Edward Gorey

“Funny Peculiar,” by Joan Acocella. The New Yorker, 12/10/2018.

This is about the cartoonist, Edward “Ted” Gorey. You will probably recognize his unique and spooky style from his illustrations introducing PBS’s Masterpiece Mystery. Gorey died in 2000 at age 75. He was tall and thin, bald, with a full, bushy white beard, and dressed in an Edwardian style like an exaggeration of his cartoons: massive, floor-length fur coats dyed in vivid colors and turtlenecks, several massive rings on each finger,  jeans, and low-cut Keds.

He was gay, but that was not the center of his life. (Dressed like that?) He said of himself, “I am fortunate in that I am reasonably undersexed or something. . . . I suppose I’m gay, but I don’t really identify with it much.”

He was a child prodigy and graduated from Harvard, alternating between the dean’s list and academic probation. As a mature adult, he lived in NYC about half the year while the NYC Ballet was performing, the rest in Barnstable, on Cape Cod, in his cousin’s attic room.

On the shore a bat, or possibly an umbrella,
Disengaged from the shrubbery,
Causing those nearby to recollect the
Miseries of childhood.

[I formatted it as a poem. The original was in prose, in a book of cartoons, one line per page. –RW]


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A Jimmy Durante Song

“Around the Bend In Eighty Days,” by S. J. Perelman. The New Yorker, 1/8/1972.

Perelman claims Jimmy Durante was singing this in the old Parody Club in 1928 (Durante started out as a ragtime pianist and added funny comments to his playing):

A boy sat under the Anheuser Bush,
The rain ‘twas coming down in Schlitz,
He rose, a sad Budweiser boy,
Pabst yes, Pabst no, Pabst yes.

Sounds like Durante (before he met Mrs. Calabash). Sounds like S. J. Perelman, too.

RWalck@Verizon.net (sad, Budweiser Roger)

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New Yorker cartoon, 12/30/1972:

Two housewives are talking over a breakfast table. One says to the other, “And didn’t you love Rinso White, Rinso Bright, Happy Little Washday Song? They don’t write them like that anymore.” (This was in 1972.)

My mother used Rinso all the time, and their jingle is very familiar, as familiar as any nursery rhyme. Wash days were a happy time, at least for me. I think for my mother, too. As I recall, it was always on Tuesday, except on rainy days.

She would haul the wicker laundry basket filled with the week’s laundry down to the basement (we called it the cellar) to the Easy washing machine with two tubs: a wide tub for washing and a narrower tub for spinning the clothes dry.

Washing clothes took all day. She must have gone down at least four times, first to light the hot water heater, then to do the wash, then to transfer the wet clothes to the spin-dryer (considered more modern than a mangle), then to gather the damp clothes to hang outside to dry, waiting about an hour between trips. She also did something with laundry blueing in the laundry sink, but I don’t know how that worked. Starch was also important for many clothes back then, but I don’t know how that worked, either.

She was a strong lady in those days.

Clothes props, long poles notched at one end to hold up the sagging clothes lines full of wet clothes, were common in everyone’s back yard. In my mind, they were mostly to poke things caught in high tree branches. Eddie Vetter used one to tight-rope walk along our back fence with disastrous results. I don’t remember how he got home, down the end of our street, but he walked funny for the next few days.

Tuesday night was also bath night. If we were going somewhere special, we would have another bath on Saturday before going out, but usually, it was one bath a week on Tuesday night. (But not in Rinso. Rinso was for clothes. Lifebuoy was the soap for people.)

Rinso was a brand name of laundry soap and detergent marketed by Unilever. The brand was created by Robert S. Hudson and originally branded Hudson’s Soap, which was sold to Lever Brothers of England, in 1908. It was introduced in the United States by Lever Brothers Company in 1918.

(Rinso is still sold by Amazon, but only as an inch-long miniature box for a doll house. I suspect the box is empty.)


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The Grandparent Scam

I find this scam so obvious, so well-known, I wouldn’t even write about it, but my kind-hearted wife was ready to fall for it, so I thought there are still some who need to be warned. Just Google “grandparent scam” to see more examples.  The scam is so common, it has its own name.

It is the old phone scam of “This is your grandson (or granddaughter). I’m in jail. Don’t tell my parents. I have a lawyer and he will call you shortly.” I would have hung up at that point. My grandson would never ask such a thing, and even if he did, I would not get involved in deceiving his mother and father. He would know that.

My wife took the call and I noticed her talking worriedly into the phone. When she hung up, she told me the story: That was our grandson, he was driving near Baltimore and was in a car accident (not his fault) and is being held in jail until the court date, don’t tell his parents, he has a lawyer, and the lawyer will call: the classic scam, word-for-word, even that he may sound different because he has a broken nose from the accident. It was the same story one of our widowed classmates told me a year ago, and it was old then.

I just laughed. I told my wife, “That’s a common scam. Ignore it!”

She was reluctant to believe me. “But it sounded just like him,” she said. (The scammer will often sprinkle in some personal details they found on the Internet, such as a pet’s name or a vacation spot. They expect a high percentage of failures, but just one hit or two is enough. One scammer made $10,000 on a good day.)

Just then the “lawyer” called, and I listened in on the extension phone. I thought he had a slight foreign accent and I called to my wife from the other room that it was a scam. He must have heard this and quickly hung up.

Still, my wife was doubtful. “All of my friends would have responded just as I did,” she protested.

“That just means you should have more skeptical friends.”

(They say the scam is successful because many grandparents are so desperate to maintain contact with their grandchildren that they are ready to believe anything. Then, if they send money, they are embarrassed by their gullibility and don’t report it to the police. )

“But the lawyer didn’t ask for money.”

“Not yet, but that would be the next step.”

The whole saga ended when I found our son’s (his father) cell phone number, and she called him directly at work. He laughed, too. “You’ve been scammed!” he immediately told her.

That, she finally believed.

(When I answer such a scam, I ask, “How about I just give you my bank password and social security number so you can take whatever you need?” When they agree that would be an easy solution, I laugh and hang up.)


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Getting Through Winter

For about 30 years, I walked to work everyday in all conditions, so the weather was important to me. I coped with winter by setting milestones. (I hated an early snowfall. It thawed and refroze on the streets in slippery, glazed ruts that made walking treacherous. I generally fell once every winter, or rather, I rolled onto my thick down coat. I only injured my dignity. Some years, I wanted to fall just to get it over with.)

In the summer, I often biked to work. Work was only a mile away through quiet suburban streets. I read an article in a biking magazine on how to ride in snow that I thought would be helpful in winter, but it was all about how to take a fall from a bike. Forget that! Show me how to stay upright.

People at work would often say, “Boy, you sure love winter.” No, I don’t. I just try to get through it the best I can. Still do. A pleasure of retirement is staying home in bad weather.

The first milestone was the winter solstice, December 21. After that, I knew the days would be getting longer, even though the mornings would still be dark.

The next milestone was about two or three weeks after that when the mornings would brighten noticeably earlier. This is where we are now.

The last milestone was the end of January which, on average here in Delaware, is the time of coldest weather. We could still have colder days in February and March, but it was comforting to know the trend was warming, and those colder days were only temporary.

After that, I could go by the months. February could still have stretches of cold days, and March could have heavy snowfalls, but they would soon pass. April brought occasional warm days that became increasingly frequent. May was perfect, and winter was definitely over.

I had survived one more winter. Of course, that was before we even imagined global warming.


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Thick Noodle

This is a family soup recipe that has become a staple for me, although we never called it “soup” because it was so thick. It was always called simply “thick noodle,” meaning the end product, not the noodles. You could spoon it onto your plate and eat it for dinner with meat and vegetables as you would with mashed potatoes.

It was invented either by my sister or mother before I arrived on the scene. Then, it was simply Campbell’s chicken noodle soup with some added egg noodles. Today, I use a store-brand of chicken noodle soup and often add scraps of chicken from the end of a Costco rotisserie chicken. After about a week, the rotisserie chicken, especially the white meat, becomes dry, and that’s mainly  what I put in the soup. The egg noodles are about a handful to a batch. It all has to be simmered for about a half an hour to cook the added noodles, or they will taste doughy. I like to always have a batch already cooked in the refrigerator, so all I have to do is to warm a dish of it in a microwave.

I don’t have to tell you, adding more noodles will make it thicker, as will cooking it longer, however you like it. Too thick, add water. I suppose you could also add vegetables, but I haven’t found any I would want.

It is not bad, but not that great, either. I don’t claim it to be a gourmet treat. Its advantages are: it is cheap, it is easy, it is fairly nutritious (compared to what I would normally snack on), and it uses up any left-over chicken. That’s good enough for me.


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Modern China

“Delivering Modernity,” by Jiayang Fan. The New Yorker, 7/23/2018.

This is still another example of an article I initially passed by, but later found informative. The article was illustrated by a full-page drawing of a drone, and I had already read enough about drones. But drones are only a small part of the article.

The article is about the Chinese company JD (“Jingdong” in Chinese), a new e-commerce company, similar to, but different from our Amazon. JD is the third largest tech company in the world, only behind Amazon and Alphabet (the parent company of Google). Like Amazon, they also provide the infrastructure for third party vendors.

They are expanding into rural China, and because of isolation and poor roads, are exploring the use of drones. In the trials, the drones do not deliver to individual homes, but the packages are combined and dropped at a central point by drone and are opened by a local JD employee familiar with the area who then delivers them in the usual manner. Chinese companies have traditionally competed on price by selling counterfeit goods and shoddy service. JD, in contrast, guarantees “no fakes” and backs up customer satisfaction. Increasingly, customers rely on the company’s reputation and are grateful for the expanded choice of goods.

An important factor is that the JD deliverymen are also locals, well-known and trusted by the interrelated, tightly-knit community.

The big shopping day in China is “Singles Day,” November 11. It sounds very much like our Christmas shopping season with discounts and special sales (and crowds).

The author describes how stores were run in Chongqing (Chunking) where she grew up in the 1980s. There was only one state-owned brick-and-mortar convenience store for 20,000 people in the army compound where she lived. It was called a service agency, and everything was in glass counters or on shelves inaccessible to customers. If you wanted something, ask and a clerk would get it for you (and watched as you examined it). Customers were not allowed to touch anything, even a stick of gum. If you wanted a soft drink, you had to drink it in the store and return the bottle to the case. To order special items, you had to be in the good graces of the manager.

When she and her family moved to the US in 1992, she was amazed by our supermarkets where the customers were free to pick and examine their purchases. Until checkout, it seemed like theft. Why were the supermarkets not bankrupted by shoplifting? (I have wondered that, too.)

Before leaving China, she was sent to live for 3 months at her father’s birthplace, a remote village where there was no convenience store at all. The only place to buy anything was at a weekly bazaar in another village some distance away. At her village, everyone was said to be related in some way, and this interrelationship was the primary social and business structure. Much individual business was done by barter and  favors. (I found the same underlying relationships in my Japanese-American wife’s hometown of Seabrook, NJ, that she understood, but I did not.)

In comparison, drones and e-commerce seem simple.


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