My mother's favorite Disney cartoon.
Dinner last night: Salisbury steak at the Cheesecake Factory.
"It's Jerry's funniest yet!"
Talk about your idle threats. But, at least, the RKO Proctors Theater in New Rochelle was "healthfully air conditioned."
We don't get double features like this anymore. At a grand movie palace. But, lucky for us, there is still a movie down at your local and antiseptic multiplex, which is featuring more horseshit than you would find at the Aqueduct stables. Here's my monthly assistance to you. If there's a flick in your future this weekend, let me steer you in the right direction. I'll flip through the LA Times movie guide and tell you what I think is worth your time. Or, in most cases, what would be a complete waste of your time. Frankly, even a Jerry Lewis movie is better than most of this crap.
Amelia: This looks dreary. A biography of Amelia Earhart. How exciting can that be? It's not like they can include a surprise twist ending. Where The Wild Things Are: The House of Representatives? Law Abiding Citizen: Three scary words. "Jamie Foxx Drama." America's amazing fascination with mediocre talents continues. The Fall: The ad says "a sex, drugs, murder, lying, conniving, creepy thrill ride." Sounds like the upcoming Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce trial. Paranormal Activity: I heard this is terrible. Things that go bump in the night. Trust me, it's not always a ghost. Have you checked out your kitchen garbage disposal lately? Coco Before Chanel: Wake me when it's over. The real title should be "Cocoa Before Bedtime." New York, I Love You: I saw this and it's just okay. Fifteen different little vignettes about life in the Big Apple. But, except for five minutes in Brooklyn, all the action takes place within a ten square block radius in midtown Manhattan. Hello, everybody? The Bronx? Queens? Staten Island, perish the thought? Call me when the other boroughs get equal storylines. An Education: I saw this, too, and sort of liked it. Except it's a little creepy. Some thirty-something guy starts dating a girl in high school. Afterwards, I thought about all the implausibilities. Until, of course, I read about ESPN's Steve Phillips. Couples Retreat: It's another Vince Vaughn laugh riot. Audiences should retreat as well. This Is It: The Michael Jackson "Really Farewell" tour. I must sheepishly admit to a small desire to see this movie. Like one of those "Faces of Death" videos. When some doofus puts a firecracker with a very long fuse up a cat's ass. The House of the Devil: The White House? Skin: The true story of a woman born Black to White parents. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. With their children David, Ricky, and Kwaneesha. The Boondock Saints II: There was a Boondock Saints I? Anybody? Gentlemen Broncos: A teenager's first written story is stolen by a famous novelist. But it really sounds like a West Hollywood production of "Rawhide." Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: Hey, God, I ordered sausage! Cirque Du Freak, The Vampire's Assistant: So the vampire still has an assistant? It's good to know that downsizing has yet to come to Transylvania. Zombieland: The Senate? The Stepfather: Step parents are always depicted as evil. Is there not an advocate for this much-maligned member of society? Astro Boy: What would happen if Octomom had sex with the Jetsons' dog. Good Hair: My, my, you have a short memory span. I reviewed this yesterday. Thumbs up...Len. Anti-Christ: Nancy Pelosi? Saw VI: Four more and we can open up a Home Depot. A Serious Man: The Cohn Brothers' latest dark comedy. All about Jews living in Minnesota during the 60s. The Wonder Years Goes To Temple. I found it captivating but the ending was almost as jarring and offputting as the finale of the Sopranos. It's almost as if the theater forgot to run the last reel. Whip It: I also saw this. Juno Goes to the Roller Derby. I was quite surprised how bored I got. Surprisingly, you do get tired of watching women beat the shit out of each other for ninety minutes. Who knew?? Capitalism, A Love Story: If you absolutely must see this mess, go to the bargain matinee so you can really fuck with Michael Moore's profit center.
Where The Wild Things Are: The House of Representatives?
Law Abiding Citizen: Three scary words. "Jamie Foxx Drama." America's amazing fascination with mediocre talents continues.
The Fall: The ad says "a sex, drugs, murder, lying, conniving, creepy thrill ride." Sounds like the upcoming Frank and Jamie McCourt divorce trial.
Paranormal Activity: I heard this is terrible. Things that go bump in the night. Trust me, it's not always a ghost. Have you checked out your kitchen garbage disposal lately?
Coco Before Chanel: Wake me when it's over. The real title should be "Cocoa Before Bedtime."
New York, I Love You: I saw this and it's just okay. Fifteen different little vignettes about life in the Big Apple. But, except for five minutes in Brooklyn, all the action takes place within a ten square block radius in midtown Manhattan. Hello, everybody? The Bronx? Queens? Staten Island, perish the thought? Call me when the other boroughs get equal storylines.
An Education: I saw this, too, and sort of liked it. Except it's a little creepy. Some thirty-something guy starts dating a girl in high school. Afterwards, I thought about all the implausibilities. Until, of course, I read about ESPN's Steve Phillips.
Couples Retreat: It's another Vince Vaughn laugh riot. Audiences should retreat as well.
This Is It: The Michael Jackson "Really Farewell" tour. I must sheepishly admit to a small desire to see this movie. Like one of those "Faces of Death" videos. When some doofus puts a firecracker with a very long fuse up a cat's ass.
The House of the Devil: The White House?
Skin: The true story of a woman born Black to White parents. The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. With their children David, Ricky, and Kwaneesha.
The Boondock Saints II: There was a Boondock Saints I? Anybody?
Gentlemen Broncos: A teenager's first written story is stolen by a famous novelist. But it really sounds like a West Hollywood production of "Rawhide."
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: Hey, God, I ordered sausage!
Cirque Du Freak, The Vampire's Assistant: So the vampire still has an assistant? It's good to know that downsizing has yet to come to Transylvania.
Zombieland: The Senate?
The Stepfather: Step parents are always depicted as evil. Is there not an advocate for this much-maligned member of society?
Astro Boy: What would happen if Octomom had sex with the Jetsons' dog.
Good Hair: My, my, you have a short memory span. I reviewed this yesterday. Thumbs up...Len.
Anti-Christ: Nancy Pelosi?
Saw VI: Four more and we can open up a Home Depot.
A Serious Man: The Cohn Brothers' latest dark comedy. All about Jews living in Minnesota during the 60s. The Wonder Years Goes To Temple. I found it captivating but the ending was almost as jarring and offputting as the finale of the Sopranos. It's almost as if the theater forgot to run the last reel.
Whip It: I also saw this. Juno Goes to the Roller Derby. I was quite surprised how bored I got. Surprisingly, you do get tired of watching women beat the shit out of each other for ninety minutes. Who knew??
Capitalism, A Love Story: If you absolutely must see this mess, go to the bargain matinee so you can really fuck with Michael Moore's profit center.
Dinner last night: Honey chipotle chicken tenders at Chili's.
I've always thought Chris Rock was pretty clever. Also incredibly balanced in his humor. And I was a fan, albeit one of the few, of the sitcom he created and produced "Everybody Hates Chris."
But, now Chris is a documentary filmmaker. And if his future attempts are anything like his first movie, "Good Hair," I hope he never does anything else. This flick hits all the documentary requirements for me. It teaches me about something I never knew. It makes me leave the theater with both questions and answers. And it's damn entertaining.
The logline is pretty straight forward. Chris gets asked a simple question by his young daughter. "Why don't I have good hair?" As it turns out, this is a query that's been perplexing Black women throughout the ages. Because, as much as they want their own individuality via holidays like Kwanza and Martin Luther King Day, Black ladies desperately want to have the same type of hair as White folks. And this provides the springboard for a very illuminating ninety minutes. The secondary title for the movie could actually be "Straight Hair And How Do I Get It?"
Chris Rock is a perfect tour guide for this journey. He centers the movie around an annual convention in Atlanta that is devoted to Black hair styling. Who knew there was such a thing? And, at the end of the event, there is a thoroughly mesmerizing competition where four styling finalists must cut the hair of three people in the most creative and musical way. You meet the four contestants. One is actually this gay hillbilly of a White kid who looks like the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw. He used slutty models as his backdrop for cutting hair. One chick cut hair while suspended from a door jamb. Another competed while under water. And the ultimate winner employed a marching band as his musical accompaniment. It was bizarre as it sounds on paper.
But, in between all the stories about the contestants, Rock takes us through, via interviews with actresses, models, and even Reverend Al Sharpton, the extremes used by Black people to get their hair "white."
First, there's the ever popular relaxor. Creamy crack, as actress Nia Long calls it. This is applied to heads almost as soon as they are four years old. It straightens out the nappiness. It makes hair as straight as an arrow. And, apparently, it can destroy your scalp in the process. Chris has a renowned chemist analyze this deadly pomade. One drop on a raw chicken breast burns a hole in the poultry. A soda can submerged in a liquid variation of the relaxor disintegrates in the space of three hours. Yet, this is daily slopped onto heads in Black hair salons from Harlem to Crenshaw.
And then there's the ever mysterious hair weave. Beautiful straight locks that are virtually sewn into heads. Most deny they have hair weaves. Tons of Black women do. And, ironically, the hair weave of choice is made from the hearty folicles of folks in India. Yep, Rock travels to the land of monsoons and telephone operators to watch Indians sacrifice their hair in the name of religion and biggo buckeroos.
The laughable thing about all this is the fact that the biggest importers of Indian hair into the United States are the Chinese. And they are selling it for a premium. Everybody is getting their finger into this money pie. And this explains why hair weaves will cost a Black women upwards of several thousand dollars. Chris interviews a few and questions their willingness to cough up this kind of expense on their hair. Whether it's a high class fashion model or a third class teacher, it's a no-brainer. It's worth the money. And you wonder where your stimulus tax dollars are really going?
Black men don't get untouched by this frenzy. Many lament that they're the ones supplementing their ladies' hair addictions. And they don't like it one bit. Especially if the wife or girlfriend has a weave. Because, then, they're not allowed to touch the hairdo. Even during the heat of passion. This is driving them crazy. Chris goes into a Harlem barber shop for this debate and it's perhaps one of the funniest unscripted scenes I have even seen on film. One guy announces that this is the main reason why he perfers to date White chicks. "They let you touch their hair when they're giving you some."
The movie stuck with me. It reminded me of some Black women I used to work with. One always seemed to be vacillating between some crazy hair styles. One morning, she showed up with hair that reminded me of Abe Lincoln's stovetop hat. Two weeks later, her hair was shaped like a crown and it resembled a candy dish in Grandma's house. We spent one day throwing gum wrappers onto her head.
Another lady's hair was so carefully done each day that she was constantly afraid of it getting messed up. If you literally walked within five feet of her, you'd get the warning. "Watch my hair." I now realize that this was probably one of those secret hair weaves.
I also thought a bit about our own First Lady, as odd as that it would seem for me to do. I had just seen an old school photo of her. Now, I want to know, Michelle. Is it a weave or is it the creamy crack? You can leave your answer in the comments section, please.
What do you think?
Dinner last night: Turkey burger at BJ's.
And you can start by taking apart this overgrown sofa with arms and legs.
---As you may have read, I am all about having the Phillies pulverized in the World Series. Pounded so much that they will lay nicely across one of those gooey cheesesteak sandwiches.
---This mascot regularly blows up opposing team artifacts on the field. Quite the role model for children.
---The Phanatic is bloated, ugly, and stupid. A perfect match for the city.
---Let's face it, Philadelphia hasn't had an original moment since Eartha Kitt was Mike Douglas' co-host for the week.
---Okay, I'm done.
---Well, not quite.
---How laughable is it that the St. Louis Cardinals hired Mark McGwire as their new hitting coach?
---He'll be the only coach in major league baseball with a prescription pad.
---And a Gold Card at GNC.
---"Gee, Mr. McGwire, how do I straighten out my swing?"
---"This should help. Just make sure you take it on a full stomach."
---This big lummox was a fraud. And a ten year gap shouldn't make people forget that.
---And, so, tell me now why Pete Rose can't find work?
---I was all set to settle in for a Yankee seventh inning stretch. When that goofy Irish bartender would sing "God Bless America." And I had enough time to pee, wash my hands, make a sandwich, throw some laundry in the dryer, and read two chapters of "Crime and Punishment."
---Alas, I am told this clown has been there the whole year. After getting caught for some gross anti-semitic remarks.
---He could still sing.
---"Das Lied Der Deutsche."
---Heck, the Steinbrenners would like it.
---By the way, Papa George will be making his appearance at the World Series. And what's the over/under on which jacket lapel is the first to get the drool?
---Okay, I'm done.
---Well, not quite.
---Last Saturday night, I drove past the Hollywood Bowl where Grandpa Barry Manilow was giving a concert. And I got to watch some of his fans marching up the hill.
---Sixty-five-year-old women dressed like they were 25. And it reminded me of a very basic supermarket policy.
---Ten pounds of potatoes do not fit into a five pound bag.
---The spikey heels on some of these fressers reminded me of the nursery rhyme.
---Humpty Dumpty had a great fall...
---Ladies, please introduce your wardrobe to your real age.
---Burning question of the day: When does Obama send in the troops to invade Fox News?
---If POTUS is not careful, he's going to lose his chance for a Fox series.
---"So You Think You Can Govern."
---Speaking of which, it's another TV season and I still can't get into either "Mad Men" or "30 Rock."
---But I do recommend the new Patricia Heaton sitcom "The Middle." The kids steal the show, especially the little urchin who plays Brick. Wonderfully done so far.
I'm actually being nice. I guess I am done now. Quite.
Dinner last night: Cervelat sandwich and side salad.
At about 9PM Pacific last Sunday night, I began my perilous journey. To a place I have never before been. The dark spot at the end of a well-lit tunnel. The actual antithesis of most near-death experiences. And I will be there for perhaps the next ten days.
Folks, I am rooting for the Yankees in the World Series.
How did all the orbits align for this truly mysterious and momentous point in my life history? Easy. The Dodgers didn't beat the Phillies in the 2009 NLCS. And have I ever told you? I absolutely despise the Phillies. And, most particularly, their fans. Phillies....Philistines. In my book and Bible, they're both the same.
Specifically, I cannot stand the likes of Shane Victorino and Ryan Howard. The former, AKA "The Flying Hawaiian," is a smug asshole who fistpumped his way to Dodger hatedom. I have no clue what Shane is so pompous about. He has a face that could stop a nine day clock. One of those many baseball skinheads who looks like he has a swastika tattooed somewhere on his body. As for Ryan Howard, I am imploring the injury gods to focus their wrath on him. He made a nasty gesture to Dodger fans during Game Two and I will never forget it. And I'm not hoping for a pulled hamstring. Yep, nothing short of a broken back will put a smile on my face. Ryan, I'm waiting for the day you, too, will be peeing your steroid-laced urine into a cup. At least, we'll finally know why your head looked like it was shrunk by a Maori tribe this past baseball season. Hmmmmmm.
So this is what propels me to the denizens of the Bronx. A-Rod! Der-ek Jeet-er!!! I am here. Enjoy me, Pinstripe People. I am yours for the next two weeks.
An odd sensation, this Yankee fandom that I am currently experiencing. I suddenly feel twenty pounds heavier. I have begun to curse at inanimate objects. And I am craving a keg of cheap beer. I've also noticed a tendency to miss the urinal while I'm trying to pee. Gee, is this what I have been missing all these years??
Some of my friends are appalled at my decision to do this. One told me not to look into the light as if I was Jobeth Williams trying to pull my daughter out of the closet in "Poltergeist." In some circles of my pals, I am being viewed as a leper like Ben-Hur's mother and sister.
Trust me. I'm on loan. Yankee fans, I will join in on your merriment. But, please know that my ticket to your world is round trip. I will be back in Dodgertown and Metville sooner than you can say "Ryan Howard is hurt and will be out for the entire 2010 baseball season." And that hat you see in the photo above gets re-buried in my closet for perhaps the rest of eternity.
Dinner last night: Chicken breast with capers, rice cakes, and sauted spinach.
It was a scene that was repeated countless times on multiple mornings. I'd wake up feeling shitty. And I would subject myself to my mother's careful examination.
Hand on the forehead. Hot or cold?
A peer down the throat. Red or scratchy?
Two hands feeling both sides of my neck. Glands swollen?
If I scored two of the three, I was home free. Literally. I could stay home from school. And, as an added bonus, I was ordered to get out of bed and move to the living room couch.
In front of the television.
First, I'd have to choke down a bowl of some H-O oatmeal, the "official breakfast of being home sick from school." Then, I'd flip on the TV and settle back for a day of some really tough recuperation.
In those days, daytime television was more fun. You had a bunch of game shows and sitcom reruns that I had never seen first run. All stuff I never got to watch at any other time.
And the fun started early. Er, cough, cough.There were odd cartoons on in the pre-breakfast hours. It was almost like the minor leagues of animation. They weren't good enough to make my prime cartoon time, which was after school. I remember Channel 7 in NY ran silent cartoons with this farmer and all these crudely drawn animals early in the day. Goofy stuff. Purchased off the back of the movie truck at a discount no doubt.
After that, a-choo, a-choo, there was the Little Rascals AKA Our Gang. They were my absolute favorite comedy shorts. I disconnected a bit on Spanky and Alfalfa, but the earlier ones with the likes of Farina, Jackie Cooper, and Wheezer were brilliant. I still watch them via DVD to this day. Forget all the allegations over how racist they were. This was a group of kids playing together, regardless of skin color or nationality. Just like my neighborhood. And I always enjoyed the great product placement for such wonderful household staples as castor oil, limburger cheese, and tabasco sauce. At the time, I had no idea what any of them were.
Around 9AM, my mother would pop in for another follow-up examination. Hand on the forehead. A peer down the throat. Two hands feeling both sides of my neck. This was a key moment in my day. If two of the three were still persisting after the amazingly curative powers of H-O Oatmeal had been administered, I was sunk. And probably really sick. This could mean only one thing. My mother would head to the telephone. And I would hear three very scary words.
"Hello, Dr. Fiegoli?"
Yep, these were the days when a kid's doctor made house calls. The key to getting him was to call before 10AM before he started off on his rounds. My mother never seemed to miss the deadline. Dr. Fiegoli was a frequent visitor to our house. At the very least, I'd have a few more hours of TV nirvana until he showed.
In the mornings of my stay-at-home maladies, I still exercised the same brain power I would have used at school. By watching game shows.
There was "Concentration."
"Number four. And number nineteen." Sorry, not a match.
"Say When." And I remember little of that game except that it was hosted by Art James.
"Eye Guess." Hosted by Bill Cullen, who I never could understand why you didn't see him walking around on the stage. Years later, I discovered the reason. He had polio.
"The Hollywood Squares" with my favorite comedian Paul Lynde. "Abby Dalton, you're today's Secret Square."
Mixed in with all the game shows were the wonderful sitcoms from the 50s. Of course, "I Love Lucy." But, there were other programs that I had only heard tales about from my grandmother and grandfather.
"December Bride." With one of my grandmother's favorites, Spring Byington. And this had a spin-off show that was also repeated during the day. "Pete And Gladys."
"My Little Margie." With Gale Storm and some old hag named Mrs. Odetts living next door and a Black elevator operator played by Willie Best.
"The Burns and Allen Show." George, Gracie, Harry Von Zell, and that magic TV mirror which allowed George to control the action. Perhaps the most ingenious gimmick ever featured on a television situation comedy.
Depending upon my illness, lunch would be usually a can of Campbell's Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup. Just add water. No fuss, no muss. If my throat wasn't a problem, a sandwich was in order. Usually bologna or my beloved Taylor Olive. On the side, six green olives stuffed with pimentoes. Not five, not seven, not four. Six exactly. This was my usual midday repast in both sickness and in health. Having consumed the meal, I'd lay back down and settle in for some more great television. Except...
Our front door bell was always more ominous if I was home sick.
The dog barked wildly. My mother would bound down the stairs to open the door.
"Hello, Dr. Fiegoli!"
Now, my pediatrician was a really nice man. But he couldn't help but be scary to a seven-year-old. He'd charge up the stairs like a bull out of a chute. Plus he looked just like that actor who was showing up on all those sitcoms I had just been enjoying. Frank Nelson. Very unsettling as my two worlds were suddenly mixing in a bizarre way. And his booming voice could be heard from Mount Vernon to New Rochelle.
"OOOOOOH AND HOW'S THE PATIENT?"
Gee, Doc, isn't that what you're supposed to figure out? Well, that's probably what Mrs. Odetts might have said.
Dr. Fiegoli then administered the same exam that my mother had already done twice. Hand on the forehead. A peer down the throat. Two hands on both sides of the neck. Hello, do you get paid to do this?
The bad news is that most of the time Dr. Fiegoli showed up, I really was sick. Chicken Pox. Measles, both German and regular. Ear infection. Gland infection. He'd spend five minutes with me, fifteen minutes with my mother, and two seconds dashing off a prescription, which would get immediately filled at Mr. Post's drugstore.
It seemed like Dr. Fiegoli would never leave, but he always did. I'd turn back to the TV, but...
"No television now. You really are sick."
I'd feign a nap for several hours in the afternoon. By then, daytime TV was full of soap operas which were captivating Grandma downstairs but boring the shit out of me upstairs. Eventually, I would inch my way back to the television controls. Because, when it was three o'clock, it was time for...
Popeye the Sailor. My favorite cartoon character of all time.
WPIX Channel 11 ran these in the afternoon, usually hosted by Captain Jack McCarthy, who was not really a captain but definitely Irish. They used to throw in as the host every year when they ran the St. Patrick's Day parade. I much preferred the Popeye cartoons from the 1930s. He was talking under his breath all the time and you had to listen closely to hear the best lines. The later ones from the 1950s were terrible. My rule of thumb: if Olive Oyl's hairdo is more modern, the cartoon sucks.
"IS THAT TELEVISION BACK ON?!!!"
Ooops. Cough, cough. I better go.
Dinner last night: Mongolian beef and honey walnut shrimp at Panda Inn.
You might be wondering.
How the hell did I wind up seeing Michael Moore's "Capitalism: A Love Story?" Come on, Len, you? Really?
I might say that I saw the movie in a grand attempt to provide you with the most complete unbiased blog coverage possible. I also might try to tell you that my desire to watch Michael Moore spin another yarn was akin to a deep-seeded need for self-mutilation. Like walking right up to a bee hive and hoping not to get stung.
In reality, you can blame this all on the Dodgers. I needed a diversion before the start of what became a horrific NLCS Game 3, so I thought this film could be it. Nothing eases tension more than a whole lot of anger.
In retrospect, Michael Moore is now nothing but a cookie cutter documentarian. His movies are as predictable as a Three Stooges short. Hit Curly in the head with a lead pipe. Hit a moviegoer in the head with a lead pipe. It's all the same thing. The plotline never varies. Conservatives are all things evil. Liberals are all things wonderful. There is nothing in between when you enter one of Michael Moore's egofests. And, for that very reason, "Capitalism: A Love Story" never disappoints. You get exactly what you pay for.
I love a good documentary and the best take years to research and complete. If you notice, Moore spits them one every other year. They come out of him faster than bad Chinese food. Does that mean that Fat Boy can research faster than most people? Of course not. In this latest movie, he cites some events that happened as late as last May. You don't need a lot of production time when you're making most of the shit up.
The many Michael Moore falsehoods and fact twists found in his movies are well documented on the internet. He conveniently leaves out information that would challenge his argument. He very neatly edits his interviews to the point that the person appears to be saying something that they never possibly would have stated. It makes no difference to Michael Moore, because it's about him and his opinions. Reality, be damned. It's not just his body frame that's bloated.
The ugly slob pretty much plays to type in "Capitalism: A Love Story." Anything about free enterprise in this country has to be bad because Michael thinks it is. At one point, he compares what he does in this film to why Jesus Christ overturned the merchant tables in the temple. For the life of me, I could never equate Michael Moore with the Messiah. And, I would defy anybody to find two slats of wood strong enough to hold him up on Good Friday.
Moore focuses his cameras on a lot of people who are getting their foreclosures served by the local sheriff. I noticed that most of these folks were as fat as he is and I wondered if there was some deep seeded symmetry at work. I also thought about the fact that Michael, with his huge bank account that came as a direct by-product of a capitalistic society, was at most of these foreclosures and never once offered to write some tubby farmer a bailout check. But, of course, that kind of action doesn't lend well to the yellow tabloid journalism Michael revels in. It's not about solutions. It's all about creating even more problems. Because, as long as our country is screwed up, Michael has an audience. Because if the country was as idyllic as Moore wants it to be, his business model collapses completely.
As my dad loved to say, Moore is the type of guy who has all the answers to none of the questions. At the end of the film, he demonstrates another cheap grandstand move that is designed to make us laugh and nothing else. He shows up at each of the major bank headquarters on Wall Street and demands they give back the money of the American people. Essentially, our misery provides nothing more than a closing gag for two hours of disjointed non-truths.
The shithead wraps up his film by announcing that he's ashamed of living in America, but stresses that he is not leaving. Why should he? His audience is here. It's not like he could go to a foreign country and challenge the local government. In most, he would probably be using the butt end of a rifle as a nightguard. But, here in Dumbbell Land and especially in such meccas as Los Angeles and New York, people are eager to embrace his nonsense as verbatim, simply because it's chic to do so. He cites Franklin Roosevelt's proposed addendum to the Bill of Rights and wonders why America can't do the same. Offer health care to all. Offer a job to all. Offer everything to everybody. How the heck do you do that without taxing the world? For that question, Michael has no answers.
And, for this iteration of his desire that capitalism disappear in this country, Michael took $8.50 from me. It could have been more if I hadn't gone to the specially priced matinee. But, nevertheless, he made money off me. Capitalism at its best. And I doubt that he took it and gave it to the homeless guy in the alley outside the theater.
Dinner last night: Roast beef sandwich.
If you're on cocaine, how the hell can you be healthy?
And then, there's this delicious photo...
This, my friends, is our Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius. Our advocate for health care. Holding her pen like a cigarette, so I'm guessing she's about a pack a day. With some sort of growth on her forehead. And looking like she just went five rounds with Sonny Liston.
I rest my case.
Dinner last night: Black Forest ham sandwich.
Just not this guy's smile...
---This is what happens when you get your teeth cleaned at Jiffy Lube.
---The guy's mouth is so wide that I expect that Alex Kintner boy from Jaws to fall out.
---I'm also betting that there are guys in West Hollywood who would pay to go to dinner with him.
---Speaking of hideous, I was flipping the dials and ran across that new show from Oprah's personal physician, Dr. Oz.
---This guy is so ugly that he literally could scare an illness out of his patients.
---Of course, I should cut the man some slack since he's probably had the misfortune of seeing Oprah naked.
---I can't believe that Dr. Oz actually makes a whole TV show out of common sense.
---"Today, our entire show is devoted to learning how to wash your hands."
---"Today, your thermometer and where to put it."
---"Seat up or seat down? Be part of our studio poll."
---We can't possibly be that dumb of a country, can we?
---Don't answer that.
---Will somebody please finally murder the Phillie Phanatic? The most ridiculous team mascot ever.
---Also the most unclever. The other day, the Phanatic's pre-game shtick was to blow up a dummy with sunglasses and a cell phone. A Dodger fan, get it??
---Meanwhile, the fans there eat up the violence. But, what would you expect? The fanbase is nothing but a meeting of the local steam fitters union.
---Translation: blue collar slobs.
---Am I bitter? You bet your boots.
---I'm always amused by the national television coverage of baseball playoff games. During tense moments, the cameramen love to take shots of fans praying and chewing on their sweaters. Enough.
---Just how old do you have to be before you outgrow the gnawing of your own apparel?
---I have, however, prayed at a baseball game. And I will add that God did not listen.
---I'm also amused by the idiots that show up at playoff games. Fans you haven't seen all year.
---These lunkheads are a dead giveaway. They're the ones who walk into your section and realize that their seats are way over there.
---How hard is it to remember where your seat is? For Pete's sake, the aisles are numbered and the rows are lettered.
---We can't possibly be that dumb of a country, can we?
---Don't answer that.
---At one of the Dodger games last week, the 40 year-old woman on the other side of my row was dressed to the nines and obviously had never been in the park before.
---She saw me keeping score and asked me if I worked for the Dodgers.
---"Yeah, stupid, Dodger officials always sit up in the loge level."
---By the fifth inning and her fourth beer, she didn't give a shit about me. She kept herself busy by trying to pick up the 20 year-old Mexican kid in front of her.
---How do you say "cougar" in Spanish?
---What the hell is a balloon boy anyway? And, whatever it is, I hear it's all a hoax. Please stop waiting my time.
---The health care bill is allegedly over 1500 pages. Which means that's about 1450 pages longer than anything our senators have read before.
---Most are probably using it to prop up the leg of a wobbly table.
---Ladies and gentlemen, we elected them all.
---We can't possibly be that dumb of a country, can we?
---Okay, you can go ahead and answer. I'm done for today.
Dinner last night: Meat ravioli at Maria's Italian Kitchen.
It's why I get sucked in. And find myself bewildered and euphoric. Exhilerated and devastated. Happy and sad. Frequently swinging between all those emotions within a span of 30 seconds. I was there for Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. I know how the pendulum works. From the most horrible to the most delicious.
And, as I learned one more time last night after the Dodgers came up one out short of tying the 2009 NLCS at two games apiece, the sword cuts both ways. The true baseball fan's ultimate abyss. Now Chavez is truly a ravine. One double up the alley virtually erases the memory of a terrific 95 win season.
Last night proved one more time that baseball is the greatest form of reality television. For the three innings that the Dodgers held onto that slim one run lead, I aged so much that I now look like Phillie manager Charlie Manuel.
My processing of this kind of tension is to watch the game with the sound off. Given TBS' horrible announcers (save for Ron Darling), this is an easy choice. I pull out my Dodger transistor radio and let Vin Scully take me through this. His voice is aural comfort food. Macaroni and cheese for the ears.
But, in the end, the knife penetrates me anyway. I start to think about all the money I will be saving from the extra World Series tickets I bought just yesterday morning. My winter begins with a one way ticket to Finitosville. I'm already planning my most radical baseball move yet. Hating the Phillies as much as I do, I will tempt fate and the coming apocalpyse. I will be rooting for the Yankees.
As for the Dodgers, I'm done.
Oh, what the hell am I saying? I will be watching again on Wednesday.
Wishing. Hoping. Praying for the best. Expecting the worst.
Just being a baseball fan.
Dinner last night: Grilled bratwurst.
Killing time as I do on some American Airline flights, the Sky Mall magazine is a wonderful way to validate one more time how stupid a country we are. The amount of junk that is featured in those catalogs would make Fred Sanford blush. The sad fact is that somebody is probably plunking down their Master Card digits for some of this trash. Here's just some of what I saw recently. My guess is that this could become my next regular feature.
Take, for instance, this dandy attic tent. You can use it to prevent those nasty leaks from the crawlspace upstairs that drive your heating bills skyhigh. But, you could save a lot more money if you simply paid attention to what my father was always yelling at. "Stop opening the door so much." At the same time, I'm looking at this item and I'm wondering if it muffles noise as much as it insulates. Because, if the Frank family had an attic tent, little Anne might still be alive today.
I've gotten e-mail and junk mail on how to re-construct my family tree. I've never bothered because A) I know where most of my relatives are and B) I don't want to know where most of my relatives have been. But, now you can actually do it for your dog as well. Any folks who buy this service are officially insane. Will you feel anymore empowered if you find out that little pooch of yours is a direct descendent of Lassie or Rin Tin Tin? Or you may find out your little pride and joy might have some connections you would like to ignore? Because, frankly, you never know where that bitch has been.
Finally, the little kitty has some privacy to do her thing. Meanwhile, as secluded as it is, you can rest assure that the litter will still wind up all over the floor. And the smell will remain as pungent as ever. I actually know folks who keep litter boxes in their kitchen. Hmmmm? Is that tuna fish bad? Or is our favorite feline have a little digestive issue with that new flavor of Whiskas?
For people who really, really, really don't want anybody on their property. And still, it'll be some Sunday afternoon and you'll get some Jehovah's Witness ringing your front door bell.
Wash your hair and the shower stall at the very same time. Multi-tasking to the Nth degree. And, after you've spent too much time playing with this in the shower, show up to work late, and get fired, you can then use this device to make a few dollars while wiping off windshields on the off ramp from the Bruckner Expressway.
You want to talk about lazy? Here's a patch of indoor grass that you can use when you don't want to get off your fat ass and walk the pooch. Are you kidding me? Half of the fun of the bathroom experience for little Scratch is sniffing around and finding a spot that another fellow canine has already marked with some poop. Can you duplicate that in your own living room? I think not. Unless, of course, you want to squat yourself on this thing and give the dog something to remember for the rest of his life.
Dinner last night: Pepperoni pizza at Dodger Stadium.
As the work day becomes more and more computerized, our lives change. And so does the lifespan of one more once trusted office supply.
The inter-office envelope.
I opened a file cabinet recently and discovered that it was full of these ancient artifacts. I sometimes get one or maybe two of these packages a week. I rarely send any out. So, my horde grows. I now have 250 of these suckers stashed away.
I remember the days when we weren't all on Outlook. When, if you needed to get something to somebody on another floor or in another building, you used these trusty friends. Scratching out the name of the last recipient and adding the newest sendee. At last, a chain letter with a purpose.
Now all that communication is on e-mail. Terse notes directing somebody to an attachment. Thanks in advance for your consideration. If you need anything, LMK. That's "let me know" for the uneducated, naive, and technologically resistant.
I look around an office and see other things going the way of the dinosaur and the inter-office envelope.
Post-its. Because generally you used them on top of whatever you sent to somebody in an inter-office envelope. Very much a shelf life in tandem.
Day and Date Desk Planners. Everybody logs every waking work hour now on Outlook Calendar. Gone will be the day where this sits on your desk, screaming out in ink who you are stuck talking to next.
Mail in boxes. Nobody gets real snail mail at work anymore. Most of what does come in is junk. These days, when I get mail that actually has a purpose, I want to frame it like the first dollar bill a new dry cleaning store gets.
The telephone. Don't laugh. The only time it rings anymore is for personal calls.
Fax Machines. Sort of like TV going digital. At some point in the near future, the government will kill all dedicated fax lines because those phone numbers will need to be devoted to Black Berrys and iPhones.
Desk lamps. As computer screens get bigger and brighter, that illumination will be more than enough to destroy your vision. With or without the Al Gore-sanctioned light bulbs.
I could think of more, but I just got ten e-mails in the course of writing this entry. G2G.
Dinner last night: Reuben sandwich at Cafe 50s Diner.
When do they start taking nominations for next year? I might be eligible.
---Seriously, last week at the Dodger game, I refereed an argument between two fans over whether Ronnie Belliard should be starting over Orlando Hudson at second base. That has to get me something, right, Nobel Committee?
---Giving that to President Urkel for just 11 days in office pretty much brings the Nobel Prize down to the level of a Costco card.
---Or even better. A People's Choice Award.
---When unemployment hits 10%, does he get next year's prize for economics?
---If Obama can get this award, what's to say we won't be seeing Best Actor Oscar Winner Adam Sandler?
---Norway now joins France as another country I will boycott.
---Let's face it. The only peace Obama has ever gotten is lying on the other side of his bed.
---Remember that Pepsi commercial in 1984 when Michael Jackson almost went up like Baked Alaska? Well, somebody is selling his burnt hair strands on e-Bay.
---I don't have a joke for that. The complete ridiculousness should suffice.
---What do you do with Michael Jackson hair? It's not like you can floss with it.
---Although it's probably not the first time you'd find it in somebody else's mouth.
---As soon as Cardinal outfielder Matt Holliday dropped that fly ball and essentially blew the Division Series against the Dodgers, I knew that he would be the Mets' big offseason acquisition.
---Rupert Murdoch is negotiating to buy NBC Universal. Which is why you might find Keith Olbermann xeroxing his resume at Kinko's.
---Just for the record: I don't know who Jon Gosselin is. I don't want to know who Jon Gosselin is. And I don't care who Jon Gosselin is.
---Flipping the dials the other night, I also had no idea who those contestants were on "Dancing with the Stars."
---If that show has become so trivial, why not "Dancing with the Nobel Peace Prize Winners?"
---"Ladies and gentlemen, doing the samba, Lech Walesa and Mother Teresa!"
---Just for the record: I don't know who Kate Gosselin in. I don't want to know who Kate Gosselin is. And I don't care who Kate Gosselin is.
---Please set aside some time this weekend to read the health care plan. What?? You haven't seen a copy of it either??
---Well, neither has your senator.
Go Dodgers! I am rooting for a Dodger-Yankee World Series.
Dinner last night: Grilled bratwurst.
TBS, for short.
I was one of the lucky ones during the recent Division Series. I went to the first two games of the series between the Dodgers and the Cardinals. On Saturday for the contest in St. Louis, I discovered that my High-Def reception of TBS was perfectly and amazingly in sync with the Dodgers' local radio broadcast. So, TV sound down, Vin Scully sound up. I was blessed to avoid TBS as much as I did. If I were Jewish, it was my baseball equivalent of Passover. The evil spectre of Chip Caray did not stop at my front door.
But, watching all the other games and series, I got enough of a perspective. TBS needs to get out of the baseball business quickly. They better hope that George Lopez show they are cramming down our gullets is a winner. Because broadcasting live sports should not be a programming option for them any time soon in the future.
I'm increasingly astounded how something as simple and beautiful as the game of baseball can be so cluttered by the nitwits who broadcast it on a national level. I remember the day when a baseball game telecast featured a few different camera angles and maybe some stats superimposed on the screen. Words were used sparingly and images were allowed to speak for themselves.
Yogi Berra jumping into Don Larsen's arms.
Cleon Jones bending his knees just a little in left field to caress the third out of a winning World Series.
Jesse Orosco hoisting his mitt to the heavens.
Kirk Gibson's double clutch around first base in a game where nobody believed what they just saw.
Throughout it all, I could pretty much process what was happening all by myself.
Not anymore. Like everything else in our lives, there is the expectation that we can't think for ourselves.
Look at the screen during any TBS baseball broadcast. Even Evelyn Wood couldn't grasp everything that is thrown at the viewer. And most of it is needless. Take, for instance, the centerfield camera image of a pitcher throwing to a batter. Ball one. Outside. You see it. You know it. But, that apparently is not enough. Instead, off to the right, you find a little graphic box that shows you where each pitch has landed. I got it. Does anybody think that it might be fun for the viewer to think? Gee, all the pitches are away from the batter. Maybe the pitcher is intentionally avoiding the batter? Hmmmm. I guess so. Because TBS' little box is telling me so.
During one game, I kept seeing the stream at the bottom of the screen. Phillies at Rockies, 10PM Eastern. I see it. Actually, I've seen it for the past twenty minutes. Could I now possibly fail a TV listing pop quiz? "Gee, what time is the Phillies-Rockies game?" Duh. Um, 9PM?
When a runner gets on first, TBS photoshops in a graphic that looks like it comes from a craps table in Vegas. It measures the distance from the base. Wow, a visual warning buzzer. The runner is taking a big lead. Gee, I hope the pitcher and the catcher can see that. Oh, they can't? Duh.
The announcing on TBS baseball broadcasts is almost as condescending. During the ninth inning of the Phillies-Rockies' Game 3, some bozo mentioned that the winning run was on first base. If he scores, the game is over. Really? When did Major League Baseball change the rules? I thought a game, like waiting for Godot, was endless. Indeed, during the TBS telecasts I watched over the weekend, waiting for a smart comment from anybody was sort of like waiting for Samuel Beckett to end his play. That still hasn't happened. Meanwhile, Godot came, went, and is already home with a beer.
The TBS baseball announcers are a Who's Who of Who's That. Sportscasters who had their best years while Willie Mays was still wearing a jockstrap. Managers who got canned for being non-geniuses. Now they're explaining a game to me? Meanwhile, I can give them a list of why each of them were fired. TBS even hired some asshole from the Boston Red Sox broadcast crew to do the Red Sox-Angels series. And they wonder why the people in Anaheim have inferiority complexes.
The worst of the worst is TBS' appointed #1 play-by-play guy, Chip Caray. As a baseball announcer, Chip has a great future as a Best Buy assistant manager. Following in the illustrious steps of his drunken slob of a grandfather, Harry, and his absolutely shrill father, Skip, the youngest and the newest Caray has lowered baseball announcing to fathoms previously achieved only by Captain Nemo. Listening to Chip during the Yankees-Twins series, I was mesmerized by just how bad he could be. Pop ups were described as line drives. Sharp singles were dribblers. A ball sailing over a batter's head was just outside. I kept thinking that Chip's play-by-play was seven minutes behind the action.
Over and over and over, Caray kept straining for the most eloquent way to say nothing. He seemed to want to turn every moment into an Al Michaels "do you believe in miracles" memory. All this really did was remind viewers of when they were trying to toilet train their three-year-old. Chip, like little Junior on the bowl, kept triumphantly yelling to us, "Come, Mommy, and see. I made a poopy."
TBS did pair up-and-coming color commentator/former Met pitcher Ron Darling with Chip, just like a third grade teacher might team up the smartest and dumbest kids for a class project. But, essentially, Chip was dead on arrival and all Ron could do was sign the death certificate. In my opinion, Ron is the quintessential baseball color commentator of the future and gets the job as soon as Tim McCarver retires to a life of singing Gershwin at Feinstein's Supper Club. But, the sooner that Darling can extract himself from Caray, the better. Chip is the swine flu that has no known vaccine.
As I watched and listened to the Yankee-Twin series, I kept thinking about my poor friends in New York. Their on-the-air choices for the Yankees were the usual misguided histrionics of that fathead John Sterling and his gun moll partner, Susyn Waldman. Or ESPN's radio coverage featuring the always annoying and "much smarter than you are" Joe Morgan. Or Chip Caray. Gee, New York, first 9/11 and now this???
The Division Series are going away, but, sadly, TBS is not. Lucky me, they're doing the next round for the National League. Good fortune smiles on the fact that I have tickets to all the Dodger home games. And, hopefully, I still get the audio sync between KABC and TBS. If not, there is always a mute button.
Or an airline ticket to the road games. Anything but Chip Caray.
Dinner last night: Cajun shrimp jumbalaya at the Cheesecake Factory.
It was exciting times for Diploma City in its second season. During Season 2, WFUV had their annual fundraising marathon much akin to those silly pledge drives that are done by your local PBS TV station. Every WFUV show had to do something special for the marathon and Diploma City was no exception. What resulted was a story I've told here before, but it certainly bears repeating. Recalling my show's ties to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, I hit on a 150 watt light bulb of an idea to promote our show during the fundraising. What if I got somebody from the MTM Show to be on our show and make a pitch for WFUV? I called MTM's publicist in Hollywood and this was surprisingly easy to set up. Per my specific request, I was given the appropriate time and phone number so I could engage Ted Knight for the task. Ted Knight's cameo appearance was just one highlight of what was a pivotal season in the radio life span of Diploma City. In the first season, we did 26 episodes. But, with our vast improvement in Season Two, we managed to do 30 installments. All was good. But there was a new wrinkle. I was graduating. Yet, most of my cast would still have one year left in their college career. Figuring I had nothing better to do except get turned down for jobs, I opted to keep the show going for one last year. And, for the conclusion of our story, you'll have to come back here one more Sunday. Dinner last night: Sausage and pepperoni pizza at Boho.
We graduated from mimeographed scripts to actual Xerox copies. That, of course, didn't stop the typos and the on-the-fly rewritten lines as shown above. But, press on, we did.
I used the summer after the first season to ascertain what this radio situation comedy had achieved in its initial episodes. The writing? A little too obvious and pedestrian. The production values? Way too sloppy. Both fell into my side of the ledger issued by the Blame Department. But, there was one other area that needed to be fixed. Immediately.
Diploma City's first shows are a great example of what happens when mediocre scripts are read by bad actors. Admittedly, I wasn't working with graduates of the Actors Studio as taught by Lee Strasberg. I wasn't even working with graduates of Fordham University. Most were sophomores and juniors. Except for three regulars who stood a fighting chance, I decided to replace most of the folks on the show. I would do what most soap operas do. This week, the role is played by X and, the following week, it is played by Y. No questions asked or answered. At least I wasn't changing the ages of the characters. On soaps, you can see a character at the age of 5 on Friday and, suddenly on Monday, the same character is now played by a 16-year-old.
The biggest recast I faced was the role of the "white bread" freshman now sophomore, Steve Marshall. Not only was it tough for any actor to give life to this dullard (my fault), but the guy who did it the first year was a pain to deal with. He had delusions of mediocrity with this role and quickly fancied himself in the ranks of Sir John Gielgud. Over the hot weather months, I started to think of ways in which Steve Marshall could leave the series.
"He goes home for the summer and is killed by an air conditioner that falls out of a window."
"His boss at the ice cream stand goes postal and Steve is found dead alongside some Carvel Lollapaloozas in a freezer."
"Steve drops his dad off at the airport and suddenly finds himself employed as a Hare Krishna greeter in Terminal 4."
By the end of August, I simply opted to do a straight replace and hope I could breathe some life into the character on the written page. The guy who would play the role in the second season was not materially better as an actor. But he was a nice guy and fun to be with. That's all we wanted.
Plotlines for Season 2 came easier and easier to me. I simply borrowed from everybody's life. It's not hard to fashion stories for some kids on a college campus when you're actually a kid on a college campus. The guy who played our Bronx-grown student (he made the cut) had gotten himself into a cafeteria scrape with some lummox over an errant look at the asshole's girlfriend. We transferred it to a script. If you started dating somebody, that wound up in the show. If you broke up with somebody, that wound up in the show. If you were having a fight with somebody, that wound up in the show. If you made up with somebody, that wasn't so funny. This would not wind up in the show. Nevertheless, art imitated life so much that the rallying cry around our studio was "have something happen in your life and three weeks later, it's on Dip City."
I learned how to engineer my own tapings and also edit them. I frequently found myself in an editing bay for several hours on Saturday, cutting that week's show. So, besides writing and directing every episode, I pretty much controlled all other aspects of the series as well. It was a labor, but one of love. And I came to enjoy the fact that my actors could never seem to say a line or do a scene in one take.
Part of the reason why the acting was so tough to improve is that we were rushed to complete a taping in the course of one hour every Tuesday during Student Activity Hour. As I surveyed the station, I realized that production studios were available at all hours of the night. If we could tape at a leisurely pace in the evening, the production would sound a whole lot better.
I was right.
Once we transferred our taping to a two or three hour period every Tuesday night, Diploma City started to sound professional. As I really learned the voices of my cast, my writing improved. And so, gasp, did the acting. If a line was read with the wrong inflection, we had the luxury of doing it until the actor got it right. It might take twenty minutes, but, eventually, the line was read correctly. As a matter of fact, we got so bitchin' with those nighttime tape sessions, we sometimes taped two episodes in one evening. This allowed us to stockpile some shows and we could actually take a week or two off.
There was also another delicious by-product of our nighttime tapings. We came together as the ubiquitous family that lots of TV show casts turn into. Our tapings soon became a weekly party. And it showed on the air as well. Friends started to beg to come aboard. This resulted in our creation of some wonderful recurring characters. The ego-bloated Top 40 disc jockey at the college radio station. A good looking hockey player who considered himself God's gift to women. And a new kid in the dorm who may or may not have been gay. This was years before homosexual characters got, pardon the expression, hot on TV. I realized just recently how ahead of the times Diploma City was.
Late in Season 2, one of my newer actors, also known now in Blog World as "Djinn from the Bronx,"came to me with a script idea. Actually, it was more than a notion. It was a full blown radio play for an episode. Up to this point, Yours Truly had written every single word uttered on Diploma City. But, Djinn had taken a disastrous spring break vacation and turned it into a wonderfully funny episode that would feature our female characters. Moreover, it was something that I could not have even tried to write from a female perspective. While the Bermuda adventures were certainly not "Girls Gone Wild" material, it was still funny and organic. Sex-less in the City, but hilarious still. Djinn's script also afforded me my first opportunity at script editing, a creative process which I still now prefer to this very day.
During Season 2, WFUV had their annual fundraising marathon much akin to those silly pledge drives that are done by your local PBS TV station. Every WFUV show had to do something special for the marathon and Diploma City was no exception. What resulted was a story I've told here before, but it certainly bears repeating.
Recalling my show's ties to the Mary Tyler Moore Show, I hit on a 150 watt light bulb of an idea to promote our show during the fundraising. What if I got somebody from the MTM Show to be on our show and make a pitch for WFUV? I called MTM's publicist in Hollywood and this was surprisingly easy to set up. Per my specific request, I was given the appropriate time and phone number so I could engage Ted Knight for the task.We awaited the appointed day and time as if it were Christmas morning. In advance, I fashioned a scene of dialogue that would break the fourth wall between one of our cast members and Ted. Then, Ted would go into his plug for listeners to send dough to WFUV. At the hour of our reckoning, I called Ted and he was incredibly gracious. I essentially explained to him what we were doing and I recited the dialogue so he could copy it over the phone. We rolled tape and it went well. For about a minute. Suddenly, Ted's mind veered off the road as if he was trying to avoid hitting a deer with his car. He started to ramble about WFUV and Fordham, which made virtually no sense in the context of the show. Amazingly, my actor followed Ted down into Confusionville and what resulted was a hilariously funny but impromptu conversation that I ran virtually unedited. Besides, I felt I had no creative license to ask Ted Knight for a second take.
Ted Knight's cameo appearance was just one highlight of what was a pivotal season in the radio life span of Diploma City. In the first season, we did 26 episodes. But, with our vast improvement in Season Two, we managed to do 30 installments. All was good.
But there was a new wrinkle. I was graduating. Yet, most of my cast would still have one year left in their college career. Figuring I had nothing better to do except get turned down for jobs, I opted to keep the show going for one last year.
And, for the conclusion of our story, you'll have to come back here one more Sunday.
Dinner last night: Sausage and pepperoni pizza at Boho.
And, of course, it is a well known fact that, approximately thirty minutes before the first plane hit the World Trade Center, cabs driven by those of Middle Eastern descent were hard to find in Manhattan. There were also a rash of drivers calling in sick that day.
Hmmmmm again. Just what secret code came through NPR on September 10?
I am horribly digressing.
I had a very rare happening last week when I returned from Atlanta. The taxi driver that pulled up at the stand to take me home was English. And young. And intelligent. And he had a rock station on the radio. Woo hoo!
He also provided me with one of those bizarro life moments that I will remember for a long time.
As I entered the cab in a manner reminiscent of John Glenn crawling into his space capsule, I quickly told my driver where I was going. Politely, he asked me which route I preferred. Now, I've had this happen before, but, generally, it's because the driver has no idea how to get there. But, this guy actually wanted to know my thoughts on the subject as opposed to querying the disembodied voice on his GPS. We shared a brief dialogue on LA traffic and then I caught him looking at me in the rear view mirror.
"I know who you are."
"I recognize your voice. You're on the radio."
I swore that I was not.
"Oh, come on, it is you, isn't it?"
"You're that guy on the radio who does the food and restaurant reviews."
I swore I was not. And what guy is that?
Okay, I know who the guy is. I even know what station he's on. But, I had never really paid attention to his voice. And whether it sounded remotely like me.
I finally insisted to Dan, my cabdriver, that I was truly not Merrill Shindler. We continued on in an engaging conversation about life in LA, his desire to get into animation, and the fact that Norman Lear is a lousy tipper. I even took Dan's card so I can call him directly for future trips to LAX. But, I was still curious even days later. Did I really sound like Merrill Shindler?
I mentioned the story to a friend, who immediately recalled the guy's voice.
"That whiny New York Jew?"
I was tempted to rip up Dan's card. Maybe I'm better off when the driver doesn't speak English. As we motor to the airport in a chilly and wordless vacuum. As he writes down the latest secret missile coordinates that have been transmitted by NPR.
Dinner last night: Sausage and pepper pizza at Game 1 of the NLDS Series between the Dodgers and Cardinals.
That's the Major League Baseball marketing slogan. And mine.
---After 162 games, a new season starts today and it's a clean slate for eight teams. I will be at Chavez Ravine in my seats for all the action.
---Game time: 6:37PM Pacific time. Thank you, TBS. They shoot up the space shuttle with less precision.
---With all the high definition technology and close-up camera shots that TBS will offer, I still think the clearest picture and coverage will be offered by Vin Scully on the radio.
---The Dodgers are given little chance to advance, but the games are played on grass, not paper.
---They way the Dodgers are being maligned, you would think they are being managed by John McCain.
---Maybe that means Cardinal manager Tony LaRussa will show up wearing a snazzy suit. And calling plays off a teleprompter.
---The good news is that neither Chicago team made the playoffs. How much can they lose in one week?
---Obama going to Copenhagen and not bringing back the Olympics is sort of like the Mets' last weekend in 2007 and 2008.
---Er, Mr. President, that digit you see from the IOC is the middle one.
---It was laughable to hear Obama's people complaining that Rio resorted to dirty politics to bring the 2016 Olympics there.
---Just goes to prove. It takes one to screw one.
---Obama? Chicago? Dirty politics??? Nah.
---Vote early, vote often, and vote even if you're dead.
---So, here's a list of gags no longer funny when uttered by David Letterman.
---Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky. Not funny.
---Sarah Palin and babies born out of wedlock. Not funny.
---Larry King and his young wives. Not funny.
---It's getting to the point that the only thing Letterman can now joke about is the price of postage stamps.
---As Dave tries to square things with his wife, I wonder just what kind of new car she will soon be driving.
---And you all thought Paul Shaffer was the creepy one.
---But, at least, Dave didn't sleep with his mother.
---Like MacKenzie Phillips, who's taking it one dad at a time.
---I spent yesterday at UCLA Hospital. My writing partner needed some assistance as he underwent hand surgery.
---You get a great snapshot of life's bountiful parade when you sit in a hospital waiting room.
---One guy was about 300 pounds and kept shoveling in licorice for about an hour.
---He was waiting for a patient yesterday.
---Today he's probably waiting for a gurney.
---An elderly Chinese couple kept arguing with one another in their native tongue. It sounded like Sunday night at the kitchen of Panda Express.
---What's the Chinese translation for "public option?"
---Are all Indians raised from birth to handle anesthetics?
---I didn't see one person there yesterday without health coverage.
---I did see two people with the waiting room without pants.
---Neither one of them was David Letterman.
---There's a link on this site to a very captivating blog written by former MTM writer Earl Pomerantz. He's headed for heart surgery later this month. And the story is up there for all to see. We all need to send some good wishes and prayers.
And Go Dodgers! Dinner last night: Baked ham sandwich.
10. The boss is a constant reminder to call and check in on your grandfather.
9. Lots of couches and mattresses all around the office for those quick refreshing naps.
8. The concept of "rising to the top" has a whole new meaning.
7. You wouldn't want to do any of those things with that redheaded guy on NBC.
6. You understand why the real name of his company is "Worldwide Pants Off."
5. Your ankles getting knocked by a ceiling fan might actually qualify as a "Stupid Human Trick."
4. You wouldn't want to do any of those things with Jay.
3. When you tick off the Top 10 Reasons why you shouldn't, the boss never lets you get past #6.
2. "Why does Paul Shaffer always have to watch?"
1. No one has slept with Ted Koppel since 1983.
Dinner last night: Baked ham.
I had a better typewriter than this one in college. But, the picture alone propels me back to some great times in my life.
It was a radio show called "Diploma City."
I had spent my freshman and sophomore years at Fordham University's WFUV. Doing a little of everything and a lot of nothing. Not gifted with the voice of Don Pardo, my airwork was limited. I did some news writing and reporting for the evening news report. I attempted sports play-by-play and quickly gave up when I realized that, during a football game, I could never tell which player had the ball.
I developed a little bit of niche when I became the station's official "television reporter." I got to do some celebrity interviews with folks like Tony Randall, Alan Alda, Paul Lynde, and Karen Valentine. But, still, there was something that seemed a little off reporting on the medium of television while on the radio.
A bit directionless, I might have given the 50,000 watt antenna and its surroundings a huge heave ho, except that I had made a lot of good friends there. So, for the sake of my wonderful comrades, I stuck it out. A supporting player, but clearly not a star.
But I still wanted more.
I was a sitcom junkie. Most particularly, I was in love at the time with the comedy stylings of such classics as "All in the Family" and "Mary Tyler Moore." I fantasized about working in the writers room at MTM Enterprises, even if it was just to take orders for late night pastrami sandwiches. So, I thought, how do I start myself on that esteemed path while playing the flunky at WFUV?
How about a sitcom on the radio? It's not like it was an innovative idea. After all, the sitcom was born on the AM band in the 30s and 40s, thanks to people like Jack Benny, Fred Allen, and Fibber McGee & Molly. Gee, I could do that on WFUV. So, I told the station program director. His reaction was not what I expected.
He was more used to fielding program ideas from would-be rock disk jockeys who wanted to devote two hours of airtime to the "Best of Foghat" with such ridiculous show titles like "Vaheavela," "Anybody's Guess" or "As Time Goes By." Nobody had ever showed up with this notion before. And, as I did my research, nobody had done such a show at WFUV for a long time. The last guy who had mounted a comedy show on the station? Alan Alda.
I was even more determined to pick up the gauntlet that the vintage WFUV program guides had hoisted at me. Now was the time to bring a situation comedy back to WFUV, Mr. Program Director.
Probably to get rid of me, he gave me a half-hour every Sunday night starting in October. 1030PM. Bedtime for most, primetime for me. It was my junior year and I finally mattered at WFUV. The coach had given me the ball.
Now what do I do?
I got hold of some old Jack Benny radio scripts and studied the format. You have to be more descriptive in the dialogue and rely more heavily on sound effects. Instead of simply walking across the room, you have to actually say, "I'm walking to the other side of the room." Well, there are more creative ways to do that, but you get the idea. I decided to devote my summer months to writing scripts for my production.
Except I still didn't have a concept. Being uncommonly devoted to "Mary Tyler Moore," I decided to use that as a model for my show. Well, more than a model. I blatantly copied them. As I typed away, I was convinced that MTM lawyers with full briefcases would be showing up at my door any minute. I countered to myself that imitation was the sincerest form of flattery. It was also a great shortcut for an idea-less writer.
Since we were in college, I adapted the MTM show to a university setting. Two male freshmen roommates at a fictitious Philadelphia campus called Taft College. AKA Diploma City, or, as it became affectionately to most of us, Dip City. Steve Marshall and Allen Siegel were Mary and Rhoda. Steve worked at the campus newspaper with Kathryn Engel (Lou Grant), Cindy Wellington (Murray Slaughter), and Milton Harper (Ted Baxter). I was so tuned in to Mary's show that my characters' last names were culled from the last names of the actors on that program. I was a complete nut.
In those early days, I really didn't know what the hell I was doing. Luckily, one of the station engineers took a liking to the idea and fashioned a whole bunch of sound effects that would set the scene for wherever my characters were. Rock music would be background in the dorm room. A teletype would denote that you were in the school newspaper office. And a college juke box, mixed with crowd noises, would tell us that our characters were hoisting a cold one at the college bar, the Chem Lab. Of course, I hadn't researched well enough to know that the drinking age in Pennsylvania was still 21. Oh, well. Perhaps my very first use of the "creative license" rule.
When it was time for me to play Louis B. Mayer and start casting, I probably should have sought out Fordham's acting troup. Instead, I decided to troll those already working at WFUV for some diamonds in the rough.
I found one guy on the air butchering an intro to a classical concert. He was horrible. For me, he was perfect to be my freshman from the Bronx.
I culled other "actors" from the ranks about me. "Hey, you wanna be on a radio situation comedy?" Most shrugged and said "sure." They had no idea what they were getting into. As I went about my casting calls, I started to make up characters as I went along. One guy could do an Irish accent. He became the bartender of the Chem Lab. I discovered another girl could do an Irish accent as well. She became the bartender's sister. And so on and so on. Before long, all my friends wanted their 15 minutes in front of the microphones.
And friends of friends got worked in. One of the leads started dating another girl at the station. She soon became his girlfriend on the show. Of course, the faux relationship would last only as long as the real one did. There was one young lady who I had a crush on. She didn't even work at the station. I created another new character to get her involved. With the show and then maybe with me. This was all easy to manage, as I wasn't paying any of these folks a dime. The only acting expense I had to endure was a specific request from one of the potential regulars. He needed to be supplied with a can of Diet 7Up for every taping.
During the first season of Diploma City, we did all our rehearsing or taping in a single midday hour. The so-called student activity hour as designated by the campus. This was the equivalent of trying to stage Ben-Hur's chariot race during a coffee break. Eventually, rehearsing gave way to virtually no rehearsing. Most of the time, the cast hadn't even read the script before we hit the mikes. Between my typos and their lack of preparation, you had bloopers like this.
"Gee, this coffee is too string."
"Uh oh, I'm going to be late for my clash."
"Hey, bartender, I'll have a cold pint of male."
You get the idea. Complicating the legibility of scripts was the fact that I did them that first season on mimeograph paper courtesy of the bursar's office downstairs. Not only were words misspelled and tough to read, my cast usually got completely high on the fumes. An already tough situation turned into the Hindenburg.
Editing all of their and my mistakes was a challenge, especially since I had no clue how to work a tape editing machine. I figured it out pretty darn fast and soon became a whiz. With the razor blade cuts on my fingertips to prove it.
In that first year, we were making up this shit as we went along. And, since we didn't know what we were doing, we were usually taping during the week for airing the following Sunday. With that tight a schedule, I started to lose cast members to homework, pop quizzes, etc.. Schooling was getting in the way of my craft. Fast rewrites were done all the time. Lines that were to read by a girl were switched to a guy. Sometimes we didn't catch all those nuances and some guy on the hockey team would be talking about shaving his legs.
One week, I completely forgot to book studio time to tape the show. Faced with no new taped episode for Sunday, we jimmied together the strangest taping ever. We lugged a boom microphone and tape equipment to somebody's dorm apartment and did the show in his living room. It was "fly by the seat of your pants" radio. And it certainly sounded like a radio show that was taped in somebody's living room.
For the most part, that first year of Diploma City was innovative, exciting, and pretty terrible. It took me a long while to find the character voices and then match them to the actors' style of speech. The writing was juvenile. The acting, except for two players, was uniformly awful.
But we had tons of fun.
Except we found ourselves with another nemesis. This one on the air. The program that followed Diploma City was a live discussion group conducted by some assholes from Student Government. Instead of focusing on the lack of parking spaces or cockroaches in the dorms, they preferred to use their air time to rip the show that preceded theirs. Ours. The anchor of these diatribes was some tub of shit named Rich Conaty. I use his name here because he deserves all this venom. Conaty was particularly cruel to us in his role as God's gift to broadcasting. Eventually, his cohorts got tired of staying out late on Sunday nights and left his show, which Rich turned into a big band music program. The scratchiest Bing Crosby records played ad nauseum week after week. But, ultimately, we all had the last laugh.
Years later, in 2009, Rich Conaty is still on WFUV every Sunday night spinning the 78s. You've come a long way, Asshole.
As for our little radio sitcom, we had such a delightful time during the first season that we couldn't wait to do it for a second year. Luckily, the program director didn't care either.
"Here's your half-hour. Don't break anything."
We would press on. With some significant changes. And that story comes next Sunday at this same blog site and the same blog time.
Dinner last night: Proscuitto and provolone panini.