Betty's Attic
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Friday, May 19, 2017
On this day in 1962, Marilyn Monroe sang her famous birthday tribute to John F. Kennedy Jr. It was the beginning of what would later be called Monroe's "summer of hell", which would end with her untimely and suspicious death on August 5.

I was a kid when it happened. I didn't fully understand the significance of the "birthday song moment". I couldn't fathom the weight of Marilyn's death just a few months later, or the tragic assassination of JFK himself the following year. As I got older, I finally came to understand only one thing about that time in history: in politics - as in Hollywood - things are seldom as they seem.

For example, it wasn't even the president's birthday. The event was a "super fundraiser" for the democratic party. JFK's early birthday celebration was just part of the staging. No one seems to know (or want to tell) whose idea it was to have the blonde bombshell delivery the breathy birthday tribute. Just as no one seems to know where Marilyn was when Peter Lawford tried unsuccessfully to bring her to the stage with not one, but three introductions. His final introduction, "Mr. President, the late Marilyn Monroe", drew laughs from the crowd, but in hindsight seemed an eerie harbinger of what was to come. (Or perhaps, as many now believe, a slip of the tongue on Lawford's part.)

There remain untold stories about John F. Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe, both separately and together. Still lingering in the public imagination is the unsettled sense of unsolved mystery - of something gone horribly wrong just offstage where we can't quite glimpse it.

My mom used to say "secrets always come to the light", but I'm not so sure. For five decades, authors and historians have tried to dust off the facts, presenting theories, explanations, and wild conjecture. It's nice to believe that someday we'll know the whole truth, but here's another thing I learned as I got older: some secrets do come to the light, some secrets are partially revealed, and some secrets never see the light of day.
Posted by: Betty | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, May 12, 2017
The house from A Christmas Story just opened for overnight rentals. Ralphie's house has been up for rent before, but the occupants were chosen by contest. Which meant only one winning family per year got a chance to stay in the iconic movie home.

All that changed this year when the house opened for rentals beginning June 1st. According to the official Christmas Story House website, "overnight guests have use of A Christmas Story House’s private third floor loft for the entirety of their stay and use of the whole house from an hour after closing until 9 am the following day."

The house stays open for visitors during business hours, but after that, it's all yours. You can sleep in Ralphie and Randy's twin beds. Read a book by the light of the famed Leg Lamp. And of course watch A Christmas Story on DVD, which is thoughtfully provided along with cable TV and other amenities.

Rates are less expensive in the summer ($395 - $495 per night), but if you want to spend Christmas there, it will cost you. The rate on December 24 and 25 jumps to $1995 per night.

Ralphie and his family gave our family some of our best Christmas memories over the years. I think it would be a great holiday vacation - if you've got that kind of money.  Reservations opened in May and it's already booked for this holiday season. Which means there's plenty of time to save up for next year!

Posted by: Betty | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, May 5, 2017
Barbecues and cookouts are a favorite American summer pastime. What's the difference between a barbecue and cookout? Ask any die-hard outdoor chef and they'll tell you that you can't call it a barbecue unless you're barbecuing, which means cooking over low heat for a long period of time. If you're grilling, or cooking over high heat for a shorter period of time, your outdoor gathering is a cookout, not a barbecue.

The most dedicated grillers and barbecuers will argue the virtues of cooking over wood chips vs. charcoal vs. natural or propane gas. And don't even start a conversation about electric grills with the true fanatics.

We didn't fuss over the labels when I was a kid. Sometimes my dad would fire up the charcoal grill and make slow cooked ribs. Other times he'd use a gas grill for the speed and efficiency of getting hotdogs and hamburgers into a horde of tired, sunburned kids. Either way, we loved it.

As long as the company is good, the food is edible, and the drinks are ice cold, I'll be happy no matter what you call it. As long as you don't forget to invite me!

Posted by: Betty | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, April 28, 2017
30 years ago (April 27, 1987) David Bowie released Never Let Me Down, his 17th studio album. Expectations were high. Really high. He was a legend, an icon, an undeniable musical force. Or maybe not? To say the record was not well-received is an understatement of epic proportion.

The critics hated it. And they were ruthless. Rolling Stone's Steve Pond said it was "the noisiest, sloppiest Bowie album ever" and called it "a mess". To make matters worse, the album-buying public all but ignored Bowie's latest effort to remake himself, his music, and by extension, the music industry. Sure, it went gold - that was expected; this was Bowie after all - but though it charted in the top ten in the U.K., it barely made it to #34 in the U.S.

Even Bowie said the album was his "nadir", the lowest point in his recording career. "It was such an awful album," Bowie told reporters while on tour. "Never Let Me Down had good songs that I mistreated. I lost the sound."

Pardon me for disagreeing with a legend, but I liked the album. I listened to it again before I started writing this blog and I still like the album. Maybe it was no Space Oddity or Ziggy Stardust, but it was unique, very personal, and had songs that pushed the envelope. Which means it was - by definition - classic Bowie.

Posted by: Betty | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, April 21, 2017
There are lots of species of flamingos. The greater and lesser flamingos hail from South Africa. Three other types come from South America. The only North American native flamingo was once considered one of the greater birds from Africa, but now it's earned its wings as a discrete species.

My favorite flamingo species hails from Leominster, Massachusetts, the plastics Capital of the World. They can be identified by their plastic bodies and protruding lawn stakes. Sculptor Don Featherstone created the kitschy classics in 1957, giving us 60 years of front yard fun.

My mom thought they were adorable. She collected a whole flamboyance (yes, that's what you call a flock) of flamingos. She didn't just stick them in the ground all willy-nilly, either. She arranged them. She set up two of them to drink from the bird fountain. Three more standing on one leg looking toward the setting sun. Several smaller ones surrounded by their 'parents'.

At the time, I thought it was just like everything parents did: horrifically embarrassing. But I've grown to appreciate her artistic vision. So today I keep the memory of Mom's flamboyance of flamingos alive in my own way - with a welcoming flamingo doormat.

Posted by: Betty | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, April 14, 2017
Superman made his first appearance in Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster's in Action Comics #1, which was published on April 18, 1938 (with a June cover date). Superman wasn't the only superhero in the comic, but he became the most famous and enduring of DC's early characters.

Every kid in our neighborhood loved Superman. It didn't matter if you were a boy or a girl, you'd put on a cape fashioned out of a tablecloth or old bedsheet and pretend to run "faster than a speeding bullet" and "leap tall buildings in a single bound". We'd courageously take on the evil villain and we always won the day - just like the Man of Steel. The only thing that could stop us? Green agates we'd picked up at the beach and dubbed our Kryptonite!

Mom would have to chase us out of the house to keep us from knocking all the furniture over, but I think she was secretly glad of our superhero games. There were no arguments when it was time to crawl into bed - we didn't have it in us after a full day of crimefighting!

You can still pick up a copy of the original comic, if you've got a superhero bank account. It's considered the most valuable comic book in the world. The last time a copy sold (grade 9.0), it went for just over $3 million! That's a bit outside my budget, but I don't mind: I have the memories of being Superman when I was a kid and I've got a nice comfy Man of Steel robe for those mornings when I'm feeling "stronger than a locomotive".

Posted by: Betty | 8:00 AM | permalink
Friday, April 7, 2017
Long, lazy summer afternoons. Screaming fans. Hot dogs. Souvenirs. The thrill of victory (or the agony of defeat). What does it all mean?

Baseball season is back in swing!

My love for baseball started with my dad. He started collecting baseball cards when he was a kid and never stopped. We used to sort through them at the kitchen table and Dad would quiz me on the player's and their team's stats. It was how we killed time between the World Series and Spring Training.

I passed on the tradition, not just to my kids, but to my siblings' kids. While my kids can be persuaded to participate, my youngest nephew took to baseball like a fish takes to water. I started taking him to games a couple of years ago and this year I helped him start his own trading card collection with a set of signed, unsearched Major League Baseball cards. The set was full of surprises and we had a great time sorting through them. And when it comes to memorizing the players' stats, well, he's almost as good as I was at his age.

As much as I enjoy collecting, the best thing about baseball is sitting in the stands on a warm summer day, smelling roasted peanuts and hot dogs, and hearing those famous first words: "Play Ball!"

Posted by: Betty | 8:00 AM | permalink
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