Who is Northwest Smith?
Northwest Smith is an entirely fictional character, whose stories and observations are the figments of his creator's imagination. Smith exists to entertain and amuse (and occassionally annoy); if he offends, I quote that great British humorist John Clease:
From the Desk of N.W. Smith
(More or less)
2/21/2008: My 50th birthday will fall on a Saturday.
And you know what THAT means?!?
3/31/2005: After a hard day's work, M'Lady and I went some much needed Chinese food from our favorite local take-out place, Zaw's. We didn't call ahead, so we had a half-hour to kill (From about 5:00pm to 8 or 9 at night on a Friday, it's literally smokin' in Zaw's: their cook works out of huge wok, and BOY can he work that wok!). It was raining gently, so first we went to Jerry's Records just down the street (more on that tomorrow), and when we walked back up to Zaw's there was an incredible double rainbow stretched across half of the eastern sky. The picture to the right, taken by Alyssa Cwanger of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, doesn't do it justice: it formed just as the sun was starting to set, with the bottom one very bright and well defined along the full length of the arch. But as the eastern sky darkened, the huge area inside that arch was a bright yellow/orange, almost the same color as the clouds in the western sky. And then the inner rainbow started to form two, three, and then four partial rainbows, overlapping red, orange, and yellow stripes up to the outermost arch of the inner rainbow. And it stayed like that for a good ten minutes before the sun fully set, when it winked out in barely a few seconds.
And just about then, our take-out was ready.
Dinner and a show. You can't beat that!
2/16/2005: When I walked in this morning, there was a rainbow. It was in the Northwest sky for a good five minutes, and as bright as the paint-job on a spankin' new Hot Wheels car.
I don't know what I'm going to face for the rest of the day. But at least it started with a rainbow.
12/25/2005: There is hope for us yet.
12/09/2005: In high school, my Dad would drop my off most days on his way to work, sometimes as early as 7:15am, a good 45 minutes before classes started. Still, there was usually a group of kids already there, and they were one of the cliques I belonged to. Most of the early arrivals were African-American, and one of the guys would sometimes bring in a portable tape recorder to play new records he'd bought, or play cuts from comedy albums.
Needless to say, Richard Pryor was a
favorite, and not just with the black kids. White kids like me enjoyed the
profane nature of Mr. Pryor's humor, if only because he was from that same
school of political/social "shock joke" as George Carlin. But as a
raconteur, Mr. Pryor's biggest influence on me was the masterful way he
constructed the toughest comedy routine, the shaggy-dog story. His Mudbone character was his usual tool for these routines, as
Pryor became an old man relating stories of life in the rural South before
World War II, or the early days of the black migration to urban areas in the
North and West. The first Mudbone story I head
started with: "I came from
12/08/2005: In college, I had a weekly, hour-long radio program every Tuesday night from 11:00pm to midnight called 60 From the Sixties " . . . featuring sixty minutes of 60's music." The show was fairly popular: the sponsors loved it, I got fan mail, and my voice was even recognized by people in and out of the campus. The business manager of station--the only paid employee--liked 60 enough that as the show's second year on air started, he asked me to record them on reel-to-reel, so he could re-run old shows during my vacation breaks.
But that year, around mid-October, he asked me to tape a new show in advance.
Could you do a Christmas show? he said. Is there enough rock'n'roll Christmas music from the 1960's to fill an hour?
I chuckled. I personally owned enough 60's Christmas music to fill close to three hours, so the only problem I faced was deciding which songs to play.
By the time I settled in the production studio around Thanksgiving, I had picked 21 records, no repeats of either titles or artists. I did cheat a little, starting out with a set of songs -- The original Drifters (with the butterfly tenor of Clyde McPhatter) doing "White Christmas", Bobby Helms "Jingle Bell Rock", and Chuck Berry's "Run, Run, Rudolph!" -- that were first released in the 1950's, but which I fondly remembered being played on rock and pop radio stations all through the following decade.
The next set was Brenda Lee's "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree", followed by "Gee-Whiz, It's Christmas" by Carla Thomas, and the Chipmunks "Christmas Don't Be Late". I then did a little schtick about how the first rock "concept" album was a Christmas album, specifically Phil Spector's righteously classic 1963 effort, which led into four cuts from that opus: the Charleston shuffle of "Sleigh Ride," by the Ronettes, "Winter Wonderland" by the Crystals, Bob E. Sox and the Blue Jeans "Here Comes Santa Claus!", and Darlene Love's atomic-powered "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)".
I dutifully broke to give the sponsors their due, then came back with some fun stuff: "The Man With All The Toys" by the Beach Boys, Booker T. and the MGs' funky take on "Silver Bells", and the late, great Otis Redding doing "Merry Christmas, Baby". Next, I slowed the pace down a taste with "Pretty Paper" by Roy Orbison and Brooke Benton's "This Time of the Year"; and then, in case folks had forgotten it was Christmas in the 1960s we were celebrating, I played Simon And Garfunkle's "Silent Night (7 O'Clock News)", where the duo sings the traditional classic underneath a mock broadcast of world and national news of the day.
Motown got their turn to shine after that with a quartet of holiday tunes from the Motor City, starting with the Temptations' "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" (before that chestnut had been buried in clay and raisins), The Supremes' "My Favorite Things, "Christmas Lullaby" by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and Stevie Wonder's "What Christmas Means To Me", replete with angelic background "ooo-ooo's" from the Andales.
It is a tribute to how short most of these songs where (and the seconds picked up segueing between them in stop-sets) that, having played 20 songs plus two minutes of commercials and a few more of me babbling, I ended up with about five minutes at the end of the hour. So I took the time to apologize for one more "cheat" in my playlist, this one a song from 1970, but which I felt was a case of a true spirit of the 1960's embracing the true and timeless spirit of Christmas.
So I thanked everyone for listening, wished all a very happy holiday, and played John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "Merry Xmas (War is Over)".
I made a cassette of the broadcast for the station manager, who loved it. Then I buckled down and got term papers and final exams out of the way, and spent a nightmarish three days getting home for the holidays, trapped in airports by bad weather, mechnical problems, and just bad luck. Back then, 24-hour news and TV screens were not glommed on every surface at every airport terminal and lounge area, and I killed time plowing through a half-dozen paperback books.
So as a result, I didn't find out that John Lennon had been murdered until the I got home on June 9th, 1980.
People both mourned and celebrated Lennon in a lot of different ways. At my radio station all that on the 9th, the station manager and the DJs had programmed a lot of Beatles and Lennon solo music, culminating in running my holiday "60 from the Sixties", so we'd sign off for the day with a Lennon song. The response was amazing: by popular demand, the "60's Christmas" show got run every following Tuesday, and one last time on Christmas Eve, word of mouth building the audience with every broadcast. The two sponsors--a clothing store and a restaurant--got a pop out of it during what is usually a down for them time in a college town, with folks coming by to thank them for sponsoring the show, then staying to shop or have a meal, respectively. I even got a phone call from the town newspaper, asking me about how I'd put the show together. I immediately copped to the fact that all praise went to my station manager and the vacation break DJs for the tribute, that I had recorded it well before Lennon was killed, and my sole motivation for including "Merry Xmas (War is Over)" was that it was one of my favorite rock'n'roll holiday songs.
25 years later, that still holds true.
12/07/2005: It's been announced that Neo-Flagellant Poster Child Mel Gibson is planning on producing a non-fiction mini-series for ABC Television about the Holocaust, probably as either penance or a smoke-screen for his Dad, who is a cryto-fascist Holocaust-denier and generally aging Hilter Youth.
But checking out Mel's new look, I think he's missing his bet by not producing, directing, and starring in a movie about Osama bin Laden. He's certainly got that "helter skelter" look in his eye, don't he?
And they do have a lot in common in the religious fanaticism area . . . Maybe do it like a "Mad Max" movie, except aimed at the Wahhabi Islam market . . .
Or maybe a Saddam Hussein bio-pick. Check the picture below, tell me they weren't seperated at birth . . .
At his trial today, Saddam Hussein announced that
he is not afraid of being executed.
Pheew. There's a load off my mind.
12/01/2005: Somebody asked me how I felt about Secretary of State Condelezza Rice.
Her politics aside, my feelings are as follows:
White men have been screwing up the
foreign policy of the
Nah. Too easy.
11/19/2005: There use to be just one radio station in Dah 'Burgh that starts playing Christmas music 24-7 a week before Thanksgiving until the 26th of December: 94.5FM WWSW, AKA 3WS, started this a few years back, shortly after they got taken over by the media conglomerate Clear Channel Communications (Corporate Motto: "Resistance . . . is FUTILE!). Turns out that, in every market where Clear Channel controls more than five or six stations (re: just about ALL of the major and secondary markets in the country, as this is CCC's evil capitalist running-dog monopolist strategy), it designates one of their AM or FM thralls to go "All Holiday Music, All The Time" every year. It was something that contributed to me switching allegiences away from 3WS to 92.9FM WLTJ (that, and the fact that I was lucky to hear 6 songs in an hour between all the ads and the sometimes vaguely fascistic chatter on WWSW's morning show, while the folks at WLTJ never pumped out less than 8, kept chat to a minimum and away from promoting whatever pet paranoid fantasy their corporate masters happened to be hyped on at that particular moment).
But now, it appears that my new favorite FM station has taken the same idiot plunge into relentlessly promoting the season by doing the holiday music thing 24-7, and I'm starting to get a little ticked off.
Do NOT get me wrong: I LOVE the holidays in general, and holiday music in particular. I drive M'Lady nuts with it every year since we first started hanging out many moons ago. I've currently got nearly 400 MP3s recorded from my various CD and vinyl Christmas music collections. They will be dutifully rolled into the mix of nearly 4000 MP3s that serenade me at work and home . . . the day AFTER Thanksgiving. There will be some occassions when I'll be listening to only holiday tunes--when I'm putting up the tree and decorating the house, wrapping presents, or in the evenings immediately before Christmas. Otherwise, my MP3 collection, set on random play, will hit me with maybe two or three holiday songs per hour, which I might tweek up to four or five in the week or so before the day arrives.
Clearly it's not what I'M thinking . . .
"Hey! This is a golden oppurtunity to try out that new "Bob" format radio station at the old WRRK 96.9 FM."
And remember how this is essentially what caused me to make the permanent switch of listening habits from 3WS to Lite Rock a couple of years back . . .
11/18/2005:The device to the right is a trebuchet, a catapult seige-engine first used by the Roman Legions before the birth of Christ.
As a counter-weight to propel it's projectile, it's "basket" contains 11,000 pounds.
It was meticulously constructed and loaded with 5.5 tons of rocks by these nine stalwart individuals with the sole and sacred purpose of propelling an 8 to 10 pound pumpkin nearly 1400 feet through the air.
Is this a great country or WHAT?!!!!!
11/16/2005: People are always asking me: "If you have a Blog, why don't you write something for it every day like other Bloggers?"
Well, there are a couple of reasons:
1). I have a life: I don't know how the hell other people can spend the time needed each day to ramble on about whatever subject comes to mind, let alone scrounge around for something to actually talk about. I've got a full-time job, a family, a social life. When time and circumstances permit, I settle down at the keyboard and blow an hour. Otherwise, I'm keepin' on keepin' on.
2). I'm not that stuck on myself. Let's face it: one of the things that absolutely has to drive any blogger is s/he thinks that his/her opinion matters enough to kick an hour a day to the curve to spout about one topic or the other. I get plenty of oppurtunities to express my opinions about various topics through the course of my normal day, and that's fine by me in most cases. Otherwise, it's when I've got a moment and the spirit moves me.
11/14/2005: Well how 'bout that, cousin? Payback IS a bitch!
And while you're there, check out other stories that are under the main-stream, mass media radar, like the growing power-struggle in Iran and how China's economic growth is impacting the price of oil and energy.
10/21/2005: It's bad enough that His Larceny George II has committed us in a half-assed fashion to a half-assed war for half-assed reasons, and in a quarter-assed manner that will probably do as much if not more damage to the United States military at all branches and levels -- Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, their various Reserve organizations and the National Guard -- than the Vietnam War did, and in less time.
But now I find out that, as Commander-in-Chief of those forces, he has permitted the establishment of slot machine parlors on U.S. military bases around the world, so that our service men and women, under the tremendous stress that might drive them to destructive behavior, can basically hand their already inadequate pay-checks over to Big Business AND the Department of Defense (guess who gets the bigger cut of the action).
And in a recent development, our service men and women don't even have to pick up a roll of nickels, dimes, quarters, etc., to gamble away their monthly allotment: they can use the in-house credit/debit cards, and blow it all without having to get up occassionally and head to the cashier's window.
And they have the balls to lay down patriot themed carpet, on top of everything else.
10/20/2005: Another great day for Morning Edition at NPR.
Among several others. I think Morning Edition is averaging about 7 or 8 great stories a day about things that are important that you aren't hearing about on CNN or other corporate media sources, or with perspectives or details on those stories that you don't get in the rush to dedicated hours of air-time to missing blonde teen-aged girls or whatever the current sensational/celebrity murder case happens to be.
10/19/2005: In well less than two days, Hurricane Wilma went from a tropical storm to a Category 5 hurricane.
And it went from Category 2 to 5 in hours.
And it still hasn't reach the truly warm
waters of the
And it already has the lowest barometric pressure at it's center than any hurricane ever recorded.
And it's headed towards
That's THREE of the most powerful hurricanes in HISTORY in less than two MONTHS.
Oh sure. There's no global warming. Yeah. Right.
I appreciate that these women are risking their lives to save this poor American G.I. from torture and other things too unspeakable to mention. But isn't the blonde going to catch her death of cold like that?
Something like one-in-10 of sub-Saharan
Before I realized that academic life was not
for me, I had studied to be an historian, with emphasis on
10/16/2005: Got a chance to see Wallace & Gromit: Curse of the Were-Rabbit at the local DownLoew's Apocalyplex. Got stiffed for over $6.00 for two drinks, refused popcorn or candy on principal, and thus managed to get clear of the joint for less than $20.00. Probably should have gone to the local theatre, where you can get the whole 9 yards for $19.50, but we were out in that neck of the woods anyway.
Still, it was worth every penny! I was a little fearful that by going to a full-length (in this case, about an hour and a half) format rather than the traditional 20-odd minutes, Nick Park was going to tax his ability to put together the kind of wonderfully wacky stories full of gags and elaborate set-pieces that were the hallmark of the shorter features like The Wrong Trousers and A Close Shave.But having seen Chicken Runand laughed my ass off through nearly it's entirety, I should never have worried: Curse of the Were-Rabbit not only doesn't have a dull moment, but at least one of the plot twists actually made my jaw-drop, as much from the surprise as the fact that Park constructed it so masterfully. And I must agree with several reviewers who have noted that Grommit is one of the great actors of our generation: he manages to express an incredible range of emotions with just his brow!
I just hope when this one hits DVD, there's a boxed-set with all his previous stuff that goes with it. The man has won two Oscars on three tries, and there's a good chance this one will make it three out of four!
10/11/2005: In the weeks leading up to Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, my neighborhood in Dah Burgh was bum-rushed by the Jews for Jesus. The reason we were thus blessed with their ministry is that the area is perceived as being a "jewish" neighborhood, less because it's predominantly Jewish (it's not), but because there are a lot of synagogues and yeshivas covering all the different varieties of Judaism, including many of the Orthodox sects. So there were J.F.J. representatives stood on street corners, handed out flyers, and generally making a bigger nuisance of themselves than any pan-handler, or even a Jehovah's Witness.
For obvious reasons, Jews of all denominations were none to pleased with the J.F.J.'s invasion: billboards and posters went up well in advance of the J.F.J. campaign, critiquing the whole operation. For one thing, the J.F.J.s are no more Jewish than I'm a Zulu: many are just hard-core evangelical Protestants, and most of the J.F.J's funding and support comes from that particular lunatic fringe of Christianity. They certainly don't have an actual religious institution that qualifies as"jewish" (even by the liberal standards of Reform or Reconstructionist Judaism), nor "organized" (even when compared to, say, Baptists). The whole operation is basically a precious yet perfidious ploy to poach other folks' pews (which is not a bad alliteration to toss off on such short notice).
But frankly, I was pretty offended by the J.F.J.'s antics . . . and all I had to do was smile and say "Irish Catholic" or "Devout Papist" to send them packing. In the twenty-five years I've been in the neighborhood, I've lived close enough to Orthodox yeshivas, homes and places of worship that I've ended up being a shabbos goy--a non-Jew that is asked to do a task that an observant Jew is not permitted to do on the sabbath (sunset Friday to sunset Saturday), but otherwise needs to be done--more times than I can count. Yet in that whole quarter of a century, not once has anybody tried to convert me to Judiasm--Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, or Reconstructionist--period. When somebody respects your religious beliefs, I think it's only polite to return the favor.
And for a group that actually gloms "Jesus" into their logo, you'd think the J.F.J.'s would remember that the man once said "My Father's house has many mansions", and that his ministry emphasized that even a pagan Roman Centurion was blessed of God. It's one of the reasons I say I'm not a "practicing" Catholic: I don't confuse God with religion anymore, let alone Popes, priests, or their Protestant equivalents.
Still, the closest thing to a confrontation I saw during the J.F.J.'s two-week infestation was as absolutely peaceful as it was utterly hilarious. One day, a J.F.J.'s rep was handing out flyers at the busiest corner of one of the local universities. . . and at a polite distance, covering all paths leading away from the rep, four Orthodox teen-aged girls had positioned themselves with garbage bags, standing silently, wearing signs that said:
Keep the Campus Clean:
Please Don't Litter.
Amen to that!
10/12/2005: Somebody asked me what was meant by the title of my friend Big Al's "It's Not A F*ck*ng Revolution If Nothing Really Changes--Yoh the Brits!" Fourth of July Celebration and Death Volleyball Tournament.
Well, the answer to that is simple and, like
1. Death Volleyball Tournament is sort of "extreme" volleyball, at least it was 20 years ago when everybody was a hell of a lot younger and much more able to take bumps. The actual rules aren't much different (a lot less formal about touching the net and such); it's just that the place we play isn't exactly what you'd call level ground, the net is strung between two enormous oak trees that clearly have it in for the players (ricochets and, and there's a rather steep incline on the left side of the court that makes you think twice before diving after an out of control dig.
2. Yoh the Brits!: Al's something of an Anglophile, and thinks we should never have left the Kingdom's warm embrace. Knows all the lyrics to "Rule Britainnia"; signed up for cable TV back in the summer of 1982 for the sole purpose of having CNN so he could get up-to-date coverage of the Faulklands War.
3. It's Not A F*ck*ng Revolution If Nothing Really Changes is because the American Revolution was not a true revolution, because nothing really DID change, which is the textbook definition of the word "revolution" in a political/social sense. Slavery wasn't abolished, women and poor people didn't get the vote, and we ended up with a bicameral legislature where one house was elected by men of property and the other was appointed by the economic and social elite from that same elite (direct election of Senators didn't come until 1914). The biggest "change" caused by the "Revolution" was an executive indirectly elected by the people (that pesky Electoral College that spawned the whole "blue state/red state" thing) rather than a King, and even THAT was touch and go: Washington was offered a life-long king-ship, but chose something vaguely democratic. Frankly, if the Brits had listened to the Prime Minister at the time and granted the colonies representation in Parliament (the whole origin of that "no taxation without representation" business), we all might be singing "God Save The Queen" at the start of sporting events.
10/10/2005: In early July of 2000, my family and I were staying at my friend the Big Alabama's place after the carnage of his 20th Annual "It's Not A F*ck*ng Revolution If Nothing Really Changes--Yoh the Brits!" Fourth of July Celebration and Death Volleyball Tournament. Al's got a fantastic and fully restored 19th Century Victorian mansion out at the end of one of the old trolly-car lines in the 'Burgh, and we were staying on the "guest floor", which included a bathroom about the size of a two-car garage. As I toweled off after a shower in said bathroom, I decided to avail myself of the digital scale, and discovered I was a whopping 255 pounds! The vision in the full-length mirror was no less frightening: I bore a striking resemblance to my oldest brother, who in turn bares a striking resemblance to the Graf Zeppelin. It was then and there that I vowed to lose weight . . .
And as of today, I weigh 185 pounds!
Yup! 70 pounds--over a quarter of my starting body weight--down the drain! And you know how I did it?
Well, I changed my diet, cut back on the sweats and fats, and started to walk to work and back home at night (about a hour walking each day, five days a week).
Now, there's no question the Type-2 Diabetes helped: nothing like cutting sugar and other "bad" carbs out of your diet to make those pounds just drift away! But I'd lost 30 pounds in less than a year when I first got the symptoms of Diabetes, though my change in diet is probably what triggered my Diabetes in the first place: I stopped drinking sugarred soda and laid off the cookies and other high-carb snacks, cutting something like 2000 to 4000 calories a DAY out of my life, AND started burning even more carbs with exercise . . . and my sugar-saturated body rebelled by being forced to go cold-turkey.
Right now, I'm the same weight I was when I graduated from college almost 25 years ago. Admittedly, it was a little bit better organized back then and much more of it was north of the equator, if you get my drift. But my blood-pressure is normal, I sleep better at night, and if things continue to work out I'll be a burden on Medicare and Social Security for a looooooong time. And as I've been paying into both of those suckers since I was 16 without touch a dime of the principle, I got no qualms in that area!
10/06/2005: I gotta say what a great source of information NPR is, particular Morning Edition. Compared to even the long-haul cable-news channels, the variety and depth of stories that get broadcast every day are vastly superior. For example, in addition to two stories that will get flogged to death tonight on the news--Katrina/Rita and the upcoming battle over the Senate's attempt to establish rules for the humane treatment of foreign detainee's--I heard great stories about:
Another convenience is that the individual stories can be listened to in a "streaming" audio as they are broadcast, or as individual sound files; the latter is particularly convenient if your desk-job compells you to have a short attention span, and allows you to go back and re-listen to anything you missed.
Recently, in a paternity lawsuit by a woman who got pregnant by a Catholic seminary student, the Church argued in the case that the woman in question was at least partially responsible for the pregnancy because she didn't use birth control (Check the story on NPR).
So what the Catholic Church is saying is that contraception is a mortal sin . . . unless you're having sex with a priest!
Can't wait to see how they frame the rhetoric on THAT in the next Papal bull. I'll bet it makes transubstantiation and the conditions of papal infallibility look like directions for making Rice'o'Roni.
9/21/2005: Rita went from a Catagory 1 to a Category 5 storm in less than 36 hours, AND became the third most powerful hurricane in the 100+ years they've been keeping records, with sustained winds of 175 miles per hour.
LOOK at that sucker. That's one bad-ass pile of moisture, folks
And you know which one was the fourth most powerful storm on that little list?
Pay attention, people: global warming is real. Start doing something about it, or your grandchildren are going to be living in domes, and "beachfront property" is going to be a dirty joke to them.
9/20/2005: Now this is a MAN'S MAGAZINE.
Not "Washboard Abs in 30-days" or "Show Her Your Sensative Side" or "Saving for a Comfortable Retirment" like that wuzzy-ass Men's Journal, but
The Big Cat Clawed My GUTS!
You can almost smell the testosterone imbedded in the newsprint! They don't make 'em like that anymore, buddy!
9/18/05: I was tooling around the internet the other day, and I decided to check and see what wonderous vistas the various Mars Explorer orbiters and vehicles had taken snap-shots of in the last few weeks. And in the process of exploring, I found out that the two robotic rovers currently tooling about on the Martian surface, Spirit and Oppurtunity, have mission patches just like those worn by manned-missions.
If I can find these suckers for sale, I'm buying them. And they're getting stitched onto my wind-breaker.
9/17/05: Back when it first came out, I played Magic: The Gathering with my girls during their brief fascination with it. I never really got into (I was more of a Illuminauti: New World Order junkie myself: Nothing like hitting some unsuspecting rival Conspiracy with Rogue Boomer, Earthquake and Atomic Sea Monster just when they think World Domination is within their tentacled grasped.)
But if Wizards of the Coast ever puts out THIS edition, I'm gonna be haunting Phantom of the Attic's game shop like Marley's Ghost. I hadn't gotten through the White cards in the deck before I'd done myself an injury laughing, and I still can't get my ass back on.
9/16/05: Over 30 years ago, I was a freshman in high school. I was a whopping 5'7" tall and 135 pounds dripping wet; a skinny, brainiac geek with untamed hair and a face that was keeping the Strydex and Clearasil people in business. I wasn't even a Marvel No-Prize, and the only girls that would talk to me were teachers. I was utterly hopeless, and was resigned to it: maybe the future held some miracle for me, but the present had enough miseries in it without trying to get some girl to notice me, let alone be my girlfriend.
And then, that very first morning in my home-room, I saw Tamara.
She was a little over five-feet tall, an almond-shaped face with big brown eyes, full-lips, egyptian nose, high cheek-bones; honey-brown skin with hair a few shades darker pulled back in a pony-tail; a long neck, slim figure, and long legs. There was something about her that was sweet and soft and shy, and my brain collapsed for the first time in my life.
I was slack-jawed, dumb-struck, utterly immobilized, and hopelessly in love.
I'd never before felt something that intense for a girl, and I didn't know how to handle it. I couldn't get up the courage to walk up to her, let alone have the kind of casual, together rap that might get her to pay attention to me, forget about getting a date. And what made it even worse?
No other guy in the school felt the same way that I did about her.
I don't know if she was the prettiest girl in the school. But in my eyes, she managed to make the school's uniform for the girls--a fluffy white blouse, billowing, knee-length pleated skirt, button-less vest, ankle-socks and saddle-shoes--like something off the cover of Italian Vogue.
But one day, about half-way through freshman year, this older kid named Skully--a border-line bully with Matt Damon looks who liked me because I was funny, and every high school bruiser seemed to need a court-jester in his entourage back in that particular day--caught me going all moon-eyed over Tamara as she passed in the hall.
"Hey, Smith," he chided. "You may be a geek, but you could do better than her!"
"What?" I said, not understanding at first.
"Come on! She's kind of homely."
And I hit the son of a b*tch. A head taller than me, 50 pounds heavier if he was an ounce, a gorilla I wouldn't have provoked for a sack of money . . . and I hauled off and slugged him right in the chest. I barely pushed him back a couple of degrees from verticle, but I put a shocked expression on his face.
"Shut up!" I told him, craning my head back to look him in the eye. "She's beautiful! I'll kick your ass if you ever say that again!"
Why he let that act of defiance ride I have no idea. But he never said anything about Tamara in front of me after that.
And so freshman year muddled on, with me worshipping Tamara from afar.
Sure I had hopes: that I might pull her out
of the way of an out-of-control dump-truck while we waited at the school's bus
stop; or unwittingly save her sainted grandmother from a burning building; or maybe the mighty wizard Shazam would nail me with a
lightning bolt and I'd end up looking like Steve Reeves.
But I hadn't expected
I'd gone to Junior High with
That these academic consultations continued
into High School was no big surprise, and I'd grown sufficiently immune to
And Tamara sat down with her.
It was literally all I could do to keep from shaking.
Tamara wanted to go to college, and she knew
she needed to do well in math for that. But she was just about as hopeless at
the subject as
And Tamara was just as easy to teach as
I have never been smooth with women: patient, crafty, yea, at times even diabolical . . . but never smooth. So when I realized I'd have no trouble getting Tamara up to speed with algebra and geometry, I deliberately taught her only what she needed to get through the upcoming weekly quiz. She could have handled a lot more than just that at a single sitting . . . but this way, I could see her for an hour or two every week.
I think it was around March of that year, and there was a big, comprehensive test in Algegra that was schedule for Monday. Tamara was in a panic, and wanted to get an extra study session in that Saturday.
"The public library near my house has a study area for students," I said. "We could meet there on Saturday morning."
I was at the library when it opened, despite a steady rain. Tamara arrived about twenty minutes later, umbrella and book-bag in hand, and I barely recognized her.
You see, I'd never seen Tamara in anything other than our school's uniform, let alone street clothes. But that Saturday morning, she wore hip-hugger bell-bottom blue-jeans, wedge-heel cork sandals, and a t-shirt that didn't quite tuck in, but danced an inch above that low-slung line of her jeans, and showed off her belly-button.
And she'd let her hair down.
Freed from the pony-tail, it was fluffy, wavy, a little wild, and it usually covered her left eye unless she brushed it back.
I exhaled, and steam trailed out of my mouth and nostrils.
Somehow, I managed to remain focused, despite that hair, those clothes, the freshly scrubbed smell of her body sitting right next to me--it was a good thing we had to speak in whispers, because anything louder than that and my voice would have cracked and stuttered. For the next hour, we studied all the formulas and rules that had been taught since the new year began, and then for another hour she did sample problems from the books.
And to my great disappointment, she got everything right on the first try.
I had hoped that meeting would have lasted all afternoon; I'd be damned if I let it end without a fight. And it was then that I first conceived and implemented what would become the most successful pick-up line I've ever used:
"Hey," I said, "You hungry?"
It turned out she'd skipped breakfast that morning, and was famished.
There was a diner just up the street. I carried her bag and we shared her umbrella. The place was wonderfully uncrowded: we got a booth by the window, and waited-on right away.
The place had a little clock radio up on the counter, tuned to WCKO, the poppier of two R&B/Soul stations on the FM dial. And while we were sitting there talking, the rain pouring down outside not making a damn bit of impact on my very sunny world at that moment, the DJ decided to spin one of my favorite new songs, "Homely Girl" by the Chi-Lites.
"Oooh," Tamara said, in a way that sent chills up and down my spine. "I love this song."
I was in a happy form of shock. "Me, too!" I said.
Tamara gave me a suspicious look, clearly
incredulous that a white boy from
It was not the first (and it would be far from the last) time that I got that look in my life. So to show her my props, I started to sing it, with hand gestures and facial expressions worthy of a lip-sync'ed performance on Soul Train:
There was a boy who use to sit beside you
who'd like to hold that place his whole life through.
You were beautiful to me
You had a heart no one could ever see.
Oh, yes you did.
I was the only one who offered
To carry your books.
'Took all the stares and laughter
and the dirty looks.
But I saw then
what they see now.
They all want to ask you out on a date . . .
They don't know how!
They don't know how!
Tamara was pleasently impressed: I could sing after a fashion, but I had the voices and inflections of the Chi-Lites down to a "T". And the song hadn't been out for more than a few weeks, and nowhere on the Pop stations, so knowing the words demonstrated I knew my stuff. She even thought I already owned a copy, I did it so well.
"Nope. I've been meaning to buy it, though"
"Me, too," she said.
"Hey," I said, noticing that the
rain had decided to cut me a break by stopping. "You want to head up to
that record store at
And so off we went to catch the bus up to the
sprawling strip-mall heaven that was
It turned out that Tamara didn't have enough money on her to buy "Homely Girl". I'd paid for lunch without missing a beat and with no protests from her. She balked when I offered to pay for the 45, though, but then relented.
"Okay," she agreed, "But I'll pay you back, okay?"
And she did, promptly, first thing Monday morning at school; but I wouldn't have cared if she hadn't. Because from that point on, Tamara and I were friends. We started to meet at the library every Saturday to study. If we ran into each other in the hallway, we talked, or she smiled at me and I smiled at her if there wasn't time for talking. We didn't take the same bus, but we'd wait at the same stop and talk then, too. Sometimes she'd even let me carry her books, just like in the song . . .
And we got some dirty looks, too. Inter-racial dating may not be that big of a thing today, but back in 1974 a white guy and a black girl just talking casually to each other pushed buttons on both sides of the color line. Luckily, for the most part people just let it go: I was a hopeless geek who was known to be both crazy and to hang-out normally with black kids, and Tamara was a plain-jane sister below the radar of even the most desperate brother (except for the one day she came to school with her hair down. Then all the guys--white, black, latino, asian, Klingon, Romulan, you name it--did double-takes whenever she passed in the hallway).
After our Saturday study sessions, I always
rode with her down to the stop at
When the end of the school year arrived, and
Tamara aced her Algebra final, she called me and we actually went on something
like a real DATE. I met her down at 79th and
Around 4:00pm, I rode with her down to her stop at 79th and 2nd. We talked about things I don't remember while we waited. Then just as her bus came into view down the road, she turned to me and said:
"Do you really think I'm beautiful?"
I don't think I actually went "BOING!", but I'm sure you get the idea. "Yes," I finally managed to say, "Oh yeah, yes! Yes, I do!"
There was something about the way I said it, my body language, my stupid grin, my happy babbling and the sweat coming off my body in a manner not unlike a heart-attack victim, that managed to convince Tamara of my utter sincerity.
"Did you really punch Skully like
In that moment I wondered what would be
involved in making
She smiled, put a hand on my shoulder, went up on tip-toe and kissed me on the lips. "See you in September," she said, and got on board the bus.
And I sat down on the sidewalk at the corner
I never saw Tamara again.
That summer, her father got a better job somewhere, and they moved away.
All I had left was that song.
I played the black off that record.
Eugene Record wrote, produced, and sang lead on "Homely Girl" as a member of the Chi-Lites. Most of you would recognized their two big cross-over hits, "Oh, Girl" and "Have You Seen Her", and the rampaging hook from "Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)?" that gets sampled in that Beyonce' video where she's trying-out for the Doll-House USA show-bar. But Record and the Chi-Lites easily had a dozen other hits that made it big on the Soul Charts, yet generated little airplay on the Pop Top 40. "Homely Girl" was one of these R&B gems, peaking at #3 on the Soul Charts and hanging out there for 17 weeks, while it was 54 with an anchor on the Pop Charts (which is another one of the things I hold against the White Power Structure, by the way).
Eugene Record passed away on July 22nd, 2005, from cancer, at the age of 64. It's taken me this long to write this, and I apologize to his spirt for the delay.
Thank you, sir, for giving voice to my feelings in a song, for bringing me joy, and helping me through the pain of growing up.
9/15/05: Ahhh! Leave it to the folk at MoveOn.org to to sum up exactly how I feel in 30 seconds or less.
9/14/05: So this guy I know is spouting off over lunch about affirmative action. He's a white guy, and he's talking about how unfair it is, because white guys like him don't get anything like that.
So I tell him he hasn't been paying attention.
Back when I was in college, there was this one white guy who literally studied full tilt-boogie seven days a week. Monday thru Thursday, he'd get out of class, study in the Library, grab some dinner, then head back to the dorm to read and take notes from 6:00pm until 11 or later. Friday's he'd get out of class at 2 in the afternoon, get some lunch, go back to his room and hammer away until 8:00pm or 9:00pm, THEN go see a movie, his girlfriend, party, etc. Saturday he'd be in the Library by 10:00am, break for lunch and dinner, wrap up around 7:00 or 8:00pm for recreational time. Sunday, it's back to the Library by 10:00am, breaks for food, then back to the dorm for the 6:00pm to midnight shift pounding books.
At first, I thought he was pre-Med, which at an Ivy League school like Anandale was a killer major. Me, I was in History: I was reading about 400 pages a week per class, but even then I'd start working when I got out of class, grab some food around 5:00pm, and most nights be done by 8 or 9. Even after I started being a DJ at the radio station and got involved in the gaming club, I'd just have to put in some quality time on the weekend, and I graduated with a 3.4 GPA (Low A-) for the four years and a 3.8 (borderline A+) my senior year.
But this guy was in Political Science: not the biggest gut on campus, but certainly not worthy of the kind of academic heavy-lifting homeboy was doing . . .
Particularly seeing as he was pulling a mere 2.6 GPA.
That's a B- for those keeping score at home.
And freshman year, he'd had a 2.3. (C+)
Now, a lot of kids come out of high school where they're in the top 10 percent, and come to an elite college like Anandale . . . and they are suddenly average. So imagine my shock when he let out what is SAT scores were:
950 out of the old 1600 point system.
Let me put that in perspective: When I first took the SATs, I got 1250 . . . and it wasn't good enough to get into Anandale. A couple of months later I went back in and cranked that score up to 1390 . . . and that was barely good enough, even with me being a third generation legacy (Grandpa Smith Class of 1911, and Poppa Smith Class of 1941).
Well, between his SATs and his borderline grades, I had to ask him, how the hell did he get into an Ivy League school like Anandale?
He smiled and said. "Dad made a few phone calls."
And if that ain't "affirmative action" for white folks, I don't know what is!
9/13/05: When I'm discussing His Larceny, George the Second, I am wont to refer to him as "that reformed crack junkie in the White House". My use of that turn of phrase has been sarcastic in nature: though most independent accounts of Dubya's youthful excesses suggest that cocaine was possibly among substances that he abused, allegations that he actually tried free-basing the White Pony have had little credibility with me . . .
Because today, Bush actually sounded like a junkie.
I'm not talking about Dubya's usual brain-damaged abuse of syntax and peculiar takes on the pronunciations. I'm talking about him getting up on national TV and saying that he "accepted full responsiblity" for the horror story that has been the Federal response to Hurricane Katrina.
It's really easy for a junkie to "accept full responsibility" with his mouth. He'll say anything, spout all kinds of nonsense, if it'll get him a fix or out of a jam. A truly "responsible" person who screwed the pooch this badly, public or private sector, WOULD RESIGN, like good ol' polo boy Michael Brown. Hell, if Georgie was Japanese and botched things up this badly, the Secret Service would have to do their damnedest to keep him from committing seppuku.
But don't expect either of these grand gestures from a junkie, reformed or otherwise: Dubya doesn't feel in the least bit "responsible"--he's just a junkie in a bind, talkin' loud and sayin' nothin', and in a manner nowhere near as funky and dancable as a James Brown record.
And I bet you thought only David Blaine could do this . . .
9/11/05: Four years.
George the Second's had four years to prepare for something like Katrina.
What's more, he had a couple of days warning that a Force 4 or 5 hurricane was going to plow into a VERY large patch of heavily populated real estate and kick the mortal CRAP out of it in a manner only to be surpassed by the unmitigated Wrath of God . . .
And if anything, the response was worse.
Let's face it folks: Dubya doesn't give a sh*t about "homeland security", no more than he does about Educating Our Kids, or the War on Terror, or Social Security, or Terri Schiavo for that matter. It's all about getting his buddies like FEMA boss Michael Brown cushy jobs or Halliburton fat contracts . . . not to mention stiffling dissent, packing the Supreme Court with right-wing morons and crypto-fascists, or blowing all that blood, treasure, and international good-will going after a tin-pot dictator that (alledgedly) tried to kill his Dad (which only goes to show how much more class, dignity, and sense George the First had and remains to have over his Prodigal Son).
The closest thing to "good" that may come out of Katrina is that it should seal Dubya's fate as the worst President we've had in the last 100 years.
09/07/05: With all the much more important news concerning the aftermath of Katrina, I miss the fact that Bob Denver passed away a few days ago.
Now, most of you identify the late Mr. Denver with Gilligan of Gilligan's Island. But frankly, I only watched that show in syndication during my pre-teen years on the off-chance that Dawn Wells or Tina Louise would be running around half-naked in that particular episode (I didn't understand exactly why this appealed to me at that tender age--I just knew it was pushing some interesting buttons in my Id, and I went with it). But for me, Mr. Denver's crowning achievement as an actor was his turn on another show I only caught in syndication, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, where he played the lead character's best friend, Maynard G. Krebs (pictured to the left and below).
Maynard was probably the first
"counter-culture" character on popular TV, a classic 1950's
"beatnik", who spoke his own language, lived by his own rules, and
had a unique perspective on the uptight world of 1950's/1960's sit-coms. I was
only seven or so when Channel 38 or 56 out of Boston was carrying the re-runs
of Dobie Gillis, and I was as thoroughly indoctrinated
into the mainstream social order as a kid that age can be. But Maynard changed
all that: he utterly rejected
At the time, Maynard help me understand my oldest brother, who was a hippie long before it got fashionable: he got sent home from school for having his hair too long before the Beatles even showed up, was doing the folk music thing and marching and protesting for civil rights and against the Military-Industrial Complex in high school. My dad wasn't too impressed with my brother's chosing this " path less travelled": when my brother asked my Dad to spot him an open-ended round-trip airfare to Spain so he could study guitar from a honest-to-gosh Spanish master, mi Padre's counter-offer was a one-way airfare, with the suggestion that my brother wire home for the return trip ticket when he was done. My brother realized the dangers inherent in this arrangement, and decided to pursue his studies at home (for those keeping score, he ultimately taught himself to play not only the guitar--acoustic and electric, 6 and 12-string, lead, rhythm, AND bass--but dulcimer, piano, banjo, and just about any other damn thing with strings that you strummed or plucked).
During all this inter-generational guerrilla warfare, I pretty much took Dad's side in the struggle . . . until Maynard made me think that maybe my brother was on too something by saying a casual "no thanks" to a system that happily tolerated racism, sexism, and the exploitation of the poor and women, and recommended alcoholism or legalized drug-abuse in the form of nicotine, speed, or barbituate dependency as a"solution" for those who couldn't reconcile themselves with the program.
The funny thing with Maynard as a character: in the show, they were always trying to "reform" him. He'd join the Army or get a job for an episode, and then you'd come back on the next show and he'd be right back being Maynard. I didn't notice this little narative troupe until nearly 20 years later, when Nick at Nightstarting running the repeats, when I was old enough to see the signs of the Thought Police trying to snuff out a harmless, free-spirited soul even when he was just goofy comic-relief on a equally harmless sit-com. But clearly, the fans loved Maynard as the laid-back, free-spirited slacker he was, at least well enough that they couldn't stand to see him changed.
Have a good trip, Bob. And wherever you are, may "work" be as dirty a word as it was for Maynard.
you wish there was some way to make Bill Clinton "temporary
President", at least as far as getting the whole
09/03/05: At the risk of sounding cultural ignorant, Who is this Kanye West kid?
I'm watching that Katrina Relief fund-raiser on NBC last night, and him and Mike Meyers come on, and Meyers does the usual queue-card pitch, and then the young Mr. West just goes OFF on George the II and how racist the Bushies and the media have been in their response to the disaster. It took me a couple of minutes to find my eye-balls after they popped out of my head: I thought M'Lady and I were the only ones who spotted how black folk grabbing food were "looters", while white folk were "hungry and desperate"; and to just call out Dubya on not caring about the poor . . . oooh, baby, where DO I buy this man's CD, I don't care what it sounds like (though it's clear that, whatever kind of rapper Mr. West may be, he ain't a free-styler: emotional and heartfelt that improvised diss may have been, but the young man clearly needs to work on his more traditional public speaking skills . . .).
And Mike Meyers should get an Emmy for keeping a straight face during the whole thing.
09/03/05: In routing around for various information, I found a delightful source of debate, if not also information. www.wikipedia.org is a free on-line encyclopedia whose entries are entered and altered by anyone who's interested in contributing. This floating-crap game approach to scholarship has it's limitations, but lately I've found it a great way to reference some of the slang and ancient cultural buzz-words I use in conversion and in my log entries here at the site. And having explored it for several hours already, I can say I find it's information no more or less inaccurate or superfluous than any other "official" source on the web. Caveat lector.
09/02/05: I think I've discerned a major distinction between the Presidential styles of George Dubya and Bill Clinton.
George the Second "visited" the disaster areas, but made sure he steared way clear of the kind of crowds around the SuperDome and Convention Center in N'Orleans.
But I just KNOW that if Katrina had gone down
on Slick Willie's watch,
Yeah, the Rev. Bill was a silver-tongued scoundrel . . . but so was Ronald Reagan. And both were effective silver-tongued scoundrels at that.
08/30/05: Holy crap.
And you know what the truly scary thing about Katrina is?
Get use to it.
We'll be facing at least one of these
500-mile wide, Force Four or Five ass-kickers every year for the next few
years, and maybe even after that. You see, we're at the peak of a hurricane
ferocity cycle at the moment; and with global warming, all bets are off.
I'm not saying that if Dubya had joined hands with the rest of the world and sung "Kumbiaya" when time came to sign the Tokyo Accords, that Katrina wouldn't have happened -- you gotta lay a mean rap on Mother Nature to make her change her mind about something, and it's a looooong courtship at that. But let another couple of big storms plow-up a few more southern Gulf or Atlantic coastal cities like Katrina did, and homeboy is not in any position to say it ain't his fault . . .