Sunday, September 30, 2012

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Politics in My Family


We're mired now in the Presidential campaign so let's call up some Sunday memories befitting the season.

To this day, Mount Vernon, New York, remains a political cesspool.  A once-beautiful city, my hometown, now a standard bearer of social and urban blight.  Except for some small pockets of town, the place is virtually uninhabitable.

Naturally, as with most parts of the country that have died, the murderous culprits are always the politicians.  While the damage began in Mount Vernon years ago, the final nails in the coffin were hammered more recently by such scumbag Mayors as Ronald Blackwood and Ernest Davis.  The latter left office for a while and then was inexplicably brought back for more destruction.  How incredibly stupid is the voting population in that once-magnificent gotham? 

Yep, back when, my family had the right idea.   They ignored politics, working under the tried-and-true adage that all of them were crooks. 

That said, as a youngster, I did listen to the opinions and views around my family.  I was trying to reason it all for myself.  And, believe me, my household was a cornucopia of political viewpoints.

My mother didn't really care, unless a candidate was particularly good looking.  If, however, the guy running was a troll, Mom simply re-buried her nose into Photoplay Magazine and paid attention to more important matters.  Like whether Liz Taylor and Richard Burton were going to last as husband and wife.

My father was a little bit more astute, but, although he was registered as a Republican and tended to always vote that way, he liked to announce regularly that "all politicians stink."  He used to remind us all the time that his "former boss," General Douglas MacArthur, should have been elected President and, frankly, the country had gone downhill ever since.  Thanks, Dad.

My grandfather kept quiet.  When he read the Daily News while seated at the kitchen table downstairs, he went through the newspaper from back to front.  And almost always concentrated on the funny pages, which he would read to me Fiorello LaGuardia-style.  Every time there was a power failure in the house, Grandpa would use that occasion to utter one of his rare political rants.

"COMMUNISTS!"

Yes, deep down inside, Grandpa was awaiting the arrival of Russia on our shores and believed it was imminent.  Obviously, the first stage of attack, according to Grandpa, would be a takeover of Con Edison Electric.

Meanwhile, there was one person in our house who had some political opinions and displayed no shyness in voicing them.

Grandma.

I could listen to her musings on current events for hours.  In retrospect, none of them made any sense.  Except maybe to her.  And her most favorite target for her disdain was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

"Swindler."

"His wife lived in a suitcase and was having a good time on vacation using the poor peoples' money."

"He could walk better than they said."

"He wasn't in the coffin when they buried him.  Instead, they put in all the papers that proved he sold us out to the Japs."

Got the picture?  There was no love lost.

Meanwhile, she thought Harry Truman was "fresh."  President Eisenhower was a nice man but too old to be President.  And John F. Kennedy?  She'd sneer with one word.

"Catholic."

My grandmother actually thought Kennedy was trying to convert the entire country to the Roman Catholic Church.  And, of course, she had a story to back it up.  She loved to tell it over and over and over.

One of her cousins was a housekeeper and she happened to have a Polish last name.  Well, year before, she got a job working for the Kennedy clan when they lived in Bronxville.  But, one day, when Grandma's cousin was allegedly talking about going to church in front of matriarch Rose Kennedy, she mentioned trying a new Lutheran church.  According to Grandma, Mama Rose went nuts.

"But you have a Polish last name.  You're not Catholic?"

When Grandma's cousin shook her head, the story ends with Rose firing her from her job.  That tale carried through with my grandmother for years.  And it would always be punctuated with...

"Those damn Kennedys."

Grandma could never say the name "Kennedy" without using the word "damn" before it.

So, amidst all this political rhetoric in my home, what's a kid to think?

I had no views, per se.

And then I saw this advertisement in Mount Vernon's newspaper, The Daily Argus.
Wow!  Gee, nobody important ever came to Mount Vernon.  And just ten blocks from my house.  Oh, sure, the local movie theaters had featured special appearances by the likes of Lucille Ball, Bob Hope, Jerry Lewis, and the Three Stooges.  And, heck, Claude Kirschner and Clowny from the WOR kiddie show were there for the grand opening of the bank down the block.  But, this was Robert Kennedy.

I had seen him on television a lot.  Walking behind his brother's coffin.  So I had a clear image of who he was and that he was important. 

I wanted to go.  First stop: my mother.

"Go ahead.  I think he once went out on a date with Marilyn Monroe."

Years later, I knew what "go out on a date" was synonymous with when it came to Robert Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe.  But, on this day, Mom was giving me clearance to go.  At that time of our lives, kids could easily walk around town unescorted and not worry about being kidnapped or worse.

My father worked nights, so his input was not sought.  Grandpa?  A shrug and back to the adventures of Moon Mullins.

But, naturally, Grandma had something to say.

"What the hell you wanna go see that bum for?"

Well, it is exciting.   And other kids are going to see him.  He might be President one day.

"And be lying up on that hill next to his brother."

I should have written down Grandma's prediction.  Meanwhile, she rambled on.

"Only Catholics would go stand out in the cold and see him."

Well, the day itself wasn't that cold.  It was autumn but still a little warm.  And the crowds choked traffic around City Hall Plaza.  I was there with a few friends, but the throng separated us early on.  There definitely was an electricity as everybody awaited the arrival of Robert Kennedy.

I looked to the sky.  There were men standing up on the roofs of all the buildings around the area.  They were all holding rifles.  Oh, no, I thought.  I looked closer.   They were all police. 

I remember very little about what Kennedy say to the assembled mass that day.  He was already looking toward a White House run.  But, I didn't really care.  I was just happy that somebody out there remembered us poor souls living in Mount Vernon, New York.

After the speech, Kennedy made his way into the crowd to shake hands.  Mine was one of them.  A fleeting moment with American history.  I ran home with excitement, feet barely hitting the pavement.  As I burst through the back door into Grandma's kitchen, I couldn't contain my euphoria.  I had shaken hands with Robert F. Kennedy.

Grandma was unimpressed.

"He didn't give you anything Catholic, did he?"

Dinner last night:  Hunan beef at Hunan Cafe.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Classic Musical Production Number of the Month - September 2012

Why should you be happy when a month has five Septembers?  Because that means you get a classic musical comedy number on the fifth week!  Enjoy this magical dance by Fred Astaire and Cyd Charisse from "The Band Wagon."

Dinner last night:  The terrific Dodger Stadium Club pre-game buffet.

Friday, September 28, 2012

If I Tweeted - September 2012

Well, I do have an account now.   Except I haven't used it much.  But, if I did, here's what I would have tweeted this past month.

#LenSpeaks  It's Labor Day and I can't find the telethon anywhere.  Did they finally find a cure?

#LenSpeaks  Or is the disease still around and they just fired Jerry Lewis?

#LenSpeaks  Meanwhile, I flip the dials a few days later and I still see a telethon with rabbis.  I guess that means you can still come down with Chabad.

#LenSpeaks  Is it just weird timing or did all those Egyptian riots just happen to coincide with 9/11?

#LenSpeaks  There are parts of the Middle East that should be nothing more than garage parking for Israel.

#LenSpeaks  Here's a group you'll never hear about in the Mid East.  The Muslim Sisterhood.

#LenSpeaks  Watching a Met game at Citi Field in September is akin to sitting by yourself on the side of a quiet lake.

#LenSpeaks  35,000 people disguised as hot dog wrappers.

#LenSpeaks  It's election season and somebody asked me if I believe the polls.  I responded that I had more faith in the Swiss.

#LenSpeaks  Rim shot.

#LenSpeaks  The Dodgers are like a godsend to an abused wife.  They completely stopped hitting.

#LenSpeaks  I'm on a flight back to LA and I see Melissa Rivers on board.  Does anybody know how Botox affects the flying weight of an airplane?

#LenSpeaks  I suddenly realize.  If my flight has problems, the headline will read, "MELISSA RIVERS, OTHERS IN PERIL."

#LenSpeaks  I'm officially an other.

#LenSpeaks  Quick, somebody call TMZ.  Melissa Rivers just went to the bathroom.

#LenSpeaks  And came out two minutes later.  Melissa, you don't wash your hands.

#LenSpeaks  It's Endeavor-mania in Los Angeles.  A day where everybody is gladly looking up into the smog.

#LenSpeaks  The way it flew around LA landmarks was sort of like what they do with a hearse on the way to a cemetery.  "Let's drive past the house one last time."

#LenSpeaks  Everybody was cheering the shuttle, except none of them realized that it's no longer flying because the government won't fund the program anymore.

#LenSpeaks  I'm always confused by these Emmy acceptance speeches.  Thanking people by saying "I love you as a person."

#LenSpeaks  As opposed to what?  Loving somebody as a sofa?

#LenSpeaks  Am I the only one who thinks Tina Fey is really unattractive?

#LenSpeaks  I watch none of the TV shows that were Emmy winners this year.  I'm just sayin'.

#LenSpeaks  So the President did a radio interview with a DJ called "Pimp with a Limp."  I don't know about you but that just made me throw up on my copy of the Constitution.

#LenSpeaks  Obama also went on that probing talk show, "The View."  With Barbara Walters.  "The Hag with a Bag."

#LenSpeaks  And Joy Behar.  "The Bitch with a Hitch."

#LenSpeaks  It's now official.  I am totally embarrassed by the man that runs this country.

#LenSpeaks  Are those football replacement referees an extension of the NFL Summer Intern Program?

#LenSpeaks  It's amazing how more people were incensed by the referee strike than what's going on in the Middle East.   This country is jampacked with morons.

#LenSpeaks  And what the fuck is a Honey Boo Boo? 

#LenSpeaks  In my doctor's office and watching Streisand on that Katie Couric gabfest.  Yikes!

#LenSpeaks  People, people with bad Botox are the ugliest people in the world....

#LenSpeaks  Meanwhile, Babs is bilking the public.  Going on her fourth farewell tour.  Selling the nose bleed seats at the Hollywood Bowl for $300!

#LenSpeaks  Maybe we'll be lucky.  If Romney wins, she'll move to Brazil.

#LenSpeaks  Finally got my bill from the surgeon for my knee operation.  Total bill: $17,500.  Patient responsibility: twenty bucks.   

#LenSpeaks  And we need a new health care system in this country why?

#LenSpeaks  Rest in peace, Andy Williams.  I really can't get used to losing you. 

Dinner last night:  Bacon and eggs.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Batting .300

Baseball can be odd.   They call a good hitter somebody who can hit .300 or above.  You know what that means?   He makes out seventy percent of the time.  He is unsuccessful at what he does over two-thirds of his at-bats. 

Does the same numbers comparison work for movies?  In the case of Clint Eastwood's newest film, "Trouble with the Curve," yes, it sure does.  Because here's a movie that is utterly predictable, very uninspired with its dialogue, and essentially just passable as an evening's entertainment.

Yet, despite all those reasonably negative words, I liked it.  Seventy percent of the movie is not great.   But, it still hits .300.  Go figure.  There are some films that work in spite of themselves.

Coming on the heels of last year's ultra-wonderful "Moneyball," this movie tries to be as intuitive and insightful about the business of baseball but doesn't have the true life underpinnings to get that done.  Whereas "Moneyball" was about a real person, Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane, "Trouble with the Curve" has no such roots.  As a result, some of its plotpoints seem a little false and contrived. 

Yet, still, in some magical way, entertaining.  There's that .300 batting average again.

Clint Eastwood stars and, for once, didn't direct his own work.  Perhaps he was too busy planning how to arrange empty furniture at the recent Republican National Convention.  Nevertheless, Clint on screen in any fashion is better than most of the other stars gracing today's multiplexes.  And, as he gets older, he finds it easier and easier to bring a crotchety-ness to his characters.  Heck, he is old, so he might as well use it to his advantage.

In "Trouble with the Curve," Eastwood is an Atlanta Braves scout who is assigned to sign what could be the newest rookie phenom now playing in high school.  There's a lot of interest in big and hulky Bo Gentry, played by an actor who was clearly in his late 20s.  The guy looks like Bluto and seems to be years beyond the other kids that are populating the teams in the film.  Regardless of how miscast the role is, Clint is supposed to assess the viability of signing this lummox.  Other teams are interested, one of them being the Boston Red Sox.  Their scout is a former pitching phenom himself and played oddly by Justin Timberlake who looks about as much like a baseball player as I do.  Hint: I do not and never did. 

With this signing destined to be the deciding factor in whether the Braves will renew Clint's contract as a scout, he certainly is up against the wall.  And then we learn his eyes are going.  What's a baseball scout to do?  Luckily, Clint's on-screen daughter knows the game and can serve as his vision.  Meanwhile, she's at odds with her own career as a lawyer and never did really get along with her dad when he was trying to be a single parent.  That's the cue for almost 90 minutes of verbal banter between the two, which could have been more efficiently handled in two pages of dialogue.  Yeah, they are dysfunctional.  Got it. 

Amy Adams plays the daughter and does her usual top-notch job.  The only problem is that the writers felt a need to tie her into the Timberlake character for some push-me-pull-me romance and the almost now standard skinny dipping scene.  Meanwhile, she looks about ten years older than Timberlake and might be closer to the age of the actor that's playing the 17-year-old Bo Gentry.  Trust me.  In that 70 percent where the film does not work, there are plenty of yawns.

But, still, I liked it. 

You know how this movie is going to start.  You know where it's going.  And, except for one small surprise, you know how it will end.  A scenario which will scream to most people. 

"Why the hell did you even bother to go see it?"

Well, there is professionalism amongst most of the cast, most notably Eastwood, Adams, and, as a Braves front office guy, the always dependable John Goodman.  The production values are decent.  You fidget and squirm a bit, but, miraculously, your team ultimately wins.  Okay, there weren't a lot of homeruns.  But, there were singles, some walks, and a double or two.  There are other ways to score some Hollywood runs.

So what if it only hits .300?  In a weak hitting film season, that's more than enough.  You're not going to bat "Trouble with the Curve" clean-up.  But, as a crafty and reliable hitter in the second spot of the line-up, it sure does know how to move the runner into scoring position.

Dinner last night:  Had a big burger for lunch, so just a salad.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This Date in History - September 26

Happy birthday, Elly May.  I mean, Donna Douglas.   Whee-doggie.

46 BC:  JULIUS CAESAR DEDICATES A TEMPLE TO HIS MYTHICAL ANCESTOR VENUS GENETRIX IN ACCORDANCE WITH A VOW HE MADE AT THE BATTLE OF PHARSALUS.

It's 46 years before Christ and we've already got a world leader who's completely delusional.  There would be others.

1212:  THE GOLDEN BULL OF SICILY IS CERTIFIFED AS AN HEREDITARY ROYAL TITLE IN BOHEMIA FOR THE PREMYSLID DYNASTY.

Just like when I took World History with the hated Miss Kass, none of this makes any sense to me.

1580:  SIR FRANCIS DRAKE FINISHES HIS CIRCUMNAVIGATION OF THE EARTH.

Oh, circumnavigation.  Never mind.

1687:  THE PARTHENON IN ATHENS IS PARTIALLY DESTROYED BY AN EXPLOSION CAUSED BY THE BOMBING FROM VENETIAN FORCES.

Several Venetian got too close to the explosion so those Venetians were blinded.  Yeah, yeah, I know.

1687:  THE CITY COUNCIL OF AMSTERDAM VOTES TO SUPPORT WILLIAM OF ORANGE'S INVASION OF ENGLAND, WHICH BECAME THE GLORIOUS REVOLUTION.

Knowing how people tend to exaggerate, I am guessing that revolution was Just Okay.

1774:  JOHNNY APPLESEED IS BORN.

You're kidding, right?  I thought this guy was a storybook hero.

1777:  BRITISH TROOPS OCCUPY PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION.

They were booed by the locals, but, then again, who isn't in Philadelphia?

1789:  THOMAS JEFFERSON IS APPOINTED THE FIRST US SECRETARY OF STATE, JOHN JAY IS APPOINTED THE FIRST CHIEF JUSTICE, SAMUEL OSGOOD IS APPOINTED THE FIRST US POSTMASTER GENERAL, AND EDMUND RANDOLPH IS APPOINTED THE FIRST US ATTORNEY GENERAL.

The first American budget deficit was obviously due to printing too many new business cards.

1792:  MARC-DAVID LASOURCE BEGINS ACCUSING MAXIMILIEN ROBESPIERRE OF WANTING A DICTATORSHIP FOR FRANCE.

Hey, France, I saw 1942.  Be careful what you wish for.

1820:  FRONTIERSMAN DANIEL BOONE DIES.

But he was alive on NBC in the 1960s.  I'm confused.

1875:  THE FIRST SHRINERS TEMPLE IS ESTABLISHED IN NEW YORK CITY.

And so the funny hat was born.

1875:  ACTOR EDMUND GWENN IS BORN.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Kris Kringle.

1895:  ACTOR GEORGE RAFT IS BORN.

He wore those nifty spats in "Some Like It Hot."

1897:  POPE PAUL VI IS BORN.

Except that wasn't his name just yet.

1898:  COMPOSER GEORGE GERSHWIN IS BORN.

Rhapsody in Baby Blue.

1902:  CLOTHING MANUFACTURER LEVI STRAUSS DIES.

He didn't make it past the third washing.

1908:  ED REULBACH BECOMES THE FIRST AND ONLY PITCHER TO THROW TWO SHUTOUTS IN ONE DAY AGAINST THE BROOKLYN DODGERS.

Their pitching rotation was on twelve minutes rest.

1914:  EXERCISE EXPERT JACK LA LANNE IS BORN.

And, with all that healthy living, he still died last year.

1917:  DURING WORLD WAR I, THE BATTLE OF POLYGON WOOD BEGINS.

When do the Beatles start singing about Norwegian Wood?

1918:  TV HOST JOHN ZACHERLE IS BORN.

The host of WPIX-TV New York's "Chiller Theater."   There is no date of death listed next to his name, so he must still be with us at the age of 94.

1933:  ACTRESS DONNA DOUGLAS IS BORN.

Take your favorite critter down to the cement pond.

1934:  STEAMSHIP RMS QUEEN MARY IS LAUNCHED.

If this was like the Love Boat, I wonder who was on board along with Charo.

1948:  SINGER OLIVIA NEWTON-JOHN IS BORN.

If she married Elton John, she'd be shocked on her wedding night.

1950:  UNITED NATIONS TROOPS RECAPTURE SEOUL FROM NORTH KOREAN FORCES.

Hey, I knew these guys had Seoul.

1950:  INDONESIA IS ADMITTED TO THE UNITED NATIONS.

Well, there goes the neighborhood.

1960:  THE FIRST TELEVISED DEBATE TAKES PLACE BETWEEN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES JOHN F. KENNEDY AND RICHARD NIXON.

"Mr. Nixon, please report to Make Up.  Mr. Nixon?  Mr. Nixon?  Mr. Nixon???"

1960:  FIDEL CASTRO ANNOUNCES CUBA'S SUPPORT FOR THE USSR.

Hey, have I got a missile for you?

1972:  RADIO STAR CHARLES CORRELL DIES.

He was on the radio as Amos.  Or was it Andy?  Either way, he was really White.

1981:  BASEBALL'S NOLAN RYAN SETS A MAJOR LEAGUE RECORD BY THROWING HIS FIFTH NO-HITTER.

And two no-hitters later.....

1984:  THE UNITED KINGDOM AGREES TO THE HANDOVER OF HONG KONG.

You can probably add the word "gladly" to that sentence.

2000:  ACTOR RICHARD MULLIGAN DIES.

That nest is really empty now.

2001:  POLISH WIKIPEDIA IS STARTED.

Wow, I have so many jokes for this that I can't pick just one.

2008:  ACTOR PAUL NEWMAN DIES.

What we have here is a failure to live one more day...

2010:  ACTRESS GLORIA STUART DIES.

She finally hit it back with an Oscar nomination for "Titanic" when she was 88.  Talk about persistence.  Died when she was 100, so please, nobody tells she got cheated.

Dinner last night:  Leftover sausage and vegetables.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Saul and Heshe Kibbitz About the Emmys

Our favorite, gristled Hollywood veterans, Saul and Heshe, met for breakfast yesterday and groused over the Emmy Awards they watched the night before.  Let's listen in to their conversation over omelets at Nate N'Al's in Beverly Hills.

"Oy."

"Oy.  And they put that hefker on in the middle of the High Holy Days?"

"May all their seats be in the back of the shul."

"Those people on the award shows these days?  I don't know who they are.  One pisher after another."

"What is Louis CK?"

"Cologne.  My wife gave me some last Chanukah."

"No, no, that's Calvin Klein, God bless.  This guy is, you'll pardon the expression, a comedian.  He was up for every award."

"I was too busy trying to figure out who the host was."

"Jimmy Kimmel."

"I don't know him.  Was he on Larry King lately?"

"Larry King's not on CNN anymore."

"Go on?  I'm lost without the TV Guide.  I have to make with the remote control and that program guide.  Who do they think I am?  A scientist?"

"Kimmel does a late night show now."

"Like Johnny?"

"Definitely not like Johnny."

"Me, I just found out that Dick Cavett isn't working anymore.  He was a nice boy when he started out."

"Kimmel was not funny.  You could see him schvitz."

"Adlai Stevenson cracked better jokes."

"Then I walked away and, all of a sudden, there was a dead schwatza on the stage." 

"One of the colored waiters?"

"No, I think he was an actor.  They didn't put his name in for the death roll, so I have no idea who he was."

"Was my name there?  Because I'm still alive."

"Me, too.  Knock wood.  But with Emmy awards like that, I lost a year or two for sure."

"Whose name did they list?"

"Andy Griffith."

"Dead."

"Phyllis Diller."

"Ugly.  And dead."

"Ernie Borgnine."

"A mentsh.  And ugly.  And dead."

"Those were all stars.  Not like today."

"Oy."

"Oy gevalt."

"I don't watch television much anymore.   I turn on my fireplace."

"Don't you want to keep up with the kids and what they're watching?"

"They're watching drek.  And I'm just some alter kocker.  They don't care about me."

"But this was your business.  You were a trend setter in your day.  You knew Angie Dickinson."

"She did put out."

"Those were the days.  The women schlepping around at the Emmys?  I saw nothing that would get me going south of the navel."

"There were a lot of bright, yellow dresses.  You could see them from outer space on that Goober Maps."

"Google."

"Yeah, yeah.  Barney.  He used to be in the funny pages." 

"You really gotta get more modern.  More with it."

"These days, I'm mostly without it.  And I have to get up and pee four or five times a night."

"I miss the stars.  I didn't know any of the people at the Emmys."

"Lena Dunham?"

"Who?"

"Zooey Bechemel?"

"Deschanel."

"Whatever.  Who?"

"Homeland?"

"Who?"

"It's a show that won for Best Drama."

"Oh.  What?"

"I'm so confused.  I think I got that Oldtimers disease."

"Ahlzeimer's."

"Maybe I got that, too."

"Mad Men?"

"Yes, we are.  Because we don't know our own business anymore.  And also because these little chopped onions in my omelet?  I won't be able to process them."

"We used to be it.  We used to get all the hot invitations."

"Marilyn Maxwell threw a nice spread."

"Marilyn Maxwell was a nice spread."

"God bless."

"It's not what it used to be.  Now only the waitress recognizes us."

"And that's because we come in here every day for breakfast and lunch."

"Eh, I got my health.  A few shekels in the bank.  Maybe I go home and show the missus I still got it."

"Take her out on the town."

"The Coconut Grove?"

"Closed."

"Perino's." 

"Closed."

"Don the Beachcomber."

"Way closed."

"Oh, well.  I guess it's Jerry's Famous Deli for a noshe and a glezel tai."

"You could always make it special.  Splash on some of that Louis CK."

Dinner last night:  Chicken sausage, corn, and cole slaw.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Monday Morning Video Laugh - September 24, 2012

And she still wants to marry him after this??


Dinner last night:  Pepperoni and olive pizza from Maria's Italian Kitchen.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Old Friends

If you think you've seen this photo on a previous Sunday, you're right.  This particular Memory Drawer is being re-opened because, as I recently discovered, there is room in that drawer for some more memories. 

This is my third grade class picture and it's certainly not racially balanced as you can see.  Back in that day, there was lots of chatter about schools being integrated.  Well, we didn't know what the hell was that.  You went to the school where you lived.  We lived on the south side of Mount Vernon.  There were a lot of Black kids on our end of town.  Bingo.  You went to school with a lot of Black kids.  There was no, ahem, gray area.  I guess you can say we were trendsetters.  At the end of the day, we did just "all get along."

Of course, there was some natural gravitation to skin pigments.  My closer friends were the White kids and you can easily find them in the photo above.  You can see me in the second row, third brat from the right.  Wearing a purple shirt and what the heck were you thinking, Mother?  The boy with the smirk on the end of the row was Russell and he was the kid most likely to be playing at my house on a weekend.  Most of the activities involved some variation of military combat.  Somebody told me Russell wound up with a career in the Army.  I'm happy to report that this life path likely began while he was hiding from the Japanese in my back yard.

Of course, as I look again at our teacher, Mrs. Popper, I am reminded how much she had me comparing her to TV's Laura Petrie.  And, of course, what 8-year-old TV nut wouldn't want to be around her??   Perhaps the earliest triggering of my hormones.  Meanwhile, in the back row are two of my other grade school friends.  Diane is the girl with the glasses next to our teacher.  Cheryl is the blonde at the other end. 

And that is it.  From the second grade until the eighth grade in junior high school, the four of us---me, Russell, Diane, and Cheryl---were in the same class together.  Oh, there were other kids/friends who would pop in and out of the equation.  But, the core group was really this quartet of moppets.

Why the second grade, you ask?  Well, I was technically a year behind the others.  But, advanced reading skills by yours truly shortened my stay in the first grade considerably.  Mrs. McKnight, my teacher that year, jumped up and down for weeks trying to get me skipped to the second grade.  Finally, the principal and the school superintendent relented. 

And I was dragged, kicking and screaming down the hall to Miss Baron's second grade class.

I don't want to go, I yelled.

I'm afraid, I hollered.

I miss my friends, I sobbed.

Really, Len? It's not like you knew those first grade kids for very long.  But, still, I was petrified.  My mom, who was tugging one of my arms as I slid down the hallway of the Grimes Elementary School, had a simple solution to offer.

"Well, these will be your new friends.  And you will know them for a long time."

Sure did.

In some ways, kids in elementary school are no different than co-workers who band together against a lousy boss or soldiers hiding in a bunker during a war.  There is a bonding that is unique and shared only by you.  In the truest sense of the adage, I guess "you really had to be there."

Once I stopped crying several months later, I quickly got acclimated to my new surroundings.  And friends that would last, in some cases, a lifetime.  We did have the uniqueness of our experience to anchor our relationship.

Miss Baron teaching us for the second grade.  I can remember bringing my "101 Dalmatians" cartoon soundtrack for the class to listen to.

The aforementioned cute and perky Mrs. Popper who actually talked with us about that year's Oscar nominations.  How cool is that?

For the fourth grade, our teacher was Miss Asciutto, a name better suited to run an Italian deli on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx.  Moving on, we had heard ominous things about the fifth grade and Mrs. Lillian C. Ian.  That's exactly how she signed all our report cards.  But, as it turned out, she was not the witch that was advertised and even hosted us all for a summer picnic at her house in Pelham Manor, New York.

Our homeroom teacher for the sixth grade was our art teacher Miss Hartmann, but we did all our academic work that year with Miss Lipsius.  The name usually wound up as "Lipshits" and it sounded even worse coming out of the mouth of a classmate with a hairlip.  Any conversation with that kid came with a 70 percent chance of precipitation.

At Grimes Elementary School in Mount Vernon, New York, your class celebrated virtually every holiday.  Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Arbor Day.  And, for every occasion, you had "class mothers" who arranged our parties and essentially supplied us with an endless stream of cupcakes.  My mom filled this bill several times as did the mothers of Cheryl and Diane.   As a result, they became friends just as we had.  There would be play dates with the kids in one room of somebody's house while the moms drank coffee and likely gossiped in the kitchen. 

Such were our lives.

We left Grimes and headed west five whole blocks to Washington Junior High School, where new kids from other elementary schools were entered into our equation.  The classes were sorted ironically by intelligence and, naturally, we were all grouped together at the top of the heap.  There were now several marking periods a year and you worked hard to get a B+ or an A so your name would show up on the honor roll printed in Mount Vernon's town newspaper, the Daily Argus. 

At Washington, things got harder.  The girls had hormones kicking in and really fell for our social studies teacher, Mr. Clarke.  The boys had to endure war prisoner-like treatment from our gym teacher, Mr. Carapella, and, with a name like that, you know we managed to turn that into "crap" pretty quickly.

And then there was our homeroom teacher, Mr. Papps.  I've written before of our two years with him.  The first year-and-a-half was terrific.  And, almost overnight, he turned into an ogre.  Marching us in military style around the hallways as if we were a road company of "Bridge On The River Kwai."  A while after we left Mr. Papps in the rear view mirror, we read in the Argus, of course, that he had died of cancer.  He was no more than 40 years old and had two young children at home.  Had that single "overnight" been the time he had heard of a bad prognosis for his health?  That sounds right to me.  But, in his horrible path, he had left a bunch of eight-graders who were now battle scarred.  With an experience that none of us would ever forget.

As if bonding over homework and play dates and almost seven years of schooling together wasn't enough, we now had one more memory to hold between us.  Forever.

When we all went to Mount Vernon High School, you were now merged with students from all over the city.  And we were all separated.  In high school, I had only two classes in common with Cheryl.  I completely lost track of Diane and Russell.  I made new friends but it was never the same.  It was always Russian roulette when the school schedule came out for the year.  You'd become good buddies with somebody at lunch and then suddenly he was eating two hours before you were.  Friendships could be formed but they never seemed to be built to last.

The links of elementary school and then junior high were shattered now.  For good.

I never really was completely removed from Cheryl. I would always walk to the Mount Vernon Public Library every Saturday morning and my route always took me past her block, which was 8th Avenue.  Somehow, we managed to run into each other frequently.  We had twelfth-grade English together with Mr. Bickford and then, almost mystically, found ourselves in the same English class together in our freshman semester at Fordham University.  But, that would be the only course we had together for the next four years.  She busied herself going to school and working.  Me?  I threw myself head-long into Fordham's radio station, WFUV, and that would be the focus of my world and the creator of many of my closest friends in life.

Over the years, Cheryl and I stayed in touch.  Through Christmas cards which eventually evolved into long letters, we kept up-to-date on the days of our lives.  Her marriage and subsequent family, along with her move to Mahopac.  My career and ultimate adoption of a bi-coastal existence.  Cheryl, her husband Karl, and her son Jason actually visited Los Angeles about a decade ago and we had a wonderful reunion at the Hard Rock Cafe in Universal Citywalk.  I probably had not seen her for twenty-five years.  But, through our annual correspondence, we really hadn't missed a beat.

Russell likely was captured by the enemy and never resurfaced.  As for Diane, I lost track of her at high school and never knew what happened to her. 

And then came Facebook.  The new town square.  And the best way to find anybody these days.

It was embarrassingly easy.  I was already "friends" with Cheryl and, on a daily basis, find myself in about a dozen "Words with Friends" contests with her.  But, one day, I notice a comment from Diane on one of Cheryl's posts of a photo from a birthday party years ago.  I jumped right in.  And immediately got a response.

"Hello, Lenny.  Do you remember me from 10th Avenue?"

Of course I do.  And, oh, by the way, I went from Lenny to Len about the same time Ronny Howard became Ron.  Nevertheless, we were back in touch, no matter what I'm called.

We all committed to getting together soon.  But, people say that all the time.    Yet, somehow, I knew this was going to happen.

And, last July, it did.  Cheryl's charming Americana-like home in Mahopac, which looks like it was designed by the same folks who did the sets for the old "Newhart" sitcom, was the perfect venue.  Smack in the middle for all of us, distance-wise.  We met for lunch in her backyard at 12:30PM and were still sitting around the table at 4:30PM.  Over forty years of not talking will do that to you.

We caught up on lives and careers.  Spouses and those of us...ahem...without them.  Wrong turns and smart decisions.  Children and grandchildren and nieces and nephews.  Back when, Diane had gotten into a social group while in high school, got married, and pretty much never stopped working.   I learned that her family owned an Italian restaurant and pizzeria.  I immediately grilled her on how she makes my very favorite dish, which is sausage and peppers. 

Except for Diane's dad, all our folks are gone.  But they came alive in our reunion.  The ups and downs of their own lives.  I sat there and could immediately visualize both their moms.  Diane related a very vivid memory of my mother.  Standing outside of school, waiting for me, with a cigarette in her hand.  Yep, that was my mother.  And she smoked to the end.

Meanwhile, Diane couldn't conjure up a memory of my father.  That's symbolic and accurate.  When it came to school, my dad was not the active parent.  He worked nights, slept days, and showed up on just one day.  My junior high school graduation.

We compared notes on classmates we could find and others we couldn't.  We remembered the good old days just like my grandmother used to sit in her rocking chair and do the same thing.  In between eighth grade and that lunch, we had all engaged in life.  Yet, somehow, we settled right back into a comfort zone that was warm and engaging.  Even though I've had little direct contact with Diane and Cheryl over the past several decades, I looked at them both and thought about how easily we reconnected.

We were still friends.

We thought about the common bond we had.  That unique experience that only we shared together.  The class trips to the public library.  Algebra tests that were harder than we imagined.  Co-ed gym classes and who the hell came up with that stupid idea?  Mr. Papps and our class marching us around like Nazi storm troopers through the halls of Washington Junior High.

Nobody can say they did that together.  Except us.  Like survivors of a war or a car accident or a special day.  Our lives intertwined are uniquely us.  Snowflakes that can, for a brief moment, actually look alike.

Naturally, we felt the need to commemorate the occasion with a photo.
I joke that I was unaware that Diane and Cheryl now warranted Secret Service protection.  How else can you explain the idiot in the middle with his sunglasses on?

On that day, I drove home and had the Broadway channel playing on the car satellite.  Amazingly, it was that little ditty by Stephen Sondheim from "Merrily We Roll Along."  I turned up the volume.

Hey, old friend
What d'ya say, old friend?
Are you okay, old friend?
Are we, are we unique?

Time goes by
Everything else keeps changing
You and I, we can
Continue next week, yeah

Or they don't make the grade
New ones are quickly made
And in a pinch, sure, they'll do

But us, old friend
What's to discuss, old friend?
Here's to us, who's like us?
damn few.


Damn few, indeed.  I'm looking forward to the next time.

Dinner last night:  Bacon BBQ burger at Go Burger.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - September 2012

I think we went to see this at the Elmsford Drive-In.  At three plus hours, my guess is that I fell asleep in the back seat before they actually had the battle for the Alamo.


Dinner last night:  Had a big lunch, so just a hot dog.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Your Weekend Movie Guide for September 2012

Thou shalt not see crappy movies.

Good luck keeping that commandment.  I actually saw the 1956 DeMille movie about a month ago on a big screen here in Los Angeles.  Movies that were big and fun to see.  As opposed to today, when they're still big but a torture to sit through.

You know our monthly drill by now.  I'll scurry through the Los Angeles Times movie pages and give you my gut reaction on what's playing this weekend.  And may the Red Sea swallow up all of it.

The Words:  A writer at the peak of his literary success discovers the steep price he must pay for stealing another man's work.  And I hear that's the problem with this movie.  The script.  Or...the words.

For A Good Time, Call...:  Another theater's box office.

Premium Rush:  Reviewed here previously.  A taut little thriller that simply wants to entertain you.  Can you imagine that?

Celeste and Jesse Forever:  Or, at least, until theaters dump this dreary romantic comedy and it winds up on DVD and cable.

The Master:  A Naval veteran arrives home from war unsettled and uncertain of his future - until he is tantalized by The Cause and its charismatic leader.  Paul Thomas Anderson directs this shot at Scientology.  This is the movie Tom Cruise doesn't want you to see.

Trouble with the Curve:  A non-directing gig for Clint Eastwood as he plays a crochety baseball scout.  Democrats would argue that he also has trouble with the fastball.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower:  Trust me.  There are none.

Paranorman:  A misunderstood boy, takes on ghosts, zombies and grown-ups to save his town from a centuries-old curse.  Apparently starring Paul Ryan.

The Odd Life of Timothy Green:  A childless couple bury a box in their backyard, containing all of their wishes for an infant. Soon, a child is born, though Timothy Green is not all that he appears.  The movie that Planned Parenthood doesn't want you to see.

Lawless:  Our country in about two years.

Resident Evil - Retribution:  Alice fights alongside a resistance movement in the continuing battle against the Umbrella Corporation and the undead.  Sounds like a metaphor for this year's Presidential campaign.  What do the exact polls say about Alice?

House at the End of the Street:  A mother and daughter move to a new town and find themselves living next door to a house where a young girl murdered her parents. When the daughter befriends the surviving son, she learns the story is far from over.  Meanwhile, has anybody seen the paperboy?

17 Girls:  A group of young women make a pact to get pregnant at the same time.  Before you start worrying about where the decency of America has gone, this movie comes from France.  Naturally.

You May Not Kiss the Bride:  An unassuming pet photographer is thrown into serious action, adventure and romance when he's forced to marry a Croatian bride and spend his honeymoon at a remote tropical resort where she is kidnapped.  Unfortunately, we can't blame this one on another country.  Sorry, gang, it's all ours. 

How to Survive a Plague:  The story of two coalitions -- ACT UP and TAG (Treatment Action Group) -- whose activism and innovation turned AIDS from a death sentence into a manageable condition.  Of course, this is a documentary.  Seems like just yesterday when that disease started making the rounds.

Head Games:  A documentary that follows football player and wrestler Chris Nowinski's quest to uncover the truth about the consequences of sports related head injuries.  Meanwhile, most of the sports-related concussions happen to the fans in the parking lots around the stadium.

The Expendables 2:  Back again!  Stallone!  Willis!  Lundgren!  Norris!  Jet Li!  Arnold!  Van Damme!  Not Me!!

Finding Nemo 3D:  Because every single movie ever made has to be redone with 3D effects.

The Possession:  A young girl buys an antique box at a yard sale, unaware that inside the collectible lives a malicious ancient spirit. The girl's father teams with his ex-wife to find a way to end the curse upon their child.  Paging Linda Blair!  Paging Linda Blair!

Last Ounce of Courage:  The son of a fallen soldier, years after his father's death, tries to reconnect with his grandfather, who is still grieving the loss of his child.  I see Jennifer O'Neill in the ad.  Hey now!  Welcome back.

The Cold Light of Day:  After his family is kidnapped during their sailing trip in Spain, a young Wall Street trader is confronted by the people responsible: intelligence agents looking to recover a mysterious briefcase.  The movie Bernie Madoff doesn't want you to see.  Well, he can't.  Jail, you know.

2016 - Obama's America:  Reviewed here recently.  A much more level-headed and intelligent documentary than the left would want you to think.  More professional than anything that fat oaf Michael Moore ever produced.

Hope Springs:  Still around after its summer release, so, yes, it is apparently eternal.

Arbitrage:  A troubled hedge fund magnate desperate to complete the sale of his trading empire makes an error that forces him to turn to an unlikely person for help.  A movie ripped right out of yesterday's newspaper and, hey, I wasn't finished with the Sudoku puzzle yet.

Dredd 3D:  In a violent, futuristic city where the police have the authority to act as judge, jury and executioner, a cop teams with a trainee to take down a gang that deals the reality-altering drug, SLO-MO.  Dredd as in dread.

Unconditional:  A woman's idyllic life is shattered when her husband is killed in a senseless act of violence. As she prepares to take matters into her own hands, two unexpected encounters begin to change everything.  Another reason why snooze alarms need to be installed in all movie theaters.

My Uncle Rafael:  A desperate TV producer convinces an old Armenian Uncle to star in a new reality show. Cultures collide when Uncle Rafael is thrown into the Schumacher family household where he has one week to save a broken and dysfunctional American family from falling apart.   If it's a comedy, I'm very interested.  If it's a drama, I could care less.

Backwards:  When a fiercely competitive 30 year old rower fails to make the Olympic boat for the second time, she takes a coaching job at a school but struggles to adjust to life off the race course.  See previous comment about snooze buttons.  Also, an additional warning:  James Van Der Beek is in this.

End of Watch:  Two young officers are marked for death after confiscating a small cache of money and firearms from the members of a notorious cartel, during a routine traffic stop.  Just another routine day for LAPD.  It stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anna Kendrick.  The latter means I just might have to see this.  I think she's cute.

Serving Up Richard:  Everett and Glory Hutchins live in a typical middle class neighborhood. Maybe your neighborhood. The Hutchins have a "guestroom" in their home. It's not exactly a business. It's a hobby. Or.....would you say religion? You see, Everett and Glory are practicing cannibals.  Hmm, better not stop at the concession stand for a hot dog before this one.

Almost Perfect:  A 30-something career woman tries to find the balance between her demanding family and her perfect new boyfriend.  The director's name is Bertha Bay-Sa Pan.  I wonder if she comes with noodles.

Masquerade:  All about some nonsense from 17th Century Korea.  The director's name is Chang-min Choo.  Gesundheit.

West of Thunder:  South Dakota 1899. A mysterious stranger visits a small town on the outskirts of the Lakota Pine Ridge Reservation and brings with him a terrible resolve.  Starring Dan Duryea and Randolph Scott....if they were still alive.

Alps:  A group of people start a business where they impersonate the recently deceased in order to help their clients through the grieving process.  And, in Chicago, those same dead people are kept on the voting records for years.

Diana Vreeland - The Eye Has to Travel:  A look at the life and work of the influential fashion editor of Harpers Bazaar, Diana Vreeland.  ZZZZZZZZzzzz.
I told you about that snooze button.

Tears of Gaza:  A documentary about violence in the Middle East.  Given all the footage from Egypt last week, this movie is already out of date.

Liberal Arts:  A college degree that is useless.

10 Years:  The night before their high school reunion, a group of friends realize they still haven't quite grown up in some ways.  This stars Channing Tatum.  Consider that your final warning.

Robot and Frank:  I saw this in New York two weeks ago.  Frank Langella befriends a robot.  Reminds me of the old TV show, "My Living Doll."  Except the robot in this is no Julie Newmar.  A quirky but amusing movie.

Dinner last night: Rotisserie chicken, broccoli pasta salad, and fruit from California Chicken Cafe.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

An Ice Cream Treat

Don't know what the hell this is?  Well, neither did I.  But, from the "everything old can be new again" department, I am now officially a fan of the Cool-A-Coo.

Yes, I will explain.

For the first several decades of Dodger Stadium, there were several well-known ice cream concoctions to cool off hot fans, which is an oxymoron in itself.  You had the Sealtest malt cups, which, according to legend, cost 25 cents.  That was back in the day when Sandy Koufax' annual salary was only about a dollar more.  Well, the malts still exist, but they're not made by Sealtest and you need about 16 0r 17 more quarters to buy one.

I've heard from other oldtimers that Sealtest made a delicious ice cream sandwich, also for 25 cents.  That also went the way of Darren Dreifort and Raul Mondesi.  The speciality ice cream sandwich at Chavez Ravine is currently one of those Nestle's Toll House confections and you better not let Michelle Obama see you eating one.  The nutrition fact panel on the wrapper lists calorie counts in the thousands, not the hundreds.

Also discontinued about 15 years ago was the aforementioned Cool-A-Coo.  Suddenly, like Joe DiMaggio, baseball fans looked around and it was gone.  Unlike the other ice creams that melted before your eyes, the Cool-A-Coo was not a creation of some big dairy company.  It was fashioned by a smaller company in East Los Angeles and the owner simply renamed the thing and distributed it to a lot of bodegas which are all held up for robbery on a daily basis.

But the legend continued on at the ballpark.   Over the years, I had heard from season ticket oldtimers about the glorious wonders of the Cool-A-Coo.  It was delicious.  It was like sex.  The damn thing apparently could cure cancer.  Oh, where have you gone, Cool-A-Coo?  A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.  Woo hoo hoo.

Well, the new Dodger owners were singing the same tune.  And one of the first things they did was seek out just how the Cool-A-Coo could come home.  They tracked down the new owner of the patent and luckily he had not been held at gunpoint of late.  Could he return it to the fold? 

Well, it took several months, but, at last, the Cool-A-Coo was back triumphantly on the last home stand.  And its return made fans forget the Dodgers' sliding playoff hopes and Matt Kemp's current confusion at bat.  It's amazing what 700 or 800 calories can do. 

Now, mind you, the original Cool-A-Coo was gone from the scene before I had made my first regular Dodger Stadium appearance about a decade ago.  And, last Friday, the talk all over the ballpark had nothing to do with batting averages or Clayton Kershaw's nagging hip issues.  Nope, it was all about the Cool-A-Coo. 

And my first ever sampling of this legendary taste treat.

If I'm going to have an ice cream snack at a night game, I always make it around the fifth inning.  But, others around me couldn't wait.  I saw some of the season ticket holders next door virtually mug the vendor when he showed up with his pouch full of Cool-A-Coos and dry ice.  The game time temperature was 95 degrees.  That dry ice better be working or my first Cool-A-Coo would be a disintegrating Cool-A-Crap. 

Meanwhile, I watched the other fans savor their first taste of nirvana and eternal glory in years.  Gingerly opening the wrapper and carefully peeling it back for their initial bite.  I watched one guy let the virgin morsels travel around his tongue.  And then a smile like I have never seen before.  Oh, perhaps the Cool-A-Coo also assists in erectile dysfunction.  His satisfaction was that pronounced.  Not only was he enjoying his Cool-A-Coo, but he might actually have to smoke a cigarette afterwards.

After watching the same scene play out over and over like El Exigente tasting coffee in the bowels of Brazil, it was my turn.  One Cool-A-Coo, please.

Oh, yeah.  It was that good.  Who's got a Pall Mall?

So, what's in this damn thing?

Well, ice cream's at its inner core.  There is a hint of cinnamon.  The vanilla is sandwiched by two oatmeal cookies.  And it's covered with a darker variety of chocolate.  On a warm night, it's a gooey adventure.   But, oh, so good.

I'm sold.  I closed my eyes and let it all sink in.  Hell, I wasn't around this ballyard when there was Sandy and Dandy Don and Maury Wills stealing bases along with Doris Day's heart.  But, for five sweet minutes, I was a Dodger fan in the 60s. 

And, maybe it was my imagination, but my knees didn't feel so bad after my very first Cool-A-Coo.

A wonderful touch to a baseball season that is ending too soon.  How can I buy these things for my home freezer?

Dinner last night:  Steak and salad.