Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

JANUARY 11, 1973: ON THE STREET WHERE YOU LIVE

The Atlantic City Public Works department held an important hearing on balticJanuary 11, 1973. Up for discussion was a suggested name change to two Atlantic City Streets, Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues. Well such a hue and cry went up throughout the nation that those Public Works people backed right down, going so far as to hide under their desks. Sure, the Watergate scandal and such stuff was going on, but this was major.

For those who have just arrived from another planet, Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues are properties in the game of Monopoly. Monopoly is of course the classic Parker Brothers game introduced in 1935. Hasbro acquired the game and has gone on one of the most amazing marketing sprees in commercial history. Anything is fair game for a spinoff – cities, regions, countries, movies, celebrities, cities and pop culture, to name a few . There’s a Star Wars Monopoly and Star Trek Monopoly, Nintendo Monopoly and Pokemon Monopoly: Superman, Spider-Man, Pirates of the Caribbean. In most of these special editions, Baltic Avenue is the first property to lose its original identity.

Nevertheless, the poor Public Works bureaucrats were targeted for a lynching at the very least. Never mind that Illinois Ave was changed to Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, and that there never was such a place as Marvin Gardens.

For those of you who haven’t visited Monopoly in a while, you’ll be surprised to see that Baltic and Mediterranean are no longer purple properties; now they’re brown. They’re still the cheapest properties on the board at $60. But they are the properties least likely to be landed on.

A Monopolycentric website 11points.com outlines a strategy for winning with these properties: “Buy as much property as you can early on, even Baltic or Mediterranean…You will very gradually bleed the other person dry… but it will be a long, slow, boring death. Like, if you decided to kill someone by planting a tree in their yard, waiting until it grew taller than their house, then chopping it down so it lands on them. That’s victory via Baltic.”

I think it’s wrong that only one company makes the game Monopoly. — Steven Wright

Proposed by a Cat, Perhaps

A 1771 proposal argued that a 5 shilling tax should be imposed on dogs throughout England — and especially in London where far too many dogs were kept. “Ladies and gentlemen who keep lap dogs by way of diversion, and keep them better than many poor families live, cannot refuse so small a sum for the sake of their pretty play-things, and if they would rather destroy them than pay so small a tax, their servants may be employed to much better services, and more to their own satisfaction.”

The author of the proposal calculated that there were a good million dogs and that if half of them were “knocked on the head,” there would be a more reasonable population of dogs still plentiful enough to generate substantial revenue.

Several years later, a tax was imposed on ‘dogs with tails’ for the dual purpose of raising revenue and reducing the number of dogs (and consequently the number of attacks on livestock and people). This led to the trend in doggie fashion of bobbed tails.

But Can You Smoke It?

We may never know why he did it — perhaps as a joke or prank — but on January 11, 1770, Benjamin Franklin shipped the first ever rhubarb to the United States. Americans were unimpressed until years later when Thomas Jefferson began to cultivate it and it finally caught on.

Rhubarb had been around in other parts of the world for a good 5,000 years. Fried rhubarb was used as a laxative in Imperial China. Greeks and Romans used it as well and gave it its name Rha (Greek for the Volga River) and barbarum (Latin for barbarian , anyone who was not a Roman). Marco Polo waxed poetic about Chinese rhubarb. It was a prized commodity on the Silk Road to Europe. And in Europe heavy demand made it more expensive than cinnamon and twice the price of opium (which explains why there weren’t very many rhubarb dens).

Rhubarb is a vegetable but is treated and cooked as a fruit. It tastes like a very sour apple which is why all rhubarb recipes use copious amounts of sugar. Why bother? Because it’s healthy as all get out, jam packed with such goodies as dietary fiber, vitamins C and K, B complex vitamins, calcium, potassium, magnesium, beta carotene just to mention a few.

Stalk of rhubarb, anyone?

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Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

OCTOBER 31, LONG AGO: THE DEVIL MADE HIM DO IT

THE DEVIL MADE HIM DO IT

One might assume that the carving of jack-o’-lanterns was a clever promotion by the Association of Pumpkin Growers because there just weren’t enough pumpkin pies being eaten in this world. But as it turns out, folks have been making jack-o’-lanterns at Halloween for centuries. And that there’s a proper legend to explain the practice.

It all started with an Irish fellow called Stingy Jack. In addition to being cheap, Jack was a drunkard and a ne’er-do-well. During one of Jack’s benders, the Devil came calling on him with every intention of claiming his miserable soul. As a last request, Jack asked the Devil to have a  drink with him. (It’s a relief to learn the Devil drinks; Hell might not be so bad after all.)

Naturally, Stingy Jack being Stingy Jack had no intention of paying for the drinks, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks, and the Devil agreed. (It would appear that the Devil is not the brightest candle in Hell.) Once the Devil had changed himself into a coin, Jack stuffed him into his pocket next to a crucifix, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack, now having all the chips in this game, agreed to free the Devil, on the condition that he would not bother Jack for ten years and that, should Jack die during this time, he would not claim his soul. (Jack wasn’t all that shrewd either.)

Drunkenness tends to make time fly, and before Jack knew it, ten years had passed.   And the Devil, ever prompt, came calling for Jack’s soul once again. And no last drink this time, the Devil said. Then perhaps just one small apple before I go, Jack begged. The Devil acquiesced. Jack lamented that he was in no condition to climb the apple tree, and would the Devil be so kind as to fetch the apple for him? (The Devil is a lot like Charlie Brown and his football. You’d think, being the Evil One, he wouldn’t be so trusting.) So the Devil climbed the tree, and while he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark. To earn his release this time, the Devil agreed never to take Jack’s soul.

Wouldn’t you know, little time passed before Jack turned up his toes. Jack’s soul foolishly made it’s way toward Heaven where everyone had a good laugh before telling him to get lost. Then Jack journeyed to the Gates of Hell where the Devil, finally wise to Jack’s tricks,  also sent him packing —  to roam the world between good and evil, with only a burning ember inside a hollowed out turnip to light his way.  Jack of the Lantern. Obviously, the Association of Turnip Growers botched this one. Had they been on their toes, we’d all be celebrating Halloween with carved-out rutabagas.

 

halloween

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

OCTOBER 30, 1938: JUST ME AND MY RADIO

JUST ME AND MY RADIO

It’s easy from the comfort of our 21st century recliners to dismiss the mass hysteria of an earlier generation as so many Chicken Littles or Turkey Lurkeys, afraid of their own shadows. We’ve seen it all, any horror one can imagine, right there on the screen in front of us, and should it become too squirmy, well we can always just hit a button. The remote is there to protect us.

But what if you were at home, alone perhaps, on that October night back in 1938. It’s dark out; Halloween and all its spookiness is just a day away. But there’s the radio to keep you company. Like millions of other Americans, you’ll tune in to Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy. That should lighten up a dark night. They finish their comedy routine at ten after eight. A singer you’ve never heard of follows so, like millions of Americans, you surf the radio stations (Wasn’t there supposed to be a dramatic program on?) pausing to hear an unenthusiastic announcer: “. . . the Meridian Room in the Hotel Park Plaza in downtown New York, where you will be entertained by the music of Ramon Raquello and his orchestra.” You listen for a minute; it’s not that great. You’re all set to surf again when the announcer interrupts, reporting that a Professor Farrell of the Mount Jenning Observatory has detected explosions on the planet Mars. The music returns, but only for a minute. The announcer is back with the news that a large meteor has crashed into a farmer’s field in Grovers Mills, New Jersey.

Now your ears are glued to the radio, as announcement after announcement confirms the impossible – a Martian invasion. “Good heavens, something’s wriggling out of the shadow like a gray snake. Now here’s another and another one and another one. They look like tentacles to me … I can see the thing’s body now. It’s large, large as a bear. It glistens like wet leather. But that face, it… it … ladies and gentlemen, it’s indescribable. I can hardly force myself to keep looking at it, it’s so awful. The eyes are black and gleam like a serpent. The mouth is kind of V-shaped with saliva dripping from its rimless lips that seem to quiver and pulsate.”

Now’s the time to surf the radio. If you do, you’ll quickly realize that everything is normal on other radio stations, that you’ve been listening to a realistic but fictional radio drama. But if you don’t, chances are you’ll join the thousands of people jamming highways, trying to flee the alien invasion.

Orson Welles was just 23 years old when his Mercury Theater company broadcast its update of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds with no idea of the uproar it would cause. He employed sophisticated sound effects and top notch acting to make the story believable.

And believed it was. In Indianapolis, a woman ran into a church where evening services were being held, yelling: “New York has been destroyed! It’s the end of the world! Go home and prepare to die!”

When the actors got wind of the panic, Welles went on the air as himself to remind listeners that it was just fiction. Afterward, he feared that the incident would ruin his career, but three years later he was in Hollywood working on Citizen Kane.

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

OCTOBER 24, 1901: WE’LL HAVE A BARREL OF FUN

WE’LL HAVE A BARREL OF FUN

Annie Edson Taylor was born on, October 24, 1838, in Auburn, New York. One of eight children, she led a typical if uneventful life. She became a schoolteacher, married, became widowed, spent her working years in a variety of jobs and locales from Bay City, Michigan to Mexico City.

The century turned, and she found herself in her early 60s with a less than secure financial future. How she reached the decision that would make the next stage of her life far from typical is anyone’s guess. But by 1901, she had become determined to be the first person to ride over Niagara Falls in a barrel.

barrelTaylor had a barrel custom made for her trip; it was fashioned out of oak and iron, and padded with a mattress. There was a curious lack of enthusiasm for her project among other folks – no one wanted to take part in what they viewed as certain suicide. The domestic cat that became her assistant probably shared those concerns, but lacked the means to express its doubts. So two days before the day designated for Taylor’s own attempt, kitty went over Horseshoe Falls to test the barrel’s strength. Kitty lived through the ordeal and posed with Taylor in photographs to prove it, though she wasn’t purring.

On October 24, 1901, Taylor’s 63rd birthday, the barrel was put over the side of a rowboat, and Taylor climbed in, taking with her a lucky pillow. The lid of the barrel was secured, and Taylor was set adrift, bobbing along near the American shoreline. The cooperative Niagara River carried the barrel and its passenger toward the Canadian Horseshoe Falls, and over she went.

Rescuers reached her barrel shortly after the plunge. Taylor emerged from the barrel, bruised but alive, although she wasn’t purring. The trip had taken a mere twenty minutes.  After the journey, Annie Taylor told the press: “I would sooner walk up to the mouth of a cannon, knowing it was going to blow me to pieces than make another trip over the Fall.”

Although she earned money from speaking engagements, she was never able to accumulate much wealth.  And to add insult, her manager made off with her barrel. She spent her final years posing for photographs with tourists, planning another plunge, dabbling with a novel, attempting to reconstruct her 1901 plunge on film, and working as a clairvoyant.

Annie Taylor died on April 29, 1921, at the age of 82.

 

Niagara Falls is very nice. I’m very glad I saw it, because from now on if I am asked whether I have seen Niagara Falls I can say yes, and be telling the truth for once. ~ John Steinbeck

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

OCTOBER 11, 1983: DON’T YANK THE CRANK

DON’T YANK THE CRANK

No, the title doesn’t refer to the Trump Administration. It refers to a movement that took place in Maine back in 1981. Movement is probably a pretty strong word for laid-back Maine where crankdemonstrators tend not to get worked up into a chanting frenzy over things. And even less so in a sleepy little town like Woodstock whose population squeaked by 1,200 a couple of years ago.

Bryant Pond is Woodstock’s largest settlement and as much of an urban center as you’re likely to find. It captured its fifteen minutes of national fame and media attention during the mid1970s when its family-owned Bryant Pond Telephone Company became the last telephone exchange in the United States to use hand-cranked phones. Then in 1981, the two-position magneto switchboard in the living room of the owners was purchased by the Oxford County Telephone & Telegraph Company, a larger company in the Maine neighborhood. The Bryant Pond Telephone Company was swallowed like so many krill off the shores of Maine.

Two Bryant Pond residents started the “Don’t Yank The Crank” movement to save their crank telephones, financed by the sale of tee shirts – a valiant effort but nonetheless futile. At a meeting in the local school gymnasium warmed by a wood stove, townsfolk spoke out. “We have the oldest pay station in the United States,” said one resident, either complaining or bragging. “You put in a nickel and wind it up.” “You are a person instead of a number.” And did they mention no robocalls?

Alas, to no avail. The last “crank calls” took place on October 11, 1983, and the beloved telephones slipped into history like so much Americana.

 

Cheap Halloween Thrills

Our list of 31 films features three silents. In the Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920), an insane hypnotist uses a somnambulist to commit a series of murders. This German Expressionist film had a profound influence on American horror films. Phantom of the Opera is the 1925 classic starring the amazing Lon Chaney as a badly disfigured recluse who lives in the catacombs beneath the Paris opera house. It inspired several remakes and the hit musical. Nosferatu (1929) was the first film portrayal of Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the name was changed to avoid a legal battle with the Stoker estate) and he’s a tormented soul, a far cry from the suave and sophisticated Count in the many films that followed.

The three previous films are the oldest on the list. Get Out is the most recent. Released in 2017, this much acclaimed film tells the story of a black man who discovers a terrifying secret during a visit with his white girlfriend’s family.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

6 Ghostbusters

7 Freaks

8 Ichabod and Mr. Toad

9 Hound of the Baskervilles

10 I Walked with a Zombie

11 Diabolique

12 Alien

13 Rosemarys Baby

14The Birds

15 Psycho

16 Phantom of the Opera

17 Nosferatu

18 Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

19 Get Out

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

OCTOBER 5, 1983: BURPING IN POLITE COMPANY

Cheap Halloween Thrills

In 1984, Ghostbusters was the most expensive comedy ever filmed. Wildly successful, it paid for itself and then some. Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and Harold Ramis are the titular paranormal investigators/exterminators. They have their hands full: An ancient Babylonian demon (channeling himself through Sigiourney Weaver) has unleashed an entire army of nasty spirits on New York City.  It’s a wild, over-the-top comedy, ranked number 28 on the American Film Institute’s list of the 100 best.

1 The Shining

2 The Exorcist

3 Beetlejuice

4 Invasion of the Body Snatchers

5 Ghost Story

6 Ghostbusters

BURPING IN POLITE COMPANY

Noted American businessman and inventor, Earl Silas Tupper died on October 5, 1983. He was buried in a 100-gallon Tupperware container whose lid was “burped”to get an airtight seal before being lowered into the ground. Thousands paid their respect at a memorial Tupperware Party held earlier.

For indeed this was the man who invented and gave his name to Tupperware, a line of plastic containers in an almost infinite array of shapes and sizes that changed the way Americans stored their food. Tupper invented the plasticware back in the late 30s, but it didn’t really start worming its way into every household until the 50s when Tupper introduced his ingenious and infamous marketing strategy, the Tupperware Party. This clever gambit gave women the opportunity to earn an income without leaving their homes and to simultaneously annoy their friends and relatives.

tupper1

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

The rock musical Hair has played pretty much continuously since its Broadway debut at the Biltmore Theatre in the late 60s, its mix of sex, drugs and rock and roll more or less guaranteeing hairan avid following. It’s been translated into many languages and produced throughout the world. But back on October 5, 1967, it looked a lot like a colossal failure.

After rejections by producer after producer, the musical was accepted by Joseph Papp, who ran the New York Shakespeare Festival, to open the new Public Theater in New York City’s East Village for a six-week engagement.

Hair depicts a group of hippies living the bohemian life in New York City, rebelling against the Vietnam War, conservative parents and other societal ills while diving into the sexual revolution and the drug culture. Its protagonist Claude must decide whether to resist the draft or give in to conservative pressures and risk his principles (and his life) by serving in Vietnam.

Production did not go well. Perhaps the theater staff was too close to conservative America; the material seemed incomprehensible, rehearsals were chaotic, casting confusing. The director quit during the final week of rehearsals and the choreographer took charge. The final dress rehearsal was a disaster.

But the show did go on. Critics were not particularly kind, but it found an audience. During the six-week engagement, a man from Chicago was attracted to the show by its poster with a picture of five American Indians on it. He thought Hair was all about Native Americans, a favorite subject of his. He was surprised to discover it was actually about hippies, but he nevertheless liked it so much that, he bankrolled its move to a discotheque in midtown Manhattan. The show had to start at 7:30 pm instead of the normal curtain time of 8:30 and play without intermission so dancing could begin at 10 pm. But Hair was getting closer to Broadway.

In 1968, the play’s creators reworked it into the musical that everyone knows, adding additional songs, the infamous nude scene, and an upbeat ending — it was the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

 

Posted in Wretched Richard's Almanac

AUGUST 28, 1963: I HAVE A DREAM

I HAVE A DREAM

In Washington DC, on  August 28, 1963, Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to a crowd stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument.

“Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back King_Jr_Martin_Luther_093.jpgto Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed. Let us not wallow in the valley of despair.”

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.’ I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave-owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice. I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream today.”

“When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!'”

 

Part of that is when they try and demean me unfairly, because we had a massive crowd of people. We had a crowd… I looked over that sea of people, and I said to myself, ‘wow’, and I’ve seen crowds before. Big, big crowds. That was some crowd. — Donald Trump