Picking Up Speed

July 31, 2008

Have we solved the Y2K problem yet? How about the Leap Year Fiasco that was going to bring the computers to their knees? Is it safe to get back to normal?

At my fiftieth birthday, some good friends gave me a coffee mug. It showed an older person going downhill in a wagon and said, “When you get over the hill you pick up speed.” Little did I realize the truth in that statement. I turned fifty in 1994, and the last fourteen years have been a blur.

Since that momentous occasion I got married for the second time and somehow managed to become a grandfather… eleven times. I can’t count the number of companies I’ve worked with and I’ve done a lot of traveling. I went on my first (and only so far) ocean cruise and visited Puerto Rico, Ireland, and France – three places I’d never been. I also completed my quest to visit all fifty states.

And I sit here on July 31, 2008 wondering how it all happened so fast. I don’t even own a little red wagon!

In any case, welcome back! Or just plain “Welcome” to those visiting for the first time. I believe we have something to interest most people. Feel free to poke around and, if you’ve got the time, leave a comment or two. But do it quick! Before you know it, it’ll be August… or September. My! My! How time flies!

Are Cooties International?

July 30, 2008

I’ve added another article that was published in the 400 Edition magazine. To read it, click on the 400 Edition Articles page. It concerns cooties. I’m hoping that, by now, I have at least one person in another country dropping by from time to time. Hopefully, he or she will leave a comment and answer my question. Can cooties be found in every corner of the earth?

I should also mention that I have links to two web sites that I encourage you to visit. One is Carol Terry’s Watkins web site. The other is my bride’s Mary Kay site. The second is the one that helps our family income grow!

Finally, I thank you for your continued support. Please keep dropping by and definitely invite your friends and family to do likewise.

Acapulco Adventures

July 29, 2008

Sometime in the early 1970’s, my first wife and I attended a Lions Club convention in Mexico. We were accompanied by her parents, Jim and Eleanor Kammerer, and a number of other couples from the Beechview Lions Club. My father-in-law was the one who got me interested in joining the Lions Club and we attended a number of conventions together.

The Lions Clubs of the Pittsburgh area had arranged a tour, which started in Acapulco. We spent three or four days enjoying one of Mexico’s most famous resorts prior to moving on to the convention in Mexico City.

On the evening of our arrival, we were invited to attend a welcoming party on the veranda adjoining our hotel. They served a wonderfully refreshing beverage made with pineapple juice and a few other ingredients. We later learned that those other ingredients included a liberal amount of rum and creme de menthe.

Sometime later that evening I was trying to answer nature’s call when I stumbled upon a number of hotel employees celebrating the end of their work day. They directed me to the necessary room. Upon returning, I struck up a conversation with the men. I must admit that their English was far superior to my Spanish, but we hit it off and were having a very nice conversation when they invited me to have a shot of Teguila. They instructed me on the finer points of the ritual – squeezing the lime, getting the salt on my hand and taking the drink.

Tracy Byrd sings a song about having shots of Jose Cuervo. The punch line of the song is based on Tracy’s losing track of the number of shots he has had. Having been there, I can easily identify with his cloudy memory. I’m sure the earlier glasses of that wonderfully refreshing beverage didn’t help.

The next morning I joked about how fortunate it was that I did not have to drive back to the hotel. I simply had to crawl to the elevator and hope to press the correct button.

The next few days in Acapulco were a whirlwind of taking a yacht ride to an island for a tropical lunch, going on a glass-bottomed boat to see the shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe, attending a Roman Catholic Mass that included a first Communion ceremony as well as an elderly lady’s confession.

To this day, I’m left wondering what she had done. She looked to be about eighty and was crying like a baby. There was no confessional booth. She was sitting on one side of a screen and the priest on the other… out in the open as the worshipers walked by.

The grand finale of our time in Acapulco was a bus trip to a restaurant overlooking the cliffs used by the world famous cliff divers. I had hoped to find a video of a man making a dive. Not only did I find such a video on You Tube, I found one that perfectly fits the experience.

Let me forewarn you, this video is very graphic and realistic. We were probably sitting in the same restaurant from which this video was shot. We were looking down at the diver who seemed to take forever to take the leap. The man we saw spent quite a bit of time praying at the shrine seen in the background. Finally, he took his place and… well you can see for yourself.

Yes. He finally jumped into the water. The person who filmed this experience was obviously growing impatient as he waited, and waited, and waited. As soon as the diver hit the water, we were told the show was over and it was time to leave… so the next group could be seated.

Hopefully the video gave you some idea of the height of the cliff. It was a long way down to the water, and from where we were sitting, it was a long way down to the top of the cliff from which the man dived. So you can imagine our surprise when, as we were leaving the restaurant, a soaking wet man in a swim suit was standing there with an extended hand asking, “How much you like my dive, Senor?”

At the time, I guessed that this man may have been one of the cliff divers, but not the one we had just seen. Looking back, I realize there were a number of establishments lining the cliffs. I wouldn’t be at all surprised that the diver had cloned himself and was standing at the exit of multiple locations asking the same question.

It was a once in a lifetime experience, and if I ever return to Acapulco, it is one I will gladly bypass. You can see the action much better on the Wide World of Sports.

How much you like my story, Senor? Feel free to leave a comment. I’ll gladly accept any and all ‘tips’. Muchas gracias.

Great to See You Again!

July 28, 2008
Chef Jim presents the main course

Chef Jim presents the main course

Good day! Believe it or not, we are quickly approaching our second thousand visits. It has come much faster than the first. I trust you’re all telling your friends and family about my blog. I like to think of it as an electronic magazine (e-zine is the acceptable term being used, although I’m not sure if the hyphen is supposed to be there.) Remember the Saturday Evening Post? All I need is Norman Rockwell to paint some covers for me.

The photo at the top is from a gourmet dinner I helped prepare. Our Out Reach team at Christ the King Lutheran here in Cumming hosts these dinners from time to time to raise money for various charities. This year, the money went to the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life.

I’m not sure the posts I offer on these pages can be considered ‘gourmet’, but I try to include something for everyone. I’ve been concentrating on the past lately – reliving my childhood and documenting my life so that future generations will know a little bit about old great-great-grandpa… besides the dates of his birth and death.

I try to add a little humor now and then – the spices of life, and include some fire and brimstone in my sermons to make sure everything gets cooked just right. I should also admit that I stretch the truth on occasion. If you’ve read my sermons you know I left out the fire and brimstone.

Many of you have stumbled across my blog while looking for something else. I hope you take the time to check out the things I’ve written and the videos I’ve included. I examine the statistics each day to try to determine how folks are finding my little corner of cyberspace. Last week there were a number of people looking for information on Olive Grace Redd. They found it with my interview of Olive. However, one person came to my blog in search of Les Baxter. Someone gave that person a bum steer. I’d never heard of Les Baxter!

In any case, whatever you did to find me, I’m sure glad you did. Pull up a chair and set a spell. Take a look at what I have to say and feel free to use the comments links to tell me what you have to say.

Would you care for some Beef Wellington while you read my stories?

Feel free to dig in!

Snuff on a Banana

July 27, 2008

Since moving to Georgia, I’ve heard all sorts of regional phrases. For instance, if you ask a true Southerner how he’s doing, he might respond by saying, “I’m able to sit up and take nourishment.” That one is fairly easy to comprehend, but what if he says, “Oh, I’d say three or four to the hill.”? What in the world does that mean?

The phrase that has many of us scratching our heads was delivered to us at an assisted living facility in Gainesville, Georgia. We – our Nostalgia Band – had just finished performing a number of songs from the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s. We dazzled our audience with such beloved hits as “Ain’t She Sweet”, “Mairzy Doats”, “My Merry Oldsmobile”, and about fifteen other examples of the real ‘oldies but goodies.’

“You folks are gooder’n snuff on a banana.” That’s what the man said. Later we all compared notes and agreed that is what we heard. Now, the big question is: was he complimenting us, or insulting us? Since none of us has the nerve to taste snuff on a banana, we may never know.

A couple of days ago I talked about the music played on the radio during my early childhood years, but I was influenced by more than the radio. Both of my older brothers worked as bartenders at Joe’s Bar in the Elliott section of Pittsburgh. Back in those days, the taverns outnumbered the churches. Besides Joe’s, there was Trio’s, the Music Bar, the Pulaski Club, the U-Bets Club, and a couple of other places whose names I can’t recall.

Each of the establishments had a juke box, but more importantly, Joe’s Bar organized summer picnics. There was a very large brandy sniffer glass – it could probably hold a gallon of brandy – behind the bar. Customers would regularly throw money into it. Then, three times during the summer, Joe and his family took money out of the glass and hosted a picnic at a local park. They would have cases of beer and pop (Pittsburgh’s name for soda – or as the say in the South, coke-cola), tons of corn on the cob, hot dogs, Pittsburgh bar-b-que, and other snack items. During the day, we’d swim or play volleyball, softball, horse shoes, and other similar games, but when it got dark, the real fun began.

A large bon-fire was built and we all sat in a circle singing the ‘old’ songs; “For me and my gal”, “Shine on Harvest Moon”, “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad”, and many others. I learned to harmonize to those old songs and came to see that part of the picnics as my favorite times. Finally, when the last embers of the fire were dying, we’d get in the car and head home. That’s when we’d listen to WWSW. It was a time when some black performers were finally getting some airtime on the mainstream radio stations. One of my favorite songs from those days was performed by Lee Andrews and the Hearts.

That song may have been one of the earliest ‘well-known’ doo-wop songs. I have an extensive collection of doo-wop music… thanks to a donor drive on a New York City Public Television channel while I was working on Long Island. My youth and young adulthood coincided with that musical era. Besides, the show was videotaped at Carnegie Music Hall in Pittsburgh. Our Senior Prom was held there. How could I not donate a few hundred dollars to own such a wonderful collection?

Interestingly enough, one of my favorite songs in the collection was not recorded back in the 50’s or 60’s. It’s a newer song written in the doo-wop style. I’ve located two versions of the song on youtube.com. They’re both performed by the same group; one is a shorter version. Take your pick!

Long version:

Short version:

I’m sure the falsetto of Kenny Vance would send some people scattering like long-tailed cats in a room full of rocking chairs, but I can’t honestly say that their group is gooder’n snuff on a banana. Our band may have a distinct advantage; the songs we perform are older than the oldies, and for many in our audiences, those songs are gooder!


July 26, 2008

I just added another 400 Edition article I wrote a while back. It’s entitled “Family Circles”. In a weird way, it fits in with my thinking this morning.

I’ve often said that life is a terminal illness and we should all treat it that way. When we accept the fact that our stay here on earth is finite, we can get a better appreciation for whatever blessings come our way. Dr. Randy Pausch was able to do that… even after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Yesterday I added a video of Dr. Pausch’s appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show where he reprised his last lecture at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

Before I posted that video, I went to Dr. Pausch’s personal website to try to find an update on his health. It had been a while since his last post. I felt a little uneasy about the situation, but decided to post the video anyway. Then, last evening, my son sent word that Randy had passed away yesterday morning… probably around the same time as I was posting his video.

The death of this man was inevitable – a fact we must all face. But what a wonderful message of faith and hope he left us. If you are in the dark on this subject, go to my ‘Sermons’ page and take a look at the video. It is very uplifting. For more information on his death, go to the New York Times web site.

In the meantime, my bride and I intend to be part of a funeral procession this afternoon. Cpl. Matthew Phillips, a young soldier from Cumming who was killed in action in Afghanistan will be buried today. We will join hundreds, if not thousands, of other residents in showing our support to his family.

Today’s message? How about this? Live each day as though it is your last, and try to leave good memories for your loved ones.

Music to My Ears

July 25, 2008

NOTE: The end of this post includes a number of songs. You might want to scroll down, get the music started, and come back to the top to begin reading. Then you’ll have a multimedia extravaganza!

Louie Armstrong once said, “There’s good music and there’s bad music; I like good music.” When I was growing up, that was probably the biggest distinction. Good music was played on the radio; bad music wasn’t. Prior to the “Payola” scandal, the decisions determining which was good and which was bad were left up to the disc jockeys and program managers.

For the uninitiated, the “Payola” scandal broke when some reporter learned that record companies were paying disk jockeys and program managers to play the records of specific artists. I don’t know that the stations in Pittsburgh were involved or not.

As I recall, Pittsburgh had very few stations in the 40’s and 50’s. KDKA was the most well known. It had been the very first commercial radio station and broadcast election results in the 1920 Presidential election. That’s where it gained its fame and soon many other stations discovered there was money to be made.

KQV was designated ‘commercial’ shortly thereafter. According to their website, “In January 1921 the experimental station 8ZAE became known as KQV, which stood for King of the Quaker Valley. Doubleday-Hill began using the station on November 19, 1919 to sell a new technology called “radio.” The station even set up one of broadcastings’ first “request lines.” When a dealer wanted to demonstrate a wireless radio set they would call – and 8ZAE would broadcast a recording.”

Although KQV was designated as a commercial station, the company’s vice-president, G. Brown Hill, didn’t believe that radio should be a commercial enterprise. Therefore, the company did not begin selling ads until 1925.

Note that the call letters of the two stations named thus far begin with the letter K. Sometime in the 1930’s the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decided that station call letters beginning with K would be reserved for stations west of the Mississippi River. All stations to the east of the river would use W as the first letter. However, since KDKA, KQV, and a few other stations across the country had become well known by this time, they were allowed to stay with the letters they’d been using.

Sometime in the intervening years before I became a regular listener, Pittsburgh added WCAE, WJAS, and WWSW. (“Oh, the sounds of the night when the owl takes flight and the old dog bays at the moon” is a tune I remember well from WWSW.)

As I recall, WCAE often times broadcast educational programs. I vaguely remember teachers rolling huge radios into the classroom so we could listen to something important. Of course, I long ago forgot what it was we listened to.

Back then, all of the stations played music during the day. Some continued with the music in the evening while others switched over to network programming. The network programming included Jack Benny, Fibber McGee, the Shadow, the Green Hornet, and many other classic programs.

The thing I loved the most about radio back then was that every station played every style of music… with one major exception I’ll address shortly. It was years later before stations began to specialize in country & western, rock & roll, classical, etc. (Make that two exceptions – classical music didn’t hit the airwaves until FM radios started showing up in the waiting rooms of doctors’ offices.)

To demonstrate what I’m saying about musical styles being intermingled, the following is a list of the top ten songs for 1955:

  1. Rock Around the Clock, Bill Haley
  2. Ballad of Davy Crockett, Bill Hayes
  3. Cherry Pink and Apple Blossom White, Perez Prado
  4. Melody of Love, Billy Vaughn
  5. Yellow Rose of Texas, Mitch Miller
  6. Ain’t That a Shame, Pat Boone
  7. Sincerely, The McGuire Sisters
  8. Unchained Melody, Les Baxter
  9. Crazy Otto Rag, Crazy Otto
  10. Mister Sandman, The Chordettes

The list for 1956 shows the same variety.

  1. Don’t be Cruel, Elvis Presley
  2. Great Pretender, The Platters
  3. My Prayer, The Platters
  4. Wayward Wind, Gogi Grant
  5. Whatever Will Be, Will Be, Doris Day
  6. Heartbreak Hotel, Elvis Presley
  7. Lisbon Antigua, Nelson Riddle
  8. Canadian Sunset, Hugo Winterhalter
  9. Moonglow/Theme from “Picnic”, Morris Stoloff
  10. Honky Tonk, Bill Doggett

The merging of a wide variety of music, both vocal and instrumental, seemed quite natural. Thus, my early listening years began with the Big Band songs and progressed through soloists who had struck out on their own after getting their starts with the likes of Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey and other bandleaders. There were numerous musical quartets – both male and female – and a sprinkling of folk music prior to the advent of rock & roll.

That brings me to the exception mentioned above. In the late forties and early fifties, the only way a person of color could have his or her music played on the ‘acceptable’ radio stations was to ‘sound’ white, or at least have songs styled according to the standards of the day. Thus, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, and a few others were able to get past the barricades and become well known artists.

Most experts will tell you that rock & roll began as ‘colored people’s’ music. I assure you, the label I just gave it may not be politically correct, but it is much less coarse than the terminology used at the time.

Before rock & roll could slip into the mainstream, the songs had to be recorded by white musicians. Slowly but surely, things changed. Little Richard, Fats Domino, Chubby Checker, and many others soon made the line invisible. The teenagers of the time (myself included) never stopped to ask themselves the color of the artists. We simply loved the music.

To demonstrate the diversity of the music of our time, I’ve located the following hodge-podge of hits from the past. If you are around my age, the songs should bring back some memories. If you’re younger or older than me, I still think you’ll enjoy the music. Of course, I’m assuming that, to you, it’s good music. I’m also assuming that you’re like Louie Armstrong and me; you like good music!

We’ll begin with some Big Band music.

Next, we’ll listen to one of the top male quartets of the time.

The Hit Parade was a weekly radio show that successfully moved to television.

The McGuire sisters, a trio, were very popular when I was growing up.

Tony Bennett was a young sensation back in the early 1950’s.

Peter Paul & Mary introduced many of us to folk music.

Cozy Cole, a drummer in the mold of Gene Krupa, provided a different sort of music with his Topsy and Turvey.

Danny & the Juniors gave us this hit that may have been an important step toward rock & roll.

My bride chastised me for omitting the King. So, let me correct the error in my ways.

Coming soon! The turbulent sixties and how I slept through them.