Summer Batters 49, Winter Blahs 0

One way to shut out the winter blahs is reading about baseball and the joys of being outside on a nice summer day. David Halberstam’s Summer of ’49 is the one of the best books on baseball from a time when love of the game took precedence over money. Now we live in an era when fame is regularly confused with accomplishment. Halberstam focuses on the 1949 pennant race between the Boston Red Sox led by Ted Williams and the New York Yankees led by Joe DiMaggio.

Halberstam captures an era when teams traveled by train and therefore had more time to think about baseball and talking about the game with teammates. Teams were often on the road for ten days or longer, although no team had to travel west than to the banks of the Mississippi. The 16 Major League franchises then were located in Ohio (Reds, Indians), Michigan (Tigers), New York (Yankees, Giants, Dodgers), Missouri (Cardinals, Browns), Illinois (Cubs, White Sox), Massachusetts (Braves, Red Sox), Pennsylvania (Phillies, Athletics, Pirates), and Washington, D.C. (Senators).

Readers are advised not to skip the epilogue after the final game of the World Series is described in chapter 15, for they will be rewarded with universal truths rendered by the likes of Bart Giamatti, John Updike, and Joe Lelyveld. Lelyveld, Pulitzer-prize winning correspondent for The New York Times, spoke for all of us who grew up listening to   sportscasters and fervently swinging for the fences with our favorite slugger when he told Halberstam in 1987 that he knew Tommy Henrich hit about 15 game-winning home runs in the first half of the 1949 season because “I helped him do it” while listening to Mel Allen’s description of Yankee games.

1949 was just the start of something big for Casey Stengel, in his first season as skipper of the Yankees, and for Yogi Berra, who answered criticism over looks and language with outstanding achievement. The list of managers who led a team to five consecutive World Series Championships and catchers who won three Most Valuable Player awards is a short one.

Gag writers who poke fun at the Yogiisms reputedly uttered by the Hall of Famer might gag on Berra’s statistics for his first season as full-time catcher  in 1950 when he was only 25: 656 plate appearances, 116 runs scored, 192 hits, 124 RBIs, .322 batting average, 28 home runs, 12 strikeouts. In 2017 when some of the most respected hitters in the game will go down swinging a dozen times in a week, how many position players appearing in over 150 games will homer twice as often as they fan?  Yogi’s spirit might get the last laugh by putting a wee twist on Willie Keeler’s famous saying: “You can’t hit them where they ain’t if you can’t hit them.”

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Romance on the High Cs

It is customary during the month of February for starry-eyed lovers to remember favorite lyrics and melodies that were popular when they were first dating. “They’re playing our song” is not just an old-fashioned phrase. Many of the comments to be found on YouTube attest to the fact that songs from our youth still strike a responsive chord on heartstrings. Even if the lyrics don’t specifically carry the words “Hello, Young Lovers,” hearing them once again brings back those days when even kings went a-courting.

I can readily understand why so many people consider Barry White’s 1974 hit “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love, Babe” as “their song” because its driving beat throbs with amorous rhythm, and it remains perhaps the best recorded accompaniment to making love. Cynics who disparage the 1970s as a vacuous decade dominated by disco music and repetitive chords tend to overlook the fact that the period from about 1968 through 1982 produced some of the best soft-rock groups who turned out songs that still can wring the hearts of lovers everywhere. If you want to bring back the look of love in your lover’s eyes, try these tuneful expressions of affection that remain “gentle on my mind”:

“You Are the Woman”   “Just Remember I Love You”   Firefall

“Can’t Find the Time”  Orpheus

“You Can Do Magic”  America

“Suavecito”   Malo

“Nights Are Forever Without You”   “We’ll Never Have to Say Goodbye”   England Dan and John Ford Coley

“Rings” Cymarron

“This Time I’m In It for Love”  Player

“Pieces of April”  Three Dog Night

“Sharing the Night”  Dr. Hook

“Welcome Me Love”   Brooklyn Bridge

“Strange Magic”  ELO

“Could It Be That I’m Falling in Love”  “One of a Kind Love Affair”  Spinners

“Come and Get Your Love” Redbone

“Sweets for my Sweet, Sugar for My Honey” may be drifting too far back into the 1960s and too saccharine for today’s tastes, but this personalized sentiment from 1973 delivered by Don Goodwin will never go out of style:  “This Is Your Song”





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Peculiar Science 6

The January/February Popular Science gets off to a stumbling start as readers are encouraged to flee for their lives from zombies in an augmented-reality app called Zombies, Run! Before listening to characters “babble about the apocalypse,” readers should listen to their heads which advises them not to take the counsel of immature minds babbling about their adolescence.

Booking a room in a Swedish ice hotel is about the last place people shivering through the coldest months of winter want to read about, yet it is the highlight of the page titled “We’re We’ve Slept.” Bedding down on slabs of ice, even in fur or in sleeping bags, is not the closest thing to home but rather the closest thing to Nome. Even a Pocket Rocket canister stove that “will stick to you forever” will last no longer than the pneumonia invading your body from a night of ice slabbing.

All students who struggled with physics will find little comfort after gazing at the billions of stars on pages 20 and 21, then learning that a professor has announced that after surviving the most stringent test ever thrown at Einstein’s theory, “general relativity has passed.” That collective murmur heard across the country is from zombified readers muttering, “I wish I had.”

In this hectic world there seems no escape from e-mailers and telemarketers, yet the “Holes in the Map” section indicates that about 100 groups of Uncontacted People live “in isolated areas across the globe, including parts of the Amazon.” That must account for the missing workers who operate forklift trucks, are lodged under conveyor belts, or have been mistakenly sealed under bubble wrap and Styrofoam in unopened boxes in Amazon warehouses.

We don’t need writer Michael Koziol to inform us on page 24 that the billions of planets in our galaxy are “So far away.” Carole King told us that back in the Age of Aquarius.

2100 A.D. seems so far away, yet forward-thinking Peter Hess recommends the best place to live in the United States at the dawn of the next century will be Sault Ste. Marie in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Readers still alive in 83 years should book their reservations for the Geriatric Winter Games no later than 2098.

The nine-page feature story on “Life Made in China” can be summarized quickly by the double-page spread on pages 36-37 and the wording under the title: “Shenzhen is ground zero for the new culture of globalization” and “But it is actually creating something.” The hazy photo shows what it is creating: lung-clogging smog.

Readers who choose not to emigrate to Michigan or follow the Proxima Trail to a new solar system can stargaze from home like Galileo by building a type of telescope used by the pioneering astronomer, starting with a toilet-paper tube. Wags named Seymour Butts desiring only to point the homemade telescope toward Uranus may be better served by shopping through a novelty catalog for their diversions.

The Modern Explorers kit shown on pages 80-81 contains some practical items like a first aid kit and water filter. Survivalists only accustomed to backyard sleepovers may find that the cricket powders and bars no more tasty than the rain poncho tucked inside the kit.

It might be best for those traveling in distant lands not to bunk down anywhere near where drones may be flying overhead. The Brothers Hassini are commended for developing a “zero-casualty mine sweeping” drone which goes off to fly another day after exploding hidden mines. What about the modern survivalist who just happens to be sleeping off a cricket supper under a rain poncho in the nearby shrubbery?

Masculine readers who see the word “EXPLORE” on the cover, beckoning them to discover what lies within, are also likely to concentrate on the caution: “May Cause Wanderlust,” causing them to let their lust wander past all the palaver about building a sextant from junk and let the sex instinct lead them beyond silly questions like “Can you fertilize Martian crops with human poop?” and bizarre conjectures like “I wish someone would invent a sunscreen pill” to what matters here and now posed in the ad query on page 94: “Male enhancement Pills…Do They Really Work?”











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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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