Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Please, no screaming!

July 23, 1904 -
At the turn of the last century, ice-cream men were a breed apart. It was hard work making ice-cream and the rewards were few. "You don't choose ice cream," they said, "ice cream chooses you."

Well, Charles E. Menches was an ice-cream man. They say it ran in his veins. (They say forget the autopsy: they say you don't need actual ice-cream in your blood to have it in your veins.)

Charles E. Menches had always known he'd be an ice-cream man. Everyone had known. While other boys in St. Louis played stickball or jacks, little Chuckie experimented with different creams and salts. While other boys dreamed of being doctors or lawyers, little Chuckie dreamed of exotic flavor combinations like cinnamon-onion swirl and artichoke-pistachio.

Charles E. Menches' passion for ice cream was infectious. He made his brother Frank an ice-cream man. They began traveling to fairs and special events across the Midwest to sell ice cream from a tent. (Apparently, they also had a thing for hamburgers - the brothers also lay claim to having introduced the hamburger to the American public. But that's another story...)

They did what all ice-cream men did: they scooped their ice cream into bowls and sold it to their customers. People loved ice cream back then, just as they love it today. And why not? It was ice cream.

One sweltering day at the St. Louis World's Fair--July 23, 1904, to be precise--Charles E. Menches and his brother Frank sold so much ice cream that they ran out of dishes.

An ordinary ice-cream man might have folded up his tent and taken the rest of the day off. But not Charles E. Menches. Charles E. Menches knew the code of the ice-cream man. More than that, he lived it.

The people of St. Louis would not be denied their ice cream. Not if Charles E. Menches had anything to say about it.

The tent beside Charles and Frank's ice cream tent belonged to Ernest A. Hamwi, a Syrian pastry-maker who sold sweet wafer pastries called Zalabia. (Ernest A. Hamwi was what Syrians would call a Zalabia man, but they wouldn't say he had Zalabia in his veins. Syrians would never talk such tripe.)

In a moment of brilliant epiphany, Charles E. Menches bought all of Ernest A. Hamwi's Zalabia and rolled them into cones. He then began selling his ice cream in sweet wafer cones instead of dishes.

The ice cream cone was born.

(Sure, Italo Marchiony had received U.S. patent #746971 for the ice-cream cone seven months earlier in New York., but Italo Marchiony had never been an ice-cream man.)

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Just an afternoon in July

Be like a duck.

Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath. - Michael Caine

Saturday, July 12, 2014

My Third Desert Island Disc set

I didn't get a chance to post my choices last year (we were a bit distracted.)

There is nothing profound or deep in my Desert Island Disc choices this year - they're just songs that I like (in no particular order)

High And Dry - Radiohead

Radiohead is great band to get lost in their music.  The song High and Dry is deceptively simple and Thom York's voice can lull you into deep relaxation mode.

So Many Stars - Sarah Vaughan

This is the height of sophistication.  Listening to Sarah sing Sergio Mendes will transport you off any desert island.

Almost Blue - Elvis Costello

It is impossible to pick one Elvis Costello song (how can you choose one sone from his over 30 studio albums?) I wanted to pick Watching the Detectives but I couldn't find the specific video I think of when I think of the song.  So I went with Chet Baker's performance from Let's Get Lost; it's heartbreaking.  (I could have gone with Jimmy Scott's version as well.)

Slave to Love - Jimmy Scott

Jimmy Scott just passed away a few weeks ago.  I'd want to take one of his records just to hear his voice again. (I don't dare play more than one Jimmy Scott song at a time, I would weep hysterically.

Desperados Under the Eaves  - Warren Zevon

Warren Zevon's lyrics resonate greatly with me (not that I'm an alcoholic musician who died of cancer.)  I have a crystal clear memory of listening to this song through headphones while floating in a pool at the Ritz Carlton in Hong Kong during a heatwave in July.

Jezebel - Sade

I've said it before, Sade is one of the most beautiful women in the world and has a voices that matches.  There are so many songs I could have chosen but this one is especially meaningful to me.

America  - Simon and Garfunkel

If for some reason Mary isn't with me on the desert island, I'd take this song with me to think of her (I don't need to explain, it's my list.)

Sign in Stranger  - Steely Dan

As I said two years ago, I couldn't be on a desert island without at least one Steely Dan song.  This year I've picked Sign in Stranger.  It shows off all of what I love about Steely Dan; the wonderfully flip lyrics and the amazing musicianship on display. Also, I can turn around, in my head, the phrase, "walk around collecting Turkish union dues", over and over again.

The book I'd take with me would be The Complete Calvin and Hobbes (paperback) (I will never need anything else to read) and the luxury item would still be a Freezer full of Bombay Sapphire (I won't need the vermouth.)

That eight songs (and that's all you're allowed.) I didn't get a chance to pick any Massive Attack, any Roxy Music, not a single Billy Joel etc.

I'll try to get marooned again next year for my birthday, to have another go at it.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Remember - Booze and Fireworks don't usually mix.

Happy Sedition against Our Former Sovereign nation

If only for one day a year, it's important to remember that the British weren't always the friendly sort of people who gave us the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Monty Python. They're also responsible for warm beer, vinegar-flavored potato chips, and irritating Anglophiliacs on our own shores schedule as shed-yule and issue as iss-yew. On July 4 of every year, therefore, we celebrate our forefathers having told them to screw.

We not only celebrate the purging of the British blight from our land: we celebrate the manner in which it was done, which was at once brilliant, daring, and easily adapted to the screen. The events that led to our independence are all the more worthy of remembrance, even inaccurately, at this crucial juncture in our history, and I therefore offer the following summary of American independence for the edification of my readers.

In 1774, representatives from each of the thirteen colonies convened in Philadelphia to complain. This was The First Continental Congress. Upon registering their various complaints, they returned home.

One of the colonists' primary complaints was that British cabbies working in the colonies refused to unionize. This was called "Taxis without Representation," and became the issue that ultimately pushed the simmering discontent of the colonies into outright hostility. Sensing the volatility of the situation, British troops advanced toward Concord in April of 1775, forcing Paul Revere to ride his horse (and not to ring bells and warn the British not to take our guns but we won't bring up Mrs. Palin on this holiday.)

The first shot that rang out at the battle of Concord was so loud that its sound reverberated all the way around the world. As a result, the British heard it behind them instead of in front of them. This caused the fog of war. Neither the British nor the Colonists were prepared for fog, so the War was postponed.

In May, representatives once again convened in Philadelphia to complain about the taxis, the fog, and other grievances. This was the Second Continental Congress. Unlike the previous Congress, however, this one tried to work out a deal with Britain's King George. This was difficult, as King George was insane and regularly confused the colonies for colostomies, causing considerable embarrassment to everyone involved but accruing great profit to Britain's flourishing proctology trade.

In June the Colonists developed a Continental Army and a Continental Currency, operating on the assumption that an insane king would be easier to deal with if they had a lot of money and guns. This assumption proved partly correct, as the Brits appeared to ease hostilities for nearly a year. It also proved partly wrong when, in May 1776, the Americans discovered that the King had been hiring German mercenaries to come kill them.

In June of 1776 the Colonists finally decided that instead of working something out with the British it would be easier and more satisfactory to shoot them.

On June 7, Richard Henry Lee of Virginia read a resolution to the Continental Congress. The essence of his resolution was that King George and Great Britain could kiss his hairy American ass. The Congress appreciated Lee's sentiments, and subsequently formed a committee to write a note to King George in which it would be made plain why it had become necessary to start shooting the British.

The committee was chaired by Thomas Jefferson. Its four other members were John Adams and Benjamin Franklin (each of whom was counted twice for the sake of Stature - ok, ok,  Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston were also on the committee.)

The Declaration of Independence wasn't a very long document, but little Tommy Jefferson was trying so hard to impress all the older guys that he overwrote it, using an archaic style of English that is best understood in translation.

Here is a translation of the Declaration in its entirety:

"It's a good idea to let people know why you're having a revolution. We think it's pretty obvious that any government that screws its people over is cruising for a bruising. We're not saying anyone with a hair up their butt ought to have their own revolution, but we've put up with an awful lot of crap from King George. He won't let us do anything on our own, and whenever we try, he sends people to kill us. We've asked him over and over to back off. We've told him over and over that we'd only put up with so much. But did he listen? No. So to hell with him and to hell with Britain and all their phony goddam accents. We'll kick their ass or die trying."

These were, what political scientists refer to as "fightin' words."

(thank you HBO)

On July 4, 1776, the Declaration was presented to the Congress. Nine of the thirteen colonies voted to adopt it. Pennsylvania and South Carolina voted against it (we know where you live). Delaware couldn't make up its mind, and New York abstained. Copies of the Declaration were distributed the next day (photocopiers were much slower back then). On July 8 it was read aloud in Philadelphia's Independence Square.

The document wasn't fully signed until August, but as soon as it was, Americans began shooting the British in earnest. By February of 1783 they had shot enough of them that Spain, Sweden, Denmark and Russia officially acknowledged the United States of America as an independent nation.

In honor of our Independence, we celebrate the anniversary of its declaration by blowing things up, roasting dead animals over hot coals or gaseous flames, and drinking cold, sudsy beverages that inhibit our ability to think. Such festivities may not honor the philosophical nuances of our revolution, but they do keep the rest of the world at a comfortable distance.

Happy Fourth of July folks!!!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Canada's national bird is the beaver.

Canada is the second-largest nation in the world. It is not part of the United States- (it's the U.S.' nicer sister, not dissing Mexico, the U.S.' feistier sister.)

A little jewel sitting at the top of the continent.

In the 147 years of their nationhood, Canadians have given the world paint rollers, snowmobiles, electric organs, green ink, toboggans, snow blowers, plexiglass, and the push-up bra.

Canada has about the same population as California, but fewer Scientologists.

According to the 2009 World Drug Report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Canada has the dubious honor of leading the industrialized world in marijuana use, at least when calculated as a percentage of population.

Today is the 34th anniversary of the Canadian national anthem, 'Like America, But Colder.'

Canada's leading export to the United States is Canadians. Dan Aykroyd, who happens to have been born exactly 62 years ago today, is one.

Pamela Anderson is another, and was also born today, although she's younger (most of her is 40ish, but some parts are significantly younger).

Other Canadian exports: Bryan Adams, Paul Anka, Alexander Graham Bell, Raymond Burr (of nipple rouge fame), John Candy, Jim Carrey, Celine Dion, Michael J. Fox, John Kenneth Galbraith, Lorne Greene, Peter Jennings, kd lang, Marshall McLuhan, Joni Mitchell, Alice Munro, Oscar Peterson, William Shatner,

Alex Trebek, Shania Twain, Neil Young and of course Leonard Cohen.

(... O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?