Saturday, October 31, 2009

October 2009: A Meandering Potpourri

I have written before on the how I come to choose the topics of this letter. This month no topic jumped out at me. So, I am providing a true mix of musings and meanderings.

Quicksand, Amnesia, and One-in-a-Million Shots: I was watching a movie the other day. It is one of my favorite movies: Apocalypto. It is one of those movies, in this day and age of cable television, that always seems to be on. It is one of those movies that whenever I run across it, I will watch. It is one of those movies that I do not believe I have ever seen from beginning to end. Yet, I have seen the entire movie several times.

This film was a Mel Gibson production and takes place in the waning days of the Mayan Empire in present day Guatemala.

I have actually been to the Mayan ruins in Tikal in Guatemala and Copan in Honduras. They are quite impressive and showed a culture that was incredibly advanced in their understanding of astronomy and at the same time quite brutal in terms of human sacrifice. Apocalypto pays tacit acknowledgement to the astronomy and focuses more on the brutality.

Quicksand plays a large role in adventure movies. It always involves a chase scene when a hero is being chased by the villain. Either, as in Apocalyto, the hero falls in causing the viewers to believe that all is done. Or the hero avoids the quicksand only to have the villain fall in. In the case of the hero in quicksand, there is always a twiggy branch to grasp onto or a trusty horse (did anybody say Trigger?) that allow the hero to escape. In the other case of the villain, the quicksand either makes quick work of them with the audience thinking they got exactly what they deserved. Or, the hero actually saves the villain and brings them to justice.

Where does one ever see quick sand? It does not seem very prevalent. Sure, I have got my shoe or boot stuck in some pretty mucky mud, but never quick sand. So what is quick sand?

It is nothing more, or less, then fine sand heavily saturated with ground water. The sand looks stable but it will not support weight. The few websites I read stated that quicksand is found near river banks, coastal areas, and marshlands. Quicksand is rarely more than a few feet deep. People do die in quicksand but it is not from suffocation. Death comes from simply being stuck and dying of starvation or, in the case of coastal quicksand, drowning in the incoming tide.

Yes, people get stuck in quicksand. They get stuck because they struggle and wedge their way deeper in the struggle. In can be very hard to get ones feet out when they get stuck in the denser sediment at the bottom of quicksand. The best thing to do is not to struggle and get prone to float on the mixture, which is denser than we are.

Remember Teddy Roosevelt's mantra: "Walk softly and carry a big stick." Walking softly is sensible, but it's the big stick that could save you.

If you fall into quicksand, resist the natural instinct to kick your way out. That just separates the sand from the water, forming a very dense layer of sediment at bottom where your feet are. Instead, you need to stay calm and lean back, so you get as much of your body surface on the water as possible. That's where the big stick can help; if you can place it under your back and perpendicular to your body, it can help you float.

Courtesy of the Discovery Channel:

In other movies, another ploy is often used: Amnesia. Generally, a key character gets some type of temporary amnesia which becomes central to the plot. In dramas, the person with amnesia is most likely the witness to a murder or other heinous crime. The audience is held in the suspense of hoping the hero will get his or her memory back and solve the crime before the criminals do in the amnesiac.

There is also a comedic use of amnesia. In these plots, the amnesia is caused by a bump on the head. In this case, the poor amnesiac keeps getting conked on the head falling into and out of amnesia as the madcap plot unfolds.

So how common is amnesia? I cannot tell. I searched the web and found lots of information on amnesia, learned that there were many kinds of amnesia, and decided most importantly to you, the readers, not to get to deeply into the various kinds of amnesias.

There was a movie like story that took place back in 2006. A fellow named Jeff Ingram was found walking around the streets of Denver, CO. Authorities did not know who he was and while he was fully functional, his memory was gone. He was shown on TV and his fiancé in Olympia, Washington saw the national newscast and recognized him. He was going to visit family in Canada but never made it there. They have no clue how he got lost or why he did not have identification on him. The news reports talked about him having spells of amnesia before but this one being much worse.

The fiancé, Penny Hansen, was the primary spokesperson for the family. As of last report, in 2007, the then 40 year old man was falling in love with his fiancé all over again. I could find no information on whether they got married or not. Oh well, I guess the reporters simply forgot all about them.

Another often used plot ploy involves the one in a million shot. All is lost, the bank is about to foreclose on our heroes. Financial ruin and loss of lifestyle is looming. Our hero takes his last piece of paper money, hits a casino, and through determination (as if probability is altered by determination) wins a fortune to not only stave off ruin but to provide enough to live happily ever after. Needless to say, this ploy requires a Vegas setting of the film.

A variation on the one in a million shot is, of course, Luke Skywalker’s improbable shot guided by The Force resulting in the destruction of the Death Star and saving the universe from the tyranny of the Empire.

The Halloween Queen: It is the evening of October 27th. I had just gotten home at around 7 pm. I heated up some leftover pasta, dished out some salad, flipped on the TV and sat down to eat.

I was watching the History Channel because I was watching the History Channel during breakfast eleven hours earlier. In the morning, it was a show called Vampire Secrets. It explored truth versus lore about vampires. In truth, most of it is lore. This evening it was Modern Marvels: Halloween Tech. Well it is the week before the big holiday after all. This show delved into the business of Halloween: a six billion dollar business. There were segments on Knot’s Berry Farm’s 35th Annual Halloween Haunt, the business of costumes, a profile of Spirit Halloween, and the Castle Halloween Museum.

I was fascinated on the segment on Spirit Halloween This company runs all the stores that magically pop-up in empty retail locations around October 1 and magically disappear by the first week of November. They have about $7.5 Million in sales and 80-90% of that all comes in the last ten days of October. In 1999, they had 63 seasonal locations. This year they will have over 600! That is amazing growth. They are a one month retail business and an eleven month planning and logistics business.

The story that caught my attention and the reason any of this is in this letter is because of the Castle Halloween Museum segment. This museum in Wheeling, West Virginia has over 35,000 Halloween items including noise makers, noise makers, masks, folk art, toys, candy, and almost anything else you can think of.

The Castle Halloween Museum is run by a lady, officially the curator and owner, who is dubbed the Halloween Queen. This caught my attention because we used to decorate our Connecticut house so much my wife, Judy, was called the Queen of Halloween by the neighbors. Then they said narrator gave the Queens name: Pamela Apkarian-Russell. Imagine that, the Halloween Queen was Armenian and she looked every bit of it too!

I perused the Castle Halloween website ( and learned a bit more about Pamela Apkarian-Russell. She is authored several books, is a deltiologist (collector of postcards), appraiser, public speaker, and story teller. Of her nine books, five are Halloween related and two are on collectables. Two of her books are part of the Arcadia Publishing Images of America series. The first published in 1997 is Around Swanzey about six communities in southwest New Hampshire. The second book published in 2000 is The Armenians of Worcester. The Halloween Queen is indeed proud of her Armenian heritage. I will have to scoop up a copy of The Armenians of Worcester, perhaps the oldest Armenian community in the United States.

Milton Supman (1926 – 2009): Milton Supman passed away on October 23, 2009. Milton Supman? I never knew that was his name until I read an obituary. I knew him by his stage name: Soupy Sales.

I woke up early on October 23rd. I had to catch a plan to go to Washington, DC. We were attending the engagement party of Ani Jerikian and Vicken Khachadourian. I was catching a 9:20 flight in order to spend time with my son Aram and his lovely bride of one month, Anoush.

I got on-line to check to see if my flight was on time. It was. While on-line, I did a quick check of e-mail. I noticed that my grade school friend David Ouzounian (a reader of this letter) had sent an e-mail with a foreboding title: In Memoriam. I had wondered who had passed away. There was nothing in the e-mail but a youtube link - Of course, I clicked on it and was delighted and saddened to see a clip from The Soupy Sales Show, circa, I am guessing, the early1960s. I did not know that old Soupy shows were on youtube. I was saddened because had meant that Soupy had passed on. I watched the entire 8:14 minute clip. It was classic and funny.

Pookie the lion, actually a lion puppet, popped in the window as he always did and was lip-syncing Mumbles a lovely jazzy scat number by the Oscar Peterson Trio. It was classic Pookie and featured some of the great dead pan looks from Soupy. I loved it. It took me back to my youth. I was glad Dave had shared it.

Soupy was born in North Carolina but had a most definite Detroit connection with people of my generation. He had a show, Lunch with Soupy, on the ABC affiliate WXYZ from 1953 until 1960 when he went to Los Angeles and then to New York where he gained national fame with a late afternoon show using the same format he had developed and perfected while he was in Detroit.

Lunch with Soupy in Detroit and later The Soupy Sales Show in New York were both kids shows. These were live TV shows, as a lot of television was in those days. Soupy entertained the kids with his goofy antics, his animal puppets including Pookie and his two dogs, the gruff White Fang and the loveable Black Tooth. We would laugh, most certainly, at the pies in the face, for which he was most famous. But Soupy also appealed to the parents delivering comedy on two levels. I never really got much of the adult humor but relish them now in the clips that are on line. Watch the clip in the above link and you will see exactly what I mean.

Truth be told, I was not happy when Soupy left Detroit. A noon fixture in my life was taken away. I did not understand it and did not like it one little bit. It may have been my first lesson in realizing I was living in a world of constant change. It just did not make sense to me.

Soupy went on to be fixture on shows like What’s My Line and others. He was a regular guest on The Tonight Show and was even the guest host sometimes. His hair style changed with the times. Yet, always, there were two constants: the dead pan look and the pies. The New York Times obituary reported that “Some 20,000 pies were hurled at Soupy Sales or at visitors to his TV shows in the 1950s and ’60s, by his own count.”

I used to watch Soupy every day I could or, at least, every day my Mother would let me. Why not every day? As she would tell you today, both Soupy and The Three Stooges, my favorite shows, had an effect on me. I would get pretty wound up and act quite silly. If I got too silly, she would cut off the source of source of the silly energy and not let me watch the shows. Her advanced techniques in behavior modification worked and to this day I can pretend to be serious and well mannered for short periods of time!

RIP Soupy and thanks for all great shows and memories.