Quell the Swell

The theme of the March/April Dwell is stated boldly on the cover: “Different Is Good.” The subtitle, “Architecture for an audience of one,” may reflect how many people are interested in living in a home like the one shown on the cover with a 200-year-old oak growing through the floor and ceiling.

Even before the doors open on the first home an ad for a car encourages readers to “Live in the New.” The auto, which might as well be called Nexus, offers a twin-turbo engine that “delivers 416 horsepower¹ and goes 0-60 in just 4.6 seconds². The small print explains the small numbers:  1) “if premium fuel is not used, numbers will decrease” 2) “performance figures were obtained…by professional drivers using special safety equipment and procedures. Do not attempt.” Readers might immediately think, “Do not buy.” The ad belongs in Road & Track, not in a magazine for those interested in homes and interior decoration. The LS 500 is a luxury automobile, not an Indy 500 pace car. Vaunting virtues of “seamless acceleration and torque” is not going to impress those looking for holey roofs and quirky cork.

Something different appears on the masthead page beneath the “printed with soy ink” box: another box declaring a “certified chain of custody.” What that phrase apparently means is that readers are now part of the process from forest to paper mill to publisher to printer to post office to consumer to recycler, and woe to the disrespectful individual who does not take his or her role as custodian seriously. Security strips, like those libraries insert into materials which can set off beeping alarms when patrons pass through checkpoints, may betray defilers who choose to discard issues of Dwell on rubbish heaps or in garbage dumps. Transgressors could have issues wrapped in black bands, the equivalent of electronic ankle bracelets, for probationary periods while on parole for breaking the chain.

Todd Oldham certainly qualifies as different, although the conversation with him reported on pages 48 and 50 reveals him to be more odd than good. At one time in our culture someone who was involved in a number of disciplines was referred to as versatile or a polymath. Now the term du jour seems to be hyphenate to describe someone who, for example, might be a “designer­–photographer–author–baker–cabinet maker–wrestler–painter–janitor–florist–dancer–prancer–glommer–vixen.” “Tireless hyphenate” Oldham admits “I remember knowing what gouache was when I was seven. There are enough little weirdos out there who deserve that information if they want it.”  This weirdo, who doesn’t want that information, is content to declare he knew what goulash was when he was seven.  After a therapist told Oldham “You need to see some normal people,” his first thought was “I need to not see you again.” After reading an issue of a periodical in which people fill their homes with objects like model spines ordered from a medical catalog or live in glass boxes lifted off the ground or in a home with a tree growing through the roof, some normal people might think “I need to not Dwell on this again.”

 

 

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Roxette Still Rocks It

The people who lionize the Rolling Stones as the greatest rock band of all time and marvel at their endurance are certainly entitled to their opinion. What keeps Mick Jagger and Keith Richards on their feet and on the road after 50+ years of jumping jack flashes must be because, even though it’s only rock ‘n’ roll, they like it.

But after watching them drag their beast of burden around decade after decade, I find only a handful of their hits worth a first or second listen: “Ride On, Baby,” “She’s a Rainbow,” “Tumbling Dice,” “Out of Time,” and their cover of “Just My Imagination.”

Yet the songs of Roxette, a duo formed by Marie Fredriksson and Per Gessle, who bridged the 1980s and 1990s and captured the zeitgeist of that period like no other group, offer so many Swedish delights that sound just as good as they did when Roxette was riding the top of the charts both in America and internationally. No less than 10 of their songs remain tuneful toe-tappers and favorites of the karaoke crowd: “The Look,” “Dressed for Success,” “Listen to Your Heart,” “Dangerous,” “It Must Have Been Love,” “Joyride,” “Fading Like a Flower,” “Almost Unreal,” “Run to You,” and “How Do You Do!” (Incidentally, “How Doo You Do!” was a favorite expression used by radio comedian Bert Gordon in his role as the Mad Russian.)

Just as Bjorn and Benny had a distinctive knack for composing mesmerizing hooks for Frida and Agnetha to entice us into ABBA’s web of music, Per created a mixture of racy lyrics and captivating melodies that melded well with Marie’s innate sassiness. Their voices blended exceptionally well. Listen closely to the Q&A on “Dressed for Success” (“Whatcha gonna tell your brother?” “Oh Oh Oh.” “Whatcha gonna tell your father?” “I don’t know.”) and the seductive come-ons of the one-night stands and hook-up culture of “Joyride” (“Hello. You Fool. I Love you.”) and “Almost Unreal” (“I love when you do that hocus pocus to me”). Very few lyrics came on as bluntly as those in “How Do You Do!” (“I love the way you undress now, baby begin” and “Well, how have you been, baby,  livin’ in sin?”)

Although Per and Marie had decent voices on their solos (Per also whistled pleasantly on “Joyride”), the success of Roxette depended on the blending of the male/female harmonics. The  death of Holly Dunn in 2016 reminded me that I have always considered her greatest single the insightful “A Face in the Crowd” recorded with Michael Martin Murphey.

Although Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gormé had Top Ten hits as solo artists, it is their matchless duets on “This Could Be the Start of Something Big,” “I Just Want to Love You,” and the Christmas tunes  “That Holiday Feeling” and “Happy Holidays” that make them perennial favorites on the easy listening stations.

There is a reason why, when the stations that played the hits in the 1980s and 1990s wanted to let the good times roll and shake it up, they took a joyride with the Cars and Roxette. The stations that play the music from the 1980s and 1990s now have the same reason: It Must Have Been Love (and it’s not over now).

 

 

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Eat Bray Shove

In the November 2017 Travel + Leisure, Jeff Gordimer wrote about his visit to the Dordogne, France’s “bucolic gastronome’s paradise.”  Gordimer confessed to going overboard on the plentiful cheese carts several nights followed by pleasant strolls in the countryside. His conclusion: “’Eat cheese and take a walk’ strikes me as a sensible approach to life.”

Taking a hint from this well-seasoned traveler, I present mottoes appropriate for tourists visiting other countries.

Botswana: Munch maize and get lost in a maze.

Burkina Faso: Chew peanuts and pull cotton-picking lint out of your pockets.

Chad: Suck a manioc, sock a maniac, and search for Jeremy.

Belize: Eat cacao and flee the cartel.

Australia: Snag a barbecued snag and load 16 tungstens.

El Salvador: Sort through sorghum and lift light metals.

Fiji: Crack a coconut and go dancing in the copra.

The Gambia: Palm kernels and take a gambit.

Costa Rica: Glom gallo pinto and ride a gallant pinto

Guatemala: Eat cardamom and cart your mom.

Jamaica: Peel a banana and spin a yarn.

Kosovo: Pick berries and smell leather.

Luxembourg: Harvest wheat and take it to the bank.

Mauritius: Suck on pulses and take your pulse.

Micronesia: Nibble on betel nuts and say, “Nuts to the Beatles.”

Malaysia: Eat nasi lemak and caper with a tapir.

Oman: Put the lime in the date and eat it all up.

Panama: Drink 20 cups of coffee and keep it under your hat.

Paraguay: Stuff down chipas and chip off the old block.

Peru: Eat asparagus and spare the gas.

Saint Lucia: Drink cocoa and corrugate boxes.

Serbia: Bite burek, grade the bel, and bell the grade.

 

By all means, do not miss Morocco where one can pit the olives and hit the road with Bob and Bing.

 

 

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Tourneur on Top

My favorite film noir remains Out of the Past directed by Jacques Tourneur, a versatile artist behind the camera who was also responsible for the scary Cat People and Night of the Demon, high adventures (The Flame and the Arrow, Anne of the Indies), thought-provoking dramas (The Leopard Man, Stars in My Crown), and distinctive westerns (Wichita, Canyon Passage).

While most of Tourneur’s best films were atmospheric black-and-white pictures, the gorgeous scenery of Canyon Passage got the full color treatment it deserved. A good portion of the location shooting was done in the Medford and Diamond Lake area of Oregon. Those color films of the 1940s loved redheads like Rhonda Fleming so in Canyon Passage Susan Hayward’s radiant tresses got much exposure in both the outdoor and interior scenes and the camera also dwells on Patricia Roc’s auburn locks in one of her final scenes with Dana Andrews who plays hero Logan Stuart.

Tourneur’s penchant for pricking the imaginations of viewers (made famous in the long walk and pool sequences of Cat People) is present in Canyon Passage as he stages deaths of significant characters off-screen. George Camrose (Brian Donleavy), a banker who had been paying gambling debts by stealing gold dust entrusted to him, fears the worst when drunken depositor McIver returns to town one night and will be withdrawing his gold the next day. Twice the camera dwells on George with his face turned left toward McIver and friends as the audience studies how the only way out for the desperate banker fixes in his mind. The murder of McIver is not shown so there is a shadow of a doubt when George is found guilty by a kangaroo court. After Logan frees George from a makeshift jail and gives him a gun, the hunting down and killing of the escaped man is simply reported by Johnny (Lloyd Bridges) as he returns Logan’s gun.

Even the real villain of the film, Honey Bragg (Ward Bond), is not shown committing his most dastardly deed or dying horrendously as he deserved. After spotting an Indian girl swimming in the woods, all that is suggested is a slight smile of lust on his face and her terrified paddling away from his leer. His act of murdering (and possibly raping) the girl is given as the cause for the Indian uprising that results in the death of settlers and the burning of homes. The slaughter of women during this sequence is hidden behind wagons or hedges. When a handful of Indians finally corral Bragg and bring him down in the distance, his violent end is suggested when a brave victoriously raises an arm that presumably holds the scalp of the dead Bragg.

Hoagy Carmichael, who plays Hi Linnet, a nosy and colorful character who strums a mandolin and sings portions of four songs, offers a few stanzas of the Oscar-nominated best song “Ole Buttermilk Sky” at the end. “Ole Buttermilk Sky,” perhaps Carmichael’s best-known song after “Stardust,” became a standard in his repertoire when Hoagy visited radio shows like The Jack Benny Program and The Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy Show.

Out of the Past was Tourneur’s next film after Canyon Passage so a case could be made that the director was right at his peak in the post-war years.

 

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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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