Monthly Archives: January 2014

gone berserk

I  think it would be a great sign to put in the window of a small business : GONE BERSERK . Maybe with one of those cardboard clocks indicating a return time .

I was talking to my Danish friend Ivan yesterday . I mentioned Ivan in a recent post —– the guy who bad-mouths the Irish , most likely , in my opinion , because his Viking  ancestor sailed his  longboat back to Scandinavia rather than stay  in Ireland as some of the other guys did . Missed his chance . Sour grapes , Ivan .viking boats


Ivan wants me to check out an antiquarian book convention in Pasadena for him .My friend Ivan

” You might find some images of those chimneys ,” he suggested . ” What was it you were interested in ?”

” Backyard incinerators . ”

” You’d be surprised what these guys might have,” he said . Ivan is a book dealer .  ” I’d like to find images of  Amanita mushrooms . The ones the Vikings used before they went on their crazy raids . “mushrooms 2

I’d never heard of Amanita mushrooms , a poisonous little white toadstool with red spots . ” That’s how Santa Claus got his hat , ” he said . Ivan speaks with authority . I’ve  since read  some theories about how those reindeer could work themselves  up enough to fly that sleigh all over the earth …………

Turns out there were Norse warriors who fought in an almost uncontrollable frenzy while wearing wolf pelts . They’re called Berserkers .   Some people have speculated throughout history that the frenzied , trance-like state , was a result of  ingesting the Amanita mushroom as a hallucinogenic . The Anglo-Saxons across the sea in Britain , busy collecting the extortion money , the Danegeld , to buy off the Viking raiders , described the craziness as ” gone berserk ” .statue dane seafaring nations

The Berserkers are mentioned in old Norse sagas .  They were sometimes referred to as Odin’s Warriors . But , it is unclear just how they worked themselves into their frenzied rage .  The hallucinogenic mushroom theory didn’t , apparently , come around until a Swedish professor , Sam Odmann , proposed it in 1784. Yeah ,  Odmann . But , given the historical rivalry between the Swedes and the Danes , I  don’t have much confidence in this theory , despite my friend Ivan’s certainty .  Could it have been, rather , a result  of  a religious-type trance ? Maybe it was  a consequence of too much Tuborg ? Too many bottles of  Carlsberg ?  O.K. , maybe I got my centuries mixed up .

I may look for images of Ivan’s favorite mushroom when I go to the book event . I’ll ask the dealers for “death caps” or “destroying angels”  and see what happens . One of those antiquarians may know about Amanita muscaria , which was powdered and mixed with milk and used as an insecticide . All exciting stuff .   To someone . To Vikings .mushroom


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my neighbor

I was on my way back home from walking to the Armstrong Nursery over on Huntington, tired ,  almost home , when I heard Don’s voice  calling : Dan , Dan , hey Dan !  I turned , and there he was standing outside his front door , waving .

I walked across Sean and Fiona’s lawn toward Don — shortest distance is a straight line — to see what was on his mind . Don is 92 years old .Don's  fig tree 002

A year ago , or so , Don was standing out on his driveway in short pants and barefoot . I had heard closeby sirens and I walked  outside to be nosy  .  I walked over to say hello to Don . He was listening to the sirens , too .  ” I think they’re for me , ” he told me . A minute later the Fire Department whipped quickly around the corner and pulled up in Don’s  driveway .

So I didn’t put my sack of squash seeds and  the parsley plant  down before I went over to see what was on Don’s mind , hoping that there was no problem .  Maybe he just wanted to sit and talk , offer me a Miller Lite . Marie must be away from the house . But that wasn’t it .   ” Do you want a fig tree ? ” he asked .

A year or so ago when the ambulance took Don  to Methodist Hospital  I was left alone standing on his driveway .  He’d told me that his heart had skipped some beats . Marie , who was in San Francisco for a few days , had told him to call an ambulance if he felt faint or funny at all . He calls his wife of sixty-plus years   ” my bride ” and , evidently ,  he listens to what she  says .

I went over to see him at the hospital . The next morning the doctor said Don could go home . The doctor told him that and left . The nurse had other ideas . Finally , by evening ,  she was ready to release him , except for the fact that he couldn’t get his arms up high enough to put on his polo shirt , so he had pulled it over his arms . He  smiled at her from the wheelchair that was ready to cart him out to my  car . Hospitals always require a wheelchair  ride upon release .   ” You’re  not going home like that ,” the nurse said , glaring at the  shirt stretched over his arms .hawaiian-shirt

” It’ll only take you a few minutes to dig it out ,”  Don  said . ” Bring a shovel .”Don's  fig tree 004  I followed him along the side of his house , past the gate , around back . It was a big sucker , that tree  !  I didn’t know if  I’d be able to dig it out .

In the hospital I could see Don’s patience was wearing out .  The polo shirt was a problem . But I was wearing a Hawaiian shirt and he and I are both big guys .  ” Let’s trade shirts ,” I said , and we did , and the nurse reluctantly let him go .

I took a couple of snapshots of Don with the extracted tree  after I dug the thing out —-   delicious , sought -after , purple figs ,  Don had  assured me —- and then  he took one of me .  ” You did that just like the Seabees , ”  he said  , referring to his WWII Navy days in the Pacific . We talk about the Navy a lot , and the lunches he eats at the Community center which is next to the Gilb Museum where I volunteer , and some of the day’s news stories , and the economy .  We never seem to solve the world’s problems .trout

Don has a friend who catches trout and often gives some of them to Don and Marie . They give some of them to Ada and me . Next time Don calls me over it might be to offer me some fish . I wonder what the taste would be like if we were to cook trout with figs . What do you think ? I’ll ask Ada .  She’ll know . And maybe a little parsley on top . Don's  fig tree 007

Don's  fig tree 001

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coulrophobia in a park

Seattle Fun House Sign

Some people don’t like clowns . Some people are afraid of clowns . Odd , eh ?

clown 2 scary

Ada and I went to a birthday party  once ,  long ago ,  in a park ,  for  a two-year old . The guy’s in his late twenties now , so he survived the park party experience . clown and woman

His parents hired a clown for the party . When the two year-old spotted the clown he screeched . Panic ! The screeches turned to desperate screams . The clown quickly removed parts of her clown costume , one by one by one .  Quicker !  Quicker , clown !

Clown 3

By the time  the hired clown had removed most of her clown clothes , her red-bulb nose , and her brightly multi-colored  clown wig , the little boy calmed down .

Eventually the birthday cake arrived from the bakery . The little boy was the center of attention . Everyone surrounded him . He opened the box dramatically , aware of his celebrity ;   he lifted the big cardboard top slowly .

What decoration covered the entire top of the cake ?Back Yard Sept. 2013 072

Flowers ?  No.B card 4     Baseball player ?    No chance .

clown scary 2

Yeah .fear of clownsCLOWNS .


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soup sequel

FREE ADMISSION ticketI don’t remember Vicky’s  Burmese name .  She said that the Burmese don’t use family names . Her name includes an ” oo” at the end . This indicates that she is the oldest daughter in her family . I may not be entirely correct about the sound  but, then again ,  I am not that friend of hers who speaks twelve languages ,  one of them being  Burmese . Burmese is Greek to me .

I was thinking about what Vicky said about her American name .  She liked and chose the name Victoria . Her sister-in-law , I think it was , or somebody , told her that Victoria was too formal for the USA , that she should call herself Vicky . So she does . Victoria is Vicky . I had a classmate in elementary school whose name was Victoria . We all called her Tory . I have no idea how she would have spelled it . But , if a person wants to be called Victoria , then I think that person should stick with Victoria . If you’re a Victoria , then you perhaps may not be a Vicky .victoria queen

I’ve been volunteering at the Arcadia history museum for about a year . The curator has always called me Daniel . That’s the name on my birth certificate. That’s the name I write on documents , documents such as the application to volunteer at the museum , but no one , much , calls me Daniel . Ada calls me Daniel once in awhile . Daniel is a good name . Daniel means : God is my judge .  There have been some powerful Daniels around : Daniel Webster , Daniel Elsberg , Daniel Moynihan , Daniel Day Lewis , Daniel Inoye , Daniel Craig…….But I’m not really a Daniel ,  except officially .Daniel Moynihan

How about Dannys —-Danny Devito, Danny Kaye …..When I was a kid I was Danny . I’m still Danny with Ada . Mostly I’m Dan now and not Danny . The hero in the novel I’m reading now is Danny Callaghan . Danny Callaghan is  a tough Irish  lad .  Some guys are Dannys . With some guys Danny fits . I used to be a Danny .

Danny . Jimmy. Joey . Timmy . Johnny . Pauley . Ronnie . Eddie. Becky . Jackie . Ellie .Vicky .joey_bishop-300x300

My mother’s father was Dan . My father’s father was Dan . Uncles were Dans. Well , one of the uncle Dans was called Joe . Joseph was his middle name . I’ve thought of changing to Joe , too . My middle name is Joseph , too .  My cousin is Dan . My nephew is Dan . We were all named Daniel Joseph .   By the way ,  not that it matters , but none of us could have been  an  oo .Danny Boy's Pizza


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american soup

campbell soupAda and I went to Polka with Vicky , a Polish restaurant in Eagle Rock — Polka , not Vicky .  It’s right down the hill from Forest Lawn Cemetery . I have two plots in Forest Lawn . They are on an eternally  peaceful   hill overlooking the K-Mart  until they tore the K-Mart down . I paid fifteen dollars for the plots  —- but that’s a story for another time .

Vicky came to America from Burma in 2008 . She was a university history professor until the military junta in charge of the country fired her for political reasons .  She had to  keep a low profile for ten years for the government to  let her leave the country . She’s an American citizen now . So is Ada . So am I , but I am the un-naturalized variety , unlike Ada and Vicky . lady liberty

I’m not so sure about the Ukrainians with the noisy kid who were occupying  the  table next to ours . Probably they are citizens , too . Turns out the waiter is a Russian . The Ukrainians and the Russian  got into a political discussion for a few minutes about  Putin .  I was ease-dropping .

I always ease-drop . Whole dramas play out in restaurants around us . I always listen . Sometimes I get only fragments of conversation  but I  put those together with some of the body language and I can almost always get the main stories . Some of the dramas are fascinating —- but that’s a story for another time .

Vicky , who took the name Victoria but is called Vicky , commented on Polka’s tomato soup .   ” Better than American soup ” she told Ada .  Did she mean Campbell’s tomato soup ?  Who makes soup at home in America any more except Ada ?  A friend was over for dinner some time ago and loved  Ada’s tomato soup .

” It’s delicious !”, she said . ” What kind is it ? ”

” It’s tomato,” Ada answered , a bit perplexed .

” But what kind is it ? Progresso ? Campbells ? ”    Soup . American soup .

We passed a carniceria on the way out of  Polka . I should  have learned Spanish decades ago because most of my students over the years were Spanish speakers .  Oh , well . 1) too late now , or   2) there’s still time .   ——but that’s a story for another time .

Vicky told us about someone she knows who speaks twelve languages , including Thai and Burmese . In fact , he has a Masters degree in Burmese  language .  Ada teased me about my lack of knowing Polish .lincoln Lincoln knew a man who spoke twelve languages but couldn’t say anything sensible in any of them .liberty bell

I  speak English pretty well when I feel like it , and I speak fluent Nonsense .  Nonsense is underrated . Many people underestimate their knowledge of Nonsense .  Lots of people speak it but don’t realize it’s Nonsense .


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If it were my buddy William writing this post , the title might have to be  mathsmanship , I suppose . William is a Londoner , was a Londoner anyway , and has sometimes talked about studying maths in school . Maths ?  Silly way to refer to math .Brit scene in Tom and Jerry's

I’m pretty much stuck in the archaic arithmetic  universe . Maths was never my forte .  Good thing I was never a rocket scientist , because the US would never have hit the moon . No chance . Wouldn’t have even come close . Instead of going this way , as needed , my rocket would have gone that  way . Presidents and world leaders  would have hung their heads in shame  .  Vodka bottle corks , as California Congressman Dornan was fond of saying , would be popping in Moscow .slide ruleI was lost in math classes as soon as the textbooks started mentioning integers or real numbers and rational numbers . Can’t we just keep this simple ?  Is it long division or short division ? —- that’s about my threshold of complexity  in math .  Irrational numbers ?  It was all irrational to me .  And , we haven’t even made it to algebra yet .  How about sine and cosine .  Calculus  ? —- forget about it . I’m just not computative . I had to  face that fact a long time ago . Complex numbers ?—-  You bet they were .

I got onto today’s  tale of math analysis after I read a post by a fellow blogger over at  No Facilities about questionable use of math lingo in political reporting .  It wasn’t the math stuff that inspired me to write about math . It is a well written piece , I think , as all of his posts are , but  math stuff doesn’t inspire me . Would that it were .  Or, would that it would .

I have friends who are good mathematicians . My friend Tom , a woodworker ,  ably  estimates  angles , lengths , and clearances , often to the exact centimeter before he even applies a ruler .  Tom  can figure  complicated calculations in his head accurately , means and medians ,  C to F temperature c0nversion , and stuff like that .  My friend Bill , a surveyor ,  knows how to tackle complex issues too , mathematically . Willie , the maths  guy , remembers his school maths and is able to explain clearly and precisely possible approaches to  measurement problems .  Not me .stain glass window

I was intrigued with one word in the No Facilities post : mathmanship .  Now , that’s nomenclature I can understand . Maybe , if all those math words in school had been different , were changed into words I could decipher ,  then I’d be in the math game today ,  tracking rocket trajectories , calculating , triangulating , and trigonometriculating  , perhaps , in various pre-eminent universities  around the globe . There is definitely a language barrier in math . [ eg. E to the two pie eye equals 1 ]   I’m not good at languages , and that’s one of the things , fur sure , that held me back in math class in school . Math block ? Sure . But I digress .

Is there a word  mathmanship ?  Better : Was there a word mathmanship  before now ? I think not . Anyway , it’s a new discovery for me . You learn something new every day .  It’s a great word : MATHMANSHIP .   A bit sexist , though . Mathpersonship , however, just wouldn’t fly . What do the language liquidators  do with marksmanship , or penmanship  ?  But I digress . And I egress .

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the razor’s edge

Razor 004I drank Zubrowka vodka on my first visit to Poland .  Michal B. bought two bottles , explained what the reed of grass was doing in the bottle , how the grass was delicious to the buffalo .

What buffalo ? Buffalo in Poland ? Sure . Razor 003I was photographing some donated straight razors at the Gilb Museum and describing them , noting some rust on the metal near where the steel is connected to the bone handle , reading the manufacturers mark . The thing was manufactured in Billings , Montana in 1909 . The blade was made in Germany . German steel , it was , sharpened and highly tempered .

The Schlieffen Plan was already being honed , too , in 1909 . Kaiser Wilhelm had asked Count Schlieffen to develop a plan for a two-front war , against the Russian empire and France . By 19o5 a plan was devised to quickly invade France through neutral Belgium and Luxembourg and to capture Paris before the lumbering Russia could mobilize .

Watch out for German steel ; it must be handled carefully .

Just over 10,000 people lived in Billings in 1909 .  Forty -three million soldiers fought World War One . And then , there was the next one , of course . Lots of broken razors that could not be exchanged .
Razor 002

And , you don’t think we’re fighting World War III now . Drones are sent wherever the terrorists hide . It’s called , not the Great War , but the War on Terror ; not the War to end all Wars , but another war , perhaps ,  to save democracy .

All the quiet George Orwells are , no doubt , busy scribbling —- tapping , I should say ; the world has changed since  1984 . Hasn’t it ? But we’re filling up with disillusioned Larry Darrells , I think [ watch one of the Razor’s Edge movies ]  searching for meaning .  What’s the matter with you , Larry  ?  [ get your device out and read the book ] .

Meanwhile , of course too , the Kaisers and Schlieffens are planning the next victories .  Sorry for the little Belgiums , but there are no neutrals when the blades , ” ground extremely thin ” , cut .

I wonder how many have accidently cut their own throats with a straight razor ?

And for Larry’s friends , all of us , life is jazzy , until it all crashes .

O.K.  Michal B.  and I drank the two bottles of Zubrowka . They were small bottles . He , a sailor , was showing me the Szczecin harbor , Ada’s home city .  It was all bombed out during the war , my new  friend told me . ” By the Germans”, I said , and Michal looked at me funny . No , not by the Germans . By the British and the Americans . Szczecin was Stettin in pre-WWII days ,  a German city . There was a Hitler Platz , down by the train station .  I saw it on an old map after I began to learn something about the place .  I remember Michal B.’s astonished  look , though , when I said ” By the Germans “.

Live and learn , man , live and learn .

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