Monday, October 31, 2011

Treat or Trick?

Of course there's no way anyone is going to change the hallowed Halloween formula, but think about it: the first option is for the caller to receive a treat. Only if none is forthcoming is the caller supposed to perform a trick on the householder.

In practice, very few tricks are played, because almost all households are prepared to offer candy or other Treat. Can readers ever remember any tricks being played? I believe that most collectors of Treats don't have potential Tricks to play.

If you don't want to give out Treats, it's wise to be out of the house. It's really not kosher to trick an absent householder. If you want to challenge the caller, probably the best thing to do is to have lights on, music playing, and avoid opening the door. What would the caller do? Maybe turn over a garbage can. If one is a polluter, unraveling a length of TP is a possibility. Vandalism might tempt a teenager, but is unlikely from a child under ten.

Another point occurred to me when I was thinking about the annual conclusion to October: the phrase is really mixed up. The one treating doesn't trick. Fortunately, we don't have to hear "Give me a Treat, or I will Trick you". So, I guess we are stuck with: "Trick or Treat".

Monday, October 24, 2011


Barbara's multi-talented musical daughter, Laurie Lewis, celebrated the centennial of the birth of Bill Monroe, the inventor of Bluegrass music, by organizing two successive nights of his music, either written by him or notable for his performance of it. This was at the beautiful newish venue of the Freight and Salvage Coffeehouse, in downtown Berkeley. What was described as the "core band" (Laurie, Tom Rozum, Chad Manning, Patrick Sauber, and a bass-player, filling in for the recently-departed Andrew Conklin) was supplemented by such old friends as Kathy Kallick and Keith Little. We attended both nights.

By now, I am accustomed to the practice of applauding "breaks"--brief solos on a single instrument. When I first began listening to jazz, from about 1940, it was the recorded music of such greats as Muggsy Spanier, Bix Beiderbecke, and Louis Armstrong, and any such breaks in a studio performance were free of audience appreciation. Only when I listened to live music did I hear folk clapping after an inspired impromptu break.

The practice of applauding breaks has certainly spread to Bluegrass. It's commonplace for each solo instrumentalist to take a short break in almost every number. There's a scatter of applause every time--too frequently, in my personal opinion. It has become a routine, and I can't see any change happening in my lifetime. It would take a major change to limit the applause to imaginative improvisation, where the applause really belongs.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Three commercial artists

When I attended my British-style (age 8 to 13) prep school, one of my fellow students, about a year younger than I, was "Gilroy". We knew each other by our last names, and I have no recall of his first name, any more than I have of his father, but the latter was at the height of his fame. This arose primarily from his ads for Guinness, the famous brand of Stout. These featured the Toucan, which didn't seem to have much relationship to the product. They mentioned (suggestively, but I was too young to understand) "You know what Toucan do".

The Bateman family lived in Reigate, as we did, but I hardly knew H.M. Bateman, the famous cartoonist. I knew his two daughters, Diana and Monica, from attending parties when we were young. At the age of seventeen, I thought it was time for me to have a "girlfriend". In those innocent days, this was more of a "pen pal" relationship than anything else. I do remember that Monica was visiting with us, and accompanied my mother to Devonport, to say goodbye to me when I left for a tour of duty in the Far East.

Perhaps the most famous of the many cartoons that H.M. Bateman contributed to Punch and other magazines was the one which showed a jubilant member of Lloyd's chortling, while everyone else was looking gloomy. The caption read The Underwriter who missed the Total Loss.

The third famous commercial artist is our neighbor, Ralph McQuarrie, whose chief claim to fame is his work for George Lucas, especially in creating many of the characters in Star Wars. Ralph kindly gave us an original painting, showing a beautiful dying flower. Alas, Ralph has been suffering from Parkinson's disease for some time now, and can no longer exercise his artistry. Nevertheless, I think that his work on such characters as R2D2 will live on for many years.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Meeting Ladybird Johnson

In June, 1976, when my elder son Jeremy had just graduated from Berkeley High School at the age of 17, we celebrated by taking a camping trip together.. We shared the driving, and covered a lot of ground. It was an exciting trip, because as we left Craters of the Moon National Monument, we began hearing reports that the Teton Dam had ruptured, causing widespread flooding.near Rexburg, Idaho. This was on our route to Teton National Park!

We found a camping spot, and spent a short night there in our sleeping bags. (We had no tent) It was in late June, and we were north and east of Berkeley, so our watches (not yet reset to Mountain Time) told us that it it was only about 4 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time when I awoke at dawn, and told a reluctant Jeremy that we should be on our way.

We were able to drive into Rexburg without difficulty, and soon found a diner, where we had a good breakfast, and checked for local news. We found that we could drive past what was left of the dam, toward Grand Teton National Park. That's a very beautiful area, but this isn't a detailed account of our trip, so i'll move along to our visit to nearby Yellowstone.National Park, which we eagerly explored, seeing all the variety of wildlife.and other features, such as Old Faithful.

We drove up to a viewpoint, where a river runs far below. We were almost alone, but I soon recognized Lady Bird Johnson, the widow of President Lyndon Baines Johnson, who had died three and a half years earlier. Ladybird was accompanied by just one staff person, who didn't intercept us, as moved forward to introduce ourselves. There was no-one else in the immediate vicinity, and Ladybird was friendly and welcoming. We chatted with her for a few minutes, probably talking about the dam break and the beauty of our surroundings. I don't recall Jeremy's reaction: I'll send him a copy of this, and see what he remembers. To me, it was a highlight: one doesn't often get to chat to a former First Lady. I'll always remember her gracious Texan manner to a pair of Californians, met in a corner of Wyoming.. .

Meeting Jimmy Carter

It was several years after the end of his Presidency, but he still liked to "press the flesh". I preferred to fly into Gatwick on my visits to the UK, because it was much less crowded than Heathrow, before the buildings of Terminals 4 and 5 there. This meant flying on Delta and changing planes in Atlanta, but in those days my mother was still alive, and the drive from Gatwick to where she was living in Kent was much shorter than that from the larger airport.

My seat in Business Class was on the right side of the plane, but after boarding I noticed Jimmy Carter working down the left side from his seat in First Class, shaking hands with the passengers. It's not every day that one gets a chance to meet a former President of the United States, so I moved over to an empty seat on the left side of the plane. Sure enough, Carter walked into the middle section of the plane, and began greeting the passengers there. Soon he was shaking my hand, and telling me what a pleasure it was to travel with me that day. Content now that I had something to report to my wife, I moved back to my assigned seat on the right side of the plane.

Carter walked back into the crowded Coach class section, and continued to shake hands as if he were still running for election. When he reached the rear of the plane, he started walking back, shaking hands with everyone sitting on the right side of the plane. When he reached Business Class again, I felt somewhat embarrassed, but he clearly didn't recognize me or catch on to what I had done. Once again, he shook hands warmly, and told me what a pleasure it was for him to be traveling with me today!

Yes, I did have something to tell Barbara when she met me at SFO later that day!