Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Christmas Complaint Department

OK, fat boy, you asked for it. I told you I was an important blogger. And I told you if you didn’t bring me what I asked for, I’d expose you.

Well, not only didn’t you bring me all the things I asked for; you didn’t even bring me one of them! And I certainly wasn’t greedy. Let me remind you of my extremely reasonable requests…

1 – Ten million dollars in small unmarked bills

I could have asked for more, you know. After all, you make and deliver presents to billions of people each year, so you must have unlimited wealth. But did I find my stocking stuffed with cash? No. Instead, I found a lump of coal. Well, ha-ha-ha. I can take a joke. And if you’d delivered the other items on my list, I might not be writing this. But, no, not even ONE of them. And they were even easier than the cash! For instance…

2 – A house in Wellesley

Nope. No deed in my stocking. What the heck - Howie Carr has one. Why not me?

3 – A Rolls Royce Silver Shadow

I said to myself, “Well, that won’t fit in a stocking, so let me check the garage and see if it’s parked there.” What to my wondering eyes should appear? My 1997 Pontiac. I’ve got to tell you, I was very disappointed. The Silver Shadow hasn’t been manufactured since around 1980, so all I was asking for was a USED car. I’m not hard to please.

You had one more chance, but you failed to deliver on that, too.

4 – A contract to play for the Red Sox.

I remind you: I’m not unreasonable. I know I’m at least ten years older than anyone on the current roster and my fastball tops out at 55 miles per hour, so I didn’t expect to be a starting pitcher. I would have been happy to come out of the bullpen. Or, for that matter, third-string catcher would have been fine. All I really wanted was a chance to put on the uniform and get a good paycheck. And I’m not talking David Price money. I would have settled for Ryan Hanigan money. But not even that. Sad.

So, since you failed to deliver on any of my requests, I’m forced to dish the dirt on you and your sweatshop operation. For instance, I know that your elves aren’t union. And the “flying” reindeer? Well, I guess with what you put in their feed, that’s true in one sense, but…

(Hold on a minute. I see I just received an e-mail from the north pole. Claus must have thought it over, understood how much trouble I could cause him, and now he wants to apologize and make amends. Good. I’m glad he came to his senses. Let’s see what he has to say…)

Dear Jim:

You began your letter to me with a whopper. IMPORTANT blogger?!? Such a blatant untruth left me no choice but to put you on the naughty list.

Hmmmmmm. He has a point. I’ll have to make sure my letter to Santa next Christmas has no loopholes. Let’s see…

Dear Santa:

I’ve been a very good boy…

No, that won’t do. I’ll have to give this more thought. Luckily, I have another eleven months to figure it out. I should be able to come up with something ironclad by then.

Soon, with more better stuff.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Since you obviously would have nothing better to do on this day, why not pop over to the Boston Herald website - or, better yet, go out and buy the Boston Herald - so you can read my column on today's op-ed page?

It's actually Christmas-related, if that helps. As a matter of fact, it's specifically about Christmas. So there.

Anyway, I wish you all a Very Merry Christmas. If you do go to read it, I thank you most sincerely (hint: that's part of what it's about.)

Soon, with more better stuff (but certainly not better than that which we celebrate today, so enjoy!)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I'm # 56!

Discover magazine's Year in Science issue has hit the newsstands and I'm in it. Of the Top 100 stories of 2015, I'm number 56!

Well, not me, per se (although my ability to survive into another year is rather amazing, given my habits.) What I mean is that my story, about the supervolcano under Yellowstone, has been ranked at number 56 of the Top 100.

Did you know there was a supervolcano underneath Yellowstone? It's true! You could be blown to fiery little bits any moment now if you live within, say, a thousand miles of it. You needn't worry, though, because if it does blow then life in North America will be about as much fun as a year-round colonoscopy, so why would you want to survive?

OK, I'm not being very scientific and Discover is a science magazine. In reality...

Oh, wait, if I tell you that, then you'll have no reason to buy the magazine. And that's why they pay me to write; they hope you'll be willing to plunk down a few shekels in order to read me. If I give you the whole story here, that would defeat the purpose. Sorry!

If you want to remain utterly ignorant, don't buy Discover. If, however, you'd like to learn something, here's their website and a link to my story (and why wouldn't you go there when YOUR VERY LIFE MAY HANG IN THE BALANCE!!!!)

Merry Christmas!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Here We Are Again! Now, Let's Go Someplace Else!

Hello! Long time, no see!

(Well, actually, it's been a week. That's not too bad. And I can't actually see you, so if you're sitting in front of the computer in your underwear, don't worry.)

I'm in the Boston Herald again today.

(According to Infoplease, the Boston Herald is the 53rd largest newspaper in the United States. If I can convince enough of you to go to their website today and read me, maybe we can push it up to 52nd! I have, somehow or another, also appeared on the pages of the Los Angeles Times - 4th largest - and the Boston Globe - 15th largest - but I like being in the Herald better. It's more cozy.)

(And just in case you think I'm trying to somehow denigrate the newspaper that pays me more often than any other, that's not the case. Being the 53rd largest newspaper in the United States is actually pretty damn good. There are over 1,300 daily newspapers in the United States. Being 53rd puts them into the top 4%, OK? That's excellent.)

So, anyway, I'm sending you to the Herald today to read me. Later on this week, I'll be sending you to Discover magazine. Then, even later on this week - Christmas, to be exact - I'll be back in the Herald again.

(Could I possibly be more in love with myself? Probably not. Blame it on editors - bless them - pumping up my ego beyond all reasonable bounds. I also have a piece extant on Wicked Local about high school basketball, so if that's what you like to read about, you know where to find it now! If the world were a bit more sane, the only thing anyone would allow me to write would be grocery lists and softball line-ups - and there are whole bunches of my former players who wouldn't even agree with that.)

OK, I guess I've filled enough space.

(And used way too many parentheses, something with which every single one of my editors would likely agree.)

Go to the Boston Herald website and read my latest piece, please.

Thank you!

Soon, with more better stuff.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A Seasonal Question & My Answer

Assume for a moment that you are a Christian (and if you actually are one, even better for the purposes of this.) When someone says "Happy Holidays!" to you, what is your response?

Assume for a moment that you are NOT a Christian (and, again, even better for this if you really aren't.) When you know you are dealing with a Christian, do you write or say "Christmas" in full or do you abbreviate it via use of an "X", as in "Xmas"? What if you know that doing so may piss off the Christian with whom you're dealing? Do you still do so?

I explore this subject in my latest Boston Herald column. I hope you'll go to the Boston Herald website and read it, then comment if you feel the urge.


Soon, with more better stuff.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Barker on a Walking Charlie - Part Three


Step right up! THREE parts to the story, but all you have to do is read just ONE to be a WINNER! Read PART ONE and learn what a Walking Charlie is! Read PART TWO and learn what a barker does! Then read PART THREE (Right here in front of you – No travel necessary!) and learn the fate of Walking Charlie! You, pal! Yes, I’m talking to YOU! You look like an EXCELLENT reader! I bet you can knock off all THREE parts in no time flat! And, today only – JUST FOR YOU – no admission is required! Step right up!

However, before we go any further, I have to mention My Mom. She was in on some of these adventures, too, even though she has has received nary a mention. The problem is I have little recollection of her times on the road during all this. The thing is... well, I have huge gaps in my memory from the time I was about 14 to the time I was 18 or 19. Although these were, in many ways, some of the best years of my life, a lot of bad things happened during that time, too. And, as is the way of most human minds, going through traumatic experiences tends to blank out some parts in order to save your sanity. Those who don't have the automatic erase function built-in are the ones who go stark raving loony, IMVHO. So, Mom should probably be a character in some of these episodes (especially the one about careening down a mountain pass, which we'll get to soon and which she has a memory for herself but for which my memory refuses to conjure an image of her.) And, Mom, I know you're reading this, so I apologize. Anything you'd like to add in the comments will be appreciated. Perhaps letting you know that I'm awfully glad to have you around NOW will make you feel better? I do love you, you know.

OK, on with the story (such as I recall it.)

It was called a Walking Charlie, but it went all over New England via the wheels of my Dad’s 1968 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon. Open highway, local streets, dirt roads, cow paths, uphill, downhill – nothing stopped Walking Charlie.

Especially going downhill.

If you ever find yourself with the opportunity to buy a 1968 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon, you should do so. That car was an absolute beast. It hauled that 28-foot trailer everywhere and lived to tell the tale. The only recommendation I’d make is you have the brakes fully rebuilt before taking to the road, if you intend to haul around a 28-foot trailer. Otherwise, you may find yourself traveling on the downhill through Franconia Notch with no way to stop.

I don’t remember what fair we were coming from (Littleton?) or what fair we were traveling towards (Plymouth?) but there we were traveling through Franconia Notch in New Hampshire. If you’re not familiar with the region, I’ll tell you that it’s one of the highest elevations in the state. It’s situated smack dab in the middle of the White Mountains, boasting some magnificent scenery, and it’s a wonderful place to take a pleasure drive. Hauling a 28-foot trailer uphill with a 1968 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon? Not as pleasurable.

My Dad was one of the world’s greatest drivers, no lie. Give him a starting point and a destination, equip him with any sort of a motor vehicle, and then get out of his way. He would get there or die trying. Snow, rain, hail, plagues of frogs falling from the skies – he didn’t care. No actual road? Not a problem. Given a clear day and an actual stretch of state highway, he considered the laws of physics no impediment, either.

The Ford strained and groaned, and the transmission may have shed a few tears, but Walking Charlie was successfully transported up to the top of The Notch. It was all downhill from there.


As we cleared the top and headed down, my Dad found that Walking Charlie was pushing him down the hill, rather than he pulling it. We were picking up speed way too fast. My Dad lightly applied the brakes. No difference. He put his foot down a bit harder. Nothing. He put the brakes to the floor. We slowed to about 40 miles per hour, but that was it. We could smell the brake lining smoking. He downshifted, keeping the brake pedal to the floor, ready to apply the emergency brake as a last resort.

There was enough reduction in speed, and enough steering control overall, to make application of the emergency brake unnecessary, but it was a close call. For a good five minutes, Walking Charlie was RUNNING down a mountain with us in front, praying. The prayers were answered, but it probably cost my Dad a couple of years off his life (and maybe my Mom, too, if this is the incident she remembers, although she's still around so if it cost her a couple of years, they haven't happened yet...)

Most of the other bad times with Charlie occurred when he was parked.

You know, I told you about a couple of good days yesterday and maybe you started getting the idea – as my Dad had in the beginning – that this was relatively easy money waiting to be earned. It wasn’t. The life of a carnie, even a successful one, isn’t easy. The guys who own the games and depend on them for a living, year in and year out, deprive themselves of many things my Dad just wasn’t willing to do without.

For instance, many carnies don’t pay for lodging. They camp out in their rigs or even in the games themselves. My Dad might have thought about that, but I don’t think he would have done it for long. What with my being there, he wasn’t go to do it at all. He always looked out for my comfort, God bless him. We always slept in real beds. He always tried to get us a room in an inexpensive motel. It was inexpensive, but still a motel and not a sleeping bag in the back of a truck. And many carnies eat nothing but carnival food - hot dogs, pizza, fried dough and not much else. This is because the folks who run the food stands will always give a free one to their fellow carnies. Many times, I went over to the slush stand on a hot day and got an ice-cold one to enjoy. But, my Dad? He liked good food, well-prepared. He wasn’t averse to eating junk occasionally, but he would never spend a whole summer eating nothing but crap. We ate at decent restaurants many times.

Well, those things add up. DON’T sleep in a motel and DON’T eat a decent supper? That’ll save you $30 in those days and that meant $150 - $200 a week to a carnie. And that meant one less day until he made back his nut.

As hard as my Dad worked at it - and he worked tremendously hard – he just wasn’t cut out to be a carnie. And that’s basically why Walking Charlie died. My Dad was willing to work hard, but he wasn’t willing to change his personality.

The fellow who ran the muffin pan game had talked him into this. But that guy had the gorilla gag, the Monte Carlo nights, and other barely-reputable activities, to fall back on if any ONE of them failed. What my Dad didn’t realize going in was that he would have just the one – Walking Charlie – and if he didn’t make a go of that, he'd be dead in the water.

Glub, glub, glub.


Carnies can be funny, albeit roughly so. Their humor tends to run to the ribald side of things. Hey, so does mine, sometimes. Anyway, I’ll tell you about one funny stunt they pulled on my Dad, but I have to set the scene.

Aside from barking, there were two other duties I had. One was retrieving the baseballs that had been thrown and then bringing them back up to the front to be purchased again. The other was to hang new cups on the dummies ears after a few had been broken.

In order to hang the new cups, I had to go around to the other side of the game – the back of the trailer – where my Dad had installed a small door for access. I would step through that door and be inside of Walking Charlie.

There was a divider between the front of the game and the back, so I didn’t have to worry about being hit by the thrown baseballs. Also, the person working the front of the game couldn’t see his partner when he was in the back. The dummies were still traveling by, perched on the poles by which they were attached to the turntable. You had to be careful when inside because a bit of daydreaming meant you’d get whacked very hard on the legs by one of the dummies. I got so I could time it well. I’d wait for a dummy to come, hop over his pole, then reach out and hang the cup on his ear, wait to jump the next pole, and so on.

Anyway, one time I’m back there hanging cups when a couple of ride operators showed up at the little door. These guys ran the Tilt-A-Whirl and the Ferris Wheel. They were friendly enough and I knew them pretty well, so I thought nothing much of it. However, when I made eye contact with them, they were both smiling broadly. Each held an upraised finger to his lips, signaling that I should be quiet. They were each holding a brown paper bag in their other hand.

I stepped outside of the machine and one of them said, “We’re gonna play a little joke. Don’t let on.”

I said, “You’re not going to screw with the machinery or anything, right?”

“God, no, nothing like that, kid. Go back out front. You’ll laugh.”

So, I went back out front and resumed barking and selling baseballs. A minute later, while my Dad and I were facing the midway and trying to draw customers, a mother came by shepherding her three kids along. She looked our way and her eyes went wide for a moment, then she let out a little shriek and hurried her kids away, trying to shield their eyes.

My Dad and I looked at each other. We saw nothing out of the ordinary. We weren’t matinee idols, but we weren’t ugly enough to make a woman want to hide her children from us. Then we both turned and looked at Walking Charlie.

Every one of the dummies was sporting a huge dildo in the appropriate spot of their anatomy.

My father said, “Holy shit!” and scrambled around to the back of the machine. He performed radical surgery on Walking Charlie, removing all six dicks in about twenty seconds. Meanwhile, I was on the ground out front, laughing.

The guys who had “improved” the dummies then came out of hiding and started laughing, too. My Dad came back around to the front. At first, he was totally pissed off, but then he quickly realized that he had been had, so HE started laughing, too.

The only one not laughing was the lady who had shrieked. She was now coming back up the midway accompanied by a cop.

We all clammed up, stifling any impulse to laugh. We tried to appear as though nothing was out of the ordinary. The lady and the cop stopped a few feet from Walking Charlie – she had left her kids in a place safe from inadvertent rubber penis sightings, I guess – and they both just stared at the now completely sexless dummies. After seeing all of the dummies go by two or three times, the cop looked at her, shrugged his shoulders, and turned to go back from wherever he came. She followed, bewildered.

Little did she know: If she had asked the cop to check the BACK of the game, he would have found a pile of six schlongs by the door, which is where my Dad had dropped them after making eunuchs out of the dummies.


This is getting pretty long, and I want to wrap up the history of Walking Charlie, but I can’t stop without telling you about Barton, Vermont.

Barton is only about ten miles from the Canadian border and was, at that time anyway, stupefyingly rural. It was easily the most backwater stop of our journeys. There were – no exaggeration – people riding into this fair on muleback, toting jugs of moonshine.

Our spot was right across the midway from the biggest attraction at this fair, the girlie show. It was raw stuff, populated by women who couldn’t quite make it as either dancers or hookers. They did the next best thing, combining their inadequacies in both fields and coming up with an amalgam that neither titillated nor entertained, all for two bucks.

In order to draw the perverts, loudspeakers blared out Gary Glitter’s Rock And Roll, Part Two, which was relatively new at the time. I loved that song at home. And I really dug it in Barton, too - the first 150 times I heard it. By the end of the engagement, I could have gone the rest of my life never hearing it again and been a marvelously happy man. I still shudder a tiny bit whenever some of it creeps into my hearing from a televised sporting event.

Out in front, before the show, the girls writhed slowly, chewing gum and otherwise looking completely bored, as the barker made his pitch.

“Come on, all you Frenchmens! This is what you been waiting for all year. Two dollars, two measly dollars, and vwolah, sexy sexy girls, girls, girls! We pallee-voo, you Frenchmens! Whoop-de-doo! Come on, all you Frenchmens!”

And the damned French Canadians ate it up by the bucket. They streamed over the border in droves to witness this godforsaken spectacle. The tent was jammed, day in and day out. And, I’ve got to admit, I didn’t see too many of those “Frenchmens” leaving the tent without a smile. Not too many of them interested in taking a shot at winning a Giant Panda, though.


Walking Charlie was a noble failure. My Dad ended up selling the whole rig – the trailer, lights, plush, baseballs, leftover mugs, signs, and the heartache – to a fellow who planned on installing it on the boardwalk at Nantasket Beach, so it wasn’t a total loss. However, my Mom and Dad were divorced not too long after Charlie came off the road. Walking Charlie wasn’t the fellow who broke them up, but he certainly hadn’t helped matters.

Soon, with more better stuff.