Archive | June, 2010

Name That Tune

30 Jun

Cloudwin has a song stuck in his/her head and needs help extracting it. Using the clues provided, I jump in a help out…

Cloudwin –

That’s an interesting question and it brings back some fond memories from my younger days as a reckless and somewhat awkward teen.

I’m Not Sue was released in 1948 by the Six Tops, a harmonic vocal group whose “barbershop quartet + 2” stylings were the talk of the town for several months. Their popularity reached its peak shortly after the release of I’m Not Sue, a tongue-in-cheek tale about a misdialed phone and a supposedly private conversation.

Of course, the music scene changed drastically in the next couple of years, which did not bode well for those in the harmonizing genre. Bill Haley and his unkempt Comets invented rock music with their single Rock Around the Clock and things would never be the same.

This onslaught of so-called “rock” music steamrolled the unsuspecting Tops, swiftly depleting their record advance and crippling two of their members. They pressed on despite the odds, touring as a 4-member group, playing local dances, state fairs and book burnings.

Those of us who had enjoyed formative experiences with the accompaniment of songs like I’m Not Sue loyally followed the newly-minted Four Tops all over the Greater Midwest, capturing rudimentary live recordings with our reel-to-reel and compiling a fan magazine in our limited downtime.

Rock and roll turned out to be unstoppable, much in the way the Four Tops were not. Soon they were nothing but dusty LPs and faded memories. I was on my way to Korea and my younger brother (and loyal Tops fan) was headed to high school. He soon gave in to peer pressure and became a rock-and-roller, oiling up his pompadour and fathering two children out of wedlock.

I, on the other hand, was exploring the limits of my endurance, working alternating 24-hour watches and making several attempts to be dishonorably discharged. It turned out they needed warm bodies more than they needed respect or loyalty, and I was stuck there for four long years.

In any event, I still remember a few lyrics from I’m Not Sue, and I’d like to share them with you:

“I’m sorry
I thought you were somebody else
I must have dialed ‘5’ instead of ‘4’
Golly, this is awkward
Especially the part about the intimate nickname”

I guess that doesn’t translate to the page very well, but when the Tops deployed their impeccable 6-part harmony, it was like the embarrassed apologies of angels.


Clifton L. Tanager


How to Watch

23 Jun

An anonymous (aren’t they all?) Netizen inquires as to The Breakfast Club and related observational methodology.

Dear Sir or Madam:

I’m not sure when this Breakfast Club came out, but I’m fairly sure that your local theatre holds the answer. While I may be what some consider “out of the loop” as to today’s technology, I can assure you that there is no finer place to be than a darkened movie theater, preferably watching something in black and white.

Like most of us growing up during the latter stages of the Great Depression, we often found ourselves hoarding pennies and nickels and sneaking off to the matinée to watch men in bad hairpieces pursue women with bad accents. Often an evil German or Asian was involved, but sometimes it was just the white hats versus the black hats in a battle royale over water rights or conjugal visitation.

The movie theater was the greatest place on earth in those days. The screens measured nearly 125 feet across and stood 40 feet tall. Unlike these cracker jack multiplexes, our theater only showed one movie at a time, often for years in a row. My younger brother and I watched Alan Ladd in “Shane” no fewer than 334 times over the course of three years.

We got to the point where not only had we memorized the dialog, but we could pick out each continuity error, like the early scene where Ladd’s shot glass switched from hand to hand no fewer than four times. Or a pivotal later scene that is marred by four seconds of Shane (Ladd) dressed head-to-toe in white, completely subverting the mythology of the character.

This doesn’t even mention the regrettable error in the final scene, where the climax is undercut by Van Heflin’s accent, which goes from Western American to Scottish to Klingon in a three-minute span. And let’s not even bring up the sudden appearance of a laser pistol in a baddie’s hand during the barroom brawl.

I’ve headed far away from my point and most likely taken away a great deal of your precious time. My answer is: with your eyes, at your local theater. If they’re anything like I remember them, Breakfast Club should still be playing.


Clifton L. Tanager

When to Retire

16 Jun

Willfred Mont expresses concern for the future and looks for a chance to “opt out”…

Willfred –

From what I’ve learned in nearly 60 years of thankless labor and tedious repetition is that it’s best to let your company decide whether you should retire or quit.

I have been fortunate enough to be selected for “retirement” by two separate companies. The first, Templeton Box and Glove, made several moves, including the hiring of several people related to the supervisors, to make my position extraneous and thus, easily eliminated.

I fought them every step of the way, using my years of work experience and H.R. loopholes to keep my position. I also fought them the old-fashioned way, turning my staplers and No. 2 pencils into a makeshift weapon and fashioning chainmail out of discarded paperclips.

My last week at Templeton was quite the experience. Besides the skirmishes with mystified supervisors (who seemed ill-prepared to handle a man armed with a stapler and dressed in paperclip-mail), there were also long battles with H.R. representatives, who seemed stymied when presented with large, randomly chosen paragraphs from the 485-page employee manual.

It was all for naught. Shortly after the security guards were summoned, I was forced to declare a truce. If I had had the foresight to swing by the supply closet before cloistering myself in the crawlspace, I would have had enough staples to hold them off for at least another 8 hours.

Still, there were no hard feelings. They threw a retirement party in my honor, according to the photos they mailed me. I was also served with a 500-foot restraining order and must clear any office supply purchase with the local sheriff’s office.

The other retirement went much easier. I arrived as usual at 8 am to find a retirement party in full swing. When I inquired who it was for, a cheerily overweight coworker informed me that “It’s for you, ya old coot!” As he laughed in amusement, I punched him right in the throat.

Lucky for him, I had not yet had my morning coffee, which was usually sprinkled heavily with much-needed cane sugar and PCP. With a full cup, I might have severed his head.

Two hours later, I was back in my Oldsmobile, being waved goodbye to by a set of burly security guards and a bleeding CEO.

So in my estimation: let the retirement time find you. It always has for me.


Clifton L. Tanager

When to Get Hitched

9 Jun

Atefeh looks for some help on the best age for marriage, using a leading question and some remarkably low numbers…

Atefeh –

You’ve asked an important question, one which has stumped experts for years. If the current divorce statistics are any indication, any answer is a wrong answer.

I married my first wife when I was nineteen. We had known each other throughout high school and had worked closely together on everything from the Homecoming gym decoration committee to the “Remembering Our Homecoming King and Queen” tribute dinner the following week, which memorialized Johnny and Sarah’s last moments in life which they spent fighting off circling sharks in San Diego Bay. (The other lesson here, if there is one, is that drinking and Truth or Dare do not mix. On the other hand, drinking and skeet shooting do, which is yet another mystery of life.)

After dropping out of high school to raise our first child, my wife and I began a long and torturous road to happiness, occasionally catching vicarious glimpses of the “best years of our lives.” Just when things seemed like they couldn’t get any worse, we had a breakthrough brought on by my draft number being called.

Soon I was off to Korea to rid the world of Communism and she was home, working just as hard to rid the kitchen of field mice. We both had unanswered questions, such as would this long-distance relationship work? and how the hell did field mice make their way six miles into the city?

As I honed my skills in the Armed Forces and my wife practiced her trap-setting, our marriage went on nearly unattended. I found myself often unable to write due to various illnesses, infections and uncomfortable rashes. My wife apparently was short on time as well, as I received letters sporadically, detailing the escalating “war at home” and various recruits who had stopped by the house to lend a hand with the field mice.

It seemed unlikely that the marriage would hold together. We were too different. Even in high school, we were polar opposites. She was voted Most Likely To Drop Out of School and Combat Field Mice and I had been voted Most Likely To Travel and Get Shot At. We were like Romeo and Juliet, if Romeo was an Army line cook with a bum, but not bum enough knee and Juliet was surrounded by contemptuous mice rather than warring families.

But in the end, it all worked out. I returned from the war somewhat worse for wear and began to start our life over again. There were some bumps in road (and mice in the cupboards) but like any journey, it started with a single step. 31 years later we were still married and bracing ourselves for oncoming grandchildren. The mice had moved on as well, consolidating their forces and heading towards the new housing developments springing up like identical weeds all around us.

So, in the end, I don’t think it matters what age you embark on this lifelong journey. What matters most is that there is a single event inextricably tying you together and field mice to join forces against. There’s no “me” in team and only one “i” in divorce. Do the math.

Clifton L. Tanager

On Pipes

5 Jun

While many of you out there (and I especially mean those precocious “tweens”) have expressed an interest in smoking, I’d like to take a short moment to “clear the air” about pipe selection.

There are a large variety of pipes and tobaccos out there. Don’t limit yourself to just one, as you may find yourself miles away from your favorite at a time when you need the comfort of endlessly filling, tamping and relighting your pipe.

I have no particular favorite, but I do tend to stray towards basic blacks and browns while steering clear of ostentatious whites or reds.

I would, however, advise you to steer clear of the corncob pipe. While its rakish “down home” looks may be visually appealing, the actual delivery system makes it taste as if you’re smoking Orville Redenbacher’s ashes.

Warmest regards,
Clifton L. Tanager


How to be Popular

1 Jun

A presumably young writer wonders as to popularity and where to get some of it…

Colon D:

While you may hear many of your friends and classmates discussing popularity (often in hushed tones slightly out of earshot), be assured that their acceptance is not needed to advance in life.

I’ve spent many years in many different fields over the course of my life and I’d like to think that popularity, or my lack thereof, had nothing to do with my eventual success and even more eventual forced retirement.

When I arrived along with the rest of my platoon in Korea, our drill sergeant informed us that we were all equals and that nothing in our life up to that point mattered, whether it was Johnny Sanderson’s high school football records and paternity suits or James Cullen’s lifelong bed-wetting habit and stamp collecting. From now on, he informed us, we’re a unit.

His words stayed with us. As we went from battle to battle, we found that we had no time left between dodging bullets and infections to dwell on our high school escapades. Our short R&R periods were no different, as we took the much-needed break time to catch up on our mail, which usually consisted of Mom’s recipe for Raisin-Plum-Applesauce Cake or Dear John letters from our high school sweethearts. Needless to say, Johnny received the lion’s share of the latter along with several important-looking letters demanding funds for diapers/bottles/antidepressants/trips to Mexico.

The long and the short of it was: when the halcyon days of school are over and life begins dealing off the bottom of the deck, the last thing on your mind will be the fleeting thrills of popularity. Once life got ahold of Johnny, he went from being the homecoming king to a hollow shell of a man in less than 6 months. As for James? Well, the constant whine of incoming shells did nothing for his bed-wetting, but the trip abroad gave his stamp collection a huge boost.

Take care and all the best. Everything in life has a way of working itself out, usually in a way that will be both completely unexpected and ridiculously expensive.


Clifton L. Tanager