It’s been a busy week in my hometown of Lake Misbegotten…
- Deacon Holmquist over at Our Lady of Perpetual Plate-Passing announced during Sunday services that the Ladies Sodality will host a pancake breakfast to help defray Mildred Bumgartner’s rising medical bills. According to the buzz at the Chattering Teeth Café, Mildred had recently confided to friends that she had a date with the stork. No, no, she’s not pregnant -- she had a date with an actual stork she claims she met and fell in love with while on a 4-H Club tour of the new aviary over at Pine Mulch.
- Well, her friends thought that a bit odd, so they made an appointment for her at the Amy Semple McPherson Mental Health Clinic & Spa. After administering a series of diagnostic procedures recently developed in Latvia, the docs concluded that Mildred is suffering from what’s referred to within the medical community as mallardiphobia, a rare but not entirely unknown condition whose symptoms include fever, chills and an inordinate desire to experience carnal knowledge with water fowl.
- As some of you may recall, a few years back, Mildred was interrogated by sheriff’s deputies at the Botox County Fair after someone reported observing her under the livestock judging bleachers en flagrante delicto with a goose. Unfortunately, the victim was ol’ Homer Billingsley’s prize gander, “Mr. Pecker“ and the unfortunate incident cost him the blue ribbon that year. According to the intel at the Chattering Teeth, the docs at the clinic suspect that Mildred’s problem may have begun right after graduation from Bruno Hauptmann High when she opted to skip college in favor of full-time entry level employment at Foster Farms as a down-sorter. It was there, you’ll recall, that she met her husband-to-be, Harold, who was a beak-separator while supplementing his income selling used lariats to traveling rodeo cowboys.
- The couple soon married, settled down and led what appeared to be a normal life -- if you don‘t count the criminal charges, later dropped according to court records, that accused Harold of participating in three-way sex with Leopold and Loeb. Life appeared to improve until the unplanned and totally unexpected arrival of twins Skeeter and Tac dashed their lifelong dream of opening a cleaning service specializing in truck stop restrooms.
- It appears that Mildred’s first episode of mental instability occurred just after son Tac turned eighteen. He had expressed a desire for a career in the military, had done well in high school R.O.T.C. and applied to his congressman for an appointment to West Point. Instead, for some reason never fully explained, he received an appointment to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Now you must remember that both Mildred and Harold detested show business, apparently --- and this is pure conjecture at this point --- because Mildred’s mother had committed suicide while working as a social secretary to Fatty Arbuckle.
- Of course, all that can be hoped for now is that Mildred’s mental stability be restored so that she can return to her much-appreciated volunteer job mending prayer shawls at Temple Beth Georgie Jessel. And in a bit of good news toward that end, the National Audubon Society has, bowing to public pressure, dropped their sexual harassment suit. I’m sure we’ll hear all the details at the pancake breakfast following the raffle drawing for two free tickets to "Doubt."
 THE HUTONGS OF BEIJING -- While China is currently undergoing one of the largest building booms in its history, the government has protected areas from development which exemplify typical living conditions that have prevailed in China for centuries. These areas, called "hutongs," are made up of compounds called "siheyuan" -- clustered homes built around a common courtyard. The homes comprise maze-like alleys (the longest has more than 20 turns) that were home to generations of Chinese families including that of the well-known Chinese novelist-playwright, Lao She who grew up in a small western hutong in the 1930s and 1940s that is the setting for his best-selling novel "The Four Generations Under One Roof." Life in the hutongs has been the subject of countless Chinese operas and plays ("Teahouse" and "Small Hutong") and are still performed in Beijing's "People's Art Theater." Today, 400,000 residences are located four districts: The East, West, Xuanwu and Chongwen. You can take a full-screen photo-tour of the hutongs at: www.laughmakers.blogspot.com
- In the midst of planning our 1978 Bob Hope special Salute to the 75th Anniversary of the World Series, Hope got a call from Steve Martin who told him he'd heard about the two-hour show, was a longtime baseball fan, and would like to offer his services as a guest. Hope was delighted, of course, because aside from Saturday Night Live, Steve was relatively gun shy about appearing on network television. He had big plans for a career in the movies and TV guest shots were hardly major building blocks for that. But this one, he felt, was a special special. Plus, he knew the reputation of the show's producer, Don Ohlmeyer.
- Hope was anxious to grab Steve because he'd appeal to a considerably younger audience than we were used to. Even better as far as we were concerned, he told Hope he had written a short sketch and asked if he'd consider including it. "Send it over," he told Steve. "I'll have the boys look at it." Ordinarily, if a guest wanted to perform his own material, Hope would consider it, but only on the condition that we be allowed to edit and add "Hope touches" where necessary.
- But when we read Steve's script, we were ecstatic, though not surprised. It was a brilliant piece of work that utilized Steve's talents as a magician. (His "Great Flydini " bit was called by Johnny Carson the "greatest magic bit" he'd ever seen on The Tonight Show.) Plus, the sketch would make Hope look good, too.
- The sketch involved a pair of vendors in the stands competing for business. It opened with Hope, alone in the nosebleed section of the cheapest bleachers above center field. "So far from the diamond," he laments, that "when it's one-o'clock down there, it's two-o'clock up here." And sales have been so slow, "I may have to go back to my old job -- teaching."
- Enter Steve, dressed much like Hope and carrying what appears to be an ordinary sales tray supported by a strap around his neck. But he's selling something else. "Elephant traps! Mouse ears! Elephant traps!" Hope looks on, dismayed. A fan comes up to Steve and asks, "Do you have any fright glasses?" Steve reaches into his tray. "Fright glasses, right here." The guy puts them on and the eyeballs attached by springs bounce up and down. He moves off, delighted. Hope says, "How about that. I'm selling nuts and this guy is one."
- Another fan approaches Steve. "Do you have any giraffe leg-warmers?" Steve reaches into his tray and removes a pair of large, knitted socks. "Giraffe leg-warmers. There you go, sir." A woman approaches both and asks, "Does anyone have a metal detector?" Hope says, "What kind of idiot would have a metal detector?" Steve pipes up. "I've got one!" Hope says, "That's the kind of idiot!" Steve removes a full-size metal detector and hands it to the woman who immediately begins using it.
- Hope moves over to Steve and says, "Mind if I ask you something?" Steve says, "Not at all." Hope says, "Well, I've been working here all day and haven't made a sale. You come up here with all this crazy stuff and they can't get enough of it. What's your secret?" Steve says, "Market research. I figured if people are willing to pay to sit this far from a ball game, they'd be willing to buy my crazy stuff." Hope grabs some items from Steve's tray -- "Elephant traps! Mouse ears! Giraffe leg-warmers!" The crowd now engulfs both of them as they can't wait on customers fast enough.
- The visual impact of Steve's sketch was important to its success. How could anyone fit a metal detector into a vendor's tray? It wasn't an ordinary tray. Steve had rigged it so that, from the vantage point of the camera, it would appear to be an ordinary tray. As he'd done for his Great Flydini routine, reaching into his unzipped fly to remove an egg, a rabbit, a dove and other unexpected items, he had performed a carefully prepared, well-designed magic trick. It was a great addition to the show and, best of all, it had a strong blackout.
 Silk was discovered in China in 2640 B.C. by Empress Xi Ling Shi, if one chooses to believe Confucius. During our 2007 voyage up the Yangkze, we visited the city of Suzhou on the "Silk Road" located about midway between Nanjing and Shanghai. This is the rug capital of China and weavers there still turn out exquisite rugs from designs dating back centuries. They can take as many as five years to produce, weavers toiling in shifts around the clock. No surprise that today, China produces about half of the world's silk. Photos include workers extracting silk strands from the caterpillar larvae that produce it, weavers and embroiderers fashioning rugs and wall hangings; and colorful examples of their handiwork. See it all at: www.laughmakers.blogspot.com