Words, phrases & rhetorical questions

Not quite derelict
Not quite derelict

I believe I was west of Linden when I took this picture. I know that I had to zoom at maximum to get this shot. I tried taking it from a slightly different angle, but I kept getting the barbed wire fence too high in the frame. This one worked out pretty well.

***

A term that I like, though I’m not quite sure I understand the concept completely: Jingle bobs. Not to be confused with the word jinglebob, which is a steer’s ear that has been slashed to mark the steer. I understand that. No, jingle bobs are added to a cowboy’s spur, or spurs as an adornment and to make a jingling sound. And here I thought that spurs (alone) jingle jangle jingled as the cowboy went merrily along. Onomatopoeia anyone? It’s too bad that the term is so specific to a culture for so few people. But, if it were an everyday term, I would probably get tired of hearing it. As it is, I only hear it in cowboy songs.

***

 My dad used the expression “Ye gods and little fish cakes.” I have never heard anyone else use the expression, and I wasn’t quite sure I understood the “little fish cakes” section. Google wasn’t overly helpful. They only had one citation for it in a copy of Trucking Business, Volume 25 from July of 1920. It was used in an article titled Do Horses Laugh? Listen! I did note that there were citations for the simpler “Ye gods and little fishes.” That seems to have originated in the United States in the 1800’s, but I could find no explanation for the entire term. As a fallback, I checked real books in my library (Heavens To Betsy & Other Curious Saying by Charles Earle Funk, and Listening To America by Stuart Berg Flexner) but found no mention of the term. So, I still don’t know where my dad got the expression. But I like it. Perhaps I’ll start using it.

***

Finally, Curmudgeonly Norm wants to know when “exact same” became part of Standard American English. Is it really so difficult to add two syllables and say “exactly the same?”

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Me and poetry

Deep
Deep

Sometimes I wander behind buildings to see what is there. After all, the building is blocking the view. I can be curious that way. In the case of this photo, I went behind a local supermarket. I saw this sign and wondered where the deep water was. I couldn’t see any. I imagine there is deep water in a ditch if there is a really heavy rainstorm. But it was dry the day that I took the picture.

***

I am not a huge poetry fan. I never have been. I’m not sure why that is. I liked Mother Goose rhymes when I was a little kid. I didn’t mind memorizing Paul Revere’s Ride and other poems when I was in elementary school, though I wasn’t quite sure why we had to memorize them. I even enjoyed some of the poems we read, such as Invictus in high school. Of course, I read more poetry in college, and I liked a lot of it, but if the truth be told, most of it bored me.

There were a small number of poets whose work I admired. Shakespeare’s sonnets were wonderful, and his plays were nothing to sneeze at. William Blake wrote some marvelous poems. Samuel Coleridge’s opium fueled poems, such as Kubla Khan chanted in my mind. Robert Frost wrote some great poems. Probably my favorite poem of all time is Ozymandias by Percy Bysshe Shelley. My favorite poet is William Butler Yeats; his poems sing to me.

Of those poets, Robert Frost was the only one who was alive when I first read something that he wrote. He died when I was in high school. The other poets I have listed were from different eras, and wrote with a different sensibility.

Other than reading the occasional poem printed in Harper’s or The Atlantic I hadn’t bothered to read any poetry for a number of years. But then, around the beginning of 2013, I came across a blog named Fairytale Epidemic. I mentioned this in a post titled The year in review. I was drawn in by the prose and pictures, but I’ve stayed for the poetry. For the first time in many years I have been reading poems that keep my attention. I know that part of the fascination is because they are couched in fantasy. If you regard the poets I’ve listed above, Robert Frost is the only one who has not used fantasy in his poetry…at least I can’t remember any. I do like fantasy.

It took me a little while before I realized that Brittany, the Fairytale Epidemic blogger, was writing about herself through metaphor. I know, intellectually, that all writers do that, but Brittany does it with a deal of openness you don’t often see; that may be what threw me off. When I started paying attention to her poetry I saw that she was working through an emotional disaster. Contemporaneously however, she was also posting in prose about the fun she was having while hiking on weekends. Then her poetic mood shifted to happiness that had entered her life, but she also spoke to new disappointments. Most recently she appears to be delving deeper into her own thoughts (I’m tempted to use the word soul), and is being less reactionary in her work; sedate might be a good term (though she probably has a better one). It seems, to me, to be a new maturity that asks more of her readers, as well as of herself. For the first time in a long time, I’ve found poetry that seems to me to be worth the effort.

You may be thinking that I’ve buzzed over some literary greats just so I can write about someone who is relatively unknown. Yeah, pretty much. But just as some people like Jackson Pollock’s as well as Frank Frazetta’s painting, I find poetic room for Yeats and Brittany. That’s me and poetry.

Here is Brittany’s blog address: http://fairytaleepidemic.wordpress.com

#5 of 501: The African Queen

A different African movie
A different African movie

Cindy and I returned to Africa last night in our togetherness project. We watched The African Queen. It is a much different movie from Zulu and for that we were both grateful. While the African people were portrayed in “humorous” caricature (think the Birmingham Brown character in the Charlie Chan movies), which is just as offensive as showing them as brutal savages, that was just a small side element of the entire movie. I could almost overlook it.

The movie boils down to being a love story between Katharine Hepburn’s and Humphrey Bogart’s characters. That’s where the movie succeeds so well. It is a romantic comedy. While some of the comedy would be considered politically incorrect today (see my comment above), the rest of the film is fine. I especially think Bogart is wonderful playing a character who is not hard-boiled.

One of my favorite parts of the movie is when Bogart’s character wakes up, hung over, and finds Hepburn’s character pouring his gin into the river. As a former drinker, I feel his pain. But then, it was gin.

Hepburn’s character alternates between firmly telling him what he needs to do, and gently cajoling him into doing things his better judgement warns against. She seems to always win out. In the end, he doesn’t mind.

The things that we find to be in poor taste or offensive have certainly changed since this movie was released in 1951. But some things seem to hold true. Romance is funny. Or at least that seems to be a constant in Hollywood.

#4 of 501: Zulu

Mixed feelings
Mixed feelings

If I had seen this movie before 1970, I probably would have liked it. I mean look what it had going for it: 1) A vastly outnumbered (400 to 1) plucky British unit successfully held off the attacking native Zulus. 2) There is beautiful scenery. 3) Richard Burton does the opening and closing voice-over narration. 4) It is Michael Caine’s first major role. And 5) there is one torn bodice, not to mention the topless Zulu women taking part in a mass wedding. (I have to live up to my dirty old man reputation).

However, I didn’t watch the movie until Monday night. In 1970, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee was published, and many US citizens started to become aware of what had really happened between our government and the native American population through the years. American Indians weren’t always the savage bad guys as they were so often depicted in movies and books. I started looking at what I had previously “known” with a jaundiced eye. Learning those things brought a new perspective to this film.

The movie could have been an early American western transplanted into southern Africa. It even had a cattle stampede. The Americans, excuse me, the British soldiers were surrounded by the savage enemy who was there to kill them. But time after time the heroic soldiers with their superior skills and bravery were able to fight off the natives.

I can’t say that I knew what was bothering me about the movie at first, but at one point the lead actor, Stanley Baker, says to a Boer, “…after all, it’s your country.” And I said out loud, “No. It’s the Zulus country.” That’s when all of the pretty scenery couldn’t let me enjoy the film.

I hope I haven’t ruined the movie for you. We all bring our own perspective to these things.

Another (wonderful) year of marriage

Smiling to hide her tears...of joy
Smiling to hide her tears…of joy…I swear they are tears of joy

I’m the handsome guy in the middle. Hahahahahaha. No, I’m the one with the beard. My child bride, Cindy, is on the right. Lee is between us, guarding his mother’s virtue. Trina has her back to the camera.

***

Today is our 24th wedding anniversary. People said it wouldn’t last because we didn’t have enough in common . I guess they thought it was just hormones. Well, they were wrong; and I’m pretty sure they will continue to be wrong.

I could regale you with stories from our wedding day, but I prefer to hold those stories back until next year. Twenty-five years seems more appropriate for those tales. This year I just want to share a few words about commitment. I just have to figure out what those words are.

OK, let’s try these words: Commitment is, after consideration, deciding on a course of action and sticking to it despite obstructions. I believe that is a good, somewhat vague, working description.

Marriage is a commitment that two people make to each other, to share good and bad times as one human family unit. It isn’t just a baby making (or adopting) match, or a business match, or even just a love match. It is all those things and ineffable more. And it isn’t supposed to last for a few years, or months or days and then be discarded. It is meant to last…period…full stop. If you don’t enter in to marriage with that full commitment, your chances of success aren’t as good.

At least that is the way I went into marriage, and I’m pretty sure Cindy did as well. At least until after the wedding reception…but that’s a story for next year. Seriously, we seriously took the commitment seriously. Was that too cute a phrase? We still take it seriously.

There may be days when we take each other for granted. There are certainly days when we screw up (Hey, Cindy, remember the time I forgot to make the mortgage payment and how it messed up our finances?). There have been days when anger seemed to override everything else. But none of that is more important than the commitment we made to each other. Some days it is harder to do than on others, but it has always been worth the effort.

In a broader sense we also made the commitment to our friends and family, and even society as a whole. But it comes down to what we pledged to each other. It comes down to living up to that commitment.

It’s been a good ride for twenty-four years, and there is no reason it shouldn’t keep going on.

Memorial Day memories

New York state, 1982
New York state, 1982

I took the picture when I was on vacation back in June of 1982, outside of Naples, New York. Luckily I wrote that information on the back of the picture, or all I would be able to tell you was that I thought it was in the Finger Lakes district of New York state a long time ago. Memory is fleeting.

***

I don’t have any memories of a specific Memorial Day weekend. There was sameness to many of them, and that’s what I remember, the broad generalized memories.

On the Sunday before Memorial Day (back then it was celebrated on May 30th each year), the Sunday School children of the Methodist Church would walk down the street and join the children from the Christian Church Sunday School, and from there walk to the Rolling Prairie Cemetery carrying small American flags. When we got to the graveyard we would find the graves of a veteran and place our flag in a marker designed to hold the flag. I believe that those markers were supplied by the VFW, but I could be wrong about that detail.

We also had a family tradition that took place in South Bend. We would drive (well I rode in the car) to my Uncle Earl’s and Aunt Louisa’s house in the Paxton Park division of South Bend. Every year we would gather there, and then go to the graveyards to decorate the graves of family with flowers. I remember my Uncle Earl still called it Decoration Day.

After delivering the flowers to the graves, we would get back in our cars and return to Paxton Park. My uncle would fire up his grill. He used charcoal in a grill that he had built. He was a stone mason. I remember the hamburgers and hot dogs. I don’t recall if he ever grilled anything more exotic, like sausages, but he may have.

As the afternoon wore on we would make occasional checks of the radio to hear who was leading, and then who won the Indianapolis 500. That’s the closest I ever got to caring about the race.

In my memories it never rained on Memorial Day. Each and every one was sunny and warm with no humidity, just gentle breezes. I believe we may have one just like that this year.

#3 of 501: Ace In The Hole

Does he look angry to you?
Does he look angry to you?

I think we have a mixed review about this movie. I liked it more than your average movie. Cindy’s comment when the final credits started to roll was, “That was stupid.” Then she went on to say that she had forgotten how sad some of the movies in the 50’s could be. Film noir can be sad, certainly a downer.

My biggest reaction was about how well/often Kirk Douglas played anger. More, it was often mean anger. Lots of anger at the beginning of the film, then it tapered off, and it came back at the end. As I think back, Douglas did anger in a lot of his films. Can you be typecast for anger. He did a lot of meanness in his films also, but anger is what I remember of his acting chops. Or maybe he wasn’t acting.

Billy Wilder wrote, directed and produced this movie. For some reason I always think of comedy when Wilder’s name comes up, but he also did a lot of serious film making. This is a serious movie, with a message that is as true today as it was in 1951. It says something when you realize that the movie was originally released with the title The Big Carnival, and was changed back Ace In The Hole when Turner Broadcasting started showing it. I’m pretty sure that I originally saw the movie on TV as The Big Carnival.

I would recommend this movie to any adult, especially if you like to see anger.