Sunday, October 13, 2013

On Wisconsin, A Meditation..revised

Until  May 24, 1967, Wisconsin forbade the sale of "oleomargarine," or margarine. I remember this from my childhood. The prohibition of selling margarine in Wisconsin. I had a cousin in Milwaukee and on Sundays we went to visit. We brought margarine. This had to be my first inkling of state's rights.

You can read an interesting account of the "Butter versus Margarine," contretemps in the link.

Here is what I remember about those trips in the late 50s.

A & W Root Beer Stand on the highway, across the border which is now  I-94.

I am the guy standing next to James Dean

Current Route of  I-94

There was and is the Mars Cheese Castle.

Wisconsin is home to varying types of political opinions.

Robert Marion "Fighting Bob"[1] La Follette, Sr. (June 14, 1855 – June 18, 1925). "vocal opponent of railroad trusts, bossism, World War I, and the League of Nations.

Joseph Raymond "Joe" McCarthy (November 14, 1908 – May 2, 1957) He beat La Follette's son in the GOP primary by under 3 percent (or 5,000 votes) in 1946. McCarthy ironically paired with Roy Cohn, during the infamous Army/McCarthy hearings. Ironic because McCarthy hated homosexuals as much as he hated communists. And Cohn was a closeted gay man.

Russell Dana "Russ" Feingold ( born March 2, 1953) . Remember McCain/Feingold.

Wisconsin is also home to the Green Bay Packers. They are the bĂȘte noire of the Chicago Bears.
The Packers began life on 1919. The Chicago Bears also began life in 1919.

1919 Packers


 1919 Chicago Black Sox with the alleged game fixers circled.

How else to conclude but the Sermon on the Mount as seen through the eyes of Monty Python.

Oh wait, there is one thing more...

No, there is never enough of Wisconsin. All 50 states of being can be encapsulated in Wisconsin. It's got the city, the suburbs, the farms, the paper mills, the dairy, the whole deal with Oshkosh and experimental aircraft, Harley, the hippies in Madison, the hippies in Appleton, The Brat Stop, Pleasant Prairie Outlet malls, Tommy Bartlett, Hank Aaron, Jim Taylor. (great fullback for the Packers), Paul Hornung (great man of the world) etc.

Sure, I could go on and list another 35 facts or opinions I have about Wisconsin to get to 50. But I have too much respect for you, the reader.

And I know who you are!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Let the healing begin: The 50 states of Don.

As most of you know, Don's Basement, does not as rule take political stands. But the current budget stalemate and political warfare are not good for business. At least my business which is selling products to retail customers who then sell them to consumers (or as I like to call them, ' the people') would be thrown off by a default on the nation's credit limit. Frankly, it sets a bad precedent for those retailers if the government decides it's ok that they don't pay their bills. Everyone should pay their bills.

Sorry for the outburst. Now for the healing. The United States is made up of 50 states. And as a friend of mine likes to remind me, "it's the United States of America and not the United People of America." Many of us are unfamiliar with the other states or have stereotypical, shallow views of them.

I am of the latter category. The main reason I think about other states is the college football season. In the fall, Alabama, Georgia, Nebraska, and Kansas State are top of mind. The rest of the year, not as much.

So, I am embarking (or should I say we?) on a tour of the United States from Don's Basement.


There is an Evanston, Wyoming. I stopped there on bus sometime in the early 70s.

It was a very cold day. How cold was it? (insert joke here because I've got nothing).
Trust me, very cold. I live in Chicago and have for over 50 years. That is 50 winters. I still remember how cold it was in Evanston, Wyoming just outside the bus terminal. And frankly, I haven't been back since.

As a kid, we went to Jackson Hole. Now it is a big deal. For skiing and hiking.

It looks pretty nice but here is how I remember it.

Dick Cheney is from Wyoming.

Dick Ellsworth, a pitcher for the Cubs, is also from Wyoming. (Which I just learned from Wikipedia, I knew he was a lefty and that he lost 20 games in one season and then turned around and won 20.. Okay, I only remembered that he lost the 20 games. Who am I kidding here?)

Won 115
Lost 137
ERA 3.72

Liz Cheney is Dick Cheney's daughter.

There are 576,412 people living in Wyoming.
There are over 2.5 million people who live in Brooklyn.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Dutch Masters

What do we think about when we think about Amsterdam?

Morey (nee Moritz) Amsterdam.
Mr. Amsterdam once called Hollywood ''the kind of place where the skeletons in the closet are ashamed of the people who live in the house.''

The Human Joke Machine.

Some think of Anne Frank. Her house is a major attraction in the town.

Then there are the canals. "Oh, yeah, obviously the canals,. I mean the canals go
without saying, don't they?

The canals were built in the 17th century as a tourist attraction to compete with Bruge and EuroDisney,

And Pulp Fiction. Let's hear it directly from Vincent and Jules.

Royale with Cheese.

For me, Amsterdam is the moment when I encountered "De Staalmeesters- The Syndics; the sampling Officials (Wardens) of the Amsterdam Drapers' Guild, 1662," painted by Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, a local artist at the time. (You should really click on the link because whoever wrote about this painting is super smart.)

Terrific picture. There were lots of us taking photos of the paintings. They even let people take flash pictures. Very paparazzi. But did any of them had the deep connection to the cigar company. To Ernie Kovacs. To Edie Adams. Black and white TV. As if the years were suddenly turned back and a 9 year old kid watches a very goofy man with a thick mustache and an achingly gorgeous chanteuse.

Adams and Kovacs

Adams and Kovacs brought to you by The Dutch Masters. Let's face it, Rembrandt was unknown at the time and considered a square by the pop art crowd and the "thrown the paint on the canvas and sell it to people" movement.

The Dutch Masters took a chance and put the neglected artist on their box.

Now, it is hard to believe but this painting of Rembrandt is worth more than the cigar company.

And that is why there will always be an Amsterdam.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Streets of Miami, an annotated, exegesis of Allan Sherman

Iconography: Barefoot singer on a pedestal, chic (Gentile?) woman holding a chicken, Cupid holding up a bottle of seltzer, rye bread, a wine bucket of bagels. a plate of pickles and a large salami dangling from his arm.

I have been listening to a book on CD,  Miami Babylon. The prelude to this story is the arrival of the Marieolitos in Miami during the Carter administration. Castro embarrassed us and then there is a lot of cocaine, Scar Face, Miami Vice, and the international yuppification of South Beach.

 Between these tales, is a slight reminiscence of tourist Miami of the late 50s and early sixties.

This is the most important epoch in that town's history because that's when my family vacationed there in the Summer. I was pre-teenish. Landmarks such as Wolfies and the Sea Breeze Hotel (or was it the Eden Roc?) have left a mark. I recall a world of Jai Alai, the dog track, Hialeah, the smell of cigarette smoke, the pool and occasionally the beach.


In 1962,  Allan Sherman's My Son the Folksinger was the number 1 album on billboard's top 200. Among the other #1's in 1962, Elvis (Blue Hawaii), West Side Story, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Ray Charles (what's with that title? it sounds like a class not a record)


Sandwiched that year between Peter, Paul and Mary and Vaughn Meador's classic "The First Family" lie   My Son, the Folksinger., a proud salmon in the deli of life.
  Both pre and post ironic at the same time.

The Lyrics to The Streets of Miami" (Allan Sherman/Hyman Roth)
As I wandered out
On the streets of Miami
I said to meinself (As speakers of Yiddish, the first generation of Jews who fought the Seminole Native Americans for control of Florida,  often confused grammar and syntax. )

This is some fancy town

I called up mein partner (see above for explanation)
And said, "Hello, Sammy
Go pack up your satchel ( Woody Allen famously named his son after the lyrics of this song. Woody's encounter with Sherman after hours at a famous deli left Allen in awe. It gave Woody confidence that he could be funnier and ultimately he was)And mosey on down" (Nobody said that except in the movies. And I'm not even sure they said it in the movies. It took another 10 years and an infestation of dope brownies to before the word "mosey" was uttered. Somewhere in Northern California).

I got me a bunk
In the old Roney Plaza 

I never heard of the Roney Plaza until Allen Sherman. Then it became a code word for that time when you are a child. And event happens around you and you have no idea what's going on. The Roney Plaza. As you get older, the Roney takes on new meaning. The rise and spectacular fall of glamour and style. We watch as silent guardians. Because the Roney was once the most chi-chi place on the beach. Where hobs met with knobs and had the best time. And you're surrounded by a wire fence and men with wrecking balls beat on you until you succumb.


With breakfast and dinner
Included of course
(the American plan as opposed to the European plan in which no meals were included. The ultimate winner has been the continental breakfast. At least in America. There is the Chinese plan which is unbridled capitalism ruled by communist dictators. In China you get a buffet breakfast included and it is more cosmopolitan than continental. The dumplings, steamed vegetables, and rice sit together in harmony with Cheerios, Corn Flakes, yoghurt and fruit. All negotiated with jet lagged, hung over or otherwise impaired travelers.)
I caught 40 winks
On mein private piazza (sic)
Then I rented a pinto (This will amaze you. The Pinto, the actual car was still 9 years away. And the Mustang still a few years hence. Sherman was prescient.  In that broad brush, astrological prescience kind of way)
From Hertz Rent-a-Horse

He rented a pinto from Hertz Rent-a-Horse

My partner flew down
On a non-scheduled airline  (Bob Newhart does a very funny bit about non-scheduled air lines. I have no idea what they were. It sounds like a low cost alternative.
But in Sherman's work, the partner does not seem very thrifty)

You never did see
Such a pale-looking man

I recognized him
From his receding hairline
He recognized me
From mein beautiful tan

Twas then that I heard
Fighting words from mein partner

Twas then that I heard
Fighting words from mein partner
He said, "Marvin, the Roney is no place to stay

I'm going to the Fontainebleau (the unreachable star. We drove past the place dozens of time. We never had a snack, a drink for the folks at the Fontainebleau when I was a kid. Forbidden fruit. )

Partner, it's mod'ner
And I'll charge to the firm 60 dollars a day"

He'll charge to the firm 60 dollars a day (60 dollars is today's equivalent of a trillion dollars)
I said to him, "Paleface, (Fun Bob Hope movie. Hope plays a dentist. Painless Potter)
You hanker for trouble (more Yiddishism)
With the company checkbook
You quick on the draw"

He smiled and said, "Stranger,
For me that goes double

'Cause west of the Fontainebleau (that of course would cover a tremendous swatch of American. It's pretty far east, sitting as it does on Miami Beach)

I am the law"

Next morning
The whole Lincoln road was deserted (The legendary street of dreams...another rags to riches to rags "and bottles today, any rags!" Groucho Marx called out,. Also see Myron Cohen, where 2 adorable  little women waited for a bus to take them shopping at Linka Road. They ended up at Hialeah. The punch line is "whadda we going to do with a horse)


And somewhere a hi-fi was playing a tune (Hi Fi is a very evocative word. It meant back in those days that you could invite women into your room and they might sleep with you. Or listen to a lot of Delta Blues with intoxicated male friends
'Cause everyone knew
Someone's gonna be murdered

In a duel in the sun (1948 film starring Gregory Peck, Jennifer Jones and Lillian Gish)On the stroke of high noon (1952 film starring Gary Cooper, Gracy Kelley and a very scary Lee Van Cleef)
A duel in the sun at the stroke of high noon

Lee Van Cleef in the middle. Playing a very mean harmonica

I took careful aim
With mein trusty revolver (Today's music includes many guns. Guns have always been a part of American culture. And non-gun people don't like it. But everyone (most everyone) watches shoot-em-ups in one guise or another.
The clock in the Fontainebleau
Struck 12 o'clock

I shot and Sam crumbled
Just like a piece halvah (Fresh halvah. From the store, not packaged in ok. I never loved it. But I ate it out of cultural identification)

And that's what they called
A bad day at Black Rock (A movie with Spencer Tracy where it is hot and there is a train and some shooting. Now it is an investment portfolio)

They came with a posse
And took mein six gun away
The crowd was too angry
To leave me in jail

The sheriff said, "Outlaw
I'm gon' let you run away
But don't ever be seen
South of Ft. Lauderdale" (the Fort just beginning to make a name for it self. The Frankie Avalon movie" Where The Boys Are" was a very stridently feminist film.  Under the guise of wet bikinis (maybe damp), the guys ultimately are won over or jilted by the girls.)So now I can never go back to Miami
And New York is so cold
That a person could die
I'd be better off dead
Like mein late partner Sammy

'Cause he's in that big Fontainebleau in the sky (Not technically true. The large hotels in heaven have only one holy Maker.)
'Cause he's in that big Fontainebleau in the sky!


Sunday, August 11, 2013

The Four Tiers of Sports Fandom

In early July, during a visit with photographer Adam Tetzoff and novelist Amy Shearn at their swankY elevator building in Brooklyn, I told Adam about my excitement about the Black Hawks' thrilling run or rather skate to the Stanley Cup.

Adam has often, well maybe just occasionally, remarked about my admittedly
front-running sports fan philosophy.  As if that was some kind of character flaw.

As I have grown older, I consume sports almost exclusively on TV. TV is entertainment. What is entertaining about watching losing teams?

While not exclusively a front-runner in sports, I tend to favor winners and ignore losers. I am that guy that "real" fans excoriate as band wagon jumpers.

Here is a cool bandwagon.

Hard to jump on that guy.

 Here is a picture that Adam took.
Pirated from Downtown at Dawn

Adam formulated what he calls the four tiers of sports fandom? Where do you fit in?

Four tiers of sports fandom 

1. Life long love: the equivalent of a sports marriage.
Till death do you part. May run hot and cold but a sincere and emotional bond is always present. The most rewarding wins and most heartbreaking losses.

For me, this is the Chicago Bears. They are appointment TV and if not I can't watch live- I make sure to record the game. Then live in fear of inadvertently hearing a score during a fall afternoon when I am forced to be outside or see a play or some other non-Bears related activity. 

2. Local team: On tv, in the papers, talk of the town. Convenient to follow and useful socially. If you move you need not maintain relations but you can always claim long term affiliation when they succeed.

I never really had that when I lived in California. I did not Belushi all over the place with Chicago sports love.

3. Playoff Pony: Sometimes you root for a story, other times the enemy of your enemy. Can lead to strange bedfellows.

This is definitely me. The Hawks. The Bulls, post Jordan when they made a run. Embarrassingly, Tiger pre-Thanksgiving 2009 when he was winning majors and everything else. Also, the Phil Jackson lead Lakers whom I adopted after the Bulls stopped winning in Chicago.

4. Moveable Feast: your favorite player's current teams. These affiliations can instantly arise and disappear with a draft selection, trade, or free agency.

This is all Adam and his love for Kevin Garnett. Now playing for the Brooklyn Hipsters.

My passion with the Black Hawks this year began with their playoff run and culminated with a visit to the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. Had the Black Hawks lost in the playoffs. I would never have gone. We would have visited Fort York.

Here they are about to fight the United States in 1812.


Saluting the World Champion Black Hawks.
Bobby Hull. he of the amazing slap shot and incredible liver.

Lots of Russian surnames on the roster.


Saturday, August 3, 2013

Niagara Falls, slowly I turned...

For men or boys of a certain age, if you say Niagara Falls, they will say...

"Niagara Falls,  slowly I turned...step by step...inch by inch..." I myself am of that age. So when I went to Niagara Falls recently, I had Peggy shoot this video.

The Three Stooges performed this routine in movies and on TV. The story is of a man who is left by his wife. She leaves a note. "Dear Moe; I am running away with Larry." Moe becomes obsessed with finding the man who has ruined his life. Moe finds him. In Niagara Falls.

Moe tells this story to a stranger and becomes so worked up that beats up Curly (or Curly-Joe)...Stooges Flava.

Then Curly et al, says Niagara Falls again. And the beatings continue.

The Niagara Falls phenomenon is commented on by Rebecca Day of the Niagara Falls Reporter.
She contends that the Stooges were only one of many vaudeville acts that used "Slowly I turned," and that Niagara Falls was not always the trigger.

Ms. Day contends that Joey Faye, a vaudevillian whose journey took him from playing second banana to the great Phil Silvers, " appeared in 36 Broadway shows and numerous programs on early television, and won a best actor award in 1959 from the West Coast Critics Association for a Los Angeles production of ''Waiting for Godot'' opposite Jack Albertson," and ultimately played a grape on a Fruit of the Loom commercial.
His autograph: You are not to be sneezed at. God Bless

Joey is white guy on right.
Joey Faye, nee Joseph Antony Palladino  also is credited or self credited for the Flugle Street bit.
Here the protagonists attempt to deliver straw hats to the Susquehanna Hat Company, but everyone they meet along the way has a reason for hating that company and each of them destroys a hat until there are none left.

Anger and frustration course through the work of the late Mr. Faye.

Peggy and I had a lovely time at Niagara Falls.

See below for Stooges with Curly.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Then and now....a father's day weekend.

On Father's Day, we went to see "Man of Steel." It reminded me of how much I know about the original Superman. And the passage of time.

Does any remember Mister Mxyzptlk?

What about Bizarro Superman?

What of Jorel? Superman's birth daddy.

 Amy Shearn, the author of The Mermaid of Brooklyn and I planted on Earth Day sometime in the early 90s.

Can you see this tiny little tree? It is in the foreground and sort of looks like a weed.

Now, it's 20 years later....

It's the same tree. It's hard to believe.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A few days in the life: Las Vegas Edition

The mid-life crisis. The crisis. Who am I? When does this ever end? Oh wait, I know where it ends. It looks like this. The desert. The cactus; the stone, perchance a rabbit.

Or it could be a leathery, tattooed, drunken mass of slightly goofy vacationers and locals looking upward  towards an loud, edgy light show.


I felt invisible. An empty shell-A lonely cell in which an empty heart must dwell (Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley and published in 1962.

 After a few days of gambling, drinking, and playing golf, the spirits of the unholy trilogy of lounge singers began to shimmer from the walls of famous Pawn Stars, pawn shop. I'm not sure I even saw that picture.

At first, the energy field pushed me to perhaps, unhealthy extremes.

Suddenly I saw a sign. But could only take a picture of some of it. Isn't that the way of the Truth? You can only see some of it and only through a car's windshield.

Isn't god (or God)very similar to Love.  Although god has even more stretch limos than the Little White Chapel, where Michael Jordan, Joan Collins and Amy Shearn were married. (not to each other)

Suddenly, I began to brim with confidence and renewed sense of self. Maybe it is true. All you need is love and a little time off.


So maybe I haven't built a Hoover dam. But I did take the tour. It made me proud that someone besides Rachel Maddow appreciates the dam thing. (a joke made twice by our tour guide)

I don't really have a slogan. As I am still working on the overall donsbasement brand, I don't have Rachel's
"lean forward."

Instead, I just say "good bye and good luck/"

Or sometimes, just "so what,"