You may recall in my Good Humor post I mentioned how several of the Ice Cream Men drove a taxi in the off season. I was glad they directed me to this particular occupation. Since I was also attending summer classes, there would be no further Ice Cream Man duties. Hacking was my immediate future until graduation.

Cab driving proved to be rather lucrative. The Government paid me $388 a month on the G. I. Bill to be a full-time student, and I rented a cab on the weekends from the Bluebird/Yellow/Suburban Cab Company in Marlow Heights, netting between $150 – $200. Working on New Year’s Eve was usually worth an additional $100 – $150 for the night. I was averaging over $1,000 a month, tax free (please don’t tell Uncle Sam), which was a tidy sum back then. It was enough to support my wife and two tots (aged 1 and almost 3), and allowed for the occasional bottle of Boone’s Farm, Bali Hai, Ripple, or a six pack of Black Label. Whenever school was closed for a holiday or snow emergency, I rented a hack and spent the day driving, and studying on the cab stand during slow periods. It was the ultimate temporary profession.

Most of you probably have in your mind the stereotype of the taxi drivers in most cities, who can’t speak English, or feign misunderstanding to drive you out of the way, and run up the meter. In 1973, the drivers were primarily American who spoke and understood English. But, in defense of today’s cabbies, we weren’t getting constantly mugged and ripped off by passengers, as seems to be so prevalent now. Sure, there was the occasional robbery and the passenger who jumped out without paying, but not to the extent it is today. Those most desperate for work tend to gravitate toward the danger and hassle, because no one else will do it. Cut the drivers a break when criticizing their lack of language skills, if you don’t mind. You’re lucky they are there when you need the ride.

“Who’s on the Marlow, the Marlow?” That’s the call from the dispatcher over the two-way radio putting out a job in the Marlow Heights section. How it worked was the first cab in line sitting on the Marlow Heights stand, located in front of the Giant Food/Steak in a Sack in the Marlow Heights Shopping Center, was given the job. Why the phrase was uttered twice, I’ll never know. Maybe it was to be sure we heard him. If there was no cab on the stand, the dispatcher called “Marlow 1st,” and any driver who was empty in section could bid on the job. The one closest to the fare would get it. “Marlow 2nd” was the next call if no one was empty in section. In this case, the taxi had to be in Marlow, dropping someone off or out of section empty. The closest to the location of the passenger won. Then if it went to “Marlow, Marlow,” which was the final call, and the first driver to bid got the fare.

Recently I met with some folks who grew up in Marlow Heights. The website in the highlighted link is run by Chuck Fraley. He organizes get-togethers of people who were youngsters in the area during the 60s and 70s. I discovered Chuck’s site while doing research for my Blog, and I’m glad I did. The group met at the Steak in a Sack for a terrific meal that brought back memories of the many sandwiches (basically a steak and cheese in a pita) I ate during my tenure as a cabbie from 1973 – 1976. Chuck was all “retroed-out” in his Banlon shirt, Macs and Chucks with the colored shoe laces. He really works to “Keep the Memories Alive!”

We had several taxi stands in the area. There was the one at the Prince George’s Motel, called “The PG,” which was across the street from Iverson Mall, where I sold shoes at Baker’s in 1967. We had a stand in Suitland at the Scot’s gas station (I forget what it was called). In Temple Hills we were on a dirt lot at the corner of Brinkley and Temple Hills Road, called (now stick with me on this), “The Dirt.” Those clever guys. Then there was the stand outside Andrews Air Force Base at the Ramada Inn called (sing in unison), “The Ramada.” By far the busiest stand was The Marlow. After moving to Greenbelt in 1975, I worked out of the Hyattsville office, and my favorite stand was at the Little Tavern on Route 1, right outside the University of Maryland campus (I was a Maryland student at this point). The reason I liked that location so much was not just because of the great little burgers, but its name. It was called “The Ritz.” Someone had a sense of humor in naming that one.

Most people these days are moaning and groaning about the price of gasoline; how it’s cutting into their budgets, and causing them to forego the extra Starbucks coffee or chocolate bar, just to keep their heads above water. Try having no gas when you are driving for a living. On October 17, 1973, just a couple of months after I started hacking, the Organization of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries decided to get even with the Western world for their support of Israel. Their plan to use oil as a weapon, by making it difficult to obtain, was secretly negotiated in August, in preparation of Egypt and Syria’s united assault of Israel. Both countries launched their attack on October 6th (Yom Kippur), and it was the beginning of the fourth Arab-Israeli war.

Fine and dandy for them, but my family had to eat and the Oil Embargo was not a welcome addition to my lifestyle. Sitting in line waiting for gas, and running out of gas while waiting, was not a particular thrill. It was irritating. In one instance, I was lucky enough to get a big fare going to Glen Burnie. The good news was I got a lot of cash for the trip. The bad news was I ended up hitchhiking, holding an empty Clorox container (it was in the trunk in case of an emergency), to get to a station and wait in line, so I could fill up the jug and get back to my taxi, with just enough gas to find another line that I could join and eventually fill up the car. Hitching a ride with long hair and a beard (two more months of growth), wearing jeans, Chuck Taylor’s, and my old Air Force fatigue jacket, isn’t a particularly appealing look to passers by. The addition of the Clorox bottle to my ensemble gave some people the impression I was a bum. My Hippie Wannabe look was transformed into Hobo Chique. It was a killer look, and I don’t mean in the sense of hot and sexy, I mean killer in the sense of homicidal. Fortunately a real Hippie stopped in his VW bus and drove me around to get the bottle filled and back to my cab. Kindred Spirits. “Peace, Brother. Groovy.”

One result of the Oil Embargo was the proliferation of self-service islands at gas stations. Although the first self-service station was opened in 1947 by George Urich, they didn’t really catch on. In fact many states banned them due to concerns about the elimination of jobs, and distrust of the inexperienced motorist spraying the ground (and possibly other customers) with petrol or driving away and ripping a hose off the pump. After the crisis that occurred in ’73, and the subsequent spike in gas prices that resulted, stations began offering the choice of full-service at one price and self-service at a lower cost. Still, many states didn’t allow self-service stations, but as we all know, today they are prevalent everywhere except New Jersey and Oregon. Additionally, the many incarnations of forced increased mileage legislation grew out of the Embargo.

Aside from the gas crisis, I enjoyed driving a cab, usually working the night shift because there were fewer drivers to compete with, and fewer old ladies with eight bags of groceries to be lugged to their sixth floor apartment, who only took the cab a few blocks, which meant a low fare, small tip, a lot of time spent, and losing my place in line at the stand. If I did work during the day, I avoided The Marlow, opting to drive around on the edge of several sections at once so I could “stretch my hood” when a job came out. If there was no cab on the stand of a particular section and it went to 1st call, I would make up a location in that section, hoping no other cab could see me. Any time a driver got caught fibbing he was cut off the air for an hour. If I was lucky enough there was no other cab closer to the job, I would get it, which meant I had to hurry, so as not to be discovered. A long delay in picking up a passenger, when I was supposedly nearby, was a dead giveaway. But, we could always use the excuse we had a bathroom emergency on the way.

Marlow Heights is fairly close to Andrews Air Force Base. Andrews is where Air Force One, the plane used by the President, is housed. There was always a “Press” plane as part of the entourage whenever the President went on trips. Although there were several reporters privileged enough to accompany the President on Air Force One, most of them flew on the Press plane. And, many of them ordered taxi service to get them into Washington and Northern Virginia once their plane landed. Our dispatcher would give us notification that several cabs would be needed in the Andrews section, so those who wanted the fares would go and sit on The Ramada at the appropriate time in anticipation of a pretty decent trip. The passengers were usually interesting, talkative (after drinking on the plane) and tipped well. I had the pleasure of carrying Connie Chung, Pierre Salinger and Garry Trudeau on separate occasions.

But, the best part of driving a hack was practicing my “Chicken Call.” There was a driver whose last name was Abel. I forget his first name because they always just called him Abel. He was a full-time cabbie who worked during the morning hours to make enough money to go to the racetrack in the afternoon and bet on the horses. There were several guys who drove to bet. Then after the races were over, if they lost they’d come back out on the street and work several hours, or if they won they wold take the rest of the day off. Abel was kind of a cut-up and the dispatchers liked him. My task was to cackle like a chicken over the radio, and I am very good. What was so much fun about the “Chicken Call” was the dispatcher always blamed Abel. My original intention was just to cluck for fun, but when they started yelling at Abel, it became a pretty good game. Sometimes I would continue on until the dispatcher was irritated to the point of threatening to cut Abel off the air. And Abel wasn’t even working. We had different dispatchers at different times, and they always blamed Abel. I got a real chuckle out of it, and it beat studying while sitting on a stand.

I often think about what it would be like to drive a cab today, but I’m sure it would not be as entertaining as then. I’m not even sure Abel is still alive, but if I were ever to cross his path again, I’d confess to the “Chicken Call,” just to see his expression.

“Who’s on the Coop, the Coop?”

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Who’ll Gimme Five?

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Only a few of you might recognize the guy in the picture. His name was Richard Rose. This past December I found out he died; just about a year after it happened. I felt really bad that I didn’t know it was coming. He was sick for awhile, and I had no idea. Keeping up with friends isn’t that hard. In this case I failed miserably.

On the debut of my job at the University of Maryland Computer Science Center in 1976, Richard Rose was one of the first people I met. I liked him as soon as I shook his hand. His smile was infectious under the mustache; with those eyes that kind of lit up when he grinned. You know what I mean. People just felt really comfortable around him. I was assigned to his shift and we went right to work. Richard didn’t mess around; always moving and helping. He was a great boss, who made you feel like an equal. What most people didn’t know was he had a passion for Auctioneering.

The setup at the Computer Science Center was Richard at the console with several intercoms throughout the building, used by the IBM Card Reader Operators to communicate with him. The whole purpose was for the students, who were learning how to program, to have us run their jobs incessantly; sometimes to the point of boring. Then every once in awhile you could hear coming from the intercom, “Who’ll gimme five? Who’ll gimme five dolla? Who’ll gimme five dolla, five dolla? Gotta five dolla, five dolla. Who’ll gimme ten? Who’ll gimme ten dolla, ten dolla? Gotta ten dolla. Who’ll gimme fifteen? De fifteen, de fifteen? Gotta fifteen. Who’ll gimme twenty?” Richard used different sing-song inflections and would go on and on into the whole rendition you might observe at a tobacco auction (where as a boy, he developed his fascination). The students loved it. We were all cracking up. Richard really was good.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Yeah, Richard goofed around with the rest of us; shooting rubber bands (we used them to wrap the output before giving it to the students) and playing practical jokes, but he was very serious about his job. When Richard died, he was Executive Director of the University of Maryland Academic Telecommunications System (UMATS) and USM Office IT. He was a Big Shot (not a reference to rubber bands).

There was more to Richard Rose than the hard working Computer Guy/Auctioneer. When I ran for the Greenbelt City Council in 1977, he worked the polls for me. His beautiful wife, Carla, was the Executive Assistant to Maryland State Senator Edward T. Conroy, and Richard introduced me to Senator Conroy, who introduced me to Steny Hoyer (who at the time was the 38-year-old President of the Maryland State Senate), Delegate Leo Green and a couple of other local politicos. Even though their implied endorsements were helpful, I lost the election by 128 votes, ending my blip of a political career.

The next couple of years thereafter, Richard helped me with two money-raising Gong Shows (Ed Conroy was one of our Celebrity Judges at the first one). He never balked at lending support to people he liked. Later we had an auction for the American Cancer Society at the Greenbelt Town Center. Of course, the idea of an auction for charity was conceived with Richard’s hobby in mind. When the event took place, he was in his glory; “Who’ll Gimme Fivin'” all over the place. Richard was the show, and what a show he was.

My job at the U of MD ended in 1979, and I moved from Greenbelt in 1980. For a little more than a decade, Richard and I sort of lost track of each other. We talked on the phone a couple of times and I stopped in to see him once, while in College Park on business. That was about the extent of our “keeping up.” Then in 1991, I organized an auction for the American Heart Association of Carroll County. If you have an auction, who do you call? Richard Rose! He jumped at the opportunity.

In downtown Sykesville, Richard occupied the gazebo in the picture and the audience lined the street. “Who’ll gimme five? Who’ll gimme five dolla? Who will give me five dolla, five dolla? Gotta five dolla. Who’ll gimme six? Who’ll gimme six dolla? Who’ll gimme six dolla, six dolla? A six dolla, six dolla? Gotta a six dolla, six dolla. Who’ll gimme seven?” And on it went. Richard was smiling and chattering and the audience loved him.

When the auction was over, we came back to my house for some grilled steaks and conversation about the past. After dinner, Richard went home and being the piece of crap I am, I never saw or talked to him again. On January 5, 2007 he died at age 59.

Don’t let a good friend leave you without having a chance to say goodbye.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

P. S.  Here is an update to this Blog.  Richard was recently honored http://internet2.edu/rose/

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Who Left the Red Barn Door Open?

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It was 1966. I was 16 at the time and a big fan of the emerging fast food craze. McDonald’s was taking off, and we had a place named Burger Shack on Marlboro Pike, near the Hillside Drive-in Theater, selling yummy hamburgers for fifteen cents a pop. I loved Fridays, because my mother often brought home Burger Shack dinner, which included hamburgers, fries and shakes. So, I thought the best way to get a constant supply of burgers was to go to work for the new place called Red Barn that had recently opened in Coral Hills. Although the goal was to gorge myself on free eats, I had fallen upon a pretty decent job.

Red Barn was a really good chain that was started in the early 60s in Ohio, whose first Franchisee was Harry Barmeier. At its peak they had around 400 restaurants in 22 states, as well as Canada and Australia. What I liked about Red Barn that was different from McDonald’s, was they sold fried chicken. My mother grew up in Southern Virginia, so fried chicken was one of the foods I learned to love. I still do, but have to abstain because of the cholesterol problems we know about now, that we didn’t hear about then.

I was on the night shift, which went until closing. Our shift manager was a fellow named John. He was all of 19, but was still the boss. John was on his way up the Corporate ladder, yet he was very down to earth. We often messed around with him. He drove a dark blue Karmann Ghia that usually started, but sometimes did not. John had a rather weak stomach.

Our french fries were made from scratch, using a potato peeling machine and slicer. We blanched the fries and put them in the cooler for frying when needed. There was a product called Stay Fresh we used to keep them from spoiling. It probably caused health problems, but what the hell did we know in 1966? I couldn’t find anything on the Internet about it, but I would guess it was somehow related to MSG. When Stay Fresh was sprinkled in milk shake mix, it had a foul smell. One of our pranks was to take a bit of shake mix, drop a little Stay Fresh in it, and ask John to take a whiff and let us know if the mix was OK to use. The smell never failed to make him vomit. And we laughed our asses off. Sometimes John would have a drink set aside for himself, and we would add a little Stay Fresh to it when he wasn’t looking. Once he took a sip, he was a goner. It got to the point where we would just tell him it was in his drink (even though it wasn’t) and he would barf. Quite the chuckles for us punks.

My favorite task at Red Barn was to work the grill. Cooking the hamburgers, fries and chicken made me feel like a chef. It kept my Ichabod Craneish persona (picture Ric Ocasek with zits and a paper garrison cap) away from the customers, and I preferred to avoid their whiny orders, anyway. Working the counter usually ticked me off, but running the grill gave me command of the entire process.

The policy of Red Barn was to allow us to have free fried chicken only on Wednesdays and Sundays. But, we were more clever than they thought. At the end of the evening, any leftovers were fair game for our gluttonous ways. Around 10:00 PM, we would drop a load of chicken in the fryer, knowing it couldn’t be sold by the time we closed, leaving us with quite a bit of waste, that either had to be thrown away or consumed. John usually looked the other way, and we had chicken on whatever day we wanted.

Robbery of fast food restaurants was a fairly new phenomenon. During my time at Red Barn, we got hit twice. Once, a guy came in while I was cleaning the grill, hunched down near me to avoid being seen from the window, pointed a gun and yelled, “Where’s the money?” It took me a couple of seconds to realize what was happening, and I just said, “It’s in the back.” He was anxious and ran into the back of the store, while I took a moment to gather myself. Then it dawned on me what was going on. I shook for awhile and stood still, then figuring he was gone, went in the back looking for the rest of the crew. No one was around, so I worried a bit, then opened the walk-in refrigerator. Everyone inside instinctively put their hands in the air until they realized it was me, and John asked, “Is he gone?” Since no one was bleeding we figured he was. John then called the police. What the gunman didn’t realize was the cash registers had not been reconciled, so “The money was in them.” Robber Man did get away with the petty cash box, escaping with about $35.00. A big haul, and perhaps a couple of nights of drinking, or one fix of whatever drug he probably abused.

The second attempted heist was just this side of ridiculous. Often times after we closed, our activities included a drive to Guys and Dolls pool hall in Silver Hill, for an early morning round of pocket billiards, or a jaunt to Waldorf to throw our wages away in the slot machines that were legal at the time. This particular evening John was going to drive a few of us to Waldorf. We closed the store, and started piling into his Ghia, when we heard, “Give me the money!” We looked around to see where from the voice originated and saw what appeared to be a gun peeking out from the fence behind the store, with the “criminal” hiding in the bushes. The Karmann Ghia wouldn’t start, so we pushed it with John using the driver’s door as a shield, as we backed out of the parking space, snickering all the way. After popping the clutch, the car started, and we drove away from the “bad guy,” and headed to Waldorf. Our subsequent laughter was probably a combination of fear and relief that this particular robbery attempt was committed by a fool. We survived for another day of french fry blanching and terrorizing John.

My stint at Red Barn gives me fond memories. I’m not quite sure what happened with John’s career, but being the kind, gentle soul he was, I would guess he fared well (unless a Corporate audit revealed our chicken thievery). I tend to think if people are good, good things come of it. Since I don’t remember his last name, I can’t Google him to see where he might be (just entering John brought about 1,040,000,000 results). But, the last Red Barn franchising leases expired around 1986, so I can assume he has left the night shift.

I just hope wherever John is, he has a reliable car.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Coral Hills Red Barn Today

My Grandpa, the Shriner

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I always thought the hats were funny. Now, I’m not so sure. The miniature cars go well with the toppers. You have to be special to look silly.

My Grandfather was a Shriner. He appeared to enjoy it; but as a kid, I didn’t pay much attention. When my Mother and I went to the funeral in 1982, the honor of his participation showed through. The podium featured the logos of the Freemasons and Shriners, and eulogies from both groups. Wow, Henry was a Freemason. They are the world’s largest fraternity. To me that’s kind of a big deal.

Henry Sussman (Heinrich Süssmann) wasn’t a rich guy or a man with connections. His family left Germany in 1900 to settle in Pennsauken, NJ, and on October 10, 1903 Henry was born; the only one of his siblings conceived in the USA. He grew up to become a loom mechanic and shift supervisor for Belding Hemingway, who in the 30s and 40s was manufacturing silk thread. His father and he went to Lynchburg, VA to open a plant for the company, and at some point Henry moved to Bedford, VA to help open another facility. Eventually the company made a decision to switch from producing thread to the manufacture of fiberglass fibers. Occupational disease became an issue with the employees, who developed illnesses from the product, causing the demise of the Bedford location. But, Henry eked out a decent living for the time; back when “blue collar” meant you made enough to live. He raised my Mom as a single parent and things turned out grand. Knowing he was a Freemason piques my interest.

Throughout history, there have been quite a few Freemasons who were famous and influential. George Washington, Ben Franklin, Paul Revere and Colonel Sanders were Freemasons. I’m not sure Freemasonry had anything to do with the taste of Kentucky Fried Chicken, but the secrecy of the Society probably contributed to the Colonel keeping his Original Recipe® of 11 secret herbs and spices under wraps. To this day, we still don’t know how the bird is dressed. Phrases like “Level with him,” “Be square,” and “The Third Degree” all originated with Freemasons. They are very important in our history, whether or not we are aware.

Red Skelton, John Wayne, Danny Thomas and Harry Truman were Shriners. I can picture Red Skelton wearing the funny hat, but not John Wayne. Being a Freemason doesn’t necessarily lead to Shrinerism, but to join the club, you must first be a Freemason and make it all the way to Master Mason. Check out this list of famous Shriners, and you might be impressed.

Shriners always look like they’re having fun. I bet they are. Helping kids is a heart-warming thing. Then there are the meetings, parades, conventions and all sorts of activities that keep the mind abuzz. And don’t forget . . . the little cars. You never hear of them causing any problems in the hotels or towns where they are holding conventions (news of Shriners throwing televisions out of hotel windows is minimal). They seem to be well behaved, upstanding citizens.

Because of my renewed interest in my Grandfather, I recently inquired about joining the Shriners, not understanding the necessary steps. At my age, I will be dead before qualifying. They were kind in not laughing at my naivete, and directed me to the Freemasons. Then I found out you don’t just join. You have to be recommended. Since, the only person I know who was a Freemason/Shriner died in 1982, it seems a difficult task. My interest will probably dwindle soon, but if there is a Freemason out there who is interested in recruiting a new member with a connected ancestor, give me a call. Better yet, send an email to Bake My Fish.

Henry Sussman was a pretty good guy. Whenever he came to visit my family, particularly on Thanksgiving and Christmas, he always brought me liverwurst (I was the only one in my family who liked it) and Land O’ Lakes butter (Mom preferred margarine). And, my mother always cooked a pot of Spareribs and Sauerkraut, which was his favorite. He loved me, and I loved him. Now that I know Henry even better, I love him more.

“Rest im Frieden, Heinrich Süssmann. Du warst ein guter Mann.” When we meet again, I’ll bring the Spareribs and Sauerkraut. Just make sure you leave my name at the gate, because Saint Peter may not let me in without a referral.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Written by Bake My Fish

July 20, 2008 at 12:01 am

Sputnik or Спутник? In Either Language It Spells Cold War

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“To escape the wrath of a mushroom cloud, you should hide under your desk.” That was what we were told when practicing our nuclear attack preparedness at elementary schools during the late 1950s. Especially after the USSR launched Sputnik on October 4, 1957. How out-of-tune is that kind of thinking? Wooden desks will stop Gamma Rays, X-Rays, Sugar Ray, Ray Charles, or any rays whatsoever. Today, anyone working in a Nuclear Power Plant wouldn’t be caught dead wearing a wooden suit for protection (or maybe they wood).

Look at that desk. Do you think it’s going to stop atomic radiation or falling debris? We did as kids. Just scrunch under it and nothing will hurt you. Not even the invisible stuff. My guess is during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, none of those primary school students were thinking about hovering under furniture for protection. Tatami mats and bamboo were about the best shields in those days. We got them good. Then again, they didn’t know it was coming. At Bradbury Heights Elementary School in Coral Hills, MD we were preparing. The drills were fun because it broke up the monotony of lessons. Still, it was a little scary.

Click on the picture to the left, and you’ll see one of the few structures standing after the Hiroshima bombing was a desk. I bought four for my bomb shelter. One for me, one for my wife, one for our dog and one for Nicky (the Love Bird). I know it’s silly now, but in the 50s we thought it was real. The whole country went nuts after Sputnik flew.

I liked the Cold War. Khrushchev was funny looking and sort of Grandfatherish. I bet he did the “pull my finger” joke often. He made me laugh, and was probably more like the Uncle at Thanksgiving dinner seated next to the kids table, telling Knock Knock jokes, who had too much to drink and belched as if it were expected, rather than the cold-hearted killer we thought. These days, the people in power in threatening countries around the world, are spooky. I would rather laugh than cringe. Give me a Nikita over an Osama any day.

The Space Race really took off after Sputnik embarrassed us. Our childhood was devoted to beating the Russians, conveyed in our toys, media and even our lunch boxes. Eventually we landed on the moon, and now satellites are so prevalent there is no room for Superman. I do enjoy the 200+ TV channels we have today, so thank you, Nikita and the Boys, for forcing our hand.

There was a Russian movie spoof of the Three Stooges starring Joe Stalin as Moe, Nick Khrushchev as Curly and Al Einstein as Larry. Einstein was too bright to play Larry, challenging the credibility of the production and the Russians didn’t take to the use of a Foreigner in their film. Plus, there was an issue about the pay scale. As smart as he was, Al just couldn’t figure out the conversion of Rubles to Dollars, so the project was scrapped. His response was, “I am a Scientist not an Economist, so take your money and shove it!”

We continued on through the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, challenging the Soviet Union at every turn. The Soviet war in Afghanistan from 1978 – 1989 ruined their economy and eventually caused the downfall of Russia. It is generally accepted the Cold War ended on Christmas of 1991 when the USSR was officially dissolved. So, it wasn’t our doing, it was those dang Muslims.

“Let that be a lesson to you, Commies!”

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Written by Bake My Fish

July 16, 2008 at 9:16 pm

April 3, 1989 – Al Gore’s Worst Nightmare

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It was a beautiful afternoon on April 3, 1989; Orioles Opening Day at Memorial Stadium. I attended the game with a co-worker, Scott Becker, and a business acquaintance, Jeff Funk. The Orioles had just beaten the Red Sox, 5-4. Fans were enjoying a victory on the way to their vehicles.

We were waiting for the light at 36th Street and Alameda to cross and get to our cars, when we heard, “Stop!” A father in distress was yelling to his six-year-old son, who had just broken the grasp of his hand and ran into busy traffic. The son obeyed and stopped; in the middle of the road. A car hit him and he flew from the front of the vehicle to the rear (described as 30 feet into the air) and slid for another 20 feet after landing. Everyone was horrified. I had never seen anything like it. The child laid unconscious in the road and we all thought he was dead.

His mother was screaming hysterically (what mother wouldn’t?). His father was trying to calm her, while attending to his son. I, like a fool, ran over to the vehicle that hit him, and shrieked at the driver, “Get out of the car!! Get out!!” I was convinced he had been speeding, because that’s what I saw. The driver was obviously distraught, thinking he had just killed a boy. But, I was undaunted in my vigilantism. My friends pulled me away, and we all tried to collect ourselves. It was terrifying.

I tearfully observed the father trying to keep everyone in tune with the situation, while thinking his son had just died. He looked athletic, a big fellow, leading me to believe he was an athlete attending the game and seemed familiar to me, but with all the commotion, I couldn’t recall who he might be. The police came, told me to go away, and we walked to our cars. I immediately called my wife and told her what had happened and asked her to check the news. On my way home, she called to tell me the boy was Al Gore’s son.

At the time he wasn’t quite as famous as today. Whatever your political philosophy may be, and however Al Gore fits into your political spectrum, in this case he was just a father; scared to death he had lost his son. No one ever wants to deal with that. The internet, Vice Presidency, 2000 election fiasco and global warming were all in his future, but at this point he was just praying for the recovery of his child.

We tend to think celebrities are beyond heartbreak. Their lives are not like ours. Those whose children die before them are not our concern, because we think they are somehow surreal and unapproachable. But, it happens to people in all walks of life, and we shouldn’t lose sight of how vulnerable we are to mishaps and disease. Albert Arnold Gore, III survived, thanks to the attending physicians at Johns Hopkins, but he very well could have died. Most of us wouldn’t have even thought about it. If I had not been there, I wouldn’t either.

I like Al Gore, and am sure it is because of this particular experience. I also like that he is a Vietnam Veteran. Many people give him grief because of his liberal leanings, but I can’t get past this accident. No matter what he does or says, there will always be a spot in my heart for April 3, 1989. He dealt with it well, but it could have been the end of him if his son had not pulled through.

I only hope none of you have to suffer the loss of a child.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Written by Bake My Fish

July 7, 2008 at 8:30 pm

How Not To Sell Virtual Cookware

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The last time we got together I mentioned something about trying to sell Ecko Hope Chests on the streets of Washington, DC. Don’t try it, it doesn’t work. It didn’t work in 1973, and it won’t work in 2008.

My first job after being discharged from the service was selling pots and pans. Our “product” included glassware, china and silverware, but the meat of the sale was Ecko waterless cookware. The ensemble was touted as the answer to the dreams of all “single working girls,” and the job was to essentially accost young females on the streets of Washington during their hurried lunch break, and convince them to allow me to bring a free gift (plastic “rain bonnet”) to their premises some evening, to hear my pitch about what they might need for their future domestication. If you are following me, you know this won’t work.

My “supervisor” was a really cool fellow. He was charged with training me to get the necessary number of appointments to make a living. His name escapes me (since I knew him all of 15 business days, 35 years ago), but I do recall he was cool. I’ll give him the name Freeburg, not for any particular reason, but it’s silly, and that’s my purpose in life.

Freeburg had long blonde hair, a hip mustache (not necessarily a Fu Manchu, but long) and he wore sunglasses. He was a Hippie in a suit. Now, my interest was in providing for my family, but Freeburg was there to get lucky. And he did. Quite a few times (it was the era of free love). The ladies of the time liked the look, he was intelligent and spoke very well, and he was always stoned, so his mellowness apparently was a draw.

I wanted to learn my trade, and quite honestly I really sucked at it. Freeburg often disappeared into the nearby alley to toke on a small pipe. Once he was sufficiently high, he would direct me how to talk, but somehow it wasn’t particularly intelligible. My animated, freakish mumbling at the women who walked by seemed more like Quasimodo communicating with Esmeralda.

Picture this. It’s 1973, and everyone had long hair. I, on the other hand, had short, closely cropped bangs (think Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber); being out of the military for just over three weeks. Combine that sight with my pencil-thin mustache, which looked more like groomed nostril hairs and you have a pretty good idea of my handicap. Take your pick; the contemporary, handsome, long blonde-haired guy, stoned and mellow, with sunglasses and a cool mustache, or the jittery dork, with the sneaky-looking nose hairs, wearing a polyester suit and platform shoes, desperately seeking a dollar, who looks like he just fell off the lettuce truck. As you can guess, there weren’t many appointments in my future.

I did get one. She probably felt sorry for me. Either that, or she really needed a rain hat. That evening, I went to Debbie’s (I remembered her name) apartment in Wheaton and knocked on the door. During my last few months in Taiwan, I had several suits tailored (very cheaply) in the finest polyester double-knit fabric available. My duds were proudly displayed on my slim body. That particular day, I was wearing my rust-colored, maxi-patterned, plaid suit (similar to the picture). The shirt was beige; accented with a fine, matching non-silk tie. In my left hand dangled the handle of my sample case. One of her roommates came to the door and fingered my lapel and said, “Really nice,” in as sarcastic a way as he could. But, he invited me in. This was the opening scene in Death of a Salesman.

He immediately and proudly showed me the marijuana plant growing in the hall closet. “I suspect you don’t know the purpose of my visit,” I thought. So I nodded and said, “It looks very healthy (as if I knew).” But, I was thinking, “I need a sale.” Debbie walked out of the kitchen to greet me, and two other female roommates came out of the bedroom to say hello. The Botanist was the only male living with three women, all very cute. Then they asked if I wanted to party. Tempting as it was, I had to leave. There was no way a sale would be made among this group, and it didn’t really matter why my prospect agreed to allow me to come by (even though it was intriguing). I pulled the packaged rain hat out of my suit pocket and gave it to Debbie, but Botany Man grabbed it, peeled off the wrapper, and put it on his head. “Really nice,” I said in as sarcastic a way as I could, politely thanked everyone for their time, and left.

That was my first and last appointment. As ridiculous as it was, I had fun in a weird sort of way; however, that was not the job for me.

Still, I always wondered if the waterless cookware really worked.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Ding a Ling a Ling . . . “Wait a Minute . . “

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“Marco! Polo!” is to swimming pools what “Wait a minute . . “ is to ice cream trucks. They are universally interpreted to mean whatever they mean, and all children say them the same way (you’re probably hearing them in your head right now).

Oh, the sound of those bells and the kids singing, “Wait a minute,” as they rush into their houses for some change. “Mom! Mom! The Ice Cream Man is here!! Hurry!!!” I like to remember chasing down the Good Humor truck with my friends, but the best memory was driving one.

In 1973 my discharge from the Air Force came through. It was exciting, until I thought, “Now what?” My skill was reading and delivering secret messages. There weren’t an abundance of jobs requiring cryptographic training, and I planned to attend college in the fall, using the GI Bill. I needed something quick to take care of my 3-year-old family. Having a wife and two kids, with no income, can cause anxiety for everyone involved, so I had to find work. Any work.

After a month attempting to sell Ecko Hope Chests on the streets of Washington, DC, and not even sniffing the possibility of a sale or income, the time seemed right for a different venture. My parents’ apartment was closing-in on us, so I began a relationship with the Washington Post classifieds.

I can’t quite remember how the advertisement read. There was mention of Good Humor Ice Cream and driving; two things I like. So I hopped into my new 1973 red Chevy Vega (don’t laugh) and drove to the plant in Hyattsville for the job interview. It was a short question and answer session, which included inquiry about my driving record (having been out of the US for the last four years, I didn’t really have a chance to soil it) and a quick run of the mirror under my nose to see if I was breathing. They gave me the job. Whew!

The truck you see to the right was the typical style of the late 60s – early 70s. Mine was slightly different. It required dry ice (good for entertaining when a puddle was nearby) for the freezer, rather than being plugged-in overnight. And, I got out of the truck from the driver’s side, since it was a two-door cab. But, the chimes worked great. Ringing those bells while driving around the neighborhoods gave me the chance to be an inspiration to the children and a screen-scratching irritant to the parents. I yanked on the chain as rhythmically as possible. The louder and sing-song jingly I could make it, the more ice cream that was sold. I got “Jiggy wid it,” and pulled in a pretty decent wage.

Ice cream-seeking children are disciplined. They have an internal clock that notifies them it is time for the Good Humor Man. After one or two weeks of conditioning, they knew where and when I would be stopping. At the designated corner, they fidgeted excitedly with money in hand, anxiously awaiting the arrival of the Lord of Frozen Treats. It is one job where being late means lower income, because if Mister Softee is lurking nearby and the Good Humor Man makes a habit of not arriving on time, soft serve will be sampled (my family’s Sheltie loved it). A child’s loyalty only survives one or two disappointments.

Most of the Good Humor drivers had their first names on the side of the truck just over the freezer door. Mine read “Menjie.” Usually the kids would ask, “Is that your name?” I would answer, “Yes, I am Menjie Rovasfringle.” Their heads tilted slightly like a puppy, while they wondered if it was true. My answer always remained the same, “That’s my real name.” A little white lie, but it entertained them, as they forked-over their nickels.

The favorite part of my route was the end. I always finished-up at the Fort Belvoir barracks in the evening. The soldiers ate dinner about 4:30, so by the time 7:30 came around, they were ready for pints, quarts and half-gallons; all packed away at the back of the freezer to be sure there was a ready supply. Young GIs, with the munchies, usually emptied the truck, which made for a good drive back to the plant, carrying lots of cash and having plenty of room for tomorrow’s wares.

School started for me in August, ending the experience as a Good Humor Man. Many of the drivers drove taxicabs in the off-season, and I was directed toward Yellow Cab in Marlow Heights for weekend work, while going to school. The parent company, Unilever (Lipton Tea), made a decision in 1976 to abandon direct sales, opting to distribute Good Humor® through grocery chains. By 1978 all the official company trucks were parked, and eventually sold to other ice cream distributors. The Good Humor Man was no more.

Although, I only worked for the company a few months, it is a memory that will live on forever. Hold on a second, that sounds like the Mister Softee truck. I have to go.

“Wait a minute . . . .”

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Written by Bake My Fish

June 21, 2008 at 11:42 am

Going, Going, Gong!

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In June of 1976, The Gong Show came to TV. It only ran a little over two years, but there is no doubt of how much it has influenced today’s entertainment. How popular is American Idol? It’s the same show, with Simon acting as the Gong Guy. Sure, the talent level of American Idol exceeds that of any act on The Gong Show, but American Idol doesn’t have porn stars as hostesses (Paula’s hot, but I don’t think she has acted in any naughty movies).

Well, I wouldn’t necessarily call Carol Connors a hostess. I’d say she was more like one of those girls in spiked heels, carrying signs at fighting matches reminding of which round we are watching. She just didn’t have the sign, replacing it with a sexy purr, while introducing Chuck Barris to the viewing public. Carol Connors is also the mother of Thora Birch, who starred as the daughter of Kevin Spacey in the multi-Oscar winning Best Picture of 2000, American Beauty.

It always cracked me up when Chuck Barris said “tee wee” for TV. He was a hoot. Apparently, he was a very shy guy on stage. You never would know it. Although he seemed a little wasted, I doubt it.

There were a few acts on the show that were regulars; particularly Gene Gene the Dancing Machine and The Unknown Comic. They would play a certain tune, and everyone knew Gene Gene was coming out in his green sweat jacket, doing something like the Mashed Potato, or Pony, or whatever kind of dance it was. It was funny. Sometimes the judges and crew would throw things at him, while he grinned and cut a rug.

In 1979 I hosted a Gong Show in Greenbelt, MD with the Jaycees to raise money for the Greenbelt Arts Center. Our show was titled “A Salute to Tom O’Bedlam,” and my stage name was Menjie Rovasfringle (the same name on the side of my Good Humor truck six years before). Our judges were Greenbelt Mayor Gil Weidenfled, Miss Prince George’s County, and University of Maryland star running back, Charlie Wysocki.

Eleanor Roosevelt High School contributed a huge Gong used by their band, but the stipulation was it could only be played by a skilled Gonger. He came in a tuxedo, with a beard and horn-rimmed glasses; looking every bit the part of a professional Gongophile. When one of the judges wanted to “thumbs-down” an act, they signaled to Gongman and he banged the Gong.

We planted several sure-to-be-gonged losers in the lineup, hoping for good comic relief and healthy laughs. In the program, we identified those acts as “not competing for prizes” with an asterisk and disclaimer. One of the Jaycees was instructed to encourage the judges to gong them (they were so pathetic there was no need for encouragement), but not the Ungrown Comic; my seven-year-old son. The communication to the judges was to gong all the planted performances.

Sean had diligently practiced his skit. During the show his routine was to jab at me with insulting quips, kind of like “Menjie is so stupid, he rolled down the car window to yell for help because he locked himself in.” Those types of jokes. The audience was laughing loudly. And Sean was cute. He was smiling under the bag and getting a real kick out of smacking his Old Man around. Part of his act was shooting me with a banana (if you click on the picture, you can see the fruit in his pockets). The banana went empty, and he was planning to peel the one in his pocket and use it to replace the spent yellow tube-fruit. Because of the miscommunication, he was gonged. The audience sighed, awwed and booed the judges, and I stared into two shocked and pitiful eyes through the A&P grocery bag, of a youngster who at the moment felt betrayed by his “Pops” (tell me about it, all you parents out there). I’m sure he wanted to kick me in my exposed shins. But, we had a show to do.

So, I egged him on. “Go ahead and finish,” I mumbled, trying to make it look like I wasn’t. He obediently attempted to continue and pulled the reserve banana, but because he had been gonged, one of our guys came out and picked him up by the seat of his pants, and dragged him off the stage, kicking and screaming. My heart sank, but as the host I had to see the show through. But, it was hilarious. As he was being yanked off, I threw a rubber hand from the back of my almost-a-straight jacket toward him and said, “Let’s give the kid a hand!” It sounds planned, but the hand wasn’t for him. It just worked out that way.

At the end of the show we gave away door prizes. Our first prize was a door. The lady who won was really pissed because we told her she had to take it (the guy holding the door kept pushing it toward her), and we were embarrassing her in front of 300 people. After just a couple of minutes of torture, she was given the real prize . . . . dinner for four, donated by Beefsteak Charlie’s.

It really is a lot of fun to write about things that happened in the past, but I want to make you aware in the very near future Adam Sandler’s The Gong Show will be coming to Comedy Central on July 17th. Dave Attell will be hosting, and based on his Insomniac series, my guess is it’ll be good. If the new show is as silly as the original, I will be very pleased.

I’m just glad my son forgave me for 1979.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Written by Bake My Fish

June 13, 2008 at 12:04 pm

Confessions of a Hallowed Wiener

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My favorite holiday is Halloween. It’s not even a holiday. No government offices close, banks and other companies conduct their normal business, and all schools remain open. Yet, it’s considered to be a holiday. That’s what you think, right? It has that celebratory feel. Maybe we should just label it a Cause For Celebration, since it doesn’t get the official holiday treatment. I’m not even sure I should capitalize Halloween.

Regardless of whatever the plan for decorating my house happens to be, I usually take the day off in anticipation of all the little tykes soon to be scared half-to-death. I probably shouldn’t confess playing hooky on an unholiday. Please don’t tell anyone. Yeah, I’m the guy in the neighborhood children either can’t wait to encounter, or the house they stroll past nervously. The candy I give is the good stuff, but they have to work for it. If it’s a really good night of fright, there is a lot left over for the office.

My parents started it. It’s all their fault. On Halloween they put on a show. The best year I remember, Mom took out her teeth and played a Witch, and Dad got up on the roof and dropped a sheet-covered broomstick on a rope in front of the kids as they ascended the steps. They gave the best treats, so all the kids wanted to make the stop. That particular year my father was a driver for Rock Creek, and he gave out bottled sodas to the costume-clad loons. Glass bottles. If anyone gave me a glass container of pent-up fizz, it would be tossed in the air to watch it break in front of me. That would be cool. So, my father unwittingly probably contributed to bad behavior. Nevertheless, receiving a sugar-infused soft drink is a nice treat. Fortunately, when my Dad drove for Sinclair Oil, he didn’t give away bottles of gasoline.

So, I was hooked. Now, Halloween can’t come soon enough. I want each year to be more outrageous. The creepy music, screams, shrieks, blubbering, chimes, bells, howls, cackles and other haunting tracks blast out of the upstairs windows, probably making a few neighbors hate 2034.

Although, it is really neat to be the house treat-seekers want to hit before the end of the night, my most successful gig was in 1983 while living in an apartment in Columbia, MD. I had this really hideous, horse-faced mask of Richard Nixon. The picture (not my mask) you see here does not do justice to the fear my face-cover extracted. During that day in the office where I worked at the time, the mask was worn for our Halloween celebration. I popped up from behind a cubicle in front of one of my bosses, and got him good. The fright on his face was priceless. And, he was a Republican. If he were a Democrat, he probably would have made a quick trip to the bathroom.

Then that evening, the haunting began. It was a perfect night. Monday Night Football was on and the Redskins were playing. A bottle of tequila (the last one ever) was my friend, and my children were with me.

We tied a cord to the handle of the door of the apartment and rigged the knob so it could be opened without turning. I stood in the foyer under a green light, with my head covered by the mask and wielding a plastic Psycho-style knife. My kids took turns yanking the door open at the sound of a knock, and I did my best Norman Bates impersonation, while shrieking and thrusting the blade downward. It never failed to do the trick. The only time I regretted the prank was when a father, holding his infant, screamed like a girl, then laughed. The baby did not think it was funny and cried pitifully. Causing seven-year-olds to crap their pants was good. Scarring a child for life is not. My divine punishment was too much tequila. Eventually, I just pointed to the television and said with an idiotic slur, “Rrredshkinz,” then slowly shuffled sideways into my bedroom, got sick and passed out. To this day my son and daughter rag on me about the episode. “Tequila, you are no longer my friend. Be gone, and take that silly worm with you.” One good thing that happened was the Redskins beat the Chargers 27 – 24.

Some people might think at my age being obsessed with Halloween is a bit odd. I’ll never stop. We’ve lived in this neighborhood for 22 years. The kids expect the crazy guy at 2034 to do something goofy and weird. I have a reputation to uphold. Several months ago, while getting my hair washed before the cut, the shampoo girl was talking with me about where she grew up. She was referring to my neighborhood. We started discussing Halloween and she mentioned the fear of walking up the driveway of the house with the loud eerie music, and the man who always dressed up, and usually jumped out from behind something. I probed a bit more, and guess who? We had a big laugh. Endorsement by unsolicited testimonial.

My life is now complete.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Written by Bake My Fish

June 3, 2008 at 4:58 am