What’s Goin’ On?
So, it’s been going on two months since I palavered herein. Some folks are even messaging me asking why their auto-notifications haven’t been working or what’s wrong with this site, etc. Well, nothing’s wrong with your auto-notifications or this site. It’s me. For a variety of reasons, I elected to remain mum here for a little while. See, November and December are the toughest months for me to scratch my way though, head-wise. Y’know, that ol’ Seasonal Affective Disorder thing. I pull in my wings and just try to push my way through the creeping darkness.
In cheerier news, I’ve finally turned my Charlotte Zietlow book manuscript over to an editor — huzzah! And, I sense, the ed. digs it. A lot. She’s sweating over it as we speak and, if all goes well, we might actually see a real, honest-to-gosh hard copy of the thing in this town by spring. Imagine that!
Actually, I have been imagining that for more than five years now. Yup, CZ & I started this oral history project in August 2014. And, for pity’s sake, with all the things Charlotte’s gone through during that time, we could have written a whole book covering just that slender fraction of her life.
Anyway, keep an eye out for further announcements.
I just finished an article for the Limestone Post. Publisher Ron Eid discovered a fun book called Hoosiers All: Indiana High School Basketball Teams, by Emerson Houck. Being a fairly recent immigrant to these parts — phew, lucky I got here before the wall was built! — I had no idea how big high school basketball was in the sovereign state of IN. Houck, clearly a tad obsessed with the topic (making him no less sane re: prep hoops than several hundred thousand other Hoosiers) wrote a 475-pp paean to the game as played by 13-18 y.o.’s from the shores of Lake Michigan to the Ohio River.
Eid, the Charles Foster Kane of the Post, asked me to do a piece on the many and imaginative nicknames and mascots of the 1000 or so HS’s Houck encyclopedi-izes. I leaped at the chance the way, say, Shawn Kemp leaped for rebounds for Elkhart’s Concord High School back in the mid- to late-’80s. The Concord team, BTW, is known as the Minutemen (hell, the school itself is located on Minuteman Way in the northern Indiana town). Concord girls’ teams, it must be added, are also called the Minutemen, saying something or another about the school’s gender sensitivities.
I riff for several thou. words on this state’s high school Spartans and Warriors and various jungle cats, miscellaneous rumbling beasts, vipers, airplanes, Miners, ballistic missiles, and even fish of the rivers and seas decorating the chests of schoolboy hoopsters. Believe it or not, there actually have been two separate Indiana high schools that’ve called their teams the Eels. One of them played in a gym fondly dubbed the Eel Tank.
Indiana, natch, is one singular place.
Keep another eye out for that piece to appear soonly.
Reelin’ In The Customers
Caught a mention of the Columbia Record Club not long ago. Those of us of a certain age remember ads for the mail order retailer. I’d say I was 13 or 14 when I first caught wind of it, both through mag ads and through my older brother Joey’s participation in it. Joey got a stereo for Christmas one year. It may have been a Zenith as that company was based in Chicago and in fact its main factory was mere blocks from our house, just north of Amundsen Park where Joey and I both played baseball.
Anyway, Joey then had to put together a record collection which would have cost scads o’dough had he bought albums at either Sears or Frank’s dimestore, both on North Avenue, the main street we lived nearest to. So, he subscribed to the Columbia Record Club. The pitch was, you could get a certain number of albums for a penny which, to me, seemed the greatest deal ever offered. What I didn’t know, of course, was Columbia actually inked you to a kind of contract, obliging you to buy scads more albums at a more realistic price. That initial offering was what’s known as a loss-leader: the company takes a bath in order to draw you in and then hits you over the head with a blackjack to swipe your wallet and/or your checkbook. For instance, have you ever wondered why turkey costs so little, usually a bit more than a dollar a pound? The grocery stores price the bird at such a steal because they know that when you come in for your Thanksgiving dinner, you’re going to load up on hundreds of dollars-worth of other groceries — pies, yams, vegetables, wine, whipping cream, and countless other things — so, in the end, they make…, well, scads of money while you think you’ve burglarized them for the main course.
So, Columbia Record Club held out its albums-for-a-penny carrot knowing the co. would make its nut subsequently when it’d ship you your obligatory monthly record for which you’d pay, I think, 3.99 (a hefty chunk of change at the time, especially for teenagers and fresh adolescents like Joey and me. The kicker was you’d have to go way out of your way to opt out of the deal, much like internet deals today that offer you a free month of something but ask for your credit card number when you sign up. When the next month rolls around you’re automatically charged real dough for whatever subscription or offer you’d thought was a smart deal. In the end, it’s never a smart deal.
Joey amassed a pretty neat collection, including Blood, Sweat and Tears’ eponymous second release which, BTW, beat out Abbey Road for Album of the Year at that year’s Grammy Awards presentation. Joey also ordered and got, among many others, a Wes Montgomery record, “Time Peace: the Rascals’ Greatest Hits,” and (most memorably for me at that stage of my young life) Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass’s “Whipped Cream & Other Delights”. That album cover was undoubtedly the most one-handed record sleeve ever produced. Here it is:
The apparently nude woman sitting in what looked like a mountain of whipped cream is still alive, having celebrated her 84th birthday in September. The model, Dolores Dixon, who’d done a lot of bit parts in ’60s TV shows actually wore a strapless bikini and was covered from the waist down with a Christmas comforter. And that wasn’t whipped cream she was sitting in. It was, in fact, shaving cream because that wouldn’t melt under the heat of photographer’s lights. Dixon made $1500 for the shoot. That’s a lot of scratch for the time (1965), so she must have carried quite a profressional rep then though few people would recognize her walking down the street. I can only say I suffered several dozen near-heart attacks studying that album cover in whatever solitude I could find.
Anyway, Pt. Deux: the Columbia Record Club was begun by Columbia Records in 1955 as way to reach rural customers whose only access to new music was by mail-order. The operation, originally based in NYC, was so successful and had reached so many more customers than isolated farmers that Columbia had to move it to Terre Haute (who knew?) a year after it started, the Indiana city being a rail hub and centrally located. Membership eventually totaled in the tens of millions. The company’s high point came in 1994, by then renamed Columbia House, when it accounted for more than 15 percent of all CD sales. By that year, if you’d have mentioned the club to me, I’d have been certain it’d long ago gone out of business. Two things killed the Club/House: 1) the obsolescence of CDs and 2) a 2001 data breach on its website put the company’s customers at risk. Tie those two developments together with the rise of Amazon and big box stores from which you could get discs and movies without being lashed to an expensive contract and the Columbia Record Club-slash-Columbia House was forced into bankruptcy in 2015. Later that same year, a reconstituted Columbia House began offering a vinyl-record subscription service in an effort to capitalize on the retro popularity of the old-fashioned discs.
Anyway, Pt. III: Here, for your enjoyment, is the biggest hit from the Whipped Cream album, A Taste of Honey:
The God Problem
Do you believe in god (or, if you prefer, God)? You don’t have to answer but you can try to solve the Bat & Ball Problem. Your answer to it, some researchers say, can reveal your take on the existence of a putative Guy Who Created Everything.
Want to see something cool? Go here.
It’s the World Population Clock, a running monitor of this planet’s human billions. It’s chock-full of figures — macro and micro — re: our ever-expanding numbers. Dig this chart:
Each and every one of the above-stats is increasing in real-time, proving rabbits got nothin’ on us. I screenshot the image at about 10:55 am, today, Tuesday, December 3, 2019. By the time you get your eyes on it, these numbers’ll be long out of date.
Try this zen-like exercise: Just sit there and stare at the stats on the site and watch as they move ever upward. And think, as the figures grow, of all the women panting and shrieking as new citizens of the world emerge from their birth canals.
A number of the globe’s human institutions, both religious and not, continue to frown on the use of contraceptives. We’re an odd lot.