A Brooklyn Mystery


My love got to looking up Welcome Back, Kotter and noticed something odd for a show that, as I remember, made up about two-thirds of all television back in the day. It only ran for four seasons. 95 episodes total. That’s actually shorter than Caroline In The City ran, and do you even remember if that show had a theme song? Or was something that actually existed and wasn’t me making up what sounds like a credible name for a 1990s sitcom? Heck, The King Of Queens went on the air in 1998 and I guess they’re not making it anymore? I don’t think they’re airing it anymore. I hope they stopped making new episodes then.

Anyway. Grant it’s weird for a thing I remember from childhood to not have actually been that much of a thing. Here’s the thing that blows my mind: how is it there was never a Saturday Morning cartoon featuring the Welcome Back, Kotter gang, only they’re, like, all pre-teen kids and maybe superheroes travelling the world and maybe they’re robots? And they have a spunky alien helping them out? And there’s an episode where they travel to London and have to save the Crown Jewels from some crook who’s using a fog-monster cover story? How was this not a thing? Does the lack of this indicate that yes, in fact, reality has been deeply broken since at least 1980? These are all questions I feel I cannot answer.

In Which The Facts Are Kind Of Annoying


So the Salisbury steak was invented by the physician James Salisbury. He was of the opinion that people should eat Salisbury steak three times a day, if possible. All of this is as true as something attested on Wikipedia could be. And I’m annoyed because this sounds exactly like what I’d produce in the first two sentences if you gave me the topic ‘Salisbury steaks’ to riff on. It’s an injustice of some kind.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

The index rose twelve points to yet another record high somehow, as all the talk about Salisbury steaks has got people thinking maybe they’ll be for dinner soon. Many of the traders have fond memories of Salisbury steaks, since they grew up in the 70s and early 80s, when white American home-cooking was yet to quite emerge from its “Hey, what if we boiled it?” phase.

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On Not Having Any Idea What To Dress As For Halloween


I stand in the midst of the Halloween store, trapped.

It’s one of those temporary stores, of course. What strip mall, however luxurious, could support having a Halloween store all the year round? With the collapse in the costume rental industry after that time in 2011 someone spread a rumor Netflix was opening a line of costume distribution by mail, anyway? OK, there was that spot in Worthington, Ohio, that had one going in May. But that was probably a fluke. They weren’t there the next year. Maybe they were just having too much fun selling fangs to stop that one time.

But what to buy? What to wear? What to go as for Halloween?

Halloween should be a great Halloween for me. There’s all kinds of things it’d be more fun to be than me. Someone who knows what to dress as for Halloween, for example. Or someone really confident wearing costumes for the sort of stuff I might be doing on a Monday, like going to the bagel place for lunch and reading the alt-weekly there.

My unsureness about what to dress as for Halloween goes way back. I think it does. I’m embarrassed to admit I don’t remember a lot of the costumes I wore for Halloween as a kid. I don’t think we made very many of them ourselves, because there were four kids in the household and my parents had a limit to how much time they were willing to spend collecting parts and sewing stuff so that we could dress up as something called an “Artoo” for three hours. Even if they got pictures.

I should explain this was the late 70s and early 80s, when photographs were something that took effort. You had to find that weird little camera that looked like a harmonica, and find where that flash bulb plug-in was, and find that it was totally spent. Then you had to wait to get to the store and buy a replacement. That would give you four or maybe eight flashes, good for up to six pictures. And then you could get the photos developed by driving around until you saw a teeny tiny little bitty house sitting in the middle of a parking lot. Then Mom drives up next to it, gives a roll of film, and then sometime later gets back dark, blurry pictures out of focus that clearly show some figures in the state’s fourth-place finalist, Most 1974 Kitchen Ever Contest. The one wearing the worst imaginable outfit in the picture? That’s me. And then we lose the photos in a minor basement flood. So it’s hard to tell what I was wearing back then.

At least a couple years we went to the Toys R Us and bought those licensed figure packages. You know the ones. You get a plastic face mask with eyes that don’t line up for some figure like The Incredible Hulk and then a T-shirt showing The Incredible Hulk going off and lacking credibility. It’s a surprisingly old model of costume, going back to the ancient Greeks and the year everyone went as Narcissus. People loved that outfit, especially Narcissus. But the costume industry learned the wrong lesson from that and figured we wanted to go as people who were fans of themselves. That breaks down when you’re someone like me who isn’t sure he can even be a fan of someone with enough self-esteem to be a fan of themselves. What you’d get is maybe me going out as The Incredible Hulk I Guess, if he wanted people to think he was always thinking about The Incredible Hulk while being confused and faintly disappointed in what I’m doing. I’m confused and faintly disappointed in what I’m doing all year anyway, so the costume always felt a bit hollow.

One year we got a new washing machine, and I seized on my rights as the eldest to claim it for myself. And I also grabbed as much aluminum foil as I felt like I could get away with. So I know one year I went as the ever-popular Kid In A New Washing Machine’s Box Wrapped In Aluminum Foil. I think it technically qualified as a robot costume. It taught me many things, like how I should have cut arm holes, and that absolutely nobody in the neighborhood would get that they would “input” candy to the big slot labelled “input candy”.

Then we moved, to a new neighborhood where they didn’t much like kids, and even if they did the neighbors didn’t much like us. And then I got into high school and even if I were invited to costume parties it was very important I spend every night watching The Wrath of Khan on videotape. In college it was more important I write incredibly detailed reports of what the student government was up to for the unread leftist weekly paper. It’s only the last few years I’ve tried getting into costumes again.

I grab a $4 raccoon mask and hope things will work out all right.

Me, wearing a raccoon mask, standing in front of our Tri-Zone pinball machine.
The weird part is that my natural beard hair looks like the mask’s grey fur. It’s a little unsettling.

Another Blog, Meanwhile Index

Index traders would like to ask just how you know that bigger numbers for it are better? What if a lower number is better and then being down below 90 would be way better than being up above 140? Golf works like that, so why can’t the Another Blog, Meanwhile index? Huh? Is your mind blown yet?

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Meanwhile In Sports I Didn’t Know Were There


While writing yesterday’s bit, I looked up Madison Square Garden on Wikipedia. I probably had some good reason. It mentioned one of the teams that had played there, from 1977 to 1978, was the New York Apples of the WTT. Also, there’s something called a WTT. Or was, anyway.

WTT in this case is World TeamTennis, which I never heard of before. And it turns out World TeamTennis is still a thing, even though it was apparently developed in the 70s as a mixed-team professional tennis league. Its history is way too complicated to follow. If I follow right it started up in 1974 with a bajillion teams, then narrowly escaped extinction in 1978 by shedding the space between “team” and “tennis”, and since then tries to open and close teams before anybody can catch them. And its focus has remained, admirably, the picking of the worst possible names for teams.

I mean, team names for minor league sports are always awful. But World TeamTennis seems to be going for the awful team names championship. Among teams Wikipedia claims existed at least long enough to fold:

  • Boston Lobsters
  • Delaware Smash
  • Detroit Loves
  • Golden Gate Otters (never played, although maybe they turned into the San Francisco Golden Gaters)
  • Hawaii Leis
  • Idaho Sneakers
  • Los Angeles Strings
  • New York Sportimes
  • Orange County Breakers
  • San Diego Buds
  • San Diego Swingers
  • Springfield (Missouri) Lasers
  • Washington Kastles
  • Wichita Advantage

I am delighted. And that doesn’t even mention the New York OTBzz, whose logo featured an angry bee with a raquet. Well, they turned into the New York Sportimes, after a year as the Schenectady County Electrics. They played in Schenectady all the while I was in grad school, in Troy, New York, and I never even knew. This is the value of Wikipedia: it lets you know how you missed odd stuff years after it’s too late to do anything about.

Statistics Saturday: Exponential Growth Versus Time


A Google Books NGram Viewer chart for 'exponential growth', which shows from 1920 to 1970 what does look like exponential growth, apart from a little bit during World War II where it's below the curve.
Because I saw a jokey cartoon going around Twitter showing the use of ‘exponential growth’ growing exponentially with time, is why, and I wondered if that was actually so, and then I fiddled with the date range until it looked kind of true-ish.

Honesty compels me to admit the growth of ‘exponential growth’ drops off dramatically after 1970. The term reaches a peak in the late 70s, slacks off to about 1990, and rebounds, but below its disco-era peak.

I Am Certified As Breathing


I had a little medical test recently. It wasn’t anything big. I don’t have any big medical issues. To date the only medical emergency in my life was when I was a toddler and managed to hoist a spare tire enough that it could roll over and break my pinky toe. That might raise the question of how a toddler could hoist a spare tire, let alone move it enough to hurt anybody.

But parents know that toddlers have supernatural abilities to move things they’re not supposed to. Look away from an eighteen-month-old for ten minutes and there’s a fair chance they’ll have tipped the detached garage over onto their cousin. NASA’s original plans for the Mobile Launcher Platform that rolled Saturn V moon rockets to the launch pad for it to be dragged by a pair of 24-month-olds who’d be told they were “over-tired” but that the rockets had “Halloween inside”. The toddlers were replaced with pairs of 2,750-horsepower diesel engines only when the necessary launch windows implied rolling out to the launchpad in the late morning, when even kids wouldn’t buy the over-tired line. And yet there was still thinking as late as 1968 that they could keep some kids in artificially lit caves so they wouldn’t know they could not be “over-tired” at 10:35 am. Even so one rogue 16-month-old made off with the SA-500F structural facilities test article rocket and it hasn’t been seen to this day.

So past that exceedingly minor emergency room visit I’ve had a boring medical history. That combination stomach flu and back pain a couple months ago was my biggest health news in decades. But I did decide finally to talk with my doctor about an ongoing little issue. I’ve had this nagging cough for a long while. I’ve had it so long I don’t really notice it. But my love did, and pointed out that when I get up I’ll get into these coughing fits that last for up to twelve hours and that get loud enough to rattle fur off our pet rabbit. In my defense, our pet rabbit sheds a lot of fur and I’m not sure we could attribute any particular cloud of fur to any stimulus.

I saw the wisdom in asking about it, though, and the doctor thought it conceivable I might have a mild asthma. It’s also possible I just have too much postnasal drip. Or it might be that I kind of want attention, but without saying things or interacting with people. Coughing a lot is a way to get public acclaim without having to actually feel anything for other people. It’s not so acclaimed as it was in the days of vaudeville, when you could have professional coughers, and I’m not even sure I’m making that up. I know there were sneeze artists on the vaudeville circuit and that totally happened. One was even in one of those Gold Diggers Of Year Here movies. Probably someone held audiences spellbound with their coughing prowess.

Scheduling my appointment got a little weird, since the original appointment last month got cancelled when someone (not me) drove his car repeatedly into the entrance of the medical center. The local news speculated he was angry with the medical center for some reason, and I suspect they’re right. But I admit I haven’t heard his side. He might insist they were the ones running their medical center into his car over and over. I wouldn’t argue, not while his car’s still running. My pinky toe’s still recovering.

The breathing test was done by breathing into this gadget about the size and shape and color of an off-brand Commodore 64 disc drive. They’d hooked up a rubber mouthpiece to it, so I’m sure they didn’t really just recycle my old Excelsior 2000 for this. The guy running the test did ask if I’d ever smoked, which I haven’t, or if I’d been exposed to second-hand smoke, which is a silly question. He could see on my form that I was born in the 70s. Back then you walked through clouds of smoke in every restaurant, office, movie theater, library, microchip-manufacturing clean room, Apollo space capsule, and anywhere within 25 feet of any street or highway. Also we used blocks of lead dissolved in benzene for automobile fuels.

But while the results haven’t been fully analyzed and the doctor hasn’t made his report yet, the first impression was that my breathing looks good. My breathing results were close to expectations. And they were very repeatable except for the time I coughed mid-test. I don’t expect mild asthma to have been the problem. Maybe I am just needy.

My Favorite Fonzie


I don’t go in to record shows looking for ironic and dubious purchases. But last weekend I did find the album Fonzie Favorites. It’s dated 1976. The more my love and I looked at it the more I knew I had to have the album even though that would make me feel kind of bad. But everything about the product just keeps giving.

Back cover of a stand able album. It includes some stock pictures of the Fonz and of the graffiti wall at Arnold's.
Cover to the 1976 album Fonzie Favorites that, on close examination, turns out to be the back cover to the 1976 album Fonzie Favorites.

For example, how to explain the weird perforation in the cover? This is because that was the back cover. The perforation was so that you could fold out a cardboard leg. It’s like those desktop picture frames that fall over backwards. Then you could be forever stared at by the smiling face of Henry Winkler. He’s dressed in a leather jacket with a superimposed “SIT ON IT” button. I admit having few clear memories of 1976, but I believe this to be representative of the era.

Fonzie baring his teeth while a 'SIT ON IT' button's been superimposed on his jacket.
Front cover for the 1976 album Fonzie Favorites. The face of Henry Winkler potentially staring at you. Forever.

The back cover promises “NO!!! The Fonz has not taken to singing on this album.” This makes sense because who would buy a Fonzie album to listen to Fonzie singing? It’s not like he’s Kojak or something. What they have is “BETTER!!! He has chosen favorite 50’s records to share with you.” It appears the Fonz is careless about the difference between a record and a song from a record. I bet he throws the word “album” around with reckless abandon. But these thoughts didn’t preoccupy me at the record show. I was busy looking at the graffiti wall and the big lips. They’re identified as “Wiscosin Cheese”. The graffiti artist spelled “Wisconsin” with nearly 89 percent accuracy. I guess that’s from the actual TV show set, but I never noticed before. A dollar is a fair price for that sort of revelation.

The grey ellipsoid on the back cover promises, “The last selection on this album is an `impressionist track’ containing the expressions Aaaaay, Cool, Nerd, Sit on It! Listen & learn to use Fonzie’s favorite phrases perfectly!” I know what you’re all thinking: how can this be the “last selection” on the album if it comes at the end of Side One? I like to think that the publisher, the Ahed Music corporation of Cheektowaga, New York, would answer by pointing behind you and noting, “SPIDER!”, then running away. Or, “SPIDER!!!”, based on their cover copy.

The “Impressionist Track” is much of the theme from Happy Days. At random intervals someone impersonating Fonzie says “Aaaaay” or “Sit on it” or “Cool”. This Dadaist performance of theme-song tune and mistimed bursts of Fonzie Words is shorter than I would have imagined, yet somehow not also a show on Adult Swim. You might wonder why anyone might need a record to figure out what it sounds like to say “Nerd”. But remember, the album is from 1976. Back then the only way to record stuff off TV was to take a Polaroid picture of the screen, and that’s useless for voice acting. You could buy a Photonovel. But that would just be cartoon word balloons plastered over stills from the most boring episode the TV show ever made. This is almost useless in working out the right inflections for saying “Cool”.

And yet the album keeps giving. “The Fonzarelli Slide” is the Happy Days/Welcome Back, Kotter crossover you’d never admit to writing, since you couldn’t work out a sensible way for Fonzie to have any meaningful interaction with the Sweathogs. He’d be like thirty years older than them. Yes, yes, Mork from Ork might travel back from his own show to Happy Days again. And he might decide to bring the Fonz forward in time. And even bring along Laverne and Shirley for some reason. But then why wouldn’t Horshack wonder about the Orkian? Why bother questioning whether the Fonz might be making a power play for leadership of the Sweathogs? Alternatively, should we take the Happy Days time-travel-based cartoon to be a canonical part of the Garry-Marshall-verse now? I’m sorry, but you did read this paragraph. You have some responsibility for it being in your head.

Put aside the practicalities of a Happy Days/Welcome Back, Kotter crossover if you dare. Because not a word on the cover suggests any Welcome Back, Kotter connection. This implies at some point in 1976 at the Ahed Music corporation of Cheektowaga, New York was a conversation like this:

“How’s that Happy Days record thing going?”

“Great! Tom had a killer idea, and we’re doing a track with the Welcome Back, Kotter characters too!”

“Oh, great idea. The girls love their John Travolta impersonators. Are we gonna put a sticker about ‘Special bonus Welcome Back Kotter appearance’ on it?”

“No, I figure we just let it surprise people.”

“That’s perfect, considering it’s 1976! Hey, want to check out the Herschell Carousel Factory over in North Tonawanda?”

“Oh, no, we’re at least a decade too soon to appreciate the art and craftsmanship of American carousel-makers. But let’s do that in 1988 sometime!

The back cover says the album was “TV & Radio Advertised”. This implies they worried someone would look it over but ponder. “It’s 1976, and I want to buy a Fonz-selected set of 50’s records or albums or songs or something! This record looks promising — but what if it wasn’t advertised on TV or radio?”. And they made sure this, at least, wouldn’t make consumers walk away.

Putting aside the ironic appeal. Somehow. It’s a good set of Favorite 50s Songs and I clung to that to justify buying this. The Coasters’ “Charlie Brown”, Bobby Darin’s “Splish Splash”, The Five Satins’ “In The Still Of The Night”, these are all songs you can listen to with a clear conscience. Well, not these specific songs, because the record is kind of warped and only the innermost, most ironic, tracks will play. But if we gently crushed this record flat it would be worth the dollar, even if we never heard Happy Days music interspersed with “Sit on it!” again.

What I Notice In Every Old Picture Of Me


I’ve got a bit of a hyperbole problem, so I need to point out beforehand that I’m not exaggerating.

I was looking at an old photograph showing me and one of my grandfathers (I know which one but you probably don’t much care). It can be hard figuring out who everyone quite is in old photographs, because many of my old photographs come from the 1970s and you know what we all looked like back then. But you can pick me out of any photograph by looking for the person who obviously doesn’t realize that the things he puts on are going to be the things other people see him wearing.

In this photograph, I’m wearing the kind of shirt I was fond of until about grad school, when I finally learned that I always look horrible in them. The shirt has a white base, and blue sleeves, and horizontal stripes of different colors across the body. I do not blame 1979; as noted, I always picked this sort of shirt until I realized I have to just wear a shirt of some solid color, and preferably, one of about three colors.

I must have picked this shirt out myself, because my parents have always been loving and supportive of me, even that time I picked out a Tampa Bay Buccaneers T-shirt to wear even though (a) we lived in New Jersey and (b) it was the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (c) from the 70s, when the Buccaneers, then with two wins and 850 losses each season, had the official colors of Traffic Cone Orange and Sadness. And yet this, non-Buccaneers, shirt contains no less than four distinct browns. Also I remember it being one of my favorite shirts, even more than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers shirt.

There is no defense; I just hope you will all be merciful and consider that I have to remember myself wearing this thing.

I Guess I Need Some Colorful Help


I should’ve known I’d get myself into trouble. I was hoping to pick up a little extra money because there’ve been all these unexpected expenses like food and those roller coaster seeds I’ve been trying to grow in the front yard. Anyway, I took a contract bit where I just have to work up a name for a newly-invented color, which I figured I could toss off in a moment, the way someone decided that “Cornflower” could be a color.

Anyway, what they want is a word for the shade of orange you get when someone built a community college in like 1971 and put bright orange carpeting all over the walls, because that was something that seemed normal in 1971, and then it’s still somehow up there in 2013. Sure, you know the color I mean from that description, but what are we supposed to do if we need to describe that quickly? Worse, what are people doing with that color that they need it described in a word?

I should’ve taken a temp job making JSON do that thing where you get error messages from your web browser instead.

[ Unrelated: WordPress tells me I’ve now got 250 people following this blog. Thanks kindly to each of you, and I hope that you’re enjoying the occasional glance around these parts. Please feel free to introduce yourselves to one another as there’s a fine student lounge with an indescribable orange-carpeted wall available. ]

What We Have In Common


There’s many things each of us have in common and in these trying times (before 11 pm, although I note that before 8:15 am is an extremely trying time) I thought it worth reviewing some of them. We each believe that we’re in the last group it’s acceptable to ridicule and stereotype in public. We all believe that we’re better-than-average at Skee-Ball. We each think that we must have missed the day in middle school where they explained how to grow up to become a Muppet, which is a pity as we’re pretty sure we would have been a good one. We all think it’s kind of amazing that people talk so little about that time a couple years ago when the continents were depopulated by people using that exotic device on Jupiter to turn into giant telepathic monsters living on the surface of that world, giving whole nations over to the dogs and robots. And we’re all horrified by how many pictures of random groups of people from the 70s include some terrible, terrible thing we used to wear, possibly as late as 1994. That’s about everything.