Thursday, June 1, 2023

Country Roads

In the Autumn of my 17th year, I took a railroad zephyr out of Boston, changed trains in Chicago, got on a bus in Ponca City and rode into Stillwater to begin my college career at Oklahoma State University.  I soon learned three important things about the Sooner state; everybody had a horse, rodeos were de rigeur and everyone listened to country music.  Aside from the OSU fight song (“Cowboys a-riding, lassoes a-flying under the western sky”), there was no other known music.  I learned to like it.  As Darlene on American Bandstand might say, it had a nice beat and was easy to dance to.

At age 21, I rolled into Austin, Texas to bum around and help Gilbert Shelton put out the University of Texas humor magazine, The Ranger.  When I walked in the door of Gilbert’s apartment, the stereo was blasting out “We Need A Whole Lot More Of Jesus And A Lot Less Rock And Roll” by the Greenbriar Boys, who promptly became my go-to group for Bluegrass and Country listening.  I even saw them live one night years later in an after-midnight show in Greenwich Village, of all places.

In 1962, Austin was a musical eden.  Folk music was in vogue, Bob Dylan had just made his way into our consciousness and the University of Texas student union hosted “folksings” every Wednesday evening.  Local singers of folk, country and old Protestant church songs showed up at every party, and those Austin parties came almost nightly.  A local bistro (which would never have called itself that) began featuring “Jazz in the afternoon,” and on the outskirts of town, a big-bellied man named Kenneth Threadgill, who had nothing but old Jimmy Rodgers songs on his jukebox, yodeled country songs in his fetching apron while the customers dined on cheese and Lone Star beer.  A 19-year-old UT Art student named Janis Joplin stepped up on Threadgill’s stage one night and joined him in singing “Queen of the Silver Dollar,” autoharp in hand, and later her own composition, “What Good Will Drinkin’ Do,” a blues song and the first number she ever recorded.

In the 1970s, when Rock was the name of the game, I saw Earl Flatt and Lester Scruggs play at the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan with my amigo Michael O’Hara Garcia, and faithfully trooped from bar to bar in Gainesville with Mike to watch Texas Tom & The Slick Pickers, a band he was promoting.  I also wasn’t above putting a Greenbriar Boys album or one by the Dillards on the Subterranean Circus turntable, which was very jarring for my staff and confusing to the customers.  “It’s a Bill thing,” my employees would assure the customers.  “He’s normal most of the time.”  So while I don’t pretend to be a dyed-in-the-wool cowboy, I was definitely an aficionado of the genre before Country was cool. 

Later, when the Byrds came out with their Sweetheart of the Rodeo album, even holdouts like the hallowed Tom Petty had to admit they might have something there.  The Flying Burrito Brothers brought more fans aboard, as did the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, the Eagles and the New Riders of the Purple Sage.  And how could anyone not like Emmylou?  In the year 2000, George Clooney put a cherry on the C&W cake with his offbeat countryish film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”  Despite Rap and Hip Hop and Techno and Punk and whatever shows up tomorrow, Country has prevailed and even dominates the music scene in 2023, just like yodeling Kenneth Threadgill knew it would in 1962.  Big Ken is gone now and his bar was recently closed, but we sure would love to find that jukebox.

Mama Tried

“Mama tried to raise me better but her pleading I denied,  

That leaves only me to blame 'cause Mama tried."---Merle Haggard

There are morals to many country songs advocating clean living, the brotherhood of man and the glories of life with Jesus, but a lot of those songs are written by drunken bar-fighters who’d need a road map to find the nearest evangelical  enterprise.  Who better, you might ask, to offer advice about binging on drugs and alcohol, cavorting with loose women and spending the wife’s paycheck on Red Man chewing tobacco and gun racks for the pickup?

Johnny Paycheck, never a threat to win a Mr. Congeniality contest, wasn’t feeling the old Christmas spirit one late December night when he pulled into the North High Lounge near Greenfield, Ohio for a cold one.  Barely inside, he was accosted by a fan named Larry Wise, who was thrilled to speak to his idol.  Alas and alack, Johnny was even testier than usual after a long drive and the conversation quickly grew heated.  Wise apologized and invited Paycheck back to his place for a home-cooked meal of “deer meat and turtle soup.”

“What do you think I am—some kind of country hick?” Johnny roared, pulling out his pistol and setting free a round, just grazing Larry’s scalp as all the customers hit the deck.  An army of cops quickly arrived, captured Paycheck and hauled him off to the the slammer.  J.P. was sentenced to nine years in jail.  He did two before Country music fan and Governor Richard Celeste gave him a pardon.

The inimitable George Jones, the current record-holder for cancelled concerts due to excess, was in the middle of a multi-day bender when his second wife, Shirley Corley, left the house, taking the car keys.  She should have hidden the lawn mower, as well.  A thirsty and stranded Jones staggered out to the garage, fired up the mower and rode its 10-horsepower rotary engine all the way to Beaumont, Texas, eight miles away, where he finally found a liquor store.  Finally sated, he turned around and headed back, logging a total of 16 miles.  “I imagine the top speed of that old mower was about five miles per hour,” Jones said later.  “It might have taken an hour and a half to get there and back but desperate times call for desperate measures.”

Gram Parsons bought the farm at age 26, succumbing to an apparent mix of alcohol and opiates inside a hotel room at Joshua Tree National Park.  The cosmic cowboy had previously confided to his road manager Phil Kaufman that upon his death he wished to have his ashes spread at Joshua Tree.  Phil, ever the faithful friend, did what any pal would do—he swiped Parsons’ casket, body inside, before it could be shipped back to Louisiana, then took it out to the desert, doused it in gasoline and lit it on fire.  And you thought the kids at Burning Man had all the fun.  The body, or what was left of it, was eventually returned to Gram’s family and Kaufman was fined $750 for stealing the casket.  For future reference, there is no law in California against stealing corpses.

Country & Western heroes like to sing about the Bible.  (“You’d better start readin’ your B-i-b-l-e, there’s comfort, hope and joy in the book of G-o-d!”)  Bill Monroe, Father of Bluegrass Music, was well-versed in gospel songs and an alleged reader of the Good Book and he usually had one laying around the bunkhouse, unfortunately for him.

A ex-girlfriend of Bill’s, returning to his home in Nashville to retrieve personal items after the breakup, alleged to police that Monroe whacked her in the face with a Bible while she was attempting to get him to swear on it that he’d not been seeing other women during their time together.  The lady alleged that Billy also knocked her down, kicked and choked her and stole a box of Moon Pies from her car.  Ten days later the charges were dismissed.  “No damn fool would steal a box of Moon Pies!” averred the judge.

Hi-Ho, Silver!

A little horseplay can often lead to trouble.  Minutes after wrapping up a performance at the George Strait Country Music Festival in upstate New York, Kenny Chesney swung himself into the saddle of a police horse belonging to a deputy sheriff.  He then trotted around the parking lot to the great amusement of his tourmate Tim McGraw, ignoring all orders to halt and dismount.  When the horse owner tried to remove Chesney from his mount and a second deputy came over to assist, McGraw jumped the man from behind, wrapped one arm around his neck and began choking him.  A third deputy joined in the soiree, as did McGraw’s road manager, Mark Russo, resulting in a blur of fisticuffs and alleged injuries.  Both Chesney and McGraw were arrested and detained for four hours but ultimately found not guilty by a jury one year later.  “Ah for the days, horse thieves were horsewhipped,” lamented Erie County Sheriff Patrick Gallivan.  “It’s a good thing for those warblers this didn’t happen in Texas.” 

Wackos in Waco

Despite being the home of Bible-thumping Baylor University, Waco seems to have an inordinate amount of troublemaking.  Billy Joe Shaver, despite being short a couple of fingers from his lumber mill days, was a leading practitioner of the arts.  The erstwhile composer of songs like “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” was at a Waco bar with an ex-wife when a galoot named Billy Bryant Coker (the fellas like middle names in Texas) brandished a knife and ordered Shaver to meet him in the parking lot.  “You damn betcha,” uttered Billy Joe, who whipped out a pistol and shot Coker in the face while he sat in his pickup truck.  Then, as any law-abiding citizen would do, he tried turning himself in to Austin police, who were unaware of his warrant.  Okay then, Billy thought, and he marched out and played his show.  He was later acquitted of all charges when Willie Nelson turned up as a character witness.   Coker turned over a new leaf and was last seen leading a prayer circle in Nacodoches before his untimely but predictable death due to stroke.

Yeah, But LAST?

You’d recognize Dolly Parton anywhere, right?  She could show up in the middle of 100,000 people at a football game or a million on New Year’s Eve in Times Square and Dolly would stand out from the crowd.  She’s often imitated but never duplicated….except maybe once.  In Santa Monica, she entered a Dolly-themed lookalike contest for drag queens—and lost.  “I just overexaggerated everything,” Parton admitted.  “I made my beauty mark bigger, eyes bigger, hair bigger, everything.  And I not only lost—I got the least applause.”  Asked if she was disappointed, Dolly laughed out loud.  “Are you kidding?  You should have seen the winner.  She looked more like me than I did.”

That’s all, folks…. 


Thursday, May 25, 2023

Opry Vignettes

photo by rick davidson

There are friends, old friends and then there are the Classics, the vintage amigos of 50 years or more who will fly to Northumberland to bail you out of jail, hold your hand when your universe disappears and have your back when you decide to climb The Matterhorn.  You may fall out of touch with the vintage friends but when one of them runs up to the roof and turns on the Batsignal, you put down your Frosted Flakes and respond.  Fortunately for me, I have a few of these friends still roaming the city limits of Gainesville and when it came time to sell $100 tickets to the primo Hogtown Opry seats, they each took a 14-seat row (not to diminish newer friends like David Hammer and Gina Hawkins, who did the same).

Harvey Budd was the first accountant we had at the Subterranean Circus.  First time we saw him, he looked like the straightest guy we ever had in the store.  He looked around, shuffled a few papers and said, “You guys need an accountant.”  No shit, we replied, when can you start?  We went to our first Jewish wedding, Harvey’s nuptials with the vivacious Ilene Silverman, backed him in his political soirees and offered him space on our Orange Lake thoroughbred farm for his TV antenna.  Harvey faithfully accompanied us to our first IRS audit (they got a pittance) and showed up at City Hall, making a nice speech when the City Council was trying to legislate us out of existence.

When Harvey dropped out of the numbers game, one of his erstwhile employees, Richard Allen, took over the accounting job.  Richard was a somewhat shy fellow, always the well-dressed gentleman, and married to the unshy Kathleen.  They went with me to the thoroughbred races in Miami and I spent hours on their horse farm in Alachua.  Once, when I was feeling smarter than I was after a profitable racing season, I borrowed an extra bit of cash from Richard to buy more yearlings than I should have at the annual Keeneland sale.  When the funds were slow in coming, I delivered a very nice barter mare to Richard’s farm.  He stood there with a quizzical look on his face but Kathleen was delighted.

Michael Davis did not work at the Subterranean Circus but he might as well have.  He was there all the time picking up and delivering his girlfriend of many years, Rose Coward to the store.  Rose, a human fireball who didn’t believe in keeping her light under a bushel, was once the manager of the shop.  Her day consisted of a series of erratic explosions of glee, outrage, passion and telephone-calling.  She was Auntie Mame to the Gay colony, always a willing companion for antiquing and sympathetic consultant in matters of the heart.  If you bought her the smallest trinket as a gift, she would erupt in laughter and appreciation.  To me, living with such a creature was unimaginable.  I thought Mike must be some kind of secret mystic for no one else would take on the challenge.  They eventually parted and Mr. Davis found succor on golf courses, in bars and among large groups of people celebrating life.  There are no known photographs of M.D. in which he is not smiling.

Old friends.  There’s nothing better.  If you have one or two, better keep them.  They’re not making that kind any more.

Lucy Becker

We Love Lucy

The week before the Opry was absurdly active, but not too busy to pick up Lucy Becker, one of Louisa Branscomb’s band members at the Gainesville airport.  Lucy courteously sent a photo, but I think her pink fiddle case would have been a dead giveaway.  Ms. Becker is 26 years old and only 5-2 in elevation but she had a suitcase that weighed 600 pounds and had bad wheels.  I had to tie on a couple of helium-filled balloons to get it high enough to put in the trunk of the car.  I didn’t ask, but what are these little country girls up to, anyway?

Lucy is staying at the notorious digs of John and Gina Hawkins, so she might never go home.  If they seemed to be having too much fun in Row F at the Opry, that’s because it was Gina’s row.  If you hang out with the Hawkins family, dancing is required, and that includes John’s 94-year-old mother, who will school you in cha-cha moves.

On my way to the next appointment, my car was gently nudged by a young college girl whose name we shan’t mention.  She must have bumped my rear left tire, because there wasn’t the slightest mark on my car.  She had a tiny nick on what used to be called the right front fender.  She thought she was in her lane but it’s hard to tell when your phone is in your ear.  This was her first accident so she was freaked out about calling her Father.  Since I had no damages and was in a hurry, I told her to take the car in and I’d pay the tab, thus avoiding a 60-minute cop wait and the insurance company flying circus which arrives at times like this.  Instead, she called her Father and said she was “pretty sure” she was in her lane when the bump occurred.  The wary dad talked to me, suspected chicanery on my part and had her call Officer Friendly, who advised her that without witnesses the whole thing was a wash.  She asked to speak to me again.

“Are you still willing to pay the bill?” she wondered.  “Sure,” I said.  “But I’ll tell you what I would do if I were you.  I’d bat my eyes at some big lug talented at hammering out dents and take the rest of the money and fly to the Grand Canyon for a couple of days.  Maybe Vegas, if that’s your persuasion.  These opportunities for exotic travel are few and far between.”  Her eyes opened wide and she took a step back, stunned.  I haven’t heard back from her yet, but I think visions of Bellagio fountains danced in her head.  We’ll keep you posted.  If she goes, I’ll insist on pictures with Elvis.

Louisa Branscomb

They Say They’re Gonna Put Me In The Movies (they’re gonna make a big star out of me)

Two days before the Opry, our resourceful pal Tom Shed finagled us an appearance on TV 20.  The television people gave us the option of live TV if we showed up by 4:30 a.m. or a taped appearance at 10.  I called Louisa Branscomb and told her about the early option.  “I’m not good at four a.m.,” she said.  “I walk into walls and fall down a lot.  My voice sounds like Alvin of The Chipmunks.”

We showed up in fine fettle for our 10 a.m. taping and were greeted by Kristin Chase, who looks like Miss America on stilts even though she gets up at 3 a.m. every morning.  Kristin could be a Lake Butler bar-fighter in her private life for all I know but she is the nicest person in the world in public and right away realized we were “amazing.”  I have been called a lot of things before but “amazing” is not one of them.  I kind of like it and think I would use it on my business cards if I had any.

I said my piece, the girls sang a number and Louisa told everyone in the audience why they should go to the Opry, so job done.  We got a bump in sales from our Gainesville Sun article and a double-bump from this one.  In the course of events, I had to retrieve Ms. Branscomb’s lost guitar strap, buried in the remote bowels of  her swamp-green driving machine, so I now know every one of the 1600 items female country musicians carry around in their cars.  Another reason why I am amazing.

The next day, Kristin called and apologized for losing the sound on my part of the interview, which looks a little suspicious to me.  All those words of wisdom lost to humanity, such a sad day for television.  Miss America mailed me her card, though, and it contained the phone number where I could reach her in the next life in which she agreed to accompany me to my high school prom.  Those kids will be SO jealous.

Art by Lisa Marie Mercer

First Night Frenzy

Saturday, May 20, the Hogtown Opry kicked off its First Night at University Auditorium on the Florida campus.  310 optimists paid to get in and a couple dozen comps went to friends of the bands, aides of the Opry and people down on their luck.  After 3 1/2 hours and two band breaks, nobody had left, which is a miracle in these days of third-quarter departures.

The Hogtown Opry Band, traveling under an assumed name since all of them are in the government’s Witness Protection Program,  started off the proceedings with the set of their lives.  Wil Maring and Robert Bowlin, who drove 734 miles to get here, dazzled the crowd with their songs and musical artistry.  Louisa Branscomb’s superband rocked the hall and got the customers out of their seats.  The finale, which brought Wil and Robert back to join Louisa’s crew, was a fast-paced delight.  The audience was gleeful and grateful on departing.  A common reaction was “Who knew?” from customers who came to the show on faith.  The musicians were stoked with Gainesville’s welcoming response, local artist Tom Shed was honored with a day in his name by the city and Sheriff Will Thacker made it home without any untoward incidents, which is a miracle in itself.  A good time was had by all.  If you didn’t show up, too bad for you.

Graci, Y’all

These things don’t come off this well without a little help from our friends.  People like Gina Hawkins, who pumped out publicity, brought in the green room food and hosted Lucy Becker at her House of Earthly Delights.  Gina had so much fun with Lucy, next time she wants to house the whole band.  The neighborhood Anti-Sin Patrol is taking a look at that one.

Sharon Yeago and Tom Shed got us publicity in small local publications, every Bluegrass magazine in the southern United States and even the Gainesville Sun.  Tom also got us a nice interview with TV20, although the sound part of Bill’s gripping talk was inadvertently lost to mankind.  We turned over our event page to Gina and Sharon so if you start seeing events show up like Naked Bluegrass On The Beach Night or Battle Of The Fiddles From Cell Block 9, proceed with caution.

So the big question we keep getting asked is “When’s the next one?  Well, as lyricist Hugh Charles might say, “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when, but I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.”

And the sooner, the better.

Addenda: A Review

Music Fest News

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That’s all, folks….

Thursday, May 18, 2023

Shades Of Fitzcarraldo

“And it’s hard and it’s hard, ain’t it hard?”---Woody Guthrie

You remember Fitzcarraldo, the West German epic adventure film in which an opera-loving Irishman residing in Peru set about to haul a steamship over a mountain intact.  That’s right, a steamship, not a kayak.  Not only was there the staggering attempt to manually drag a 320-ton steamship up the steep grade, but the film’s original star Jason Robards became sick halfway through the filming and director Werner Herzog was forced to hire Klaus Kinski, with whom he had clashed violently during the production of earlier movies.  The battles between the two were so difficult that the chief of the Machiguenga tribe, who were used extensively as extras, asked Herzog late in the filming if they should kill Kinski for him.  Fortunately for Klaus, Herzog declined.  The good new is that after great struggles, the crew successfully pulled the ship over the mountain using a complex system of pulleys.  I can think of no better comparison than this to the construction of the Hogtown Opry.  The biggest difference being the ship is not yet pulled over the mountain.

The original cast of five which met many months ago to discuss the project eventually scattered to the four winds for various reasons.  There were no villains here, just health considerations, differences of opinion and a fear in some quarters that the earth would open up and swallow us whole.  So, like Herzog, I brought Klaus Kinski aboard to help drag the ship up the hill.  He’s now going by the name ‘Jeff Goldstein’.  The chief of the Machiguengas has not offered to kill him for me yet but he’s shaking his head a lot.  Jeff is like one of those guys you see on Interstate 5 just north of San Diego, weaving in and out of traffic at eighty miles an hour, then cutting across six lanes to make his exit.  He doesn’t care where you’re going, he just knows where he’s headed.  Goldstein is the ultimate grunt, he takes to his work like a badger on amphetamines---decisive, determined, impatient, pushy, outspoken, self-reliant and driven.  You might not want him marrying your daughter but he knows how to help get the steamship up the hill and how to avoid being murdered by opry-loving Irishmen.

Countering Anonymity

The trouble with opening a new business that depends on a lot of customers showing up from day one is that pre-opening none of those people know who, what, where or why you are.  In days of yore, this was no problem---you merely placed an ad in your friendly neighborhood newspaper or on Wil Thacker’s radio show and the folks came a-runnin’.  These days, however, your newspaper has gone the way of the Studebaker and Thacker is wrapping up his 16th Farewell Tour in the snakepits of Bradford County.  Where does a pilgrim turn for sustenance?

Dave Melosh, the Music Man, swears by social media, and he should know.  But he has roughly 8000 more disciples on his call list than we do.  We thought about having a Hogtown Opry blimp, but have you checked zeppelin prices lately?  Does anybody remember those little planes that flew over Florida Field during football games, pulling banners which read Please Go Gators?  They’re kaput, out of business, solid gone.  We thought about getting some attention with a calendar of nude Gainesville women over 60 but when we brought it up they all ran away except for Gina Hawkins, who said she was only good for three months.  Maybe we’ll stand on the corner of University Avenue and NW 13th Street waving signs like the politicos do on election day.  Maybe we’ll hire Steve Spurrier to ride a cock horse to Banbury Cross.  Maybe Lady Godiva won’t be busy on May 20.  Where have all the town criers gone, long time passing?

“My Kingdom For A Band!”

That’s about what it takes, especially if you’re the new girl in town.  The pirate crew of The Flying Dutchman, now masquerading as booking agents, will steal your money, then your clothes, with inflated fees and backroom deals with band reps.  We made an offer to one group regularly drawing crowds of 300-350 and they sent back a ransom demand for $22,000.  At an average ticket sale of $50, a venue would need twice the number of customers that band was pulling in just to pay the headliner, let alone the other concert expenses.  One possible alternative is to book lesser known entertainers of high quality and try to get a reputation for great shows.  Hopefully, you can hang around long enough for the word to get out.

Some places do very well booking bands like Pure Prairie League, which are pretenders to glory.  Not a single member of the current PPL group played with the original band.  How is that any better than a glorified cover band, how is it not a minor fraud?  If I get a bunch of tall Black kids together and call them the Harlem Globetrotters, what happens when they get beat by the Washington Generals or the champions of the High Springs Boys Club League?  I’ll be run out of town on a rail, and rightly so.  As for actual cover bands, there’s nothing really wrong with them.  Many sell beaucoup tickets and amuse their crowds.  It’s just not our style, we’re looking for something more here, especially featured artists who create some of their own music.  Whether we’re successful or not largely depends on our ability to make our presence known and to present great shows which get our audiences talking.  In the end, positive word of mouth is always the greatest salesman.  By the way, where is Mike Garcia with Texas Tom and his Slick Pickers when you really need them?

The House Band Blues

It seemed like a good idea at the time.  Form a house band with local players to open each show, develop a broad repertoire, inject some surprises and build on it until that band is good enough to be a feature act of its own.  God knows plenty of homeboys need a little cash boost now and then and we have a ton of musicians in the area.  Trouble is, that only works if you’re on every week or two.  One gig every three weeks isn’t enough to hold a band together.  We tried, and potential old pickers kept falling victim to the palsy and winding up in the hospital, or worse.  An alternative, of course, is to find bands already organized and hire them to open.  That’s fine if you’re in Nashville or Austin or Bogalusa, where country bands are a dime a dozen.  Gainesville is Rock Central, where seldom is heard a yodeling word and the bunkhouse is empty all day.  We’re not giving up, though, and maybe the advent of an Opry in Gainesville will bring the banjos out of the boondocks.  Maybe we should foster a Little League of country music players, similar to what baseball does.  Start ‘em out at 8 years old and watch them grow into Flatt & Scruggs.  If we’d started earlier, Nancy Luca might have been the next Merle Haggard.  Or at least Minnie Pearl.

What We’ve Learned

Over the course of two years of dealing with concert production and local music-makers, here are a few things we’ve learned.

1.  Musicians are mostly bad businessmen with good souls.

2.  A bandleader would rather have his or her eyes scratched out by wolverines than change one song on his setlist.

3.  The wives of musicians are the power behind the throne.

4.  There is a group of about 150 music devotees in Gainesville who will attend at least one performance a week even if they have to walk barefoot over hot coals to do it.  Unfortunately, there are rarely 250.

5.  Nancy Kay, on the other hand, will only attend if a concert is held within a half-mile of her house and she is delivered by pedicab.

6.  Randall Roffe is making a musical movie called Micanopy Madness, for which thespians Bill Killeen and Will Thacker will be paid $750 an hour.  Filming starts when the checks arrive.

7.  Dave Melosh of Heartwood is really two different people, by day a goodhearted venue operator, by night a bank robber who seeks out victims in order to finance his blood lust. 

8.  It is more difficult to hire Molly Tuttle than to pass an elephant through the eye of a needle. 

9.  Gina Hawkins is recording everything we do for her expose novel, so watch it. 

10.  Paco Paco has made it acceptable to have two similar names, thus the arrival of Will Will Thacker, Bill Bill Killeen and Bang Bang Goldstein.  Sorry, Woof Woof Kirkpatrick, that one is taken.


Once More, Into The Breach!

Fourscore and seven weeks ago, our founders brought forth on this continent a new Opry, conceived in Country & Western and dedicated to the proposition that all music will be heard in Gainesville.

Now we are engaged in a great fiscal and artistic struggle, testing whether that Opry or any opry so conceived and so dedicated can long endure.  We are met on a great turning point of that struggle.  The first battles will propel us forward or thrust us back, set us on course for a bright and productive future or force us through bogs of quicksand.  We are either fools or prophets, the future is the final arbiter.  People applaud the latter and scourge the former, say they knew it all the time when the ultimate answer is provided.  Meanwhile, Louisa Branscomb, a thoughtful, analytic observer calls us “visionaries.”  The pressure cranks up.  Nobody wants to make a liar out of Louisa.

That’s all, folks….

Thursday, May 11, 2023

Odd Jobs

Recently, we got an email from alert reader Kathleen Knight advising us of a chicken training camp in bustling Seabeck, Washington.  This was a bit of a surprise because we have been in the chicken care business in the past and the critters never once indicated a desire for higher education of any sort, even in your basic stop-and-go skills.  Chickens are a flighty lot, given to foraging for food, scratching the ground searching for insects and watching Ted Lasso on TV, and are seldom seen carrying books.  When you come to think of it, though, if you’re not going to set your chickens free, as avian activist Gilbert Shelton would prefer, you might as well give them a little schooling.   After all, we train our dogs, we train our horses and there are even people extant who train fleas, so why not chickens?

The Terry Ryan Chicken Camp practices mechanical skills with special attention to eye-claw coordination.  Lessons include “observing and recording behavior, systematic desensitization, capturing a behavior, shaping behavior and the use of targets.”  Students work on discrimination tasks and train their hens to do things like avoiding obstacles. practicing hygienic egg care and not pecking the postman.  No roosters allowed, since they seem to have a one-track mind.  Each trainee will partner up with his or her own chicken.  During class, the chicken is kept in a holding area within reach of the training table and then trotted out when the school bell rings.

Graduating camper Molly Caudell of Big Bottom, Washington has nothing but raves for her experience.  “This was a bucket list adventure for me,” she said.  If you can train a chicken you can train anything.  I’m sure it will help me in my dog and pony training business.  I particularly liked the use of valium and weighted bird-boots with the students.”  

Oy Vey!

Did the Grim Reaper just pick off one of your acquaintances, perhaps an ornery guy devoid of personality, a slumlord or a person who dealt in kitten trafficking?  There will not be a large gathering at the cemetery, no sad lady in black leading a solemn jazz parade, no funeral wreaths, no tears falling on moist cheeks.  What to do for this character, will noone toss a single rose on the descending casket?

Apparently, someone will.  For a price, the Peloponnese Professional Mourners of Southern Greece can be flown in at a moment’s notice to moan, wail, rend their garments and even swandive into the gravesite after the coffin.  These moirologists are so convincing you’d think they were part of the family, long lost lovers or people the deceased owed money to.

The practice of professional mourning dates back to Egypt, China and the Middle East during ancient times when wailers were very common.  They are mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments.  In those days, there were strict requirements to enter the trade, an occupation only for childless women.  The candidates had to be without body hair and allow the names of goddesses to be tattooed on their shoulders, evoking particular goddesses during the service.  Having a large crowd of mourners was considered a status symbol and a great honor in ancient societies where crying was an art and the pulling out of hair got you a spot in the mid-season All-Star Funeral.

And Away We Go!

There are times when many of us consider the life of the Repo Man, a non-stop adventure show with thief-in-the-night chicanery, pulse-pounding car chases and the occasional hail of bullets delivered by an aggrieved victim.  But on second thought, the pay is lousy and your kid’s teacher really doesn’t want to hear from you on Take Your Dad To School Day.  Consider then, the high-salaried, prestigious job of Airplane Repossession Specialist.  Aside from the occupation of Fine Art Thief, the ARS is top-of-the-mark for glamorous, status-enhancing employment.

Of course, there are a few challenging requirements, the first being the ability to actually fly a plane.  Most people who can perform this feat already have lucrative jobs that don’t involve trying to beat sketchy airstrip security down the runway as they blast away at you with automatic weapons.  Second, it’s always a good idea to have a fueling depot nearby as it’s a well-known fact that aircraft deadbeats keep the fuel tank on Empty to thwart APS personnel.  Next, keep an eye out for nearby flying objects like, for instance, other planes.  You haven’t filed a flight plan and nobody knows you’re there.

Finally, remember to check for contraband in case you are forced to land at a legitimate airport which doesn’t know you’re coming.  Colorado  Repossession Specialist Arthur Kowalski had to abandon his original landing field due to weather conditions and decided to pull into Denver International Airport, much to his chagrin.  Security personnel examining the unscheduled arrival found alarming quantities of cocaine aboard and tossed Arthur in the hoosegow for two days until help arrived.

The clever ARS retriever might consider emulating the tactics of Kevin and Heather Anonymous, who posed as tourists to perform a rare midair repo.  While circling the Grand Canyon, Heather made goo-goo eyes at aircraft debtor Lonnie Hutchins, giving husband Kev an opportunity to apply the cuffs and duct tape, which is not entirely legal.  Lonnie was dumped at the Tusayan airport in ignominy and Mr. & Mrs. Anonymous were last seen yukking it up at the Bellagio

Sh-BOOM!  (An employer’s brochure)

“Anyone considering an occupation change should seriously consider the career opportunities available in Landmine Clearance.  The job is not boring, pays well and practitioners earn the grateful thanks of their communities whether or not they hang around long enough to notice.

Landmines and unexploded bombs can remain in the ground for decades after a conflict has ended.  Every day, 15 people are killed or maimed by these indiscriminate weapons.  Just yesterday they got little Jimmy Gomez as he maneuvered his Schwinn through the mean streets of East L.A.

MAG International finds and clears landmines, cluster munitions and unexploded bombs and returns safe land to communities.  Using a combination of methods and tools to detect and destroy, including manual deminers (that”s YOU) and mine detection dogs (that was Sparky), MAG leads the pack in this exploding business field.  Our fleet of specialized armored machines prepares ground for clearance, removes vegetation and other obstacles and shrieks out an earsplitting “OH, SHIT!” alarm voice when perdition is near.

MAG recruits men and women from local communities like yours.  This gives people affected by landmines the opportunity to clear them as well as supporting their own families and cities.  In 2020 alone, our elite force destroyed 115,627 landmines and unexploded bombs and cleared 53,948,775 square miles.  That’s not soggy gingerbread.  If you are thinking about the clearance business, there’s no better opportunity than MAG International.  Ask about our four-day work week with special country club benefits at the oasis of your choice.  Employment can be immediate and, as we like to say at MAG, you can start off your career with a bang.  Call today, our operators are standing by, many of them on one leg.”

Help Wanted!

Being an endangered species can bring out the diva in a critter.  Take China’s Giant Pandas, for instance.  Aloof to a fault, they are even indifferent to procreation and must be encouraged by Panda Fluffers who utilize fancy feather dusters and considerable caution to help them get in the mood.  Laugh if you like but the dusters make 30 grand a year.

Will Thacker and others are making a decent wage as Professional Snugglers.  People who are lonely, depressed, ill or have medical issues find solace with an empathetic shoulder to cry on, a sympathetic ear or a nesting bedmate.  A good snuggler can reel in $40 an hour with tasty bonuses for nekkid shenanigans.

You may be looking for love in all the right places, but if your public relations skills are mediocre, how do you attract high-class action on those computer dating platforms?  You hire an Online Dating Ghostwriter, that’s how.  ODGs know how to accent the positive, eliminate the negative, latch on the affirmative and don’t mess with Mr. Inbetween.  A $200-an-hour ghostwriter can make Randall Roffe look like Gregory Peck.

If those wandering icebergs keep showing up in your marina, you’ll definitely want to hook up with a talented Iceberg Mover.  Global warming has increased the incidence of runaway floes and nobody wants his weekend ruined by a blocked strait or canal, not to mention an imperiled oil rig.  Icebergs are moved by incorporating a floating tow line and actually lassoing the berg.  All you need is a tugboat, a heavy jacket and a giant book of crossword puzzles for the waits between jobs.

If you like to dress up like an undead person and scare all your friends, this one’s for you.  In jolly old England, annual auditions are held for Zombie roles in London Dungeons.  It may sound like it, but this is not a dead-end job.  If you’re very scary looking and good at pursuing complete strangers through dark passageways you could work your way up in the profession to Tormentor or maybe even Jack The Ripper.  A passable zombie makes $38,000 a year so imagine what Mitch McConnell would get.

Train Pushers in Japan called Oshiyas push passengers from platforms onto trains as quickly as possible until the doors close.  License Plate Blockers in Iran stroll behind cars to prevent their plates from being captured by cameras.  The country has a regulation whereby cars with plates ending in odd and even numbers are permitted on roads only on alternate days.

Sewer Flushers may not be invited to all the best parties but who else is going to unclog the mess brought on by the accumulation of non-biodegradable trash and congealed layers of cooking fat and oil in the pipes?  Not Queen Camilla.

Bad boys, bad boys, whatcha gonna do?  Whatcha gonna do when they come for you?  Not those clumsy, inefficient police…we’re talking that new breed of wily Thief Hunters who employ novel  strategies and instruments for dealing with criminals.  Starting salaries in the $50,000 a year neighborhood.  If that sounds a little scary, how about becoming a merry Waterslide Tester or a stoic Human Statue or maybe a diligent Worm Picker?  There are potential Gumologists, Electric Shock Givers and Swan Wardens in demand, some with perks like all the worms you can eat.

Want to spend the rest of your days with a well-paying position in an amusement park?  Who doesn’t!  Believe it or not, there are scads of jobs open for Vomit Cleaners in most of the better fairylands in the U.S. and no previous experience is required.  Just grab your mop and bucket and head for the nearest Roller Coaster.  You’ll have fun, fun, fun til someone takes your nose plugs away.

That’s all, folks….


Thursday, May 4, 2023

Good Ideas

All of us have these moments.  We’re sitting there watching the tide come in at East Quoddy Light or the sun set over the Arbuckle Mountains when we get a great idea.  Why has nobody thought of this wonderful plan before, we ask?  There are millions out there just waiting to use it, bathe in its glory, celebrate the ramifications.  Then, like Zacharias, struck dumb in the Bible, we let this revelation quietly slip away like a thief in the night, and get back to our Wordle.

Someone has to take the helm here, steer the ship in a more propitious direction, and who better than The Flying Pie to sort out this business?  Let’s get started with a critical bundle of information sadly lacking in the libraries of felons everywhere:

Great Idea #1---The Criminal’s Handbook

If felon Samuel Brown, 33, of San Diego, California had a copy, he would clearly have avoided his ugly and embarrassing fate.  Right there in Chapter 6, Paragraph 13 is the instruction: “Do Not Rob The Same Bank Two Days In A Row.”  Obvious to some of us, but not so much to others, like Samuel.  The bumbling bankrobber slipped a stickup note to a teller at the Fountain Valley Chase Bank on a Monday afternoon, fleeing with what police called “a large amount of cash.”  His plan worked so well, he went back the next day for more.  The bank manager, a clever man, had a motto of his own; “Rob me once, shame on you; rob me twice, shame on me.”  Bank security nailed Sammy without incident and police hauled him off to the hoosegow.  Now while it’s true that criminals are known to always return to the scene of the crime, the second visit is recommended to be as an observer.

Meanwhile, back in Pennsylvania, two teenage brothers from Somerset, N.J. would have benefitted from the handbook’s Chapter 4, Paragraph 2: “Do Not Apply Your Hazard Lights When Disposing Of A Dead Body.”  It gets you in trouble every time.  Anthony Gamble, 19, and little bro Joshua, 17, were taken into custody by Pennsylvania state troopers who pulled over to check on two apparently disabled vehicles, lights blinking away like a coquette’s eyelashes.  As they detained the younger teen, Anthony, wearing bloodstained clothing, made a run for it and was summarily tackled.  Troopers found a dead body in nearby woods with stab wounds in the head, neck, upper chest and arms.  “We didn’t want some dumbass smacking into our rides,” said Josh.

If Joseph Morgan of Philadelphia had read his handbook, he would easily have seen in Chapter 1, Paragraph 7 the bold notation, "Bring Your Child To Work Day Does Not Apply On Heists.”  Unaware of the rule, Joe brought his young son along on a job which involved robbing a pet shop.  A security guard nabbed the bandit but little Scotty, who was feeding the fishes, got off by cleaning the kennels.

Great Idea #2---The Stoner Olympics

This would work like the NCAA Final Four in basketball.  Candidates would be nominated by the leading head shops in all 50 states and Guam, then narrowed down to an elite quartet in a series of regional smokeoffs.  Nominees would be judged on presentation, quality of product, ability to stand the longest and congeniality.  The Final Four grand finale would be held at Woody Harrelson’s house in Maui right after the spectacular Pot Parade with Willie Nelson as Grand Marshall.

Everyone would go.  Paraphernalia merchants would erect hundreds of tents on the Harrelson estate, selling everything from bongs to Big Bambus to Bayou Blasters.  Select marijuana peddlers would have sophisticated weed-tasting units where potential consumers could sample various strains of the demon weed.  At night, everyone could stumble down to the theater-on-the green to watch Reefer Madness and hobnob with Cheech and Chong.

The major television networks would, of course, battle for rights to the main event, also covering the red carpet arrival of serious smoking stars like Snoop Dog, Lady Gaga, Senator Bernie Sanders and Chuck (Smell ‘em and Weep) LeMasters.  When the contest is over, the confetti has fallen and the trophy raised, everyone will gather to watch the world champion pothead wave to the crowd and jog down the runway with the ultimate boast; “So long, suckers, I’m off to Disney World!”  Hey, stranger things have happened.

Great Idea #3---The Head Shop Truck

Why not?  They’ve got bizarre rolling lunchcarts with foods of every description, from Los Osos, California’s Greasy Wiener to the Randy Radish’s baked quiche in Virginia to The Gumbo Man’s jambalaya in Jacksonville.  In Mammoth Lakes, California, neither typhoons nor blizzards nor edgy surfaces can stay the heavily-treaded Snocat vehicle of Mammoth Lakes Burritos from the swift completion of its appointed rounds.  This clever monster can roll up to a storm shelter in a hurricane, dispensing lifesaving chimichangas and hot sopa.  But what of deprived stoners in paraphernalia wastelands, what are they to do?

Imagine, if you can, a neon-green headshop truck rolling into downtown Pascagoula, a veritable bong desert, its speakers blasting out the Beatles, singing “Give Pot A Chance!”  The citizens of DeFuniak Springs would come running from all directions to visit the smoky Keep On Puffin’ pot truck before local police could gather their wits.  Paraphernalia-starved weed-eaters in Pahokee would finally have a grand selection of pipes and papers to choose from, just like folks in the Big City.  It’s an idea whose time as come.  Chuckie, warm up the Potmobile!

On The Griddle?  Maybe, Maybe Not….

Clive Palmer, an Australian billionaire, has been thinking about building the Titanic II, a $500 million replica of the original, this time really unsinkable.  The ship would be 270m long, 50m high and weigh about 40,000 tons, with 840 rooms and 9 decks.  This is not Palmer’s only big idea.  In 2013, he opened Palmersaurus, the largest dinosaur park in the world (since closed) with more than 160 replica dinosaurs, at his Coolum resort in Queensland.  Billionaires just wanna have fun.

Yuri Milner, an investment savant who made his fortune getting in early on companies like Facebook, Groupon and Zynga, thinks humanity is headed towards having a “Global Brain.”  The brain would consist of all humans being connected to one another and to the machine and interacting in a unique and profound way, “thus creating an intelligence that doesn’t belong to any single human being or computer.”  So much for umpires and Dear Abby.

Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal thought about constructing Man-Made Islands that would be free from government laws and regulations.  His Seasteading Institute appealed for entrepreneurs who could work on their projects without government interference.  He has since reconsidered the original idea, feeling it might be too expensive and unpredictable to have a city built in the middle of the ocean.  He’s now heading for calmer waters in areas regulated by some governments.

Google’s Larry Page and Eric Schmidt have teamed up with filmmaker James Cameron to mine any asteroids which happen to be wandering close to Earth.  The initial plan was to have telescopes built in order to scope out asteroids that are rich in minerals.  The boys wanted a space station up and running by 2020.  They’re 3 years late and fading.

Russian billionaire Dmitry Itskov is obsessed with immortality.  His plan for the next step in human evolution originally called for the introduction of robots that we could control with our brains by 2020 and the ability to transplant the brain into a life support system by 2025.  The mind would be able to move into a computer by 2035 and by 2045 artificial brains would control insubstantial hologram bodies.  Dmitry, alas, is running a little behind schedule.

In 1992, Dutch contractor Johan Huibers had a terrifying dream that his native homeland was flooded by the North Sea.  You would, too, if you lived in Holland.  In response, he began construction of a life-sized replica of Noah’s Ark in 2009 that measured approximately 30 meters wide, 23 meters high and 135 meters long, equivalent to a four-story building the length of a football field.  It cost him a piffling $1.6 million and was completed in 2012.  Johan’s Ark now sits on the Merwede River in the Dutch town of Dordrecht, waiting for the flood.  Hey, it doesn’t hurt to be ready, right?

Heroes Of The Trade

Gary Dahl, who left this mortal coil in 2015, decided one fine day that people would actually buy little rocks if you prettied them up and gave them an owner’s manual.  His Pet Rock inspiration brought in millions before the craze died down.  The concept was simple  Dahl sold people rocks (like those you can find anywhere) in a box for a nominal price.  The owners of these rocks were to treat them like pets and take care of them, which you’ll have to admit is much cheaper and less worrisome than keeping St, Bernards or fainting goats.  People loved the idea and especially took to the owner’s manual which explained how to care for and train your rock.  The public was not buying stones, they were buying the joke, which became a party piece, a hip novelty, a conversation-starter and a bright future for good old Gary Dahl.

How about a towable camper with a detachable boat for a roof?  Or a bike path lighted from beneath by thousands of twinkly, solar-powered stones  embedded in the surface, like the snappy Smart Highway in the Netherlands?  Would you like a canoe that folds down to the size of a duffle bag or a table with chairs that tuck in all the way underneath the matching table?  Eco Nuts is an organic laundry detergent that contains berries from the Himalayas.  The owners tried to get a deal on Shark Tank, but no luck  The company is now worth more than a million bucks.  Hideyuki Nakayama’s glass globe doorknob refracts the scene on the other side of the door, giving you a preview of what’s going on in the next room before you turn the knob.  The Luna Light is a very large globe which can be hung or placed on the floor and rolled to any desirable spot.  Japan has Musical Roads with grooves cut at very specific intervals along the road surface.  Depending on how far apart the grooves are and how deep they are, a car moving over them will produce a series of high or low notes, thus making a melody.  How great is that?  You can now listen to “Happy Trails” while you’re motoring over them.

Remember, folks, if you have any great ideas like these, send them in to AHA! MOMENT at the address below.  We’ll take care of all those messy patent rights for you and send out your share of the profits on the next train to Clarksville.  Thinking caps on!

That’s all, folks…. 


Thursday, April 27, 2023

Y’all Come!

You start with nothing. No identity, no venue, no performers, no customers.  All you have is an idea.  Over time, you establish an identity, find a theater, sign up performers, but then comes the hard part.  The Greatest Show on Earth will be empty if noone knows about it.  As a means of advertising, radio stations are not what they once were, newspapers are virtually nonexistent and television is absurdly expensive. The internet is useful if engaged properly but skillions of people don’t use it, especially the over-60s. What to do?  Good  question.  Last year, we started 18 months early with the Subterranean Circus Grand Reunion, buried Facebook with information and invitations, sent out smoke signals and small aircraft pulling banners, and still large numbers of would-be customers never got the word.  One thousand did and it was a merry old time, but a year later we’re still hearing from regretful souls who never knew a thing about it.  Now, we’re faced with the same conundrum once more as we ready the stage for the Hogtown Opry.  What would P.T. Barnum and his ilk do?  Let's take a look.

Here Goes Nuthin’

If you want to get a little attention for your product, there's nothing better than becoming the first human to break the sound barrier without the assistance of a machine.  In 2012, Felix Baumgartner did it for Red Bull, falling 23 miles from the Earth’s stratosphere and pulling in eight million viewers on YouTube.  We thought our pal Danny Levine, aka the Human Cannonball, might be interested but he had a tractor-pull that day.  Next day, too.

In 1999, eleven members of the Women’s Institute in Yorkshire, England stripped nekkid to create a calendar to raise money for charity.  The original calendar featured the women posing nude but slightly obscured by baked goods and flower arrangements.  It sold an astounding 800,000 copies worldwide and inspired a hit movie, which just goes to show the average viewer would rather get a look at the girl next door than a professional model.  With this in mind, we approached Gina Hawkins, Jill Rosier and Anna Marie Kirkpatrick. They’re thinking it over. Renee Kidera and Tude Hanke are in and Chuck LeMasters is on the fence.  If anyone would like to be Miss December, sign here.

Up, Up And Away….

Remember the Balloon Boy of 2009?  A couple of fake-frenzied parents from Fort Collins, Colorado reported that their son, all of six years old, had floated away in a flying saucerish helium balloon.  Where have you gone little Falcon Heene, the country turns its worried eyes to you?  The balloon ascended to 7000 feet during a 90-minute flight and attracted worldwide attention.  National Guard helicopters roared off in pursuit and local police from all over Colorado followed on the ground.  Then Emily Litella popped up on TV and said “Never mind.”

After flying for a hour and traveling fifty miles, the balloon landed about twelve miles northeast of Denver International Airport with no Falcon inside.  Observers on the ground jammed police phone lines, reporting an object had been seen falling from the balloon, initiating a frantic search for the boy.  Later in the day, young Falcon was found hiding in his attic, where he apparently had been stashed the whole time.  In a later interview with Larry King, the host asked the faux-balloonist why his family had perpetrated such a fraud.  “To get on your show,” he said proudly.

P.T. Barnum, of course, was the Archduke of Anticipation.  When the newly constructed Brooklyn Bridge was gearing up for opening day in May of 1883, the New York showman marched his troupe of elephants across the span, ensuring a dubious public that the bridge was safe for passage and generating enormous coverage for his upcoming show. 

The Hogtown Opry is looking for a few good men, or at least one to reprise Falcon Heene’s balloon ride, only this time no hiding in the attic. Chris Qualmann is ready to go if his new diet works out and Randall Roffe has offered to try it if there’s free lunch involved, so we may give it a go.  Applicants must be over twelve or bring notes from their parents.

Send in The Clowns

Phineas Taylor Barnum’s stunts were often outrageous and would certainly have fallen short of the minimum requirement of political correctness in this day and age.  P.T. was the leading pioneer of freak shows, which became popular early in his era.  His first exhibit was a paralyzed ex-slave named Joice Heath, who was about eighty years old.  Barnum paraded her around as George Washington’s 161-year-old nurse and his promotion of her knew no bounds.  Among other things, he wrote harsh anonymous letters to the newspapers in places Heath was being featured, questioning her authenticity.  Defenders would respond and the show was on, leading to tremendous ticket sales.

Barnum hired a dwarf only 25 inches tall and made him a star with the stage name “Tom Thumb.”  He paid off New York newspapermen to publish all sorts of material about the man, raving about his singing and dancing talents and creating such a sensation that when his tour company reached England Barnum and the dwarf got an audience with Queen Victoria and the royal family.  He later achieved maximum visibility by locating one of the thinnest men in the world and marrying him to a woman ten times his weight.

Many of Phineas T. Barnum’s tactics survive today.  His American Museum was located at the corner of Broadway and Ann Street in Manhattan and to better promote its attractions the showman would drape the building with new outsize banners.  He was the first to plaster horse-drawn wagons with posters and signs and send them cruising through the streets of the city.  Barnum's first exhibit in the museum was the Feejee Mermaid, who had a human head topping the finned body of a fish.  Later, he introduced the legitimate Siamese twins Chang and Eng, who were connected by a ligament below their breastbones.  The showman eventually sold over 20 million tickets to his museum and was invited to Washington to visit President Abraham Lincoln at the White House.

Aging and eager to change his image from promoter of human curiosities to impresario of artistic attractions, Barnum risked his entire fortune by importing Jenny Lind, a Swedish soprano whom he had never seen nor heard and who was virtually unknown in the United States.  He dubbed Lind “The Swedish Nightingale” and mounted the most massive publicity campaign ever seen, drawing capacity audiences and earning immense sums, although Florida booking agent Albert Teebagy insisted much of the credit went to him.

In his 81st year, P.T. Barnum fell gravely ill.  At his request, the New York Times newspaper published his obituary in advance so he could read it.  When Barnum succumbed, The Times of London echoed the world press in its final tribute: “He created the metier of showmanship on a grandiose scale.  He early realized that essential feature of a modern democracy….its readiness to be led to what will amuse and distract it.

Meanwhile, does anyone have a few elephants we can borrow?

Short People

They got little hands and little eyes, and they walk around tellin’ great big lies.  I don’t want no short people ‘round here.”---Will Harridge (and Randy Newman)

The St. Louis Browns were the ugly stepsisters in an American League full of glamorous rivals like the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox when sportsman Bill Veeck bought the bedraggled team in 1951.  The Browns were even ignored in their own hometown where the mighty Cardinals got all the love, averaging a woeful 3700 fans a game.  Then one fine afternoon before the second game of a double header against the Detroit Tigers, Veeck had a large papier-mache cake wheeled out onto the field.  To the surprise of the fans, a child-sized figure in baseball togs emerged form the cake.  His name was Eddie Gaudel, 26 years old and 3 foot 7 in stature.  Two days previous, Eddie had signed a $100-a-game contract with the Browns.  The number on his back was 1/8.  What is it with promoters and short people?  First Barnum, then Veeck.  Are we missing the boat here?  Is it too late to hire Danny DiVito and his western ukulele?

In the first inning, Gaudel emerged from the dugout to the delight of a roaring audience and tapped his bat upon the plate.  The unamused pitcher, Bob Cain, aimed low, but missed the strike zone.  “Ball one!” the umpire bellowed. The fans applauded in glee.  The pitcher stomped around the mound in disgust and confusion and tried again.  “Ball TWO!” the arbiter ruled.  Eddie was having fun now and so was the crowd.  The little fellow asked the ump for time, left the batter’s box, tapped imaginary dirt from his cleats and returned. “BALL THREE!” the umpire cried to the delight of the fans and the exasperation of the hurler.

And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go.  And now the air is shattered by the force of Eddie’s blow.  “He WALKS!” screamed radio announcer Howie Williams.  “None out, one midget on first!”  Alas, Will Harridge, the spoilsport president of the American League, voided Gaudel’s contract the next day, which never would have been allowed in today’s politically correct era.  Despite his single at bat, Eddie Gaudel’s signature is today worth more that that of Babe Ruth.

Veeck, who had scheduled morning games for night shift workers as owner of the AA Milwaukee Brewers, staged actual weddings at home plate and once hired a costumed clown as a coach, wasn’t finished by any means, incorporating various stunts to boost attendance and gaining national acclaim for his flair and inventiveness.  Eventually, the Browns’ dearth of talent told the tale, alas, and the forlorn team was sold, moved to Maryland and renamed the Baltimore Orioles.  Bill’s affinity for small people continued, however, when he came out of retirement in 1969 to run the Suffolk Downs Race Track in Boston, where he was beloved by scores of jockeys.  It’s a small world, after all.

We like Bill Veeck’s brilliant ideas and we’re currently looking for some small people to play tubas at the Hogtown Opry. Talent is optional, but good lungs are required.  Report with your instrument at the venue site at 6 sharp on May 20.  Don’t forget the throat spray.

That’s all, folks…