SEPTEMBER 20, 1839: IT ISN’T RAINING RAIN, YOU KNOW

IT ISN’T RAINING RAIN, YOU KNOW

An English officer, living in Calcutta recorded an unusual phenomenon on September 20, 1839. As he was walking out of doors, it began to rain but it wasn’t raining just rain; it was raining fish. They were small,  just three inches in length, a size you’d throw back but there was no water anywhere nearby to throw them back into. Some fell on hard ground and were killed; others fell on soft grass and were unharmed (of course, they eventually died anyway). Shortly after this event, in a nearby village some 3,000 to 4,000 fish of a different species were found carpeting the ground.

Turns out such showers aren’t really that unusual, and it doesn’t have to be fish. It can rain all sorts of creatures with or without rain rain. According to the folks at Modern Farmer: “Over the years many different animals have reportedly fallen from the sky. Tadpoles over Japan; spiders over Brazil; frogs over Serbia, ancient Egypt and Kansas City; brown worms over Indiana; scarlet worms over Massachusetts; red worms over Sweden; snails over England; a shower of raw meat (thought to be venison or mutton) over Kentucky; blackbirds over Arkansas; eels over Alabama; snakes over Tennessee,” and bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover.

Sometimes the animals survive the fall. Witnesses of raining frogs have described the animals as startled (startled indeed!) and exhibiting rainingcats2normal behavior after the downpour (such as croaking, in both senses of the word).

There have been no reliable reports of an actual cat or dog rainfall — at least without the presence of prodigious amounts of alcohol. The origin of the phrase “raining cats and dogs” remains a mystery of etymology. In 1651, British poet Henry Vaughan referred to a roof that was secure against “dogs and cats rained in shower.” But we have no way of knowing whether he had actually witnessed such a shower. It is curious that he, being a poet, didn’t prefer a phrase such as “frogs and fishes rained in shower” with its superior alliteration.

 

The Only Thing We Have  To Fear Is — Oh My God!

Economists disagree on the major causes of the Panic of 1873. Inflation after the Civil War, speculative investments in railroads, a big trade deficit, property losses from major fires in Boston and Chicago, European economic woes. One economist was rumored to have blamed it all on a great storm of cats and dogs. In any event, on September 20 the New York Stock Exchange closed for the first time in its history and stayed closed for ten days. Panic ensued. Dead cats, dogs, frogs, fishes and investors covered Wall Street, triggering a depression that lasted for another six years.

Going Down: Alice in Donaldland Begins

Alice was growing sleepy, sitting next to her sister who was reading a book. “What’s the use of a book if it can’t get you online?” she muttered to herself. Just as she was beginning to drift off, a large White Rabbit ran by. This was rather remarkable in and of itself but even more so as the Rabbit pulled a watch out of its waist-coat pocket and said “Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be too late. The Queen will tweetstorm me for sure.”

Now wide awake with curiosity, Alice jumped up and chased after the Rabbit, just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit hole. Alice went right down the hole herself, never giving it a thought, and found herself falling. Either the well was very deep or she was falling very slowly, for she had plenty of time to look around. The sides of the hole had become walls, and the walls were covered with pictures. Mostly they were grumpy looking old white men, but among them were many pictures of what seemed to be a Queen. She looked a lot like the grumpy old men except for the royal gown and the royal crown nestled in a strange outcropping of very orange hair. The Queen had big hands and, Alice imagined, a big — Alice didn’t finish the thought for she landed with a thud on the floor of an ornate room. It was an odd room with no windows or doors and above her just the blackness through which she had fallen. Then she spotted a single door that she hadn’t noticed before because it was so tiny, certainly too tiny for her to go through it.

The only furniture in the room was a single table. On the top of the table was a small bottle with a note attached that read: Drink me, if you want to become very small. She took a sip from the bottle and, finding it quite pleasant, finished it off. She waited for something to happen — and waited. Nothing. Finally, she picked up the bottle to see if she could get another drop out of it and saw the other side of the note: I lied. The only way to get small is to keep saying over and over that you are small. It’s like pulling yourself up by your own bootstraps, except there are no boots or straps and it’s down rather than up.

Alice sat down in front of the little door and recited “I am small. I am small.” She repeated these words for the longest time until she saw that the little door was getting bigger and bigger. Or was she getting smaller? When the door looked like a normal-sized door she said loudly: “I really am small.”

A sign on the door read: Welcome to Donaldland, Home of Alternate Facts. She opened the door, stepped through and realized that everything on this side was as small as she was, so she felt like her normal size. “I think I’m going to like this place,” she said.

Next Monday: A Dodo in Name Only

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SEPTEMBER 19, 1975: A, ALLIGATORS ALL AROUND

A, ALLIGATORS ALL AROUND

Back in 1967, folks looked around and suddenly noticed a dearth of alligators.  Not in Vermont, of course. Vermont has always had a dearth of alligators. And some Vermonters are perfectly happy with that.  But they looked around swampy places like Florida, Louisiana, and Alabama and saw a lack of these creatures that had been abundant since prehistoric times.

They should have seen it coming. Alligator shoes. Alligator handbags. Alligator wallets. Alligator briefcases. Alligator jackets. Alligator cutlets.alligator Basically anything you make from a cow you can make from an alligator. And it’s swankier. (You probably wouldn’t want to milk an alligator though.) Everyone was after alligators and we began to run out of them, so they made the endangered species list.

Alligators enjoyed being on the endangered species list. Along with giving them a certain cachet, it protected them. And they prospered. Life was good. And they went forth and multiplied. And multiplied. They multiplied so energetically that eight years later on September 19, 1975, they were removed from the endangered species list. O frabjous day!

Alligator watch fob anyone?

That Gator Got Me Pegleg

Those swampy places that were occupied by alligators often provided hideaways for another endangered species — mean, swarthy pirates. From their swampy hideaways they could sail out and pillage and plunder and do a host of mean, swarthy pirate things.

A certain segment of society longs for the golden age of piracy (certainly a lot more than the golden age of alligators). It is these folks that celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day with the same gusto that the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. The day began as an inside joke between two friends but gained momentum when they sent a letter about their invented holiday to a humor columnist who promoted the day.

And how does one talk like a pirate? One takes a listen to the patron saint of the holiday, English actor Robert Newton, who specialized in piracy portrayal, most notably as Long John Silver in the 1950 Disney film Treasure Island. Arrrr, matey.

Or talk like an alligator.

You’ll find plenty of pirate talk (along with romance, adventure and lots of gratuitous swashbuckling in Terry and the Pirate.  “Hangin’ be a proper death.  Or how about we shoot ‘im.  Not weaselly like in the back but man-to-man like, facing him front on and puttin’ the bullet atween ‘is eyes.”  Check it out.

 

 

 

SEPTEMBER 18, 1981: THE LOT IS FULL

THE LOT IS FULL

Guinness, when not brewing stout, keeps busy by recording great moments in the history of human endeavors – the largest ball of aluminum foil, the most people in the trunk of a 1973 Volkswagen, the parkinghighest this, the longest that. The recording of such precious and penultimate moments has over the years given so many their 15 minutes of fame and, at the very least, an asterisk in the annals of time.

And so it was on September 18, 1981, for the city of Edmonton in the province of Alberta in Canada. On that day, the West Edmonton Mall made the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest parking lot in the world with designated spots for 20,000 automobiles. What a step in the shopping experience! What a giant leap for mankind!

Of course a 20,000-car parking garage is nothing without somewhere for all those parking people to go. And the West Edmonton Mall has plenty of places to go: more than 800 stores, 100 restaurants, and 19 movie theaters. It has a full-size ice-skating rink, where the Edmonton Oilers practice; two hotels, a chapel; and several nightclubs.

The mall is arranged in a series of themed wings. There’s a 19th-century European boulevard, a Bourbon Street, and a Chinatown wing arranged around a koi pond. A replica of Christopher Columbus’ Santa Maria shares a lagoon with real submarines and exotic fish. When the mall opened, its developer gushed: “You don’t have to go to New York or Paris or Disneyland or Hawaii. We have it all here for you in one place, in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada!”

The mall has held other records, too: At one time or another it’s been the World’s Largest Shopping Mall (48 city blocks), the World’s Largest Indoor Amusement Park and the World’s Largest Indoor Water Park (which includes the World’s Largest Indoor Lake and the World’s Largest Indoor Wave Pool). And all of this in the World’s Nicest Country (at 35 million nice people).

Naturally every parking lot has its detractors; some parking lot purists argue that the Edmonton Mall shouldn’t hold the record because the lot is half indoors and half outdoors and therefore actually two parking lots. Picky, picky, picky.

The Edmonton Mall parking lot most likely added an unintended world’s record to its trophy case: the most people looking for their lost cars.

SEPTEMBER 17, 1908: FLYING TOO HIGH WITH SOME GUY IN THE SKY

FLYING TOO HIGH WITH SOME GUY IN THE SKY

It had been about five years since Wilbur and Orville Wright made history with their airplane flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. During the following years, the brothers developed their flying machine into the first practical fixed-wing aircraft, the Wright Flyer. And in 1908, Orville took the Flyer flyerto Fort Myer, Virginia, to demonstrate it for the US Army Signal Corps division.

     Lieutenant Thomas Selfridge arranged to be a passenger on the demonstration flight while Orville piloted the craft.  Selfridge might be considered one of the first frequent flyers. Selfridge took his first flight in 1907, a flight that took him 168 feet in the air above Bras d’Or Lake in Nova Scotia, Canada. He also piloted a Canadian craft that flew three feet off the ground for about 100 feet.  He next took to the air in Hammondsport, New York, traveling 100 feet on his first attempt and 200 feet on his second. The next day he added another 800 yards to his mileage credit. A successful flight with Orville would no doubt have given him an upgrade if not a free flight.

     On September 17, 1908, Selfridge and Orville circled Fort Myer in the Wright Flyer 4½ times at 150 feet. Halfway through the fifth go-round, the right propeller broke, losing thrust. A nasty vibration ensued, causing the split propeller to hit a guy wire bracing the rear vertical rudder. Luggage flew out of the overhead storage compartments; the wire tore out of its fastening and shattered the propeller; the rudder swiveled and sent the Flyer into a nose-dive. Orville ordered Selfridge to return to his seat and fasten his seat belt. Then he shut off the engine and managed to glide to about 75 feet, but the Flyer hit the ground nose first — not a smooth landing.

     Orville was bruised and quite embarrassed.  His passenger was unfortunately dead, the first ever airplane fatality.  If Selfridge had been wearing a helmet of some sort, he most likely would have survived the crash. The fatality also saddled the fledgling flying industry with a pretty poor safety track record – one death per 2,500 passenger-feet,  just slightly better than traveling on the back of a hungry lion.

Dinner with Pearl and Barney

Last night for dinner our cats, Vinny and Pearl, had Red Snapper and Ocean Whitefish in a Delicate Sauce.  We had Hamburger Surprise.  For breakfast they had White Meat Chicken and Egg Soufflé with Garden Greens.  We had cereal.  Their cat food cans rival the menu at any Michelin five-star restaurant: New England Crab Cakes Entrée, Filet Mignon with Meaty Juices, Tender Turkey Tuscany in a Savory Sauce with Long Grain Rice and Greens, Red Tuna Topped with Shrimp, White Meat Chicken Primavera with Garden Veggies and Greens.  I’m not making these up.

Of course, Pearl and Barney are unimpressed by the haute cuisine we so lovingly provide for them. You see, the marketing minds who work overtime to create these fanciful foods are not targeting the ultimate consumer, i.e., Pearl and Barney. Pearl and Barney don’t see this stuff advertised on TV, then come running to us, whining that every other cat in the neighborhood gets this food every day because they live with people who love them.

No, Pearl and Barney don’t shop; they send us to the supermarket to do their dirty work for them. Those marketing minds are targeting us, rightly surmising that we would never buy what Pearl and Barney really want – Purina Mouse Parts, Fancy Feast Dead Birds. Friskies Mole Chunks in Muddy Water.  Instead the marketers parade before us:

Succulent Tidbits from the Seven Seas, dainty morsels of exotic seafood species personally prepared by steel-jawed fishermen whose yellow slickers hide hearts of gold.

Pate pour le Chat Celebre, power food for important cats, cats who do lunch.

Lite and Healthy Wholesome Feline Fare, a delicious but dietetic, low-fat, low-cholesterol, high-fiber entrée that will demonstrate your concern for their well-being.

Sure, go ahead and buy these feel-good cat foods. But just be aware that unless they smell truly evil, your cat won’t touch them.

 

 

SEPTEMBER 16, 1953: A MILE WIDE AND AN INCH DEEP

A MILE WIDE AND AN INCH DEEP

Released on September 16, 1953, The Robe is a Biblical epic of great length and width, stretching on for over two hours and stretching from one side of the theater to the other through the magic of CinemaScope. It was the first film presented in CinemaScope, 20th Century Fox’srobe-1953 high-class answer to the trendy vulgarity of 3-D.

The titular robe is the one worn by Jesus at the time of his crucifixion, and the film explores the answer to the question whatever happened to that robe, what happened to the drunken Roman tribune who won it in a dice game, who was that . . . all right, that’s more than one question, but it’s a long film.

Richard Burton is the drunk Roman tribune Marcellus who ends up possessing the robe and can’t seem to get rid of it. At one point, he tries to use it as a cover during a rainstorm and when he places it on his head, he begins to dance and shout. Different story. When he places it over his head, he gets to feeling all guilty about killing Jesus. He is also transformed into a Christian and begins turning the other cheek a lot. He is reunited with his childhood sweetheart Diana who is supposed to marry the evil Emperor Caligula in a plot thickener. In the dramatic Biblical conclusion, Diana rejects Caligula, and Marcellus tries to trick him into touching the robe and thus turning into a Christian. Caligula isn’t fooled. He also has the last laugh,  sentencing both Marcellus and Diana to death. Demetrius goes on — oh, we failed to mention Demetrius. It’s a big wide screen and there’s a lot going on. Demetrius is a Greek slave played by Victor Mature who hasn’t been turned into a Christian yet, but probably will be during the sequel Demetrius and the Gladiators.

If He’d Only Had That Robe

Many centuries later (after the setting of the story not the release of the film), a noted cardinal and theologian who took his Christianity quite torquemada1seriously rose to a position of power in Spain. Tomás de Torquemada became the Grand Inquisitor for the Spanish Inquisition, a sort of religious movement known more for conformity than tolerance.

Torquemada didn’t care for heresy, apostasy, sorcery, sodomy, polygamy, blasphemy, usury and most isms. He had little use for Jews or Moors. He was, however, a big fan of torture and burning at the stake, pastimes he enjoyed freely until Pope Alexander VI had him put on a leash in 1494. This may have precipitated his death four years later.

You would probably think Torquemada was not a particularly good subject for a musical. You’d be wrong.

 

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SEPTEMBER 15, 1907: IT WAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST

IT WAS BEAUTY KILLED THE BEAST

W.C. Fields cautioned against working with children or animals because they’re sure to steal the scene. You might say the same about a 50-foot gorilla. But scream queen Fay Wray had the big guy eating out of the palm of her hand (actually she spent quite a few scenes in the palm of faywrayhis hand). Born Vina Fay Wray on September 15, 1907, she became well-known for her roles in a series of horror movies, spanning the evolution from silent to talkie. But it was her role as the love of King Kong’s life that remained her primary claim to fame throughout a 57-year career in both movies and television.

In 2004, Peter Jackson approached her for a cameo in his remake of King Kong. She turned down the role, saying that the first Kong was the true King (Long live the King). Fay Wray died in her sleep that same year, before filming of the remake had begun.

Two days later, the Empire State Building went dark for 15 minutes in her memory.

King Kong had more than its share of “you’re going to regret saying that” lines, such as:

“Yeah, but what’s on the other side of that wall; that’s what I wanna find out.”

“He’s always been king of his world, but we’ll teach him fear.”

“Suppose it doesn’t like having its picture taken?”

Working the Little Gray Cells

In 1920, a new detective appeared upon the literary scene.– a former Belgian police officer with twirly “magnificent moustaches” and an egg-shaped head. Hercule Poirot debuted in The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first novel by Dame Agatha Christie, “the Queen of Crime,”agatha born on September 15, 1890. It is one of 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections featuring the Belgian detective and several other characters, most notably Miss Marple.

Christie’s career was full of superlatives. She is the best-selling novelist of all time, over 2 billion copies of her books having been sold. Her books are the third most widely-published in the world, trailing only Shakespeare and the Bible. And Then There Were None is the best-selling mystery ever — 100albert_finney_plays_poirot million copies thus far. The Mousetrap is the longest running stage play with more than 25,000 performances and still running. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was named the best crime novel ever by the 600-member Crime Writers’ Association.

Hercule Poirot appeared in half of Christie’s novel and in 54 short stories. By midway through her career, she was finding him “insufferable.” And by the 1960s she described him as an “egocentric creep.” Finally in the 1975 novel Curtain, she disposed of him (although the book was written many years earlier and stored in a bank vault for publication at the end of her life). Most of her books and stories have been adapted for television, radio and movies.

Agatha Christie died in 1976.

 

It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within–not without. ~ Hercule Poirot

SEPTEMBER 14, 1914: THOSE THRILLING DAYS OF YESTERYEAR

THOSE THRILLING DAYS OF YESTERYEAR

It may be every kid’s dream to run away and join the circus. Not many do, but Jack Carlton Moore, born September 14, 1914 did at the tender age of eight. It may also be every kid’s dream to grow up to be the Lone Ranger. Jack did that too. With his new name, Clayton Moore, he donned a black mask, picked up a Native American buddy and rode into television history.

Following his stint in the circus, Moore worked as a model, a stunt man and a bit player in western movies. In 1949, his work in the serial Ghost of Zorro brought him to the attention of the producer of the Lone Ranger radio program. He was signed to play the ranger in the television series, along with Jay Silverheels as Tonto. The series was the first Western written specifically for television. It aired for eight seasons — 221 episodes.

tontoAfter the series ended, Moore refused to give up his mask, wearing it in public appearances. This rather dismayed the owner of the rights to the character who in 1979 secured a legal ruling preventing Moore from wearing his mask in public. In response, the daring and resourceful masked rider of the plains began wearing oversized sunglasses. The ruling was eventually reversed.

Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear. The Lone Ranger rides again!

We Come in Pieces

Back in 1957, the Soviet Union had stunned the rest of the world with the success of Sputnik. In the United States this was viewed as a major crisis, triggering a catch-up effort. The Space Race, the scientific side of the Cold War, was on. And two years later, on September 14, 1959, those pesky commies did it again. Luna 2 landed on the moon.

Luna 2, son of Luna 1, was the first spacecraft to reach the surface of the moon, and in fact the first man-made object to land anywhere in space.

It certainly wasn’t the last. Since then, the moon has become somewhat of a landfill for us Earthlings. Crash landings, the preferred method of landing for unmanned spacecraft, have left the remains of more than 70 vehicles spread across the moon. Other spacecraft, just passing by, have jettisoned junk of all sorts, it too finding a home on the lunar surface. And visiting moon1astronauts rarely practiced “carry in, carry out” when visiting. Estimates suggest the moon is home to over 400,000 pounds of man-made castoffs.

A highly selective inventory: Rovers, modules and orbiters; a dozen pair of boots; hammers, rakes and shovels: cameras; javelins: objets d’art; barf bags; golf balls; a silicon disc with the words “Man has reached out and touched the tranquil moon. May that high accomplishment allow man to rediscover the Earth and find peace there. –Pierre Elliot Trudeau;” a plaque that reads “we came in peace for all mankind.”

And left you our garbage.

SEPTEMBER 13, 1916: A TALE OF TWO CHOCOLATE FACTORIES

A TALE OF TWO CHOCOLATE FACTORIES

When Roald Dahl’s mother offered to pay his tuition to Cambridge University, Dahl said: “No thank you. I want to go straight from school to work for a company that will send me to wonderful faraway places like Africa or China.” And Dahl born on September 13, 1916, did go to wonkafaraway places — Newfoundland, Tanzania, Nairobi, and Alexandria, Egypt, where as a fighter pilot a plane crash left him with serious injuries.

Following a recovery that included a hip replacement and two spinal surgeries, Dahl was transferred to Washington, D.C., where he met author C.S. Forrester, who encouraged him to start writing. His becoming a writer was a “pure fluke,” he said. “Without being asked to, I doubt if I’d ever have thought to do it.”

Dahl wrote his first story for children, The Gremlins, in 1942, for Walt Disney, coining the word. He didn’t return to children’s stories until the 1960s, winning critical and commercial success with James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Other popular books include Fantastic Mr. Fox (1970), The Witches (1983) and Matilda (1988).

Despite his books’ popularity, some critics and parents have have taken him to task for their portrayal of children’s harsh revenge on adult wrongdoers. In his defense, Dahl claimed that children have a cruder sense of humor than adults, and that he was simply trying to satisfy his readers.  Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was filmed twice, once under its original title and once as Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.

Dahl died in 1990 and was buried with his snooker cues, an excellent burgundy, chocolates, pencils and a power saw. Today, children continue to leave toys and flowers by his grave

Chocolate for the Masses

hersheyAnother really big name in chocolate was born on September 13, 1857. After a few years dabbling in caramel, Milton Snavely Hershey became excited by the potential of milk chocolate, which at that time was a luxury. Hershey was determined to develop a formula for milk chocolate and that he could sell to the mass market. He produced his first Hershey Bar in 1900, Hershey’s Kisses in 1907, and the Hershey’s Bar with almonds was in 1908. Willie Wonka created a chocolate factory; Milton Hershey created a chocolate empire with its own town, Hershey, Pennsylvania.

 

Researchers have discovered that chocolate produces some of the same reactions in the brain as marijuana. The researchers also discovered other similarities between the two but can’t remember what they are. ~ Matt Lauer

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 3: A Change of Fortunes

One Thursday afternoon, I was playing with my friends Bud and Lou and we were going through our favorite routine.

“What’s the name of the guy on first base?”

“No, Who’s on first.”

twins“I don’t know.”

“Third base.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the very young Mrs. Johnson — at least that’s what Bessie and Cora always called her.  She huddled with Cora for a while and then left, looking a little sad but not crying like some of the others.  But when she was gone Cora began to cry and mumbled something into Bessie’s shoulder.

Bessie said to her sternly:  “She’s got a right to know.”

“I couldn’t, “ said Cora, still sniffling.  “I saw such terrible things and — he’s so young; they’re both so young.”

I had never thought that much about the fact that there was a war going on.  It was far away, didn’t affect my daily life, and self-centered as I was, I pretty much ignored it.   I knew about war, at least war as it was shown in the movies, and I played war games with some of my conjured up friends, but I had a hard time thinking of war as something real.  But now suddenly it felt real and much closer.  I realized from the change in Bessie and Cora and the fortunes they told that we must be losing the war.  I hadn’t worried about my father before.  He was over there, but he wrote all the time, and most of the time the letters were happy and talked of funny things.  Everything always seemed fine, as though he were just on a business trip or vacation.  I missed him but didn’t fear for him.

Now I needed to know more.  I went to Cora and pestered her until she agreed to tell my fortune.  This actually seemed to cheer her up.  She began to rub my head and told me I’d see marvelous things, and do exciting stuff.  “One day you’ll shake hands with the President,” said Cora almost giddily.  “President Patton.”

“Tell me about my father,” I said.  She froze, and a look I’d never seen, a look of intense sadness, crept across her face.  “No more fortunes today, young man,” she said stiffly, abruptly standing and walking out, leaving me alone.

That was my last day with Bessie and Cora.  I didn’t see them again until many years later when I was a teenager and they had retired from the fortune-telling business.  I told my mother about that final day and she laughed it off but I could tell she was upset.  It had been too long since my father’s last letter, and we both knew it.  I was convinced that Cora had seen something horrible that she wouldn’t reveal.  And I remained convinced for the next two weeks until my father came marching through our front door, a full week before his letter telling us he was on his way home.

But what about that last day with Cora; had she not seen something tragic after all?  I think maybe she had, because I also heard more about the very young Mrs. Johnson.  I guess she had every reason to cry, but it wasn’t the reason that Cora had withheld.  Young draftee Johnson had boarded the train for California but disappeared before it got there, never to be heard from again.  And many of Cora’s other fortunes went slightly awry.  You might just say that, for the most part, they were just a bunch of very inaccurate tomorrows, fun at first, but increasingly colored by Cora’s growing sense of the horror of war.  I guess she was really meant to be a fair-weather fortuneteller.

And I never shook hands with President Patton.

 

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories

SEPTEMBER 12, 1970: TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT

TURN ON, TUNE IN, DROP OUT

Richard Nixon called him the most dangerous man in America, an honor usually reserved by Republicans for figures such as Charles Darwin and Barack Obama. Timothy Leary wasn’t always so “dangerous.” He had a distinguished military service and academic psychology career timothy-leary-until he started thinking way outside the box, promoting the therapeutic use of psychedelic substances. It was your basic slippery slope, as he quickly evolved during the wild and woolly 60’s to a self-described performing philosopher and hippie guru. He used LSD himself and developed a philosophy of mind expansion and personal truth through LSD with such heady concepts as space migration and intelligence increase. Eventually, it was all about turning on, tuning in, and dropping out.

As a result, Leary also came to spend more time in jail than out of it, becoming intimate with 36 prisons throughout the world. In January 1970, he received a 20-year prison sentence for a pair of earlier transgressions. Upon his reporting for prison duty, Leary was given a series of psychological tests meant to help determine what work duties he was suited to. Having himself designed such tests, he found it quite easy to manipulate the results so that they would show him to be a model citizen with an interest in forestry and gardening, pursuits that would conveniently keep him out of doors.

Leary was assigned to work as a gardener in a minimum security prison. On September 12, 1970, leaving a farewell note, he climbed over the prison wall along a telephone wire to a waiting pickup truck supplied by the Weather Underground. For $25,000 (paid by the Brotherhood of Eternal Love), the weathermen smuggled Leary and his wife out of the United States and into Algeria. From there, they traveled to Switzerland, Vienna and Beirut. In 1972, they headed for Afghanistan which had no extradition policy with the U.S. Unfortunately, they traveled aboard an American airline, and were arrested before they could deplane.

Leary was returned to prison where he remained until his release in 1976. He died in 1996.

Come Together

“Come Together,” written by John Lennon, became a big hit for the Beatles and an anti-war anthem. It was originally written as a campaign song for Timothy Leary’s aborted run for governor against Ronald Reagan.

Said Lennon: “The thing was created in the studio. It’s gobbledygook; “Come Together” was an expression that Leary had come up with for his attempt at being president or whatever he wanted to be, and he asked me to write a campaign song. I tried and tried, but I couldn’t come up with one. But I came up with this, “Come Together,” which would’ve been no good to him—you couldn’t have a campaign song like that, right?

 

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 2: My New Playmates

One Thursday afternoon Bessie, Cora and I were having tuna fish and mustard sandwiches, the only way they ever served it.  Wilhelm came by with the scarf draped around his shoulders that indicated he was going out for a walk, kissed Bessie on the forehead, and said:  “Cora, I’m going out twinsfor a short walk with Walter and Elliot.”  Bessie’s face tightened right up so it was even harder than Ludwig the Rock; Cora just sighed and shook her head.

“That’s what I want to do,” I said.

“What do you want to do, dear?” asked Cora.

“Go outside and see some friends.”

“But you don’t have any friends around here,” said Bessie.

“That’s what I want,” I said, a little petulantly.  “Some friends around here, someone to play with.”

“Poor dear,” said Cora. “A boy your age does need someone to play with, doesn’t he?”

“He sure does,” I said, poking my finger into my tuna to make little tunnels.

“Oh my,” said Cora.  “I wonder if maybe we could just . . .”

“Cora,” Bessie said in a voice that was probably as firm as Edward G. Robinson’s.

“Oh Bessie,” said Cora.  These twin fortunetellers were having a complete conversation just using each other’s names, and I didn’t have a clue to what they were saying.

“Cora,” Bessie reiterated.

Cora sighed.  “All right, Bessie.”  End of conversation. Certainly enlightening.  Bessie smiled a grim smile and picked up the empty plates and the scarred remnants of my tuna sandwich.  She gave Cora one last meaningful look and marched out of the room.  I knew it was time for Mrs. Halloran who came every Thursday at two for news of her husband, Warrant Officer Warren Halloran, who was in the Philippines and probably having an affair with a nurse.

I studied Cora’s face for insight and she did her level best to remain expressionless and enigmatic.  She failed miserably, and I was able to figure out that she had some plan for finding me playmates that Bessie didn’t approve of.

After ten minutes of an intensive, intimidating ten-year-old stare, Cora broke.  “If you could play with anyone you wanted to,” she said with a lot of hesitation, “who do you suppose you’d choose.”

“You mean someone who doesn’t live in this neighborhood?”

“There aren’t many children your age in this neighborhood,” said Cora.

“Someone from my own neighborhood?”

“Perhaps.”

“Someone from very far way?”

“I suppose.”

“Someone I didn’t even know, like someone in the movies?”

“Someone like Shirley Temple?”

I made a face.  “Someone like the Little Rascals, maybe.”

“Little Rascals,” Cora mused.  “I guess I could conjure up a rascal or two.”  And so Cora had me concentrate very hard, with my eyes closed tight, on the ones I wanted to play with.  And after a minute, she’d say:  “I see them now.  I see who you want to play with.”  She’d sometimes tell me I was thinking of so-and-so, usually a name I’d never heard of, but it didn’t matter.  If I thought hard enough, she’d conjure up the person I was thinking of, and we’d pass many Tuesdays and Thursdays playing together.  And my playmates became more and more fanciful.

“Here’s looking at you, kid,” Rick would say to me before he sent me off into the cutthroat-filled streets of Morocco with a highly secret document.  Or I might be called on to kick some wicked witch butt for Dorothy and her inept companions.  Capturing big cats with Clyde Beatty, searching catacombs for Count Dracula’s casket, watching the crazy world from under Harpo’s overcoat — there wasn’t much I didn’t do those Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Sometimes when taking a break from my own frenzied activity, I’d listen in while Bessie and Cora told the young military wives their fortunes, and I sensed a change taking place.  One day, Bessie spoke to a young woman about something called a fraulein and sent her away crying.  But it was Cora’s fortunes that were changing the most.  Her futures had always been so bright, so happy — something to look forward to.  Now they were about making the best of bad times and being strong for the kids.

continued

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories 

 

SEPTEMBER 11, 1680: THE UNFORTUNATE ROGER CRAB

THE UNFORTUNATE ROGER CRAB

Seventeenth century England was not without its share of eccentrics, folks who were not the sharpest arrows in the quiver. Roger Crab may certainly be categorized as one of them, although his misfortune at having his skull split open while serving in the Parliamentary Army might provide some excuse for his eccentricity. The unfortunate Crab was sentenced to death after the incident (for having his skull in the wrong place at the wrong time?), but his sentence was later commuted and, upon his release, he became a haberdasher of hats.

His wandering mind somehow happened upon the idea that it was sinful to eat any kind of animal food or to drink anything stronger than water. Determined to pursue a biblical way of life, Crab sold all his hats and other belongings, distributing the proceeds among the poor. He then took up residence in a makeshift hut, where he lived on a diet of bran, leaves and grass (the 16th century equivalent of a kale and edamame diet), and began to produce pamphlets on the wonders of diet.

“Instead of strong drinks and wines,” he wrote, “I give the old man (referring to his body) a cup of water; and instead of roast mutton and rabbit, and other dainty dishes, I give him broth thickened with bran, and pudding made with bran and turnip-leaves chopped together.”

mad-hatterJust as Crab persecuted his own body, others began to persecute him. He was cudgeled and put in the stocks. He was stripped and whipped. Four times he was arrested on suspicion of being a wizard. He bounced from prison to prison until his death on September 11, 1680.  Fortunately, our modern society treats its vegetarian eccentrics much more humanely.

Some scholars believe Crab was the inspiration for Lewis Carroll’s Mad Hatter.

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows, Part 1: Bessie and Cora

I really don’t know why my mother took me to see Bessie and Cora.  Perhaps she was worried about the future, my future, and the future was Bessie and Cora’s forte.  These two sixty-something ladies shared a bungalow on the upper end of D Street, a bungalow from which they told fortunes, mostly to the young women whose husbands were off trying their best to wind down World War II.

Bessie and Cora were twins as well as fortunetellers.

Although they looked very much alike, they were not identical, which made life much easier for Wilhelm, Cora’s husband, who also shared the bungalow and whose eyesight and mental prowess had been waning since about 1939, so that it was difficult enough for him to identify his wife as it was.

Bessie and Cora each took a slightly different spin on divining the future:  Bessie was an avowed palmist; Cora dabbled in tarot, tea leaves and the other trendier methods.  Bessie was pragmatic; she gave her clients nuts and bolts information to help them cope with the near-term future.  Cora was a blue-sky seer; her flights of fancy took her clients into a distant romantic future filled with dark strangers and great wealth.

My mother took me to see Bessie and Cora twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays while she went to do her part for the war effort — I was never sure exactly what — I always assumed it was riveting airplanes, but that’s probably just a romantic notion I picked up later in life.  And so, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, my future was in the hands of Bessie and Cora.  It didn’t take too many Tuesdays and Thursdays for me to completely read their meager library of children’s books and lose interest in the fortune telling paraphernalia that had outlived its usefulness and had been consigned to a cardboard box in the back hallway.

And how many times can you hear your future foretold?  I would be a good student, and if I studied hard, become very smart and eventually successful  — that’s what Bessie saw in my palm.  She held my palm tightly, looked at it sternly, her features as hard as the marble bust of Beethoven that watched from an upper bookshelf.  (I could never understand Wilhelm’s confusion.  The sisters did look very much alike, but even though their physical features were the same, Bessie’s were hard and Cora’s were soft — an incredible difference that should have been obvious to everyone, even Wilhelm. Bessie looked just as much like Old Marble Beethoven as she did like Cora.  At least I thought so.)  Bessie’s divination of my future never wavered; it was exactly the same on the third Thursday as it was on the first Tuesday, so I quickly gave complete control of my future to Cora.

Soft-featured Cora spread out her tea leaves and told me that someday I would fly in very fast airplanes to faraway places where I’d meet fascinating people — kings, queens, archdukes, emirs.  She consulted her cards to discover that I would, when I reached a proper age, have rendezvous with women as beautiful as Rita Hayworth, as lively as Carmen Miranda, as mysterious as Marlene Dietrich.  The bumps and contours of my ten-year-old head revealed that adventure also lie ahead — hidden treasures, Himalayan treks, maybe even a trip to Mars.  It was a wonderful life that Cora had planned for me, but even her big wide wonderful world of the future grew tiresome in time.

Wilhelm wasn’t particularly impressed by his wife’s or his sister-in-law’s prowess at prognostication.  Whenever the subject came up, he’d just snort and say:  “The future.  It’s just a bunch of tomorrows, pretty much the same as today.”  For a while I enjoyed sneaking up on Wilhelm to see how close I could get before he knew I was there.

continued

Just a Bunch of Tomorrows is included in Naughty Marietta and Other Stories