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Elder Music: Oddities and Novelties

category_bug_eldermusic Musical oddities, novelties and just plain silly songs amuse me – in short bursts, anyway. Almost all, I'm grateful to report since most don't have staying power, are shorter than three minutes. I have dozens of these on my computer collected for all kinds of reasons. Here are a few, not necessarily the best of a dubious genre, I found on YouTube.

In the summer of 1960, you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing Bryan Hyland’s Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka-Dot Bikini. I never liked it – and it’s all the worse because it’s damned hard to get out of your head. [2:18 minutes]

Among my favorite actors is Robert Mitchum, not because he ranks with the finest – he would be the first to say he doesn’t. I just like the persona he projected on screen which, I discovered when we interviewed him for The Barbara Walters Specials, is pretty much who he was off-screen.

He wrote, directed (it is rumored) and starred in one of best B movies ever made, Thunder Road, released in 1958, and he co-wrote and sang the theme song. Mitchum made two record albums during his career – one of standards including Thunder Road and another of – wait for it – calypso tunes which I have on vinyl stored away somewhere as one of my oddities for its wretchedness. [2:29 minutes]

When I was nine years old, this truly dumb song, The Thing, was my favorite and I was apparently not alone. It was a number 1 hit in 1950 from Phil Harris. The modern-day video that goes with it here is only mildly amusing. [2:31 minutes]

Hoagy Carmichael was on the radio a lot when I was growing up and although he is best known for writing the perennial favorite, Stardust, I was more interested in his novelty tunes when I was a kid. Hong Kong Blues, about a poor guy who gets in deep trouble for “kicking old Buddha’s gong” stands out a bit these days for the politically incorrect lyric in the first line, but hey – it was published in 1943. The accompanying video biography is a nice reminder of the many great standards Carmichael wrote – and I’ve always liked his voice; he sounds like someone I’d like to have known. [2:59 minutes]

Randy Newman took a lot of grief in 1977 for this tune – “bigoted” said people who are irony challenged. But Short People was then and remains a silly favorite of mine because it was released just about the time I met the only man in my life who didn’t give me a crick in my neck looking at him – he was 5’ 3” to my 5’ 2”. I should have married him, although not for his height. But that’s a private story. [2:12 minutes]

Ray Stevens made a career of novelty songs – tunes like The Streak, Ahab the Arab and Gitarzan among others. This game-style video that goes with Steven’s version of I’m My Own Grandpa is pretty good. The song was originally recorded decades earlier by Phil Harris (which I prefer) and you can listen to that one here. [2:42 minutes]

Mairzy Doats may be the first song I learned by heart; I have no memory of not knowing it. This is a fun version from Spike Jones released in 1943. [2:41 minutes]

I found this online list of 150 novelty songs and Wikipedia has another good list.

This Week in Elder News: 7 February 2009

In this regular weekend feature you will find links to news items from the preceding week related to elders and aging, along with whatever else catches my fancy that I think you might like to know. Suggestions are welcome with, however, no promises of publication.

Probably, if we each live long enough, the time will come when we will be too frail or fuzzy to drive. There is an excellent story in the Omaha World-Herald including good suggestions about helping an elder parent turn in his or her keys when necessary.

However, way too much has been made in the press recent years about elder driving accidents, as though they are the only ones who endanger others. As this graphic from the story shows, elder drivers have far fewer accidents per capita than any other age group. That’s not to say, elder who become incapacitated shouldn’t be denied a drivers license – just that I don't like them being singled out.


Marian Van Eyk McCain of The Elderwoman Website is the author of a story at Ooffoo titled Micro-Yoga for the Busy Woman – eight mini-exercises you can fit into stray moments of your day to help keep you healthy and reduce stress.

The first annual International Film Festival on Aging is being held in the San Francisco Bay Area from 20 February to 22 February. Sponsors, Pacific Institute and AgeSong Senior Communities say, the “film series illustrates the value of our Elders while challenging society's archaic preconceptions about growing older.” I wish I could be there, but 3,000 miles is a long way to go. Perhaps some Bay Area TGB readers could attend some screenings and fill us in.

Although I've wised up and no longer own a bathroom scale, there were decades of my life during which I was obsessive about weighing myself several times a day. I wish I had known then “The Proper Way to Weigh Yourself” which came to me from a Connecticut friend via his sister, Jo Ann Weisel in Ashland, Oregon.


Have you made your funeral plans? According to this story, baby boomers aren’t going to settle for a plain box in the ground or ashes on their children’s mantle. They want to turn those ashes into a diamond. Yes, that can be done. Information on that and other “creative” afterlife solutions are here.

As Washington takes on the economic stimulus package, I’ve become disturbed at the increasing number of news stories, editorials and other commentary – such as this Madoff cartoon (hat tip to Kent McKamy of Kent’s US Drive) – attacking Social Security.


The National Association to Preserve Social Security and Medicare takes on the anti-Social Security trend in this story pointing out some of the factual errors reported by so-called responsible journalists.

Two Washington Post contributors took on the arrogant, Marie Antoinette impersonators in Wall Street executive offices this week. Eugene Robinson tries to explain to them that their day is over and Harold Meyerson offers up a solution to curb outrageous executive pay that, in some cases, he reports, amounted to 10 percent of their companies’ earnings. Good, substantial reading.

According to a new study, 78 percent of U.S. senior households lack the financial security to see them through their late years. The researchers outline five necessary actions needed to be taken by the Obama administration to help today’s elders and younger generations ensure their economic stability. Details of the study here.

I have been charmed by the television commercials for a new animated film titled Coraline which opened around the U.S. yesterday. There is a nice slide show here with a bit of insider explanation about it from the director, Henry Selick. And here is one of the trailers. [2:26 minutes]


EDITORIAL NOTE: Virginia DeBolt (bio) writes the bi-weekly Elder Geek column for Time Goes By in which she takes the mystery out of techie things all bloggers and internet users need to know to simplify computer use. She has written several books on technology and keeps two blogs herself, Web Teacher and First 50 Words.

It's easy to make a link in a blog post on your own blog. You just click the little chain link icon and put the URL in the box that opens up for the link information. The question of the day is, how do you do make a link in a comment on someone else's blog?

When you comment, there's no little chain link icon to guide you through making a link. You can still do it using an HTML tag. Most blog comment forms, such as the comments form on Time Goes By, will accept a few HTML tags. One of those commonly acceptable tags makes a link.

First let's define a couple of terms. The HTML tag that creates a link is the A tag. In HTML, A means anchor. A link tag is actually an anchor tag. Bad nomenclature choice, in my opinion, but I didn't make the rules. That's why most people call it a link, even though it's really an anchor!

The A tag needs an attribute that tells what the link connects to. That attribute is HREF. In HTML, HREF stands for Hypertext REFerence. In other words, the place you end up when you click the link.

You probably guessed already what information goes in the HREF part of a link, because you do it in blog posts when you put the URL for a link into a link box. That's right, the HREF gives the URL.

A few more preliminary geeky details.

  • HTML tags are enclosed in brackets like these: < >. Those brackets are above the comma and period keys on your keyboard.

  • An HTML tag needs to be opened and closed. It has to be started and stopped. In the case of links, it tells where the link starts and where the link stops.

  • The actual information about an attribute (remember our link attribute is HREF) goes in quotation marks after an equals sign.

  • Put a space between the tag name and the attribute.

Example Time
I'll make a link to my blog. If I left a comment here and I wanted you to click a link to some article on my blog, here's how I'd do it. For my example link, I want the part you click to say the name of my blog: Web Teacher. The URL of my blog is

First, I type the opening part, the start of the link. It looks like this:

<a href="">

That gives the A tag and the HREF attribute with the equals sign and the URL in quotation marks. Notice that there is a space between the A and the HREF attribute. That's the only blank space. Everything is inside brackets.

But wait, I'm not finished. Next I need to type the words that will be clicked.

<a href="">Web Teacher

Now I have the start of the tag and the words to click. But wait, I'm not finished. I still need to close the tag. Kind of like turning it off. That's done using the name of the tag again, but with a slash ( / ) in front of it. The slash on your keyboard is on the same key as the question mark. Since the opening tag was A, the closing tag is A with a slash in front of it. Like this: </a>.

Here's the whole thing:

<a href="">Web Teacher</a>

Whew, I'm finished.

Computers are stupid. They only do what you tell them to do. So if you forget to tell them any tiny little part of that link, they can't do it right. If you leave out a quotation mark, or a bracket, or a slash, the computer is too stupid to know what you want. If you put in a space where it doesn't belong, the computer is too stupid to figure out what you meant. HTML isn't hard, but it is detail-oriented. Every detail of the link has to be right.

Some Fine Points
I hope you picked up on the fact that although I used capital letters to make A and HREF stand out in a sentence, when I typed the actual tags, I used lowercase. HTML is written in lowercase.

You do want spaces around the words you click so it doesn't run together with other words in the sentence. You do this with spaces before the beginning of the tag and after the end of the tag. As in this sentence:

Visit my blog at <a href="">Web Teacher</a> to read the full story.

Notice I left a space after "at" and after the "</a>" to make the words Web Teacher remain separate from the other words in the sentence?

You're Ready to Link, But Not Too Much
You're ready to show your great comment netiquette by putting in real links to the other articles or blogs you want to mention in a comment. Just one warning. A characteristic of a spam comment (and don't you simply hate spam) is that it contains more than two links. Many blogs have a spam filter than puts comments with more than two links into a spam folder. Nobody ever sees them.

Yes, nice clean and tidy links in comments are welcome, but just one or two.

Have fun making links.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place, William Weatherstone recalls a certain year from his childhood in Flashback to Corunna (Film Clips from My Memory.]

Age and Human Hairiness

[EDITORIAL NOTE: Two people so far have responded to the call on Monday for photos for Where Elders Blog. You will find Peter Tibbles here and NancyB here. Many elderbloggers are missing and we would all like to see where you carry on at your keyboard. Even if you don't keep a blog, you're welcome to show us your workspace, so get out your cameras. Instructions are here.]

category_bug_journal2.gif Following Crabby Old Lady’s whine about going bald a couple of day ago, Marian Van Eyk McCain of The Elderwoman Website left this comment:

“Notice how all this “going bald in old age” conversation has so far focused exclusively on heads? How prim we all are!”

Prim, indeed. Today, that omission will be rectified since we have hair (or not, at our ages) in all kinds of other places on our bodies.

Crabby might well have complained, in that previous post, about facial hair. The more I lose from my head, the more I gain, it appears, on my face as though gravity is pulling it downward. I have always had a dusting of fine, transparent hair along my jaw and above my upper lip, but it was so unnoticeable that I ignored it all my life - until recent years.

Now it grows longer, sometimes curling into my lip so that it’s an irritation impossible to ignore until I can get to the tweezers to remove it. It’s damned painful to pull out hairs from around a lip, and no less so from my chin which regularly sprouts a longer, courser hair or two. If anyone knows a better solution than tweezing, please don’t keep it to yourself.

Men, of course, have a long history of facial hair and can choose to shave it or let it grow. If there are changes in later life – annoying or otherwise – it would be interesting to know about that.

God, what a tedious task it is shaving legs. I never bought the Sixties women’s movement admonition to just let it grow. And for whatever reason, I never tried chemical removers like Nair. I just wept from boredom twice a week.

For the past decade or so, leg hair seems to grow much more slowly. An alternative explanation is that I’m not so concerned about it now that I’m not jumping into bed with a man with anywhere near the frequency of my young adult and mid years. But habit or some measure of daintiness keeps me shaving, just not as often.

As with my legs, underarm hair growth seems to have slowed. I don’t have an opinion about it; it’s easy enough to take a razor to it in the shower when needed.

Some consider it an affliction for men to have a lot of hair on their backs, but I had a boyfriend in my twenties whose upper back was nearly as furry as my cat. I found it quite cozy, although a lot of people stared at him when we were at the beach or a swimming party.

I hear tell that some men, these days, shave or wax their chests and come to think of it, I can’t remember seeing chest hair in photos of male models in recent years. I wonder what cultural change I’m ignorant of has brought this trend upon us.

I’ve left the body part Marian was undoubtedly referring to for last, discussion of which is even more taboo than female baldness.

My, my - how attitudes about women’s pubic hair have changed in my lifetime. Women now shave or wax regularly and it is, apparently, a social faux pas of some major magnitude for any stray pubic hair to peek out of a swim suit. There are even fashions now in regard to how much to remove or not. Fortunately, I’m way too old to care (bikinis are long in my past), although it does occur to me to wonder if there is such a thing as pubic hair fashion for men.

I remember a question turning up occasionally in my youth for which we had no answer: does pubic hair go gray like head hair? I have no idea if there has been any research into this and can report only that mine has not. It is and always was more red than the brown of the hair on my head until it began graying in my thirties.

I don’t know if I’m typical in that regard and I don’t know either if people – men or women – go bald in their pubic region as we age. In re-reading this, it is obvious that there is a great deal I don’t know about human hairiness. Perhaps readers can enlighten us all on this vitally important topic.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place, Sheila Halet remembers her father in My Daddy.]

Stolen Blog Posts

[IMPORTANT EDITORIAL NOTE – PLEASE READ: On Sunday’s Elder Music post, I wrote about using the same word for all security questions. A couple of commenters and several emails mentioned that it was a terrific idea to always use the same password.

There has been a misunderstanding.

It is not a good idea to always use the same password, especially on banking, credit card, retail and other websites that hold important personal information. In fact, it is impossible depending on the minimum number of letters required for the password.

I was referring to the security questions some websites ask when you register so that later they know you are you when you need to retrieve or reset a forgotten or lost password. They ask such questions as your first-grade teacher’s name, favorite pet’s name and most frequently, your favorite song, movie or book. It is fine to always use the same word for this purpose, but not for passwords themselves.

blogging bug image I am recovered now, but on Monday morning I was spitting mad.

Bill at prairiepoint referred me to a commercial, advertising-supported website called that had posted, in its entirety, my recent story about the Eee pc with no byline and no link to Time Goes By. Additionally, they had not requested my permission - as some websites occasionally do - and there was a copyright notice at the bottom of the page that anyone would read as meaning owned the material.

Here is a screen grab of the story on and as you can (almost) see, there is no byline, no banner from my blog, no blog name and no link. (Sorry it's not more visible, but the text is small and cannot be enlarged without losing portions of the page.)


There is no staff or corporate contact information on the website, so I wrote to the publicist whose email address is listed (I suppose that means the owners are interested in media coverage, but not in communicating with anyone else) requesting that the page be immediately removed.

In two phone calls and two emails from her, the publicist idiotically insisted to me that there was a link to my blog. It was within the story, she said, pointing to another blog post at TGB. Anyone working as a publicist who does not understand that an internal link is not a citation or byline let alone that copyrighted work cannot be reprinted without permission is way underqualified for the job.

Equally idiotically, she kept repeating that is owned by someone named Mallika Chopra as though I am supposed to know who that is and it would ameliorate my anger.

Later, googling around, I discovered that Ms. Chopra is Deepak’s daughter. I am deeply unimpressed and even if President Obama or the Queen of England owned the website, I would object to my work being published without permission and appropriate citation.

Most frequently, unauthorized reprints of Time Goes By stories show up on scrapers – websites set up by unscrupulous people with the sole intent of earning GoogleAds money. Domain owner names and web hosts are almost always hidden making it impossible to stop them.

Less often, but enough to infuriate me, Time Goes By stories turn up on “legitimate” websites as this one did. I surround that word with quotes because there is never a reason for stealing people’s work. It is not possible to happen accidentally and therefore it is always intentional.

Some websites and bloggers subscribe to the Creative Commons copyright method which allows varying degrees of reprinting, but always requires proper citations and links. This kind of copyright is always prominently posted on those sites. Mine happens to be the standard U.S. copyright. Either way, reprinting is an infringement of copyright if permission has not been sought and granted.

From time to time, I notice that some bloggers (yes, even some elderbloggers) reprint entire stories from other sources – newspapers, magazines, websites and blogs. Whether you cite the source and the author or not, it is an infringement of copyright to do so. In fact, even when there is no copyright notice, works are considered copyrighted when they are published.

There is, however, within U.S. copyright law, a “fair use doctrine” which under certain circumstances allows small portions of others’ works to be quoted as in this excerpt:

“In general, the less that is used in relation to the whole, e.g., a few sentences of a text for a book review, the more likely that the sample will be considered fair use.”
- Wikipedia

[Follow that link for more than you ever wanted or need to know about fair use.]

So far, I’ve not heard of anyone or any media corporation pursuing a personal blogger by legal means for unauthorized use, but even if you are unconcerned with that possibility, reprinting entire stories without permission is wrong, and sourcing and linking to the original material when quoting is the right thing to do.

Later on Monday, Ms. Chopra emailed to say my story had been removed and that one of her site’s “users” had posted it. A user? That begs the question, who’s running the store? Never mind – if I go there, I’ll be angry all over again.

The thing is, if someone at Intent had asked permission to post the story, I would have granted it. That’s all it would have taken, a polite request, to have avoided my ire and this blog post.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place, Alan Ginocchio (also known as Alan G.) has some thoughts on Sharing Your Passions.]


[EDITORIAL NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the bi-weekly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.

Category_bug_reflections The 200th birthday of Charles Darwin on February 12 reminded me of one of the reasons my business, journalism, is failing us and itself. I call it “on-the-other-handism,” the stupid idea that there are two sides to every story. More often, there are many sides. And sometimes there is only one side. But because too many traditional reporters still worship the gods of objectivity and impartiality, they’re failing to tell the truth.

For example, there is no other side to the discovery by the 16th century astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus that the earth revolves around the sun and not the other way round as the Catholic Church held at time and for 300 years.

But the objective and entirely impartial journalist would write, “Mr. Copernicus, who is a Pole, contends that the earth revolves about the sun but the Pope, who is infallible in such matters, says that’s not true; the earth is the center of the universe. The Pontiff said of Copernicus, ‘It’s only a theory.’”

I believe this sort of journalism is at least one reason why, according to a Pew poll, 63 percent of Americans living in the 21st Century, reject Mr. Darwin’s idea that all life on this planet evolved over millions of years. I would guess that’s a greater percentage of such ignorance than in any other civilized country. Most of these Americans would say, along with the Pope, that it’s only a theory, because the impartial press has faithfully reported both sides and thus told us a lie.

When I worked in Detroit researching a story on extremism, I spoke with a leader of the secretive, right wing John Birch Society, who was going on about the anti-religious secularism he believed was at the heart of Einstein’s theory of relativity. “Relativism means there are no absolutes, like God, he said. “Relativity is only a theory.”

I replied, “But the bomb worked.” I wrote that and it helped ridicule the John Birch Society to death in Detroit.

(My friend Warren Kornberg, former editor of Mosaic, a scholarly journal published by the National Science Foundation, offers this: “A theory, in science is not just a hunch waiting to be proved; it’s the most reasonable conclusion to be drawn from a mass of evidence so convincing as to lead to no other synthesis.”)

I have no quarrel with those who choose to reject science for faith or who believe in a religious explanation for their place in the world. Most Americans believe in a literal heaven, which is their right. But as a reporter, I object when they seek to impose on me or my children what I know to be demonstrably untrue; our glorious Grand Canyon is not 4,000 years old and men did not live with dinosaurs, except on The Flintstones.

The point is that journalism, which has the tools of science and reason and investigation, is supposed to challenge ignorance, not perpetuate it. And its job is to question conventional wisdom before accepting it.

Too often, however, my colleagues have not done their job. And part of the reason is “on-the-other-handism.” I think it was New York Times economics columnist, Paul Krugman, in commenting on why the previous administration got away with so many lies that led to war, suggested that too many straight reporters felt compelled to give both sides, as in: “The administration says Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction, but liberal critics say otherwise.” Or, “Scientists say the earth is round, but administration sources say they have evidence that it’s flat.”

Don’t laugh. Writing both or many sides of the story, when good reporting and your instincts tell you that one side is wrong, is what got us and keeps us into two wars. Theodore Roosevelt, who invented the term “muckrakers,” once suggested there is no middle ground between one side that says the grass is green and another that says it’s red.

But we continue to see this conventional journalism when Washington reporters give equal credibility to the arguments of Republicans who got into us into this mess, that government shouldn’t spend money in times of need, despite evidence to the contrary from most economists, including a couple of Nobel winners like Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz.

It’s as if reporters decide there’s no right side. (This fetish for on-the-other-handism translates to a fetish for applauding bipartisanship as a virtue and partisanship as an evil, as if one can always split the difference to find truth.)

But as Robert Fisk, the fine Middle East reporter for the UK Guardian writes, there’s more than bad journalism at stake when reporters “prefer impartiality over morality.” And it wasn’t always so, he said, recalling the coverage of World War II by reporters like Ed Murrow and Rebecca West. Was there another side at Nuremberg?

Fisk, who was in Lebanon when Israel invaded a sovereign nation to attack Hezbollah and destroyed much of Beirut, did not equally and impartially tell both sides of that story. His stories reflected the horror and immorality of the violence of war. Only when reporters began to tell us the reality of the Vietnam War did we begin to get out. Some day perhaps the world will be equally outraged, if American reporters summoned the courage to tell us what really happened in Gaza when Israel used horror weapons on children.

Today, a few of the best reporters, like Dana Priest of the Washington Post, and Seymour Hersh, of the New Yorker, have dug into how America has fought the so-called “war on terror” and uncovered such outrages as extraordinary rendition, CIA black sites and Abu Ghraib. If newspapers are failing, it’s partly because they telling both sides while a few reporters, bloggers and satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are finding ways to tell truth.

Recalling the writing of great war correspondents of the past, Fisk wrote, “These reporters were spurred, weren’t they, by the immorality of war. They cared. They were not frightened of damaging their ‘impartiality.’ I wonder if we still write like this.”

Not if we continue to report, as I heard just the other day on CBS’s Sunday Morning, that on the other hand, some say Darwin was wrong. My science journalist friend, Warren Kornberg, reminds me of Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof, who says at last, “On the other hand…No! There is no other hand!”

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson explains how A Coincidence occurred.]


[EDITORIAL NOTE: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Saul Friedman (bio) writes the bi-weekly Reflections column for Time Goes By in which he comments on news, politics and social issues from his perspective as one of the younger members of the greatest generation. He also publishes a weekly column, Gray Matters, on aging for Newsday.

Category_bug_reflections Of all the nasty, no-class acts the last president (I've already forgotten his name) committed was his deliberate slight of my friend and former colleague, Helen Thomas. She was sitting in her customary front row seat in the White House briefing room when the president held his last press conference. He refused to call on her.

Only a few of us noticed, including Amy Goodman of Democracy Now, who asked Thomas about it. She was not surprised at the snub, she said, for this president did not like her or the kind of questions she asked. Indeed, he hated challenging questions. Thomas told Goodman that she wanted to get away from those silly no-news nostalgia, what-do-you-regret questions, and ask him "why do you continue to support the killing in Gaza?"

And so this president once more insulted the press, in general, and this 89-year-old woman, who was covering Washington 60 years ago when he was dirtying his diapers. As far as I know, he has been the only president who was afraid of Helen Thomas.

Other presidents she's covered, John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and Bill Clinton, may not have liked her nagging questions, but they did not ignore her; more often they enjoyed the banter with reporters. And they accorded Helen the respect that went with her unofficial title as Dean of the White House Press.

I met Helen when she was covering Johnson in the Sixties and I was an occasional visitor, as a reporter, to the White House. I was reading the wires with her on the clattering teletype in the press room one day, when there was a Presence hovering over us. It was Johnson, who had come out of his office to read the wires and he asked us, "What's going on?"

It was not unusual, Helen told me. LBJ was a restless man, who came out from behind his desk often to talk to reporters, because he liked them.

But I'm getting ahead of the story. After nearly 20 years reporting in Washington, Helen had first come to the White House for the United Press to cover John F. Kennedy, who she knew as a member of Congress. She had covered him and, especially the doings of his wife, Jacqueline, in Palm Beach, Florida, as they prepared to assume the presidency.

It was during one of Kennedy's press conferences, when the questions went on too long and the president wanted to quit but didn't know how, that Helen began what became a tradition, when she called out, "Thank you, Mr. President."

Vivacious and pretty with a dimple in her cheek, Helen was a hard-charger, the personification of the old United Press, a more aggressive wire service than the older and stodgy Associated Press.

Her boss was the late Merriman Smith, who scooped the AP on the Kennedy murder in 1963 while riding in the motorcade then dictated a masterful, prize-winning account of the tragedy.

Helen suffered a personal tragedy after she married in 1971, Douglas B. Cornell, the White House reporter for the AP who had covered and was a favorite of Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1976, Helen has written, he began showing symptoms of what is believed to be Alzheimer's disease. She cared for him until he died in 1982, but she kept on working.

Although my stories took me to the White House occasionally during the Johnson and Nixon years, when Helen had become was the chief White House correspondent for the UP, I got to know her really well when I was assigned to cover Gerald Ford, who I knew as a member of Congress, and his successor, Jimmy Carter.

The press was lodged in the Best Western Motel, in Americus, Georgia, during the Ford-to-Carter transition. That's when I learned Helen had a great torch-singer's voice as she sang to my wife's piano-playing in the makeshift press room outside the adjoining Red Neck bar.

On New Year's eve, 1976, she got Ford on the phone in Colorado to wish him well. Carter in Plains, eight miles away, refused to take our call, which told us something about him.

Later, during my eight years covering the Reagan presidency, I often sat in Helen's tiny office chatting, and watching her type out her stories. Helen was the daughter (one of nine children) of Lebanese immigrant parents, who raised her in Detroit. And she's never forgotten her roots.

So she was in pain when she had to cover hard-line Israelis visiting the White House whom Reagan admired and supported. She could ask them pointed questions about Israel's latest offensive against Palestinians who had taken refuge in Lebanon. But her feelings never crept into her copy, which was always clean and straight.

That professionalism helped her break the gender barriers at the National Press Club and the good-old-boy Gridiron Club. She took to wearing red at press conferences with Reagan, when we discovered that he called more often on people who wore red. But Reagan continued the tradition of calling first on the wire reporters at press conferences. And Reagan depended on Helen to end them with her "Thank you. Mr. President."

United Press International, as it became known, was low on funds and curtailed Helen's ability to travel with the White House during the last years of the elder Bush's presidency. But White House reporters, including me, chipped in on a kind of travel slush fund, to help pay for food in press rooms on the road and, surreptitiously, for Helen's travel. Hillary Clinton, who didn't much like the press, started an investigation of the slush fund, which became known as "travelgate." It soured the Clintons' relations with much of the press.

After UPI was bought by the Moonies, Helen quit on principle. And eventually she went to work as a columnist for Hearst, where she is at last free to voice her views. But when the most recent president came along, he banished her to a back row at formal press conferences, and recognized her for a question only once, a year ago.

She might have lost her front row seat in the briefing room, except for the protests of the White House press. Still, Bush's press people treated her as a nag, and worse. Tony Snow, for example, accused her of voicing "the hezbollah view" when she asked why the US did not stop the Israeli bombing of Lebanon. It was a fair question.

But Helen gave as good as she got. She was the first, two years ago, to call our immediate past president "the worst president in our history." That may be why he refused to recognize her at that last press conference.

But he is gone. And Helen Thomas is still there.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Susan Gulliford reflects on a problem I have had all too often in Lost Car - or Just Misplaced.]

Growing Old and Bald Too

EDITORIAL NOTE: Over the weekend, Elaine Frankonis of Kalilily Time sent a photograph of the workspace in her new home for the Where Elders Blog feature. It's great fun to see where bloggers whose words you know toil at their computers and everyone is invited to send their photos. Instructions are here. And you can check out the whole section of photos here.]

It has been about four years since Crabby Old Lady stopped coloring her hair and about three years since she quit going to hair salons. The price, when she was still in Manhattan, was edging close to $250 for a cut and color in 2005, and Crabby’s not talking Frederic Fekkai – just the neighborhood stylist who happened to be a brilliant colorist too.

It was a relief for several reasons for Crabby to be done with that kind of upkeep. She never liked the ambience of salons, nor the two or three hours lost on a Saturday every five weeks, nor the price, plus 15 percent tip, even before it hit $250.

Crabby’s hair – in its variegated shades of gray - has occasionally been cut (by friends) in the past three years to remove an inch of dead ends, and has grown now halfway down her back. Not that you'll ever see it that way. Tossing one’s head back to get long hair out of one’s face is more appropriate to a nubile actress than an old woman, and now that she has finally found the kind of hair pins that allow her to twist it all up in bun that remains in place without slipping, no longer an issue.

The new hairpins, in addition to actually doing the job for which they are intended (most don’t) do not break hairs so Crabby no longer needs to use bands (which do break hairs) to keep it all out of her face. These pins are of vital importance to Crabby because – Hear Her Wail - she is GOING BALD and she doesn't want to exacerbate the progression.

Crabby sweeps up more of her own hair than the cat's. Long, gray strands are everywhere – floor, bed, shower drain, desk chair, car, the back of whatever she is wearing - she even found some clinging to her snow boots. Crabby sheds hair like a dog with mange. And until her hair was long enough to arrange in a bun, pink pate peeked through at the crown of her head.

Although her hairline is not receding yet, Crabby suspects it soon will. It’s so thin above her forehead, she gets freckles there in summer.

It is not difficult to find out why. A few trips around the web produce unanimous medical agreement about hair loss that, in the short version, states:

“The cause of the failure to grow new hair in female pattern baldness is not well understood, but it is associated with genetic predisposition, aging, and levels of endocrine hormones (particularly androgens, the male sex hormones).
- MedlinePlus

Hair loss for women is a social stigma that is not discussed as openly as male baldness. No one knows for sure, but it is thought that it affects about 15 percent of women, can begin as early as one’s 20s and increase after menopause. There is no known prevention for loss that it is unattributable to disease, chemotherapy or hormone imbalance, and no matter what the hair-growth shills tell you, the hair loss is permanent.

Oh, joy.

Most of the time, Crabby is a practical sort who doesn’t worry about what can’t be changed, and considering some of the serious things that can go wrong in old age, it is vanity, pure undiluted vanity to be disturbed about going bald. Nevertheless, there you have it – it’s taking up way too much space and time in Crabby’s brain.

The remedies are few, mostly ineffective, expensive or tedious.

  • The single drug approved by the FDA is a two percent solution of Minoxidil. It works only about 20 percent of the time and, anyway, Crabby is disinclined to smear goup on her head every day.

  • Implants are wildly expensive and as much as Crabby is whining about losing her hair, she would rather spend money in that magnitude to visit friends around the country and the world (even while bald) than undergo such an unappealing procedure.

  • Hair weaves are a lesser expense, but equally tedious, must be repeated forever and can themselves cause hair loss.

  • Wigs. Yes, well, a possibility. Crabby wore one long ago for a few months; they are hot, itchy and unless exquisitely- (and expensively-made) as in Hollywood films, mostly unattractive.

  • Embracing baldness by shaving her head is an option Crabby half-seriously considered, but it works best on an attractively-shaped head which Crabby does not own. She is no Grace Jones or Sinead O’Connor. Besides, with every public encounter, it calls attention for a wrong reason, especially on an old woman. The thought of explaining herself to any fool who asks – and many would - makes Crabby tired already.

She hadn't planned on going bald in her old age, particularly with no reasonable remedy, and that pretty well leaves Crabby with no option but to whine about it on her blog.

[At The Elder Storytelling Place, Lois Cochran gives us a poem anyone with a cat will appreciate: Baked in a Cake.]

Elder Music: Summertime

category_bug_eldermusic For me, one of the most irritating developments in online security is the practice of being asked to supply answers to such questions as one’s favorite movie or song. What stunted imagination has only one favorite? So when I’ve forgotten a password and need to go through the security rigmarole to retrieve it, I’ve forgotten not only the password but which favorite I chose for that website.

My musical preferences are many but with a select few, I am a voracious collector of interpretations. In the old days of vinyl, tape and CDs, this was an expensive minor hobby which also involved a lot of media changing and skipping through sides to hear several versions of a song one after another. Then the miracle of MP3s came along and in my Napster slut days, before that service was shut down, my collection of many versions of favorite songs grew exponentially.

Perhaps because there are vast expanses of cold, white stuff out my windows with no letup in view for several months, I’ve chosen Summertime today. It is the best-known song from Porgy and Bess which premiered on Broadway in 1935, and is sung in all three acts of the Gershwin folk opera – I’ve been listening to Summertime all my life.

It is obvious that this song appeals to many more people than just me - there are 2155 recordings listed at AllMusic and I have only 83 on my computer. (Oy vey, how will ever catch up? At least, these days, I can purchase single tunes online instead of entire albums.)

Because I’ve cleaned up my act since my long nights of Napster downloading, I’m limited to legal versions online for posting here and many of my favorites - such Miles Davis's instrumental take from his 1958 album of Porgy and Bess - are not available for embedding, although you can listen to it here. Still, the range of interpretation and styles of Summertime I did find is satisfactory if not as wide as my collection.

I don’t expect you to listen to all seven of these, but perhaps in sampling you’ll find something you like that you haven’t heard before or in a long time.

After its release on Janis Joplin’s final album with Big Brother and the Holding Company, Summertime became a staple of her concerts and this one has the bonus of Jimi Hendrix. [4:24 minutes]

In the same 1960s era as Janis’s many performances of Summertime, pioneer jazz stylist Bill Evans and his trio recorded this instrumental version. (My god, they’re young.) [5:47 minutes]

No Summertime collection can be called respectable without Billy Holliday who latched on to the song at about the same time it premiered. If Lady Day, in this long-ago style and arrangement, doesn’t rip out your heart, then – well, it’s not still beating. [2:56 minutes]

It breaks my heart that I don’t have Kathleen Battle for you. Her clear, silvery soprano reduces me to tears and a classically trained voice gives Summertime a very different dimension from jazz and pop versions. Cecily Nall as a substitute for Battle, however, is hardly shabby. [3:52 minutes]

God only knows how many times and in duet with how many other performers Ella Fitzgerald sang Summertime. I have six versions in my collection. This one is from a concert in Berlin in 1968. [3:43 minutes]

Here’s a country-style rendition recorded for television in 1992, from guitarist Chet Atkins with singer/songwriter and sometime actor Jerry Reed who died just last year. [4:27 minutes]

Is there any other harmonica player to match Larry Adler? Well, maybe one or two, but that’s all. In his early 80s, he recorded an album of Gershwin songs, including Summertime, and in concerts to promote the album, he played the song on harmonica and piano simultaneously. In this video that masterfully edits together three performances, you get to hear him do that as it moves from Adler with a full orchestra to him on both instruments and ending in duet with violinist Itzhak Perlman. [3:43 minutes]

Remember way up at the top of this post where I complained about not being able to remember which favorite song or movie I typed in answer to a security question? A geeky type recently gave me a brilliant suggestion: just choose a word, any word, and use it for my answer to any question every time - a computer doesn't know the difference.

I think I'll use summertime.