Get a Grip

In the days of flaming redheads like Rita Hayworth we could, according to the song in Gilda, “Put the Blame on Mame.” In the present day and the present place (the greater Milwaukee area) the wording might be “Because They Put the Bronze on Fonz.”

It is likely that had not a statue of Fonzie been erected on the Milwaukee Riverwalk there would not be a campaign to build a life-size replica of South Milwaukee’s famous son, wrestler Reggie Lisowski, better known as The Crusher.

Lisowski, who died in 2005, seemed to enjoy life both inside and out of the ring. Legends like a Reggie regimen taking the form of running with beer barrels on his massive shoulders endeared him to fans both near and far from Suds City. Inside the ropes, he and tag team partner Dick the Bruiser used every shady maneuver to get the best of their opponents and bring out the jeers and cheers from the crowds. In 1959 the Novas immortalized the grappler in song, encouraging dancers gyrating to “The Crusher” to do the eye gouge and the hammerlock on their partners.

So far a small amount of the $40,000 goal has been raised through GoFundMe. It is obvious more effort needs to be exerted at the grass roots level if a bronze figure of Lisowski flexing his sizeable biceps is going to become a landmark. Here are some helpful suggestions to induce people to contribute without resorting to the head squeeze.

Children can start their own ComePinMe fundraiser by flopping back on a mat at school, getting friends to slap the mat three times, and then snarling “I wuz robbed!”

Shoe clerks can ask for a donation each time they use a stepover toe hold to put footgear on a customer.

Karate students can temporarily replace the traditional “Kiai” with “Grrrr” as they body slam each other at $5.00 a throw.

Butchers can add a surcharge for each tasty tidbit of Galliformed nape they sell from now until Thanksgiving and growling “Take that, you turkey neck!”

Newlyweds can raise large amounts of money simply by asking everyone invited to the wedding to donate for the privilege of witnessing the couple bend ring fingers back mercilessly until each one screams out “I give up!” instead of “I do.”

Delis could add 25¢ to phone orders received for hero sandwiches as a “Sub Mission Hold” fundraiser.

In an homage to the favorite ploy of diverting the referee’s attention so a forbidden move could be made on an opponent, April Fools’ Day tricks can be employed anytime of the year with the person made to look the other way or to open a door when no one is there compelled to “feed the kitty” as a way to “rush the Crush.”

There will be no griping in this corner if a statue of Lisowski becomes a reality, although I would be more in favor of raising a memorial to a wrestler known for sportsmanship and positive behavior in the ring such as longtime heavyweight champion Verne Gagne. I would willingly contribute to see a sculpture of Gagne placed somewhere in his home state of Minnesota showing him in his famous pose of administering the coup de grâce to one of the bad guys. It may be a long shot; I prefer to call it a sleeper.



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Even the Odds

I look forward to receiving each month’s issue of the Maine Antique Digest in my mailbox and paging through the six or seven sections of newsprint devoted to auctions, shows, and sales. A highlight of the “A” or editorial section is a small display ad featuring the wares of a New Hampshire dealer. Above a few black-and-white photos of some of his stock such as vintage dolls, weathervanes, and rustic signs and a whimsical line or two about the items displayed appears his name and what he offers for sales: Thos. Bartlett Antiques & Oddments. Not “Fine Antiques” or “Fine Period Antiques,” just “Antiques & Oddments.”

It is my hope that such simplicity, wit, and candor can persuade people involved in businesses or organizations to choose the path less traveled. A firm that repairs drills will get the point across by promoting “Bits–& Pieces Left Over.” A secondhand furniture store can be called “Nicks & Nacks.” A pawnbroker would stop passersby in their tracks if they saw in the window “We Have This & What Have You?”  It would be a treat if a sweet shop offered “Fresh Chocolates & Odd Mints.” Apprentice hod carriers could learn their trade faster if enrolled in the “Brick a Brac and Break” program. It is long past time for a fraternal organization to be more inclusive by declaring their halls open to “Odd Fellows & Weirder Women.”

One warning: It would be wise to use caution upon entering a store with “This & That” in the window if the tiny print under it reads “The other thing is chained in the corner.”


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Bittersweet Memories of Summer

Last February I suggested reading David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 as a way of curing the winter blahs and to get in the spirit for the upcoming baseball season. This year’s recommended reading for the Hot Stove League is Memories of Summer by Roger Kahn.

Kahn, author of The Boys of Summer, captures both the joys and agonies of both his father and himself as lifelong Dodger fans. Current followers of the sport know well how the 108-year drought of the Chicago Cubs ended with their World Series triumph in 2016. Brooklyn won the National League pennant in 1916, 1920, 1941, 1947, 1949, 1952, and 1953, yet did not win their first World Series until 1955. Kahn reveals how the New York press (and many New Yorkers) viewed the Dodgers as weaklings or chokers compared to the Giants and Yankees who won 21 World Series titles between them before the Dodgers captured their first one.

A good portion of Memories of Summer deals with Kahn’s growth as a writer and the art of writing about sports as suggested by the book’s subtitle, “When Baseball Was an Art, and Writing about It a Game.” He started at the bottom as a copyboy at the New York Herald Tribune before gradually working his way up, learning by observing skillful wordsmiths like Red Smith in the pressroom and by late-night visits to the editorial library to study the well-crafted sentences of Heywood Broun. Kahn soon learned why this New York paper excelled at covering sports: “The Trib’s great strength had been a willingness to tolerate curmudgeons, eccentrics, rebels, provided only that they come equipped with talent.”

In the third chapter Kahn takes readers into the inner workings of newspapers, recreating how papers were put together so they can almost hear the roaring presses producing 35,000 copies of the Tribune every hour, “a daily miracle.” In the same chapter he describes what for many youngsters would be akin to a miracle: the privilege of shagging fly balls off the bat of Gil Hodges during the spring training of 1952 with Duke Snider, Carl Furillo, and Pee Wee Reese. Any grandeur the 24-year-old “virgin in the press box” might have experienced probably dissolved while interviewing Casey Stengel that spring and being subjected to a tobacco-spitting initiation by Yankee pitchers Allie Reynolds and Vic Raschi somewhat like the way cowpokes used gunshots to make tenderfoots dance in the old west.

Stengel, Reynolds, and Raschi figured prominently in the 1952 World Series which Kahn covered as a reporter and covers extensively in the book in an unhurried study of both the players and events of what Tom Meany of Collier’s called “the greatest World Series ever played.” Readers can take time to notice Hank Bauer, “a powerful fellow with the merciless features of a bordello bouncer,”  study Gil McDougald’s unusual batting stance, and observe how Johnny Sain applied the aeronautics he learned as a WWII pilot to throwing curves and sliders. The Yanks prevailed over the Dodgers in seven games to claim their fourth consecutive championship. Kahn’s lead sentence on the front page of the October 2, 1952 Herald Tribune demonstrated he had already learned the art of turning a phrase: “Every year is the next year for the Yankees.”

Regardless of his affection for the Dodgers, Kahn devotes two of the longest chapters to interviews with and recollections of two great New York center fielders, Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle.

In the final pages Kahn lists his favorite baseball books under the heading “The Golden Dozen.” After reading this account of one man’s admiration for the sport and his devotion to the craft of writing, readers may be inclined to add Memories of Summer to their Golden Dozen.




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Partly True Hacks

Fibber McGee’s favorite magazine was Partly True, an appropriate choice of reading material for a man known for spinning tall tales. McGee’s enthusiasm for the fictitious periodical diminished a bit when 40,000 copies of the same issue were delivered to 79 Wistful Vista in 1954.

I am reminded of Partly True when I pick up a copy of a local free paper that features on the front page each week a couple oddities taken from under a “Did You Know?” heading. Recent issues of the newspaper posted such nuggets as “There’s an orchid that looks like a monkey’s face called ‘Dracula simia’” and “In late-1600s London, an attacker called ‘Whipping Tom’ would spank his victims with a rod and shout ‘Spanko!’ before running away.”

Fibber McGee would probably counter with a blurb from Partly True about a monkey’s uncle who looked like Bela Lugosi holding an orchid. Herewith Partly True Hacks spanks the rod and spoils the mild by whipping up some astounding exploits.

In 1930s New York a deranged man raced through the 12th Trust and Savings, tearing up deposit and withdrawal slips and tossing them in the faces of cashiers while shouting “Banko!”

In 1880s Wyoming prospector Sippin’Sam ran through the Last Chance Saloon tossing poured beverages off the bar in the faces of customers while shouting “Dranko!”

During the age of piracy Short Jack Copper went berserk after fifty days at sea on the dreadnought Tublardy and forced the Captain and First Mate into the water before diving off the deep end himself while shouting “Planko!”

In the court of Louis XIV a dandy who coveted lace pranced through the palace at Versailles grabbing kerchiefs and doilies, stuffing them up his frilly sleeves while shouting “Hanko!”

After being declared 4F in 1942, a disgruntled reject named Flatfoot Freddie pussyfooted through an army base in Kansas, tearing stripes, epaulets, and medals off the uniforms of officers while shouting “Ranko!”

Every day at the offices of SoTrueFacts the person who churns out the weirdest tidbit is acclaimed “Cranko!”


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The Plateful Dead 8

While most drivers are pondering over what the combination of seven letters and/or numbers on vanity plates 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…    


Van Williams: GRNHRNT

Ray Goulding: MMCGOON

Bob Elliott: WALBALU

Merle Haggard: MUSKOKE

Martin Landau: ROLHAND

Hazel Shermet: MSDUFFY

Zsa Zsa Gabor: SARIGAB

Ty Hardin: BRONCO

Bobby Breen: MAKWISH

Keely Smith: BLKMAGC

Holly Dunn: FACNCRD

Marcel Marceau: BIP

Glen Campbell: RHNCOWB

Shelley Berman: FUNYMAN

Hugh Hefner: BUNYMAN

Bernard Fox: DRBOMBA

June Foray: NATASHA

Don Williams: TULSTIM

Rob Grill: HVNKNOS

Jim Nabors: GOMERPY

George Romero: LIVDEAD

Fats Domino: IMWALKN

Jake LaMotta: RAGNBUL

Dick Orkin: CHKNMAN

Sonny Bono: GOTUBAB

Della Reese: DONTUNO

Dan Haggerty: GRZADMS

David Cassidy: LNLY2LG

Buddy Greco: LIKEYNG

S.Z. Sakall: CUDDLES

Dudley Moore: CUD DUD

Chuck Berry: JONYBGD

Alan Young: WILPOST

Jerry Lewis: NUTYPRF

Lola Albright: EDIHART

Robert Knight: EVLASLV

Roger Moore: SITMPLR

Bobby Vee: RUN2HIM

Karen Carpenter: CLOSE2U

Joe E. Ross: OOH OOH


J.P. Richardson: BIGBOPR

Leon Russell: TITEROP

Tom Petty: NOBKDWN

Robert Vaughn: NAPSOLO

Adam West: BATMAN

Wilt Chamberlain: 100 PTS

Mary Tyler Moore: SPUNKY

Kay Starr: HOOPDDO

Don Rickles: MRWRMTH

Mel Tormé: SCATCAT





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Some Like It Cold

Of all the display advertisements in the Winter 2017 Antiques & Fine Art by far the simplest and yet the one this subscriber found the most interesting is the one purchased by a dealer doing business in Rochester, New York. The object being promoted is a yellow sign with just two words in bold black letters: “HOT SODA.” The sign dates from the time in the second half of the nineteenth century when “fizzy water” was thought to have healing properties, the proprietor who commissioned this sign being one who dispensed fizzy water in the form of hot soda.

That ad stopped me cold because the usual wording on signage is “Cold Soda” or “Ice Cold Soda.” Imagine a vendor walking through the stands at a ballpark shouting “Hot soda! Get your steaming hot soda here!” Even the numerous bottles of sparking waters to be found in grocery stores which are touted for their healthful qualities go in the refrigerator when brought home, not poured in a pan on the stove.

At this time of the year when A Christmas Carol is warming on the back burner, we should acknowledge that Charles Dickens invented a name for one of his characters bubbling over with possibilities. Just picture a sign swinging merrily above a storefront with the words “Fezziwig’s Fizzy Water.” Not to be outdone, his wife might have opened a hair salon called “Lizzy’s Frizzy Wigs.”

After seeing three apparitions, a reformed Ebenezer Scrooge is ready for more spirits at the end of A Christmas Carol as he tells Bob Cratchit they will discuss the clerk’s raise in salary over a “bowl of smoking bishop.” After mulling it over, let’s have no warm port, even in a storm.

This holiday season I will refuse room temperature punch, tepid tea, lukewarm eggnog, hot cider. Just give it to me cold. Everything else is a fizzle.




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Moving On

Enclosed with an offer to subscribe to a travel magazine I received a few weeks ago was a bookmark-sized card with some “top secrets to savvy travel” that promised to help “Save Big Now on Time and Travel.” This is not the first mailing I have received from the magazine so by now one would think the marketing department of said periodical would realize they could save on time and money by dropping me from their mailing list.

The marketers would be better off keeping in mind the top reasons for crabby travel. Don’t induce people to “time it right.” Instead, keep in mind the thoughts of the Head man: if you want a little business, you got to treat us right. Rather than advising travelers to fly on a Tuesday, Wednesday, or Saturday to save money on rates, tell them the name of an airline that leaves and arrives on time to save gray hairs.

Talk about bad timing. The advisors are against hopping between cities at dawn because travelers will then arrive around midday when temperatures are hottest and traffic is the heaviest. Their recommendation: Start hopping at midday when temperatures are hottest and traffic is the heaviest. Either way, the going is hot and heavy.

Visiting islands in shoulder season means nothing to those who arthritis and rheumatism. When joints need warm weather and balmy breezes, it does not matter if it’s high or low season in the tropics.

To find the hidden deals, people are encouraged to sign up for e-mail notifications to get special rates from hotels and airlines. There is a reason the deals are hidden: the specials at the Icicle Palace in Reykjavik are in February and the low rates at Gila Bend’s Bleached Bones Bonanza are in August.

To find the right human beings, prospective travelers are encouraged to call on-site reservation desks and ask for the best rates. More likely than not, the caller will be on hold and listen to the litany that begins “Your call is important to us and the next available…”

We don’t have to pick up a phone to find the right human beings. The friends are the trustiest and the folks the happiest way back home.



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