Archive for the ‘popular culture’ Category

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If Words Are Evidence, You Should Be A Detective.* Remembering The Holidays In Southern California, December 1995

June 24, 2010

For Friday, June 17, 2010

Words are only postage stamps delivering the object for you to unwrap. • George Bernard Shaw (apropos because what I just found in the back of my journal was a variety of fifteen-year-old musings, long forgotten)

Of course, I saw relatives during a holiday visit almost fifteen years ago. Just about every relative or in-law I have lives in SoCal. But I don’t spend much time writing about family relationships. Perhaps I should, but I like viewing these connections through a lens smeared with the Vaseline® of forgetfulness.

Someone was probably grumpy. Someone else probably said something hurtful to somebody that s/he’d like to take back, but it’s too late because you can’t put the peel back on a banana unless you’re stuffing it with chocolate chips and marshmallows so you can wrap it in tinfoil and roast it over a fire. I had fun. I was ready for the solitude of home. The imagined home of nostalgic reminiscence is not the same as the home you create for yourself. The media-induced wonder of familial delight can be elusive.

That’s not the stuff I saved all these years ago and recently found in the back of the journal I used while traveling to Washington, D.C. It’s not just band names I collect. I am fond of signs, forever imagining the creative inspiration that led to a business name:

Lady Mina Skin Care & Electrolysis
The Hall of Frame
The House of Madame JoJo
Gaga Coffee House
Betty Arms Apartments (Oh, Betty, what are you doing without your arms?
Wine Mess Liquors
Inn Kahoots
Clear H2O Cafe
Poly Plaza
Kitty & Doggy Dunk
Anastasia’s Asylum (a restaurant, not an S&M attraction)
Bamboo Pizza Coffee Shop
Morry’s of Naples—“Your Party Store”
Doo Wash Café, Laundromat, Cleaners, Restaurant
Rushing Mighty Wind Christian Assembly
Hair Explosion Salon
The Grateful Head Salon
To the Maxx Hair Salon
Hair-Um (Have you noticed how many puns are used in hair establishment naming? They seem to be a Mane Attraction when naming Clip Joints.)
Jungle Video
Prayateria
Orchid Bowl, Home of the Galleon Room
Geoffreys of Malibu (a restaurant)
Mrs. Steve’s Donuts, Chinese Fast Food, Ice Cream
Comida China at Patty’s Chinese Express (the melding of cultures in SoCal is always interesting and I am also reminded that Via Verde is way more swanky-sounding than Green Street)
Vinyl Horse Fencing (Hmmm, I have several vinyl horses and they stay in place whether I fence them or not.)
Here’s one I want to answer the phone for: The Macadero Apartments in Atascadero. I would want to be wearing a bolero while doing so, perhaps a sombrero as well.
Chateau Lisa Apartments (Betty Arms? Chateau Lisa? Come on, folks, I know you love your names, but Bobby Avenue and Frank’s Bank and their ilk lack a certain je ne sais quoi.)
Haus of Pizza
Bobby Ray’s 24 Hour Restaurant
Hedda & Kranky’s Ice Cream
The Egyptian Pharmacy
Creative Cakery

And, of course, there are many communities like the Diamond Grove—A Gated Community for Active Adults. Do the gates keep people in or out?

I also enjoyed the compelling endorsement on a Saturn billboard, a family group who assert, “We’ll probably buy another one.”

Target announces that it’s having a “Re-Grand Opening.” What does this mean? And how grand will it actually be?

And finally, signs remind me that we can rely on advertising when we have difficulty formulating a philosophy of our own: Sauza comforts us with the reminder that “life is harsh” and that our “tequila shouldn’t be.” And then there are the friendly folks at Long Beach Cellular who provide this piece of advice: “To stay on top you got to stay in touch.” Bless their hearts. It’s too late to correct them now, although I definitely prefer my philosophical statements to be grammatically correct.

What’s your favorite sign?

“On the eighth green of Los Coyotes Country Club Golf Course is a six-year-old custom home being offered by McGarvey-Clark Realty. . .two ten-gallon salt water aquariums introduce a living room accented by a marble fireplace.” This December 23, 1995, clip from the Santa Ana Register reminds all of us that copywriters are human. I imagine as I read it that as potential buyers enter the foyer, the fish speak: “Hi, we’re the fish and this here’s the living room. Sushi, anyone?”

• This quotation is on a junior high school reader board, but by the time I’ve written it down, the school is gone and I don’t know its name.

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Don’t Miss This Recipe For Hard Cooked Egg Cobbler That’s Yummy Or Yucky Depending On Your Tastes Since I Realize That While I Find It Repellent, Apparently Others Considered It Quite Tasty

June 10, 2010

For Tuesday, June 8, 2010

As life’s pleasures go, food is second only to sex. Except for salami and eggs. Now that’s better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced. • Alan King

The kinds of books we read sometimes depend on what’s happening in our lives. Sometimes they’re school-related or work-related or project-related. Some reading passions are ongoing, though, and cookbooks are one of mine. Once upon a time, I wrote a twice-weekly cooking column in the newspaper and I’m still a sucker for collections of recipes.

Although I enjoy looking for cooking instructions online when I know what I want to make, when I read cookbooks, I find recipes for things I’d never considered making. Since we like eating at home, both my husband and I look for recipes we think we’ll enjoy trying. We Post-It® or print or bookmark these possibilities. And I find Collectory stuff among them.

I just bought a new cookbook, Kay West’s (2007) Around the Opry Table: A Feast of Recipes and Stories from the Grand Ole Opry®. I couldn’t resist the $2.49 price tag, especially when I found it full of so many things I wanted to remember. This is one of the ways I decide whether or not to buy a book after it passes the cost test. If there is just one thing I want from the book, I copy it down. Two, and I copy them down. Perhaps even with three. But once I pass the three mark and the book’s affordable, I figure I should just buy it. I found multiple things I want in West’s book.

The first I’ll share is a recipe I’ll use in two Collectorys: Food of the Clods and Yuckology. Bless her heart, it’s country singer Kitty Wells’ recipe for “Hard-Cooked Egg Cobbler” and it repels me just to read about it. Perhaps you will not feel the same way and will want to try it, so here it is, direct from p. 79:

Hard-Cooked Egg Cobbler

12 whole eggs

2 cups sugar

½ cup (1 stick) butter

Fresh grated nutmeg

2 pastry shells

Hard cook 12 whole eggs. (I’ll skip the directions for doing this). After draining them and immersing in cold water, immediately remove the shells and slice the eggs directly into a pastry-lined shallow casserole dish (8-by-12-inch is fine.)

Sprinkle two cups sugar over the eggs, [this is where the recipe went south for me—hardboiled eggs sprinkled with two cups of sugar just sounds disgusting] dot this with 1 stick of butter and sprinkle generously with nutmeg. Have ready 2 cups of boiling water and pour this over the egg, butter, and sugar combination. Place a top pastry over all and place in a medium-hot over (400 degrees) and cook until the top crust is nicely browned and the syrup formed has bubbled up around the edges. Serve warm or set aside and serve cold. It’s good either way.

I learn as I read about Miss Wells that “she was known among family, friends, and colleagues for her skills in the kitchen” (p. 77) and that she wrote The Kitty Wells Country Kitchen Cookbook (1964). I also learn something that I’ll add to my music Collectory, the one where I save band names: although Wells’ 1952 recording of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels” (written by J.D. Miller) was a number one Billboard hit, it was banned by the NBC radio network and Wells wasn’t allowed to perform it on the Opry. Its raciness seems quaint by today’s much, much looser standards.

But wait there’s more. I have a candy Collectory too, and West’s book reveals how “GooGoo Clusters” got their name. The clusters were created in 1912 by Howell Campbell and were the first candy bar with multiple ingredients. At first unnamed, the candy got its name during a conversation Campbell had with a schoolteacher who said that it was “so good, people would ask for it from birth.” Campbell then named the candy after the sound his newborn son made: GooGoo (p. 20).

One of my friends calls cookbooks pornography for dieters. I suppose they are. But they’re also pieces of history that show social and cultural changes over time. The exploration of food histories is a species of autoethnographic research that can reveal many aspects of familial and personal history.

What’s your favorite recipe or favorite food?

I’ve decided life is too fragile to finish a book I dislike just because it cost $16.95 and everyone else loved it. Or eat a fried egg with a broken yolk (which I hate) when the dog would leap over the St. Louis Arch for it. • Erma Bombeck (And I am delighted to include a quotation that I already loved that includes books and eggs, not easy to find!)

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No, Doug! Not The Trapeze Again!!!!!!!! And Other Stuff Heard On A Motel Television. Tales From A Procrastinator’s Diary: What I Do When I Don’t Want To Do What I’m Supposed To Be Doing And Decide To Do Something Else Instead.

May 24, 2010

Look for the ridiculous in everything and you will find it.
• Jules Renard

You already know that I am making a serious study of the art of procrastination. Sometimes procrastinatory acts are themselves the beginnings of something artful. The following found poem captures a moment in time during the evening of August 16, 2004, from a motel in North Bend, Oregon, where, I am sure, I should have been doing something much more productive like grading papers or planning interesting and engaging classroom activities.

Instead, I was channel surfing and writing down the first sentence I heard on each channel as I tried to get up the energy after a long day of teaching to do what needed to be done. I’m sure this rejuvenation strategy worked since I finished all my work too. This material is from pages of an old journal I recently found and wrote about several days ago.

Perhaps this is not yet riveting, but perhaps it could be, or perhaps, as Aldous Huxley said, “It was one of those evenings when men [and women] feel that truth, goodness and beauty are one. In the morning, when they commit their discovery to paper, when others read it written there, it looks wholly ridiculous.”

No, Doug! Not The Trapeze Again!!!!!!!!!
A Found Poem Recorded by W•OZ, August 16, 2004, North Bend, Oregon, motel television

The older you get the harder it is to cope with things.
Man, you’re the best!
No, Doug! Not the trapeze again!!!!!!!!!
Not sleeping well at night?
There’s a good possibility the bed is part of the problem.
The company said it wasn’t my fault. It was Nash.
Nasty hardwater buildup. No match for LimeAway.
And you thought the Olympics were exciting.
That’s an awkward combination.
I sure miss you, Ed.
At least I can still listen to your voice.
Nobody sang “Pretty Little Filly” like you did.
When the bachelors catch the scent of a young female in heat.
In spite of the low expectations CBS executives ordered twelve additional episodes.
All right, you kids, want short string paddle toys? I got ‘em right here.
Big giant guy; struggle and sweat.
Get rid of the odors.
Make money your first day.
Now that’s what I call magic.
Turning a plain old backyard into a big symphony orchestra.
Completely different!
You feel good?
They make’ em with all white meat chicken and it comes with its own sauce for dunking.
Order now.
Hundreds of northwest residents flee their homes.
You give me a kiss—you get a show.
I make sure it’s conditioned with Old English.
This is my new game table. I’m introducing it to the world.
The missing man is a diver named Randy Fry.
When you’re in a canoe and they want you to paddle, you’ve got to make nice easy strokes.
I wear the sable for the weekend.
I’ll say this for Harry Jeckle: he doesn’t mind paying for top class work.

Albert Camus said that “all great deeds and all great thoughts have a ridiculous beginning,” noting that “great works are often born on a street corner or in a restaurant’s revolving door.” I am a collector of many kinds of oddservations. You never know where an idea will come from or what you might be able to do with the initially ridiculous.

What have you oddserved lately? What might you do with your oddservation?

The intelligent man [or woman] finds almost everything ridiculous, the sensible man [or woman] hardly anything.• Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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“Man Will Not Fly For Fifty Years,” Wilbur Wright Said To His Brother Orville In 1901*

May 16, 2010

You’d better learn secretarial work or else get married.
• Emmeline Snively, director of the Blue Book Modeling Agency, counseling would-be model Marilyn Monroe, 1944

Advice is certainly useful, but if I could only give one piece of advice, here it is: Listen to—but don’t necessarily believe—the advice of well-meaning people. I’ve had lots of experience listening to, believing, and giving advice, and I know that in the end, everyone has to listen to her or his own inner voice after carefully weighing the advice of others.

You ain’t goin’ nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin’ a truck.
• Jim Denny, manager of the Grand Ole Opry, giving Elvis Presley the boot after one performance in September 1954

My high school counselor wouldn’t even discuss the possibility of scholarships with me despite my high verbal SAT score that appeared to qualify me for some funds. Here’s what he told me: “ A cute little thing like you will just get married and have children, so it would be a waste of money.” There are some words that stick with you, even years later. His still bother me because I felt then, and still do, that he didn’t see who I really was and didn’t listen at all as I tried to explain who I wanted to become.

Just so-so in center field.
• The New York Daily News, reporting on Willie Mays, May 26, 1951, a player whom many consider to be one of the greatest all-around baseball players of all time

I’ve had the advice conversation recently with older folks considering returning to school, with two people thinking about doctoral programs, and with someone who’s hoping for an academic promotion next year. In each case, they were looking for wisdom regarding what to do. I am wary of offering advice, but I do it anyway. I have come to think of this as a human failing. Someone asks and I feel compelled to respond.

The so-called theories of Einstein are merely the ravings of a mind polluted with liberal, democratic nonsense which is utterly unacceptable to Germen men of science.
• Dr. Walter Gross, March 1940

My advice was the same in all cases and I believe in it despite its triteness: Be true to who you are. Pursue your dreams with authenticity. Don’t listen to people who tell you what or who you should be (she says somewhat ironically, realizing that even authenticity is an imperative).

The horse is here to stay, but the automobile is only a novelty—a fad.
• The president of the Michigan Savings Bank in 1903, advising Henry Ford’s lawyer, Horace Rockham, not to invest in the Ford Motor Company

Have you ever been given advice you knew just wasn’t right for you? What did you do? What’s your advice for yourself?

The singer will have to go.
• Eric Easton, the new manager of the Rolling Stones (c. 1963), about Mick Jager’s value to the group

* December 17, 1903, was their first successful flight.

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I’d Rather Read Than Get Stuck In The Eye With A Pin. I’d Rather Read Than Sit On Top Of A Volcano Bubbling With Lava. I’d Rather Read Than Babysit My Little Brother. I’d Rather Read Than Eat Fried Liver. I’d Rather Read Than Smear Myself With Blackberry Jam And Sit On An Anthill.

May 15, 2010

People say that life is the thing, but I prefer reading.
• Logan Pearsall Smith

It always surprises me that so many people don’t like to read. Reading has been an escape and an ongoing comfort to me just about my entire life. Yet as many of my students have told me, reading is less than pleasurable for them. They struggle with making meaning from letters on the page, and their struggle saps the joy from the process. The “I’d Rather Read Than” question I used to ask was a twist on another question that helped me get to know them better: “I would rather _________ than read.” I’ve saved many of their creative answers to both.

Part of the problem for older students is that most of the reading they’ve been asked to do in school is dull. When you’re small, it’s repetitive too, designed to help you learn to read, but still dull and often boring. Hooking students on reading requires that they encounter words that are fun, playful, interesting, and meaningful, yet as students get older, the books often get even duller to the as-yet-undeveloped literary palate of adolescents.

I had a colleague in the English department when I was teaching high school who had a bulletin board that said “Read the Good Books First.” It was filled with covers of Great Books. If you were in her class, you could not choose your freetime reading. You had to choose from an approved list designed to improve cultural literacy and uplift the mind. There’s nothing wrong with these goals, but they don’t necessarily encourage a love of reading.

Junk food for the brain is what she called most of the books in my classroom where I had a huge library of paperback romances, mysteries, westerns, science fiction, and other books she called useless and pointless and a waste of time. (I had sets of discarded encyclopedias too—you’d be surprised how many students liked to sit and browse through them.)

The poet Walt Whitman probably would have agreed with her. He decried the burgeoning of mass-produced reading in an article in the Brooklyn Daily Times in 1857, writing, “Who will underrate the influence of loose popular literature in debauching the popular mind?” Mea culpa. I have corrupted many readers, leading them astray into the fields of interesting reading, hoping that something they encounter there will inspire a habit that will become a lifelong joy.

What do you like to read? What do you wish you liked to read? If you were answering the question, “ I would rather read than_____________,” what would you say?

You should only read what is truly good or what is frankly bad.
• Gertrude Stein

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What We Have Here Is a Failure to Communicate*: Disconnected in a Connected World

March 19, 2010

For Saturday, March 20, 2010

Western society has accepted as unquestionable a technological imperative that is quite as arbitrary as the most primitive taboo:  not merely the duty to foster invention and constantly to create technological novelties, but equally the duty to surrender to these novelties unconditionally, just because they are offered, without respect to their human consequences.
• Lewis Mumford

Technology is so ubiquitous in my world that it seems like access to anyone anywhere anytime is the norm. It isn’t. I’m away from home. I have a computer with me. I have an iPhone. And I’m only sporadically connected, reliant on the generosity of coffeeshops who stand ready to serve me a disappointing cup of tea and a piece of something marginally edible that I don’t really need to eat so that I can use their connection to swim in the everflowing stream of communication that flows into my life. Even my phone is affected by tall buildings and other features of the landscape I’m traveling in. It comes and it goes.

We are becoming the servants in thought, as in action, of the machine we have created to serve us.
• John Kenneth Galbraith

I’m posting this early since I’ve been off for too long and don’t know when I’ll be back on. When technology is easily available, I get used to the need to check regularly to see if there’s something I should be responding to. When I can’t be responsive, I feel off-balance. I resent this. I want to disconnect and feel comfortable about my failure to communicate. I want to let go of the expectations I impose on myself. I want to just stop and think without wondering if there’s something else I should be thinking about. As much as I love the ability to connect, I also resent the need to stay connected.

This is perhaps the most beautiful time in human history; it is really pregnant with all kinds of creative possibilities made possible by science and technology which now constitute the slave of man – if man is not enslaved by it.
• Jonas Salk

Does your need to stay connected impinge on your ability to connect with yourself?

Soon silence will have passed into legend.  Man has turned his back on silence.  Day after day he invents machines and devices that increase noise and distract humanity from the essence of life, contemplation, meditation…tooting, howling, screeching, booming, crashing, whistling, grinding, and trilling bolster his ego.  His anxiety subsides.  His inhuman void spreads monstrously like a gray vegetation.
• Jean Arp

* Thank you, Cool Hand Luke, for the title quotation.

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Everything that Can Be Invented Has Been Invented*

March 8, 2010

Anything you dream is fiction, and anything you accomplish is science. The whole history of mankind is nothing but science fiction.
• Ray Bradbury

I think it was Star Trek that first helped me imagine a world that could be made better by technology. As I watched Kirk and Spock and the crew vanish and reappear, I longed to be transported wherever I wanted to go. I still do. But no. I’m still doing the I-5 shuffle whenever I want to go from southern Oregon to southern Cali or northern WA. Oh, I can take a bus or a train or a plane, but there’s no instant access to my loved ones. The primary advances in my auto travel over the decades are air conditioning and cruise control. Both are boons, but neither meets the promise of my dreams.

I read lots of science fiction when I was growing up mainly because a boyfriend loved it and passed his paperbacks on to me, hoping for long conversations about his favorites. None of the imaginings struck me as particularly interesting or necessary. I felt the same way about Monsanto’s Home of the Future at Disneyland. From June 1957 until it closed ten years later, this house perched on the border of Tomorrowland introduced the world to miracles like microwave ovens and picture phones and electric toothbrushes and lots and lots of plastic. The ultramodern and synthetic hold little appeal for me. I’ve always preferred wood to plastic and the infinite complexity of stuff to the clean lines of modernity.

I admit to being nostalgic for the simplicity of life in what is probably the neverwas, but somehow, the insidious creepage of the future isn’t what I imagined it would be. Life has not been made easier; it’s become more complex, and not in ways that delight me. Certainly I appreciate a microwave oven, but we hardly ever use ours except to thaw things. I remember our first oven well and the lessons I took that purported to teach me how to produce six course meals in a snap after work using nothing but my RadarRange®. Yeah, right. Have you ever tried to cook a turkey in a microwave oven? Don’t. And don’t serve a tea drinker water boiled in one either. Eeuw. Nasty.

And then there was our first VCR. A Betamax. Certainly that was a handy little item, and I admit freely that I now love Netflix® and our Roku® box. But have these things made my life better? Definitely not. They only feed my bad pop culture habits and waste time. Thank goodness I seldom really watch anything or I’d never get anything else done. Ditto with most of what’s happening on my computer, the little time suckage machine that has racheted up expectations for accomplishment in multiple areas of my life.

So here’s what I think about as I see a television advertisement for a 3D television (of marginal appeal—I don’t want to have to wear those stupid headache-inducing glasses at home) and an advertisement for Volvo’s car that slows or stops itself before a collision (an excellent innovation, although I hope no substitute for paying attention on the road): What would make the world better? Not faster. Not more efficient. Better. One of the reasons to go to school is to be a part of imagining a better world and to create the ways to achieve it, so how about you?

What do you think would make the world better?

People ask me to predict the future when all I want to do is prevent it. Better yet, build it. Predicting the future is much too easy anyway. You look at the people around you, the street you stand on, the visible air you breathe, and predict more of the same. To hell with more. I need better.
• Ray Bradbury, “Beyond 1984: The People Machine”

* Charles Duell, 1899, head of the United States Office of Patents, recommending the abolishment of his office.