Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Merry Christmas!

Here’s a classic piece of Christmas nostalgia. A Charlie Brown Christmas debuted in 1965 and was apparently unappreciated by network executives, who despaired of the child actors’ unprofessional sounding voices, the jazz soundtrack by Vince Guaraldi, and the reading of a Bible passage by Linus. The Christmas special was expected to be a ratings disaster and there were no plans to repeat it.

Half of all the TV households in America were tuned in to watch this show. Getting the attention of such a large portion of the country all at one time was possible in 1965. Although we are even more wired together today, it would be difficult to persuade half of America to look at the same thing simultaneously unless it was a live historic event, a terrible tragedy or the Super Bowl.

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” may have single-handedly killed the aluminum Christmas tree, which was an innovation that I, as a 10 year old, admired. Especially when it came with a revolving color wheel!

The opening scene of children skating on a frozen pond brings back winter memories for me. I did the very same thing with a group of friends on a little pond in the woods near our house in Montrose, New York. This was not a community pond in a public park with a warming house, lights and piped in music. It was really off in the woods, away from any roads and not visited by anyone except us. The forest came right down to the edge of the water. We’d sit on fallen trees to lace up our skates. The frozen surface was rough – occasionally interrupted by a stump or a stick, which added an element of unpredictable excitement to our skating parties. I’m guessing there are no figure skaters who got a start there, but it was a great location for unsupervised, frictionless roughhousing.

Where do you (or did you) go to skate?

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Down By The Old Mars Stream

Mars is turning out to be warmer than expected, and we are finding even more evidence that water once flowed there.

What a lovely spot for a picnic!
Image NASA

But clearly things have changed since those good old days on the red planet. While at least one of our famous Earthly waterways is showing a positive trend, quality-wise, the Martian brook that Curiosity rolled over this week has clearly seen better days. The question of whether there was life there at one time remains unanswered for now, though I think we all can see where this is headed. We may never have the chance to waste an afternoon lounging in a peaceful dew-freshened glade alongside a Martian brook.

But I still feel a little nostalgic.

My darling I am dreaming of a distant sky,
A place where we were sweethearts that has since gone dry;
The ground is red and rocky now, the air is thinner too.
But still I will remember, where I first met you.

Down by the old Mars stream where the microbes grew,
There was algae too, in that watery stew.
What a different hue, was our Martian goo.
We made a scene. It was pea green! Down by the old Mars stream.

What is your favorite, most romantic waterway?

Old Soldiers

This is the anniversary of General Douglas MacArthur’s farewell address, which included the catchphrase “Old Soliders Never Die, They Just Fade Away.”

Definitely not fading away here.

To my way of thinking, the line is more appropriate to describe the end of the perpetual Disc Jockey.
Dick Clark did just fade away, gradually vanishing like so many of the songs he promoted, the volume sliding down to an imperceptible nothing.

But for soldiers? I’m puzzled.

Why is just fading away any better or more appropriate for an old soldier than dying? Especially in a business where dying is such an ever present and immediate risk? We certainly know that young soldiers die – far too many of them. Why would old soldiers find any comfort in the prospect of a long fade? Or is this an expression of regret that they can’t go out in a blaze of glory like the young comrades they lost so many years ago? I don’t get the point. Soldiers? Anyone?

The famous line comes at the end of the speech, which was given to a Joint Session of Congress on April 19th, 1951.

“I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular barracks ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that old soldiers never die; they just fade away. And like the old soldier of that ballad, I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.
Good Bye.”

The line comes from an old “barracks ballad”? I didn’t know that, and wondered if perhaps seeing the words to the ballad might shed some light on the sentiment. I didn’t find much on my first few tries with Google, but fortunately for me there’s Subtropic Bob, who writes a blog called “This Day In Quotes.”

Subtropic did some digging last year and managed to connect the quote to a hymn called “Kind Words Never Die”, which makes the case that kind words, sweet thoughts and human souls are eternal. Linking that idea to old soldiers was apparently a work of parody, and not a flattering one at that (what parody ever is?).

“Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die —
They simply fade away.

Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die —
Young ones wish they would.”

If this is actually the song MacArthur recalled, the proclamation about old soldiers sounds far from proud. But at the time he gave his speech, the General was looking back on a 52 year military career. It is entirely possible that this popular, poignant saying is actually a lyric lifted from a misremembered, cheeky song meant to mock the very same people who now shed a tear over it. The lesson for satirists – time wears away the sharp edges of your biting wit, and the joke is ultimately on you.

What would be a more modern version of MacArthur’s inadvertent transformation of a joke into into a poignant benediction? Imagine some long-serving college president made this comment as the final lines in a farewell speech …

“I still remember the refrain of one of the most popular dormitory ballads of that day which proclaimed most proudly that ‘in the end, I learned to bend, and did it their way.’ So now I close my career in academe, I say to you what is a man? What can I do? Open your books. Read chapter Two. And if it seems a bit routine don’t talk to me, go see the dean. They get their way. I get my pay. We do it … their way.”

What song lyrics would you lift for your Farewell Address?

Happy Birthday Fred Biletnikov

Who is Fred Biletnikov?

He played professional football for the Oakland Raiders when I was growing up as a worshipful fan of his arch-enemies, the New York Jets.

Thus, in my juvenile universe, Biletnikov, a receiver, was an evil genius – a shifty Boris to Raider coach John Madden’s plump Natasha. Yes, football fans thought Madden was the wily one but I believed Biletnikov authored all my troubles. He was said to be too small and too slow to play professional football, and yet through cunning and guile he appeared in just the right place at exactly the right time for the Raiders to complete an impossible pass and put my beloved Jets in deep trouble or worse, send them home as miserable losers. Ugh!

As with most villains, it was easy to believe the worst about Biletnikov. He used a substance called Stickum on his hands – a goopy glue that, not surprisingly, made it easier to catch the ball. He’d slather it on his hands and other parts of his body too. Rumor was they had to bring out a new ball after every Biletnikov catch because the old one was too sticky for the others to use. John Madden said Biletnikov once caught a ball with his forearm. After Biletnikov retired, the league banned Stickum.

I despised Fred Biletnikov and at the same time, admired him in the overly dramatic way pro football loyalists view players. Here’s someone’s You Tube video of the display at the Biletnikov exhibit at the Pro Football Hall of Fame. You get to see him with action with his skinny frame and his dirty blonde hair peeking out from under his helmet. And you have to love the music – the NFL’s orchestral march version of “What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor”.

I’m grown now and don’t care about the NFL very much at all. I’m mature enough to want to wish my tormentor a happy birthday. It can’t be easy to be an old football player. The game takes a physical toll on top of the aches that nature delivers … naturally. But still, Bilentikov, why were you so intent on crushing my dreams?

Who was your childhood villain?

A Sprout of Doubt

What’s with these Russian scientists all of a sudden?

The week before last they were punching through the ice that covers prehistoric Lake Vostok in Antarctica, hoping to find microbes that haven’t felt the sunlight for millions of years. And now, at the opposite pole, they’ve grown plants from seeds said to be 32 thousand years old.

Clearly the Russians are on a not-so-secret mission to restore a world we all thought was long gone. Could this be a remnant of the old Soviet plot to re-animate Lenin?

Microbes first, then the narrow-leafed campion, followed by the Soviet Union itself? We have Comrade Ground Squirrel to thank for this development, so carefully did he tuck his treasured seeds next to the permafrost, chattering way to his Fellow Furry Travelers that this day of glorious resurgence would surely come. Others have harbored similar wild dreams of rising from an icy demise, as we know too well from the oft-told frosty end of slugger Ted Williams.

There is some hope in all this that anything cold and dead may yet return, as we learned from Robert W. Service and Sam McGee. And as I discover over and over when dinnertime arrives and I realize I’ve got nothing in the fridge that’s remotely edible. But in the deep freeze … that’s a different story. If those Russian scientists would take a look behind that huge loaf of garlic bread at the back of my icebox, I think there’s some chicken from 1979. If I smothered it with enchilada sauce, would anyone really notice?

What’s in your freezer?

It’s My Nose’s Birthday

Today is Jimmy Durante’s birthday. He was pure personality – a guy who reached an astounding number of people though he wasn’t handsome, didn’t have a beautiful voice and may or may not have been able to act. It’s hard to tell because we saw him play only one character – Jimmy Durante.

This video isn’t “Inka Dinka Doo” or “It’s My Nose’s Birthday,” but it’s full of Durante trademarks – the hat grab, the stiff legged dance, a nose joke … who knows how he did it, but the man was a true entertainer.

Durante had a great sign-off from his radio (and later, TV) show, a saying infused with mystery until 1966 when he finally revealed the identity of the person he was speaking to when he said “Goodnight, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.”

Durante said “Mrs. Calabash” was his first wife, Jeanne Olsen Durante, who died on Valentine’s Day in 1943 of a heart ailment. They had been married more than 20 years. He said it at the National Press Club, and his remarks were recorded by the NBC radio program Monitor. You can hear it at the 48 minute mark on this recording.

“Years ago, the mrs. and I (this is the first Mrs. Durante) used to drive cross country and we came across a beautiful little town, Calabash, west of Chicago. And we stopped there overnight and she loved it, Lord have mercy on her soul, really loved it. I said well, I was playing piano then, as soon as I get rich I’ll buy the town. So, gentlemen, Mrs. Calabash, that I referred to all the time on our radio shows and television shows was Mrs. Jeanne Durante … Because every time we got home I used to call her ‘Mrs. Calabash’. I don’t know, just a feeling came over me, and at the end of the program I said ‘goodnight Mrs. Calabash’ So they all wanted to know, the whole cast wanted to know ‘what was that all about?’ I said ‘nothing’. So we kept doing it. And then at the end of that seasons’ program they said ‘well let’s say it’s a horse or let’s say it’s something. Anything’. And I said ‘no’. So then I added ‘wherever you are’.”

He said this in 1966, before Google and Mapquest, so I’m sure his National Press Club audience took his word for it that there was a little town called Calabash west of Chicago. With our modern tools in hand, I can’t find one there, unless you keep going west until you hit North Carolina. The people in THAT town say Mrs. Calabash was Lucy Coleman, a local restauranteur who captivated Durante during a visit in 1940. The legend is that he called her to his table and said that he would ‘make her famous’.

Maybe it’s better to have a bit of mystery remain. And I like both stories, so … take your pick.

What’s your catchphrase?

R.I.P. Cheetah

And so we discover the mixed blessing of being a well-known movie chimpanzee.

Chimp fame hinges on your ability to interact with the humans. No starring roles for you, Cheetah. You are always there for comic relief. Never will you get cast in parts with depth or substance. Delivering a performance that is a masterpiece of subtlety is impossible – your talent will forever be wasted on an audience of morons who all think they’re smarter than you. Your fans. Though to them, you look like every other chimp in the world, or as one commentator said yesterday, ” … like George Burns.”

Here’s the ultimate indignity, Movie Chimp – when you die, some people will question whether it was really you. Even Kim Jong Il was immediately accepted as a legitimate inductee into the legions of the dead without having to show his papers, and he was a lot more guarded and mysterious than Tarzan’s best buddy. What a comedown for Cheetah – to go from being the world’s most famous primate to being called an impostor. You, the one true holder of Hollywood’s poop flinging thrown. I know what you’re thinking, Movie Chimp. “This is fame? I was there on the screen, larger than life. How can you suggest I am not me?” You SAW me!

Ah, we looked at you, Cheetah, but did not see. To us, you were just another pretty, hairy face.

I’m calling here and now for an end to any investigations into the late chimp’s identity. So what if the “Cheetah” who died yesterday was, in fact, some other chimp? Is there any satisfaction in that knowledge? I say “no”, because if yesterday’s obituary was for a Tarzan sidekick-pretender, that means the “real” Cheetah in all likelihood died years ago unnoticed and unlamented. Feel better? Me neither.

So farewell, Cheetah, or someone very much like you. We loved that smile!

Aside from our simian friend, name your favorite movie animal.