Posts Tagged ‘essay’

Zippity Doo Dah! World Still Rolls!

May 22, 2011


This just in …

Yesterday, Saturday, May 21, 2011, the world reached 6:00 PM at all of its possible time zone points and in no instance along the way did the earth or any of its time-measured sectors come to an end or simply disappear. Rev. Harold Camping, the Christian evangelical broadcaster who predicted, wrongly for the second time, that the world would, indeed, end yesterday, so far, has failed to comment on this second coming of a major non-event.

Dr. Stephen Hawking, the world’s arguably greatest physicist issued his own response in the wake of an inundating request for comment on this sideshow non-matter of blur to the world’s real and far more serious issues: “It’s a simple matter of geometry,” Hawking stated. “Relatively round objects in space, like the earth, rarely, if ever, roll their way to an end. They either continue on an imperceptibly changing orbit around their particular star of attraction until they break off into free flight to what many call doomsday – or else, they remain in orbit until they wear down in mass weight enough to be sucked into their sun and incinerated. By the laws of science, nothing like that could have happened here yesterday.”

And what does this non-end of the world mean for all of us? Simply put, it’s back to business as usual: warring against the violent weight of the world’s mad men, both of domestic resource and international import; battling to raise and educate our children in a world that becomes more of a spiritual and financial challenge by the day; trying to stay healthy on a planet mutating under the weight of debate over the reality and effects of global warming; hoping to find passion in our spiritual, creative, inventive, and recreational pursuits; and making our peace individually with the inevitability of our personal mortality.

In the meanwhile, we all have something like the World Series or the Super Bowl or the National Spelling Bee to look forward to each morning that we awaken as qualifiers for the sunny side, and not the root side, of the grass. Perhaps our next major distraction will also be the next guy who comes along to tell us that “the world shall end tomorrow.” The year 2012 lays ahead of us – and many of the doomsday dealers are saving their pitches of distraction for the gloomy skies of next year. So, don’t be surprised by what you shall continue to hear as 2011 draws closer to an end.

That’s it for this news update. Now we take you back to the Reality TV Network’s program in progress, “Dancing with the Narcissists and Biggest Losers.” – Have a nice Sunday, everyone!

Killebrew: Another Good Man Gone

May 18, 2011

11 Times an All Star; 573 HR in 22 years; Hall of Fame in 1984.

As you’ve no doubt heard by now, Harmon Killebrew died yesterday in a Scottsdale, Arizona hospice of cancer at the age of 74. In giving up another great one in its recent stream of losses among the Hall of Fame living, baseball gave up, perhaps, one of its most dedicated special singular talent players of all time.

My own partiality to Harmon Killebrew goes back to the fact that he came of age in the big leagues at just about the same time I was growing into my own adult world beyond kid baseball life. Killebrew was special in many ways, but one thing has stuck out in my own recognition and now memory of him through this very moment. Back when my generation was growing up, and we were also being told, ad nauseum, to pick out something we wanted to do in life and go do it, Harmon Killebrew was living those words.

Killebrew broke into the big leagues with the Washington Senators in 1954 at the age of 18. Except for one last limited-use  season as a Kansas City Royal in 1975, he spent his entire big league career as a fantastic slugger for the Washington Senators (7 years) and Minnesota Twins (14 years) franchise, anchoring both as the last great Senator and the first great Twin. Along the way, “the man they called ‘The Killer’ banged out 573 home runs, good enough for 11th place on the all time big league career home run list.

Coming to the Senators almost straight from high school in Payette, Idaho, Killebrew recognized early that he possessed an ability to hit a baseball a very long way – and longer than most other players he encountered. As such, hitting baseballs a long way became his early passion, the thing he wanted to do in life.

It was the sort of thing that paid the big bucks, if a player had both the passion for it and the matching ability to do it – and Harmon Killebrew did. By his own admission, he never gave much thought to batting average, but he never forgot either what his bosses paid him to do. Hitting the very long ball into space when he did catch up with a pitch was both his everyday meal ticket and, based upon the spectacular results of his effort over time, his eventual passport in 1984 to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Home Runs 
All Time Leaders‘Top 11 Players’
Name Home Runs Rank
Barry Bonds 762 1
Hank Aaron 755 2
Babe Ruth 714 3
Willie Mays 660 4
Ken Griffey 630 5
Alex Rodriguez 613 6
Sammy Sosa 609 7
Jim Thome 589 8
Frank Robinson 586 9
Mark McGwire 583 10
Harmon Killebrew 573 11

Killebrew’s .256 lifetime batting average is testimony to his lack of concern for hitting percentage. Had he tried to become a placement or Punch and Judy style hitter for the sake of keeping defenses honest and helping his batting average to climb, he knew from early on that it would not have been worth the damage to his power production – and power was not merely measured by his homer total alone. Killebrew also concluded his career with 1,584 runs batted in – and driving runners across the home plate pay station is what owners really pay their slugging stars  to do. It also doesn’t hurt if those home runs are Goliath-level works of power art that leave the ballpark on jaw-dropping arches into the wild blue yonder.

Oh, Harmon, since you’re up there in Heaven now, would you mind taking batting practice over Houston today, and maybe for a few weeks to come? We could use the rain produced by the thunder of your bat.

Primary Sources in Historical Research

May 16, 2011

Buddy Bolden Image: A Primary Source

Buddy Bolden died in a Louisiana hospital for the criminally insane in 1931 at the age of 54, but by that time, the legendary first cornet in jazz history was probably still being charged with petty street crimes in New Orleans that he never committed. Back then, the New Orleans police didn’t need 100% accuracy in their identification of black criminals to find a man guilty. If a guy was black, had a name that was similar to a known criminal, and if he remotely resembled the known miscreant, the police were likely to pass on his offense to the record of  the established identity.

In addition to his musical genius and wide awake performances at the Funk Butt Hall on Rampart Street in New Orleans, Buddy Bolden had been guilty of some mental illness and alcohol addiction issues in his earlier life that had transformed him into a New Orleans street character, a man well-known enough into becoming the likely suspect in cases of public intoxication, domestic violence, or simple assault between drinking-buddy strangers.

A friend of mine, Donald M. Marquis of Goshen Indiana, moved to New Orleans in 1962 and spent the next sixteen years of his life in search of the real Buddy Bolden, the first great horn man of jazz. What he ran into for the longest while were dead ends – dead ends helped along by the posting of erroneous public information and the absence of primary source artifacts and people who actually knew Bolden. It didn’t get any easier with time. After all, Marquis began his research some 31 known years after the death of his subject. About all that still floated around in 1962 in easy-to-find plain sight were the bad police records and the secondary source testimony of children and grandchildren who had heard their elders talk of the man and his magnificent horn-playing down at the Funky Butt Hall. Those things – and a couple of grainy old photos, one of Buddy with his band and another solo shot of him holding his cornet – were all that remained available to the near-naked eye.

Then, one day deep in years later, Don Marquis found his way to a descendant of Buddy Bolden who had been holding to her own a treasure trove of accurate primary source data – data that included the first really good image of the man and further documentation of what actually had happened to him.

For those of you who may be interested, Don published his seminal findings in 1978 as “The Search for Buddy Bolden: First Man of Jazz” by Donald M. Marquis. A revised paperback version of the book is now available at There is also an independent film, or made-for-TV movie based largely on Marquis’ findings, coming out sometime later this year. I don’t know the title.

For our purposes, the experience of researcher-writer Donald M. Marquis serve to highlight some of the more serious issues facing the lone independent scholar. Unless you possess the time and ability to live as modestly as Marquis did for years and years, it is likely that your hard-to-wrap subject shall always elude you.

On the other hand, with the camaraderie of a small army of like-minded and dedicated people working with you, much is possible. Put that realization together with a clear understanding of primary and secondary sources – and we move far closer to getting the link established between connected facts in history,

This is the understanding and small wisdom that our SABR team takes with us into our impending study of “Houston Baseball, 1861-1961: The First One Hundred Years.” We are on our way together to the establishment of a much clearer factual picture on the history of baseball in our little area of the world.

To get a handle on primary and secondary source material distinctions, the following summary of same from Wikipedia spells them out about as well as they may be expressed. I will leave you with their words as our notes on the day:

Primary source is a term used in a number of disciplines to describe source material that is closest to the person, information, period, or idea being studied.

In the study of history as an academic discipline, a primary source (also called original source or evidence) is an artifact, a document, a recording, or other source of information that was created at the time under study. It serves as an original source of information about the topic. Similar definitions are used in library science, and other areas of scholarship. In journalism, a primary source can be a person with direct knowledge of a situation, or a document created by such a person.

Primary sources are distinguished from secondary sources, which cite, comment on, or build upon primary sources, though the distinction is not a sharp one. A secondary source may also be a primary source and may depend on how it is used. “Primary” and “secondary” are relative terms, with sources judged primary or secondary according to specific historical contexts and what is being studied.

The Future of Baseball

May 10, 2011

Minute Maid Park, Houston, 2010.

Will today’s generation of young kids feel as sentimental over Minute Maid Park in twenty years as some of us do now about the Astrodome, Colt Stadium, and Buff Stadium?  It’s hard to say, but I like to hope that they probably will. It all depends upon how much emotional investment they now make in baseball from around age 8 to about 12 in going to the ballpark for a baseball game – and how connected they are to baseball as a big part of their everyday childhood experience.

As kid sandlot and early Little League players, our post WWII generation lived, breathed, ate, and drank baseball. I’m not sure today’s kids have that kind of experiences because of their high-tech distractions and the extra controls they get from many families that basically sleep in their houses without forming any attachment to neighborhood. Back then, a house was a home, and homes connected in neighborhoods to form communities, and Houston Buffs baseball was a big part of our shared communal experience. Today that doesn’t seem to be quite the same case.

Some of us back then read the sports pages daily and The Sporting News weekly. We knew the daily lineups for all sixteen major league teams, plus their pitching rotations. Of course, those of us who lived in minor league cities, as Houston was then, also knew our local club’s stats and those of our league rivals. Then again, our interests were not in competition with Play Station, Game Boy, The Internet, and cell phones. Man! When I think of what we could have done with the Internet to stay abreast of all the baseball news, it makes my head swim.

So, when we older ones look back, we can see the saturation of our investment in baseball as kids. Is there any reason to think that we are raising a generation of kids who will also want to follow the game daily and also go to the ballpark on a regular basis? What do you think? In my view, anything short of affirmative answers here means big problems to come for baseball over the next two decades.

Who knows? Maybe we’re just raising kids who sort of watch baseball with us on HDTV while they are moving around the house, multi-tasking other things.

Your opinion counts here. Please share it. Are we raising baseball fans – or not?

What does “clutch” really mean in sports?

May 8, 2011

one type of clutch

According to Wikepedia, “a clutch is a mechanical device which provides for the transmission of power (and therefore usually motion) from one component (the driving member) to another (the driven member). The opposite component of the clutch is the brake. So, if we take that literally, does that mean that the Houston Rockets of 1994 went from “Choke City,” putting the brakes on winning by their mistakes on the court, to “Clutch City” by simply coming through at crucial moments to win a series of big games on their merry team way to becoming champions of the NBA?

Is it really that simple? Win and you’re a clutch player or team; lose and you’re just another choke artist.

Baseball has done more than any sport to try to quantify the differences between clutch and choke. Hitters are now judged by their RISP records. That is, how they perform as batters with runners in scoring position. And pitchers, especially relief pitchers, are also judged by how many base runners they allow or keep from scoring.

Is “clutch” really as simple as coming through when it’s the difference between winning and losing? If a golfer sinks a 50-fott putt on the 18th hole of the last day in a tournament to win it all, does that make him or her clutch? Or does it depend on whether the golfer is Tiger Woods or John Doe – and the tournament is The Masters and not the Bear Creek Park Open?

When is a great play the result of the payoff on a player or team’s average positive productivity, when is it simply blind luck, or when is due to some transcendent, hard or impossible to measure quality we like to call “clutch” ability?

After all these years, I am no longer sure that I can even pretend to know or exactly describe what “clutch” really is. I just know that I know it when I see it. And I remember it forever.

Vann Harrington

The 1950-1953 Houston Buffs had a popular outfield-infield utility man named Vann Harrington. Vann batted left, but threw right. He batted .296 for the awful 1950 Buffs club, but only hit .357, .236, and .244 from 1950 through 1953. The thing Vann did best, the thing that made him so popular, however, was his ability to get the key hit in late innings that made the difference between winning and losing. When I think of Vann Harrington to this day, I think of him as a clutch hitter, the go-to guy you wanted to have at the plate when scoring runners late in the game was going to make the difference between winning and losing for the Buffs. He did it so well, in fact, that now I’ve even forgotten every single time he struck out or failed to move the runners under those circumstances. SUch probably is the good fortune of all those who imbed themselves in our minds as clutch performers. We simply “forget” all the times that they actually failed in that same situation.

So, is clutch even real? Or it just another of those comfort stations that the human mind uses on the way to generalizing how favorite players and teams succeed in sports?

What do you think? Is “clutch” real or just another mental convenience? If it is real, what is it based upon? Coming through when the game’s on the line? The probable result of a player’s performance at a fairly predictable percentage of time? Or is just plain luck in disguise?

Let us hear from you as a comment on this column.

Some Great-Named Real Baseball Teams

May 5, 2011

Is any team named the "Mud Cats" doomed to be the bottom-feeder in it's league?

Yesterday I wrote about one of numerous imaginary leagues I concocted as a kid to play my first version of partially self-invented simulation baseball back in the summer of 1949. As an exercise in home relaxation, I still embark along these same diversionary paths at times with the help of the APBA Game Company’s wonderful “Baseball for Windows.”

Part of the fun is coming up with the fresh team nicknames. A fellow named Peter Denman commented on yesterday’s “The Summer of 1949” column to say that he also enjoys simulation baseball and still plays today with manufactured teams with the “Diamond Mind” game. Two of his team names struck me as especially creative and appealing. Denman has teams called the El Paso Stuffed Jalapenos and the Galveston Balinese Dancers. Gotta love it.

When it comes to great team names, however, it’s hard to beat some of those that have existed, or still exist, in minor league history. Here are simply a few of my favorites, starting with the 19th century.

19th Century Clubs: New York Gothams, Wilmington Quicksteps, St. Paul Apostles, Baltimore Monumentals, Oswego Sweegs, Utica Pent Ups, Boston Beaneaters, Hamilton Hams, Jersey City Skeeters, Zanesville Kickapoos, Davenport Onion Weeders, Houston Babies, Cleveland Infants, Manchester Amskoegs, Aurora Hoodoos, Lebanon Pretzel Eaters, Des Moines Prohibitionists, Adrian Reformers, Kalamazoo Celery Eaters, Hartford Cooperatives, Butte Smoke Eaters, and Troy Washerwomen.

20th Century: Clubs: Crookston Crooks, Des Moines Undertakers, Schenectady Frog Alleys, Amsterdam-Johnstown-Gloversville Hyphens, Holyoke Paperweights, Jacksonville Lunatics, Freeport Pretzels, Eau Claire Puffs, Hot Springs Vaporites, Alexandria Hoo Hoos, Racine Malted Milks, Kirksville Osteopaths, Fall River Adopted Sons, Flint Vehicles, Terre Haute Hotentots, Dallas Submarines, Salem Witches, Tampa Smokers, and Lansing Lugnuts.

There so many others, If you have a few favorites that have not been listed here, please share them with us as comments on this column.

Speaking of the Terre Haute Hotentots, we are left to assume an old question trail from “The Wizard of Oz” was the main line of inquiry by their local sportwswriters every spring training season. – “What makes the Hotentots so hot? – What have they got – that we haven’t got?”


The Summer of 1949

May 4, 2011

Grandmother's House, Beeville, Texas, 1949.

The Summer of 1949 was tough. Dad lost his job in Houston in May, about three months before our little sister Margie was due to arrive. I was age 11 and my little brother John was 7 at the time and Houston was going though some kind of little adjustment in its economy. The short of it for here is that Dad and Mom decided to move back to Beeville from Houston, for the summer, at least. He had a shot at some work for an automobile dealer in our old hometown birthplace and his mom, our wonderful grandmother, had plenty of room for us to stay there as long as we needed or wanted.

The problem for me was the total culture shock of leaving all my friends in Pecan Park, abandoning my buddies and teammates on the sandlot club that came to be known later as the Pecan Park Eagles, and my total loss of daily contact with the fate and fortunes of the Houston Buffs through the Knothole Gang at Buff Stadium – or even predictable news print follow-up of the Buffs on a daily basis. This was 1949. Beeville was only 180 miles southwest of Houston, but it was a world away from life here in “the big city.” They had no television in that part of South Texas back then, no radio follow-up of the Houston Buffs, and the Corpus Christi newspapers serving the area were predictably two days late in their meager report of scores from Houston Buff games.

Add to those conditions the facts that we knew no other boys in Beeville beyond one older male cousin. All the rest of our kid kin were girls, with whom we had nothing in common beyond our shared bloodline. It wasn’t their fault. It’s just how it was. For me, I may as well have been sent to Siberia.

Grandfather McCurdy started The Beeville Bee in 1886.

Imagination saved the day. I began to learn more about Beeville and the surrounding area on my own. I didn’t learn enough to teach history, but I learned enough to fire the imaginings of a mythical baseball league that I would stock with fictional players named for local history figures. I even used my own deceased grandfather, W.O. McCurdy, as the shortstop of our local club, one that I named the Beeville Bees. The Bees were a naturally easy selection. My late grandfather had used the singular version of this title as the identity of the town’s first newspaper. There also had been a few town ball seasons that pulled out the Beeville Bees as their moniker every once in a while  too.

1949 was two years shy of APBA Baseball’s birthdate in simulated game history. I had to use a pinball game, plus my own homemade player cards and notebook binder scoring record book to keep track of games played and league standings. We didn’t stay in Beeville. My dad found a good permanent job with Bill Lee Motors in Houston near summer’s end and we moved back to our little house in Pecan Park and what passed for as “normal life.”

But, while we were in Beeville, I played out a mythical season of the South Texas League by my own always-trying-to-be-fair-and-balanced rules for te playing of pinball game baseball. Here’s how the league played out.

There was only one rain out during the season. San Patricio @ Goliad could not be played on August 19, 1949 due to the birth of my sister, so I chalked it up to rain. That one unplayed game settled the pennant and probably should have been made up, but I got too caught up in my excitement about moving back to Houston. I was going to replay it once we got settled back here in Houston, but I got so caught up in the groundswell of happy reunions on the Japonica Street sandlot to ever get around to it.

Fortunately, I still have the final standings from the South Texas League. Wish I could find that games played record book. I know I have it somewhere.

"Hey, San Pat! This is your old pal from Goliad speaking! You don't really want to make up that rained out game with me, do you?"

Here’s a look at the final standing and a few notes on how these teams came into being with the names I used for them:

South Texas League (W-L, W%) GB

Goliad Goliath (89-65, .578) —  As a kid, I imagined the old LaBahia Mission in Goliad as an ancient home for Giants. When it came time to form the league, I also fell into my love affair with alliteration and the “Goliad Giants” sounded pretty good. Goliad played so well, however, that they just morphed over the season into one giant, the really big guy, the Goliad Goliath.

Beeville Bees (88-65, .575) 0.5 A makeup loss by Goliad to San Patricio would have secured a tie for Beeville with Goliath and forced a one-game playoff for the pennant. Oh well. The Bees still buzz to sting another day as a natural pick for any of their athletic endeavors.

Refugio Red Shirts (85-69,  .552) 4 Go back to the Irish settlement there. The red shirts included all those Texian revolutionaries who put their lives on the line in opposition to the dictatorial rule of Santa Ana.

Woodsboro Majors (80-74, .520) 9 This is a real family insider nickname pick. Major Jon Howland Wood was my great-great grandfather. He came to Texas in 1836 to fight in the Texas Revolution. His crew got here in time to bury the dead at Goliad. Wood remained and became a very successful SOuth Texas rancher. They named a town after him, – hence, the Woodsboro Majors.

Indianola Indians (78-76, .507) 11 Indianola, Texas was a real settlement on the Gulf Coast in the area south of Victoria. After it was totally destroyed by a hurricane in the 19th century, it took on almost mythical place in Texas settlement history.

Bayside Bonnies (74-80,  .481) 15 Major Wood celebrated his Scotch ancestry by naming his ranch the “Bonnie View.” The small town of Bayside now nestles on the north side of Copano Bay, where Major Wood built his house for a family that included his wife, Nancy Clark Wood, and their twelve children.

Rockport Pirates (71-83,  .461) 18 Rockport was the favorite place for our few summer vacations while I was growing up. I used to sit by the waters down there and fish and crab as long as I was allowed to stay outside. All the while I’m there, I’m imagining those Pirate sails I  saw against the same kind of billowing white clouds in the old Errol Flynn movies, expecting Captain Blood to show up any minute. He never did, but Pirates was a natural nickname for the Rockport club.

San Patricio Celtics (50-103,  .327) 37.5 My Sullivan ancestors came from Ireland, via a first stopover in New Jersey, to help populate the new Irish colony of San Patricio de Hibernia in the early 1830s. They also joined with their fellow San Patricians in the revolt against Santa Ana in 1836 and they remained in the area to help Texas make the transition from republic to  statehood.

Closing Note: That’s about it. I did have some teams picked out for a minor league circuit that would feed other new talent into the South Texas League, but the move of my family back to Houston in September 1949 short-circuited plans for the Prairie League as other more current ideas and preoccupations, plus school, closed in again on my always searching mind.

The Prairie League would have celebrated even smaller satellite communities near Beeville. It’s mythical teams would have included the Skidmore Skinners, the Papalote Papooses, the Olmos Prospects, the Berclair Blossoms, the Pettus Petunias, the Mineral Miners, the Sinton Sandmen, and the Clareville Loons.

Happy imaginings, everybody. The colors in your day will get brighter, if you do.

Base Ball To Day

May 3, 2011

This "Base Ball To Day" photo was taken by W.O. McCurdy, Publisher and Editor of The Beeville Bee weekly in Beeville, Texas, sometime near the Turn of the 20th Century. (Can you read the street banner?)

Wagons creak and old friends speak,

Bouncing their laughter on the merry oblique,

Down dusty Washington, sheered cheek-to-cheek,

In the land of the bold – and no prize for the meek.

It’s “Base Ball To Day” – ‘gainst the Goliad Goliath!

The Beeville Bees need their very top tryith

To win this big game of bat, ball, and base,

Then to dance into night all over the place!

The game’s played for fun – but the fun is to win,

Anything less – falls a shade into sin,

‘Cause “Base Ball To Day” crawls under the skin,

And it gets you, old friend! – So “Cole Porter” on in!

Night and Day, Baseball – You are the One!

Only you, beneath the moon, and under the sun!

Whether near to me – or far!

Makes no difference where you are – I think of you,

… Base Ball To Day!

The Human Robot is Here

November 4, 2010

“The Age of What’s It All Coming Down To?” is neck deep upon us.

If you watch the tape that’s connected to the following link, you will soon enough see that Japanese woman in the above photo is not really a woman a all, but a highly sophisticated, creepy-life-like robot who is completely able to hear and respond to voice messages in Japanese. We must presume that these machines are available in English-speaking models as well.

At any rate, here’s the link:

The ethical and cultural change questions raised by this burgeoning fulfillment of a long-described technical development are almost too obvious to consider in specific form as they pertain to issues of love and labor. – Will machines become our new partners? – Will mobile computers simply take over 90% of the work we humans now do?

And if all that happens, and the machines continue to grow in intelligence by their own design and programmed goal for seeking self-improvement, where does that leave us humans? The super machines aren’t going to have much use for flesh and blood creatures who can do little more than text in the dark of a movie theatre – or else, stay home and watch baseball or football on TV.

Yeah, I know, it’s an ancient sci-fi plot, and machines have been taking over intelligent functions for a long time anyway, but this robot is the animated face and stare of that new reality – and she/he/it is coming closer to us by the day – machines that look like us and think for themselves.

Whatever happened to Louis Armstrong and all those happy thoughts he sang about in that beautiful song, “It’s A Wonderful World”? Oh, that’s right. I almost forgot. Louie’s song was fantasy. These new humanoid machines are the fast-coming reality we just witnessed in the video and this is really only the start. They are getting more lifelike and mobile by the day. As their intellectual potentials develop true capacity for referential, inferential, and logical thinking as independent entities, these robots will be able to raise, test, and answer measurable questions that we humans could only begin to see or tackle on our own. As for those questions of the soul and spirit, it’s doubtful that the new machines are going to be of much help to any of our own. And as for humanoid caring, any demonstrative affection by these logically intelligent robots for their human partners/owners/whatevers would have to be programmed into them as a conditioned response to certain discernible displays of human trust and caring.

Gee whiz! Will we ever have the need to carry our relationship with machines that far into the emotional realm? Maybe so. Otherwise, why else should we start making them over in the attractive image of what we hope to see in ourselves and other human beings?

I guess the Japanese robot lady isn’t all that new. We’ve been growing in our driven love for the home computer ever since Bill Gates and Steve Job first put them into our compulsive little hands back in the early 1980s. Now “the makers” are just getting around to producing machines that are more human-like in their external appearances and more intelligent and mobile about the things they are capable of doing.

What’s the world going to look like in 2050? God or Bill Gates only knows.

Wise Guy Comebacks.

January 30, 2010

Margaret Dumont: "How impertinent of you, Sir! I've never been so insulted in my life!" Groucho Marx: "Relax, Madam! The evening's young!"

Wise guy comebacks are best remembered when they land in one-line form. They are the essence of intimidating wit and all sustaining comedy over time. They are the lines that somehow speak for all of us as the statements we wish we had thought of or said ourselves in our own behalf. They are that way because they truly belong to all of us. Our laughter as the audience serves as proof.

Bob Hope, Jack Benny, and Groucho Marx were masters of the one-liner wise guy comeback. Here are examples of each using the one-line comeback to greatest advantage:

Bob Hope (From the 1940 movie “Ghostbreakers”) Bob is asking fellow actor Richard Carlson about zombies):

Richard Carlson: “A zombie has no will of his own. He walks around blindly with those dead eyes, following orders, not knowing what to do, not caring.”

Bob Hope: “You mean like Democrats?”

Jack Benny (From his 1940s radio program, I’ve remembered this one for sixty years):

Armed Robber: “Your money or your life!”

Jack Benny: (arms raised and silent)


Jack Benny: “I’m thinking! I’m thinking!”

Groucho Marx (from an interview after one of his divorces):

Interviewer: “What does the California community property law mean to you now that you’re getting divorced?”

Groucho Marx: “It means that she now gets to live off the property and I now get to live off the community.”

Priceless stuff.

Even we everyday people have our moments. The first one for me that comes to personal memory happened when I was 16 and working as a  shelf stocker at the old A&P Grocery Store that used to operate in the Houston East End near the intersection of Lawndale at 75th:

Matronly Customer: “Young man, can you tell me where I might find the all day suckers?”

Grocery Clerk (me): “Yes, Madam, you’re talking to one of them!”

I almost got fired. The customer cracked up with laughter and I then did take her to the aisle and shelf that contained the wrapped version she wanted, but I wasn’t aware that my boss had been standing in the next aisle and heard the whole brief exchange. He told me that it was lucky for me that the customer laughed because, otherwise, I was about to be fired for my “Smart Aleck” remark – and would be, if I ever did it again. I didn’t, but I did do other things of that nature on my road to whatever state of adult maturity I actually achieved over time.

The most recent personal example unfolded last night. It’s what “inspired” me to write this piece this morning and, as per usual, this opportunity came literally knocking at my door about 7:00 PM Friday evening.

The knock sent our dogs into their worst snarling, barking mode as I made my way from my study to see who was at the door. Through the window, I could see that it was a young high school kid. He was dressed in a white shirt and tie and I presume he had come to sell me magazines for the sake of some locally worthy cause. Our conversation never got that far, thanks to the opening he gave me for early termination. I support a lot of causes, but none of them are items I’ve purchased at the front door. To me, door-to-door sales are the “spam of 3-D life.”

I will leave you with my short report of this easy set-up exchange. If the young man was smart, he changed his script before he knocked on any more doors:

Door Opens …

Enthusiastic Student Salesman: “You must be the king of the house!”

Grumpy Wizened Resident: “That’s correct, I am the king here, but you will have to excuse me for  now. I was on my way to the throne when you rang the doorbell!”

The student left and never returned. Only the postman rings twice, or so they say. I’ve never quite understood the meaning of that old movie title. Even my postman never rings twice when I tell him I’m on my way to the throne.