July 28, 2013

The consequences of blushing.

1. I was reading this Wall Street Journal essay — "The Appeal of Embarrassment/Blushing, fidgeting, looking down — the more contrite a wrongdoer looks, the more likable he seems" — written by Robert M. Sapolsky, a professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University and author of the enticingly titled "The Trouble with Testosterone" and "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers."

2. I don't give a damn about zebras and their freedom from ulcers. (I'll just guess that when any given zebra slips toward ulcer-producing mental activity, some lion eats him, and that's the end of that trajectory.) But I am interested in the trouble with testosterone in connection with the subject of Sapolsky's essay, which is Anthony Weiner. Something about that ravaged face. Is he using testosterone to build up those muscles he shows off in his selfies?

3. Sapolsky's essay is not, however, about testosterone, but visible signs of embarrassment, like blushing. Is Weiner one of these people who do not blush like normal people? If so, Sapolsky suggests, we shouldn't trust him. "Numerous studies have shown that autonomic responses to strong emotions are blunted in sociopaths. Thus, in individuals there is a positive and statistically significant covariance between concern about violating social norms and concern with pro-sociality." (I'm resisting inserting an old joke here.)

4. Sapolsky's essay pulled me in enough to read it, but it didn't make the cut into bloggable. Something unsatisfying about the maundering. And it's just the same old thing about Weiner, really. Why isn't he embarrassed? The Stanford prof doesn't have anything new to say: Why doesn't Weiner blush? Maybe he did blush? Was anyone checking to see if he blushed? That's how Sapolsky ends it, saying it would be "nice" if there were some kind of blush-o-meter to check.

5. I thought I could find a way into blogging the essay I'd dumped time into reading with an almost-remembered song lyric with the word "blush." Was it Bob Dylan? I do a word search at bobdylan.com I see Bob's used the word exactly once: "Now, there’s a certain thing/That I learned from my friend, Mouse/A fella who always blushes/And that is that ev’ryone/Must always flush out his house/If he don’t expect to be/Goin’ ’round housing flushes."

6. That's not helpful. This friend Mouse always blushes. I thought the line was never blushes, which might help me with the Weiner/Sapolsky quandry, and anyway, it's a dumb Dylan verse, just some off the top of his head Basement Tapes foolery, where Bob not only wasn't above rhyming "mouse" and "house" but he also double-used "flush" in his low-effort rhyme for "blush."

7. I'm not getting any good material about blushing, and I'm completely distracted by the title of the song, "Open the Door, Homer." If you've listened to "The Basement Tapes," you know it as "Open the Door, Richard." What's with the Homer/Richard switch?

8. That turns out to be a much better question than did Anthony Weiner blush? For one thing, it's perfectly answerable, via Wikipedia. "Open the Door, Richard" was an old vaudeville routine:
Pigmeat Markham, one of several who performed the routine, attributed it to his mentor Bob Russell. The routine was made famous by Dusty Fletcher on stages like the Apollo Theater in New York and in a short film. Dressed in rags, drunk, and with a ladder as his only prop, Fletcher would repeatedly plunk the ladder down stage center, try to climb it to knock on an imaginary door, then crash sprawling on the floor after a few steps while shouting, half-singing "Open the Door, Richard." After this he would mutter a comic monologue, then try the ladder again and repeat the process, while the audience was imagining what Richard was so occupied doing.

Jack McVea was responsible for the musical riff which became associated with the words "Open the Door, Richard" that became familiar to radio listeners and as many as 14 different recordings were made....

"Open the Door, Richard" was an early R&B novelty record, a song category that became a basic genre of rock and roll in the 1950s. It started the fad of answer song records. It was also the first commercial record to use a fade out ending....

The phrase "Open the Door, Richard" passed into African American Vernacular English and became associated with the Civil Rights Movement. When college students marched in 1947 to the state capitol demanding the resignation of segregationist governor Herman Talmadge, some of their banners read "Open the Door Herman." The Los Angeles Sentinel used "Open the Door Richard" as the title of an editorial demanding black representation in city government and a Detroit minister used the title for a sermon on open housing.

"Open the Door, Richard" became a catchphrase in broader American society, as well; the line appeared in routines by Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and Phil Harris. Jimmy Durante and Burl Ives each recorded versions of the song; opera star Lauritz Melchior performed it on national radio. Molly Picon recorded a Yiddish language version; it was also covered in Spanish, Swedish, French, Armenian and Hungarian. There were "Richard" hats, shirts, and jeans, and ads for products ranging from ale to perfume incorporated references to the song....

In 1967, Bob Dylan and The Band recorded an homage to the song as part of The Basement Tapes. Entitled "Open the Door, Homer," the chorus nevertheless repeated the phrase "Open the door Richard."
9. The door never opens, I think. What's that old line, when a door closes, a window opens? I immediately remember the lyric I was searching for at stage #5:
Some people, they like to go out dancing
And other peoples, they have to work...
And there's even some evil mothers
Well they're gonna tell you that everything is just dirt
Y'know that, women, never really faint
And that villains always blink their eyes, woo!
And that, y'know, children are the only ones who blush!
And that, life is just to die!
10. Children are the only ones who blush... that's what the evil mothers tell you. The evil mothers are the sociopaths who don't blush, and they'd like you to believe that no adults blush, so you won't attribute any significance to the failure to blush when caught in a shameful act.