Resolutions, etcetera

Evening folks.  We welcome you to a new year and a continued chance to submit your work.  We assume many of you have made resolutions for 2015, and for the writers it’s bound to include writing and submitting more.  And we welcome that.  We hear at The Southern Tablet were busy changing diapers and forgot to make any resolutions ourselves so we are relying on yours to see us through.  Don’t let us down.  Submissions for Issue Six are due by February 1st…

On the Passing of One of the Era’s Greatest Comedians

The man who made millions laugh is now making them cry.

Hollywood, comedy and cinema fans and others who chuckled, belly-laughed or just plain

guffawed over Robin Williams’ manic, maniac, machine-gun humor were stunned by the news of his apparent suicide Aug. 11 in his Tiburon, California home. He was 63.

Williams burst onto the American culture in 1978 as the star of the sit-com Mork and Mindy, where he played a wacky extraterrestrial that commented on the laughable and oftentimes unfunny facets of human nature. Pam Dawber was Mindy, the trendy and sometimes spacy Boulder, Colorado girl who boarded Mork during his Earth visit. My favorite scene is when Mork is returning to Earth and he and another person are beamed onto the set using the exact special effects from the original Star Trek series. The other person? None other than Capt. James T. Kirk – aka William Shatner – himself. Shatner and Williams do a brief skit of exchanging baggage that was mixed up during the transporter trip. Star Trek fans loved it. Incidentally, both TV shows were Paramount properties, hence Mork and Mindy could borrow the Star Trek special effects.)

What I loved about Robin Williams’ humor was it was intelligent. He could sandwich a snide social comment or word-play a cunning double entendre in between fart jokes. While the average American was laughing over the obvious humor, the smarter folks were rolling over the punchlines that sailed over others’ heads. To miss that brand of well-crafted humor is like sucking the chocolate off M&Ms and spitting out the peanuts. (To cheer filmmaker Steven Spielberg up while he filmed Schlinder’s List, the WWII Holocaust film, Williams called him. He posed as a representative of the Valdheimer Association, an organization raising money to help Germans remember what happened before 1945. Many Millennial Generation members won’t get the joke. Anyone without a fair grasp of world history won’t understand it either. That’s an example of the depth to Williams’ humor.)

I think every synapse in Williams’ brain fired simultaneously when he was on a comic riff. He could ascend to high humor or plunge to low-brow grade school giggles in a single sentence and give his audience nitrogen bends from the sudden altitude change. His mind was a mad, rollercoaster ride and he dared listeners to mentally grab hold for the fun-filled, provoking stream-of-thought ride that was his brand of comedy. His brain seemed to be doing a constant data dump. Nuggets of wisdom, banana peels, gems, junk, sewer water and wine poured forth in a great indiscriminate deluge.

Every comedian has a schtick – a personal trademark. Williams’ comedy came across as playful and not mean-spirited. Even when he was talking about heavy topics, Williams seemed to give them a lighter treatment than some comedians who turned toward the darker, grittier aspects of humor. Andrew Dice Clay is known for his sexist humor and explicit language. Jerry Seinfeld’s humor sprang from a sense of cluelessness and nihilism. Garry Shandling is known for his self-deprecating, anxiety-ridden stage personality. (Although I always thought he was pretty talentless myself. He’s not a comedian but he played one on television.) Williams’ mind was the psychiatric Disneyland in which he played and source of his humor. That unhinged mentality, the more-than-slightly deranged persona was part of his schtick.

Unfortunately, it was also the source of his demise. Like monkeys stealing into a real Disneyland, he rode the rides and enjoyed the amusements, but the dark machinations of depression pulled him into restricted areas beyond the warning signs where the seemingly carefree monkeys eventually found dangerous equipment. Perhaps his death will help us be more mindful of the terrible and deadly fog that depression truly is and how difficult it is to navigate through life because of it. Already since his death, suicide hotlines have had an incredible increase in calls.

Robin, I hope you get the last laugh in heaven as God elbows you in the ribs and you two share a belly laugh over how Earth, nature and humans really work and how wrong we have assumed it.


I told myself I wouldn’t overdo the “nostalgia” bit when I first started my blog postings, but sometimes I can’t help it.
Please forgive me (or at least have some patience) on this posting. Heck, maybe some of these things you can relate to – or are things you’ve done or wondered about yourself. Here it goes:
1—I’m old enough to remember restaurants doing this habit. You are seated at by the host at your table and the first thing the waiter did – unbid – is bring you ice water in the little “juice-sized” glasses. Then the waiter would take your order.
One, what was the purpose of that anyway? To cleanse your palate before your meal? Slake the thirst of the far traveled?
Every decent restaurant worth its table salt did this (restaurants, not fast-food joints) at one time. I’m thinking it’s an old dining table etiquette that has gone the way of the personal butter plate and place cards. Now we are lucky if we eat at a table.
This restaurant practice really stuck in my head when I a boy. I was about nine years old and my parents and a brother were on a cross-country car trip. Having grown up in the South, we were acclimated to its damp, cloying heat that made its presence known through humidity.
However, the Southwest has its own heat too, and it’s a deceptive life-burner. We reached Arizona and were surprised at the dry, windblown heat of the desert. We stopped one place and the outdoor thermometer read 120 degrees Fahrenheit – and the thermometer was in the shade too.
We stopped again for lunch. The restaurant was thankfully – blessedly – air-conditioned. The waiter came and plunked down water glasses and a water pitcher for us. We all drained the first glass before he left the table. We downed three more glasses each and emptied the pitcher. We didn’t realize how deceptively dehydrated we had become.
I’d still like to know the history and purpose behind it. As Ferris Bueller’s teacher would say: “Anyone? Anyone?”
2—The other day an old classmate posted a photo of several old Green Stamp booklets on Facebook. This unearthed a few memories.
I can remember as a child going with my mother to the Green Stamps retail store in town to turn in the collector booklets for merchandise. I marveled then that those little green stamps were just like real money and could be traded in for goods without Mom ever opening her pocketbook. Once I found a strip of discarded stamps on a grocery store aisle and presented it to Mom. I thought I had discovered El Dorado for her.

A little history: There were several different operators who ran “green stamp” type rewards for shoppers, but Southerners are probably most familiar with S&H Green Stamps. Sperry & Hutchinson ran the trading stamp operation from the 1930s into the 1980s. They began giving trading stamps to customers in 1896. It was one of the first successful customer loyalty programs.
For those of you who never dealt with Green Stamps, it worked like this: Customers when they checked out at participating grocery stores, retailers and gas stations would receive green stamps with their receipt – equated to some percent of what they had just bought, but usually 100 percent. Shoppers would save the stamps and laboriously lick and stick them in the free collector books. When you had a full book (or several) you went to the local Green Stamp retail store to shop. The higher the “price” of the merchandise, the more filled stamp booklets you needed.
The green S&H shield with the red cursive S&H was like added badge of respectability for participating retailers and I remember seeing many of these signs.
According to Wikipedia, by the 1960s, S&H printed three times as many gummed stamps as the U.S. Postal Service and its retail catalog was the most widely circulated publication at the time.
My memories of S&H Green Stamps include standing in front of my Mom with my tongue stuck out. She would then proceed to run strips of Green Stamps over my drooping flesh and affix them to another booklet. It’s the only time I got away with sticking my tongue out at her. My tongue would turn green.
I think Mom would mostly buy kitchenware with Green Stamps. I can almost identify the survivors of the oddball plates and serving containers that were purchased with green stamps that are still in Mom’s kitchen. In a house with five boys, dishes got broken. Either that or they just wore out.
3—Facebook is becoming a good memory-sparker. Another friend posted a photo, circa early 1970s, of himself and his kid sister playing on either side of a large box fan. The caption on the photo asked: “Remember talking into the fan so the other person could hear your robot voice?”
Yes, I do. My childhood home had central heating and cooling, but it wasn’t very good. In the heat-wilted nights of July and August, I remember Dad bringing a big box fan from his woodshop and setting it on the wooden planks of the hallway to urge the air from the air vents in the front rooms toward the back bedrooms at night. Soddy summer sleeping. My brothers and I would occasionally amuse ourselves with the fan.
Standing upwind of the fan and shouting into the whirling propeller, one’s words were whipped along with the air current and chopped into mechanic pieces.
The original “sound bites”.
Downwind, I hear my brother’s voice, now strange and alien and scented with cooler, electromagnetic air.
It didn’t take much to amuse us then. Sometimes my brother would cut a long strip of newspaper and attach it to the fan screen housing so we could watch it flap and rustle manically, like a chained ghost being tormented.
4—Another thing we liked to do is buy a toy propeller. The propeller had a stiff metal rod, slightly thicker than a paper clip on which it spun. The rod ended in a hook. Trapped behind the propeller was a hollow plastic cap. Most of these propellers were for turning balsa wood gliders into propeller-driven, rubber band-powered aircraft. The cap was the mounting point. Wind the rubber band up until it knotted and the let it go. My brothers and I became junior aeronautical engineers as we constantly experimented with the designs of our aircraft to coax them to flying farther and straighter.
Sometimes I would rig a home-built scaffold over top of a Matchbox car and mount the propeller on it, thereby creating a propeller-driven car. It worked pretty well, zooming the car along the hardwood floors for dozens of feet at a time.
Sometimes the simplest things entertained best.

Image Credit: By Toppan, Carpenter, Casilear & Co. (U.S. Post Office) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

–Tim Hicks