Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Palm Springs Modern

Palm trees!
I did spend a fair amount of time in Palm Springs, lots of palms (duh!) and while I was there it was Modernism Week—a celebration of all those hideous furnishings our parents bought in the 60s and have become cool again:

There were numerous shops selling both old and new Mid-century Modern goods:

On a more serious note, we got the chance to see a stunning new documentary about Eero Saarinen, the noted Modernist Architect (TWA Flight Center, Gateway Arch, Dulles Terminal, as well as many other projects). It was directed by Saarinen’s son, Eric, and was shot in 6K HD using drone footage to give hitherto unseen perspectives to his father’s masterworks. Shown on the biggest screen in area, it was digital projection done right. It is also a story of Saarinen’s troubled family history and we were privileged to have the producer/director of photography present for a heartfelt Q&A after the screening:

We also attended a showing of a documentary about neon signage and later spotted one of that film’s featured works (by Rio) in a Palm Canyon Drive shop:

If there is a visual zeitgeist to Palm Springs, it has to be the work of the legendary artist Shag. His shop is sort of a Mecca for the devotees of his sort of Modernist kitsch:

While I’m not exactly as “chic” as the exquisite serigraphs inside, I did visit the store:

Tomorrow: Joshua Tree

By Professor Batty

Comments: 0 

Monday, February 27, 2017

La Quinta

Morning Coffee in Old Town La Quinta

Any time spent in a warm desert is a welcome respite from Minnesota winter. Staying in a VRBO in a quiet residential district (i.e., a real neighborhood versus the gated golf course communities all around it), about 25 miles from the glamour of Palm Springs. After taking coffee, a stroll with my new feathered friend was a great way to start the day:

And lounging (note dorky Batty still wearing his sport coat!) on a private patio was a nice way to spend the evening:

Then, finally, retiring to a bedroom with forty pillows:

Much more to come…

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Reader - Week 8

Freedom Radio

At closing time, Andy and Jennifer left the pub.

“You don’t have a car?” asked Andy.

“No, I took a cab—I wanted to have more than a couple of beers.”

And both of them had certainly downed more than a couple. The summer night air was quite a bit warmer than the air-conditioned pub—Andy liked the way the warmth of it embraced him. By the time they got to his house, Andy was feeling a little woozy.

“I should’ve stopped drinking earlier,” he said, as he opened the door. He wondered if his speech was slurred.

“If one is not enough and two is better, three should be just right right, no?” said Jennifer. They went into the kitchen, “Retro! I love it,” she gasped.

“I think we had five,” said Andy, “Apiece. How ’bout some music?”

“Yes, let’s dance.”

Andy put his phone in the speaker dock that was the only modern appliance on the counter.  Everything else had belonged to his parents. When there was no sound at first Andy thought that he might had hit the mute mode. After a second, however, a strange tune began playing in mid-verse, full of minor sevenths and suspended chords. After a few choruses the sound faded away and a relaxed baritone voice purred from the box:

   “Now,  here’s a blast from the past—In the Summertime—by Mungo Jerry, ” said the DJ, who had an exaggerated epiglottal push. It sounded as if he was puking up the words:
In the summertime, when the weather is hot, 
Drinking beer, until your mind is shot,
In the summertime, you’ve got drinking, 
You’ve got drinking on your mind,
Have a quart, have a pint,
Go out and see what you can find.”
“That’s not the way I remembered it,” said Andy. The song continued to its end, each verse more more twisted than the previous.

"Banner Year for Beer!" an ad on the radio proclaimed. A choral group perkily sang the praises of a cheap beer in jazzy four-part harmonies.

“Freedom Radio request hour,” said the DJ, “… with this one going out to Andy and Jennifer on the Northside… ”

“They’re playing our song, com’on, dance with me…” said Jennifer, pulling Andy closer.
Switchin’ in the kitchen, hey mama on a Saturday night,
Twitchin’ with a feeling, everything is goin’ alright,
She’s dancin’ up on the table, man, this girl is really unstable,
Switchin’ and-a twitchin’, on a red-hot Saturday night…
Andy put his hands on Jennifer’s waist but he was too drunk to dance. She put her arms around his neck and they swayed in time to the music. When the song ended, Jennifer put her lips next to Andy’s ear:

“Nice girls don’t stay for breakfast,” she purred.

The DJ’s voice came on the box:

“And now a slow ballad from Julie London—Nice Girls Don’t Stay for Breakfast.” 

Andy wondered what was going on.

The Reader is short fiction, published every Friday.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Ouija Board

One of the joys of being at my Grandparent's house was going upstairs, to the attic bedrooms. They had the scent of old wood, I think the windows were only opened when we stayed overnight. There wasn't a great deal of things in those rooms: a bed, a crib, a nightstand and a dresser with a colorful shell on top in the first room; the second room only had two beds and a Grain Belt Beer poster of a jumping Northern Pike on the wall. But in the nightstand were old photographs and some magazines; underneath these things was a Ouija Board. My sister asked my grandmother how it worked- it was merely a piece of Masonite with letters and symbols silk-screened on it, there was a little heart-shaped table with felts on the bottom of its three legs. Grandmother told us that you and a partner would sit on opposite sides of the board with your fingers lightly resting on the table. Someone would ask a question and the Ouija Board would move the table under your fingers and point at the letters or numbers to spell out the answer. When the Ouija was finished, it would point to "Au Revoir."

When my sister and I tried it she asked what the name of her future husband would be. I don't remember what, if anything I asked. The little table seemed to move around on its own accord, but I was old enough then not to believe 100% in anything my sister said or did.

Once I asked my Grandmother if she had ever used the board.

"Oh, yes! Your aunt Selma and I could really make it work! But one of the legs broke off and when we re-glued it it was never the same again."

"What did you ask it?" My grandmother looked a little bit mysterious.

"Well, one time, during the war, your Uncle Bobby was home on leave. He didn't believe in such things, so he asked the Ouija to spell the name of his commanding officer. Selma and I sat down and the board spelled out the name right away. Bobby got mad and walked out the door!"

My grandmother was born in Sweden, she didn't talk much about the spirituality that we heard about in church. She didn't talk about the Ouija after that one day either.
We got a Ouija board for Christmas (?!) the next year, it was new, and its table was made of plastic. I don't recall it working too well either, but we had fun pretending that it did.

First published February 15, 2007

By Professor Batty

Comments: 5 

Monday, February 20, 2017

River Rats

river rats

When our boys were young there was one activity which needed no planning, no preparations, no gear. We would simply walk four blocks down to the river. A child's mind can find infinite things to do with some mud, sticks, stones and water. I would tag along, not saying anything, and the boys would soon be lost in a world of their own imaginings, all the while being enveloped by nature. As they got older they learned to handle a canoe; sometimes their trips ran to the hundreds of miles, with lots of preparation and gear. Being on a wild river on a hot summer's day makes it easy to feel as if one belongs in the world. The river goes on and on, the fish splash, the egrets among the reeds stand guard. All the while the sun-dappled leaves along the shore shiver in their dance of joy. As you float downstream in your tiny craft you cease to exist as you become a part of the scenery.

Some lessons need no professors.

First published , February 20, 2007

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Friday, February 17, 2017

The Reader - Week 7

The Swansong of Larry Lovejoy.

Andy was nursing his beer, trying to make it last through the night. The pub wasn’t very crowded; Thursday nights were never busy. When the band took a break, “Big Dick” came over to his table. He had a 45 rpm record in his hand.

“Look what I scored! White Lightning by Melvin Winton. 1963, rockabilly style,” said Dick, “It was recorded at Kaybank.”

“Mel’s still playing, he must be nearly eighty now,” said Andy. “Do you know who was in the band?”

“That’s the cool part. Kenny Haus on drums. Bobby Hull on guitar,” Dick said, “And, Larry Lovejoy on harmonica!”

“Larry Lovejoy? Wow, there’s a name from the past,” said Andy, “He’s been dead now for what—forty years?”

“I met him once, you know,” said Dick, “Actually twice. We had a gig in the old hall above Howie’s, on West Broadway. We were setting up in the afternoon, and Larry just sort of wandered in off the street. Jessie knew who he was and started talking to him. Jessie had his old Gibson then—the 355. Larry said something like ‘Nice guitar’ and Jessie handed it to him and asked if he would like to play it. Larry held the guitar as if he would play, but it seemed that he was already too far gone, his fingers twitched a little, but he couldn’t bring himself to play anything. I saw him about a year later, just before he died, outside of Penny’s Supermarket on Lyndale. He was with a young woman, his daughter? His girlfriend?  They were waiting for a cab. He was looking pretty bad.”

“I had heard stories about him. For a while there, in the mid-sixties, he was a local legend for his blues-rock guitar playing. I never knew that he played country harmonica,” said Andy, “You heard about the time he subbed for Billy Mason, when Billy and the Bears played in Moorhead?”

“He subbed for Billy in Billy’s own band?” said Dick, “When was that?”

“Must have been about 1975. That’s when Billy was drinking so much that the band wouldn’t let him play with them,” continued Andy, “They were worried that he would have a meltdown in a place where they didn’t have anyone to bail him out, so they got Larry.”

“How did it go over?”

“Larry dropped acid just before the show,” said Andy, “The club had a wall of mirrors at the back of the stage and Larry played the whole show with his back to the crowd, looking at himself. He was awful. The guys in the band were pissed, at Larry fucking up and Billy for being drunk all the time. When they got back, they gave Billy an ultimatum: quit drinking or break up the group. Billy went through rehab. Larry never did. That Moorhead trip might have been the last time Larry Lovejoy performed.”

Andy felt a hand on his wrist.

“I love joy,” said a woman who had walked up behind Andy. It was Jennifer, the woman who had talked to Andy the day Evelyn left.

“Now don’t you run away again on me,” she said.

“Hi,” Andy mumbled, “Good to see you.”

“I’m not interrupting anything important, am I?” she said.

“Just ‘band’ talk,” said Dick, “An old story about someone that hardly anybody remembers. If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to get back on stage.”

Andy felt good, and with Jennifer sitting beside him, the memory of Evelyn was fading fast. He would force himself to be friendlier tonight.

“Can I buy you a drink?” he said.

“You can buy me two,” said Jennifer, “I’m ready to rip it up.”

The Reader is serial fiction, published every Friday.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 2 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017


When an industry holds its annual trade show in Las Vegas, surely there will be plenty of distractions to make the experience more palatable. It was the year 2000, the turning of the millennium, when I found myself in the world capital of broken dreams. The hotel package came with some comp tickets to attractions within the complex, the idea being that you will “make it a night” there and then trundle up to your room with empty pockets. The Riviera was an aging casino, built when the Rat Pack was in its prime; it had become a bit faded, but it still possessed a main room, a comedy club, and an “exotic” show: burlesque that had been updated a bit, but only a bit. There were various acts: leggy and busty dancers sporting teased hair in a flashy musical revue (titled The Crazy Girls), a fan dancer emulating Sally Rand, a foul-mouthed comedienne who brought back memories of high-school locker room conversations.

And then, the climax. The lights dimmed, the curtain slowly opened to reveal...

...a woman, totally nude, lying on a platform that tilted as it revolved. Her “artful” poses changed, depending on the platform's position relative to the audience, she was careful to keep her “bottom” concealed. Classical music played. She looked like a piece of meat on a slab in a butcher’s shop; a plucked chicken displayed for the customer’s approval. This went on for several minutes. Then the curtain closed and the lights went up.

Somehow, I had imagined that Sodom would have been more exciting. After a curtain call by the Crazy Girls, (consisting of them turning around and shaking their collective posteriors), I was herded out with the rest of the chumps.

As I left, I wondered what went through the mind of the “girl on the wheel.”

Twenty years of dance lessons and this is what I get? Rolling around naked on a lazy-susan, oogled by a bunch of creepy tourists?

It’s a living, I guess. I’ve had worse jobs.

First published February 27, 2007

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Monday, February 13, 2017

Mid-Winter Getaway

Vintage postcard, provenance unknown
The Professor is on a sabbatical, hob-nobbing with the elite in the deserts of southern California. In the meantime, FITK re-runs will prevail until regular posting resumes.

The Reader will continue as usual.

This swell documentary should keep you entertained for the duration of my absence:

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Reader - Week 6

    Party at Grandmother’s
I dreamt of grandmother last night. I was at her farm, the old place in the country, a couple of miles outside of a small town in central Minnesota. It was in early summerwhen the farm yard always looked so nicethe fresh green grass was peppered with dandelions and the shade garden was formed by the row of trees on the north side of the house. She was standing in the porch doorway, beckoning to me, she wanted me to come into the house. I went in, it had been remodeled, what was once a tiny kitchen had been tastefully expanded. I sat down, at the old oak kitchen table, with my grandmother (who looked the same as she always had), and she began talking to me, telling me about she the new gravity-fed water system, with its plastic tubing going to the sink and lav. Primitive, to be sure, but better than hauling water. It was leaking, so I examined it and told her that I would fix it for her. And then she was gone, and I was alone in the house.
Andy put down the manuscript. He was generally wary of dream sequences. This one was no better than usual but since he was only doing a light edit it didn’t warrant any major changes. Andy never dreamed about his relatives. His mother and father had died in a car crash the previous year, six months after they had retired. They hadn’t left him anything of value and it cost him most of his savings just to have a funeral and clean out their apartment. Andy was actually living in their house, in a joint tenancy relationship with his father that had been established years ago, before he met Evelyn. Because they never married, he had been assured that Evelyn had no claim on it. He hoped that the lawyer  knew what he was talking about.

Andy never really knew his grandparents, all four of them had died by the time he was old enough to form any memories. Thinking about all this, even though there was nothing he could do about it, made Andy sad, in a vague sort of way. He reluctantly returned to the manuscript:

Childish Dreams

Part One

I had been captured by a witch. I was being held in a small chamber in a cave. I could see through a small hole in its wall to another chamber, a chamber illuminated by a fire that cast a reddish-orange glow over the scene. The witch was cackling with glee over an infernal contraption, a metal rack, fitted with the amputated penises of young boys, boys such as myself. She pulled a lever and all the penises began to urinate. I went back to sleep.

Part Two

I was in a rowboat on a small lake. It was dusk, I knew I should head to shore, but I didn’t know where I had come from. I saw a house on the shore, an old Victorian mansion, with gables peering out from among the bare trees which surrounded it. There was a small dock where I tied up the boat. As I began to walk toward the house, I looked up and saw the form of a hideous monster looming from a widow’s walk along the roof line of the house. Seized with panic, I woke up. I went and sat next to my bedroom window and breathed in the cool summer air. It was 5 in the morning, when the sky was just getting light. I didn’t go back to sleep.

Part Three

I was running away, it was wartime. I knew that what ever was after me was unstoppable, men, guns, tanks, all manner of destruction. I had ended up in an industrial part of town. All the factories had shut down due to the war. I was surprised to see that one building had light coming from a doorway. It was a big fire-door, slightly ajar. I pushed with all my strength and saw silhouettes of a woman and a girl, huddled between me and an intense fire that raged in a furnace in the center of the building. As my eyes adjusted to the scene, I could see that the woman and the girl were dressed in rags. The wore hooded shawls, now tattered but they had evidently once been fine clothes. I stepped closer and, sensing my presence, they turned and looked at me. Their eyes were orbs of fire, the same fire as that of the furnace.

The memoir was heading in an unwelcome direction. Andy needed a walk. And a drink.

He put the manuscript down and went out.

The Reader is serial fiction, published every Friday.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 1 

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

Baffled By Benchley

I've been on a book binge recently—collecting vintage copies of Robert Benchley books. Benchley was a gentle humorist who published many articles in various magazines and newspapers in the 1920s and 30s. He was also cast as a comic character in numerous Hollywood movies in the late thirties and early forties.

His regular illustrator, Gluyas Williams (a buddy of Benchley’s when they were at Harvard), was a perfect match for Robert’s droll wit. Usually portraying Benchley as a eternally befuddled milquetoast, Williams’ line drawings are little masterpieces of observation:

With such titles as: My Ten Years in a Quandary (and How They Grew), From Bed to Worse (or Comforting Thoughts About the Bison), 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or David Copperfield, and The Treasurer’s Report & Other Aspects of Community Singing, it quickly becomes apparent that you are dealing with one of the finest absurdist minds in all of literature. The individual essays are generally short and cover almost every aspect of mundane existence. There a quite a few pieces on train-travel, as well as humorous treatments of sports, politics, and even some satires on the writing styes of Dreiser, Lewis and Mencken. The earliest book I have, Of All Things, dates from 1921. With its numerous obscure names and archaic words, it can be baffling at times. Google is your friend.

Benchley died in 1945 but various “new” titles continued to be published for many years. They were compilations from his previous books, usually featuring the more “universal” of his essays. Those books aren’t as nice, and the illustrations were often printed from the worn-out plates of earlier editions. There are also modern trade paperbacks of his work. I haven’t seen them so I can’t comment on their quality.

Here is a list of the original titles:

Of All Things (1921)                      Benchley’s first book, good.
Love Conquers All (1922)                Many sports pieces, no illustrations.
Pluck and Luck (1925)                    Good essays, numerous illustrations.
The Early Worm (1927)                   Includes A Talk to Young Men.
20,000 Leagues… (1928)                Average collection, few illustrations.
The Treasurer’s Report… (1930)       Better effort and superior printing.
No Poems… (1932)                        Superior book in every way.
From Bed to Worse… (1934)            Solid effort, good over-all.
My Ten Years… (1936)                    Good writing, no big illustrations.
After 1903—What? (1938)               Best book, good illustrations.

Inside Benchley (1942)                    First (and best) compilation.
One Minute Please (1945)                UK compilation, I haven’t seen it.
Benchley—or Else! (1947)                OK posthumous compilation.
Chips off the Old Benchley (1949)     Compilation with many new entries.
The Bedside Manner (1952)              UK compilation

The 1920s books are a little lighter in tone but more dated, while the 1930s books are generally better, with more and better Gluyas Williams’ illustrations.

One note: the frontispiece of No Poems includes this bizarre illustration:

It is out of character for Benchley, who was a champion of civil rights, and while there are other instances of “non-PC” writing in the text and images of these books, it is worth remembering that times change, especially in the field of humor. It may take the modern reader a while to “get” Benchley, but it is worth the effort. A little poking around the internet will turn up many of these titles in PDF versions.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Monday, February 06, 2017

Not Ruby

A few years ago I wrote about my Great-Aunt Ruby Jorns.

There was a little flurry of interest in that post, including emails from a man who, when he was a child, was fostered by Ruby for a time, as well as an inquiry from The Mount Horeb Historical Society.

Her husband Byron (who I never met) was an artist of local renown. His work appears from time to time on various art auction sites, which is where I found this sketch of a charming young woman combing her hair, while a cat looks on.

I assume that the model was not my great-aunt Ruby, who would have been 49 at the time.

I’ll let you imagine the back-story.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 3 

Friday, February 03, 2017

The Reader - Week 5

Coffee Shop Tryst

Andy checked his email: The header had a name from his past, his life before he met Evelyn, before her darkness settled in like an obnoxious house-guest. It was Sally, his ‘secret love’ from high school, replying to his invitation to meet for coffee. They had kept a tenuous relationship over the years—just enough interaction to keep it alive. When Sally had kids, the relationship had pretty well evaporated but when her children had grown and her obligations eased, they began to see each her again—at class reunions, over coffee; once they were at the same theater performance. Over the years she had moved, with her husband, several times but whenever she happened to be in the area they arranged to get together. This was one of those times. Andy replied with an OK, confirming the usual place-the F&M Diner.

When Sally appeared in the shop she was as enthusiastic as ever, projecting an almost child-like sense of joy. They got their coffees and she began to talk. Sally loved to talk. Andy liked to listen to her. Sally was completely without guile or, if she did possess any, Andy was unable to detect it. He never felt any need to read between the lines. He liked to hear the melody in her voice. Although they were sitting at a table for two, Andy quickly became aware of a third party: the one that always showed up when he was talking one-on-one with a woman: his libido. With the unvarying mantra: “Just do it!”, his primal urges had gotten Andy into trouble more than once.  The libido’s stock-in-trade was the Stolen Kiss—usually welcomed—but, as the years rolled on, not so much. When Andy finally learned to ask first, he discovered that un-stolen kisses were much sweeter.

After about twenty minutes the conversation had turned to classic rock bands of the 60s and 70s: The Stones, The Doors, The Who, Pink Floyd, Led Zep…

Led Zeppelin. That’s just ‘cock-rock,’” Sally said, “I liked The Eagles better.”

A mental image of Robert Plant’s endowments flashed in Andy’s brain, followed by Don Henly’s. The phrase “cock-rock” lingered in his ears. Andy wouldn’t try to kiss her now. He changed the subject.

As they compared notes on their recent life-stories, Andy had thought about the way he had fantasized about Sally over the years—not in a glamorous way—his thoughts would come while he was shopping for groceries. Wondering not about what their love-life would be like but, rather, about what their daily menus would be like. In one of his recent reading assignments, a technical paper, Andy had read that people who live together for a long time develop similar bacterial colonies in their bodies, becoming, in a sense, the same organism. But sometimes the colonies wouldn’t mesh. Well, that was one explanation as to why the relationship he had with Evelyn hadn’t lasted, he thought. Evelyn didn’t care much for Andy’s favorite foods, she also ate things that Andy couldn’t stand: bananas, peppers, celery. Had she really made a smoothie out of that combination once? The worst was turmeric on oatmeal. Evelyn ate that for breakfast.


Andy refrained from asking Sally about her turmeric consumption, some dreams should never be shattered.

The Reader is serial fiction, published every Friday.

By Professor Batty

Comments: 5 

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