Flag Change XIII
By Jim Sizemore
(Click images for larger views.)
The “Hip Shots” series of photographs will feature images that were grabbed “on the fly,” with little or no regard for framing and focus. The object of the exercise is to create dynamic pictures, not perfect ones. With this ” shoot-from-the-hip” method the more frames exposed, the better the chances are that you’ll come up with something interesting — a related series that may be arranged as a post. If you’d like additional tips for using the technique, or to submit your own images, drop a question or note in the “Leave a Comment” section, below.
Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.
The Genius of Paul Rhymer, II
By Jim Sizemore
The following short essay about Paul Rhymer’s classic radio program “Vic and Sade,” is one of several I wrote to promote a talk I gave, titled Writing Humorous Dialogue, at the Institute for Language, Technology, and Publications Design, University of Baltimore, on April 20, 1995. The program featured local actors reading from Vic and Sade scripts. If you want to know more about the work of Paul Rhymer — or listen to one of the taped shows — click on the “Paul Rhymer” and “Vic and Sade” links in the sidebar. For a start, I recommend the show “A Letter From Aunt Bess.”
In humorous writing, the name of person, place or thing takes on an importance they seldom have in real life. The names in a funny novel, TV show, play, movie — whatever— often tells us something about the behavior and appearance of a person, or provides interesting clues about the place or thing being depicted. The name “H. K. Fleeber,” for instance, suggests someone given to “dorky” behavior — certainly not a character we would expect to be a brain surgeon. In funny fiction the character of a place may also be defined by its name. If one were to visit a town called “Dismal Seepage, Ohio,” say, one would not be surprised to find oneself in a geographical location featuring a swamp. The same idea applies with named things. A food item called “beef punkles” is a good example. We all know what beef is, but what the hell is a “punkle?” To me, the latter word suggests toughness, a cut of meat that requires forever to cook in the vain hope of rendering it tender enough to eat. (And the word “punkle” alone is — well — it just sounds funny.)
The above examples are from “Vic and Sade,” the radio show by Paul Rhymer that was broadcast on NBC from 1932 to 1944. During that time Mr. Rhymer wrote over three thousand 15 minute scripts, but only a few hundred of the shows still exist on tape. “Vic and Sade” is a simple program. The episodes, which were sandwiched between the popular “soap operas” of the day, consist entirely of conversations between and among the four family members: Vic and Sade Gook, their son Rush, and Sade’s Uncle Fletcher. All the other characters — and there are scores — are vivid despite the fact they are never heard on the air. Rhymer manages to breath life into them through the artful way he has the on-mike characters talk about them, or talk to them on the telephone. The strange names and behaviors he gives them also serve to make them memorable.
Rhymer admitted to being influenced by Charles Dickens, and that influence can be found in the names of his off-mike characters. A few more examples: “Mr. Chinbunny,” the high school principal; “Ike Kneesuffer,” Vic’s next door neighbor and indoor horseshoe-playing buddy; “Ruthie and Ted Stembottom,” Vic and Sade’s card playing neighbors; and other relatives and friends such as “O. X. Bellyman;” “Y. Y. Flirch;” “J. J. J. J. Stunbolt;” “Elton Wheeney;” “I. Edison Box” (love the rhythm of that one); “Miss Edith Klem;” and “Gus Blink.”
Place names come in for the same creative treatment. (How could you ever forget the name of that swamp town in Ohio? You haven’t, have you?) Vic’s friend “Homer U. McDancy” resides in “East Brain, Oregon.” The Gook’s favorite restaurant in town is called the “Little Tiny Petite Pheasant Feather Tea Shoppe.” Sade never misses the washrag sales at “Yamiltons Five and Dime.” Vic is endlessly being billed for his two dollar payment overdue at “Kleeberger’s Department Store.” Several of Uncle Fletcher’s friends live downtown at the “Bright Kentucky Hotel,” which is so close to the railroad tracks that vibrations from passing steam engines cause the beds to “walk” across the floor as hot cinders fly in the open windows.
Paul Rhymer also likes to do switches on place names. He sets an anecdote in “Chicago, Maryland,” for instance, or “St. Paul, Kentucky.” The device may at first seem forced — that is, until one looks at an actual map. There one finds real place names like “Hollywood, Florida,” “Paris, Texas” and “Rome, Georgia.” And did you know that the name of actor James Stewart’s hometown, near Pittsburgh, is actually “Indiana, Pennsylvania?” Rhymer’s humor is based firmly in reality and his place-naming technique points up the fact. The names may be exaggerated, a bit off center, but they’re plausible. They have a familiar sound that adds to the fun.
In addition to his playfulness with the names of people and places, Paul Rhymer enjoyed inventing strange foods, flowers and other everyday items, and he gave them names that on first hearing sound as though they might be real but at the same time are — once more — just slightly off. In her garden, Sade cultivates a species of flower called “Panther Blood.” It’s never described in the scripts, but I always visualize it as being a deep reddish-purple, the color of over ripe eggplant. And when Sade prepares those tough, slow-cooking beef punkles for lunch, Vic is often late getting back to his office at the “Consolidated Kitchenware Company, Plant Number Fourteen,” where he is chief accountant. (His secretary, by the way, is named “Miss Olive Hammersweet.”) For a beef punkles side dish, Sade occasionally serves “scalded rutabaga” with a slice of “limberschwartz” cheese melted on top. Sounds, uh, sort of delicious . . . ?
One last Paul Rhymer food item that I can’t resist. Seems a friend of Uncle Fletcher’s invented “Stingeberry Jam” and a mysterious breakfast cereal called “Brick Mush,” and has persuaded Fletcher to enlist Fletcher’s niece, Sade, to selling the products to her neighbors — much like a milk or bread route. Sade likes Brick Mush but she refuses the Stingeberry Jam franchise because, she says, “It smells bad and churns and writhes and crawls and breathes in the jar.”
This is an edited re-post from June 30, 2008
Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.
The Genius of Paul Rhymer, III
By Jim Sizemore
The following short essay about Paul Rhymer’s classic radio program “Vic and Sade” was written to promote a talk I gave titled Writing Humorous Dialogue at the Institute for Language, Technology, and Publications Design, University of Baltimore, on April 20, 1995. The program featured local actors reading from Vic and Sade scripts. If you want to know more about the work of Paul Rhymer, or listen to one of the taped shows, click on the “Paul Rhymer” and “Vic and Sade” links in the sidebar. For a good place to start, I recommend the show “A Letter From Aunt Bess.”
Here’s a quote from Jean Shepherd, writing in his forward to Vic and Sade: The Best Radio Plays of Paul Rhymer. “Perhaps one of the things that Rhymer did best was to illuminate and dramatize lightly, effortlessly, and without at any point lecturing, the vast gulf that exists between types of people.” Paul Rhymer certainly uses subtle dialogue techniques to point out the gulf that exists between the genders—Sade’s loyalty to her sister’s boring letters, for example, and Vick’s lack of appreciation for same, or their different takes on something as commonplace as table manners. In a 1938 script, the game of baseball serves to point out that men and women will often come at some things from opposite directions. Here’s a bit of that script. (Note that at several points both Sade and Rush refer to Vic as “Gov,” his family nickname.
ANNOUNCER: Well, sir, it’s late afternoon as we enter the small house half-way up in the next block now, and here in the kitchen we find Mrs. Victor Gook and her son, Mr. Rush Gook. This latter individual has just entered from out of doors and at the moment is lightly tossing his cap underneath the sink. Listen:
SADE: All right; go pick that up.
RUSH: I plan to leave again pretty soon.
SADE: Go pick it up. Call that civilized?—a monstrous big high school boy throwin’ his hat on the floor like a pigpen? We got hooks.
Sade’s line, “throwin’ his hat on the floor like a pigpen?” is a malaprop—a jumbling of words which at first doesn’t seem to make sense but still somehow does—and very much in character for her. After a bit more protesting, Rush goes to hang his hat on a nail in the cellarway. In the lines that follow, notice Rhymer’s meticulous attention to visual detail.
RUSH (moving off): Certainly been a fine day outside.
SADE: Hasn’t it though?
RUSH (still moving off): Around noon it was just plain hot.
SADE: Uh-huh. Mr. Gumpox came through the alley an’ I noticed he had his coat folded up an’ layin’ beside him on the seat of the garbage wagon.
RUSH (off a way): Mom, I don’t see any hook. They’re all full of overalls an’ aprons an’ junk.
SADE: You’ll find a place if ya look. There’s squillions of nails there. Hey, what’s your father an’ Mr. Drummond doin’ so much talkin’ about?
RUSH: Where are they?
SADE: Garbage box. Just wavin’ their arms around.
RUSH (returning): They weren’t’ there when I come past just now.
SADE: prob’ly walked home together an’ stopped by the garbage box to finish their talk.
RUSH (almost up): If they’re talking about baseball they never will finish.
SADE: Why do they get so excited? Person’d think one had stole the other’s pocketbook or bumped into his automobile or something.
SADE: Baseball’s only a game ain’t it? (short pause) Guess the argument’s all over. Here comes Gov toward the house.
RUSH: He acts like Mr. Drummond got the best of him. See the little quick steps he takes an’ the way his face is?
SADE (giggles): Uh-huh. (raises voice) Hello there, mister.
VIC (cheerily enough): Hi, everybody. How’s tricks? (to Sade, as door closes) Paper come yet?
SADE: I doubt it. Boy very seldom shows up this early. What were you an’ Mr. Drummond havin’ such a to-do about? Never saw so much arm wavin’ in my life.
VIC: The arm wavin’ you saw through the window will in no wise unbalance the equilibrium of the world. Life will go on as before.
SADE: No, but a person watchin’ would get the idea you fellas were about to have a fight.
VIC: That may come to pass one of these days. (to himself) The big boob.
SADE: Are you mad at him?
VIC: I wouldn’t condescend to get mad at a creature so handicapped. Mr. Drummond is short the normal quota of brains. Mr. Drummond moves helplessly in a fog of stupidity. Mr. Drummond, in short, is a half wit.
Let’s pause here to fully appreciate Rhymer’s humorous rendering of Vic’s fit of pique, savoring how the angry discourse builds through several stages to its curt climax, the succinct punch word “halfwit.” That word would not have the power it does without the three lines that precede it. This is Paul Rhymer demonstrating the importance of the “set-up” in creating a humorous effect. And no stage directions are required; Vic’s high-toned anger comes through clearly in Rhymer’s word choices. We rejoin the script just in time to enjoy more of Vic’s deconstruction of Mr. Drummond’s intelligence—or lack thereof. (Click on above image to read the caption.)
SADE (giggles): Did you tell him that?
VIC: I intimated as much—an’ more—only I couched my barbs with such subtlety they went over his head like soft summer clouds.
RUSH: Baseball, huh, Gov?
VIC: How’s that?
RUSH: You an’ him were discussin’ baseball?
VIC: One could hardly refer to it as a discussion. I’d vouchsafe a thoughtful opinion an’ Drummond’d come back with a splatter of meaningless words boorishly strung together.
SADE: I was just askin’ Rush, Vic, how grown-up men can work theirself into a frenzy about such stuff.
VIC: Am I worked into a frenzy?
SADE: You acted like you were worked up into something out by the garbage box just now. You an’ Mr. Drummond both.
VIC: What did Master Rush reply when you quizzed him?
SADE (giggles): He said he didn’t know.
VIC: That would be his rejoinder when quizzed on any topic, I believe.
RUSH (chuckles): Aw, c’mon, Gov, don’t take it out on me.
SADE (to VIC): No, but really. If there was a baseball eleven in this town an’ your brother was in it or somebody an’ a fella run down your brother an’ his baseball eleven, I could halfway see why you might let yourself be upset. But these baseball elevens in Chicago an’ around. What do you care?
VIC: Baseball, Sade, is a strong American institution.
SADE: is it?
VIC: Baseball is a wholesome vent for excess nervous energy.
SADE (giggles): Prob’ly is if you’re fullback on the team or somethin’. But all you an’ Mr. Drummond can do is talk about it. I always think of baseball as a game Rush an’ the kids play over in Tatman’s vacant lot. Can’t understand why grown-up men should lose sleep because New York beats Pontiac.
Here Paul Rhymer is using Sade as the “wise fool,” a humorous device popular since before Shakespeare. By making her willfully ignorant of baseball, her seemingly innocent questions skillfully point out the absurdity of Vic and Mr. Drummond’s intense emotional investment in what is, in her eyes, only a child’s pastime. The script goes on for three more pages with Vic offering the high-minded argument that he and Mr. Drummond are passionately interested in baseball because it is a “science.” But we soon discover that their fight out by the garbage box was really over a childish disagreement about who would get to wear the pitcher’s glove if and when they scheduled a regular game of catch to “unwind” after work. Rhymer gives Sade the last word.
SADE: You mean to tell me that two great big men with offices an’ families can jump at each other’s throat over a thing like that—who gets to be pitcher?
VIC (stubborn): Sure.
SADE: Is that baseball, Rush?
RUSH (chuckles): Uh-huh.
SADE: Is that science?
This is an edited re-post from July 7, 2008
Copyright © 2013 Jim Sizemore.
When Bob Weber, creator of the classic comic strip “Moose Miller” (re-titled “Moose & Molly” since 1998), visited Baltimore about ten years ago, he called and invited me to dine with him at the Denny’s out on Ritchie Highway. Bob, born and raised in South Baltimore, has for many years lived in Westport, Connecticut. We hadn’t talked for at least ten years, hadn’t seen each other for over twenty, but I wasn’t surprised to hear from him. You see, Bob sort of owes me—or at least I think he thinks he does.
Our connection goes back to June 27, 1986, when I wrote the following note to the Features Editor of the Baltimore Sunday Sun: “I’m a big fan of comic strips—have been all my life—and I especially love some that appear daily in the Evening Sun: “Peanuts,” “Andy Capp,” “B.C.,” and, more recently, “Zippy,” “Calvin & Hobbes,” and “Moose Miller.” However, it’s very disappointing to follow these features each day of the week and then not be able to enjoy them in color on Sunday. I refer to “Calvin & Hobbes” and “Moose,” my two very special favorites, which have so far been missing from the Sunday pages. Can this situation be corrected?”
That was the first of several letters I wrote, over the span of a few years, to insure that “Moose Miller” got some respect in the Sunday comics section, and to help see to it that the feature was reinstated once it had been dropped from the funny pages altogether—which, if memory serves, happened three times, with the third strike turning out to be terminal. Sadly, “Moose” has not run in Bob Weber’s hometown paper since about 1995.
During the period I was able to help keep “Moose Miller” in Baltimore. My reasoning emphasized the local angle, the fact that the characters referred often to Baltimore landmarks such as “Sparrows Point Shipyards” “Curtis Bay” and “Pratt Street,” and used the names of local people in the balloons, mine included. Here’s a memory jogger for Balti-morons, as we like to call ourselves. In the strip below “Bill Buxton” refers to the Baltimore Sun fishing writer Bill Burton; “Vince Baggy” was the beloved local sports columnist Vince Bagli; and announcer Stu Kerr plays himself, a real announcer for a real local TV station; and me, Jim Sizemore. Along with Vince Baggy I’m the “written by” guy. For some reason Bob didn’t, or couldn’t, come up with nicknames for Stu Kerr and me. (There are also three names in the strips I was unable to I.D. (If you know them, let me know.)
But I believe the strongest points I made in favor of the strip were aesthetic and social. The gag writing is excellent, words and images working together to create the humor, a characteristic always present in the best comics. The visual appeal of “Moose” is the result of strong composition and the use of simple shapes to define human and animal characters, places, and things, as in the “Nancy,” “Henry,” and “Snuffy Smith” mold, all of which, like “Moose Miller,” read well visually when reproduced at very small sizes. That’s important these days with the shrinking space given to comics features. The strip above is an excellent example of Bob’s astute way with dramatic visual composition—it couldn’t be simpler, or bolder, or better.
In my opinion “Moose Miller” was (and is, since it’s still running) a unique work at once fluid, funny and very lively—and it’s an example of very good graphic design. And finally, the strip has social value. It may be the only remaining syndicated comic strip that depicts the day-to-day humorous conflicts of working class family life. These are simple comic characters but they have real lives and real jobs. Well, except for Moose—but at least he makes an effort to find work, he just can’t seem to hold on to it when he does get it.
The way I see it, Bob repaid my small efforts on behalf of “Moose Miller” many times over with his friendship — intermittent but always fun — plus the pleasure the feature gave me when it ran locally and I could read it every day, including Sunday. (Not to mention the sliver of immortality having my name appear in it from time to time.) Bob, being a humble South Baltimore guy, doesn’t realize I’d happily settle for that. Well, a bit more than that. I would like Bob to show up in Baltimore more often so we can stroll around the old neighborhood and gab about the misty days of yesteryear. But it’s O.K. with me if he never again feels he has to spend big bucks on me at fancy restaurants. After all, guys like us have simple tastes.