Saturday, January 31, 2009

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - January 2009

A classic MGM musical. I love the way they incorporate a travelogue into the body of the trailer.

Dinner last night: Chinese buffet at Panda Express.

Friday, January 30, 2009

I Just Don't Get....

With the Oscar nomination shutout of “The Dark Knight” from the Best Picture category, I finally feel validated. At least this time. I’ve written here before about my disdain for this movie. Never saw what all the attention was about. Never understood how people got into such frenzy over it. Never saw the craftsmanship in what was essentially three hours of unmitigated noise. Heath Ledger, of course, was destined to be nominated as soon as he died. Indeed, his performance is compelling, but doesn’t rise to any great levels. The easiest thing for an actor to play is crazy and that’s pretty much what Ledger’s Joker was. He’ll probably win because people in the business want to wallow in the pain of his untimely demise one more time. Oddly enough, I can tell you some other actors who were much more deserving of a posthumous Oscar than the pill-addled Heath. What about James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause?” Or Spencer Tracy in “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?” But, I alas digress…

There are a load of other over-hyped movies, TV shows, and yes, personalities that I "get" as much as I got “The Dark Knight.” The ultimate mysteries for me. In a world full of dog whistles, here are a few mongrels that I just can’t respond to in any shape, form, or emotion.

Ugly Betty: Many folks love this show. I watched the premiere and found that it was shot so brightly my eyes began to hurt. I have never revisited. One episode and I was done for life.

30 Rock: I know, I know, I know. I have tried to watch this countless times every season and still come away as if I’d been to the funeral of a 4 year-old. Not a single laugh and it’s a setting that I cannot identify with. Some have compared it to the old “Mary Tyler Moore Show.” These people should be banished to a leper colony posthaste. If you are digging it, God bless you. But, given the national audience ratings which are still in the low single digits, there ain’t many of you out there.

Mad Men: I know, I know, I know. Here’s another one I have tried to sample. On three separate occasions, I have tried to watch Season 1. And somehow someway I can’t get past the third episode. It has all the earmarkings of something I would normally love: comedy mixed with drama set in a nostalgic time frame. Amazingly, the show still doesn't captivate me. And, for some reason, all the female actresses on this show are putrid.

The Amazing Race: I have watched this show twice and hated it. Well, I pretty much signed off the first time I saw it but then the stepson of some guy in my church won it all and I was mildly interested enough to watch somebody I know through somebody else win a half million dollars. The camera work is so frenetic you feel like you’re on the IRT during rush hour. With nausea to boot.

Dancing with the Stars: How can I get addicted to “American Idol” and not watch this mess? Very easy. On Idol, you’re watching some kids with talent and a dream. On this swill, you’re watching some has-beens with marginable talent and a bathroom they’re looking to renovate.

Jim Carrey: I have never ever gotten this guy. The ultimate dog whistle. Actually the ultimate pile of dog crap.

Tony Bennett: I quote my grandmother. "That dumb guinea can't sing." While I love a good song stylist, there is something about his intonations that are so incredibly smug and unfeeling. Plus if you stare at his face long enough, you get a stye.

Saturday Night Live: It hasn't been cutting edge since Belushi and Radner were still alive. The first sketch, which used to be the only reason to watch, is now unwatchable. A great way to find actors that are truly adept at reading cue cards. An embarrassment from 1130PM to 1AM. And Lorne Michaels should be riddled with bulletholes on a weekly basis.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Holiday: Why? I remember when it wasn’t a day off. It became one because civil service workers (AKA people sitting on stools behind counters) bitched, moaned, and groaned. And the Black kids in my high school stormed the cafeteria and took it over for a week in protest. The guy had a national presence and certainly did some good things. I would counter, however, my loony pastor’s notion that people worldwide celebrate him. Huh? Like some steel worker in Poland gives a shit. And let’s not forget that the dude had some major warts. For instance, trying to screw as many women on the road as possible. Why the hell do you think he was staying in some fleabag motel in Memphis when he got murdered? But, then again, I’d screw around, too, if I had to come home to his wife whose face resembled that of My Friend Flicka. Again, I have to quote Grandma: "He preached non-violence, but every place he went there was a riot."

Christopher Reeve: An incredibly bad actor who has been raised to the level of Sir Laurence Olivier simply because he was too stupid to know that he shouldn’t have been jumping hurdles on a horse. Then, he’s lauded as this great humanitarian and genius, even though he cheated on his first wife openly in public and is widely known as being not the sharpest tool in the shed.

Citizen Kane: Considered the greatest American movie ever. Not in my book. I have tried on countless times to “get” this movie. Seen it on television. Saw it on the big screen. It’s good, but way over directed. Rosebud, my ass.

Now I'm sure there are some of you who would counter me on any of the above. I didn't say I was right. It's merely a reflection of my personal taste. I guess that's what makes democracy great.

Dinner last night: Dried cappacollo sandwich.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Your Presidential Candidate in 2012

Why not? It's not like Obama has a copyright on the design.

Dinner last night: Hamsteak and salad.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

If It's Wednesday, This Must Be Oprah

It’s my goal now to find every unflattering photo of Oprah that’s available on the internet. In this one, her hair’s as big as her ass.

---Actually, this photo sort of reminds me of that Little Rascals short where Buckwheat goes through the haunted house.

---So, how does this work? You load Turbotax on your computer and it tells you not to pay your taxes for a few years? Sweet.

---You do know that if this new Treasury Secretary had been put up by anybody else but Obama, he would have been tarred and feathered.

---Of course, given how inept Republicans have been, their selection for a Cabinet spot probably would have been caught playing Guitar Hero.

---Don’t be awed by those big attendance numbers for the inauguration. Lots of people with time on their hands because they’re out of work.

---So, President Obama’s first TV interview is with an Arab TV network?? Huh? What’s next? A guest appearance on “America’s Funniest Politicians?”

---Michael Jackson may be headed to Broadway. Staging a production based on his old Thriller album.

---And he’s praying he gets the theater next to “Billy Eliot” where all those young boys are dancing every night.

---From what I could see, it’s now fitting that Susan Sarandon presented one of the SAG awards. Least Supporting Chin and Cleavage.

---If you think that was particularly nasty, I blame it all on Turbotax.

---As many awards as Heath Ledger gets from Hollywood, he’s still dead.

---Once again, Turbotax.

---After about five years worth of reminders, they had to move that digital TV switch from February 17 to June.

---If you haven’t gotten your act together and ditched those rabbit ears, you don’t deserve to have television in the first place.

---I am loving all that Caroline Kennedy - Senate nonsense from NY as orchestrated by that blind dumbbell Governor David Patterson.

---I read somewhere that Patterson, now looked to be re-elected, wants to share his vision for New York State.

---Go ahead. You take the joke.

---Let's get real. The guy is an accidental Governor. He only got the job because Elliot Spitzer was too stupid not to get caught wearing only a condom and black socks.

---Re-elect Patterson? I'm guessing his next job will be at a community center stringing some beads.

---The Super Bowl is Sunday? I'll let you know what movie I am going to see instead of watching the game.

Dinner last night: Antipasto salad.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Seeing is Believing

A friend of mine sent these along and they are too wild not to share. Only in this great sewer we call the United States of America.

No, Ma'am, it's not a sun shower.

Here's Grandma's GPS system.

It's more commonly called a garage sale.


Dinner last night: Leftover sausage and red cabbage.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday Morning Video Laugh - January 26, 2009

Why you should always turn off the engine before getting out of your car....

Dinner last night: Turkey sausage, red cabbage, and spaetzle.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Double Date Night

College was hardly a harvest of dating riches. More often than not, those years would be spent thinking about someone endlessly and ultimately doing squat with said thoughts. And when you did, it was always the wrong time, the wrong place, and the wrong everything. You’d get summarily rebuffed and wind up lying across your bed on your stomach. Hopelessly staring at the dirt on the dorm room carpet.
I lived at Fordham for two years: junior and senior. This should have been prime time in the dating arena. Once again, not so much. Still more of the wrong time, the wrong place, and the wrong everything. And, as my luck would have it, when there was interest on the other side, it was pretty much the wrong girl. I was lucky in the fact that my roommate wasn't doing much either. Luckily, we never found each other staring at the floor at the very same moment.
In the spring of junior year, we did hit on a situation that was so monumental the historians at the Guinness Book of World Records passed out in a dead faint. It also started a tradition that we carried on for, gasp, two years.
It was Double Date Night.
It all started innocently. He had to go to some award banquet and somehow, miraculously, got a girl to go with him. We talked about his impending evening and decided it would be absolutely hilarious if we both had dates the very same night. After all, that type of duality had come around, well, never before. So, I set out to secure my end of the bargain.
As always seemed to be the case, there was somebody that I had a crush on at the time. This was the impetus to get off the stick. I swallowed hard.
”You want to go to dinner Friday night?”
The reaction from my little friend was hardly inviting.
Gee, I love you, too. But, looking back now, this girl would be one to question and angst over everything. The type of annoying personality that would provoke even Mother Theresa to slap her. But, decades ago, I had lower standards. Nevertheless, she quickly agreed to the meal. And I decided to do this in style. A drive up to a steak house in Westchester. This meant I needed to secure my father’s car for the evening. And, essentially explain why. Clue a parent into your social calendar? Something that just wasn’t done in those days.
”Can I come home and use the car Friday night?”
The reaction from my father wasn’t very inviting either.
Wow, Dad, thanks for the support. And have I got a screwed up girl for you.
The logistics did work out. Of course, I wasn't used to driving my father's car, a Buick LeSabre that could have also doubled as Cleopatra's barge. This chick worried about my driving all the way up the Bronx River Parkway. And her worrying naturally made me drive badly. I wound up off the road on a sharp bend somewhere around Hartsdale. It was a bad deal all around. But, still, I managed to hold up my end of the Double Date Night premiere.
We would repeat the stunt a year later. My roommate was going out with somebody to some event. All over again, I went on the prowl to match up for the evening. This year, it was a little easier. I had an even bigger crush on somebody else. And when I asked she didn’t ask why.
”Definitely. What time?”
As we walked across the campus to whatever eatery we were headed to, she suddenly grabbed my hand to hold.
Hey, now!! Gee, I really love this annual tradition.
Of course, she then explained that we were walking past her boyfriend’s dorm and she was hoping he would see us.
Balloon. Pin. No more air in Len.
The evening was fun, but there was always a black bunting over it. Like one of those fire houses which has just lost a member. In this case, the corpse
Of course, there would be much more to tell much later. But that’s so far back in my Sunday memory drawer that it may take years before I can get to it.
Dinner last night: Baconburger at the Pig N'Whistle.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Classic TV Theme of the Month - January 2009

A childhood favorite for me. And watch closely for who the guest star is!

Dinner last night: Had a big lunch, just some fruit and ice cream.

Friday, January 23, 2009

It's The Same Freakin' Movie!!!

With 13 Oscar nominations yesterday, "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" scored big. But just how original is it? Apparently not so much. Not only is it written by the same guy who wrote "Forrest Gump," it appears to be the exact same plot. Watch this.

If you want to remake a movie, just say you're doing it and go ahead. Once again, originality in Hollywood is a lost art.

Dinner last night: Teriyaki chicken sandwich at Islands

Thursday, January 22, 2009

But Who's Counting??

I am. Well, actually, they are.

About a week ago, I removed the "Number of Visitors" page element on the side of the blog. You may not have even noticed. Well, the counter is at the very bottom of the page now and that forces you to scroll through the past week's worth of entries. That way, I am making you endure one more time the daily creative brilliance that is me.

The counter now is a product of Sitemeter and I moved to it because it offers me at no cost all sorts of nifty ways to see who's reading this sucker. It tracks past activity and I can find out who's on at any given time. I can see what state you're in and what server you use. I cannot see your e-mail addresses, names, or what you are or are not wearing as you type. I'm not sure but I think I can access your on-line bank accounts. I haven't mastered that feature just yet.

By the way, somebody out there amongst my readers is woefully behind in their cable bill. Just so you know. Big Brother and Len Speaks are watching.

Dinner last night: Orange chicken at the Cheesecake Factory.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Well, We've Changed and It's Still Wednesday

I experienced change this morning. New outfits, new socks, new underwear.

---Looking at the heifer in the picture above, don't you want to know how many times she cut the buffet line at one of those inauguration parties last night?

---They were all focused on which designer Michelle Obama was wearing. Everybody forgot to notice that Oprah was dressed in the tarpulin from the old White Sox' Comiskey Park.

---Really....when can we be rid of this cancer? Maybe she'll just overeat so much one day and explode into one big pile of gristle and BBQ sauce.

---There is no truth to the rumor that, as he took the oath of office, Obama responded "Yassur. I'se do."

---After two days of Black Appreciation Day, where do Swedish-Americans get their day in the sun?

---And I think Sweden's days in the sun are naturally longer. Good for them.

---What's with all the junk they're celebrating to commemorate Obama's presidency? Plates, silverware, ties, coins.

---My Obama toilet seat is on order.

---Obama became President on Muhammad Ali's birthday and the ex-boxer attended. He was the one in the crowd not standing still.

---Ali on the new President: "Garble, mumble, mumble, garble, spit, mumble, mumble, wheeze."

---Obama coming into the country at this time is sort of like the supermarket hiring a new stock boy one hour after an earthquake.

---"Cleanup on aisles 1 through 12."

---Wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall when Obama finally got to see the top secret folder of just how bad off the country is?

---So much blood drained from his face that he looked like Casper the Friendly Ghost.

---"Gee, Bush was right. We are fucked."

---After watching clips of the Inaugural Ball, I can tell you what part of Obama's DNA is white. The chump can't dance a lick.

---Bottom line: even though I am inherently distrustful of all politicians, I am solidly behind our new President.

---And I really hope they didn't serve cauliflower last night.

---For me, though, the real American hero this week is that pilot who orchestrated the crash landing on the Hudson River. This guy is the one who should be idolized by all Americans today.

---A friend noted that the US Airways landing coincidentally happened on the same day that Ricardo Montalban died. I had to think about the connection. And, then...

---"De plane, boss. De plane!"

---Hope you used that Circuit City gift card.

Dinner last night: French dip sandwich at BJs.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

For Those Who Thought They Knew Everything

On this monumental day in American history, leave it to me to mark it with something so trivial.

A friend forwarded this e-mail and it really is fascinating. Here's some fun facts to dazzle your friends with at those ultra-boring parties.

The liquid inside young coconuts can be used as a substitute for blood plasma.

No piece of paper can be folded in half more than seven times.

Donkeys kill more people annual than plane crashes or shark attacks.

You burn more calories sleeping than you do watching television.

Oak trees do not produce acorns until they are 50 or older.

The first product to have a bar code was Wrigley's Gum.

The King of Hearts is the only king without a moustache.

American Airlines saved $40,000 in 1987 by eliminating one olive from each salad served in First Class.

Venus is the only planet that rotates clockwise.

Apples, not caffeine, are more efficient at waking you up in the morning.

Most dust particles in your house are made of dead skin!

The first owner of the Marlboro Company died of lung cancer. So did the first "Marlboro Man."

Walt Disney was afraid of mice.

Pearls melt in vinegar.

The three most valuable brand names on Earth: Marlboro, Coca-Cola, and Budweiser, in that order.

It is possible to lead a cow upstairs, but not downstairs.

A duck's quack does not echo and no one can explain why.

Dentists have recommended that a toothbrush be kept at least six feet away from a toilet to avoid airborne particles resulting from the flush.

Richard Millhouse Nixon was the first U.S. President whose name contains all the letters from the word 'criminal.' The second? William Jefferson Clinton.

Turtles can breathe through their asses.

Dinner last night: Leftover chili.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Monday Morning Video Laugh - January 19, 2009

As history is made in our country this week, we need to recall this wonderful scene from "Blazing Saddles." Remember the immortal words of Gabby Johnson...

Washington, DC. Rock Ridge. It's all the same thing.

Dinner last night: Homemade chili with smoked pork.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Holy Communion

Here you go. Mom, Dad, and some dork in a robe that happens to be me on my confirmation day. Three people squinting wildly in the hot sun of a May Sunday afternoon. Not a smile in the bunch. It's about one hour after I first sampled the body and blood of Christ and I am guessing that the cardboard wafer is probably still stuck on my braces.

I remember this day vividly. I couldn't wait for it to be over. I had endured two years of Saturday morning religious instruction, made palatable only because my very first girlfriend was in the class with me. And it culminated in this afternoon, where my mind was drifting to the Met doubleheader on TV in the house. Lots of relatives afoot drinking and eating and smoking. And a stack of envelopes containing twenty dollar bills. My just reward for swallowing a paper tablet and some Gallo wine.

Unlike my Catholic chums up the block, us Lutherans were time-efficient and lumped the first Holy Communion and Confirmation into one single event. My mother used to quip that the Catholic kids were way too young to appreciate the sacraments at the age of 7. As for me, if it meant another afternoon filled with envelopes of twenty dollar bills, I would be a buyer for that religion. Because, as much as I dreaded the prospects of putting that wafer in my mouth, it turned out to be not so bad. And I got used to it all pretty darn quickly.

All through high school, I would receive Holy Communion on the first Sunday of the month. That wasn't me being obsessive compulsive. That was the only Sunday in the month that St. Peter's Lutheran Church on East 219th Street in the Bronx would offer it. But, I welcomed it as I began to understand the meaning behind it all and, for some mystical reason, I took it pretty seriously. Then, they changed pastors and I went to college. Wafers and wine were replaced by pretzels and 25 cent bottles of beer on the Fordham campus.

It wouldn't be until I returned to church when I moved to Los Angeles that I would again receive communion in a Lutheran church. And, years later, I found that the cardboard cookie had been replaced (at least at my church) by real challah bread. You actually felt like you were breaking bread as you are handed a morsel to dunk into the cabernet. I know the exact brand because I am the one at my church who buys the actual sacraments at Ralph's Supermarket every Saturday.

But, in the long interim between these blessings, there would be only one other time where communion almost filtered back into my world. In a Catholic church, of all places. The story, as I relate it, is not written to do any religion bashing or indict any particular clergy. But, it does illuminate how deeply seeded your childhood religious upbringing can be.

A few years after college, I was asked to be an usher for two Fordham friends who were taking the marital plunge. (They have since toweled off and left the pool permanently) Now, if you really want to piss me off, ask me to be an usher in your wedding party. Being the best man is impressive. I've been accorded that honor twice in my life. But, there is no other meaningless role than an usher at a wedding. Yo, Aunt Marge, you can find your own seat. It's a freakin' church. The closer you are, the better the view. Pure and simple. Essentially, what the groom is saying is that you are a close friend, but not the closest. Thanks, but no thanks. I don't need it, especially if I'm required to shove some portly bridesmaid around the dance floor to the strains of "Color My World." But, I digress...

I was asked to be an usher and I regrettably accepted. Comes the wedding day in Fordham University's Catholic chapel, I learn that the wedding will be officiated by two of the bride's relatives---a couple of ancient priests who might have seen the raising of Lazarus from the dead in person. These two fathers were the addled and scrambled types who hadn't opened their rectory windows since I Love Lucy was first run. And, since they didn't get out much except for bingo and Irish wakes, they were still under the misguided delusion that everybody in the world was Catholic. Well, indeed, in this wedding party, they probably were all Catholic. Except for me, the stalwart Protestant.

In what was an incredibly annoying wedding mass (the bride stood at some virginal statue for about two hours), I still managed to do all the kneeling at the most appropriate times. But, then, the two priests started to mess with the chalice and that dish where they keep the cardboard wafers. And they moved to approach where the wedding party was kneeling. I turned to another friend who was the usher beside me.

"What are they going to do now?"

My friend whispered, "They're gonna give us communion."

Huh? I poked him in the arm.

"I'm not Catholic."

My friend was no help. "Just take it. It's all the same thing."

It's all the same thing? It's all the same thing?? I thought about this. Indeed, I'm pretty sure that the wine and the wafer is the same in one Christian church as it is in the next. Probably purchased in the same church supply store on Katonah Avenue in the Bronx. But, I thought about my own religious background. The two years of Saturday indoctrination in the Lutheran faith leading up to the very first time I would receive communion. On the day of the picture heralding this entry. I thought about my parents and my childhood church and the fact that I had not gone for communion in my own faith for some time.

Nope, it wasn't the same. Not hardly. I would not take this blessing today. I had made my choice.

Getting the clergy in residence to accept that decision was another matter. The first fossil, Father Porcelana, held the wafer up in front of my mouth. I grunted as quietly as I could.

"No, thank you."

He stayed motionless. Holding the wafer in front of me as if I was a beagle being asked to sit up and beg for a Milk Bone treat. He stood there for a minute that felt like ten. When he finally got the notion that this was a religious staredown, he moved on. Then, on came Father Metamucil with the chalice of wine. In his moth ball reeking robes, he had witnessed none of the other drama that had just befallen me.

"The blood of Christ..."

It was eternity and we might have witnessed the second coming. He held the wine to my mouth. I looked at him as if he was crazy. And perhaps he was. At last, he moved on to the next person he would drip on.

Yeah, it's the same thing. But, somehow, it's different. For me, it's incredibly personal. As it should be.

Dinner last night: Eggplant parmagiana at Miceli's prior to the Egyptian Theater showing of the classic western, "Gunfight at the OK Corral."

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Classic Newsreel of the Month - January 2009

New Presidents come and go all the time.

Dinner last night: Chicken curry salad with homemade white bean garlic soup.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Your January 2009 Weekend Movie Guide

Here we are in a new moviegoing year. And I am once again your consumer advocate for the dreck out there in the multiplexes. We’re in Oscar nomination season, so a lot of the marquees are displaying those flicks with golden aspirations. I’ve seen a lot of them and, with the aid of the Los Angeles Times, will tell you what deserves your attention and what deserves to be dropkicked to the Hollywood curb. Note from the picture above: I highly doubt "Yes Man" will be up for any major Academy Award.

Slumdog Millionaire: A major Oscar contender which still befuddles me. I get major stinkeye from people when they hear that I thoroughly despised everything about this movie. I didn’t give one shit about the story, the characters, or the Indian nation. And just the hell is a slumdog? This year’s contender for Most Overhyped Film.

Gran Torino: If this is Clint Eastwood’s last film, he goes out in grand style. An immensely engrossing story and a great indictment for imposing restrictions on Asian immigration to the United States.

Defiance: More Nazis, more Jews, and more genocide. And haven't we seen this movie about two dozen times? You want to do an original movie about the Holocaust? Set it to music with choreography by Tommy Tune. I actually was sitting behind director Edward Zwick on a November flight back to LA. I could tell it was him because his computer screensaver read "EDWARD ZWICK." I watched him look at clips from the movie. And, even in these short snippets, I was thoroughly bored and quickly went back to my Sudoku puzzle.

Doubt: Saw it. Well acted, badly directed. The subject matter was previously hashed out in this blog and friendships were temporarily damaged. Go at your own risk.

Last Chance Harvey: Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson connect in an airport coffee shop. That's funny because the only thing I ever find in there is usually an overpriced pack of chewing gum.

Not Easily Broken: Certainly not a movie about Nomar Garciaparra's playing career. I know nothing about this fil, except there's a Black couple in the ad.

Hotel for Dogs: Wait till the dogs meet up with all the bedbugs that have been infiltrating our hotels nationwide for the past two years.

Notorious: A remake of the Hitchcock classic? Nah. It's about rapper and hip hop icon Notorious B.I.G. Expect gunfights in the lobby when they run out of Jujyfruits.

The Wrestler: I saw this Mickey Rourke tour de force and it's hard to believe there is a Hollywood celebrity who has had more plastic surgery than Joan Rivers. It's entertaining, but tough to take. Don't go if you still believe that wrestling isn't fixed. Marisa Tomei recreates a dance number from "Swing Time," substituting a pole for Fred Astaire and her own skin for wardrobe.

Bedtime Stories: Adam Sandler still searching for an age group that he will appeal to. At some point, he will figure out that his target group of fans are pre-schoolers.

Waltz with Bashir: Already revered as this great film, it's an animated film about the conflict in the Middle East. I guess Pixar wasn't interested. Goy Story Part 2.

Bride Wars: Kate Hudson vs. Anne Hathaway over a wedding date. There is a rumor that a man was spotted in the audience last weekend. But, still, that's only a rumor. Even the trailer I saw was way too long.

Frost/Nixon: The best movie I saw in 2008. Go if you haven't yet.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: The best word-of-mouth I have heard is that it's "mediocre." Can any human being safely endure three hours of Brad Pitt? The cinematic version of waterboarding at Gitmo.

Revolutionary Road: If I want to watch married people fighting during the 50s, I have my family's photo slides.

Marley and Me: Saw it as a timekiller and that's what it should be for you as well. I have to tell you: when the dog licked Jennifer Aniston's face, I was a little envious.

Paul Blart, Mall Cop: Show of hands, please. Kevin James funny? Anybody? Anybody? Going once, going twice...

The Owl and the Sparrow: A runaway child, a zookeeper, and a flight attendant in Vietnam. Sounds like the beginnings of a very inappropriate joke.

My Bloody Valentine 3-D: I wonder if those stupid glasses will also help you to see gigantic holes in the plot.

Happy-Go-Lucky: Although the lead actress will probably be Oscar nominated, the title for me should be "Me-Go-Unlikely."

Valkyrie: Goosestepping with Tom Cruise. Even on screen, he has lunatic affiliations.

Yes Man: Just who does go to Jim Carrey movies?

Rachel Getting Married: A dismal family drama lingers around our multiplexes. Anne Hathaway will be nominated for an Academy Award, but who wants to go to a cinema and watch the same dysfunction they can get at home for free?

Seven Pounds: Now when Will Smith finally makes a movie about coming out of the closet, I will be there. He and his goofy wife's sexual preferences are Hollywood's biggest secret according to my hair stylist. And she's never wrong.

The Unborn: The Unseen.

Che: This mess about the dictator is so long that theaters are showing it in two parts. And that's probably not the director's cut. Other than rodents, who wants to spend that much time with trash?

The Betrayal: All about some family that emigrated from Laos during the Vietnam war. Gee, if they put this on a double feature with "The Owl and the Sparrow," I can skip them both for the same price.

Milk: A pretty engrossing movie. And, surprisingly, it's also available in plastic containers in all supermarkets and grocery stores.

Dinner last night: Salad bar at Gelson's.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Ticket Rule

I’m not sure, but I think my writing partner and I invented this concept for a script. We built a whole episode around it and now we’re both convinced it existed before that. But, still we’re not sure.

I’m talking about The Ticket Rule.

I heard you. Huh?

It applies to people who gift friends for birthdays or Christmas with a pair of tickets to some concert, theater event, etc.. According to our script, if Person X gives Person Y two tickets for Christmas to a show, Person Y naturally invites Person X to accompany him or her. I have adopted this regulation to my life for years. Gifted tickets and went with the presentee. Was gifted with tickets and invited the presenter. A no-brainer.

Naturally, this works only with single people. Well, actually, it could work with people in relationships, but it’s probably not entirely appropriate for me to have a night out on the town with your wife. Or maybe it is. I’ll let you make that call.

My partner and I thought this was a wide-adopted rule so we used it in a script. Our lead female character gave a girlfriend two tickets for a birthday and, of course, comedy mayhem ensues, when the friend decides to take this hot new guy she’s dating. When we got to the table read with the actors we regularly work with, there was a blank stare over the entire cast. None of them got it. No one had heard of The Ticket Rule. We were totally confused. Had this occurred in our little worlds and minds that were completely exclusive to us? In our own brilliance, were we completely and utterly obtuse?

I started asking about this amongst my friends. More silence and addled looks.

But, it does live on. I gave a good friend a Christmas gift of two tickets to a George Gershwin revue at the Geffen Playhouse. She took me along. I gave another good friend a Christmas gift of two tickets to a new musical at the Ahmanson Theater. As far as I know, I am going along.

I now must assume that The Ticket Rule is something that exists but is never openly discussed in public. Like your uncle who drinks too much or your co-worker with excessive body odor. One more thing swept under the rug.

And now I’m wondering which married friend I can gift with two tickets? The ultimate test.

Dinner last night: Liverwurst sandwich.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

It's Tough to Get Up on a Wednesday

He's not wrapped too tightly and neither am I.

---Now that Rickey Henderson has been inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame, I am wondering what his plaque will say.

---"Leader in stolen bases, clubhouse card games, and talking incessantly about himself in the third person."

---"Rickey's gonna need a limousine to get to Cooperstown."

---Len thinks he's a moron.

---While the rest of the country is shivering under snow, Los Angeles hit 90 degrees yesterday.

---Len was driving with the car AC on.

---Hope and change has finally come to America. Jack Bauer is back with a new season of "24."

---The season wasn't more than 30 minutes old before Jack was ready to plunge a Bic pen into somebody's eye.

---Obama may want to close Gitmo but they can always replace it by using a Staples.

---American Idol auditions started again last night and, once again, we discover just how delusional Americans can be. And how easily Paula Abdul can be amused by string.

---Fact of life: Not everybody has talent. Most should be content with mail sorting and three square meals a day, topped off by the latest episode of "The Biggest Loser."

---Even some of those with talent don't have it. And, yes, I am thinking about Will Smith.

---I guess we have one more week of listening to the media report on the gloom and doom of the economy. As soon as we get past the inauguration, we will hear daily how everything is on the upswing.

---By the way, the celebratory theme of the inauguration will harken back to the days of Lincoln.

---Those two Obama kids will be handing in their homework on a shovel.

---And, in his speech, the President will remind us all that slavery needs to be abolished.

---Does that get the chains off me as well?

---Comedian Kevin James honored the Mets' old stadium by naming his new daughter Shea.

---And the name will be even more appropriate the first time she pees all over the bathroom floor.

---Shea's upper deck is almost demolished. The bullpen area was previously destroyed last July by Aaron Heilman.

Len says he's finished with today's entry.

Dinner last night: Sausage and peppers sandwich at Maria's Italian Kitchen.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Home to Mount Vernon - A Photo Essay

I don't know why I do this to myself. On my trip to NY last November, I was compelled on a freezing Sunday afternoon to re-visit the old haunts. Mount Vernon, New York. A place which was once a glorious place to have my childhood. Now, a town trashed by crooked politics and a direct by-product of the lax immigration laws of this nation. Raped, pillaged, and left for dead are my memories. And a major portion of my life. Join me as I tour some important benchmarks of my early life. If you remember anything at all about Mount Vernon during those years, keep tissues handy.

These days, the decay of Mount Vernon's carcass begins and ends with the assholes that inhabit City Hall. Okay, the town was always racially polarized. Blacks on the south side below the New Haven railroad tracks and Whites on the north side above the train divide. My home was sort of on the south side but we were also close to the Bronx line. Nevertheless, in those years, the city was run essentially by Italians...wink, wink, nudge, nudge. And, pretty much, there was harmony. About twenty years ago, the mob got tired of all the skimming and pretty much ceded the city to Black politicians who have destroyed the place once and for all with their Afro-centric policies. The first building that needs to be torched is the one pictured above. But, only if all employees are working at their desks at the time.

This parking garage monstrosity used to be the Loews Mount Vernon movie palace. They built a lot of parking. As if anybody goes to Mount Vernon anymore...

A short block away, we find what used to be the RKO Proctor's movie theater. The double doors used to be the spot where you walked up to the box office and the lobby for silver screen magic. Many, many hours were spent there by yours truly. Now, it's loaded with lots of accountants with faux African names.

The only evidence of the old Proctor's theater is on the next block, where the drugstore named for the movie house still remains. Although it clearly has been put out of business by some of the drug dealers lining the street.

Looking north on the beloved shopping district. Fourth Avenue. The crispness of the air that day reminded me of Christmas shopping with my mother. In those years, the only night the stores were open was Thursday night. And we would be there every week during the holiday season. My mother buying and me carrying. The stores used to be a wonderful eclectic mix of small family businesses, sprinkled in with a few chains like Woolworth's and Genung's. Now, the block is littered with...well, litter. One cheap merchandise story after another. There's not an ounce of pride to be found.

The CCNY awning on the right marks where the old Bee Hive restaurant you used to be. After school on Fridays, my mom and I would have an early dinner (always a BLT for me) before heading off to Loews or RKO for a double feature.

What the hell kind of a store is called "People Bargain?" Besides offering shit for sale, the owners can't even use proper punctuation on their signs.

Amid all the changes on the street, I was absolutely shocked to discover that my grandmother's drugstore was still operating under the same name. They used to order her White Cloverine Salve, which, according to my grandmother, had healing powers just short of Jesus Christ himself.

We had a family joke. When some relative died, my father would say they'd be "stretched out" down at Burr Davis, which was the popular Mount Vernon funeral home. Burr has obviously moved out himself, only to be replaced by this high caliber beauty salon. On my trip up and down the block, I counted seven different establishments dedicated to selling wigs to Black women. No wonder everybody shopping that day looked like Queen Latifah.

This is the building that used to house the County Trust Savings Bank. My grandmother had her passbook savings there and would go there once a month to make sure the interest was printed in the book. Now, it's no longer a financial institution. Praise the Lord and pass the deposit slips.

The splendid Mount Vernon Public Library. It looks amazingly the way it did. And, hopefully, those who use it regularly (like I did) can go in and read the archived files of the city newspaper, The Daily Argus. They can see pictures and stories of a town long gone. One that possessed civility and class. Both clearly missed today.

Dinner last night: Turkey burger at the Cheesecake Factory.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Monday Morning Video Laugh - January 12, 2009


Dinner last night: BLT at Cafe 50s.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

The Sunday Memory Drawer - My Acting Debut

Sadly, it did not come at the Hollywood Bowl, despite the fact that I am spotted on that stage in this photo. I won't go into the circumstances of this picture, except to tell you that it was off-season and a visiting friend coerced me into a soupcon of trespassing. But, I digress...

Nope, my debut as a performer came in the fifth grade. My fifth grade French class was putting on a performance of "Le Petit Chapeau Rouge." That's "Little Red Riding Hood" for the non-Jerry Lewis fans in the reading audience. Because I had one of the top three grades in the class, I was a shoo-in for a role. So was this rather chunky girl who would become essentially "Le Petit Chapeau Rouge Tres Grosse." The third role went to another guy.

The teacher saw me in the lead. The wolf. And, in retrospect, I should have relished that. I now envision all the great things I could have done with the part. Perhaps a little Paul Lynde inflection. Maybe Snidley Whiplash. As long as it was spoken in French, I had carte blanche....another French expression.

Until I read the script.

At the end of the show, the woodsman arrives to save Le Petit Chapeau Rouse Tress Grosse by embedding an axe into the wolf's head. As Le Lobo falls dead, the entire cast sings a song over the animal's body and dances merrily around the carcass.


In my fifth grade egotistical mind, I was uncomfortably frosted by the ending. Sure it was true to the story. But, if I had developed such a likeable and funny rendition of the Wolf, couldn't he be simply caught? That way, even with paws tied, I could be around for the grand finale. I provided my notes to the teacher, who was unimpressed. Actually freakin' angry.

"Who do you think you are, young man?"

I pushed it. Pretty much providing her with a rewrite of the last scene. Unbeknowst to me, this was her own script which she had used year in and year out for the past decade.

"You will not change a word, young man. Do you want to be the wolf or not?"

Stupidly, I said "no." I was asked to trade roles with the kid playing the woodsman, who turned out to be a delicious scream as the Wolf.

Yes, I was alive for the end as I bulldozed the chubby heroine around the stage in triumphant song. But, the teacher refused to speak to me the rest of the year. Luckily, it was May and we didn't have much longer to go.

At the end of the school term, I still wound up with an "A+" in French. Merci beaucoup.

Dinner last night: Cervelat on sourdough.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

24: The Unaired Pilot

With tomorrow night's return---at last---of Jack Bauer and "24," this is a great time to visit with this wonderfully funny sendup. If "24" had been pitched to Fox as a pilot in 1994, it might have looked something like this.

Dinner last night: Leftover sausage and peppers.

Friday, January 9, 2009

What to Do While Your Car is Getting Brake Pads - A Photo Essay

Well, if your Toyota service department is in Culver City, you spend the next three to four hours there. And that's what I did on one of my holiday vacation days. Lingered around the former home of MGM. The place where movie musical magic was made. The town where Judy Garland first put on the ruby slippers. The gutter where they probably found Joan Crawford drunk on more than one occasion. Culver City, with the demise of MGM in the 70s, had fallen on hard times. But, Sony has taken over that lot and now the entire surrounding area is booming with restaurants, movie complexes, and even the Kirk Douglas Theater. Join me as I walk around the nabe.

The austere location of the Culver Studios, which used to be home to David O. Selznick's company. If you look closely at the beginning of "Gone with the Wind," this is the house you will see. I'm not sure if much is filmed there anymore. Lucy and Desi owned it for a while in the late 50s after they purchased RKO.

Here's the recently restored Culver Hotel, which is famous because this is where all the midgets were staying while they were playing Munchkins in "The Wizard of Oz." They supposedly trashed the place. If you're thinking this is a little small for a hotel, you probably know why they rented rooms to midgets. There is an Oz display in the lobby complete with an empty vial of Judy's diet pills.

To play off the nearby film connections in Culver City, this very nifty multiplex was built. There is where I killed even more time that day by seeing "Marley and Me." When you go to an 11AM show, you can actually see just how senior citizens are out and about on any given day. More than half of the people in my screening room had walkers. A bargain matinee price and a few ramps means these folks are all set.

Here are the headquarters for Sony Pictures, but this building doesn't do justice to the history contained on the studio lot behind it. This was the old MGM backlot and you can smell the history all around when you tour it. You can also still smell a little gin from the days when John Barrymore was filming "Grand Hotel" there. The whole place feels regal and holy.

I guess this fountain is a tip of the cap to the MGM lion, but it was also an incredible waste of water since I was the only one there at the time.

In the 80s when all the Lorimar primetime soaps were filmed at Metro, this BBQ place was apparently the big lunching hole for all the actors from "Dallas," "Knots Landing," and "Falcon Crest." It would have been cool and maybe a little scary to have seen Jane Wyman chowing down on a basket of baby back ribs.

I found this little oddity as I was crossing a street and I now realize why the senator from Arizona lost the Presidential election. Is this the only signage he could afford?

Everytime I get my car worked on at this Toyota place, I always do a walk-through of this Trader Joe's. It is always jammed and I'm still confused about the allure of this super market. It's a great place to go food shopping if you do nothing but consume a diet of party snacks. Six different kinds of olive tapenade is overkill to me. Plus there's not a recognizable brand name in the house. I don't get it.

Dinner last night: Chinese buffet at Hop Li.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

"I'm on Facebook!"

Now, how do I get off?

Somehow and someway, I got sucked into this social networking website. I was invited by one friend and now Hurricane Katrina has ravaged my computer. I've entered into Jonestown without the Kool Aid. This is fascinating and appalling at the same time. And, after two days, I can add confusion to my state of mind as well. This freakin' thing is strange.

If you thought Facebook was simply some website where teenagers went to discuss the latest adventures of Hannah Montana, you are sorely mistaken. Nope, I'm finding on here lots of friends who are as old as I really am and also as old as I say I am. When you first set up your profile, your birthdate and year is required. I quickly edited that profile so only the former showed up. Those that know can smile. Those that don't can guess.

There's even more profile you need to fill out so you can connect to people in the most appropriate manner. I was asked for Activities and listed a bunch. I was asked for Interests and I referred readers to the Activities section. Frankly, if you're active in something, you must be interested. Duh.

I started to fill out the section about Favorite Books seriously but then simply listed Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary, a little ditty I read in the fourth grade. Under Favorite Quotations, I started to write FDR's famous statement about fear, but ended it with "The only thing we have to fear is Eleanor catching us." There's an All About Me section and I basically referred everybody to this blog, which is conveniently all about me.

Then you connect to friends you know who also are listed with Facebook. The system tells that person you have listed them as a friend and then you get an e-mail that tells you said person has confirmed you as a friend. Is that all it takes? Trolling around, I found the son of one college friend who has 600 friends to his credit. At what point is the number excessive? Right now, in my life, 25 is barely manageable. And who's got the most friends on Facebook? Is somebody available to monitor these types of records? And just who out there in the universe really gives a shit?

When you sign on to check your mail, there's a place to write what you're doing right now. And people actually do this. Way too much information. So-and-so just whipped up a nifty tortilla soup. So-and-so is taking down Christmas ornaments. I'm actually tempted to go on and write "Len just shot the Fedex guy in the hallway" but I'm afraid some dope will take it seriously.

You can "throw snowballs" at somebody. No clue what that means. Frankly, I moved out of the Northeast precisely to avoid these types of projectiles. You can supposedly "poke" somebody and, depending upon where you are poked, this could be fun or detestable. You can somehow claim TV characters as friends. One of my pals is attached to Dr. Gregory House and I now think I have serious concerns about her.

Of course, when you want to write somebody, you put the message on their wall and, in my mind, this promotes vandalism in society. And then they write on your wall and I want to tell them to get off my property.

Admittedly, I'm new to this nonsense and don't have the hang of any of the nuances. But, I've got 20 friends already so I'm only 580 behind that son of my college friend. And I will keep trolling and trolling and trolling around this thing until I find out where Valerie Bertinelli is hiding.

"Valerie Bertinelli has confirmed you as a friend."

Oh, God, I wish!!

Dinner last night: Sausage and peppers.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Wednesday and Pugsley

And, of course, there's me...Cousin Itt.

---I love the news from those screwballs at Habitats for Humanity. Those idiots commandeered by Jimmy Carter who built a bunch of houses from scratch.

---Well, most of them have fallen down by now. Those still standing are full of insects and mildew.

---Because when you want an expert carpenter, the first call should not be to one of the worst Presidents in American History.

---A lot of Jimmy's helpers were Hollywood set builders and they're used to erecting only the fronts of buildings. Plus everything they work on is constructed to last no more than one week past the wrap party.

---There was a rise in emergency room visits during the holidays as multiple assholes injured themselves trying to get Wii fit.

---Suggestion from Yours Truly: If you have trouble turning a page in a book, you probably shouldn't be doing aerobics on command from your computer.

---Show of hands, please: Who really gives a shit about what those Obama kids had for lunch on their first day at school?

---How the hell do you make fun of a fellow classmate if there's a Secret Service agent hovering nearby? Takes all the excitement out of grade school.

---And forget about stealing their clothes during gym class.

---Al Franken is going to the Senate. This just goes to show that strung-out cokeheads can have a future.

---I was startled by Caroline Kennedy's recent TV interview. Who knew that the brother was the smarter of the two?

---Of course, an IQ is not necessary to become the Democratic senator from NY. That bunch would find some rationale to elect Adolf Hitler if he was in the party.

---"Well, after all, art school can be very demanding."

---"The hair and moustache isn't that bad."

---"One million or so Jews exterminated? An isolated incident and obviously a rush to judgment."

---Watching the Kennedy Center Honors as I do every year, it was amazing to see just how far they sat Streisand away from the President.

---Bush seemed to be segregated at the end as if he got a bum deal on Stubhub.

---Babs looked awful on camera. I guess that's what happens when you dine with Republicans.

---When is Oprah going to do Jenny Craig?

---I meant the diet, not the woman.

Well, if my New Year's resolution was to be less nasty in 2009, I guess I barely made it to one week.

Dinner last night: Bacon and cheese omelette at the Cheesecake Factory.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Earthquake! - A Photo Essay

If the title of today's entry gave you a jolt, don't sweat it. You didn't miss any breaking news from CNN.

What you did miss last week was a great reminder of why film buffs should live in Los Angeles. Because there is no other city in this country that has the ability to do what the American Cinematheque and the stately but recently renovated Egyptian Theater movie palace did for its members. An opportunity to once again see the epic disaster movie "Earthquake" complete with the Academy Award winning Sensurround process that shook movie houses to their rafters when it was originally released in 1974. Who knew that a 35 year-old movie would become the highlight of my holiday vacation?

And people welcomed this film's return with very open arms. The theater was packed. While I was in the lobby before the movie, I heard the theater manager telling ticketbuyers on the end of the line "sorry, no dice." It was a gala night, almost as if you were attending the original world premiere. And, frankly, I can't remember whether the Yonkers Central Plaza complex (where I think I first saw "Earthquake") even had the Sensurround hook-up. But, in Hollywood, all is possible. In 1974. And in 2009.

Before we go over the screening, let's look at some of the sights (and my digital pictures) of the Egyptian Theater, first built in the 1920s and now brought back to ever loving life in the new century. Here's another delicious Len Speaks photo essay. Of course, when you go to the Egyptian on Hollywood Boulevard, make sure you don't walk past it.Because you would then run into this ultra creepy Christmas display sponsored by the Scientologists.

Of course, with this brightly lit marquee, it is impossible to miss the Egyptian. Unless, of course, you're either blind or from Oklahoma.

The parking lot for the Egyptian is behind the theater and it's always a curiosity. If you get there early before the film for perhaps a bite to eat, the parking is ten bucks, gleefully taken by some Russian thief who sits there all night with a portable Direct TV hook-up.

After the movie, the price has remarkably gone up five dollars, primarily because Vladimir the thief is trying to price-gouge the twenty-something nightclub goers on the next block.

The stately courtyard of the Egyptian Theater, lovingly restored to its glory days.

There's a very bizarre sign in the box office window. Frankly, it's okay with me if the theater management deigns to be discriminating. But, just how bad a character are you if they refuse your admission to a movie??

If you're French and don't speak English, have no fear. The Egyptian had a poster outside customized just for you. Sorry, but Jerry Lewis was apparently not available to be in the "Earthquake" cast.

Good news. English is also spoken at the Egyptian.

Complete with this warning from the film's original release. So, if you're one of the lucky ones that the Egyptian will let in despite their posted right to refuse service to you, they still don't give a shit if the sound system makes you puke on the person in front of you.

Indeed, the Sensurround process used the other night is not as elaborate as you think. Essentially, the bass is turned up on the subwoofers and you pretty much feel like your noisy neighbors are having another one of their loud parties. The turned up volume shakes the theater and that gives you the sensation of an earthquake. Every time they used it last weekend, the sellout crowd applauded wildly, despite being told beforehand that there was a devastating shaker earlier that day in Indonesia. Of course, given the building codes in that country, a 7.5 earthquake probably results in property damage of about six bucks.

The audience was primed for fun right from the first frame of the Universal Studios logo. Okay, truth be told, "Earthquake" is a bad movie. The script is ridiculous. The casting suggests that the director was strung out on LSD when auditions were held. A bloated Ava Gardner, at the age of 50, plays Lorne Greene's daughter and he's only 7 years older at the time. Indeed, he looks the most fit of anybody in the cast, but, without Hoss and Little Joe around to help, he dies from a heart attack after lowering his entire office staff down the side of a building with some pantyhose. Charlton Heston's toupee appears crooked in one scene where he is hiding under a jeep. Victoria Principal, in one of her first screen roles, sports an Afro wig from the Angela Davis collection. George Kennedy, in his pre-Breath Asure days, always appears as if he just ate some bad Yankee Pot Roast at the commissary. And, of course, evangelist Marjoe Gortner begins and ends his ignoble film career by playing a crazed National Guardsman and looks like he's prepping for a role in "Kent State: The Movie."

Yet, amid all this mess, "Earthquake" remains a classic. Decades before CGI, the special effects are real and remarkable. Ultimately, a good script and decent acting are not needed in this film. All you really want is a couple of good shakes and some styrofoam boulders landing on a bunch of bit players and "Earthquake" does deliver just that. Last weekend's crowd cheered every time one of the cast members made their first appearance on screen. Even veteran character Lloyd Nolan got a hand when he finally showed up as a doctor in the third act. (I don't think I've ever seen him play anything but a physician)

The biggest ovation was accorded the then-young co-star Genevieve Bujold who introduced the screening in person. She talked glowingly of the film's cast and then extolled "God bless cinema and long live Barack Obama!" I'm still puzzled by the connection, unless, of course, the incoming President will be played on-screen by Tyler Perry. But, to her credit, Genevieve climbed to a seat and watched the entire movie with us.
And then she greeted all fans with hands in the lobby afterwards.

"Earthquake" is a lousy movie from the days when Hollywood even made those types of films better. At the end of the evening, I had enjoyed two hours of campy entertainment in a type of movie palace that is long gone in most other areas of the country. With an audience that appreciated both the movie and the venue.

My film appreciation shaken to the core one more time.

Dinner last night: Homemade pot roast with mashed potatoes and roasted carrots.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Monday Morning Video Laugh - January 5, 2009

Watch out for falling temperatures...and weathermen.

Dinner last night: Meatloaf dinner at Cafe 50s.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Tuffy and Me

If you remember the yellowed picture of me and Santa Claus, you would also conclude that jaundice was contagious in my childhood home, even afflicting the family dog. Although I do remember the kitchen linoleum in this photo getting that yellow, compliments of my mom's two packs a day of Kents.
When I saw "Marley and Me" the other day, my mind raced back to my dog. The only dog I ever had. A chubby little beagle named Tuffy, which I got for my ninth birthday. Oddly enough, the deliberation for a dog in our household started many months before. First off, there were the worries that Grandma downstairs wanted nothing to do with some "cayoodle." And, right up until that February day, the breed of choice was supposed to be a Schnauzer. That was my mother's vote and, of course, her ballot ruled in our democracy. I didn't really care. I just wanted a dog all to myself.
So, given Schnauzergate, you can imagine my surprise (and my mother's probably disdain) when I came home from school on my birthday to find this beagle sitting in a box in the kitchen. My father was part-timing as an oil delivery guy and one of his clients was a pet shop. The owner engineered a slick deal. We got this full-bred beagle for twenty-five bucks. At that price, even my mother didn't have a hind leg to stand on in an argument.
The christening of the dog was left up to me and she wound up with a new name on a weekly basis. Nothing stuck well until I hit on "Tuffy." Now, one of my neighborhood chums had told me (perhaps as a goof) that the way you get a dog to remember her name is by constantly whispering it into the dog's ear. Which I did repeatedly for a month, much to Tuffy's ultimate annoyance. By the time I was done, Tuffy would not only remember her name but also the entire CBS primetime lineup.
Of course, "my sister" and I were inseparable that first year. Tuffy slept in a blanketed box in the kitchen and she was chained to the radiator. In the morning, my mother would let Tuffy off her leash and she would race down to my bedroom and hop on my bed and then immediately hop off. That was how I woke up for school until I graduated from high school.
Of course, our first separation was painful, more so for Tuffy than me. The time had come for her to be, ahem, fixed. She would be overnighted at the vet and I tearfully said goodbye to her as I left for school in the morning. In my young mind, one too many medical dramas on TV had convinced me that most surgeries were not successful. Later that day at school, I started to feel sick myself and wound up napping at the nurse's office. One call to home revealed that my symptoms were paralleling what my dog was going through. I never did get to go home early that day. Mothers and school nurses somehow had amazing networks of collusion.
Tuffy and I would walk the neighborhood for hours on the weekend. Once I put her in the refrigerator, as if she would tell me whether the light goes out or not. Whatever I cooked up for Tuffy, she never flinched. Not only a good dog, but a great sport. And then there were days where all we needed was a rubber ball or a knotted-up old sock for fun.
As I got older and had a wider scope of a life, Tuffy was less in mine. And, oddly enough, with me busy and my folks at work, the tightest bond that formed in our household was between my grandmother and Tuffy. Of course, the major force of attraction was food. My grandmother cooked it. Tuffy ate it. Indeed, even if the door to my grandmother's part of the house was closed, Tuffy could use her paws to open it like clockwork. At 430PM when Grandma was chowing down on her supper. And then Tuffy got to lick the plates.
In a way, Tuffy wound up being the replacement for my grandfather in Grandma's world. Actually, Tuffy was the last thing he saw before he died. When his health was failing, he would simply sit in his favorite living room chair. When his breathing would become labored, you could hear him exhale two rooms away. I was not there for this, but my grandmother did relay this story to me. Tuffy was sitting next to Grandpa and would cock her head to hear every one of his rales. My grandmother noticed this.
"Pop, Tuffy is listening to you breathe."
My grandather strained to lean forward and look at Tuffy. He smiled. Then he sat back and closed his eyes for the last time. Of course, when the paramedics came, Tuffy was beside herself and I was entrusted to hold her in the locked bathroom upstairs until they left. I remember holding her very tight that afternoon. Not so much for the paramedics. For me.
Later on, Grandma talked regularly to the beagle as her new daily companion, frequently in German. And they matched up their schedules together. When my grandmother was watching her afternoon soap operas, Tuffy was lying in the living room. When it was summertime and my grandmother was watching the neighborhood from the yard or the porch, Tuffy was lying alongside her chair. Only at night did Tuffy retire to the second floor---her original home.
Amazingly, Tuffy was around for 17 years. By the end, her back legs were failing. And there was a tumor on her jaw. Both my dad and my grandmother were convinced that the vet could do something. But, I was wise at the age of 26.
"It's time."
I made the decision no one else could muster. And, rightfully so, because even then, after many years of being together and apart, Tuffy was my dog.
Dinner last night: Sausage caccatiore at Miceli's.