Saturday, May 31, 2008

Bill Nye

No, not "Bill Nye, the Science Guy," but the original, whom I like to call "Bill Nye, the Nineteenth Century Guy."

His real name was Edgar Wilson Nye, and he was one of America's most popular humorists until he died at the age of forty-six in 1896.

His pen name was actually taken from a character in one of Bret Harte's most famous (or infamous, if you will) poems, "Plain Language from Truthful James," published in the Overland Monthly in 1870, and later on widely reprinted for decades as "The Heathen Chinee." Harte himself said it was "the worst poem I ever wrote, possibly the worst poem anybody ever wrote."  The poem is about a Chinese card sharp pretending to be totally ignorant of the game, and a cowboy named Bill Nye, whom he tries to trick. Here is the poem, for better or worse:

Which I wish to remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar,
Which the same I would rise to explain.

Ah Sin was his name;
And I shall not deny,
In regard to the same,
What that name might imply;
But his smile it was pensive and childlike,
As I frequent remarked to Bill Nye.

It was August the third,
And quite soft was the skies;
Which it might be inferred
That Ah Sin was likewise;
Yet he played it that day upon William
And me in a way I despise.

Which we had a small game,
And Ah Sin took a hand:
It was Euchre. The same
He did not understand;
But he smiled as he sat by the table,
With the smile that was childlike and bland.

Yet the cards they were stocked
In a way that I grieve,
And my feelings were shocked
At the state of Nye's sleeve,
Which was stuffed full of aces and bowers,
And the same with intent to deceive.

But the hands that were played
By that heathen Chinee,
And the points that he made,
Were quite frightful to see, --
Till at last he put down a right bower,
Which the same Nye had dealt unto me.

Then I looked up at Nye,
And he gazed upon me;
And he rose with a sigh,
And said, "Can this be?
We are ruined by Chinese cheap labor," --
And he went for that heathen Chinee.

In the scene that ensued
I did not take a hand,
But the floor it was strewed
Like the leaves on the strand
With the cards that Ah Sin had been hiding,
In the game "he did not understand."

In his sleeves, which were long,
He had twenty-four packs, --
Which was coming it strong,
Yet I state but the facts;
And we found on his nails, which were taper,
What is frequent in tapers, -- that's wax.

Which is why I remark,
And my language is plain,
That for ways that are dark
And for tricks that are vain,
The heathen Chinee is peculiar, --
Which the same I am free to maintain.

The nickname stuck to Edgar Wilson Nye like glue for the rest of his life. He was an educated man, born in Maine, who spent a good number of years in Wisconsin, and after migrating to the wilderness of Laramie, Wyoming, set up shop as postmaster and the proprietor of a weekly newspaper called "The Laramie Boomerang" in 1881 (which is still being published to this day).

The Boomerang catapulted Nye to fame. It was filled with witty stories, and rough and tumble crude frontier humor. The stories were often reprinted in other newspapers around the world. and circulation of the Boomerang rose to record levels. 

Nye went on tour, often with poet James Whitcomb Riley, and eventually moved to New York and North Carolina, where he died of meningitis (there were some contemporaries who claimed he drank himself to death after a string of disappointing stage performances).

We will go into more detail here regarding Nye in the future, but it really is worth going to the Basement podcast web site and searching out his many fun stories that I have read. As ever, your comments are welcome.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Running Out of Spoopendykes

I think the count may be close to about eighty now, but it seems that we are fast running out of Stanley Huntley's Spoopendyke stories! Huntley only did these things for the last five years of his life, and many of them did not appear in the Brooklyn Eagle, but in the extremely hard-to-find Drake's Traveller's Magazine. We have managed to get some Spoopendyke stories that were reprinted from Drake's in contemporary newspapers, in New York and New Zealand, but there aren't many of those left to read.

Still, Huntley wrote lots of funny stuff besides tales of Mr. and Mrs. Spoopendyke, and we usually try to feature some of those pieces in the Basement's Sunday Salad feature. These include his tales of cowboys, miners, and other wild and wooly folk from out west, stories of con men, gamblers, crooked politicians and preachers, nutty inventors, and other loonies from Brooklyn. He also did a handful of stories of Mr. and Mrs. Breezy -- not as well-defined as the Spoopendykes, but generally making fun of modern life and manners. And of course, there are lots of spoofs of popular authors of his day, such as the "Jules Verne, Jr." story we read a while back.

So the big question to you, the listeners of Mister Ron's Basement, is whether we should continue with Sunday Salad without the Spoopendykes (except when we stumble into an undiscovered story), or should we put the series on the shelf, and replace it with something else -- maybe the poetry of Eugene Field?

Please post your reply here, or send an email to We'd love to know what you think!

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Podfinder UK!

Well, Mister Ron's Basement has become the subject of review in a fun British video podcast called Podfinder UK. It's one of five programs covered in Episode #45, which can be found at The program is pretty entertaining and is well worth watching lots of episodes...

Friday, May 2, 2008

Once A Week is BACK!

Our companion podcast, Mister Ron's Once A Week, after a hiatus of almost two years, is now back with a new format that ought to work! The earlier episodes each featured multiple items, reviews of books, comics, movies, television shows, music, and included fiction. This got to be too much for me, and never was practical to do on a weekly basis (especially while doing the Basement podcast seven days a week).

Nevertheless, the nine episodes done in 2006 remained posted, and surprisingly pulled in 200-300 downloads a day up through the present!

Our new format will offer one item or so per episode. The first one with this format is episode number 10, featuring a review of the IRON MAN movie. Our next one will cover a graphic novel or two, and so on...

Please drop by and check it out. Your comments are welcome.