Offering my Sacrifice to the Gods

Volkswagen is ending production of the New Beetle, first begun in 1997. That beetle was the reincarnation of the original Beetle, which was itself ended in 1978. Every hippie on earth drove a Beetle back in the day.

It’s time. It is a smart move on Volkswagen’s part, for reasons beyond mere sales. With people routinely screaming that their opponents on anything are ‘like Hitler,’ you know it is only a matter of time before a company offering a car that actually was inspired by Hitler is subject to wrath itself.

I never owned a Beetle, but a friend did. My car was a 64 Rambler Classic station wagon. I decaled a bumblebee stripe around the rear end, wagon and all.  Sometimes we took my car and sometimes his as we explored the old logging roads in the Adirondacks during college days. Many of those roads would disintegrate into pure forest when they reached back far enough.

Emerging from a quasi-road onto a dirt road only slightly more real, my friend, who was driving, asked: “Anything coming your way?” “Just a school bus,” I said, and he laughed, for we were in the middle of nowhere. He pulled out and a school bus took off his front bumper.

I did have a Kharmann Ghia afterwards, which was a sportier Volkswagen offering, and I have two memories of it. The first is when I was alone with it performing the same house-to-house ministry I do now, decades ago when I was much dumber than I am now. Now, VWs barely heated at all. So I had gotten it into my head that maybe a portable kerosene heater would be a good idea; I could roll the windows down a bit for the fumes. As I do even today, I waited till I actually needed it, on one frigid suburban street, to try it out. I didn’t want to fire it up right there in the car. At least credit me with not being that dumb. I lit it outside, and a two-foot high flame shot into the air because I had not done it right. What would any homeowner glancing out the window have thought? “Oh, man, another religious nut, this one offering sacrifice to the gods!”

The other memory that lasts of my Karmann Ghia is when I pulled into my folk’s drive right behind their station wagon. No sooner had I shut the engine off than the backup lights of wagon ahead came on and my brother launched out and into my headlights like a rocket for Saturn. This is the same brother who took my stamp collection and who cheats at Scrabble. I didn’t have a lot of dough back then, so I fiber-glassed over the two gaping holes and bought two truck-mounted headlights and mounted them between front side fenders and hood. The car looked like a frog. I drove it in field service afterwards until I got rid of it, but I was always careful to avoid the street in which I had sacrificed to the gods.

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In new New York You Can do Fireworks

Fireworks are legal in New York State. Not always, just a week or so around the fourth of July. Makeshift sales tents pop up everywhere hawking the goods.

It never used to be that way. I worked so hard with my boy when he, long ago, started pestering me about the stuff, harassing me night and day. Do you think I could convince him, my own child, that fireworks were not legal in New York State? Not just dynamite, but also cherry bombs and even ladyfingers. They are illegal. You can’t blow them off in New York. Yes, they are legal in some states, but New York is not one of them. Tired of arguing with a kid who dressed head to toe in Goth black to parade around in the mall with friends dressed the same way and didn’t stop until I threatened to dress head to toe in white and follow him everywhere, it suddenly dawned upon me how to solve the problem.Talk to a cop! What a brilliant idea! I drove to the area police station. Were fireworks legal in New York State? No, they were not. What about ladyfingers? No they were not. What about on holidays and special events? No, that made no difference! What about…..LOOK, said the cop, you got a listening problem?! NO means NO.!! Now if you want to break THE LAW, go right ahead, but we’ll be coming after you!! All that Download

as missing was for him to draw his gun.

Elated, I skipped home to grab my son and return. Yeah! Tell the kid what you just told me! Scare the everloving daylights out of him!

But Joe Friday wasn’t there!! Instead, it was jolly Officer O’Mallahan! Well….he patted my boy on the head, with a twinkle in his eye, just be careful, and don’t shoot them off too much!! Thanks a lot, copper!!! If this kid grows up to be a pirate, I’ll know who to blame!

And now it turns out that it was all for nothing! Fireworks are okay, now. And no, he has not become a pirate. He does do a lot of traveling, though.


I Can Hear the Charges of 'Stealing From God' Now

When Gene was transferred to an Assembly Hall in Virginia, he said that Bethel likes to do that. If a given overseer remains too long at an Assmbly Hall, it gets to be known as 'Gene's Assembly Hall.' I told him the only reason I change from my pajamas is BECAUSE it is his Assembly Hall. He said I would like the new guy. I said I don't like him already if he is going to replace him. But, in fact, the new guy turns out to be fine, too.

Last year Gene was at the house Galileo-2813231_960_720
 and he was admiring the Galileo thermometer on the mantleplace - you know, those ones with the bobbing balls? A week later I called him and asked if he was at the Assembly Hall. He said he was and I told him to stay there. I drove over and gave him the Galileo thermometer as a gift (which is how I ended up with the dust-collecting thing myself). He said he couldn't accept it and I said he could. So he did.

But don't you know that my wife did some work at the Assembly Hall the other day and went into the office and what do you suppose is there? MY (alright - 'his') GALILEO THERMOMETER!!!!

HE LEFT IT! He went to Virginia and left it! I hope he fries or freezes because he couldn't dress properly because he didn't have a Galilio thermometer to tell him what the weather will be!

Moreover, I have no idea if the new guy will appreciate it or not. For all I know, he has a bowling ball on his mantleplace that he admires and wonders what the stupid thing is with the bobbling ornaments! But do you think he will let me take it back? I can hear the charges of 'stealing from God' already if I try it! 


She Slammed Me Through a Supporting Wall and the House Caved In

They have jack-hammered the basement to install perimeter drainage. A cement truck backed in to cover up the new piping with cement. There was a backhoe in the front yard tying in the house gutters to the storm sewer.

The pipe delivery truck took down the phone line so I switched to cable internet and the cable truck came the next day. They had to string a new wire from a nearby pole.

By pure coincidence, the furnace truck also arrived for some scheduled maintenance.

The nosy neighbor is absolutely beside herself trying to figure out just what we are having done and how much it is costing us.

"Tell her we had a fight and you slammed me through a supporting wall, causing the house to collapse," I say to my wife. "That ought to satisfy her for awhile."

Collapsed house


A Ferry, a Centrifuge, and a Toilet

Crossing the Adirondacks is a beautiful drive at any time of year. It was no less so as I was doing it at the end of winter. I would cross the mountains, take the ferry across Lake Champlain, and visit my friend who was doing graduate work at the University of Burlington.

Only when the sparkling, magnificent lake appeared in my sites did it dawn upon me that the ferry might not yet be opened for the season. It meant that I might have to drive around the stinking thing! But when I pulled into the ferry terminal, there was a car before me. It was the attendant. He was just opening for the season and if I waited 45 minutes, I would be the first car of the year. 

As I patiently waited, a TV truck pulled into the lot. Opening for the season might not register in your lofty town, but here it was an event. My 15 minutes of fame was about to begin. With camera upon me, I pulled onto the boat. Should I drive pompously, self-importantly? Or should I drive nonchalantly, nodding to the camera as I passed, as though such things happened to me daily and didn’t nonplus me even a little? I settled on a course in between.

My friend was working in the school’s science lab when I finally found him. He was patiently soldering together a piece for a centrifuge. But it wasn’t going well. He worked for a half hour, correcting this sad tendency and then that. Finally he looked at the mess and said: ‘Well, this might be okay for the toilet, but it doesn’t really cut it for a centrifuge.’

I advised that we watch the evening news. It is important to keep up with current events, I told him. Perhaps something truly great has happened. Adirondacks_in_May_2008


Sir, can I interest you in some kitchenware?

You can listen In on the phone line when you miss a meeting, but I chose not to do it. I remembered my old man’s words from long ago: “let him go hungry if he can’t be bothered to show up for dinner – I guarantee it won’t happen twice.” Besides, I didn’t want to hear Sister Faithful comment: “So we must all remember our vow to Jehovah. We should not be like Brother Harley, sitting on his rear end at home, trading his birthright for a bowl of garage sale soup!”

Yeah, but it was a nice garage sale. For once in our lives, it was worth holding. Everyone knows I don’t do garage sales. By the time Harleys are done with something, there ain’t nothing left of it to sell. It’s different this time. We are seriously downsizing, so as to spare our kids some not so fine day the nightmare that my wife’s parents neglected to spare us. Plus, we have significant items from the home of the Great Forgetter to add. It’s a piece of cake to sneak them out before him, for he is also the All Unseeing One. Even if he should catch you red-handed, he immediately forgets what he has caught.

All Forgetting and All Unseeing. It’s a lethal combination. It reminds me of my words to a coworker about the public we both served. "Ican deal with a stupid person. I can deal with a belligerent person. But a stupid AND a belligerent person stops me in my tracks." "Yeah, that’s pretty unstoppable,” he agreed.

I was even ready for the pro who unfailingly appears at the crack of dawn to scoop up everything not junk. Sort of, anyway. “We’re not set up yet,” I told him, “you’re welcome to look around but I’m not dealing on anything.” One person later told me of an ad which read: “Prices doubled if you arrive early.”

Also later on that morning, someone grabbed a four dollar item and asked if I could throw in a 75 cents item for free. It’s not a big deal – usually I would, but we were just getting started. I said that, for now, I would hold firm. She got huffy and threw down both items! “I don’t want to deal with people like you!” she steamed. I almost told her I’d let her have them both for six dollars.

So it was a worthwhile garage sale. It justified missing a meeting. It was not like the garage sale decades ago in the poor neighborhood, in which the upstairs tenant held out a dented pot to a wandering derelict: “Sir, can I interest you in some kitchenware?”

 


I was away and my brother took my stamp collection! He just took it, transferring my stamps into his album.

I was away and my brother took my stamp collection! He just took it, transferring my stamps into his album. I had to take them back.
 
This is the same brother that smashed out the headlights of my Volkswagen Karmann Ghia. I had just pulled into the family driveway, parking right behind our station wagon. As I pulled the car keys from the ignition, I saw the backups lights ahead come on and the wagon shot into me like a North Korean missile launch.
 
This is the same Karmann Ghia that I drove in service as a pioneer and nearly froze solid because there was absolutely no heat in the car, which was typical of all VWs then. So I wondered if I could somehow rig up a kerosene heater inside. But when I tried to fire it up (outside the car) it shot out a foot-long flame. It looked as though I was sacrificing to the gods. No wonder people think we are nuts. IMG_4134
 
These are the same nuts that Davey the Kid thought he might be able to help when he became a shrink. "Poor Davey," I would lament. "He always thought half of us were nuts. Now that he's a shrink, he finds that even the half he thought were sane - they're nuts, too.
 
This is the same Davey the Kid whose story is told in the afterword of 'Tom Irregardless and Me.'
 
 
This is also the same Karrmann Ghia, or one just like it, that was used as the model car for the video on creation that we all saw at the mid-week meeting.

The New Songbook

That last note of Make the Truth Your Own is one high, towering triumphant blast of a note....you climb as you approach it, and then reach way back in your lungs for every ounce of power to, not just belt it out, but sustain it. Each verse ends just that way, and then reverts into the chorus. On a recent rendition, Tom Whitepebble is ready. He bides his time. He waits for the song to come around. There! The moment has arrived. He nails that high note, with all his might!.....“believe what he tells you is truuuue.....!”

What the......?!  The note's been changed! It's no longer that high crescendo! Now it's just some low-key humdrum note! Worse yet....everyone knows it except him! He's hanging out there all by himself, and they all turn to stare! The new songbook strikes again! Whitepebble looks clear across the hall at me (who is merely minding my own business) and mouths “Why?!”

I know why, of course. It's on account of a woman named Pearl, who is the wife of Tom Pearlsandswine, and who attends the congregation across town, where I used to attend. She loves to sing....we have a lot of people who love to sing....but she really isn't that....um.....good. And when that final note used to come....that final note of each of the three verses, she'd let out a long piercing ape-like shriek that was enough to make you think “how come we don't have a paid choir, like the big churches do?” Moreover,  the way the song was constructed.....you held that last note, so there's no way anyone could ignore her braying in their midst.

I tell you, no one could keep a straight face. Worse, you knew it was coming....the verse built towards it.... so well before that climactic moment, snickering began. So, in the new songbook, they've changed that last note to some bland thing that any clod can handle. What else could they do?

It's not easy to write a review of the new songbook....we've been using it for ….what?....a year or two, now?.....because...because we're accustomed to praising anything we get as being exactly the food we need served up at just the right time, and don't think I'm about to break that tradition! Everything needs updating from time to time, we all know that. We'd used that old songbook for 25 years or so, as we had used the one prior to that. We had ample notice a new one was coming.  It wasn't sprung on us as a surprise. There was even encouragement to practice the melodies so as not to mess them up at the upcoming assembly.....you know how you'll sing a new song real anemic because you're not sure if the next note will be up or down. But, noooo....Whitepebble had to keep listening to his Bob Dylan CDs instead of the new Watchtower tunes. So it's his own fault.

The new songbook, “Sing to Jehovah,” is a substantial revision of the old one. It has 135 songs, of which 35 are brand new. That means 125 songs which didn't make the cut, since the old book featured 225. And many of the survivors have been reworked in word or tune, some to the point of being unrecognizable. Familiar lyrics are assigned to new melodies. Familiar melodies are given new words. It takes a while to get your head around it. Some of those new songs are beautiful, even hauntingly so. Others, though.....well, they might be if we can ever master the tune, but with 3 songs per meeting, and 135 to choose from, not that many opportunities arise. As to the 125 songs that vanished.....look, there was nothing wrong with any of them....nobody's saying otherwise. All of them were indisputable blessings from heaven. It's just that....well....we had to prune a few.

Of course, the instant I laid hands on the new book, I checked to see if "Dah da da da dah" was still there, a/k/a “We Must Have the Faith,” once song #144. It's still there, sort of. It's one of those which has undergone the scalpel, and only a ghost of the original refrain survives. That's too bad.

Our son was speaking by his first birthday. “Ball” was his favorite word, as I recall, and anything circular was a “ball.” Pulling out the MasterCharge card would excite him to no end, just like it does now for Mrs. Sheepandgoats, though for a different reason. But my daughter was not yet talking by her second birthday, and we began to worry. One day, however, Mrs. Sheepandgoats called me, all thrilled, to say she was singing the song.... “dah da da da dah”...the melody is very distinctive. I didn't believe her at first, but later on.....yes, I too heard it. Sure enough, she sang before she spoke (and when she began speaking, she quickly made up for all lost time). For the next few years, whenever that song played, she'd turn to us, eyes aglow, and exclaim: “It's Dah da da da DAH!” So we're not terribly pleased that they've messed with the song, but....such is the nature of progress.

I've even heard it said that they've “dumbed down” the songbook. That's unkind, isn't it? No, they didn't dumb it down!!! They just made it....um...uh....simpler in some places, dropping some lyrics that were absolutely untranslatable, you know, figures of speech and so forth that play well in one language but not another. Nobody, but nobody, translates material into as many languages as the Watchtower. Nobody comes close. By the way, they tell me that most of our translators in tiny backwater countries are youngsters in their twenties, since their parents tend to know the native tongue, but not any other. Another reason, I suppose, not to tax them with overcomplex vocabulary. Too, lyrics with any hint of “religiousity” have been dropped in favor of “plain speaking.” That's good, I guess, but sometimes I miss the old words. I mean, when you're singing some familiar tune, and suddenly your well remembered lines have been replaced, you find yourself grumbling “what on earth was wrong with those words?!” And there's a strange insistence on a few tunes that every note correspond to a syllable, a practice I find disconcerting.

Ah well. Maybe it plays out according to tastes in other parts of the world. The time for considering only English speaking persons has past, as it should. What one person doesn't really care for is all the rage somewhere else. So one has to move on.

You know, it would have helped had Manuel Noriega been able to move on. But, as it was, the onetime Panamanian dictator was stuck as a lover of classical music. He hadn't moved on to appreciate the modern stuff. So when the U.S. military wanted to flush him out of his Panama hiding spot in 1990 (much as NATO would like to do today with Muammar Gaddafi) they blasted him night and day with rock music mounted atop combat vehicles until the poor fellow couldn't take it anymore and gave himself up. And, when mall owners want chase away unruly teenagers, they simply play Mozart over the loudspeakers. Old people love it, but the kids run for their lives. If only we were more flexible when it comes to music.

Flexibility is not the defining trait of the Sheepandgoats clan, however. Predictability is. Thus, social gatherings of the Sheepandgoats men (not necessarily the women) invariably end with a game of Scrabble. Every time. “They always do it?” asked an incredulous new daughter-in-law. Yes. Always. Plus, we have developed peculiar quirks that make us incompatible with even other Scrabble players. The house dictionary rules, for example, and so the character of the game varies depending upon whose house we are in. Playing at Pop's house is a real challenge. There, a set of 1964 World Book encyclopedias still grace the living room bookshelf, a relic from the days he vainly hoped to pound some sense into us. His dictionary is from that era, too. It wasn't easy to get him to accept even such common electronic terms as “fax,” (which go unchallenged in my house or anywhere else) and I was robustly shouted down when I tried to play “adware” over a triple word score, the 'w' resting upon a double letter square.

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Read ‘Tom Irregardless and Me.’    30% free preview

Starting with Prince, a fierce and frolicking defense of Jehovah’s Witnesses. A riotous romp through their way of life. “We have become a theatrical spectacle in the world, and to angels and to men,” the Bible verse says. That being the case, let’s give them some theater! Let’s skewer the liars who slander the Christ! Let’s pull down the house on the axis lords! Let the seed-pickers unite!

 


American Motors

“Brakes are a little squishy on the [then 24-year old] Buick,” I said to my wife, Mrs Sheepandgoats. “Would you run it down to the repair shop first thing in the morning?” But she never made it! Backing out the driveway, the brakes failed completely, and she smacked right into a parked car. In front of a police car, no less! The officer emerged. What was that all about, he wanted to know. Upon being told there was no brakes, he, like all guys rescuing the girl, declared he would move the car. A minute later he got out, pale-faced. There's no brakes on this car! he said.

If you've never had brakes fail completely on you, be assured there's no sensation quite like it. It almost seems as though the car speeds up when you hit the pedal. Of course, this doesn't happen anymore, because, in 1965, one American car manufacturer introduced a technological solution, the dual brake master cylinder.

Q: Which American car manufacturer, in 1965, introduced the dual brake master cylinder?

a) General Motors
b) Ford
c) Chrysler

The answer is d: none of the above.

It was tiny American Motors, IMG_0329 out of business since 1985. So says radio mechanics Click and Clack, who used to ridicule the brand mercilessly.

You know, for the longest time I've wanted to write about American Motors, since these are the cars I was too familiar with growing up. Our family owned several of them. To be sure, that desire to write about them is fading, so I better hurry up and post something before it dies completely. After all, isn't it a bit self-indulgent for some aging guy to go rattling on about the cars he had growing up? And who cares, anyway? Moreover, much of the world would consider it unspeakable luxury to be growing up with, not one car, but two, in the family, as our family did. “You Americans are so spoiled,” a visiting African brother said. “Not only does each family member have his own car, but you have garages to put them in. In Africa, four families would live in that garage!” It's an uneven distribution of wealth, that's for sure. But these days Americans are falling behind the material times, while other countries are rapidly up and coming, building highways which immediately fill with cars.

Besides, from time to time, I used to come across old guys in the ministry who would carry on and on about their Studebakers and Desotos and Packards, and what wonderful cars they were, and how they were ahead of their time. They were also ahead of my time, and so I was only vaguely familiar with those makes. But I do know American Motors. Should I now do my bit for automotive history and spill what I recall about the brand? I think so.

I write this post as Toyota grapples with allegations of sticky accelerator pedals. There's been an evolution. At first, they denied everything and attributed all problems to driver error. But then Akio Toyoda, CEO of Toyota, went before Congress to tearily beg forgiveness for his jackrabbit cars. However, since then, the Massey mine collapsed in Pennsylvania and the BP oil spill occurred in the Gulf of Mexico. Thus, Akio Toyoda is twice replaced as the World's Evil Businessman. Freed from the glare of adverse scrutiny, Toyota has gone back to its initial tactic in dealing with sticky accelerator pedals....blaming the victim! So says this story, anyway. Trouble is, I'm not at all sure that's not the correct approach. It's impossible to tell. What with lawyers and gold-diggers, you never know if an unsafe spree is genuine or if it's a tiny glitch exploited beyond all bounds by opportunists. No one ever said all Toyotas run away on you.....worst case scenario is an extremely tiny percentage. Now, I work with a woman whose car also accelerated by itself, climbing an embankment, when all she wanted to do was shut it off; the tire tracks are right outside the office to prove it. It's happened several times, she told me. A cynic (or sexist) might suspect the “nut behind the wheel”....can't this woman drive?....but frankly, knowing her, I doubt that's the case. And.....gasp!....her car is not a Toyota! It's a Honda! Moreover, she took it to the dealer, and they, not being the evil businesspersons of the moment, didn't fix it for free, as Toyota would have. They charged her $700!

But in my day, if you bought a clunker, you bought a clunker. Tough luck! There was no such thing as auto recalls. I have vivid memories of my dad repeatedly aligning the front wheels of his 1960 Rambler American, a car he swore must have been built with “spare parts.” He wore out front tire after front tire, and did not succeed until he learned to ignore the company specs and improvise his own alignment! This American was our first “2nd car.” Up till then, we, and virtually every other family, existed on one car per family. But in the early 60's, “compact” cars were introduced, with the marketing notion that a family might actually buy more than one car, and the idea quickly became reality. Of course, our main car, the car supplemented by the Rambler American, was also a Rambler, a 1958 Rambler Classic.

Most of the psychological hangups I have today trace directly to how, as a child, my people drove Ramblers. Classmates tooled around in deliriously long chariots capped with tailfins on which you could impale a buffalo. Me....I was stuck with boxy toasters that got good gas mileage. Getting good gas mileage is a virtue today, but only a wus cared about it in the sixties. However, my mother was short. She couldn't see over the wheel of most cars, but she could in a Rambler, in which you sat up high. So it was nothing but American Motors for us! Forced to drive these cars, is that how I acquired my life-long habit of sticking up for the underdog? Because, as a teenager at school, you had to defend your families' choice of vehicle, even if you secretly longed for them to show some class and buy a Mustang. And like Johnny Cash sang: “I knew you had to grow tough or die!” [A Boy Named Sue], did defending Ramblers make me tough.....willing to ignore popular opinion? I don't think I'd overstate the case, but maybe I shouldn't understate it, either.

And I'll defend them still, even though it's been 25 years since their demise. Even though I know, deep down in my heart of hearts, that they don't really deserve defending, or at best, deserve it only partially.  After all, aren't they Mormon cars?....something I never even suspected until I saw the Mormon missionaries all tooling around in AMC Hornets....whereupon I discovered that founder George Romney (father of 2010 Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney) was a Mormon. So let Mormons defend them. Of course, I don't know for sure that Romney's AMC successors were Mormons, but why else would the church buy a fleet of Hornets?

Despite the recession of 1958, with George Romney at the helm, Rambler sales increased, while every other make decreased. This landed him on the cover of Time Magazine. The following year, sales doubled, and they nearly doubled again in 1960. Romney retired in 1963 to try his hand in politics, and he later commented that the company's undoing was to abandon his focus on economy in a quest to be like the big boys with a full line-up of cars.

To be sure, AMC's perennial lack of financial resources often showed, and the company's full line-up is an odd mixture of innovation and dud.  The Marlin is a good example. Originally a cool idea (see illustrations), the company didn't quite have the resources to pull it off, so they settled for a dud. The same thing happened with the Pacer, which sold like mad in its first year or two, and then virtually stopped.

Some of the handsomest cars in the 60's were by American Motors....I think of the 68 Javelin, for instance.... but also, truth be told, some of the ugliest. Lacking funds for proper retooling, AMC would start with an attractive product, and then add more chrome and crud with each succeeding year till you could barely stand to look at the result. Popular Mechanics, in 1967, quoted someone saying the Rambler Rebel was the best-looking new car around...“hard to believe it's made by American Motors.” But by 1975, just look at the monstrous mess (pictured) they'd turned it into:800px-1975_AMC_Matador_base_Sedan_beige_left-front-550x275   
(And that green 61 Ramber American, pictured above.....Lord, what an ugly car!) Ironically, though, the coupe version of the same car was thoroughy cool.

But some models, ridiculed today in movies like Wayne's World, were, at the time of their introduction, thought cute and innovative.....the Gremlin and the Pacer, for example. The Gremlin actually won top honors at Consumer Reports in its first year, a recommendation most out of character, as the magazine rarely had anything good to say about the brand. (It's competitors, Chevrolet Vega and Ford Pinto, weren't around yet....tiny American Motors had beaten them to the punch) And the Ambassador, I thought, was downright handsome.....a poor man's Cadillac, someone called it, in the same way an AMX was a poor man's Corvette. I bought a used one of my own while in school.

The fourth Rambler our family owned was a 66 Classic. It's the same model which drove the Beatles onto Shea Stadium the year prior. Now, this makes no sense at all. Why weren't they driven afield in a Cadillac? This was the British Invasion, after all. The Beatles were the sensation of the decade. But later I learned that promoters of the time didn't treat rock stars in the worshipful way they do today. They didn't spend a lot of money on them, though God knows, they made enough off them. That's why you always hear of rock and roll artists of the 50's and 60's going down in plane crashes. Promoters lined up the ricketiest, cheapest airfare available, not the whispering limo-planes you might suppose they would charter. Rock groups were put up in hotels, to be sure, but not really great hotels....just functional ones. Did promoters figure that rock and roll groups were just kids, and you didn't spoil kids? Or were they all just a bunch of amateurs? A Rambler was plenty good enough for them. Incredibly, the Beatles later played centerfield at a St Louis stadium in the pouring rain.....they got drenched....because management didn't want to pay the $400 required to erect an awning for them. They could have been electrocuted. (see The Unseen Beatles, a BBC DVD, 2007) No wonder youthful musicians loathe the music industry.

And get a load of this nutjob, who claims an AMC Hornet was the best Bond car ever. James Bond, you'll remember, drove Aston Martins, and Lotus Espirits, and BMW Z sportsters. You wouldn't think he'd be caught dead in a Rambler. But in the 1974 film Man With the Golden Gun, James Bond jumps a river in his AMC Hornet X, all the while spiraling a complete 360 degrees around. An Astro Spiral Jump! None of those pampered pricey “pretty boy” cars came close to such a stunt. It was plain ol bread n butter American Motors what done the deed. (Be sure to play the YouTubes on the linked-to post)

Actually, I call this fellow a “nutjob” tongue-in-cheek. I like him. I like his blog. In “researching” this post, I found myself again and again searching though his material, almost to the  point of.....why go anywhere else? He freely admits to being a compulsive automotive nerd given to recording trivia of  lackluster vehicles that other authors would sensibly leave to rust in peace. I'm sorely tempted to spend hours and hours and hours perusing his blog, but of course, I don't. I have to write about God.

Long after I left the family home, when I should have known better, and had no plausible excuse, I bought a used 1983 Concord, pictured here in a Bill Vance post. Such was the hold that the AMC cult held over me, a cult I might never have broken away from had not the company been absorbed by Chrysler, which promptly discontinued all AMC cars. The model I bought is the same of which Car and Driver (2/78) once wrote “You have the eerie feeling in steering the Concord down the road that somehow, something isn’t quite right, isn’t quite integrated.” Actually, I didn't notice that. But, in time, the car developed a discouraging habit of stalling on right turns. I did notice that.

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OH NO!!! Cars II, the movie, is due out in June of 2011, and it appears that both Gremlins and Pacers are cast as villains! I tell you, life is unfair, pure and simple.

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[Edit 12/12/2010:  Oh, very well. Here it is, the song Little Nash Rambler.]

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Tom Irregardless and Me     No Fake News but Plenty of Hogwash


Redeeming America's Armpit

In the early 1990's Buffalo NY earned the title of America's Armpit. Well.....it didn't really earn the title, it just got stuck with it. There must always be something to arouse national ridicule, and for just a few brief years, comedians peppered their routines with Buffalo jokes. For example, the Air up There, a 1994 movie ripoff of the far more clever Cool Runnings, has the main character firing back to some taunter: “Don't tell me about ….(I think the word was 'armpits,' but it might have been 'dung heaps' or something).....I'm from Buffalo.” It must have been the last straw. Civic minded Buffalonians hosted a garden show that year. Green thumb people gussied up their homes with every sort of plant, and invited others to visit. It took 16 years for Mrs Sheepandgoats and I to respond.

But we did respond this year, for the two-day show in late July. Till then, we'd known nothing about it. All we'd known, thanks to Hollywood, was that Buffalo was an armpit and a dung heap. And that, more or less, squared with our own take of the city. Like Pittsburgh, Buffalo was once a center of heavy industry, steel-making and so forth. Unlike Pittsburgh, it never managed to reinvent itself when those industries evaporated. Hard to believe, but at the turn of last century (1900) Buffalo was the third most populous city in the U.S. Those days are long gone.

But each year gardeners have worked to reverse their armpit image, which was never more than pop-silliness anyway. The garden show has become an annual event, each one larger than its predecessor. One day recently, despairing of anything new in our own city, I chanced upon coverage for the Buffalo show in our local paper. We drove over to check it out. It's only an hour's drive west of Rochester, and we lodged overnight so as to take in both days.

Whoa! This is a big deal! 350 gardens this year. It's the largest show of its kind in America! These folks have been busy and we knew nothing of it. Now, Mrs Sheepandgoats loves this kind of thing, and so do I. Gardens are beautiful, people are friendly, and....one might as well say it....there's a certain nosiness about seeing how others are set up. It's a cheap date, or at least it would have been except for the hotel.....wasn't that overpriced? Plus, Mrs Sheepandgoats grumbled about it a little, since it seemed  dated.....aren't we too good to suffer such indignities?  But we found it through Priceline.com, a service that allows you (supposedly) the best price, but not choice of hotel. You have to trust them to choose for you once you specify how many “stars” you want.

Moreover, no sooner had we checked in and gotten comfortable when in waltzed a trio of women! They'd messed up at the main desk and assigned the same room twice! Fortunately, I was still impeccably dressed, as always, but Mrs Sheepandgoats had begun to change. Not to worry, I headed off the intruders at the door.....they were all embarrassed and headed down to the control desk. After a short time, so did I. The proprietress, a friendly matronly woman, apologized profusely, and then, probing sheepishly as to whether or not I was upset (I wasn't....mistakes happen), ventured that: “they were pretty, though.” Were they? I never notice such things, of course. Besides, Mrs Sheepandgoats is also pretty. Still, I complained to my wife afterward that this sort of thing happens to me all the time, and it's a great nuisance. Pretty women somehow find out where I'm staying and throw themselves at me so that I have to bolt the door to get any peace. It's almost as much of a pain as when I'm strolling down the street with my wife, and traffic comes to a screeching halt, folks snapping their necks around to admire her, disregarding entirely the Bible's counsel, cars smashing into one another, and so forth.....let's face it, the woman's a looker.

But how did this start out an article for Better Homes and Gardens, and practically end in Playboy territory? C'mon Sheepandgoats, back on topic!

You'd almost think there would be a lot of married couples in attendance at the show, and there were, but they were not the majority. Largely, it was packs of women with their girlfriends. Men were....what....maybe 30%? Just an impression, maybe there were more, but the wife and I both commented on it. Guys think their manhood threatened should they confess an interest in gardens, apparently; probably they were off bowling.

The 350 garden sites, front, side, and back yards, were clustered, for the most part, in neighborhoods, so that, if you weren't in one of the neighborhoods....if you were an island somewhere all by yourself....you might not get a lot of traffic. But the neighborhoods themselves were well traveled and some, such as the Summer neighborhood, were mobbed. Summer Street ends in a little hook just west of Delaware St. It's homes were built in the mid-1800's as cottages. Lovingly restored cottages, some painted bright bold colors. A few of them seem not even to have street access, but you had to walk in a house or two deep to reach them.

Nearby was 16th Street, a street with a story some residents posted for all to see. The area is quite modest, you might almost say poor, but several years ago residents banded together to form a neighborhood association. Gardening was the common strategy. Not only did they flower their own properties, but they gifted gardens to neighbors not in position to afford or maintain their own. (One home had a sign in front: 'this garden gifted by the so-as-so neighborhood association'....which I thought was a bit tactless, really. I mean, how must that sign make the people inside feel? But perhaps I'm too sensitive. Anyhow, today 94% of the short street is owner-occupied. Go the next street over,  where there are no gardens, and it's as though you've entered another world.

We started our tour at the Seminary headquarters near the Frank Lloyd Wright house. It wasn't the only headquarters....you could start wherever you wanted. Pick up a map, make a voluntary donation to the cause if you like, and off you go. Take the shuttlebus, drive, or walk. Lots of bistros and shops along Elmwood Avenue, for refreshments and change of pace. It's fairly monied around the FLW house, but to me,  the most interesting gardens were in neighborhoods quite modest, some even being reclaimed from urban decay, with  dinosaur-sized homes being nurtured back from near-extinction. Are gardens the means to revive a city? Instilling civic pride and such? Come to Buffalo and you might almost make a case for it.

It was unseasonably warm that Saturday....disgustingly hot, actually, with obscene humidity, the kind every upstate New Yorker knows only too well. We nonetheless trekked on valiantly till the show's 4 PM end.  Quite a few of the residents offered refreshments of sorts.....cold lemonade, perhaps, though in the poorer areas you were more likely to find those who charged for the service. Ah, well....no matter. And....walking up and down Elmwood Avenue, roughly the show's backbone, there were the aforementioned bistros and coffee shops one might duck into to cool off. The weatherman had called for rain all day, but it held off till the end.....when we were just feet from our car, and then in came down in a manner that would impress Noah. It was almost as if angels had held back the rains all day for our benefit. But they didn't, I'm quite sure. Don't they have other things to do?