Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cirque Du Pippin

You known you've been around this planet for a long time when Broadway shows you actually saw are remade in your lifetime.  Such is the case with the 2013 revival of "Pippin."  It seems like I just saw it.  And, abracadabra hocus pocus, it's back.  Didn't I just see the original last month?  It sure seems like it. 

Indeed, I had a bumpy ride to my experience with the first "Pippin."  It's not like I ran to see it originally.  But, you see, I had a college suite mate who was in love with the musical.  The soundtrack played over and over in our apartment as if it was Muzak in Nordstrom's.  By the end of senior year, I had barely passed Music Appreciation but I sure could sing every song in the show.  I had no clue about the story attached, but I was golden with all the lyrics.

Ultimately, I did see the show.  It was very close to the end of the run and a radio salesperson had given me house seats.  It was one of those January nights on Broadway when the temperature hovered around three degrees and there were even less people in the orchestra to see "Pippin." 

I figured I was done with it, except for a TV version that brought back original star Ben Vereen to the Leading Player role he originated on Broadway.  I finally saw what all the fuss was about and why I had endured that soundtrack all through senior year.  He literally stole the show.  Slick and magical, Vereen was the lifeforce of that musical.  So why the hell did they call it "Pippin?"

Well, I figured that out when I saw the new revival which is playing to overzealous crowds at the Music Box Theater.  Because, without Ben Vereen, the focus of the musical is back on the main character of young Pippin.  And probably more suited to what the originators had in mind years ago. 

Don't get me wrong.  The original was also elevated by some nifty Bob Fosse work with those cool jazz hands in the dark.  And a bare essentials set that wrapped the audience into an intimate setting that was truly befitting the saga of Pippin, the son of Charlemagne. 

Well, in 2013, intimacy is out the window.  There's plenty more magic to do.  And lots and lots and lots of circus acts.  I immediately scan the Playbill.  Is Ed Sullivan listed as producer?  When does the Russian dog act appear?  Oh, wait, here comes Fido on cue.

From an original production which looked like it was staged for about $1.49, "Pippin" in 2013 is part musical, part Cirque Du Soleil, and part Atlantis Casino in Vegas.  If there's something you don't like on the left side of the stage, simply scan your eyes across.  There's bound to be something else that makes you smile.  A tap-dancing woman who's missing her body from the waist up.  A talking head in a crate.  Lots and lots and lots of dancing on a pole.  Where did they hold the auditions for this show?  In the Bada Bing over in Jersey?

The original story is the same.  Pippin is trying to find his way through life.  Given the frantic activity on stage, I'm surprised the boy can find his way from his dressing room.  He's being led by the ubiquitous Leading Player who, in the years since Vereen essayed the role, has apparently been to Denmark for a sex change operation.  Patina Miller stars in the role now and conjures up less Ben Vereen and more Marla Gibbs from "The Jeffersons."  She's loud, brassy, and occasionally annoying.   But since the Leading Player is now played by a weaker actor, an amazing thing happens.  With the balance now evened out between the main characters, the show is now focused on....wait for it, Pippin.  The way it should be. 

The Broadway God taketh it away and then the Broadway God giveth.

There is so much going on in this show that it's an ideal first Broadway show for any child on Ritalin.  It moves so fast that you don't have time to think whether you liked or detested the last production number.  Indeed, though, since the original "Pippin" music has arrived intact and unsullied, you will most likely remember that you liked the last production number.

Matthew James Thomas is Pippin and he gives you the youthful exurberance and innocence that is truly required.  And, without a Leading Player that is sucking the air out of the theater, his performance stands out even more.  At the beginning of the second act, the cast is interpersed all tbroughout the theater.  Pippin wound up in my aisle up in the front mezzanine.  As he exited, he gave me a high five on the way out.  As a result, this show is memorable for giving me two seconds of fame as part of a Broadway musical.

Back in the original production, the feisty role of Pippin's grandmother was played by Irene Ryan of "The Beverly Hillbillies."  She was about 72 at the time and all that was required with her big number, "No Time at All" was to bounce around the stage and emphasize the word "Granny" in her song.  But, in 2013, we have the always dependable Andrea Martin who's already 66 herself.  That, however, doesn't stop her from taking this solo to new heights.  

Literally.  

Soaring above the stage on a trapeze and eventually hanging by her feet.  I squinted hard to see the wires left over from some Cathy Rigby production of "Peter Pan."  I saw none.  This is a true theatrical achievement.  A moment that flies high.  

Literally.

In its truest definition, this is the classic Broadway "11 PM showstopping number."  The response to Andrea is raucous and resulting in a two minute standing ovation.

The only trouble is that it's only 8:40PM.  While a great moment, the number temporarily knocks the entire show off its axis.  The pace is destroyed and it takes at least five minutes for both the cast and the audience to recover.  

But, that's the thing about "Pippin" in 2013.  There are no rules or conventions.  It's big.  It's loud.  It's boisterous.  

And, ultimately, just a little bit less of what it likely was originally.  The audience, of course, expects all of the hoopla, acrobatics, and bright colors.  These days, Broadway is essentially "attention deficit theater."  Sure, there will be a lot of early visitors to "Pippin" who are the true Broadway-philes.  Comparing notes to what they saw forty years ago and then grousing about the "good old days."  Once they've paid their way in, the audience to "Pippin" will be comprised of what the New York theater going demographic has sadly morphed into.

Lou and Mabel vacationing in the Big Apple from Bumfuk, Iowa.  Happy to be in town on one of their annual holidays with the others, of course, being to Vegas and maybe Branson, Missouri.  For them, the bright lights and all the whooping and hollering is perfect.  Maybe they'll even manage to sneak a bag of Cheetos into the theater.  And, if it's not too late a night, they can get up early tomorrow and head over to the "Today Show" where perhaps Al Roker will wave at them.

So, by amping up "Pippin" to histrionic proportions, the producers are just fitting into the new Broadway business plan.  You really can't blame them.  It's what is required in 2013.  You'll have a really fun time in the theater with this show.

Just don't get angry when it suddenly doesn't become 1972 all over again.

Dinner last night:  Had a big lunch so just a chicken sandwich.


Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday Morning Video Laugh - April 29, 2013

Now I've seen everything.

Dinner last night:  Chicken and proscuitto tortellini.
 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Storage

When I was in New York last week, the goal was to start cleaning out the closets of that apartment.  Mostly because that process is way overdue.  Partly because there is in my mind a possible end date to being bi-coastal.  I'd love to keep up two homes but, as time moves on, it gets a little harder financially.  But, still, the Yonkers/Hastings border abode is a touchstone for me and my early life in Westchester, New York.  To do away with that completely is tantamount to trying to completely erase the past.

Meanwhile, I deal with the fact that the NY domicile is a bit of a storage area for the first half of my life.  In one closet is my guitar.  Yes, a guitar.  And I played it for about five weeks in the sixth grade.  I did my best to learn from a manual.  And the only song I learned to play?  The theme song from "Bonanza."  Well, at least, the first eight bars.  For some reason, I feel a need to keep this thing. 

At the bottom of that same closet is a two-drawer file cabinet.  Loaded with nothing but Playbills.  Years and years of Broadway.  I don't dare stop and look more closely because I can get sidetracked for days.

In another closet, I have tossed a lot of my parents' stuff.  You see the top two shelves in the photo above.  Things that I have yet to toss into a dumpster.  Why?  You hold on for a reason, even if it isn't clear to see.  I listen to a parental voice in my head and it scolds me.

"You threw out my Technicolor slide carrier."

That's the suitcase-like contraption in the upper right hand corner.  It contains about five years of photo slides in projector loaders that have long since stopped being used by all of us.  I have already taken those slides and had them converted to a DVD.  You frequently see the screen shots here on a Sunday.  I want to pull it down and haul it over the terrace.  But, then....

"You threw out my Technicolor slide carrier."

Yeah, well.  My trip ended and I still had not moved it from the top shelf perch.

You can plainly see a Christmas tree.  Yep, the artificial one that I put up for about twenty years before moving to Los Angeles, where an honest-to-God real tree goes up every year.  The New York tree was one of those snap-together quickies, although I always seemed to have an issue with one of the middle branches.  It was green as I remember it.  If I opened the box now, why color would I find?

Meanwhile, there's another box on the bottom of this closet that goes hand-in-hand with the Christmas tree.  A box of ornaments from my mother.  I still would use them on my tree.  Most were tarnished.  Angels were missing wings.  Reindeer were missing limbs.  And, as I have documented during Christmas posts, one elf's head came off the rest of his body.

The box is still there.  Because there's another voice in my head.

"You can't throw that out.  Do you know how much I paid for those decorations?"

I see my mom's jewelry box in there and that certainly would have been cleaned out by yours truly if there was anything valuable in there.  But, my mother was big into the costume bauble stuff, which made the junk on the Home Shopping Network look like it was from Harry Winston.

Ah, we see some board games.  Monopoly.  Trouble.  Scrabble.  All came to me from my childhood home in Mount Vernon, New York.  These were trucked out every holiday. Trouble always seemed to be particularly competitive for my relatives and, invariably, accusations of cheating would be flying across the table as the rhubarb pie was being served with coffee.

As I look at the shelves, I see them starting to cave in.  Perhaps my decision will be made for me by the next trip.  When I find that the contents have spilled out onto the floor.

Moving on, I see tucked away on the top of this closet a relic that I have looked at in the past. 

My grandmother's strong box.

Again, I open it.  And revisit the contents one more time.   Because I can. 

I often lament that, as most of my parents' generation has passed on, I have fewer and fewer connections to my family's history. And most questions don't have answers.  Little information was shared then.  Even less is available now.  But this strong box always gives me a little something to chew on.  Even if they are stories told to me previously.
Somehow, I wound up being the keeper of this metal mini-file cabinet.   It's not large, but Grandma had everything neatly sorted.  Typical.
 

There's lots of correspondence with the War Department following the WWII death of what would have been my uncle. He was killed in the south of France in early May, 1945...just a few days before V-E Day.

And another captivating passport to a different place and time.
 

The original deed and mortgage to the Mount Vernon, New York house that my grandparents bought in 1948.

This would be my first home and the place I lived up until college. My grandparents (Father's side) had lived most of the time in the Bronx on Paulding Avenue. I suppose this was their Jeffersons move. To that deluxe home to the north. The fancy shmancy suburbs. 


Mount Vernon when it was elite. Mount Vernon when it was clean. Mount Vernon when it was actually livable.
 

The thing that always grabs my attention is the price of the house.

$3,000!

Probably a lot of jack back then, but I spent almost that on the plasma TV and sound system in Los Angeles. There's also an invoice from their lawyer on the sale.

For his services rendered....$29.50.

 

But, it really isn't the lesson in economic inflation that is my continual takeaway from peering into these papers.
 

Because, you see, the mortgage on the house was not held by a bank, but one of my grandparent's friends. In-laws twice removed. The parents of the woman that my father's other brother, Scary Uncle Fritz, married.  I remember these old codgers vaguely. Actually, the only true memory I have of the man was that he later would become the first person I would ever see laid out in a casket. Okay, that was last week's saga.
 

I always imagine how this all unfolded. These people were pinochile buddies of my grandparents. They lived in Mount Vernon. They probably were after my grandparents to get the hell out of the Bronx...even then. I can hear my grandparents say that they didn't have the dough for the housing upgrade.

And they probably said they wouldn't trust a bank for a mortgage, since the recovery from the crash of 1929 was still a fresh wound in their passbooks. So, the other half of the pinochile quartet said that they would front the cash.

And, so it happened...

 

Of course, there was left nothing to chance. There were extensive documents heralding this loan of $3,000. And, also in the strongbox, there are almost five years of monthly receipts that acknowledged my grandparents were paying back the loan.

At the lofty clip of $ 60 per month at 4% interest.

By 1953, they were done.

 

It was amazing to see how civilized they all were about this.   It truly was another time, another place, and another generation.

I closed the lid of the strongbox one more time.

 

I don't accomplish nearly as much cleaning out as I wanted to do.  I think about my next sojourn East and a potential call to 1-800-JUNK.  

And then there's a third voice in my head.  This one has a German accent.

"Junk???  This isn't junk."

Dinner last night:  Hunan beef at Hunan Cafe.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - April 2013

I just revisited this movie again and the performances were remarkable.

Dinner last night:  Ham French Dip sandwich at Philippe's.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Your Senior Prom Photo Album for 2013

Well, this one is from 2010, but who cares?  These outfits never got into style.
And this one might be from 1827. Abraham Lincoln, Springfield High.
Formal wear by Hefty Garbage Bags.
Even the Dukes of Hazzard had a senior prom.
Love is blue....and so is our wardrobe.
Your same-sex prom photo.
I guess he couldn't get Pam Grier for a date.
Poor dog.
Who did their hair?  Benjamin Moore?
What happens when two prom dates can't find a babysitter for their children.

Dinner last night:  Log day of travel so....gasp, a Big Mac and fries.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Trust Your Subject Matter

It's a double-edged sword.  If you make a baseball biography movie, it's a sure thing that I will go and see it.  Point in your favor, filmmakers.  But, along with my almost certain attendance, you will also get the nitpicking that only a baseball fan like me can provide.  Point against, filmmakers.  I'm a wash.  Or, as they say in baseball, I'm at .500.

I waited anxiously for "42."  Given the dearth of seeable movies at the multiplex, I was dying for it to arrive.  And, truth be told, there is an awful lot to like about the Jackie Robinson biopic.  I'll likely see it again soon.

That's the review from "Entertainment" Len.

And, truth be told, there is an awful lot I didn't like about "42."  That's the review from "Baseball" Len.  And, if you read on, please be aware that there are spoilers included in the body of this entry.

The producers tried to have it two ways.  They wanted to make a film that truly paid homage to Brooklyn Dodger Jackie Robinson and his struggles to break the color line of America's pastime in 1947.  But they also wanted to give you a movie that's like any other sports movie ever made.  With those great orchestra crescendos perfectly timed for the winning run or goal that you just know will be filmed in slow motion.  In effect, they wanted to remake "The Natural."

Translation: using both butter and margarine on the same slice of bread doesn't work.

There is enough story in Jackie Robinson's ascent to the big leagues to hold the attention of the audience.  Dodger executive Branch Rickey's fierce determination to bring a Black baseball player to the majors.  After all, as he says, there are Black fans and White fans who both have money that is Green. 

When it is decided that Jackie is the one who will break through, we follow his riveting minor league career.  Playing in one bigoted Southern town after another.  Enduring Jim Crow laws and not even being able to shower with the rest of his teammates.  I've read two biographies on Robinson.  All of the above facts are spot-on and well portrayed in the movie.

There was plenty of fuel in the tank for writer/director Brian Helgeland to cruise control right over the finish line of cinematic victory.  But he apparently doesn't trust the power of his own subject matter.  As a result, he employs some cheap film theatrics to help the cause.

And, in my view, only hinder it.

Take, for instance, the very first shot.  We see a Black sportswriter in 1947 typing into his Smith Corona.  We will later learn that this is a real person and he will be the first Black sportwriter to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.  But, uh oh, he starts to narrate the tale about Jackie as he types it.  This is the cheesiest film device known to man.

And, as he types and narrates, he describes Jackie as an "African-American."  I raise my hand for the first inconsistency to be found.  In 1947, was this phrase even used?  In my own existence, I don't recall this term was prominently used until the 80s.  Is this 2013 sensibility juxtaposed inaccurately onto the late 1940s?  Already annoyed by the hokey plot device, my eyebrows are raised for the first time.

Then there's the major set piece about halfway through the film.  Jackie is now a Brooklyn Dodger.  It's late April 1947 and his presence in the sport is still a bit unwelcome.  They're playing the Philadelphia Phillies at home and their manager Ben Chapman wants nothing to do with him on the field.   So, as Jackie comes to bat, the manager taunts him over and over with the "N" word.  The scene is raw and, according to history, quite real.  The depiction is probably accurate.

Yet, after Jackie makes out, he heads to the runway of the dugout and explodes.  Breaking bats and gnashing his teeth.  I'm guessing that this really happened a few times over his career as well.  But, Helgeland can't leave well enough alone.  In steps Branch Rickey, who does his best impression of Ward Cleaver.  It's a father-son moment that reminds me of about seventy different episodes of "My Three Sons."   Suddenly, it's Fred MacMurray and Barry Livingston.  After ten minutes of gritty reality, we are subjected to a moment that probably did not happen.  And rings totally false.  The power of the whole set piece is completely diminished.

Yes, the scene is entertainment.  But, since we're told this is "based on a true story," the baseball side of yours truly is now permanently skeptical at what is being shown on the screen.

By the ending of the film, I am now totally questioning all that I see.  And, as I would subsequently learn when I go home and do a little research, I should be.

We see it's the end of the season.  September 17, 1947.  The Dodgers have to win one game to qualify for the World Series.  They're playing the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road at Forbes Field.  Can you amp up this much drama in one movie? 

Oh, wait, there's more.  The Pirate pitcher is Fritz Ostermueller and I'm thinking he could have been my German grandfather's favorite baseball player.  We know that Ostermueller beaned Jackie earlier in the film.  Jackie knows this and craves payback.  We amp up the tension even more.  This is the climactic big game.  The finale of every sports movie you have ever seen. 

The score is shown to be 0-0 in the ninth inning.  Jackie comes to the plate and, boom, sends the ball skyrocketing over the fence.   His homerun trot around the bases is slowed to a crawl.  All of a sudden, it's Robert Redford as Roy Hobbs in "The Natural."  The Mets' Ed Kranepool could have gotten around the bases quicker.  Meanwhile, the voice over narration tells us that this homer propelled the Dodgers into the 1947 World Series (no mention, however, that they lost it in seven games to the Yankees).

The only problem is....the Dodgers weren't the home team.  I turned to the friend I was with and said "the Pirates still have one more at-bat coming."  It's that kind of clumsiness that almost sank the whole movie for me.

So, I go home to find the real story.  I have a trusted friend in a website called "RetroSheet.org."  It contains the statistical history of the entire storm.  And every box score going back to the invention of the game.  I wanted to see just how realistic this one game is.

Yes, on September 17, 1947, the Brooklyn Dodgers were playing the Pittsburgh Pirates on the road at Forbes Field.  And, oh, yes, my grandfather's favorite Dutchman was on the mound.  And, yep, Jackie Robinson did hit a home run off him.

In the fourth inning.  Final score.  Brooklyn 4, Pittsburgh 2.

And, wait, it wasn't the last game of the year for all the marbles.  The Dodgers still had another eight games to play.

One more quibble?  Retro Sheet lists the game as a contest played at night.  On the screen, it all happens in blazing daylight.

So, as a movie moment, it is spectacular.  But, as a definitive history, it comes off as cheap and phony.  Helgeland didn't need to go to such obvious limits to captivate his audience.  We were already halfway there.  If we're going to screw with historical facts that much, I hope the director doesn't take a whack at a tale about 9/11.  He might have the second tower stay up for a whole 24 hours just so his star-crossed couple could make it out alive.

The sad thing is that, while Helgeland failed on the most basic of dramatic levels, the movie astounded me with its attention to the smallest of details.  Never before have I appreciated CGI effects as much as I did with "42."   I was taken by the hand back to games played in ballparks long since demolished.  Ebbets Field.  Crosley Field in Cincinnati.  The aforementioned Forbes Field.  Only the Polo Grounds in Manhattan looked superficial and reminded me of one of the backdrops in the computer version of Strat-O-Matic Baseball.  Otherwise, it was all visually amazing. 

The acting was also dynamic.  Admittedly, the role of Jackie Robinson doesn't require much more to do than look athletic and grind your teeth to the point of TMJ.  But, newcomer Chadwick Boseman was up to the task and was a better Jackie Robinson than even Robinson himself when the latter starred in his own biopic from the early 1950s. 

Harrison Ford was terrific as Branch Rickey and it appears that he might be able to put that whip away for good.  Ford has a prosperous future playing crochety old men.  Christopher Meloni essayed manager Leo Durocher with all the ferocity I have read about.  And, yes, there's another flub here.  The real Durocher was suspended from baseball not for having an affair with a Hollywood starlet, but for gambling.  Another unnecessary rewrite of the facts.

Meanwhile, an unrecognizable Max Gail plays Dodger manager Burt Shotton to a tee and is dressed perfectly.  Shotton is well known for wanting to manage games in a suit and tie.  And, as legendary Dodger radio announcer Red Barber, John McGinley gives us an almost flawless impersonation of the broadcaster.  If you closed your eyes, you'd think you were listen to vintage audio clips.

I know I sound a bit conflicted about "42."  Perhaps 99% of the audience will love it to death and rightfully so.  It's a terrific story and a great time at the multiplex.  But then there's some of us baseball nuts who will take issue with the inconsistencies.  And know fully well that, had director Brian Helgeland simply stuck to the documented story and not caved to Hollywood conventions, "42" would have been for sports movies what Jackie Robinson was for baseball.

A true trailblazer.

Dinner last night:  Pork chop for my first visit ever to Sardi's.







Wednesday, April 24, 2013

This Date in History - April 24

Happy birthday, Shirley McLaine.  It's also Barbra Streisand's birthday but I like you more so it's your photo I use.

1479 BC:   THUTMOSE III ASCENDS TO THE THRONE OF EGYPT, ALTHOUGH POWER EFFECTIVELY SHIFTS TO HATSHEPSUT.

Is it me or do these sound like cartoon characters?

1184 BC:  TRADITIONAL DATE FOR THE FALL OF TROY.

And the untraditional date is?

1342:  POPE BENEDICT XII DIES.

Dies.  This one didn't quit.

1558:  MARY, QUEEN OF SCOTS, MARRIES THE DAUPHIN OF FRANCE, FRANCOIS, AT NOTRE DAME DE PARIS.

She married Flipper???  Oh, wait, I read that wrong.

1704:  THE FIRST REGULAR NEWSPAPER IN THE UNITED STATES, THE NEWS-LETTER, IS PUBLISHED IN BOSTON.

And immediately trashed the Red Sox.

1800:  THE UNITED STATES LIBRARY OF CONGRESS IS ESTABLISHED WHEN PRESIDENT JOHN ADAMS SIGNS LEGISLATION TO APPROPRIATE $5,000 TO PURCHASE BOOKS.

So what else would you put in a library?  Hammers?

1885:  SHARPSHOOTER ANNIE OAKLEY WAS HIRED BY NATE SALSBURY TO BE A PART OF BUFFALO BILL'S WILD WEST SHOW.

You can't get a woman without a gun.

1907:  HERSHEYPARK, FOUNDED BY MILTON S. HERSHEY FOR THE EXCLUSIVE USE OF HIS EMPLOYEES, IS OPENED.

Until he figured out how much dough he could make by going outside the company.

1913:  THE WOOLWORTH SKYSCRAPER IN NEW YORK CITY IS OPENED.

They nickeled and dimed the construction costs.

1914:  MOVIE PRODUCER WILLIAM CASTLE IS BORN.

Scream.  Scream as loud as you can!!!

1914:  COOK JUSTIN WILSON IS BORN.

I guarantee.

1915:  THE ARREST OF 250 ARMENIAN INTELLECTUALS AND COMMUNITY LEADERS IN ISTANBUL MARKS THE BEGINNING OF THE ARMENIAN GENOCIDE.

There goes Glendale, California.

1916:  ERNEST SHACKLETON AND FIVE MEN OF THE IMPERIAL TRANS-ANTARCTIC EXPEDITION LAUNCH A LIFEBOAT FROM UNINHABITED ELEPHANT ISLAND IN THE SOUTHERN OCEAN TO ORGANIZE A RESCUE FOR THE ICE-TRAPPED SHIP ENDURANCE.

Long historical sentences like that don't necessarily prompt a funny joke.

1926:  THE TREATY OF BERLIN IS SIGNED.  GERMANY AND THE SOVIET UNION EACH PLEDGE NEUTRALITY IN THE EVENT OF AN ATTACK ON THE OTHER BY A THIRD PARTY FOR THE NEXT FIVE YEARS.

But, after those five years, watch the hell out.

1933:  NAZI GERMANY BEGINS ITS PERSECUTION OF JEHOVAH'S WITNESSES.

Somebody must have rang Hitler's doorbell on a Sunday afternoon.

1934:  ACTRESS SHIRLEY MCLAINE IS BORN.

For the seventh time.

1940:  AUTHOR SUE GRAFTON IS BORN.

B as in Birthday.

1942:  ACTRESS BARBRA STREISAND IS BORN.

See, Babs, what happens when you're a big mouth.  You don't get your picture on the top of my blog when it's your birthday.

1953:  WINSTON CHURCHILL IS KNIGHTED BY QUEEN ELIZABETH II.

As if she has anything else to do in a given day.

1957:  THE SUEZ CANAL IS REOPENED FOLLOWING THE INTRODUCTION OF PEACEKEEPERS TO THE REGION.

Has there ever been a day of peace in this region????

1967:  COSMONAUT VLADIMIR KOMAROV DIES IN SOYUZ I WHEN ITS PARACHUTE FALLS TO OPEN.  HE IS THE FIRST HUMAN TO DUE DURING A SPACE MISSION.

If it's me, I'm not looking to get on Soyuz II.

1967:  DURING THE VIETNAM AR, AMERICAN GENERAL WILLIAM WESTMORELAND SAYS THAT THE ENEMY HAD GAINED SUPPORT IN THE US THAT GIVES HIM THAT HE CAN WIN POLITICALLY THAT WHICH HE CANNOT WIN MILITARILY.

And the entire country says "huh."

1974:  COMEDIAN BUD ABBOTT DIES.

Nobody's on first.

1980:  EIGHT US SERVICEMEN DIE IN OPERATION EAGLE CLAW AS THEY ATTEMPT TO END THE IRAN HOSTAGE CRISIS.

Should have had the folks from Argo in charge.

1986:  SOCIALITE WALLIS SIMPSON DIES.

Wife of King Edward VIII and grandmother of Homer I.

1990:  GRUINARD ISLAND, SCOTLAND, IS OFFICIALLY DECLARED FREE OF THE ANTHRAX DISEASE AFTER 48 YEARS OF QUARANTINE.

They must have run out of milk and bread years ago.

1996:  IN THE US, THE ANTI-TERRORISM AND EFFECTIVE DEATH PENALTY ACT OF 1996 IS INTRODUCED.

That worked well.

1997:  COMEDIAN PAT PAULSEN DIES.

The only Presidential candidate I could ever get behind.

2004:  BUSINESSWOMAN ESTEE LAUDER DIES.

My mother wore her scents exclusively.  For those of you who care.

2005:  CARDINAL JOSEPHY RATZINGER IS INAUGURATED AS THE 265TH POPE OF THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TAKING THE NAME POPE BENEDICT XVI.

Ratz-singa.  He's the Pope, the Pope with the Midas touch....

2005:  SNUPPY, THE WORLD'S FIRST CLONED DOG, IS BORN IS SOUTH KOREA.

And promptly cooked for that night's dinner.

Dinner last night:  Boneless teriyaki wings at the Promenade Club of Citi Field.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Return to Normalcy

Remarkably, even I was a Boston Red Sox fan last week.  Probably for less time than you were.  The numbing tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing and subsequent manhunt (or should we say "dirtbaghunt?") had us all thinking about our friends in New England and uniting behind the sports teams that play in that city.

Yankee fans put aside their hatred and hung a banner outside the Bronx stadium encouraging Boston to "B Stong."  All of the MLB teams joined in tribute and played the Bosox anthem "Sweet Caroline" in their respective ballparks.  I myself had to endure this cloying and obnoxious rendition in Dodger Stadium and, even though I was totally lockstep behind the compassion about the dastardly events of last Monday, the song still managed to annoy me and make me throw up in my mouth a little. 

And then I smiled.  Because that's how we get through these increasingly prominent moments of America under siege.  We get behind our baseball teams.  

So, on the Saturday following the Friday when our country was riveted to television sets in what unfolded like the unaired ninth season of "24," the Boston Red Sox went back to work at Fenway Park.  Their fans, released from their home prisons, came out to hear their beloved David "Big Papi" Ortiz honor the spunk and resiliency of that city.  Normally a blattering idiot, Ortiz amazingly expounds a speech with the verbal elegance of Frederick Douglass.  That is, if Douglass ever used the "f" bomb in a sentence.

Crowd shots of the fans showed one American flag after another. (By the way, next time you watch a game at Fenway, try to find one person of color in the crowd.  It's impossible.  You have a better shot of finding Waldo.)  And, of course, they then serve up the piece de resistance.  That old fresser Neil Diamond comes out, double chin and all, to do "Sweet Caroline" in person.

And then there was the game.  Because, at the root of it all, we come together as Bostonians or New Yorkers or Los Angelenos behind the one sport that makes it all right.

Baseball. 

America's pastime, like no other sport, brings us back to the level of normalcy we should appreciate every time these tragedies happen.  Forget it, football fans.  Shut up as well, you basketball devotees.  It is baseball that continually clues the fabric of our nation every time somebody tries to tear it up.  It is the routine we appreciate.  When we go to a game, we always find life in its usual place. 

The public address announcer's way of introducing the line-ups.

The ritual of how a game is begun.  Different in your park and my park, but always the same. 

There's that peanut vendor you always look for.  He's probably 80 and has been in the job since Joe DiMaggio first hit puberty.  Or the usher that shows you to your seat.  He can tell you all about Mickey Mantle or Willie Mays or Ted Williams.  He's seen them all.

You sit in the seat you might have first sat in several decades ago.  There are people around you who have done the same.  You may get along famously.  You may not.  But they are faces you know and you welcome every time you walk through the turnstiles.

While Boston was exhaling for the Red Sox game on Saturday and jampacking Fenway Park, I was two hundred miles to the southwest.  At a meat locker called Citi Field which was half-empty.  I'm in the photo below somewhere.
While this ballpark still doesn't have the cushy slipper feel I enjoyed at Shea Stadium, it still connects me to parts of my life that I cherish.  A childhood and part of an adulthood with the Mets.  A World Championship trophy from 1969.
The 1986 World Championship trophy.
And, of course, there's always Mr. Met.  Either in-person or, in the snapshot below, the taxidermist's version of the team mascot.
Meanwhile, there's a game going on here as well.  Even if the Mets now resemble a Little League team that might have been featured in a 1971 episode of "The Brady Bunch."  And, with the small-ish crowds these days, even the Citi Field parking lot has enough room to house Cirque De Soleil on game days.
But a true Met fan doesn't care.  They come anyway to see their friends and share in the love of a David Wright or the hope of a Matt Harvey.  They know that they will hear "Meet the Mets" before the game and Lou Monte during the seventh-inning-stretch.  And wonder why you can no longer get a fried bologna sandwich on the Promenade level.

That's all normal, too.

I look up at the out-of-town scoreboard and, two hundred miles to the southwest of me,  my other team, the 2013 "slow starting" Los Angeles Dodgers, are already stinking up the joint in Baltimore.

That, too, seems normal.

Never mind.  I open up my scorebook and write down the starting line-ups.  In the same way I always have.  In the same scorepad published by the same guy that I have bought them from for years.

It's a sameness that we all need when life around us gets ugly.  Baseball games have gotten me through some personal dark passages of existence.  As it has for others.  And for cities.  And for a country.  Just like in 2001, we look for Joe DiMaggio.  A nation turning its lonely eyes always to you.

The sport has the power of an elixir.  A tonic for our nerves.  A warm spring that rejeuvenates our spirit.  A pillow that will allow us to all get through the next night.

And it's always the same.  Your team wins.  Your team loses.  Your team plays into October.  Your team doesn't.

But you come back every April.  Regardless of how awful things can be around you.  And, in our once-safe land, awfulness is increasing at geometric proportions. 

David Wright grounds into a force play to end a rally.  The Dodger bullpen gives up the winning runs to the Orioles in the bottom of the night.  The Met reliever is named Atchison and I immediately turn to my friend and make a "Harvey Girls" reference that only he will get.

That is all normal, too.

Except I think about a moment several hours earlier.  We're approaching the ballpark from the Citi Field parking lot.  A uniformed security guard notices my usual Met game bag, loaded with sunglasses, scorebook, and camera.  He asks if he can look inside.  I gladly comply.  There is nothing to hide.  He thanks me and moves on to the next fan.

That, too, is now....normal.

Dinner last night:  Baby back ribs at Valhalla Crossings.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Monday Morning Video Laugh - April 22, 2013

I love surveillance cameras.

Dinner last night:  Virginia ham plate at the Argonaut Diner in Yonkers.  Used to go there when I was a kid with my parents.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - One Final Scare From A Scary Uncle

Part 2 of my Scary Uncle Fritz story.  Here he dances at a New Year's Eve party held in my parents' basement.  And, no, that's not bubble gum coming out of his nose. 

I am guessing it's the last New Year's he saw.  But, then again, I'm getting a bit ahead of myself with today's tale.  

Last I told you, the man that forever creeped me out and scared the pellets out of me, my father's favorite brother, was on his way to Cross County Hospital.  I didn't even want to see him off like the rest of the family.  Mom had told me he had yellow jaundice.  And all I could think of was selected fruits in the bowl on the kitchen table.  Lemons, bananas, what have you.

Life went on that summer.  I was six years old and, despite this family drama, I was completely oblivious.  Paying more attention to Popeye cartoons and the Three Stooges with Officer Joe Bolton. I can remember people coming and going to visit Uncle Fritz at the hospital.  Thank God for age limits.  I was not allowed.  

My world was perfectly fine.

Years later, I would learn from my father, who was then finally able to discuss this all, that there were medical obstacles at every turn for his stricken brother.  My dad even went as far as to curse out the name of the doctor that operated on Uncle Fritz.  Apparently, in my family, this was a huge crisis of epic proportions.  The fact that I missed all of it is actually a testimony to my parents shielding me from life's grim realities as I entered into the first grade.  

I would discover that this protection would last only so long.

There were sounds on that Saturday of Labor Day weekend that I will never forget, even though I didn't really know what was going on.  

The phone ringing.  My mom dropping the receiver to the floor.  

Her faster-than-blazes footsteps downstairs.  

Grandma's plaintive wail in the middle of her Saturday morning baking.

Something was up.

Now, my dad was not home.  He and some cousins would, from time to time, rent a boat and go fishing on the Long Island Sound.   There would be days when he dragged me along, even though I was petrified of worms.  On this Saturday, I had stayed home.  But, as I pieced the words together that I could hear my mother telling my grandparents, one stood out.

"....sinking."

Somebody was sinking.  Oh, no, my father's boat sunk?  When my mother came back upstairs, she had a look of distress on her face.  And I didn't help the situation with my questioning.  

I asked her if Dad's boat was sinking.  She looked at me with one of those looks you frequently get from a mother.  One that screams "oh, God, I hope the hospital gave me the wrong child."  After shaking her head, she clarified the situation.

"No, your Uncle Fritz is sinking."

You know where this is going.  I told her that I thought Uncle Fritz was in the hospital.  How could he be on the boat with Dad?

I think my mother then slapped her head in dismay as I simply couldn't get out of this Abbott and Costello routine.  Finally, she sat me down and explained that Uncle Fritz had taken a turn for the worse.  He might not make it through the day and she had to figure out how to get word to my father on the Long Island Sound.  Of course, I might have suggested that Lassie go get him just like on television, but I was in enough of a jam.  I shut my mouth.  

In the days long before cell phones, I have no idea how my mother got hold of my father.  But, then, she had another mission at hand.  She needed to find somebody to dump me on for the day while the adults in my family maintained a hospital vigil.  As was usually the case, I got palmed off on her best friend, Aunt Ronnie, who was the spitting image of actress Susan Hayward.  She, her husband, and two daughters were headed off to a barbecue.  Within the hour, so was I.

I remember being incredibly bored at this barbecue.  Most of the kids were girls.  And, even with the limited information I had, I felt a need to be with my family.  What was happening?  Could I help?  And is it possible that Uncle Fritz would never again give me a wedgie as I climbed stairs ahead of him?  

As much as all my memories of my dad's older brother were culled from a short period of two years and were pretty much all bad ones, I started to miss the man.  Right there in the Bronx backyard of some stranger.

As darkness fell, I was summoned to the front yard.  My dad had come to pick me up.

As we motored along in silence, I waited for my father to say something.  He did not.  He was likely waiting for me to ask.  I did not.  I looked around and noticed that we were not headed home.  Instead, we pulled onto the block where Uncle Fritz and Aunt Helen.  Dad parked the car in front.   He turned off the ignition.  He slowly pulled the key out.  And then turned to me.

"I have something to tell you...."

I knew.

And, for the first time of what would be only two instances that I can remember in my life, my father cried.

He told me that everybody in the family was inside and that I should come in.  I looked at the lights in the front windows.  They were ablaze, yet I knew that, beyond them, there was sadness.

I asked my father if I could sit in the car.  Oddly enough, he understood.  He probably didn't want to be in that house either.

My family immediately went into standard funeral mode.  Three days sitting around a funeral parlor.  Then, a service run by the family pastor.  Off to the cemetery.  Even at the age of six, I knew how the drill worked.

You see, for some reason totally alien to me, my family chose to include youngsters in these rites which, to this day, completely confounds me.  

Strangely enough, I was already an old hand at this wake business.  Two years previously, Uncle Fritz' father-in-law had kicked off and there was a big gala send-off in the same funeral parlor where my dad's own 45-year-old brother would be laid out.  I was brought along to the old codger's casket and, from what I was later told, climbed up on it and even played with the guy's eyelids.

Hello, Mom and Dad, what the hell are you thinking??

Now I would be making a repeat appearance before the dead.  And didn't want to.  I kept asking anybody who would entertain the question.  Why was I being dragged along?  I got a myriad of reasons.

"Because he was your father's closest brother."

"Because Aunt Helen would be hurt if you didn't say goodbye."

"Because Grandma and Grandpa are so upset."

Yeah, yeah, yeah, but still....

So, on the last day of the wake, I was suited up by my father's favorite cousin, Aunt Ollie, who was often the lone voice of reason and logic in our tribe.  As she fitted with a pair of cuff links, no less, I asked the same question.  

"Because there are always going to be things in life that you don't want to do but have to."

Okay, that was the Ward Cleaver approach.  I was going to have to suck this one up and go.  How do you argue that when you're six???

I lingered in the waiting room of the funeral parlor for what was probably an eternity. I was asked repeatedly when I was going to go up and see my Uncle Fritz. 

The dead Uncle Fritz.  The man who scared me repeatedly in life had one last trick up his embalmed sleeve.

For Pete's sake, doesn't being in the same building get me off the hook?? No, they all wanted me to go up and kneel and say my respects. And, of course, the eyelid trick was going to be completely retired.

To make this pilgrimage to the casket, I would have to walk a straight line from the door. So, as I would amble up, I would see nothing but the dead uncle "just sleeping." If I closed my eyes during the walk, I would most certainly fall over a folding chair. And, worse, a quickly folding older relative. That would not work.

I hit on a solution with Aunt Helen's nephew, Arthur from Maryland, who was about my age. He had already been up to Uncle Fritz several times and even discussed the Baltimore Orioles' weekend series with him.  Arthur suggested he would walk in front of me all the way up to the casket, blocking my view. As soon as we arrived at our destination, he would step aside and...ta da. Len is at the casket.

Well, the scheme worked, but the end result was still horrible. In front of me was a young man, only slightly older than my dad. Dead. There were constant sobs behind me. The vision has stayed me for all these years. I even dream about it to this day. And it all effectively swore me off funerals and wakes for life.

Suddenly on that September afternoon, I realized that, of all the shocks Uncle Fritz had given me in life, I would subject myself to his countless wedgies if I could remove this one lasting image from my memory bank.  His cold dead body lying in front of me.

So, when it comes to wakes, I go if I have to. But, I'm always in the same place in that funeral parlor. 

Way in the back. 

Looking anyway but at the front of the room. 

And, as a result, I never held any wakes for my own parents. I rationalized by saying they hated them. But, the real reason is...I hate them. And always will.
 
Thanks to a lasting impression of an uncle I barely knew.

Dinner last night:  Sausage and peppers at Carlo's in Yonkers.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Classic TV Theme of the Month - April 2013

I wish I knew who got their hands on that Lucy puppet.

Dinner last night:  BLT Panini at Stephen's Green.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Springtime of Our Awkwardness

Note to self:  egg beaters make terrible combs.
They charge extra for smiles.
You think they like panda bears?
No reason to go to the kitchen for a snack when there's an ear lobe nearby.
Sad and depressing in so many ways.
Noseferatu takes the family to Sears for the annual photo.
Ironically, America picked its last President the very same way.
Hope that's his mom and not a prom date.  And I really hope that's not "Mom, My Prom Date."
I wonder if the letters are edible.
Mom, Dad, Janice, Bobby, and Brillo.

Dinner last night:  Roast beef and Thai noodles.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

TMI on TMJ

Yeah, I have this.  This isn't my skull, but probably something close to it.  And, sadly, just saying the complete ailment makes my jaw hurt even more.

This didn't grip me overnight, although that's the time where the pain can bother me the most.  You could have hit me with a dinosaur's jawbone when I found out I was a candidate for TMJ.  It happened in the very first dental appointment I had in Los Angeles almost sixteen years ago.  With the wonderful dentist who is still stuck with me up to this very day.

"You grind your teeth."

Well, heck, Doc, that's no way to greet a new patient, is it?  And, by the way, no, I don't.

"Yes, you do.  Your lower teeth have a lot of wear and tear."

Wear and tear?  What are we talking about here?  Radial tires?  And, gee, I knew the ribs at Tony Roma's were a little tough to chew.

"You need to start wearing a nightguard ASAP."

But, it's only twelve noon and, if I wear a nightguard ASAP, it's not nighttime yet.

I was losing the argument fast.  But, once I started wearing the nightguard, there was clear evidence to present to the dental jury.  After a few months of sitting in my mouth for six to seven hours every night, I could see what my dentist was talking about.  The nightguard looked like it had been repeatedly run over by the D train speeding out of the Fordham Road IND station.

My dentist, also demonstrating an amazing ability to be Kreskin, also predicted that, even though I was sporting this nightly hunk of plastic, I'd likely have more problems down the road.

Down the road is here.

About a year ago, I would make noise.  Not the usual cacophony when I have something to say.  No, this was noise when I ate.  You could hear my jaw move and pop.  Who needed Rice Krispies when I was around the breakfast table?  I became a major tourist attraction in the same way people would flock to see that geyser shoot water into the air.  

My jaw popping was that audible to dinner companions.  Sometimes, it was so loud that you'd need Bose Noise Cancelling Headphones to eat a steak with me.

And, then suddenly, it all stopped.

Hmmmm.

After several months of sounding like an aircraft factory during World War II, things around my jaw became painfully quiet.  Yes, painful.  Because, once the jaw clicking stopped, pain set into my jaw muscles on the left side of my face.   Most notably at night.  If I lay on my stomach to watch TV before I went to bed, I could lean on my chin.  Pain would start to shoot out like that aforementioned geyser.  

Suddenly, I wanted to have that annoying jaw noise back.  That didn't hurt.

I finally went back to my dentist.  For treatment and also the ceremony where we again salute him for being correct sixteen years ago.  He decided that my nightguard needed to be replaced.  And he came up with this amazing diagnosis.

All the time when my jaw was popping, it was effectively dislocated.  Gee, had I known that I would have tried to use this affliction to get out of my last jury duty stint.  But, according to my dentist, the jaw clicked back into place.  All by itself.  Except now, the muscles that were used to working in one direction are now being challenged in new ways.

So, there are ways to deal with this.  Warm and moist compresses.  Okay, after several weeks, um......not working.  My next option is physical therapy where my terrific therapist Suzie, who previously dealt with my knee, now works on the muscles further up north.   

From inside my mouth.  Luckily, Suzie has pretty small hands.  Because, despite what you hear, my mouth isn't really that big.  And, as is usually the case when Suzie gets a hold of some part of my body, I feel much better.  And one of the homework assignments is to keep sticking my tongue out.  Knowing some of the people I do, this is clearly a fun part of my day.

See, aren't you glad you asked?  Oh, wait, you didn't.  Well, that's what happen when you come to this site.  Where my life is an open blog.

Dinner last night:  Chicken stir fry.

Tomorrow, my jaw and I come to you from New York.