Happy Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day in Annapolis signals the approach of Spring, often with daffodils already up. It’s a day for a manhattan and a chocolate eclair.

It can also be a day of comedy, as Niles Crane proves while getting ready for his Valentine’s Day date.

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I entered the dining room of the lodge on the Brazilian side of the falls, Hotel Das Cataratas, where we were staying, and found a long table set with a breakfast buffet and my laughing sister sitting alone at a clean table for four. I sat down across from her. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing,” she said and kept laughing.

Only her silverware, rolled in napkin, lay in front of her. She’d been waiting for me and for Todd, who’d be along in a moment.

She laughed till tears rolled down her cheeks. I started laughing too. “What are we laughing at?” I asked.

“I’m just tired,” she gasped in her laughter. “When I’m tired, I laugh.”

We lived on opposite coasts of the U.S. but usually talked every week. I notice the absence of the phone calls, yet it seems to me that she’s still in her Southern California apartment. Only at Christmastime, which Todd and I usually spent with her, does the fact that she isn’t there seem real to me.

This Christmas I chanced to hear the song Rainy Day People, by Gordon Lightfoot, which always brings to mind hearing that song on a sunny, winter afternoon in the company of my sister and Todd at a restaurant with a light wood floor in a remodeled shopfront that might have been in Georgetown but was in fact in Colonia, Uruguay.

For the few minutes the song played, we were there again.

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The grounds at Wood’s Landing, where Todd and I live in Annapolis.

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The Joey Bishop Show (ABC) 1961-1969
Shown: Host Joey Bishop

On The Joey Bishop Show last night I heard two jokes. Maybe riddle is a better word than joke, because these aren’t laugh out loud funny, yet interesting.

There’s a builder who always does a perfect job. When he finishes a project, he never has anything left. He knows his work so well that he orders just the right amount of all materials.

Except one time he finishes a building, and he has a brick left, one single brick. What does he do with it? He throws it out.

(If you don’t get it, give it a minute. I promise you will get it.)

A woman on a train has a little dog. It’s eating a pickle. A man, a stranger, sharing the compartment with her has an aversion to pickles. He can’t stand to watch the dog sucking on a pickle. “Lady,” he says, “can’t you feed that dog something besides a pickle? It’s making me nauseated to watch it suck on that damned pickle.”

But the woman refuses to do anything. She says the dog likes pickles.

When the train stops at a station, the man grabs the pickle from the dog’s mouth and throws it out the window. The little dog hops out the window after it. The woman is hysterical, afraid the train will leave before she can get her dog. But it comes trotting down the aisle to the compartment. What does it have in its mouth? The brick.

Joey Bishop’s sitcom ran four seasons, 1961-1965, and is available from Netflix. Many people probably remember him better for hosting late night talk shows, both his own and guest hosting others, or for his part in Ocean’s 11. He died in Newport Beach, California, in 2007 at the age of 89.

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Perusing one of my railroad books, ‘Down South’ on the Rock Island, by Steve Allen Goen (La Mirada, CA: Four Ways West Publications, 2002), I came across the photo and caption reproduced below. (Ignore the Brook Hollow ad.) The photo was taken 32 days after JFK’s assassination. Note what the caption says about the Texas Live Oak trees. (Click on the photo to enlarge the text.)

I’ve neither read the Warren Commission Report nor studied all of the facts surrounding the assassination. I remember hearing over the high school intercom system the news that the president was dead; I was a sophomore at the time. At my Fullerton, California Southern Baptist church that Sunday we prayed for our late president (it was unlikely that he, being Catholic, had found Jesus as his personal savior, as we, as Baptists had and believed people must in order to get into heaven). I went home from church and learned that Jack Ruby had shot Lee Harvey Oswald while Oswald was being moved in police custody.

Coming across the photo and caption above reminded me again of the controversy surrounding the death investigation and conclusions in not only John Kennedy’s assassination, but in the assassination of his brother Robert, whom I’d accompanied my mother and sisters to see as he and his wife Ethel and their dog came down the steps from their arriving plane at Orange County airport. At the fence my two younger sisters shook Robert Kennedy’s hand. The next day would be the California primary and his murder as he made his way through the kitchen at the victory party.


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“If you don’t push against the mirror, how do you know you’re standing in front of it?”

The quote above is from my interview with Martin Pousson, whose PEN award-winning novel Black Sheep Boy, also an L.A. Times Pick of the Week, inspired Susan Larson (NPR The Reading Life) to say: “An unforgettable novel-in-stories about growing up gay in French Acadiana, so vivid and almost fairy tale-like, drawing on folklore from the region, and yet so brutally realistic. Brilliant. I loved this book.”  I loved it too, for Pousson’s poetic prose, among other reasons. Read my full interview in Late Last Night Books magazine, here.

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(I had a wonderful version of this that didn’t blur out this guy’s private parts, but someone seems to have not liked my posting it because it disappeared.)


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