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Here’s a toast to our friends the Cool Cats (Gangsters) and Kittens (Prostitutes)

-1x-1I always thought I would be a better gangster than a spy. The spy thing is too much sneaking around in a trench coat trying to lurk in the shadows of the night. Always vulnerable, like a puppy on an iceberg, a spy often is a traitor and who wants to groove with a traitor?  Gathering information, creeping around, perhaps your shoe is an intercontinental ballistic missile (better than “his bow-tie is really a camera”), not that fun – just not a good line of work. Not to say that being a gangster is any day at the beach.  Most die young and violent deaths without the joys of friends nor family. But both our pals the gangster and his good friend the prostitute, brought some of the common sense and good times that we all enjoy today.

The “Gangster Golden Era” really lasted just three years from 1933 to 1936.  This was also the era of the FBI’s “War on Crime”.  The FBI started out as aUnknown-5 bumbling band of overmatched amateurs who initially didn’t even carry firearms.  J. Edgar’s boys lost suspects, botched stakeouts, and repeatedly arrested the wrong men. Their mistakes would be comical if not for the price paid by the innocent.  imagesDuring that three-year period we saw the rise and fall of John Dillinger (definitely a cool cat…the chicks dug him), Baby Face Nelson (a real unstable psycho, killed to boost his ego and did have a baby face), Machine Gun Kelly (real name George Barnes, dumb as a sack of nails, his wife nagged him into a world of crime), Pretty Boy Floyd (was not pretty, but was cool enough to have Woody Guthrie write a song about him), theUnknown-1 Barker/Karpis gang (Ma Barker was a dim-witted old hag who loved to put together puzzles, it was J. Edgar who portrayed her as a “mastermind,” her own gang said “she couldn’t plan breakfast”), and Bonny and Clyde (no Warren or Faye here, largest haul was $3500, killed innocent bystanders, were incompetent and careless. She was 23 and Clyde was 25.)

There is one cat that needs to be further mentioned. Picture this: it is 1979 and you were on the Spanish coast in a town called Torremolinos. You look Unknownover at the table next to you and there was a seventy year old Alvin “Creepy” Karpis still lean and alert looking more like a professor then the last of the FBI’s Public Enemy No 1’s.  Creepy (his friends called him Ray) was captured in 1936 and according to Creepy, Hoover approached him only after other agents had seized him. Hoover said “Put the cuffs on him.”, but no one brought any, so they had to use one of the agent’s ties. During his life time he ran with Baby Face Nelson, knew images-2Bonny and Clyde, was the longest-serving prisoner on the Rock (Alcatraz), for a long stretch of 26 years. He knew the Birdman, and that gas-bag Machine Gun Kelly, and saw Capone flop around on the cafeteria floor like a large mouth bass on the cutting board while in one of his syphilitic seizures. In 1962, while in the process of closing Alcatraz, Creepy was transferred to McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington state. There he was approached by a little punk who wanted guitar lessons. “He was meek and mild and never said a harsh word to anybody ” said Creepy. Charlie Manson went on to his own fame, but not by playing the guitar. Creepy was released in 1969 and died in Spain ten years later of an accidental overdose of pills and booze.

As far as our friend the gangster and organized crime is concerned, they brought us many things that we enjoy today:  jazz music (Al Capone, whose jazz images-1clubs in Chicago introduced jazz to mainstream America, and according to black singer Ethel Waters “treated her with respect, applause, deference, and paid in full.”  He and other gangsters, including the great Owney Madden of Cotton Club fame, supplied steady and professional incomes to jazz musicians who had previously lived in poverty.), alcohol (prior to Prohibition a woman rarely Unknown-4drank  in public unless she was a prostitute. The “Speakeasys” changed that because women were welcomed there), Las Vegas, Broadway (Arnold “The Brain” Rothstein, who is credited for turning organized crime into big business, financed several Broadway venues, such as the famous Selwyn Theater, as well as various productions that brought tens of thousands of patrons to the “Great White Way”) the establishment of many of the gay and lesbian bars in America  (Where there is dough you will always find the “Goodfellas”, Vito Genovese and Carlo Gambino, leaders of two of the most powerful crime families in America. They began investing in gay clubs in the 1930’s. The famous Stonewall Inn was owned by three associates of the Genovese family. The family funded the gay pride parades in New York City which have become an annual event demonstrating sexual freedom.)

Unknown-3And look what our lovely street walking friends brought us: in the 19th century, if a woman owned property, made high wages, used birth control, consorted with men of other races, danced, drank, walked alone in public, wore makeup, perfume, or stylish clothes, chances were she was a prostitute. In fact, prostitutes won virtually all of the freedoms that were denied to women, but are now taken for granted.

So you see, a lot of good comes from the bad.  I think our pals the gangster and the prostitute deserve a toast next time you have a drink in your hand, but perhaps not in loud tones. Who knew that so much freedom and groove would be handed to us along the dark path of those who do dark deeds? Raise a glass to those who came before us and let us not take these freedoms for granted. Groove.

I stole shamelessly from two excellent books : A Renegade History of the United States by Thaddeus Russell and Public Enemies by Bryan Burrough. Thanks fellas.

 

Go Johnnie Go…the life we’ve lived

johncolterrunJohnnie, stripped of his clothes and shoes, was running naked as a jaybird, stepping on prickly pears, blood running from his nostrils as it does with racehorses when extreme exertion causes the lung tissue to hemorrhage.  Basically Johnnie was trying to escape from the maw of death.  I suppose we all have made runs such as this, in some form, at some point in our lives.  A run of shame, a hasty

Cabrini Green

Cabrini Green

yet nimble retreat down rickety back stairs;  a young, clothes clutching lad, who was running towards his certain demise at the Cabrini-Green public housing project in Chicago, scooped up by a haloed, trash truck driving savior;  the tire iron and croquet mallet wielding miscreants chasing an innocent Dodger fan through the parking lot of Jack Murphy stadium.  These events are all too common in this day and age where unshirted zealotry is coupled with a bovine lack of curiosity, where imaginations are used more than memory, and where charm and reliability rarely come in the same package .

images-1But Johnnie’s issues did not come from this day and age.  Johnnie Colter’s issues were from 1808 when this fur trapper, mountain man extraordinaire, member of the Lewis and Clark expedition, and first person of European descent to enter the region now known as Yellowstone National Park, met up with some Blackfoot Indians in a liverish mood. While canoeing up the Jefferson River he and his partner John Potts ran into several hundred Blackfoot who motioned them to the side of the river.  Johnnie went ashore where he was forced to nude up by the Indians, but Potts tried to get away.images  He was riddled with arrows like a sewer’s pin-cushion and his body was brought to shore where it was hacked to small pieces. Johnnie thought his fate was going to be the same as his buddy Potts, but no. The chief, after much council, thought he would make a game of it.  Telling Johnnie to dash, it all became clear – John Colter was in for the run of his life.  He was given a two hundred yard head start then chased by 300 young warriors full of menace.  Johnnie had to hear their horrid war whoops closing in behind him and probably thought he had as much chance to outrun the young bucks as Donna Summer did getting into the images-4Rock-n-Roll hall of fame (actually she made it in 2013 ….so weird.)  He looked back and saw that the chasing Indians had scattered and he had gained ground on the main body of his pursuers with the exception of one brave who was within 50 yards. By this time he had run 6 miles and could still hear the footsteps close behind him.

Suddenly Johnnie stopped, turned around, and spread his arms. The Indian, totally surprised by the images-2suddenness of his action, and perhaps because of Johnnie’s bloody appearance, also came to a halt, but tripped and fell to the ground, his spear breaking at the blade. Johnnie grabbed the blade section and impaled the Brave onto God’s good earth. The trailing Indians saw what occurred and increased their pursuit with renewed vigor and vengeance.

Johnnie ran like few of us ever have, eventually jumping into the freezing Madison River, where he hid in cottonwoods var_mtnmanand beaver dens to survive. He walked, climbed high snow covered peaks, and ran for eleven more days, usually at night, until he finally arrived at a trading post on the Little Big Horn. His life had been won.   In the end the wild life of the Mountain Man lost its attraction, and Johnnie fell back to St. Louis where he found his wife and found his last days.

We all have friends like Johnnie who are bold with adventure, who percolate in their own vitality – and we are better for them.  We all have friends that have found themselves in difficult situations (usually self made) where things could have gone terribly wrong, but now are just good stories.  Good FriendsSome have been forced to run for their lives, either figuratively or literally, and their thunder-clap stories enhance us and shield us from the winds of normalcy.  So let us toast to the gallant, to the foolish, to those who defy slumber, to those with affections and afflictions, to those who shirk the mundane, to those who bring smiles and head shakes to us with their exploits.  So here is a toast to Johnnie Colter and to our wonderful friends. Groove

Tigers get the Win the Colonel goes for a Swim

KfcWe all have hopes, dreams, and goals…some loftier than others. Perhaps it is to be the first female President of the USA or to climb the 10 highest peaks in the world.  Or maybe to rule the Planet Mars with an iron fist covered in purple crushed velvet or to own a 1000 ft luxury yacht and force your crew to dress in clown costumes.  These all make sense to me – but my hope, my dream, my goal last Sunday, after a night of extended Christmas partying, was to go to KFC and get some chicken.  Clearly, I was a quart low.

As I was filling my pores with the Colonel’s best and wondering why we have similar facial hair, suddenly I was reminded of a dark sinister curse involving the Colonel.  Not the Red Sox Curse of the thBambino, not the Cubs Curse of the Billy Goat, but the Curse of the Japanese Hanshin Tigers baseball team by the deceased KFC founder and mascot, Colonel Harlan Sanders.

01colonelcurseThe Curse is said to be on the team because of the Colonel’s well placed anger from the grave (The Colonel called it a day in 1980) over the treatment of one of his storefront statues.  Following their teams’s victory in the 1985 Japan Championship Series (they’re only  championship ), the Colonel’s statue was thrown into the Dotonbori River by celebrating Hanshin Tiger fans.  The Tiger fans are known as the most fanatical and dedicated fans of 428628_10151356196460807_1699313501_nJapanese baseball.  They have a reputation for rough and sometimes violent behavior, which is very rare in Japanese sports yet oddly in keeping with the rough and violent behavior of Colonel Harlan Sanders, who twice lost jobs for brawling with colleagues and ended his legal career after he engaged in a courtroom donnybrook with his own client.  Koshien Stadium (where the Tigers th-1play) is the oldest ballpark in Japan; built in 1925 and the Tigers themselves were founded in 1935.  The stadium was once visited by the great Babe Ruth in 1934.

After the Tigers won their championship in 1985, fans celebrated by having people who looked like Tiger players jump into the Dotonbori Canal (an odd concept at best…hard to imagine Tigers_Fans_JumpBoston Red Sox fans jumping into the Charles River because they look like Big Papi or Dustin Pedroia.) According to legend, because none of the fans resembled star player Randy Bass (a white American first-baseman playing for the Tigers) fans grabbed a life sized statue of the Kentucky Fried Chicken mascot Colonel Sanders from a local KFC Randy-Bass-Colonel-Sandersstore and threw it into the river. (The only resemblance Bass had with the Colonel was that he had facial hair and was not Japanese.)  Since this attack on the plastic American icon the Tigers have not won another championship. They made it to the finals in 2003 only to lose to those spunky Fukuoka Daiei Hawks, but that didn’t stop some 5300 fans from jumping into the canal.  This celebration turned to tragedy when Tiger fan Masaya Shitababa drowned after being shoved into the river by revelers.

The Colonel was finally discovered  in the Dotonbori River in 2009 and hauled out of the mud – seeing the light of day for the colsanders200-afc2106f280c2519805d9f6a474481a2e506ce4b-s6-c30first time since 1985.  The right hand and lower body were found the next day, but the left hand and glasses are still missing, and thus the curse continues until all of the Colonel can be found.

Curses are a bitch, especially from the Colonel. He might make some fine artery clogging fried kfc1chicken, which is delightful when a hangover the size of a mastodon is sitting on your head, but you chuck the likes of him into a Japanese River and you can kiss your championship season goodbye for a long time.  So when you are in the shower singing the Hanshin Tiger’s fight song “Rokko Oroshi” (The Downward Wind of Mount Rokko)  “Powerful hits and skillful pitch achieved a thousand times” think of the Colonel and the importance of repressing 250px-Colonel_Sanders4your need to throw plastic replicas of founders of fried chicken chains who very vaguely resemble an American ballplayer into Japanese rivers.  Groove.

Annie Did Not Steal Trousers to Buy Cocaine

Annie Oakley

Annie Oakley

The headline in one of the America’s biggest newspapers read that she was in prison for “stealing the trousers of a negro in order to get money with which to buy cocaine.”   She was “adopted” by one of the masterminds who dealt the United States one of it’s biggest military defeats of the 19th Century.  She could be considered one of America’s first movie stars and her husband was so distraught upon her death that he died just 18 days later.

Annie Oakley was a five foot tall American legend. She thrilled audiences around the world with her Annie_Oakley-1daring gun shooting exploits. She helped fuel turn-of-the-century nostalgia for the vanishing mythical American West, even though she never lived west of the Mississippi.  A champion in a man’s sport, she forever changed ideas about the abilities of women, yet she opposed the suffrage movement. Her fame and fortune came with her self taught skills with a gun, yet she was a Quaker.

Little Annie was born Phoebe Anne Moses in the woods of Ohio and first picked up a gun at the age of 8.  She taught herself the use of firearms as a way to help her struggling family by shooting quail, squirrels, and other small animals then selling her take to local markets and families. Thanks to her prowess with various weapons, she became her household’s primary breadwinner and developed a reputation as quite the shot.

th-2Frank Butler was also making himself a name as a marksman and on a trip to Ohio, he challenged a local hotel owner to a $100 bet ($2300 in todays dough) that he could beat anyone around. Frank was very surprised when a 15 year old, five foot tall, 100 lbs. girl took the challenge. He not only lost the match, but Annie won  his heart. They were married soon after and toured as Butler and Oakley (Oakley is the name of a small province in Ohio), the name that Miss Moses adopted.

Annie dazzled crowds around the country first on the variety circuit, then the circus, then finally with annie_4Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. There she was “adopted” by Chief Sitting Bull, main architect of the Battle of Little Bighorn (also known as Custer’s Last Stand) where 268 soldiers of the 7th Calvary were killed. Sitting Bull called her “Watanya Cicilla” (which means “Little Sure Shot”).  Oakley amazed audiences by splitting playing cards in two (edge to edge) from ninety feet.  After stopping at 40 cities around America she and the Wild West Show hit Europe in 1889 going to The Paris Exposition. The Wild West show travelled all around Europe where she entertained the likes of Oscar Wilde, Queen Victoria, the King of Italy, President of France and other crowned heads of state. Oakley had such good aim that at his request, she knocked the ashes off a cigarette held by newly crowned German Kaiser Wilhelm II.  It was the stuff of stardom.

After meeting Tommy Edison in Paris she agreed to go to his studio in New Jersey where Tom filmed her with his new invention called a kinetograph, a primitive device which was the forerunner of the movie camera. She was filmed shooting glass balls which were filled with powder and feathers, which for the times was very dramatic.  The film became hugely popular and spread her fame further.

With Fame so often comes trouble and that is what the scumbag William Randy Hearst tried to strap on little Annie.  In 1903 he printed a story in his newspapers that Annie was in prison for theft which she did in order to maintain her coke habit.  Though completely false, the story was picked up by newspapers from coast to coast. Annie was pissed and though many newspapers issued an immediate retraction she ends up filing 55 libel suits. The legal battles would run another 7 years with Annie traveling back and forth across the country to testify.  The evil Hearst hired a detective to visit her home town to get dirt on Annie, but this time his smear campaign failed. Too clean to smear. She collected a lot of dough from the libel suits, but lost income and time in doing so.

th-3Annie retired from showbiz (in her 60’s) and she and Frank bought a place in Pinehearst, North Carolina.  They went to visit Buffalo Bill, who had made foolish investments, was an easy mark, and whose health was failing. Creditors had been selling off his possessions and bankruptcy was in the cards.  Finally, their old friend passed away in Denver, CO in 1917.  Annie wrote “William Frederick Cody was the kindest, simplest, most loyal man I ever knew…. The personification of those sturdy and lovable qualities that really made the West.”th

At the start of World War I, Annie wrote a letter to the Secretary of War that she was willing to gather a troop of “sure shot” women to help in the war effort.  He thanked her, but declined.

Annie and Frank moved back to her home town of Greenville, Ohio and on Nov. 03 1926 she died of frank-e--butler-2natural causes. She was 66 years old. After the death of his beloved wife Frank Butler refuses to speak, eat, or drink and dies 18 days later.  They were married for 50 years.

Annie Oakley should get the nod for being one of the first female international superstars  and she spread her sharp shooting skills to over 130 cities around the world. The Irving Berlin musical “Annie Get Your Gun” came out in 1946, was an immediate hit, and still plays today. th-1 One of the hit songs from the musical is “There’s No Business Like Show Business” which was originally sung by the first “Annie,” the great Ethel Merman.  If you ever see Nancy Doyle or Ann Banning Wright on the streets of America they will break into that song with little provocation and do it Ethel Merman style.  A sight that enchants the senses and delights the ears. Please let me know if you have had that pleasure. Groove.

The “High Five” with very little connection to Billy, Wyatt, and Bat

Bat_Masterson_1879

Bat Masterson

A few interesting items about some rock stars of the Old West : Billy the Kid was born in New York City, Wyatt Earp died in Los Angeles and the great Bat Masterson (Indian Fighter, Buffalo Hunter, Gambler, Gunman, Fight Referee and Lawman) was the sports editor for the New York Morning Telegraph.

“There are those who argue that everything breaks even in this old dump of a world of ours.  I suppose these ginks who argue that way hold that because the rich man gets ice in the summer and the poor man gets ice in the winter, things are breaking even for both. Maybe so, but I’ll swear I can’t see it that way.”    These were the words typed in Bat’s typewriter when he was found slumped over dead from a heart attack in the New York Morning Telegraph newsroom.

What does this have to do with the “High Five?”  Very little, except that there is little doubt that Billy, Wyatt, mlb_burke_card_200and Bat never used the High Five after dispatching a deserving bad guy and putting him six feet under, because the High Five  was invented by the great Glenn Burke in 1977 ( Great? Batting avg .237,  Hr 2 ,  RBI 38 ).  Glenn was a Major League Baseball player for the Dodgers and Oakland A’s from 1976 to 1979 . Burke was the first and perhaps only Major League Baseball player known to have acknowledged his homosexuality to teammates and management and the first to do so publicly.  Burke’s association with the Dodgers was a difficult one.  According to Glenn’s 1995 autobiography “Out at Home,” Dodgers General Manager Al Campanis

Spunky Lasorda

Spunky Lasorda

offered to pay for a lavish wedding and honeymoon if Burke agreed to get married.  He declined.  Glenn also angered manager Tommy Lasorda by befriending the manager’s gay son Tom “Spunky” Lasorda Jr., who died in 1991 at the age of 33.

300x200_hifive2

The original High Five

In 1977 Burke ran onto the field to congratulate his Dodger teammate Dusty Baker after Baker hit his 30th home run in the last game of the regular season.  Burke raised his hand over his head as Baker jogged home from 3rd base.  Not knowing what to do about the raise hand, Baker slapped it. They have been credited with inventing the High Five.  After retiring from baseball, Burke used the High Five with other gay residence of the Castro district of San Francisco, where it became a symbol of gay pride .

yearbookAn article published in Inside Sports magazine in 1982 made Burke’s gay life public knowledge.  After baseball, Burke turned to drugs and alcohol which destroyed him both financially and physically.  He was repeatedly arrested for alcohol and drug offenses and lived on the streets of San Francisco.  On May 30th,1995 he died of AIDS complications.  He was 42 years old.

Shark-Give-me-High-five

Shark High Five

So now when you drop your little son Timmy off at soccer practice and he is greeted by Lance, his young coach, there are no longer awkward moments of overly hearty handshakes or prolonged hugs.  Just a gratifying “High Five” and you are OK with that and so is Timmy, Lance, and I am sure Glenn is OK with that too.   Groove.

“It’s Time for Dodger Baseball”

Sandy Koufax

Sandy Koufax

We know them and love them : Sandy (Koufax), Steve, (Garvey), Davey (Lopes), Ron (Cey), Bill (Russell), Don (Drysdale), but what about Pop (Corkhill), Oyster (Burns), Hub (Collins), Adonis (Terry) and Needles (Foutz).  We recognize the first group of names as the true blue Dodgers of our immediate past, but those other names are early descendants having played on the Brooklyn teams that had many names. The Dodgers were originally founded in 1883 as the Brooklyn Atlantics, taking the name of a defunct team that had played in Brooklyn

before them. Then came the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (because so many team members were getting

Superbas

Superbas

married), then the Grooms, the Superbas (which I will now call the Dodgers after I’ve had more than one cocktail), the Robins, The Trolley Dodgers, before finally becoming the Dodgers.

The Dodgers greatest rivals are the Hated Ones (or Giants) of San Francisco.  Both teams moved to California in 1958 and while the teams were based in New York, the Giants won 5 World Championships (like saying the Egyptians made fine pyramids, it’s ancient history…..who cares) and the Dodgers just one. Since moving to modern times (west coast) the Dodgers have won 5 World Championships (there is no doubt that number will increase in the near future) with the Giants struggling to win 2.   Life goes on and as the ink dries on this paper the Los Angeles Dodgers Photo DayDodgers have a 15 1/2 game lead on the lowly last place Giants with the San Diego Padres desperately trying not to dip into the basement while pondering still another uniform change (Can you say branding?).  The Dodgers have had the same uniform for 70 years.

As we all know, rooting for your baseball team can be a cruel and fickle maiden, but listening to thehome-vin-scully honeyed voice of Vin Scully, (calling the Dodger games since 1950 …. “He’s a left handed batter and we understand his father makes wind chimes out of used toothpicks”) and loving the Dodgers, and the game of baseball, we are all lucky to be part of this wonderful ride of 2013.  Go Dodgers!

Groove.  Los_Angeles_Dodgers4

Israel Bissell – Not a Jewish Vacuum Cleaner

bissellTalk about getting burned. Nobody got more toasted than Israel Bissell. And who was this fine gentleman? No, not a “Jewish Vacuum Cleaner”, but  a postal rider from Massachusetts who on April 19th, 1775 took off from Watertown, Mass. and for four days through five states Izzy warned the colonists of a invasion by the

Paul Revere

Paul Revere

British Redcoats all the way to Philadelphia, Pa. That is a total of 345 miles. Paul Revere only went 19 miles from Boston to Cambridge and ” the only person he could have warned was the Dean of Harvard University”.

What went wrong for Israel Bissell? His name. In 1860, America was on the verge of the great Civil War which severely dented the soul of this great nation and cost close to 700,000 lives.  American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was an abolitionist, very pro-union, and wanted to appeal to the Northerner’s paul-revere-by-wyethsense of urgency and a call for action. History favors the courageous (as does eating: first guy to eat a clam or a lobster ) and Hank wanted to get the word out and stir up the pro-union sentiments. (Don’t know how much Hank Longfellow stirred us with ” Song of Hiawatha ” except to make us drink more Hamm’s Beer.)  So Longfellow wanted to write a poem that would capture his opinion and capture this “hour of darkness and peril and need.”  The problem was that the name Israel Bissell just didn’t have the rhyming scheme nor the flair of Paul Revere. Remember that Hank is writing this poem some 85 years after the ride and people sort of forgot how it all went down. Even when Paul died in 1818 there was no mention in his obit about “His Historic Ride” just that he had a good business sense, made nice silver punch bowls, and was a cool guy.

So Paul Revere gets the nod, statues, junior high schools, rock bands (Paul Revere and the Raiders. I mean threally who could forget “Kicks” or “Indian Reservation ( the lament of the Cherokee Reservation Indian)” and what does Israel Bissell get? Maybe a country named after him or a vacuum company, but that’s a big reach. Perhaps just that we know Israel Bissell was a cool patriot and let’s think, what rhymes with Israel Bissell? Groove.

Again, I have stolen shamelessly. This time from Robert Wuhl “Assume the Position with Mr. Wuhl” which is great stuff.

Slippin’ On Your Travelling Shoes

th-15Travel…   I like to travel. Usually it’s a place with a great beach (Hawaii, Mexico) where my only decisions are whether to go into warm water or have another cocktail (usually the arrow points to the latter).  This is a very narrow view of the world, but has afforded me wonderful conversations with alleged heretics, blockade runners, utopian community leaders, scary men with dark initiatives, victims of shipwrecks, seedsmen, and midnight ramblers. Some of which I call my friends.

The word travel derives from the French word travail, meaning toil. Only in recent centuries has traveling come to be regarded as a recreational pursuit.  I don’t like to ” toil” and I don’t like to “pursue” unless it is for

a warm water beach and an excellent cocktail – so maybe a traveller I am not, but these following fellows surely are: John Ledyard, Richard Halliburton, and Duncan Hines (yeah, that Duncan Hines).  All three have travelled different paths, some with larger legacies than the others.

thJohn Ledyard was born in Connecticut in 1751.  Quit Dartmouth so he could “ramble more”.  Joined up with Capt. James Cook in the British Navy and saw the Cape of Good Hope, Tasmania, New Zealand, Tahiti, Hawaii, was the 1st US citizen to touch the western shores of the United States, toured Alaska, then the Bering Sea, back to Hawaii where Cook ran a foul with some of the natives and was stabbed to death, then all the way back to England.  Then on to Paris, where he conceived a bold scheme of exploration with the then American Ambassador to France, Tommy Jefferson, and was backed with dough from the Marquis de Lafayette, on a mission to explore the American continent by proceeding overland through Russia, crossing the Bering Strait, head south through Alaska, then across the American west to eventually Virginia. That is a lot of walking especially on a solo.  Sometimes I have trouble getting out of my chair and walking to the bar.

Well, Johnny didn’t make it. Went as far as eastern Siberia where he was arrested as a suspected spy on orders from  Cathy the Great and sent back to Poland, then eventually to London where he decided to walk from the Red Sea to the Atlantic ocean. Things don’t always work so well for some of those ramblin types and it didn’t work out so well for Johnny. While in Cairo, he accidentally chugged some sulfuric acid and did the big burnout from within (never a good way to go).  John Ledyard was buried in the shifting sand dunes lining the Nile, the location of his grave unknown today. Ledyard was described as a “mad, dreaming romantic” who in his day travelled to five different continents under the “common flag of humanity “.  This guy went the road less travelled and might have gone further if he laid off the sulfuric acid cocktails.th-2

Richard Halliburton was of the dashing sort. Very famous during his days, Richie made travel writing exciting with his globe trotting antics and dare devil deeds.  Born in Memphis, Tennessee in 1900, a well bred upbringing and the soft comforts of home could not contain him. “Youth– nothing else worth having in the world…and I have youth, the transitory, the fugitive, now, completely and abundantly. Yet what am I going to do with it?  Certainly not squander its gold on the commonplace quest for riches and respectability, and then secretly lament the price that had to be paid for these futile ideas. Let those who wish have their respectability – I want freedom, freedom to indulge in whatever caprice strikes my fancy, freedom to search in the furthermost corners of the earth for the beautiful, the joyous, and the romantic.” And Indulge he did.

th-7Halliburton rode an elephant over the Alps (he named her Miss Elysabethe Dalrymple), flew a crimson red bi-plane upside down over the Taj Mahal (he called his plane the Magic Carpet), dove into the cursed Mayan Well of Death in the Yucatan, swam the length of the Panama Canal (was charged a $0.36 fee), lived on Devils Island, enlisted in the French Foreign legion, took the chief of Dyak headhunters for a ride in his plane and received a gift of 100 shrunken heads for his effort, was the first to climb Mount Fujiyama in midwinter, had a long affair with screen idol Ramon Novarro, built a glass and concrete house above Laguna Beach called ” the Hangover house” in the 1930s which is stillth-5 there today, climbed the Matterhorn, and wrote about all his exploits in travel books and magazines which made him quite wealthy.

On March 3rd 1939 Halliburton began to sail a Chinese junk across the Pacific Ocean. The Sea Dragon was a th-8gaudily decorated 75 ft.ship that looked better than it floated, and was more properly suited for a ride at Disneyland than challenging the Pacific Ocean. Leaving Hong Kong in route to San Francisco with a crew of 7, the “Dragon” ran into a typhoon. ” Southernly Gales…Rain Squalls…Leeward Rail Under Water…Wet Bunks…Hardtack Bully Beef…Having Wonderful Time, Wish You Were Here Instead Of Me.” were the last words coming from the  Sea Dragon. The search turned up nothing. Richard Halliburton and crew had disappeared under the waves.  He was 39 years old.

Duncan Hines was a road weary traveling salesman who worked for a Chicago printer. By 1935 and at the age of 55 th-13Duncan had eaten a lot of good and bad grub across the US of A. Old Dunc and his wife Flo began assembling a list for friends of good restaurants around the country which became so popular he put the recommendations in a paperback and called it ” Adventures in Good Eating”. One such listing in 1939 read: Corbin, KY, Court and Cafe, open all year except Xmas 24 hr. service Sizzling Steaks, fried chicken, country ham Lunch $.50-$1.00 Dinner $.60 -$1.00  Good Eats ! Duncan claims he traveled 2 million miles across this great land and the phrase ” Recommended by Duncan Hines” became something to strive for. He started a newspaper article called ” Adventures in Good Eating at Home” with recipes acquired from the best restaurants he enjoyed. He even introduced Duncan Hines Bread to the world through the Durkee’s Bakery. Hines sold the rights to his name which was eventually bought by Proctor and Gamble. He never pretended to be a cake dude , but enjoyed the accolades of the most moistness of all the cakes. Big D died of the Big C at the age of 71.

th-18Moist cakes, shrunken heads, and sulfuric acid cocktails are all a big reach for me.  Now a traveller maybe I’m not, but I like three limes with my Anejo Rum and soda, warm water at my feet, and a good sunset. I sit having the docility of an old Springer Spaniel and in these days I am less excitable just more preoccupied. In  my tiny narrow view of the world – the world for the most part, is a beautiful place.  For me, these days, it’s perhaps more appreciated than trampled upon.  Groove.

Lemme tellya Pilgrim

Did not serve

Don Adams (Get Smart) served with Marines on Guadalcanal. Wounded in battle, he later became a drill instructor . Eddie Albert (Green Acres) won the Bronze Star for actions during the Battle of Tarawa in the Pacific. James Arness (Gunsmoke) received The Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his actions at the Battle of Anzio. Walter Brennan (Real McCoys) served in WW 1 and was exposed to poison gas which ruined his vocal cords leaving him with the high pitch voice texture that made him a natural to play old men while still in his 30’s. Jimmy Stewart flew over 20 bombing missions in B-24’s over Europe, rose to the rank of Colonel, and was awarded many medals including the Distinguished Flying Cross. John Wayne, real name Marion Morrison, DID NOT SERVE. There were many top line actors who distinguished themselves in America’s wars (Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, and many more), but John Wayne was not one of them.

John Wayne, the quintessential war hero and patriot, never actually  served in uniform. There are some who claim that there were good reasons that kept John from service (a crumbling marriage, four kids to feed, old injuries, a skyrocketing career, can best serve at home making movies of WW2 heroes), but there were other stars under similar circumstances who found themselves in service. In 1944 Wayne received a 2-A classification, deferred in support of national interest. A month later the Selective Service decided to revoke many previous deferments and reclassified him 1-a, but Wayne’s studio appealed and got his 2-a repealed.

Author William Manchester (Arms of Krupp, American Caesar), while recovering in Hawaii from wounds suffered in the Pacific  during WW2 wrote  “One night they had a surprise for us. Before the film, the curtains parted and out stepped John Wayne, wearing a cowboy outfit and a 10 gallon hat, bandanna, checkered shirt, two pistols, chaps. boots and spurs. He grinned his aw-shucks grin, passed a hand over his face and said, Hi-ya guys! He was greeted in stony silence. Then someone booed. Suddenly everyone was booing. This man of fake machismo we had come to hate, and we weren’t going to listen to him.”

In the wake of his movies the line between John Wayne the man and the heroes he portrayed becomes blurred. Perhaps there are good reasons for his absence during WW2 and there are many who feel there are. Yet, by many accounts, Wayne’s failure to serve in the military was a very painful experience in his life. His widow (the last of three wives) said that his patriotism in later decades sprang from guilt. She wrote ” He would become a ” superpatriot” for the rest of his life trying to atone for his staying home.”

I think John Wayne was a patriot, but not a hero.

Waiting for Columbus

” In a museum in Havana there are two skulls of Christopher Columbus, one when he was a boy and one when he was a man.”     Mark Twain

Washington D.C….the D.C. is short for District of Columbia – a feminized version of ” Columbus”.  Two state capitals and some forty other U.S. cities, towns, and counties also bear his name. As do countless institutions such as Columbia University and of course his landing date is a national holiday. For God’s sake they even named a space shuttle after him, but that didn’t work out so well.

The nation’s capital and many other sites around this country are named for a man who never set foot on this continent. Why, you ask?  Well, it’s not really understood…

There is a painting of Chris landing on an island he called San Salvador at the U.S. Capital Rotunda and it is true that for 12 years he hopscotched all over the Americas and was the first European to land on the beaches of many future nations, but not once did he see or touch anything that later became U.S. soil.

Why did he get the nod? Was it because he brought tobacco to Europe allowing most Europeans to bathe less and smoke more. True, tobacco became one of America’s most profitable exports, but  that came along with a deliciously healthy dose of heart disease and lung cancer .

Gold and God, conquest and conversion. Those cute, adorable, but very nasty twins of Spanish exploration. And Chris was a true conquistador wannabee. Sure, he did his mandatory raping, pillaging, and spreading of disease, but came up short  in the gold department. In his last days Chris hung out with another huge liar and self promoter Amerigo Vespucci and coughed up his last breath never receiving the recognition or riches which he so desperately sought.

Both the DR ( Dominican Republic ), Spain, and other countries claim to have some or all of Chris’s bones, but where ever those bones are, I bet they are singing “How do you like me now”.

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