Saturday, December 30, 2017

Saga of the Sad Sack Santas

It's not all sugarplums, you know. I was bounced from my job as a department store Santa for forgetting my lines. The supervisor said, "What's so difficult about remembering 'ho ho ho'?" and stripped off my beard.

And then there was my buddy Frank, who, after getting too enthusiastically into the Yuletide spirit, was found singing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" with a scantily clad Elf.

But the worst came for George, a Santa at a Sears store. There were signs all over the place saying "Everything On Sale!" and "Everything Must Go!"

A family from Alberta assumed this included Santa, bought him, and carried him back to Pincher Creek.

George protested, but the Sears people said, "Sorry. All sales final."

Saturday, December 23, 2017

A Card from Vicky and Al

The first Christmas card was posted in 1844. The sender was W.C.T. Dobson of London's Royal Academy. The practice rapidly became popular, and a great fan was Queen Victoria, who one year, it is said, sent some 2,541 cards.

What made it especially nice for the Queen was that all the stamps on the envelopes carried her portrait: the famous one penny black, the first British postage stamp, introduced in 1840.

If you turn up one of those stamps today, you'll find many collectors eager to give you $3,000 U.S. for it. If you also have a card signed by Victoria and Albert, you can probably count on a few dollars more.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Unseasonal Sentiments

Yes, we know it's the time of year for fellowship and good cheer, but give us a moment to throw a few lumps of coal before we move on to a mood of peace and benevolence and love for our fellow creatures.

First, Nikki Haley, US Ambassador to the United Nations:  "I'm taking names"--this sounds exactly like our third grade teacher. And: "We won't forget this"--the tearful words of a fourteen-year-old girl after a high school spat.

And Donald Trump, you know who he is. His preening posture when appearing on camera suggests he is pausing after every sentence to admire his performance. And why not? He is his own biggest fan.

Finally, the coveted Scrooge McDuck Award. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell was in the running, but the clear winner is Speaker of the House Paul "Swing that Gavel" Ryan.

A Merry Christmas to them all.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Ready for Christmas?

The most common greeting at this time of year is "Are you ready for Christmas?"

We remember S.J. Perelman's take on the season: "Here comes Christmas, at our throats again." This feeling may vanish at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, or it may take a visit from a trio of ghosts, but it does, eventually, go.

Here is what we have learned, or failed to learn, about Christmas: (1) There is never enough time. (2) There is never enough money.

So, are you ready for Christmas? The correct answer is "No."

Saturday, December 16, 2017

What to Read. What to Watch

Okay, here come more December suggestions you don't need: what to read, what to watch, as Christmas approaches.

Charles Dickens's "A Christmas Carol" remains the classic Christmas text (after the Gospel of Luke, of course). But Dickens wrote other novellas with a Christmas theme, and two of them--"The Chimes" and "The Haunted Man"--are included in the handsome Modern Library edition, along with a fine introduction by John  Irving, and Dickens's own short preface: "I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little book to raise the Ghost of an Idea,which shall not put my readers out of humour with themselves, with each other, with the season, or with me. May it haunt their house pleasantly, and no one wish to lay it." Dated December 1843.

The other Christmas classic is a short story, "Gifts of the Magi," written overnight in the Hotel Marty, New York, around 1903 by a man named William Sydney Porter. It was one of some six hundred stories he wrote--one a week, for the New York World Sunday edition, and for which he was paid one hundred dollars apiece, a remarkable sum in 1903. All of those six hundred stories appeared with his pen name: O. Henry.

And to watch: The Alastair Sim film of "A Christmas Carol" is almost obligatory, and it's hard to imagine anyone playing Scrooge better, although one critic insists Christopher Plummer, in "The Man Who Invented Christmas," gives us the best Scrooge ever. (Plummer has long been regarded as North America's finest Shakespearean actor, based on his New York performances as Iago, opposite James Earl Jones's Othello, and as Macbeth, in the Scottish play, with Glenda Jackson.)

The flip or hip side of "A Christmas Carol" is "Scrooged," with Bill Murray, plus John Forsythe as a fine ghost of Marley, and Miles Davis as a street busker. And one shouldn't forget Vincente Minelli's "Meet Me in St. Louis," if you can blot out the psychopathic Tootie played by Margaret O'Brien. The most recent addition to this list is "Love, Actually," a series of Christmas season vignettes created by Richard Curtis, writer-director of all those Hugh Grant movies you properly should love.

There we are. Start mulling the wine. I'll be over with a bag of sugarplums.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Christmas Playlist

Yes, devotees of the wassail bowl and buche de Noel, it is almost time to begin playing music of the season--even though shopping malls have been playing "Silver Bells" and Alvin and the Chipmunks sing "Messiah" since Hallowe'en ended.

We once worked at a very civilized radio station that would not allow Christmas music until December 15, and then only selections that would not put your teeth on edge. No "Rock Around the Christmas Tree" by the Berlin Phil.

So here's our approved playlist:

-- "Sleighride," by Art Pepper and Richie "Alto Madness" Cole. A wild romp down the hill, with Roger Kellaway at the reins.

-- "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," by Dexter Gordon. Judy Garland would have liked it, too.

-- "Zat You, Santy Claus?"  by Louis Armstrong. Can't go wrong with Satch.

-- "England's Carol" by the Modern Jazz Quartet. This is really "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen," given an elegant spin by the MJQ.

--  "The Christmas Song," written one sizzling summer day by Bob Wells and Mel Torme, one of the few Christmas pop pieces that is actually pretty good. Almost everyone has recorded it, but our choice is the Jane Monheit version.

And don't forget Vince Guaraldi. Have yourself a tuneful little Christmas.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Baba Noel

"Baba Noel" is what Santa Claus is called in southwest Turkey, and who should know better, for this is where the Santa Claus legend began.

Nicholas was a fourth century bishop in Myra, on the Mediterranean coast. He is said to have saved the three daughters of a poor family from a life of slavery by leaving bags of gold at their door. Beatified, he became known as Saint Nicholas, and the name, going through various national spellings and pronunciations, especially the Dutch "Sant Nikolaas," eventually became "Santa Claus."

The ancient city of Myra has long been gone, but the Church of St. Nicholas is still standing.

Not surprisingly, Nicholas is the patron saint of children, but he is also the patron of pawnbrokers and brewers. And as today is the feast day of Nicholas, have a brew for him.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Memorable Celebrity Statements

"When you're a star, you can do anything you want."

"When you're president, you can do anything you want."

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Grey Cup: The Opera

It occurred to us, up here in the press box, draining the last of our Thermos bottles of "hot chocolate and Oxo"--heh heh--that the quest for a cup and a ring is the stuff of mighty legends. Were not King Arthur and his guys in search of the Holy Grail? And all those Wagnerian dudes after a ring?

So leave us lift the annual drive for the Grey Cup and the Grey Cup rings to a higher artistic level, and perhaps draw in a new group of fans. Let us turn the Grey Cup game into--an opera!

Imagine hearing Mike Reilly and Bo Levi Mitchell singing signals to their teams! Think of the possibilities--the Coach's Challenge Aria, the Referees Recitative, the Cheerleaders Chorus, the Triumphant Touchdown March!

"Hello, Operator? Get me Richie Wagner!"

Monday, November 27, 2017

No Joy in Cowtown

Once again, Calgary Stampeders fans know how the people of Mudville felt when the mighty Casey was struck out.

Someone should write a guide on "How to Play Better and Still Lose." Sportswriter Scott Stinson noted that the Stampeders, since 2010, have a win-loss-tie record of 107-35-2. The Toronto Argonauts: 67-77.

In the 2017 Grey Cup game, the Stampeders had 24 first downs, the Argonauts had 12. Other statistics: 74 yards rushing, Stampeders, Argonauts 16; 373 yards passing for the Stampeders, 297 for the Argos; ball possession, Stampeders 36:57, Argos 23:03. But at the end of sixty minutes, which team got the Grey Cup rings? The Argonauts.

Possibly the only aspect of the game more disspiriting for some was the halftime show, but that was an opportunity to go to the kitchen and stir the stew.

Grief counselling has now been put in place in Calgary.

But here's to the CFL, and to players who take the field in any weather, including snow so dense even huskies think twice about going outside.

--Slap Maxwell, for PD Sports.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Winter is Icumen In

As we endured the bone-chilling dampness and stiletto-sharp wind of November, the jukebox in our brain immediately began to play Ezra Pound's "Winter is Icumen In," which is, of course, the dark or flip side of the welcoming song, "Summer is Icumen In."

Pound's version includes the lines "Raineth drop and staineth slop/And how the wind doth ramm!" We would quote the entire text, but it includes some robust cursing, which we could not allow on a blog approved appropriate for all audiences.

However, we were moved to some robust cursing ourselves, when this line of Pound's came true: "Skiddeth bus and sloppeth us."

Winter is icumen in. Prepare.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Talking Turkey in the USA

It is Thanksgiving Day in the United States of America, that great nondenominational holiday when families come together to argue only about football and politics and who gets the wishbone.

And so, we wish a glorious day to friends and kin, if any remain, in Bad Axe, Michigan; Rowlett, Texas; Issaquah, Washington; Elko, Nevada; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Sausalito, California; and New York, New York.

Please pass the pumpkin cheesecake and the Bourbon.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Seventy Years of Royal Marital Bliss

We wanted to send a congratulatory card to Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, but there aren't a lot of 70th wedding anniversary cards. As for gifts, all we could find were forty-inch metallic gold balloons in the shape of 70, and a "novelty cushion cover," which probably would not suit the palace decor.

The appropriate gift for a seventieth is said to be platinum. Certainly the monarch and consort deserve that--they have, in the words of the record industry, "gone platinum."

Apparently our invitation to the celebratory dinner got lost in the mail. Pity--we had looked forward to sharing a few drinks with Prince Harry.

If you were there, please let us know what was on the menu. We're guessing it wasn't bubbles and squeak.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Post-game Post Mortem

Yet another playoff game with a puzzling call in the final, critical moment. Football fans will recall Pete Carroll's call for a pass instead of a Marshawn Lynch plunge when the Seahawks were on the one-yard line in the Super Bowl, and Dave Dickenson's failure to call rusher Jerome Messam's number at the end of last year's Grey Cup game.

This past weekend, the call that astonished pretty much everyone was Jason Maas's decision to go for a field goal instead of a touchdown, which could have led his Edmonton Eskimos to a tie with the Calgary Stampeders, and pushed the game into overtime.

Eskimo players, and players and coaches of other teams, have diplomatically refrained from commenting on the Maas decision. (Except for Stampeder star defensive back Alex Singleton. Stampeder QB Bo Levi Mitchell gently chided his teammate, saying, "You should have asked me that question first, so he'd know what not to say.")

Sports commentators, of course, have no interest in diplomacy, and were quick to leap on the Maas call. The most sympathetic comment came from Jock Climie, who spoke of curious calls made at the conclusion of games, saying, "Sometimes coaches go into brain freeze."

Maas has our sympathy, too, knowing the kinds of dreams he's going to be having for a very long time.

                                                          Slap Maxwell, for PD Sports.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Typing with Twain

Okay, we know it's a football day--Slap Maxwell is up there in the press box--but two items from yesterday deserving of note:

1. It was on November 18, 1477, that the first book to be printed in England came off William Caxton's Westminster Abbey Press. The book: "Dictes and Sayengs of the Phylosophers," by Earl Rivers. Still waiting for the movie version.

2.  And it was November 18, 1865, when Mark Twain's  breakthrough story, "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County" was published. But what is less known is that Twain was the first writer to type a manuscript (he used a Remington) and to give it double spacing. Praising his typewriter, he said, "It don't muss things or scatter ink blots around." Twain would have loved the computer.

Now, back to the games.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

More than Moore to Alabama

While we may be distressed by the latest news from Alabama and Judge Roy "I was just helping her with her homework" Moore, it's good to remember other aspects of Alabama. In song, for instance.

To begin, there is the lovely ballad "Stars Fell on Alabama"--Jack Teagarden's version is classic.

Then there's "I'm Alabamy Bound." Let's all sing--

"I'm Alabamy bound,
Don't want no heebie-jeebies hanging 'round.
Just gave the meanest ticket-man on earth
All I'm worth
To put my tootsies in an upper berth."

And finally, who can forget Phil Harris's "That's What I Like About the South"?

"I wanta go back to Alabamy,
See again my dear old mammy.
Her cooking's bad, her hands are clammy,
But what the hell, it's home."

Monday, November 13, 2017

The Maple Leaf---forever?

Or so it seemed, as we gathered up yet another gigantic bag of multicolored leaves from the deck. We looked out at the stripped branches, and thought of Shakespeare's phrase: "bare ruined choirs." But working our way through the stack of fallen foliage, we kept thinking of the once well-known song "The Maple Leaf Forever."

It hasn't been sung anywhere for decades, and never caught on in Quebec, where there was some resentment toward the opening lines:

"In days of yore
 From Britain's shore
 Wolfe, the dauntless hero, came,
 And planted firm Britannia's flag
 On Canada's fair domain."

Montcalm doesn't even get a mention. And "came" is not a rhyme for "domain."

The last time we heard this sung was at a breakfast for the Moose Jaw Times-Herald's carriers. There were three tables of pre-teens, and we were given a singalong challenge. Our table--earnest little patriots--chose to sing "The Maple Leaf Forever." We were soundly beaten by the table that delivered a raucous "Ham and Eggs."

And let's face it: "Ham and Eggs" is a much better song.

"Ham and Eggs, ham and eggs,
 I like mine fried nice and brown,
 I like mine fried upside down.

"Ham and eggs, ham and eggs,
 Flip 'em, flop 'em, flip 'em, flop 'em,
 Ham and eggs!"

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Movember Moustache Memo

According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the longest moustache ever measured was grown by Ram Singh Chauhan of India. His spectacular upper lip adornment stretched for fourteen feet. This probably meant he had to pay an extra fare to take it with him on a plane. Or he could wrap it around himself, like a hairy comforter.

The 14-foot 'stache--gentlemen, there is your challenge!

Monday, November 6, 2017

"Not a Guns Issue"

President Krusty the Klown (sorry, Krusty--unfair to you) is in Asia, doing what he likes best: eating, tweeting and playing golf. He is also delivering badly written speeches badly, and, when ad libbing, using his seventy-word vocabulary in all the wrong ways.

"Folks, this is not a guns issue, this is a mental health issue. Now I know that in March I revoked an Obama ruling requiring background checks on gun buyers who had a history of mental illness, but as my very good friends in the NRA pointed out, to have subjected these people to checks would have 'unfairly stigmatized the disabled and infringed on their constitutional right to bear arms.' Good writing, huh? Gotta get some of those people working on my speeches for 2020. But back to the  subject, whatever it was. Oh, yeah. As Mitch McConnell said--and Mitch is weak, but was right on this--right after a mass shooting is not the time to talk about gun laws. No, wait until they've just become another statistic. Speaking of which, I see the Center for Disease Control says that the number of gun deaths in the United States was up again in 2016, but hey, who listens to those wonks? And besides, some of these reports may be fake news. Remember how some people said the shooting at that school in Sandy Hook was staged? Not saying they're right, not saying they're wrong, just repeating what some people are saying. Finally, apparently this seriously deranged guy was dealing with some domestic problem. Well, I've had to deal with the odd domestic problem myself, so if you have one, folks, talk to me. Meanwhile, hold high the sacred Second Amendment. In guns we trust."

Editorial note: It's unlikely any reader of this blog will have a stash of assault weapons in the basement, but we felt compelled to post it anyway.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Turn Back the Clock

"Frank," his wife said, "did you remember to turn back the clock?"

"Oh, I forgot about that, Myrna."

"Well, better do it now. We want to be sure we're at the right time."

Frank moved from room to room, resetting clocks, but Frank's arthritis was making it difficult, and his hand kept slipping. Every time he tried to turn the clock back, it jumped a few hours. Then it jumped an entire day.

"Myrna," he called, "it's yesterday."

"What do you mean, Frank?"

"I mean, I was resetting the time, and it jumped back a whole day. Wait a minute, Myrna--now we're back in July."

"You know, it actually feels like that. It's so warm! And look outside at the garden!"

"Myrna, I turned the clock some more, and we're in 1975!"

"Oh, Frank--that was such a good year! And you're looking young and slim again!"

"What year would you like it to be?"

"I think my favourite year was 1962."

"Well, here we are--1962 again!"

"Oh, Frank--we've set the right time!'

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Grow That 'Stache!

Once again, we have arrived at Movember. Not November, but Movember, the moustache-dominated month when men are encouraged to become hirsute in support of male health. It has not been scientifically proven that a moustache affects any part of the male anatomy other than the upper lip, but it is for a good cause, so we embrace the moustache, even if many lady friends are reluctant to do so.

There are a number of handsome moustache styles from which to choose: the classic handlebar; the pencil-line, made popular by Errol Flynn and Caesar Romero, a favorite with lounge lizards everywhere; the Zapata; the Fu Manchu; and the waxed and pointed Hercule Poirot. The bushy John Bolton and the untrimmed Albert Einstein are not recommended, unless you enjoy filtering your bouillabaisse thru hair.

Gentlemen, we have thirty days in which to sprout, cultivate, trim and shape facial decoration. Grow that 'stache! (Not you, Madam.)

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hallowe'en Etiquette

Once again, we call upon the nonpareil Miss Manners for a guide on the correct way to observe this holiday.

She writes: "Trick-or-treat is an exact ritual. It should be performed by small children in costume--a six-footer would be out of place even wearing a Bill Blass patterned sheet--followed at a respectful distance by adults with an interest in their welfare.

"The child must ring the doorbell him or herself, and must be encouraged to return to the doorway after fleeing in stage fright. The child then announces the traditional threat: 'Trick or treat!'

"At this point, the involuntary co-celebrant, who has just answered the door to find a bunch of tiny Darth Vaders, must express surprise and fright. 'Why, Sally Lynn, don't you look adorable" is an inappropriate remark. The correct one is 'Good God! What's that?'

"The host must then decide whether he prefers to treat the visitors or let them trick him. The child who has been treated says, 'You gave her more than you gave me,' followed by 'Thank you'."

And thank you, Miss Manners.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Slap's Wraps

What we have learned over the weekend:

- That the BC Lions, with nothing to lose, can show themselves to be the elite team we always knew was there;

- That the Calgary Stampeders are not invulnerable;

- That if Mike Reilly isn't the best player in the CFL, who is?

- That if you don't have tickets for the Grey Cup game in Ottawa, you're out of luck--unless you connect with your friendly neighbourhood (or on-line) scalper.

Slap Maxwell for PD Sports.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

King Alf in the Kitchen

October 26 is noted in the church calendar as the feast day of King Alfred the Great, although, great as Alf may have been, he gets only a black letter day, not a red.

Alfred was King of Wessex from 871 to 899, and accomplished a number of things justifying the tagline "the great," primarily getting rid of invading Danes, who were poised to take over the Anglo-Saxon island. But what most of us, of a certain age, remember from early school days, is the story of Alfred and the burned cakes.

Here it comes again: Alfred, in flight from a battle going the wrong way, sought refuge in a peasant woman's hut. She said okay, he could stay, if he watched the oven while she went about other farm duties.

But Alf, weary and battle-worn, fell asleep, and, with no functioning smoke alarm in the hut, allowed the small loaves to burn. The peasant woman, on return, was, understandably angry, and Alf was, like the cakes, almost toast. Those of us familiar with kitchen disasters can sympathize.

Somehow he talked his way out of the hut, went on to win the war, and had a glorious reign. We hope he remembered the woman in the hut and either pronounced her a Dame of the Kingdom, or at least sent her a sack of flour.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


Philip Roth has suggested that Donald Trump has a vocabulary of seventy words. Roth was probably being generous. Trump's vocabulary may run to ten words, all of them superlatives, and a handful of phrases.

Among the most used (or abused) words in the Trumpsionary: "Beautiful," as in "This will be a beautiful tax bill;" "Disaster," as in "NAFTA is a disaster;" "Nice," as in "Putin said very nice things about me;" and "Nightmare," as in "The nightmare of Obamacare will soon be over."

Favorite phrases: " the world has never seen;" "..the worst/best deal ever;" "..a major announcement, coming very soon, maybe next week;" "the war on coal is over;" "many people are saying," and, Number One: "Fake news."

Then there the nicknames: "Crooked Hillary," "Lyin' Ted," "Liddle Bob," "Cryin' Chuck." We are offering an award for the best nickname for Donald Trump.  The prize: 48 hours in a Trump-free universe.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Miss Manners on Hallowe'en

Because it is October, and Hallowe'en is soon upon us, and also because we had no ideas of our own, we are once again stealing from "Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behaviour."

A reader has written Miss Manners thus:

"When the neighbourhood children come trick-or-treating, I know who most of them are. But sometimes there's no clue, and I wonder whether it's polite to ask 'Who are you?' to some little thing under a sheet."

Miss Manners replies:

"It is a faux pas to admit to recognizing anyone in a Hallowe'en costume. The polite way to act toward a trick-or-treater is to behave as if he or she were mugging you. Look scared and hand over the goods."

We would enjoy going trick-or-treating with Miss Manners.
Have sheet, will travel.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Too Marvellous for Words

October 16 has been declared Dictionary Day, as it was on this date in 1758 that Noah Webster, America's first lexicographer, was born. Little Noah's first word was "pabulum," which, he went on to say to his astonished parents, "is a noun, related to the Latin panis, or bread, and defined as a solution of nutrients in a state suitable for absorption."

Webster's Dictionary, his masterwork, runs from aardvark ("a large burrowing nocturnal animal of sub-Saharan Africa") to zymosan ("an insoluble largely polysaccharide fraction of yeast cell walls").

There are, of course, many words now in use which were unknown to Noah, from cybernetics to sous vide, and for these, there is a guide called "Word Menu"--although, with the language changing and expanding so rapidly, it may be time for a new edition.

And then there are things that simply cannot be expressed. As Johnny Mercer wrote:

"You're just too much, and just too very very
To ever be in Webster's Dictionary."

Saturday, October 14, 2017

And on this day...

Our political analyst was supposed to write a thoughtful essay today on the American scene in the Age of Trump, but he has locked himself in a dark room with a gallon of Jack Daniel's.

And Slap Maxwell, reviewing a game in which the Hamilton Tiger-Cats pushed the Calgary Stampeders to the edge, was set to do a piece on miscues when the game's on the line (cf. Pete Carroll in the Super Bowl, Dave Dickenson in the Grey Cup), but Slap has been called away to a Hula Hoop Revival Contest.

And so, back here at master control, we resort to pilfering from "A Book of Days for the Literary Year," and find these items for October 14:

On this day in 1822, at the wedding breakfast for Victor Hugo ("Les Miserables") and his bride, Adele Foucher, Eugene, Hugo's elder brother, went violently mad. Must have been even more disconcerting that the best man's toast.

On this day in 1919, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker and Robert Sherwood, forbidden by their employer, "Vanity Fair," to discuss their salaries, walked around the magazine's offices wearing signs around their necks saying how much (or little) they were being paid.

And on this day in 1888, Katherine Mansfield--who abandoned her husband on their wedding night because she hated the pink bedspread--was born in Wellington, New Zealand. Mansfield, writer of memorable short stories, said, "I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was, too. But better to write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all." Reassuring words for writers everywhere.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Turkey Trot

Steve McGobble, legendary leader of the Great Turkey Escape, has succeeded again. Appearing in various guises (e.g., a choreographer training a chorus line for the Broadway production "Turkey Trot") McGobble has saved untold numbers of turkeys from the Thanksgiving board.

Most recently, this feathered Scarlet Pimpernel presented himself at the farm of McGurk's Juicy Turks as a professor of ornithology, conducting a study of turkey slang. He departed with a truck full of free turkeys, leaving McGurk tied to his own rotisserie.

As for turkey slang and its usage, McGobble issued this statement: "Please refrain from referring to the Big Orange and his mob in the White House as 'a bunch of turkeys.' This is disrespectful to a species which has done no one harm. You might consider calling them 'a disturbance of dodos' or 'a cacophony of cowbirds.'"

Thursday, October 5, 2017

An Apple for the Teacher

September 5 has been designated Teachers' Day, causing us to remember notable pedagogues of the past.

There was Miss Madge Martin, running wildly 'round and 'round the room, chalk in hand, to define infinity. There was Mr. Easson, the science teacher who ate bugs and chalk and sat on the window ledge so he could smoke during class. Miss E.G. Pye (the initials, students believed, stood for "Eat Good") who convinced us to make salads of lawn clippings for our parents, and taught students to swim, stretched on a plank in the waterless classroom.

Then there were the French teachers: tiny Miss Irwin, who had the class begin each day reciting the Lord's Prayer in French ("Notre pere, qui es aux cieux...") and Murray Robinson, who also coached football, and liked to enter the classroom singing "Darling, je vous aime beaucoup."

A nod, as well, to L.C. Nelson, the feared math instructor, who wore a shiny black suit daily through the fall and winter terms, switching to a wilted grey for spring and summer."Yes, class," he would announce, "Mr. Nelson does own two suits." It was like seeing the first robin.

So a toast to all teachers, especially those with a true gift, chalk dust in their veins. Apple cider would  make an appropriate toast.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Nathaniel Hawthorne Greets the Month

"There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October."

                          Nathaniel Hawthorne, "American Notebooks."

Monday, September 25, 2017

Trump Fields a Team

"Slap Maxwell here, with a PD Sports exclusive: President Donald Trump is launching a new team into the National Football League!"

POTUS: "That's right, Slap. I realized the only answer to these unpatriotic NFL players is to get out there and beat them on the gridiron. We're calling the team the White House Wallopers."

Slap: "Tell us about the team, Mr. President. Some star players on the roster?"

POTUS: "I've drawn entirely from my cabinet. We're prepared to steamroller the league"

Slap: "Tell us your starting lineup."

POTUS: "We've got Wilbur Ross and Sonny Perdue as guards, Rick Perry and Scott Pruitt as tackles, Mike Pence and Steve Mnuchin as tight ends."

Slap: "Quite a line. Who's at centre?"

POTUS: "Jeff Sessions."

Slap: "Jeff Sessions? Tiny Jeff? Why, centres take the most abuse on the line--he's likely to get killed."

POTUS: "So?"

Slap: "How about quarterback? Who's going to be calling the plays?"

POTUS: "Naturally most people expect me to be the key player on the team. Many people have said that if I'd played pro, I would've been the best ever. Namath, Montana, Brady--forget 'em. But I decided I'm more valuable directing strategy, working on offence."

Slap: "You're very good on offence."

POTUS: "I think you'll see us all wearing Super Bowl rings at the end of the season, even though we've lost some of our best players--Mnooch, who was a great speedster, and Steve 'The Monster' Bannon, but we'll still have Sarah Huckabee Sanders in there blocking. And we'll have some surprises. I'm putting Betsy DeVos, Elaine Chao and Ben Carson in the backfield. Who says I'm not for diversity?"

Slap: "Well, Mr. President, it sounds like great entertainment ahead."

POTUS: "Wait 'til you see what else we've got: Sarah "Pom Pom" Palin heading the cheerleaders, Chris "Oreo" Christie as team mascot."

Slap: "What more can we say, except Rah Rah Rah, and Go, Team. Slap Maxwell, for PD Sports."

Friday, September 22, 2017

Don't Ever Invite Him Again

Donald Trump's appearance at the United Nations General Assembly made us think of dinner parties when someone says, "A business friend of mine is in town. Would it be okay if I brought him? He's a little loud, but really a very nice person."

Then the guy turns up and manages to insult everyone there, collectively and individually, dominate the conversation, criticize the food--"What is this stuff? Who eats this kind of thing?"--use the wrong fork, leer at the hostess, and empty the liquor cabinet.

The other guests leave, muttering angrily, vowing never to return if that guy is going to be there.

This, undoubtedly, is how many UN delegates felt as Trump bellowed and waved his hands. We're betting a lot of them turned their headsets to Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

L'Shana Tova!

It is Rosh Hashanah, the "Head of the Year," and we are propelled into the year 5778.

One immediately starts to think of celebratory dishes--honey cake, cherry blintzes, potato-mushroom knishes, apple kugel, a fine smoked brisket, challah, tongue and chopped liver, pomegranates and dates, and gallons of Manischewitz wine.

Some of us remember fondly the Hadassah Bazaar, once held annually in Vancouver and other cities across North America. In Toronto, as many as 60,000 people would line up at 6:00 a.m. to get in.

It is ten years now, since the last bazaar was held, but we can still taste the honey cake. Mazel tov!

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Autumn Playlist

Autumn is a season of golden serenity, but also a season of poignance and rue and farewell, and no one expressed this more lyrically than Johnny Mercer, who wrote the words for "Autumn Leaves," "Early Autumn," "Summer Wind" and "When October Goes."

Then there are Maxwell Anderson's memorable lyrics for "September Song," and Al Dubin's for "Indian Summer" and Sammy Cahn's for "The Things We Did Last Summer."

Less well known are "Autumn Serenade," by Peter DeRose, who also wrote "Deep Purple," and "'Tis Autumn" by the puckish practical joker Henry Nemo ("The Neem"). But I'm sure we can all sing "Autumn in New York," by Vernon Duke (ne Vladimir Dukelsky), and some will have their own memories of fall in Manhattan.

The original French version of "Autumn Leaves" is "Les Feuilles Mortes." A less golden title, but every time Yves Montand sang it to end his stage performances, the applause went on until the lights were turned off.

We'll be watching for you at that dance pavilion in the rain.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Resist the Impulse

September 18 has been declared National First Love Day. Well, if they can have National Unicorn Day and National Bow Tie Day and National Bubble Gum Day, why not?

But don't get carried away. Resist the impulse, sometime around midnight, after a couple of glasses of wine, to phone or e-mail the girl whose name you would have had tattooed on your 17-year-old biceps.

You have no idea how she may look today. And you definitely don't want her to see how you look.

Our advice: take Scott Spencer's "Endless Love" and go to bed.

P.S.: Speed dating does not count as first love.

Monday, September 11, 2017

One More Time Basie liked to say, but this is one more time for the Duke, not the Count.

In 1941, Duke Ellington was in Los Angeles, working on a musical called "Jump for Joy." Or not working. Henry Blankfort, the show's production supervisor, went to Duke's hotel to try to get some notes on paper. Here's what Blankfort found:

"Duke was in the bathtub. Beside him was a stack of manuscript paper, a huge container of chocolate ice cream, a glass of Scotch and milk, and Jonesy. Jonesy was his valet, and his job was to keep adding warm water and let out cooling water to maintain a constant temperature in the tub for the Maestro. And Duke was serenely scribbling notes on the paper and then calling to Billy Strayhorn. Strayhorn would take the notes and play them on the old beat-up upright piano in Duke's room. Duke would listen and then write more notes...and almost four or five hours later, two more songs for the show were finished."

Gotta love him. Or, to paraphrase Duke's standard closing, love him madly.

Saturday, September 9, 2017

One for the Duke

More on Edward Kennedy Ellington, occasioned by reading Terry Teachout's biography, called, simply, "Duke."

Teachout, who earlier published a biography of Louis Armstrong (called "Pops") has done admirable research, and the book is especially good on the long-lasting Ellington sidemen: Johnny Hodges, Sonny Greer, Ben Webster, Jimmy Blanton, Barney Bigard, et al., on the fine singer Ivie Anderson, and on Duke's irreplaceable collaborator, Billy Strayhorn.

Only a mild quibble from this corner: In "Music Is My Mistress," Ellington wrote, "I don't drink any more. I retired undefeated champ about thirty years ago." Teachout writes that Ellington gave up drinking in 1939. But a decade or so after that, touring with the band through the Pacific Northwest, his beverage of choice, according to Terry Garner, was gin and milk.

Milk? With gin? Duke explained, "You have to be kind to your stomach, Sweetie."

Friday, September 8, 2017

The Reverend Duke

Duke Ellington, in his last ten years, wrote three programs he called "Sacred Concerts." And while these contain some memorable music, including the wistful "Come Sunday," which Ella Fitzgerald sang at his funeral, the most hymn-like of his work, it seems to us, is his recording of "Solitude" on the album "Money Jungle."

"Money Jungle" is a trio performance--Duke at the keyboard, with Charles Mingus, bass, and Max Roach, drums. Ellington was always the most orchestral of pianists, and his playing on "Solitude" is magisterial, the power you get from a commanding organist playing a Bach fugue.

Duke Ellington would never have been mistaken for a monk, but he did say, "God has blessed my timing."

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Staying Sonny

September 7 is the birthday of Sonny Rollins, tumultuous and often eccentric jazz saxophonist and composer ("St. Thomas," "Airegin," "Oleo," "Valse Hot") born in Harlem in 1930.

It occurred to us that there are probably few octogenarians called "Sonny." But then we remembered Mel Torme's up-tempo spoof on Al Jolson's sentimental "Sonny Boy."  In Mel's version, it begins:

"Climb up on my knee, Sonny Boy--
Though you're eighty-three, Sonny Boy."

Happy birthday to Sonny Rollins. Long may he wail.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Surviving the 3-Day Novel Contest

Once again, survivors of the 3-Day Novel Contest have staggered in at the end of Labor Day, brain-drained and weary, dragging their split infinitives, dangling participles, battered syntax and irregular verbs.

Onslow MacAroony, a veteran of the annual literary Iron Man, was reached at the Caffeine Detox Centre. He said, "Every year when it's over, I vow never again. Next year, I'll just go to the PNE, eat foot-long hot dogs and sugary beignets, and get sick on the Tilt-a-Whirl. But I know, deep within, that when the Labor Day weekend approaches, I won't be able to resist, and I'll be getting out my Thesaurus again."

In other news, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats finally won a game. Great sighs of relief in Steeltown, reports Slap Maxwell, who took time out from covering the 3-Day Novel Contest to watch the less grueling action on the gridiron.

Sunday, September 3, 2017

3-Day Motto

"I can write faster than anyone who writes better than I do,
and I can write better than anyone who writes faster than I do."

                                                                                 -- AJ. Liebling.

Friday, September 1, 2017

The Significance of Labor Day

Here we are, at the annual Labor Day weekend, and that means four things:

1.  You will not be able to wear your white Guccis after September 3.

2.  The Calgary Stampeders and Edmonton Eskimos will meet once again in their internecine blood rivalry. We're predicting Stamps by 12, even though Slap Maxwell loves Mike Reilly.

3.  School is about to commence a new term, and students--and teachers--face the future with either eager anticipation or resignation and dread.

And now, for many of us, hunched over keyboards, the big event:

4.  The 3-Day Novel Contest--the 72-hour literary marathon, engaging word-spinners from wherever English is writ. It is the Iron Man event for storytellers. Some may view participation as masochistic madness, but there are hundreds ready to leap to their laptops, or their lined legal pads, or their scribblers. Len Deighton said, "All you need to be a writer is the stub of a pencil and the back of an envelope."

Good luck to them all.  And to the football players, the teachers and students, and the fashion police.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Watch that Acronym!

The White House, and those who follow it, have taken to referring to the President of the United States by the acronym POTUS.  "Potus" sounds like one of those medicines advertised on television, always including warnings that their use may result in debilitating or life-threatening consequences. There should be warnings like that on political advertising.

Now we have seen POTUS arrive on the scene in Houston, accompanied by Melania, his favourite prop. And she--unfortunate woman--is wearing a cap inscribed FLOTUS. Presumably this stands for "First Lady of the United States." But, infelicitously, it is also just one vowel away from a word meaning an embarrassing gastric disorder.

Melania, get rid of the cap. And memo to the White House PR and Special Effects Dept.: Instead of "First Lady," consider "First Babe." Or even "Captive Babe."

Friday, August 25, 2017

I'll Have What She's Mixing

Kaitlyn Stewart of the Royal Dinette in Vancouver has been named "2017 World Class Bartender of the Year" at a competition in Mexico City. We're not sure what the award includes--perhaps a solid gold swizzle stick.

What was in Ms. Stewart's winning mix has not been reported, but one judge spoke rapturously of her Lucha Libre, a Mezcal-based drink named for a form of masked wrestling.

We looked at the Royal Dinette drink menu, hoping to find Lucha Libre, but without success. The restaurant does, however, offer a number of inviting beverages. We feel especially drawn to one called Summertime Sadness, with which we can identify, and another named Dazed and Confused. We're with that. Frequently.

Set 'em up, Kaitlyn, and keep them coming.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Yma Dream

The New York comedy writer Thomas Meehan has departed this world, at age 88--an age at which, as Bill Phillips has noted, we are all in the second last reel.

Meehan is being remembered as author of the books for a number of Broadway musicals, beginning with "Annie," and going on to include "The Producers," "Elf," "Hairspray" and a half-dozen others, among them even a musical version of "Rocky"--"Yo, Adrienne!"

But what some of us remember most, to continue to honor and celebrate Thomas Meehan, is a short New Yorker piece titled "Yma Dream."

In the dream, the writer is host of a cocktail party for Yma Sumac, who suggests that all the guests, in a spirit of casual camaraderie, be introduced by their first names alone. First to arrive: Ava Gardner, so the host properly says, "Yma, Ava." guests following include Abba Eban, Oona O'Neill, Ida Lupino, Eva Gabor, and several others, so that the host finds himself saying, "Yma, Ava, Abba, Oona, Ida, Eva." By the end of the piece, Meehan had managed to stack about twenty similar names together like dominoes.

This sort of thing, however, was not paying the rent. When Meehan completed the script for "Annie," and the show was about to open, he said, "I knew that next week at this time, either we would have a hit, or my car would be repossessed."

Most freelance writers know that feeling. Unlike Meehan, most of us get our cars repossessed.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Risk Large

Is Alexandra Gill the best food writer now at work? She is until the adventurous eater sometimes known as Manny Goodman of the Jazzmanian Devils publishes "The Peripatetic Palate."

Ms. Gill, Vancouver restaurant critic for The Globe and Mail, is a writer in the quick-witted, prickly and entirely original manner of M.F.K. Fisher, Jim Quinn and Denny Boyd. Consider her opening to a review of a restaurant she visits only for its patio: "The food is awful. Seriously, it's shockingly terrible. The last time I went, I had fried Humboldt squid that tasted as though it had been dredged through a salt lick. And yet, I keep going back."

Her review of Mott 32, the high-end eatery in the city's new Trump International Hotel and Tower, included an argument with the manager over a lobster that "tasted like it had started crawling down the highway from Maine sometime early last summer."

She did, on a subsequent visit, have lobster that passed the test, but complained about the condition of the Unisex bathrooms: "I just paid $300, without wine, for dinner, and now I have to mop up the bathroom floor?"

Many, probably most, restaurant reviewers make a fetish of being unrecognizable. Not Alexandra Gill. Google her name, and there she is, smiling out at you and at restaurateurs everywhere. When they see her coming through the door and taking a table, they probably experience a frisson of both excitement and fear.

Recently, Ms. Gill wrote in a sensuous burst of Fayuca, a new Mexican restaurant where the delicacies included roasted heads of sablefish and the bar mixes an "aphrodisiacal damiana leaf-infused margarita." She concluded, "As with love, it's better to risk large and lose everything than to be boring and settle for ordinary."

There are lots of good reasons to pick up The Globe and Mail, but it would be worth getting just on the chance of finding a column by Alexandra Gill. Memo to the New York Times: Check her out.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Keener's Manual

The other evening, TCM--Turner Classic Movies--screened John Frankenheimer's early 1950s film of "The Manchurian Candidate." And while the guest hosts, Alec Baldwin and William Friedkin, praised the writer of the screenplay, George Axelrod, the name of Richard Condon was not spoken. Which was a serious omission, as it was Condon who wrote the novel "The Manchurian Candidate" on which the film is based.

Richard Condon was a longtime Hollywood publicist who began writing novels, and he wrote a dozen or more. Others turned into films include "Prizzi's Honor" and "Winter Kills."

He was a writer of elegance. Consider the opening lines of "An Infinity of Mirrors":

"He sent her a music box which played an aria from 'Trovatore' while simultaneously emitting Chanel's wonderful new scent. He sang the words to her with his odd, endearing voice:

       'And can I ever forget thee
        Thou shalt see that more enduring
        Love than mine, ne'er had existence
        Triumph over fate securing
        Death shall yield to its resistance.'

"His voice was very deep and he faulted top notes. But when he sang the aria, he sang it as though he had commissioned this opera from Verdi to give her one small fragment from it and when she tired of that, its days would be ended forever."

If you can find a copy of "The Manchurian Candidate," you'll find it even darker than the film. And there are less known Condon novels worth searching for, among them "Some Angry Angel," "Mile High" and "The Whisper of the Axe."

Epigraphs for his novels often were taken from "The Keener's Manual." We had always thought this must be an ancient text for hired Irish mourners. But it turns out that "The Keener's Manual" was an imaginary book, invented by Condon, who continued to quote from it and from the amused and labyrinthine corridors of his mind.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Cliche Clearout

Least believable line in TV commercials: "Real people--not actors."

Most overworked line in do-good advertising: "Together we can do it."

Most overworked in self applauding: "_________ (fill in name) lives here."

Groups most often cited (and least defined) by political hacks: the "middle class" and the "elites."

Least sincere wish, as spoken by supermarket checkout clerks with tired feet: "Have a good day."

Worst example of the benefits of being a teetotaler: Donald Trump.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Memo to BC Lions Marketing Dept.

Having ourselves been responsible for some advertising campaigns of dubious value, we hesitate to criticize the strategy of others, but this season's BC Lions promotion program requires some attention.

The focus, in newspaper advertisements, on bus-boards, and in other media has been on the team's presumed two stars: Jonathon Jennings and Solomon Elimimian.

Reasonable choices...until the season got underway. But after a humiliating and widely reported loss to the Saskatchewan Roughriders, it is unfortunate to see in the same newspaper sports sections an advertisement headed "Who is Jonathon Jennigs?" with the tag line "The next game will tell us." The response of many fans will be, "We think the last game told us."

We don't know if the lions' on-field strategy needs to be rethought; we are sure the off-field marketing does.


Sunday, August 13, 2017

Nuclear Threat--Tourism Booster!

President Orange Hair, in a telephone call to Guam Governor Eddie Calvo, said, "You have become extremely famous all over the world. Your tourism, you're going to go up like ten-fold."

Holiday destinations elsewhere, concerned about falling tourism revenue, may want to encourage a nuclear threat as a sure way to draw vacationers. Vance Gummidy, director of tourism for Puma Point, Peru, said, "If the president says it's a good plan, by gosh, we're for it! You can take whatever he says to the bank!"

Governor Calvo thanked POTUS for his steady hand at the helm. The president modestly replied, "They should have had me eight years ago, somebody with my thought processes. And frankly, you could've said that for the last three presidents."

Actually, it's those thought processes we're worried about.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Get Out Those Old Records

Those still lamenting that they missed National Chocolate Chip Cookies Day should regather, and join in celebrating National Vinyl Records Day: August 12.

The obvious song for the day: "Get Out Those Old Records," one of the memorable hits of 1951, as recorded by Guy Lombardo and his Royal Canadians.

"Get out those old records,
Those old phonograph records--
The ones we used to play
So long ago."

Vinyl recordings--i.e., LPs, the ones that play at 33 1/3 revolutions per minute--are indeed enjoying a comeback. We're hoping the same will happen for 78s, those 10- and 12-inch discs coated in shellac, which allowed disc jockeys to talk about their "stacks of wax." One 1950s deejay called his program "Spins and Needles," a title, CBC's Katie Malloch said, no one under sixty would understand.

Some of us even remember Edison's cylindrical records. An imaginative radio programmer we knew once discovered an antique gramophone and a collection of cylinders at a garage sale, and launched a show called "Wind Up the Gramophone." It ran once and was cancelled, but was hilarious for the fifteen minutes it lasted.

So in honor of National Vinyl Records Day, we join Guy and Carmen Lombardo, Kenny Gardner and all the Royal Canadians, in urging you to:

"Get out those old records,
Those old phonograph records.
What if they sound scratchy?
The tunes really were catchy--
Especially those that said
I love you so."

They don't write lyrics like that anymore.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Paging Dr. Moriarty

A lawyer friend remarked that the general dumbing down in society has affected the criminal element. As evidence, he cited the case of a would-be bank robber who entered the premises wearing his old football jersey, complete with his name and number. He would later get another number.

We thought of this when we learned that a hapless and probably witless thief had broken into the mailboxes of an apartment complex on the Sunday night of a holiday weekend, when, of course, there was no mail delivery. He may have gotten away with only a stack of pizza flyers and Chinese restaurant takeout menus. (Although, as a friend noted, "those coupons are worth something.")

Finally, there was the case of a small businessman looking for a quick way to cover his payables. He went to his usual credit union, but not to arrange a loan; he went, instead, to hold them up. Unfortunately, he tripped on the way in and fell on his face at the feet of the security guard. A career in crime, begun and ended in thirty seconds.

Clearly, there is no evil genius on the scale of the Joker or Dr. Moriarty at work here.

As it has been declared often, "Crime does not pay." (But the hours are good.)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

And in this corner...

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un are not exactly Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, although if Trump keeps putting away the chocolate cake and double scoops of ice cream and Kim continues to spoon up tubs of budae jjigae, they might make it into a sumo wrestling contest.

What they really seem like now is the two least likable kids in grade six standing at opposite ends of the schoolyard hurling insults and empty threats. At least, we hope they're empty.

The cool kids are ignoring them.  We hope that works. Or that the school principal steps in before someone picks up a rock.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Make it DB Day

The first Monday of August is a holiday in British Columbia, known as BC Day. But it could be dubbed DB Day, because it was Dave Barrett, Premier of the province in the early 1970s, who declared it a holiday.

It's one of the many things we have to thank the tough little East Ender for; so as you celebrate BC Day, consider raising a glass to the guy who gave us all the day off.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Bear on the Links


BC Wildlife officers said today that they had apprehended a large black bear on a suburban golf course. The bear was tranquillized, caged, and later released in a wooded area.

"We spotted him on the ninth tee,"said Officer Clyde Dooley. "Hairiest bear I've ever seen. But I gotta say, he had a good swing."

Officer Ted Bilbow agreed, and added, "Surprising thing was to see a bear wearing plaid Bermuda shorts."

"And," said Dooley, "for a bear, he knew a lot of obscenities."

Freelance sports commentator Slap Maxwell later said he believed the "bear" was actually a golfer named Fred Guilfoyle. "It was a very hot afternoon," said Maxwell, "and Fred pulled off his shirt. Fred is a very hairy guy, so it's easy to see how he could have been taken for a bear."

Mabel Guilfoyle, Fred's wife, said she is not concerned, even though her husband has not returned home after 36 hours. "He does like to spend some time at the 19th hole," she said.

To be safe, however, she has left an electric razor on the putting green. Mrs. Guilfoyle said, "I kept telling him to shave his back."

Friday, July 28, 2017

The Enforcer

Anthony Scaramucci:  The Doug Stamper of the Trump White House.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Bear Sightings and Bare Sightings

A friend in a woodsy suburb reports a family of bears taking up residence in his backyard. This probably means that my friend's family will stay indoors until snow falls and the bears go for a long snooze.

We have no bears in this neighborhood, but we do have some heavily hirsute residents. Elderly Mrs. McGuinness said she was sure she saw a large black bear prowling through the grounds. I assured her there was nothing to worry about; I would go out and tame the bear.

"Fred," I said to the hairy jogger, "put on a shirt. Or shave your back."

Monday, July 24, 2017

Jared and the Pa-in-Law

Jared: "Honey, I'm home!"

Ivanka: "Oh, darling--you were wonderful today! Daddy was so pleased!"

Jared: "I'd like to thank him. Where is President Daddy?"

Ivanka: "He's upstairs, watching 'The Simpsons'."

Jared: "The Simpsons"?

Ivanka: "He's hoping he'll get a guest shot, as a voice over!"

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Really Objectionable

Following a touchdown by Nick Moore, part of the BC Lions' brilliant corps of receivers, Moore was cited for "objectionable conduct," and the team given a ten-yard penalty.

The objectionable conduct? Apparently the referee didn't like the way Moore tossed the ball down after scoring. It's a good thing the man in the black and white stripes didn't see Nick's disgusted look--he would have handed him fifteen yards and a game misconduct.

There have been some weird calls lately, and none more painful, to at least one fan, than a touchdown on a punt return by the Argos' Martese Jackson, called back on an official's totally undeserved "illegal block" ruling. This cost that fan one million smackers in the Safeway-Sobey's "Touchdown to Win" promotion. The unnamed official has been placed in the witness protection program.

For some reason, officials in football and hockey seem to come away unscathed, no matter how bleary their decisions. Where's the fan outrage that has always prevailed in baseball, with crowds yelling "Kill the umpire"? (Not that you should take that literally.)

Will we see more of these "objectionable conduct" calls?  "Ten yards for that smug impression, fella." "Whistling in the huddle? Half the distance to the goal line." "Bad haircut. You're out."

--Slap "Objectionable Conduct" Maxwell.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Cast of Thousands

Investigator Mueller: "So there was another person present at this meeting--a former Soviet intelligence officer?"

D. Jr: "That's right, sir. I kind of forgot about him."

Inv. M: "Any others who might have slipped your mind?"

D. Jr.: "Well, there was a troupe from the Bolshoi Ballet."

Inv. M: "And were they alone?"

D. Jr.: "Not exactly. They were accompanied by the St. Petersburg Philharmonic, and--"

Inv. M: "And?"

D. Jr: "And the Red Army Chorus."

Inv. M: "That's quite a full room."

D. Jr: "Jared said it reminded him of that scene in 'A Night at the Opera.' Paul said, no, it was more like that gag at the Moscow Circus where fifty clowns climb out of a tiny car."

Inv. M: "The Moscow Circus."

D. Jr: "They were there, too. With three dancing bears."

Inv. M: "Is that it? Might there have been anyone else?"

D. Jr.: "Only the ghost of Rasputin. Does that count?"

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Russian Culinary Collusion

Don, Jr.: "I took the meeting only because she offered me the secret recipe for Beef Stroganoff."

Investigator Mueller: "And you did not communicate this information to your father, aka the President?"

D.Jr.: "No, sir. I had hoped it might be the recipe for Chicken Kiev. We would have loved that."

Mueller: "And that was the extent of the meeting?"

D.Jr.: "Except for a few rounds of Moscow Mules."

Mueller: "Not surprising your memory failed you after that."

D.Jr.: "Glad you understand. Care for some Siberian reindeer jerky?"

Monday, July 10, 2017

Happy Hour at the Kremlin

"President Trump, welcome to my humble worker domain."

"Thanks, Vlad--can I call you Vlad? Y'know, this place could be fixed up swell, I mean I bring my guys in, they do a makeover--it could be the Trump Moscow Tower."


"I mean, the Trump-Putin Tower, of course."

"Mr. Trump, let me offer you some traditional Russian refreshment."

"Well, thanks, Vlad, but as you may know, I don't drink alcohol."

"Oh, is not alcohol. Just a light fruit drink."

"Really? What's it called?"

"Stolichnaya. Here, let me pour you a glass."

"Umm--that's not bad, Vlad. I was feeling a little wrecked after meeting with all those G-20 losers, but this Stolich..what's it called? Whatever it is, I'm feeling better already."

"How nice. Allow me to refill that tumbler."

"Schwell, Vlad. Now maybe we should get down to what I'm here to talk about. Whatever that was. I've got notes here somewhere."

"I believe it was your clever idea to make a deal on selling us back Alaska. Oh look, Don--your glass is empty."

"You're one heck of a hosht, Vlad.  Holy moley, love that Stoly. Hey, howzat for a slogan? Just off the top of my head!"

"Very clever. Sergei, write that down."

"Should I say it again, Mr. Laptop?"

"No need. I have it, in all its wonderfulness."

"Now, Vlad--isn't there something about cyber security we're supposed to dishcush?'

"You know, Don, all that hacking talk is nonsense. How you put it? Fake news. Our only computer interest is in video games. Let's get back to Alaska."

"Don't think I have a hotel there. Not that I remember."

"In that case, perhaps you would agree to return that worthless piece of land to us--for an acceptable price, of course."

"Why not? Always ready to make a deal."

"Suppose we agree on the price your United States paid us, minus a reasonable discount for the advanced age of the property, and decades of wear and tear. I have a contract here. Let me top up your glass while you sign. Sergei, give Mr. Trump a pen."

"There you are, Vlad--done and done."

"Excellent. And now, unfortunately, I must conclude this pleasant meeting. Sergei will help you back to your car. I, meanwhile, will return to a book I am writing."

"Really? What's it called?"

"Thank you for asking. It's 'The Art of the Steal'."

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Sounds of Summer

"Ain't It Awful, the Heat?"

The thermometer says it's time to bring back that Maxwell Anderson-Kurt Weill song from "Street Scene." Or maybe Cole Porter's "Too Darn Hot." Or Duke Ellington's "Harlem Air Shaft."

But here's what we're thinking of:

"The laughter of small children splashing in backyard pools...the tinkle of ice cubes in a glass..the welcome whir of an air conditioner. And the sounds of summer, on CHQM."

A pleasant day to all who remember QM's "Moods of Vancouver," and especially those now working the mike on the Paradise spot on the dial.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Glorious Fourth

Louis Armstrong and George M. Cohan may not actually have been born on the Fourth of July, but, as the newspaper editor in "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance" dictated, "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

It is true, however, that on the Fourth of July, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, two former US Presidents--John Adams and Thomas Jefferson--shuffled off this mortal coil.

This is the day to sing:

"I'm a Yankee Doodle dandy,
Yankee Doodle, do or die,
A real live nephew of my Uncle Sam,
Born on the Fourth of July."

But the song we've been thinking of is the one Henry Gibson, playing a kind of Hank Snow character, sings at the beginning of Robert Altman's "Nashville," set in 1976, the United States' bicentennial:

"We must be doin' something right,
 To last two hundred years."

A Glorious Fourth to all, and especially descendants of Bad Axe, Michigan.

Saturday, July 1, 2017

What else is old?

Okay, Canada is 150 years old, a mere toddler in the zillion-year history of the planet, but still something to celebrate. But, you may ask, what else is there to remember about the year 1867, the year of Confederation? Well, a few things, including these items:

* Russia sold Alaska to the United States (a $7.2 million bargain)

* Mark Twain published "The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County"

* Karl Marx published "Das Kapital"--not as funny as "The Celebrated Jumping Frog"

* Johann Strauss composed "The Blue Danube"

* Joseph Lister developed antiseptics

* Alfred Nobel produced dynamite

* Diamonds were discovered in South Africa

A happy 150th to diamond cutters, blasters, waltzers and jumping frogs.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Warm Weather Words

Summer reading for the man who said his house is "a furnace" and the woman who claimed that the temperature in her apartment at midnight was 31 degrees celsius:

"There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer in a cocktail lounge."

                                                   Raymond Chandler, "Red Wind."

Thursday, June 22, 2017

The Trump Tapes

The White House had been given until the end of this week to produce tapes--if any exist--of conversations between US President Donald Trump and FBI Director James Comey.

Trump has now said, "I have no tapes of those conversations."

"However," he continued, "I do have some treasured 8-tracks of the Lawrence Welk Show, which I would be happy to lend to the Congressional investigators."

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sorry. Not in Service.

This site temporarily closed for creative reconstruction.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Father's Day Play List

"Oh, Mein Papa" (for Eddie Fisher fans, if any are left)

"Poppa, Won't You Dance with Me?" (from "High Button Shoes," for fans of Phil Silvers and Sergeant Bilko)

"That Silver-Haired Daddy of Mine" (for the weepily sentimental)

"My Heart Belongs to Daddy" (da-da-dad, da-da-dad, da-da-dad)

"Your Father's Moustache" (for fans of Woody Herman and the Herd, and there are lots of us)

"Father, Dear Father, Come Home with Me Now" (for prying Pop out of the bar after Happy Hour)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Lighting Up on Capitol Hill

Overheard in the hallway prior to the US Attorney General's testimony before the Senate and the House:  "Joint, Sessions?"

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Yapes! The Tapes!

"Steve, we've got a problem."

"I'm here for you, Don. What is it?"

"The tapes. Congress is asking for tapes of my conversation with Comey. What we do?"

"Two choices, Don. If there are tapes, we do some creative splicing. I got a guy who can do magic with tape. He'll turn 'I hope you can see clear to let this go' to 'I hope but fear there may be snow'."

"That's beautiful, Steve. But here's the other thing."

"I'm all ears, Don. And bushy hair."

"Suppose there are no tapes. What then? It's that tall guy's word against mine."

"No tapes? We make tapes! Here's what we do: we call those people from 'The Simpsons," you know, the guys who do Homer and Mr. Burns and Ned Flanders."


"And we get them to do you and the other guy--with a script we write."

"Brilliant, Steve. They don't call you the Prince of Darkness for nothing. Do you know any of those people?"

"Harry Shearer, Hank Azaria--naw. But I figure for about a hundred grand a pop, we can get them. I hear Dan Castellaneta as a natural for you. He already does Homer and Krusty the Klown."

"I love it, Steve. But one thing worries me."

"And that is?"

"Maybe the FBI guy was wearing a wire, making his own tapes."

"Could be, Don.  I noticed he was wearing a very large tie pin. Might have contained a concealed microphone."


Thursday, June 8, 2017

Dancing with the Stars

Former FBI Director James Comey: "And then President Trump said, 'Would you give me a hug?'"

Senator Fripple: "And what did you respond?"

Comey: "Well, Senator, I just didn't know what to say. And then the music began playing..."

Senator Grumbach: "He played music?"

Comey: "He did. It was 'Moonlight Serenade' by Glenn Miller. He said it was his favourite."

Senator Hesselbine: "And then? And then?"

Comey: "He asked me to dance."

Senator Fripple: "What did you do?"

Comey: "What could I do? He was the President, the leader of the Free World (if people still say that). I let him lead."

Senator Grumbach: "How long did this go on?"

Comey: "Until Steve Bannon came and cut in."

Senator Hesselbine: "And the President--how is he as a dancer? Is he as good as John Travolta?"

Comey: "I think I can answer that only in the closed hearing."

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Ralph and Norton in the White House

Searching for the way in which life imitates art, we realized that Donald Trump and Jim Pence are the current equivalents of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney in "The Honeymooners." Not the real Gleason and Carney, of course--they're not that smart. But Trump, in his overblown, boastful, semi-articulate way resembles Ralph Kramden, the chronically deluded bus driver, while Pence, in his craven backup, is another Norton.

We hear them now: Trump: "I'm withdrawing from the Paris Accord. This is it, Norton. They won't be laughing at us any more."

Pence: "That's right, Ralphie boy. You tell 'em. Pittsburgh, not Paris. Ha-ha! Give 'em the old one-two."

"The Honeymooners" ran for six years. The current version may be cancelled sooner than that.

Working Man's Tragedy

"In Greek tragedy, they fall from great heights. In noir, they fall from the curb." -- Dennis Lehane.

Dennis Lehane, author of "Mystic River" and "Gone, Baby, Gone" knows something about tragedy, even it's not the Greek or Shakespearean variety.

Another writer who understands tragedy is K.C. Constantine, author of seventeen novels set in the fictional Pittsburgh coal mining town of Rocksburg. In this Rust Belt setting, life-shattering events happen not to kings or presidents or heroic figures, but to very ordinary people. The two most striking examples may be in Constantine's first novel, "The Rocksburg Railroad Murders," and 1982's "The Man Who Liked Slow Tomatoes." Troubling. Realistic. Unforgettable.

"Woyzeck," by Georg Buchner, has been called "the working man's tragedy."  A century and a half after Buchner, that's the kind of story Constantine tells.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

How Long Has This Been Going On?

It's hard to believe that anyone can really be called Jazzmeia Horn, but that's what the name tag reads on the most exciting new jazz singer we've heard in a long, long time.  Fred Kaplan, a New Yorker writer, had an article recently praising another singer (with another striking name: Cecile McLorin Salvant), and there was a lot of justified enthusiasm for Amy Winehouse's bluesy style, but while it is a pleasure to hear their work, it is Jazzmeia Horn who sets the place on fire.

She's a 26-year-old Texan, and she's been singing for a while--she won the 2015 Thelonious Monk Institute International Jazz Competition--but her name (and who could forget her name, or her voice, once heard?) seem only recently to have reached these distant shores. Catch her performance on YouTube. Go for "East of the Sun," at Dizzy's Club CocaCola.

It has seemed for a long time that nothing especially surprising was happening in jazz. And to quote Whitney Balliett, the essence of jazz is "the sound of surprise." That's what we get with Jazzmeia Horn.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Fashion News from Victoria

Re: The appearance together yesterday of John Horgan and Andrew Weaver. Did the presumptive premier borrow that purple suit from the Joker?

Monday, May 29, 2017

Summertime, and the rhymin' ain't easy

Of the many summer songs--"A Summer Place," "The Long Hot Summer," "Summer in the City"--"Summertime," by  the Gershwins and DuBose Heyward, is probably the best known. The loveliest may be "Summer Song," music by Dave Brubeck, lyrics--"Love, to me, is like a summer day"--by Iola Brubeck. Louis Armstrong, who sang the words beautifully, said, "This is very good, Mrs. Brubeck."

But certainly the oldest summer song (and the oldest known song in the English language) is this:

Svmer is icumen in
Lhude sing cuccu!
Growep sed and blowep med
and springp pe wde nu.

Aw bletep after lomb,
Ihoup after calue cu,
Bulluc stertep, bucke uertep,
Murie sing cuccu!
Cuccu, cuccu,
Wel singes pu cuccu,
ne swik pu nauer nu!
Sing cuccu nu, Sing cuccu!

Sing cuccu, Sing cuccu nu!

Saturday, May 27, 2017


May 27 was the birthday of Dashiell Hammett, John Cheever and Herman Wouk, and wouldn't you like to have been at their party? Hammett was born in 1894, Cheever in 1912, and Wouk in 1915. Hammett and Cheever, not surprisingly, have departed, going to wherever good writers go--probably a bar. But Wouk, happily, is still with us, and even published another book--"Sailor and Fiddler"--two years ago.

Hammett, it's usually said, wrote five novels, but "The Big Knockover" and "Blood Money," taken together, really form one more. The toughest and shortest of Hammett's novels is "Red Harvest." The strangest is "The Dain Curse." "The Maltese Falcon" is generally considered his masterpiece, but his own favourite was "The Glass Key." His last, "The Thin Man," dedicated to Lillian Hellman, has been considered lightweight, but it is really a very rewarding book, and certainly was for Hammett.

Frank Sinatra, speaking of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington's longtime alto saxophone soloist, said he "never played an untasty note." One could say of Cheever that he never wrote an ungraceful line. Cheever wrote at least four novels, but he's remembered more for his two hundred or so short stories. Collected into one volume, they won the Pulitzer Prize in 1978.

Herman Wouk's first job was writing gags for Fred Allen, although he said later that he and the other writers spent most of their time clipping newspaper items they thought might interest Allen. When he was in the US Navy in World War Two, Wouk wrote a comedy about radio and advertising called "Aurora Dawn." Not well known, and hard to find, but worth a search, as is his later comedy, "Don't Stop the Carnival." His great success, of course, was "The Caine Mutiny," a true page turner, with a great collection of characters--Keefer, Maryk, Barney Greenwald, and, most of all, the unforgettable Captain Queeg.

Interestingly, some current critics believe the Wouk book likely to endure longest is "Marjorie Morningstar," the story of a young woman whose real name is Marjorie Morgenstern, and her journey through romance and show business.

So this evening, we think you should go to your shelves and pull out three books, one each by Hammett, Cheever and Wouk, mix a martini, put some old Benny Goodman Quartet records on the turntable, and wish the writers a happy birthday.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

On to the Cup

Canadian hockey fans, dismayed because once again there will be no Canadian team in the Stanley Cup (And you think you feel bad? How about bartenders in Ottawa?) should remember that all of the players in the NHL, no matter what their jerseys say, are from either Trois Rivieres, Quebec or Loon Lake, Saskatchewan.

Our choice in the finals? We're going for the Predators, because so many good tunes have come out of Nashville. How much music has come out of Pittsburgh?

Meanwhile, Lord Stanley, reached via a seance and Skype, said, "Had I known there would be so much agitation, I would have given the cup to cricket."

For PD Sports, this is Slap Maxwell.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Blessing the Fields

May 21 was Rogation Sunday, an observance coming before Ascension Day, or Holy Thursday. On Rogation Sunday, it was the custom for churchgoers to walk the boundaries of their parishes--"beating the bounds" was the old phrase. Clergy and people would process, blessing the fields and asking protection for the year to come. (The word "rogation" is derived from the Latin "rogare"--"to ask.")

Early spring processions predated the Christian era, but, along with other ancient customs, they were absorbed into the church calendar.

Probably few congregations walk the parish boundaries today--those attending metropolitan churches would have difficulty knowing what those boundaries are. But a few years ago, St. James, on Vancouver's downtown east aside, did observe Rogation Sunday in the old manner, and many church members walked the boundaries, which stretch from Cordova and Gore to Commercial Drive, over the First Avenue Bridge, along Terminal Avenue, and north on Main Street.

Some of us ran the route, and were happy to see a parish refreshment stand by the VIA Rail Station, and happier still to arrive back at the church, to find St. James priests grilling hotdogs and hamburgers behind the Clergy House.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Rule, Victoria!

Today we celebrate the long and illustrious reign of the British monarch under whose rule we gained not only the postage stamp and the Christmas tree, but also Victoria's Secret.

And what was Victoria's secret? Only Albert knew.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Why Comie Had to Go

Okay, there's been a lot of disloyal talk, a lot of fake news, and my subordinates have been feeding you the wrong stuff, so I'm going to let you know the real reason I had to fire James Comey.

In a word, he was too tall. Way too tall. Where did he get off, towering over me like that? What, he's six-eight? Are you kidding me? Things were better at the FBI when it was run by Hoover, who was five-five tops, even with lifts in his shoes. No cracks about high heels, please.

You know, i'm not convinced Comey really is that tall. I think there's a good chance he's standing on stilts inside those 42-inch pants. I'm appointing a special commission to investigate that.

I like guys around me who are short and plump, like little Jeffie Sessions, guys I can carry in my pocket. 'Cause that's where I want 'em to be.

Sally Yates, she was too tall too. ("Too tall too"--Like the rhythm in that? Get me Herb Alpert on the phone.)

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Mothers--Whistler's and Trollope's.

Many mothers to remember this day, especially those who have affected our lives, but the two we chose to write about are Anna McNeil Whistler and Frances Trollope.

Anna was the mother of James McNeil Whistler, artist, wit and bon vivant of the Victorian era--American but spending most of his career in England. (He and Oscar Wilde were pals, and played their own version of "Can You Top This?" After Whistler got off an especially funny line, Wilde said, "I wish I'd said that." Whistler replied, "You will, Oscar--you will.)

It was in London in 1871 when the model scheduled to pose for Whistler didn't arrive, so he cajoled his aged mother into taking her place. As one can tell, looking at the painting--now in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris--she was not particularly pleased. We can imagine her saying, "How much longer do I have to sit like this, Jimmy?" And her son saying, "Only another hour or two. Try not to move, Mother."

The painting is formally titled "Arrangement in Grey and Black #1." But, of course, the world knows it as "Whistler's Mother."

Anthony Trollope is remembered as the enormously industrious, disciplined and prolific author of the mid-19th century ("Barchester Towers," "Barry Lyndon," etc.). What isn't generally known is that his mother may have been even more industrious, disciplined and prolific. When her husband lost his wealth, Frances Trollope, to keep the family together and eating, sat down and began to write. Mother Trollope produced 114 books.

A happy Mother's Day to all, and especially artists and writers lucky to have had the right mothers.

Friday, May 12, 2017

Dumb Don or Lucky Lemon?

Or maybe "Tale of the Two Dons."  No, that's dumb. Which brings us to President Donald Trump's assertion that Don Lemon of CNN is "the dumbest person on television."

Undoubtedly Lemon--clearly the brainier of the two Dons--is relishing this. It is the sort of recognition people prized when they found they were on Richard Nixon's "enemies list." Paul Newman made that, and considered it an honor right up there with an Academy Award.

What will this mean next for Don Lemon? Much higher ratings.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Distressed Knees Distress

Seeing an endless stream of teenagers wearing jeans with ragged holes at the knee, we assumed it was further evidence of grave poverty among our young people. Then we found that not only are torn jeans (or jeans with "distressed knees,"as they are known) de rigeur, but that they frequently cost a great deal of money. Top of the line appears to be the Balmain Ripped Skinny Jeans, at $2,357.66.

How far will this fashion lead? Will hip government leaders, like Justin Trudeau and Emmanuel Macron, wanting to remain au courant, attend international conferences wearing suits with distressed knees? Will we see Hollywood stars walking the Red Carpet in ripped skinny tuxedos?

We do not own a pair of jeans. But we do have our own distressed knees--a takeaway from our days as a go-go dancer at Oil Can Harry's.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Morning After

Guten morgen, Mr. Horgan.

It's okay to bark, Still Premier Clark.

Leave it to Beaver, Dr. Weaver.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Trevor Linden votes. Do you?

Of all the election commercials televised over the past several weeks, the best have come from Elections BC, ending with Trevor Linden looking earnestly into the camera, and saying: "I vote. (pregnant pause) Do you?"

I know we're all going to miss the rash of campaign advertising, the telephone calls from candidates, and the knocking on the door of people we don't know nor wish to know, soliciting our vote.

But the campaign has not been without its amusements. We have been especially pleased to see the candidacy of Joe Keithley, the Pavarotti of DOA, even though Joe rejected our campaign slogan: "Punk for the People!"

Vaughn Palmer, onetime rock critic turned political commentator for the Vancouver Sun and Shaw TV's "Voice of BC," had a fine column for election day citing the value of every vote. He listed numerous instances in which elections had been decided by fewer than fifty votes, and even one that was taken by single vote. The outcome would have gone the other way if the losing candidate and his wife had themselves bothered to vote.

One more thing to remember: having enough snacks and strengthening beverages on hand to last through five hours or so of election coverage. Longer than the Super Bowl and not nearly as entertaining.

Trev and I vote. (beat) Do you?

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Georgia Straight at 50

The Vancouver newspaper "Georgia Straight", moving forward like an aging hipster, veteran of the hippie trek across Canada to Fourth Avenue, the Gastown riots, Mayor Tom Campbell, the rock 'n' roll rivalry of the CKLG Boss Jocks and the C-FUN Good Guys, the Retinal Circus and "Grass and Wild Strawberries," is celebrating its fiftieth anniversary.

A must-have issue, and not least because it bears a cover by Bob Masse, the Aubrey Beardsley of our time, the great illustrator of psychedelia. A curious omission is no mention of Masse in the text; nor is there a word about Jurgen Gothe, whose column "Uncorked" was for years one of the paper's principal pleasures. And where are the Alex Waterhouse-Hayward photographs?

But there are many good things, including snippets from interviews collected over the decades, and a review of Vancouver music, as shown by vintage LP covers, many of the discs now high-priced collectors' items. Hands off my "Pacific Salt."

"Georgia Straight" at 50--available at a sidewalk box near you.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Very Warm for May

"Very warm for May," he thought, strolling back from lunch at Chez Meme, and casting off garments until he was down to his Argyle socks and was pulled up by a police car.

Then he remembered that "Very Warm for May" was the title of a musical by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein that was, for the team that produced "Showboat," an unexpected flop. It opened on Broadway in late 1939, and ran for only fifty-nine performances.

This despite having a score that included "All the things You Are," and if that isn't a perfect song, what is?

Any number of great jazz performances, beginning with Dizzy Gillespie's brilliant introduction, later expanded by Kenny Dorham into a variation he called "Prince Albert." Charlie Parker, who loved the song, called his reworking "Bird of Paradise." Also worth seeking: Helen Merrill's version, with Tom Harrell and Torrie Zito, and Sarah Vaughan's with the Basie band.

Enjoy the May warmth. May it last until November.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Make mine Bombay Sapphire

It has been reported that some 1.14 litre bottles of Bombay Sapphire gin were found to contain not the 40% alcohol listed on the label, but 77%.

The company says all high octane bottles have been removed from liquor store shelves.

Disappointed shopper Albert MacGrog lamented, "Now they tell us."

Saturday, April 29, 2017

The Duke

April 29, 1899: birthday of Duke Ellington, foremost of the jazz nobility.

Ellington and his orchestra (which he kept together, with most of the key musicians, for fifty years) played Vancouver a number of times, including evenings at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre where he gave the audience lessons in finger snapping--"Behind the beat, please"--and a two-week run at The Cave, during which he spent his days at the Georgia Hotel writing the score for "The River," an Alvin Ailey ballet.

Although he played piano, people often said the orchestra was his instrument. But we find that the Ellington records we play most often are his least typical: his duets across generations with John Coltrane; the meetings with Louis Armstrong--two ageing masters; a little known album on Reprise with Frank Sinatra; a titanic collaboration with Count Basie's band; and "Money Jungle," with Charles Mingus and Max Roach. Ellington had three famous performances billed as "Sacred Concerts," but it is the two versions of "Solitude" on "Money Jungle" that seem most hymn-like.

The Duke was a romantic and a romancer. Once, in Ottawa, CBC interviewer Mildred MacDonald found him improvising a dreamy melody at the piano. "What is it called?" she asked. Duke said, "It's called 'Mildred'." Mil said she believed he probably used the same tune and the same line everywhere he went.

Many tributes to Ellington over the years, beginning with the debated Pulitzer Prize recommendation. Charlie Barnet based his orchestra on Duke's, and Dave Brubeck's "The Duke" has become a jazz standard. (The full title is "From Darius to the Duke," signifying Brubeck's artistic debt to his teacher, Darius Milhaud, and the jazz roots represented by Ellington.)

But we'll leave the last word to Terry Garner, who said, "Ellington first. All others far behind."

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

It's Ella, fella.

As many have noted, and rightly paying homage, this would have been the one-hundredth birthday of Ella Fitzgerald.

Ella appeared at least three times in Vancouver. She was fine on an open-air stage at the PNE, with Joe Pass and Oscar Peterson, but she was uncomfortable in the concert hall atmosphere of the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. What she liked best was the small, intimate, noisy Cave Supper Club--her kind of place.

When Ella died, Dean Peter Elliott of Christ Church Cathedral said, "We must have a service." And we did. It was called "A Candle and a Canticle for Ella." Musicians and singers from the Jazzmanian Devils and Soul Crib performed, and several people, not least the Dean, talked about what listening to Ella had meant to them and how it had affected their lives.

Many of the albums she left are classics, among them the series of "Songbooks" (Cole Porter, the Gershwins, Rodgers & Hart, et al.--the best may be the Ellington); some with a single musician for accompaniment, Ellis Larkins on piano, Joe Pass on guitar; the three collections of duets with Louis Armstrong (and she could do a perfect imitation of Louis); and, perhaps not as well known, her performance of "Party Blues" with Joe Williams and Count Basie on a Metronome All-Stars date.

There have been, and still are, scores of terrific jazz singers. The three who come immediately to mind--The Three Graces--are Billie Holiday, who could get more out of a song than the composer put in it; Sarah Vaughan, the great operatic diva of jazz; and Ella Fitzgerald, whose warmth and musicianship remain incomparable.

As Stevie Wonder said, we all love Ella.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Will & George

April 23: The birthday of William Shakespeare and St. George's Day.

Write a sonnet.

Slay a dragon.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Celebrate Record Store Day. Go ahead, find one.

This has been declared "Record Store Day," which is particularly ironic in a week which found the HMV store on Robson Street locked, empty and dark.

True, there has been a mild proliferation of stores selling old, and, in some cases, new vinyl, but there's nothing to compare with the old A&B Sound on Seymour or the sainted Sam the Record Man.

So on Record Store Day, let's remember them, and other record stores where one felt at home in their listening booths, including Dojack's in Regina and Assiniboia Music in Moose Jaw.

Celebrate Record Store Day. Go ahead, find one. And be grateful there's still Sikora's.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

There's a Call for You from Joe Keithley

As British Columbia braces itself for another provincial election, and all the campaigning that attends it, from nonstop television commercials to appearances by party leaders in hard hats and grim, fixed smiles, we may also expect telephone calls from candidates.

Perhaps the most interesting calls will be received by voters in the Burnaby-Lougheed riding, where the candidates are Katrina Chen for the NDP, Steve Darling for the Liberals, and Joe Keithley for the Green Party.

Ms. Chen's calls will, we're sure, be polite and demure. But we expect more show biz from former Global TV anchor Steve Darling, who may urge us to vote for the team led by Christy Clark ("A very good friend of mine, and a favorite of NW listeners") and finish with "And now for a look at the weather, and hoping for a liberal--heh heh--dose of sunshine, here's Mark Madryga."

But the most straightforward of messages should come from Joe Keithley, longtime front man of the punk rock band DOA: "Hi, this is Joe Keithley. So are you gonna #$%+&*%@ vote for me? I #$@*&_%&^ hope so. Stay cool."

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Scrabble with Chuck and Vladimir

A few days ago, the world celebrated Scrabble, the ne plus ultra of word games, and we immediately thought of Chuck Davis and Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov because he and his wife, Vera, enjoyed playing the game in four languages; Chuck because he was not only Vancouver's dedicated historian, but also the city's Scrabble guru. In an issue of NUVO, Chuck wrote an article called "Love at First Tile," subtitled "How to Score 392 Points on a Single Move."

He was introduced to the game in 1954 while serving in the Canadians Army.  In the 1970s, he came second in a British Commonwealth Scrabble Tournament, topping 400 points twice. But the record for the highest number of points in a single move, when Chuck wrote his article, was Karl Khoshnaw of Twickenham, England. He scored 392 points with "caziques." A cazique, Chuck helpfully told us, is a tropical songbird.

Chuck went on to tell readers about the creator of Scrabble: a British architect named Alfred Mosher Butts, who found himself out of work in the Depression years and decided to invent a board game.  He first called it Lexico and then Criss-Cross Words. But it didn't take off until 1948, when he met James Brunot, who rearranged the squares and simplified the rules. Then the collaborators came up with the name Scrabble. By the year 2000, more than 100 million sets had been sold.

Chuck Davis ended his NUVO piece writing "More than 45 years after I first played it, Scrabble is still a game I like a lot. Not as much, though, as Helen Cornelius Bowden of Chicago. She died in 1990 and left instructions that her headstone be cast in the form of a Scrabble board."

Talk about getting the last word.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Buy a Poet a Drink

It has come to our attention that April is National Poetry Month.
Take a poet to lunch.

We wonder what it might cost
To have a drink with Robert Frost.
Or if we could go another round
With crazy, red-haired Ezra Pound
Or should we just continue tippling
With Nobel laureate Rudyard Kipling.
Time to eat, let's have spaghetti
With Dante Gabriel Rossetti
And also Lawrence Ferlinghetti;
You know there always are good eats
When you nosh down with the Beats.
Waiter, send more jugs of beer
For our buddy Edward Lear,
And another tub of Stilton
For the eminent John Milton.
And now a haunch of venison
Carved for Alfred, yes, Lord Tennyson.

But truly, if we had our say,
We'd spend the day with Miss Millay.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

No Minor Chords

Many notable birthdays this date, including Andre Previn's. We have been listening to Previn since the mid-1940s, when his recordings were often played at noon on CKCK Regina. We still have an album from that period, a photograph of the very boyish pianist on the cover; the 78s within have, sadly, disappeared.

Jurgen Gothe was a Previn fan. His favorite Previn album was "King Size." Ours is "Give My Regards to Broadway," with Red Mitchell and Frankie Capp, but a close second is "Old Friends," with Ray Brown and Mundell Lowe. Previn's most popular album was "My Fair Lady," in a trio under drummer Shelly Manne, including bassist Leroy Vinnegar. It was an enormous success, and led to a stream of jazz albums reworking Broadway musical scores. Perhaps the most surprising jazz albums Previn made were two with Itzhak Perlman ("A Different Kind of Blues").

Previn has worked with many classical artists, but some of the most memorable performances have been with singers--Kathleen Battle, Frederica von Stade, Eileen Farrell, Sylvia McNair, et al. And he had a curious collaboration with playwright ("Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern are Dead," "Shakespeare in Love") Tom Stoppard on a music theatre piece they called "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour."

And then there has been Previn's long run as a conductor, principally with the London Symphony Orchestra, where, among other achievements, he revived interest in the music of Frederick Delius and other somewhat neglected English composers.

But what initially established Andre Previn was his time as music director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, begun when he was just out of Beverly Hills High School. He tells his Hollywood stories in a cleverly entertaining memoir called "No Minor Chords." The title came from a memo issued by the studio president. Hearing some music he found sad, he complained to an aide, who told him, "It's based on a lot of minor chords." The studio boss immediately had a memo sent to the MGM music department: "No minor chords."

And no minor chords for Andre Previn, who today turns 88--just like the keys on a piano.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Girl Singer

The girl singer, and sometimes "the canary": that's what the female vocalist--Ginny Simms, Helen Forrest, Jo Stafford, Peggy Lee, Helen O'Connell--was called in the Big Band days.

You couldn't get away with that now. And this month, April, has been declared Jazz Appreciation Month, with particular appreciation for Women in Jazz.

So here comes our appreciation for: Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Carmen McRae, Lil Hardin Armstrong, Betty Roche, Susannah McCorkle, Ivie Anderson, Eleanor Collins, Rosemary Clooney, Helen Merrill, Janis Siegel,  Sophie Milman, Astrud Gilberto, Diana Krall, Blossom Dearie, Helen Humes, Lil Green, Anita O'Day, Annie Ross, Dinah Shore, Sylvia Sims, Sheila Jordan, Maxine Sullivan, Esther Phillips, Lee Wiley, Nina Simone, Shirley Horn, Carol Sloane, Joya Sherrill, Jackie Cain, Irene Kral, Teddi King, Lena Horne, Abbey Lincoln, Pearl Bailey, Ernestine Anderson, Betty Carter, Kate Hammett-Vaughan, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Ma Rainie, Alberta Hunter, Dianne Reeves, Cassandra Wilson, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson, Melody Gardot, Norah Jones, Phoebe Snow, Karen Young, Cheryl Bentyne, Velma Middleton, Stacey Kent, Ethel Waters and Ricky Lee Jones. And, among non-singers: Mary Lou Williams, Carla Bley, Marian McPartland, Helen Keane, Marjorie Hyams, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Joanne Brackeen, Renee Rosnes, Melba Liston, and Ingrid and Christine Jensen.

And could we sneak in the Dixie Chicks?

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Warning: Politics May Be Injurious to Your Health

There are days--most of them--when you don't want to read, watch or hear the news. There is way too much political toxicity in the air. Political news should now come with those warnings drug manufacturers are required to give: "May cause headaches, nausea, desire to throw oneself off a bridge..."

We had hoped to make this blog a politics-free zone, but it is hard to ignore what's happening out there. Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt," but a lot of those aiming for power seem to bring their corruption with them.

In other slightly related matters--have you noticed how often politicians say they speak for the "middle class"? What, exactly, is the middle class? And if they do, who is left to speak for the lower class? Does anyone even dare refer to the "lower class" or the "higher class"?

And just one more thing, as Columbo used to say: it is really boring to see politicians, hoping to prove they are regular guys by appearing in public without neckties. Of course, it is possible that, like Sean Spicer, they don't know how to knot neckties properly. But if they really want to look like regular guys, they should skip the $2,500 suits, as well, and turn up in tank tops and jeans, or even sweats.

Actually, a lot of regular guys do wear neckties. Even the $125 Bugattis.

Monday, March 27, 2017

No Clapping, Please

Off to a jazz performance the other evening. Most pleasant. Good, tight group with fine arrangements of "Joy Spring,""Lush Life," and a lot of Jobim.

So what's the complaint? The audience, feeling required to applaud after each musician's solo. This means that the subtle, often clever and meaningful segue from one instrument to the next gets buried under a chorus of unrhythmic hand clapping.

This same thing plagues opera, where the aficionado believers he/she is compelled to applaud wildly after every aria.

How come? Applause is frowned upon at the conclusion of movements in symphonic and chamber music. Dare to put your hands together at one of these junctures and you'll be frozen in your expensive seat by cold stares from the rest of the audience.

So go to the jazz concert or opera, and smile appreciatively. And put your hands together, and keep them together, in your lap, until the number ends.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Stealing from Stein

Over recent days, a number of US politicians and officials, including the semi-literate Sean Spicer, have used the line "There's no there there."

We would bet any amount that none of these persons, with the possible exception of the first to borrow the line, knows that it originated with Gertrude Stein.

Ms. Stein was talking about Oakland, California, where her family lived during much of her childhood. She spent most of her adult life in Paris. As for returning to Oakland, she said, "There's no there there." (Of course, that was before 1968, when the A's arrived.)

Our recommendation for the Washington hacks now using (and misusing) the line: they should take a few weeks off and read "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas."