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1979: Albert's (in Omaha) is lit!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Toon River Anthology
part 4

I played me part, see?
I ate me spinach and saved me girl
And helped the kiddies and told 'em
To listen to their parents, and I fought
For me country when it needed me.
Bluto was me enemy and me pal,
And I loved him, and he loved me.
Now, I never laid a hand on him, except
To give him a paste on the jaw, but he knew
And I knew he knew, and that was enough.
But it was something you couldn't say in them days,
So I kept quiet and kept on paying calls to Olive's house
But I only felt alive when I was scrapping with Bluto.
I was what I was.

Would anyone have paid attention
If I'd said "encyclopedia" or "electricity"?
If I wasn't adorably wrong about something,
I was invisible, ignored, unnecessary,
A clown even when I wasn't being funny.
So I went along with it. What choice did I have?
Through seven decades, trapped in that house, in that world,
In that body, in that face. I did my best to radiate
Ignorant, unreasoning cheerfulness
My passing was a mistake, a bid for attention that went wrong.
You should have found me in that "frigidater."
Couldn't you follow the dotted line?

This is my grave.
(I am dead!)

Monday, October 13, 2008

the Bad Humor man

First you'll hear somebody snarling,
Then a clash of cacophanous bells.
Frozen dill pickes and vinegarsicles
Are what the Bad Humor Man sells.

He yells, "All you brats quit that shouting!"
And he smacks any kiddie who sings.
Cold curdled custard and horseradish mustard
Are what the Bad Humor man brings.

He carries a silver cop whistle
And he sneers that all children are crooks.
Birds fly away, and the puppies won't play
When they catch his bad-humored looks.

The special today's cubes of topsoil
Bedecked with a relish of dills
Stuck to the foil you'll find cold castor oil
And a garnish of saccharine pills.

He never gives anyone change back
And he takes nothing smaller than dimes.
Take it from me, you're wisest to flee
When you hear the Bad Humor Man's chimes.

(by me, circa 1983: originally printed in the New Pals Club Magazine)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Toon River Anthology
part 3

"Daddy" made me feel loved and welcome.
He even got rid of that wife of his
Who acted like I was some sort of trophy;
A proof of her virtue. She was soon gone.
In her place, the lethal Asp and towering Punjab,
And Sandy. Always loyal, wonderful Sandy.
I would see "Daddy" mostly when he came in,
Guns blazing, fists flying, to save me
From the enemies of our country,
As well as from callous orphanages and cruel caretakers,
Just in time to sever them from success
And to protect this nation, and me, and Sandy,
And his own financial interests as well.
As days accreted into years, I wondered
Why my loving "Daddy" always ended up placing me
Back into those dark places where I had no protector
Save the good-hearted weak ones who folded like leaves
And sometimes a sympathetic gangster or mystic,
And I began to notice how my salvation and their demise
Solved at once some pressing business problem of "Daddy"'s
Until, at last, I resolved to contrive a test for him;
A setting of peril for me without any hope of profit for him.
And lo! here I am, beneath this stone forever
As Sandy, faithful Sandy, watches over me
Crying helplessly at the cold white eye of the moon.

(Note: I edited out Jamaal J. Jamaal's epitaph that was here, which hinged on a point that might just be too out of date, almost ten years after it was written. It hinged on the fact that characters in "Herb and Jamaal" would use six or more extra words to avoid specificity, e.g. "That popular rap artist," instead of just picking a name. I liked how I wrote it, but it seems a bit obscure to me in 2018.)

Friday, October 10, 2008

Toon River Anthology
part 2

Dottie and I saw him in the window,
A small puppy, looking helplessly at us
Canting his head as if to hear something
We had just said. We brought him home
To the delight of the children. In my mind,
I had some reservations about his paws,
Which looked too large for such a small dog.
"He'll grow into them," Dottie said,
As if that was a good thing. And grow he did
Until he was bigger than any of us,
And willful, and selfish, and bone stupid,
Although he was clever at driving a car,
Making phone calls and operating a computer.
He was less like a dog than he was a demon,
Sucking the life out of our family,
My marriage, and our finances
Until the day I called him out to the car
And took him far away, into the mountains
And tried to lose him on a lonely road.
I got the beefsteak out of the trunk
And called to him to have a treat
But when I looked up, he was in front
And had undone the parking brake somehow
And he rolled right over me before he went
Clattering down the road, until the car stopped
Gently, the front bumper just touching a pine tree.
My last moments seemed to stretch out for me,
Seeing the quizzical expression again on that face,
With that long-ago puppy's face showing behind it
And I saw the irony as well, and had to admit
That in a way, it really was dog-gone funny.

Talent only takes you so far.
Praised in school, successful at first,
I saw my path to fame, to glory,
To all the good things in life.
But ideas were few, and I went
To the pool of creativity, which I found
In a glass pipe Jones gave me
Along with my first taste of the stuff
And I painted, painted, until I thirsted,
Went back to the pool, then painted some more.
But before long, the thirst was more important
And the next trip to the pool, and the next,
And my curtains grew tattered, and I began
To leave my shirt unbuttoned at the top,
And I even forgot to brush my teeth some times.
And then I sought out Ray, who was looking for me,
And things went bad from there, and I perished.
Students of art, always try to find yourselves
A cheaper form of creativity than mine,
And lay in abundant supplies
Before you prime your canvas.

[note: Alan was an ephemeral subplot in Apartment 3G.]

Toon River Anthology
part 1

(originally from The Comics Curmudgeon)

I trembled between them. There was no escape.
Then I saw the recruiter's door. I stepped inside.
Things blurred for a while, and I came to myself
With my porkpie hat gone and an army cap in its place.
And I found that in giving up freedom and self,
I had gained blamelessness and slack,
And what was at first temporary became instead
The permanent surrender of choice in exchange
For the permanent evasion of responsibility.
And as I stayed at Camp Swampy, year after year,
I was astonished one day to realize with a start
That nothing ever changed there. Nobody left
And nobody new came in, and nothing happened
Until the day I realized I had been dead thirty years
And that all of us were already in our private hell.

After I lost you, Toby,
I went a little crazy
And began to indulge in
Things I'd only thought about before
And by the time I finally died in harness,
There was quite a bit of talk
And Mary came to see me
And recited her platitudes
And I smiled, and nodded, and looked abashed
And thanked her for it as she left
And kept going on my ways.
You taught me something, Toby.
I thought I needed a young blonde
But I found myself instead
In showers and bathroom stalls
And bus stations and personal ads.
Your sacrifice wasn't in vain--
I just needed to get you and your kind
Out of my system for good.

I never asked to be bitten. I only wanted
To listen to a scholarly talk about science
But there it was, I had great power now
And learned quickly what that entailed.
A lesser soul, gaining what I'd gained
Might have succumbed to vanity or greed,
But I had the lesson of Uncle Ben before me
And set out to make the world a better place
Whether the world wanted it or not.
For my pains, I was scorned, excoriated,
Lied about in the paper, and had my image
Which I provided for a modest fee, paraded
Before the credulous public as a menace.
Is it any wonder that I finally surrendered,
Took the easy way out, married my girlfriend
And stayed at home most days, watching TV?

Here I lie, in a humble pine box
None of your fancy caskets for me
If I'd died a few years later, it might have been
A cardboard carton for my eternal rest.
I didn't ever ask for much from the world;
Just a small-screen TV and a padded chair
The one to sleep in, the other to sleep
In front of on the nights when I didn't have to go
And work the next day. I kept my personal data
On the icebox in the kitchen. My watch
Only told time, and didn't bother me with
Phone calls, headlines, music, or games.
When I was hungry, I ate a burger with fries,
Drank the cheapest coffee, married a big chicken,
And played board games with my bored kids.
Until the day I felt my heart burst in my chest
And couldn't puzzle out the medicine cap in time.
Now I nap under a piece of granite,
Carved with my parents' names, with a line
Left for my family to fill in with mine
When they can afford it.

edited to subtract the lemons


Thursday, October 09, 2008

Cheer up! Smile!

There were so many cheery, upbeat songs in the Depression. And there were some downbeat ones as well. This is the best one I know that's zippy, sarcastic and bitter. Ask me to play and sing this for you next time we meet. I've always wanted to see Shirley Temple sing, dance, and dimple her way through this one:

Say, business is punk
And Wall Street is sunk.
We're all of us broke
And ready to croak.
We've nothing to dunk
Can't even get drunk
And all the while they tell us
To smile...

Cheer up, peaceful citizens
Though you have no shirts;
Happy times are here again --
Cheer up! Smile! Nerts!
All aboard, Prosperity;
Giggle 'til it hurts!
No more breadline charity --
Cheer up! Smile! Nerts!

Cheer up! Cheer up! Cheeeeer up!
Cheer up! Cheer
Up! Cheer up! Cheer up! Cheer
Better times are near!
Sunny smilers we must be,
The optimist asserts --
Let's hang the fathead to a tree!
Cheer up! Smile! NERTS!

The world's in the red.
We're better off dead.
Depression, they say
'S in session to stay
Our judges are queer.
Our banks disappear --
And all the while they tell us to smile.


Eddie Cantor with Phil Spitalny and his Music

Saturday, October 04, 2008

tiny aspirations

mighty tiny record player
(Picture snagged from WFMU's "Beware of the Blog")

That's where it started. They sold the little record players at Linder's, where I'd go look at toys and novelties (fake barf! whoopie cushions!). I lusted for that little player, and dreamed of having one. I must have been in second grade at the time, and I wished I could have a record player that I could take everywhere and have little tiny records to hear on it.

Never mind that the records they sold for that player probably sounded about like the plastic disk inside the Susy Moppet doll a friend found for me (that's another story). Never mind that they were recorded by utter nonentities who probably made Susy Moppet sound like Barbra Streisand. I never heard one of them played, and was probably happier that way.

Years passed. In junior high, I got my own tape recorder. A year after lusting for the 1.5" reel machine a friend had, I had saved up and got a 3" reel recorder at Penney's and proceeded to tape everything. I kept using it up to the time I was buying my first Firesign Theater albums, and then I finally gave in and got a cassette recorder, which I lugged around in a briefcase with as many tapes as I could cram in there.

One day, years later, I thought about how much my Walkman-type player resembled the wondrous record player of my far-off dreams. When I replaced that with a CD-based mp3 player, the thought came again. Now I think about it as I pat the shirt pocket with the 120GB iPod.

I also wished I could fly. Still waiting.

ps: A bit of searching today shows that one of these changed hands this month, with 11 records, for just over US$91. There was a photo of some of the records -- I could see guitars, a saxophone, a blonde singer, but couldn't make out names or any details. Almost every online reference to the "Mighty Tiny Record Player" led to a link to this item (unless every one of these happens to come with 11 records, of course). But I did find this, in the Google cache of a collector page (lala a gogo) that was otherwise '404 Not Found.'

mighty tiny c&w records

Hot stuff.

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