Sunday, October 31, 2010

The Sunday Memory Drawer - High School Teachers I've Known and Loved or Hated

Last April, a wall fell down from my alma mater, Mount Vernon High School.  Given the dump that this already was years ago, I doubt anybody noticed.

Truth be told, my disaster of a high school didn't look much better when I was there.  Inside, the place always looked like the maintenance staff was a week behind when it came to fixing things.  Everything just seemed to be a little bit broken.

Luckily, I was only there for three years ---tenth through twelfth grade.  At the time, the high school was spanking new (it didn't look it) and couldn't hold the traditional four years of high school students.  The ninth graders were sequestered to the "Annex," which was the old Mount Vernon High School then named after some old time tool A.B. Davis.

Frankly, when I look at the high school experience I see on TV shows like "Glee," mine was a Red Cross disaster area in comparison.  I couldn't wait to get home at the end of the day.  I made very few lifelong friends there.  The mix of the student body was never a comfortable one.  You had all the Black kids from the south side and a lot of Jewish kids who wanted to be Black from the north side.  The rest of us were up for grabs.  And, if you hit the boys' bathroom at the wrong time, your wallet was also up for grabs.

As a result of this lack-of-comfort zone, I didn't spend enough time there to get too invested in any of the teachers.  There was certainly no Lloyd Haynes who made a lifelong impression on Len.  If positive effects were felt, they were fleeting.  When I look back on those instructors, the memories are short and sometimes hard-to-come-by.

Perhaps the best teacher I had was Mrs. Taylor.  She's so good that I actually took her twice.  Once in the ninth grade for English and then in my senior year for some elective called "American Novel."  Mrs. Taylor looked like an old lady, but probably was in her 30s when I had her.  She was prematurely gray and her hair was styled after Veronica Lake.  Mrs. Taylor could have been in some Warner Brothers potboiler from the 40s. 

Mrs. Taylor's other throwback to the olden days was her almost daily pronouncement that she didn't own a television set.  This was an alien thought to all of us who planned our homework around the CBS primetime schedule.  But, Mrs. Taylor spent her off hours reading literature and, as a result, she did infuse us with a love for books.  In a very bizarre way, she inspired us.  Not enough for us to turn off "The Andy Griffith Show," but, at least, we learned to multi-task and read "Silas Marner" at the same time.

A ninth grade social studies teacher was a little guy named Mr. Crews, who, although he was from Texas, looked like Joe Jitsu from the "Dick Tracy" cartoons.  Mr. Crews always seemed to be unprepared for class at least one day a week and would announce that we could take the day as a "study hall."   Oftimes, my social studies class was where I did my best math or science work.

One day, a friend and I were headed to our class with Mr. Crews when he shot out of the room.  It was so startling that I asked who had died.  Mr. Crews heard my question. 

"My sister."


Ironically, we heard about a year or two later that Mr. Crews himself had passed on.  It certainly wasn't due to exhaustion at work.

Once we got to the "big" high school for the tenth grade, the bizarreness of the faculty seemed to multiply at geometric proportions.

Mr. Bickford was an English teacher who lisped and butchered every book title he assigned.

"The Housh of Sheven Gables."

"The Lash of the Mohishans."

"The Great Gatshby."

Nobody wanted to sit in the first three rows of class.

Another teacher was this un-enthused possible lesbian named Miss Dennis.  Well, we didn't know the lesbian part at that point.  At that time, if somebody mentioned that word, I would think they were referring to Danny Thomas.  But, in retropsect, Miss Dennis couldn't possibly be anything else but one big ole dyke.  Everything she focused on was Broadway.  Duh.  Forget the great American Novel.  She wanted to teach us all about the latest play starring Jason Robards Jr..

Carrying out her fervor to the extreme, Miss Dennis took us on a field trip to a Broadway matinee.  It was my first exposure to the theater and I'm glad I didn't let this experience cloud me for life.  We didn't exactly go to see "Hello Dolly."  It was some existential mess called "We Bombed in New Haven," which shortly thereafter bombed at the Ambassador Theater as well.  No one had a clue what the hell was going on.  Let's face it, in those days, my ideal plotline was watching Lucille Ball get stuck in something.  But, Miss Dennis was so enamored by the play that we discussed it for the next three weeks.  Yawn.  And, not surprisingly, it starred Jason Robards Jr..

Spending three weeks on that play was nothing compared to how long we analyzed "Hamlet" in the troll-like Mr. Merendino's twelfth grade English class.  We spent four solid months groping over every single word in Shakespeare's drama.  It got so frustrating for us that one friend of mine actually threw a Bic Pen at the teacher.  This prompted another friend to mention that it was symbolic of the "poison rapier."

I liked my American History teacher, Miss Castriota, who came off like this tough old broad but was really a softie.  This was another one who looked much older than she was.  Years later, I found her in the Fordham University alumni directory and I was shocked to find that she was not even 40.

Miss Castriota's big bug-a-boo was gum chewing.  If she caught you, she would immediately stop class.

"You owe me a dime."

You had to cough it up.  Both the gum and the dime.  The gum went into the trash can.  The dime went into a jar in her closet and she said she would use it at the end of the year to buy a bottle of Scotch. 

There was no surprises, though, with Mr. Russell's age.  My twelfth-grade Physics teacher looked to be and probably was 100.  In hindsight, Mr. Russell was President Reagan during his second term.  Clueless.  To wit, Physics was going to be the last state Regents exam that I would take.  It was a big deal to do well in these statewide tests and I aced them all up to this point.  The only problem was that Mr. Russell didn't teach us anything that was in the exam.

I failed it and totally blew my Regents diploma and this news didn't sit well with my father, who didn't accept my excuse when I tossed Mr. Russell under the bus.  I had hoped my father would come to school and have it out with the old fossil.  He didn't.

But, Dad showed up when I ran into an issue with my gym teacher, some Black screwball named Mr. Lee.  He was also the wrestling coach and that seemed to be all he knew.  He tried to infuse wrestling into everything we did.  If you were playing baseball, the shortstop would be encouraged to field the grounder and then manuever the runner sliding into second base into a half-nelson.

My problem with Mr. Lee arose when we did the gymnastics and acrobatic part of our gym curriculum.  You may remember, from a previous rummage through the memory drawer, that I had hurt my back doing a forward roll in day camp years before.  Well, Mr. Lee wanted me to do it again and ridiculed me in front of the class for not attempting it.  

This did not set well with my father when I relayed the news.

To this day, I know my father had words with Mr. Lee.  I don't know what they were.  But, Mr. Lee was like Doris Day to me for the rest of the school year.

No high school teacher scared the bejeebers out of us more than our tenth-grade world history teacher.  Miss Kass.  She was this lunatic who treated us like we were taking the course for PhD credit at Harvard.  She was something akin to Professor Kingsfield in "The Paper Chase."  She'd look out into the class and call on you by addressing you as "Mister" or "Miss."  If she picked you out, you were dead.

Luckily I was seated behind this fat girl.  I'd come to class and crouch down behind her, hoping to stay out of Miss Kass' eyeshot.  One day, I was busted.

"Are you hiding?"


"No use doing that.  I can still see you." 


"You don't know the answer to my question, do you?"

Well, I can answer that one.  No.

To this day, I don't think any of us totally understood what we were taught in that class.  Byzantine Empire.  Ottoman Empire.  It all sounded the same to me.  The only thing I focused on was trying to stay out of Miss Kass The Conqueror's way.

Yep, that was what high school was all about me.  Watching my back and waiting for the final bell to ring.

Dinner last night:  Popcorn chicken at the Arclight.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Halloween Relic

Totally bizarr-o.  A Paul Lynde Halloween Special from 1976.  With a special guest appearance from Betty White!  Even then!!

Dinner last night:  Chicken teriyaki at BJs.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Even More Non-Celebrity Mugshots

You never know what you're going to catch in prison.
A bar fight no doubt.
Yes, that is a broomstick in your cellmate's hand.
 I don't know what you're talking about.  I don't wear a wig.

Who arrested Stephin Fetchit?
 Ugly woman or ugly man or perhaps both?

Dinner last night:  Back in LA, antipasto salad.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Morons of the Month - October 2010

The state of California is going to Hell. 

Unemployment is rampant.  State employees worry about being paid.  The state will default on all its loans.

There is a day in the near future where California will be completely bankrupt.

And the choice to be the new Governor of the state?

The two morons of October 2010.  Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown.  A choice of which of your fingers you would like to stick into an electric fan.

This election is complete validation of my father's view on politics.

"They all stink."

Dad is right again.

Let's take a look at these two losers. 

Meg Whitman started e-Bay and that's nothing to be proud of.  Unless, of course, you're one of those dumbbells who regularly puts in a bid to buy an autographed photo of Elizabeth Ashley.  Essentially, she created an on-line garage sale where one man's trash belongs in another man's dumpster. 

Meanwhile, she made oodles and oodles and oodles of dough.  The perfect qualification to be the Governor of California, a state without oodles and oodles and oodles of dough.  Her only saving grace is that she might try to auction off LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa.  Swapping him for a three-legged donkey is still a steal for us.

Of course, incompetence aside, Meg's personal life has been revealed to be an eyesore.  You're all familiar with Housekeeper-gate.  Or maybe it's I Fired An Illegal Alien-Gate.    Well, what the hell can she do with the state if she can't hire a cleaning woman without any drama?

I think back to a conversation I had with my accountant a few years back.  He was working on my income tax.  On the worksheet, I highlighted what I paid my housekeeper Maria in the previous year.  Per Maria's request, I pay her in cash.  I don't ask questions, but, as long as she remembers to dust the blinds once a month, I don't really care.  But, my accountant flags it.

"You know you probably should be reporting that."

Yeah, I know.  But who does?  And what's the consequence if I don't?

"Well, it's only a problem if you ever decide to run for public office."

Uh-huh.  Meg, you need to see my accountant. 

Not that the choice on the other side of the ballot is any better.  Jerry Brown, 72 going on 92.  A decrepit politician who has historically failed at every single job he has ever had.  Despite the fact that he keeps getting new ones.  One of the last posts he had was Mayor of Oakland.  Where, on Brown's watch, taxes tripled and crime quadrupled.

Unless you're one of my mentally blind ultra-liberal friends, that's not exactly a deal closer when you're looking for new employment.  If Jerry would try to list his accomplishments in life, his resume would feature one single sentence.


As much as she was a fox, that doesn't make this asshole electable.

During the campaign, he was caught in an impromptu moment calling Whitman a whore.  Then he denies that's his voice on the tape.  Well, it's not Fred Travalena because I know he's dead.  A mud fight ensues and the only people really stuck in a mire are the citizens of California.

Watching the debates between these two knuckleheads, I'm reminded of the epic battles between Fred Sanford and Aunt Esther.  Except they were funnier.  I'd try to vote for either one of them, but, like Fred Travalena, they're dead, too.

So is my father.  But, looking at the two morons running for Governor, his words are alive again.  And I can hear his next question.

"What the hell did you move there for?"

Dinner last night:  Roast chicken, cornbread stuffing, and broccoli rabe at Union Bar & Grill in the south end of Boston.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

This Day in History - October 27

Greetings from Boston, the big losers in the snapshot above.  Yep, I was there for the Mets' Game 7 World Series win in 1986.  And then there was...


From the very first Lenscrafters franchise.


Traditional?  Once you found a city, I think it's a one-time-only deal. 


I have no idea who Michael Servetus is.  Except that he probably was a heretic.


And, unlike the dopes in Amsterdam, they only did it once.  I am now anxiously awaiting the day when Philadelphia and the idiot fans that reside there are unfounded.


As if anybody is still paying attention to them.


So when Germany entered Paris years later, this was payback time?


Well, obviously, they chose the former.  Because I know where they all wound up.


First word uttered:  Charge!


And the last time it was on time.


Noting this only because a friend of mine knows her.


And he still works some Met games in the booth.  Except nobody can understand a word he says.


Did you ever get a good look at King Edward?  Yeech.  Makes you wonder just how ugly Mr. Simpson was.


I'm only writing this because the name is funny.


Although the news headline at the time probably called him "the first Negro general in the United States Air Force."


If it's not government paper desecration, it's small boys in robes.


If you don't remember this, you might want to look into those short term memory issues.


And another chihuahua is homeless.


But I wanna tell you...


Well, they could have won it in 1986....but, choke, Choke, CHOKE!!!!!!

Dinner last night:  Turkey club sandwich at the Westin Copley Place in Boston.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Are You World Serious?

Even if I don't have a horse running in the race, I always am compelled to root for somebody in the World Series.  The only way I can actually justify watching it at all if the Mets or Dodgers are not involved (which is, sadly, the norm) is by standing behind one of the teams and getting totally invested in their plight.

Such a tradition really took me to the limits of sanity last year.  The Phillies vs. the Yankees.  Hmmm?  A choice akin to blowing my brains out with either a revolver or a rifle.  The end result is always the same.  You'll have to repaint the walls.  But, much to the amazement and/or chagrin of my friends, I got behind the Yankees for the first time ever in my life. 

Why not?  The Phillies had just brutally dispatched the Dodgers for the second time in two National League Championship Series.  Since Phillie fans are the scourge of society, I held my nose and moved my allegience to the Bronx.  I rationalized it all by saying it was the borough where my father was born and where my parents had been married.  Stretching believability as if it was the last piece of Turkish Taffy at the playground.

This year appeared to be another American League hat for Len in the World Series.  The Phillies played the San Francisco Giants in the prelim for the National League.  Bringing to light one more time the age old choice.  When you're sick to your stomach, which symptom would you prefer?  Vomit or diarrhea?  Hmmmm again.  Neither, thank you very much. 

Now, the Giants move ahead to play the Texas Rangers in the 2010 Fall Classic and a Dodger fan's nightmare season continues for a few more days.  More torment from the demure Giant fan base pictured above.  Given the cold weather attire, I can only imagine that this snapshot was taken during a July Bay Area heat wave.  I remember my visit to their ballpark one August afternoon.  Hypothermia set in by the third inning.  That kind of weather, along with the presence of Nancy Pelosi, indeed makes San Francisco a truly questionable place to live.

I never hated the Giants until I became a Dodger fan and, even then, I didn't know why.  The specter of Barry Bonds and his ever-expanding size gave me a soupcon of justification.  But, in retrospect, the Giants just as easy could have wound up as my team.  If the two National League franchises had never left New York, I most likely, for the sheer sake of proximity, would have gravitated to the Giants.  And, truth be told, I did manage the 1954 New York Giants not once, but twice in Strat-o-Matic Baseball leagues.  And who can really dislike Willie Mays?

Yet, as soon as I landed in Chavez Ravine, the Giants suddenly morphed into acid reflux for me.  Those bastards always chanting "Beat L-A.  Beat L-A."  My stomach churns at every syllable.  Misguided anger issues?  Perhaps.  And, indeed, maybe my disdain for the Giants is a great rechanneling of emotions and it deters me from slapping my real designated target, which is likely whoever is my local congressman at the moment.

Still, there is no way in Hell that I could root for them in the World Series.    I had one friend/Giant fan lament to me that I should be kind and realize that the Giants have yet to win a World Series since their move to San Francisco in 1958.  I will counter that the Giants have made three appearances in the World Series since the Dodgers made their last one in 1988.  I'm sorry, but my tiny violins are being re-strung at the moment, so there will be no funeral concertos played at my house.  

Besides, what's not to like about the Texas Rangers?  I have friends in Dallas.  Heck, I was just there at the Texas State Fair and I still have the yet-to-be-digested corn dog in my stomach to prove it.  The news that this franchise was just at financial death's door and still made it to the postseason should be like a Gene Kelly happy dance to anybody who knows Dodger owner Frank McCourt.  Plus they have ex-Met Nolan Ryan as Team President and it's great to see that his wife Ruth is still a fox even in her 60s.  And how can you root against the personal resurgence of Josh Hamilton who could be Canada Dry Ginger Ale's next poster child?  I can't wait for some of the Texas brethren to get a load of Giants hurler Tim Lincecum.  He thought the Phillie fans were tough?

"Hey, Lincecum!  You must be one of them hippie types."

Yep, it's easy for me.  Go Rangers!  I'm thinking it goes the limit and, given the unpredictable San Francisco weather, the seventh game on Fox might be up against "A Charlie Brown Christmas" on ABC.

But, as I watch the games, I'll also be daydreaming a bit.  And mentally recalling this wonderful vintage Danny Kaye record.  Where the Dodgers always beat the Giants.

Is it next year yet?

Dinner last night:  Chicken chili.

And, tomorrow, the frivolity comes to you from...gasp, Boston.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Morning Video Laugh - October 25, 2010

People falling down?  Always funny!

Dinner last night:  Bacon, cheese, and onion omelet at Cafe 50s Diner.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Sunday Memory Drawer: Junior High Teachers I Knew and Loved or Hated

And we go back to school.  This time to Mount Vernon's Washington Junior High School, which is where I endured the seventh and eighth grade. 

This was not a major upheaval to my life.  Washington was simply only five blocks further away from my elementary school.  And most of my Grimes friends were with me in junior high.  Along with a bunch of all new kids from other elementary schools on the south side of Mount Vernon.

There was power in numbers.  And we needed it.

The building above is not the school itself, but the cavernous auditorium where we held assemblies.  We were all getting older so the grade school flagwaving and storytelling we had at Grimes was not the ideal assembly entertainment for us now.  Instead, there were full flown musical productions.  There were three Black girls who used to mount the stage in some very inappropriate evening gowns and then lip sync to the Supremes. 

"Stop!  In the Name of Love!"

Yep, from twelve-year-olds.

Teacher-wise, Washington Junior High was more of a blur than Grimes.  Most made noteworthy but relatively brief impressions upon me.

There was our English teacher.  Mr. Copp who was probably ninety.  He had been teaching for so long that every day in his class was probably just as it had been for the past forty years.  He always wore a bowtie and looked like he was the leader of one of those barbershop quartets from the 1890s.  Indeed, he probably had been a leader of one of those barbershop quarters from the 1890s.

I pretty much aced my way through two years of Mr. Copp except for one memorable assignment.  As it had been for Mr. Copp over his likely seventy years of teaching, Wednesday was book report day.  You had a week to read one book.  Usually, this was a snap for me.  And I generally left it all for the Tuesday night before.

Except one Tuesday, the lights went out.  All over the east coast.  And I was stuck trying to do a book report by candlelight.  Actually, I was stuck watching my mother write my book report by candlelight.

In a two-year collections of "A+" book reports, that one earned me a "D."  Thanks, Mom.

When I challenged Mr. Copp on this, I pleaded the obvious.  How was I supposed to write a book report on Tuesday night when the lights were out?

"Well, Leonard, the lights were on Monday night."


Our music class was taught by some tool named Mr. Ferraro and he looked like comedian Jerry Colonna without the moustache wax.  Mr. Ferraro gave us a rather healthy dose of Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals, which, in hindsight, would make more sense to me if I had realized there was no Mrs. Ferraro.

Mr. Ferraro also sought to give us some much-needed culture by arranging a field trip to a Wednesday matinee of "The Magic Flute."  Opera, we all sneered.  No worries, countered his big moustache.  We will learn all about the story for several weeks before we go.  We will hear all the music beforehand.

And we did.  Except that the day we actually went to the show, we discovered that Mr. Ferraro himself had not done his homework.

That performance of  "The Magic Flute" was done entirely in German.

What happens to a bunch of twelve-year-olds when they can't understand a word anybody is saying?  They remove the ink cartridge from their Bic Pens and start the biggest spitball fight Lincoln Center ever saw.

Mr. Ferraro never arranged another field trip again.

Yet, of all the junior high teachers we had, no one defined more the pain of those years than our homeroom teacher, Mr. Papps, who also guided us through science.

For the first year and part of the eighth grade, Mr. Papps was a model citizen.  A truly inspiring teacher in the vein of Lloyd Haynes' character on "Room 222."   The guy we all wanted on our side.  He was young.  He had a wife with two small kids.  He was one of us.

Suddenly and without warning, it all changed.  Seemingly over one weekend.

Mr. Papps was no longer Mr. Papps.  He had grown remote and sullen.  And downright unfriendly.  He was apparently done with us as students.  Instead, we became numberless and identityless soldiers in his army. 

Talking was forbidden unless you were asked to do so.  The slightest little movement was noticed.  We were turned into rigid statues as we sat at her little desks.

And then there was the end of each day.  No longer were we simply dismissed to scamper home.  Nope, we were marched to the front door.  Double file.  In lockstep with each other.  This might have been the Fourth Reich.

If one of us was a little out of sync or, God forbid, talking, we would be marched right back to the class and asked to do it all over again.  We'd get close to the front door and then Mr. Papps would notice some minute impropriety. 

"Everyone back to class!"


Sometimes the simple process of leaving school for the day could take us up to two hours.  Other teachers would snicker at us in the hallway.  General MacArthur had apparently returned again.

More importantly, there was clearly something seriously wrong with Mr. Papps.

Now, if it had been today, parents would be up in arms over this inhumane treatment of school children.  Mr. Papps would be brought before the Principal or maybe even the Board of Education.  The guy wouldn't stand a chance up against the PTA.  And, since half the class was Black, we'd probably be supported by Al Sharpton. 

Back then, nothing happened.  Oh, all our parents knew what was going on with Mr. Papps.  But, to my knowledge, there was no great public outcry.   An unsolved mystery of my life.  Why not?

By the end of the eighth grade, we couldn't wait to graduate and finally escape Stalag Papps.  I remember one final conversation with the man when I got my last report card.  Mostly As.  And an "A+" in Science.  For one thirty second exchange, the Mr. Papps I remembered fondly had re-emerged. 

He didn't teach again after that eighth grade class.  About a year later, we read that Mr. Papps had died of some cancer. 

I wondered about that weekend where he had morphed into this evil storybook ogre.  Was that when he had learned his fate?  Is that when some doctor gave him the grim news?

Mr. Papps' passing explained everything.  And also nothing.

On to the high school years.

To be continued.

Dinner last night:  Mongolian Beef at the Panda Inn.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - October 2010

Just in time for Halloween...Abbott and Costello's best movie.

Dinner last night:  Turkey burger at BJ's.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Your Weekend Movie Guide for October 2010

Back in October 1954, "White Christmas" was playing at the Radio City Music Hall.  Talk about getting the jump on the holiday season.  This is one of my favorite movies playing in one of my favorite movie palaces.  We're not so lucky these days.  Trying to find a good movie to see every weekend is like trying to hit the lottery.

You regular readers know the drill.  I'll comb through the LA Times and review the movie advertisements.  I'll give you my gut reaction on the junk that's out there smelling up your local multiplex dump.  God bless Tiny Tim and us all.

Secretariat:  I saw it two weekends ago, as if my horse-racing-fan father was sending me messages from above.  "Go see Secretariat.  Go see Secretariat."  I remember my dad sitting me down to watch the real horse run the Triple Crown.  The movie's perfectly fine family entertainment.  Just don't expect a surprise ending.

The Social Network:  You read this blog, right?  Regularly?  If you're wondering what I thought of this movie, you need to scroll back to last Tuesday.

Kalamity:  A man returns to his hometown to see old friends only to discover that something mysterious is going on with one of them.  Obviously, a sinister need to misspell the word "calamity."

Paranormal Activity 2:  If it's anything like the first snoozefest, Ambien may be out of business.

GhettoPhysics:  Explores the way in which the relationships between prostitutes and pimps is emblematic of the wider social power structure.  Oh.  And here I am thinking that the movie was originally called "Mr. Wizard Goes to Harlem."

My Dog Tulip:  Animated film details the bond between an author and his German Shepherd.  Maybe it's me, but Tulip should not be the name of a German Shepherd.  That's like naming a Chihuahua "Killer."

Jackass 3D:  The third installment of one man's attempt to torment the rectal cavity of midgets.

Life As We Know It:  Katherine Heigl is the Latin translation for "No Fucking Way."

It's Kind of a Funny Story:  Starring that annoying Zach Galifianakis, so I'm guessing the story really isn't.

Ticked-Off Trannies with Knives:  Bubbles Cliquot and her band of fellow transgender vixens seek revenge against a rapist.  It's not available yet on Netflix.  I know, because I already checked.

Carlos:  A five-hour chronicle of a Venezuela-born terrorist.  Five minutes would be too long for me.

Hereafter:  Clint Eastwood explores death.  After all those years killing people as Dirty Harry, it's probably about time.  I generally don't miss his stuff, but this one sounds a little morose.

The Town:  Ben Affleck directs and stars in some overrated swill about a bunch of Boston bank robbers.  I saw it and was appalled by the language.  When does the word "fuck" become a character description?  I would dismiss it totally except for the great location shots of Fenway Park in the last half-hour.

Wall Street - Money Never Sleeps:  But the audience does.

Waiting for Superman:  You read this blog, right? Regularly? If you're wondering what I thought of this movie, you need to scroll back to Tuesday of last week.  Jeez, do you have any kind of memory retention whatsoever?

You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger:  Woody Allen's annual demonstration that it's now time for him to retire.  I may wait for the sequel.  "You Will Meet a Short Asian Teenager."

Nowwhere Boy:  A chronicle of John Lennon's childhood.  Let's just hope he doesn't take Yoko to the junior prom.

Red:  Bruce Willis and a bunch of other old farts shoot up a lot of stuff.  I may wait for Bruce's next movie.  "Die Already."

I Spit on Your Grave:  Something tells me this isn't a documentary about a water shortage at Ferncliff Cemetery.

The Last Play at Shea:  A documentary about the very last rock concert held at Shea Stadium.  Billy Joel's life is juxtaposed against the history of the ballpark.  I'm on line as I type this.  I've already backordered the DVD.  Does it sound like I'm very interested?

Legends of the Guardians - The Owls of Ga'hoole:  I can't imagine how anybody could ask for this movie when you get to the box office.  Why don't you make it easy on yourself and simply say "Secretariat?"

My Soul To Take:  I pray the Lord this movie to bomb.  Amen.

Inhale:  A couple go to dangerous lengths to find a lung donor for their daughter.  Folks, this is what happens when you let your five-year-old smoke Newports.

Budrus:  Documentary about a Palestinian leader who brought together Fatah, Hamas, and Israelis in an unarmed movement to save his village from destruction.  Er, no.  If you're in the mood for a story like this, you're better off with an episode of "The Andy Griffith Show."  Barney didn't have any bullets in his gun either.

Conviction:  No information, but I'm pretty sure it's not starring OJ Simpson.

Inside Job:  A documentary on the recent financial collapse.  If your 401K is still under water, you mght want to save money and go to the bargain matinee.

Never Let Me Go:  Three childhood school friends can't let go of each other when they becomes adults.  Thank goodness most of my chums from grammar school were "cling free."

Stone:  Robert DeNiro battles Edward Norton in this tale about an arsonist.  I hear the film rarely catches on fire.

Easy A:  An even easier D-.

Tamara Drewe:   A young newspaper writer returns to her hometown in the English countryside, where her childhood home is being prepped for sale.  When a simple yawn just isn't enough...

Dinner last night: Chicken cutlets with macaroni and cheese. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Yes, The Rent is Too Damn High

The gubernatorial race in California now has a run for its money.  If you thought the lunacy between Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown has been over the top, you haven't seen the future SNL sketch that was the debate in NY between the knuckleheads running for Governor of the Empire State.

It's bad enough that the two legitimate candidates are a mess.  Republican entrepreneur Carl Palladino can't stop making one homophobic remark after another.  I hope he's not expecting to carry the Greenwich Village district.  Meanwhile, there's Andrew of the Cuomo Family which, when not battling the Corleones and the Barzinis for control of the docks, likes to offer up inept candidates to run for public office. 

To make matters worse, somebody decided to take ninety minutes of broadcast time the other night and present a debate between all the folks running for Governor.  This was the equivalent of shining a flashlight into a musty closet.  Every insect known to God appeared for their fifteen minutes of stardom. 

Take, for instance, the screwball pictured above.  Jimmy McMillan.  Of the "Rent Is Too Damn High" party.  Running on the platform stating that...the rent is too damn high.

But, let's just have Jimmy speak for himself.

The sad thing?  This guy will probably get several thousand votes on Election Day.

Meanwhile, there are reports that this lunatic hasn't paid his own rent in years.

Boy, am I glad I moved!

Dinner last night:  Beef stroganoff.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

This Day in History - October 20

Mickey Mantle today? Why? Pay attention....


Okay, all together now. One-two-three...WHO??????


His birth date got shortchanged, since all the newspapers were busy covering the Pilgrims' move to America.


So, you Muslims looking to build a mosque, Habsburg might be your spot.


Lucky us, we got stuck with those assholes and broken levees in New Orleans.  Customer Service, please...


Something we can really get our teeth into.


News to me.  I guess Tom Hanks hasn't gotten around to this one yet.


I'm stuck.  What's my line here?


Birth announcements...are now available...from Stadium vendors.


The same day as Bob Sheppard.  Is this a neat blog entry or what?


It's October.  Doesn't April come after March?  Yeah, you might have a better joke for this, but I'm the one with the blog site.


Well, what else would you call a massacre of thousands of people in Kragujevac?  Sometimes, historical facts can be so obvious.


Give him credit for showing up again.  Who the hell wants to see the Philippines twice in one lifetime??


And I'm all for another housecleaning out here, as long as it helps us get rid of the Kardashians.


Boy, did she sell short or what?  The guy looked like a baboon.  I guess this is what happens when a woman skips her eye doctor appointments for a couple of years.


And they didn't even live in Kragujevac.


Nbdy srvvd.


With about 100 or so copies of "Profiles in Courage" no doubt.


Mother Lasted Best.

Dinner last night:  Steak and salad.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

The Social Network

Fellow blogger and Dodger Talk co-host/co-hort Ken Levine recently posted a review of "The Social Network." The film's screenwriter, Aaron Sorkin, ended up posting a comment on Ken's blog. This wound up creating some sort of viral thread, which even got mentioned on CNN.

Good for you, Ken.

I saw the movie, but I hold no such expectations. I doubt Aaron will find his way here. Unless, of course, he likes to Google his name. In that case....

Aaron Sorkin, Aaron Sorkin, Aaron Sorkin, Aaron Sorkin, Aaron Sorkin.

Trust me. He'll have nothing to say here. But, I may get a comment from the girl at the Arclight Cinema concession stand. I complimented her for putting just the right amount of ice in my large Diet Coke.

Aaron Sorkin, Aaron Sorkin, Aaron Sorkin, Aaron Sorkin, Aaron Sorkin.

That's just in case he Googled himself again.

And while we're on his subject, I'm one of those strange birds who never watched Aaron's work on TV's "The West Wing."  When it comes to overly dramatic hijinks in Washington, I prefer to watch the news and enjoy the real thing.  But, I was one of the perilous few who enjoyed his "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip," and I apologize, Aaron, for missing that one episode and thereby cutting the show's weekly rating in half.

I do know that a hallmark of Sorkin's writing is that fast and clippy dialogue with a character barely listening to another character before crafting another fast and clippy response.  In "The Social Network," that style makes a natural connection to the cast largely populated by depictions of the real life players involved in the creation of Facebook.  None of those folks seemed to listen to one another either.

The end result is you have a movie that is impossible to ignore.  Captivating and educational at every turn.  Frankly, I knew little of the backstory here, save for the fact that a couple of Harvard geeks started it.  And, from what I have read since, the tale told in the film is allegedly stretched for authenticity.  The film's principal characters are already saying that they're not exactly as self-centered and arrogant as they are depicted.

Yeah, my guess is that they're a lot worse.  These people are so despicable they could all run for Congress.  After spending two hours with this bunch, you'll want to thank the Lord for the friends you have. 

And immediately go home to erase your computer of any vestiges of Facebook.  It makes you feel that dirty and used.

The whole concept of a "social network" was allegedly started by some Harvard hyper-jerk named Mark Zuckerberg.  He get dumped by his girlfriend and starts some vile on-line diss which goes viral at the school.  And you thought all those kids were doing nothing but reading the National Lampoon?  Anyway, I'm reading that this deplorable act may not have happened in just this manner, but I bought it anyway.  I immediately thought of two girls I would have willingly done the same thing to if I could only get my computer skills past a basic EXCEL level.

Nevertheless, Zuckerberg strikes a nerve and the social network begins.  How much of its success can be attributed to him solely or his best friend, Eduardo Saverin?  How much of it did he steal from two other Harvard pinheads, the Winklevoss twins?  And, how can I still use that deliciously funny name in one of my scripts?  I wouldn't dare as this crowd is quite the litigious bunch.  Probably two-thirds of the movie is spent in legal offices and hearings that frequently spell leg-numbing disaster for an audience.  Yet, somehow and some way, Sorkin makes it all fascinating.   It's sort of like watching Senate hearings if they were presided over by Noel Coward.

As wonderful as the script and the acting, particularly the likely-Oscar-nominated Jesse Eisenberg, is, you leave the theater depressed.  Because you realize that you've also been sucked into the social networking phenomenon.  It may have started as a way for college students to shit on each other, but, now, it's become a major connective force for adults to engineer their lives around.   One more chance to hide behind a computer screen.  Another reason not to make personal and human contact. 

I regret to say that I'm on Facebook myself.  So far, I've managed to keep it at a low ebb.  It's a terrific on-line birthday reminder.  It's a dandy way to reconnect with old school chums.  At least, those you want to find.  But, then again, who hasn't been bothered by some drones that were better left in Period 6 Chemistry?  Remember me, they gleefully ask.  Sadly, yes.  And don't start me on fully grown adults playing with virtual farm animals.  How about planting some real seeds in a flower pot?  Or is that too much work nowadays?

At the same time, I've discovered that this is now the preferred form of communication.  Sadly, I've learned about friends' engagements, marriages, divorces, career changes, illnesses, and deaths on Facebook.  Hello?  Where was my phone call?  Don't tell me you kept getting a busy signal.  I have all the updated conveniences of the 90s like Voicemail and Call Forwarding. 

On Facebook, I'll look at the idiotic pictures and comments that you forgot to edit or censor before you put them for the universe to see and laugh at.  But I rarely poke or nudge or accept your gifts of hugs or smiles.   I'll take them all willingly the next time we get together.  In person.

But, even in my limited use of the Zuckerberg/Saverin/Winklevoss contraption, I do see one common thread between its creators and the users of Facebook today.  A distinct lack of civility.

If this social network was started for the same nasty reasons that the film depicts, the site's inventors can rest assured that the rest of its users haven't missed a beat.  Particularly with its younger fans.  In those seemingly mandatory wall postings, I've read evidence of homophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, and, perhaps worst of all, a gross misuse of grammar.  F bombs to the left of me.  F bombs to the right of me.  Sure, I've used the word myself.  In this blog.  But only when the word fits the situation.  And not as gratuitously as it's done on Facebook.

Saddest of all?  All of the above can be attributed to people I know.  And, frequently, by those members of the generation that will be ruling the world for the second half of my life.

"The Social Network" is worth seeing.   It's terrific entertainment that stays with you for days.

And, worse, perhaps forever.

Dinner last night:  Leftover chicken and rice.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday Morning Video Laugh - October 18, 2010

I saw this on the Dodger Thoughts website and I couldn't resist.  Back in the day when the Hollywood Stars game brought out real Hollywood stars.

Dinner last night:  Chicken sausage, tomatoes, peppers, grilled onions, and rice.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Elementary School Teachers I've Known and Loved or Hated

The movie "Waiting for Superman" got me thinking.  About some of the teachers in my life.  Those that inspired.  Those that annoyed.  Those that I wanted to bury alive in a toxic land fill.

The photo above is a portion of my elementary school in Mount Vernon, New York.  The Grimes School.  Or what's left of it.  From the looks of it, this could also be Berlin in 1946.

This place was my educational institution from kindergarten to the sixth grade.  Except I was really there for one less year.  You see, I was in the first grade for only a month.

Mrs. Anderson, who later became Mrs. McKnight and I never knew why, was my first grade teacher and she singlehandedly changed my life forever.  Had it not been for her, I would have had a completely different set of friends.  I might have gone to a different college.  I might have even had a completely altered career path.

Mrs. Anderson/McKnight was the one who had me skip the first grade entirely. 

I hadn't been in her class for two weeks.  She had handed out a cartoon of a bird for all of us to color.  There was an elaborate poem underneath.  Mrs. Anderson/McKnight had gone out into the hall for a moment.  When she returned, she found me sitting on top of a desk and I was reading the poem to the other kids.

Her jaw dropped.  For me, this was nothing new.  After all, I had been reading the movie pages of the Daily News and the listings in the TV Guide for about two years now.  I thought nothing of reading out loud.  I used to regularly recite to my father what time the movie was playing at the Wakefield Theater.  Gee, didn't everybody?

Apparently not.  Mrs. Anderson/McKnight immediately grabbed my arm and took me down to the principal's office.  Crap, I thought...or whatever the first grade equivalent of that word is.  I hadn't done anything wrong.  Why did I have to go see Mr. Rider?

Mrs. Anderson/McKnight abruptly interrupted whatever meeting the principal was in.  She gave me a cue.

"Read that again."

Out came the poem about the bird nesting in the tree which I hadn't even been able to color yet.

Mr. Rider looked at me with amazement. 

My performances were not over for the day.  Later that afternoon, I was summoned again.  This time, my audience was some big shot from the Mt. Vernon Board of Education.  By now, I had the poem memorized.  I asked Mrs. Anderson/McKnight if she wanted me to recite it instead.  She pulled out another cartoon.  A goat.  Also with a poem.  I was being requested to do a cold reading.

"Read this."

No sweat.  Out came some rhyming dribble about a goat.

Following my curtain call for the principal's secretary, I was shuttled back to the safety of my fellow classmates.  As far as I was concerned, it was all over.

Little did I know.  Behind the scenes, there were many conversations.  Between Mrs. Anderson/McKnight and the school board.  With the other teachers in the school.  When my mother got called in, all bets were off.

Mrs. Anderson/McKnight was convinced that I could do second grade work now.  And, from what I later learned, she put up a huge fight.  They had not skipped a student in Grimes School for over fifty years.

I would be the first.

By October, I was headed to the second grade.  Kicking, screaming, and crying all the way down the hall to Mrs. Baron's schoolroom.  I was losing all the close friends I had just made.  I didn't want new ones.

But, new ones I got.  And they would be the kids that were with me all the way up through the eighth grade.

Then, there was my third grade teacher.  Mrs. Popper.  Fresh out of teacher college.  New to the game.  And an incredibly hot chick.  Or however a third grade student would describe a fine looking lady.

Other than her smoking hot legs, there are two things I remember distinctly about Mrs. Popper.  Inexplicably, our homework one night was to watch the Academy Awards.  Why?  Who knew?  Except the next day we spent an hour in class discussing who won, who lost, and whether the winning movie was really the best picture of the year.  We had never done anything so interesting in school yet.  This was not math or English or social studies.  My very first notion that learning, yes, could be fun.

One day, I had aced a test.  Mrs. Popper was particularly pleased with me and let my mother know when she came to pick me up after school.  Out on the playground, Mrs. Popper was telling my mom what a model student I was.  She was so enamored that she gave me a bear hug and then kissed me on the cheek.

You're kidding, right?? 

I blushed at the attention.  The shade of red darkened when I immediately realized that half my class had seen this display of affection.


I dreaded going back to school the next day.  I would be getting all sorts of shit about this.  In the middle of the night, I started to sweat profusely.  Was I that worked up?

No, I was coming down with chicken pox.  My next day back at school wouldn't happen for another two weeks.

And, then, there was another nagging thought.  It was the first time ever that a teacher had kissed me and I wound up with a disease.   During my nighttime prayers, I asked for God's help.

"Please don't let Mrs. Popper get the chicken pox, too."

My last year at the Grimes School would be the sixth grade.  In the picture above, our homeroom was on the first floor in the far left corner.  Our homeroom teacher was the art teacher, Miss Hartmann.  She looked just like Ann B. Davis from the "Brady Bunch."  A nice lady, but we soon discovered that there was no Sam the butcher as a love interest in her life. 

As kids will do, we'd often ask Miss Hartmann questions about what she did when she wasn't in school.  The answers were mysterious to us.  Miss Hartmann didn't seem to have anything going on in her life.  There was definitely no Mr. Hartmann and our teacher was certainly not the same hot thing that Mrs. Popper had been.

I asked my mother about it.  And then realized that the parents in my class had already done their share of chatter on the subject as well.

"Miss Hartmann probably won't ever have a husband."  My mother whispered the news to me.

Why not?

My mother pasued.  Ummmmmmmm.....

"Well, you know when we call somebody a 'sissy Mary.'"

Yeah, like that guy who works in the beauty salon?

"Well, Miss Hartmann is a lady but she's like that, too."


Huh?  You mean she's a 'sissy Bob.'

My mother resorted to what my parents always did when an exchange with me started to get complicated.

"You ask way too many questions."

It was never discussed again.  Eventually, Miss Hartmann and the sixth grade was in our rear view mirror as we headed off for a new school year.  Five blocks away.  At Washington Junior High.

To be continued.

Dinner last night:  Sausage pizza at Boho.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Classic TV THeme of the Month - October 2010

You readers in Japan, don't get any ideas.  He's not going to be served on your dinner table.

Dinner last night: Chef's salad.

Friday, October 15, 2010

More Bad Yearbook Photos

And it probably takes a lot of time to get her hair to do this.
 "That's the last time I go to a one-armed barber."
 The valedictorian at Charles Manson High.
 Drove on the highway with the windows wide open.
 He must be in jail by now.
 Wanna bet he's in the shower after gym class doing "Singin' in the Rain?"
 Guy or girl? You make the call.
 "Yo, ho, ho, ho, a graduate's life for me!"

Dinner last night:  German salami sandwich.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Waiting for Superman

After seeing the new documentary "Waiting For Superman," I was reminded of what we used to say about the high school that I went to in the now-ramshackled collection of slums known as Mount Vernon, New York.

"It's not the students.  It's the principal of the thing."

When you walk away from this terrific film, you suddenly realize that the biggest problem with any public school system these days is the teachers union.  Your kid's education is held hostage by the ones standing at the front of the class.  Many of them are completely inept.  But, thanks to union restrictions, you can't get rid of them.   They are bedbugs with chalk.

Going into this movie, I was expecting a Michael Moore-like collection of half truths and lies about every Republican President since Abe Lincoln.  After all, the guy who directed this was also in charge of the bloated Al Gore's fibfest "An Inconvenient Truth."  I mean, how stilted and biased was this going to be?

Not very, I am happy to say.  Indeed, "Waiting for Superman" might be the most even-handed and unbiased documentary ever.  Well, shut my mouth.

When the filmmaker takes shots at the federal government, it's not just a Bush you see.  There's a Clinton, a Reagan, a Johnson, a Carter, and a Nixon.  Everyone is culpable when it comes to how shortchanged the public school systems of this nation have been.  Because, when the bell rings at the end of every day, it's the kids who are being rung up.  And left for dead.

The movie follows the plight of six youngsters who comes in varieties of colors and urban areas.  Just when you think this is going to become a training film for the NAACP, you're introduced to a white child or two in non-big city locations with schools that are just as screwed up.  A very smart approach that really makes the film resonate even more with all audiences.

The spotlighted kids are all looking for a better educational experience and they are all trying to get into a charter or magnet school which the filmmaker reasons is the ultimate answer for a lot of the public school woes.  Because, in those situations, you don't necessarily have to deal with the true villain of this piece.  The teachers' union.

We learn that teachers' unions across the country are the biggest contributors to political campaigns.  In the one biased comment, we hear that 90% of those dollars go to Democratic or liberal candidates.  Duh.  Nevertheless, in return for these donations, we get a union that has its boot on the throats of school children nationwide.  Tenure prevents us from getting rid of rotten teachers.  Restrictions prohibit teachers from being accountable to anybody.  And you wind up with "the Dance of the Lemons."

What's that?  Well, if a school has a rotten teacher, that person isn't terminated.  They're simply transferred to another school where they undoubtedly will fail again.  And over and over and over.  The lemon is passed from one school after another in a futile hope that, one day, this lemon will be able to make lemonade.

Naturally, the city of New York blows this up even more.  In the most egregious application of bureaucracy, the NY Public School System has what is called "the rubber room."  Incompetent and unwanted teachers are told to report to a central holding area where they sit five days a week, eight hours a day playing cards or reading the paper.  At full salary.  But they are totally protected by their union and they are essentially paid for not working.  This can last up to three years.

There are two adult heroes in this movie.  Some teacher named Geoffrey Canada has seen how the system failed and he starts a charter school in Harlem, attracting only those instructors who care.

And then there's Michelle Rhee, the chancellor of the Washington DC public schools.  Please note that this city sports the worst public school system in the entire country and it should be no surprise why those two little Obama gnomes are in a private school.  Rhee takes a job that has been held by seven different people over the past decade.  Translation: they are all crooks.  Well, she recognizes where the problem is and devises a new system where teachers forfeit tenure for higher salary.  She wants to introduce a lot more accountability into the teachers union. 

So, it's no surprise to anyone when the union completely votes it down.  And, ultimately, kids are getting exactly what their parents' tax dollars paid for.

The last twenty minutes are a nail biter as you watch the youngsters endure bizarre lotteries in order to get into the charter or magnet school they want to go to.  With odds like 10 class slots for over 100 applicants.  When some of the kids don't get accepted, I could hear sniffling throughout the theater.  Gee, folks, I'm glad you're moved today.  Where were you last Election Day?

I thought about my own childhood school system.  Mount Vernon's Board of Education was a joke back when.  Now it's just one more example of political favors being served, money being misappropriated, and students getting the shaft.  When I was a kid, people charged that the all White school board was screwing over the predominantly Black student populace.  Ha!  Today, the all Black school board is still screwing over the totally Black student populace.

And now my own high school looks like nothing more than Rikers Island with blackboards.

"Waiting For Superman" has an amazing story to tell.  But, only if the audience decides that they have the power to relay the tale to others...

Dinner last night:  Cervelat sandwich and salad.