Boomer Twilight

Mostly Humorous Observations of Most Anything, with a Boomer Slant

Posts Tagged ‘History

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

Signing For Dollars

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During a drive from Baltimore to Florida in late April, I was assaulted by South of the Border billboards beginning about 175 miles before the camp. After entering South Carolina on 95, I passed the official, government-sponsored Rest Area and while crossing over the short bridge that followed, I thought, “If I just had a can of green paint and silver reflective tape, I could change the D to a P, and cause a few travelers to giggle.” In my mind, a short distance after, a sign would be erected that reads, “Welcome to South Carolina, Tiny.” The females would probably get a better laugh than the males.

The inundation of road signs, billboards and markers along every highway fascinates me. I want to be a Signage Mogul in my next life. There are signs selling food, reminding you to rest, warning to watch for the next sign that warns to watch for the next sign and giving distance in fractions of miles. In one section of Virgina, there are mileage markers every 1/10th of a mile. One tenth! That’s like the distance from my house to my neighbor’s. Or from the parking lot of Walmart to the store. Do they need to remind us every tenth of a mile we have driven 1/10th of a mile? Those who order the signs for whichever governmental office appropriates that sort of thing, must be getting good seats at some sporting event.

Of course, traffic signs are a necessity. Otherwise, how could we locate the nearest fast food establishment and get a full tank of golden liquid for our vehicles, so we can drive to our next quick cuisine joint four hours later? When I’m on a road trip, there better be some indication of the nearest restroom, because I drink a lot of liquids; so “thank you” Sign Procurement Officer. Without you, I wouldn’t know where to stop.

When I was a pre-teen, my parents drove a few times from Maryland to Indiana to see my Grandmother. I loved the trip because it gave me the chance to be on Burma Alert. Some of the best commercial poetry of the time was the series of signs made famous by Burma Shave and I couldn’t wait to read the next group. They were fun because I was a kid who didn’t shave and didn’t pay taxes. Burma Shave wasn’t using my dollars to test my roadway literacy. They were footing the bill.

Even though most traffic signs are necessary, there’s one that pisses me off every time I pass it. Now, I don’t mean to be a whiny, “I’m always over-taxed, government sucks” nuisance. My complaints about wasteful spending are kept to a minimum. Salaries of governcove-f-ortment workers have to be paid, trash has to be collected, schools need money, streets need mending and the homeless need to eat (unless we can find a use for the cadavers ;-)). I know all that, and acquiesce to the assumed worthiness. Road signage falls within the aura of government responsibility. Then every time I take Exit 16-A off Baltimore’s Beltway on to I-70 toward Frederick, there is this huge Green Monster informing me how far it is from that point to Cove Fort. 2200 miles. Who is driving to Cove Fort from Baltimore? Who’s even thinking of it? Maybe the idea comes to mind after you see the sign, but the message is a waste. I don’t think anyone is really driving that far, and the bus station doesn’t have a long line of people purchasing tickets to Cove Fort. Anyone flying there doesn’t care the distance from I-70 is 2,200 miles. And, where the hell is it, anyway?

Somebody got paid for that sign. I wish it were me.

Signing off,

Weird Geezer
Guest Contributor

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I’ve Always Thought it was Neanderthal, But Apparently it is Neandertal

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I was on Chicken Foot Road, in St. Paul’s, North Carolina this past Mother’s Day, sitting around the kitchen table with my Mom, younger sister and her daughter (she calls me Uncle Baggo). We were enjoying strawberry-covered angel food cake. The small TV in the corner was tuned to Clash of the Cavemen on the History Channel. In the beginning I was the only one watching, but after a short time my sister started commenting, then my niece, and finally my Mother.

It wasn’t so much the content of the show that caught their attention; it was the Narrator’s pronunciation of Neanderthal. The premise of the episode was how Mr. & Mrs. Neanderthal’s contact with Homo sapiens (Cro-Magnon Person) about 27,000 years ago, because of the necessary migration forced by Global Cooling (better known as the Ice Age), caused their eventual extinction.

When I was young, the only pronunciation for Neanderthal was Neanderthal. But apparently the hoity-toity, high-brow Anthropologists prefer to use the proper German Neandertal. So what if Neanderthal was discovered in Neander Valley? I want to say it the way I know. Although I heard the “correct” pronunciation a few months before my family on a different “educational” show, at the time I didn’t pay it much mind. Now it kind of ticks me off. How dare them change it? Bastages. All of them!

Then the Narrator started pronouncing Cro-Magnon as Cro-Magnyon, in some sort of French, Sissy way. Where will it end? I always knew Cro-Magnon as Cro-Magnon. Now, I have to picture Peppy Le Pew walking around saying, “Theese eeze Cro-Magnyon Pairson” as he points to the picture on the left.

Homo sapiens were much less mentally-challenged than Neanderthal (tal). Anytime a more advanced brain subjects an inferior brain to The Ways of the World, the superior mind wins.

I think I’ll have another donut. Pass the pizza.

With Love,

Bag O’ Donuts
Guest Contributor

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Written by Bake My Fish

May 14, 2008 at 11:50 pm

One Flu Over The Cuckoo’s Nest

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My wife and I were sitting on the couch the other evening watching TV. When I got up to get a soda, she noticed what appeared to be a blister on my butt. Immediately I screamed, “Oh no!! It’s Smallpox! It’s Bubonic Plague! I’m gonna die!!!” It turned out to be just a contact lens we thought was lost forever.

My panic attack was probably caused by just having watched Episode 6 of Season I of Deadwood, which was dedicated to the Smallpox epidemic that swept through the town during its infancy, not to mention a general fear of dying from one of the Pandemics we seem to hear so much about these days.

My intention is not to ridicule the seriousness of various ailments in our history. The Black Death killed more than 25,000,000 human beings throughout Europe from 1347 – 1352; an average of 5,000,000 a year, which was 1/3 of the population. One of every three people someone knew at the time keeled over. That’s kind of scary, and kept the Cadaver Patrol quite busy. It is estimated that worldwide up to 50,000,000 people expired from the Spanish Flu of 1918. Probably more people died from that outbreak than smoking. The Asian Flu of 1957-58 caused the death of more than 70,000 in the US. Asian Flu is still around, but hasn’t circulated in humans since 1968. That means if it reels it’s ugly head again, no one under 40 is immune. Pandemics are devastating. Many people die, and many more become seriously ill.

What should we do? Wash our hands more often? Kill our neighbors if they seem ill (or are mowing on our side)? Wear a surgical mask 24 hours a day? What? My suggestion is just “Go with the flow.”

I’m not picking up any dead birds on the street. And, I’m not planning to pal around with any sick chickens (we still don’t know why they cross the road). Avian Flu is real and the most troubling strains start within fowl. My precautions are warranted, because our feathered friends are here on earth to kill us all. Influenza A viruses use wild birds as their host. Unless the virus undergoes Antigenic Shift it is harmless to humans. When it mutates we are at risk.

How many of you get a flu shot every year? And how many of you who felt immune got sick, anyway? I’d venture to guess more than should, considering we tend to believe the inoculation is the shield. Is it really? The immunization contains three strains of flu to protect you. Influenza genes are composed of RNA, rather than DNA, and are more prone to mutation than DNA. When Antigenic Drift occurs after the vaccination, it is ineffective.

Personally, I don’t trust science over viruses. Germs, squiggly things and potentially deadly microorganisms have been around longer than humans, and their ability to adapt to hostile threats is far more superior than our own. Birds evolved from dinosaurs; they were here first. We can’t win.

I just hope Home Depot carries plastic bubbles big enough to cover my house.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

Seinfeld Gang, Come On Down!!

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Last time we talked, I was lamenting about the Beatles not being Boomers. Eventually, I’ll get over it. After all, I’m not dancing in the streets to Revolution. There’s this thought that hanging my hat on the memory of the best musical group in the History of Forever might get me a seat on the bus to Boomer Heaven, but I can live with the notion there is not such a place. My salvation is realized in the fact all the actors in the Seinfeld series are Boomers. Alright!! Life can go on. Hello, Newman.

I don’t want to drone on about the popularity of Seinfeld. Personally, I can’t get enough. So what if I have watched all the episodes a zillion times? Every repeat cracks me up. The diner scenes still make me laugh. Big salad, indeed. Is it just me, or is Elaine hot? Even today, at 47? It must be the French part of her that gets me. That baguette under her arm makes me crazy. And then there’s the dancing. Go, Elaine. You rock!

Every episode is funny. My wife and sister-in-law love the “Low Talker/Puffy Shirt” one. My nephew thinks the “Chinese Restaurant” episode is great. The only thing I liked about the restaurant scene was when the Maytla Dee shouted, “Caultlight!” I thought of Hoss (Boomer reference).

Larry David is a genius. He and Jerry Seinfeld created the show, and since it’s conclusion, Larry has gone on with Curb Your Enthusiasm, which is a lot like Seinfeld, without the censorship. Hilarious. I really like that Larry David graduated from the University of Maryland. A terrific school and my Alma Mater. He’s a Yankees fan, which might make some Orioles fans crazy. Regardless, he has a great mind. Do you remember the episode where Elaine was wearing the Orioles hat, while sitting in seats provided by George Steinbrenner? That was a riot. Especially when Kramer was hit in the head by the foul ball.

Cosmo Kramer flies into the room and we all laugh. The recent difficulties with his stand-up act notwithstanding, he was the show. The only episode in which he was not included was the Chinese Restaurant scene. That explains why it’s at the bottom of my list.

The neurosis of George Louis Costanza was Larry David personified. George is so annoying you love him. He always seemed a donut-hole away from exploding. It was particularly grating during the last season, when almost every episode ended with George screaming in the air, and the camera panning away from him in a Heavenly direction. The technique was overused and got on my nerves.

This Boomer Club I have recently been touting is still accepting applications. We’re not that strict and will allow WWII-era children, as well as Desert Storm babies. I feel good we have broadened acceptance.

Sounds like America.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

P.S. Check Out These Seinfeld Clips!!

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Written by Bake My Fish

February 17, 2008 at 8:41 pm

The Beatles Are/Were Not Boomers. Who Knew?

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I was surfing through Google Images, looking for a picture of Linda McCartney to add to my slide show Some Famous Boomers Who Have Passed. Then I searched her history on the Web to discover she was born in 1941. Officially, being born before 1946 does not qualify as a Boomer. That seems odd to me. Then I searched for the boys in the band, and learned none of them are, either. Even Stuart Sutcliffe and Pete Best. All of those left are “Old Dudes.” Not groovy.

My first dance (with someone other than myself) was to I Want To Hold Your Hand. It seemed to me the guys singing it were in sync with me. Then She Loves You became my favorite, and I was in Heaven. At that time I thought, “These guys are really hip.” Now realizing they are much older than me, the magic has waned.

Boomers are the 60s. The Beatles are, too. Why then is there some official definition of who is or is not a Boomer? I thought of John, Paul, George and Ringo as “my guys.” Aside from geneaology, we are the same. Now, I can’t be seen with them.

My nephews, aged 17 and 16, are Beatles fans. They are 40 years my junior, and I am younger than any member of the band. Does this mean I should be doing the Charleston at dance clubs in tribute to music forty years prior?

The Beatles really were catalysts in the Hippie Movement; nevertheless, they were born too early to be considered Boomers. Weird. Most of the drivel in the 70s, like Maharishis and Hare Krishnas, were directly influenced by the inertial karma of the Beatles. Yet, they are not allowed in the Boomer Club. Paul, we love you and you know you should be glad. But, please stand behind the rope. You’re not on the list.

Recognized as the first born among official Boomers is Kathleen Casey-Kirschling. She just filed for Social Security benefits on October 15, 2007. The assault on your tax dollars has begun. I’m proud to run point for the Boomer Army.

And here’s another bit of Bummer Information for you. The Monkees don’t qualify, either. And guess who else (this’ll kill ya)? Gilligan.

Welcome to our club.

With Love,

Bake My Fish

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Written by Bake My Fish

February 6, 2008 at 5:20 pm