Sunday, July 28, 2013

The Royal Name A Royal Pain

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Just suppose you need to call the Queen of England.

Why? Oh, there are dozens of reasons, my good man.

You live in Twickenham and the privy is backed up at York House Gardens and the landlord is -- well, don’t get me started -- and you wish to have some strings pulled;

You wish to donate to the “Remodel Buckingham Palace Fund” since the place is -- how does one say? – looking sooooooo 14th century;

You need a recipe for bubble and squeak with a blood pudding chaser to feed 142 heads of state, give or take a duke or a backbencher of Parliament or the casual Eurocrat;

Or you simply wish to inquire as to why the seasons of “Downton Abbey” are so bloody short on the telly.

You don’t need a prime minister or a bobby or the Farmer’s Almanac: What you need is a Queen. THE Queen. Time to pick up the blower and bell her highness.

Spot on old chap!

The problem is, you grab the phone book and … what? Look under “Q”? Under “E”? “M” for matriarch or monarch? “R” for royalty? “D” for dowager?

Of course not. You look under her last name, silly. Which is … duooh?! One of the most recognizable figures in the world for the past 60 years, and we don’t even know her last name.

What does it say on the top left of the Queen’s personal checks? That’s my question. That’s what I’d like to know.

How did she sign her children’s report cards?

On her driver’s license, it can’t just say “The Queen.” Can it?

Has anyone ever seen her luggage? Is it monogrammed? Can you share?

This question of royal surname raises its head because of the birth of a boy child from the royal loins this week in London, a product, at least in part, of the family jewels you hear tacky people talk about from time to time.

Surely even the Queen and the children and, in this most recent case, the great-grandchildren need a last name. While odds were placed on the child’s first name, this guy doesn’t even have a LAST name, something the rest of us are born with, like it or not.

You need a last name. What will it say on the back of the child’s soccer/football/cricket jersey?

Where does he sit if they put him in alphabetical order in the third grade?

How will he countersign the back of his royal paychecks?

A great deal of research (“great deal” being a relative term) suggests the royal family’s surname is anything from Cambridge to Wales to Windsor to the somewhat tedious Mountbatten-Windsor. If so, that’s going to be tough for autographs, unlike it is for, say, Henry/Hank of Wales or that old fan favorite, the Wizard of Oz. (“Yessir. Uh, just make it, ‘To Toto.’”)

Not that “of Wales” or “House of Tutor” passes for a last name. It passes for a prepositional phrase, I’d say. It’s in the preposition family. But I’ve never seen it on a mailbox.

On the other hand, England is the country that invented the language, one I can hardly speak myself. So I give the Queen and her family a pass. Besides, as much as I like William and Kate, I read in a British tab that it took them three weeks just to name their dog, and the best they could come up with was Lupo. (No last name, natch.) Imagine how long it’d take them to buy a car.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

In Praise Of History's Coolest Customer

From today's TIMES and NEWS-STAR

Let us now pause in praise of famous yet under-recognized men, most notably the stud who invented air conditioning.

What a guy.

Though far from common knowledge, a guy named Willis “Freon” Carrier invented and then, 111 years ago this very week, cranked up the first modern electrical “air conditioner” – July 17, 1902. I don’t know what he did the rest of that day, but my guess is he stripped down to his undershorts, got on his knees right in front of the thing and prayed that it would never break. Then he went to the store and bought back-up filters.

The window unit wasn’t invented until 1950 and Americans couldn’t really afford to start buying air conditioning for their homes until then, but once the damn broke, school was out.

Say what you will in nostalgic honor of the old days. I would likely second your motion; many things were much better back then in a simpler and slower – and hotter -- time. But there is no question that we’ve got the days of yesteryear beaten – and soundly – when it comes to both television and air conditioning. Equator-hot temperatures of late convince me of that every Louisiana summer.

Have you ever wondered how they made do B.A.C. (Before Air Conditioning?) I realize people were conditioned to the heat, which is why my generation can take thermal temps a bit better than the modern AC-bred youth. But survival B.A.C. is a mystery.

We had units in the windows only in the ’60s, and that was in the den, and about two feet in front of it was prime real estate in my boyhood home, especially after you’d just walked in from a bike ride or a game of football. Or, on days particularly steamy, if you’d just walked to the barn and back. This Freon idol had buttons to push and dials to turn and vents to adjust so you could get it blowing right on your face, and you’d lean your neck back and let the modern marvel wash all over you and turn your sweat into cool drops of liquid heaven.

Those were the salad days.

How Mark Twain and guys of his ilk made it all day in a white suit is something beyond my pea-brain ability to understand. He always looks cool in those pictures. My guess is if the pictures were scratch-and-sniff, they’d smell like sweat and talcum powder and, on really hot days, like last Tuesday’s trash.

Think of all those photographs of people who walked through a stuffy, non-electric world. Abe Lincoln in black tails. Ralph Waldo Emerson in high, starched collars. The New York Yankees of 1927 in flannel that weighed about 40 sweat-soaked pounds after a July doubleheader in St. Louis. I bet that locker room smelled so loud that even people in 1932 could smell it. Even the unborn could smell it.

But, they wouldn’t let you be president or a poet or a pro baseball player and go running around nekkid all over the place, so uniforms were a must. Hard to believe you’ve never seen a photo of Abe Lincoln in short sleeves. You KNOW he was hot.

Back then when people said, “We’re gonna have a hot time in the old town tonight,” it was hardly a metaphor.

Oh, they’d made stabs at AC before Willie Carrier hit the scene. But the Romans, the Asians, the Europeans right and left could not make it stick, unlike American hero Willie C: the “C” stands for “cool.”


Sunday, July 14, 2013

We're Not Much More Than Beggars In Disguise

From today's Times and News-Star

Momma took our dear 90-something friend Maw – years ago she made the quilt I sleep under each night -- to get a prescription refilled the other day, or to the doctor, or one of those sorts of things. Momma often takes her on short trips away from the retirement home.

Unfortunately, on this day, their wait – it was supposed to be 10 minutes – was more like two hours.

At some point around the 90-minute mark, Maw looked at my mother and said, “Remember when I asked you a long time ago why God’s left me here and hasn’t taken me yet?”

Momma remembered.

“Well I think finally have the answer,” Maw said. “He left me here to worry the hell outta you.”

A good bit of time passed before my mom was able to stop laughing at that one. It’s another classic line – in a rather long list -- from Maw.

The truth is, it’s not always easy to help someone. Helping is more a matter of will than anything else. It can’t be timing, because each of us could always be doing something else.

“I can’t help anyone,” I read this week, usually means “I can’t help anyone without burdening myself, cutting in to how I live my life.”

It takes going against the selfishness in us all to do something for someone who can never pay us back. If it’s been a while, you might have forgotten what a smile, gesture, kind words or groceries might mean to someone. My friend Scout reminded me this week.

“Long story short,” Scout said. “As a volunteer with Grace Home, I see this particular woman once a week. She is 93, has Alzheimer’s, smiles, babbles, and is very pleasant. Pleasant but she can't really say anything that makes sense. Sometimes I leave and wonder if God really wants me there, you know, ‘Am I making a difference?’ I guess I am guilty of wanting instant gratification.  Last visit I was running my fingers through Bernice's hair and singing ‘Isn’t He.’”

(Begin ital.)
Isn’t He beautiful? Beautiful, isn’t He? Prince of peace, Son of God, isn’t He?...
(End ital.)

“She smiled mightily,” Scout said, “and something in her eyes made me melt. When I got ready to leave, she said, ‘Thanks, hon.’ Yes, God wants me there. I doubt I will ever hear anything more beautiful for a long while.”

All of us are, at our base, bums in disguise. Maybe beggar is a better word. It’s been pointed out to me that in “beggar,” there is “an echo of humble, earnest supplication, as if one asks for an act of grace – as in, ‘I beg your pardon.’”

We’re all beggars, begging to be loved, heard and understood, but not as quick to love, hear and understand. We want someone, at least figuratively, to run their fingers through our hair. Best to pay it forward. And to remember where the gift of each breath comes from.

My favorite line from my favorite musical (so far, as I have not seen many!), comes when Annie and the cowboy Frank are semi-arguing in the final scene of “Annie Get Your Gun.” Frank offers Annie his own rifle in a shooting contest between the two because hers is messed up.

Annie: “I don’t need no favors!”

And Frank says to her, “Annie, everybody needs a favor sometimes.”

No matter how big a hotshot we are or think we are, we all need a favor sometimes. Which is just about every day.