Sunday, June 28, 2015

Berowne's 276 Quiz

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "Y" is for "Yawner")

Here’s this week’s quiz.  The following scenelet might remind you of a certain well-known woman.  Who?

“Our citizens committee is glad you decided to see us, Captain.  We believe what we have to say is important.”

“Yeah.  It’s about that woman, right?”

“Right.  She doesn’t want to cause trouble, but she says she can’t get you to listen to her.”

“Oh, we listen to her.  For the past year or so she has come in to the station here demanding to be heard.  Finally I appointed one officer to deal with her each time.”

“But that’s it; he’s just a cop.  She insists she should be heard by the man in charge, the guy she calls the Yawner.”

“That’s what she calls me?”

“I’m afraid so.  She says every time she tries to talk seriously with you, you start yawning.”

“No one told me, when I finally made captain, that such a huge amount of my time would have to be spent with nut cases.”

“We understand how you feel, Captain.  But the somber truth is, she has very important information, more important than almost anyone can imagine.  So we have obediently formed a citizens committee to make sure her message gets heard.”

“All right, let’s go over this carefully.  She claims to have the gift of foretelling the future, given to her by God, right?”

“Well, not quite.  I mean, it does seem strange to us, but in her religion they don’t have a god, they have gods.”

“Yes, I heard about them from the officer I assigned to listen to her.  Strange is right.  They don’t act like gods, they act like normal neurotic guys – always arguing, fighting, screwing around and so on.”

“They are indeed very different from our idea of religious deities.”

“So you begin to get an idea of why I would very much like not to have to sit here and listen to the raspy voice of this woman.”

“But forget about all that.  She has astonishing information on a possible invasion that is of national importance.  For the good and safety of our country, someone in a position of authority should listen very carefully to her.”

“Come on, that’s a bit much.  You really believe such nonsense? “

“Whenever we’ve had a major catastrophe in the past, it usually turns out that there had been someone desperately trying to tell us what was going to happen.  Well, she’s the one who’s trying to tell us now.” 

“It’s all too far-fetched; no one’s going to believe her.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Berowne's 275

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "X" is for "Excellence")

Last week Truedessa wrote: “Can we expect another story from you soon? (Hopeful)”  So this one you can blame on her.

A few years ago, the New Yorker magazine ran an article by a writer who was amazed to learn that his father had been the last person to interview the baseball star Babe Ruth. 

As I read the article I thought, Really?  I thought I was the last person to interview Babe Ruth.

To our blogger friends who aren’t American - and today to a huge number of those who are - Babe Ruth is one of those names out of the past that probably means little.  But in the years after World War I, he was perhaps the most famous person in the United States.  Baseball was the sport of that day, eagerly followed by both the intelligentsia and hoi polloi.

According to one scholar, "Ruth's playing was an exalted, uplifting experience that meant so much to the country.  A Babe Ruth home run was an event unto itself, one that meant anything was possible."

A quick time-travel to a later year.  As an announcer, young Berowne had made it from the provinces and had managed to get a job in New York radio.  Not a prestigious, high-paying job, unless you call a buck an hour high-paying, but a job in NYC radio nevertheless.

To be in New York then; I loved it.  As Wordsworth used to say, “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, but to be young was very heaven.”

But the fly in the liniment was my program director.

His name was Freud.  That was his first name.  Believe it or not – and I know this is going to be hard to believe – he thought that old Austrian dude’s first name was Freud so he wanted to be called Freud too.

I figured, why not; Sigmund wouldn’t mind.

He had a lot of energy: what I seek, he said, is excellence!  Anyway, as program director he had a million ideas; about 00.09 percent of them sensible.  The rest, as his subordinate, I had to try to carry out.  He would suddenly come up with another suggestion.  For example, he said to me one day: “Harpo Marx of the Marx Brothers is interested in promoting a certain charity; go up there and get an interview and we’ll run it on our morning show.”

I answered patiently, using the tone of someone telling a little kid that there really is no fat man in a red suit up at the North Pole.  “Harpo,” I explicated, “doesn’t talk.”

“He doesn’t talk while doing a show,” Freud answered.  “But I was told by a guy I know who has all the inside info that he’s eager to talk on the radio for his charity.”

So I subwayed up to Harpo, met at the door by his agent/manager, who regarded me as though I was a lump from the planet Gloorg or something when I explained that I was there for an interview with Harpo.  “Harpo doesn’t talk!” he nearly shouted at me.

I reported back to Freud.  It didn’t faze him; he already had another winning idea.  His inside-info friend had told him about a fabulous chance for an interview with Babe Ruth.

Here my story turns somber.  Ruth was in the hospital and he was dying, very sick with throat cancer.  They wanted no reporters, no photographers, no press.  And here was I, in all my ignorance and inexperience, somewhat nervous, heading uptown to do an interview.

Freud had learned, by one of his mysterious sources, that the Babe would be sort of carried to the opening of the movie “The Babe Ruth Story,” which was just opening, so that he’d be able to see a bit of it, and then be taken back to the hospital.  I was waiting for him there in the lobby.

Long story short, I asked him a question.  The two men supporting him glared at me malevolently.  He answered.  At least he tried.  It may be he said something, but I was puzzled; there were no words I could understand, just strange noises.

I suddenly realized that what I was doing was something rather demeaning and very inappropriate.  I stopped suddenly and left.

Freud was so thrilled that our little morning show would be able to feature Babe Ruth that he insisted he wanted to run the “interview” as recorded.  I insisted there was no interview.   Wrong, he said, I had asked a question and the Babe answered; that’s an interview.  The fact that you couldn’t understand any of his words - there were just rather horrible gargling sounds – didn’t mean much to Freud.

However, his boss managed to talk him out of it.  My taped interview with Babe Ruth never made it to air.  I’m happy to say. 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Berowne's 274 Quiz

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "W" is for "woeful")

There was a nice response to my post a while back that asked “What Would You Have Done?” as a quiz, so I thought I’d publish another.

Back in the sixties I was a hungry, independent film-maker struggling to make a living.  I got odd jobs here, odd jobs there, that kind of thing.

But one day I landed a big one.  I was hired to make a tourism promotion film for a cruise-ship company.  What an assignment!

I was sent on several cruises throughout the beautiful Caribbean on one of their ships – to plan, come up with ideas, write a script.  Surprisingly, the client loved the completed movie.

They went so far as to schedule a “premiere”; they contacted the magnificent New York Plaza Hotel, known for a century for its grandeur and elegance, and reserved one of the large main rooms.

They invited everyone having anything to do with travel and tourism promotion to the premiere, and to enjoy a lavish spread of free food and drinks.  This threatened to cost them, as you might guess, a small fortune.

I felt that small-timer Berowne had suddenly hit the big time.  There would be an audience there of hundreds of folks working in the travel field – all of them potential clients, who would presumably come rushing over to me after having seen the film and saying “We want you to make one for us too!”

Didn’t happen.

The problem was projection.

The movie was in 16mm.  Your average 16mm projector was fine for a dozen or so people, but for hundreds in an auditorium-size venue it would never do.  Blown way up on a large screen the 16mm film would appear faded, with dull colors and fuzzy definition.   It would appear, in other words, amateurish.

I met with my cruise-ship client and informed him that for such an audience we must have a special projector, an arc projector.  This would send a blast of light on to a large screen that would be every bit as good in quality as a Hollywood movie in a motion-picture house.

Trouble was, it was expensive.  You had to hire a specialist who would come and actually construct a sort of projection booth that would contain both him and the arc projector. 

My contact on the client’s staff had been a chap named Ben, who had supported me all the way and had turned out to be a good friend.  But he said it would cost too much so they’d use their 16mm projector.  I emphasized that this was an unfortunate decision: the poor picture quality would be bad for the impact of their message.

Nope.  An arc projector was just too expcnsive. 

Well, the day of the “premiere” came and went.  I sat through some of the movie at the Plaza but I began to feel physically ill and had to leave – the movie on the screen was woeful, dim and dark and amateurish-looking.

The next day the director of the cruise-ship company called me on the phone.  He was so furious he could hardly talk; their premiere had been a disaster.  He had called around later and had been told that they should have had an arc projector, but, he shouted, “You never told us!”

We have come to the “What would you have done?” moment.

First off, I felt that I had to send out a message, loud and clear, to anyone who might listen – including the director on the phone - that the guy who made the film had fought hard against the el cheapo type of projection that had been used.

But then I thought of Ben.  All I had to do to get myself off the hook was to describe my conversations with my friend Ben of his staff.  However, I realized that if he knew Ben was responsible for the miserable presentation - and he was - he’d be fired.

At the moment, I was pretty well dead as a film-maker; it might take a year or so to recover.  Surely something had to be done.

But on the other hand, I hated to toss Ben under the bus.  He was a friend who had worked hard to get me hired for the film in the first place.  A tough decision.

What would you have done?

(The answers will be posted as received.)

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Berowne's 273

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "V" is for "villain")

Today I’d like to tell you about my old friend George.  George Gordon.  Better known as Lord Byron.

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

What a character, what an incredible life! In the early years of the 19th century Byron was what can only be described as a scoundrel and a rake, running up huge lopsided debts and chasing women -- though all the while turning out the poetry that even today causes him to be regarded as one of the great British poets.

Lord Byron was not just an erect, leading figure in the movement known as Romanticism, he was romanticism itself. He travelled, as an idealist, to fight against the Ottoman Empire in the Greek War of Independence.

But it’s his adventures with women that I find interesting. As far as I can see, he could not resist going after them, whatever their social status, married or single, and they, in so many cases – even those who despised him – often couldn’t resist him.

His mother wrote to a friend about her son: “He has no indisposition that I know of but love, the worst of all maladies in my opinion.”

After his well-publicized affairs with a number of ladies of high social position, he had an even more well-publicized affair with the very married Lady Caroline Lamb that shocked the British public.

She wrote: “He is mad, bad and dangerous to know.” He then broke off with her – (“When we two parted”?) -- to begin a relationship with Lady Oxford; Lady Caroline did not give up easily. She did what we today would call stalking.  She would show up at his home dressed as a messenger boy just to get near him again.

Rubbing salt in the sore wound, Byron then went after Lady Caroline’s cousin, Anne Milbanke. She was something special. She was a beautiful, highly intelligent woman (some say she was a mathematical genius), and she was also an heiress. He of course treated her badly and their marriage was very unhappy. If any man today ever wonders why the movement known as feminism became so strong, it’s surely because of stories like these.

After his disreputable adventures with members of the opposite sex, Byron left England. When he arrived in Greece, he assumed command of part of the army, though he had no military experience. He had acquired an appropriately colorful uniform, above.

Before the expedition could sail for the war in February of 1824, he fell ill. The usual blemish of bloodletting, along with the unsterilized medical instruments, were enough to kill him.  George Gordon, 6th Baron Byron, was indeed kind of a villain, but he was capable of some beautiful poetry.

My guess is that now, after a century or two of the feminist movement, today’s females would find such a character easy to resist, that in fact they’d find him a boor and rather repellent.  Or is it possible that even in our time some women are attracted to such dashing, wild, profligate males? 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

272 Quiz Answer

In “As You Like It,” a chap named Orlando is in love with beautiful Rosalind.  He writes poetry that he hangs on trees for her to find.
Orlando is one of the few Shakespeare characters to be named after a Florida city.
(The above sentence is an attempt at humor and may be ignored.)

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "U" is for "Ulrich")

The following scenelet should remind you of a well-known play.  Which play?

“Looks like you’ve been up to your old tricks, Ulrich, making a mess of things.”

“I’m sorry to hear you say that, sir.”

“You must hate this school.  It’s as though you’re trying to get thrown out.”

“Oh no, sir.  I deeply love the school.  I – er – don’t have it quite clear in my mind just what rule I seem to have broken.”

“The rule is, don’t make a mess of things!  The Dean is almost frantic, very upset.  It would appear that you don’t have much of a future in this institution.”

“Again, if you could let me know just what…”

“Go outside and look!  The quad is supposed to be immaculate.  Those trees are the pride and joy of Dean Dirksen and they’re just covered with – with detritus!”

“Ah, I see.  But that’s not detritus, sir, whatever that is.  It’s a new project of mine for English Lit.”

“You’re doing an English Literature project and you don’t know what detritus is?  It’s litter, Ulrich, it’s rubble.  And you’ve covered the Dean’s trees with it.”

“Well, hardly ‘covered.’ sir.  There are just some pieces of paper on the trees; that’s all it amounts to.”

“I’m afraid to ask this, but why in God’s name would you be hanging pieces of paper on trees?”

“Well, I became absorbed in this idea for a new way to submit a paper in English Lit.  Innovation is important, sir, as you know.  I would write some poems on small pieces of paper – haiku, sonnets, villanelles, whatever – and instead of turning them in during class I’d sort of post them on the trees in the quad”

“Well, that is an idea, Ulrich, though possibly the dumbest one I’ve heard all year.”

“But you see, sir, there’s a reason.  Truth is, I have fallen in love with a beautiful girl named Madge in my Social Studies class.  I wrote all the poetry for her.  She’ll come across my poems in the trees and she’ll be thrilled.  So this will accomplish two things: I’ll get to know her better and when I submit the verses in my English class I should get a special grade.”

(Dryly) "Yes, I believe you will.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Berowne's 271 Quiz

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "T" is for "trouble")

For my quiz question this week I take the liberty of using something I posted years ago, because I wanted to see what the answers might be today.                             

Let’s go back a number of decades, back to when I first entered the service. I had a friend in boot camp – let’s call him “Ed” because that wasn’t his name – and we hung out a lot, talking about what we might do in the future.

One day, after we had finished boot camp, he confessed something to me. He was very excited about it. He knew it should be kept secret, but he just had to tell someone and he felt he could trust me.

It was a plan Ed had been working on for quite a while. Well before he joined the Navy he had been visiting a small city located in the central part of our state. What was unusual about these visits is that he had managed to obtain a uniform of a lieutenant-commander, complete with service and combat ribbons, and he illegally wore this when he paid the visits.   
In that community there weren’t many military types and very few Navy personnel – and no shore patrol. A Lieutenant-Commander, especially one with a couple of rows of ribbons, was privileged to be everywhere. He had visited some local church affairs and other such functions and had managed to meet a beautiful girl.

Quite unbelievably, after a number of dates he had proposed and the girl, undoubtedly a bit dazzled by this remarkable young naval officer, had accepted. Her folks had met him and had welcomed him enthusiastically into the family.

Now that Ed was out of boot camp, he was actually going to go up in his fake uniform and marry her.  He had managed to convince everyone there that his folks were in Africa doing some sort of relief work, so they wouldn’t be able to attend the wedding.

It all seemed weird and unreal. I wondered what I should do.

A: Should I call this family on the phone (I knew their name so I thought I could get in touch with them) and tell them that their future son-in-law was no heroic naval commander but an ordinary sailor of the lowest rank?

Or B: Should I notify the military authorities that there’s a guy illegally roving about that area in a fake lieutenant-commander’s uniform?

Or C:  Should I just sit down with Ed and try to talk him out of it, to convince him that he’s not only going to be causing misery and a lot of trouble for the girl and for her family, but that he’s heading into a lot of trouble himself.

Or D: Should I just ignore it all, figure it's stale news and try to forget about it?  After all, the marriage might turn out well; the couple might be happy together, even after it came out that his officer’s commission, and his ribbons, were phony - but that seemed highly unlikely.

Ed and I received our assignments and we went off in different directions so I heard no more from him. As far as I know, the wedding took place on schedule; I have no idea how it turned out.

But my weekly quiz question is really about you. What’s your opinion? What would you have done in such a situation?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

270 Quiz Answer

Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin, born in 1869, was a Russian peasant who became a mystical faith healer  for the RussianTsar's family.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "S" is for "scoundrel".)

The following scenelet should suggest a well-known historical figure to you.  Who is it?

“Sir, I’ve prepared a complete report on Brock, everything he’s been doing for the past month along with a lot of intimate background information.”

“Fine.  I know I asked you to do all that - and don’t worry you’ll be paid – but the situation has changed.”

“Changed?  How?”

“As you know, I was convinced that Mr. Brock was a total phony, a sort of con man, but it turns out I was wrong.”

“Well, that’s interesting.  Our investigation convinced us that a total phony is exactly what he is.”

“I know, I know.  But results don’t lie.  He can actually do what he claims he can do.  He worked what was practically a miracle on my son, who as you know has been sick for most of his life.”

“What do the doctors have to say about Brock?”

“The doctors!  Don’t get me started on the doctors!  For years my wife and I went to the best medical specialists in the country and they all said the same thing about Jimmy – sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.”

“And this character, who sort of walked in off the street, cured your son?”

“Not completely.  But when Brock used his unique faith-healing skills Jimmy suddenly got much better.  My wife is overcome with gratitude.  Finally, someone who can actually do something!”

“Sir, I’m sure you know that any serious illness can have brief periods of remission.   Sounds like Brock got the benefit of one of those periods.”

“Don’t try telling that to my wife.  She’s been thirsting for years for an effective healer.”

“But surely someone should tell her that he has no medical training; in fact, he wasn’t able to finish high school.  He’s barely literate.  As far as his position in society is concerned, the guy is just another low-class scoundrel.  He has used this faith-healing routine in the past on a number of people.”

“What do we care about his past?  It’s something to watch him in action.  First off, he’s impressive just in his jagged appearance - he’s six-four or something like that - and you can see he has unusual powers when you get a glimpse of those amazing eyes of his - hypnotic.  And he has a unique language he uses when he’s doing his healing.  My wife is convinced that this is someone who has extraordinary gifts.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)   

Sunday, May 10, 2015

269 Quiz Answer

Candide is the writer Voltaire’s bitter but humorous criticism of power, wealth, religion and, of all things, optimism.  The story follows the adventures of Candide, a young man in love with a woman of a much higher social class. When their love is thwarted, Candide lives through a series of ludicrously awful events in order to be reunited with his sweetheart.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "R" is for "remarkable")

Now, here’s a piercingly sad story if there ever was one.

It’s the remarkable tale of a young fellow who had all kinds of luck, most of it bad.

Funny thing; thanks to a generous noble patron, a baron, he grew up in comfort in a wealthy home and he had a fleshy tutor who had a very positive view of things.  He tried to instill in the young guy a belief that this old world is pretty great and whatever happens is for the best.

For a while that seemed to be true.  Our boy fell in love with the baron’s beautiful daughter and went so far as to kiss her once, but this got him kicked out of the house.

From there things sort of went clean downhill.

He was drafted into the army and got beaten regularly, so he went AWOL.  While he was on the run he saw his old tutor, the whatever-happens-is-for-the-best guy, who now had an STD and was begging in the street.

To top things off, he learned that the love of his life, the baron’s daughter, had been killed by enemy soldiers.

This would have discouraged just about anyone, but the young dude decided to go on.  He went to Portugal, for some reason, and arrived just as a massive earthquake, one of the largest in history, kind of wiped out the entire place.

But it wasn’t all bad.  He learned the good news that his girlfriend had survived the murder attempt; the bad news was that she had become a slave in Turkey.

And you think you have problems.

Anyway, in his peregrinations our boy had managed to accumulate quite a few pesetas, francs, marks and whatever, so he was able to go to Turkey and buy his girl’s freedom.  However, what with all she had been through she was pretty much a wreck.

The remarkable end to their story?  They bought a small property and spent all their time doing farm work; somehow this made them happy.

Please give us the name of the young guy.  (If you want to also give us the name of the girl as well as the name of the author of this incredible story, pray do so.)

The answer will be posted Saturday.  
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