Today’s Gag

May 31, 2010

To purchase reprint and/or other rights for this cartoon, buy a framed print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link.

Copyright © 2010 Jim Sizemore.

The Falconer Building

October 17, 2009

Bats, Bugs and Drunks

Miss Rita, the middle-aged woman at the desk next to mine, is asking personal questions. That’s something she does every night. I’m 22 years old and this is my first serious job since being FalconerBldgdischarged from the U. S. Army, two years ago. The inquiring Miss Rita and I are clerks in the Social Security Administration — I’m a new hire and she’s my trainer. We are working the 4:00 P. M. to 12:30 A. M. shift on the seventh floor of the Falconer Building at 414 Water Street in downtown Baltimore, two blocks from the harbor. The year is 1959, deep summer, and I’ve made a new friend.

The windows are open, three huge floor fans blowing at full power. If the temperature in the Falconer Building rises above 90 degrees, we’ll be sent home. This happens often during the day shift, less so after the sun goes down. Miss Rita and I sit in the cross-ventilation and flip SS-5 cards and scribble name and date-of-birth changes into huge metal-covered ledgers, delighted with each other’s company. Form SS-5(This photo of an actual Form SS-5 shows a Miss Apgar requesting that her name be changed to Mrs. Lake. Click images for larger views.)

The evening passes to the rhythm of turning pages: flip, flip, scribble, flip, flip, scribble, scribble, flip. Against the background of dirty brick walls scores of other clerks’ bend to the identical task. The oily aroma of Baltimore harbor wafts in the windows and, when the wind shifts, more pungent odors come from the nearby wholesale fish market. The whirring fans cool our necks and blow the occasional card from desk to floor — or out a window. The strange sound of bat wings flutter in one window and out another. There is a gentle rustling noise as rat’s forage for sandwich crumbs in waste baskets, and the buzzing of blood-sucking insects foraging for us.

At the moment, Miss Rita’s job is to introduce me to the mysteries of entry-level clerking in the Numerical Register Section of SSA — and, it seems, to trade work information for personal tidbits. With anyone else her intimate prying might be offensive, but, somehow — I guess because of her odd sense of humor — it’s just harmless fun. Miss Rita’s constant stream of chatter, spiced with sexy double meanings, makes the long evenings of repetitive work bearable. In fact, they are downright entertaining. Anyway, there is not much of a private life to expose — I ‘m still in the process of trying to develop one. Somehow I manage to keep Miss Rita interested by making up outrageous but plausible tales about my exploits. She seems to especially enjoy the lies (these days we might call them “creative non-fictions”) that I tell about the erotic adventures of my mother, a born-again Christian, who would have been shocked if she knew that her son used her straight-arrow life for creative inspiration. Perhaps Miss Rita identifies with my fictions because she and my mother are about the same age.

On my first night in the Falconer Building — one of several rental properties which comprise the original 1936posterSSA headquarters — Miss Rita gives me the grand tour. She points out the freight elevator which, she says, I can use at peak load times during shift changes, when the passenger elevator is often overwhelmed. She shows me the stairs and mentions in passing that they are handy because the freight elevator only goes to the 5th floor. She doesn’t comment on the empty booze bottles in the stairwell, nor does she explain the sleeping drunk. Our “cafeteria” is located by the elevator door on the 4th floor, Miss Rita says. That is, at 9 o’clock each evening an old man gets off the elevator and stands there selling cold sandwiches out of a large cardboard box. Finally, Miss Rita gives me a booklet explaining what is expected in terms of production and conduct. The publication also has a small map showing the location of the men’s room and fire exits. I can use the restroom anytime, Miss Rita says, provided it isn’t too often. “Two often” and it will reflect in my “rating,” whatever that is.

The Falconer Building is clean, at least compared to the steel mill in which I had worked prior to this job, and there is even a bit of external entertainment. As we young male clerks arrive early for the evening shift, we often gather to watch strippers sunbathing on the low roof of the nearby Gayety Show Bar, the keystone of Baltimore’s infamous “Block” of sleazy nightclubs clustered nearby. When the women are up there relaxing between shows we all go a little crazy. The younger clerks in the Numerical Register Section — male and female — are friendly, and I am quickly drawn into a sort of loose-knit social club. After our shift finishes at 12:30 A. M., few of us want to go home to bed — we’re still too primed with youthful energy — so most nights a meeting is called for a party or card game at someone’s home or apartment. Or we go out on a sort of group date, which usually involves bar-hopping, the only form of entertainment available at that hour. Some nights we simply cruise the city and talk until dawn at an all night diner. Often, I drop into bed at first light or later, sleep until two in the afternoon, then get up to start the work/play cycle again. Some of my new friends have been living this way for several years, but the fun will last only a few months for me. I have “EOD’d” (Entered On Duty) at the end of an era. The whole of SSA’s scattered downtown headquarters is scheduled to consolidate in a modern complex in the western suburbs of Baltimore in January of 1960, only a few months hence.

Well before we leave the city, though, it comes to pass that my social life is greatly enriched as a direct result of information provided by Miss Rita. She tells me that a particular young lady, another Numerical Register clerk, is interested in me beyond mere friendship, and before long I am involved in my first “adult” relationship. I reward Miss Rita by continuing my stories, now more fact than fiction, and much more titillating than ever. I even expand the scope of the tales to include many of my young and ever-horny (at least in my telling) coworkers. And I notice that Miss Rita’s interest in our escapades become more intense the closer I stick to real life, which I take as a literary lesson. So as I become a better clerk, I also sharpen my narratives. Miss Rita especially likes to hear my juiced-up versions of our nocturnal forays to various “hillbilly” bars and other hotspots around town, and the house parties that follow into the wee hours, many of them ending in sleep overs. These stories require scant embellishment.

All of this happened a half century ago, late summer until the end of 1959. I spent 29 years with the Social Security Administration, taking an early retirement in 1988. Not long after the SSA headquarters moved to the suburbs, I realized that I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life flipping pages and scribbling in ledgers, so I took advantage of the Korean G. I. Bill and enrolled in evening art classes. That led to a temporary job in SSA’s drafting department, which in turn got me through what I called “the back door” of their large art department —where my first assignment was to help produce the original Medicare Handbook. Living and working in the suburbs was O. K., but I never again had an experience quite so rich in character or characters, or that made such an intense impression on me, as those early nights in downtown Baltimore, flipping SS-5 cards and trading punch lines with Miss Rita.

Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

A much longer version of this personal essay was published in the October, 1978 issue of OASIS, a magazine distributed monthly to Social Security Administration employees nationwide.


Ocean City: Another View

July 18, 2009

The following short essay is adapted from a longer e-mail responding to my post of July 3. The original post was a satire critical of Ocean City, Maryland, delivered by a fictional character called “Mort.” In the late 1970’s and early ‘80s I used Mort to do the heavy lifting in a series of satires on various subjects, most of which were published on the Op-Ed page of the Baltimore Evening Sun. My post of July 3, titled “Down the Ocean: Insulting Remarks from a First Time Visitor,” derived from a 1978 published essay. The blog version can be seen by scrolling down a bit. Meanwhile, I hope you will take a few minutes to enjoy Angela’s very different take on her first “whirlwind” visit to Ocean City.

OC:PCd:blur

By Angela Adams

For a girl originally from a small town near Lansing, Michigan, driving into Ocean City, Maryland, for the first time early last winter, I had the impression that the place was asleep but beautiful — and lacked something. We parked and walked along huge black rocksAngela:4 (the breakwater) out toward the sea. I looked out over the most beautiful, never-ending body of water I had ever seen. The wind was cool but the sun was out and warmed my face. We walked toward the end of the rocks as far as we could without getting soaked. The view simply took my breath away. I had never seen the ocean before.

Later, hand in hand, we strolled down the boardwalk, even though many of the shops were closed for the winter. I noted that the amusement rides did not compare with those of Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, but I could imagine how alive the area would be once people started visiting again in warm weather. We walked the shoreline, picking up special rocks and shells to bring home to my children. The whole time, all I could think about was how badly I wanted to some day bring them to this place.

As we drove the main drag, I saw closed hotels and businesses that gave the impression that the place was recently vacated due, perhaps, to an incoming hurricane. I can’t say that I paid much attention to the presence of storm drains, or noticed an overwhelming amount of power lines, but I will trust Mort’s assessment on those points. I do remember that all the hotels on the ocean side of the road were built almost on top of each other and were very colorful. One was pink, the next blue, followed by a yellow one — I thought: Is it the end of the rainbow? What also crossed my mind was where would all of the cars park when they did return in the summer? On the West side of the drag, there were at least eight miniature golf courses and some go-cart places intermixed between various restaurants, something for just about any taste imaginable.

I couldn’t wait for summer to return to Ocean City. We took my three boys, ages, 7, 9 and 11, there the first weekend inBoys:surf April, during their Spring Break. The sun was bright but the wind was chilly and the water was down right cold. But that didn’t stop the boys, as you can see in this photo. Even though they were shaking from the frigid waves, we still had to make them get out. They can’t wait to go back.

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Angela Adams is 34, a single mom, and claims that she still doesn’t know what she wants to be when she grows up. She recently moved to Baltimore for the employment opportunities and has a job with a new payroll company, Pay Partners, beginning in August. Angela has a Masters in Business Administration, another Masters in Human Resources, and a Bachelors in Healthcare Management, so I think she’ll be just fine.

Copyright © 2009 Angela Adams.


Peg And Ed Get Married

June 30, 2009

By Shirley Lupton

Peg'swedding

My sister, Peg, is a contrarian. An introverted petite blonde, stunning and smart, she never wanted to be a wife or a mother. But then she turned 60 and her health insurance premium (individual plan) jumped from $500 to $1,200 a month. So she did what she could to keep herself insured. She decided to marry Ed, with whom she had lived for the past 28 years. He had a job with health benefits. Oh, we joked, hope you aren’t rushing into something. Do you really know him?

Ed describes himself as a poseur, a charlatan, and a gourmetician. To contrast her size 2, he is short, round, size 50, a gregarious Sicilian; also a former restaurant chef and now teacher of the culinary arts. In Philadelphia, where they live, Ed is a sort of Pied Piper. People come from doorways to greet him as they walk down the streets. He spends an hour in a sausage emporium on 9th Street in Little Italy talking to the “regulars” while Peg is around the corner, alone, puffing a Marlboro regular. “To marry or have health insurance—I picked marriage, a Hobson’s choice,” Peg said. “So—let’s make it an ironic wedding.” Ed replied, “Anything you want dear.”

Peg insisted on secrecy, so the site she chose was a mountaintop in north central Pennsylvania where we had spent our childhood summers. An old friend there, Al, a retired clergyman, agreed to conduct the service. Aside from me, the only other participants would be Dick and Judy, a couple we had also known as children on the mountain. That was it. No fuss, no cake, no expense, and none of the friends from Philly, who would hear about it later. At the rehearsal dinner, which was held at Dick and Judy’s cabin, we all drank too much wine and annoyed an abstemious Al by making up vows that pressed hard on the irony concept. In fact, Al got a bit huffy and left after Ed said that he would take this woman in holy matrimony only if she agreed to wash her cereal bowl and forsake country music.

The next day we stood in front of Reverend Al’s fireplace, ready. He had brought out his best cut glass wine goblets and a decanter of communion sherry. Judy had picked the wedding bouquet in the woods, an armload of blooming ragweed. Al wore his full black clerical garb and, caught up in the mood of irreverence, rubber flip- flops. We milled around a bit and then Peg, wearing denim, hugged the raspy flowers as Al began the ceremony. As he intoned, I watched a hummingbird at a feeder outside his window, and when I turned back I saw liquid reflecting light off Ed’s eyes. Peg’s eyes were glazed, like a cat full of tuna. Al was reading the traditional vows and they were answering—in tradition. This was a wedding. After Ed kissed the bride, Peg tossed me the ragweed and we stood around not knowing what to say but feeling rather graceful. Ed opened a bottle of vintage champagne from the year of Peg’s birth to find it had turned to vinegar. No one said, How ironic. We toasted with Al’s sherry.

Peg selected the Jamison Hotel for the “reception,” a place far in the mountains where the dress code was wife-beater undershirts and the all-you-can-eat buffet was on top of Bunson Burners in big aluminum trays for $8.50 per person. A pitcher of cold lager cost $3.00. I can tell you the ham and green bean dish was delicious. An eight-point buck’s head looked down at us from its wall mount. An old guy from the bar came in and played his harmonica so we could waltz the bride.

Last spring Ed lost his job in the recession. Now he and Peg are both uninsured. But in the four years that Ed and Peg have been married, they have been content. Willie Nelson instead of Puccini? — no problem. Whatever my wife wants, Ed continues to say. And soon, of course, there will be Medicare.

Copyright © 2009 Shirley Lupton.

Shirley Lupton has been a contributing writer and photographer for Aishti, a Middle Eastern lifestyle, fashion and travel magazine published in Beruit, Lebanon. Her work has also appeared in the Irish Herald, San Francisco, and in the Baltimore Sun. Shirley is a member of Margaret Osborn’s Deepdeen Writers’ group, which is were we met a few years ago. I’m happy to report that her witty contributions have become a popular feature on this blog.


Today’s Gag

May 4, 2009
0905nudityblog2Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.

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Business As Usual

November 21, 2008

promotionsblogTo purchase reprint rights for this cartoon, buy a print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link. If you would like to own the original of any of my selection of more than 500 gag cartoons, contact me for information about price and availability. My e-mail address is: jimscartoons@aol.com

Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.


Business As Usual

November 14, 2008

officeblog21To purchase reprint rights for this cartoon, buy a print, or have it reproduced on T-shirts, mugs, aprons, etc., visit the CartoonStock website by clicking the sidebar link. If you would like to own the original of any of my selection of more than 500 gag cartoons, contact me for information about price and availability. My e-mail address is: jimscartoons@aol.com Copyright © 2008 Jim Sizemore.