Wednesday, December 7, 2016

This Date in History - December 7

Happy birthday, Ted Knight.  Well, it would be if you hadn't died in 1986.

43 BC:  MARCUS TULLIUS CICERO IS ASSASSINATED.

Whoever the hell that is...

1696:  CONNECTICUT ROUTE 108, THIRD OLDEST HIGHWAY IN CONNECTICUT, IS LAID OUT TO TRUMBULL.

Since the assassination of Cicero, this is apparently the only interesting thing that's happened in 1739 years.

1724:  RELIGIOUS UNREST IS FOLLOWED BY THE EXECUTION OF NINE PROTESTANT CITIZENS AND THE MAYOR OF THORN BY POLISH AUTHORITIES.

Just so you know....Protestants can get unceremoniously murdered, too.

1732:  THE ROYAL OPERA HOUSE OPENS AT COVENT GARDEN, LONDON.

Tickets were available on StubHub.

1776:  MARQUIS DE LAFAYETTE ATTEMPTS TO ENTER THE AMERICAN MILITARY AS A MAJOR GENERAL.

Not only was he French, but he also had flat feet.

1787:  DELAWARE BECOMES THE FIRST STATE TO RATIFY THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION.

Since the schmucks in this state are the ones who kept sending Joe Biden to the Senate, this is definitely the last smart thing they did.

1869:  OUTLAW JESSE JAMES COMMITS HIS FIRST BANK ROBBERY IN GALLATIN, MISSOURI.

First ever use of the phrase "stick 'em up."

1900:  ON THE OUTSKIRTS OF BERLINS, MAX PLANCK DISCOVERS THE LAW OF BLACK BODY EMISSION.

Just letting you know that I have about seven jokes I could write here...but I won't.

1915:  ACTOR ELI WALLACH IS BORN.

Made it to 99 as he died in 2014.   Fake.

1917:  DURING WORLD WAR I, THE UNITED STATES DECLARES WAR ON AUSTRIA AND HUNGARY.

It's always smart to pick on the weaker kids first.

1923:  ACTOR TED KNIGHT IS BORN.

He guest starred on my college radio sitcom.  And also did a whole bunch of other stuff.

1930:  WIXAV IN BOSTON BROADCASTS VIDEO FROM THE CBS RADIO ORCHESTRA PROGRAM, THE FOX TRAPPERS.  IT INCLUDES THE FIRST EVER TELEVISION COMMERCIAL---FROM THE SPONSOR IJ FOX FURRIERS.

And you couldn't fast forward through it.

1932:  ACTRESS ELLEN BURSTYN IS BORN.

Alice lives here now.

1941:  AMERICAN FORCES ON PEARL HARBOR ARE ATTACKED BY THE JAPANESE.

A chilly Sunday morning in Hawaii.  There was definitely a nip in the air.

1942:  SINGER/SONGWRITER HARRY CHAPIN IS BORN.

And was killed in 1981.  He should have taken that taxi.

1947:  BASEBALL CATCHER JOHNNY BENCH IS BORN.

He came out of the womb and he was already hitting .275.

1956:  BASKETBALL PLAYER LARRY BIRD IS BORN.

The original Big Bird.

1962:  PRINCE RAINIER III OF MONACO REVISES THE PRINCIPALITY'S CONSTITUTION, DEVOLVING SOME OF HIS POWER TO ADVISORY AND LEGISLATIVE COUNCILS.

Yeah, yeah.  And still the smartest thing this guy ever did was marry that fox Grace Kelly.

1963:  INSTANT REPLAY ON TELEVISION IS USED FOR THE FIRST TIME IN AN ARMY-NAVY GAME.

Before this, you never knew how bad referees and umpires were.

1965:  POPE PAUL VI AND PATRIARCH ATHENAGORAS SIMULTANEOUSLY LIFT MUTUAL EXCOMMUNICATIONS THAT HAD BEEN IN PLACE SINCE 1054.

That's only 911 years.  You can say that the Catholic Church drags its feet.

1970:  CARTOONIST RUBE GOLDBERG DIES.

He should have built a better mouse trap.

1975:  INDONESIA INVADES EAST TIMOR.

West Timor not good enough for you?

1987:  PACIFIC SOUTHWEST FLIGHT 1771 CRASHES NEAR PASO ROBLES, CALIFORNIA, KILLING ALL 43 ON BOARD, AFTER A DISGRUNTLED PASSENGER SHOOTS HIS EX-BOSS ON THE FLIGHT.

I guess this will result in a write-up.

1988:  YASSER ARAFAT RECOGNIZES THE RIGHT OF ISRAEL TO EXIST.

Yessir, that's my Arafat.

1993:  THE LONG ISLAND RAILROAD MASSACRE---PASSENGER COLIN FERGUSON MURDERS SIX PEOPLE AND INJURES 19 OTHERS IN A SHOOTING SPREE DURING RUSH HOUR.

True story.  A girl working for me at the time usually took that train home and sat in this very car.  Except, that evening, I asked her to stay late and help me on a project.  She still refers to this as the day I saved her life.

1994:  HOCKEY PLAYER JC TREMBLAY DIES.

A name that clearly sounds like it belongs in this sport.

2010:  ELIZABETH EDWARDS, WIFE OF JOHN EDWARDS, DIES.

Sad.  Because she was married to such a piece of crap.

2011:  ACTOR HARRY MORGAN DIES.

D*O*A*.

2014:   ITALIAN SONGWRITER MANGO DIES.

Mango likes candy.   No, wait, that's wrong...

Dinner last night:  Leftover tortellini.


Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Put This One On Your List

Every rare once in a while, a movie comes along and hits the very right chord at the very right time.  For me, that most recently happened with "The Edge of Seventeen."

Okay, admittedly, it looks like one of those standard coming-of-age comedies.   But, let's face it, there is a theme here that can resonate with each and every one of us.   Because, at one point, we were all seventeen.   And, despite what decade you were seventeen in, there are universal themes that last over time. Aren't there, Len?

The attempts to fit in.

Making friends.   

Keeping friends.

Hormones.

Oh, yeah, and I should say that one again.

Hormones.

The kids we meet in "The Edge of Seventeen" might be more saavy when it comes to texting and the like.   They might be smarter and more media-focused. And, yes, the language is much more profane.   But the problems are the same and perfectly depicted by first-time screenwriter and director Kelly Fremon Craig.   She might be a talent we will hear from again.

The main character here is 17-year-old Nadine and, while dealing with the usual teenage issues, she's also groping with some bigger-than-acne problems.  She and her dad were in a car crash five years earlier.   One minute, they're singing Billy Joel songs, the next minute he's dead.  So, that sorrow lingers as mom Kyra Sedgwick struggles with Nadine and brother Darian.  To make matters worse, Nadine's only real friend starts to date Darian and that's never a good thing.  So, Nadine begins to completely unravel as she herself attempts to make connections with a couple of boys in school.

If that sounds routine and pat, trust me it's not.   There are real emotions here that really can resound with each and every viewer.   Can't they, Len?  At the heart of it all are a bunch of wonderful acting turns.   But, the film is stolen in broad daylight by Halee Steinfeld as Nadine and Woody Harrelson (???!!!) as probably the only teacher and person she trusts in the whole world.  Halee's already been nominated for an Oscar via her work in the "True Grit" remake. This might be nomination #2.   As for Harrelson, his portrayal here is so sympathetic and simultaneously hilarious that you can't believe he can do both emotions at the same time.

The producer of it all is James L. Brooks and there's a little bit of Simpsons thrown in along the way.   Indeed, if he's the one who discovered this writer and director, he should get an Oscar for that all by himself.

Of course, "The Edge of Seventeen" is not for everyone.   Only those of you who were ever seventeen should consider it.

Wait...

LEN'S RATING:  Four stars.

Dinner last night:  Garlic chicken with noodles.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Monday Morning Video Laugh - December 5, 2016

Hopefully your holiday travel will be this funny.

Dinner last night:  Tortellini and salad.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Christmas Shopping for That Hard-to-Gift Grandmother


This might be the only picture I have of me with my dad and his mother, my grandmother.   They're both gone.   I have no idea what happened to the arm on the right that is photo bombing this picture.

Let's kick off the holiday season with this Christmas story. And it involves Grandma, a woman an you couldn't Christmas shop for. Because if you asked her what she wanted, she'd wave you off immediately.

"I don't need nothing."

And she really didn't. But then you would ask her what she wanted.

"I don't want nothing."

It was the same drill year after year. You would think that my relatives would learn their lesson. They never did. And so, one Christmas after another, they fell over backwards trying to buy her a present. And then they would get indignant when she didn't like it. I used to hold my breath every year when the inevitable gift exchange would happen and somebody would dumbly bestow her with some wrapped package.

"What the hell is this?"

A Christmas present for you, of course.

"I don't need nothing. I don't want nothing."

So we heard.

And then we got to watch her open a gift from a family member that might as well have been picked out of an office grab bag. Because they always seemed to be selected without a single thought that this was a woman who virtually never left her house past her front porch or her backyard, except for her Thursday morning trips to the A and P and her monthly visit to her doctor in a Bronx neighborhood she called "Jew Town."  Yeah, political correctness was an undefined phrase back then.

After opening a box, she'd always look up quizzically.

"What the hell is this?"

Very fancy gloves for when you go out to some place nice.

She waved them off as if they were mental patients. And she was right. In all the years I knew her, I never remember her ever once going to some place nice. I never remember seeing her in a restaurant. The fanciest it ever got for her was either a wedding or a funeral.

It got worse. The next year, she opened a small box to reveal a very exquisite watch.

"What the hell is this?"

It was explained this was a wrist watch that she could wear out. For instance, she could check the time when she was waiting for the bus.

Huh? Grandma waved them off. I almost did the same. For this simple woman, a gift was purchased as if she was a high-powered commuter on "Mad Men" headed for her job at a major New York advertising agency.

The gloves and the watch were tossed back as was pretty much everything else she ever got for Christmas.

One year, even one of my own Christmas presents indirectly ticked her off. I had been given a little reel-to-reel tape recorder which made me the most annoying guest at that holiday season's family gathering. When I was done running around and interviewing the family about nothing, my mom decided we should be proactive and make a tape to send out to whichever relative couldn't make it to our house that year. Eventually, the microphone was put in front of Grandma.

"What the hell is this?"

We explained that she should talk into it and say hello. She easily complied.

"Hello?"

Pause.


"This is stupid. I don't hear anything back."

IT'S NOT A TELEPHONE!!!!

The one year I decided to join the Grandma Christmas Gift fiasco, I thought I had hit on a great idea. I had gotten tired of looking at the little kitty cat cookie jar she kept in the pantry, always chock full of chocolate chip cookies. It had been around pretty much since Roosevelt beat Alf Landon. At the time, the Pillsbury Doughboy was making regular first Poppin' Fresh appearances on television and I had found a cookie jar version in a store. As perfect as it was, I still held my breath as she opened the package.

"Now THIS is something I can use."

And she did for the rest of her life. The kitty cat was retired to another shelf. I had scored a big, big win.

After she died, I know one of my cousins claimed the kitty cat cookie jar. But I immediately pulled in the Pillsbury Doughboy. And it is the one memento I have of my grandmother.

And it sits proudly in my Los Angeles kitchen.
Always chock full of chocolate chip cookies.

Of course, wherever she is, my grandmother is probably wondering.   

"How the hell did that cookie jar wind up in California?"

Dinner last night:  French dip panini at the Arclight Cafe.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Classic TV Commercial of the Month for December 2016

What better toy for Christmas than one you can use to blow up a lot of shit?

Dinner last night:  Meat pizza at BJs.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Blogging Our Way to Christmas Day

As the calendar flips to December, it's time for the annual disclaimer to all my faithful blog readers.

Yes, folks, we celebrate Christmas at Len Speaks.  And, for the next several weeks, it will be all about the December holiday on this blog.  If you're waiting for a Sunday Memory Drawer entry about Kwanzaa, go to Jay Z's blog.   Let's face it.  That was a holiday invented in the 60s by some Long Beach, California professor with too much time to think.   Seriously.  Look it up.

This will be the tenth Christmas we have celebrated together here in Cyberland.  I've told some old family tales about Yuletide celebrations from my childhood.  I've waxed philosophical and comedic about things that...well, just scream to make me wax philosophical and comedic.  There's been a ton of good and clever Christmas material printed here in the past.

So, like "A Charlie Brown Christmas" every year since 1965, some of the funny stuff will make a return.  I recognize that there are new and regular readers who were not clicking here back in 2007 and 2008.  I might re-package a piece or two so it will look new, but it really won't be.  Oldies can still be goodies. Trust me.   If you can watch Linus suck on that blanket next to the scrawny Christmas tree every year, you certainly can read some nifty comedy for the second or third time.

As for those darling memory dumps that I share on Sundays, there have sadly been a finite number of Christmas memories.  Every once in a red and green moon, I recall a tale or adventure that slipped my mind previously.  Eroding brain cells can tend to do that sort of thing to you.  But, for the most part, my grandmother is no longer saying funny things around the holidays.  She died in 1982 and stopped being amusing shortly thereafter.  The same with my parents.  So that well has dried up.  No egg nog left, folks.

But, just like Lucy and Ethel in the candy factory, we thank goodness for reruns.  Bear with me as I bring back, over this holiday season, some stories and posts from the past.  Carefully selected for your daily amusement and laughter.  

Keep on checking in every day.  For some new, some old, and all hopefully enjoyable.  I promise there will be no coal in this stocking.

And the egg nog starts spilling tomorrow.

Dinner last night:  Cheddar cheese and ham omelet.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

If You Write It, They Will Come

Or something like that.

"Arrival" is one of those sci-fi movies that reminded me of when I took Advanced Placement World History in high school.   I was completely in over my head but still I sort of understood what was going on.   

Indeed, to call "Arrival" a sci-fi movie is sort of like calling the recent Presidential election a garden party.   The film features zero scares.   Don't think "The Thing" is lurking around the corner.   Or that some "Alien" is going to pop up from somebody's stomach.   These creatures are the dullest ever to visit Earth from another land.  It's almost like they show up here so they can watch "Downton Abbey" on PBS.

Still they come.   In these giant gray metal bananas that hover over the ground.   Twelve of them show up scattered all over the Earth.  The US's invasion happens in Montana, which means that these aliens probably didn't listen to their travel agents.   I mean, if you want to visit Earth, wouldn't you want an ocean view?  

As they hover and make incomprehensible noises, Amy Adams as a college professor of linguistics is engaged by the government to make sense of it all.   She ends up regularly meeting with two giant alien hands they call Abbott and Costello.   She tries to make sense of the symbols these hands make with these squid-like ink emissions.

And, er, that's the movie, folks.

Of course, the notion is that they have come to attack, but, in reality, they are so tame that they seemingly have come to Earth to apply for library cards. The mystery of what they are saying and writing dovetails with Adams' back story being a parent whose young daughter has succumbed to cancer.   You keep seeing these images so you know they will tie in.   When they show you how, you basically chew on your Red Vine and say "Oh, okay."

Cue the closing credits.

Don't get me wrong.   "Arrival" is well-acted, especially by Adams.   Although a bit on the dreary side, the images are impressive.  And the film does hold your interest.  But, when it finally happens, you utter one more time.  

"Oh, okay."

LEN'S RATING:   Two-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Pork chop on a bed of sauteed spinach, mushrooms, and garlic.