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Dispatches from (deep beneath)
Downtown California

March 31, 2014
This is a real ad, from Fry's Electronics, seriously!
Even More Shopping With Ralph

OK, so I didn't major in math, but can someone explain to me how my home phone service is going to be free, if I have to pay $189.99 for it.......? (do I have to pay it in Bitcoin, or something.....?)

March 15, 2014
"Yes, Mistress, I am getting hotter......"

More More Shopping With Ralph


Has pornography (as some claim) become so absorbed into our culture that we don't even really notice it any more?
Television shows titillate us, movies have become steamier and it turns out that there are more than 49 Shades of Grey in literature.....
The proliferation of tantalizing cel phone photos of restaurant dishes has even been dubbed "Food Porn."
So it appears that things have moved a step earlier in the process: Cooking Porn. Those wonderful and oh-so-creative folks in the kitchen appear to have, at long last, lost all sense of proportion. The latest? Meatballs In Bondage (pictured above). It's more than just a great title for a Frank Zappa tune.

March 1, 2014
At least I think that what these are.....

More Shopping With Ralph


Given our (We, The People's) penchant for holiday gewgaws and things to stuff into our faces, what better way to observe The Holidays by making something that is both decorative and chock full o' calories?
Edible Christmas Tree Ornaments!
If that freshly-cut-tree scent isn't enough to get you into the holiday spending mood, think what the tempting aromas of prawns, marinated lamb and onions will do!
(Just make sure that your furry "Santa's Helper" can't reach 'em.....)

February 12, 2014
Could it be this one...? .... or this one....?

A New Feature -
Shopping With Ralph


When the going gets tough (and, let's face it: with all of the celebrity deaths lately, it's been tough) the Tough Go Shopping! After all, this is America, right?
Some stuff out there is, well, pretty Out There, and it always seems to find me when I'm not looking for it.
Our opening salvo comes to us in the form of two products, both of which are ready to curl your hair. Only one of them, however, is actually designed as a hair styling product.

Can you tell which is which?
(btw: one of the sites has a "Live Chat" button......)

January 31, 2014
click here to charge headlong into the Wikipedia entry about  Pete

Another pair of greats gone.....


I can still hear the slightly scratchy phonograph record in Mrs. Nicholson's third grade class, with some finger-pickin' banjo (even though we didn't know to call it that) and an enthusiastic guy's voice leading us through a couple of choruses of "This Land Is Your Land." No doubt that Woody Guthrie was a bit too radical (and any recordings of his version were probably even scratchier-sounding) for our tender and unsophisticated ears (and politically innocent, as well; like the rest of Our Land, as it wasn't November 22, 1963 for a few more days.....)
T'was Pete Seeger, who was considered a troublemaker because he was brave enough to tell Congress to go take a flying leap at itself for asking U.S. citizens questions that they had no business asking.
Seeger, a Guthrie apostle, used folk music to spread the word of, and reinforce the concept of, civil (and basic human) rights.
Seeger, who learned how to hop a freight train from Guthrie himself,* spent most of his 94 years as a folksinger, and wrote many of the titles that would come to mind when you think of the term "folk songs."
As a member of The Weavers, Seeger was eventually 'blacklisted' in the 1950's, a practice which finally had its nose pulled by the Smothers Brothers, when they invited him onto their network television show. (and three cheers for them, too!)
A parting quote from Seeger: "I like to say I'm more conservative than Goldwater. He just wanted to turn the clock back to when there was no income tax. I want to turn the clock back to when people lived in small villages and took care of each other."

Amen, Pete!

And, Speaking of Spreading The Word About People's Rights.....


yeah, clicking here will getch to  Morrie's Wikipedia entry

Morrie Turner, an Oakland (and later Sacramento) cartoonist, drew the comic strip "Wee Pals" from 1965 until just days before his death this week at the age of 90. Turner's "Pals" strip was always upbeat, and the cast of characters was at least as varied as a Benneton ad. Sometimes appearing as though drawn with a Sharpie, the strip nevertheless had a razor sharp message: We Can All Get Along. Even "Ralphie," (no relation) the often cranky kid who would always get his comeuppance, was likable. "Pals'" 'Soul Corner' was a biographical feature that could enlighten and inform. It must have been a good formula, as he had over 25,000,000 readers!
Turner, a good friend of "Peanuts" creator Charles Schulz, devoted a great deal of his time and energy to youth projects.

We'll miss ya, Morrie!

* his first attempt to dismount a moving train cost him his banjo when he tumbled over it, shattering it

January 16, 2014
Another Name For It

"Pre-Need Embalming"
Why wait until the last minute?

I was once told, by a reliable source on such matters *, that formaldehyde makes your tongue swell up (if you're still around to appreciate it.)

Ethanol sounds like a far better choice.

* an experienced imbiber, who learned, first-hand, that Prohibition was a lousy idea.
Another, similarly-experienced veteran of ethanol famines, was somehow convinced by a similarly impoverished buddy that the reformulated Sterno could be made safe through a combination of sugar, 7Up and the efforts of a Zippo lighter. Three days later, as their Liberty was expiring, they regained consciousness and concluded that, altho it wasn't lethal, it also wasn't quite worth it.

October 10, 2013
Yeah, even heroes have to go sometime, too..... *
Scott Carpenter, one of the original Mercury astronauts (and among my personal heroes) died today. I guess that space flight (provided you actually get off the ground) isn't as hazardous as one might think. He was 88 years old. The fourth American to go into space, he went but once, and entered the record books forever. He later found that undersea exploration was his cup of tea, and he spent a lot of time involved in projects like SeaLab. (Outer space, Inner Space, Underspace - it's all good.)

I'm going to watch The Right Stuff again, dangit. (He was portryed by actor Charles Frank - go ahead, see if you can visualize that.)
* and I don't mean Alan Shepard's pre-liftoff, monitoring sensor-nullifying relief, either.....

September 13, 2013
Click here to see him in  "City Slickers".....

What would you get if you crossed Russell Crowe with Moe Howard.......?

Bruno Kirby, maybe......?

I happened across an over-the-air broadcast (yes, they still do that) of This Is Spinal Tap one recent verrrry early morning (we're called "Nightide Studios," remember?) and was reminded of Kirby's versatility as a character actor. You have probably seen him a lot more often than you think.
The film itself, which I had not seen in a decade or two, just about knocked me out of my seat (which wouldn't be easy, as I was flaked out on some floor pillows.) No wonder it has turned up on so many "Best Of' lists; check out the IMDB listings, and consider the film's impact on our society (at least conversationally.
If you don't believe me, 'Turn it up to eleven.')

20 June, 2013
The only time you'll say "Oh, no"  is when you say the place's name.....

A Few Facts That I Have Learned Since That Last Blog Post...

The average economy class airline seat is approximately 3 inches narrower that the average coffin.

The Transportation Security (not 'Safety') Administration is a non-profit theater group, evidently.

The Kailua-Kona airport's troupe (see above) is mainly doing comedy.

The air in Hawaii still feels like soft skin.

The ocean water in Hawaii still feels like silk.

The Fukushima tsunami beat the living Christmas out of some of Hawaii's beaches (since repaired, but not undetectably.) This, somehow, did not make the news in Downtown California.

The coral reefs (reeves?) are still an unending source of fascination.

You can, indeed, get a dandy sunburn in the shade, despite sunscreen.

Pina coladas in the daytime, under a palm tree, seem to cancel out sunscreen's beneficial effects (see above).

A sushi/sashimi combo plate is always ok with my palate and digestive works, even while being blasted by karaoke folk.

Rental cars just continue to get weirder.

There doesn't seem to be a single un-cool local park on the Big island.

There don't seem to be any non-knockout botanical gardens on the Big Island.

Ono's in Honolulu still serves great Island Soul Food.

Kalua pork, steamed taro leaves and lomi lomi salmon are still great.

Ono's evidently has not redecorated since about the Korean War Era.

Honolulu's Bishop Museum is still an excellent source of wonder; the historic implements, weapons and general evidence of daily life can absorb one's attentions for many hours.

Honolulu's Crack Seed Store has more things to nibble on than a Las Vegas chorus line.

Honolulu's Goodwill Store, near the Crack Seed Store, yields many fresh (to us, anyway) designs of Aloha shirts.

Taking Mary Roach's latest book along will not distract you from the sun, sand and water. Nope. Not much. Nosirree. ("wow, did we go on vacation? why didn't you tell me?")

It's still a lot colder getting off the plane in San Francisco than it was getting on the plane in Honolulu.

Airline travel has really deteriorated over the years, at least for non-1% travelers.

If I could take a train to the islands, I surely would.

Thirty years is not a long time to be married to the same, loving person: it's merely a great start.

The Maker Faire is still a fantastic, wholly-absorbing event (altho not without its challenges. One of those challenges is to keep from letting the Surrealism Bar get raised constantly.*)

The weekend of the Maker Faire was also beset by every other event that was planned for the year happening then, too. (Bay to Breakers, Greek Festivals, Amgen Bike Race, Car Shows, You-Name-It). The telling detail here was that the Bay Area actually ran out of barricades for rent!

The Dyson company really knows how to move air.

You really are a mile high already in Denver.

Denver University offers a "Masters In Taxation" degree.

I never before thought that I would want to boo someone at a Commencement Ceremony.

Denver University couldn't find anyone significant to provide the usual "Now go out there and make a change" commencement speech, so they had to settle on Ban Ki Moon.

A United Nations Secretary general can be pretty funny.

It appears to be impossible to enter a commercial establishment in Denver that doesn't have some incense going.....

A great dane puppy can weigh upwards of 150 lbs.

A great dane puppy still acts like a puppy.

TSA screening in the Denver airport takes place in what resembles an enormous circus tent, lending the situation all the seriousness that it deserves.

Train seats are larger than an average coffin.

Next time I'm called to Denver, I'm taking the train again.

Dogs actually do get old after about 14 years.

I may be part dog.

... and, finally, time really flies when you're being had by fun!

* seriously, in the morning, somebody dressed as a giant banana goes whizzing by on a skateboard, and it's a major event; by 1400 hours, a giant-wheeled, steam powered quadricycle chugs past, with scantily-clad passengers hanging off of it handing out opossum-flavored lozenges wouldn't trigger a second glance...
also, the first 30 or so 3-D printers were kinda fun; after that, the remaining 150 or so sort of lost their novelty. One cool thing that I saw was a guy with (what I thought was a large parrot cage) a 3 D printer strapped to his back, fabbing something whilst he wandered about enjoying the Faire. It made me think of itinerant tinkers of yore....."Oy! Printing today! Bring out yer plans! Printing right 'ere & now, Guv'nor!")

4 April, 2013
Click here to learn more about the Crucible's Bike program
A Worthy Cause To Consider....
(direct from The Crucible) The Crucible has the chance to win a $25,000 grant from State Farm for our Bike Program, and you can help. All you have to do is vote on Facebook every day between today and April 22. And if you’re really excited you could vote up to 10 times a day!
Click here to vote on State Farm’s Facebook App. (You’ll have to give the application permissions, but only the first time.) After that, all you have to do is click “vote” to lend your support for Bikes for West Oakland, and it's super easy to click 10 times in a row.
The Crucible’s Bike Program serves our West Oakland community with Bike Fix-a-Thons, Earn-a-Bike, Art Bike, and a drop-in repair times. This year six Bike Fix-a-Thons will enable at least 300 of our neighbors to access free repairs. 20 students in Earn-a-Bike will learn how to weld and explore other industrial arts in order to fabricate two bicycles and keep one – bikes are donated to community organizations and toy drives or sold to support the program. And Art Bike participants conceive and create unique artworks from frame to finished project.
The Crucible’s Bike Program was one of 200 causes (from over 3,000 entries) selected, which is a huge honor, and we only get funded if we reach the top 40. So please take a second to vote (or 10 seconds to vote 10 times), share with your friends, and check out The Crucible’s Bike Program in person soon. There’s something here for everybody.

1 April, 2013
Click here to see more of the dangers of DHMO...
Whew! What a job.....!

Small wonder that we've been out of touch (in so many ways) for so long. We've been in the throes of a cleanup job like never before! It seems that a rather large (and potentially dangerous) chemical spill has had us in a state of near-total concentration for most of the season, attempting, sometimes vainly, to minimize its ill effects.
We can't be altogether certain of its origins (given the still-uncertain effects of global warming and weather pattern disruptions, we can't clearly put the blame on China, Iran or the ever-popular mini-villain North Korea) but it certainly blew in with the prevailing winds.
OK, I know, I shouldn't be whining about this; after all, Superstorm Sandy brought even more of the unwelcome stuff to the East Coast, but we've still got to take care of it all over our place.
Yeah, we've had a lot of dihydrogen monoxide falling all over the place, contaminating large portions of our property. I can't seem to keep the stuff off of our car, either.
You can learn more about this dangerous stuff here, and see what we're up against.

Hopefully we'll have this ever-expanding problem under control by the time summer rolls around, but, in the meantime, we'll try to sneak out to some shows now and again.
Next one: The Crucible's Open House, saturday 6 April 2013. Hope to see ya there, and we can explain what we're dealing with here......!

8 January, 2013
Click here to see more about Huell...
“So what’s on ‘California’s Gold’ tonight?”....
... is a clarion call that has echoed through Downtown California every night around 7:30 when nothing else is going on (packing for a show or a trip, going to a meeting, whatever) - for at least 15 years.

We discovered “CG” when the Ralph’s friend, a former California State Parks ranger, mentioned it, and soon became charmed by its improbably genial, folksy host, Huell Howser.

Huell - it just seems too stiff to call him “Mr. Howser,” New York Times-style - quickly became a part of our lives, appearing so regularly in our Downtown California living room that we soon memorized the opening credits where he announced that the show was endorsed by “the California Teachers Association, the California School Boards Association and the California Library Association.” It’s a Downtown California tradition to recite this right along with Huell, doing our best to mimic his Tennessee accent.

But our love of Huell never was ironic. Much as we liked him as a presenter, we loved the way he stood back and let the people and places visited take center stage. Everything was “aMAYzing.” There were always remarkable “juxtapositions.” And frequently things “just get better and better”...unless “it doesn’t get any better than this.”

We even indulged in the California’s Gold Drinking Game - the triggers being all of the above, as well as any time Huell repeated back to a person whatever they had just said. (Local person: “So this is where the goatherders would come for dinner on Saturday nights.” Huell: “So you mean this place was filled with goatherders on Saturday night?” OK, that’s not a real example, but it gives you the idea.)

We liked to find out about places to visit from “California’s Gold” -- one memorable trek took us to the Grace Hudson Museum in Ukiah -- and also enjoyed watching Huell do shows on places we had already seen, such as Daffodil Hill.

Part of his charm did indeed come from the, er - juxtaposition - of his gentle, enthusiastic approach and his bodybuilder, Marine Corps physicality. And even more, we think other fans, like ourselves, could sense that all of his enthusiasm or positivity was completely genuine.

Should any of us have doubted this, on Twitter the day after Huell’s death, @jacobsoboroff wrote, “RIP Huell Howser, CA legend. He launched my career with this unplanned moment: Always wanted to be Huell 2.0.”

In Soboroff’s video, Howser -- mid-interview -- is taken completely by surprise by the young cameraman’s sudden appearance and not only does not blow his top - he incorporates Soboroff into his show. They became friends after that. Soboroff also noted in another tweet that there were already more than 300 comments @HuffpostLA.

Just a day after Huell’s death was announced, the rather unfortunately-handled “toodeadfordreaming” posted this lovely tribute video -- which caught the man’s spirit as well as anything could. There were already 129 comments and 224 “likes” on the post as of Jan. 7, the day after Huell died.

The outpouring of sadness, humor and warm memories captured in multiple forms of media served to remind us that thousands of other Californians must’ve felt much as we did - that Huell was our own special find and friend. And yet, rather than feeling jealous that others loved him too, we find it heartening that this gentle man was appreciated by so many.

We hope he knew how beloved he was. The shock that greeted the news of his death suggests that he was a private man who wanted his legacy to be the work that he did, bringing to light the many aMAYzing facets of the adopted state he loved so well.

A consummate TV professional and businessman, Huell had planned for the future, donating all episodes of his life’s work to Chapman University, as well as three houses. The university has digitized all the episodes, and has placed them online for free public viewing.


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