Monday, October 27, 2008

A look back at how we've been looking back

It used to be that when people talked about the way things used to be, they'd say, um, "It used to be that..."


"Back in the old days..."


"I can remember when..."

In the past few years, this seems to have been replaced with:

"Back in the day..."

Somehow this phrase has never seemed quite right to me.

For one thing, whenever I hear it I always think a word is missing. Do we mean "back in the day when such and such happened"? Or "back in the day of horses and buggies"? Don't we need a "when" or an "of" there somewhere?

And the singular "day" makes the phrase, to my ear, even more awkward, as if it's implying we're talking about a particular date. ("On Feb. 18, 1886, women wore hoop skirts.")

As a replacement for the previously mentioned phrases, it doesn't seem to add anything.

But maybe that's the point.

Maybe it's supposed to subtract something, namely the personal element.

For if you say "Back in the day" instead of, say, "I can remember when" or "It used to be," you're avoiding saying (or hinting) that you yourself are old enough to remember something.

Whereas with "Back in the day," you can distance yourself, as if to say, "I don't have personal experience of this, mind you, but I have heard it said that The Beatles created quite a sensation in the U.S. in the '60s."

Will I ever get used to this phrase? Am I the only one who finds it awkward?

I suppose those are questions for another day....

Congrats, but how are your clients sleeping?

From a newspaper ad for an investment brokerage firm:

"We help people make money and sleep well at night."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Just once ...

... at the end of one of those testimonial-filled campaign ads, I'd like to hear the candidate say:

"I'm Joe Blow, and I don't know what the hell they've been smoking."

Friday, October 17, 2008

Edie Adams and Jack Narz

Those of us who spent (or in some cases misspent) much of our childhoods watching TV in the '50s and '60s have reason to be sad this week with the deaths of Edie Adams and Jack Narz.

I suppose Edie will be forever linked with her late husband and frequent co-star, comedian Ernie Kovacs, and I also suppose she wouldn't mind that much, if at all.

Many people have called Ernie a genius. And that's quite possibly true, even if his stuff, viewed today, is mostly funny only if you remember seeing it the first time around, when the technology, trick shots and gags were new and fresh, long before "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" borrowed (to put it mildly) his style. (And 40 years later, that show seems antiquated, too.)

I've sometimes wondered what Kovacs, who died in a car crash in 1962, 10 days short of his 43rd birthday, would have achieved if he'd lived longer.

But there's no doubt about what his widow achieved, for while Ernie might have been more brilliant than Edie, she was surely the more mature of the two. His motto was "Nothing in moderation," and the debts he left his family leave little doubt that he lived by those words. Over the years, as Mark Evanier notes in his indispensable blog, Edie Adams went to accounting school and eventually got her family out of debt.

All this while being a fantastic performer: a very talented singer, actor and impressionist who knew how to be sexy without being salacious.

If you're too young to know what I'm talking about, go up to any guy who was around back then and say two words: "Muriel cigars."

You will probably notice that he is smiling, and you won't have to be The Amazing Kreskin to know that he is thinking about Edie Adams....

When I was a little kid, my favorite game show was "Dotto." (Well, maybe second favorite, next to "Concentration.")

"Dotto" featured connect-the-dot puzzles, which I was really into at the time. It was hosted by a guy named Jack Narz.

At one point the show left the airwaves forever. Years later, I learned it had been fixed. Narz, whose career went into a tailspin, denied he was in on the fix.

I've always believed him.

His career recovered, and he also emceed such shows as "Video Village," "Now You See It" and (a '60s favorite of mine) "Seven Keys."

Jack Narz was not the wittiest of men, but he didn't need to be. Like the master game show host Bill Cullen (who was Narz's brother-in-law; Narz's brother is Tom Kennedy, another game show host and underrated talent), Narz made a difficult job look easy.

All of us have probably had to go to work on days when we didn't particularly want to go to work. Maybe Jack Narz had days like that, too.

But if he did, he never showed it. When you watched a show emceed by Jack Narz, you always saw a guy who seemed happy to be there, happy to be alive, happy for the winning contestants and happy to have you in his life.

As far as I'm concerned, that's not a bad way to be remembered.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

So many writers, so little time

Last weekend, for the second time, I attended Bouchercon, the biggest annual get-together of mystery writers and fans, held this year in Baltimore under the extremely capable leadership of Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik.

I didn't get to meet all the people I wanted to meet (that's how these things usually go, for me, at least), but I was able to renew friendships with Julie Hyzy and Michael A. Black, two Chicago-area writers whose productivity puts me to shame. (I suspect that as I was polishing that last paragraph, the two of them each wrote a novel and collaborated on a third. For more about them, see my blogroll.)

I also met a very amusing Floridian named Bob Morris, another refugee from daily newspapering. I'm looking forward to reading his books "Bahamarama" and "Bermuda Schwartz." And then there's Rick Mofina, a Canadian journalist whose books include "A Perfect Grave" and the upcoming "Six Seconds."

(What can I say? I'm a sucker for mysteries by journalists and ex-journalists, especially those that feature -- surprise! -- journalists.)

In a daring move, I decided to step outside my comfort zone by volunteering at the registration desk for two hours. I learned that a lot can happen at a registration desk within two hours, including:

Someone turning in a cell phone found in a ladies' room.

Someone reporting a lost iPod.

Various people registering, including an author whose work I've always admired.

Someone turning in a lost iPod.

Someone complaining to me about the way the session rooms are lit.

The person who reported the lost iPod wandering by amid the current of attendees that is sweeping the hall in the break between sessions.

Me noticing the person.

The person complaining about the room lighting asking me to leave the desk and follow her so she can show me what she means and so that I can complain to the hotel.

Me trying to get the attention of the person with the lost iPod as the person complaining about the lighting heads toward the session rooms.

Me seeing to it (with others' help) that the iPod owner is reunited with his valued gadget.

Me finally following the person complaining about the lighting so I can see what she's complaining about.

Me reporting the lighting problem to the co-chair.

Not to mention a stint standing guard outside the room that contains the goodie bags that contain loads of free books for attendees. (Mine, by the way, included Sean Chercover's "Trigger City," which, if the first 60 so pages are any indication, is definitely something you should consider grabbing.)

I'm happy to have done my bit, which made me even more appreciative of the work Ruth and Judy did.

And now I think I need to lie down. Again.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

1,000 and counting

No, that's not my age, though I did have a birthday a few weeks ago.

Instead, the headline refers to the number of hits this blog has received since I installed a counter about six months ago. So I have no way of knowing how many total hits Murphy's Craw has received since I started it a year ago this month.

Hit No. 1,000 came while I was away for a few days, so I'm afraid I didn't give it the kind of buildup it might (or might not) have deserved. The visitor was someone from Pomaria, S.C., a first-timer, as far as I can tell.

This disappointed me a little. I'd been hoping the 1,000th visitor would be one of the regulars, one of the anonymous residents of places such as Rochester, N.Y., and Boise, Idaho. (Not that I had any prizes to offer.) I often wish the regulars would say hello, but I respect their apparent need for privacy.

By the way, I was away because of a small gathering of mystery writers from New York state. On Wednesday I'll be embarking on a trip to Baltimore, for Bouchercon, the annual gathering of mystery writers and fans. I hope to renew a few friendships and start new ones.

I'll be reporting on this after I get back, so let the breath-bating begin.