Yearning to Fly without Wings

Every issue of The Red Bulletin claims to go “Beyond the Ordinary” by covering extremely risky sports and daredevil activities that would surely daunt Old Scratch himself who did some remarkable freefalling of his own.  In the January 2017 issue the staff takes flying leaps to a new level. The Gallery section jumps off the deep end with a shot of a skydiving team ascending behind hot-air balloons on a pendulum swing just before a beginning a four-second descent and a 5,900 freefall. “It’s everyone’s dream,” skydiver Georg Lettner says, “to swing higher and higher, and finally jump off and fly.” Speak for yourself, Georg. It is also everyone’s nightmare to plummet from a high place in a parachute that never opens.

According to the secretary of the Four Lakes Ice Yacht Club quoted on page 25, ice sailing on frozen lakes near Madison is “The closet feeling to flying to can get.” Judging by the warm temperatures forecast for Wisconsin this week, being on frigid waters in boats equipped with sails will be the closest feeling to drowning you can get.

On page 62 Bryce Menzies is shown airborne in a truck during his record-breaking 379-foot leap over a ghost town in New Mexico. The editors coyly add “And a crash that make you cringe.” The prospect of whether Menzies will crash again at some time and become a ghost himself will also leave readers cringing.

Jumping out of a plane without a parachute is more than a little cringe-worthy, yet the editors applaud one Luke Atkins who did exactly that and lived to share his story. “The landing didn’t hurt,” Atkins said. “My right shoulder looked like a tennis racket had smacked me, but it was gone in the morning.” He doesn’t say whether his shoulder or the pain had disappeared by the dawn’s early light.

Right up to the final page titled “Makes You Fly” the editors have their heads in the clouds by showcasing a wakeboarder easing his way over a flying container in Pula, Croatia. (There is no indication successful jumps are met with cheers of “Pula Pula” in the same way Yalies love to chant “Boola Boola” at football games.) “The first time is scary,” says wakeboard pro Felix Georgii. “But after a while you just love it.” Most readers are likely to say to themselves and anyone nearby, “You just love it. We’re still cringing.”

Those same readers are not likely to “Love the Beast” shown swimming on page 71 by going cageless shark diving and believing that sharks are “not to be feared but embraced.” Constant Reader who is encouraged to “Open Your Mind” is likely to respond with “Only if you can guarantee that the sharks will not open their jaws while being hugged.”

Even fewer readers of The Red Bulletin taking part in the Dakar Rally which just concluded on January 14 followed the advice given in tip #37 regarding what to do if a vehicle hits an animal: “Put it on the barbecue. South American steaks are the stuff of legend.” Solid evidence for the indigestibility of road kill can be found in Loudon Wainwright’s legendary “Dead Skunk.”

The best counsel given in the entire magazine as to whether anyone should attempt the exceedingly dangerous activities described in The Red Bulletin can be found in the final words of tip #39 regarding the chances of winning the Dakar Rally: “See how it works, get good at it…Otherwise, never.”

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The Plateful Dead 7

 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…

Glenn Frey: ALRDYGN

Patty Duke: CALANNA


Gram Parsons: BURNDUP

George Gobel: DRTYBRD

Woody Guthrie: THSLAND

Nicolette Larson: LOTALUV

Gordie Howe: MRHOCKY

Morton Downey Jr.: ZIP IT


Jack Lemmon: SAVTIGR

Muhammad Ali: GRETEST

Eddie Cochran: SOMELSE

George Michael: WHAMMAN

Abe Vigoda: GO FISH

Minnesota Fats: RACEMUP

Buddy Holly: NOTFADE

Greg Lake: LUKYMAN

Gene Wilder: WONKA

Percy Sledge: TAKTIME

Carrie Fisher: PRNLEIA

Jack Kerouac: ONTHERD

Janet Waldo: CORLISS

Debbie Reynolds: UNSNKBL

Bob Marley: REGKING

Rex Reason: ISLERTH

Charmian Carr: LIESL

George Halas: BEARMAN

Julius La Rosa: CUMPARI

Hershell Gordon Lewis: WIZGORE


Florence Henderson: MABRADY

Oscar Brand: GUYSGUY

Walter Matthau: GRUMPY

Hugh O’Brian: WY EARP

Ella Fitzgerald: LADY EL

John Zacherle: WHEVRUR

Noel Neill: LOSLANE

Irving Berlin: BLUSKYS

Tammy Grimes: MOLYBRN

Buford Pusser: WALKTAL

W.P. Kinsella: DANCOUT

Cab Calloway: HIDEEHI

Joe Strummer: BHINDI B

Jean Shepard: SLPNAWA

Harry Chapin: CATCRDL

Douglas Adams: 42

Leonard Cohen: IMYRMAN

Sonny James: YUNLOVE

Edie Sedgwick: CIAO


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Who Stole the Stollen?

Abbott and Costello fans fondly remember how Bud and Lou raked in some kneaded dough from the loafing routine over 60 years ago. What tasty morsels those funnymen might cook up from all the delicious bakery items being offered in stores during the holidays. So let’s picture them working in Fields’ Department Store during the busy Christmas season. No, not Marshall Field’s–this store is owned by their foil in toil, Sid Fields.


Costello: Hey, Abbott. Today while I’m up on the third floor playing Santa Claus for all the kiddies in the toy department, what are you going to be doing down here in the kitchen? You’re not to be loafing again like you did last summer.

Abbott: Of course not. I’ll be making all the favorite recipes Mr. Fields and his customers love this time of year. They all want my special recipe for the best dessert of all.

Costello: Well, that’s great because I like fruitcake and–

Abbott: No, no. Not fruitcake. Stollen.

Costello: You stole the recipe? Now, Abbott, that’s not a nice thing­­ to do.

Abbott: Of course not. It’s my secret recipe.

Costello: For what?

Abbott:  Stollen. It’s my authentic recipe.

Costello: How can it be yours if you stole it?

Abbott: Not stole it. Stollen.

Costello: Let me smell your breath. What’s in it?

Abbott: Well, first you get some rum…

Costello: I thought so! What else?

Abbott: Well, I add some golden sultanas and some candied fruit jewels.

Costello: Sultanas and jewels? Who ordered this thing? The Queen of Sheba? What do you call this mess?

Abbott: Marzipan Stollen.

Costello: It’s getting worse and worse. You stole this recipe for this stuff and now you’re going to make it in Margie’s pan. Shame on you, Abbott!

Abbott: Costello, you don’t understand. I don’t put it in Margie’s pan. Marzipan goes in the loaf.

Costello: It gets worse all the time. Abbott, it was bad enough when you tried to stick stolen jewels in a cake so you can have the richest loaf in town but when you’re sticking my little Margie in a pan and shoving her in the oven like Hansel and Gretel, that’s going too far.

Abbott: Oh, I can’t talk to you –

Costello: Why don’t you make something sensible like pudding.

Abbott: I do make pudding.

Costello: What kind?

Abbott: Plum.

Costello: Plumbed? What do you eat it with? A pipe wrench?

Abbott: Don’t be silly. After you take the pudding out of the oven, you put it on a plate and pour sauce over it.

Costello: I bet there’s some rum in that sauce. What do you call the sauce?

Abbott: Hard sauce.

Costello: Hard sauce! How can you pour hard sauce?

Abbott: It isn’t hard! It’s creamy. It’s creamy, hard sauce.

Costello: Abbott, that does it! From now on, no more sampling of the rum before you come to the store.

Abbott: Oh, I can’t waste any more time with you. I’ve got to get these long johns ready to be baked.

Costello: Long johns? You’re putting your winter underwear in the oven?

Abbott: Certainly not. They’re going in the same time as the shortcakes.

Costello: Long johns and short cakes! Now you sound like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Why can’t you get an oven for just the middle-sized things like pies. I mean, even my sassy girlfriend Lena Genster likes pies.

Abbott: I know that. You see that tray over there? That’s hers. They’re mincemeat tarts.

Costello: She just likes them! She doesn’t want to be chopped up in them like Margie and your red flannels!

Sid Fields [Voice on the PA]: Costello, get up here. The kids are all asking for you. It’s time for you to get into your Santa Claus outfit. We’re keeping the big chair by the tree and toys warm for you.

Costello: Believe me, Mr. Fields, I’m on the hot seat down here already.

Sid Fields [Voice on PA]: And Abbott, remember how I like my favorite pastry. I like it very, very well done.

Abbott:  Mr. Fields, I was just about going to hand roll crisp kringle right now.

Costello: Oh, now you don’t! I’m getting out of here! Mr. Fields, get ready: one cold Kris Kringle coming right up! [Exits shrieking.]


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Peculiar Science 5

The November/December Popular Science jumps into the Best of What’s New by seeing the road ahead through very foggy glasses inside a Uber vehicle on autopilot. The Uber wizard who claims on page 14 “If we can drive in Pittsburgh, we can drive anywhere” is invited to drop one of his driverless autos on a Wisconsin rural road during an ice storm or blizzard this winter to do some slipping and sliding with little moving and grooving.

The question “Should I replace my laptop with a tablet?” is posted but not answered on page 16. Those readers confused by the diagram and remarks might be better off by skipping that page, taking two tablets at bedtime, and calling the next morning to cancel their subscription.

The creator of Little Bits profiled on pages 26 and 28 believes her building blocks which snap together for high-tech DIY projects will “empower kids very early on to feel they are change-makers.” Because so many high school graduates are unemployed or marking time behind counters in menial jobs, society would be better off if we could teach them how to make change.

The head astronomer in the quest for finding a habitable planet is quoted twice in the same paragraph on page 30 as counting on chance even more than science: “if we’re lucky…” and “We have to be lucky…” Maybe we don’t need more artificial intelligence in outer space but more people out in the fields looking for four-leaf clovers.

Beginning on page 35 the cloudy spotlight shines on the Best of What’s New. Needle-free dentistry will soon take the form of squirts in the nostril which will numb that side of the face before the dentist starts drilling away. The process may be less painful but is apt to lead to more post-nasal dripping.

Readers should be numbed in order to believe the McLaren 570S is a “drivable Super Car” with a price tag of $184,900 or that they will snap at the bait of a $6,000 Canon camera just because it’s touted as a “fast-snapping 4K.”

The lugs who grab on to the shoe sole that “won’t slip on ice” may still fall down and go boom if they look up at the new Supersonic aircraft being developed and wonder why the descendants of the extinct Concorde haven’t learned the noisy lesson of that dinosaur.(Golfers who wonder what happened to those behemoths might be leery of paying $350  for the aircraft grade club shown on page 61 “which gives faster swings and distance to drives.” The shafts of the Estwings hammers made out of aircraft-grade aluminum shown on pages 68 and 69 might give pause to those with a hankering for heavy hitting.)

Baseball players who swing another kind of club and want to slug like Hammering Hank are now being advised to wield a hunk of wood like Barrelhouse Bunyan by wielding an axe bat at the plate. The MLB hitting coach who sees no downside to this contoured handled hunk of ash may alter his opinion when the first team to adopt it for all players on the team changes their nickname to the Blue Oxes.

The house paint that kills disease touted on page 70 is likely to drawn cynical responses similar to this one from coughers and sneezers at this time of the year as they battle their first winter colds: “That’s great. Now my walls are healthier than I am.”

Grand Winner of the best in Engineering is the Swiss government after  the opening of the Gotthard Base Tunnel through the Alps which involved sixteen years of moving over 1 million tons of rock so train travelers can travel from Zurich to Milan in 3½ hours instead of 4 hours as in the past. Some of those rocks must have landed on the heads of the editors if they think spending 16 years to save 30 minutes is grand.

The same editors who find that “artificial log fumes in theme parks are so yesteryear” turn their clocks back beyond yesteryear with a two-page story devoted to building a record player powered by the wind. Anyone who believes that contraption will generate enough energy to play a 45 RPM record is invited to share the same room with the person shown playing tic-tac-toe in a room-size computer. Aren’t computers that took up all sides of a room so very, very yesteryear?

The eye-catching callout at the top of the cover is “We Fact-Check Your Bad Ideas” which is precisely done as promised on the last page of the issue, page 114. The question remains “Who is checking the bad ideas on the first 113 pages?”



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Foul Play

There is hope for all those loyal fans who have left a stadium muttering such sentiments as “They really smelled up the joint” after witnessing woeful performances by their favorite teams. My solution: petition to have the name of the team changed to a creature befitting such odoriferous performances. After being squashed week after week and stinking to high heaven, the choice is obvious: the Dead Skunks.

Rather than pumping in the same popular songs like “Eye of the Tiger” and “Welcome to the Jungle” heard at other athletic contests to encourage enthusiasm, every turnover or boneheaded play by the Dead Skunks would be followed by strains of Loudon Wainwright’s anthem to deceased polecats. Instead of a wave spreading through the stands, all the fans would stand at once, pretend to be rolling down a window with one hand, hold their noses with the other, and then collapse back into their seats as if in a communal swoon.

Cheerleaders garbed in black leotards with white stripes will not have to improvise fancy cadences to shout before every blunder because Loudon provided the most succinct bleat this side of a Bronx cheer: “C’mon, stink!” When they get their wish, the cavorting cuties will break out with their no fight song that is more catchy than any eligible receiver on the field: “Eureka! Eureka! You really, really reeka!”

Diehard fans who remain in the middle of the road about such a change would be allowed to faint dead away as long as they did it thataway on specified concrete slabs under the bleachers but only on moonlit nights when they could be surrounded by former mascots now rendered inert: cat, dog, toad frog, rabbit, and raccoon.

Any inept coach would be immune from criticism because he would have a ready reply to questions after the other team’s captain boasts “Our defense is ranked #1” by simply quoting Hamlet: “My offense is rank.”

Of course, there may be objections by members of city councils who will invoke local ordinances prohibiting such a change in nomenclature. Wealthy owners of franchises can probably overcome this bump in the road by moving the team to a new location, build an enclosed effluvium on the site of a plant formerly used to manufacture glue, and call the new but not improved team the Old Factory Dead Skunks.


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Something Wicked This Way Stumbles

What lit my fire while reading the account of Jim Morrison’s short life in Tod Benoit’s informative book Where Are They Buried? is the revelation that in June 1970 Morrison married Patricia Kennealy, described by Benoit as “a practicing witch.”

Just where and what does a witch practice before she sets up her Ouija board shingle outside a clapboard shack teeming with bats and spiders?

I picture a witch academy in a dark, dark forest full of black-garbed klutzes being trained by hook-nosed hags cloned from Margaret Hamilton’s DNA.  Over there is a coven by the oven getting ready to cook Hansel burgers. Nearby are the Arachnid Kids complaining about toil and trouble while running around on the double.  Oafs Third Grade are consigned to the corral area where they are working on swinging their spindly legs over brooms without losing their balance. Wavering before hazy mirrors in the No Fun House are wispy figures smudging concoctions squeezed from thighs of newt and toes of frogs on their faces to get the bilious shade of green that meets the approval of their teacher. In the frozen caves newbies can be found sticking fingers in the icy waters of Styx just before they plop them up and down the spines of their victims. In the studio building chagrined charges are being castigated by their mentors for the weakness of their cackles, one teacher’s bellow overpowering the other voices: “You’ll never get rid of the dunce cap and earn your witch hat. Can’t you get it right? You’re supposed to be casting spells, not spelling c-a-s-t-s!”

On a plateau above the chaos the head witch shakes a head (not her own, just one grabbed from a fence post) and wonders aloud if this group will be ever be ready by Halloween. “These things are really rank and gross in or out of nature. Maggie, my weird sister out West, had the right idea. Oh that this too, too wicked flesh would melt my claws and end up in a pile of goo.”


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Peculiar Science 4

The left side of the masthead of the September/October Popular Science poses the query “Ever sat in a room full of geniuses?” That room was undoubtedly too full to admit the people listed on the right side of the page who are associated with that periodical.

On the Hit List page we take one step back to get somewhat off track with a device called Freewrite which allows a keyboarder to “Tap away without distraction on a digital typewriter” before uploading to the cloud. Staffers who believe this is simpler than making a Word document have their heads in some cloud. Or perhaps the puck shown on that page which translates knocks into commands has already bounced off their noggins. Staffers reeling from the school of hard knocks can smell their way to the fabric test in the lab to try on a shirt that keeps sweat close to the skin. “Dizzy, meet Stinky.”

Acrophobiacs will likely not be fond of taking the 870-foot bungee jump off the world’s longest and tallest glass bridge spanning China’s Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon. 25 is the spotlighted number of volunteers who repeatedly tested the cracked glass panels to test their durability. No number is given for the coerced testers whose haunting screams of “Eeeeeeyowww!” still echo throughout the area on certain eerie nights.

One item in the Next section really belongs in the Old News department, viz. “studies suggest the seafloor holds more trash than what floats on the surface.” Didn’t those scientists ever watch Godzilla?

The idea of injecting gel implants under the vocal membranes of entertainers comes too late to help Joe Cocker and Crusher Lisowski. Just where these implants are coming from is not explained, although I suspect any exotic dancers interviewed by the media have been warned to keep it under their tassels.

The very remote possibility of a very remote asteroid reaching earth remains a far, far distant threat, yet the alarmists continue to fret. Now we are being alerted to the danger of 101955 Bennu flying within 185,000 miles of our planet in 2135. This year NASA is going to launch a spacecraft to rendezvous with Ben in 2018 in hopes of finding out more about this very distant hunk of rock. Memo to the walking dead in 119 years: don’t wake me when it’s over us.

Immediately following this pursuit of something way out there is the cover story of the most social man on this planet, Mark Zuckerberg, who is also thinking far ahead with a safe prediction because few humans currently living will be around in 84 years to see if it comes true: “We can manage all diseases by the end of the century.” If his prediction is accurate, millions of people under the age of 20 now will be alive in that 22nd century. Memo to those centenarians in 2100: Don’t roll over me and Beethoven in your wheelchairs.

Zuck’s promotion of virtual reality certainly opens wide horizons for the future, although not all aspects of this concept seem that new such as “connecting even more frequently with people through a technology that tricks your mind into thinking it’s somewhere else, without actually having to be there.” Abbott and Costello were doing that routine 70 years ago without the help of Oculus.

To be fair, any innovator who is pledging most of his fortune toward the goals of advancing human potential and promoting equality and education should be admired rather than mocked. Also to be lauded in this issue is director Werner Herzog for his statement that reliance on the Internet is not a healthy thing and his advice “to read every day and develop critical and conceptual thinking.” When a writer, while interviewing a computer mastermind, considers the potentialities of the Internet by asking, “Will it be profound? Will it make us better citizens or more-realized human beings?,” one can almost believe the magazine is probing close to the heart of what matters in this brave new world.

But then sense gives way to a stream of nonsense such as reporting on a chef who cooked a paella made out of food waste for 5,000 people in Washington, D.C., a place famous for waste, and how an engineer helped the owners building the new 49ers stadium determine how many servers would be needed to get hot dogs to customers. (Wouldn’t it be more logical to determine how to get forward passes into the hands of wide receivers?). One candidate for the “Oh, Really?” department is research which “suggests that being fed, caffeinated, and well-rested can each boost brain flexibility.” In the next issue we can probably expect this startling revelation: “Extending the arm and opening the fingers of the hand is an efficient way to pick up a pencil.”







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