Don’t You Think This Legend Bit Done Got Out of Hand?

The most-quoted lines from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance are “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” Today the line should be adapted to “When in doubt about someone, call that person a legend.”

Recently, when I opened a CD case holding a collection of the greatest hits of Waylon Jennings, a leaflet fell out promoting other CDs by the country “outlaw.” On the cover is a photo of the black-garbed singer, cigarette in hand, slyly smirking next to the words “He didn’t become a legend by following the rules.”

The spring issue of On Wisconsin, a periodical sent to alumni of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, features a full-page tribute to a prankster which begins “When former student Leon Varjian passed away last September, UW-Madison lost one its true legends.” Leon’s claim to fame? He was a leader of the Pail and Shovel Party, a group that stuck a flock of plastic pink flamingoes on campus one day and also planted a torch and head resembling a partially-submerged Statue of Liberty in frozen Lake Mendota. The Party’s mission was simple: to waste as much time and money as possible. The large photo accompanying the encomium shows a grimacing Varjian in 1983, strutting down State Street at the head of a boom box parade. The author of the tribute does include one salient point: though elected to the Wisconsin Student Association for two years, Leon never earned a degree and “in fact, he appears to have earned only one academic credit.”

In the same issue of On Wisconsin a four-page salute is given to “the man who saved pinball.” Maybe the word legend is not used in that article because the man is still alive. There will be plenty of time for that later. We have enough living legends already. Just listen to announcers describing any sporting event.

Now I know what I have been doing wrong with my life. By obeying regulations, attending classes faithfully to earn degrees, engaging in meaningful occupations, and by becoming a productive member of society, I have doomed myself to a life of obscurity. No more of that. There still may be time for me to become a legend before, during, or after my time.

So far, claiming to be D.B. Cooper has proven to be a poor gambit. Everyone keeps saying, “Show me the money.” I also have no answer for “What color was your parachute?” Maybe I should claim to be Gambit and tell them to look for me in the funny pages.

Sometime this year I intend to take my Gene Autry Silvertone guitar to the Autry Museum of the American West where I hope to get thrown out for not following the rules by singing “Are You Sure Gene Done Back in the Saddle This Way?” at the top of my lungs.

In my basement I am building a replica of the prow of the Edmund Fitzgerald which I will drive into the ground near the harbor in Duluth before publicly declaring that portion of the city a haven for sluggards.

This spring I plan to spend considerable time marching around the campus of defunct Milton College with a drum major baton and battery–powered cassette player booming out the strains of “Hey, look me over before you book me downtown.”

I have to get started right away on my scheme to force-feed indigestible pellets to chickens on a farm outside of town if I want to gain the title of Pinball Gizzard.

If all else fails in my inglorious quest, I am going to do something that is really hair-raising. For now it is a secret. Just don’t shoot at any gangling creature you might see shuffling through the woods in the coming months. If you don’t think I would stoop that low to find out what becomes a legend least, you don’t know Sasquatch.




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Peculiar Science

There was a time when the articles in Popular Science succinctly explained new technical advances and inventions to the general public. Quite a few readers of the March/April 2016 issue are apt to be more bewildered than enlightened by some of the subjects covered.

The head scratching might begin on page 14 with the Hit List, “10 Great Ideas in Gear.” Apparently, “there’s nothing more to say” about the hydro boosters for the feet except to wonder who would pay $6,000 for objects that work only on water except maybe a desperate bathtub surfer. Then the author does some improbable wondering by asking “Why doesn’t someone make a vertical turntable?” before providing a $400 answer, claiming “It’s the coolest vinyl player around.” Just try selling that idea to a generation thriving on smartphones and smartwatches whose only experience with vinyl is grabbing that raincoat in the back of a closet.

An interview with the CEO of a $1 billion video game company carries the headline “Everyone Will Be a Gamer in the Future.” Not now, not ever. The only proof for this fantastic assertion is the executive’s unsubstantiated claim that there are “anywhere from 2 billion to 3 billion gamers out there.” They must be way, way out there in a galaxy far away from a planet with over 7 billion people.

A simple answer can be provided for the banner question to a piece on editing genomes of human embryos: “Are We Ready for Designer Babies?” No. Not now, not ever.

A full ten pages are devoted to the topic of longevity with the provocative general teaser of “Live Forever.” Nowhere among the topics of slowing aging by staving off diseases is there a mention of what the quality of life will be like for all the centenarians who will likely spend decades nodding mindlessly in wheelchairs.

Unlike the other portions of the magazine that look forward, the Manual section seems decidedly retro or, at the very least, quirky. Those who wish to emulate Colin Clive’s wild-eyed mad scientist pyrotechnics in Frankenstein can follow the step-by-step instructions for constructing a tabletop Jacob’s ladder. (Sorry–No tips for building your own monster.) For those who prefer the offbeat outdoors, readers are introduced to a weather maestro who has constructed a synthesizer controlled by the weather. “You need an applause machine” we are told so our hands do not get tired at a concert, and the woman who built such a ridiculous contraption can stop right after inventing a device that records the sound of no hands clapping. But the topper is the page devoted to listening to records with our teeth which involves everyday objects like a pencil, cardboard, shish-kebab stick, and a needle. The ideal record for this project is Gordon Lightfoot’s “Wherefore and Why.” The editors also provide tips on growing a bacterial zoo and making a mask that allows a person to smell the rainbow. And people thought Colin Clive’s Dr. Frankenstein was mad!

And that’s not all, folks. The “Ask Us Anything” department provides answers to such burning questions as “Why do shower curtains billow inward?” and “Do beards keep men warm?” The question this reader asks is “If this type of science really popular or just the latest version of Weird Tales?”







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Past Imperfect 6

More speculations for revisionists to consider:

What if in 1913 Pearl Curran had been visited by the spirit of a 1960s comedian instead of a 17th century woman? Instead of seeing “Patience Worth my name” on her Ouija board, would the letters have spelled out “My name Jose Jimenez”?

What if Allen Pinkerton had founded Pinkerton Slowpoke Delivery Service instead of Pinkerton National Detective Agency? Instead of “We Never Sleep” for a slogan, would the motto of his company have been “We Always Creep”?

What if the star of The Postman Always Rings Twice had adopted a child who was employed as an errand boy at theaters? Would he have been known as Page Turner?

What if someone had given President Garfield’s assassin, often described as a disgruntled office-seeker, specific directions to the office he was seeking? Would he then have been gruntled?

What if James Monroe had been a butterfingers anytime something was tossed his way? Would his term in the White House have been known as the Error of Bad Fielding?


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The Plateful Dead 6

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

Rudolph Valentino: SHEIK

Grace Kelly: CHIC

Fay Wray: SHRIEK

George Winslow: FOGHORN

David Bowie: ZIGSTAR

Coleen Gray: 1LPLEAS

Monica Lewis: CHIQBAN

Flip Wilson: GERADIN

Robert Mitchum: THUNDRD

Yvonne Craig: BATGIRL

Yogi Berra: FORKNRD

Kitty Kallen: LITTHGS

Bess Myerson: MISAM45

Marvin Milner: ROUTE66

Ray Milland: LNGWKND

Peg Lynch: ETH&ALB

Richard Lane: WHOANEL

Don Adams: WODUBLV

Billy Joe Royal: CHHILPK

Maureen O’Hara: IRSHRED

Judy Carne: SOCT2ME

Ron Moody:  FAGIN

Jack Larsen: JIMYOLS

Patrick Macnee: MRSTEED


Natalie Cole: THSWILB

Evil Knievel: NERVY

Barbara Nichols: CURVY

Marty Ingels: IMFNSTR

Rodney Dangerfield: 0RESPEC

Erma Bombeck: WITSEND

Eddie Albert: GRNACRS

Tony Randall: FELXUNG

Frank Gifford: NUMBR16

Lynn Anderson: ROSGRDN

Sid Caesar: WHHAVBN

Dennis Hoey: LSTRADE

Buck Owens: ACTNATR

Billie Burke: GLINDA

Rosalind Russell: ANTMAME

Benny Goodman: KINGSWG

Imogene Coca: ANTEDNA

Arthur Lake: DAGWOOD

Virginia O’Brien: DEADPAN

Spring Byington: DECBRDE



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In the Doggerel House 7

Some verses about giving and gifts for the holiday season:

Strongman Donald has quite a gift:
At the circus he gives six girls a lift;
He’s never late for a show, that Don,
He’s always there with belles on.

I wanted to give away my flute,
I knew it would not be a breeze; 
I tried to play off Henny:
“Take my fife—please!”

“Never the less” say those who want it all, 
“Always the more” is the cry of that crew;
They’d like to skip out when the Reaper calls,
But you can’t have your wake and beat it, too.

To write some graffiti in Latin
At a store this month is no crime; 
It would give some wag a chance to add,
“Veni, Vidi, I wasted my time.”

Old Fred hands me photos of Stargell and Mays,
They’re free and they’re real dillies; 
But Fred is a creepy kind of guy,
He gives me the Willies.

A weatherman whose wife was pregnant 
Gave a sample of his predicting powers:
“Are you sure Mom will get lots of gifts?”
“Partly, Sonny, with a chance of showers.”

There are watches now with two faces 
So time can be kept for two places;
To those late here it must bring calm
To know they’re quite early over in Guam.

From a toy shop a madman stole in a bag  
A little hamlet that he put in a 2005 mag;
He rubbed his hands and shouted with delight,
“There’ll be a hot town in the old Time tonight!”

In King’s new work about a very plump dragon
There’ll be a hero named Silas and a picnic even; 
A review this season might begin with the header  
“Good King When Silas Cooked Out on the Beast of Stephen.”





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Questions to Ponder 7

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

Will pre-nuptial agreements ever filter down to tykes who will argue over who gets to keep the Tootsie Rolls?

How would magazines printed with soy ink go with egg rolls and chow mein?

Why is it the Presley imitators sound like El?

Am I the only one who thinks Soy Lecithin belongs on a marquee in the Borscht Belt?

If my aunt cracked her wrists while looking for the Loch Ness monster, would she let me write “Auntie Loch breaks” on her casts?

What company will be the first to offer the Frisbee Channel?

Did the charlatans who claimed their potions would grow hair on a billiard ball also sell blue chalk to rub on the scalp?

Why is it that the people who call and ask “How are you today?” are more interested in my money than my health?

How would they find the UPC barcode on a chameleon in a pet store?

Considering the state of our oceans, wouldn’t it be best to avoid eating oysters in months with vowels?


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Reading the Future

Among the many legendary tales associated with the screen career of Orson Welles, perhaps the most intriguing story concerns the genesis of one of his most notable films. In 1946 Welles, perpetually short of money to fund projects bubbling out of his teeming brain, needed financing to keep a theatrical version of Around the World in 80 Days afloat. According to Orson, he promised Harry Cohn over the phone that if the Columbia kingpin sent the cash needed to keep the musical in tryouts, Welles would direct a picture based on a great book he had been reading. Asked for the name of the novel, resourceful Orson grabbed the first book that caught his eye and said, “If I Die Before I Wake.” Although crafty Cohn may have sensed a ruse, he sent the money. 80 Days hardly ran that long so Welles was on the hook to make some kind of a film out of a book he had not read. The movie was eventually released in 1948 as The Lady from Shanghai.

One (at least this one) cannot help but wonder what kind of picture would have resulted had Welles spotted a book with just a slightly different title. For instance, If I Cry Before I Wake might have been scripted as Lady, Weep for Me. If I Fly Before I Wake becomes The Lady Takes Wings. If I Dry Before I Wake turns into The Lady Comes Clean. If I Buy Before I Wake hits the screen as The Lady at Macy’s. If I Spy Before I Wake becomes the caper flick The Lady in the Closet. If I Wry Before I Wake has a comic twist as The Lady Makes a Face. If I Vie Before I Wake hits the courts as The Lady Meets Her Match. If I Sigh Before I Wake pauses as The Lady Takes a Breather. If I Pry Before I Wake has her back in action as The Lady Fixes a Flat. If I Guy Before I Wake crosses the line as The Lady Changes Gender. If I Lie Before I Wake sets up the predictable sequel The Lady Meets Fibber McGee. The fitting end to the series would be based on If I Fry Before I Wake as she walks the last mile in The Lady in the Death House.




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