Bargain Hunter’s Delight II

I still ignore most of the coupon flyers to be found just inside grocery stores, preferring to pick up one of the free weekly papers on my way out for perusing at home. The lively ads for quirky services are interesting, yet it is the fun facts running along the bottom of certain pages meant to edify, entertain, or amaze that fascinate me the most. Below are some of these statements and the logical questions they raise in this reader.          

“At room temperature, the average molecule travels at the speed of a rifle bullet.” How does one account for unexpected shooting pains?

“Jack-o-Lanterns were originally made of turnips.” Why did no poet ever pen the lines “When the frost is on the root and Father’s in toxic shock”?

“A male cricket’s ear is located on the tibia of its leg.” Why does Jiminy Cricket laugh so much when he hears a knee-slapper?

“Flying fish can leap out of the water at 20 mph or more and can glide for over 500 feet.” Why are more fisherman saying that the one that got away did so by knocking them down?

“In one day a full-grown tree expels seven tons of water through its leaves.” Why are more hikers singing “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree With Anything Less Than a Raincoat?”

“Thomas Jefferson invented the coat hanger.” Why are so many hatcheck girls complaining that the only tips they get are in nickels?

“A snail has four noses and 25,000 teeth.” Why are restaurants now serving escargots in two different ways, snotty or extra crunchy?

“Poison ivy’s not ivy and poison oak is not oak. They are both part of the cashew family.” Why can’t some people cure their itch for nuts?

“Dolphins sleep with one eye open.” Why is it that some creatures can’t sleep a wink and others wink when they sleep?

“You burn more calories sleeping than watching television.” How many calories do people burn while dreaming they are watching I Dream of Jeannie?

“The plastic things on the ends of shoelaces are called aglets.” Then what does one call small rooms for rent by the Agriculture Department?

“You transfer more germs by shaking hands than kissing.” Why is it always better at a carnival to bypass the salesmen and head directly for the kissing booth?

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Take the Bidder With the Sweet

     Few periodicals to be found anywhere have a more alluring title than Heritage Magazine for the Intelligent Collector, the last two words calling out in large letters with a brazen compliment along the lines of “Hey, big spender.” (At $7.99 a copy, the magazine is likely to attract more quick-flipping browsers than well-heeled buyers.) Within its 100 pages Heritage promotes upcoming auctions and focuses on gems from recent sales in the categories of numismatics, art, movie posters, history, comics, philately, literature, sports memorabilia, and celebrity collectibles.

Because items Heritage accepts generally open with a bid in five figures and a fair share of their artifacts sell for over $100,000, most people with eight bucks in their pockets who purchase the magazine cannot hope to land one of the prizes being displayed inside its stiff covers. Those citizens of modest means aching to part with cash so as to add to their stash are therefore invited to do a comparison by glancing through the pages of Whereitages Magazine for the Insensate Consumer.

Let others bid $26, 290 for a game-used old jersey Paul Hornung wore at Notre Dame. At Whereitages a very, very worn map of New Jersey once touched by Eli Manning can be had for $74.50.

A dweller among the marble halls of a mansion snatched a 1927D Saint-Gaudens Double Eagle from Heritage for $1.9 million. A golf ball that Jack Nicklaus flung into a water trap in 1972 after a double bogey is a soggy Whereitages steal for $87.95.

A copy of Spider-Man #1 certified 9.4 and encapsulated by CGC was worth $83, 650 to some wealthy collector. For just $119.85 some fortunate soul can display a real spider’s masterwork preserved between two panes of glass taken from E.B. White’s basement which the staff at Whereitages believe may have served as the inspiration for Charlotte’s Web.

Lenny Dykstra’s 1986 World Series ring was worth $56,762, probably to a loyal fan of the New York Mets. But the folks at Whereitages caution “Don’t let this one get by you: for just $179.50 try on a boot charged to Bill Buckner.”

A Rolex watch that traveled to the moon on Apollo 17 landed nicely for $131,450, pricey territory for most collectors. Closer to home at just $229.99 is the tablecloth Jackie Gleason pounded on while playing Ralph Kramden before promising to send Alice on a lunar flight.

A wooden gun which (so relatives of John Dillinger claim) was carved by the bank robber realized $19,120. Less notorious and more affordable is a Whereitages wooden nickel once given as a tip to a cab driver by Jack Benny that can be easily added to anyone’s vault for $39.39.

The style F one-sheet poster for Dracula, of which there are only three known copies, was purchased to reside in some rich person’s den for $370,700. The common man can grab patches of hair, of which there are many in the Whereitages warehouse, from Ray Corrigan’s ape costume used in Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla at $17.50 a clump.

Collectors who wanted to go way into the past anted up $250,950 for a Triceratops skull and $334,600 for the head of a saber tooth tiger. For a more affordable $3,499.95 Wild West fans can corral a bison skull signed “William” and then boast to friends of owning a genuine Buffalo Bill.

The late Forrest Ackerman, dean of collectors of horror memorabilia, might have envied the person who acquired the black outfit Boris Karloff wore in The Black Cat for $89, 625. Not to be left out of the hunt for all things Universal left over from the 1930s, Whereitages will assume all shipping costs when it sends unlimited numbers of the title prop from Karloff’s 1936 classic The Invisible Ray at the rate of $19.95 per ray.

A first edition of The Astronauts, signed by all members aboard Mercury 7, brought a bid of $5,078. Paperback copies of The Carpetbaggers, signed by Scott Carpenter’s barber, who owned seven Mercurys, are available at $59.99 each.

One of Dat-So-La-Lee’s intricate Indian baskets bearing the title “Let’s forget. Bury our troubles in this basket” did not find a buyer, perhaps because the opening bid was too high. Such is not the case with modern artisan Dough-So-For-Me whose clay pots are signed in Chinese characters which, when translated, mean “Bury your money in Zhejiang Province at $150.00 a throw.”

Ken Norton’s heavyweight boxing title belt carried an estimated value of $60,000+ into the auction ring in 2010. The flexibelt of competitive eating champion Irving Ledbelly wore on the day he ingested 71 hot dogs is priced at $87.50. (Specks of ketchup stains and traces of bicarbonate found on the buckle and leather add to the authenticity of the belt.)

The price range for the famous Ben Franklin “Join or Die” snake cartoon from 1754 was $100,000-$200,000 in 2011. For just $102.85 a handful of lucky folks can have brass knuckles wielded by Marty Krackinbone when he echoed Franklin’s words while selling protection in Chicago during the 1950s.

A David Crockett signature on a letter written while he served in Congress brought a winning bid of ­­$28,680 in 2012. A more impressive souvenir at a very reasonable price of $475.95 is an authentic Davy Crockett coonskin cap. (Whereitages has not been able to determine if Crockett wrote the message “Don’t Mess with Fess” in the lining of the cap.)

A silver denarius struck by Brutus certainly is worth $546, 250. But for only $187.65 anyone can bag a Franklin 1958 half dollar flung by Stephen Boyd at Charlton Heston during the frenetic chariot race in Ben-Hur. (Because of the many retakes required, stock of authentic coins is plentiful. Ask a Whereitages representative for special pricing on rolls of 50 coins.)

A well-heeled collector paid $537,750 for Black Betsy, the slab of hickory “Shoeless Joe” Jackson used throughout his baseball career. For just $245.99 pedagogue fanciers can own the Black and Blue Buster, the fabled hickory stick wielded for 37 years by switch-hitting grammar teacher Shirley “Sock ‘Em” Sternwheeler.

A presentation copy of Three Stories & Ten Poems, Ernest Hemingway’s first book, was sold by Heritage for $68,500. Only one fortunate person with $999.99 will be able to take home the manuscript of one Billy Faulkner dated 1904 and found in a hayloft near Oxford, Mississippi. Called Two Mules & a Jackdaw, the nine- page story scribbled in pencil on lined paper, is bound in genuine squirrel skin.

A 1962 cancelled check made out simply to “Pilgrim” bearing Marilyn Monroe’s signature sold for $15,000. How about a check signed by John Wayne with his pet name on the payee line? Whereitages has a supply of checks payable to “Hay Pilgrim Grain & Feed” signed by a real John Wayne (not a Marion Morrison in Hollywood makeup) of Keokuk, Iowa for just $33.50 each. Ask for closeout discounts on checks signed by Norma J. Mortenson which are made out to the Bus Stop Cafe and drawn on a Niagara (Wisconsin) bank.

A 1949 Bigsby solid-body guitar hit a high note of $266,500 with Heritage. At Whereitages a 1970s no body guitar swept up from a concert by the Who, Them, or Those can be had for a mere $478.95.

A Wall Street executive shelled out $825,000 in 2007 for an Inverted Jenny postage stamp. For those consumers over the age of 18, Whereitages offers a number of French postcards supplied by Perverted Penny at the reasonable rate of $99.50 per dozen. Police officers posing as juveniles need not respond; adults acting like juveniles are always welcome.

Auction results continue to prove the maxim that there will always be people willing to pay just about anything for just about anything. The question marketers of the past should now be asking is not “How high will they bid?” but rather “How low will we go?”

 

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Death on the Cheap

     Recently I received a solicitation from a funeral home outlining the benefits of pre-arranging my last rites and highlighting their *$5,000 complete funeral. The small print accompanying the asterisk explains what this minimum service does not include: vault, cemetery charges, clergy/church fees, newspaper notice, flowers, death certificates or prayer cards. There are undoubtedly additional caveats I would discover if I mailed in the postage-paid card requesting more information.

I wonder how long it will be before I will find in my mailbox an offer from a mortuary who will undercut competitors by offering a $4,000 package payable after death which is bereft of asterisks. Then I could compare my options between Pre and Post.

With Pre I get the minimum steel casket. Post might supply me with the Moses basket casket with multiple handles on all sides so they get me coming and going.

Pre offers the luxury of an on-site crematorium, a service which undoubtedly means more money. At no extra charge Post could allow survivors to pick up ashes after a complementary meal at The Embers Restaurant.

Pre provides 24-hour monitored security in the event some ghoul wishes to bodynap the carcass. Very likely posted outside Post’s headquarters/warehouse is a retired crossing guard who will not allow anyone to cross his path without saying the password: “What do you know, Joe?”

The photo of Pre’s bright, spacious parking area looks appealing because it was taken on a bright summer day, but what about cloudbursts and wintry evenings? Guests can always find shelter from the storm in Post’s deep underground garage, giving the departed assurance that no matter how depraved their existence, mourners can descend to their level.

Pre supplies snapshots and names of its *licensed funeral directors, **licensed funeral apprentices, and ***unlicensed funeral apprentices. Post will not qualify the qualifications of its employees, all of whom are almost certainly to be card-carrying graduates of the Hinchley and Trumbull School of Skullduggery.

Five will get you ten that when some of the hidden costs are revealed, Pre’s funeral will get you closer to ten grand than to five. At least with Post, four will get you six–six feet under.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Right Between the Eyes

This year will provide further proof that we never far from the scowling countenance of Frida Kahlo. During this month of March the Michigan Opera Theatre is saluting the artist in Frida and from May to November the New York Botanical Garden will feature the exhibit “Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life.” The unibrow is back, front and center.

While others honor a woman who brought eyebrows together on canvas, I pay homage to the actress who kept hers widely apart on the screen: Helen Broderick, owner of some of the snappiest lines in 1930s musicals and comedies and possessor of one of the broadest bridges in film history. While Kahlo’s beetling brows chanted “Come Together,” Broderick’s spacious glabella warned “Cross Over the Bridge.”

Whether providing support for Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in Top Hat and Swing Time or counseling Danielle Darrieux in The Rage of Paris, Helen could be counted on to deliver tart lines with aplomb. She memorably stirred the romantic plots of musicals and comedies with her deadpan delivery of no-nonsense observations on the battle of the sexes such as “The only difference in men is the color of their neckties” and “All women are dishonest. If they weren’t, the world would be divided into two classes of people: old maids and bachelors.”

Helen’s roles became less significant in the 1940s, her career ending in a thud in one of Deanna Durbin’s lesser films, Because of Him (1946). Today, if she is remembered at all by some, it is for being the mother of tough-talking Broderick Crawford, who inherited a wide bridge from mater but little of her subtlety as evidenced by his barking interpretation of parts.

In 2015 there will be no celebrations of character actors like Broderick and Edward Everett Horton who enlivened many a movie during Hollywood’s golden age. Let the madding crowd congregate under Frida’s glowering glare; give me the wide open spaces and wit of Helen Broderick.

 

 

 

 

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Give Pease a Chance

Near the beginning of the catchy tune “Bhindi Bhagee” when Joe Strummer encounters a New Zealander “looking for mushy peas,” the natural assumption is that the visitor is yearning for a foodstuff. However, this curious listener wonders if that man was not inquiring about the availability of a vegetable dish but rather the whereabouts of a quaint character with a peculiar moniker. Instead of stopping someone along the High Road, he might have had better luck along the Low Road.

Mushy Pease might be found trading punches down at the local gym with the likes of Boom Boom Mancini, Bobo Olson, Slapsie Maxie Rosenbloom or listening to the birdies sing with Red Skelton’s Cauliflower McPugg. Next, try any racetrack in Damon Runyonland where Mushy might be rubbing elbows with Rusty Charlie, Bookie Bob, Harry the Horse, Little Isadore, Sam the Gonoph, Dream Street Rosie, Nicely-Nicely Johnson, Madame La Gimp, Hat Horse Herbie, Society Max, Angie the Ox, Dave the Dude, Sorrowful Jones, Louie the Lug, Upstate Red, and Little Mitzi.

But if Mr. Pease really wanted to feel at home he would be living in Crooper, Illinois, the town Paul Rhymer created for the denizens of radio’s Vic and Sade. There Mushy might be playing indoor horseshoes with Vic in Ike Kneesuffer’s basement, dozing on a cart at the railway station with ne’er-do-well Hank Gutstop, chatting through a mouthful of shingle nails with Dwight Twentysixer, riding shotgun on the garbage wagon with Mr. Gumpox, listening to Rush unspool the wheels within wheels of high school life involving chums Smelly Clark, Rooster and Rotten Davis, Bluetooth Johnson, and Cracky Otto, or conversing on the phone with Gus Fuss, Charlie Razorscum, Robert and Slobert Hink, or Rishigan Fishigan from Sishigan, Michigan.

The search for the elusive Mr. Pease would probably end in Crooper at the foot of Sade’s garrulous Uncle Fletcher, who seemed to have a tale for all seasons and all reasons. After detailing in his usual roundabout fashion the missing person’s tenuous relationship with old acquaintances Cliff Dirtshirt and Virgil Dejectedly, Fletcher would likely conclude his folksy reminiscences by remarking that “Mushy Pease was born in Syracuse, Nebraska, moved to Dismal Seepage, Ohio at the age of eight months, married a woman named Flossie Toothpowder, went into the galvanized peanut brittle business, invented a butter churn that would print counterfeit postage stamps, and later died.”

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Education on the Rebound

     An issue of an alumni magazine I received this year provides some interesting contrasts between generations as a two-page spread devoted to current basketball players precedes an article about four elderly graduates reflecting on their experiences teaching in one-room schoolhouses.

The three student-athletes, garbed in school sweats, are photographed lounging on sofas in a cozy setting resembling a living room more than a locker room. Behind them is a team theater area, a “perfect place for the team to review footage from past games and analyze their opponents.” My hunch is that such videos will yield remarks like “Here’s where I start my dunk from the free throw line” and “You clown! You should’ve passed it there instead of dribbling it off your knee into the third row.”

The comments of the three players are instructive. A forward claims “You have to have the mindset that you have to take advantages of the privileges we have” before stating that he gets psyched up for a game by listening to Lil Wayne, which is probably where he gets inspiration for his repetitive speech pattern. A shooting guard chimes in with “There is not a lot of down time which is good, because we don’t like a lot of down time.” Yes, opening books and studying for tests can be a real downer after a double OT win. A junior point guard who has been playing basketball since he was five years old spends the majority of his day in the locker room, a place he finds to be “a kind of home outside of home.” That home is no doubt where he contemplates his nebulous major, university studies, which could one day lead, not to a B.A., but rather to a 10-day contract in the NBA Development League.

The reminiscences of the four alumni who graduated in the 1930s suggest that the emphasis of their academic training prepared them well for the challenges of teaching multiple grades. “I felt very much able to teach,” said one. “All of my teachers had been excellent motivators and kind, compassionate persons. I was determined to be like them.” Another long-retired educator stressed that, beyond teaching the core subjects, she made certain her students learned Latin and Greek origins of English words and the importance of nature study as it related to local agriculture. She also taught them interpersonal skills like how to introduce oneself to others and how to answer the telephone properly. “Lessons covered such topics as good character, industry, obedience, punctuality, good manners, frugality, courtesy, and truthfulness.” One centenarian recalled how children would compete “for the chance to clean erasers.”

In those days students fought for the privilege of cleaning blackboards. Now they fight for the joy of crashing backboards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What’s Not in a Name?

     Let the pundits wonder if the days of print media are numbered with their leading question “Who reads newspapers and magazines anymore?” My query to the staffs of magazines is “Who is checking the spelling of names?” Have publishers fired all their copy editors and proofreaders, believing that in a cyber world of abbreviations and corrupted spellings, no one cares how names are spelled?

The most egregious instance of sloppiness in name-checking in recent years occurred in Benjamin Schwarz’s essay “When Men Lost Their Charm” which appeared in the June 2013 issue of The Atlantic. The venerable literary editor of that magazine for a number of years should have known that the actor featured in a number of films with Orson Welles was Joseph Cotten, not Joseph Cotton. Yet the actor’s last name was misspelled eight times in Schwarz’s assessment of The Third Man.

The December 2013/January 2014 Art & Antiques reviewed an exhibition at the Morgan Library of work by and inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. The article, entitled “Under the Raven’s Wing,” was apparently not under a proofreader’s wing because the caption under a portrait on page 45 read “Daguerreotype of Edgar Allen Poe.”

The same inconsistency seems to plague the staff at The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles. The “Name This Famous Person” feature on page 62 of the January 2014 issue offered two spelling options: the caption below the 1848 portrait claimed the famous person is Emily Dickinson while the name attached to the poem “Not in Vain” at the top of the page is Emily Dickenson.

In a profile entitled “The Take-Down Artist” Andrew Goldman described filmmaker Alex Gibney for readers of the December 2013 Men’s Journal as looking a bit like Vladimir Lenin, “but then he’ll laugh, revealing a gap-toothed smile, and he suddenly seems about as menacing as Alfred E. Newman.” Andrew, take this down: the correct spelling of the Mad mascot is Alfred E. Neuman.

Having the same last name as the creator of the Peanuts comic strip, I am about to tee off on writers who still misspell his name: get the t off. Look at the last frame of any of the daily strips and below the title of any of the Sunday spreads: there in bold, printed letters is the correct spelling: SCHULZ.

Is this laziness or carelessness? Nicholas Carr in “The Great Forgetting” indicates how the dependency upon computers to fly planes and cars leads to a reliance on automation, trusting machines to be more precise than humans are. “Most of us have experienced complacency when using a computer. In using e-mail or word-processing software, we become less proficient proofreaders when we know that a spell-checker is at work.” Carr concludes that automation turns us from actors into observers.

The Yankee Doodle Dandy may soon have reason to regret declaring “I don’t care what you say about me, as long as you say something about me, and as long as you spell my name right.” It will be the day an article appears with the title “Over There: A Salute to George M. Wright.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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