What’s Not in a Name?

     Let the pundits wonder if the days of print media are numbered with their leading question “Who reads newspapers and magazines anymore?” My query to the staffs of magazines is “Who is checking the spelling of names?” Have publishers fired all their copy editors and proofreaders, believing that in a cyber world of abbreviations and corrupted spellings, no one cares how names are spelled?

The most egregious instance of sloppiness in name-checking in recent years occurred in Benjamin Schwarz’s essay “When Men Lost Their Charm” which appeared in the June 2013 issue of The Atlantic. The venerable literary editor of that magazine for a number of years should have known that the actor featured in a number of films with Orson Welles was Joseph Cotten, not Joseph Cotton. Yet the actor’s last name was misspelled eight times in Schwarz’s assessment of The Third Man.

The December 2013/January 2014 Art & Antiques reviewed an exhibition at the Morgan Library of work by and inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. The article, entitled “Under the Raven’s Wing,” was apparently not under a proofreader’s wing because the caption under a portrait on page 45 read “Daguerreotype of Edgar Allen Poe.”

The same inconsistency seems to plague the staff at The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles. The “Name This Famous Person” feature on page 62 of the January 2014 issue offered two spelling options: the caption below the 1848 portrait claimed the famous person is Emily Dickinson while the name attached to the poem “Not in Vain” at the top of the page is Emily Dickenson.

In a profile entitled “The Take-Down Artist” Andrew Goldman described filmmaker Alex Gibney for readers of the December 2013 Men’s Journal as looking a bit like Vladimir Lenin, “but then he’ll laugh, revealing a gap-toothed smile, and he suddenly seems about as menacing as Alfred E. Newman.” Andrew, take this down: the correct spelling of the Mad mascot is Alfred E. Neuman.

Having the same last name as the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, I am about to tee off on writers who still misspell his name: get the t off. Look at the last frame of any of the daily strips and below the title of any of the Sunday spreads: there in bold, printed letters is the correct spelling: SCHULZ.

Is this laziness or carelessness? Nicholas Carr in “The Great Forgetting” indicates how the dependency upon computers to fly planes and cars leads to a reliance on automation, trusting machines to be more precise than humans are. “Most of us have experienced complacency when using a computer. In using e-mail or word-processing software, we become less proficient proofreaders when we know that a spell-checker is at work.” Carr concludes that automation turns us from actors into observers.

The Yankee Doodle Dandy may soon have reason to regret declaring “I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.” It will be the day an article appears with the title “Over There: A Salute to George M. Wright.”







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Shapes of Things

“Whiskey’s Craft Revival,” which appears in the November 2014 Men’s Journal, praises the virtues of a handful of small distilleries now producing that classic spirit. The same adjective is employed for two of the four whiskeys pictured: Koval Millet has a “round, bright flavor” and Low Gap is described as a “smooth, round whiskey.”

Why does the taster select a modifier usually reserved for globes and balloons for a beverage? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to use round in describing Bowlball Fillitup that comes in a crystal decanter with holes for thumb and two fingers and High Handicap in dimpled fifth jar with a corked tee for a stopper?

Let’s take the rough edges off the next big thing by shining a spotlight on “Crafty Mouthwashes.”

1) Gudgeon–Aged in balsa rain barrels for three weeks, this tangy antiseptic leaves the mouth with a clean, oblong feeling.

2) Inculpate–Distiller/refiner/coal miner Caleb Morrissey blends thymol, menthol, grain alcohol, and a proprietary mixture of boysenberry juice and pappy’s corn squeezings that deliver a sharp square dance flavor to the taste buds. Caleb’s promise: “It’ll cure what ails ya better than any ale that kills ya.”

3) Nonce–Clinically proved to reduce plaque, plague, ague, and achoo, this triple-malted trapezoid treat prevents gingivitis, freshens breath, and dissolves warts.

4) Glabella–Here is a barley-enhanced rinse loaded with ellipsoid piquancy that hits one between the eyes and the jaws simultaneously. Used thrice a day, a healthy swish kills germs between the teeth, around the gums, under the tongue, and over the rainbow.

Down what winding yellow brick switchback lined with rectangular greenbacks the trendy winds will blow is anybody’s guess, although I suspect that the words sung by today’s yes men will match those of Yes in 1972: “Roundabout.”


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The Plateful Dead 4

Almost every trip to a local store will bring us into contact with vehicles bearing vanity plates. While most drivers are pondering over what the combination of seven letters and/or numbers mean, my thoughts are far away as I ruminate about the famous folks no longer with us. Surely in some aery realm the status-conscious who reached earthly heights must be navigating from cloud to cloud or sphere to sphere bearing a badge of identification fore and aft. Look up instead of down and see more plates coming into view right now…

Billy Holliday: LADYDAY

Phil Everly: ILBGONE

June Allyson: THOSWEL

Frank Fontaine: CRAZGUG

Jerry Vale: ALDILA

Lauren Bacall: BABY

George Lindsey: GOOB

Percy Kilbride: RUBE

Anne Baxter: BOUTEVE

Tennessee Ernie Ford: 16 TONS

Bob Hoskins: VALIANT

Gloria Grahame: NOIRGAL

Efrem Zimbalist Jr.: LUERSKN

Ralph Waite: PAWALTN

Harry Morgan: COLPOTT

Henry Morgan: BAD BOY

Shirley Temple: CURLTOP

Edward G. Robinson: TUFGUYC

Jo Stafford: UBLN2ME

Clayton Moore: HIYOSIL

Jay Silverheels: TONTO

Jesse Owens: PRONTO

Don Zimmer: POPEYE2

Pete Seeger: HADHAMR

Cary Grant: 3JUDYS

Mickey Rooney: HARDY 1

Alan Funt: CANDCAM


Andy Williams: BUTRFLY

Casey Kasem: AMTOP40

Audrey Totter: LADNLAK

Sydney Greenstreet: GUTMAN

Ben Hogan: PUTTMAN

Robert Culp: I SPY

Julie London: ICRYRIV

James Gardner: GRNDPRE

Eva Gabor: LISDOUG

Harold Peary: GILDY

Shirley Mitchell: LEILA

Russell Johnson: THEPROF

Fontella Bass: RESCUME

Eli Wallach: TUCO

Jean Harlow: PLATBLD

Curtis Mayfield: SUPRFLY

Buster Keaton: STNFACE

William Castle: TINGLER

Larry Lujack: SUPRJOC

Joan Fontaine: CNNYMPH

Tony Gwynn: MRPADRE

Marty Robbins: BIGIRON

Michael Jackson: BAD

George Sanders: CAD

Emmett Kelly: SAD

John Wayne: DUKE

Tiny Tim: FLUKE

Jimi Hendrix: PURPHAZ

Christopher Jones: MXFROST

Orson Welles: CITKANE

Bea Arthur: SITCOM

Chester Morris: BOSBLKE

Alan Freed: HITMAKR

Rachel Carson: MUCRAKR

Jack Klugman: QUINCME

Ed Nelson: DRROSSI

Annette Funicello: PINPRNS

Basil Rathbone: SHERLOC

Andy Griffith: MATLOCK

George Plimpton: PAPRLYN

Ann B. Davis: SHULTZY

Eartha Kitt: PURALOT

John Barrymore: JACK

Dale Evans: QUEEN

Clark Gable: KING

Jimmy Doolittle: ACE

Caesar Romero: JOKER

Red Skelton: IDOODIT

Jimmy Dean: BGBDJON

Henry Mancini: MOONRIV

Laurence Harvey: RMATTOP

Eddy Fisher: OMYPAPA

Amanda Blake: KITRUSL

Nigel Bruce: DRWATSN

Patti Page: TNWALTZ

Jonathan Winters: MAUDMAN

Himan Brown: HIGHMAN

Lee J. Cobb: LOMAN

Dan Duryea: TOPHEEL

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Questions to Ponder 6

Some more questions that seem to float to the surface in the middle of the night: 

Should I be concerned that the foam in the mattress under my head has a better memory than I do?

Was Eddie Cochran’s “Somethin’ Else” the first record to use a nuclear-powered drum kit?

Will I get the collywobbles tonight? Why hasn’t some rock band chosen that name?

Am I being wishy-washy on animal testing if I am against making cats do true or false but I’m not sure about rabbits being given multiple choice questions?

Did Bobby Knight graduate from the Dick the Bruiser School of Charm?

If BGH is safe, why is it that some farmers now have to reach above their heads to milk their cows?

Why is it that the same tailor who sizes up the man in front of me as “a Cary Grant Harris Tweed with flecks” then looks at me and says, “For you, a Spike Jones eye-popper with even wider checks”?

Isn’t it strange that the models in the Victoria’s Secret catalogs have bedroom eyes and most of the people who receive the catalogs have bunkhouse thighs?

Why is it that publishers of tabloids think the important question to ask every November is not “Where were you on the day JFK was shot?” but rather “Where was JFK on the day he was shot?”

If the teenage daughter of the bearded lady at the circus started to sprout hair on her cheeks, would her mother boast to friends “I’ve grown a custom to her face”?

Am I the only one who still thinks Ferris Bueller is an iron supplement?

If I had my druthers, what could I get for them at a pawnshop?














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The Plateful Dead 3

     Almost every trip to a local store will bring us into contact with vehicles bearing vanity plates. While most drivers are pondering over what the combination of seven letters and/or numbers mean, my thoughts are far away as I ruminate about the famous folks no longer with us. Surely in some aery realm the status-conscious who reached earthly heights must be navigating from cloud to cloud or sphere to sphere bearing a badge of identification fore and aft. Look up instead of down and see more plates coming into view right now…

Humphrey Bogart: BOGYMAN

Andy Devine: JINGLES

Edmund Gwenn: KRINGLE

Dave Brubeck: TAKE 5

Bobby Darin: MACKNFE

Dobie Gray: INCROWD

William Boyd: HOPPY

Franklin Pangborn: FOPPY

Henry Fonda: 12ANGMN

Richard Boone: HAVEGUN

Jerry Colonna: HAVEFUN

John Stewart: LSTNSUN

Peter Finch: MADASH

Ed Sullivan: BIGSHOE

George Jones: NO-SHOW

Gene Barry: BATMAST

Marilyn Monroe: EYEFUL

Chuck Connors: RIFLMAN

Carroll O’Connor: STFLMAN

Ronald Colman: DOUBLIF

Errol Flynn: GENTJIM

Babe Ruth: SULTAN

Beverly Garland: DECOY

Joan Crawford: MILPIRC

Eleanor Parker: CAGED

Jack E. Leonard: NSULTIN

Rudolph Nureyev: LEAPER

Rondo Hatton: CREEPER

Wally Cox: PEEPERS

Michael Landon: LITLJOE

Lorne Greene: BENCART

Michael Rennie: KLAATU

Ethel Merman: URTHTOP

Betty Hutton: HAD2BU

Tom Laughlin: BILYJAC

Ginger Rogers: KITFOYL

Allison Hayes: 50FOOTR

Red Grange: 77GHOST

Walter Payton: 34SWEET

Alan Lane: MR ED

Rudy Vallee: MYTIME

Al Capone: MYCRIME

Isaac Asimov: IROBOT

James Sears: I&ROBUK

Paul Newman: COOLUKE

Peggy Lee: MANANA

David Janssen: FUGITIV

Neil Armstrong: 1SMSTP

Jim Croce: DONTMES

Oliver Hardy: FINEMES

James Arness: MDILLON

Buddy Ebsen: DOGGIES

Bettie Page: UNDYGAL

Frank Morgan: WIZARD

Maria Ouspenskaya: WIZENED

Craig Stevens: BIGGUNN

Jack Paar: KIDUNOT

Duke Ellington: SATNDOL

Raymond Burr: PMASON

Alan Reed: YABADAB

Gale Storm: LILMARG

Dale Hawkins: SUZIE Q

George Gershwin: RHAPBLU

Richard Widmark: UKNOUDO

Tom Ewell: 7YRITCH

Susan Hayward: WNT2LIV

Charles Bronson: DETHWSH

Veronica Lake: PEEKABO

Jerry Reed: YURHOT

Ben Gazzara: RUN4LIF

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Now Hear This

Long ago and far away when I was teaching students in all four grades of  high school, I attempted to convey to them how the phrasing and diction used by authors such as William Faulkner, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and Edgar Allan Poe were as idiosyncratic as the sounds produced by popular groups and singers by playing a classroom version of Name That Tune with the aid of my personal Wollensak reel-to-reel tape player. After hearing the first dozen notes of Keith’s plucking on “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” or “Hey, You” barked out by Mick before ordering everyone off  his cloud, even freshmen knew they were rolling with the Stones. Although most of the girls were toddlers during the King’s early reign, they repeated the folly of their siblings after “Little sister, don’t you do what your big sister done” by admitting that warning could only have come from Elvis. Boys proved to be true to their school, knowing that “Tach it up, tach it up” tagged that refrain as the Shut Down style of Brian Wilson and his fellow Beach Boys. The climax of “Just once in my life” was just enough to reveal the unmistakable, Righteous blend of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield. The distinctive flavor of the Tijuana Brass came through after hearing a few notes dripping from Herb’s trumpet in the form of a taste of honey. A spelling lesson ended abruptly after “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” because those letters pointed to only one logical answer: A-R-E-T-H-A.

I doubt if any of those teens would have called that diversion “Fun, Fun, Fun” even if I had presented the winners with keys to T-Birds their fathers had taken from them, but maybe it helped them to see a connection between literature and music. After the students read “The Fall of the House of Usher,” The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, and  “The Chrysanthemums,” I used one of the district’s boxy Califone record players to play full versions of  “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “I Got the Feelin’ (Oh No, No),” “It’s Too Late,” and “Early Morning Rain” as a way of demonstrating how tunesmiths Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, Carole King, and Gordon Lightfoot played variations on the same themes of alienation, fatalism, or disillusionment as authors Poe, Carson McCullers, and John Steinbeck.

I still admire the craftsmanship of those three writers and four troubadours. Every now and then I also think about those students and wonder what they are doing with their lives as cooks, carpenters, wives, mathematicians,  poets, singers, or educators. They are on my mind now, in Al Stewart’s words, like a “Song on the Radio.” Many recording artists produced such distinctive sounds that just hearing a few chords from any of their hits brings back instant recognition. My talking head says, “This must be the place” in time to that naïve melody just as that “wake up” start from The Cars is “Just what I needed” to help me roll with the changes. The bulb that goes on at the opening of “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” is illumination still beaming bright from the Electric Light Orchestra. I know the Moody Blues are out there somewhere in my wildest dreams. Though Chrissie Hynde is only human, there is no pretending that her inflections are so distinctive she can easily be heard doing backing vocals on overlooked gems like Nick Lowe’s “People Change.” What doesn’t change is that, even after 50 years of performing together, the Stones keep rolling on in their inimitable fashion, even when doing covers of  “Not Fade Away,”  “Just My Imagination,” or “Little Queenie.”  The lengthy vamp that points toward “Swingtown” could only have been charted by the Steve Miller Band and would never be mistaken for the “Skateaway” path Dire Straits paved for the roller girl or for the opening swamp crawl that gave credence to CCR’s “Born on the Bayou.” The quirky lyrics and antics of excitable boy Warren Zevon indelibly stamp him as Mr. Bad Example. People have the power to distinguish between the totally different messages of Patti Smith and that of the warrior, Patty Smyth.  Carly Simon keeps coming around with the stuff that dreams are made of just as Paul Simon is still crazy after all these years.

My grandnephews and grandnieces are amazed when I identify singers and song titles after listening to just a few seconds of recordings originally released years before Bill Haley and his Comets were rocking around the clock. I suspect that acute listening, attending to what is heard, has become a lost art. Because children born in the 1940s and 1950s came of age when sound was still more important than images, they learned to recognize singers and bands by their voices or instrumentations. In the days before the advent of music videos and the proliferation of personal appearances, youngsters often heard the music on AM radio before they even knew what the performers looked like. (To borrow some slang from that era, the patter of our favorite DJs while spinning platters from stacks of wax got in our ears before the Platters’ smoke got in our eyes on TV.) Singers demonstrated a distinctive vocal quality; that was what made them recording standouts. Indeed, the sleeves of Brunswick records carried the slogan “Every artist an artist,” suggesting that each of the musicians and vocalists in the Brunswick stable was sui generis. With my eyes (and ears) wide open, I could never misidentify the singular voices of Patti Page, Dinah Shore, Teresa Brewer, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Rosemary Clooney, Eartha Kitt, Peggy Lee, Pearl Bailey, Doris Day, and Jo Stafford. If I lived to the end of time as a prisoner of love, I wouldn’t let the stars that got in my eyes plug up my ears so that I could confuse Perry Como with Bing Crosby, Nat Cole, Frank Sinatra or any of the other males ringing the gong on the hit parade like Eddie Fisher, Vaughn Monroe, Dick Haymes, Tony Bennett, Billy Eckstine, Frankie Laine, Guy Mitchell, Vic Damone, and Tony Martin. None of us would even consider sitting under the apple tree with anyone other than Patty, LaVerne, and Maxine, sugartime could only be spent with Phyllis, Christine, and Dorothy, and melodies of love rendered by the Brothers Ames and Mills could only be misattributed by tune-deaf dolts unable to differentiate between a tiger rag and a rag mop.

I hope my former students, many of whom are now grandparents of teens themselves, have kept their auditory nerves fine-tuned to the differences in musical sounds beamed their way over the last 40 years or so. No perceptive listener should mistake Juice Newton’s complaint about how tough love has been on her with Olivia Newton John’s urge to get physical, or a Duane Eddy instrumental for one played by the Ventures or Floyd Cramer, much less confuse Linda Ronstadt with Bonnie Raitt, Bobby Darin with Bobby Rydell, Bo Diddley with Chuck Berry, Wilson Pickett with Little Richard, Sam Cooke with Otis Redding, the Supremes with the Shirelles, Five Americans with the 5th Dimension, Four Tops with the Four Seasons, Karen Carpenter with Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jackson Browne with James Brown, Barry Manilow with Barry White, Bruce Springsteen with Tom Petty,  Roy Orbison with Jack Scott,  Gene Pitney with B.J. Thomas. Just as one would not mistake Chicago for Boston because of the distance between those famous places both in miles and styles, so it’s more than a feeling that the odds of confusing the hits of the rock bands named after the two cities are worse than 25 to 6 or 4. It would take more than four strong winds and a ride on the M.T.A. or a jet plane for listeners to forget the folksy harmonies of Ian and Sylvia, Peter, Paul and Mary, and the Kingston Trio.

If I shared the beauties of “The Chrysanthemums” with students today, I would stop by the “Side of the Road” “Once in a Very Blue Moon” in the tracks made by Lucinda Williams and Nanci Griffith. Steinbeck’s portrait of the yearnings of an unfulfilled woman injects a lasting ache in the heart just as the poignancy of the inimitable scale-climbing present in Lucinda’s “Did she love him and take her hair down at night?” and Nanci’s plaintive “Like I’m the only one who’s getting up from a fall” crush us with a wave of emotion that is almost too much to bear. After finishing that story and playing those songs, the reader/listener is sadder and wiser–which is what great works of art often do to those blessed with eyes to see and ears to hear.

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Tough to Hack

It has been over 40 years since “Desiderata,” a litany of uplifting thoughts (e.g., “Be gentle with yourself”) penned by Max Ehrmann in 1906 and recorded by Les Crane, was lampooned in “Deteriorata,” an “answer” spoken record which punctured the myth of each individual’s perceived significance with pithy putdowns like “You are a fluke of the universe” and “You have no right to be here.”

Although it has easily been three decades since I last heard that novelty hit, the refrains of that parody returned when I opened a bag of cough drops recently and discovered that one company is including “a pep talk in every drop.” Instead of wrapping your troubles in dreams like the title of the well-known song from the Great Depression, this company wraps each drop with encouraging messages like “Power through” and “Nothing you can’t handle” meant to help users endure the agony of colds.

The reality is that if sufferers could handle anything they would not need of bursts of cherry-flavored, mentholated glucose to cope during their two-week ordeal of head and chest congestion. Clichés borrowed from athletic trainers and coaches do not flow easily from inflamed throat and mouth membranes. A dose of reality is just what the doctor ordered, especially if that medico learned from phony physician Demento.

We are told “Let’s hear your battle cry.” All right, here it is: “Don’t touch any doorknob without wearing less than two pairs of gloves!”

“Put a little strut in it” belongs on the same work order with “Rotate your tires.”

“Conquer today” is taking too long a view when “If I can just keep down breakfast and make it to lunch” is the one constant thought of the victim.

“Get back in there, champ” is best answered by “I’m tired of buckling down and pushing forth!”

The gullible will opt for “Tough is your middle name.” The crafty chose “SOS is my initials” and “Where do I go to surrender?”

Does it “Inspire envy” to “Dust off and get up” and “Keep your chin up”? Of course not.  A better tack: “Grovel in abject agony while sinking into obscurity.”

The truth of the matter is that when one is suffering through the miseries of a cold the only thing that matters is getting past that miserable time as quickly as possible. As we grow older, each ride aboard the rhinovirus seems more agonizing, and reading trite expressions like “You’ve survived tougher” only prompts one to reply sarcastically, “Not since I visited Job in Uz.”






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