Little Ms. Polymath

aka the know-it-all

loving manilow August 5, 2009

Filed under: celebrate,life,today in history — mspolymath @ 10:11 am

It’s a hazy memory, but a man is running around in New York City traffic, desperate to get somewhere. I’m not sure what the premise is, as the Beta tape didn’t catch the very beginning of the program. It doesn’t matter. I’m sitting on the floor in a wood-paneled rec room, surrounded by pleather furniture. As I stare at the Zenith, something happens: Barry sings. 

That’s right, Barry Manilow opened up his big ole mouth and spouted some of the catchiest, happiest pop songs in the history of modern music. His music was sappy, shameless, and beyond redemption. And I loved it.

What a cover!

What a cover!

I’m not sure which of Barry’s ABC TV specials my parents had taped for me, but I watched it a million times (it was only rivaled by the Muppet Show episode featuring Elton John). I knew the songs, and I knew the moves.  My parents had the vinyl, which is still sort of odd to think about as neither of them liked Barry Manilow, but maybe they bought it because it was popular? Because I liked it? I don’t know. We had a stereo console in our living room that included the turntable, the radio, and the all-important 8-track player, and I spent a lot of time spinning those Manilow discs.

My all time favorite.

My all time favorite.

In 1978/1979 you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing Copacabana, and I’m sure it was just thrilling to hear a tone-deaf four year old run around your basement screeching “Her name was Lola, she was a showgirl…” Sing it with me! In fact, in 1978 FIVE of Manilow’s records were on the charts simultaneously, something only Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, and Johnny Mathis have also achieved. You know the hits – Mandy, Willing to Take a Chance Again, Autumn in New York – just hearing a Barry Manilow number makes me feel safe, and instantly happy.

Aside from his catchy songs, I’m not sure why I loved Barry Manilow so much. I’ve never found him handsome, not being one for blonds. Funnily enough, I do like his nose, which is evidenced in my current male crushes:

Knife skills are sexy. But not as sexy as a big, crooked nose.

Knife skills are sexy. But not as sexy as a pronounced schnoz.

I'm beginning to see a pattern. Do you suppose Tony knows Looks Like We Made It?

I'm beginning to see a pattern. Do you suppose Tony knows Looks Like We Made It? And can Barry cook?

Okay, so maybe Manilow influenced more than just my musical tastes.  You probably don’t realize that Barry was a part of your life too, like it or not. He wrote both the Band-Aid and State Farm jingles that are still used today, as well as McDonald’s “you deserve a break today…” song. He literally wrote the songs that made the whole world sing, though he actually didn’t write that song. Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys did.
Over the years I’ve gotten a lot of crap for my Manilow love – there was no Barry street cred during the late 90s when I worked in the music business. Still, I’m not the only taste maker who recognizes his genius. According to Wikipedia, in 1988, Bob Dylan stopped Manilow at a party, hugged him and said, “Don’t stop what you’re doing, man. We’re all inspired by you.” So there’s that.
The reason I started thinking about Manilow is American Bandstand. On this day in 1957 the show premiered on ABC. From 1977 to 1987 (when the show ended its run on ABC) Barry’s rendition of  “Bandstand Boogie” bookended the show, with Barry’s updated lyrics. In the years before MTV and even Friday Night Videos, American Bandstand and Soul Train were pretty much all we in the Saturday morning cartoon set had to to get hip to the latest tunes. Um, hence Barry Manilow’s mega stardom?
He didn't have to prove anything.

He didn't have to prove anything.


Happy Birthday, Rebecca July 19, 2009

Filed under: celebrate,today in history — mspolymath @ 8:31 pm

My goddaughter, Rebecca Virginia Boblenz, was born a year ago today. Like her brothers and sister (and her mother), she is pure joy.

Somehow I was entrusted with the huge responsibility of being her godmother, and I take it pretty seriously.


Happy birthday, sweet girl. The world is better with you in it.


the catcher in the rye July 15, 2009

Filed under: life,today in history — mspolymath @ 12:49 pm


My fifth grade teacher gave me my first copy of Catcher in the Rye.  I was eleven years old, dealing with puberty, reading at a level far beyond my years but still trapped in a fat little girl’s body. I don’t remember much about fifth grade, really, except what I read during that time. That year I made the transition from whatever kid/tween stuff I’d been devouring (Judy Blume, Lois Lowry, etc) to the big time. I had a bizarre obsession with Civil War-era novels and couldn’t get enough of the North and South books, Roots, and Gone with the Wind. I even read The Color Purple. 

But this was supposed to be about The Catcher in the Rye.  It released me somehow, the book with the plain brown cover and yellow letters. I identified with Holden Caulfield as if I were the first person to read the book, which I’m sure is the magic that sucks in young readers to this day. Tomorrow marks the 58th anniversary since its publication – I can’t help but wonder if kids today can still identify with the book. Our world is so slick and immediate now. When I first read it, over 20 years ago, we weren’t so far removed from Holden’s time – hell, we still had a rotary phone. But can someone understand that sort of removed anguish in this day?

Honestly, I don’t think I’ve read the book since college. I used to read it once a year or so, but at some point it just didn’t sing to me like it once had. I’m debating picking it up again – should I leave it to my fuzzy childhood memories? Do I want to meet Holden Caulfield again? I wouldn’t say we were friends back then, but he was sort of a tour guide for me, opening doors to other options, other ways to live, other types of fiction. I wonder if I took that tour now would it marr what I’ve left behind, or would it remind me once again of where I could go?


more independence July 14, 2009

Filed under: life,today in history — mspolymath @ 9:24 am
A little more powder, perhaps?

A little more powder, perhaps?

It’s been 220 years since the original Bastille Day. There’s a lot of hoopla around this simple prison break – after all, they only sprung seven people. Still, Viva La Revolution!

When I was 16 I spent the summer in a little village outside of Tours, France and got to experience the French Bastille celebration firsthand. I remember stumbling around the cobblestone streets of the oldest part of Tours, Medieval steeples and spires jutting into the sky, haloed by fireworks. I know I was tipsy, but the most vivid image is of a little man dressed in drag – as Marie Antoinette, bien sûr. My first real live little person AND drag queen, all rolled into one.  Not to get all symbolic, but I suppose that summer is when my own personal revolution really kicked in – I realized I could go anywhere and do anything. It’s strange how I lose sight of that so often. I consider myself fiercely independent, yet the beacon of possibilities is so often lost in the sludge of the day-to-day. I think as I get older I’ve learned to push aside the glimmer in order to just get shit done, but I’m sort of through with all of that. I’m ready to rebel again.


Semper Fi July 10, 2009

Filed under: today in history — mspolymath @ 7:44 am
My grandparents, Bob and Dona Petsel.

My grandparents, Bob and Dona Petsel.

Tomorrow marks the 211th birthday of the Marines. The U.S. Marine Corps was created by an act of Congress on July 11, 1798.

My grandpa Bob and his brother Joe were Marines.  My cousins Justin and David are Marines; my cousin Robert will return to boot camp and finish his training should his knees allow it.  My cousin Maria is a Marine wife, and my Aunt Teri and Uncle Jim have been Marine parents to three boys, one of whom has served in Iraq. My friend Annette Stimmel is also a Marine wife, as her husband Brad served in the 1990s.

David at his promotion ceremony.

Sergeant David Dotson at his promotion ceremony.

I’m pretty much a bleeding heart liberal, but I couldn’t be more proud of these men and their families.  No matter what I think about war or the military, the Marines and the rest of our armed forces make sacrifices so pacifists like me don’t have to, and I am grateful.

Robert Dotson and Sergeant David Dotson

Robert Dotson and Sergeant David Dotson at Camp Pendelton


happy birthday bacon July 8, 2009

Filed under: today in history — mspolymath @ 7:39 am

Today is Kevin Bacon’s 51st birthday. I don’t have a lot of feelings about Mr. Bacon one way or another, though when I can’t sleep sometimes I play the Six Degrees game to try to quiet my mind. I’ll pick someone obscure and try to connect them back to Bacon in as few moves as possible.

In the summer of 1985 some neighbor kids and I pretty much watched Footloose every day. I never had a crush on Ren (Bacon’s character), but I loved the dancing. I loved the idea of standing up to John Lithgow and using his very own Bible against him. It was heady stuff for my young mind. And of course there was the soundtrack, led by hit maker* extraordinaire, Kenny Loggins. The songs were best showcased in the dance montages, a personal favorite being the solo fight dance in the barn. Legendary.

Kevin Bacon gets ready for his montage.

Kevin Bacon gets ready for his montage.

I’m not sure the world needs a remake of Footloose, but it’s scheduled for release in 2010.

*Note: the spell check changed the words hit maker to hot cake.  I can’t stop laughing at the phrase hot cake extraordinaire, Kenny Loggins.


the elephant in the house July 6, 2009

Filed under: today in history — mspolymath @ 9:26 am

On July 6, 1854, the Republican Party had it’s first official meeting in Jackson, MI. If those Republicans could see the party of today, I wonder what they would think? Not only is today’s party a far cry from the party that Lincoln belonged to, it’s a far cry from what it was when I was born. The party was founded partially on the ideals of Thomas Jefferson, a man whom most modern day Republicans would probably classify as the closest thing to a liberal a slave-owner could be, what with his not believing Jesus was the Messiah and all that. Hell, the slogan of the first Republican candidate for president was Free Soil, Free Labor (as in the non-slave kind), Free Speech, Free Men. Can you just see Rush Limbaugh’s eyes roll into the back of his head at the very idea of the U.S. Government giving away free land? Early Republicans were very much opposed to “sinful” living, including owning slaves, but also drinking and polygamy.  Like Karl Rove, the early party members used churches for networking purposes, though in those days Republicans were primarily Quakers, tight-lipped New England Yankees, Presbyterians, Methodists, and Scandinavian Lutherans. The Democratic Party held sway over the Roman Catholics, the Episcopalians, and the German Lutherans. My first thought there is that these religions/ethnic groups have a cultural history of imbibing, and while one doesn’t want to stereotype, it turns out there’s more to this than I originally thought. For over 50 years (1860-1912) the Republicans used alcohol (and the fear of the Pope) as their main weapon against the Democrats. They were fighting “Rum, Romanism, and Rebellion”,  meaning drinkers/bar owners, Catholics (in particular the Irish), and the rebels who seceded from the Union during the Civil War.  Of course as the Democrats moved toward a more progressive party line, working for civil rights, the two parties flipped in many ways, and the Republicans for the most part now hold firm in the South.  I still find it astonishing that the Republican Party was the original champion of the ERA – beginning in 1948. They introduced legislation every year until 1980 – even Nixon was a fan. But in 1980 everything began to change, in ways broader and deeper than we could have ever predicted.