Geezer Stuff: Enjoyment For The Elderly (2015-17)
"Signs, Signs Everywhere A Sign ..." Recently, James Lileks wrote about an old sign he saw in New York: 'Post No Bills', a frequently-seen sign on walls as well as telephone and electric poles when I was growing up in Philadelphia. It's about as common as: 'Spitting on Sidewalks Prohibited. Penalty $5 to $100. Penna. Dept. of Health'. I have one of those - scaled down to 1:48 - attached to a stone wall on my O-gauge model train layout.
James wrote, "The only exposure I had in Fargo to the phrase came from cartoons. I learned so much about '40s culture from Warner Brothers cartoons, and it's a pity modern kids don't take the same lessons, he said, shaking his fist impotently at a cloud. Is there any other era whose pop-culture sensibilities were preserved in cartoon form and fed to children of subsequent generations who came to the work with no context?"
I remember watching cartoons at the movies while growing up. There were caricatures of popular celebrities of the 1930s and '40s in these cartoons (black bandleader Cab Callaway and his tossing hair, big fat bandleader Paul Whiteman, blackface Al 'Mammy' Jolson, W.C. Fields with a bulbous red nose, Rudy Valee with his ever-present megaphone, big-shnozz Jimmy 'Stop Da Music!' Durante, fruit-headed Carmen Miranda, heavy-lidded, crooning Bing Crosby, etc.). These people were never identified by name when they were parodied but eventually I figured them out.
Al Jolson, who was definitely before my time - he passed away when I was seven, must have died rich. Just look at his grave. It even has a big waterfall. As Al used to say, "You ain't seen nothin' yet." (posted 8/11/17, permalink)
Old Music: Recently, Charles G. Hill posted a recording of a 1959 novelty song I had never heard of. This was a surprise, since - being a lad of 16 at the time - I spent many of my waking hours listening to music.
The record is a parody of Soviet-style broadcasting: 'Russian Band Stand' by Spencer and Spencer. "One of those Spencers is King of Novelty Dickie Goodman. (Side note: We had a temp who, after listening to about half an hour of my iTunes install, told me there was one record I couldn't possibly have: this one. I duly jumped it to the front of the shuffle. He was gone after a few days.)"
In the 1950s, it was common for regional versions of a song to become hits in various parts of the country. 'Butterfly', a 1957 hit for Andy Williams, can't hold a candle to the 1956 Charlie Gracie version released on Philadelphia's Cameo Records label. It was a far bigger hit in the NY-NJ-Philly universe than the lame Williams rendition. Charlie's version sold over two million records. But when Charlie sued his record label Cameo, which had an "affiliation" with Dick Clark in those payola days, the label got Charlie blacklisted from radio plays and 'American Bandstand'. Goodbye, Charlie.
The first time I ever heard the song 'Hot Rod Lincoln' was in 1960 on WIBG - Radio 99 - in Philadelphia. The singer was Johnny Bond. His version was the one that caught on in the Philadelphia area. The proliferation of such regional hits is why many of those reissued compilation albums have songs or artists you don't recognize. Charlie Ryan recorded 'Hot Rod Lincoln' in 1955; it became a hit for him during the 1957-60 period, depending on what area of the country you looked at. I never heard his version until I bought - you guessed it - a car song compilation album in the mid-1960s. Nevertheless, the creator of Hot Rod Lincoln is Charlie Ryan. He fashioned both the real car (a Model A Ford with a Lincoln engine) and the song.
Recently, I saw an old Top Hits flyer from KDAY, a Los Angeles radio station. The flyer listed the top 35 hits for the week ending April 11, 1958. I had never heard of four of the hits:
• 'Indian Love Call' by Ernie Freeman - Ernie is best known for his 1957 instrumental 'Raunchy', although in the Philadelphia area, the Bill Justis version was far more popular.
• 'Little Blue Man' by Betty Johnson - a novelty song
• 'Corrido Rock' by Jim Balsom - a regional instrumental hit popular in the Los Angeles area, especially by Chicanos, who line danced to the song.
• 'Billy' by Kathy Linden (who was, interestingly, from South Jersey) - I do remember her 1959 hit, 'Goodbye Jimmy, Goodbye'.
Regional hits began to die off when 'American Bandstand' went national in 1957. The last nail was pounded into the coffin by Casey Kasem's 'American Top 40' radio program, which debuted in 1970. (posted 7/18/17, permalink)
It's Really Hard To Lose A Pal: My very good friend Dennis Gartland passed away on June 26th, following a massive heart attack at age 70. He is survived by his loving wife, Sandy, as well as three wonderful sons and a granddaughter on whom he doted.
Dennis worked in the Plastics Department of Rohm & Haas Co. for many years. In addition to stints at the Bristol (PA) Plant and the Home Office, he was a plastics sales representative in New York, Connecticut, California and later served as district manager for the entire West Coast.
When R&H sold off its plastics assets, Dennis continued ... (more >>>)
Company Iron: The Old Motor published an article about salesmen's cars, including photos of a specially-outfitted 1950 Chevrolet station wagon with those simulated woodgrain panels on the exterior. Inside was a working lathe and milling machine from South Bend Lathe Co. The salesman could demonstrate the features of the machinery right at the prospective customer's doorstep.
In the 1949 play, 'Death of a Salesman', Willy Loman carted his "two large sample cases" around in his car's trunk, probably that of a business coupe. Business coupes with their cavernous trunks - like my '39 Plymouth - were popular with traveling salesmen or field service people.
After World War II, new three-box sedan designs provided everyday cars with larger trunks and caused the eventual demise of business coupes. Those who needed more carrying space bought new steel-bodied station wagons, such as South Bend Lathe's 1950 Chevy.
When I first began working at Rohm & Haas Co. in 1966, every salesperson in the Plastics Department had a large company-issued vehicle (full-size four-door sedan) with a big trunk to hold samples and information. Product literature, service bulletins, tech manuals and the like were carried by and given out by salesmen as needed - on the spot. None of this "I'll call the factory (or home office) and ask them to mail you something" nonsense. While waiting for the promised information to arrive, some other, better-prepared competitor's salesman might swoop in, literature in hand, and close the deal.
In the 1960s, the Plastics Department had 11 technical service people positioned throughout the U.S. to deal with customer problems. These men often carried sheets of acrylic plastic or sample drums of injection-molding compound for a specific job. Therefore, every tech service employee had a full-size company station wagon.
Bob Gardner, who was an early R&H Plastics Dept. employee, told me of driving a '37 Ford woody wagon loaded with sample drums of experimental Plexiglas molding compound from Philadelphia to New England for a plastic molding trial in the early postwar era. Such events were not unusual when thermoplastic was a relatively new and novel material. Customers were unfamiliar with the characteristics of different types of polymers and required onsite assistance.
In 1971, Rohm & Haas began putting their salesforce in mid-sized company cars as a cost-saving measure. Vehicles such as the Ford Torino still had plenty of trunk space. Tech service people continued to drive full-sized wagons, mostly Fords and Chevys. European sales reps had small cars; in Germany, they often drove BMW 1800 coupes. In England, the managing director of R&H's Lennig Chemicals Division - headquarted in Croydon - drove a very posh company-issued vehicle, a large Jaguar XJ sedan.
In the early days of my own plastics manufacturing and distribution business, I carried a molded plastic file box in the trunk of my car on sales trips. This clever, compact device held Pendaflex-style hanging folders and had a transparent hinged lid to keep contents dust-free. In it I stored multiple copies of literature, spec sheets and price lists for products we distributed, our own brochures for products we manufactured and sample plastic chips, showing the various colors of acrylic available.
plastic color chip chain
I also kept quotation forms, extra business cards, spare pens, measuring devices (tape measure, thickness gauge, etc.), a sketch pad and other necessities for on-the-spot bids in my handy, portable rectangular file case.
Over the years and the miles, the box got a bit battered and the see-through vinyl lid became cloudy and yellow but the almost forty year-old portable file holder is still functional. I once cut pieces of thick carpet and glued them on the box's outside corners to avoid denting the sides of my 1980 Oldsmobile which had unfinished trunk walls. Its replacement, my '84 Lincoln, had a fully-carpeted trunk.
David Greenlees of The Old Motor wrote, "In today's fast-paced world, a manufacturer's product information is easily found online and on YouTube in a matter of minutes. Back in the old days if you were looking for information about a South Bend lathe, often the first step was to find an advertisement in 'Popular Mechanics', cut out the little request form, fill it out and send it in the mail and wait a week or two before the brochure arrived."
Sales people can now FedEx samples or send PDFs of brochures and technical specs to prospective customers. Most sales people no longer need to carry a trunkful of support items.
The traveling salesperson is becoming an endangered species. In the late 1960s, R&H's Plastics Department had almost 60 field people calling on customers and prospects the U.S. (They were backed by an army of inside sales support people and a technical support staff of 70 at the firm's Plastics Engineering Laboratory.) Today, the company that sells Plexiglas has only a few traveling sales reps. Support is minimal. Acrylic plastic has become a commodity and, with intense price competition, expensive sales and tech support has become a luxury that manufacturers can no longer afford.
Willy Loman wouldn't recognize 21st Century America. (posted 4/25/17, permalink)
Almost 60 Years Later: I still remember the day - I was a sophomore in high school. On February 3, 1959, I heard the news on the morning radio: Richie Valens, Buddy Holly and The Big Bopper had perished in a plane crash. They were quickly declared Rock's First Martyrs.
Every time I hear the phrase The Day The Music Died, I get quite irritated. Because it didn't. I know of no one who piloted his/her Chevrolet to any sort of levee and found it to be without water. The Music didn't die. Because The Music consisted of a large galaxy with several high-luminosity pop giant stars (Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, etc.) and hundreds of very talented dwarf stars (Bobby Darin, Connie Francis, Lloyd Price, Frankie Avalon, Sam Cooke, Johnny Mathis, Bobby Rydell, Dion, Jackie Wilson, Brook Benton, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Pitney, Fats Domino, Brenda Lee, Roy Orbison, Ben E. King, Paul Anka, Gene McDaniels, Del Shannon, Bobby Lewis and many, many more).
Make no mistake about it - the three Fallen Idols were in the smaller star category. Buddy Holly had several hits but his career had been in decline ever since he abandoned the Crickets and went solo. (He signed on for the grueling winter tour because he needed the money.)
Richie Valens produced only a couple of chartmakers. J.P. Richardson (aka - The Big Bopper) was - at the time of his death - a one-hit wonder. I intend no putdown of these gentlemen or their talents; I have several of Buddy Holly's songs in my iTunes library and know all the words to The Bopper's 'Chantilly Lace'.
But all are remembered today primarily because they died Famously and Tragically. And therefore, became Larger Than Life. And have attracted their own crew of posthumous hangers-on. I swear there are at least two-dozen third-rate '50s rockers who have claimed to be "almost on that ill-fated, four-seat airplane," claiming that they gave up their seats for Holly, Valens and the Bopper. And maybe the pilot.
Even though, objectively, the recordings and careers of the ill-fated three weren't so great in Life, in Death, they have become immortalized, Evita-like, and are still reverentially spoken-of today in the world of music. They are now Dusty Icons of the Jurassic Age of Rock who happened to be in the wrong place (for them) at the right time (for those who feed off of their fame and music royalties). RIP, fellas. (posted 2/2/17, permalink)
Did You Have Them As A Kid? I did. Lincoln Logs are notched miniature logs used to build small forts and buildings. They were invented by John Lloyd Wright, second son of legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
At my first post-college job (Uniroyal's Power Transmission Group in Northeast Philadelphia), there was an actual Comptometer Department, staffed by a gaggle of middle-aged ladies. Although the comptometer was primarily an adding machine, it could also do subtractions, multiplication and division. Its keyboard consisted of eight or more columns of nine keys each. (posted 10/15/15, permalink)
Recuperation Gift: In July, I asked my blog readers - if they were so inclined - to direct some prayers and kind thoughts to my good friend and car buddy, Ray Lukas, whom I've known for over 55 years.
In 2002, Ray and I embarked on an eight-day, all-car/all-rail extravaganza, visiting every car, train, trolley and model train attraction in Southern California.
Last month, Ray fell in his garage, landing hard on the concrete floor. He broke his right arm and left leg. (His bad ankle on the left side was supposed to be surgically fused in August but that is now postponed indefinitely.) He had surgery and had screws and plates put in his in arm and leg. He was moved to a rehab facility where he fell out of bed, broke his leg in another spot and redamaged his arm.
Then Ray developed a serious infection - requiring three different antibiotics to treat it - and he developed a bed sore. Ray remains in the hospital and is slowly recovering. He is down to one antibiotic and last week, he got out of bed and walked a few steps. This week, his casts were changed for lighter, removable ones.
I thought to myself, "I should give him some kind of get-well-soon gift but I don't want to send flowers because that seems kinda gay." Someone in the floral biz suggested, "Well, why not give him a small plant instead?"
So that's what I did:
It's a Plasticville HO scale structure and is about three inches tall. I'm keeping Ray in my prayers for a speedy and thorough recovery and I hope you will too. (posted 9/21/15, permalink)
Straight Outta Auschwitz: An Oncology Center is not a fun place to be. Every patient carries a story and not a happy one. Some look pretty healthy, although that doesn't mean much. It what's going inside your body that counts.
I have seen skeletal patients, looking like concentration camp survivors - bald, vacant-eyed, shuffling toward an infusion chair assisted by a nurse on one side and a worried caregiver on the other. They are hooked up to a pump which will, hopefully, dole out just the right amount of chemical poison to kill their cancer cells without killing them. They still have hope, apparently drawing it from somewhere deep inside their souls. God bless them, because it sure looks like the cancer is winning but this very room can be a place of miracles, where the nearly-dead recover, Lazarus-like and go about to live normal lives. Or not.
The infusion center is a large room, full of patients - sometimes 40 or more - attended by cheerful, efficient nurses. I'm sure that it's hard to maintain the happy demeanor; I suppose the nurses and doctors focus their thoughts on the success stories rather than the failures.
Considering the number of people in the room, it is relatively quiet. People nod off, pray, meditate, read books, listen to iPods or remain alone with their thoughts. Throughout the room are scattered little angel statues - a sign of hope and, perhaps, being watched over from above. No nonbelievers have raised objections. Just as there are no atheists in foxholes, there seem to be none here either.
There's a dampening effect at work in The Room. It's hard to complain about your own troubles when someone a few lounge chairs away has obviously got it much worse.
In 2014, I spent six months getting chemo infusions ... (more >>>)
Back To The Thirties: Last week, I recorded an old 1937 black and white movie, Topper, which starred Cary Grant, Constance Bennett, Billie Burke (later to be immortalized as The Good Witch) and Roland Young as Cosmo Topper, the bemused recipient of his dead friends' good deeds.
The film has one song running through it - a Hoagy Carmichael ditty, 'Old Man Moon'. In the nightclub sequence, the tune is ably performed by the vocal quartet, 'Three Hits and a Miss'. The talented Martha Tilton was the "Miss" in the group. She later joined the Jimmy Dorsey Band. Martha eventually joined singer Jo Stafford and others to form a swing chorus for Benny Goodman on his radio show. She became Goodman's lead vocalist after his former girl singer parted ways and hit the big time with the song 'And the Angels Sing.'
For me, the biggest star of the movie was the Topper car ... (more >>>)
Geezerville: I'm old enough to remember when the Hashtag was known as the Pound Sign. (posted 6/15/15, permalink)
Things That Happen To You When You Get Old: I regularly receive mailings from The Neptune Society, a cremation service provider. Shouldn't a firm with that name be doing burials at sea?
When I think of what a good name might be for a cremation service, I come up with things like The Firemen's Fund, Hunka-Hunka Burnin' Love, Ashes-R-Us, Torched-n-Scorched or The League of Extraordinary Arsonists. (posted 1/23/15, permalink)
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copyright 2015-17 - Joseph M. Sherlock - All applicable rights reserved
The facts presented in this blog are based on my best guesses and my substantially faulty geezer memory. The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and are protected by the U.S. Constitution. Probably.
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