Friday, February 29, 2008

Did You Bring Your Checkbook?


Somehow, Fordham University, my illustrious alma mater, has gotten the misguided impression that I have a lot of money. While I certainly can produce evidence from my accountant, my financial advisor, and my banker that will refute this notion, Fordham's Alumni Relations Department begged to differ. How else can I explain why I recently became a primary target of one of their representatives visiting Southern California?

They should have had my suspicion at "hello." Or whatever I said when I answered the e-mail from one enterprising young lady on their alumni development team. She was planning a tour of the Los Angeles area and wanted to know if I was available for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or high tea. She also noted that, since I was a former member of the WFUV-FM staff, she would love to update me on the latest great things to happen at New York City's number one college radio station.

Count my curiousity among the sufficiently piqued. I gleefully told her the day, time, and place we could meet for lunch. Because, as many of you know, I can ramble on incessantly about my days at WFUV-FM. And the station today. And the latter is not in a good way.

Indeed, when I think about the college education I received from good old FU, you can start and stop at those illustrious radio call letters. Forget the theology classes I had to endure from gay Jesuit priests who all seemed to be planning their own elaborate suicides. Ignore the broadcasting and communications courses that were taught by clowns who had subzero career experience in any media. For me, WFUV was college and college was WFUV. It was where life learned about me and I learned about life. It was where I made fabulous friends that are part of my daily quilt to this very day. This 50,000 watt hole-in-the-wall taught me how to speak and write and everything else that I use in my life. It was a college radio station, but so much more. It was student-run. We provided the air content. We manned the control panels. We edited the tapes. We brought in the money. We turned off the lights at night until the day came when the station went 24/7 and the lights needed to stay on.

And then, most of us went to class. We were still students. And, perhaps, that was the real glory of WFUV. Because, indeed, at WFUV, there was no adult safety net for all of us.

At WFUV, I interviewed celebrities like Paul Lynde and Tony Randall. I supervised the station's publicity. I did baseball play-by-play (badly and just once). I created, produced, and wrote three seasons of a weekly radio situation comedy. The last person to do that at WFUV was Alan Alda. The place provided me more than education or friends or entertainment. It gave me, for the very first time in my life, self-esteem.

So, when Ms. Fordham Alumni Relations Chick calls and wants to discuss with me WFUV, I am more than compliant. Especially in light of what the radio station has become over the past two decades.

I remember the beginning of the WFUV end vividly because I actually was dealing with some of the then-student staff members at the time in an internship class I would help conduct every semester. Somehow, Father Darth Vader, or whoever was running the university at the time, suddenly got wind of the fact that there was a radio station on the campus. Let's face it, they pretty much had ignored the place up till then. As a matter of fact, history shows that the college administration cut off funds in the late 60s, hoping to silence WFUV altogether. But, as money started to cascade in from student-run fund drives (most notably from the listeners of one Irish music program), the powers-that-be reacted like Bob Barker had just called them down to the front row. All of a sudden, Fordham saw WFUV as their own marketing mouthpiece. And a cash cow that could be milked like Borden's Elsie. The trick was how to get their hands on the dough without inciting the students who worked there 24/7.

The first step was to install a general manager they could control. They found the perfect foil with some skanky fossil named Ralph Jennings who eerily reminds me of that Frugal Gourmet guy who got caught groping a couple of his young male sou chefs behind a convection oven. Jennings was an ideal conduit for Fordham, despite the fact that he had a thimbleful of radio experience beyond perhaps listening to classical music while napping on his front porch. I heard at the time that Jennings was suddenly acting like Serpico in Walgren's. Raising issues with the student staff where there were none. Until, of course, came the day when one arose. Unfortunately, one student DJ had ingested some illegal stuff in either pill or liquid form. He passed out on the air and, after several minutes of some record album going zip, zip, zip, this kid and WFUV as I knew it, was over. Fordham had their smoking gun. Out went the students. In came the paid professionals. The radio station went from students playing radio to something far worse. Adults playing radio.

Now, WFUV existed and makes tons of money for Fordham University. And the radio station is revered with awards, standing as a beacon and standard bearer for innovative, non-cookie-cutter radio. But, from what I hear, WFUV sounds good merely because the rest of New York radio is so freakin' bad. While they tout all the students working behind the scenes, you cannot get around the fact that the place is run by adults who couldn't get jobs anyplace else. Or whose relevance went out with moon rocks and Jimmy Carter. WFUV became an AARP meeting place for former rock deejays from the old WNEW-FM like Pete Fornatale, Dennis Elsas, and Vin Scelsa, who all smoked so much weed in the past that they probably still have regular conversations with the dead Scott Muni. Other music programs feature hosts who clip coupons from Whole Foods and spend their idle time trolling East Village coffee houses looking for anybody that can play a folk guitar. One host, Rich Conaty, was a student when I was there and he inexplicably exists on the air merely because he owns the largest collection of scratchy Bing Crosby records in the metropolitan area. Several of these folks have their little fifedoms of fame. Some are revered in the press.

All of these jerks, who get paid for their efforts, should be ashamed of themselves. Because the baby has not only been tossed with the bathwater, they have also sold the crib, converted the child's room into a den, and e-Bayed all of the kid's unused Pampers. Yes, students are involved. But, to what degree? And, to what extent? And, how to their ultimate benefit? While my colleagues and I were entrusted to running the place, students today merely have the responsibility of keeping the adult staff hydrated.

So, I thought about all this as I walked down the block for my appointed luncheon with Ms. Fordham Alumni Relations Chick. Because, since all this went down years ago, this would be the first time I could have a direct forum with the University. Oh, I had tried to raise the issues a few years back when the last dirtbag priest/president made a whistlestop tour through LA to meet SoCal-based alums. But, I got nowhere since he was more interested in entertaining the possible donations of guys who graduated pre-1955 and all talked like Leo Gorcey. "Hey, Faddah, what's the football team gonna be like next year?" I spent the rest of the evening chatting up fellow alum Pat Harrington Jr. of "One Day at a Time."

This lunch was my second shot. And I was totally captivated by why she selected me from 1,000 or so LA-based Fordham grads as one of her companions for the week. Perhaps there had been a data sort by Fordham's IT department and my name (and job title) came up like a winner at the slot machines. Why me? That was my first question to her.

That was my fifth question to her.

That was my eleventh question to her.

As if she was reciting from Barack Obama's campaign literature, I never got an answer.

But I did hear about the 13 million dollar state-of-the-art renovation to WFUV's studios. I did hear about the many community awards won by the station over the years. And I was told about the station's 60th anniversary gala at Sotheby's in late April, where they are honoring former WFUV staffers Charles Osgood and Vin Scully and, oh, by the way, tables of 10 are available for donations of $75,000, $50,000 and $25,000 respectfully.

And then she heard everything I wrote above. I questioned her about the station's commitment to the students. I asked why WFUV focuses their entire history on somebody like Charles Osgood. I was blunt. "When Osgood is dead in five to ten years, what name replaces him on the marketing pieces?" I gave her the answer. Because students don't get the same hands-on-experience anymore, the choice of possibilities dwindles to a precious few. And I warned her not to look at some of the successful people that I worked with at WFUV. Because many of them feel the same way I do.

In the spirit of Oscar week, she gave me a WFUV swag bag. T-shirt. Bumper sticker. Mousepad. WFUV-labelled chapstick. A CD featuring the best of Rich Conaty's hiss-and-pop recordings (I couldn't shitcan that fast enough). And an order form for that gala table she wanted me to carefully reconsider. She paid for lunch, and I was glad I had only ordered an appetizer. In her defense, she did her job. She was professional and cordial and listened. But, ultimately, she knew it was for naught. Her slot machine showed three lemons.

I looked at some of the gift bag stuff when I got back to the office. Her business card and title. "MAJOR GIFTS COORDINATOR."

I looked at a timeline of WFUV's history. It oddly ends around the time I was there and only picks up when that screwball Ralph Jennings came on board. It was completely current staff-centric.

And the gala invitation that listed WFUV's current advisory board.

Edie Falco. Jackson Browne. Paul Simon. Tim Robbins.

None of them were in any of my classes. I would have remembered Edie Falco. I would have taken her to lunch at the Ramskeller.

I looked at WFUV's Executive Committee. None of the names were recognizable except for Bennett Cerf's son, who I actually met years ago. Most had a brokerage house attached.

Not a student in the bunch.

And I thought about the names not there. Students who richly contributed to the history of WFUV. People who gathered together two years ago in a spectacular (and non-Fordham-sanctioned) reunion near the Saw Mill River Parkway in Elmsford.

Djinna. Glenn. Lorraine. Andrew. The Bibster. Bob and Bob and Bob. Malcolm. Gary. Valerie. Larry. Ron. Neh-heh. Mary. Tom. Steve. And a cast of perhaps a hundred more.

All significant. All successful. All friends.

And, even more importantly, all students.

Dinner last night: Chicken salad on homemade bread with homemade tomato soup.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Separated At Death

I hope you have been enjoying my Top 25 Favorite Films every Sunday. When I prefaced the unspooling of my list with some cute little factoids a while back, I did it so hastily that I made a few mistakes. I had written that there was only about four or five people who appeared in more than one movie on my list. As I write up each film, I have uncovered more. For instance, Thelma Ritter also shows up twice. As I mentioned with #24, she was a major player in "Pillow Talk." But, she also pops up in a film that is very high up in my rankings.

And then I also neglected to mention Mary Wickes. She was a supporting character in "White Christmas," my favorite film coming in at #23. But, she also is prominent in one of my favorite all-time musicals, "The Music Man," which came in much, much higher.

But, that's not the crux of this post. Thinking about Mary Wickes, I was reminded about a rather bizarre situation that I got to watch unfold about two years ago. Only in Hollywood...

I've written in the past of the wonderful Alex Film Society in Glendale. About five times a year, they take over the glorious Alex film palace and show a classic old movie replete with cartoons, newsreels, and anything else that promotes the memory of moviegoing in days gone by. What makes these evenings even more special is the attendance by some of those folks who might have been involved in the production of the film. Usually, most of the principals have since gone off to the Forest Lawn soundstage. But, every once in a while, they turn up a gem who is subsequently interviewed by a film historian before the picture starts.

So, two summers ago, the Alex film de noir is "The Music Man." There is no way I am missing this. As we wait outside the theater as the overflow Saturday night crowd gathers, a car pulls up and out pops Jane Withers. You know her. She was this child actress who was always pulling Shirley Temple's hair back in the 30s. The big claim to her fame came later when she spent a dozen or so years dumping Comet on dirty sinks as Josephine the plumber. She looks pretty much like the picture to the right, so I am guessing that she has a regular weekly visit to the beauty parlor. (She also shows up in "Giant," another film on my list.) Of course, my second thought was a little more pointed as I asked my friends.

"What the hell is she doing here?"


Nevertheless, we take our seats in the theater and Miss Jane has a roped off seat about four rows away. The appointed film historian for the evening appears on stage and starts yakking up some "Music Man" factoids. Apparently, Shirley Jones was supposed to be a surprise guest, but she has been detained elsewhere...probably because husband Marty Ingels couldn't find his socks. But, the historian adds, there was somebody present who also can talk about the film's production.

"Everybody say hello to Jane Withers."

Me: "Huh????"

Jane stands and waves to wild applause from the rafters. Then, she starts to address the crowd. She starts talking about how much fun "we" had making the movie.

Me: "Huh????!!!!"

Jane goes on to mention how she calls Shirley all the time and they have so many memories of such a wonderful production.

Me: "HUH??????!!!!"

I've seen "The Music Man" over a dozen times in my life. JANE WITHERS IS NOT IN THIS MOVIE.

Nevertheless, Jane prattles on and on. She finally stops just short of telling how she would massage Robert Preston's bunions every morning.

Meanwhile, aisles away, my mind is racing. How could this film historian allow this to happen? Did he simply not want to pull her plumber overalls down in public? Because, clearly, she grabbed a fumble and ran it like Gale Sayers.

The film starts and I suddenly realize what happened as soon as the River City townswomen show up for their first number. Jane Withers has been confused with Mary Wickes! The audience even claps when Mary Wickes appears on screen. As if they are acknowledging her presence in the audience. Except she's been dead since 1995. I know this for a fact because I have friends who knew her well.

For some reason I cannot explain, I was very angry the whole night. Did the film historian make a mistake that Jane Withers did not want to correct? Or was it vice versa? Or maybe Jane inhaled so much scouring powder in her life that she has been rendered mentally incompetent? She certainly did nothing to clarify the huge gaff. Indeed, she basked in the glory as if it was the opening night of a Jane Withers film festival.

And, even though, I didn't know her. I felt genuinely bad for Mary Wickes. I know she was a terrific character actress. I have been told she was a magnificent lady to know.

I now use Ajax exclusively.

Dinner last night: Crispy Spicy Beef at the Cheesecake Factory.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Wamsutta Wednesday

That reminds me. It's time to change my bed.

---Trick or treat, Barack.

---Yes, I know these pictures are misleading, but still... Where there's turban, there's fire.

---You know there are people in the Republican party learning to use Photoshop as we speak. Because, sometime around October, there will be a picture of Obama sitting Indian-style in Afghanistan and eating chocolate donuts with Osama Bin Laden.

---I wonder if Bill's telling Hillary to have this costume checked for semen stains.

---You gotta love the New York Post, though. I'm waiting for the headline that says Obama saw Elvis getting out of a UFO.

---No offense, but all these pictures make me think is that Obooboo has a future as a crossing guard in Baghdad.

---If Ba-lack gets in the White House, wait till he sees the sheets they have in the Lincoln Bedroom.

---How about a sneak preview of an Oval Office conversation next January 21. Obama (to his wife): "Uh-oh, what do we do now?"

---By the way, we have elected prominent African-Americans before. How soon we forget Marion Barry?

---David Dinkins.

---Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick who has done so much dirty stuff he's probably going to finish his term in prison.

---I'm just saying...

---I have a new game. The first one to kick Michelle Obama in the teeth wins.

---I am really sorry Mrs. Obooboo endured so much racism at Princeton and Harvard. Kind of ironic since it's probably her race that got her scrawny ass accepted there in the first place.

---Because if it isn't for university racial quotas, she's sitting on a stool at the post office weighing priority mail.

---She thinks she had it bad. Try being a Protestant at Jesuit-taught Fordham University.

---Let's face it. Nobody's that impressed about a Harvard education anymore. The only things that place is turning out these days are crooked lawyers and Saturday Night Live writers.

---No surprise here that this year's Oscar telecast was the lowest rated in history. People tune out when they don't have a rooting interest in the nominated pictures like they did the year "Titanic" was out.

---Let's be real. Was there anybody out there Sunday night who was yelling at their TV, "Come on, Diving Bell and the Butterfly, win!"

---Also a little silly that we watched all the high fashion on the red carpet and then we were subjected to countless commercials from J.C. Penney's.

---Because we all know Jennifer Garner shops there, right?

---If daytime talk shows are so devoted to showing us how strong American women can be, how come the hosts break down and cry at the drop of a hat?

---First, there was Ellen and that dog pound business. Now, we have Whoopi dropping salt water all over the floor during that stupid hen party "The View" just because they didn't show a clip of her hosting stint during the Oscars.

---You don't hear Brad Renfro whining that he was left out of the annual death roll call, do you?

---Speaking of daytime nonsense, I actually had to TiVo Fat Oprah's gabfest on Monday because my once and future girlfriend, Valerie Bertinelli, was a guest.

---In one hour long program, you are subjected to about 20 minutes of Oprah's mindless studio audience doing nothing but hollering and whistling and laughing.

---There was one exchange where Valerie mentioned she had once romantically kissed another woman. And Oprah replied by saying she never had.

---Then I was hollering and whistling and laughing. Who the hell is this slob kidding? She's seen more of Gayle King's insides than an ultrasound machine.

---Note to Oprah: 50 pounds of make-up cannot hide a double chin.

---I learned in this interview that Valerie Bertinelli was strung out on cocaine on her wedding night, has slept around quite liberally, and dumped Steven Spielberg because he didn't eat garlic.

---Honey, I forgive you.

---And I absolutely LOVE garlic.

---This year, I'm a big fan of little David Archuleta on "American Idol." He sings like he's 30, but he's really 17 and looks like he's 11.

---He'll be the first Idol finalist with a paper route.

---I just hope he doesn't come out some week and try to sing "Me and Missus Jones."

---How many times does Roger Clemens have to get his pants pulled down in public before he changes his underwear?

---By the way, whoever has an extra photo of Clemens at that Jose Canseco party, please forward a copy to Mike Piazza. He's putting together a scrapbook.

Dinner last night: Lasagna.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Oscar, Oscar, Oscar...


The long annual Sunday siege is over. The 80th Academy Awards once again provide the yearly anti-climax and the only true winners are the limo companies all across Los Angeles. Also, the pizza and Chinese food joints who wind up delivering dinner to those slobs (like me) parked behind their TV trays in front of the HD Plasmas. I also got to mark up my Oscar pool ballot, which had me beating two NY-based compatriots once again.

By 2PM Pacific on Oscar Sunday, you could stand on any street corner in West LA and count the long, sleek black cars heading due east. I saw one parking in front of a RiteAid, so I am guessing this might have been an emergency Altoid purchase. Or perhaps John Travolta got a run in his stockings.

Unlike anywhere else in the country, Los Angeles virtually shuts down on Oscar weekend. Don't try to get a haircutting appointment. And forget about booking that tanning session you got with a Christmas gift card. Unless you're a movie star or your last name ends with a "Berg" or a "Stein," wait for next Saturday.

The television coverage out here is just as intense. It starts early in the morning and never stops. You would think the space shuttle exploded again. This year, there was the added drama of potential rain which would have given rise to some Manolo Blahnik-designed Totes. The local stations stand their anchorpeople and weather folks outside the Kodak Theater and everybody was staring ominously at the skies as if the Biblical locusts had finally been spotted in Pasadena. The red carpet arrivals begin early. If you get there before 330PM, you are essentially nothing but a TV star waiting for your next CSI paycheck. The limo dropoffs back up all the way down Hollywood Boulevard, which has been miraculously exorcized of all the bums, panhandlers, and sloppy Mexicans from El Monte. Those idiots, who usually park themselves outside of the Chinese Theater dressed as Superman, Marilyn Monroe, and Batman, use this one day a year to get their costumes steam cleaned.

ABC's red carpet coverage this year was anchored by Regis Philbin, and he reminded us that he had also done this years before. I wonder if he has any special memories about interviewing Hattie McDaniel. Regis continues to promote himself as this hip personality, even though he graduated from Fordham Prep in 1931. Some of the celebrities graciously stopped to entertain his inane questions. There were others, like Helen Mirren, who probably wanted to know who the f*^k he was. I was, however, impressed that he was so mobile given the fact that he was carrying around about 25 pounds of make-up.

Once the super-serious orchestra music starts inside the Kodak Theater, you know the show is ready to start. It is great fun to watch everybody scurry to find their seats and you wonder how many of them end up in the wrong place. "Hey, Joe Loser, you're not supposed to be sitting next to Renee Zellwegger! Get your ass up to the balcony."

As this year's emcee, Jon Stewart was serviceable, but apparently he had the shortest screen time of any Oscar host ever. I am supposing this had more to do with the writers' strike than anything else. Writers or no writers, Stewart got a laugh about 15% of the time, and his presence was largely done a disservice everytime the producers showed a vintage clip of former hosts Johnny Carson and Bob Hope getting much bigger laughs. The problem with Stewart is that he's not a stand-up comic and his best stuff on "The Daily Show" is written on a teleprompter. While talented, Stewart doesn't fit this room, and, in my humble opinion, Steve Martin should get this gig permanently.

Of all the four acting awards, none of them was won by an American, and that's what happens when this country focuses all their attention on such noted thespians as Jack Black and Will Ferrell. Best Supporting Actor winner Javier Bardem (inexplicably called "Xavier" by Regis during the pre-show) gave a thank you speech to his mother in Spanish and only the kitchen help at the Governor's Ball understood it. Tilda Swinton was a surprise victor for Best Supporting Actress and, from her current

appearance, I am wondering why nobody has told me that she's Conan O'Brien's sister. The cameras showed loser Ruby Dee with a rather disturbed look on her face and it was probably like she was 25 and they just told her that the "colored only" water fountain was broken.

There was another surprise to come when Frenchie Marion Cotillard slipped in as Best Actress, which probably had Edith Piaf fans rejoicing and Oscar pool coordinators reaching for their erasers. Daniel Day Lewis was a virtual shoo-in for Best Actor and he gave a short, concise thank you speech which was in direct contrast to the movie he won for.

The Best Song production numbers all blended together like the salad bar on a cruise ship. There was one guy named John McLaughlin who did a nominated song from "Enchanted" and nobody knew who the hell he was. It looked like an American Idol audition and I was waiting for Paula Abdul to show up and offer to sleep with him. Those two Irish actors won for that infectious ditty from "Once," but I doubt any of us will hear it or from them ever again.

I, for one, was delighted that Michael Moore did not win Best Documentary for that "Sicko" junk, although it would have been fun to watch him try and get out of his seat in one motion. Jack Nicholson was once again planted in the front row, despite the fact that he wasn't nominated for a damn thing. John Travolta had a weird thing going on with his hair. He looked like one of those GI Joe action figures I used to play with. Or perhaps he's experimenting with that new Scientology hair pomade. Every time the camera caught up with him, I was completely distracted by this spray-on hairdo. He actually, at first, looked like one of those police sketches of Lee Harvey Oswald. But, after a while, he really started to remind me of Paul Winchell's dummy, Knucklehead Smiff. The cameras were also not kind to last year's Best Supporting Actress Jennifer Hudson. Obviously, winning an Oscar does not guarantee more film roles, but it does get you an unlimited dining card at Roscoe's House of Chicken N' Waffles.

They trucked out last year's Best Actor winner Forest Whitaker to give out a big award, and his look also continually confuses me. His left eye always looks like he just got hit with a broomstick. It would, however, make him the perfect choice for the lead when they do a hip hop version of "Popeye the Sailor." Denzel Washington, looking even meaner than usual, came out to present Best Picture. He had this demeanor that made me wonder if somebody had egged the Obama '08 sign on his front lawn. Or perhaps he's still reeling from all the racism he endures in an industry that has made him billions of dollars. Nevertheless, the Coen Brothers grabbed the evening's last Oscar and went home with three in total, despite the fact that they are about as coherent as the wait staff at Shakey's Pizza.

At the end, Jon Stewart re-appeared for one last time and I realized that he had been off-stage so long he could have been attending one of those three hour traffic schools. The crowd dispersed, off to their respective parties. Limos probably clogged Melrose Avenue till 4AM, when the last of the homeward bound celebrities stopped at Ralph's for a pack of Newports.

As for me, I went off into the bathroom for my nightly sinus rinse. But, at least, I knew that my nose was successfully draining just a few short miles from all the action.

Dinner last night: Liverwurst sandwich.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Monday Morning Video Laugh - February 25, 2008

Where are you going on your winter vacation?




Dinner last night: Chicken and sausage quesadillas for the Oscar telecast.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #6!!


I never ever remember my grandmother going to the movies. In a household that was as cinema-centric as ours was, she never set foot in a movie theater. Her movie going pretty much was confined to her black and white television and she concentrated almost exclusively on Johnny Weissmuller's Tarzan and Warner Oland's Charlie Chan.

And, of course, Stan Laurel and Oliver Hardy.

I grew to love these two classic comedians by watching them on television with my grandmother. She would laugh out loud at the same antics no matter how many times she saw them. And those viewings also included some rare memories. Because, indeed, my grandmother did go out to the movies in her lifetime. But only to see Stan and Ollie.

My grandmother talked about seeing them in a variety of Bronx moviehouses. She frequently talked about an open-air movie theater in some park where you could go every night and see a film projected on somebody's tenement wall. Oh, she mentioned Chaplin a bit as well. But, most of the movie memories circulated around two very distinctly shaped derby hats.

So, while I didn't inherit much monetarily from her, a love of Laurel and Hardy was undoubtedly a much greater gift. There are folks that sneer at them with an over-emphasis on silly slapstick. I will contend, however, that those same people have never seen one of their feature films. Of those movies, "Sons of the Desert" is clearly the best. It's so good that it sparked the creation of a worldwide Stan and Ollie fanclub bearing the same name.

"Sons of the Desert" features a standard plot that has been used by every possible medium for years. Two guys trying to sneak off to a convention without telling their shrewish wives. But, in this movie, it unfolds in such a clever way that it's almost like you're seeing the plot for the very first time. What really sparkles, beyond the usual clumsiness, is the dialogue. I am betting people are surprised just how funny Laurel and Hardy can be without getting physical. Watch this clip for instance:





"Sons of the Desert" is a comedy treasure that is perfectly crafted at about 1 hour and 15 minutes. There is not a wasted frame in the movie. It explains to me clearly why my grandmother loved them so.

And it also explains to me why my grandfather was never ever able to sneak off to a convention.

Dinner last night: French Dip at the Arclight.


Saturday, February 23, 2008

Scenes You Can't Turn Off V 6.0

From a relatively new classic comedy series---the brilliant and sorely missed 'Everybody Loves Raymond." This is from the final season. Ray and Debra have finally achieved their dream. Ray's parents have moved into a retirement facility. But, then...



Dinner last night: Dried cappacollo sandwich.


Friday, February 22, 2008

I Am Your Official Oscar Prognosticator


As I have written previously, I participate in an annual Oscar pool with two friends back East. We start by trying to select the nominations in 6 key categories. Then, on Oscar night, we try to guess the winners to everything.

This year, I got 26 of the 30 possible nominations correct, which puts me 3 points ahead of my NY-based chums. So, here's what I think is going to happen on Sunday night. Be careful how you use these. Also, do not operate heavy machinery.

BEST PICTURE: The groundswell of support is for NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. While not my favorite movie of the five nominated, it's not my most hated. That honor falls to the grossly overrated "There Will Be Blood," which was a three hour rectal exam.

BEST ACTOR: The same juggernaut is happening for DANIEL DAY LEWIS, star of the aforementioned "There Will Be Blood." He envelops every single shot of the movie and does a commanding job in what is a septic tank of a movie. One could argue that this is nothing more than a bad John Huston impersonation. Nevertheless, all the others have virtually no shot and should be happy to simply walk the red carpet and duck inane questions from Mary Hart. Everybody to the Dairy Queen for a milk shake.

BEST ACTRESS: I think this is ultimately a two actress race. Cate Blanchett is nominated for that Queen Elizabeth movie, and nobody saw it except for a few drag queens in West Hollywood. Laura Linney was luminous in "The Savages," but it never did get any traction at the box office. Marion Cotillard was terrific as Edith Piaf, but I am guessing too many Academy members thought those drunken binges hit too close to home. So, for me, it would be between young Ellen Page in "Juno" and JULIE CHRISTIE for "Away From Me." I think age trumps youth, especially for those Academy members who also can't remember where they put their car keys.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR: No contest for any men here. Philip Seymour Hoffman was the only thing left standing after the "Charlie Wilson's War" debacle. I did see Casey Affleck in that Jesse James thing, but I am betting most Academy folks dozed off before I did. In most years, this would be Hal Holbrook's career Oscar, but, thanks to JAVIER BARDEM in "No Country for Old Men," the evening will be merely an excuse for Hal's missus, Dixie Carter, to buy a new dress.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: This could go in any direction. Forget the bad seed kid from "Atonement." Any of the other four could wind up winning. I did not see Cate Blanchett's performance because I draw the line at five Bob Dylans in any one movie. Tilda Swinton was terrific in "Michael Clayton," and she allegedly has some last minute heat, especially since this might be one of that movie's only possible wins. I did Netflix "Gone Baby Gone" for Amy Ryan's performance, but her character was too much of a dirtbag. I could hug RUBY DEE for slapping that ingrate Denzel Washington in "American Gangster," and I am guessing the Academy will embrace her as well. The only thing against her is that, if you went to pee in the middle of the movie, you might have missed her. When she mentions her husband in the thank you speech, how many idiots in the audience will know that she's not referring to Ozzie Nelson?

BEST DIRECTOR: THE COEN BROTHERS for "No Country For Old Men." Book it. Lock it. Count your winnings.

BEST ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY: In all the good things about "JUNO," I think the script stands out the most. A deserving Oscar for somebody who knows how to write funny.

BEST ADAPTED SCREENPLAY: The Coen Brothers again for "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN," and they will need their swag bag to carry home all the awards from Sunday night.

BEST ANIMATED FEATURE: Forget that 'Persepolis," which is a cartoon about an Iranian girl. Looney Tunes equipped with a suicide bomb. It has to be "RATATOUILLE," Pixar's best effort in years.

BEST ART DIRECTION: Of all the nominees that I saw, only "SWEENEY TODD" actually made me want to visit the locale. But, I would shave before I go.

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY: This usually matches up with the Best Picture and the Best Director, but all those dusty locations and camera set-ups in "THERE WILL BE BLOOD" were pretty impressive.

BEST COSTUME DESIGN: Not a single nomination for Edith Head, who is obviously slacking off. I give it to "SWEENEY TODD" for its ingenious blend of interesting wardrobe and blood.

BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE: I think the winner will come from the two nominees that I saw. Michael Moore's "Sicko" was more yellow journalism than documentary. 'NO END IN SIGHT," however, presented the most logical and even-handed view of the war in Iraq I have ever seen. And, as impartial as it was, you clearly came away with the notion that we were truly screwed by going over there.

BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT: How does anybody see these things? I know that "Sari's Mother" is about some Iraqi boy with AIDS, so that could be a natural. But, "FREEHELD" is about a dying lady copy who is fighting to pass her pension over to her lesbian partner. My coin flips over to gays fighting about health care.

BEST FILM EDITING: This always matches up with the Best Picture. "NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN."

BEST FOREIGN LANGUAGE FILM: I've heard of only one of the nomimated films. But, "THE COUNTERFEITERS" is set during the Holocaust and that's always an Oscar slamdunk.

BEST MAKE-UP: Since they did such a great job making Marion Cotillard look like Edith Piaf, both drunk and sober, "LA VIE EN ROSE" is the winner.

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE: I don't remember much of the music from any of these, so I am thinking that "ATONEMENT" gets thrown a bone here.

BEST ORIGINAL SONG: That ditty from the movie "ONCE" was played over and over and over throughout the movie. And it stayed with me for about ten minutes after I left the parking lot. That is an accomplishment these days. I couldn't, however, hum it now if I tried.

BEST ANIMATED SHORT: Not one f*&^ing clue, but "I AM THE WALRUS" reportedly has some ties to John Lennon, so I always go with a dead Beatle.

BEST LIVE ACTION SHORT: Not one nano-f*&^ing clue. There's something called "THE TONTO WOMAN," which I assume is some story about Mrs. Jay Silverheels opening up a gaming casino. Or maybe not. Either way, it works for me, kemosabe.

BEST SOUND EDITING: One of those bizarre categories where Oscar pools are won and lost. The guy who did "TRANSFORMERS" has been nominated 20 times without a win. God, even Susan Lucci didn't have to wait that long.

BEST SOUND MIXING: Because the winner of the Sound Editing award always gets this one, too. "TRANSFORMERS."

BEST VISUAL EFFECTS: I didn't see any of the nominees, but since I've grown fonder of the movie over the last two paragraphs, I will say "TRANSFORMERS."

I also predict that the biggest applause during the annual dead roll call will go to Heath Ledger and Suzanne Pleshette. Just in case you'll bet on ANYTHING.

Dinner last night: Cervelat sandwich.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

The Undercurrent

I have made no bones on this blog site that I am not a fan of Senator Barack Obama. There is no challenge. There is no argument. I don't trust the man. I don't think he will bring about the unspecified change, let alone a positive one. I fear his gross lack of experience. I have major fears about his background. I sense that he is the very slick politician that he claims he will remove from our national government.

Nowhere in that ever-increasing list of concerns will you see mention of his race or ethnicity. Because, indeed, while I have referred to him as Ba-lack Osama or that they will change the name of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue to the Black House, his color and nationality is not really an issue to me. If there was a truly moderate African-American statesman with a canyon full of experience, I would gladly ask him or her to come forward.

But there isn't. What we have is Barack Obama, who is essentially flashing his permanent hall pass all the way to the most powerful job in the world.

The groundswell has begun. Hillary Clinton has been rendered as meaningless as last year's winner on "American Idol." You see people moving to Obama in droves as if he's giving out free cars like Oprah. From young people who don't even read newspapers to the teamsters who can't even read anything. And I sit and watch and wonder.

What am I missing?

Truly, Obama has said nothing to get himself in trouble. Realistically, he has said nothing period. Everybody knows we need change, so his mantra for that is really redundant. But, change how? No one knows.

Obama's like Professor Harold Hill in "The Music Man." Good looking, captivating, alluring. But, he's selling trombones to people with no lung capacity. They don't know what they want, except he's offering it. He's a walking, talking version of Vitamin Water.

Yet, I read and hear and wonder. How am I so grossly concerned and nobody else is? Why am I so incensed by the utterly audacious comment by his wife, who says she, for the very first time, is proud of America? How dare she?? So, her sudden burst of patriotic pride is linked to the fact that her husband is really two deep breaths from the Presidency. How about the fact that she lives in a country that allowed her to go to Princeton and then Harvard Law School? That she lives in a country that gives her incredible freedom and the ability to live in a two million dollar house? Was there no pride when the country banded together as one collective unit in the days following 9/11? Perhaps, she was busy that week and didn't notice. I fear her participation in the national fabric almost as much as her husband's.

Everybody claims Obama is the answer. But, to what question? I certainly have many. I wonder why someone so allegedly committed to change never votes in the Senate. Is that so he can keep his record clean and deny responsibility for anything? He's apparently only accountable to his own accountability. I muse over how Hillary Clinton, once the Democratic darling, has run out of campaign money, while Barack Obama apparently has no credit limit on his Diner's Club card. I think about his ties to a church led by a spiritual leader who openly announces his hate for white people. I look at his photo opportunities with frauds like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson.

And I'm endlessly perplexed that none of this bothers anybody else.

Or does it? While the media has given this sleazebag a lifetime "Get Out of Jail Free" card, I am at last hearing some distant rumbles. A few weeks back, I joked here that Obama was the beneficiary of a Manchurian Candidate-like conglomerate headed by Oprah. But, then, I heard somebody else say that. In complete seriousness. And then again. And then again. From people who are intelligent, well-meaning folks. I hear thoughts that Obama is backed by a Middle Eastern syndicate, and I scoff at it by suggesting that somebody has been watching a little too much "24." But, then, I keep hearing how the Middle Eastern community has been giving him a lot of money. And I think back to how no one could find a Middle Eastern cab driver on the streets of Manhattan one hour before the first plane hit on 9/11.

And I think and I wonder and I question. So, just for this one day, I write this with no jokes or snarky one-liners. Because, in all seriousness, I realize that America is in a very precarious moment in its history. And now we wait. Because, at some point, the conservatives and the Republicans will band together to do what they do best. Dig up dirt. And you just know that Obama has it somewhere in his past. They all do.

But, even after that expected damage, I am guessing that everyone keeps on cheering and clapping and embracing.

All for the sake of some still-to-be-determined change they can't even define.

Dinner last night: BLT Sandwich at Islands.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Our First Castro-less Wednesday



Cigar, anybody?

---Good riddance to this old dirtbag who effectively invented for us the concept of the illegal alien.

---Along with the convertible sofa, which also gave rise to the dreaded overnight guest.

---Somebody needs to go stand in the middle of Miami and yell "Olly Olly Oxen Free."

---I feel bad for the guy in Havana who made a living by selling rubber rafts.

---And now, what will all the sharks eat between Florida and Cuba?

---Nothing will probably change as one of his relatives takes over.

---Would that be Fidel W. Castro?

---Can anybody actually picture President Ba-lack Osama actually sitting down with a world leader like Castro and negotiating peace?

---I wouldn't trust Obama Bin Laden to set up my next dental appointment.

---You have to love all those accusations of plagarism between Hillary and Obooboo. I knew a long time ago that neither one of them had an original thought.
---Don't you think it's a co-inky dink that Castro resigns just before they announce the next round of idiots to be on "Dancing With the Stars?"

---With the new roster of nobodys, you can now add their names to the official list of Hollywood hasbeens.

---And deaf actress Marlee Matlin is one of them.

---"Miss Matlin, the music has started. You may now begin dancing."

---Why does that show always have to include somebody with a physical affliction? Somebody with no hearing. Somebody missing a leg.

---And, in the case of Marie Osmond, somebody missing a brain.

---All that beef being recalled. At least, for once, it's not something we can blame on the Asians with all that excess lead they love to play with.

---A possible sign in front of McDonald's: "Over 3 Billion Tainted."

---Nancy Reagan fell and landed in the hospital. Did anybody else think that this might have been caused by a mishap with her cough syrup?

---Or by Gilbey's Gin?

---Maybe she slipped on some leftover oatmeal that Ronny once threw at her during the final days of his journey to Lululand.

---Now that lunatic Crocodile Hunter's 4-year-old son has been bitten by a baby boa constrictor. How many funerals does his asshole widow have to attend before she locks the cages for good?

---If I'm an animal with fangs, I can't wait to vacation in their backyard.

---We just marked the ten year anniversary of Cub broadcaster Harry Caray's death. And, coincidentally, the biggest single day drop in Budweiser stock.

---Chicago revered that old bastard who could mispronounce the name "Mel Ott."

---"Hello, Cub fans, here I am in hee-van."

---Equally hilarious this week was the opening of that big Dallas vault full of JFK assassination junk. Most of it was worthless, including that transcript of an alleged conversation between Oswald and Ruby.

---From the way they talked, the dialogue could have been between Bob and Ray.

---I'm waiting for "24" to go back in time so Jack Bauer can stop the assassination from happening. Then, Jack could divorce Jackie and marry Angie Dickinson.

Dinner last night: Szechwan chicken and noodles.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Bi-polar Moviegoing

With a long holiday weekend at hand, it was a perfect time to get lost in the movies. Unfortunately, Hollywood-2008 does little to help with suitable choices. Unless you're still trying to catch up on the Oscar nominations, a quick journey through the movie pages turns up nada. Some piece of grab named "Jumper." A bunch of mindless chick flicks timed for Valentine's Day.

More and more and more, I would much rather go see an old film than one of the CGI-laden toilet bowls Hollywood fancies these days. Luckily, in Los Angeles, classic movie excursions are an option, thanks to places like the Egyptian, the Aero, the Alex, the New Beverly, the Billy Wilder complex, and even LACMA.

So, on Saturday night, it was off to the stately Egyptian Theater on Hollywood Boulevard, which was in the midst of their film festival devoted to strippers. Yes, strippers. I repeat, strippers. The other curio about the bill of fare for Saturday was that, besides the film, we would be treated to a live performance by the "Miss Bonnie Delight Revue." Yes, Miss Bonnie Delight. I repeat, Miss Bonnie Delight. A live burlesque show. Radio City Music Hall with a g-string.

We were astounded by the demographic skew of the audience as it assembled. There were a lot of old men, all dressed in hideous pastel colored running suits. And there were almost as many older women, some perhaps in attendance to make doubly sure their husbands behaved themselves. It looked like the 4:30PM buffet line at Boston Market.

The stripper movie de jour was some piece of flotsam called "How To Be Very, Very Popular," one of those 20th Century Fox Cinemascope productions designed to lure people away from their new television sets with the promise of seeing Bob Cummings projected seven stories high. Betty Grable and Sheree North played strippers on the lam after witnessing a murder and that's as deep as the plot got. This was going to be Grable's last movie ever and she looked like she couldn't wait. She acted throughout the movie as if her car was double parked. Bob Cummings played a college student, but, indeed, he was already approaching the age of 50. And, of course, what can you say about a movie that features Orson Bean as a romantic interest? Nevertheless, this was Cinemascope in all its glory and I saw wrinkles on Bob Cummings that he probably never saw.

Then it was time for the live show. Our emcee for the evening was some Borscht Belt concoction named Shecky Greenblatt. His comedy was such that I finished every joke three seconds before he did.

"Man comes up to me on the street and says he hasn't had a bite in weeks. So I bit him."

Mercifully, this aural colonoscopy was just a prelude to the entrance of our headliner, Miss Bonnie Delight. If vaudeville is truly dead, then burlesque was still-born. Bonnie came out and proceeded to do the most uninspired strip tease ever. I've been more engaged watching women remove their nightguards. She, of course, eventually got down to the final reveal and the requisite twirl of the breasts, which had about as much excitement as the final spin on "Wheel of Fortune." She might as well have been trying on new jeans at Macy's. Of course, this was followed by some other chick who did a strip in reverse. She came out and got dressed in front of us. The rest of the show involved some audience participation, for which I missed the age qualification by some 30 years. The crowd hooted and hollered at every bump and grind offered by the audience members. My friend and I left for the safety of a hot fudge sundae.

Sunday afternoon promised to be a bit more productive for this moviegoer. The always reliable and wonderfully restored Aero Theater in Santa Monica has done a terrific job showcasing some mainstream classic movies on the weekend. This past Christmas week, for instance, they played a series of screwball comedy features that packed the joint. But, this time around, they had a really special treat. They were going to show everybody's favorite kid's movie from the 430PM Movie. "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad."

First released in 1958, this film has a major cult following primarily because it is one of the first works of famed movie special effects artist Ray Harryhausen. Years before crappy CGI, this guy did it all as a one man band who created some of the greatest film monsters and creatures ever. In this movie alone, he conjured up two Cyclops, a two-headed vulture, a sword-wielding skeleton, and a dragon.

But, beyond the unspooling of the film, the Aero brought together a panel that would provide a live commentary track as the movie played. An ingenious idea made even more special with the inclusion of Mr. Harryhausen himself as well as the film's co-star, Mrs. Bing Crosby, better known as Kathryn Grant. Everyone was there to revel in it all, as the place was jammed to the rafters. When I saw Mrs Crosby sashaying down the aisle with her own bag of popcorn and a soda, I knew we were all here for some fun. It resembled very much a sci-fi convention, with people calling out questions for Ray throughout the movie. At one point, somebody yelled out and asked him how he achieved a particular effect. Ray's laughing reply: "None of your business." All of it wound up being a whole lot more entertaining than some piece of shit starring Will Smith.

The occasion also afforded me with the opportunity to spend some moments chatting with Ms. Grant-Crosby after the movie. I had a burning question for her, and that will be documented in an upcoming post. But, she was extremely gracious and engaging. However, as I was standing next to her, I couldn't help but think that Harryhausen himself might have been responsible for her last plastic surgery.

So, there you have it. Two days and two distinctly different filmgoing experiences. But, regardless, a good time was had by all at both events. Because, indeed, even a bad old movie can be better than the latest offering from the non-creative minds of Hollywood.

I can't close, however, without touching on one very bizarre occurence from the Egyptian on Saturday night. As we were waiting for the stripfest to begin, my friend and I were chattering away. There was a young, preppie-looking girl in the row ahead of us. She was wearing an orange Oregon State sweatshirt and holding a bag of popcorn. She turned to ask us if we were going to talk like that throughout the whole movie. We smiled and reminded her that we are the type of people who are quite nasty when it comes to other folks talking in the theater. As we chitchatted some more, the girl remarked how beautiful the Egyptian Theater was and how she had never been there before. Given the fact that she was probably the youngest person in the house that night and that this was ultimately a burlesque show, I innocently asked her why she chose this event to be her initial exposure to the Egyptian. She looked at me and said that she was here to see "Gone Baby Gone." I gave her the bad news and told her what was playing here this night. She swore she had seen a newspaper listing that said "Gone Baby Gone" was playing at the Egyptian. Dazed, she picked up her popcorn and left.

When I got home later that night, I did an internet search. The closest theater playing "Gone Baby Gone" was in La Mirada. I thought about this even further. The Egyptian is not a multi-plex. Indeed, the closest theater is several blocks away. What had this girl seen? Perhaps an Egyptian listing from a few months back when they did play "Gone Baby Gone" for one night. How could this poor thing be so far off from whatever her ultimate destination was? I'm still puzzled.

It just goes to show. Not only is it difficult to find the right movie, it can be even tougher to find the right theater.

Dinner last night: Pepperoni pizza at Maria's Italian Kitchen.



Monday, February 18, 2008

Monday Morning Video Laugh - February 18, 2008

This is a brilliant prank, made even more noteworthy given my many years traveling through Grand Central Station.



Dinner last night: Pasta Pappardella at Cafe Montana.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #7!!


I am going to approach this entry from left field.

Actually the left field bullpen at Dodger Stadium.

Back after the glory years of closer Eric Gagne entering the game to the electrifying strains of "Welcome to the Jungle," Japanese reliever Takashi Saito ably took over the role. And his entrance was made almost as theatrical as Gagne's. Except that they could never find a suitable song for him. I think they're still looking. I had written the Dodgers' PR guy with a suggestion. Why not the "General Boogey March" from "Bridge on the River Kwai?" You know the tune. That wonderful whistling. You can hear it in this trailer.

Of course, my notion was dismissed, probably because the Dodgers thought I was making a social comment on Takashi's ethnicity. What they didn't realize is the connection that I was making is that the General's name in the movie is....Saito. I guess I can't make the assumption that everybody is the same film history geek that I am.

There had to be one WWII movie on my list and this is clearly the best. When I was a kid, my parents would divide up the movies that were required viewing for me. My mom took me to all Disney cartoons and Biblical epics. My father got stuck with escorting me to anything with Jerry Lewis. And a myriad of movies about the big war. Thanks to Dad, I saw them all. The Longest Day. The Guns of Navarone. Von Ryan's Express. The Train. Operation Petticoat (I never heard my father laugh as loudly as he did with that film). But, David Lean's epic bridge was the best. It had opened in 1957, but I think we saw it first years later when it was reissued. It also marked the first time that I really wrapped my head around a movie that had a message. Because, indeed, when compared to all of the movies mentioned above, "Bridge on the River Kwai" is certainly the darkest. In this film, just like in real war, there are no winners at the end, and it was, at the time, a very bold statement for director David Lean to make.

There was no better painter of a cinematic canvas than David Lean. He carefully maps out a grand story that slowly envelops you as opposed to the constant and relentless barrage of nonsense being crafted in Hollywood today. Over his long career, he has taken me to a variety of places that I would never ever have experienced in my life. The deserts of Arabia. The icy palaces of Russia. The mountains and forests of India. And, in the case of "Bridge," a Japanese-run POW camp. More than a filmmaker, Lean is a historian and "Bridge" is perhaps his finest compendium---the Best Picture of 1957. Additionally, Alec Guinness authors one of the most complex characters in film history, winning the Oscar for Best Actor at the same time.

After seeing "Bridge on the River Kwai" at the now-defunct RKO Proctor's in the now-defunct Mount Vernon, New York, I had what would be the only dialogue with my father about his involvement in World War II. Let's be clear. This wasn't a great retelling of military battles. My father didn't get any further than replacing a typewriter ribbon at some Army post in Japan. But, he never really shared his views about what went on during that tumultuous time in our country's history. He did that day. And, to his credit, my interest and appreciation of that World War has remained with me years later. I voraciously gobble up any or all books, documentaries, etc., on the subject.

War was hell. So said David Lean. So said my father.

Dinner last night: Barbecued pork ribs at Pig N' Whistle.


Saturday, February 16, 2008

Fanilows


It was not what I thought it would be.

When I Christmas-gifted a good friend with tickets to Barry Manilow's Valentine's Day concert at the Staples Center, I expected to enjoy a diverse crowd. A little white trash, a little blue collar, a little disco queen, and a lot gay. I figured it would be another good night to be a cat burglar at some Kings Road apartment complex in West Hollywood. While there certainly was an opportunity to check all of the above, there was one overriding element to the crowd at Staples on Thursday night.

It was OLD!

I'm not talking about the upper age brackets of middle age. You know, the baby boomers who were in college during the 70s and still have their fond memories of England Dan and John Ford Coley. No, the crowd was older than that. I am talking about the are-you-having-side-effects-with-your-Cialis-gee-isn't-it-too-bad-about-Lincoln-wow-that-Moses-sure-is-a-stitch old.

I knew what kind of human parade it was going to be when I saw one woman, probably 65 years old, wearing red "f me" pumps and matching red fishnet stockings. Irma La Douce from the assisted living brothel. Two dames in their eighties started a conga line going up the stairs at the end of the concert. Doctors all across Southern California probably spent their Friday morning fielding complaints about pains in the hip. But, I got the impression that all these folks have been there at a Manilow lovefest before. One woman behind me was telling her friend about her "Barry bucket." Every year, she keeps putting loose change and dollar bills into this pail. At the end of the year, she collects her dough and spends it to go and fly to someplace where he is performing. And, I'm betting she wasn't the only one like that. I started to feel like I had walked into a 20,000 seat Hallmark card.

Since my gift giving is always top notch, we had seats on the floor. And that certainly is a special place to enjoy a performer like Barry Manilow. I got to admit that I enjoy the dude. He has a songbook that is unmatched to anyone else. And his act has not changed. The only modifications are some easy-to-spot facial tucks which became even more noticeable when they juxtaposed his singing of "Mandy" to a clip from a 1975 Midnight Special. It was that particular segment which made me realize why I was sitting in the middle of a musical mah johng tournament. When you see Barry 33 years ago, you can understand what all these ladies are embracing. He's the average-looking boyfriend from the neighborhood. The meshuggah son who didn't go to college. Playing all that honky tonk rock and roll. Who cares if he's a little bit faggila? He's my boy.

And, Thursday night, they were all reunited with their Barry. So, they cheered and danced and screamed and pulled a few calf muscles. For a chance to be young once again. They were all ready to take a chance again. For an evening when it could be magic.

I hate to admit it. I was there more for the experience, than the music. And his act is so Vegas I was expecting either tigers or some Cirque Du Soleil acrobat to fly in from one of the skyboxes. But, as I was leaving and waiting my turn while a bunch of fossils slowly mounted the stairs, I couldn't help but remember my youth as well. And how much fun I was having too. And also to consider that my knees bent a little slower every time I stood up at the end of a number. And that I needed the help of some old coot next to me when I couldn't figure out how to activate my "Music and Passion" glowstick.

Maybe there's a conga line in my future after all.

Dinner last night: Grilled prawns and garlic noodles at Crustacean for another birthday celebration.



Friday, February 15, 2008

Here's What I Misremember



I had one major relevation after watching the 5 hour plus Congressional hearing about Fathead Roger Clemens' steroid use.

The people in the states who elected the representatives that sat on the panel should be ashamed of themselves. Because, except for perhaps Committee Chairman Henry Waxman from Los Angeles, every single one of those elected officials were complete morons. The most notable among the village idiots was the Republican Congressman from Indiana, Dan Burton, who stopped just short of giving Clemens a Whitman's Sampler for Valentine's Day. Burton, an old and corroded fossil of a politician, attacked trainer Brian McNamee with such venom that he should be impounded as a potential carrier of rabies. If he really wanted to serve his country with honor, I suggest that Burton get a job as a target for Marine sniper practice.

One after another, these elected officials did their best to show why this hearing was a textbook example of how to waste taxpayers' dollars. And, ultimately, the whole day's proceedings fell into the standard partisan divide that is choking the life out of America. If you're a conservative Republican on this committee, you were licking Clemens' Florsheims. If you were a liberal Democrat, you sided with McNamee. Regardless, all we eventually learned is that there is just one more way where our two party political system can give our nation a fatal wedgie.

I had to love the softball questions that Rocket Clemens fielded. Every one was a bunt back to the mound. "Mr. Clemens, what is your workout regimen?" "What uniform will you wear into the Hall of Fame?" One jerk representing New York State thanked Clemens for all his years of service to the Yankees. A commitment to the community for which Roger was paid 15 million dollars a year. Virtually all of the jokers on this panel should be voted out of office the very next time they are up for re-election. By then, they won't need the money anyway as several of them are already probably trying to figure out how to put their Clemens-autographed photos up on e-Bay.

There was one very easy way to conduct this hearing and get it over faster than a Subway sandwich.

"Hello, Mr. Pettitte, thank you for appearing today. Do you recall Mr. Clemens telling you that he took HGH?"

"Yes."

"Is Mr. McNamee telling the truth, Mr. Pettitte?"

"Yes."

"Thank you, Mr. Pettitte. You may now report to spring training in Tampa. Go, Yankees."

Two questions and done. Clemens starts on a diet since stripes are not slimming and all the representatives go to Starbucks early for a frappucino and a nifty banana nut muffin.

Instead, we wind up with last Wednesday. More lies. More innuendos. People trying to remember what happened at a Jose Canseco party ten years ago. If I'm guessing, most of those attendees couldn't recall what they did at that party the very next morning. Injections on Roger's ass. His dumbbell wife Debbie's alleged use of steroids. What the hell does she need more energy and stamina for? How hard is it to carry her husband's credit card through Nieman-Marcus? Over and over. On and on. Hamsters accomplish more by spinning in their wheels every night.

And then there's Roger, the bloated piece of garbage who continues to display an inordinate lack of class just as much as he did when he first showed up in the major leagues back in 1986. Listening to his answers, he denies responsiblity for virtually everything. It was his mother who introduced him to the wonders of Vitamin B-12 injections. It was his wife who didn't tell she asked McNamee about HGH. It was his best friend Andy Pettitte who apparently "misremembered" his comments on steroids. Even I don't think that Pettitte, admittedly not the sharpest picture in the TV store, is that stupid. I'm betting the mention of that word prompted an unusually high number of hits on Dictionary.com. Come on, fathead, you couldn't possibly use that word in a sentence unless your sleezebag attorney Rusty Hardin put it in your ear the way people try to get dogs to remember their names. Speaking of Hardin, he needs to be disbarred solely based on the fact that he uses a live raccoon as his hairpiece.

The way Roger denied everything you would thought that O.J. Simpson and Fred Goldman would appear at any moment with a pair of gloves and a bloody Akita. To listen to Clemens, George Washington told more lies than he did.

"Mr. Clemens, did you once hit Mike Piazza in the head with a 98 mile fastball?"

"No, sir, I did not."

"Mr. Clemens, did you once throw a bat splinter at Mike Piazza?"

"No, sir, I did not."

"Mr. Clemens, did you ever leave the seat up on the toilet?"

"No, sir, I did not."

Indeed, if college kids made a drinking game out of the number of times Clemens denied a truth on Wednesday, most of our universities were drunk by Wednesday night. These days, the only person I ever believe is Vin Scully.

At the end of the day, nobody's opinion was changed. And the thought prevails that this will just go on and on and on.

And on and on and on and on. Just like everything in Washington, DC.

Dinner last night: Eggplant Parmagiana at La Bella Cucina.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Our Long Wait Is Over



It was a matter of time. First, Susan Lucci finally wins a Daytime Emmy. Now, at last, a beagle finally wins the famous Westminister Dog Show in Madison Square Garden. The pooch is called Uno, and I am wondering whether it was named after a card game or a deep dish pizza joint. Nevertheless, since a beagle is the only type of dog I have ever owned, this win was very special to me.

I think back in time about Tuffy. A full breed beagle. Not a speck of mutt DNA. I got her for my ninth birthday. My dad bought her for $15 from a pet shop that he delivered fuel oil to. I look in the newspapers today and see that beagles now sell for upwards of 500 bucks. Inflation extends now even to our house pets.

I remember the day that my mother brought Tuffy to the vet for the requisite spaying. I said goodbye to her in the morning before I headed off to school. I was convinced she would die on the operating table. I got so worried in my class that I had an anxiety attack and wound up quivering in the nurse's office. Of course, Tuffy survived the surgery and lived another 17 years.

I remember the morning ritual. My mom would release Tuffy from the leash next to her cushioned box. She would race down the hall into my bedroom, jump on my bed to wake me up, and then, just as rapidly, leave.

The dog had a built-in clock. She timed the eating patterns not just of my folks, but my grandparents downstairs. Precisely, at 430PM, Tuffy would head down and literally open the door to my grandmother's kitchen. Even if it was closed shut, she would manuever her paws and turn the doorknob herself. Indeed, my grandmother was the one most reluctant in our house to include a dog in our world. Yet, Tuffy probably spent more time with her over 18 years than she did with anybody else. From what I have been told, the last thing my grandfather ever saw was Tuffy. In failing health and breathing heavily, he sat up in his easy chair to see Tuffy cocking her head to hone in on the sound of his rales. My grandmother said he smiled at the dog and then leaned back for his very last breath.

While Tuffy often traveled with us all when we did our Sunday visits to relatives, there was one day where she was left home. And probably wanted to show us her displeasure. She stuck her nose into my grandmother's candy dish and ate a handful of Hershey's Kisses. Without removing the tin foil. Needless to say, her bowels that week were painful and glittery at the same time.

I guess Tuffy was really no different than anybody's dog. She fell in my cousin's pool and dogpaddled out. She got stuck in a snowbank after a winter blizzard. On long car rides, she would sleep on the top of the back seat. If my father stopped short, she became a canine projectile right across the car. Once, she ran away and came back an hour later. Probably because it was mealtime. She would bark only when the front door rang. She hated the mailman. We once found her on top of my grandmother's kitchen table munching on the remains of the Easter ham.

In retrospect, once I got into high school and college, I spent less and less time at home. And with Tuffy. So, I probably was shortchanged in the pet department. But, still, when she had a tumor on her jaw at the very end, nobody in the family would make the call to put her out of misery. I had to be the one who said it was over.

After all, she was my dog. And now, a very special beagle belongs to everybody.

Dinner last night: Orange Chicken at the Cheesecake Factory.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wednesdays?! We Don't Need No Stinkin' Wednesdays!


No tabasco sauce needed here. The following is guaranteed to be plenty spicy.

---I was truly honored that Roy Scheider chose to die on the day that I named "Jaws" as #8 on my list of Top 25 Favorite Films.

---Either that or there's a new jinx at work.

---Good news. I looked at the seven films still to come on my list and most of the stars are already dead.

---But, I would still give a word of warning out to the following: Tony Curtis, Shirley MacLaine, Al Pacino, and Eva Marie Saint.

---Having finally ended my boycott of the Super Bowl, I can safely tell you that my annual embargo against the Grammys is still intact.

---When they give a lifetime achievement award to the Baja Marimba Band, I will tune in.

---Enjoying my birthday dinner at Madeo's in West Hollywood on Monday, we noticed Tony Bennett sitting two tables away. So, if you were wondering whether this restaurant allows entrance to people wearing hair plugs, the answer would be in the affirmative.

---From the looks of the young lady Tony was with, he might have left his heart in San Francisco, but he picked up his Viagra at Rite Aid.

--- I love the fact that Moron Deluxe John Rocker has crawled out from under a rock to throw more people under the steroids bus.

---Now this is a real credible witness. Sort of like Lee Harvey Oswald telling the cops that JFK was assassinated by the Lennon Sisters.

---More hypocracy. Senators tripping over themselves to get their picture taken with Roger Clemens. These are the same guys who will be grilling him later today.

---Speaking of which, who the hell keeps a plastic bag full of bloody syringes for seven years??

---Now I'm convinced that I will be turned in for some college abuses by some roommate who has kept all my empty bottles of Afrin Nasal Spray.

---At least, we have the Mitchell Hearings to laugh at until all the sitcoms come back.

---Thank God the writers' strike is over. It's been tough singlehandedly holding up the level of cleverness coming out of Hollywood.

---Does this mean that Mavis Leno can stop writing Jay's jokes?

---Now we can all get to enjoy that next episode of Carpoolers.

---You get the impression that Hillary's campaign for President is now just like that Chinese food you've kept in the refrigerator since last Friday?

---I don't see anything stopping the Ba-lack Osama juggernaut now. There are just too many damn idiots out there who want to vote for him because he gives them "a good feeling."

---Which you can also get from a sex molester.

---This is just what America needs right now. Giving that pig Oprah, Jesse Jackson, and Al Sharpton unlimited access to the White House bowling alley.

---By the way, if Obama Bin Laden gets in, will they be officially changing the name of the residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue? Discuss amongst yourselves.

---When you do the Pledge of Allegience to the Flag, you are supposed to stand. And put your right hand over your heart.

---That means you, too, Obama!

---We can only hope that all the shit they're hiding about Obooboo starts to come out now.

---For instance, that he would not vote "yes" or "no" on most Senate bills. Instead, he would keep his ass clean by simply saying "present."

---Like the fact that his spiritual advisor is connected to Louis Farrakhan.

---And how Ba-lack winds up with that big mansion he lives in.

---And how his wife once held up a Van Nuys liquor store with Todd Bridges.

---Okay, okay, I made up the last one.

---To those that think I am against a Black President, can I remind you all that I was a big, big supporter of President Palmer on "24."

---I guess Bill Clinton has to renew that Match.com subscription after all.

Dinner last night: Frankfurters.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

GOODBYE!


You may have heard that the famous Shea Stadium sign guy just passed away. If you went to a Met game in Flushing Meadows anytime during the late 60s, you saw this man and his cornucopia of printed placards. He had one for almost any baseball situation, and it almost seemed like he was lettering them himself during the game.

It's coincidentally nostalgic that he would die during the year where Shea Stadium will close its door to the public for the last time. But, then again, it's all changing for the world that revolves around the New York Metropolitans. Next year, they move about ten feet to the north into the spanking new Shitty Field. Sparkling (albeit fewer) seats and sightlines. Multiple restaurants where you can pay premium prices for microwaved salisbury steak. And vendors who will be roving the stands with your favorite Puerto Rican snacks. "Get your plaintains, get your plaintains!"

My mind wanders back to my first days as a Saturday ticket plan holder. The seats were wooden and so was the pitching staff. To a kid, the place still glistened as one of the original members of the toilet bowl style era of stadium construction. It was still my ballpark and it grew up with me like a neighborhood friend.

Shea felt apart as quickly as Joan Van Ark's last Botox injection. Cracked cement stairs. Paint chipping on bannisters, which were never retouched. Flooded bathroom floors. The blue and orange metal sheets that used to adorn the outside ramps were replaced by...well, nothing. And the warm calming aura of Jane Jarvis on the Thomas Organ was supplanted by, at first, your favorite Z100 playlist and later by that week's sure shots from San Juan radio. T-shirts are shot into the crowd like heat-seeking scud missiles. The ultimate injustice comes when I show up for a game on Hispanic Night and I discover that somebody has left a pile of sick underneath my seat. I looked for one of those ushers in one of those great orange suits and hats, but the best I can find is three paper towels in the bathroom to clean it up myself.

I've recently written a homage to my years at Saturday Met games and it will hopefully appear as scheduled in a book devoted to Shea Stadium. As I wrote it, I realized just how much this world has changed for me. The one thing that I thought would remain a constant is now merely a footnote in a life cycle. I wish the sign guy would be around for one more game and one last sign. That would read...

"IT AIN'T THE SAME."

Dinner last night: A birthday celebration of filet mignon and porcini mushrooms at Madeo's in West Hollywood.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Monday Morning Video Laugh - February 11, 2008


Love is in the air for Valentine's Day. By the way, I have no idea why this video comes with a label that advertises a website for ladies in Thailand. I would not click on that if I were you. Unless, of course...



Dinner last night: French Dip sandwich at Cafe 50s diner.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

My Top 25 Favorite Films: #8!!


"Jaws" is perhaps the greatest monster movie of all time. And there's probably less than 1 percent of it that is phony special effects. The movie is almost 33 years old and remains as fresh as the first time I saw it in 1975. The increasingly uncreative powers that be in Hollywood must be salivating at the thought of remaking it. I can hear the dimwitted discussions now.

"With CGI, we could six or seven more sharks."

"Quint's boat has to loaded with nuclear explosives, so that the last fifteen minutes is nothing but one blast after another."

"Let's get Will Smith so he can mother f*cker the shark to death."

Hopefully, none of those dialogues are happening. Because if the suits actually watched young people get exposed to this movie for the first time, they will realize that they don't need to turn it into some X Box game.

Two years ago, the magnificent Aero Theater in Santa Monica ran "Jaws" on an appropriately warm summer's Saturday night. The place was jammed and they were dragging chairs in from the manager's office to accommodate the throng. On line for my Goobers before the movie, some choice eavesdropping tipped me to the fact that several of the kids there had never seen the film. Parents were reliving their youth by scaring the bejeezus out of their offspring.

And they were. At all the appropriate scream moments, the crowd reacted on cue. It reminded me of the first time I saw "Jaws."

I actually went on its opening day. June 20, 1975. With a bunch of school chums. I even remember the venue, but I forgot the name of the theater which has long since been converted to some discount drug store befitting the Fordham Road ghetto that now surrounds it. I am betting that my good friend, Mr. Anonymous from the Barbara Judith Deluxe Furnished Apartments on Hollywood Boulevard, can illuminate us all on the specifics. It was a movie house on Fordham Road just underneath the Jerome Avenue subway. And probably the worst constructed theater ever. The place was long and rectangular. It was like watching a film down a bowling alley. The whole experience was claustrophobic. And, in hindsight, this probably contributed to why the movie worked so well right from the first frame.

Back in that day, moviegoers were not subjected to constant spoilers from the media. Beyond some glowing reviews in the Daily News, none of us knew what to expect when we sat down in those gum-laden seats. It all unfolded before us and every second was unexpected. For me, there has never been a scarier and more exhilerating film moment than when the shark makes its first appearance to Roy Scheider. Even now, when I revisit the DVD every other year or so, my heart still skips a beat when I see that sequence.

Steven Spielberg has certainly made a lot of terrific films since "Jaws." But, I will gladly argue that this is his very best storytelling in a tight, compact two hours that he can never ever surpass. Indeed, "Jaws" is the only one of his movies that is showing up on my list of favorites. Hell, even the damn trailer was an example of expert editing.


Whether you've seen "Jaws" once or 50 times, if it ever plays in a theater near you, go see it. And make sure there are plenty of kids in the audience. Because you will become one all over again.

Dinner last night: Fettuccini with garlic, broccoli, and olive oil at Miceli's prior to seeing another gem "The Grapes of Wrath" at the Egyptian.


Saturday, February 9, 2008

Today's Guest Blogger, Bill Cosby

After reading the following missive, I feel like I should have him be my guest blogger. Whereas I know he's not the most sterling of individuals, I cannot argue with one word of what follows. This might be old news to some of you since this speech apparently was made in 2004. But, it is new to me. And more true than ever in 2008 with that Illinois screwball senator now running for the highest office in the land.

"They're standing on the corner and they can't speak English. I can't even talk the way these people talk. Why you ain't? Where you is? What he drive? Where he stay? Where he work? Who you be?

And I blamed the kid until I heard the mother talk. And then I heard the father talk.

Everybody knows it's important to speak English except these knuckleheads. You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth. In fact, you will never get any kind of job making a decent living. People marched and were hit in the face with rocks to get an educations, and now we've got these knuckleheads walking around. The lower economic people are not holding up their end in this deal.

These people are not parenting. They are buying things for kids. $500 sneakers for what? And they won't spend $200 for Hooked On Phonics. I am talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit.

Where were you when he was 2??

Where were you when he was 12??

Where were you when he was 18 and how come you didn't know that he had a pistol???

And where is the father?? Or who is his father???

People putting their clothes on backward; isn't that a sign of something gone wrong??? People with their hats on backward, pants down around the crack, isn't that a sign of something??? Or are you waiting for Jesus to pull his pants up?

Isn't it a sign of something when she has her dress all the way up and got all types of needles piercing through her body??

What part of Africa did this come from?? We are not Africans. These people are not Africans. They don't know a thing about Africa. With names like Shaniqua, Tailqua and Mohammed and all of that crap, and all of them are in jail.

Brown or black versus the Board of Education is no longer the white person's problem. We have got to take the neighborhood back. People used to be ashamed. Today, a woman has eight children with eight different 'husbands' or men or whatever you call them now.

We have millionaire football players who cannot read. We have million-dollar basketball players who can't write two paragraphs. We, as black folks, have to do a better job. Someone working at Wal-Mart with seven kids, you are hurting us.

We have to start holding each other to a higher standard. We cannot blame the white people any longer."

Obviously, the wrong African-American is running for President. Good for you, Mr. Cosby.

Dinner last night: Lasagna.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Your February Weekend Movie Guide


While you can't go out to some palace like the Loew's Paradise for a Saturday night movie, there are other venues to sample for your buttered popcorn and a large soda. Here's my monthly service to you. I sift through the entertainment pages of the Los Angeles Times and give you my gut reaction on where these movies belong on your attend-o-meter. Good luck.

Atonement: Hanging around based on 7 Oscar nominations. It is just okay, but watch out for that 13-year-old girl who's up for Best Supporting Actress. She's the creepiest teenager since Amy Carter.

Michael Clayton: Brought back because of 7 Oscar nominations. My personal favorite of all the Best Picture noms. See it if you haven't.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly: Hanging around based on 4 Oscar nominations. Actually, the first half hour, which focuses on life as seen through the eyes of a paralyzed stroke victim, is interesting. But, after that, your own brain waves start to slow down and you start grasping for the button that will bring the nurse, er, I mean, usherette. Bring a soft pillow.

The Band's Visit: Members of the Egyptian Police form a brass band and they play in Israel. Picture Robert Preston doing "The Music Man" with some Wamsutta sheets around his head.

Fool's Gold: The trailer has been running for months and it's a weekly reminder for me to avoid the movie and do a 100 sit-ups so that I, too, can have abdominal muscles just like Matthew McConaughey. Of course, I do have one leg up on Mr. McConaughey. I can read.

The Bucket List: For lack of anything else, I actually saw this last weekend. Two guys get cancer and die. There, I just told you the whole freakin' movie. I spent the whole two hours trying to get an accurate count on Morgan Freeman's skin blemishes.

27 Dresses: Find one single guy in the audience. I defy you.

Cloverfield: As I was leaving the aforementioned "Bucket List" last weekend, this horror flick was letting out. I saw kids leaving the theater and holding onto the wall because they were so dizzy. And if you're going to make your core audience nauseous, that doesn't bode well for the rest of us.

Persepolis: Nominated for Best Animated Feature. This cartoon tells the story of a young Iranian girl during the Islamic Revolution. And who says they can't make fun cartoons anymore? Cruella DeVille means Saddam Hussein. With Mel Blanc as the voice of Allah.

The Savages: Definitely catch it if you have not. A sterling performance from Laura Linney.

The Hottie and the Nottie: Paris Hilton is the star. Not a shottie.

Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins: Go away, Martin Lawrence.

No Country for Old Men: Hanging around based on 8 Oscar noms. This will probably win the Best Picture Oscar. If you have not seen it, you'll feel a lot more satisified if you leave ten minutes before the end.

Hannah Montana and Miley Cyrus: A Disney-produced concert film! I truly have compassion for any parent with an 8-year-old daughter who has to sit through this. I just found out that Miley Cyrus is the offspring of country's one-hit wonder, Billy Ray Cyrus. I have no idea what to do with that mindless factoid.

Juno: If you still haven't seen it, do so. The smartest screenplay in years. Any writer who uses the word "shenanigans" in a sentence should automatically win the Pulitzer Prize.

In Bruges: A bunch of hitmen running around Belgium, apparently the new murder capital of the world.

There Will Be Blood: There will be boredom. This is truly the George W. Bush of Best Picture nominations. Apparently, enough Academy members voted for it, but I have yet to meet anybody who didn't hate it.

Vince Vaughn's Wild West Comedy Show: A documentary about the actor leading a troupe of stand-up comics on a barnstorming tour. I am not sure when this unfunny slug became the barometer for comedy. All of a sudden, he is the Arthur Godfrey of the Nintendo generation.

Cassandra's Dream: Woody Allen now sets all his movies in London, where marrying your daughter must be legal. The reviews are dreadful. Woody, hang 'em up. Write your memoirs and call it a career.

Mad Money: Diane Keaton, Queen Latifah, and Katie Holmes rob the U.S. Treasury. And the movie goer at the same time. Keaton, once one of our pickiest actresses, will now appear at your dinner party for a dollar.

The Eye: Some horror dreck with Jessica Alba. That, in itself, is an oxymoron.

Untraceable: I once saw Diane Lane at a car wash. She didn't mention this movie at all. The title also translates to the box office receipts.

Caramel: Some fantasy love story. Sounds gooey.

The Great Debaters: Still hanging around based on no Oscar nominations. But, it's up for a slew of NAACP Awards, which will be presented next week at Roscoe's House of Waffles in Crenshaw. I must have been held hostage a while back because I actually saw this movie. Another Oprah fact bender that paints every White person in the picture as the vilest creature to ever walk the Earth.

Rambo: Sylvester Stallone is back to defend nursing homes all across the country. First time ever that a Hollywood movie stuntman had to work while driving one of those Hoverrounds. Look for lots of Ben Gay product placements.

Dinner last night: Turkey burger at the Cheesecake Factory.