Monday, December 31, 2007

Monday Morning Video Laugh - December 31, 2007

A New Year's treat for all. A few weeks ago, PBS ran a great documentary on Carol Burnett. This clip, unlike the passage of time, never gets old.

Dinner last night: Chicken stir fry at 17th Street Cafe prior to the Aero Theater double feature of "Sullivan's Travels" and "Hail the Conquering Hero."

Sunday, December 30, 2007

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #14!! (And Post #300)

When I was about seven or eight, WOR-TV, Channel 9 in New York, had the weirdest programming. Other than Mets baseball, their daily schedule was made up of old movies. And they did something really bizarre called "Million Dollar Movie." They would pick some old film from the 30s and 40s and run it twice every week night Monday through Friday. Then, on Saturday and Sunday, they would show it continuously over and over all weekend. It's a surprise to me that, at the end of this weekly cycle, some poor celluloid was frayed at the edges. Usually, the movies were completely from the B variety shelf. But, every so often, there was some gem that I could not turn off. "The Big Circus." "Hold That Ghost." "Buck Privates."

And "Yankee Doodle Dandy." I caught it somehow the first night and I was drawn in on Tuesday. And Wednesday. And Thursday. And, by the end of the week, I had seen it probably 11 or 12 times. I knew every line of dialogue. Every lyric. Every dance step. Even where the commercial breaks were.

But, I never watched the first ten minutes. Because, at the very beginning of the movie, young George M. Cohan misbehaves and is spanked by his father. I never could bring myself to watch that. Perhaps, I ws projecting.

"Yankee Doodle Dandy" is the epitome of a star vehicle. If you put anybody else in the lead role of renowned songwriter George M. Cohan besides Jimmy Cagney, you don't have the same movie. You probably don't even have a good one. The film is his. Pure and simple. He acts. He sings. He dances. He glides. He wins an Oscar. Cagney was truly one of the unsung actors of our country's film history, and he reaches his pinnacle in this movie. The production numbers, heralding Cohan's most patriotic ditties, are amazing. The title number, shown below, has been seen countless times on virtually every clip show about Hollywood.

I, however, am partial to the more obscure number that Cagney does at the end of the movie. In it, he parodies then-President Franklin Roosevelt in a song and tapdances wildly down a banquet table and then up a wall. It's amazing to me that, in light of FDR's unpublicized polio, film audiences probably didn't think twice about this scene, which today would be considered in bad taste.

Yes, "Yankee Doodle Dandy" is flag waving hokum. They knew exactly what they were doing, given that production of the movie started several days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. But, it is still a purely golden cinematic treasure. I like to watch it every year around the Fourth of July. Who knows what propelled a goofy seven year-old to watch it 12 times in one week? But, I sure as hell can understand why I have seen it once a year every since.

And that's for the record!

Dinner last night: Kobe burger at Cafe Montana prior to the Aero Theater double bill of "Ball of Fire" and "Twentieth Century."

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Best New Year's Eve Ever!!

Sure, it's the most overrated of holidays. If you don't have something to do that night, you feel as if you've been relegated to the local leper colony. And, I've had a range of experiences on December 31. I remember one while I was in college, when a bunch of completely bored and over-served sophomores played hockey in an elevator bank, using somebody's crunches as hockey sticks. There was one where my fractured shoulder was in a sling and I could barely reach for the dice playing Trivial Pursuit at a neighbor's. (You will read more about that one tomorrow.) There was the fateful Eve when I returned from a house party to hear that my mom had just lapsed into a coma at the hospital. The memories swing wildly like an out-of-control pendulum.
But, I certainly can remember hands down what the best New Year's Eve was. 1984. I had not made definitive plans, when a good friend called with a bright idea. He and his wife were going downtown to an oldies club called Shout. In the true spirit of marketing, the place played the song several times that night. My friends even had another girl going, so we could easily divide the drink bill equally four ways.
To be honest, I don't remember who they brought along, because I danced with so many people that night. The night was electric. One big hit from the 50s and 60s after another. At several points out on the dance hall, we toasted catcher Gary Carter, who the Mets had just obtained in a trade. At midnight, they dragged out "Shout" one more time. And we all did. I kissed a few of the other patrons around me. I had no clue who they were. I didn't give a shit. It was that free. And easy. And spontaneous.
We had so much fun that, by January 2, I was already making plans to duplicate it the following year. And we kept spreading the words amongst other friends as if we were sharing a secret handshake. By the time December, 1985 had rolled around, most of my address book had been invited. And I had a girlfriend, to boot. A non-stranger to kiss at the stroke of 12. This was going to be super-electric.
It was horrible. What had been spontaneous the year before was now over-planned to the hilt. And the cast of thousands of my friends didn't exactly mesh. It was a disaster. To make the gloom even more pronounced, we got word in the middle of the evening that Ricky Nelson had been killed in a plane crash.
To this day, I still don't know what happened from one year to another. Indeed, I'm not even sure the club stayed open much longer.
Who can figure?
Dinner last night: Reuben sandwich at DuPar's prior to seeing "I Am Legend."

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Holiday Visit to the El Capitan....

...where they still do movies right. And, perhaps, the old proper holiday spirit of the Radio City Music Hall has been transferred 2400 miles to the left. Because, indeed, going to a Christmas movie there is very much akin to what I remember from my days trooping down to 50th Street and Sixth Avenue. Only true New Yorkers call it Sixth Avenue. The undeducated and the tourists regard it as Avenue of the Americas. So, much more evidence that time has changed.

At the El Capitan on Hollywood Boulevard, there are no gangly Rockettes. But, that might be the only piece missing from this holiday buffet of the senses. It is a true movie palace with an orchestra and a balcony. The place is full of Christmas decorations. An organ pipes songs to the rafters before the show and then disappears into the stage. And there's even a line outside waiting for the next showing.

"Enchanted" was ideal and, with my eyes closed, I was sitting with relatives of yore. In lieu of a stage show that, in the past, has featured an ice skating Mickey and Minnie, Disney has erected a hall in the back that is dedicated to the princess of "Enchanted" as well as all the other Disney princesses that have gone before. There are tons of games and activities for young and old. One exhibit featured all the wonderful "Enchanted" in-jokes and embedded references to other famous Disney movies.

The best part is there are several boothes where you can have your picture taken in front of a Hollywood green screen, which later becomes a scene from the movie. Below you will see me and two good friends flying back to our childhood.

If only we could...

Dinner last night: Risotto with sausage at Fabiolus prior to a Cinerama Dome presentation of "Sweeney Todd."

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Littlest Bartender

Sounds like a new pop-up book for child alcoholics. But, indeed, that is what I was at a lot of my family's New Year's Eve parties. A bartender. The fact that I was ten years old was not an issue. When it came to cocktails and the like, my family was an equal opportunity employer. Age not a concern.

For a few years when I was a kid, my parents staged these elaborate galas to ring in whatever new year needed ringing. For some inexplicable reason, they would host this merriment in our basement, which was more than unfinished. There was no heat down there and I could never comprehend the attraction. But, that didn't stop my folks. They rolled out a linoleum floor, hid the furnace with some streamers, and then it was time to cha cha cha.

My cousins were all older and had hit puberty in a variety of degrees. They would show up at these family gatherings with whatever boyfriends and girlfriends they had at the time and then sequester themselves away from their parents in another part of the house. I once walked in on them and viewed a master class in groping. They probably thought I didn't know what they were doing. Well, I did.

Since I was not yet educated in the polite forms of sexual assault, I really had nobody to connect with it at these parties. So, I would camp out at the liquor table. My parents were so proud of the array of bottles they would feature at these soirees that I actually found photographs of nothing but booze. It was sort of my folks' stock portfolio, 85 proof.

To keep myself busy, I would help my father make the drinks. At first, I was relegated to the placement of ice cubes. Then, I graduated to the insertion of tonic, Tom Collins mix, or whatever soft beverage was being included. At some point, my father decided to go and have some fun on his own, and I would man the cocktail dispenser all by myself. Each relative would come up and direct me how to make whatever libation they were desiring. And, pretty much every exchange started with this conversation:

Relative: "Whoa, you put way too much booze in there."

Me: "Okay, I'll start over."

Relative: "No, I'll drink it."

This happened every single time. One of my relatives knocking back a drink with way too much liquor. And it's no wonder why most of them were sacked by 12:15AM. A few years ago, I found all my father's slides taken of those evenings. You can actually tell what time the photo was taken from the looks of some of those faces. In one shot, I saw some distant uncle who was modeling certain body parts made out of balloons. Like some sex-starved clown entertaining at a kid's birthday party. And, in the background of one of the slides, you can see me. Wearing a stupid New Year's hat and putting too much whiskey in somebody's sour.

Dinner last night: Leftover Christmas prime rib.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

You Want Wednesday? You Can't Handle Wednesday!

If you're still basking in the warm glow of Christmas Day, you have come to the wrong place. Take a few minutes for some snarkiness while you sort through all those gift receipts.

---If you know somebody who actually tracks Santa Claus's progress through that NORAD website, I hope you have their name in your address book written in pencil.

---I'm sure Santa Claus got to your house.

---Except, of course, if you live in the New York metropolitan area, where he was probably delayed 60 to 90 minutes due to air traffic.

---I got an early Yuletide present last Saturday when I came out of my Rodeo Drive haircut appointment. I watched two of Beverly Hills' finest cops bust this well-dressed Hispanic woman for shoplifting.

---They had her cuffed in ten seconds. All the while, she was saying, "No speak English. No speak English!"

---But, she was certainly able to read English, because she had just come out of the Ralph Lauren store. So, she's literate enough to know that it wasn't an Old Navy.

---Have a holly jaily Christmas.

---Deck the bars with those tin cans, fa la la la la la la la la la.

---Oh, yeah, she steals because she's poor. Right. Because some poor kid understands the Polo label.

---A few days before we can officially end this year's edition of Shopping Mall Garage Wacky Racers.

---I actually saw some dumb chick almost kill about three people. She had to make a shopping lot right turn doing at least 30 MPH while yakking on a cell phone.

---Because she desperately needed to call somebody to check on Uncle Bob's neck size.

---Yo, Stupid! I have something you can wear around your neck, too. One yank fits all.

---A big salute to anybody who works in retail during the holiday season, attending to the very wish of our mostly detestable population.

---I saw more sales clerks having to contend with customers, who were simultaneously having a cell phone conversation.

---It's amazing that the folks who multi-task are ill-equipped to do even one thing at a time.

---I really did hear this exchange on Christmas Eve, when I was in a small local gift shop, which is the only place I can buy Filofax filler paper.

---A sales clerk was meticulously gift wrapping a fancy pen for this annoying cow.

---And she had the nerve to say, "Can you go a little faster? I'm in a hurry."

---Hey, lady, if you hadn't stopped at In N'Out Burger, you would have the time to wrap this yourself.

---Besides, whoever you're giving that present to probably doesn't like you anyway.

---I actually had to make an airport pickup the other day and the exodus had begun. It was a flashlight in a room full of cock roaches.

---For some inexplicable reason, I had to be in the Delta Airlines terminal. Talk about your low end clientele. I didn't know you could pay for a flight with food stamps.

---By the way, I saw Sherri Shepherd from the View at baggage claim and, according to my roommate, she was flying coach!

---LA had been much emptied out by the Sunday before Christmas. And the result is my favorite week to be in SoCal.

---In a town where everything is supposedly just twenty minutes away, you can actually get someplace in forty minutes.

---The only places that are still crowded are the movie theaters, as Hollywood types start to catch up to the Oscar buzz flicks. The Arclight lobby is a major celebrity gathering place. I stake out a spot in the corner and watch the Botox parade by.

---I saw "Juno" and "Enchanted" and I am renewed in my faith that Hollywood can still write smart comedy that is not aimed at 17 year-olds.

---Not sure if you read this. The still breathing Art Linkletter, who must be 140 years old, lost his son, TV personality Jack.

---That means this fossil outlived both his children. Given that his daughter, Diane, threw herself off a balcony 35 years ago.

---Kids do the darndest things.

Go have yourself that second piece of pie.

Dinner last night: Christmas prime rib with good friends at home.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas, Gang

About 6PM last night, there was the sound of an explosion down the block and then all our power went down. The high winds blew some transformer in the Valley and triggered scattered power outages. Ironically, in the area around my apartment...and my church. Indeed, as I was driving to church, most of the homes in between were lit up like Vegas.

We did have the scheduled candlelight service---by complete candlelight. And there were about 75 people there, many of them unware of the power issues because their homes were fine.

This must have been what it was like to have Christmas in 1879. No TV, no radio, no internet. Just people.

And this classic says it all. Simply. Eloquently.

Dinner last night: Some chips. You can't cook in the dark.

Monday, December 24, 2007

No, Virginia, There is No Santa Claus

The other day, I was in a department store and I passed by a long line of young Asian children waiting their turn to sit on Santa's lap. I peeked around the corner and saw that this appointed Santa looked about as phony as this guy on the right. I wondered to myself whether these Asian kids ask the rhetorical question of why Santa has round eyes. And do African-American tots consider it strange when they are handing their list to a Causcasian St. Nick? As a matter of fact, here's a song devoted solely to that very topic:

It seems so antiquated now to believe in Santa Claus. Maybe because all the kids that I am associated with are all grown up themselves. Yes, I went through the ritual with them. I specialized in eating the cookies that were usually left on the fireplace mantle. I don't, however, remember specifically how any of them came to learn the harsh reality.

I do recall how it ended for me. With the nastiest and most abrupt thud you've ever want to experience.

I must have been six or seven. And this was another childhood nightmare precipitated by my neighborhood pal, Monte. I've written about him before. The idiot is still in the damn house and he hasn't had a haircut or a bath since Reagan was eating Jelly Bellies in the Oval Office. He's the one who told me stories from his nuns about how doomed I was not being Catholic.

The myth ended quickly. We were playing outside one December day and Monte turned to me with a wry sense of malice.

"You know all your Christmas presents are being hidden in my house?"


"Yeah, your mother asked my mother to keep them till Christmas. Because there is no Santa Claus."

I went home to mourn. But, yet, I still wasn't sure Monte wasn't pulling a fast one.

A few weeks later, on Christmas morning, I happened to lift the box containing my Flintstones play set upside down. And there it was. In big black letters.


Is that where Santa got it?

More likely, Monte had chipped away one more piece of my childhood.

Dinner last night: Chef's salad.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #15!

On December 30, 1987, I tripped on my sneaker laces coming out of my bathroom apartment. Nevertheless, I still headed out for the evening, totally ignorant of the fact that I had fractured the rotator cuff in my right shoulder.

I was less ignorant in the morning when the excruciating pain and a neighbor drove me to the emergency room. Happy F-ing New Year! I couldn't raise a glass of cheer, because I could barely raise a pencil. So, I was cooped up for the frivolity. And, to get my mind off my chipped bones, I decided to rent the longest movie I could find at the video store. That would be the 1959 rendition of "Ben-Hur," which I had surprisingly never seen. And, so I sat in front of a 19 inch television, arm in a sling and watching, for the first time, one of the biggest and successful epics Hollywood had ever made. It was probably the worst way to sample this film. And I certainly have seen it several times since in much better viewing conditions. But, I can't say that I have enjoyed more than I did that very first time.

"Ben-Hur" is total validation that, at one isolated point in the fixed universe, Charlton Heston could really act. For a movie that is so large in scope and long in running time, "Ben-Hur" is an incredibly intimate story. Because, indeed, it's about one man's spiritual awakening. Many of the movie's sequences are so legendary that all I have to do is simply mention them and you can conjure up an immediate image. The ship's galley. The chariot race. The leper colony. But, for me, the most memorable scenes are the ones where Judah Ben-Hur encounters Jesus Christ. The first time finds a beaten Judah, enslaved in a road gang, and a traveling Jesus gives him a drink of water. Many reels later, Judah returns the favor when Christ falls in front of him while carrying the cross to his own crucifixion. The symmetry of those two points in the movie is truly amazing and wonderfully choreographed by director William Wyler. Of course, this was in the day when Hollywood worked hard to never show Jesus Christ's face on camera. Today, they probably would have no shame and they'd probably even cast Seth Rogan in the part.

You can't truly appreciate "Ben-Hur" until you see it on a big screen. And a wide one. A really wide one. Because the chariot race virtually surrounds you wherever you are seated in the theater. It is probably the most exciting fifteen minutes ever filmed.

Until "Titanic" came along, "Ben-Hur" was the biggest Oscar winner ever with eleven. And every single one was deserved. It is a movie that was an event. Hell, even the trailer was terrific. Coming attactions that made you breathlessly wait for the movie's opening day.

See "Ben-Hur" when you can. On the biggest screen possible.

And you don't have to fracture your shoulder to do so.

Dinner last night: Chicken tenders at Johnnie Rocket's following the El Capitan presentation of "Enchanted."

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Who The Hell are Harry and David?

I can only blame it on the eternal cosmic connection.

Despite the fact that I have never ever ordered anything from Harry and David, I regularly get a catalog from them. Like clockwise, it shows up on December 1, just in time for holiday gift giving.

I have no clue who Harry or David, except they sell fruit baskets, meats, candies, and the like. But, they apparently know who I am. I could never figure it out until recently. Another mental epiphany.

This has my father's heavenly fingerprints all over it. Because, in the last ten years of his life, he shopped exclusively with this catalog. Not to relatives, but all those other people on the periphery of your life. The mailman. Your doctor. The local bookie. Your friendly neighborhood bartender. I remember one year my house was knee deep in German summer sausages. Because nothing says "Merry Christmas" more than a big hunk of processed meat. Another year, my father ordered nothing but cans of cashew nuts. Thank God nobody on his list suffered from diverticulitis.

I guess this was the healthy alternative to the previous version of ancillary gift giving. When your oil delivery guy routinely received a carton of cigarettes. Because nothing says "Happy Holidays" like a big old black spot on your lung.

I don't have a bartender or a bookie. But, I do have a housekeeper. She takes the Christmas cash. In crisp unmarked bills. That can't be traced since she's not claiming any of it.

I have no idea what she would think if we gave a big basket of pears.

Dinner last night: Roast beef sandwich and side salad.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Worst Christmas Song Ever!!

As somebody who has actually spent two different Christmases watching my parents' ultimately fatal illnesses play out against a backdrop of merriment, why would you want to infuse a joyful holiday with such incredible sadness? But, that's just what the song "The Christmas Shoes" does.

This piece of dreck has been around for about 10 years, and allegedly was a big hit on the country charts when it first came out. It's all about some poor little boy who wants to buy some new shoes on Christmas Eve because his mom is on her deathbed. There's no Christmas miracle at the end of the song. I'm guessing Mommy checks out as predicted. Off to meet Jesus wearing some Payless specials. And this little boy's left alone. Merry F-ing Christmas!

I am sure many, many people are forced to endure such sorrow every year around this time. I certainly had my share. I once spent a Christmas Day shuttling between two different hospitals visiting my father and my mother. But, like we all must do, I tried to move forward. Yet, every damn Christmas, this song gets played as a constant reminder. Can we at least appreciate joy for one single moment without thinking about dire consequences? The writers of this disaster should go off to meet Jesus themselves. Real soon.

What is even more shocking to me is how the knuckleheads in this country have taken this musical oil spill to their hearts. If you go onto You Tube, you will find endless renditions and videos set to this song. Here's one that cannot be believed. Whoever did it actually went to the trouble of taking a picture of somebody in a hospital bed. Madness! And dig the shoes they include. Anybody showing up at the pearly gates with those should be dropkicked right out of Heaven. My mother wouldn't be caught dead wearing those. And she wasn't.

Come on, folks. It's okay to smile. Even if it's only for one day.

Dinner last night: Italian soup.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Christmas Song Confidential

You can't avoid it this time of year. There's always some radio station playing nothing but one Christmas song after another. Some are terrific and I could listen to them over and over. And, yet, there are others that should come around just once a year and that's it. And, when you listen to some of the asinine lyrics (and subtext), your mind wanders...

Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer: So, you know that, on the first unfoggy Christmas Eve, Rudolph was downsized right out on his sorry ass. I recently heard a version of this done by Dean Martin. In German. I'm wondering what bottles were finished off in the recording studio that night. Meanwhile, remember that stupid little Rudolph didn't even exist until the Montgomery Ward store invented him in 1939!

Santa Baby: Every female singer in the world has attempted this ditty. But, only the ultra slutty Eartha Kitt does it justice. Meanwhile, is that one golddigging whore or what? Honey, I'd get you some nice Christmas earrings but your ankles would probably knock them off.

Frosty the Snowman: A wonderful Christmas memory for children. A friend whose shelf life is maybe three weeks tops.

Santa Claus Is Coming To Town: This song suggests the onset of more psychological problems. "You better watch out. You better not cry. Better not pout. I'm telling you why." So, some poor kid grows up afraid to show one single emotion. No wonder we wind up with Columbine. Can you imagine some innocent 8 year-old boy? "My grandpa died last night, but I can't cry about it because then Santa Claus won't come." I do, however, have a fantasy rendition of this. I would have loved to hear it sung by Joan Crawford.

Winter Wonderland: The lyrics from the fifth grade always stick in my head. "Walking around in women's underwear."

The Christmas Song: Same thing. The fifth grade version. "Chet's nuts roasting on an open fire."

The Little Drummer Boy: Come on! Like Mary wanted the peace and the serenity of the manger to be interrupted by this little urchin's incessant racket.

Last Christmas: First done by George Michael and Wham in 1984. Think about the song's refrain. "Last Christmas. I gave you my heart. But the very next day, you gave it away. This year, to save me from tears. I'll give it to someone special." How warm and special does that make you feel? This is the first ever Christmas FU song.

I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus: Underneath the Christmas tree last night. Does Little Sally question this behavior? Probably not, because she's already seen Mommy kissing the cable guy, the mailman, "Uncle" Phil, and her "best friend" Muriel.

We Three Kings of Orient are: Undoubtedly headed to an outlet mall on a Saturday afternoon.

Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful: Now, why the call for the faithful, joyous, and triumphant to come forward? These folks have already bought in. It should be "Oh, Come, All Ye Despondent, Broken, and Agnostic." No wonder less people are going to worship these days. They're been literally preaching to the choir.

Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas: This is indeed my favorite "modern" Christmas song. I love Judy Garland's version first introduced in "Meet Me in St. Louis." And, Michele Lee did a tremendous job with the song in a 1990 episode of "Knots Landing." But, the rendition that always makes me sad is Karen Carpenter. A voice lost too, too soon. And hearing her always makes me want to reach for a snack.

Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer: Another absolute knee slapper from the morons who live in red-colored states. Guffaw, guffaw. If I laugh anymore, my wooden teeth will fall out. Only some jerk in Arkansas would enjoy this despicable mess. Meanwhile, Grandma has no idea how lucky she has it. Ending a life of Midwestern misery after being a head model for one of Blitzen's hoof prints.

Feliz Navidad: The annual reminder that Jose Feliciano once had a career. Gee, Jose, don't the lights on the tree look wonderful? Oh, never mind.

The Chipmunk Song: I can hear this once a year and no more. I remember this being played constantly when I was a kid. Not only did it sell tons of records, but it also probably drove up the sales of helium tanks.

And choice for the worst Christmas song ever!

Dinner last night: Christmas buffet at local school party.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Only One Shopping Wednesday Till Christmas

Back in LA for a while, thank goodness.

---If you are in a shopping mall at 12 noon on Christmas Eve, you are no friend of mine.

---If you are in a shopping mall at 6AM for a doorbusters sale on December 26, you don't even rank as a decent enemy.

---A radio station out here in LaLa is going to be playing a yulelog on Christmas Eve.


---That's like an old radio company I used to work for. They used to sell golf broadcasts on the radio, too.

---"Hey, look. The one branch is almost all burned. Pass the egg nog."

---My week as a human pinball around the country took its toll, as I inherited the finest of germs that American Airlines' coach passengers can offer. I landed last Friday and I am still waiting for my ears to pop.

---The idiots were already starting to clog the airline terminals last week. Does Grandma really want all these people showing up for Christmas?

---On one of my flights last week, I had this Asian chick next to me who seemed to confuse my left shoulder with a Barcalounger.

---"I nap on you long time."

---Because I got stuck depending on their "food for purchase" on one trip, I tried American's holiday snack, a mega gingerbread cookie. It should be banned by the American Dental Association. Thanks to this treat, I now have to completely limit my sugar intake until July 14, 2008.

---If I have to buy food on board, at least give me a variety that doesn't look like the pastry rack at 7/11.

---By the final leg of my journey, I was emitting shades of greens that I didn't even know existed.

---Last Sunday, I was so sick that I was going to resort to one of those walk-in "doc-in-a-box" clinics. Beverly Hills Urgent Care.

---Which I discovered is closed on Sundays. A suggestion on renaming the facility: Beverly Hills Not Really Urgent Care.

---I can now say that I spent a night in Frisco, Texas. Woo hoo. Where the Stonebriar Resort and Business Center could be the setting for Poltergeist 5.

---In my room, the thermostat was off. The AC was off. The heater was off. Yet, I felt like I was sleeping in an Easy Bake Oven. I was forced to spend the night with the patio door open, and it was 28 degrees outside.

---After that evening of widely deviating hot and cold temperatures, my sinuses have now joined the writers on strike.

---Upon checkout, I was asked if I had a pleasant stay.

---"No." The clerk looked at me as if I just told him his mother was an ugly whore.

---That's what I get for even stopping anywhere between Los Angeles and New York.

---But, what else can you say about a place like Dallas, whose biggest claim to fame is a Presidential assassination?

---You know what would help me get over this super-nasty sinus infection? A big bottle of steroids. Who's got Paul LoDuca on speed dial?

---Okay, now we know officially. You just don't grow three shoe sizes in a year without a little chemical help.

---And, since Andy Pettitte is also on the list, we now know that the stuff also works on noses.

---Overall, the Mitchell Report contained a lot of older guys past their prime who were trying anything to maintain a Strat-o-Matic card the following season.

---But, my early Christmas present was Roger Clemens' spot on that list.

---Of course, the peckerwood denies it all. That's like Japan saying they weren't near Hawaii on December 7.

---Of course, I was being personally duped everytime I gave Eric Gagne a standing ovation during his Cy Young season.

---Breaking news from a non-HGH world in 2000: The Mets beat the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series.

---Now, it is looking more and more like it will be Huckabee vs. Obama next year.

---Forget the steroids. Let's start passing the hemlock.

---In a country full of lousy choices, that pairing would indeed be the worst. With one guy, you'd wind up with a country run by those lunatic Fundamentalists who think that Jesus loves them more than anybody else, all the while maintaining a list of all the people they hate.

---With the other choice, we wind up with a nation run by crabby DMV and postal workers who will be empowered enough to demand that we celebrate Oprah's birthday with a national holiday.

Check, please!

Dinner last night: Orange chicken at the Cheesecake Factory.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

O Tannenbaum

Oddly enough, it wasn't until I moved to sunny, often tropical Southern California that I had a live tree for Christmas. Indeed, even during holidays of family illnesses and hardships, a Christmas tree was always prominent in my life. And, finally, on my own in Los Angeles, I was able to complete the Yuletide picture. With the wonderful evergreen smells that permeate your home. And those freakin' pine needles that are impossible to vacuum up off a carpet.

Growing up in the snowy and cold Northeast where the mood is ideal, I should have had the Norman Rockwell holiday season. But, my parents came from an era where quicker was better. And, yes, they must have known how annoying those pine needles were, because they never even bothered to try a real tree. For the early years of my youth, our tree was artificial. And you had to put the damn thing together. Branch H goes into Hole H. You know the drill. It was less about family bonding and more about trying to follow the diagram.

And then there were the limitations on the tree decorations. We had some that were traditional and they were only retired when they were broken. And, even then. My mother had these two elf dolls that she always loved to have guard our tree. By the time I was in the eighth grade, the elves looked like they had been in a gang fight in Bed Stuy. And no glass ornament was retired unless it drew blood on your hands.

But, over time, even this process needed to be streamlined by my parents. So, ingeniously, they decided not to take down the tree after Christmas. Instead, my father would put two plastic garbage bags over them and then take it up to a corner of the attic. The next December, when you wanted to decorate for Christmas, you would simply remove the trash bags and be done in five minutes. Cooking a TV dinner was more complicated.

And, believe me, they did their share of that, too.

Yep, I have a real live Christmas tree now. And the aroma is terrific!

Dinner last night: Grilled bratwurst and pickled beet salad.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Monday Morning Video Laugh - December 17, 2007

Merry Christmas from Mr. Bean.

Dinner last night: French Dip at Cafe 50s.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #16!!

Other than maybe the "Simpsons Movie," I have never seen brighter colors on film than I did in "The Band Wagon." And there's probably a darn good reason for it. The director was Vincente Minnelli, who once was the stage designer for Radio City Music Hall. Every shot in "The Band Wagon" offers you Godiva-like eye candy. There is not one wasted inch of the screen in any one moment.

Early on in the film, there is a scene set on 42nd Street of New York, circa 1953. It reminds me of what an entertainment hub New York City used to be. If you walk down into Times Square, you get the same bright colors assailing your vision. In "The Band Wagon," it involves you. Times Square today repels you.

The plot of "The Band Wagon" is probably no different than other MGM musicals. A bunch of people get together to put on a show. But, instead of the barn behind Mickey and Judy's house, these folks are actual professionals that show you the inner workings of a Broadway musical. You have Oscar Levant and Nanette Fabray (why did she not work more in film musicals?) parody the songwriting team of Betty Comden and Adolph Green (the actual writers of the movie), while Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse are the epitome of class as the two stars of the musical, both on stage and on the screen. Don't look too closely at the seams of the plot, as they were probably put together by a bunch of Filipino kids who used to make sweaters for Kathie Lee Gifford. Just sit back and enjoy the story. And, more importantly, the musical numbers that connect the oddball points of the plot.

And these are musical moments that are legendary in film history. Of course, "The Band Wagon" features the often-seen "That's Entertainment" number that probably showed up in every single film clip show ever made. But, when you actually see it in the true context of this story, you understand the irony and subtext that was originally built into the song. Also, revel in the "Triplets" number, which is as snarky as it is melodious.

Then, watch Fred and Cyd in the "Dancing in the Dark" rendition set in a backlot mock-up of Central Park. Their feet almost never touch the ground. While the music is magnificent, watch it below with the sound turned off. It is almost as magical in sheer silence.

"The Band Wagon" is one of those movies you absolutely have to see on a big screen. The largest canvas you can find. You might even have to put on your sunglasses.

Dinner last night: Company Christmas party at the Beverly Wilshire.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Hallmark Moments

It has started. Your mailbox is clogged every day with Christmas and holiday greetings. Some of them from people you haven't seen in years. It's an annual excuse for a touchstone that really is important.

I would never think about going through a December holiday season without sending cards. When I started getting those family newsletters a few years ago, I sort of felt like we were headed into the "Too Much Information" aisle of life's supermarket. After all, I'm not really anxious to know that Fido got worms after eating from the neighbor's Labor Day garbage. Now, if your son or daughter got worms the same way, I'm absolutely a buyer for that newsletter.

About six years ago, I started doing what I call an "anti-newsletter." It was supposed to be a one time parody, but too many people enjoyed it so I kept it up on subsequent holidays. This year, I truncated it a bit because, frankly, I creatively vomit here on this blog too much as it is. I am simply sending along this link and telling everybody to do some happy reading. But, I digress...

I remember when I was a kid. My grandmother couldn't read or write, but still liked me to write out her Christmas cards. This became an annual ritual. She would pull out this address book which she probably bought with ration stamps in 1943. And, then, we would go over every single address as she would then relate some anecedotal story about the person. The tales never changed. But, this was my own personal version of "A Charlie Brown Christmas." The script never changed. The interesting thing is that most of the folks in my grandmother's address book were unknown quantities to me. They were all people she knew from years ago. Some of them came over to America on the boat with her. They lived in such faraway places as Michigan and Maryland and Staten Island. I doubt my grandmother had seen any of them in 20 or 30 years. But, they got a Christmas card from her every year. And they sent back.

Of course, this annual ritual also had the same beginning every year as well. It would start with this short exchange.

Grandma: "I don't think I'm going to send any cards this year. It's too much trouble."

Me: "If you don't send a card, all these people are going to think you're dead."

A short pause.

Grandma: "Okay, let's send."

We repeated that same scene year after year.

The Christmas after my grandmother died, I still sent all those people a card. With a short note telling them how much they had enriched my grandmother's life.

And that was the last time we heard back from any of them.

Dinner last night: Sausage and peppers from Earth Wind and Flour---back in LA.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Three Christmas Movies You May Not Be Watching But Should Be...

Every year, there are the perennials. The Christmas movies that are played over and over and over. Most of them are terrific. But, year after year, they start to get as heavy as rancid egg nog.

About twenty years ago, somebody discovered that "It's A Wonderful Life" fell into public domain. So, it got played by television stations and networks everywhere. I swear I saw it once dubbed on Korean television. And some of the prints were just awful. More blemishes than Joan Van Ark on the day before her next Botox treatment. I also got personally bored with the Frank Capra saga about three years ago after I produced and directed a live stage production of the script. After two weeks of living and breathing the dialogue, I was ready to shove that bell down Zuzu's throat.

The overkill factor also goes into effect for "Miracle on 34th Street." It's shown in color. It's shown in black and white. It's shown and shown and shown.

The TNT Channel has also done a terrific job in sucking the life out of "A Christmas Story." Now, this is a marvelous holiday movie that should be seen on a big screen. But, TNT loves to play these marathons where the film is shown on a loop. For two days running. Their programmer is the one who truly needs to have his eye poked out.

I am sadly sensing that, now that people have rediscovered the joys of "White Christmas," it will get overused as well. They may have to change the title to "Frayed Christmas." This is another movie that needs to be seen on a big screen to be totally appreciated.

Now, I have got all of the above films on DVD so I could watch them during a heat wave in July if I wanted. But, frankly, I might be giving them a rest this holiday season. And maybe you should, too. Indeed, I regularly watch some other Christmas movies that, inexplicably, don't get the same airtime that the others do. Except for Turner Classic Movies, nobody really gives them their due. So, if you've had it to the back teeth with George Bailey and a pre-soaked Natalie Wood, you might want to slip these three gems into your holiday cinematic rotation.

Christmas in Connecticut: This is a mid-40s classic from the Warner Brothers back lot. In fact, they don't even get off a soundstage. For a movie from that era, it is still surprisingly modern. Because star Barbara Stanwyck plays a character very similar to Martha Stewart. A magazine writer who specializes in being an expert on hearth and home. And supposedly the greatest cook on the planet. Her publisher hits on a publicity stunt where Stanwyck will provide a home-cooked Christmas meal for an injured soldier. Except nobody knows the woman can't cook and hasn't got one single domestic talent. The plot spins out into several directions from there, but it is all delicious fun. And any movie that features S.Z "Cuddles" Sakall is okay in my book. This is a perfect film to watch while wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve day.

Love Actually: Forget "Bad Santa," "Fred Claus," and any other Yuletide crap that Hollywood has passed off the last few years. The best Christmas movie to be produced in the last ten years is "Love Actually."
It's one of those ultra-episodic scripts where about 15 characters have different storylines that may or may not be connected. It's a little confusing at first, as you meet practically the entire London phone book. But, hang on and you will get a wonderful present. Sure, there are about five characters and three storylines too many. But, they will scoot by quickly and you can revel in the more compelling tales. Laura Linney as a secretary who can't commit to any romance. Liam Neeson who is trying to be a parent to his young son as they both experience their first Noel without Mom. The shaky marriage between Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, who breaks your heart as she listens to a Joni Mitchell CD version of "Both Sides Now." I even liked Hugh Grant as a Tony Blair-like British Prime Minister. And there is a rendition of "All I Want for Christmas is You" that gives you goose bumps. If you've ever wanted to spend Christmas in London, this is the ideal virtual way to do so.

The Man Who Came to Dinner: This is technically not a Christmas movie, but it should be, since all the action happens around the holidays. This 1941 movie is another one that never leaves a Warner Brothers soundstage, but it really doesn't have to. You may know that this was originally a big hit on Broadway as written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. And two members of that cast, Monty Wooley and Mary Wickes, reprise their roles in the movie, which features the most razor sharp dialogue ever captured. There's not one unclever moment in the entire six reels. Who can't identify with the holiday guest who just won't leave? In this case, it's renowed critic and lecturer Sheridan Whiteside, who sprains his ankle and then sets up camp in somebody else's house for the holidays. As portrayed by Wooley, Whiteside is loosely based on Alexander Woolcott and he has one great barb after another. He's described this way: "He would have his mother burned at the stake if that was the only way he could light his cigarette." I wish people talked like these characters in real life. When Whiteside's nurse (Mary Wickes) forbids him from eating some candy, he retorts, "My great Aunt Jennifer ate a box of candy every day of her life. She lived to be one hundred and two, and when she had been dead for three days, she looked better than you do now." If that's not enough, throw in the fact that this is the only movie in history that co-starred Bette Davis and Jimmy Durante! Grab a box of your own candy and savor this great Christmas treat.

Dinner last night: Christmas party buffet at Branch in NYC.

And it's finally back to LA!

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Blenders

More trainwreck entertainment. Last week, as I was trolling the American Life TV network waiting for reruns of "Lou Grant" and "St. Elsewhere," I ran into The Blenders.


The Blenders.


The Blenders.

Okay, I'll stop. You may have never heard of them, but you can't avoid them if you watch this cable network. Because their commercial runs almost as much as some of the other low rent advertisers. There is this medicine you spray in your dog's dish that will alleviate the pet's arthritis. And, of course, there are not two, but three, different powerized wheelchairs on the market.

And just in time for the holiday season...the Blenders' Two CD Christmas song collection.

Who the hell are these guys? Well, an internet search will tell you that they are a singing group from Minneapolis. My guess is that, if you ever attended a wedding or a bar mitzvah in the Twin Cities, you already have a copy of their brochure. They apparently have won a local Emmy Award, which is probably the equivalent of Ted Baxter getting one of those Teddy Awards. These guys harmonize and they all look like a sanitized version of those greasers who used to gather around a fire in some trash can.

On their Christmas collection, they sing it all. Silent Night. Frosty the Snowman. Feliz Navidad. You name it. And, despite the disparity in those song styles, you will easily see from the commercial that everything the Blenders do sounds exactly the same. You might as well be hearing O Come All Ye Faithful in Yiddish. You will not be able to tell the difference. It is indeed all blended. Into nothing. Take a look for yourself.

It's elevator music dressed in four tuxedoes. The sound is akin to the hum of an overhead flourescent bulb that is just about to go out. I listened to two songs and I was almost asleep. This is a walking and talking dose of Halcion. If they're that popular in Minnesota, I can only assume that lots of snow over long periods of time can affect your hearing.

You're better off ordering the dog's arthritis medicine to see if it works on your big toe.

Dinner last night: The gingerbread cookie on the flight back to LaGuardia from Dallas.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It's Wednesday Calling

It's me. From wherever the hell I am today. Actually, I am posting this from a business center in a Frisco, Texas hotel.

---My flight to NY was amazing. Landed at JFK an hour early. Tantamount to hitting a jackpot with the weekly Lotto.

---Which means I must have a real doozy of a flight coming very soon. The law of sub-averages.

---The only bump on the inbound to JFK was the knucklehead sitting next to me. Please sign up for those Armrest Etiquette classes immediately!

---Amidst the flurries, I drove past the Mets' new Shitty Field, which is almost structurally complete.

---And it made me realize that I have just one more year to enjoy Shea Stadium. Cracked plaster, broken seats, and the sheer glory of it all.

---I have been engaged to write an article on my history as a Saturday ticket plan holder for an upcoming publication about Shea Stadium. I just know it won't have a happy ending.

---If I get kicked out of the new place, my Dodger allegiance will be complete. There will be a baptism in center field. Lasorda has agreed to officiate.

---Speaking of the Dodgers, their acquisition of Andruw Jones has taken away one of my favorite razzes whenever the Braves came town.

---"Hey, how about running that first name through Spellcheck?"

---On my holiday visit to the dead relatives at Ferncliff Cemetary in Hartsdale, I was startled to see a bunch of senior citizens powerwalking through the place.

---Boy, some people will do anything to avoid the shipping costs.

---Plus I noticed some Hollywood-like klieg lights all over the place. Somebody doing a red carpet at a funeral?

---I can see it now. You're there to bury Aunt Bertha and you're stopped by Joan and Melissa Rivers.

---"So, what was she wearing?"

---Memo to John Edwards: if you're going to keep coming out to make snide comments about Oprah Winfrey, I may just have to vote for you.

---Finally, somebody has the guts to expose this pagan for the fraud she is. Don't tell me about all the great things she does for mankind. The only person she is truly serving is herself.

---If you think I'm being a little harsh about my description of Her Majesty, go ahead and put a handful of carrots in front of her mouth and watch what happens.

---It's noteworthy that the first time she comes out to stump for a Presidential candidate, he is African-American. How does that happen???

---And, on the other side of the horse's ass, we have heard just about enough of those deplorable Evangelicals who want to keep infusing God into politics.

---Why is it that these numbskulls keep setting themselves up as the messengers of God's love, but there are so many people they don't tolerate?

---None of them have a prayer. Literally.

---Rhetorical question: is it more acceptable to marry someone of the same sex or your own cousin?

---What's the worse that could happen if Mormon Mitt Romney becomes President? Secretary of State Donny Osmond?

---Rockefeller Center has once again turned into one giant shopping mall in Nebraska. When I blew through there last Saturday for a gander at the tree, I never saw so many people buying gift cards to Applebee's.

---I was also appalled to see that Radio City Music Hall had actually erected a covering to protect people staying in line for that faux Christmas show of theirs.

---When I was a kid, we stood in line in the rain, the snow, the sleet, and the wind. And still got more for our money than they do today.

---Saturday was apparently a good day to burglarize assisted living facilities in the tri-state area. They were all in the middle of 50th Street.

---Another rhetorical question: is there somebody in this world who makes their living by cutting out a hole in yellow tennis balls so they can be affixed to those walkers?

---And today, I am in Texas. Home on the range. Where seldom is heard an intelligent word. And the minds are so muddled all day.

Dinner last night: Steak and lobster at Silver Fox Steakhouse in Frisco, Texas.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Give Yourself a Holiday Present and...

...have a colonoscopy done. Especially if you're over the age of 40. And I have a few friends who have yet to sample this. You know who you are. Sorry to be so Katie Couric all over you. But, it really is a piece of cake. Cake, of course, you can't eat for 24 hours prior. Just be happy that I didn't post any actual photos of the procedure, because they are available on the internet.

Last month, when I saw Robert Klein in San Diego, he did his famous Emmy-winning "Colonoscopy" song. Indeed, it was truly one of my funniest moments of the year. But, the lyrics also help to contribute to the scare factor that folks have about this. You've heard all the horror stories.

"I couldn't eat for three days."

"The camera got stuck and I wound up being broadcast on a public access channel."

"My doctor still can't find what he did with his Rolex watch."

It's all, in a manner of speaking, a lot of crap.

I didn't relish the thought either. If you are going to throw a couple of cameras up my ass, I, at the very least, want to wind up with about three usable episodes of something that could be syndicated. I can hear it now. "Joe's Rectum was filmed in front of a live studio audience." Nevertheless, even though there's no history in my family, my general internist pushed me toward it so much that I was convinced he had 1000 shares in Last January, I finally relented. And found up in the truest submissive position.

The preparation prior to the procedure is what frightens everybody. For me, it was no problem. Here's a trick. Time your colonoscopy so that it's around midday. That way, you can have a hearty lunch the day before. Then, you have some broth and Jello for dinner. If you can't get through 24 hours without eating a heavy meal, you need to move to Wyoming where there is lots of room for you and other cows of your size. You start your prep in the middle of the television primetime schedule, so you're not sacrificing a single important moment while hunkered down in the bathroom. If you've done it all right, your bathroom visitations are quick and generally over in two shots. You finish up the rest of the prep in the morning, but, by then, the needle is on empty. Don't do this during the sleeping hours. The same way you wouldn't take a laxative and a sleeping pill at the same time.

The actual procedure is a no brainer. You do get knocked out. But, you're not that far under. I got wheeled into the room and I literally saw the camera and the long hose attached. Don't think about where that's going. It's not a big deal, as long as you're not being attended by Dr. Genghis Khan. I focused on the two plasma screens on the wall, which resembled a Best Buy. Everybody wants fifteen minutes of camera time. If there's no problem, fifteen minutes will be all it takes.

My doctor and I carried on a bit of small talk. I told them that any loose change he found would be my property. Little did I know that his associate once pulled a quarter out of a teenage girl. This is so rare that the doctor asked the girl's parents if he could keep the quarter. They agreed willingly. When they sent back the check for medical services rendered, Mom and Dad deducted 25 cents from the total.

Just as they were going to put the happy stuff into my IV, I looked at the clock on the wall. 12:10PM. The next thing I saw was the clock one more time. 12:35PM. And we were done. The doctor found one small polyp, which put me in the same company as several past Presidents. And I didn't even have to sign control of the country over to anybody.

Within an hour, I was in Starbucks, having a Frappucino and a chocolate chip cookie. They never tasted so good. And I was even reticent eating that. Sort of like when you have your carpets cleaned. You really don't want to walk on them for a few days afterward.

Just go. It's when you wait that the problems start.

Dinner last night: Chinese buffet at King China in Yonkers.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday Morning Video Laugh - December 10, 2007

Time for the annual office holiday party. When you get to mingle with all the people you would never mingle with.

Dinner last night: Chicken teriyaki with grilled vegetables.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #17!!

I will always contend that movie audiences had to be a lot smarter in the days before sound. First off, you had to be able to read the title cards. Second, you had to be much more in tune with looks, nuances, and the emotions conveyed by the actors' facial expressions.

Turner Classic Movies, which should be given the Nobel Peace Prize for outstanding classic film presentation, frequently shows silent films. Now, unlike what most Americans do while watching TV, you can't go start dinner or sew or do a crossword puzzle while viewing a silent movie. You have to pay attention. Not an easy task for our society, which is comprised largely of undiagnosed ADD-inflicted folks.

This brings me to "City Lights," which is arguably Charlie Chaplin's greatest movie. And it may indeed be the poster child of the silent movie genre. Because so much depends on a minimum of words. It is all about people connecting. And not speaking. Ironically, I first was exposed to "City Lights" on a big screen. Some years back, Lehman College in the Bronx hosted a presentation of the film with a live orchestra accompaniment. As was the case with most of his film, Chaplin scored the whole picture, and the "City Lights" music was so remarkable that I immediately ran out to buy the CD soundtrack. You have to watch this film at least once to concentrate on the music alone. It is that sumptuous.

I've since gravitated back to "City Lights" countless times, always to focus on a different aspect of the movie. About twenty years ago, some guys in England did a documentary on Chaplin for the BBC. In it, there is an extended section that deals with the production of "City Lights," which was protracted to say the least. Ever the raging perfectionist, it took almost three years for Charlie to finish this 90 minute movie. At one point, he fires the lead actress and replaces her with another one. Then, after shooting extensively with the replacement, he bounces her and goes back to the original. You watch him rehearse very small pieces of comic business endlessly. A fascinating study of a genius.

The plot of "City Lights" has been repeated over and over. Chaplin, in the role of the legendary "Tramp," falls for a blind flower girl. He goes through a variety of jobs to pay anonymously for the operation will restore her vision. I'm including the ending here, but this spoiler should not prevent you from savoring the joys of the entire movie. In this scene, the girl, who can now see, slowly discovers who her benefactor was. It is one of the most significant film moments ever.

And you don't have to turn the sound on your computer to enjoy it. But, please do so for the music.

Dinner last night: Prime Rib at the Palm in New York City.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

My Hometown, Part 2

Memories are like the old advertisement for Lay's Potato Chips. You can't stop at one.

The recent post on Mount Vernon, New York, has sparked more flashes of nostalgia. And internet searches that produced the photos here. Both are of the main shopping district---Fourth Avenue. I lived on 15th Avenue. Do the math. It was a short walk.

These pictures gave me back The Fair, which was a huge two story version of what we would know today as Bed Bath and Beyond. I hated going into there as a kid because there was just so much there that I could accidentally break. Lots of glass and crystal.

I remember getting gym shorts and sneakers at Buddy's Army and Navy store. I never understood the name. Is that where, during WWII, our soldiers bought their equipment?

I remember now the name of the record store. Brodbeck's. Along with the latest 45 RPM hits that I would buy, I also hoarded Broadway cast albums of the current hit shows, despite the fact that I never saw any of them in person myself. I was probably the earliest incarnation of a metrosexual.

There was a luggage store called Uttal's, which was useless to my family since we never went anywhere.

The bookstore was a Mom and Pop operation called Barish's, which would certainly have been gobbled up by Borders or Barnes & Nobles by now. They stocked all the Cliff Notes you needed, so the place came in handy. I think I went to high school with one of the kids in their family.

There was a local bank named County Trust, where my family's "riches" were kept. My grandmother went there to have her passbook updated every week, because, if she didn't see the interest printed in it, she wasn't happy.

For a while, trading stamps were all the rage and there was a Plaid Stamps redemption center on Fourth Avenue for a bit. I think I got a baseball glove for 10 and a half books.

There was a John's Bargain Store, where my mother would don dark glasses before entering. She didn't want her friends to know that she might be buying her kid's white tube socks there.

At one point, there was a Horn and Hardhart store there and you could buy some pre-packaged meals straight from the Automat. The beef stew was really good and the rice pudding was awesome. When my mom re-entered the work force, these containers were stacked up five deep in our refrigerator.

And, once again, it's gone.

They're all gone.

Dinner last night: In snowy New York for a Virginia Ham sandwich at Montparnasse Diner.

Friday, December 7, 2007

In the Middle of Picketing...

Writers are trying to stay busy and put their creative minds to good use. This is a very funny video that wonderfully illustrates the issues at hand. Enjoy.

Dinner last night: Eggplant Parmagiana at Maria's Italian Kitchen.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Real Classic Television

One of the truly bizarre by-products of re-initiating a relationship with a cable company (I have Direct TV in two bedrooms, but Time Warner Cable for the HD in the living room) is my re-connection to this goofy little cable network called American Life. Direct TV doesn't even bother carrying it. Maybe they should.

Nick at Nite and TV Land have constructed these faux cottage industries around classic TV. They allegedly embrace old TV shows and are proud to do so. But, when I tune in, all I ever see are reruns of the Cosby Show and the Fresh Prince of BelAir. Classic TV for anyone under 35. The embrace is not as tight as they would like you to believe.

American Life somehow gets it, though. They apparently buy all the old TV shows nobody else wants. And they don't use the year of 1985 as a historical cut-off point. One night a week, American Life devotes to the westerns of the 50s and 60s. Maverick. Cheyenne. Sugarfoot. Black and white from the Warner Brothers back lot, baby. I can almost smell my grandmother's pie cooking. There's another military night that features Combat, The Gallant Men, McHale's Navy, and the Rat Patrol. For a while, Secret Agent Night brought you I Spy, The Man from UNCLE, and the Girl from UNCLE. Very recently, they wisely realized that the MTM comedies from the 70s were getting short shrift so they added on Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, the later Newhart, and the fabulously underrated WKRP in Cincinnati. There must have been a sale at MTM, because Sunday night brings you back-to-back episodes of St. Elsewhere, Hill Street Blues, and LA Law. And they also just found Lou Grant, one of the best dramas of the last 30 years. This also enables me to re-start my love affair with Linda Kelsey.

If you poke around American Life long enough, you will uncover a few other totally forgotten treasures. Try these one for size. All of them showed up at some point in the past year.

My Favorite Martian.

Mayberry RFD.

77 Sunset Strip.

Adventures of Superman.

Chico and the Man.

F Troop.

The FBI.

Kung Fu.

One day, I popped into a 30 year-old episode of The Galloping Gourmet with Graham Kerr, who I had mistakenly thought had dropped dead from an overdose of clarified butter. And I was absolutely floored when they started running old color episodes of the Honeymooners from the 60s. Those were the weird musical versions where Ralph and Norton suddenly break out in song from the fun and sun capital of the world, Miami Beach, which apparently had the greatest audiences in the world. Frankly, Sheila McRae and Jane Kean are a devil worshipper's version of Alice and Trixie. But, at least, American Life is providing us with one more classic TV service---the utter renewed appreciation of Audrey Meadows.

Either the financial bottom has completed dropped out of the rerun market or American Life must have available money coming from some old Nazi slush fund in Argentina. It is amazing what they are bringing back to us. They certainly can't be doing it from advertising. Most of the commercials are direct response. There are dozen of Gospel CD collections. I saw some belt contraption that allows two people to easily lift a grand piano. And, of course, I had no idea how many competitors there were in manufacturing motorized wheelchairs for senior citizens. I'm sure the network's chief demographic is 75 to Forest Lawn, but who cares. The programming is fun...and truly classic television.

If there's an unlimited budget there, I am going to suggest some more additions. Things I would love to see again:

Hazel with Shirley Booth. She won a bunch of Emmys for this and they were always selling the latest model Chevrolet.

Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey. I can remember wearing an intern's shirt in kindergarten. Those two docs were that hot.

The Mothers-in-Law. Totally underrated. I got to write an article about this one several years ago and Kaye Ballard's been campaigning for its return since then. Nice lady, too. Had lunch at her Palm Springs house which she bought from Desi Arnaz.

Ironside. A great tie-in for those Hoverrounds.

Bracken's World. This drama about a fictional film studio only lasted a year and a half, but the young actresses in it fulfilled my earliest years of puberty.

Burns and Allen. The most wonderful surreal sitcom ever, especially during the season where George controlled the action with his magic television screen. The world is a much sadder place without Harry Von Zell.

Marcus Welby MD and Father Knows Best. Just to prove to everybody that Robert Young wasn't always drunk.

The Tony Randall Show. The one where he was a Philadelphia judge. It should have lasted longer than two years. It was as sophisticated as Frasier.

I could keep going. I realize you will ultimately be able to buy most of these in DVD box sets. But, there is something about tuning in an appointed day and time to follow the adventures of some characters you really love. And, besides, in between the entertainment, American Life gives you a darn good deal on some plastic food containers.

TV Land, phooey.

Dinner last night: Braised short ribs at Palomino.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Put On Your Wednesday Best

All dressed up and you wind up here?

---The baseball winter meetings are underway. I will scream if I hear one more rumor about who's going to wind up with Santana.

---Met GM Omar Minaya is going to go one better. He's negotiating a deal with Procol Harum.

---All these trade and free agent rumors are dizzying. A bunch of stringers tripping over each other trying to get the scoop. And they're always all wrong. I swear I heard that the White Sox had signed Lou Gehrig to be a lefthanded pinch hitter.

---By the way, time stopped on Saturday. Yep, Minaya traded for two guys and neither one of them is Hispanic.

---So, the Mets trade in one Jewish outfielder, Shawn Green, for one Ryan Church who is anti-Semitic.

---Ryan is one more holy roller who can't keep his fundamental mouth shut. The last name is an ideal example of literary irony.

---I guess that means there's at least one vote for that numbskull Huckabee in the Met clubhouse.

---Hillary can tell me all about how she plans to bring our men home from Iraq after she learns how to bring her husband home from the office.

---I am waiting for Barry Bonds' memoirs. "If I Took It."

---I wonder if Fred Goldman gets that money as well.

---Hanukah has started. And that prompts this nagging philosophical question. If the holiday lasts eight days, is that duration built into the shopping time?

---I can hear it now. "There are 8 to 16 shopping days left till Hanukah."

---With former Dodger owner Walter O'Malley going into the Baseball Hall of Fame, that news should effectively kill off the last two old farts in Brooklyn who are still holding this ridiculous grudge.

---The guy created a hugely successful franchise in Los Angeles and changed the game of baseball for the ages. All because he realized that, if he had stayed in Brooklyn, there would be more cops than fans in the stands.

---The longer you stay in one place, the more likely you will be there to watch it turned to poop.

---I hope whoever wins next year's Presidential election comes with a gift receipt. My guess is that it will take less than one month before we all realize we made a big mistake.

---I have to board four different planes with the next ten days. Please send me your guesses on how many hours I will be delayed. Round up to the nearest hundred.

---I am also going to spend Saturday evening in Manhattan with several million of my favorite tourist friends from Arkansas. Please send me your guesses on how many times one of these yokels will piss me off during the course of the night. Round up to the nearest thousand.

---My first Christmas shopping experience of the year. I pick up an item at Macy's. I walk to the counter and pay for it. The clerk writes his name on the receipt and tells me that, if conducted for a survey, I should remember his name and the fact that his service was outstanding.

---Because nobody can run my Macy's card through the machine better than him?

---Outstanding service to me means he gave me the item for nothing.

---I guess the news that Carson Daly has crossed the writers' picket line to do his late night show would be bigger if anybody gave a shit about Carson Daly.

---Carson is another one of those marketing-created mental midgets who considers a decision to urinate as a profound moment in their day.

---The writers may be on strike, but that doesn't mean you can't find good comedy on television. There were tons of laughs for us last night as we watched HSN's two-hour Suzanne Somers Christmas sale. She shamelessly hawked everything from earrings to BBQ sauce.

---It would be a great satire about the stupidity of America.

---But, I guess something isn't satirical if it's really true.

---Suzanne's silky pajamas were a big seller last night. Within ten minutes, both the 2X and 3X sizes were completely sold out. Which gives you a rough idea about the size of Suzanne's audience.

---And I'm not talking about a head count.

Dinner last night: Beef Stroganoff.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Grove Full of Bad Apples

When a neighborhood or location starts to rot, you can actually see it happening. I watched it happen to my hometown of Mount Vernon, New York, where the powers-that-be turned a blind eye to an influx of "negative" types and then wondered years later why their beloved city of homes was nothing more than a bunch of dilipated shacks. It is going against the grain to say the words, but we ALL think them, regardless of how liberal and accommodating we can be as human beings. There is race and ethnicity that become factors in such a downgrading. I did not invent the concept. It was created centuries ago. I am not proud thinking so. But, I cannot argue with the facts that are validated over and over and over again.

Such is the case with the Grove at the Farmer's Market in Los Angeles. Even out-of-towners know about the legendary Farmer's Market which was built in the 30s---a wonderful open air collection of nifty shops and food stands sporting cuisine from every possible country imaginable. When I have walked through there during the day, you'll see older and younger people all hunched over breakfast. And you just have this sense that these folks show up there for waffles and bacon every single day. I am always amazed at how communal it all is.

But, of course, in this world of constant modernization from the "Can't Leave Well Enough Alone" department, half of the market was razed for the construction of what is now known as an entertainment center called the Grove. Ironically, it was named after the orchard that once stood on the property. When this was erected a few years back, most denizens of the environs were appalled at the notion. The traffic, both car and foot, would be significantly increased in the neighborhood. The market itself should not be touched as it was a landmark. Etc., etc., etc.. Nevertheless, the hue and cry went down as fast as the orchard trees and most people took the result to heart.

And so did I. Indeed, the Grove even became a must-see stop on all the tours I gave to visiting friends. The place is a bunch of stores, anchored by Nordstroms, which is one of the last civilized department outlets around. You get a host of chain restaurants, a big multiplex theater, and a Barnes and Noble for browsing. There is a big dancing fountain in the middle of it all with a courtyard for musical concerts. A trolley runs from one end of the complex to the other. It is all made to look like Main Street at Disneyland. The only ones missing are Goofy and Pluto. At Christmastime, there is a huge tree and regular eruptions of "snow." While every one of my subsequent visits makes me see the artificiality of it all more and more, it still has always been a nice place to spend an evening.

Until last Saturday night.

It should be all so simple. Going to eat and then seeing "The Mist." I got the eerie sense as soon as I pulled into the parking garage. The drivers seemed to be a bit more brazen as they searched for the rare parking space. An aura of ugliness was apparent there and in the elevator down to the ground floor. It looked like an open call for the Fairfax HS production of "West Side Story." And "Flower Drum Song." And "Porgy and Bess." More importantly, there were a lot of younger folks there and they looked to be up to no good. It was almost gang-like, except, in lieu of knives, they would be attacking each other with their WiFi equipment.

Into the theater went the same element. Talking through the movie. Cell phones ringing. Black Berry screens shining out from row to row. It was one of the worst nights I ever spent in a cinema. And, given some of my college dating experiences, that's going some. I looked around outside for any evidences of increased security. The only one I could find was the old guy who was clanging the bell of the trolley.

This is what happened to the Westwood-UCLA area in the 80s when a gang fight resulted in murder and people stayed away for years. This is what happened to the Beverly Center shopping mall which was ruined by busloads of folks from the outer areas of LA who regularly conducted master classes in shoplifting and robbery.

I feel like somewhere there is a newsletter that goes out to troublemakers. They list the latest places that nice, well-meaning people like to frequent. And that is the open engraved invitation for them to come and ruin it for everybody.

Reluctantly, I now cross off the Grove as one of the places I can freely enjoy. Ironically, Saturday night was one of those chilly Southern California nights where the previous day's rain had rendered the skies around as crystal clear. The view from the eighth floor of the parking garage encompassed Los Angeles in all its tinsely glory. I reveled in it one more time.

With a nagging sense of finality.

Dinner last night: Grilled bratwurst sandwich.

Monday, December 3, 2007

Monday Morning Video Laugh - December 3, 2007

Now this is a weatherman I can trust.

Dinner last night: The Sunday night BLT at Islands.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #18!!

I really wish I had been around in the 50s when Hollywood worked overtime to entice filmgoers to leave the comforts of their TV screen and return to spending quality hours in front of a bigger screen. As soon as Lucy et. al. had insinuated themselves in the living rooms of our nation, movie studios realized that they need to offer bigger and better entertainment in local theaters. So, as a result, you wind up with Cinemascope, stereophonic sound, and images that completely surrounded the theater patron. All those Looney Tune cartoons and Pete Smith specialties wouldn't cut it anymore. You could now probably see them on television any way.

"Giant" was a product of this era. A three hour plus movie that transported the viewer to a world probably never seen previously. When the heartland of Texas in the early part of the century was essentially uninhabited. Sandy. Desolate. Tumbleweeds aplenty. What you experience as you watch the twentieth century saga of the Benedict family unfold is indeed the history of a state. And a country. When ranchers were forced to become oil men almost overnight. Moreover, you get snapshots of the modernization of our world as well as changes in the mores of our country, especially with regard to racism and marriage.

My favorite alltime directors are Billy Wilder and Alfred Hitchcock, and you will see them both duly represented as this list progresses. But, for the sheer telling of a purely cinematic story, there are no better dream weavers than David Lean and George Stevens, who won the Best Director Oscar of 1956 for "Giant." In this film, every shot has a purpose. Every angle moves the story a little bit farther down that dusty Texas road near Reata.

Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor give arguably their best film performances ever. And, in what was ultimately the end of his career trilogy, James Dean gives an interesting edge to what was an underwritten role. This is probably the only weak link in the movie. But, at the same time, he still commands two amazing film moments. Watch what he does in the scene where he listens to the other ranchers trying to talk him into a sale of his land. Dean sits silent, simply playing with a rope. But he still says so much. And pay close attention to the scene where he confronts Hudson after his character strikes oil. Every move and nuance is amazingly calculated.

I actually came to see "Giant" after watching the Dallas TV series, which is seemingly built upon the same premise. As a matter of fact, the protagonist of "Giant" is Jett Rink...JR. Get it? But all similarities end there. "Giant" digs deeper into its characters than the oil drills featured in its landscape. Everytime I watch it, I focus in one of the actors. And I always see something new every single time.

That must be what happens when art patrons look at paintings over and over at the Getty Museum. And, isn't that what film is all about?

Dinner last night: French Toast at Dupar's.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Scenes You Can't Turn Off V 4.0

Here we go again. This is the final scene of one of the funniest episodes of "All in the Family." Archie is forced to arrange for the funeral of a freeloading cousin who died in his attic. This is comedy writing at its finest.

Dinner last night: Turkey Burger at Earth, Wind, and Flour