Sunday, July 26, 2015

Berowne's 280 Quiz

(Also for ABC Wednesday: "C" is for "chain")

Question: Who were these guys?

“Jeff!  Always good to see you but I’m afraid you’re a bit early.  We haven’t got the chain on yet.”

“What!  Second time I’ve been here to pick the dam’ thing up and again it’s not ready.”

“But it’s worth waiting for.  We ordered a new type of chain, much lighter.  It’ll give you a far better ride.  Should be ready tomorrow.”

“You guys are too much.  You may be good mechanics but you’re lousy businessmen.  Why are you mixed up with this kind of work anyway?  When we were kids everyone thought you were headed for glory when you grew up, always tinkering with some invention or other, but neither of you even finished high school.”

“Oh, we still tinker.  We might come up with something surprising one of these days.”

“Like a special type of bicycle chain?  You know, there’s a new century coming up.  You should seriously consider getting married and settling down.  Have a family, couple of kids, a nine to five job – like mature grown-ups.”

“Well anyway, it’s good to see you, Jeff.  Every time you come by we know we’re going to get a little lecture on how to live.”   

“By the way, what is that thing over there?  Looks like a huge casket.  Got a dead body inside?”

“Ha. Hope not.  No, we call that a wind tunnel.”

“And a wind tunnel does what?  I know, tunnels the wind.”

“Oh, it’s just something we’ve been experimenting with.  Besides running the shop we have various projects we work on.  You see, we keep busy.”

“And the money just pours in, though it looks like it’s been mostly nickels and dimes.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.) 

Sunday, July 19, 2015

279 Quiz Answer

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "B" is for "blunder")

I’m afraid this will be looked upon as the timid way out, but I chose the cut-and-run option.
I felt that an apology, no matter how elaborate – especially since I was in no way at fault – would be dragging things out needlessly.  Instead, I just quietly left, did my work and flew home.  Sooner or later they figured out what had happened, and with a minimum of embarrassment for everyone.

I’ve written before about my work as a film-maker a few decades ago, so I thought this time I’d tell you about my Japan adventure.

The movie I was making was nothing special, no polished, potential Oscar-winner; it was just the equivalent of a metallic, nuts-and-bolts film, though the topic was rice-growing

So I flew to Tokyo, ready to go to work. As I got off the plane, I believed that the Japanese were really taking this motion picture project seriously because, as I was surprised to see, I was being met at the airport by a large limo.

And not just a limo; the car had a uniformed driver and another chap, also uniformed, who rode shotgun - though in Japan I suppose it would be shogun :-) - in the front passenger seat.

I had never had a job, of any kind, that started off so auspiciously. They drove me to their head office and I found myself meeting everyone. They were all friendly and welcoming; there was a lot of bowing, me doing my share, of course.

It was lunchtime, so they asked if I would prefer going to a steak-house or would I like to try some authentic Japanese food? Well, of course, we had steak-houses back in the Stytes and besides, I thought it would be a good political move to opt for the indigenous cuisine, so we headed off for what I would today recognize as a sushi place.

I say I would recognize it today; I didn’t recognize it then. Truth is, a few decades ago there weren’t many sushi joints in our country, and you certainly didn’t see sushi for sale in grocery stores. Most westerners of that era didn’t know from sushi; the idea of eating raw fish was regarded as just sort of weird.

However, I could see that this restaurant I was being taken to was elegant and upscale – i.e., expensive – so I looked forward to an interesting experience.

But there was a fly in the saki. Something had been worrying me, and it had nothing to do with raw fish.  It had gradually dawned on me that this was all kind of a blunder: I was inadvertently sailing under false colors.

The reason for the great welcome I had received?  I came to realize that they thought that I, a humble artisan, was actually one of the top executives of the worldwide corporation they were a part of. That explained the limo and its two charioteers.

That was bad enough. Just as bad was the question, how on earth do I go about telling them of the mistake? I had heard all about the importance of saving face in the Orient and if I told them about this awkward situation would they be subjected to humiliation and embarrassment, with me as the cause?

Even worse, would they think I had tried to trick them, intentionally acting the part of an American exec so that I could pull off some fraudulent scheme?

I had reached another of those what-would-you-have done? moments. 

First off, I could have cut and run, just gone off at an optimal moment and without a word to a remote area, shot my rice-growing footage and left for home.  No muss no fuss; let them figure it out.

Or, as a second possibility, I could have adopted a very formal “Japanese” style, bowing numerous times to them and apologizing profusely for the misconception.  (Even though, as far as I could see, it was in no way my fault.)

Or I could have used more of a relaxed, “American” approach: “Say, you know, folks, there’s been sort of a mixup; I think you might find it kind of funny…”

Or, given the possibility that I might be regarded as a crook who planned the whole deal as some sort of illegal scheme, my first priority should have been, before they called the Japanese gendarmes, that they clearly understood this was not the case.

So the quiz this week is, how would you have handled this?



Sunday, July 12, 2015

278 Quiz Answer

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll, wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and its sequel Through the Looking-Glass.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "A" is for "Alan")

(The following scenelet might suggest to you a Victorian gentleman who became a well-known writer.  Who was he?)

“Millie!  Come in, sit down.  What was it you wanted to talk to me about?”

“Well, a number of us mothers in the neighborhood have come to the conclusion that there’s a potential dangerous risk living here.  I’m speaking of Mr. Halleck.”

“Alan Halleck!  Dangerous?  We’ve known Alan for years.  He’s about the most un-dangerous person I could imagine.  Why would you think such a thing?”

“A number of us have been wondering about this for some time.  It’s what happened last Wednesday that finally convinced us that something should be done.”

“And what was that?”

“Mr. Halleck took some children for a boat ride and picnic…”

“Yes, I’m well aware of that.  My daughter was one of the kids.  We knew all about it.”

“And you didn’t find this bizarre, suspicious?”


“He just took the girls out for a boat ride on the river and they stopped and had a picnic on the riverside.  Then he brought them home.  And for this you want the guy arrested?”

“You’re missing the point.  None of those children were his…”

“Millie, he’s not married; he has no kids.”

“Exactly.  Which makes it all the more odd that he takes other folks’ children for boat rides and picnics.”

“Good lord, if you knew Alan Halleck as well as we do.  He’s a quiet sort of lonely guy who teaches arithmetic.  It may be boring to say this but he’s what you might call mousy.  No harm to him at all.”

“That’s what they say about all the dangerous child molesters at first.  We should have zero tolerance for such stuff.”

“Child molester!  What he loves to do is tell the kids stories, and they really enjoy them.”

“Now you’re getting to another key point.  What he told those children during that boat ride was outrageous.  Dark tales of people getting their heads cut off and other such terrifying stuff.  Not suitable for little kids.”

“Wait a minute.  Those weren’t little four or five-year-olds.  My daughter is ten and she was well aware that what Mr. Halleck was doing was telling the equivalent of harmless ghost stories.  Except she says his tales are much more fantastical and quite funny. 

“She might be the exception.”

“She loves the stories he tells.  She thinks he should publish them in a book so kids in the future can enjoy them too.”

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Berowne's 277

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "Z" is for "zero")

Yesterday was the day for fireworks and I got to thinking about Little Roy.

And that made me remember a special example of the pyrotechnician’s art: the JumboBlast rocket.  (This all happened way back when I was just a lad of ten years of age, which is way back indeed.)

We had heard about that rocket because so many of the kids our age spoke of it.  However, it was extremely expensive – it cost fifty cents – so it was out of the question for our celebratory pyrotechnics.

You see, at that time we were in the middle of the depression.  I mean The Big One, the worst depression in our nation’s history.  This was bad for the entire country, but it was also bad for me: if I ever had more than one dime at any time I would have considered myself on the road to affluence.

On the same street where I lived were the Yeagers, a family of four boys, so I hung out there a lot.  They too were also suffering from galloping penuriousness.  Our holiday was spent disappointingly with sparklers and very cheap firecrackers, so weak that if anyone was speaking loudly when you set one off you could entirely miss the “pop” sound.

But on that day the youngest brother, Little Roy, five or six years old, had a secret.

A secret no one knew about, for he certainly had told no one.  For the past few years, for most of his life as a matter of fact, Little Roy had been hoarding.  Any penny, along with the rare occasional nickel, that he managed to get hold of he hid away in a special cache only he, acting aloof, knew about.  I’m not sure he was aware of how much he finally had because counting past ten wasn’t what he was good at, but it turned out to be a total of about fifty cents.

We learned that because one of his brothers had stumbled upon this whole treasure and suddenly our July Fourth took on dazzling possibilities.

The Yeager guys were not bad with their little bro.  They didn’t bully him and they certainly wouldn’t physically harm him.  But they, and I, set out on a propaganda campaign to illuminate for him what a sensational holiday this could be.  If he’d just turn over those fifty centavos, we could actually go and buy a JumboBlast rocket! 

Think of it, Little Roy!  Your rocket – (yes, we’d make sure it was known as his) – would shoot up into the firmament and explode and the entire vault of heaven would burst forth into brilliant, positively ravishing examples of incredible fireworks display.  We would have a holiday none of us would ever forget.

It wasn’t hard.  Little Roy wanted the rocket as much as the rest of us.

Long story short, one of the older boys went and bought the device.  We set it up carefully in a wide patch of the back yard.  It was a thrilling moment when the lit match touched the fuse.

I was only ten or so, and I didn’t know all that much about aerodynamics, so I didn’t understand why the rocket, as it started off, suddenly took a quick turn to the right.  It shot like a bullet just over nearby housetops and in a matter of a second or two was totally out of sight.  Its pyrotechnical effect was zero.

Whatever dazzling display that rocket was going to put on would be displayed before someone else.  Little Roy had a stunned look on his face, as if to say: Was that it!!!?

There was not much we could say to ease the situation.  Little Roy just sat there staring into space, thinking about his life savings, perhaps hoping the rocket's absence was only temporary and it would come back again and perform as expected.

The rest of us got together and ponied up some money so we could buy him a Popsicle.  That helped a little.  In its way it was a Fourth of July I’ve never forgotten. 

Sunday, June 28, 2015

276 Quiz Answer

                                   Cassandra before the burning city of Troy.
Cassandra was the daughter of the king of Troy.  The god Apollo gave her the power of prophecy in order to seduce her – the gods could be pretty raunchy at times – but when she refused him he laid a curse on her.  His curse was that no matter what she said she would never be believed.

(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? 
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