Proposed Cover Design by Eugene B. Bergmann
Photo Courtesy of Steve Glazer and Bill Ek
2907 Cleveland Street, Hammond, Indiana,
where Jean Shepherd spent most of his years
as a kid. In his stories of being a kid,
he frequently describes the house.
Recent photo, courtesy of Steve Farkas.
• • •
I WAS THIS KID, SEE
JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES
Selected and edited by Eugene B. Bergmann
Other books by Eugene B. Bergmann
Shep’s Army—Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles (Transcriber &Editor)
Excelsior, You Fathead! The Art and Enigma of Jean Shepherd
This book is dedicated to the kid-hood of my kids, of my wife, myself,
and all kids everywhere including that of the invented kid, Ralphie.
“I was this kid, see.” — Jean Shepherd introducing countless kid stories.
But we are the sum of all the moments of our lives–all that is
ours is in them: we cannot escape or conceal it. If the writer has
used the clay of life to make his book, he has only used what all
men must, what none can keep from using. Fiction is not fact, but
fiction is fact selected and understood, fiction is fact arranged
and charged with purpose.
–From “To the Reader,”
beginning Thomas Wolfe’s Look Homeward, Angel
“I spent the afternoon musing on Life. If you come to think of it,
what a queer thing Life is! So unlike anything else, don’t you know,
JULY 26, 2016, JEAN SHEPHERD WOULD HAVE BEEN 95, AND SEVERAL WEEKS AGO I TURNED 78. I THINK WE’VE BOTH WAITED LONG ENOUGH.
I WAS THIS KID, SEE–
JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES
JEAN SHEPHERD KID STORIES–
I WAS THIS KID, SEE
SHEP’S KID STORIES
or something sorta like that.
Happy birthday, Jean Parker Shepherd.
“The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants
Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League,”
(From Playboy, 5/1971)
Shepherd told this story several times. It, along with “Troop Train Ernie” are probably listeners’ favorite Jean Shepherd army stories.
In the steaming heat of tropical Florida, to help build morale, Company K was given the chance to build a baseball field out of the jungle. They labored mightily and achieved their dream. The army supplied balls, bats, and other equipment. They started to play, and it was so uncomfortable in the heat that they all stripped down naked.
During the game a vehicle approached and stopped a distance away:
I looked back at the car. It was. In the front seat of a dark-green staff car, a stone-faced sergeant in full-dress uniform sat at the wheel ramrod stiff. From the back window, which was rolled down, peered a face—an elfin, alabaster, pert-nosed face under a cloud of cascading golden-blonde hair.
When they got back to Company K base, they got the bad word. They had been observed—naked—by the daughter of a lieutenant general. They were punished by having to return every grain of sand and blade of grass to the way nature had intended—no more baseball. The story ends:
Company K was back in business. Baseball season was over. The long hot winter had begun.
In regard to this story, I remember Shepherd telling his radio listeners that he once got a phone call from a woman who claimed to have been the general’s daughter who had seen them play that day. For me, this is an interesting way for Shep to double down on his implication as to the tale’s veracity— I believe it to have been one of his most amusing fictional creations.
NO MORE ARMY STORY SNIPPETS TO COME
Netsuke are the small Japanese sculptures (mostly less than 3” long) that were traditionally worn as a “toggle” to prevent an object such as a medicine or tobacco pouch on a cord, from escaping the obi (sash) and dropping to the ground.
Hundreds of years ago, the first of them were comprised of a root or twig found and tied to the cord. Then, carvers began designing elaborate sculptures in many kinds of material (mostly ivory and wood), based on every imaginable aspect of Japanese life and culture.
After the Second World War, when most Japanese had given up traditional clothing for Western garb, netsuke no long served a function, but, among a few connoisseurs, they were a collectible art, especially in the West. Are they an art or just a collectible piece of apparel no longer used–tchotchke?
I understand that because of Japanese poverty after the War, one could buy a handful of fine netsuke for a couple of dollars, and in the West they were cheaply sold in small groups. Now, even an undistinguished real one costs hundreds of dollars. Highly regarded ones—ones I now covet and can’t afford–cost thousands. (Modern ones, mostly realistically carved figurines made in China and sold on ebay, can be bought for well under ten dollars. Occasionally a decent one, reasonably inexpensive, can be found among the thousands of cheap modern ones.)
Decades after the prices went up, before I knew what it was, but intrigued by an ivory frog on a lotus seed pod for sale at the members’ auction of the Japanese woodblock print society I belonged to, I bid and won. I found out it was a “netsuke.” So began my fascination, even though that first one was nowhere near “quality.” (The top side is nice but the underneath is very crudely carved.)
The next photo shows some of mine. Over the years I bought a few rather cheap ones, and became especially interested in the great variety of depictions of the shi-shi dog. One could make an impressive collection just with varieties of poses and styles of shi-shi.
Some of my netsuke, including three ivory shi shi
roughly datable by their styles:
upper left 18th C., missing front legs;
lower left 19th C., some detail rubbed smooth with wear;
far right 20th C., apparently carved with an electric Dremel tool.
The better, more classical netsuke, are carved in a compact form so that when worn, there are no parts that might easily break off. (There are some, very fine and revered netsuke that are very long and thin human figures, that contradict the previous statement.) I like to hold the compact ones in my hand and feel their form, somewhat like a clenched fist!
In addition to owning illustrated books on the subject, I’ve photocopied and compiled hundreds of my favorite images organized by subject matter. Here are a few: two pages of shi-shi; a page each of frogs; tigers; stag horn material (including those formed by cutting the horn near its base, thus leaving the stag’s hair for the carved head); rats, showing one of the most popular forms–especially in the middle row–two by Masanao. I have one carved by the last, 20th century descendant of the Masanao family of carvers.
THE AMA AND THE SQUID
One day, in one of those Fifth Avenue stores that sell overpriced stuff to tourists, I encountered among some modern netsuke, one of a squid and Japanese fisher-woman (ama) entwined in a compact embrace. I bought it for too much.
“Ama and Squid”
Eventually, in a photo book of netsuke masterpieces, I encountered the authentic, 18th C. unsigned one of elephant ivory with inlaid eyes and I realized that mine was a diminutive and crude knock-off. Through a contact in the relatively small field of netsuke enthusiasts, I got to visit the owner of the original at his Park Avenue apartment. He took me to his bank and, in the deposit-box vault, he showed it to me and let me hold (and fondle) it–and see the reverse side, which had not been publicly shown. I was surprised that the back was not voluptuously rounded but somewhat concave.
For the Journal of the International Netsuke Collectors Society I’d earlier written and had published, an article describing the original, just based on its photograph. The original, I’d discovered—unusually large at over 5” long–is widely considered the finest netsuke known. The owner said it would be the last one he’d ever sell.
About three years after my article appeared, a full-page ad by the owner of the journal that had published my article, showed the ama and squid at the-then highest price ever offered for a netsuke, $250,000. I don’t know why it was for sale or what it sold for. (As the journal owner was also the owner of the dealership selling the netsuke, I wonder if my innocently written article had helped boost the price.) More important than the price, I had held and fondled the piece that I (and, I assume, most netsuke connoisseurs), consider the ultimate masterpiece in the field. The final paragraph of my published article may prove illuminating:
What we have then is living, sensuous, aesthetically organized form and texture, a sculptor’s rendition of sexuality in phallic shape, an image of sensuality which, the squid shows us by example, we can both see and fondle. But we, mere flesh and blood in our “real” world, can only participate second-hand in the ama and squid’s artistically imagined ivory world. Yet what esthetic and salacious pleasure it must have been for those fortunate, anonymous, Edo-period Japanese gentlemen owners of this piece, to handle this part of their public apparel whenever they felt the desire—and to have it dangle pendulously from their prim kimonos.
Note to anyone not appreciating the ebullient, purple prose of that paragraph: either I failed miserably in the writing, or you should go back and re-read it a couple of times, snuggling up to it as best you can. If my comments and illustrations interest the reader at all, I suggest enlarging the page of my article and reading it. If I may immodestly say, I always find it stimulating.
I still enjoy my crude one and remember holding the original,
the reverse side of which I eventually encountered on the Internet.
(The two holes are for the attendant cord. Often 18th century
“Zinsmeister and the Treacherous Eighter From Decatur”
(From Playboy, 9/1970)
As of this writing, this entire story seems to be found on flicklives.com
Shepherd sets the barracks scene, describing some of his fellow soldiers and their part in the war effort:
…Company K, a hapless band of Signal Corps technicians that formed the very bottom of the immense heap of the Armed Forces.
Shep and Zinsmeister, among others, got passes and took the bus to town with a hoard of other soldiers.
The sidewalks were jammed from curb to doorway with a moiling wild-eyed throng of GIs on pass. They eddied to and fro like a pack of anxious mongrels sniffing for scraps.
They entered an establishment called HOWIE’S HAWIIAAN BAMBOO JUNGLE INN where they were overcharged for a drink apiece. They found a double room at the Chateau Elegante Arms. When they got to their room, they found that it was packed with army bunks and a dozen or more GIs. Eventually they became involved in a game of craps, and, of course, lost everything to a pair of cheaters.
They met up with some of their buddies on the bus back to camp. And lied, saying that they’d had a great time. Their buddies believed them:
Zinsmeister smiled his old, quiet, knowing smile. The buzzing in my head picked up a bit. I sat very still and tried to smile the way Zinsmeister smiled, like William Powell in The Thin Man, about to name the murderer. A legend had begun.
(35) ARTISTS’ BOOKS intro Part 2
Other precursors of the modern artists’ book include some of the unusual bits in the early novel that makes fun of the novel form, the 9-volume The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, a wild and witty burlesque of a novel, published in its first two volumes in 1759 by the Yorkshire clergyman Laurence Sterne. Among the self-conscious novel playing-with-form, is a solid black page, chapters that are unusually short, various squiggles representing visual representations of the book’s structure, and a marbled page (each copy of the book had to have that sheet masked-off and marbled separately and inserted into the book.
From the book,
the book’s structure
I’ve very much wanted to have a first edition of the nine volumes, but the cost is anywhere between five thousand and forty thousand (roughly), depending on condition and how much of a first are the first two volumes. I settled for a mixed set of third printings and up, printed in the later 1760s, for a hundred dollars. With some struggles, I learned to read–semi-fluently–the typography, which frequently uses an f-shaped letter “s.” Unfortunately, holding the volumes and turning the pages causes flecks of the paper to disassociate themselves from the pages and flutter to my lap and the pages themselves to crumble loose from the binding, so reading my treasure became a mess of gradual disintegration.
The marbled page from my copy
Another creator of artists’ books was the English poet, William Blake, who drew by hand a printing plate for each page of his books. As printing plates, they had to be lettered every word backwards so they would print frontwards. After printing the line block, as he’d taught his wife how to color, she colored each copy to his specifications. The melding of words and image makes them artists’ books. Small, simple pages in his Songs of Innocence, contained the poem and its illustrated tiger: “Tiger, tiger, burning bright….” For me, the most elaborate and spectacular is his Jerusalem. I have facsimiles of several of his books. He was an oddball and mystic–many consider him to have been mentally disturbed. But, as for artists’ books, he was a master.
In Network, the film in which the television newscaster, Howard Beal, having a nervous breakdown, tells his audience to open their windows and shout “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore.” The whole piece of business is the equivalent of Shepherd’s “hurl an invective,” except that on Shepherd’s broadcasts, he did the actual hurling, not the audience. Broadcaster Doug McIntyre suggests that “Howard Beal is Jean Shepherd.” California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, quoted by Time magazine in 2005, hurled an invective a la Beal when referring to his 2003 electoral campaign anthem, Twisted Sister’s invective against the status quo, “We’re Not Gonna Take It Anymore.” As the rebellious, if not quite as fluent, governor put it, “I was sent by the people. We are mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any longer.”
There have been several variations on Shepherd’s “hurling an invective,” including a few in which mere communicating one’s bond with other Shep fans—without a word said—is the point. In one, Shepherd tells listeners to blink their house lights on and off, and in another:
…take a white towel or handkerchief and wave it in the air. Just get up and wave it in the air, you know! And signal down the beach to the guy—you’ll see another guy a couple of miles down waving and you’ll know that he’s with you. (July 2, 1960)
Nonverbal is the exception—Shepherd fans are familiar with his pleasure in words. Some fans remember his fondness for the word “hairy” and have heard him refer to some music or activity as having “hairy vitality.” That his close friend Shel Silverstein, who sported a dark, unruly beard and head of hair, named his first album Hairy Jazz (1959), suggests that Shepherd’s use of the word is no coincidence. One can imagine the two of them tossing the word back and forth between them in those hairy, late 1950s. One might wonder but never know who first uttered the immortal word hairy.
When it came to words in all their manifestations—from the single word to the full-blown story, Shepherd was a master. We’re familiar with how he would diverge from the main thread of a story and, with only moments remaining, bring it all back home, concluding the tale. Here’s a variation I’d have to re-listen to many programs to confirm—it’s a subtle variation. Soon after Shepherd died, a listener wrote a letter to the editor of The New York Times, commenting on a major piece about him published in a March 2000, “Week in Review” section, titled “’Creeping Meatballism’ and Other Peculiar Riffs on America.” The fan comments that sometimes a Shepherd story was nestled inside another, one starting before the previous one ended. Useful resources for investigating such profound matters are the many thousands of Shepherd enthusiasts—I asked members of the Shepherd email group what they thought. Suellen, a frequent e-mailer, responded in a way I thought had it right:
“It was his way of linking apparently unrelated subjects seamlessly one into another, not only creating yet a third (or fourth or fifth) subject but bringing everything back together at the end and having it all relate and make some ridiculous kind of sense, making me wonder why I never saw it like that until Shep put it all together.”
As with most musings on the particulars of his art, that supreme egotist and Shep-Cuckoo, Shep himself, had something to say:
Thought I wasn’t going to get back to that [subject]! You guys just don’t realize you’re dealing with a pro. You don’t! My work is highly complex. It really is. Weaves in and out. Themes weave in and out. A vast basket weave of conflicting emotions and sensuous, subtle narrations, and you’ve got to know it! You don’t read James Joyce sittin’ there and working the Daily News crossword puzzle at the same time. No sir! (June 29, 1973)
At least for now, some final words on Shepherd’s words. He loved the old radio program Vic and Sade. There are many examples of the program’s mix of authentic and dog Latin used to comic effect. A rather elaborate one comes from Vic and Sade: The Best Plays of Paul Rhymer, edited by Mary Frances Rhymer, foreword by Jean Shepherd. Vic’s wife, Sade, who enjoyed poking fun at his lodge and its Latin mumbo jumbo, read from a pamphlet advertising a book of rules for wives of lodge members:
“Yp voomer in pluribus hunk.
In hoc signo veni vidi Webster stockdale horse.
Ip extra-curricular feep.”
End of Part 2 of 2
“BANJO BUTT MEETS JULIA CHILD”
(From Playboy, 9/1967, Partial Image)
The tag for this story says: “in which the chipped-beef eaters of company k are recruited for a short-order cram course in haute cuisine—and precipitate an epicurean insurrection.”
Shepherd, in a French restaurant, is reminded of his far-off days in Company K, a radar unit:
Radar, a highly technical pursuit, naturally brought into its embrace a peculiar kind of soldier. Many wore thick GI spectacles of the type known today as granny glasses,…
He muses over the terrible food served by the Mess Sergeant, Banjo Butt, as he was affectionately known among the KPs, and comments on a military food specialty, S.O.S.:
…an indescribable pastiche of creamed chipped beef on toast, justifiably nicknamed with the initials that signified the international distress signal, but only in their secondary meaning.
Shepherd writes proliferously about the lousy food, until finally, the happy surprise one morning. He describes the gourmet food for chow then and over the next days, all accompanied by “white-coated dining room attendants.”
Eventually, after much Shep-wit, the soldiers find out what had happened. Company K had been the subject of an experiment regarding how experienced, gourmet-cooks, who had been drafted, would perform for regular GIs before being transferred to a high-level officers’ mess. Of course, Company K soon got ol’ Banjo Butt back again with his scrumptious S.O.S.:
We were back in the Signal Corps. The rain trickled down the tent pole and spread in a widening puddle beneath my bunk as I cried myself to sleep.
MORE ARMY STORY SNIPPETS TO COME
(34) VIVIAN AND FROGS
Smile For Me, Babe!
Back when we were young, when I was really busy working on several Museum projects, my department chairman said I should hire an assistant. I interviewed and I hired. Vivian was smart, did well, and was cute and sexy. Eventually she was designated as a preparator, which meant working on various exhibits including my design of the Hall of Reptiles and Amphibians, realistically painting plastic casts of those animals. She found frogs unpleasant, even to look at, and asked not to be given any to paint. As she put it, “They gross me out.” We did our best, but we ran out of reptile and amphibians to paint except for frogs. What would we do? What would Vivian do?
Someone had a bright idea. In one exhibit we were to show a series of painted casts describing all the stages of growth from an egg up to a fully developed, adult frog.
A Diagram From the Internet.
First we gave her a plastic egg to paint, which was no problem for her. Then the next stage, then the next, up through tadpoles, one stage at a time. Along with the stages, Vivian evolved in her ability to cope. Finally, after painting all the others, she got the full-size frog cast to paint. No problem. She painted it.
Vivian and I became not just coworkers, but friends. We gabbed; sometimes we two went to the revered Julian Billiard Academy on 14th Street to shoot a couple of games of pool; when she said she’d like to buy a house in the Catskills, upstate New York, I told her about an elegant little vacation house there for sale by my close friend Dick. She bought and loved that house in Pine Hill, eventually living there full time before moving to Cambria, California. A year before she died, she sent me a Facebook note—I wonder now if she’d realized how ill she was and was reminiscing about some of the good things in her life:
Had I not met you, I wouldn’t have worked at the AMNH [the Museum], wouldn’t have gotten my house in Pine Hill, wouldn’t have met my girlfriend in the Catskills whose grandparents had a house in Cambria. Thank you so much, Gene!
Vivian and Charlie,
Her Beloved Dog.
“Hurling Invectives,” in a sense, is what Shepherd did nightly (which is to say, he spoke out, even though usually in the most subtle way), but also because one of his well-heard-about (but rarely heard) bits was to instruct listeners to place their radios on their open windowsills, loudspeakers directed outward, turn up the volume as he “hurled an invective,” meaning that he would hurl a disconcerting epithet out into the night. A major one that I heard and recorded from November, 1957 I transcribed in part on pages 210-211 of EYF!
Myrtle! This is the third time you’ve come home drunk again! [etc., etc.]
In later years, he would occasionally refer to invectives, once even hurling a minor example, and once promising one but not producing it. Other early ones he did hurl have not so far been found on tape, and any others he may have done in the 1960s and 1970s remain to be discovered.
So it was with great anticipation that I heard him on a recording of a 1976 program announce what he said was to be an invective, with an extended introduction regarding radio placement and turned-up volume. What he played, however, was the complete recording of an extraordinary, operatic-sounding, warbling, off-pitch and out-of-synch woman in overblown vibrato, accompanied by orchestra and chorus rending the Petula Clark song, “Downtown.” Yes, “rending” is the word, because Mrs. Elva Miller’s 1960s hilarious singing tore into shreds whatever she rendered. She had more than her fifteen minutes on such TV venues as Ed Sullivan, Johnny Carson, and Laugh-In. Shepherd’s joke of substituting this for his words-as-invective we all anticipated is a tribute to her performance. A tribute equal to his occasional playing of the warbly Arturo Mouscatini version of “The William Tell Overture.” That he played “Downtown” as a complete performance unto itself is quite unusual for Shepherd, who rarely allowed any music-as-music-alone on his program after the 1950s.
Elva Miller and a warbling mouse-catini
Mrs. Miller and Mouscatini obviously struck Shep’s funny bone. They strike mine too, but my hope for more real invectives remains, so far, deliriously unfulfilled.
End of Part 1 of 2
Inflatable Wacky Waving Tube Guys
There may be a few unfortunate souls who, though they often drive buy avenues full of cheek-by-jowl selling-emporiums, have never seen an inflatable wacky waving tube guy. This deprived populace has never had its heart skip a beat uplifted by a tall, thin, vacantly smiling, wriggling wiggle-guy jouncing in ways human masters of movement can only hope to accomplish momentarily and incoherently. Wind dancers, arms a-flailing, electric fan forever blowing up their fundaments, never stopping. Never, not ever, ever.
One might think that these stretched-out humanoid clowns, contorted beyond anatomical constraints, are totally boneless—invertebrate and bodyless. In fact that’s what they are. Their mindless stare and grin inspired—brought to life–by nothing but driven wind.
One might add their type of art to a category of kinetic sculpture that includes Alexander Calder’s mobiles. But mobiles have a gentleness, a soothing, Zen movement about them—while wind dancers are incessantly manic.
Some may find them annoying—their choreography a visual affront to reality and serenity. I, however, gaze entranced, wishing I could loose-jointedly join in the fun. If these human artifices, these artsy buskers, had a contribution-hat out on the sidewalk, I’d toss them a three dollar bill. Do they ever repeat themselves? Has anyone preserved their choreography in labanotation?*
And, if their disjointed, gangly moves remind one of Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dryfus) “dancing” in Seinfeld Season 8 Episode 4, find that on YouTube for an exercise in comparison-and-contrast.
Why does no one invent a desk-top,
inflatable Wacky Waving Tube Guy
(or a dancing Elaine Benes)
I can stare at whenever I feel the urge?
Sometimes my lava lamp is too slow-motion.
It could use a defibrillator.
*Labanotation is a precise notation system for describing
and preserving human motion (especially dance).
Labanotation for a sequence in
“Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies.”
I never would have guessed.
“THE SECRET MISSION OF THE BLUE-ASSED BUZZARD”
(From Playboy, 12/1968. Partial Image.)
In this story, Shep is in Company K in the Everglades [Camp Murphy, a radar unit in or near the swamps of Florida.] But he begins the tale years later as he watches a TV commercial featuring a pilot. It seems so glorious and it reminds him of a “bright, clear, balmy Florida day….” He relates that he’d begun military service when he was seventeen. [Department of Defense records indicates that he’d begun service at age twenty-one.] He says that he had been a corporal in the Signal Corps. [Actually a near-equivalent one, a T5.] He was an expert in the maintenance and use of secret airborne radar equipment. This, remember, was in the early days of radar.
He got orders assigning him to “detached special duty” with the Air Corps! A fantastic moment in his life! He reported to the nearby airfield and got a flight helmet, a pair of green goggles, and testing devices for the secret equipment to be tested in flight. He met the flight crew that he described as a First Lieutenant Ralphie, who “had obviously just shaded twelve” years old, and Captain Charles, who was just thirteen.
They got the plane in the air and it was obvious to Shep that the two officers were adolescent, manic, and seemingly incompetent. But they landed safely. Shepherd handed in his test results for the plane’s radar equipment, written out with his “phony figures on the clipboard.”
Before he realized it, he no longer had the glamorous life of an Air Force technician, but was back in Company K, and demoted to boot. As he encountered Gasser, his friend commented, “I knew it was too good to be true. Nobody never gets out of here.” Shep ends the tale:
Company K, at the very bottom of the barrel, slowly marched on.
MORE ARMY STORY SNIPPETS TO COME
Pacific Hall–More Margaret Mead
With more thought about my February 22, 2016 ARTSY post on my design of Margaret Mead’s Pacific Hall, I’ve added more to the story of Mead herself, and my relationship with her. Plus more on the Hall and my relationship to it. A small portion is a repeat of the previous post. I find it all interesting and I hope others will also.
Among my most treasured memories of decades designing exhibits at the American Museum of Natural History were my several encounters with the country’s mid-century cultural icon and most famous anthropologist, and the years I spent designing and supervising the installation of the permanent Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific Peoples.
As Senior Exhibit Designer at the Museum, I was told by the Exhibit Department Chairman that a major re-installation of our Pacific Peoples Hall would be designed by an outside design firm and that I would be responsible for its supervision and realization in its new space. It had originally been designed by a former Museum designer and had been universally criticized—The New York Times review was titled, “I Could Cry, I Could Just Cry.” That previous installation was very cold in feeling, largely because of its dominant white paint on walls and columns, the disorienting see-through glass cases, and the omnipresent ceiling lighting which shed a blandness that failed to distinguish artifacts from surroundings and created reflections and confusion. I think the museum’s administration now feared an unpleasant result from another of its own designers. I was dismayed that I, a full-fledged designer, would be responsible, in such a diminished position, for overseeing someone else’s design and having to do the clean-up job regarding every possible design flaw—and then be blamed for any unavoidable problems that resulted.
We held meetings with our Museum Director, curators in the Anthropology Department including Margaret Mead, Public Affairs administrators, my Chairman, and the outside design firm’s designer. I saw that the designer’s proposal had a major flaw that would have resulted in an anthropological disaster beyond anyone’s ability to correct—the design was to dispose of the scores of existing cases that held the carefully determined, anthropology-based organization that Margaret Mead had devised in her years of work on the old hall. Her work would have been replaced by five enormous cases, one for each Pacific culture area. In a meeting, I asked how the material would be organized in such deep cases, and was startled by the designer’s simple answer—the hundreds of objects would not be organized by anthropological understanding of culture, usage, and significance, but by distance from the viewer–small objects in front, large objects in back! I still wonder today if anyone but I, among those learned and experienced Museum folk in that meeting, recognized the import of such an anti-content proposal.
I surprised the group by unveiling my new floor plan presenting my own re-design solution, reconfiguring the layout of the culture areas, but not altering the organization of the case contents. The director gave me the chance to compete. My mockup using a portion of the still-standing old hall, by altering color, lighting, and other features, convinced all those learned and experienced Museum folk, and I was given the assignment as the new hall’s designer.
Margaret Mead had been a curator at the museum for fifty years, but she was known worldwide as a major force in anthropological studies of Pacific Peoples, bringing her knowledge and insight to her very popular books and to her widespread public media appearances discussing social issues in the 1960s and 1970s. She was a force to be admired and reckoned with. (I originally wrote “feared,” which was also true.)
When I ascended the narrow, winding stairs to her tower offices in the Museum, for the first time meeting her one-on-one to discuss my thoughts for her hall, I was nervous. My hands were sweaty and cold, a factor I knew she felt when we shook hands. We spent half an hour discussing the hall and my design ideas. At the end she commented that she knew that we would work well together and produce a superior hall. When we shook hands goodbye my hands were warm and dry. She knew how to deal with the underling essential to her permanent hall’s legacy. Or so it seemed.
For structural reasons, the hall was somewhat narrower than the old one, so the five large cultural areas would be reconfigured in my design, while at the same time I made them more visually distinct from each other. I told Dr. Mead that a few individual cases would need to be repositioned within culture areas. She responded gruffly: “Mr. Bergmann, I see that you do not have a sufficient regard for geography!” Immediate intimidation. I realized later that she had envisioned the hall itself as a stylized, yet geographically accurate, map of the Pacific, including the placement of individual cases! Had she thought that a case’s minor shift would consciously or unconsciously affect the visitor’s understanding of content?
Apparently recognizing how much she, the famous and all powerful, had visibly rattled me, the humble and relatively powerless, when we met the next time, and apropos of nothing we were then discussing, she mused aloud, as though speaking to herself alone, “Maybe I’ve been too concerned with geography.” Maybe it was as close as she might have gotten to a rethinking and an apology? I silently accepted her comment with its attendant little victory for the success of our hall.
The Museum, lower left, fronted by
Teddy Roosevelt on his bronze horse,
and there, towering above somewhere there,
Margaret Mead’s abode.
In the following months I would go across the street from the Museum and meet with her in her apartment, spreading out my floor plan of the hall on her living room coffee table, and we would arrange plexiglas model exhibit cases for each section of the hall’s plan until we were satisfied with all aspects of the design.
Then, having advanced to the very minor design details, I could no longer get appointments to see her. I learned that she was suffering from a fatal disease, and she soon succumbed. This saddens me, as I highly respected her and appreciated her importance in mid-twentieth-century culture. And, in my small way, I had known her and enjoyed the intense feeling of working with her.
To help me complete those final details, I had been assigned a curator as a Margaret Mead-substitute. We finished the Hall, but he must have been too shy to be interviewed for the opening publicity. That left me, Margaret Mead’s designer. I was interviewed for a dozen periodicals nationwide and did a TV news program’s walkthrough of the hall. Got my name and photo published hither and yon. The Pacific Hall, Margret Mead, and me—a plethora of ARTSY experiences!
AM radio uses amplitude modulation,…Transmissions are affected by static and interference because lightning and other sources of radio emissions on the same frequency add their amplitudes to the original transmitted amplitude.
….Currently, the maximum broadcast power for a civilian AM radio station in the United States and Canada is 50 kW….These 50 kW stations are generally called “clear channel“ stations because within North America each of these stations has exclusive use of its broadcast frequency throughout part or all of the broadcast day.
FM broadcast radio sends music and voice with less noise than AM radio. It is often mistakenly thought that FM is higher fidelity than AM, but that is not true…. Because the audio signal modulates the frequency and not the amplitude, an FM signal is not subject to static and interference in the same way as AM signals.
The foregoing originates from wikipedia.org. Take that as you will.
Most descriptions of Jean Shepherd’s radio work describes his major New York City station as “WOR AM.” This jangles the daylights out of me every time I come across it. Because from his earliest NY broadcasts he was on WOR AM & FM. In fact, from September 1956 and into 1965, I mainly (if not entirely) listened to him on WOR FM. My parents had bought an early AM/FM radio so that my mother could listen to the once-a-week social studies class in which I was one of four or five students, broadcasting from the WNYE FM studios atop Brooklyn Technical High School I attended.
BTHS showing radio broadcast antenna.
This Zenith is like my old maroon AM/FM radio with the big gold dial.
Most people who now comment on their live-listening-days, listened on little AM transistor radios (as kids, the radios hidden under their pillows). Another reason so many leave out FM, I’d guess, is that once people encounter the inaccurate exclusion of FM in a reference, they repeat it without realizing that it isn’t quite correct. This way of thinking (accepting as true while failing to check original sources) causes many errors in descriptions of many aspects of Shepherd’s work.
Shepherd was not happy when the Federal Communications Commission decreed that the world would be a better place if stations with both AM and FM outputs broadcast different programming on each rather than the same programs:
Oh—this is WOR AM and FM in New York. This is the last time we’ll be on FM, right? Ohhh, it’s a poor, sad note. This is the last night we’ll be on FM. [said with irony.] Of course radio’s moving forward. Now I understand we have some magnificent programming for you—on FM. I’m sure of that—[Laughs.]
[Sings.] I’m forever blowing bubbles. [Laughs.] Ah well. Ah well. Progress is a slow descent into quicksand.–transcriptions snatched from my EYF!
It’s my understanding that the quicksand of later-day WOR included programs featuring Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and rock-and-roll. Yes, Ol’ Shep would have been delighted (“#@^%*#”).
Listen to the station identifications on Shep’s broadcasts
prior to mid-1966 for the old, familiar announcement.
On some of the Limelight broadcasts Shep
has the live audience yell:
“This is WOR AM and FM, New York!”
On the stairway in the old Hayden Planetarium, part of the American Museum of Natural History where I worked for 34 years, there was a sign that said, TO SOLAR SYSTEM AND RESTROOM. I wonder who has that sign now, because the old planetarium, an official New York City landmark, is no more. For decades I looked through the window by my desk, across the museum’s public parking lot, to the green-domed planetarium, until the day it was scheduled to be demolished and they put up a shroud around it.
Many wondered why the old landmark building had to be destroyed instead of redesigned inside. Many mourned the old building while invisible crews behind the white sheets killed it and carted it away.(I scavenged two bricks, which I still have.) One of us mourners, who happened to be writing poems in those days, wrote an elegy and designed it into a book.
Just the first and last 2-page spreads in the book.
How many millions would be spent and how many millions to maintain the new technology to be installed in the new, modern, glass cube? Indeed, that the newcomer was stunning, was somewhat undercut in some employees’ minds when someone circulated a magazine ad that showed an unheralded office building somewhere, that had been previously architected in that same sphere-in-glass-cube-format. Well, still, the newcomer on Manhattan’s Upper West Side was and is spectacular.
Somehow, I dwell on the past, maybe because, before that old Planetarium’s demise, I got to design into it our museum’s installation of a temporary exhibit of original Star Trek costumes and other memorabilia loaned to the Smithsonian. That original had been installed in traditional rectangular cases set blandly one after another with no sense of ambiance. I had other ideas in mind, as shown by the entrance and by the central exhibit case full of costumes in a setting evocative of the Enterprise’s bridge.
We had very little time to build and install. I ordered the Star Trek type font and designed a blank form so my memos would grab priority-attention of the Construction Department. I also used it for a personal memento with our kids. (Junior Officers’ uniforms designed and made by Allison M. Bergmann.)
Stirring my memories of the Planetarium-past,
while designing and installing this exhibit eons ago and light years away,
yet garnering what must be the envy of trekkies across the universe,
I got to mock-fire a painted, wooden phaser set to stun,
hold in my hand Mr. Spock’s wax ear,
sit in Captain Kirk’s chair,
and touch a tribble.
SHEP’S NOT-SO-EASILY-AVAILABLE ARMY STORIES
Shepherd army stories not available for me to choose among for my Shep’s Army: Bummers, Blisters, and Boondoggles, because the Shepherd Estate thinks it may someday want to publish them themselves, including all those previously published in printed form: “Troop Train Ernie” (published in Shepherd’s A Fistful of Fig Newtons, Doubleday, 12/1981 as “The Marathon Run Of Lonesome Ernie, The Arkansas Traveler”), and four published in Playboy: “The Secret Mission of the Blue-Assed Buzzard,” 9/1967; “Banjo Butt Meets Julia Child,” 12/1968; “Zinsmeister and The Treacherous Eighter From Decatur,” 1/1970; “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League,” 5/1971. At some point in Shepherd’s past, “The Secret Mission…” was to be the title story of his never-to-be-published book about the army, a short story collection he apparently referred to as his army novel.
In Shep’s Army, I really would have liked to include “Troop Train Ernie” and “The Unforgettable Exhibition Game of the Giants Versus the Dodgers, Tropical Bush League.” I describe all five stories so that those who have trouble accessing them in other ways will at least have some sense of what they’re like in print.
(From A Fistful of Fig Newtons,)
(No Image in Book. Photo here from Newport News, VA:
U. S. Army Signal Corps, Hampton Road
Port of Embarkation, June 3, 1943
For Service Overseas)
Shepherd told this story on the air several times, each version a little different. “The Marathon Run…” appears as though it was meant to depict the transit of Shepherd and his Company K from Camp Crowder, Missouri southward. Because Shepherd suggests, and the troops expected, it seemed as though they were being shipped out to a war zone during World War II. Those knowing a bit of Shepherd’s actual biography might realize that the fictional company was heading to another army facility, Camp Murphy, Florida. The story starts:
The troop train had been underway for about three hours when the saga of Ernie began….
Company K was awakened two hours before revile and told to make ready to fall out on the company street. Shepherd wrote some of the usual expletives and bawdy innuendo found in his printed army stories–that he couldn’t use on the radio in those days. The regular personnel are there: Gasser, Sergeant Kowalski, Lieutenant Cherry, and Zynsmeister, [note spelling here]. Lt. Cherry addressed the troops:
“Company K is about to embark on a great adventure….This troop train will be sealed, since we are part of a highly secure troop movement.”
Under way, Shep, Zynsmeister, Gasser, and Ernie were assigned to KP in the incredibly hot, sweaty, chow car. After hours of serving, they were moved to the cleaning car to work on pots and pans, taking over from:
Three guys armed with hoses spewing scalding water and cakes of taffy-brown GI soap capable of dissolving fingernails at thirty paces and long-handled GI brushes, [who] struggled to clean what looked like four or five hundred GI pots.
Eventually, the job over, Shep, Gasser, Ernie, and Zynsmeister got to rest in relative comfort as the mess sergeant opened the car’s large side door, letting in some relative coolness. The sergeant leaves for a few minutes. The train has unexpectedly stopped and the men look out to see a building with the word BEER on it:
There are few words that mean more under certain circumstances. All the thirst, the hungering insatiable throat-parching thirst earned during our sweaty backbreaking twenty-four hours of KP engulfed the three of us like a tidal wave of desire.
Ernie is chosen to get off the train and buy beer for all four of them. It takes a while and the train begins to move and Ernie can’t make it back on. The last paragraph comments in part:
There are times when I awake at 3 A.M. from a fitful sleep hearing the clink-clink-clink of poor Ernie’s dog tags. Ernie, lost forever in Arkansas, wearing only his GI underwear, forever AWOL, a fugitive from a sealed troop train.
MORE ARMY STORY SNIPPETS TO COME
FULL COLOR NEWSPAPER WARS Addendum
(Black, White, Hermaphrodite)
I commented previously in my Full Color Newspaper Wars:
“The New York Times, from time to time, has published some esthetically lovely photographs. Beautifully composed, wonderfully colored.”
Indeed, I have subsequently seen and appreciated others. But the only one that I’ve felt compelled to comment on at length regarding its composition, is the large image that dominated the front page of the Times Arts section, illustrating a major article on “Where He Meets She: Sexual Ambiguity as Old as Humanity.” The subject is hermaphroditism as depicted in antiquity and specifically by a marble sculpture believed to be a Roman copy of the original Greek. What I’m sure enticed and disappointed many other Times readers previously is that the paper had only shown the back of the nude person, leaving those who hadn’t seen the original on view in the exhibit at New York’s Met to wonder about how the front view illustrates the subject. The more recent article satisfies our curiosity (not on the first page, but on the backside, page 2), in a smaller frontal view. By curious happenstance or carefully contrived page-layout, (which I noted as I was about to cut out the newspaper story for reference) the come-hither front page and the reverse side, page 2 article itself, overlap and together encompass the complete paper sheet of pages one and two. You should not and cannot cut them apart.
It’s the carefully arranged large photo that especially grabs my attention. It’s in color, but the subject matter presents a basically black-and-white composition. (My printed copy of the Times has it almost totally black and white, while the image on the Times website, reproduced here, has more warm tones, especially in the marble figure and the background tone. One might wonder which the photographer would have preferred–and, indeed, whether the photo was manipulated for publication to exaggerate the black-and-white contrast.
My description applies more directly to the black-and-white effect on paper in my printed Times, but also applies to the image as shown here. Central, the tones alternate white and black: moving from bottom to top we have, (1) after the gray base as bottom border, the nearly white pedestal top; (2) the figure’s slim black shadow and its base; (3) the white marble reclining figure itself; (4) beyond, the small exhibit case’s black base; (5) the white upon which the case’s figure lies; (6) the small black figure itself; (7) of that case’s clear, transparent hood’s top, the narrow white highlight, which forms a subtle upper border to the entire photographic arrangement.
The overall background of the scene is a medium gray. Acting as visual borders/columns in the composition, are two shadows of people (presumably visitors to the exhibit), who, either by happenstance or by contrived, compositional arrangement, are also perfectly positioned psychologically by both having their backs to the photo’s subject. (On the Times‘ paper, the two people-shadows blend more into the background tone.)
Is the entire image a kind of Cartier-Bresson “decisive moment,” a fortuitous happenstance recognized and captured? Too damned coincidental. Rather, I would like to think that, when snapped by the photographer (RICHARD PERRY/THE NEW YORK TIMES), all of my above description represents an observed, preconceived, and manipulated composition.
As for this photograph, in addition to so many others
I’ve appreciated in the Times,
I wish I’d taken it.