Four and a half years ago, on my first transcontinental tour, we stopped in the town of Stockholm, WI for great pie. I wandered into an Amish furniture store and sat in a rocking chair that felt like it was made for me.

I couldn’t figure out how to carry the chair on my bike and briefly considered asking my wife to drive to Stockholm to get it.

Four years later, riding through Stockholm again, I went into the same store. As I was about to sit in the chair, another shopper warned me not to. I asked why and he said, “because you’ll never want to get out of it.” I said that was the point and had a seat. This time I told the shop owner that I would be back but I still had 1700 miles to ride so it would be a while. Being a newly-retired person, a rocker on the front porch was exactly what I needed.

After the trip, I cleaned out my front porch and made the trip back to Stockholm. The shop was closed. I emailed the owner and he said he was only open on weekends. (It had been Monday both times we’d stopped there on the tour.)

A series of emails ensued. By the time a weekend arrived that I could make the trip, he had no chair and wouldn’t have another until late April. I checked in and he had three of them and would be open Friday from noon to three, so I made the 440 mile round trip for more pie and the chair now sits on my front porch. As I approached the Mississippi River, the sky turned dark. Headlights came on. Occasional spitting rain was just enough to water-spot the windshield. Fifteen miles short of Stockholm, lightning split the sky and the rain came down hard enough that the wipers had trouble keeping up even on high. I was glad I was not on my bike. It was also 20 degrees cooler here than at home. The rain let up so I could load the chair into the van.

After 440 miles of driving, I needed a beer (Capital Brewery Maibock, in case you wondered), so the chair got its first trial before I made dinner. The next morning it hosted me for my morning coffee and newspaper. While this chair isn’t the absolutely perfect chair that I sat in last summer, it is pretty darn good. The seating area and back are steam-bent white oak (they had one in walnut this time as well) so there is good lumbar support. The darker wood is hickory. The quarter-sawn oak table that I got with it is perfect to hold a beer or a cup of coffee. The shop called it a plant stand, but what do they know?

Now I’m ready to retire.

Harry Belafonte and Ed Sullivan vs Joe McCarthy

I learned something new since last week’s post honoring Harry Belafonte. According to John Nichols, writing in the Cap Times, Belafonte was aligned with Paul Robeson (singer, actor, anti-racist, and activist). Both supported Henry Wallace in the 1948 presidential race on the Progressive Party ticket. [It was Wallace who said, while Vice President under FDR, “The American fascists are most easily recognized by their deliberate perversion of truth and fact. Their newspapers and propaganda carefully cultivate every fissure of disunity .…They claim to be super-patriots, but they would destroy every liberty guaranteed by the Constitution. They demand free enterprise, but are the spokesmen for monopoly and vested interest. Their final objective toward which all their deceit is directed is to capture political power so that, using the power of the state and the power of the market simultaneously, they may keep the common man in eternal subjection.”   – April 9, 1944. This may have something to do with why he was replaced on the ticket for the 1944 election.]

Robeson was infamously blacklisted and his passport seized. Belafonte was blacklisted as well. When he was due to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show, Sullivan was informed that he was blacklisted. Sullivan met with Belafonte and read the charges against him. Belafonte confirmed that he had done those things, “and there’s a lot of things that aren’t on that list that should be on that list that I have done and will continue to do.” He continued, as he told PBS in 1998, “If, as an American and as a human being, I lend my energy and my time to end hate, to end racism, to look for a better day for all of us, to look to that America, which was defended by Lincoln, and that had been created by the founding fathers like Thomas Jefferson and others, I think that I stand guilty of moving in that cadence. That’s what I’m charged with, and I stand guilty. And the choice between giving up that commitment for the privilege of being on your program doesn’t equate. I’d love to have had a chance to sing to the American people to have your platform. But, hey, I guess you can’t have it all. Thank you. And I walked.”

Sullivan did not cancel the appearance, and Belafonte appeared on his show ten times in the next ten years.

Harry Belafonte

I grew up with Harry Belafonte’s music. Among the first albums I remember hearing was “Belafonte Returns to Carnegie Hall”, released in 1960. Along with Belafonte I learned about the Chad Mitchell Trio, Miriam Makeba, and Odetta, and first heard the isXhosa language. At that same time I learned of The Limeliters, The Kingston Trio, Leadbelly, and Josh White; soon to be followed by The New Lost City Ramblers, The Weavers, Robert Johnson, Flatt and Scruggs; and by then I was hooked – with the folk revival soon to expand with new topical music by the likes of Bob Dylan, Richard & Mimi Fariña, and Phil Ochs. Delta blues led to Chicago blues and music had washed over me (and put me out of touch with my pop-music listening peers).

Belafonte lived from March 1, 1927 until April 25, 2023. Belafonte was a civil and human rights activist, singer, and actor. He introduced white America to calypso. Is that why we later learned of reggae and ska?

Belafonte also made it okay for white women to lust after Black men. White men were always allowed to lust after Black women – that’s how Thomas Jefferson had his children and biracial children appeared in the US – the progeny of enslaved women and their rapist enslavers. But check out this video of Belafonte on Ed Sullivan and see how the barely acceptable sexuality of Elvis Presley morphed into the acceptable sexuality of a Black man.

There is nothing overtly sexual in the portrayal, but here is a handsome Black man in a vest without a shirt. He is not portrayed as dangerous.

In 1957 he appeared opposite Joan Fontaine in “Island in the Sun”, banned in parts of the US due to its depiction of love between a Black man and white woman.

For those Deadheads who first heard this song as sung by Bob Weir, this is Belafonte singing “Man Smart, Woman Smarter” in Japan in 1960. It was released on his 1956 Album “Calypso”. While the Dead began performing this in 1981, it was first recorded by its composer, Norman Span, in 1936.

Belafonte appeared opposite Dorothy Dandridge in the 1954 film “Carmen Jones”, an adaptation of the Georges Bizet opera “Carmen”. Despite Belafonte’s career as a singer, his singing voice was dubbed.

For those who want the full effect, here is the album that introduced me to Belafonte.

While the visual memory I have is the “Returns” album cover, all of the songs on the first Carnegie Hall album are equally familiar.

The world has lost a great person, singer, actor, and activist. Harry Belafonte – ¡Presente!

Roller Coaster/Cuomo/COVID/God

Wednesday night’s ride was a roller coaster. We climbed 600 feet in the first five miles. That may not sound like much but, extrapolated over the distance of the Death Ride, it was the climbing equivalent of the Death Ride.

While the Death Ride goes

this ride went

Few people showed up for the ride. Maybe it was the tornado the night before. Maybe it was the dewpoint of 75 degrees F (24 C), which means even your sweat is sweating. Evaporative cooling only works when sweat can evaporate. Maybe it was the tornado watch in effect.

The sky started darkening several miles in, but I could see lighter sky to the west of the dark area. No big deal. It got darker. I flipped my cue sheet from the long route to the short route and checked to see where the turnoff was. Thunder rumbled in the distance. I saw the Highway JG sign and figured that was an even shorter cut. I made the turn. Lightning flashed in the distance. A few drops began to fall. I hit the steep downhill into Mt Vernon as it began to look like real rain. Back at the meetup point, a few people who had gone out earlier than I (or arrived later and didn’t bother to get their bikes out) were having a beer. I joined them and we had a good 15 minutes before the rain really started and we headed home. As I turned into my driveway, the tornado warning came. (It was miles away and weakening fast, so really was no big deal – unlike the night before. We got neither wind nor rain at my house.)

Roller coaster reminded me of a Doris Day song from 1960 – “No” – by Lee Pockriss and PJ Vance. Together they wrote Perry Como’s hit “Catch a Falling Star” and Bryan Highland’s “Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini”, so you can tell they were contenders for the Nobel Prize that Bob Dylan won. Of course, they were also responsible for “Leader of the Laundromat”, a parody of the Shangi-Las’ “Leader of the Pack.”

This video, while starring the Shangri-Las, is a parody of itself. Note Robert Goulet trying (and failing) not to laugh.

“No” appeared on a Doris Day album that I think was thrown in when we bought a console stereo. Those free albums were where I learned of the “classics” like Hugo Winterhalter and learned not to like musicals. I also learned of Harry Belafonte and The Chad Mitchell Trio from those early albums, so it wasn’t all bad. I can’t find a recording of “No” online (or even many references to its existence), but it (along with “Baby It’s Cold Outside”) celebrates rape culture and excuses conduct such as that alleged by (former) Governor Andrew Cuomo. Even as a child I recognized something wrong with this song. Lyrics include:
“Every time I let you kiss me, kiss me
My heart goes on a roller coaster ride.
And every time I let you kiss me, kiss me
I get those little butterflies inside me.”
From this verse we learn that kissing is not mutual and does not involve consent, but is something a woman acquiesces to; something a man wants and a woman lets him have.
If that was too subtle, the chorus says:
“Don’t you know
That a girl means yes
when she says no.”
Maybe Andrew Cuomo took this to heart.

Martha wrote of Covidiots today. Another person made the news for dying after thinking that COVID was a hoax and another died thinking God would save him. It reminded me of a story from Hurricane Katrina…

A woman sat alone in her house as the floodwaters rose. A boat pulled up to her window and offered to help her evacuate. She said, “No thanks. God will save me.” The floodwaters continued to rise. She climbed the stairs to the second floor. A boat came by, evacuating the neighborhood. She said, “No thanks. God will save me.” The waters continued to rise. She climbed out on her roof. As she clung to the chimney amidst the rising waters, a helicopter lowered a basket to her. She yelled up, “No thanks! God will save me!” As the water rose up to her chin, she cried out, “God! What have I done? Why won’t you save me from this flood?” God answered, “I already sent you two boats and a helicopter. What more do you want?”

The COVID census is rising in the hospital where I work. My next tour of duty comes as soon as my intern graduates (in two weeks). Stay tuned. Happy Friday the 13th.