Buddy Photo

Yesterday was the anniversary of the taking of this photo, snapped from the Voyager spacecraft in 1977. It shows Earth and its moon – the first photograph ever taken with both in the same frame.

Imagine, these two celestial bodies, linked forever in a gravitational embrace, but never photographed side-by-side.

That is, unless you count that time they went clowning around in the photo booth at Dayton’s Arcade in downtown Minneapolis.

It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. They’d been orbiting Block “E” for much of the day, feeling tired and a little goofy, when some people came out of the booth laughing. Earth happened to have a couple of quarters in her pocket, and she thought, ‘why not’?

There’s something about that photo booth environment that makes the pictures taken there more memorable than most of those high-buck, carefully posed portraits.

Maybe it’s the built-in incentive to mug for the camera. After all, you gave up your pocket change for this and the shutter is going to click whether you’re ready or not, so you might as well do something to make it look like you’re having fun!

The Voyager photo cost more – lots more. Bazillions. And it is an amazing, historic image. But there is an icy distance to it that simply couldn’t exist in the close confines of the photo booth. If it’s a buddy picture you want, something full of warmth and fun, the photo booth is where you want to be.

Describe a favorite photo of you with a friend or a relative – where was it taken and how did it come about?

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Lovesick Blues

Today is the birthday of Hank Williams in 1923. He only recorded 66 songs under his own name in the short time between his emergence at age 25 and his death at 29. Thirty seven of those recordings became hits. That’s 56% – a hit-to-miss radio that I suppose will never be equalled. It amazes me that I can sit here in 2011 and at my leisure call up Hank Williams to perform one song on video while he is heard singing another. I doubt that Hank could have imagined such a result when he stood in the studio and looked into the glassy eye of that TV camera.

The Hank story is one of the saddest among the endless volumes of tragedy that fill music’s dark library of biographies. Near the end he was drugged, in pain and unreliable – missing show dates and losing his gig with the Grand Ol’ Opry, singing in beer halls in Texas and Louisiana.

Hank Williams had a great talent. He made the Lovesick Blues famous, though it’s one of the few songs he did that he didn’t write. If he had managed to hold things together, he could have had a much longer career but probably not the same legendary profile.

It’s odd how well we remember the ones who crash and burn.

Live long and stay obscure. Die young and be remembered. Your choice?

City of Democrats

Today’s guest post is by Barb in Blackhoof.

I have fond memories of listening to TLGMS In the barn. While milking, I would sing (and sometimes dance) along to many of the songs. “City of Democrats” la, la, la. Wow. How strange that there’s actually a city of democrats. Pretty cool, huh? Hmmm.

How many times have you been singing a song for years, with lyrics that you figured were correct, only to find out that you had mistaken? For example, Dale and Mike were playing “City of Immigrants” (by Steve Earle) not city of democrats. Drat. I had already made plans to move the herd.

There are a lot of songs for which I have my own lyrics, I guess. I don’t hear so well. But it wasn’t until John Prine (at a concert in Duluth) spoke of “mondegreens” in an intro to one of his songs, that I learned there was a term for these mis-heard lyrics. John said a fan requested a song that was her favorite – “It’s a happy enchilada and you think you’re gonna drown. That’s the way that the world goes ’round.” The actual lyrics go: “It’s a half an inch of water, and you think you’re gonna drown.” This is a very common phenomenon – and not a terribly new one.

Sylvia Wright coined the term “mondegreen” in a 1954 Atlantic article. As a child, young Sylvia had listened to a folk song that included the lines “They had slain the Earl of Moray/And Lady Mondegreen.” As is customary with misheard lyrics, she didn’t realize her mistake for years. The song was not about the tragic fate of Lady Mondegreen, but rather, the continuing plight of the good earl: “They had slain the Earl of Moray/and laid him on the green.” (this paragraph from Mondegreens: A Short Guide by Gavin Edwards.)

And if you really want a good chuckle, look at the columns by Jon Carroll – an example: “Cleaned a lot of plates in Memphis, pumped a lot of Tang down in New Orleans?”

And here are some of mine….. can you guess the correct words and artist?
Oh, a Tree in Motion (from my teen-age, little teeny transistor radio)
Solid Citizen (this one is way off and very embarrassing)
Salivate, Salivate, Dance to the Music (this one is pretty easy)

Have you got a favorite mondegreen?

Buy Back Program

Another desperate sales letter from my favorite Automotive motivator.

Greetings to all my good friends in the car buying public! With the seasons changing, I’m here to remind you that there’s one sure way to stay warm when the weather turns cold – climb into a metal box and set off a rapid series of gasoline explosions mere inches on the other side of a plastic and foam barrier. I know it sounds crazy and dangerous, but if you do it right, you’ll be hooked! Here at Wally’s Intimida (home of the Sherpa – it’s a Mighty Big Car), we have a parking lot full of these polished, comfortable, new-smelling metal boxes all gassed up and ready for the spark of ignition, primed to blow heat on your feet, your middle and your face, all while you sit in your electrically warmed seat looking out the window and winter’s wrath! What’s more, if you pop your heated metal box it into gear, you could actually GO somewhere.

But if the prices scare you, don’t feel like you have to buy a new vehicle this year.

All the industry buzz is about the hot , hot market right now for used cars, and here at Wally’s we have those too! Want to buy used? C’mon down! Want to sell your old car on our mammoth, high traffic lot? All the better – c’mon down! We’ve heard from a lot of people this year who want to sell their pathetic jalopies and use the money to buy another, newer used car. Great idea! We’d love to help you do it with Wally’s Retail Detail Spiff n’ Jiff Program!

Here’s how the RDSNJ works – bring your dumb old clunker to our shop. We’ll buy anything! Then we’ll vacuum it out, wipe it off, polish it ‘til it’s star bright and cover it with a layer of wax so deep, it’ll look like it’s encased in glass. Then we’ll put your refreshed old friend on the lot and sell it for whatever the market will bear. And the market will pay top dollar for your rejuvenated jalopy, trust me.

How good will it look?

You’ll develop a serious case of Seller’s Regret! In fact, nine times out of some larger number I can’t remember right now, the sellers buy their loyal old companion BACK from us! After all, there was a reason you chose it in the first place – give us a chance to show you why! We promise we’ll let you have it for $150 more than we paid you for it – and believe me, that’s A LOT cheaper than buying new.

A bargain of one kind or another awaits you at Wally’s Intimida. It’s only a matter of degree. And a matter of degrees! Turn up the heat inside a metal box with gasoline explosions at Wally’s Intimida, home of the Sherpa S.U.V. It’s a Mighty Big Car!

Ever had Seller’s Remorse?

Hypothetical Q. Blitzerman Speaks!

From the Tea Party Debate:

Wolf Blitzer >> You’re a physician, ron paul, you’re a doctor. You know something about this subject. Let me ask you this hypothetical question. A healthy 30-year-old young man has a good job, makes a good living, but decides I’m not going to spend 200 or $300 a month because I’m healthy, i don’t need it. But something terrible happens, all of a sudden he needs it. Who will pay if he goes into a coma, who pays for that?

Ron Paul >> In a society that you accept welfarism and socialism, he expects the government to take care of him.

Blitzer >> What do you want?

Paul >> What he should do is whatever he wants to do and assume responsibility for himself. My advice to him would have a major policy.

Blitzer >> He doesn’t have that and he needs intensive care for six months. Who pays?

Paul >> That’s what freedom is all about, taking your own risks. This whole idea that you have to prepare and take care of everybody —

Audience >> [applause]

Blitzer >> but congressman, are you saying that society should just let him die?

Audience >> [shouts of "yeah!"]

Weird exchange to be having in this day and age, but it does get right to the heart of the health care and spending question, doesn’t it! And then comes this clearly false message, lofted through the digital transom the same way that Nigerian Prince keeps asking me for money!

Hi, friend. Yeah, it’s me! I’m the guy Wolf Blitzer was talking about Monday night at that Tea Party debate. You know, the 30-year-old man who was feeling so good that he decided to skip buying health insurance, and then wound up in a coma? Pleased to meet you!

People are making a big deal out of the fact that Ron Paul would let me suffer the consequences of my inaction. And they’re making an even bigger deal out of the way that Tea Party crowd cheered for the idea that the Congressman would let me die. They’re being called heartless killers and a bloodthirsty band of modern Marie Antoinettes, except instead of “let them eat cake”, the motto is “let them stop eating totally, choke on their poor choices and decrease the surplus population,” which I’m pretty sure is something Dickens said, or one of his characters. I don’t actually remember. I had a pretty short life and didn’t have time to learn much. But enough about me – I’m just a rhetorical device.

There’s lots of hand-wringing over this episode, mostly from people who fear that we as a society have come to a very cold, brutal place where it is better to let people die than to think about an increase in government spending. But no one has asked me what I think! And I’m the one who’s going to be allowed to expire, right? And frankly, though this may surprise you, I think I deserve it. That’s right. It’s all my fault. I lived an uncharmed life. I made a bunch of mistakes. So let me die, already!

Before you start protesting, I have to tell you that my string of fatal errors began long before I decided to save a few bucks on health insurance. The first thing I did wrong was this – I allowed myself to be born without a name.

That’s right. I let God (in this case, Wolf Blitzer) create me as a fully-grown adult, destined to live only as long as it took for him to ask his question. I had no identity, no parents to speak of, no siblings, no spouse or domestic partner and no children. All I had was a good job, robust health, a cheapskate attitude, and eventually, a coma. That’s everything there ever was for me. No obligations. No connections. No one loved me and I made a bad, selfish decision. Who wouldn’t want to kill off a guy like that?

Regrets? I wish I’d insisted on a name. Even something as weird as “Hypothetical Q. Blitzerman” would have been good enough to bring a few of those Tea Party people over to my side. My folks might have named me “Hypothetical” because of the fruitless years they spent trying to conceive me. I’ll bet they couldn’t believe their luck when I finally arrived. I’m guessing I had siblings too. A spunky little sister, Antithetical (Ann) and an egghead baby brother, Theoretical (Theo).

I’d like to think I did OK in school, made lots of friends, played back up wide receiver on the football team, sang a song (badly) in the school musical, fell in the fountain at prom and ruined my rented tuxedo.

Before I got my good job I’ll bet I worked some truly lousy ones and probably served you a hamburger along the way. There was a time when a fishing pole and a sleeping bag were the only possessions I cared anything about. Until I met this girl who wasn’t impressed with my aimless life. So I finished school, got married, got that job and got her pregnant, all in a few, short, crazy, wonderful years. Of course I felt invincible, so when we made up the family budget we put hundreds into health care for her, and I used my health money to save for a house, instead. Calculated risk.

Did I mention I was never very good at gambling?

Anyway, things went wrong and who do I have to blame but myself? Yeah, Wolf Blitzer brought me into the world but I made all the critical mistakes. I should have insisted that my “good” job have health care attached. How else can you call it “good”? And I should have demanded that he give me a name, some friends, and a few relations.

I’ll bet if Wolf had put my brother Theo in league with the Libertarians or made my sister Ann a leading light in the Tea Party movement, they would have at least paused for a moment before shouting out their enthusiastic support for my needless, premature death.

Like I say, it was totally my fault.

If Wolf Blitzer and Ron Paul were about to bite into Turkey Burgers tainted with Salmonella, could the government regulation-forced recall come quickly enough to save them? Should it?

A Financial Fable

A late comment posted yesterday by Donna in response to Bubby Spamden’s first-week-of-school quandary runs the risk of going under-appreciated, so I thought I’d better bring it to the top of the queue for today.

If you recall, Bubby was trying to make sense of his Personal Finance class, as taught by Mr. Boozenporn.
Part of his confusion was fostered by Mr. Boozenporn’s odd focus on building good checkbook habits. Bubby (and everyone younger than him) is in the no-checkbook generation – a group Donna knows well in her day job as a first grade teacher.

She also knows a thing or two about story time:

Bubby should forget about paper altogether and exchange it for gold. And then he should take most of the gold and spin it into straw. And then he should buy goats. And then he should take what’s left and buy just enough yarn to knit one single goat sweater because now it’s winter. But he should leave the work undone because it’s BUBBY for God’s sakes! And on this cold December night Bubby’s barn will be visited by a pair of pixies and they will knit the most beautiful goat sweater the north woods has ever seen. The next morning a happy wandering stranger will yodel up to the barn and buy the sweater for DOUBLE Bubby’s asking price. And then Bubby will buy enough yarn for two goat sweaters, and again the pixies will knit them and they’ll be even more beautiful than the night before. And this scenario will continue night after night, and Bubby will buy more yarn and then more goats and then more yarn and then more goats and then more yarn and then more goats and more yarn and more goats until he realizes he’s forgotten to spend any money on feed and the goats have starved to death. OH NO – BUBBEEEEEEEEY!!!

The moral of this story, Baboons?

Smart About Money

I found an early-morning missive from an old friend – Bubby Spamden, perennial sophomore.

Hey Mr. C.,

Well we’re in the second week of school already, and believe it or not after all the years I’ve spent as a sophomore at Wendell Wilkie High School, I am finally taking a class I’ve never taken before – Personal Finance.

I guess the bigwigs on the School Board decided last summer that we are all as dumb as toads about money, and they decided to make room in the schedule for us to get trained about goal setting, budgeting, savings, credit, insurance … all that financial stuff that even our parents don’t know anything about.

Well, mine, at least.

But they couldn’t think of a way to work it into the crowded school day that’s already full of stuff we have to study so we can pass our tests so our school doesn’t get labeled with the scarlet “L” for LOSER School, which is a title most schools are going to wind up being anyway, I guess, on account of No Child Left Behind.

So they decided that everybody would get 15 minutes of Personal Finance training at the beginning of the day in homeroom. Every day. And the homeroom teachers have to teach it.

My homeroom teacher, Mr. Boozenporn, says the “15 Minutes A Day” approach is actually a really good pattern to use for savings – take a little bit each time but do it every single day, and before long you’ll be filthy rich. Actually, what he really said was a smart savings plan would take a very, very long time and at the end you would NOT be filthy rich, but you might wind up being NOT TOO POOR, which would come as a surprise for a lot of us because (speaking for me, personally), poor is definitely what I expect.

Anyway, everyone agrees that Mr. Boozenporn is a great choice to teach this class because a lot of it has to do with not giving in to impulsive behavior, and kids say that when he’s away from school, Mr. B. is kind of an expert on impulsive behavior. He’s got some vices involving a handful of places clustered on this one block downtown that we kids can’t get into, but he is seen going in and out those doors a LOT. Which surprises me because the cover charge for a couple of them is really steep, and he’s just, you know, a teacher. And no, I did not sit across the street and watch all the comings and goings. But somebody else might have.

So Mr. B’s first personal finance lecture was about keeping track of your checkbook – making sure you stay up to date on your entries and remembering to write down the check number and then reconciling, like, every week, and making sure all the checks are accounted for in the bank statement and stuff like that. It was all pretty understandable except I did come away from it with just one nagging question :

What’s a checkbook?

Your pal,

I told Bubby that a checkbook is like having an iTunes account at the bank, except instead of only being able to buy songs and apps and stuff, it can be used for almost anything. As long as it’s a thing sold by people who accept checks. How you find them, I’m not sure.

What one personal finance rule should Mr. Boozenporn teach the children?

Attitude and Altitude

There will be a lot on TV, radio and in the papers this weekend about the 10th anniversary of 9/11. There already has been. And it’s important. The memory of what happened that day cannot be erased, and the victims must be honored. Though for some of us, it feels presumptuous to make a big fuss over any anniversary of that dark day – as if 9/11 is something that’s actually over.

Amid all the talk about how we’ve changed in the past decade, essays about fear and ruminations on security, my favorite piece is actually this sound-and-photo essay from the NY Times about a way in which we’ve not changed. Ironworkers are building a new tower, and perhaps this is the most meaningful observance of the 9/11 anniversary – a bird’s eye view of Manhattan, as seen by blue collar heroes and a fearless photographer, perched on the top floor of an ambitious, unfinished construction project.

At one time or another, everyone has to force themselves to “not look down” in order to get the job done.


Pen Name de Plume de Jour

Today’s guest post is by Clyde.

I just read From the Fair, the delightful autobiography of Sholom Aleichem, the Yiddish author of the Tevye the Milkman stories and many others. If you like Fiddler on the Roof, you might like to get a deeper feel for the world of Tevye and his village. You might also like to read the original stories, which are if anything more charming than the musical. He writes the autobiography in third person, even though he repeatedly makes it clear it is his own real life story, which adds another dimension to the narration.
Reading the book has inspired me to get back to work on my long-neglected fictionalized story of my childhood, wishing I had anything like his narrative gift.

Aleichem, whose life was contemporaneous with Mark Twain, was often called the Yiddish Mark Twain, to which Twain responded, “Tell him I am the American Sholom Aleichem.” They shared much in common, such as an allegorical pen name. Twain’s name means essentially “safe water” in steamboating terms. Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich chose the name Sholom Alecheim because it is both the common greeting in Yiddish and a blessing of peace upon another person. Their chosen names also have a sonorious ring to them.
Both men were mostly self-taught, were raised in poverty in backwater villages, survived many family tragedies such as the death of a parent in childhood, made and lost a couple of fortunes due to bad investments, and were very successful public speakers. Both were brilliant at characterization, were masters of dialogue especially dialects, and did much to invent the literature of their culture.
I have included a photo of the statue of Aleichem in Kiev. It is wonderfully ironic that Russia and Kiev honor him this way, considering how the tsarist regime treated Jews and that Aleichem had to hide when he lived in Kiev because he did not have a license to live there, as required of all Jews.

Unlike Twain, Aleichem was deeply religious and superstitious. For instance, his tombstone in New York City lists his death date as May 12a, 1916 because he was afraid of the number thirteen. He died too young before finishing From the Fair. The abrupt ending is unsatisfying, but well, L’Chaim to his life and all of ours.

If you were to use a pen name, what would it be?

Try To Remember

Today’s guest post comes from Beth-Ann.

September has always been my favorite month. Now I’m not so sure. Maybe I loved the ninth month because it hosted my birthday, but I think I favored it because I have always loved school.

The day after Labor Day always seemed to be New Year’s Day. A new school year was a new beginning. We didn’t do a lot of shopping when I was growing up, but I clearly remember shopping expeditions for school clothes. There were those crisp new dresses with the itchy crinolines that we begged mom to remove with her vicious seam ripper. Even more emblematic were the new school shoes-always leather and either tied or buckled because loafers were verboten until sixth grade. Of course we wore our new duds even though I grew up far south of here where it was too warm for long sleeves or corduroy.

When we got to school the magic continued. It wasn’t until after we arrived that we learned the names of our teacher and our new classmates. Hope lived eternal for “the nice teacher” and a class without mean boys. We got new books or at least new used books and got to write our names in them.
Frankly I found summer boring and was glad for September and a chance to get back to a building with spelling bees, good grades, and library books. We got our supply lists and got to go buy new notebooks, crayons, and pencil boxes.

I remember September with the sweetness of “The Fantasticks.”

My enthusiasm for the golden month with blue skies re-ignited when my son was young. I found the start of school more fun than he did, but he always liked camp more than school.

My heart no longer goes pitter pat as August ends. As much as I love the Fair, I am careful not to go on the Last Day in order to avoid seeing the end of summer and the beginning of September. Even though I have the wistful fondness for the sweet month in Jerry Orbach’s song, I know it is the dread gateway to the nasty, short gray days of a loong Minnesota winter. The cold future dulls even the blue sky and the taste of rich ripe tomatoes.

How do you remember September?