Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Rant #1,252: Writing About Nothing

Hello, and welcome back to the Ranting and Raving Blog.

There, I have just used up a line.

It is very difficult to write fresh, new columns every day--or at least five days a week--like I do right here.

It is fun, but difficult.

There are days where I have plenty to say--whether I am talking about Archie Comics, or what is happening in Israel right now, or even if I am talking about my own personal quirks, like hating to wear a tie to work each day.

And then there are days where I have to make up things literally on a whim, because for one reason or another, I don't really have anything in mind to write about.

Nothing out there is really catching my eye--if I can even see out of them, which, today, my allergies are by and large preventing me from doing.

My allergies are really bad today, hitting me in both eyes. I can barely keep my eyes open to focus.

Rain is coming, it is very humid out, and that is certainly the culprit.

But whatever the case, I have found that after 1,200-plus entries here, it is often very, very difficult to come up with something new.

Sometimes, the actual writing process fuels me, and I come up with something interesting, new, fresh, and something I personally can be proud of.

And other times, I come up with a dud.

I am sure the professional columnists, those who do this for a living, probably say the same thing.

I am sure there are days where they can write until their fingers are blue, and on those days, they probably write more than one column--one to use immediately, one to store away and use on days when they just don't have much to say that they can plug into the hole and use any time.

You can't always have diamonds. There are some days where you just write about what you write and then put it away.

I feel like today is one of those days. I have written about every subject under the sun, and today--perhaps because I am in some discomfort--I don't really have anything solid to write about.

It happens, I guess, and today, this is truly a column about nothing, a Rant about nothing, whatever you want to call it.

But, as you know, I only take a weekday off from this column if I have some personal business to attend to, or it is a national holiday, and that isn't set in stone, either.

Sometimes I write about something, even on those days, too.

But today, I guess it really is approaching the dog days of summer, and I just can't pinpoint anything I want to write about.

It is akin to a baseball player having an zero for five day at the plate, or a basketball player putting up his shots but never swishing the basket.

I am swishing today, I am striking out today, and, just stay with me when I come back tomorrow.

I am sure that I will have something much more substantial to write about.

Today, mighty Larry has stuck out.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Rant #1,251: Old Friends

You might remember that nearly a year ago, in October 2013, I had the 50th reunion of my old neighborhood of Rochdale Village, South Jamaica, Queens, New York. I helped organize the bash, and it was quite successful.

Yesterday, I had a reunion that was much smaller, and revolved around a different time of my life, my dreaded high school years.

Coming in from California was my old high school buddy, Paul, who I last saw about six years ago.

He called me out of the blue on Saturday, said he was in town, and would like to meet with me. We set up a time on Sunday, and he was there right on time.

He had a chance to meet my wife, and he spent about three hours with us, talking about his current life, looking back on the old days, and generally, we caught each other up on our current situations.

It was nice, even though my high school years are the dreaded years of my life.

I had just moved to Long Island right before school started in the summer of 1971. I was new to the area, and coming from the neighborhood I came from, I was in for the shock of my life.

It was more culture shock, going from a wild environment that was my old neighborhood back then to the uncharted, at least for me, Long Island.

The four years of high school were not fun. I pretty much fell off the earth, didn't really have any friends, at least initially, and I felt sorry for myself.

This greatly impacted my education, and for the very first time in my life, I wasn't into education, wasn't into learning, wasn't into much of anything--except my hobbies.

Without those hobbies, I probably would have fallen way down and not been able to pick myself up. But at least I had things to do in my spare time, not waste them like so many kids did during those years with drinking and drugs.

Anyway, around 11th grade, I became good friends with Paul and his brother, fraternal twins as different as night and day. One was skinny, the other a bit stocky, but we were all pretty much outcasts, so somehow, we gravitated toward each other, and we leaned on each other during those years.

We would go to the movies just about every week--sure, we would rather have gone out with girls, but at that point in our lives, we looked, but didn't know what to do with them, way too shy to actually date anyone--we played ball, we just basically hung out with each other.

As high school ended, we basically went our separate ways, and his family moved to California, and that was pretty much the end of that for several years.

Then, every couple of years, the boys would come back to Long Island to visit, and this is about the third or fourth time I have seen at least one of them over the intervening number of years.

We have all had good times, all had bad times during those years, but we are all still here.

Paul is a smart guy, a former Navy member who later joined the Merchant Marines, and both he and his brother are out on disability. Although his brother did not make the trip this time. Paul is still a vibrant guy. He has always been a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, and although he might not ever find that round hole, it is not for lack of trying.

He is a good guy, we had a couple of laughs yesterday, and then he left.

I am glad that he came over, and I am sure when he visits Long Island again in several years, we will have him over again.

Although those years were very difficult for me--I remember so little from those years, because quite frankly, what should have been the best years of my life were very painful for me--but he was part of the good times, so at least I can say that those years weren't all bad.

And again, it is nice to visit with friends. All you need is one good friend, and you are really set.

And he and his brother were good friends, so I doubled with two good friends, so I guess I was "set" during those years, to a certain extent.

Nice seeing you again Paul.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Rant #1,250: Bubbling Under

Today, I am going to talk about something so very benign that it probably is completely off most people's radar.

There are hit records. We all know them, we purchase them and listen to them, and well, for many people, music is the melody of their lives.

Then there are tunes that are released with very good intentions--artistic and monetary--that simply fall by the wayside for whatever reason.

Billboard magazine, which has been the home to numerous record and song charts for generations, has been the home to something called the "Bubbling Under" singles chart off and on for generations too.

It is a very short chart of tunes that, well, never had the popularity to be on their Hot 100 chart.

Certainly during the 1950s, the 1960s, and 1970s, these charts included songs that were regional hits, and songs that simply didn't have the strength--sales and airplay--to make the national chart.

And the Bubbling Under chart included music from just about every artists imaginable, everyone from the Beatles to Elvis to acts that never really made much of a music dent, such as the Robbs and Linda Lloyd.

Just as a side note, many tunes that became huge hits also started out on the Bubbling Under chart before becoming legitimate hit records. If I remember correctly, one was "For What It's Worth" by the Buffalo Springfield. Those songs are interesting, too, because it shows how exposure after the release of a song can catapult it to the upper reaches of the chart. In fact, there was also a Bubbling Under album chart, and I do remember that the Monkees' first album started off on there, and in one week, leaped like 100 places once their show debuted and "Last Train to Clarksville" was becoming a national hit.

But those aren't the songs I am talking about.

I am talking about songs like "Bittersweet" by the Robbs, a tune that was very popular in its day in some places, a tune that got lots of exposure on TV via the "Where the Action Is" show, but for some reason, never made it to the Hot 100, which measures sales, airplay and yes, it can be a very political chart too.

At least that is what it measured in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Today, with digital sales and YouTube being what they are, I don't know what Billboard's charts measure anymore, or even if they are relevant in today's world. What's the Number One song in the country now? Who knows? Who cares?

But back then, these things were important, because the music reflected the times we lived in, an extremely turbulent time in our history.

Anyway, why am I talking about the Bubbling Under chart like I am?

It is a strictly personal thing, nothing more.

I have always been fascinated with singles, what becomes a hit and what doesn't.

I love the hits, but I also love the misses.

I love "I'm a Believer," but I also love "Mommy and Daddy." Both are by the Monkees, but one is a classic and the other ... well, it simply wasn't a classic, although I do love the songs almost equally.

I have decided to get together as many of these Bubbling Under songs and put them on as many CD-Rs as possible for my own, personal listening enjoyment. I use a reference book about the Bubbling Under charts, which was compiled by the erstwhile Joel Whitburn, who has become extremely well know in certain circles for his books on the Billboard charts, as a guide.

I have chosen the years 1964-1971 to focus on, simply because to me, personally, those are the best, most exciting years of music that we have ever experienced. Those years mirror the period when the Beatles had their most incredible influence on music in the U.S., so those eight years are a good point to go with, at least for me--the years my ears were opening up to such things, from age seven to age 14, when I entered high school.

It has been fun at the beginning. I have a lot of the stuff on record, CD and MP3 anyway, but this is the first time I am putting everything together on CD-R.

So far, I have found in my collection just about everything I need, but I am sure there are going to be plenty of songs that I don't have, and that is going to be where the fun is, trying to search and find where I can get these songs so that I have a complete collection of those years.

Since I am just at the beginning of this, it is probably going to take some time to get everything together, so I will let you know in the future how it goes--and probably have a list of songs that I don't have.

It should be fun, a nice thing to focus on during my sparse down time.

I will let you know how it goes as I "Bubble Under" myself.

Speak to you again on Monday.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Rant #1,249: The World Has Gone Mad

I don't know about you, but I think the world has been off its normal axis for a long, long time.

Things that were once unacceptable are now very acceptable, considered to be very normal, considered to be part of our landscape.

But some things go on and on and on and don't change, because they aren't supposed to.

Take Archie Andrews, the All-American Boy of Riverdale, Anywhere, U.S.A., who has been around for decades and decades.

His life traditionally revolves around home, school, his friends and his girlfriends--basically, a typical American teen's life.

He gravitates between Betty and Veronica, with Reggie thrown into the mix to keep him on his toes, and Jughead to provide comic relief.

But in these politically correct times, Archie's life has become a bit more complicated than who to date--blond or brunette--or how to one-up Reggie.

Yes, in this PC world, where every grain and morsel of our being has been put under a microscope, Archie has become more active in the world as we know it--and now he has paid for it with his life.

In today's installment of the "Life With Archie" daily comic strip, Archie is shot down and murdered, taking a bullet meant for his friend, a politician.

Oh, yes, I forgot to tell you. The politician, his friend, just happens to be gay.

The episode is the last one focusing on the adult adventures of the Archie universe of characters, and he will live on in comic books and other media.

"The way he dies is everything that you would expect of Archie," said Jon Goldwater, Archie Comics publisher.

Wait a minute ...

What is he talking about, and why is Archie all of a sudden such a heroic figure?

Archie and his pals were created for very young children, and his comics, and comic strip, are often the very first comics that kids read before they graduate onto Superman, Batman and Spider-Man.

It has been like that since 1941, when the character debuted.

I understand trying to make the character more adult, more with it, more savvy on the world of today.

But, my goodness, you are dealing with readers who, because of their age, probably have no idea what you are talking about.

I do not have statistics in front of me, and I am just using my own experience--and that of my younger sister--to illustrate this point.

I would estimate that the average reader of Archie comics is probably five or six years old, with the daily comic strip drawing in readers who are probably a little bit older.

And I mean a little bit, maybe like seven or eight.

And most of the readers are female, although I am sure that plenty of boys read Archie too.

Whether male or female, they have no comprehension, at this age, about politics, sexuality, etc., so why use Archie to spread an obvious agenda that you have?

When is this PC nonsense going to stop?

Sure, you can say that spreading this agenda to kids at an early age will only help them to understand, to be more open to things, as they get older.

But what happened to childhood? What happened to the joys of being a kid, discovering things on your own?

I don't know about you, but when I was five or six years old, or even seven or eight years old, the furthest thing from my mind was a person's sexuality.

Heck, I didn't even know what that meant.

I read comics for pure enjoyment, nothing more.

And comics were fun, whether you read them in the newspaper or bought them off the newsstand.

There have been attempts in the past to make Archie more relevant.

I remember as a kid, they had a series of comics where Archie and the gang became super heroes.

It did not work, and that series did not last.

I also remember that Archie and the gang started to wear clothes that their generation was wearing in the late 1960s, their hair got a little longer, their skirts got a little shorter on the girls.

Heck, they became so relevant that the Archies even had a number one record as a band, "Sugar Sugar."

But this latest attempt at relevancy is ridiculous, going to the extreme to push several buttons, none of which their average reader can possibly understand.

Whatever happened to innocence?

Must we, as adults, push our agendas onto young kids too?

The world has gone mad. I am convinced of that.

Next, we will probably hear that Popeye is having an affair with a young woman, and Olive Oyl is running for President of the United States.

Oh, um, we have already had that scenario in the White House with the Clintons, so that wouldn't really be original, would it?

OK, let's make Popeye into somebody who came out of the closet, announced that he was having an affair with Wimpy, and he ends up taking a bullet for Blutto, spinach or no spinach.

Don't Mickey Mouse me.

This type of nonsense is what our PC world is about now, and you know what ...

I am truly sick of it, had it up to here, and feel bad for the young kids of this country, who are being indoctrinated into schizoid thinking way before they are ready to handle such things.

And you liberal thinkers out there, please, don't even try to convince me that this is the right way to go.

I will answer you in one way:

Whatever happened to childhood?

Why can't kids be kids anymore?

Enough is enough. Let's stop this nonsense now.

I have a personal matter that I have to take care of tomorrow, so there will not be a Rant tomorrow.

Speak to you again on Friday.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rant #1,248: Jeter's Night

Make no mistake about it: tonight, Major League Baseball's All-Star Game is about one person--

Derek Jeter.

Some argue that Jeter shouldn't even be there.

He is having a below-par season after sitting out most of the 2013 season with injury.

His team, the Yankees, in plain English, stink to high heaven (and that is coming from a true Yankees fan).

So why is Jeter not only at the All-Star Game, but a starter, no less?

It has to do with what he represents, which is more than his statistics.

The fans voted him into the game because he is the last of a breed of baseball star, or maybe even sports star.

He comes from a very visible two-parent family who evidently brought him up the right way.

They still attend many of his games, almost as if they were Little League parents.

His parents are both educators, and I will bet when they told him to take out the garbage, he took out the garbage.

One white, one black, he is an everyman for all people.

Jeter has been completely free of scandal during his career, free of talk that he took this or did that.

The only thing he has done, generally, during his long career with the Yankees is win.

He has five World Series championship rings to prove it.

He was the anchor of those great teams. Without him, they wouldn't have won as much as they have.

He is as All-American as Jack Armstrong, even more so because he is real.

He was never the best player on the field, but he was always the smartest, and that counts for a lot.

And that is why he is in the All-Star game, and why fans voted him in as a starter.

He is the All-American dream rolled up into one player, a kid who idolized the Yankees while growing up and then plays for them.

He was born in New Jersey, but lived most of his young life in Michigan, but that did not dampen his Yankees spirit.

He is the last of the Core Four to play the game, and probably the best player of that bunch.

This scenario reminds me of when Mickey Mantle was done as a player in 1968.

He was hitting in the .230s, couldn't really play anymore, but was in the All-Star game anyway.

This is before the fans voted for players, which began again the next year (it had been done earlier, but was abandoned when ballot-stuffing in certain cities was found to be the case).

Anyway, I forget who the manager was, but he was asked why Mantle was on the team at this juncture in his career.

He answered something to the effect, "Because everyone wants to see him one last time in an All-Star Game."

And that was all that had to be said then about Mantle, and all that has to be said now about Jeter.

Play ball!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Rant #1,247: Swat-Sticker

I am sure by now that you have heard that a plane flew above Long Island beaches late last week towing behind it a sign that enraged many beachgoers.

Evidently, in the midst of everything else going on in the world, there is an organization that wishes to change the perception of the swatstika ... yes, the very symbol of Nazi hate during World War II, a symbol so notorious that 70 years after the conflict, it still makes people sit up and notice.

This group claims that the swatstika was once a peaceful symbol, and they want to reverse what people think about it, and the plane with the sign is part of their campaign to reverse the symbol's image.

Sorry, I am not buying that, but I have heard this lament before.

The swatstika--sort of a bent out of shape cross--symbolized everything that was wrong with Germany's stance under Adolph Hitler during the second World War.

It also symbolized hatred, mainly against Jews, as well as many others.

As we all know, that hatred continues to exist both here and around the world.

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of extremist groups looking to wipe out Jews in this country and worldwide, and look at what is happening in the Middle East right now.

Incidents like the Israeli strikes against Hamas--an organization whose main goal is to wipe Israel off the face of the map--make some people crazy, and their true colors come out against not only Israelis, but Jews in general.

And don't tell me that this pro-swatstika thing isn't a byproduct of this recent hatred, even though the group that supports this stance has been around for probably at least a decade.

I remember in the early 1970s, Donovan came out with a single called "Atlantis," about the mythical land under the sea. It was a big hit, but it also created an incredible amount of controversy, because on its single picture sleeve cover was a reversed swatstika.

The explanation was that this was actually a peaceful symbol, but even though the song was quite a hit, I don't know if I ever bought that--or perhaps Donovan was a little naive on the way things really are in the world.

I remember in the late 1970s and early 1980s, riding the Long Island Railroad to work in Manhattan. One day while we rode in, at one of the stations--as station in a community with a large amount of Jews living in it--was a very prominent swatstika that was drawn on the walls of the one of the stations.

I remember seeing this along with my fellow passengers, and we were outraged, and saddened by it.

In these pre-cell phone days, all one could do was wait until we got off the train to voice our complaints, and by the next day, the swatstika was gone.

This latest incident is simply the newest of the bunch of similar incidents, but this one tries to justify its existence by saying what it believes the swatstika really means, trying to "educate" us on the true meaning of the symbol.

Hogwash! Whatever the "true" meaning of the symbol, it was taken by Hitler's Germany and used to signify out and out hate.

And no matter what anyone says, that is what the symbol represents.

And the bringing out of the "plan" now simply perpetuates anti-Semitism, which is on the rise in this country and around the world.

One part of the banner actually had the nerve to put together the swatstika with a Jewish star.

I mean, what type of world do we live in where we have people who truly and firmly believe this nonsense?

I know that local authorities are trying to ban such "advertising" from happening again, but why did they allow it to happen the first time?

Yes, I do believe in free speech, but when the speech is hurtful like this thing, then it is not only hateful, it is unnecessary.

And if one can't figure out the true direction of this supposed organization, I feel sorry for you ...

And for the world for allowing this type of hate to fester.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Rant #1,246: Mercifully, the End of the Week

This has been a very long week for me, and I am glad that it is just about over.

If it is not one thing, it is another.

I seem to be in a tangled web that even though I am doing the right thing, it just seems that I am stuck, because it ends up being the wrong thing.

Work has been a horror show this week.

I don't mind being busy--it makes the day go faster--but being ridiculously busy is another thing.

And I lot of this nonsense could be easily avoided, but I am in a workplace where little bumps in the road are made into cavernous potholes that are difficult to dig out from.

No, it's not me who is creating this situation, but heck, I am just an employee, and I don't have much of a say in how things get done.

Now, the latest wrinkle in the week, which has nothing to do with work ...

The accident that doesn't go away, that keeps on giving me nothing but heartache, is back to rear its ugly head once again.

My own insurance company is going after me for money, claiming that I had some type of agreement with the other insurance company, and that this puts them in a position where money paid to me has to be recouped.

This is obviously a mistake, and I will set them straight today. I have no idea what agreement I made, nor what they are insinuating, but they are not going to get any money out of me ... they are supposed to be representing me in such situations, not accusing me of wrong-doing.

I am sure it is a misunderstanding, but I will get to the bottom of this nonsense bright and early this morning.

My wife told me about this when I got home from work yesterday, and after a hard day at the job, this was certainly the last thing I needed to hear.

I am steamed, didn't sleep well last night, and my eyes are bothering me today.

Need I say more ... this is the accident that keeps giving, and me, the victim, and my family, also victims of somebody who didn't know what he was doing on the road, have had enough.

Heck, my family and I could have been killed in this accident, and the insurance company--my own insurance company--has the gall to go after me for money?

Please ...

And please let this week end already.

I feel like the guy in the movie "Network" who screams, "I have had enough and I can't take it anymore," or whatever he said.

That is the way I feel now, and let's see what happens today.

Enough is enough is enough is enough is enough is enough ....

(P.S.: By about 11 a.m. est today, the situation with the insurance company was all but resolved, although the other company is sticking with its claim that I was at least partly at fault for the accident. This is truly idiotic, but the main contention they had was found to be completely false, and they have withdrawn that entirely, thank goodness.

And if someone takes their car, goes completely though s Stop sign, doesn't see the other driver, T-Bones that driver, knocks the car over with such force that it turns over, and totals out the car that was hit, how can the other driver have any fault on his part for what happened? Let's see how this thing plays out ... .)

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