Sunday, September 26, 2010

Mendon in a Day


If Lancaster claims the title of Mothertown (and you just ask them if you think it doesn’t), Mendon must be called the Auntie Town (not the anti-town – it is very much all Town and all Pro).  Mendon is the younger sister who stayed close to home and never forgot where she came from.  Yesterday I spent the entire day there, proving that it could be done.

The Tarleton twins, who renew their passports before crossing 128, would rebrand Worcester County as “WoCo,” as urban sophisticates do, if they thought Central Massachusetts cared about attracting crowds outside of the 6 weeks of apple season.  WoCo doesn’t particularly care.  We do have some gems, if you are just willing to drive a little farther.

Begin your visit to Mendon at Southwick’s Zoo, “New England’s Largest Zoo,” which isn’t saying particularly much, but there are plenty of animals to look at, from camels to porcupines – neither of which I have ever encountered in the wild.  lions

I have  mixed feelings about zoos – not conflicted ones, because they do not conflict.  I know we should be down on zoos because they are animals in captivity, African animals living in the snows of New England, eating corn on the cob for the most part, which can not have any real nutritional value, and pacing back and forth because they would rather be eating us and each other.  I agree there is a certain downer element to zoos, and while I am not at all against them, I wouldn’t join a national movement to stop their closure.  On the other hand, if you think they don’t have educational value, you have not heard a grown man stare at a kangaroo and ask what it was, only to have his 8 year old son guess “…rabbits?”

All that said, I just really dig watching animals, and I have a longer tolerance for watching a flamingo preen itself than most people who might accompany me on such a field trip.   175 acres is not Disney World, but I put in about 3 hours there.

You want to get to a zoo before the heat, when the animals are more active.  The trade-off (or bonus) is seeing that other rare creature in the wild, the Quiverful HomeSchoolers.  They are up and out well before nine, because there are not enough chairs in the house, and outings are so educational.  By the end of the day, you will know the name of every kid ostrichin the park (“Nicky, Nicky, come back here and watch Chloe.  Chole, stay with David.  David, where are your shoes?  Marty has them?  Nick, Nicky….”)  You can see why I could find a peaceful half hour just staring at an ostrich.

Southwick retains its Trolley Track Park roots by offering kiddie rides, pony rides, and camel rides.  I weigh too much to ride a camel.  The humiliation.  Fortunately, they do not weigh you.  No one has to know.  I would have tried the elephant ride, but Southwick’s beloved Dondi passed away this summer.  Stand around a while and listen to the different ways parents answer, “where is the elephant?”

We have only just begun our village tour.  Have your midday meal at the Miss Mendon Diner, “nestled” on the grounds of the giant Imperial Auto Mile.  You may not see it from the road, so know where you are going ahead of time.  Every diner has a story, and Worcester County is  proud that the dining car was born here.  You know the Miss Worcester from Zippy – or maybe you never noticed.


It’s hard to notice everything while you’re trying to figure out what a Zippy strip is talking about.

At the Miss Mendon, it’s counter, booth, outdoor, breakfast all day, beer in bottles, 45s on the walls, everything you expect about a diner.  I had the steak and cheese, though the waitresses were pushing the tortellini carbonara quite hard.  Open until 10.  You might pick a cruise night, if you enjoy that sort of thing. heavenonsidestrip It’s always funny to me how we associate diners with all-things 50s.  You never see a diner tricked out in, say, the 1920s, or USO/GI WWII, or even the 1800s, when they were invented.  I’d like a Grover’s Corners soda shop with boater hats and johnny cakes (whatever those are).


There are a few antique shops on Rts 16 and 85, a few yard sales on side streets, or you can pass the time in one of the parks or ponds nipmuc cardlocated nearby.  In the days of diners and boater hats, locals recreated at Nipmuc Lake – still lovely, but far less Georges Seurat than it had been in “them days.”   The Ballroom is still in operation, but now for private functions. 

I chose the West Hill Dam area.  This is a federal project property that stands by in case the valley needs controlled flooding.  The rest of the time, it is just a valley and some gravel trails.  I had hiked the other side of it once, where there is a disc golf course (more of those around than you think).  On this trip I found a comfortable bench – the proper kind that encourage people to stay, not the ones that encourage you to move on.  And for a couple of hours read and napped, and listed to the conversations of joggers who couldn’t see me from where they were.  excellent.

We are getting to the centerpiece of the visit – the closing bookend of one’s day in Mendon.  The Twin Drive-In closed for the season.  My GPS pronounces it “Mendon Drive, Indiana.”  Yet she gets annoyed with me…  A few things have changed about the Drive-In experience – cars are taller now, for one thing, which is some BS.  Mendon makes them park in the back, and they don’t go willingly.  This is another hot-spot for the big families; with a $20 per car charge and a seats-9 mini van, all your shipboard fun is included! 

Speaking of Disney World, that snack bar is a marvel of food service management.  if you think these kids today are a bunch of foot-dragging slackers, you have not seen the kind of hustle they put on at the Mendon Drive (Indiana), or the Mega-Maze, or even at the Clinton DQ, where the parking situation does not lend itself to crowd control.

There were no more t-shirts in my size, so better luck next year. Photos coming soon to a greeting card near you.  Happy Autumn, America.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

RCE: worst renaissance faire ever



Subscribers to the Real Corporate Email feed (using that term so loosely) were denied one of the best this week.  This contribution, from one of our long-time subscribers, surpassed even Hall of Fame status by being bigger than RCE could contain.  It was more than my little mind could contain.  And commenting was going to take longer than the average search of our internal Knowledge Base, which is when I have the 30 seconds required to package these things up for you.

Instead I realized…. oh we got ourselves a blog now.

"We're taking our two-year-old boys to the renaissance faire this weekend and we thought it would be fun to dress them in period costume. The renfaire costume guide says ‘Until about age three children wore a biggins hat and a shift’ but I don't think we have anything around the house that could be used as a shift, or a biggins hat. Any suggestions on how we could improvise something for them? (We have neither the talent nor the time to actually sew anything...) I did stop by [known local monger] in [the town you would expect to have such things] but they had nothing suitable that small, just a lot of animal and branded character costumes."

We are about to draw the hell in.

”..two-year-old boys…” Well, of course you have more than one.  You managed to maximize production time by having multiple children in 1 pregnancy, thereby providing siblings and a single parental leave.  Net-net, you super achiever.

“ the renaissance faire…”  Do performers at the Faire loathe toddlers fllorida_renaissance_festival even more than toddlers loathe smelly hairy men in fur capes and women with giant breasts you can’t drink out of?  You bet they do.


“…we thought it would be fun to dress them in period costume…”  Oh, for medieval-kitty-photomanipulationwhom?  I should call this essay “Worst Anne Geddes Calendar Ever.”  People with costumed babies have recently had a cat run away… I wager.

“…renfaire…”  No.  I will not allow it.  Stop making everything “ComicCon.”  Use.  Your.  Words.

As for spelling “faire” with the superfluous “e,” I don’t really care.  There is so much else going on we can work with.

“…costume guide…”  Now, I have a lot of questions here.  Is there a guide to this specific Faire, or is there a Hoyle’s on faire costumes?  And judging by a very image search of the phrase “renaissance faire costume,” is it safe to say that the guide is a windshield flier that says, “State Law requires some clothing”?

You know, the “Renaissance” is about 300 years long. You have a lot to work with there.  Tell you what I would like to costume is the Harlem Renaissance Faire.

“’‘Until about age three children wore a biggins hat and a shift…’”  I just searched that entire clause, just to see what would happen.  And I just found the costume guide… at “”  A point for my side, though, because the website admits that it used to be a handout.  I regret for all of our sakes that I do not have time to troll through this entire website for our amusement.  Lord knows I do have the inclination.


  baby cum biggins

 “ I don't think we have anything around the house that could be used as a shift, or a biggins hat.”  Even I think I do.  They are babies.  What are they wearing?


“Any suggestions on how we could improvise something for themangolo?”   Agnolo Bronzino recommends several yards of gauze.   Perhaps you can bind them together, however many of them you have.

“(We have neither the talent nor the time to actually sew anything...)”  Not sure what to make of this parenthetical.  I have a suspicion that there is another member of this list group that tends to over-answer, with all kinds of charts and graphs, and links to other websites.  What an annoyance that kind of person must be.

“I did stop by …”  Here is where we start to realize that this note is not asking for help at all. It’s just an announcement.  No reply is needed, or welcomed, thank you.acdc

“….nothing suitable that small…”  But something suitable for a Renaissance baby that was adult-sized?  Zounds.  

“…just a lot of animal and branded character costumes."  You put animal and branded that close together, and I am picturing only one  costume.  It features Natalie Wood and half of a cow.  (“I’m pretty, mama.  I’m pretty!”)

Monday, September 20, 2010

Recorder Concerts


#29 in an occasional series of repressed 70's memories that turn out to be true.recorder

Oh do you remember sweet Betsy from Pike?
Who crossed the wide prairie with her lover, Ike?
With 2 yoke of oxen and one spotted hog,
A tall shanghai rooster, and an
Old yellow dog?

There is only reason I know that song, when “Good Foot, Pt 1” was in the Billboard 100 that same year.  I learned “Sweet Betsy from Pike” in recorder class.

Wait – Betsy and Ike were not married?  That is so groovy, man.  right…on.  What the devil is a shanghai rooster?  Don’t ask questions – just finger.

Before we move too far, I want to point out that “Betsy From Pike” goes down the same creepy sad road of all our childhood ditties (see also “Don Gato,” “Puff the Magic Dragon,” “On Top of Old Smoky,” and some time try singing the full lyrics for “You are My Sunshine.”  Then take up drinking.)  If you clicked, you know I had the dog and the hog backwards.  Bygones.


Public school came with the promise of well-roundedness, at least until 6th grade when they tracked you for college-bound or vo-tech based on your ZIP code and your parents’ occupations (oh, don’t be a baby – yes, they did).  Until your labeling, you could try everything – 4-H, intramural sports, Christmas pageant, or music.  And if you couldn’t afford an instrument, they gave you one.  If you didn’t want to play an instrument, they gave you one anyway.  And you didn’t think of hand sanitizer.

Model One

Accurately called the Tonette.  It is the training bra of music class, one step up from the kazoo.  It had a sharp licorice taste to it and gave easily to your bite when you incorrectly bit down on the mouthpiece.  This usually occurred when you were sucking it hard enough to make it hang from your upper lip.

Model Two


The Recorder proper, suitable for a slightly older child, with that tricky sharp-note hole at the bottom, the capacity to build up even more spit-condensation you never cleaned, and sometimes came in a sexy 2-tone brown and white.  Still plastic, of course.


I always wondered how a school system came under the spell of the recorder salesman.  “He sells concerts!  Squeaky kids’ music manconcerts!  I dunno how he does it, but that’s what he sells!” 

He was in league with the local orthodontists, we are sure of that, and got the living room piano teachers to testify that early music training, especially on a woodwind (no wood – very little wind) was the key to discipline, brain power, and reading music.  And everyone knows what a kid can do with that.

Later generations would have soccer.  We had recorders and baton twirling (save that for a later entry).

There were no parts in recorder concerts as you know them from barbershopchamber music (or a different Music Man reference).  Everyone played the same notes, to better hide those who went wrong, and the line-up was something like this:

Claire de Lune
School Bus Safety Song
Merry Chinamen (or something similarly appalling)
My Country 'Tis of Thee
Tricky Thumbs (meant to show our fingering prowess but it just sounded like mating cats, then someone would hyperventilate and pass out)
A medley of Americana songs which, if we knew the lyrics, would have been about star-crossed tubercular lovers who jump into Niagara Falls and are reunited as a parasitic vine strangling a pine tree.

Break for Lorna Doones and Hi-C. 

Try suggesting the bridge to “I am Woman” or “Fool on the Hill” and find out what goes on in detention.


I thought I had concluded this essay until I came across this in my search results.  I can not WAIT for some of these kids to get their own blogs.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Betty Band Wagon

Don’t blame Betty White for her over-exposure.  Girl’s gotta do.   old-betty-white-photo-from-when-she-was-a-young-girl-black-and-white

But let’s not act like she materialized like Clara Peller.  Betty White’s been around for years.  Like the vuvuzela.  It’s fine if you just discovered her, but you didn’t invent her.

I suppose each of us has a preferred stage of Betty, and it might be when we met her. For our parents, this is the cocktail chiffon Gameshow Betty, when your evening wit was sponsored by cigarettes and ladies crossed their legs at the ankles. But no one today invites Betty to be on Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me, where she would most certainly kill.

For me, Betty became visible in her Sue Ann Nivens phase.  She reminded me of our steel magnolia church ladies (many of whom also happened to be our 12th grade Research Methods teachers).  Those dimples are deep enough to hide venom.  See also her turn as Ellen Harper, the older sister who made it out of the house of Mama’s Family.  Only she doesn’t get the kind of feisty matron roles Jane Wyman and Barbara Stanwyk did when they were no longer ingénues.

In the 1980s, when she was only 63, she started down that slippery slope: Ditsy Cotton Top.  I’ll have to save my comparison of The Golden Girls and Livin’ Single for another day.  What I was getting to when I started this essay was that I don’t dislike Betty White.  I dislike this current incarnation of Betty White, where she has combined Dimpled Bitch with Ditsy Cotton Top and her “I was on TV when you could smoke” cache into Dirty Talking Horny Grandma…and I think we can do better than this.


“Betty likes her hot dogs naked!”  We get it.  You said naked.  And it’s like a penis.  And she’s old.  Somebody make a webpage and a t-shirt.  like-like-like.

Is that all we have to say for a woman after a 70 year career, SEVEN Emmy awards, including one for producing – in 1955 – a lifetime dedication to philanthropy, and what about this – she’s a Kentucky Colonel.  I didn’t know what it was either; that’s why I linked it for you.  And you ought to take a look at her resume.  She has never not been working.


When I approach the youth in their hoodies (and entice them to remove their earphones, it appears) and ask them who Betty White is, I don’t want them to say, “that dirty talking little old lady from the SNL census sketch.”  Because that sketch is funny, but you don’t get there by walking off a Snickers commercial set.  If you think about Tina Fey in 50 years reduced to a set-and-comb, a snowflake sweater, and a vibrator joke, well…. it hurts, doesn’t it?

So I say, celebrate your full Betty, like they did in 1977 – before hoodies were appropriate evening wear.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Fifteen Albums

addict's choir
Don't take too long to think about it. List 15 albums  you've heard that will always stick with you. List the first 15 you  can recall in no more than 15 minutes
This is the latest list game travelling around Facebook.  Facebook was heavily into list sharing about a year ago and I had begun to attach my own rules to them, like I would only list 10 of anything (because they tended to be “25…. whatever.  Colors you wanted to paint your bedroom when you were 13.”  Oddly specific, and then 25 of them.  So I said only 10 and I stopped chain-mailing members of my Friends-circle.  FB fads because too big and too annoying too fast.  But they also fade quickly also.  Like your interest in Facebook.
The albums list came around and I was tagged and as it happens I have been deep into my albums of late.  I spend a lot of time with them because I am converting them to digital format, and I found I responded strongly to the world “album.”  That means something concrete that stops around 1989.  The list, as they occurred to me, did not include any CDs, or MP3s I have recently purchased from iTunes.  It meant what it meant, and I posted my list.  I promised a follow-up post to explain why I think they made the first 15 I thought of.  This is that post.  And the longest intro since “Someone to Watch Over Me.”
Taken as a group, I see a few commonalities:
  • soundtracks
  • double albums
  • 1970s (no shock there)
  • I am not terribly original
1. The Beatles - Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
I could have known this would be first.  It was the first record I bought with my own money.  The Beatles had already broken up by the time I discovered them, and 6 years later John Lennon was dead.  I ruined my collector’s value by actually cutting these card-stock buttons out and wearing them.  The moustache is long gone.
2. Jesus Christ Superstar (movie soundtrack)
And since my opener had been a double, I couldn’t get them out of my head.  This album was pressed for record changers, so that sides 1 and 2 were on separate discs, with 3 and 4 as their flip sides.  Brilliant design.changer
3. Gone With the Wind (movie soundtrack) Why do I say this will “stick with me”?  That crazy theme song, of course, and Mammy’s theme, and the indigo purple cover with its pre-Harlequin artwork.  I had it special ordered for me from the record store, and pestered the store manager until it arrived.
4. Fleetwood Mac – Rumours
In our day, you had to like this record even if you didn’t.  There was no escaping it.
5. Nanci Griffith - Lone Star State of Mind or How I discovered Nanci.  The scene is me (22) in a sparsely furnished Fensgate triple, eating ramen from a saucepan and staring out at the river at Cambridge, and WERS playing Nanci’s Beacon Street:
Gonna wake up crazy to the cry of the trains on Beacon Street
So far from home, so far from love, so far from a friend in need
And all I need is a heart to hold and a good night's sleep
And all I have is the cry of the trains as they bid farewell on Beacon Street

I went in search of everything she had ever recorded and she has been the soundtrack of the important moments ever since.
6. Grease (movie soundtrack)
Because when you are 14, you want to sing loudly, and often, “She’s a real pussy wagon.”
7. Steve Martin - Let's Get Small   Test me. I still got it.
lovesongs 8. The Beatles - Love Songs
It was brown and faux leathery, embossed in gold, and serious looking.  It was like an adult record.  And the Beatles did things with stereo that made you understand what the fuss was about.  My best friend’s mother had picked this out for my birthday, and I was always moved by that.
9. Jackson Browne - Running on Empty
Learning the words to the long version of “The Load Out” (…we got Richard Pryor on the stereo…), reading the liner notes, listening closely to the long open to try to hear what the audience was saying.  Wondering how his hair feathered so right…
10. Elton John - Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ejshoes
Stuck with me? I could get lost inside that artwork – so much so that I devoted some house-bound winter time to recreating the cover, poster-sized, in colored pencil.
11. Billy Joel -  Cold Spring Harbor
This was out of print for the longest time.  The piano man’s first album, had been recorded incorrectly, and was said to be unbearable to listen to.  It was a Billy Joel fan’s grail to find, though, until it was released in the 80s and we found out that it really is unbearable to listen to.
12. Teen Addict's Choir
If you had been able to walk past that album cover without wanting to know more, then I can’t explain it to you.  An itchy Up With People singing the hit parade, directed by – what’s this? – Andre Crouch.  I paid whatever the vendor at the collectible fair asked of me.
13. Oliver! (movie soundtrack) Legendary is my and Dodie’s love of all things Oliver! 
14. Guitarra Armada: Songs of the Sandinistas
Among my record collection is a section of revolutionary and protest songs, including our own in their 18th C ruffles and flourishes.  Guitarra Armada features the schoolhouse rock collection of Nicaragua’s revolution, where the People learned how to defuse a bomb and assemble their rifles through the rhythms of 6-string guitar.
15. Natural High (stage soundtrack)NaturalHigh60s
This one popped into my head just as the list came to an end.  It stuck in my head to the point that when I discovered eBay, this was the first thing I searched.  And of course you know… it was there

Friday, September 10, 2010

Power of the Press

Look, all I am saying is that within days of my accusing The Homestead of flim-flam (my actual words -- see the earlier post), they changed the picture of the Jefferson Pools on their website.  In fact, they changed their whole website.

In the earlier post, where you see the link "LOOK," that page is no longer found.  I am leaving it as-is because I enjoy the proof of it.  If you click it now, you will go to The Homestead, but not to a page that shows their opulent indoor pool as the banner photo for the Jefferson Pools, 5 miles away and 200 years more rustic.

The "hot springs spa" Jefferson Pools page is now and shows a heavily lighted photo of the true bath house.  The waters are still made to look chlorinated, which is absurd, and the numerous pool noodles have been moved out of the shot -- which is more aesthetically pleasing, I'll admit.  Still dodgey about just where they are, which as we have not in Hot Springs.

I am sort of baiting them now, with this post, but not linking back to them.  I think I've had my say.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Taking the waters


spa: word origin undetermined.  Possible origins: Spa, Belgium, itself from Latin spargere, to sprinkle or moisten. 

The joke goes

Q: How many Virginians does it take to change a lightbulb?

A: There is nothing wrong with the lightbulb we have.

In this spirit, consider that there is nothing wrong with the way visitors to the Jefferson Pools (formerly that Bath Houses of Warm Springs) have taken the waters since the 18th Century.  Let me explain.  BlueRidgeSpringsAd

The baths at Warm Springs, Va are the oldest spa structures in the US, and what was good enough for Mr Jefferson (any Virginian can tell you) is better than good enough for you.

You will be hard-pressed to find them, because it is far off any interstate and not likely on your way to anywhere unless it is Virginia’s swankiest spa structure, the venerable Homestead.


Another joke

Q: Why aren’t there any street signs in New England?

A: If you don’t know where you are, you probably don’t belong here.

Because she is equal parts Virginian and New Englander, your Auntie Carrie, world’s oldest living mill-girl, will explain all.

The Homestead manages the pools today, and they will do their best to confuse you about what they are.  Just LOOK at the picture they put on the Jeff Pools page on their own website.  This is a complete deception – in the words of Edwardian healing, flim-flam.  The pools look like this.  jeffpools4

They are 2 wooden buckets off the side of the road, down a narrow and impossible parking lane and over a wooden culvert bridge.  No guest from the Homestead would hang their Ralph Lauren in the changing alcoves, and you will be glad for that.  That means only real people like us are inside.

Before 2pm, the bathhouses are mixed, as “family time.”  I wondered who would bring their family – maybe their Japanese family – but later I realized that married couples might like to experience the soak together, and after 2, the genders are separated and clothing may come off.

Much of what you need to know you can read on-line.  The Homestead’s tips are accurate, and helpful, but a true picture of the inside of of one of these buckets better sets your expectations.  jeffpools1

This is the ladies.

Here is the gents.


Here is Rita.  She will talk you through your experience, and sssh youKYLE GREEN | THE ROANOKE TIMES<br />September 17, 2008 - Rita Rector (left), Pool Attendant at the Jefferson Pools for 13 years, folds towels while Veronica McLymont (right), Director of Food and Nutrition Services at Memorial Sloan_Kettering Cancer Center in New York, New York, enjoys a dip. when you make too much noise.  Because get this about The Soak: nobody talks.  “If you MUST talk,” say the signs, “Please Whisper.”  You won’t be able to read the sign, because you will have surrendered your glasses, contacts, and hearing aids. 

So don’t make her ssh you.

What else will surprise you:  The water is indeed warm, but not “hot tub” warm.  The water is minerally, but not stinky, not thick, and not gritty.  It is about as clear as reservoir water – the rocks on the bottom are clearly visible, as are the silvery bubbles that pop up from beneath them.

Do not swim.  Hang there on your pool noodle (the water is only 4 1/2 feet deep) for an hour.  You will think at first, an hour is not very long.  But it is more than long enough.  You will be a little woozy, and certainly pruny, after it is done.

Not long ago, the good people of Virginia considered giving the pools a makeover, mostly for structural safety’s sake – even The Constitution gets the occasional fresh tar -- but “modernizing” was everyone’s fear.  (note the real quote from real life Virginian Hella Armstrong - "It's perfect just the way it is,")  Celebration Associates (local preservers of the Homestead, the Old Dairy, and NH’s Mount Washington Resort), promised a 90 day assessment in 2008, and I am unable to find an update outlining their plans.  Yes, they are the same Celebration you think you know, and that does cause some worry, but founders Adams and Kiloren have since left Disney.  Perhaps these links to their site will inspire them to comment and let us know what they recommended for Mr Jefferson’s pools.

I agree there are some structural… worries.  A little ADA-compliance would also not be a bad idea. I mean, for a mineral spring, you would think…..FDR 

A sink next to the toilet, or even just a hand sanitizer.  But keep the rest.  Keep Rita.  Keep the $17/hr charge.  it’s so random it feels like it must be right.  Keep giving out towels.

Do not pipe in music.

And keep it hard for the Homesteaders to find.