Friday, April 24, 2015

Three Times Hopalong.



Back in the black and white fifties, shortly after we got that first 12-inch television set, which was squeezed into a big cabinet alongside a record player that popped out when you opened a door, the first network Western appeared on broadcast TV: Hopalong Cassidy, and it was a sensation, a phenomenon of mass marketing. Not until Roy Rogers and Davy Crockett hit the screen did so many businesses make so much money off we little tykes. They had Hopalong cap guns and holsters, Hopalong watches, Hopalong bicycles, and the first kid's tin lunchbox depicting a hero.


Hoppy (only his friends could call him that), played by William Boyd on TV and in 66 feature films, got his unusual nickname in an early Western novel when he got shot in the leg. In the original novels, he was a whisker-stubbled, rag-wearing bad-ass with a moral mission, like Bruce Willis with a hangover, but they cleaned him up and gave him a dude outfit for the show, where he drank only sarsaparilla, reputed to be a healthy soft drink that could fight all kinds of ailments including venereal disease, similar to the original Coca-cola.

In the photo above, you can see the result: a trio of Hopalongs, complete with Hopalong T-shirts and sidearms. I'm the big guy on the left, followed by Raymond then Jimmy. You can tell by our trigger fingers that Jimmy had not yet made the connection between a trigger and shooting a gun, but he sure could shoot.

A lot of gunfights took place in that house. It was the only Wild West we had to tame, to rid the territory of bank robbers, cattle rustlers and horse thieves, get them behind bars if not dead on the range. The sound of gunfire shook the house as we imitated the sound coming from the single, over-driven speaker of that antique TV, more like the sound of a steam locomotive, tchoo tchoo tchoo, since we had never actually heard a real gun fired. The only variation was when one of our imaginary bullets bounced off a rock, tchoo-ptching. We ran, hid, jumped, shouted, and climbed all over the terrain, which included huge boulders (couch and armchairs), giant cactus (floor lamp), and we even charged up to the high plains (the stairs), where we plotted in the bunkhouse (our bedroom) for the assault on the bad guys.

We watered our horses down at the creek (the kitchen sink), got some grub and quenched our own thirst with tall glasses of water laced with multiple spoonfuls from the sugar bowl, which later elicited a reprimand from parents brandishing the empty bowl. But, thus re-charged in the kitchen, we once again rode rough-shod through the rooms, urging our invisible mounts into a gallop with whoops and hollers.


Meanwhile, our older sister, Loretta, barricaded herself in her bedroom to tear her hair out--when she wasn't begging our parents to have us all publicly hanged in the center of Deadwood Gulch. We had gotten glimpses of that forbidden feminine sanctuary by crowding shoulder to shoulder on the threshold and craning our necks, jaws open at the sight of the mind-boggling neatness of the place, but, in front of the closed door, with periodic screams coming from the interior, we "figurred" it was nothing less than a damsel in distress, probably a pretty schoolmarm who needed protection from the kidnappers. We posted Jimmy to guard the door because he was the easiest to order around, although he would have difficulty staying focused when he heard the gunfire down in the canyon.

After a few hours of combating evil, my mother would call us back to civilization--dinner, where Loretta could take advantage of mandatory table manners to beg our parents to get us under control as she stared with equal disgust at her three younger brothers and the canned peas on one side of her dinner plate.

"Okay, boys," I'd say, holstering my gun--always in charge of the Hopalongs, "Let's get some grub."

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bachelor Kitchen Tips: Grandma's Molasses.


Bachelors should always keep a dependable supply of long-lasting food staples in their disgusting hovels, stuff that your descendants would be able to eat when you're dead and gone for a couple generations, because, until your money runs out, you'll be eating out most of the time while perfectly good food rots in your refrigerator. Things like flour, oils, rice, sugar and pasta will wait patiently for your attention while you're out swilling high-calorie beer with your marginally moronic companions, screaming at sports events on a TV screen and looking for loose women. .

One of my favorite staples is Grandma's molasses, not only because it keeps forever but it's the perfect solution to the brown sugar dilemma.

I love brown sugar. I could eat it by the spoonful, which is like a mouthful of grainy but delicious fudge. But, trying to store brown sugar is almost impossible. A nice, moist box of brown sugar turns into a brick in no time, and unless you like licking a brick, you can't use it. I've tried everything short of buying a special storage container that claims to keep it moist. Who needs another container? You need room in your cupboards for microwave popcorn, Doritos and Ramen noodles.

I tried chipping pieces off the brick, but even Michelangelo could not sculpt this stuff.
I tried giving it a mighty whack with a 16-ounce hammer, and all I got was two bricks instead of one.
I tried melting it in the microwave and, maybe my microwave is an old jalopy, but all I got were sparks, bright flashes of light in the window and a warm brick.

Here's the key: Refined white sugar is nothing more than the sweet crystals formed after boiling the juices from crushed raw sugar cane. Molasses is the leftover goo. It still contains lots of sweet crystals, unless you keep boiling until the goo becomes "blackstrap" molasses, which is too bitter for most folks, although, if you have a home-made distillery in your apartment, it's a main ingredient for making rum and stout beer.

My parents used to keep a big jar of Grandma's molasses in the pantry when I was a kid (Yes, we had a pantry, a walk-in closet full of food staples and canned goods instead of clothes). You know a mess when you've seen the aftermath of a trio of under-8 boys turned loose in the pantry with a butter knife, a loaf of Wonder bread and a jar of Grandma's molasses. Brown sticky stuff can spread faster than snow in a blizzard.

The beauty is that you can count on Grandma's to make instant brown sugar on demand, no spoilage, no brick. Mix a spoonful or two of molasses in a cup of white sugar (you need good biceps and/or a little patience), and no one will know that the brown sugar is homemade.

I prefer brown sugar in my apple pies. If you ever sum up the courage and ambition to leave the living room to pass through the kitchen, aside from momentary foraging, try baking an apple pie (ready-made crusts like Pillsbury's rolled-up dough are excellent). Toss the apple chunks in a healthy dose of molasses and add a little less sugar.

Mmm. Delicious.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Blood Moon for Easter.


Get up early on Saturday if you want to catch the Blood Moon.

On the East Coast, you'll have to be watching around 6:30 am. In California, plan for the middle of the night. There's lots of spooky lore about the total eclipse when the moon turns reddish-orange, but this time it's special. It arrives on the first night of the Jewish Passover, the celebration of the Exodus, when the Children of Israel escaped Egyptian slavery (that would be Moses parting the Red Sea), and in the middle of the Christian Easter Vigil, the day between Jesus' death and His resurrection on Sunday.

So it says in the King James Bible: "The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the Lord comes." (Joel 2:31).

According to the forecast (the weather forecast, not the biblical), there may be clouds rolling in, which is why I missed the last Blood Moon, but if you're planning a special breakfast for Sunday, set an extra plate anyway. After the Last Supper on Good Friday, Jesus may be looking for a First Breakfast to give us a new start.


Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bad Dream/Good Dream

There's an amusing backstory to how I drove every day without a driver's license for almost 26 years, but it's a long story--actually, a whole series of stories, amusing but too long for today.

Right in the middle of those 26 years, I enjoyed a reprieve when I lived in Maine for about a year. I was actually awarded a license by the state, which was suspended by the court about a week later. But, I went on a little adventure to the state capital, got an interview with a bureaucrat, got the license back, then moved to New Hampshire, where the license became legally invalid after 90 days.

Blah blah blah on and on.

To sum up my irritating saga, be it known that I have now had a valid New Hampshire driver's license for over five months.

My personal satisfaction--my denouement--came to me in a dream the other night:

I was in a resort town somewhere on a side street scratching my car key on the ground. An uncle of mine, suddenly appearing as a young man, accompanied by his son and a friend, approached me and informed me that I was about to be arrested and taken to jail for driving without a license, that they were here to take me to none other than the prison for terrorists at Guantanamo Bay.

I took a fighting stance, threatened them and vowed that they would have to take me by force--and it would not be pretty. Unwilling to commit themselves, they decided to go for a walk around the colorful town to see the sights. They would come back later.

Parked in this backstreet was an antique car, something resembling an old Model A Ford, which they would use to take me away. I crawled into the front seat and saw--close up--the keys dangling from the ignition. Ah-ha!

I started the car and tested the old brakes on the sloping street. The car was a dusty old piece of junk, not well preserved, but it worked, and all I had to do was take a right to get on the main strip. At the corner, I had a great thought: I would drive down the strip and see my uncle and his companions walking along as I glided by, and I would beep the horn, laughing at them. I could just imagine their jaws dropping. Love it!

I woke up from the dream happily, and I was still smiling as I sipped my second cup of coffee.

So--I think those 26 years prove one thing: I must be one dam good driver to dodge the authorities for all that time, when lots of people, including a few lawyers, predicted that I'd end up in jail. Ha!

BEEP BEEP.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Hearts of Bronze.




Think about it. Think about a passage from a Victor Hugo play, perhaps mangled by me but true to the original French:
...Happiness is serious
And asks for hearts of bronze
On which to engrave itself.
Pleasure alarms it by throwing flowers to it.
It's smile is nearer tears than mirth.

Think about the happiest moments of your life--your wedding, the birth of a child, the sight of a parent with dreams fulfilled, or a son or daughter on the way to fulfillment at a graduation or showing off a grandchild.

Hearts of gold are not enough--too shiny and shallow, like party favors. The metal is too soft.

It takes a heart of bronze.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Party Like It's 1999 or 2015--or 1966.



Imagine the New Year Ball dropping in Times Square in 1966, which is pretty much like the Ball dropping in 2015, except that Dick Clark hasn't been there recently.

I attended this party in 1966 with a couple other sailors from the U.S. Navy and concluded that this was the sorriest excuse for a party I ever witnessed. The Ball drop was uninteresting in the extreme and we couldn't wait to pee in an ally and get the hell out of the shivering cold. All around us people celebrated nothing save getting drunk, while we were pretty soused ourselves, passing around a warm fifth of Southern Comfort.

Yet, people rave about these events. "Oh yeah, what a blast! I was  so hammered I staggered for blocks and projectile vomited across Fifth Avenue. People were slipping and sliding on my leftover pizza--including me! Ha ha ha! Look at the lump on my forehead. Ha ha ha!"

Oh yeah, what a blast. You behaved like a hopeless alcoholic and left your mess for other people to
clean up or walk around.

Of course, when you're in the moment, the experience could be good for a life-giving laugh. Believe me, I know.

But, what are these people celebrating? A new beginning? Maybe. Getting another year older? Maybe not. Certainly not throwing out your old calendar for the new one. My guess is that they're just  celebrating being all too human, the good, the bad and the ugly, mostly ugly. It reeks of mob psychology (See a classic analysis by Gustave Le Bon dating back a couple hundred years, entitled The Crowd).

But, don't watch this boring party on television with it's gathering of hired hype artists (they're paid to like it), unless you're thoroughly drunk or addicted to bygone memories. Celebrate getting the day off with someone you love. And wish them a Happy New Year.

Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Enema Anyone?


Ugh--I had my prostate examined and the doctor said he felt a certain firmness on one side (the prostate is the gland which manufactures the sweet fluid which sperm frolic in on their epic swim to glory). And, by the way, in answer to salacious inquirers--YES, I'm sure the doctor was a man, and YES, I'm sure the probe he used was a finger. He recommended that I see a urologist, so I did.

The urologist turned out to be a tall, dark attractive woman of about 30 years old (Who knew? It's the first time in my life that a beautiful woman asked me to drop my pants and bend over). She agreed with the male violator that my prostate contained a suspicious "nodule." When I objected to yet another doctor's appointment, she gave me a rundown on the insidious advance of prostate cancer.

Cancer? What the hell was she talking about? My doctor never told me that firmness in the prostate is a red flag for malignant cancer.
She recommended a biopsy, so I agreed.

They give you antibiotics for the procedure which are clearly labeled, "antibiotic for prostate biopsy, so the lady behind the counter at the drugstore says to me, sotto voce, "You know, it's the best kind of cancer you can have."
Hey-hey, nothin' but the best for me!

As for the biopsy, I imagined a little Pacman on the end of a tube curling up my backside and taking a little munch, but it was more like a snakebite--twelve times! (You'll hear a little pop, the doctor says). They inject  you with an anesthetic first, but you still feel a little shock of pain and wonder, "How many god dam samples do they need!".

One of the preparations prior to the biopsy requires you to give yourself an enema. The problem is you can't buy just one enema at the drugstore--you have to buy a package of two. Okay, I used one, however reluctantly, so what do I do with the other one?

I hate waste. That's why I save half a paper towel, use the backs of printed paper, and eat suspicious items from the back of my refrigerator. But, what the hell do I do with an extra enema?
"Put it on ebay," a friend suggested, laughing.

The biopsy turned out to be good news--no cancer, my "nodule" is benign--but I still have the problem of an extra enema.

Maybe I should walk into the cafeteria and make an announcement: "Anybody want a free enema?"

That oughta clear the room.