LEAPING LIZARDS! WHO LET THE DRAGON OUT?

By Bob Schwabach

First published in the Philadelphia Inquirer Sunday “Today” magazine, July 26, 1981

They ran blindly, the corridor behind them stretching  into darkness, their torches throwing flickering shadows against the dank walls. At last the sounds of pursuit faded in the distance, and they stopped to catch their breaths, hoping that the torchlight could not be seen by enemies.

They were hopelessly lost now; there had been too many twists and turns in their wild dash for safety. It was a miracle they had managed to stay together: Cugel the Clever, Thed the Cleric and Baldar the Baleful. Behind them, they knew, a band of troglodytes –large lizard men with crocodile jaws and a yen to kill anything that resembled a human — would be sniffing out their trail. And no matter how faint that trail might become, eventually the troglodytes would find and follow it. With no food and only one day’s supply of water, things looked grim. In desperation, the fugitives turned to the dungeon master for help. Continue reading

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A VERY SERIOUS ‘ENEMIES’ PARTY? OR RADICALLY CHIC…

By Bob Schwabach

First published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, August 17, 1973

NEW YORK– Sometime later in the evening  Jimmy Breslin is sitting on the bottom step that leads to the basement room of Jimmy’s at 33 W. 52nd Street in New York and is taking a nap with his head resting against the railing. A party is in progress, a New Year Party.

Jimmy Breslin

Suddenly, Breslin snaps his head up and says to somebody he knows who is walking by, “You’re crazy. What do you mean by inviting all these papers here. They’re going to make it out into some kind of dilettante thing like ‘radical chic.’ It shudda been completely private — no press.” The guy shakes his head and walks away. “It wasn’t any of my doing,” he says.

Now this is a very interesting thing for Breslin to say. Because this party, a classic New York party, is for the people who were named on the White House list of enemies, which was made public in the press last month, and is ostensibly being given to honor investigative reporting and to hand out the first of a series of annual awards for same.

Richard Nixon

The White House enemies list was a great thing for some people. Because while everybody there is a liberal and strongly anti-Nixon, everybody else there already knows that everybody there is a liberal and no shakos are being distributed for this distinction. The great thing about being one of those named on the list is that it made them a certified enemy; quite literally the government had affixed its stamp of approval to their liberalism, like USDA prime. Continue reading

WHAT’S A NICE GIRL LIKE YOU DOING IN A BALLET CLASS?

By Bob Schwabach

Originally pubished in the Philadelphia Inquirer, March 25, 1973

They laughed when I sat down at the piano, but nobody even cracked a smile when I went to the ballet practice barre.

Maybe that’s because the social cloud has lifted, a lot of men are taking ballet lessons these days. Ah, Diaghilev, thou shouldst be living now — at least it beats your present position.

IN BALLET, it seems, you start out from the fifth position. I have no idea what happened to the first four positions but that’s the way it is. Maybe it’s because I was late for class. Continue reading

DOWN ON THE FARM

By Robert Schwabach

Originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer July 29, 1973

Quarryville, PA. – On the high branches, birds call. And in the yard, puppies romp. Up on the slopes, the tassels of the tall corn are moved by soft breezes. From somewhere down in the dell, the cattle are lowing — or whatever it is cattle do.

Farmer Groff is plying his trade. Raising milk.

He raises it by pumping it out of the swollen udders of cows — registered Holsteins. Sixty of them. Forego the visions of bright metal pails, three-legged milk stools and the patient pulling of teats. He does it with a Surge Electrobrain Vacumaster, which sucks the cows dry automatically and delivers the milk through glass tubes into a refrigerated stainless steel vat. Untouched by human hands. Continue reading

THE BATHROOMS OF EUROPE: A GUIDE ON WHERE TO GO

By Bob Schwabach

Originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer

I felt the need soon after I entered the bathroom downstairs from the restaurant in Malaga, Spain.

There were all sorts of guide books to Europe–far too many guide books, in fact. But not one of them dealt with a basic problem certain to be encountered by every single traveler, young or old, of whatever nationality. I tentatively decided to call it “Where To Go In Europe” — in homage to a previous, mere local, guide book of two decades ago: “Where  To Go In London.”

Victoria Station

This was a superbly practical book, giving directions, hours of availability, and a rating to every public bathroom of any note in the London area. I remember that the public room in Victoria Station were given three-and-a-half pissoirs, and drew the rave comment: “A veritable symphony of public hygiene.” (Though I understand from more recent visitors that Victoria Station has definitely gone downhill since then, and it is now questionable whether it is even worth rating.)

There was a time for all these musings, and much more, because when I entered the stall of the bathroom downstairs from the restaurant in Malaga, in southern Spain, the handle came off in my hand.

Now this bathroom was in most ways no different from an ordinary American public bathroom, and in my proposed guide of “Where To Go In Europe” it would not rate so much as a single pissoir, nor even a paper towel epaulet. Continue reading

NO SWANK RESORTS, BUT NOBODY GOES TO EGYPT FOR FUN

By Bob Schwabach

EGYPT —

Originally printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer,  March 16, 1975

Ramses II, Valley of the Kings

Luxor is what the Greeks called Ancient Thebes, to distinguish it from modern Thebes in Greece itself, and everybody who was anybody built a temple here. Across the river, on the western bank of the Nile, is the Valley of the Kings. The  dead live on the west bank of the Nile, where the sun sets, and the living on the east, where the sun rises.

It is all planned out that way and has been that way for six or seven thousand years. Death is the business of Egypt; it is what tourists come to see and what they have come to see ever since the first millennium before Christ, when Herodotus complained that the tour guides were selling fake antiques to the Athenians.  Now Americans, Frenchmen and Scandinavians gawk where Caesar did, and we are the new Romans.

Nile boats

The Egyptians are as prepared for us as they were for them. Hotel rooms are scarce, the Nile boats are booked months in advance, the food is spotty, the service poor, and nobody speaks the language very well. It probably wouldn’t matter if they put people up in tents and fed them K-rations. Because this is Egypt, and nobody comes here for the resort cum fun and sun atmosphere of the Riviera and the Costa del Sol or even to sample the native food and rummage the bazaars for brass plates. This is The Land of the Pharaohs, as Cecil B. DeMille kept reminding us, and by gum it really is.

Sphinx

A lot of it has the air of some leftover movie set. The pyramids, the Sphinx, the great temples of Karnak and Abu Simbel, look disappointingly just like their pictures and everything is instantly recognizable. The Great Pyramids of Giza are just on the edge of Cairo, a one dollar taxi ride from the center of town. Turn right at the “Pirate’s Cove” nightclub. Continue reading

THE ROAD TO RONDA LEADS TO A DIFFERENT SPAIN

By Bob Schwabach

RONDA, Spain

Originally printed in the Philadelphia Inquirer, June 23, 1974. 

The Road to Ronda starts on the Costa del Sol and winds through the Sierra Blanca mountains for 50 kilometers. That’s about 30 miles.

The Bridge to Ronda

A fast driver can make the trip in just under two hours. The road should never, under any circumstances, be taken when wet.

Under normal conditions the trip is a heart stopper. Six-inch high guardrails are placed at random spots to caution the unwary, and occasionally one glances down the thousand-foot drops and sees far below the rusting hulk of some crumpled automobile whose driver just made one mistake.

For mile after mile of baking sun, split rock and scrub growth, one sees no houses, no people. It is a journey from the frenetic resort hotel, night club, go-go, ga-ga, ersatz-flamenco-cafe-world of the Costa del Sol– where half the signs are written in German and English, not Spanish, where hawkers hail you off the street and say, “Hey, buddy! Have your name printed on a bullfight poster. Surprise your friends.”  Where sound trucks tour the streets of Torremolinos, blaring in English: “If you haven’t seen the Tivoli (a nightclub), you haven’t seen the Costa del Sol!” Where  “The Log Cabin” serves pizza and chicken chow mein; and 50,000 arteriosclerotic geezers stroke out along the beach in striped cabanas and Hawaiian trunks, order another Sangria, and sneer back at the 50,000 teenage hippies who are sneering at them — it is a journey from all that, into old Spain Hardly anyone makes the trip. Continue reading