Wednesday, May 28, 2008

America's greatest whistler

Earl Hagen died on Monday. Without a doubt, more people in our country, and perhaps world- wide had heard Earl whistle than anyone outside of their immediate family. And most people had heard him whistle more than anyone in their family. Earl was the whistler of the Andy Griffith theme song which has certainly been played somewhere on television every day for the past 45 years or so. Can you find one person who can’t whistle that tune ? If everyone whoever whistled that tune gave Earl a nickel, he would have died a very  rich man (which he may have anyway) . Earl also wrote that tune.


Earl was a writer of T.V. theme songs. He wrote the Dick Van Dyke T.V. theme as well as those of Danny Thomas, the Mod Squad and That Girl. Most, if not all of those shows were associated with Danny Thomas and Sheldon Leonard who were big time T.V. producers in the 50s and 60s. As I always like to imagine, my childhood was the “Golden Age” of T.V. theme songs. Catchy jingles which could sum up an entire T.V. series in less than two minutes. For some reason, these songs stick in my mind more than just about any memory I have. Earl’s themes tended to be upbeat musical numbers, although some had words. I recall “That Girl” had words, “If you find that girl to love, only one girl to love then she’ll be “That Girl” too ! “ Well, he was not much of a lyricist, but boy could he whistle !



I am a little confused about his credit for writing the Danny Thomas theme song which I recall being an upbeat version of “Danny Boy” (Londonderry air).Maybe they are referring to the little tune they played at the beginning of the show, in the background while they were introducing “ Rusty Hammer as his son and Angela Cartwright as his daughter.” That was not much of a theme. Probably the best loved T.V. theme song was on “Gilligan’s Island” which I once heard Sherwood Schwartz modestly say he had written himself, the night before the pitch to C.B.S., even though Sherwood could not read music, and based on the quality of the drivel he produced (The Brady Bunch), could barley write the English language.



What were the greatest of the T.V. themes ? That is, of course a matter of taste. In my mind, nothing was ever better than Bonanza. As fire blazed across your screen, four riders came charging out to the dramatic sounds of dum dee dee dum dee dee dum dee dee dum , DUM DUM DUM. I know, no lyrics, at least not in the introduction. Two songs were actually recorded to the music, one on one of the original shows and one later by Lorne Green when he put together his album which produced the hit single “Ringo” (or Rango, I can’t recall which). Actually, I think Rango was the name of the vehicle created for Tim Conway after the end of McHale’s Navy (“From San Antone to the Rio Grand, across the deep and burning sand, every outlaw feared the hand of danger, this Texas Ranger, Rango, Rango, Rango”). But I digress. The two Bonanza songs were different. The one on the show began “We’ve got a right to pick a little fight, BONANZA ! “. The one on the Album began “We’ve got a hold of a pot full of gold BONANZA !” and featured, as I recall, the immortal lyrics “ Hoss and Joe, Adam and Yo” but I only heard the song a couple of times at my friend Herb Farnsworth’s house so I may be wrong. I have never had a clear ear for lyrics.


When I was in 7th grade I used to watch the show “Get Smart”, but I always missed the opening because I had to watch the theme song to “Secret Agent Man” ON ANOTHER CHANNEL “ There’s man  who leads a life of danger, to everyone he meets, he stays a stranger, with every move he makes, another chance he takes, odds are he won’t live to see tomorrow. Secret Agent man, Secret Agent man, they givin’ you a number and taken ‘way your name.”.At about the same time there was a great Saturday morning show starring space explorer puppets called “Fireball XL 5” great music, great lyrics “We’d take a path to Jupiter, and maybe very soon, we’d cruise along the milky way and land upon the moon.” A lot of Saturday morning shows had great themes, The Bugs Bunny show’s song is immortal “ Overture, curtains, lights, this is it the night of nights.” Which for many years I sang “ Over turn, turtle lights” because I was not familiar with show business lingo (and often had ear infections).


In the end I guess you can’t say which one was the best. I hate the fact that so many are forgotten, who can remember, “After all is said and done, there is really only one, oh Margie, Margie it’s you” ? or “Sugarfoot, Sugarfoot, Easy lopin’ ropin’ Sugarfoot” ? or  “Wait’l you see my Gidget, you’ll want her for your valentine” ? As Woody Allen said in “Radio Days”, with every passing year, their voices grow fainter. So here’s to Earl Hagen, everybody keep whistling.



Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Keith Olberman's Great Fall

“It all depends on which is to be  the master, you or the word.” Humpty Dumpty in Louis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass


I was momentarily stunned last night when former sports reporter turned pundit, Keith Olberman opined that if Hillary Clinton was to gain the nomination now, the supporters of Senator Obama would feel “gypped”. I had understood for many years that the term “to gyp” or “was gypped” was no longer considered acceptable language. Despite the fact that the word was used either by me or in my presence every day of my childhood, I have managed to consign it to the dim recesses of my memory  with other once common words which are now unusable in polite society ( crippled, retarded, oriental ). To be gypped is to be taken advantage of and it comes directly from the belief that Gypsies cheated or took advantage of people. Gypsies, like Jews and to a lesser extent others, were rounded up by the Third Reich in an attempt to exterminate them. Like Jews they have had a long and tragic history of wandering and facing discrimination. Somewhere along the way, the Gypsy movement was able to raise the consciousness of the average English speaker to begin to eradicate the word from general usage. At least I thought so until last night. I checked Google this morning and there are no stories lambasting Mr. Olbermann for use of a pejorative term, so maybe I am wrong (or maybe no one watches Keith Olberman).


What I did find in my Google search is that the word “gypped” is used constantly. I did find one apology from the Houston Chronicle swearing to never use the word again. They had quoted someone using the term and got blasted for it. Now that I consider it, perhaps that is the reason no newsperson (formerly “newsman”) is writing about it. It may have become the “G word” over the last few years and I did not notice it. Perhaps I should have searched g_ _ _ _ _.I suppose that I have stated before that while I believe that we do have a duty not to use hurtful words, we also have a duty not to be fearful of mere words. Like Humpty Dumpty, I believe that the human is the master of the word. He/she (formerly “he”) has a right to use any word in conversation or written form, assuming that he/she is not using the word in a hurtful way. Actually, you have the right to use the word in a hurtful way, you just need to be prepared to suffer the well deserved consequences of doing so.Olberamnn should not have said “gypped”. I, however, should not have to cower in fear of using the word when condemning Olbermann for using it. See the difference ?


Whatever the difference, my research this morning shows me that the term gypped has certainly not gone the way of many words which we have vanquished from polite usage. I found hundreds of references to it being used in the form in which  I used it ,daily, on the play ground when recess ended too early, “ What a gyp”. I assume that the term oriental is still used with a good deal of frequency, despite the fact that we more enlightened folk now understand that it to be  as harmful as the once common, now banned, “Chinaman”w which unlike “Englishman” is considered hurtful. The reason being that it was the “Englishman” who was using the term “Chinaman” in a mocking or sarcastic way. In those days the Englishman  should have used “oriental”. Now that is out and the term “east Asian” is often substituted.  With words, so much derives from the intent. When I was a child I never used the word “Jew” because I understood it to be pejorative.  If I needed to, I described someone as a “Jewish person”. I was dumbfounded when I entered  a high school which was more than 50% Jewish to find that the “Jewish persons” I befriended used the term “Jew” constantly.


While watching the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” on the Kentucky Derby a couple of weeks ago, a couple of blonde (soon to be pejorative) belles looked at each other and giggled during the second line of the song. I knew what they were giggling at, one had used the original Stephen Foster lyric “darky” and the other had responded with the mock disdaining look that people often give one another when they are “being bad”. It was too bad for them that a close up was being done of them at the time, but perhaps not many noticed. I bet my 18 year old daughter has never heard the term “darky” in her life. I am 55 and have never heard it used in a serious sentence. The term “Whitey” I used to hear all the time, but I’m pleased to say that I have not heard it in years. Maybe we are getting better as a species, or maybe I just don’t get around like I used to. Apparently Olberman does not either.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The California Lifestyle

The market is down almost 200 points this morning, who knows, maybe this is the big crash. It was  brought into sharp relief the story on CNN this morning about the women of Santa Barbara. It seems that a lot of the nuevo homeless are left with decent means of transportation and so are living out of their cars. In California, it is illegal to sleep in your car on a city street. This is not a bad law at all. My street would be overrun  with folks living out of their cars if this were legal. What Santa Barbara do-gooders have done is built parking lots (on just about the most expensive real estate in the country) and allowed a dozen similairly situated women (only) to move their cars onto the lots. The story on CNN is about a 67 year old woman living in the back of a large Honda with her two beautiful Golden Retrievers. She has an $8 an hour job and collects a Social Security check each and every month (she also has three adult children, I know, I know, but let us judge not) and so is hardly destitute. She just would rather live in the back of a Honda in Santa Barbara than in a small apartment in say Mercedes, Texas. Whether the dogs had a vote in the matter is not mentioned, and one presumes that the dogs would be an impediment to her living situation, but perhaps the kids could take them on.


I don’t know what to make of all of this. The woman says that when she had a better job, 75% of her income went to rent. I would like to believe that no matter how nice Santa Barbara is, and it is damn nice, I would have found a cheaper place to live. Which would be almost anywhere on the planet earth. It is one thing to have a homeless problem, it is quite another to have a homeless problem where the homeless get to decide exactly where they want to live. I suppose that I have no right to complain, the woman can live any lifestyle she wants, and the good people of Santa Barbara and spend their money in any way they want. I’d homeless parking lots for women are the wave of the future, who am I to stand in the way ? But don’t publish stories about it on CNN and expect me to weep. When the day comes, as it probably will, that I get kicked out on the streets, I am not going to expect to be bailed out by my fellow citizens building myself and my dog Amber a parking lot . I will move out of west Austin to some cheaper venue and complain that my daughter is not helping me enough. That’s America.

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Mom forced to live in car with dogs

  • Story Highlights
  • Mother of three grown children says, "This is my life in this car right now"
  • Santa Barbara, California, allows homeless to sleep in cars in 12 parking lots
  • Affluent city has seen a rise in homelessness during California's housing crisis
  • Advocate for homeless: "It's just amazing the people that are becoming homeless"
  • Next Article in Living »




By Thelma Gutierrez and Wayne Drash

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SANTA BARBARA, California (CNN) -- Barbara Harvey climbs into the back of her small Honda sport utility vehicle and snuggles with her two golden retrievers, her head nestled on a pillow propped against the driver's seat.


Californian Barbara Harvey says she is forced to sleep in her car with her dogs after losing her job earlier this year.

A former loan processor, the 67-year-old mother of three grown children said she never thought she'd spend her golden years sleeping in her car in a parking lot.

"This is my bed, my dogs," she said. "This is my life in this car right now."

Harvey was forced into homelessness earlier this year after being laid off. She said that three-quarters of her income went to paying rent in Santa Barbara, where the median house in the scenic, oceanfront city costs more than $1 million. She lost her condo two months ago and had little savings as backup.

"It went to hell in a handbasket," she said. "I didn't think this would happen to me. It's just something that I don't think that people think is going to happen to them is what it amounts to. It happens very quickly, too."

Harvey now works part time for $8 an hour, and she draws Social Security to help make ends meet. But she still cannot afford an apartment, and so every night she pulls into a gated parking lot to sleep in her car, along with other women who find themselves in a similar predicament. VideoWatch women who live in their cars »

There are 12 parking lots across Santa Barbara that have been set up to accommodate the growing middle-class homelessness. These lots are believed to be part of the first program of its kind in the United States, according to organizers.

The lots open at 7 p.m. and close at 7 a.m. and are run by New Beginnings Counseling Center, a homeless outreach organization.

It is illegal for people in California to sleep in their cars on streets. New Beginnings worked with the city to allow the parking lots as a safe place for the homeless to sleep in their vehicles without being harassed by people on the streets or ticketed by police.

Harvey stays at the city's only parking lot for women. "This is very safe, and that's why I feel very comfortable," she said.

Nancy Kapp, the New Beginnings parking lot coordinator, said the group began seeing a need for the lots in recent months as California's foreclosure crisis hit the city hard. She said a growing number of senior citizens, women and lower- and middle-class families live on the streets. how foreclosure filings are up 75 percent »

"You look around today and there are so many," said Kapp, who was homeless with her young daughter two decades ago. "I see women sleeping on benches. It's heartbreaking."

She added, "The way the economy is going, it's just amazing the people that are becoming homeless. It's hit the middle class."

She and others with New Beginnings walk the streets looking for people and families sleeping in their cars. The workers inform them about the parking lot program.

New Beginnings screens people to make sure they won't cause trouble. No alcohol or drugs are allowed in the parking lots.

"What we are trying to do is we pull bad apples out, and we put good apples in the parking lots and really help people out," said Shaw Tolley, another coordinator with New Beginnings.

Most of the time, the lots are transition points. New Beginnings works with each person to try to find a more permanent housing solution.

"It saddens me when they live in their vehicles," Tolley said. "It is not the most ideal situation for senior citizens and families, but it is reality."

He added, "We need to engage this problem. This is reality."

John Quigley, an economics professor at the University of California-Berkeley, said the California housing crisis has left many middle-class families temporarily homeless or forced them to go to food banks to feed their families.

"Part of the reason why it's so painful in Santa Barbara is there's so little in the way of alternative housing," Quigley said. "If there were alternative low and moderate housing and rental accommodations that were reasonably close by, you can imagine it wouldn't have this desperate look to it as people living in their cars."

At the only lot for women in Santa Barbara, it's a tough existence. There are no showers or running water. On the night CNN visited, a half-dozen women already were in the parking lot before nightfall.

Linn Labou, 54, lives in her car with four cats. She used to be in the National Guard and is on a waiting list for government housing, but the wait is a year long.

"I went looking for family, but I couldn't get them to help me," she said.

As for Harvey, she begins each day by walking her two dogs before going to her part-time job. She leaves the dogs in her car with its windows cracked while she works.

It's another chapter in her life that she's certain she'll get through, even though she said she knows it pains her children. Her 19-year-old daughter moved in with friends to avoid being homeless.

"My daughter especially is very unhappy. Sometimes she'll cry and she'll call and say, 'Mom, I just can't stand it that you are living in a car,' " Harvey said. "I'll say, 'You know what? This is OK for right now because I'm safe, I'm healthy, the dogs are doing OK and I have a job and things will get better.' "

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CNN's Gregg Canes and Traci Tamura contributed to this report.

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