Radio scripts, 1939 – 1942


While browsing through the (unpeopled and lonely) stacks of the Providence Public Libraryrecently, I found a couple of gems: “The Best Broadcasts.” They are collections of the best radio scripts aired between 1939 and 1942.



Oh my god what nostalgia! George Burns and Gracie Allen (Gracie was running for President in 1940, as the nominee of the Surprise Party). Fred Allen, doing a spoof of Clifton Fadiman’s “Information Please” showDame May Whitty doing a grim little dramatic monologue written byW. H. Auden. Bette Davis as Nadezhda von Meck, Tchaikovsky’s sponsor / imaginary girlfriend. Clark Gable in a very funny romp about an adventurer marring a wealthy woman.

And Jack Benny!



(Now listen, Jack Benny was before my time, but he was still around in my childhood; he died when I was seventeen years old, and I remember feeling very solemn when I heard the news. I think I realized then, for the first time, that there was an older generation and a younger generation, and that one of these days I’d be promoted into the older generation. And then – uh-oh!)

The Jack Benny show had everything. He had his regulars – Don Wilson the announcer (who also read the commercials for Jell-O, which were part of the show, and are included in the script), and the young goofy singer Dennis Day, and Jack’s wife Mary Livingston, and Jack’s black butler Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, and the singer / bandleader Phil Harris, who was too cool for words (in the 1960s he was Baloo the bear in Disney’s “Jungle Book” movie).  Also Jack’s polar bear Carmichael who guarded his safe in the basement, and his ostrich Trudy in the back yard, who ate all of the bills Jack received. (Rochester: “Trudy ate so many bills yesterday that she’s laying eggs in her sister’s name.” I don’t even know what that means exactly, but it’s pretty funny.)

Hysterical, right?

Then there was a radio script about childbirth, from 1939 or so. I was a little startled that it actually mentioned having a Wassermann test (for syphilis). And there was this tender dialogue after the birth of the child:

Mary: Hank, do you care that it’s a girl?

Hank: No, Mary, that’s swell, I don’t care a bit.

Also there’s some talk in the preface to the 1939-1940 book about “the German race” and “the British race” and (get ready) “the American race.” Is there such a thing as the “American race”? If so, I don’t know of it. But, you know, I dimly remember in my 1960s childhood hearing and reading that same expression.

The most sobering volume is the 1939-1940 book, which covers a period in which Europe was at war, but America hadn’t entered the war yet. It includes an FDR speech in which he talks about the need for neutrality and pacifism, but also the need to be prepared for – hm – eventualities. (There’s a note in the book about Senator Borah of Idaho, who said that FDR was too convincing when you listened to him live; Borah insisted on reading FDR’s speeches in the paper the next day, to get them unemotionally. I know what Senator Borah meant. I don’t like to listen to political discourse; I prefer to read it. It’s less inflammatory.)

Also in the 1939-1940 book was this note about why so many comedy shows were included in the text: “It is a hard year, and it is going to get worse.”

And it did.

But there were still comedies on the air.

Coming up next: “Fibber Magee and Molly”!

From paradise to parking lot


You know I have a great affection for weeds. I grew up on the edge of a National Forest, and we had more land than we could use (my parents started with twenty acres of woods and pasture, sold half, and still couldn’t figure out what to do with the remaining ten acres). There was one small patch of weeds, probably twenty feet square, just off to one side of our house, on a little hill. My mother insisted that it be mowed from time to time, but I resisted. I rejoiced in it. It had everything: dandelion, chess, quack, vetch, three kinds of clover, plaintain. I literally used to roll in that weed patch on sunny days. It was a miniature jungle, just right for a little boy.

I visit my old home on Google Earth from time to time. The house is still there (though greatly changed). But I see that my old patch of weeds is all plowed up now, made into useful ground.

What a pity.

Even here in Providence, where people have been building and ripping up and building again for over three hundred years, there are still little patches of chaos. One of my favorites was on Angell Street, a few blocks from where I’m writing this. In summer it was practically tropical; it featured a couple of gigantic trees-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), that fabulous fast-growing weed tree, bigger than any I’d ever seen in southern New England, and at least two dozen smaller species.

Then, about ten years ago, the bulldozers moved in, and they plowed it under, and they built a Starbucks.

Another piece of paradise gone.

There’s another little patch close to our apartment, a hill with trees and flowers. Huge mullein thrive there, and weedy maples, and Queen Anne’s lace in summertime.

The backhoe was there this morning, ripping it all up.

Sing it, Joni Mitchell!



I have written about Apollonia and her sister Augusta. There is also a third sister, named (for the purposes of this blog) Agrippina.

(All great comedy groups come in threes. Think of the Ritz Brothers. Think of the Marx Brothers. Think of the Three . . . well, you know who I mean.)

Anyway: “So we’re in the hospital,” Apollonia says. “It’s very late. Agrippina says, ‘Go get me some candy. Licorice. I want licorice.’ I said to her: ‘It’s after midnight. Where in the hell am I going to buy licorice for you?’ And, very calmly, she says: ‘Go to a movie theater.’”

Apollonia and I are silent for a moment. “That’s brilliant,” I said. “I never would have thought of that.”

“Yeah, well,” Apollonia said wearily, “listen to this. I said: ‘You think I’m gonna go out to a movie theater and get you licorice?’ And she says: ‘Yeah. And I want that kind – you know? – with the pieces that are all different shapes. You know. With the little candies stuck to them.’” Apollonia goggled at me. “What in the hell was she talking about?”

“Allsorts,” I said, quick as a flash.

“What?” Apollonia croaked.

I was sitting in front of my desktop computer at the time, so I quickly Googled an image (see above). “Licorice allsorts,” I said. “My favorite. I loved them as a child. Not commonly available. Buy them when you can.”

“Oh my God!” Apollonia moaned. “You know about this stuff too!”

That same day, I went to two CVS locations, and a Bed Bath & Beyond, and a RiteAid, and two other places, and I’m still looking for licorice allsorts. (I’m sure they’re available online, but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. I want to find them in the wild, in their natural environment.)

When you’re a child, what do you want? Candy. But adults won’t let you have it.

The most wonderful thing about adulthood is that you can buy yourself all the candy and toys you like, and no one can stop you or say no.

I will find licorice allsorts. And I will buy a package for Agrippina, and five or six packages for myself, and maybe some bubble gum for Apollonia (she’s a big Bazooka fan, although she’ll settle for Dubble Bubble).

And we will all be childishly happy.

The world is full of jerks

I have hired, as I’ve said before, excellent students to work for me. They are smart, and often shrewd, and usually have excellent people skills.

But they are often not wise in the ways of the world. So I try to teach them the great lesson of my life: most people are jerks.

Most people in general. Everywhere. Not everyone, of course, but you never know. The people who call on the telephone, the people who visit, the people you work with. You just never know. So you have to be prepared.

My student employees are often astonished when someone calls and complains about a problem that (obviously) doesn’t exist, or that they caused themselves, or that isn’t within anyone’s control (“Why didn’t I get my letter? Where is it?”).

My students do their best to placate the caller, and they look at me pleadingly afterward: Did I do the right thing?

And I say, invariably: Of course you did. Those people were being stupid. You were patient and kind with them, and you listened to them. It’s the only thing you can do. Best of all, you didn’t tell them that they were being stupid. (I usually add: “That’s why I employ you. I’m old and cynical. I would have had a hard time holding back from telling them that they don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground.”)

My student employees are always ultra-polite.  I recently had a hard time teaching one of them not to call me “sir” all the time. (Although I liked it.) I know that, at their age, I myself did not like to be given advice.

But sometimes you just have to hope that a few words will soak through, and they’ll take heed, and remember.

(And I hope they don’t think I’m a jerk for repeating myself so much.)


Sometimes, when I walk home the long way, I meet a little black cat on East Manning Street, about a block and a half away from my house.

She invariably comes running to meet me. We have a little routine: I point at her, and she immediately rolls on the ground very submissively.

I don’t know if the little black cat does this trick for everyone, but she certainly does it for me. I choose to believe that Little Black Cat is the first recruit for my Unholy Army of the Night, and she will do whatever I say. (Well, she rolls over for me, doesn’t she?)

(Of course, this usually happens in warm weather, and the warm pavement probably feels good to roll on, when you’re a little black cat.)

I used to have cats in Tunisia. My housemate Catriona and I inherited a strange little cat named Nimmer (Arabic for “tiger”), who went feral every winter and came home every spring. Then there were all of the street / alley cats who used to come in to share Nimmer’s food. (I gave Nimmer sardines. I love sardines, and so did he. And so did all of the other cats.)

Nimmer used to wait until I lay down to read a book, then crawl on top of me and breathe sardine breath into my face. Also he had all of his claws, and he used them when he climbed on top of me.

But cats are cats. In North Africa, they’re allowed to run wild, to keep the rat/mouse population at bay. It’s not considered a good idea to feed them, as they’ll get lazy and stop killing rats and mice.

Here in the USA, they’re friendly and decorative.

(But, like the little black cat down the street, they can still be part of my Unholy Army of the Night.)


Partner and I have gone through a lot of coffeemakers. We did the espresso pot (which was my baby, born of my North African experience), but you really have to love espresso, and Partner doesn’t. We’ve done Mr. Coffee at least twice, but you know how mediocre Mr. Coffee coffee can be. Also French press (which is a lot of work). Also a percolator, for a brief time.

Now I think we’ve found something that works for both of us.

I’ve had the Keurig system in the office for a number of years. My boss loved it, and (though it cost a lot of money) he insisted that we stick with it. The coffee, I admit, is very good. You make it a cup at a time, and you choose what coffee you make, as there are lots of different K-cup pods (depending on what you purchase). And it’s really mostly very good.

Partner and I had a gift certificate, and made up our minds to take the plunge.

Well, the home Keurig machine is wonderful.

First of all, the machine is adorable. It has a dim blue light playing around it when it’s active. It makes a soft crick-crick noise as it’s brewing coffee, like a cricket chirping. It’s sort of adorable.

Partner likes his coffee a bit milder; I like mine dark. We have already discovered preferred brands: his is Green Mountain Nantucket, and I am gravitating toward Caribou.

And both of us can have what we like!

It’s Utopia!

We can have tea, or cider, or chocolate. I have ordered a box of decaf, as I know that more than two or three cups of strong coffee turn me into a quivering wreck. Partner has ordered some chamomile tea, for sleepless evenings.

And we can keep exploring. Every coffee and tea manufacturer in the universe – Starbucks, Dunkin’ Donuts, Twinings – is into this. They put out variety packs, so that you can try different blends and focus on your favorites.

Caveat: it’s kind of expensive. The coffeemaker was $160. A box of 20 K-cups (which equal 20 cups of coffee) is more or less $12.00, depending on how rich your tastes are. (Of course, if you were used to buying your coffee from Starbucks, this is a huge savings.)

But here’s the thing: both Partner and I are enjoying our morning coffee now, in a way we weren’t before.

Isn’t that worth something?

Think about it, you coffee-drinkers.

Trigger songs

Everyone who knows me knows that I can’t keep a secret.

But apparently there’s something about me that inspires trust, however misguided that trust might be.

Take Apollonia, for example. I have ratted her out time and again, often in this very blog. She squeals and rages every time, and yet she continues to tell me intimate personal stories that curl my hair. (She threatens me with violence from time to time, but I am fairly certain that I am quicker and more limber than she is, so I could probably outrun her if I had to.)

Take today, for example. I don’t know how we got onto the subject, but she began telling a story to me and Cathleen about her childhood, and a song her sister used to sing to her while playing the piano. “It made me cry,” she said. “It made me cry every time. Later my sister told me she enjoyed singing it to me, because she liked watching me cry.”

“What was the song?” I said innocently / craftily.

And, reader, she told me.

I will not tell you the name of the song. If you are over fifty years old, you would recognize it immediately. I didn’t know its name (and neither did Cathleen, who’s older than me!), but we both began singing along with it as soon as we brought it up on YouTube.

“Aargh!” Apollonia shrieked. “It’s giving me goose bumps!”

Within minutes, she named another song that had the same effect on her. I will only tell you that it’s a country song and a classic.

Now I know two of her trigger songs. I can make Apollonia cry anytime I like, just by humming the first eight bars of either one.

Such power!

But seriously: why do people tell me these things? They know I’ll misuse the information.

(But lovingly. Always lovingly.)


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