Sunday, March 29, 2015

Berowne's 263

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "L" is for "Larceny")
Next Sunday is Easter.  Berowne, in a desperate effort to be topical and up to date, has dredged up the following:

Victor: I’ve told you before, I don’t like doing this.

Mike: I know, but this is something special.  I really need your help.  An expert like you can tell me if this thing is worth real money.  If so, well, there’s a big chunk of dough in it for you.

Victor: All right, let me have a look at it.

Mike:  There.  It's a special Easter egg.  What do you think?  Go ahead, take your time, no hurry.  Have a good, deep look at it.

Victor: I don’t need to look it over at all.  I know what it is.

Mike:  You do?  You mean it’s famous?

Victor: You could say that.  How did you get this?

Mike: There are two young men who sort of work for me.  They – er – acquired it.

Victor: Pure larceny, right?  And the two young men are punks who steal stuff for you, right?

Mike: Now, wait a minute.  How they got it or how it got here isn’t the question.  All I want to know from you is, what’s it worth?

Victor: What did you pay for it?

Mike: Well, I figured I could always sell it for fifty dollars – a hundred if I’m lucky.  So I gave them thirty-five bucks for it.

Victor: Thirty-five bucks.  Unbelievable…

Mike: It’s worth more?  A lot more?

Victor: To you it’s worth nothing.  You wasted your thirty-five bucks. 

Mike: What are you trying to pull?  It’s gotta be worth something.

Victor: Let me give you a bit of history.  Way back in the year 1918, the entire royal family of imperial Russia, the Romanoffs, were assassinated by the rabid Bolshevik secret police.  You’ve heard about this?

Mike: Sort of.

Victor: Then maybe you also heard that one of the daughters, Anastasia, managed to live through the assassination attempt and escaped.

She later lived in Europe for years under the name of Anna Anderson.  The word got around in recent years that she had moved to the States and spent the rest of her life here.  Nobody could verify this; she wanted to avoid all publicity.

Mike: And this thing belonged to her?

Victor: You guessed it.  She had this Easter egg with her at all times, the only thing she had been able to save.

Mike: And you’re trying to tell me it isn’t worth anything?

Victor: It isn’t worth anything to you.  That girl, just a teenager at the time of the assassination attempt, was a royal princess: the Grand Duchess Anastasia.  If you could put this up for auction you'd set the place ablaze; I imagine the bidding would begin at around twenty million.

Mike: Holy smoke!

Victor: But if you tried to sell it you’d have cops and FBI and Interpol and God knows who else after you.  And they’d dig deep into your operation and learn a lot you’d just as soon they didn’t know. 

Mike: You wouldn’t consider buying it, would you?

Victor: I would not.  There’s never going to be anything but headaches with this.  Way I see it, the person who owns it – or owned it before it was stolen from him – was keeping it very quiet, and probably for good reason.

Mike: So what am I supposed to do? 

Victor: I’ll tell you what you should do.  Pay the two hoodlums who stole this to carefully take it back to the home they stole it from.  Leave it on the doorstep with a note saying “Easter egg.  Happy Easter!”  Then press the doorbell and run like hell.


Sunday, March 22, 2015

262 Quiz Answer

“Twelfth Night” is a reference to Epiphany, or the twelfth night of the Christmas celebration.  In Shakespeare’s day, this holiday was celebrated as a festival in which everything was turned upside down—much like the upside-down, chaotic world of the play.
As for the calendar, Twelfth Night was actually January 6th.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "K" is for "Karma")

You like convoluted plots?

Of course you do; everyone likes a little convolutedariness in their plots.

Well, this is the plot of a glorious play, the story of a petite young woman whom we’ll call Girl One, or G1.  She had been in a shipwreck and found herself alone in the land.  If you’ve ever been in a shipwreck you know how depressing that can be.

In those days, 4 or 5 hundred years ago, a female might find it a bit dicey to walk about alone.  So our friend G1 dressed herself as a male, a bloke, and went to get a job.  She was hired as a servant of a certain Duke.

She learns that the Duke, who is otherwise a fairly normal person as far as Dukes go, has a problem.  Seems he has managed to convince himself that he is in love with a noblewoman whom we’ll call Girl Two, or G2.

She is a very different type of person from G1.  She is of high noble rank, she’s beautiful and she’s affluent, a technical fiduciary term meaning she’s loaded.

Turns out the Duke is crazy about G2; he doesn’t hold any of the above - beauty, nobility, lots of money - against her.  She, however, is chilly towards him and doesn’t reciprocate, Duke or no Duke.

He has a brilliant idea: he’ll have this young chap who recently joined his staff serve as an intermediary to carry the good news to her of how enamored he is. 

If you’re familiar with the story, G2 forgets all about the Duke, who she wasn’t thinking so much about anyway.  For her, it’s karma, fate, that she should meet and fall for the young intermediary guy.

To top things off, Girl One, though skillfully dressed in masculine duds, has managed to fall in love with her boss, the Duke.  So what you have now is the familiar theatrical device known as a love triangle, though a bit different from the usual.  Duke loves G2; G1 loves Duke; G2 loves G1.

Once you’ve got all that straight, the play is ready to begin.

It was first produced a few weeks after Christmas, which actually had a lot to do with how it was named.

What was the name of the play?

(The answer will be posted Saturday.)



Sunday, March 15, 2015

Berowne's 261A

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "J" is for "Joys of Summer")   

Here’s another in the series “Berowne’s Mediocre Adventures”

Tess Kincaid likes to travel, so this week instead of a quiz I thought I’d offer a travel suggestion to her or anyone else in our blogger community who enjoys travelling.

Enroll at Oxford!  A perfect summer vacation; I did it myself. 
Here’s Berowne at Oxford a few decades ago. 
By the way, this is not some kind of annoying advertisement.  I have no connection with Oxford and I don’t stand to make any money on the deal.  It’s just that I found it a painless and unforgettable experience and thought others might too. 
Now, you understand, you don’t enroll as an actual student.  You just take summer classes.  (I took Shakespeare.)  For over 100 years the Oxford University Summer School for Adults program has been making it possible for everyone to take advantage of courses there. 

The joys of summer.   One of them is lying on a beach; another is the joy of pursuing your studies at a world-famous university.

I was at New College, Oxford.  The hushed beauty of the campus calls attention to its name: “New,” though it was established in 1379. 
Up on the wall in the dining hall is a portrait of the Reverend Spooner, Warden of New College for years.  He is famous for “spoonerisms,” because he was prone to deliver talks that mixed up consonants and vowels in fairly hilarious arrangements. 
Examples: “The Lord is a shoving leopard.”  “Is it kisstomary to cuss the bride?”  The word spoonerism has lasted right up to our time: “Resident Pagan.” 
Having spent a summer there, your reputation as a name-dropper is greatly increased.  In the future while engaged in any conversation, on almost any topic, you’ll be able to casually toss off the phrase “When I was at Oxford…” thus getting everyone’s undivided attention. J 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

261 Quiz Answer

In William Shakespeare's play Hamlet, Gertrude is Hamlet's mother and Queen of Denmark. She watches as Ophelia drowns, the girl singing and acting in absolute madness. Gertrude is the one who reports this drowning to the court.
(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "I" is for "immersion.")
For our quiz this week, let’s talk about Ophelia.
Ophelia would seem to have everything going for her.  She is a young, attractive noblewoman in the Danish court.  She is sort of the epitome of goodness.  She is much loved by her father and brother, who take great pains to shelter her.

At one time young Prince Hamlet seemed to be in love with her too, but recently he has ceased treating her with respect and tenderness.  At times he is almost brutal with her.  She has become well aware of the harsh realities of life.

There were those – the Queen herself was one of them – who thought Ophelia should marry Hamlet; they would make a perfect couple.  But it was not to be.  She was not of royal blood; she could not marry a prince.

She lost her mother, probably at birth.  As the play unfolds her beloved father is killed.  Her frailty and innocence work against her when she learns that it was the man she loves, Hamlet, who killed him.  She cannot cope with the unfolding of one traumatic event after another. 

She reaches the point where she has endured all that she is capable of enduring and goes insane.

She wanders about, giddily singing lewd songs that shock the King and Queen, serving as reminder that the corrupt world has taken its toll on the pure Ophelia.

Needless to say, Ophelia dies by drowning.  Was this an accident or was it suicide?  We don’t know the answer to that question.

The voluminous dresses,  the huge amount of clothing, women wore in those days actually held her up for a while in the water but when they became soaked she sank to her death.

Her clothes spread wide;
And, mermaid-like, awhile they bore her up:
Which time she chanted snatches of old tunes;
As one incapable of her own distress.
But long it could not be
Till that her garments, heavy with their drink,
Pull'd the poor wretch from her melodious lay
To muddy death.

And on that tragic note we come to our weekly quiz question: who reported Ophelia’s drowning to the court?



Sunday, March 1, 2015

Berowne's 260

(Also for Three Word Wednesday and ABC Wednesday: "H" is for "Harry J.")

No quiz this week.  I’ll just post another episode of Berowne’s Mediocre Adventures. 

The star of the show sprains her ankle and is unable to go on. A beginner, a neophyte, is sent on stage by the desperate producer.

The kid is a sensation, wows the audience; she went out a total unknown and came back a star.

I lived through that very same situation – except for the last part. I didn’t come back a star, I just came back.

Time-travel with me now to the year the Big War ended; (there are those who say it was the last of our wars that might be described as actually making sense).  Suddenly I found myself out on civvy street, in desperate need of a job of some kind.

I had gone off to the South Pacific when I was just a kid. Now I was still a kid but a four-years-older kid. What could I do in civilian life? I had little experience, little training except training for war.

Well, I thought, I could talk; I’d like to try to get into radio.

As far as the field of communications was concerned, it was then a very different planet. For all practical purposes there was no television. Most people not only didn’t have TV, most had never seen TV.  A few folks in the major cities were fortunate enough to be able to watch “Kukla, Fran and Ollie” on their tiny black-and-white screens, but for everyone else radio was all there was.

Believe it or not, I got a job as an announcer.

What kind of radio station would hire a young dude as an announcer who had no experience and not all that much in the way of ability? A strange little radio station, that’s what.

In Asbury Park, New Jersey, a place I had never heard of before, there was a small station.  (I was to hear quite a bit about Asbury Park later, but at the time Bruce Springsteen hadn’t as yet shown up.)

It was a small radio station indeed, a two-man operation, broadcasting with 250 watts. Now, 250 watts would make a satisfyingly large light bulb but it was tiny for radio, surrounded by the 50,000-watt network stations of the area. Our signal barely managed to cover the town, not that there were all that many folks in the town listening.

The station’s call letters were WCAP, which stood for Wonderful City of Asbury Park.  Some listeners wrote in cards and letters and several were mean-spirited enough to write the address WCRAP, which I thought was uncalled-for. 

It was in Convention Hall, two little rooms on the ground floor.  Not an impressive radio station; it had one outside door with nothing written on it.  Over time, more than one guy had hurriedly pushed open that door, stopping suddenly as he realized that this was not, after all, the men’s room.  

In our “studio” the engineer sat in one room, operating the console. The announcer sat in the other, playing records and speaking into a mike.

At the end of a “program,” which consisted of nothing but the playing of old 78-rpm records, the announcer would scurry into the other room to run the console and the engineer would suddenly become the announcer. This rather messy system would persuade the audience, such as it might be, that this was a regular radio station with an actual announcing staff. At least, that was the hope.

I had been at this work for just a couple of weeks, trying to learn what it meant to be an announcer, when something incredible happened. It was a scenario that could have been written – and, indeed something like it was, a number of times – by movie scriptwriters.

It was the age of the Big Bands - Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James - who traveled around the land with their large musical organizations.

And while I was just settling in at my new job, Harry James and his band, perhaps the most famous of them all, were to appear in Asbury Park. They were to do a network show, coast-to-coast, from the auditorium in Convention Hall. This was big-time stuff.

I do not make up the following; it actually happened.

The network announcer had an accident on his way to Asbury Park and phoned New York that he would be unable to make the broadcast. The network types there hurriedly searched through their sources and noted that Asbury Park had a radio station.

They phoned. I answered.

They asked if my station could loan them an announcer to emcee the Harry James program, which was supposed to go nationwide in about twenty minutes. I said yes, we could take care of that.

I met with Harry James, trying to look like I knew what I was doing. I couldn’t believe what was happening; I felt envious.  I had just started in this business, a total beginner, and here I was emceeing a nation-wide broadcast of the top musical organization in the land.

It did not go well. Fact is, I suffered from a severe case of stage fright.  

A month or so earlier, a victim of various bombings, I had been recovering in a jungle hospital in New Guinea, and now I was back in the Stytes calculating to be a coast-to-coast radio emcee; it was all a bit too much for me.

As I stood by the mike, waiting for the cue to come down from New York, I realized the script I was holding was trembling a bit. Harry James saw this and, as we waited, he began to make little jokes about this announcer to the guys in his band, who chortled in response.

Well, I got through the broadcast somehow and left. I never heard from anyone about it, not my boss, not the network, no one.

Probably just as well.  I went back to playing records in my not-the-men’s-room radio station.
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