All posts by Dale Connelly

I am a writer and broadcaster living in the Twin Cities.

Overlapping Shadows

Time now for an occasional (OK, this is the second one, ever) feature of Trail Baboon – Connect Three.

Three current news stories share a common feature – in this case the linkage is anything but obscure – it’s a simple shadow.

The first one has to do with a particular portrait of Bill Clinton in the National Portrait Gallery. Artist Nelson Shanks says the canvas he painted of President Bill Clinton in 2006 includes the shadow of a blue dress, a reference to the famous Monica Lewinski garment which, having been smeared by Clinton himself, left a permanent stain on his presidency.

This, I suppose, is where being an artist trumps having political or financial muscle in that you get to make a lasting commentary. It’s not clear why Shanks would reveal this particular artistic choice right now. Perhaps it’s a bid to set his Clinton image apart from at least 54 others in the Portrait Gallery.

Ah, the Shanks Portrait. That’s the one with The Dress!

Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA
Credits: ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA

Meanwhile, far out in space at the constantly moving intersection of comet science and human ingenuity, the Rosetta spacecraft has taken a picture of its own diffuse shadow on the surface of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko. This news is getting enough play to suggest that we retain our ability to be amazed by simple things. Not only could we locate, chase down and go into orbit around a comet – we’re able to throw a little shade on one too. Fascinating. We are enthralled at any bit of evidence that hints at or own existence. Does this light make my butt look big?

And finally, Disney Characters shadowed shoppers in a mall in Massapequa, New York. I’ve been to Disney World and believe me, it’s just like this – you walk along minding your own business while a duck follows your every move just a step behind.

Close enough to reach into your pocket.

How are you as a mimic?

Seuss Deuce

Today is Dr. Seuss’s birthday, so in his honor I’ll recall one of the many times I’ve ripped him off by doing a weak parody of his timeless work.

In this case, the original act of larceny occurred in the summer of 2013 when New York City commuters were astonished to find dead shark riding a New York Subway.

This idea of a Straphanger Shark was, I thought, almost Seussian. The master, however, would have gone bigger – much bigger.

I realize now that I never finished that earlier version, so this time it has an ending, if not a moral.

We were heading for home on the subway one day
We were too tired to speak. There was nothing to say
It was Sally and me at the back of a train
that smelled fishy and dank, but we didn’t complain.
The car clattered and rattled and squeaked on its track.
The lights flickered a bit. It got bright and then black.
And then darker than pitch. Clearly something was wrong.
While the squeaking we’d heard transformed into a song.
“What’s that noise?” Sally shouted. The deafening trill
became loud as a whistle and two times as shrill.
And then all of it stopped – both the train and the sound!
When we got off the floor we both looked all around.
Peering deep in the tunnel – the source of the din –
we saw two giant eyeballs there, peering back in.
“Don’t be scared” said a voice. “I am harmless,” it joked.
“You’re too late,” I replied, for my trousers were soaked.
“I am sorry for that.” He was big. He was pale.
“You can just call me Moby. The Whale on the Rail.
“He should not be down here,” stammered Sally, to me.
“Because whales belong down in the depths of the sea.”
“That is true,” said the whale. His breath stank of dead fish.
“But as long as I’m here, we can do what you wish.”
“There are games for commuters and whales we can play.”
“If you have a sharp knife and a sea bass to flay.”
“We do not have a knife,” I replied, in a peep.
“That is not a good game. You go back to the deep.”
But the Whale on the Rail only blinked at us twice.
Then he said, “Maybe some other game would be nice.”
“How ’bout ‘Where’s Your Blowhole?’ he said. “That is fun.”
“Not for us,” shot back Sally. “Because we don’t have one.”
“So you think,” said the whale. At his voice, the car shook.
“But you always find one in the last place you look.”
“The conductor is coming,” I said. “Swim away.”
But the Whale only smiled. “I would much rather play.
At that moment, the subway door opened up wide,
and a grizzled man step-clumped his peg-leg inside.
The whale’s eyeballs grew bigger – as large as the moon
at the site of this man and his ten-foot harpoon.
As the beast turned to flee, the conductor’s remark
was succinct – “This is more than a simple dead shark.
It’s the demon I’ve chased for a decade or more!”
As he hurled his harpoon out the subway car door.
When that missile hit home the rope wriggled about,
and entangled his leg as it quickly played out.
“Call me Ahab”, he said, as the line became tight.
He shot into the dark and was soon out of sight.
But we heard him exclaim as he bounced down the rails,
“The New York City Subway – it’s no place for whales!”

 

Recommend a book you’ve read recently.

Fixed in Space

Today’s post comes from perennial sophomore Bubby Spamden, forever in the 10th grade at Wendell Willkie High School.

Hey Mr. C.,
Some of my older teachers at Willkie were kind of broken up yesterday when they found out one of their favorite TV characters, Mr. Spock, had died. I think a few of them wanted to cancel school for the rest of the day ’cause they kinda felt like their youth was passing before their eyes.

Mr. Boozenporn seemed to be a little dizzy and weird. He sat at his desk texting friends and muttering “Live Long and Prosper”. While he did that, he made us watch this super-long geek-out video which is nothing but the same pointy-eared guy in funny clothes and a bad haircut saying his TV show lines for almost 15 minutes straight!

So while the video was running, I got out my phone and looked up this Leonard Nimoy character and found out he was really interesting and smart, but he spent pretty much his whole adult life stuck with this character that he played on TV for only 3 seasons and people wouldn’t let him put it behind him. That made me think about how long I’ve been stuck as a sophomore at Willkie and I felt like I understood him pretty good after that.

When he finally started to speak to us again, Mr. B said Spock was his idol. He said his friend Ron worshiped Captain Kirk but Kirk was an over-dramatic goofball whose impulses always got the Enterprise into trouble so dumb luck and Mr. Spock could get them out, and then Kirk got all the girls and the credit, which wasn’t fair.

Mr. B. said he identified with Spock because he was all about logic and science and he wasn’t emotional but people were drawn to him anyway, which was like getting a free pass ’cause you got loved but didn’t have to do any loving back.

Then he got teary-eyed and blurted out some stuff that sounded like apologies to somebody named Arlene. But I kinda think he should’ve apologized to Mr. Nimoy, too.

Your pal,
Bubby

Are you Spock, or Kirk?

The Galaxy Hillbillies

The discovery of a gigantic black hole from the dawn of time has me feeling a bit like that small town boy who thought his world was pretty huge, until he found out about New York City.

We’re such small potatoes, universe-wise, the only way I can get my head around it is through the lens of the literature of my youth – TV show theme songs.

So these scientists was lookin’ at a big black hole,
though goin’ to visit wasn’t anybody’s goal.
The one that they found – was as wide as it was tall …
It made everyone feel impossibly small.

A massive hole. In vast space. Texas trench.

It was further away than a lot they’d seen before
It was large as the sun plus a dozen billion more.
They said “this is bigger than an older hole should be,”
An’ they added it all up to another mystery.

Dawn of time. Ancient gas. Quasars.

What’s the biggest city you visited as a youth, and what effect did it have on you?  

A Dust Up Over Dust

We are ALL Dr. Babooner

Dear Dr. Babooner,

I get all my information about the world through YouTube.

Yesterday, I watched with great interest as a video explained how dust from the Sahara Desert in Africa nourishes the rain forest in South America.

These NASA researchers are doing wonderful things to demonstrate to a selfish and xenophobic public how our small world is truly interconnected. And it got me thinking how unfortunate it is that our culture does not respect the immense value of dust, which is something people love to complain about when they find it in their homes, or when they dress up like cowboys and go out for an evening’s entertainment.

Thanks to these two videos, I had a revelation!

Dust isn’t a problem – it’s a great boon! Phosphorus is only one part of the Gift Of Dust (G.O.D.) bestows on the world. Dust is what we eventually become, so some of the dust blowing across the ocean (and even collecting on my coffee table) is connected directly to my ancestors.

This is something that should humble us and make us grateful!

For this reason, I just told my wife I will no longer try to remove dust from our home, but rather, I will worship it from here on out and leave it untouched.

But instead of honoring my spiritual epiphany, she handed me a rag and some Lemon Pledge, and told me to get to work.

Dr. Babooner, please say I am right so I can show your answer to my wife and prove that she is in the wrong.

Sincerely,
Dusty Hubby

I told Dusty Hubby that Dr. Babooner does not like to be used to settle domestic arguments although she realizes this is sometimes the unavoidable fallout that comes with living in the world. In the very same way, dust is unavoidable fallout that apparently does some good in the rainforest, but that does not mean it’s equally useful when it collects on your coffee table. Even if it contains a tiny bit of great grandpa, worshipping the dust in your house is just another way to say you’re devoted to leisure, and your G.O.D. is actually the Lay Z Boy.

But that’s just one opinion. What do YOU think, Dr. Babooner?

Steam & Stress

Header photo by Olaf Tausch

I actually found it quite troubling to learn that saunas protect middle-aged men against heart attacks.

Apparently the evidence is irrefutable. It’s at a climate-change level of certainty – the Finns have been right all along about their culture built around a box of heat. Regularly sweating in the sauna can, for a time, forestall the reaper.

As a man well into the prime heart-attack years, I am suddenly faced with a discouraging and stressful choice between going to sit in a stifling room for a time nearly every single day with a bunch of strangers – other drippy men in towels struggling to breathe the same super heated moist air – or an early death.

As Jack Benny replied when told by a mugger, “Your money or your life!”, the answer is … “I’m thinking.”

And for Trail Baboons this will immediately remind you of early Keillor – the strange saga of The Finn Who Would Not Sauna.

You can only choose one – excessive heat or painful cold. Which will it be?

Some Gratitude for Gravity

While I don’t usually dig into the archives to re-purpose old material, I’m inclined to do so on MAO Day, which is not a holiday set aside to celebrate Chinese Communism but rather, my acronym for  the Monday After the Oscars.

This one goes way back – to the old Trial Balloon blog in 2010.  Many current Trail Baboon commentators had a thing or two to say to this five years ago – take a look and see if you still feel the same way!

Awards show season can be frustrating for artists and their fans. If your favorite singer, actor, writer, set designer or foley artist doesn’t win, it’s a reminder that these shows are a pointless waste of time, an exercise in snobbishness, the purest form of self congratulation and the voters are a bunch of no-taste noodle heads.

And if your favorite wins, well, this is a date that will go down in history! Justice was served. The world acknowledged greatness.

My favorite awards show thank you speech pre-dates television. I loved what Nephew Thomas said when he accepted the prize for 1938 Stunt Man of the Year, receiving his first Marconi (the “Oscar” of the radio world) thanks to his uncanny ability to make it appear he was flying through the air using only his voice and manipulating his proximity to the microphone. He said:

I have so many people to thank, I’m going to have to disappoint them equally and not mention any names at all. Sorry, everybody. Kill me if you must, but that will be hard. I’m a Radio Stunt Man after all.

My only thank you tonight goes to gravity, because it has made my career possible.

It was gravity that pulled me off the side of HMS Indomitable when I played “Semaphore Operator 1″, valiantly trying to signal Vice-admiral Beatty aboard HMS Lion during the riveting WW1 drama, “The Battle of Dogger Bank”.

Gravity kept me from getting launched all the way into space when I played the Human Cannonball in “Carnival People!”.

And it is gravity holding me here right now, at a time when I am so happy, I could float right to the ceiling of this auditorium, which would be a wonderful effect to do in some future radio dramaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAaaaaaaaaaaaaa…”

Of course at that point he did a vivid fade off mic that sounded for all the world like he was being inexplicably lifted upward – the sort of detail only a master can pull off.

If you had to give an acceptance speech right now, who would you thank?