Hot Air

Up, Up and Away!

In honor of John Glenn (1921-2016), I wore my old, beaten-up NASA T-shirt. It’s been through many a wash-and-rinse cycle so the “meatball” is half-faded. No matter.


Dark Christmas, Part Deux

December is the toughest month for me. It’s cold — downright frigid today — and the sun is up, on average, a total of 16 minutes a day. That is, when it’s even out — which it isn’t today.

I can’t wait for the solstice. Then I can watch and hope as the daylight hours grow longer, incrementally, and tantalizingly slowly.

Dreaming Of A Noir Christmas

Accordingly, I exited the Blockhouse last night at about 10pm, after watching a radio performance of William S. Burroughs’ “The Junky’s Christmas” and Ray Bradbury’s “It Burns Me Up.” It’d been nighttime already for a good four to five hours. I leaned into the gale being funneled through the alley canyon behind Atlas and Serendipity. I jammed my hands into my jacket pockets, plumes of wispy snow pushed along the pavement by mini-gusts. The Blockhouse is indeed a back door type of joint. Intentionally ill-lit, bleak, with cinderblock walls and adjoining, mysterious vestibules, it was a perfect setting for the two decidedly-not-Hollywood-ish playlets.

The original Burroughs Century gang is responsible for what is now the third annual presentation of WSB’s O. Henry-esque fairy tale. Joan Hawkins played the femme fatale in the Bradbury piece, loyal Pencillista Becky Stapf played a nosy bystander in the same, and Shayne Laughter acted out a variety of roles in both. And if you haven’t seen Tony Brewer do his Foley bit at the Firehouse Follies or in these Burroughs et al productions, you’re missing a show in and of itself. Hunched over his table full of gadgets and noisemakers, his constant motion and herky-jerky reactions to whatever cues the voice actors throw his way become an interpretive dance worth the ticket price alone.

Do yourself a favor, write a note, stick it in your 2017 calendar, and make sure to go to next year’s performance. It’s the real deal.


Former bad-boy baseball manager Bobby Valentine, acc’d’g to news reports, is on L’il Duce‘s short list to become the next ambassador to Japan.

Wow. Just wow.

Then again, why am I acting all shocked? The incoming prez’s taps for his cabinet and to head various departments in his admin. thus far have been uniformly risible. What’d I expect?

If nominated, Valentine will replace Caroline Kennedy, who frittered away her pre-ambassador life doing things like studying at Radcliffe, getting her law degree at Columbia, writing a book on constitutional rights, serving on various education and school system boards as well as those of a number of cultural institutions, and working with the Harvard Institute for Politics.

So, yeah, I can see why L’il Duce‘d want to dump her in favor of a guy who earned himself a two-game suspension and was fined $5000 for this stunt:

Explanation: In the 12th inning of a 1999 game between his New York Mets and the Toronto Blue Jays, Valentine’d been ejected by the umpires for arguing a call. He left the field, as directed, but moments later was seen back in the dugout, this time disguised with a mustache drawn on with lampblack and wearing cheap sunglasses.

Yep, the kind of guy you want to represent our holy land’s interests to one of our staunchest allies and trading partners.

Along those lines, L’il Duce‘s recent pick of the wife of pro-wrestling promoter Vince McMahon to be head of the Small Business Administration has raised derisive snorts as well. Oddly, I can almost see L’il Duce‘s point: Linda McMahon was the president and CEO of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc.) and did indeed shepherd the outfit from startup to multi-billion-dollar racket.


Linda McMahon

So, she’s not a small business person per se, not like a corner restaurant proprietor or independent bookseller, but she does know a thing or two about making an enterprise grow. So, I’m not really going to kick about her appointment on those grounds. Her pro-wrestling background, though, furthers the burgeoning image of the L’il Duce presidency as the ultimate reality show.

To Be Or Not To Be (Real)

Speaking of reality (and our national inability to distinguish between it and asinine fantasy), Deadspin has a nice take on the toxic business the WWE has become, and, unintentionally, illustrating the direct line between its tawdry dramatic storylines and today’s White House-in-progress.

The argument:

Historically, professional wrestling, with its screaming neon lunatics, potbellied big daddies, and tasseled “ring rats,” has been considered too absurd to be taken seriously — deprecated by  sportswriters and ignored by politicians, its fans derided as low-class marks.

This — the notion that pro wrestling is a fixed, low-rent travesty, undeserving of serious mainstream scrutiny — is the single greatest angle sold by the wrestling industry.

The story goes on to document the rise of Vince McMahon, the cut-throat, screw-the-help, éminence grise of the WWE, its face and driving force, crushing all competing promoters and reigning tyrannically over the “sport.” (A possibly apocryphal anecdote: When Ted Turner wanted to court McMahon so as to obtain broadcasting rights to the WWE, the good-old-boy owner of the TBS superstation phoned the wrestling boss. “Vince,” he drawled, “I’m in the wrasslin’ business now.” McMahon replied, presciently and correctly, “That’s nice; I’m in the entertainment business.”)

Anyway, the story posits:

McMahon was the slick corporate raider, a gorilla whose suit actually fit. McMahon doesn’t speak like a good ole boy; he sounds like Mitt Romney. This is no coincidence. In its aggressive campaign against state regulation, dislocating terms of employment, and poisonous, often fatal working conditions, the WWE is a corporation only a Republican senator could love. “I’m an entrepreneur,” McMahon [said]. “I’m what makes this company, my company and this country, go round and round.

Well, we’ve whirled deliriously to the point where Donald J. Trump, former WWE wrestling hero/villain, is now the goddamned President of the United States of America.

McMahon, back when pro wrestling was growing, explosively, as a TV show watched by the tens of millions, fought tooth and nail against efforts by state governments to regulate its too-often perilous working conditions, its contractual relationship with labor, and other issues having to do with the honest operation of a sports industry. McMahon’s argument? Pro wrestling is a fake, a scam. It’s no sport. It’s no competition governed by a rule book. It’s entertainment — therefore, leave us the hell alone. And — guess what — legislators agreed with him!

Donald Trump, Vince McMahon, Bobby Lashley

The POTUS-Elect [L] & Vince McMahon

More from the Deadspin piece:

The story of pro wrestling in the twentieth century is the story of American capitalism, filtered through a dreamy aspect, of gallant grapplers, of moustache-twirlers, of princesses and salt-throwers and masked spoilers. Kayfabe [pro wrestling’s “omerta,” the agreement among wrestlers never to betray the sport’s phoniness] is a slinky thing, in what it masks: it’s sheer enough to let us marks in on some of the fun, yet supple enough to obscure most of the human cost.

So, yeah, one of the architects of this entrepreneurial nightmare is now a high-ranking administration official. And her new boss was a big part of the WWE’s success.

Makes perfect sense. American government is no longer real. It’s fake. It’s a scam. It’s entertainment. And we, the voters, agreed to it all.

Would You Like To Fly…?

Hot Air

Simple Q:

Well, who in the hell else did you think was going to be named Time‘s Person of the Year?

Dark Christmas

A Junky’s Christmas.” Tonight. A Bloomington tradition. If you miss it, you’re a square. At the Blockhouse, 205 S. College Ave, 8:30pm.

The fabulously imaginative and creative usual suspects — Tony Brewer, Joan Hawkins, Chris Rall, Arthur Cullipher, Shayne Laughter, and many others — bring to life William S. Burroughs’ heartbreaking, inspiring (or not), down and dirty spoken word playlet. This year, the gang also presents Ray Bradbury’s noir tale, “It Burns Me Up!”



It’s all a B-town Yule season ritual, produced and presented by The Burroughs Century, Ltd., Writers Guild at Bloomington, Wounded Galaxies Festival, and Urban Deer Records.

Go there. I will.


The Loved One and I watched the documentary Best of Enemies last night. It’s the story of the relationship between conservative icon William F. Buckley and liberal author Gore Vidal.

The two became etched permanently into my consciousness back in 1968. I was 12 years old and just becoming the weirdly obsessed political junkie I am now. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s execution in April of that year hooked me. When the news came over that he’d been shot in Memphis, I realized no fiction, no made-up stories or fantasies, could ever rival real life for compelling drama. I instantly had the sense that a world where a nonviolent resister could be hunted down and murdered was 23 times more fascinating than any cowboy movie or outer space allegory. Then, nearly five months later, Buckley and Vidal faced off against each other on national television.

I was riveted.


Buckley (L) & Vidal, As Always, On Stage

The backgrounder: The Republican and Democratic national conventions were anticipated to be bang-up programming for the three major television networks. The country was coming apart at the seams — far more terrifyingly even than it appears to be now. King and Bobby Kennedy had been blown away. America’s black neighborhoods had gone up in flames for the fourth year in a row. Anti-war protesters were turning college campuses into battle zones. This holy land’s dinner tables were becoming verbal boxing rings. LBJ’d dropped out of the presidential race. Richard Nixon, a political joke only a few years previous, was hurtling toward the GOP nomination, challenged by an upstart has-been movie actor who was galvanizing a reborn Right Wing. There was a sense that at any moment, something big — something earth-shattering — was about to happen. ABC News decided to hire Buckley and Vidal to sit together nightly on a set and pontificate on…, well, America during the conventions.

The two were aristocratic intellectuals. Vidal never attended college, yet his writings were influenced by the ancient Romans, Petronius and Juvenal, the English satirist and philosopher Thomas Love Peacock, Proust, Henry James, and Evelyn Waugh. Buckley attended Yale, where he became a member of the exclusive Skull and Bones Society, and went on to found the National Review. The mag became the conservatives’ bible.

Jim Holt wrote in New York magazine in 2015: “Vidal and Buckley were both patrician in manner, glamorous in aura, irregularly handsome, self-besottedly narcissistic, ornate in vocabulary, casually erudite, irrepressibly witty, highly telegenic, and by all accounts great fun to be around.”

Both orated like Shakespearean actors in content and style. Both were effete noblemen whom one couldn’t imagine ever having dirt under their fingernails. When they lobbed barbs at each other, they made references to Egyptian mythology, Socratic inquiry, epistemology, metaphysics, Cartesian materialism, and other such foggy precepts. They didn’t call each other “jerk” or “asshole” — they danced rhetorically, artistically, as they jabbed their spears, producing wounds far more lethal than any prosaic blunt blows.

Once, Buckley was asked if there were anyone in America with whom he could not share a stage. He responded immediately: Gore Vidal.

Yet the two of them couldn’t resist the opportunity to spar on national television. And throughout the Republican convention and the opening couple of days of the Democratic, they remained fussily civilized. That is, until the Wednesday of the latter confab, when Chicago police rioted, clubbing, beating, throttling, smashing, attacking protesters and passersby, gassing demonstrators and delegates, drawing blood from hippies, lefties, and reporters alike.

Clearly aghast at the violence in the streets and on the convention floor, Vidal spoke forcefully and angrily. Buckley, too, was enraged, especially against demonstrators who expressed support for the Viet Cong, one of America’s nominal enemies in Southeast Asia. A reference was made to Americans sympathizing with Nazis during World War II.

Buckley: “Some people were pro-Nazi and they were well-treated by those who ostracized them. And I’m for ostracizing people who egg on other people to shoot American Marines and American soldiers. I know you don’t care because you have no sense of identification with….”

Vidal: “The only sort of pro- or crypto-Nazi I can think of is yourself….”

Moderator Howard K. Smith: “Now, let’s not call names….”

Buckley [eyes glaring, lifting himself out of his seat, leaning threateningly toward Vidal]: “Now listen, you queer! Stop calling me a crypto-Nazi or I’ll sock you in the goddamn face — and you’ll stay plastered!”

I saw this as it occurred on live television. I was transfixed. It was the most thrilling, frightening thing I’d ever seen on the screen.

Prior to this, no one had ever called another a queer on national television. No one really had ever made oblique reference to someone’s sexuality, directly to his face, on national television. Nobody had ever taken the lord’s name in vain on national television. And no one had ever threatened to strike another in the face on national television.

The fact that the two involved were of the elite, paragons of rectitude, made the exchange all the more startling. America was indeed coming apart at the seams.

Yes, startling. That’s what I thought for many years. Until lately. Now, after having seen countless brawls on cheap daytime talk shows like Jerry Springer’s or even Oprah Winfrey’s, after hearing husbands, wives, lovers, politicians, pro athletes, standup comedians, college professors, racists, misogynists, haters of every stripe, the rich, the poor, the girls next door, Boy Scouts, lawyers, the accused, judges, and priests call each other and everyone else the most insulting, actionable, untrue, inappropriate, uncalled-for, cringe-inducing names, after seeing news anchors and elective office holders blow their brains out on live TV, after seeing the incoming president of the United States mock a handicapped guy and brag about grabbing women’s pussies, Buckley and Vidal’s “startling” encounter seems rather quaint.

No, we aren’t coming apart at the seams. We’ve been torn to shreds.

Big Talk Thursday

Tune in this afternoon at 5:45 for this weeks’ edition of Big Talk on WFHB‘s Daily Local News. My guest will be restoration architect Cindy Brubaker. Stand by for links to the feature as well as the pretty-much-unedited track of the original interview with her, to be posted tomorrow AM.



Next week, actor Francesca Sobrer, one of the stars of the Bloomington Playwrights Project production of “Home,” a play by Christy Hall with music and lyrics by Scott Alan.

And, hey, the week after brings us Jack Dopp, the man who gets the New York Times, the Indy Star, and/or USA Today to your front door and your local convenience store. He’ll talk about how the newspaper biz — and Bloomington itself — has changed throughout the years.

Talk soon.

Hot Air: Y’All

I was reviewing some audio recordings from many decades back for a piece I’m writing about history’s second Cabaret Voltaire, located, believe it or not, right here in this most cosmopolitan megalopolis, Bloomington. Okay, background. Cabaret Voltaire was the fabled locus of the radicals, artists, and other rascals who conjured up the Dada movement in art and culture, located in Zurich, Switzerland, in the late ‘teens and early ’20s. Icon smashers such as Hans Arp, Hannah Höch, Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp, and Hugo Ball (the proprietor) hung at the nightclub, sipping Pernod and Absinthe, and conjuring ways to shock the bejesus out of the world.

An Indiana University student whose family lived in Zurich visited the boîte one summer and came back to the Midwest all agog about it. He leaned on some very influential and historically notable folk here (I’m intentionally keeping you in the dark about certain details; hell, I’ve got a magazine article I want you to read about it) to start a Hoosier version of the continental phenomenon.

Pretty much all those who might have actually seen or been in B-ton’s CV are dead now. Ergo, I’m being aided by the fab folk at IU’s Center for Documentary Research and Practice as well as the U’s Bicentennial Oral History Project in digging up info about the joint. So, I listened to a nearly-50-y-o chat between a couple of professors and a newspaper reporter, reminiscing about the immediate post-WWI campus.

Anyway, here’s the meat of this ramble: all three speakers sounded like hillbillies straight out of an early Andy Griffith Show episode. I’ve heard other recordings of So. Cent. IN peeps from a half century and more ago, with the vast majority of their voices sounding like Briscoe Darling and his clan‘s.

So, what happened? B-tonians don’t talk like hayseeds today. Oh, sure, you’ll hear some nasal twangs here and there but those accents, by and large, are not terribly dramatic. Walk into any local convenience store or Target and eavesdrop on some conversations and you might not know by the sounds of the voices whether you’re in Bloomington, Columbus, Ohio, or Ames, Iowa.

A couple of theories: 1) a retired prof pal of mine sez the U has been marketing itself to out-of-state students for so long that the enrollment pool is nearly negligibly rustic anymore; and 2) TV has homogenized the country to the point where very few geographical enclaves sound distinguishable from any others now (this one’s my choice).

The Power Of Positive Pretension

Limestone Post publisher/editor Ron Eid almost outdid me in the hyperbole dept. in his intro to my new series, Big Mike’s B-town, in his online mag.

Dig what he wrote (in the caption):


Hah! “Media powerhouse.” What’s he doing, trying to get on my good side? (Between you and me, it worked.) Keep in mind hyperbole’s long been a tradition in American words and letters from the time of Mark Twain up through and beyond George Carlin. Not that I should be mentioned in the same paragraph as those two titans — then again, were they ever considered media powerhouses?

So, yeah, keep on eye on the LP from now on (if you haven’t been doing so already, slacker). Big Mike’s B-town will run, at the outset, every three weeks so we can get into a good rhythm and, if all falls into place, we’ll be doing more frequent installments in the fuzzy future.

[Huckster Alert: If you’re a biz owner in So. Cent. IN, you’d do well to advertise in the Limestone Post. And if I were a shameless shill for the mag, I’d tell you to click here.]

Cranky Activism

The planned street-theater delivery of an angry collective letter to the editor at the Herald Times world HQ on S. Walnut St. at high noon today seems…, well, pointless, no?

The paper ran an epic-length piece on some white-ists from down Paoli way in Sunday’s ed. Accompanying the piece online was a vid featuring the skin-color fetishists extolling the virtues of their misfit-magnet org. The vid has since been removed after many readers hollered it smacked of free advertising for the porcelain-power separatists.

The rage cloud has yet to blow over. A group of local activists wants the HT to balance out its coverage by running expo pieces on a panoply of hateful gangs throughout history. Read the group’s own words:

…the intention… is to collectively deliver a letter, which asks the paper to cover the history of fascism and Nazi [sic], and interview a wide variety of racial and religious groups and professors, thus placing the [white-ist group] in a historical context.

Loyal Pencillistas already know I don’t think the HT needs to balance its coverage since the story — and even the vid itself — in no way constituted slant. And — let’s be honest — the HT, as well as every reputable newspaper, news magazine, and online newsy site in this holy land forever have been running stories about Nazis, neo-Nazis, KKK-ers, and any number of other lunatic jerks.

It ain’t as though Bob Zaltsberg and Co. are unaware that heartland America reeks of racists. Nor are the HT’s readers.

The rage many of us are feeling in the wake of L’il Duce‘s technical election win is understandable and justifiable. The ways it’s being expressed right now too often aren’t. Everything we do at this moment must be geared toward thwarting the demagogic takeover of this holy land by the president-elect as well as electing one or two (or even several hundred) real democrats (small D) to office in 2018 and 2020.

This is war, folks (metaphorical, to be sure, for the nonce). We have to marshall our forces and plot our strategy and tactics accordingly. Let’s not waste time and energy blowing raspberries at the local paper.

Hot Air: Short Days

These are the last days of the Obama presidency and I’m sad.

His administration has been remarkably free of venal scandal. He held out as much as humanly possible against the stated and unprecedented aim of the Republicans to stifle him at every turn. And the world didn’t blow itself up on his watch, even if more than a few firecrackers were set off — one or two of which he lit himself.

Anyway, I just had a disturbing thought: the Obama years may be directly responsible for the ensuing Trump years (hopefully delimited at four). Try to follow me here. Barack Obama as Boss-in-Chief of the “free world” shattered some dearly-held precedents. To wit, he was:

  • The first dark-skinned president
  • The first one with an African-sounding name
  • The first with a Muslim-sounding name (albeit wrongly considered so)
  • Only the second with a strong, accomplished, professional wife
  • One of the very few who objected our holy land’s fighting a certain war just for the hell of it

Despite being fairly centrist, leaning here and there to the left, he was viewed by reactionaries as the 21st Century embodiment of Karl Marx, A. Hitler, a back-alley abortionist, and the guy who’s plotting to rape your white daughter.

In other words, to a hell of a lot of people — far more than we might ever have imagined prior to the ascendance of L’il Duce — he diminished the presidency. The fact that he and his melanin-rich brood occupied the White House for eight years debased what heretofore had been an exalted throne occupied only by exalted white, Anglo men.



So, when a reality TV clown like D. Trump came around, rather than laugh him off the stage, tens of millions of Americans reasoned, Hell, the presidency’s been cheapened anyway, why not try this guy?

And, BTW, the use of the word reasoned is rather generous and forgiving on my part, no?

Isaac’s Testament

Jazz keyboardist extraordinaire and poli-sci prof Jeff Isaac has sent a letter to the editor of the Herald Times, calling the latter to account for the lavish spread the paper devoted to some Paoli white-ists in Sunday morning’s edition. The paper may not run the letter, as it generally considers such lengthy fist-shakings unfit for its public missive section. So Jeff has given the Pencil permission to run the letter herein. Read away:


I don’t agree with what Jeff says but that’s neither here nor there today. I took my turn yesterday.


Jeff Isaac

See No Evil; Hear No Evil

Now then, let’s start thinking of things we can all do the morning, afternoon, and evening of January 20, 2017. Oh, and the next morning as well.

I sure as hell know I want to be distracted maximally from the terrifying and sad fete that’ll take place in Wash., DC. Already, I’ve been staying away from radio news. It’s hard for me to read my daily New York Times. All because simply hearing or reading the words “president-elect Trump” makes me want to curl up in a ball and pretend I’m back in Ma’s womb.

Is this how all those rabid anti-Obama-ites felt eight years ago? Maybe, to a small extent. They were sickened by the prospect of Barack Obama being their leader. The diff., of course, is why they were nauseated and why I want to retch. And if I have to explain it, well, as Louis Armstrong once observed, you’ll never get it anyhow.

My challenge to Pencillistas is this: What activities do you suggest to misdirect us from the inaugural fiasco? Shooting up heroin is not an option, although it makes a bit of sense in this particular case. Go.

It’s Not Working Anymore

Alright, I’ll say it: I love this piece. Lo-o-o-o-ove it. I’ll have to break the terrible news to The Loved One.

Me: Darling, there’s another.

TLO: Cad! Who is she?

Me: Well, it’s not a she….

TLO: Aha! Switching teams, eh?

Me: Um…, no.

TLO [arms folded across chest, tapping her foot]: Explain.

Me: It’s…, uh, well, it’s an essay.

TLO: You’re in love with an essay?

Me: Yes. And I’m so, so sorry.

Actually, I’m not sorry one bit. The Loved One’ll just have to learn how to share me with… a magazine op-ed.

I have a crush on the headline alone:


Priya Jain’s piece in Bust mag echoes what I wrote a mere three days after this holy land lost its bloody mind and elected L’il Duce Chucklehead-in-Chief. I offered two pieces of unsolicited advice to the Democratic Party which, just four days previous, had been entertaining thoughts of taking the White House and the Senate and the House. To wit:


Yeah. I’m all in: The “White Working Class” — a phony-baloney euphemism for the great unwashed intolerant and perpetually aggrieved — can kiss my pale ass.


Hot Air: Info Power

Scads of B-tonians are up in arms over the decision by the Herald Times to run a lengthy, 2-jump profile of some white separatist jimokes from Southern Indiana. Here are a couple of examples of soc. med. comments re: that:

  • We need to understand it, and address it. But we do NOT need to promote it! The H-T should know better.
  • [The article] does raise concern whether covering it encourages it — and especially as groups and individuals seek coverage for their messages and acts of hate, how press should cover it.

Me? I read the piece and — honestly — I’m the better for it.


If the H-T and the article’s author didn’t call these white-ists the hateful, ignorant idiots they are every other paragraph, then, sure, the paper was “promoting” them. But I found nothing in the piece that would indicate advocacy, support, or promotion for their immoral cause.

Listen, we’d better get to know these bastards. They are here and there are a hell of a lot more of them than we ever wanted to believe prior to the ascendance of L’il Duce. In fact, I want more info on them. Shine that harsh light of scrutiny upon them. Tell me who they are, where they are, what actions they take, why they believe what they do, who their friends and supporters are, and more. I want to hear their words.

Social media has warped our collective take on discourse. We champion those we agree with and demonize those we don’t. This isn’t to say we shouldn’t demonize the Paoli white-ists. They are as demonic as any mythic Satans they and their fellow christianists can conjure. But we’ve become smugly snug in our echo chambers, wanting only to be bathed in “agreeable” viewpoints while considering the “disagreeable” ones a type of intellectual poison.

Go ahead, sip the “poison.” Otherwise, how’ll you know what full cup not to chug?

Dig my old street-corner pal Sun-Tzu: “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”

Fat Head

You knew this was going to be a headline one day, didn’t you:

Eat Carbs, Lose 68 LBS!

It’s from a grocery store tabloid I happened to glance at yesterday while in line at the Kroger Theme Park. It was inevitable that the substance that heretofore had been the cause of all obesity and evil in the world now should become the answer to those ills.

I’m not an anti-carb guy. It is, after all, one of the three primary substances we need to ingest (along with fats and proteins) in order to remain…, well, alive. But I do know excess intake of same leads to enormity. Think of houseplants — they need watering but too much kills ’em. Same with the saccharides — sugars, starch, and cellulose — that comprise the carb family.


A Starch Molecule

But, if you wish to avoid moderating the amount of chocolate cake you jam into your trap as well as eschewing actually moving your body occasionally, tried and true methods of reducing one’s circumference, you’ll gobble up headlines such as the one above.

And that’s really gorging on junk.

California Dreamin’

On such a winter’s day, natch.

Hot Air


This just occurred to me as I sip my life-giving drug at Hopscotch Coffee. Twenty or twenty five years ago, back when coffeehouses were making their initial comeback in the most avant-garde quarters of big cities — they’re now, natch, as common in Anytown, USA as fire hydrants — baristas had a well-earned rep as snotty-assed punks. Their manner and attitude was only a touch more civil than that of chained curs.

In fact, for many years coffeehouses played on that stereotype. No one hep to the ways of the urban pioneer world would expect a barista to be pleasant.

Now, though, things seem to have swung around 180º. Baristas still wear tattoos from head to toe as well as piercings, ear plugs and tunnels, stocking caps and all the accoutrements of their trade that’ve been in vogue for a quarter of a century, but…, well, they’re nice people now. Imagine that!


Now, Nice

Speaking of piercings, when exactly did tongue piercings go out of style? Every cool female in every cutting edge ad agency around had a pierced tongue, circa, 1994. Now…, well, y’know.

Further speaking of things that are passe, when and why did Sandra Bernhardt become a ghost? *

See, I have questions this AM.

[ * MG Note: The answer — SB had a kid in 1998 and apparently elected to do standup in smaller venues and not be part of the recording industry’s assembvly line system. She’s been appearing on a sitcom called Switched at Birth (search me; I don’t have b-cast or cable TV) which starts its final season in January. So there.]


My old WFHB colleague Drew Daudelin — who, BTW, has reached the big leagues with the Indy NPR affiliate, WFYI; congrats, dude — commented recently about movies. Someone had put forth a review of the film, Whiplash, and, apparently echoed the general feeling that the movie doesn’t precisely re-create real life. Drew’s response came from right out of my head:

I’ve seen musicians complain about the lack of realism in that movie and it remains baffling to me. It’s intentionally heightened. Most movies are, to varying degrees, and they should be. I don’t undertsand this weird desire some people seemingly have for movies, or any art, to above all represent the average experience of real people….

He’s right. We demand absolute realism in our movies and TV shows. When a guy gets shot in the head, we have to see the blood and brain stuff spray out the back of his skull. Old movies used to show guys getting shot and there’d be no blood stains on their clothes, no goo on the wall behind them, no gaping hole in their body. Yet we still felt sadness or disgust or whatever the actors and directors intended. That’s why they called it acting and directing.

Actors playing cops have to ride along with real cops for what seem years, “preparing” for their roles. And as far back as 1980, director Michael Cimino entered Hollywood lore when he spent gobs of dough actually building and rebuilding a fictional Wyoming town in the epic Western flop, Heaven’s Gate. The movie’s cost overruns were so enormous that the production bankrupted its studio, the venerable United Artists. That’s how important verisimilitude was to Cimino.

Yet Hollywood’s visual reality fetishists really don’t give a good goddamn about factual reality.

I’ve screeched about movies jiggering historical facts time and again in this space. I find history fascinating. It is people and events and relationships, with dashes of drama and surprise mixed in. A good history book or biography is as compelling to me as the most imaginative novel there is. Yet the movie-going audience and TV-watching sofa monkeys demand the stories of presidents and generals, revolutionaries and star-crossed lovers, be altered to fit some weird template of story arc and archetypical characters as laid out in the screenwriters’ bible.

The people’s demand for hyper-realism in our entertainment is ironic because we really don’t give a shit anymore for facts and truths in real life. Candidates for political office can say what in the hell ever they want, with little or no concern that their pronouncements are even within the general vicinity of rectitude. Our social media friends post outlandish claims and memes and we eat them up, so long as they reinforce our preconceived notions.

Hillary Clinton killed a guy? Why, of course she did! She’s the most corrupt candidate for president ever. Dick Cheney coordinated the 9/11 attacks? You bet, baby. He’s Satan incarnate.

No amount of lawyerly arguing will convince us otherwise. Marching out the ghosts of Socrates, Newton and Einstein, along with Hawking in his wheelchair to rebut this blather or that would be as effective as tap dancing to the tune of “There’s No Business Like Show Business” in changing a credulous soul’s mind.

Don’t tell me about the truth, people say, I’m entitled to my own reality.

The world we live in doesn’t have to be real anymore but our fantasy world had damned well better be.


I mentioned yesterday in another context how I was thumbing through the May issue of Sports Illustrated while waiting to be called for my PET scan. Another story therein caught my eye. Curt Schilling is a former Major League Baseball pitcher who retired and went on to become a color man on ESPN’s gamecasts. He’s notoriously outspoken and is a big Fox News-y, Right-leaner. He got fired from ESPN after spouting, among other things, that Muslims are pretty much the same as Nazis and letting transgender people share your daughter’s public restroom  will cause the collapse of civilization — I exaggerate, but not by terribly much.

Anyway, SI columnist Dan Patrick interviewed Schilling after his axing. Schilling, natch, bawled that life was unfair, that ESPN lets its anchors and show hosts propagandize for the Left but the poor Right must zip its lips. Said he:

They send out memos [saying] we want our sports people and talent to stick to sports and stay away from politics and all the other stuff. But then [ESPN’s] Stephen A. [Smith] tells people that [the NFL’s] Robert Griffin can’t play quarterback because he’s black, not because he sucks. You had… Tony Kornheiser comparing the Tea Party to ISIS. So what I think the memo meant to say was, If you’re not liberal and you’re not a Democrat, do not stray from sports.

Let’s leave aside the fact that no one can whine about life’s unfairness like a Right Winger. The truth is, Schilling’s sorta right (as in, correct)!

People in all walks of public and media life can sermonize all day long about issues dear to the Left. A sitcom star might say blacks get the raw end of the American deal, a female sportscaster can say her sisteren face a glass ceiling, and a celebrity spokesperson for this product or that can wring her/his hands publicly about climate change and the odds any of them’ll get canned are slim and none.

There’s a license given to those who espouse liberal or progressive stances. Now, that’s fine by me, considering I’m Lefty. But it’s really part of a deal we’ve made with the devil.

Frankly, I don’t give a good goddamn what nonsense pours out of Curt Schilling’s trap so long as he adequately explains why the pitcher threw a curveball in a certain situation when I’d figured he’d throw a fastball. I don’t expect my sports commentators to be students of Cornell West. After L’il Duce won the Electoral College vote last month, Jake Arrieta, pitcher for my beloved Chicago Cubs tweeted some snarky stuff about how all the Hollywood actors could move out of the country now. It didn’t offend me because I never expected him to quote Noam Chomsky on Twitter. I expect him to get the Cardinals out in order in the next inning.

That said, Schilling’s plaint tells us a deeper truth than the one he intended to convey.

See, whoever’s in charge of this whole mess we call democracy has figured The People will be happy with control over language. American society has deigned that it’s a mortal sin to utter the word nigger in public — yet, it’s fine for us to educate blacks in inferior schools, to keep them out of corporate boardrooms, and for our cops to shoot them dead at the mere hint of danger even if that hint is purely imaginary.

We’re pilloried for calling women girls, but let a tough, accomplished female run for president and watch us tear her to shreds.

Public figures are punished for making look-ist, fat-shaming comments, yet we still sell clothing to women that’s too often uncomfortable and impractical for anyone but the slimmest sylph.

We can’t call homosexuals faggots but our vice president-elect espouses conversion therapy for them.

It’s the deal we’ve made — and it’s a bad one.

Sure, Curt Schilling and his political spectrum brethren are full of shit. But so are we.

Hot Air: What’s Your Name?

In Nomine Temporibus

I was reading someone’s bio last night and noticed she has a colleague named Hilda.


It’s a safe bet you don’t know anybody named Hilda. I don’t. Oh sure, one of you may say Hey, wait a minute, my great-aunt’s name is Hilda. Okay. But that Hilda is the only Hilda you know. And probably the only Hilda within a random sampling of the pop. totaling 50,000 people.

Hilda is a name that has long been out of vogue. Names come and go. Three decades ago, every other newborn girl in American was being named Heather or Ashley. Now, few are.

Levitt & Dubner talk about names in Freakonomics. They look at neologisms as names. It’s been a thing among certain corners of the African-American community for years, they claim. I recall being about 15 years old and hearing about some NFL player whose first name was Theotis. I found it incredibly odd at the time. There are the traditional names Theo and Otis but this fellow’s mom and dad scrunched the two together to come up with something entirely new, a portmanteau. Maybe LevDub are right — since then newly-coined African-American given names seem to be in endless supply.

I thumbed through some current NFL rosters as well as the record book and found the following fascinating first names:

  • Anquan
  • Marshawn
  • Edgerrin
  • Natrone
  • Rannell
  • Tramon
  • Je’Ron
  • DuJuan
  • Jaquiski
  • NaVarro
  • Fahn
  • Troymaine

I don’t know if they’re all African-Americans. I tried to research the names through Pro but the site has an abominable search widget so that’s that. I’m going to guess a good number of the above-named NFL-ers is African-American.

The names are refreshing and, really, rebellious. Parents seem to be saying, We’ll come up with our own names, thank you, and you can keep your Pauls (old school) and Connors (new).

Which brings me to an ABC News online article dated 2006: “Top 20 ‘Whitest’ and ‘Blackest’ Names.” Here’s what the ABC piece found:



Note there isn’t a single crossover between races for either gender. We already were a divided nation as far back as ten years ago.

It’s ironic I’m thinking about names in light of a little blurb I read in the May, 2016 issue of Sports Illustrated while sitting in the waiting room at the PET scan facility yesterday AM. The gist of the piece was three fellows burst upon the professional sports scene in the 1990s — Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, and Shaquille O’Neal. None before them had ever lugged around those first names in pro sports. Now, scads of kids just entering their 20s bear those names. The three players were superstars, each arguably among the very best in history at his position, so it’d be a gimme to assume parents would name their kids after them. But the funny thing is, it turns out one ’90s NBA player who had a rather mediocre career apparently was responsible for a flood of kids coming after him, carrying his heretofore obscure moniker. Jalen Rose was by no means a superstar but, for unknown reasons, parents went gaga over his name. Acc’d’g to the SI article, “Jalen Mills, Jalen Ramsey and Jaylon Smith were all drafted into the NFL in April, while Jaylen Brown is projected to be a top 10 NBA pick in June. There are more where they came from. Forty-six of the 50 Jalens in Sports-Reference’s college basketball database debuted in 2012 or later.”

When I was a teenager, I got a big kick when, for a year or two, Michael supplanted John at the top of the most popular boys’ names. And I found it magical that the girl I had a huge crush on in eighth grade, Linda Binkowski, simultaneously stood atop the popular girls’ names list. (And, man, just saying Linda Binkowski’s name in my head as I typed it out gave me a little frisson.)

But back to names that have gone flat out of style. My family’s doctor when I was a little kid had a nurse named Gertie. The doc, being more intimate with her (the rumor was they shared more than the office’s supply of tongue depressors), called her Gert.

Both’d be short for Gertrude. I know no one named Gertrude, Gertie, or Gert today. A name contemporary to Gertie’s was Hazel. The only Hazel I ever heard of was the character in the very old eponymous sitcom until I met a Scottish woman with that name in 1981. That’s it. Yet, now Hazel is gaining popularity. Ten years ago Sophia was all the rage.

Next year, maybe Hilda.

Carp Chatter

Here’s the link to my Big Talk interview with Bloomington legend Carp Combs. It aired yesterday on WFHB. Big Talk is a regular Thursday feature on the Daily Local News. The Big Track, an unedited version of the original interview with Carp, will be up here as soon as I get around to it.

BTW: Limestone Post will be running an online article based on my interview with Carp sometime soon. I don’t know the precise date yet but I’ll let you know as soon as I do. It’ll be the first installment in the new marriage between The Post and Big Talk, woo-hoo!

My guest next week on Big Talk will be restoration architect Cindy Brubaker. That’ll be 5:45pm, Thursday, Dec. 15, on WFHB, 91.3.

Talk to you then

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