Small House of Everything

Small House of Everything

Monday, December 28, 2020


 Openers:  Peter and Mary lived in the little old house.  It was a square house and not at all interesting.  To Peter and Mary it had never been interesting.  And what's more, it never would be interesting.

It was just like having too  much of something you didn't want or wanting too much of something you didn't have -- and never could get.

It was a house that nobody wanted.

And Peter and Mary could not find it n their hearts to blame anyone for not wanting the house.  They did not want it themselves.

Certainly not.  Why should they?

Even the field mice, who were not al all particular about the houses they visited, turned up their noses at the house in which Peter and Mary lived.  Of course the field mice might have done this because there were never any refreshments in the house to make a visit worth the time and trouble, but for all that it does not make you feel any better to have a field mouse turn up his nose at your house.  And you don't have to be so very fond of field mice to feel this way about it, wither.  It's just a feeling you get.

-- Thorne Smith, Lazy Bear Lane (1931)

Peter and Mary are an elderly unhappy couple living an unhappy life.  But then there a knock on the door and the Lazy Bear enters their lives.  He may be lazy but he's also magical:  he transforms the couple back into children and takes them on a magical journey down an old country lane where the meet up with all the lovely things they thought they lost.  Their adventures bring them to a pair of cowardly (and lazy) lion twins, a ship with an all-penguin crew, a sad circus clown, a pretty bareback rider in a pink tutu, and Mr. Budge and his magic basket.

Smith wrote this -- his only children's book -- for his two daughters.  It's a marvelous fantasy that can be enjoyed by readers of all ages, full of magic, poetry, and wordplay.  For year's after its 1931 publication  Lazy Bear Lane was a difficult book to find.  After searching for years, I manage to find the book through Interlibrary Loan, but the only copy they could get was from the Library of Congress and I could not take it home, but could read it in the library itself -- something I had no time to do.  **sigh**  Finally it was reprinted in 2018 and this year bought a copy, something I absolutely do not regret.  It's a great tale.

Thorne Smith (1892-1934) was born in Annapolis, the son of a Navy commodore; when he was six his father was fighting in the Spanish-American War.  His mother was the granddaughter of Don Jose Maxwell, who name is enshrined in Maxwell House Coffee.  His brother Skyring was eight years older than he and, as a result, Thorne Smith basically grew up as an only child.  Thorne did not take well to school, liking his English classes and nothing else.  Still, he managed to graduate from high school and entered Dartmouth in 1910, only to drop out in two years later.  While in school he qualified for the cross country team; it is believed that this may have compounded some health problems rising from early bouts of pneumonia, which eventually led to heart problems he suffered later on in life.  When possible, Thorne's father would take him to sea with him, which strengthened the bond between the two, and where he would party most heartily with some of the Commodore's Navy pals.  After leaving Dartmouth, Thorne worked at a New York City advertising agency, writing copy for Dr. Lyon's Tooth Powder.

Thorne Smith left the agency and joined the Navy in 1917.  He was assigned to work on The Broadside, a Navy Reservist journal and soon rose to become its editor.  There he began writing stories about Biltmore Oswald, a hapless Navy recruit.  The stories were popular and The Broadside's circulation grew from 4 pages to 50 pages during the time he worked on it.  Eventually, the stories were reprinted as Biltmore Oswald:  The Diary of a Hapless Recruit (1918) and Out O' Luck:  Biltmore Oswald Very Much at Sea (1919).  The Oswald books sold more than 70,000 copies.  The Broadside also gave Thorne a chance to write poetry, which was his main interest at the time.  His only book of poetry, Haunts and Bypaths, was published in 1919.

On leaving the Navy, Thorne went back to advertising, a career in which he could do well had he not hated the corporate life.  He met and married Celia Sullivan.  And alternating his life between writing unsuccessful poetry and working in advertising.  The Commodore died in 1920 and left his estate to Thorne, who gave the family home and some of the money to his brother Skyring.  Neither Thorne nor his wife were any good with money and the soon had spent the entire inheritance on a summer house in New Jersey, extravagant trips, and exotic vacations.  Soon it was back to the drudge world of advertising.  Thorne had been working on a mainstream novel, Dream's End, a serious work with a slight (almost invisible) touch of fantasy, he could not find a publisher for it until 1926 (I have read the book and found it drearily pretentious.)  He also had an idea for short story about a dog with just a tail, or a tail without a dog -- not sure which.

The short story evolved into his most famous work, Topper, about a meek, hen-pecked banker who is haunted by two fun-loving ghosts.  With that pattern set, Thorne Smith would embark on writing fantastic, slightly ribald, stories that incorporated humor and hard drinking:  The Night Life of the Gods, The Stray Lamb, Turnabout, The Bishop's Jaegers, Topper Takes a Trip, Rain in the Doorway, Skin and Bones, and The Glorious Pool.  The formula was also used for his sole mystery novel Did She Fall?   All of these novels became best-sellers.  Most would spawn a number of films.  Topper, of course became a popular television show with Leo G. Carroll in the title role and Robert Sterling and Ann Jeffreys as the fun-loving, irresponsible ghosts, George and Marion Kirby.  (Fun Fact:  The pilot for the television show was written by Stephen Sondheim.)

Not only did many of smith's characters drink, but so did their author.  His poor health and his drinking caught up with while he was on vacation in Florida.  He died of a heart attack.  He was only 42.

In his short life, Thorne Smith became one of America's best-known humorists.  His work is still highly readable today.


  • Thorne Smith, Lazy Bear Lane.  See above.

Playing Games:  President Trump has finally signed the new COVID relief package after a week of self-inflicted chaos and the threat of a government shutdown.  Trump, who had urged Congress to pass a bill, blindsided everyone involved last Monday by refusing to sign the bill, demanding that Congress raise the amount of direct aid to most Americans from $600 to $2000 and railing against parts of the government funding portion of the bill that his administration had previously asked for.  Two prominent unemployment protection programs that the bill had extended expired Saturday, affecting millions of Americans.  Without the  bill, the government would have shut down today.  It is difficult to understand why Trump would play games with the American people during this crisis except to cause chaos.

The spanner Trump threw into the works this past week once again drew the attention to him.  And Trump lives for attention.  He likes to feel relevant and important and he likes to have people fawn over him.  His overinflated ego and his distorted sense of reality are, most likely, the reasons for this latest round of gameplaying.

In announcing he has signed the bill, Trump also said that he would send a copy of the bill back to Congress with certain items redlined and a request that Congress remove those items for the bill.  Those items included foreign aid to certain countries (those that Trump deems unimportant or hostile to him, but countries that his administration had previously wanted included in the bill) and funding for such cultural icons as the Kennedy Center and the National Endowment for the Arts (and we all know where Trump stands on culture).  Trump also used the signing of the bill as a platform to blame Democrat-run states for shutdowns, to continue to make false claims about voter fraud in the election, and to continue to call COVID-19 the "China virus."

We have 24 more days of this jamook.  The question remains:  How much chaos can he sow during that time?

The Case of the Poisoned Pu-erh Tea:  Lin Qi, founder and chairman of the Chinese company Yoozoo Group, was hospitalized on December 16 after drinking what turned out to be a poisoned cup of pu-erh tea.  The 39-year-old billionaire died on Christmas Day.  The poisoning appears to have been the result of an "executive split" within the company.  Chinese police have arrested a co-worker identified as Xu Yao, a senior executive in the company's film and television division,  and continue to question him.

Yoozoo, a games developer, is best-known for its Game of Thrones:  Winter Is Coming game.  The company held the adaptation rights to Liu Cixon's best-selling Three Body Problem trilogy of science fiction books, which it sold to Netflix and is being developed by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss, who had developed Game of Thrones for the network.  The Three Body Problem was the first Asian science fiction novel to win a Hugo Award.

Netflix has not commented on the poisoning.  Yoozoo's co-president has denied that there had been any fighting among the company's executives and that the company was "operating normally."  The company's stock had dropped 3% after reports of executive in-fighting.

Pu-erh tea is a type of fermented tea typically produced in China's Yunnan province.  Over time, raw pu-erh develops an earthy flavor and the flavors can change dramatically over time.  The brewed tea can have a taste "reminiscent of of the smell of rich garden soil or an autumn leaf pile, sometimes with roasted or sweet undertones."  There is a popular and unsubstantiated claim the pu-erh tea promotes weight loss.

Haggis:  Set your calendar for January 25.  The Annual Robbie Burns Night continues even under a pandemic.  Mcsween, maker of Scotland's most popular brand of haggis, will air a virtual Burns Supper across the globe.  The Edinburgh company will broadcast the event live on their Facebook page at 7:00 pm (their time).  Featured will be popular Scottish comic actor Karen Dunbar (known for her rendition of Tam o' Shanter) and the "first lady of Scotch whisky," Dr. Rachel Berry, the master blender at Benriach distillery.  The first 100 people to direct message McSween on their facebook page will be sent Mcsween Burns Supper kits with their 400g veggie haggis, their classic haggis, and some Benriach whisky.

For those not in the know, haggis is a concoction of sheep or calf's offal. mixed with suet, oatmeal, and seasoning and boiled in a bag, traditionally made of the animal's stomach.  Offal is a fancy name of the entrails and internal organs of an animal used for food; in haggis it is usually the heart, liver, and lungs.  Haggis is usually served with a strong belt of whisky -- which makes a lot of sense, once you think about it.

Celebrate!:   Today is National chocolate Candy Day!  Woot!

Petty (coat) Politics:  Today marks the 188th anniversary of Vice President John C. Calhoun's resignation from that office, making him the first U.S. vice president to do so.   Calhoun, a south Carolinian,   He has begun his career as a nationalist and a proponent of a strong federal government and of protective tariffs.  his views shifted dramatically as he fought to protect the interests of the white South:  supporting slavery, state's rights, limited government, and opposition to high tariffs.  Calhoun was this country's seventh vice president, serving first under John Quincy Adams, then continuing under Andrew Jackson, who had defeated Adams' attempt to be reelected.  Calhoun, who had been named to the post by the Electoral College, had a difficult time serving under Jackson and resigned in 1832, just a few months before his term ended.

Jackson was a strong unionist and opposed nullification, while Calhoun strongly believed in South Carolina's right to nullify federal tariff legislation which he believed discriminated against the South.  But that was not the only thing that divided the two men.

Calhoun's wife, Floride Calhoun, led a group of wives of Jackson's cabinet in  socially ostracizing Peggy Eaton, the wife of War Secretary John Eaton.  These outraged women, dubbing themselves "Petticoats," felt that Peggy Eaton did not meet the "moral standards of a Cabinet wife."  Peggy Eaton had been rumored to have an affair with Eaton while she was married to another man, John Timberlake.  (It's interesting, isn't it, that they condemned Peggy Eaton and not John Eaton along with her.)  Anyway, Timberlake was 22 years older than his 17-year-old bride and was rumored to be a drunkard and heavily in debt.  Timberlake met John Eaton two years afterward.  Eaton was a young widower, wealthy, newly-elected as a Senator from Tennessee, and a close friend of Andrew Jackson.  Eventually, Eaton paid off Timberlake's debts and got him a lucrative position in the U.S. Navy's Mediterranean Squadron -- a position which rumormongers held was given to get Timberlake away from D.C. where his wife remained.   Timberlake died in 1828 of pneumonia, although the rumors were that he had taken his own life because of Peggy's supposed affair with Eaton.  Andrew Jackson began his presidential term in 1829.  He was very fond of Peggy and urged Eaton to marry her, which Eaton did, nine month's after Timberlake's death.  Nine months was a scandalously short mourning time in those days.  (Jackson, you may remember, was the victim of rumor and innuendo about his late wife, Rachel, whom he supposedly married before her first marriage had been legally ended.)

The Petticoat Affair caused a great disruption to Jackson's presidency and eventually led to the election of Martin Van Buren as the 8th president of the United States.  Calhoun was strongly opposed to Jackson's policies and Jackson felt that Calhoun was using his Floride Calhoun's crusade as a  cover for political skullduggery.  Van Buren, the only bachelor in Jackson's cabinet sided with Eaton, which gained him favor with Jackson.  Calhoun's supporters meanwhile, were maneuvering to have him elected president in the next term and they accused Eaton in trying to have pro-Calhoun cabinet members removed.  

Politics is a confusing world of shifting loyalties.  In 1831, Martin \Van Buren resigned as Secretary of State, allowing Jackson to reorganize his cabinet and purge the pro-Eaton people from it.  Eaton also resigned in 1831  but a day before his official resignation, a newspaper story appeared which said that three prominent Washington families refused to have anything to do with Eaton.  Outraged, Eaton demanded apologies, none of which were forthcoming.  The following day Eaton challenged one of the men, Treasury Secretary Samuel Ingham to a duel.  Ingham refused, and later had to hire bodyguards against a supposed threat of attack from Eaton and his allies.  In 1832, Jackson nominated Van Buren as minister to Great Britain, but the nomination was killed by a tie-breaking vote from Calhoun.  After Calhoun resigned, Van Buren was nominated as Jackson's running mate and became his second vice president, paving the way for his own presidency in 1837

Looking back on the Petticoat Affair, Jackson said, "I rather have live vermin on my back than the tongue of one of these Washington women on my reputation."  Historian Daniel Walker Howe felts that the Petticoat Affair influenced the emergence of feminism.  And historian Robert V. Remini said, "the entire Eaton affair  might be termed infamous.  It ruined reputations and terminated friendships.  And it was all so needless."

Hey, Hep Cats:  Remember these Dos and Don'ts of Dating?  From 1949, here's Woody's First Date, a short educational film to help you along:

Florida Man:
  • Florida Man Jonathan Edward Day, 41, of North Port, is accused of throwing golf clubs from his work van to other moving vehicles.  He also punched a cop.
  • Speaking of golf, an unnamed Florida Man retrieved his golf ball at a Cape Coral golf course after it had landed on an alligator's tail.  Having retrieved the b all, the man sped away, as did the startled gator in the opposite direction.
  • Starting a new holiday tradition is Florida Woman Shirley Rogers, 55, of Oxford, who attacked her sister with Christmas decorations after the sister tried to defuse an argument between Rogers and her boyfriend.  Hopefully, no Frostys were injured in the incident.
  • Florida Man Craig Fulton of Pinellas County decided to make the holidays a little more joyful, so he became a human "Elf on a Shelf."  He was not really on a shelf but he has been seen throughout Tampa Bay area in costume while skateboarding, and in restaurants, in stores, and just about anywhere else in the area.  Evidently, the elf's name is Dingleberry.  Fulton posts his adventures on Facebook and has been getting a lot of positive response.  The elf may transform into a leprechaun around St. Patrick's Day.
  • Ew!  Florida Woman and hunter Donna Kalil has been making Christmas cookies out of python eggs.  Kalil, a veteran python hunter, has just bagged snake number 470.  She has been experimenting with using the python meat in her cooking, making python jerky, "a great snack, but the meat is also good for past sauce and sliders."  Aware of possible mercury contamination, she checks out the level of contamination of the snakes she kills with a home measuring kit, using only the smaller snakes for her preparations.

Here Comes the Good Stuff:
  • A 93-year-old veteran whittles walking sticks and raises $16,000 for a local food pantry
  • An experimental drug can reduce age-related mental decline within days, suggesting that lost cognitive ability may not be permanent
  • 9-year-old boy asks Santa to give his hoverboard to a grieving child who wanted the same gift
  • A security guarded bicycled for an hour to return a woman's lost wallet and the community rewards him
  • Cancer ward sets up dream wedding for patient in three days
  • Every patient treated with CRISPR therapy for blood didease continues to thrive, even after a year

A Christmas Message:  I was very impressed watching Queen Elizabeth's Christmas message this year.  The production and editing were both spot on in discussing a terrible year.

Today's Poem:
New Year's Morning

Only a night from old to new!
Only a night, and so much wrought!
The Old Year's heart all weary grew,
But said:  "The New Year rest has brought."
The Old Year's hopes his heart laid down,
As in a grave, but trusting said:
"The blossoms of the New Year's crown
Bloom from the ashes of the dead."
The Old Year's heart was full of greed;
With selfishness it longed and ached,
And cried:  "I have not half I need.
My thirst is bitter and unslaked.
But to the New Year's generous hand
All gifts in plenty shall return;
True love it shall understand;
by all my failures it shall learn.
I have been reckless; it shall be
Quiet and calm and pure of life.
I was a slave; it shall go free,
And find sweet peace where I left strife."

Only a night from old to new!
Never a night such changes brought.
The Old Year had its work to do;
No New Year miracles are wrought.

Always a night from old to new!
Night and the healing balm of sleep!
Each morn is New Years morn come true;
Morn of a festival to keep.
All nights are sacred nights to make
Confession and resolve and prayer;
All days are sacred days to wake
New gladness in the sunny air.
Only a night from old to new;
Only a sleep from night to morn.
The new is but the old come true;
Each sunrise sees a new year born.

-- Helen Hunt Jackson


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