The Way Life’s Meant to Be

From the moment I spotted the 12” x 9” cerulean letters on the floor of a wide booth at an antique mall, I suspected there was going to be a showdown before I left the building on that bright Friday afternoon. As I continued on, viewing the offers in the other booths, those letters became a living thing, casting a strange magic over me. Though my eyes were gazing at other objects in other aisles, the strains of “Can’t Get It Out of My Head” were drawing me back to hold on tight to my dreams.

Now, all over the world while others turn to stone because they are so serious, any visitor, without boarding the last train to London or calling America, can gaze at the three metal letters the color of Mr. Blue Sky arranged on a shelf above a workbench just inside my garage door. There, without living secret lives, they can stand in a place where rock and roll is king, appreciating the symmetry of the evenly-spaced letters E L O.

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Got a Date with an Angle

Nothing in the August issue of Automobile attracted my attention more than an advertisement on page 11 which has nothing whatsoever to do with cars. It was not the “jaw dropping good looks” of the watches on that page that opened my mouth in surprise nor any of the other features trumpeted so boldly such as the price of $99 (reduced from $899), three sub-dials to keep track of the day of the week, month, and 24 hours, nor the choice of three colors for both watch and watchband. What I keep coming back to in the ad is this statement: “A handy date widow completes this piece.”

Just what I have been looking for all these years! At my age dates with widows are preferable to suppers with spinsters, especially if the widows have been around the incabloc once or twice.

Unfortunately, no more is said about this feature so some questions naturally emerge. Does she walk? Does she talk? Does she come complete? If she is handy as the ad claims, can she repair said timepiece if it malfunctions? Are her joints covered by the same 5-year unlimited warranty as the watch? Will she be as timely as the watch promises to be so that if I was going to meet her at seven, will I be on my way to heaven, or will she be confused by the fact there is no numeral 7 on any of the dials (sub or topside), and insist on meeting at a nebulous time such as when the moon is in the seventh house?

Until these questions are answered to my satisfaction I will refrain from taking advantage of this offer. The one condition which will completely halt any further pursuit in The Case of the Watchful Widow is if I learn that the widow’s present occupation is proofreader of ad copy for the Tidemaster watch.




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Watch Your Step Up

   In a full-page advertisement printed in a local newspaper a bath company invites readers to see, feel, and love cultured stone in any of 60 colors and five styles. The question that immediately comes to mind is “Will any of those styles fit the lifestyle of the average homeowner?”

I suspect just the concept of having stone in the bathroom that is more refined than users will cause some readers to hesitate before reaching for the phone and wonder if they will appear unsophisticated in such a refined environment.

The sounds of Led Zeppelin currently booming throughout that room may be trampled underfoot and need to be replaced by selections from The Magic Flute or Aida.

     The stark photographs taken by Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe will have to come down, in favor of prints by Mary Cassatt or Winslow Homer.

In place of the tawdry paperbacks marked by dog-eared pages will be a neat pile of the seven volumes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time or a 12-pack of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time.

Bathroom (not ballroom) dancing will undergo a change as wet feet will now forego the fantastic boogaloo down Broadway technique of Johnny C and instead stretch for a towel using the Margot Fonteyn penché.

Taking said towel from an ordinary bar affixed to a shower door will be considered déclassé. In a cultured bathroom one removes a super plush spa towel resting delicately on a mobile or maquette.

Of course, this sea change in lavatory protocol seems as contrived as the definition of cultured in the manufacturing sense: “Produced under artificial and controlled conditions.”

In letters shaded a piquant lime (undoubtedly one of the 60 color choices) the ad encourages action with the admonition “You’ve Waited Long Enough!” As for me, I will wait until I get more polished than my surroundings promise to be.


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At Issue

As if magazines didn’t have enough topics to cover in their glossy, ad-heavy pages, now and then some bright staff members suggest devoting an issue to a specific topic that will catch the attention of the distracted multitude. Recent examples to be seen on newsstands and in store windows are Esquire (Super Retro Issue), Travel + Leisure (Adventure Issue), Bon Appétit (Grilling Issue), and Bloomberg Businessweek (Heist Issue).

Here are some suggestions for other periodicals anxious to strike while the fad is hot:

     The Attic Issue of Architectural Digest would focus on how the trendy set on the East and West Coast spray paint cobwebs with glitter, shape dust bunnies into quaint mini pots, and arrange storage chests into creative mazes that keep mice scurrying with delight.

The Heap Issue of Hot Rod will showcase the efforts of many a misguided, frustrated amateur mechanic who discover too late their barn find turns out to be a lost cause.

The Benchwarmer Issue of Sports Illustrated would feature athletes like the utility infielder who played for three Major League clubs over a 12-year career in which he came to bat a total of 46 times, compiling a batting average of .109, and the gangling NBA center who never took off his warm-up jacket.

Astronomy’s Way Out Issue would be dedicated to the first nine plans from outer space with much speculation why plan ten might succeed with a flying carpet woven from carbon fibers.

The Get Down Issue of Field & Stream goes down under to demonstrate techniques of dipping low to bag ground-hugging game with boomerangs while having the advantage of errant flings returning to senders who do not forget to duck.

The Lazy Issue of Fitness could highlight a dozen exercises that can be done without getting out of bed and promote three gummy granola cereals which require no chewing.

Rolling Stone’s Going Up the Country Issue would look back at the roots of rockabilly with salutes to Bob Wills and Spade Cooley, yodeling lessons from a disciple of Slim Whitman, and an interview with a Kansas DJ known as the King of Rube Radio.

The Bellicose Issue of Mother Jones reveals how most government agents and military brass should be wearing numbers on their uniforms instead of badges or stripes and suggests that the only safe food for human consumption is raw prickly pear.

       National Geographic’s Alphabet Issue would cover all creatures great and small from aardvarks to zyzzyvas while providing the additional benefit of allowing keystrokers everywhere to touch them all.

The Staid Issue of InStyle would bend backwards to get ahead of the curve with the articles “High Fashion with High Button Shoes,” “Corsets Are Here to Stay,” and “Bustle Hustle.”

Smithsonian finally gives the face in the crowd a chance in its Finders Keepers Issue so the small-time collector gets to show off lifelong accumulations of cherry pits, key fobs, peach fuzz, warts, wooden nickels, and petrified pickles.

These suggestions will suffice for the nonce. Some zealous blowhard working for one of the health magazines is probably already looking ahead to the cold and flu season so don’t be surprised this winter to see The Tissue Issue.


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He Put the Bop

      “Hi There, High School” was a periodical published by Scholastic Magazine in the 1940s to introduce teens to the ways of academic life in grades 9-12. The 1947 edition included sections devoted to study habits, clubs, traffic patterns in hallways, etiquette, and fashion tips. Perhaps the most interesting section is the two-page dictionary of high school slang.

Some of the expressions have not changed: buzz off, big wheel, clam up, drop dead, flick, groovy, neat, snap course. Terms that have fallen into disuse include concrete, creamy, doll, hoe-down, huckster, jam session, kink in my conk, pocket cabbage, Roger, mur-der, and whistle bait.

It may surprise teens today who regularly type LOL, NOYB, and TIA that acronyms did not begin with the computer age. In a time when snail mail and the telephone carried the day and the sentiments, post-war teen acronyms included O.A.O. (One and Only), B.B.D.C.Y.K. (Bye Bye Darling. Consider Yourself Kissed.), C.O.D. (Come over, dear!), D.D.T. (Drop Dead Twice), and H.U.P.R.L.H. (Hurry Up, Postman. Run Like Heck.)

It wasn’t until 1960 that Neil Sedaka came along with a special brand of slang that had a groovy beat to it. “Coma coma down doobie doo down down” means “Breaking Up Is Hard to Do.” “Whoa whoa whoa whoa yeah yeah yeah” means “Little Devil.” “Do Do Do doobie bop bop she doobie bop” means “Next Door to an Angel.” “Tralalalalalala” means “Happy Birthday, Sweet 16.” “Dum dum down rat oh too” means “Let’s Go Steady Again.”

It would not startle any Sedaka fan if someone discovers a cut from a forgotten recording session with the catchy line “Locker locker near me me” which means “Hi There, Miss High School.” Everyone who wants to be atomic should listen to Neil the Man if they don’t want to be considered strictly from hunger.

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Taking the Good with the Bad

It must have occurred to other people as it has to me that sometimes in vernacular English good and bad mean the same thing if used in conjunction with a verb associated with pain or something unpleasant.

A notable example is when we come across, say, a pile of rotting garbage or a decaying dead animal. In each instance we are likely to mutter “That stinks pretty bad” or “That stinks pretty good,” both meaning the offal has an awful odor. I, for one, would never consider commenting on the pleasant fragrance in a room by using either expression, yet by substituting smells for stinks in “That smells pretty good” no offense would be meant or taken.

(After someone suffers a cut or insect bite, we also might use the two expressions interchangeably in “I bet that stings pretty good” and “I bet that stings pretty bad.”)

Maybe it is best to just leave adjectives out of statements so people will really know what we mean all the time as in the declarative sentence made famous the J. Geils Band in 1980: “Love Stinks.” Otherwise we might not be trusted to deliver Hamlet’s reflection on the interpretation on values as written by Shakespeare, instead corrupting the sentiment to “There is nothing either good or bad, but stinking makes it so.”


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A Little Knowledge

One of the better-known journals in the field of antiques featured an article intended to enlighten consumers about ten things they didn’t know were collectible. Undoubtedly some readers agreed with the title statement while others scoffed and perhaps even declared out loud “I knew that.” This reader has the attitude expressed by a character in Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop: “Up to a point, Lord Copper.”

Scrapbooks which provide a record of significant historical events like wars or ship voyages can certainly be of interest to museums and university archives. Books filled with food scraps left over from family picnics and class reunions will only appeal to a modern Typhoid Mary or Toxic Tommy.

A monogrammed handkerchief belonging to a famous musician such as Louis Armstrong or a linen souvenir from a royal wedding would look attractive in any home. A framed hankie kept by a woman who attended a concert in 1968 and who claims “Tom Jones wiped his sweat on this” merits a title of one of the Welsh rocker’s hits: “I (Who Have Nothing).”

Menus from notable cruise lines or from well-known restaurants such as the Brown Derby or Copacabana certainly have some appeal to collectors. A sauce-stained card listing 21 varieties of egg foo young offered by the Wong Time No See carryout should be carried out with the lemon peels.

Photo albums containing vintage black-and-white images of visits to historic sites like Gettysburg or European cathedrals capture a time period, especially if the people in the images are wearing dresses, hats, or suits of the period. Multiple snapshots of orange-tinged diapered children taking their first steps across shag carpets in ghastly­–decorated living rooms only add nausea to the ad nauseam.

Telephone directories are quickly discarded when new directories arrive, yet phone books from metropolitan areas are sought by genealogists and historians. A directory from 1997 with multiple dog-eared pages found in the back of a basement cabinet under half-empty cans of paint will likely be unusual only in the fact that all of the damp pages qualify as yellow pages.

No one can be blamed for saving Christmas cards, particularly if the cards are handmade or dated on the front with a colorful illustration by a well-known artist. Keeping every holiday card received since 1983 in shoe boxes, including those sent annually by the local pest exterminator, will provide few pleasant memories, just a nesting spot for mice and silverfish.

Though timetables may seem behind the times in a society where being tardy is valued, railroad and steamship schedules are sought out by collectors of transportation ephemera. Collections of “Sorry We Missed You” door hangers are not missed or valued by anyone other than hoarders.

Fabric sample books are admittedly a niche collecting interest, attractive mainly to interior decorators, fashion designers, and those who find salesmen sampler books fascinating for the variety of swatches included. Compulsive savers who rescue every useable piece of cloth from holey shirts and pants will end up a thing of shreds and patches.

Labels from grand hotels in exotic places like Singapore, Monte Carlo, and Rangoon were often affixed to suitcases of travelers by bellhops, and now those luggage labels with art deco graphics are desirable if they can be found in unused condition such as the example from the Repulse Bay Hotel in Hong Kong illustrated in the article. Beer-soaked coasters are only painful reminders of a repulsive stay at the Low Rate/We Fumigate Motel.

Paper bags are certainly a borderline collectible sought only if the sharp graphics suggest they were produced for an event like a concert, the premiere of a film, or introduction of a new product. Anyone who missed those events can amuse themselves by taking a brand new bag and writing “Papa James Brown” on it.

The adage “Collect what you like” is still the best advice. Let the refuse collectors take the rest.


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