Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blog Post # 2500

Ah, Times Square turns from 1963 to 1964.   And, so too, does this blog.

From Post #2499 to today's 2500.

Timing really is everything.

I was originally preparing the monthly silliness for today.  "If I Tweeted - December 2013."   When I noticed how conveniently the year's end and the noteworthy blog post number were coinciding, I put aside the month's worth of potshots against the famous and the infamous.  I guess this is a number, both blog-wise and year-wise, that I need to recognize.  Oh, sure, I usually save the celebratory fuss and feather for the blog's birthday this March---it will be seven years old, thank you very much.  But, today's odd timing makes me think more philosophically about what goes on in these virtual pages every single day.

I was moved over the past year by two remarks made by friends about this blog.  One came from a TV writer who, when told that I publish something on this site every single day, told me "that's a lot of writing content you're not getting paid for."

Truth be told, I could monetize this blog and make a few cents off it.   I could also include some widgets that prompt pop-up advertising to appear.   Frankly, I'm pissed when that happens while I'm looking at websites.  Why should I subject you to it?  And, in reality, I never undertook this little escapade for any financial gain.  I was simply, as you have been told in the past, doing this to give myself a daily writing exercise.  One hundred mental sit-ups.

Of course, I was reminded by another friend that I really don't write everyday.  Guilty as charged and I will accept the citation for this misdemeanor from the Creative Police Force.  True, I don't write everyday.   As a matter of fact, today's epistle according to Len is the first original blog piece I have written in three weeks.  I traditionally pre-write and recycle old pieces around the Christmas holiday.  And, heck, half of January is already done.  Those Wednesday historical pieces?  I'm already up to the end of February.  I try to plan each day and week but, suddenly, I'll see an uncommonly good movie (check here Thursday for that) or a dreadfully bad one (also check here Thursday for that) and the best-laid plans of mice and bloggers gets upended.  I always try to run a movie review before the damn thing shows On Demand.  

Meanwhile, in my draft folder, I found one piece that I wrote in late August and still have not run.  That's my current safety net for whenever I'm in that horrible bus accident.   

So, no, Officer, I don't write every single day.  I wish I could, but that pesky little life of mine often intercedes.

Still, I am here every day.  Like the Stephen Sondheim ditty from "Follies" sung by the old actress who hangs in there despite it all.

Good times and bum times,
I've seen them all and, my dear,
I'm still here.
Plush velvet sometimes,
Sometimes just pretzels and beer,
But I'm here.

That's me, I suppose.  Maybe just a funny video.  Or some comical mug shots.  An awkward family photo or two.

But I'm here.

This blog has never become a chore for me.  I plan its daily regimen as if it was a business.  And, indeed, it has provided me with an outlet that I don't normally get in my everyday social world.

People who really know me understand some of my shortcomings.  A lack of self esteem that carries over to most social situations.  One or two people in a group?  I'm fine.  More than that and I find myself hiding behind everyone else's comments and opinions.  I feel inadequate to provide my own.

Until I get here.

So, in a strange way, this site provides the voice I don't always allow out in public.  Or feel inferior enough to not share.  

With the year 2013 in mind, this blog also has given a routine to follow and a schedule to maintain amidst 365 days of very odd personal upheaval.  It has been the one friend I could rely on day in and day out as my life took a 180 degree flip turn.  It's kept me grounded and focused.  I needed that this year more than any.

But things are all fine.  This was a year of immense growth.  There are compelling things happening as we speak...or as I write.  Some of them even worthy of press releases.  Stay tuned for the next exciting installment.

So, beyond the jokes and the funny pictures and the Grandma memories I coughed up one more time, this blog has given me so much more.  A dear childhood friend told me that the writing here is "uniquely" me.  I take that note and embrace it.

I hope you've gotten from it a smile or a laugh or a fact that you did not know previously.  If you have enjoyed it even for just one day, please know that I have loved doing that for you.   

And, more importantly on December 31, 2013, for me.

Happy, Happy New Year.

See you tomorrow for the weekly history lesson.

Blog Post #2501.

I'm still here.

Dinner last night:  Finishing up Christmas appetizers. 



Monday, December 30, 2013

Monday Morning Video Laugh - December 30, 2013

An ideal way to end the year.   The classic stateroom scene from "A Night at the Opera."

And two hard boiled eggs...

Dinner last night:  Ham and glazed carrots.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - A New Year's Eve Oldie But Goodie

Some of this you and I have discussed before. Some of it not. This essentially is a blog flashback episode. But, given this week's holiday, it's time to remember one more time.

Past New Year's Eves.

The photo above is historic as previous blog entries will remind you. You may recall my tale of serving as the seven-year-old bartender for some family gatherings on December 31. Here I am on one of those infamous nights. Unfortunately, I couldn't find any photos of some relatives lying drunk underneath the buffet table of cold cuts and German potato salad.

It all came about because I had nothing else to do at these parties usually held at some relative's home or perhaps even our own freezing meat locker of a basement. At this age, I was in a party purgatory. I had nobody my age to play with. My older cousins were usually sequestered in some dark corner of the house with whatever girlfriend or boyfriend they were either groping or being groped by at the moment. They didn't need me hanging around with my nagging questions. "Why are your hands there??" I often heralded in the new year with the greeting, "go away, kid."

So, I wound up with the adults, listening to dirty jokes that I didn't get. I'd camp out at the liquor table. My family was so proud of the array of bottles that they would feature at these soirees that I actually have uncovered photos of nothing but booze.

To keep myself busy, I would help my father make the drinks. At first, I was relegated to the placement of ice cubes. Then, I graduated to the insertion of tonic, Tom Collins mix, or whatever soft beverage was being included. At some point, my father decided to go and have some fun on his own and I would man the cocktail dispenser all by myself. Each relative would come up and direct me how ot make whatever libation theyr were desiring. And, pretty much, every dialogue included this exchange:

Relative: "Whoa, you put way too much booze in there."

Me: "Okay, I'll start over."

Relative: "No, no, don't throw it out. I'll drink it."

This happened every single time. It's no wonder why most of my family was tanked by 12:15AM. At this point, they didn't give a shit whether it was New Year's Eve or Arbor Day. When I canvassed my dad's slide of these parties, I could actually tell what time the photo was taken from the looks of some of those faces. In one shot, I saw some distant uncle modeling certain body parts made out of balloons. Now, regardless of your age, every family member at this party was R-rated. Except for me. Hell, even Grandma and Tante Emma would get into the act with a polka.

Back then, this photo meant nothing to me. In retrospect, it looks like a senior citizen center's production of "The Children's Hour."

And, given the stress level of my solitary confinement at these gatherings, I couldn't even calm myself by eating. Not that the food we put out was bad. But, for me, there was one bowl on the table that tainted everything else.

Herring in sour cream. The odor was nauseating. It permeated the entire buffet. The ham smelled like herring. The pickles smelled like herring. I started to smell like herring. And I have no idea who the fuck was eating this shit. I think my grandfather did. As a result, there might have been some years where I avoided him until July or August.

While these parties sometimes lasted till 2 or 3AM, I usually didn't. I'd get bored and head up to bed, carefully tiptoeing around some oversexed cousin who was crawling on top of some date on the stairs. I vowed that the next New Year's Eve would be better for me. It never was.

Oh, it would be years later that there would be some year-end celebrations that would be memorable for me. In college, we once welcomed the passage of time with a raucous hockey game in the dorm hallways, using a friend's crutches as sticks. 

There would be another year where I went to a taping of the Tonight Show. As it recorded at 530PM, the audience was coached on how to sing "Auld Lang Syne" six hours early.

There was the year where my fractured shoulder was in a sling and I could barely reach for the dice playing Trivial Pursuit at a neighbor's house. There were years when I remembered what I saw my cousins doing and I put the memories to good use myself. 

And there was the fateful Eve where I returned from a house party to hear that my mom had just lapsed into an irreversible coma at the hospital. Suddenly, the herring smell years paled in comparison.

And then there was my favorite New Year's Eve of all time. 


I had wavered on definitive plans when a good friend called with a bright idea. He and his wife were going downtown to an oldies club called Shout. In the truest spirit of marketing, the place played the song several nights that night. My friends even had another girl going, so we could easily divide the drink bill equally four ways.

To be honest, I don't remember who they brought along, because I danced with so many people that night. The evening was electric. One big hit from the 50s and 60s after another. At several points out on the dance floor, we toasted catcher Gary Carter, who the Mets had just obtained in a trade. 

At midnight, they dragged out "Shout" one more time. And we did. I kissed a few of the patrons around me. I had no clue who they were. I didn't give a shit. It was that free. And easy. And spontaneous.

We had so much fun that, by January 2, I was already making plans to duplicate it the following year. And we kept spreading the word around amongst other friends as if we were sharing a secret handshake. 

By the time December, 1985 had rolled around, most of the names in my Filofax had been invited. And I had a girlfriend, to boot. A non-stranger to kiss at the stroke of 12. This was going to be super-electric.

It was horrible.

What had been spontaneous the year before was now over-planned to the hilt. And the cast of thousands of my friends didn't exactly mesh. It was the Hindenburg of celebrations. To make the gloom even more pronounced, we got word in the middle of the evening that Ricky Nelson had been killed in a plane crash.

To this day, I still don't know what happened from one year to another. I'm not even sure the club stayed open much longer. New Year's Eve eventually returned to "crapshoot" status as far as I was concerned.

These days, the night is really nothing extraordinary.   Usually a dinner with a friend or two at a late restaurant seating.   As midnight approaches, they give you some funny hats to wear and some noise makers to blow on.  It's fine, but I realize it's all forced merriment for just another day.

But, as the clock strikes twelve, I hear the song in my head all over again.   Nope.  Not "Auld Lang Syne."   It's another one.

You know you make me wanna (Shout!)
Kick my heels up and (Shout!)
Throw my hands up and (Shout!)
Throw my head back and (Shout!)
Come on now (Shout!)

I'd love to do that one more time.

Crap.  With my knees?  Forget it.

Dinner last night:  Bacon turkey burger.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Classic TV Theme of the Month - December 2013

Bet you never saw these "I Love Lucy" credits before.   When CBS wanted to rerun the episodes where they moved to Connecticut in prime time, this is how they crafted a new opening.  Fascinating.

Dinner last night:  Christmas leftovers.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Christmas Card Photos From Hell

Pick your own politically incorrect caption.
Christmas at the Blitzens.
 Does everybody in the family need to see how you abuse your children?
Atta girl!
Those Daisy Dukes look a lot better on a woman.
This will blow a fuse.   So will the girl in the back.
Everybody in this family got Lasix surgery for Christmas.
Like the letters say....
 This is actually making me nauseous.
Send this one back...."They've Moved.   No Forwarding Address."
I'd like to return all four of these, please.
Gee, thanks for pissing all over my holiday.

Dinner last night:  Tri-tip sandwich at Wood Ranch.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Morons of the Month - December 2013

You have no idea how much it pains me to write this.   To actually include the word "morons" in a blog piece on my favorite TV show of all time, "I Love Lucy."  And, indeed, I really don't know who I'm pointing the moronic finger at.

Is it CBS?

Is it the Arnaz kids who hold the rights to a lot of the Lucy legacy?

Is it simply a TV audience that has gotten so blase that they allow such outrages to happen?

Maybe it's all three.  But, somebody needs to be punished for the outlandish telecast of the "I Love Lucy Christmas Special" last week.

Actually, now that I think about it, perhaps we blame media mogul Ted Turner.  After all, he was the one in the late 80s and early 90s who applied crayons to all those classic black and white movies.  But, then again, I'm pained to slap him on the wrists, too.  I mean, he created the Turner Classic Movies cable channel.  Heck, for that alone, he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize more than Barack Obama.

But, I digress...

Back in the Crayola days twenty years ago, somebody dusted off the rarely-seen "I Love Lucy" Christmas episode from the 1956-57 TV season.  It never wound up in the syndication package so it was never rerun after the initial airing.  Frankly, it's not the best Lucy outing.  The Christmas theme here is simply a device to show some flashbacks from the "Lucy is Pregnant" storyline from Season 2.  And they even recycle a multiple Santa Claus bit for the tag and that was originally done in the very first season.  

All well and good, any "I Love Lucy" in prime time is welcome. 

Except this was all colorized.  And in a manner that made the Ricardos and the Mertzes all look like circus performers.

So, in 2013, "somebody" tries to re-introduce this all to a new generation.   One more age group exposed to the glories of "I Love Lucy."

And I suppose that, because all the youngsters of today don't even know what black and white is, the ghoulishly colorized Christmas episode is brought back one more time.

But, wait, there's more.   CBS opts to fill out a whole hour by colorizing another Lucy adventure.  To make matters worse, it's the beloved "Lucy in the Grape Vat" episode.  

Yes, I watched it all.   And was thoroughly repulsed at the worst colorization ever.  Beyond the bad hues of skin and hair, I noticed how mismatched the Ricardos' apartment looked.   The walls weren't color-coordinated with the carpet.  Who was the interior decorator in charge?  Stevie Wonder?  

Meanwhile, as annoyed as I was with the apparent need for colorization, I was angry all over again as I watched the second episode.  I'm a Lucy fan and have watched this series for more decades than I want to admit.  I know them by heart.

And that's how I noticed that there were lines missing.  Edited out probably by CBS to include even more commercials for the last-minute-Christmas-sale at Target.

I remember that Fred makes a joke comparing the Roman Coliseum to Yankee Stadium.  Gone.

Also removed was a whole exchange between Lucy and Ethel regarding how the former will get around the Italian vineyard without speaking the language.  Lucy talks about the hand gestures she will use.  But, that whole dialogue is taken out.   Of course, there's a hand gesture gag later on that now has no pay off because the set-up is gone.

Hello, hello, is this mike on?  Does anybody else care about this?

Even the opening and closing credits were doctored.  True Lucy fans know that the heart opening was only used for the syndication reruns.   When "I Love Lucy" was originally in prime time, the opening changed every week and used these wonderful stick figures of Lucy and Desi.  Why not use them?  They're available on all the DVD sets of the show.

Meanwhile, the closing credits were also redone to include a scrolling guest cast for both episodes.  Hey, who am I?  Maybe this had to be done for new provisions in talent contracts.  But, still....

Tampering was afoot.  And, as far as I'm concerned, unnecessary.

Yep, I was mad.  But the problem is that I don't know who to be mad at.  In a situation fraught with morons, I don't know who are the true morons.

As for me, when I want to be thoroughly re-engaged with "I Love Lucy," I simply turn to my vast DVD collection.

In beautiful black-and-white.   And completely un-edited.

Dinner last night:   A Christmas dinner cooked by yours truly.  Ham, fingerling potatoes, stuffing, cranberries, glazed carrots....the works.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

This Date in History - December 25

Happy birthday, Baby Jesus.  Except this really happened sometime in March.  But, a lot of other nifty stuff did happen on this date.  Wait till you see...


The first of many power grabs on this Christimas day.


And who goes up must come down.


Done with relish.


They loved to tie up Christmas day with this nonsense.


This king garbage just does not stop.


Says he.


And on and on and on....


Not crowned, thank goodness.


He got lucky.  Two weeks earlier and it could have been Hanukah Island.


Working on Christmas?  That's time and a half.


When do they start throwing around the mince pie??


A nice thing to do on the holiday.  But no presents for them, please.


And last minute gifts of make-up bearing her name would be around on Christmas from this day forward.


Here's looking at you, kid.




So it's not just a holiday for Christians....


We enter a dimension of space, time....all that jazz.


That's what's happening.


Hope there were 275 gift receipts.


So, in a way, this was a coronation, too.


WKRP in Cincinnati!!


Whipsnade, Whipsnade.


So that 1932 earthquake didn't destroy them altogether.


Also known as Sissy Space Chick.


That's going to be one long detention period.


Noteworthy on Christmas day only because Jesus wasn't a great base stealer.


Okay, just being clear, this has nothing to do with the Chicago department store??


Effectively ruining the latter's birthday.


The tramp has been silenced.  Of course, understanding that he didn't talk much in his movies anyway.


She was a big deal in the movies about two centuries earlier.


In a car crash.   Way, way, way, way too much holiday cheer.


All that wall demolition proved to be too much for him.


That's a morte.


No longer feeling good.


Santa baby, how about a casket?


And he didn't even bother to pack clean underwear.

Dinner last night:  Ribeye steak with sauteed green beans and mushrooms.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

T'was The Night Before Christmas - My Version

What better thing to do on Christmas Eve than to bring back this warm chestnut from blog days past.  It worked before.   It will work again.

Just imagine us in front of a warm Christmas Eve fireplace. Snug as bugs in rugs. And I open this book to read it aloud to all assembled. 

How utterly delightful! 

How comforting! 

How could I possibly get through the whole thing without making a bunch of snarky comments? 

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;

Okay, it's me now. An ignoble start to this Christmas chestnut, because right from the get-go, you find out they've got rodents in this place. 

The stockings were hung by the chimney with care, in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there. 

Giving rise to another horrible childhood nightmare when Monte, my "alleged friend" up the block who liked to spew a lot of Catholic hate my way, told me that St. Nicholas was obviously Catholic and didn't visit Protestant homes. 

The children were nestled all snug in their beds, while visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads; 

I have never dreamed of fruit. Even once. 

And Mamma in her 'kerchief, and I in my cap, had just settled our brains for a long winter's nap, 

Bedtime headwear? The only person I ever saw in a nightcap was Fred Mertz. And what's with the nonsense about a nap? When you go to bed at nighttime, it's not a nap. It's called "going to sleep!" 

When out on the lawn there arose such a clatter, I sprang from the bed to see what was the matter. 

If there ever was commotion in our neighborhood, we didn't immediately think it was Santa Claus. It was probably the woman next door coming home drunk from the local gin mill. Once, she fell right through my grandmother's lilac bush. 

Away to the window I flew like a flash, tore open the shutter and threw up the sash. 

"Threw up the sash?" You never should have tried to eat it in the first place. 

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow gave the luster of mid-day to objects below, 

If I was reading this as a kid, I would have started to giggle at the mention of "breast" and probably not get through the rest of the poem. I'm just saying... 

When, what to my wondering eyes should appear, but a miniature sleigh, and eight tiny reindeer, 

This is one of the only Christmas passages that gave you any perspective on the size of the reindeer. Were they babies? And, if so, is this not animal cruelty? Making these things run all over the world in one night?? 

With a little old driver, so lively and quick, I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick. 

Had we no prior experience with Christmas, would we immediately know it was St. Nick? On any street corner in December, there are tons of imposters. There are myriad ways that a scam artist could bilk thousands of unsuspecting children on Christmas Eve. After all, nobody is awake to demand proper identification. 

More rapid than eagles his coursers they came, and he whistled and shouted and called them by name; "Now, Dasher! now, Dancer! now, Prancer and Vixen! On, Comet! on, Cupid! on, Donder and Blitzen!" 

Okay, no mention of Rudolph. When does he get invented? And perhaps he was nothing more than a urban legend designed to get Gene Autry a couple of Gold albums. And don't you wonder just a little about Vixen? With a name like that, I wonder which of the other reindeer she was doing. The smart money is on Dasher. 

To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall! Now dash away! dash away! dash away all! 

I typed that just as Clement Moore wrote it originally. What's with the inability to capitalize properly? 

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly, when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky; 

Dry leaves? How do these turn up in a winter poem? My guess is that Moore started writing this in September or October and simply got sidetracked during the process. I know just how deadly writer's block can be. Who knows? Maybe this was supposed to be "Twas The Night Before Halloween." 

So up to the house-top the coursers they flew, with the sleigh full of Toys, and St. Nicholas too. 

So is this proof that Santa only brought toys? That runs contrary to some other images we have. Of Mr. Claus riding a Norelco razor up and down some snowdrifts. And Santa was prominently displayed on that carton of Kent cigarettes my mother always got as well as the box of Canadian Club my dad got from his friends around the corner. 

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof the prancing and pawing of each little hoof. 

The way our roof was arched, there was absolutely no way that the sleigh and reindeer could have kept their balance. At least, three of those suckers would have tumbled off. Right into Grandma's lilac bush, lying next to the drunken neighbor. 

As I drew in my head, and was turning around, down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound. 

You see, this always presented a major problem in our house. There was one chimney fireplace. In Grandma's dining room. And it was sealed with cement. I once asked her how Santa Claus could get in. She told me not to ask a lot of stupid question. 

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot, and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot; 

Dressed in fur? Are we absolutely 100% sure that there was a Mrs. Claus? Because the image I'm getting is Liberace. Except no gay guy allows himself to get this dirty ever. 

A bundle of toys he had flung on his back, and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack. 

You see a sprightly old gentleman? I'm seeing a homeless bum down in Santa Monica. 

His eyes---how they twinkled! his dimples how merry! His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry! 

Possibly warning signs of melanoma or even high blood pressure. 

His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow and the beard of his chin was as white as the snow; 

One verse later, we have our medical diagnosis. "Mouth drawn up like a bow." He's had a mild stroke. 

The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth, and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath; 

A stroke brought on by heavy smoking. 

He had a broad face and a little round belly, that shook when he laughed, like a bowlful of jelly. 

I never understood this image. Do me a favor. Take a jar of jelly and empty it into a bowl. It doesn't shake. It just lies there. Inert. Now, if Moore had known about Jell-O at the time, this reference would have worked. But, then, you have the rhyme problem. Jell-O, bellow, hello, mellow. The whole poem falls off the proverbial map. 

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf, and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself; 

Another misnomer. Fat people are not always happy. Most are depressed, having eaten themselves into a coma for deep seeded psychological reasons. 

A wink of his eye and a twist of his head, soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread; 

Or maybe I did. An old guy winking and making overt gestures. Hello, Pedophile. 

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work, and filled all the stockings; then turned with a jerk, 

Head twisting. Body jerking. I'm thinking Parkinson's. What about you?

And laying his finger aside of his nose, and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose; 

Once again, I'd ask my grandmother how Santa could get out with a sealed up chimney in our house. Once again, I'd hear, "You ask too many stupid questions." 

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle, and away they all flew like the down of a thistle, 

I never knew what a thistle was, let alone how much down you got from one. And, how about the noise this bunch generates as they leave? For what purpose? Aren't they simply going to fly over to the house next door? 

But I heard him exclaim, ere he drove out of sight, "Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good-night." 

Yeah! Me, too! 

Dinner last night:  Leftover tortellini.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Monday Morning Video Laugh - December 23, 2013

A classic Christmas moment from "The Big Bang Theory."   A little background is needed.   Earlier in the episode, Sheldon planned to have multiple presents ready for Penny so he could give her a present equal in value to the one she gave him. This is how it turned out...

Dinner last night:  Tortellini with turkey meatballs.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Sunday Memory Drawer - A Lifetime of Christmas Eves

This was my church's altar last Christmas Eve and the snapshot done over my android phone does not do it justice.  There are a few truly beautiful moments to experience every year and this is always one of them.

Christmas Eve does that.

At our church, candles are aglow.  Music fills the small venue.  There are pews that serve as seats when most of the year they remain empty.  There is a crispness to the night air, yes, even in Los Angeles.

Christmas Eve does that.

Several years ago, there was even a bit of a miracle around this place.  At around 5PM that Christmas Eve, some high winds knocked out an electrical transformer and pretty much darkened a good portion of Los Angeles' West Side.  My apartment was as black as night.  So was my church about five miles away.

Without power, our building's garage gate wouldn't even open.  I started to panic as the hour drew near for our 10PM service.  Somebody jammed open the gate and I could eventually leave.  On my route to church, I drove through neighborhoods without lights and others that were completely illuminated. 

The area around the church had no electricity, but, as I turned the corner, I saw our place of worship fully lit.  Except there was no power.  There were so many candles stoked inside that you could see the glow for a mile.  Indeed, it was probably a big, old fire hazard.  But, we needed to light the way for the crowd that did come regardless.

Christmas Eve does that.

I suppose your life comes in phases.  But there is a constant throughout and it's Christmas Eve, especially if you celebrate it.  I'm in the West Coast phase of my existence and I can't fathom not being at my church on this night.  Helping to decorate the altar.  Doing the Gospel reading, which is always that same darn passage that Linus read to Charlie Brown and the rest of the "Peanuts" gang.  I'm so known for that now that my pastor actually gave me a Linus-dressed-as-a-shepherd doll. 

Meanwhile, at the end of the service, the ushers help to light the candles of the congregation.  Over the years, I have lit candles held by Harvey Korman, Anthony Franciosa, and Lukas Haas.  Yes, even on this holiest of holy nights, there are celebrities out in Hollywood.

Silent Night plays at the end as the church is enveloped in darkness except for the brightened candle wicks.  It remains my most touching moment of the year.  You can hear it in the stillness.  I remember the Christmas Eve that followed 9/11.  Tears were audible in the quiet.

It's what happens.

A close friend of mine recently asked me why I don't ever spend Christmas Eve back in New York.  The answer is simple and has nothing to do with the chance opportunity that I might get to light the candle of a "Carol Burnett Show" cast member. 

It's simply the way I can appreciate Christmas Eve now.  And, while my New York apartment can be quite cozy during the holidays, the last memories there were not good ones.  Both of my parents had final illnesses that culminated around the holidays.  I found out my father had three months to live on December 22.  My mom, while in a hospital with a broken hip, had her heart stop on New Year's Eve.  Because there was no DNR in place, she was brought back to ultimately pass away a week later. 

Walking into the same apartment with the same tree that sported Christmas ornaments from my childhood would effectively not be the same.  And a constant, nagging reminder of Christmas Eves best be forgotten.

So, I avoid the sensory perception and stay in Los Angeles.  With my real tree and my family of friends there and my church illuminated to the sky.

But I can still enjoy the gloriously happy memories of Christmas Eves past.

I recall those as a kid.  Not the ones when I eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa Claus.  The years between the ages of five and twelve when our family was still intact and enjoying each other.  Christmas Eve was always at a relative's house in the Bronx.  But, first, I would go with my dad's cousin, Aunt Ollie, to our NY church's Christmas Eve service.  We were the sole churchgoers in the group.  And it was a special time that I won't ever forget, even if parts of the service were in German.

There was one Christmas Eve at St. Peter's Lutheran Church on 219th Street that I remember vividly.  By this point, I was a freshman in college.  I've written before of the girl I really, really liked from my Sunday School class.  My first girlfriend, in fact.  She and her family had moved away several years before.   But I had not forgotten.  As the story went in a previous blog entry...

Years later, I was in college but still hanging onto my childhood church. As I snooped around the guestbook in the vestibule one Sunday, I saw an eye popping entry dated the previous Christmas Eve. Her family had been there! And where had I been? At some relative's house watching a family argument.


Of course, in college, I was already dwelling on the lost opportunities of my life. And there was nobody at Fordham who could hold a candle to her. I started to think. If her family had visited their old church one Christmas Eve, maybe it was a new tradition. It might have been July, but I already started to plan my outfit for December 24.

It couldn't have arrived more quickly. At Christmas Eve, I sat with my father's cousin, but she would easily be dispensed with if luck would....

....have it. There she was! Two pews over to the left.

"Joy to the World!"

After service, everyone mingled on the icy 219th Street. Even in the cold night air, she immediately recognized me. It was probably the first time she had ever seen in my shaving era. Lou Brock couldn't have moved faster as she came over. The hug couldn't have been warmer.

Her family busied themselves off to the side as we caught up. On high school. On college. She was going someplace in the boondocks of Pennsylvania. It was nice. It was easy. It was special. I asked for her address (pre e-mail days, sports fans) and she offered it willingly so we could stay in touch. Making more seasonal small talk, I inquired what she got for Christmas.


She held up the ring for me to see.


The snow flurries around me picked up with intensity as if my life was being orchestrated by a production manager for a Lifetime movie.

We parted company, pledging to stay in touch. After one written volley in the mail, it all ended.

In fact, that would be the last time I ever went inside that church.  So, Christmas Eve would be changing anyway.  There was no longer a family gathering in the Bronx.  Older relatives had died.  Younger relatives had stopped talking.  And we all stayed in our homes to watch "White Christmas" with Bing and Danny. 

When I became a young New York professional on my own Yonkers apartment, Christmas Eve became special again.  One phase passing the torch to the next.   One of my closest friends, Dolores, from childhood lived next door.  And, regardless of what was going on in our lives, Christmas Eve was always with her and her then-husband.  A nice dinner.  Too much Kahlua.  Wrapping the presents for my pseudo-nephew Jason.  Eating the cookies he left for Santa.  Moments I wouldn't trade for the world.    Including one Christmas Eve that I wrote about before.

We were busy downstairs putting toys together and being genuinely silly.   The giddiness of the holiday.  The spike of the egg nog.,  Whatever.   Well, we carried on till the wee hours of the morning.  And woke up Jason who was anxiously awaiting the arrival of the fat guy with the toys. 

"Uncle Lenny, go home!  Santa won't come while you're still here drinking!"

And so, home I went.

There was one Christmas Eve that went totally off the rails during that "phase."  I actually was a "plus one" at a Greenwich Village party full of Euro-trash.  I was happy to be with the gal I came with, but the other merrymakers were way down on my food chain.  There was no mistletoe.  Only a bong and several joints that made the rounds.  For me, thinking about the serenity of this night, it was all completely a violation of good taste.

Silent night, unholy night.

Indeed, it made me realize that Christmas Eve is a night for quiet.  Or noise from friends you love and children who laugh with eager anticipation.

It's an evening for candles and Nativity scenes and a bunch of people singing "O Come All Ye Faithful" out of tune.

That's what I am enjoying in this most current phase.

And when our service at a Lutheran church is over.  I go home after midnight.  In time to enjoy my newest holiday tradition.   Watching the taped service from St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.  For an hour, I am happily and gloriously and inexplicably reveling in the Roman Catholic celebration of this night.

Yeah, Christmas Eve does that.  For me.

Dinner last night:  Bacon and cheddar cheese omelet. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - December 2013

Put this one down on your list for holiday viewing this season.   A little gem of a comedy.

Dinner last night:  Filet of beef, potatoes, and salad---holiday celebration with good friends Amir and Kevin.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Your Holiday Weekend VIEWING Guide

Unlike the weekend movie guide I ran last Friday, this one is devoted to those spending their pre-Christmas time stuck in the house.  Maybe the weather outside is frightful.  Or you're wrapping presents.  Baking cookies.  You might want to multi-task by watching one of these movie suggestions.  They're all available on DVD.  And Turner Classic Movies shows several of them every year. 

These are my must-watch movies for every Christmas.  And please note that "Miracle on 34th Street,"  "It's A Wonderful Life," and "A Christmas Story" are not included.  They are terrific films, but played to death everywhere but in my house.  These movies all have personal connections to me in some shape or form.  So, if you disagree, I hope there's some coal mixed in with your buttered popcorn.
This is a mid-40s classic from the Warner Brothers back lot. In fact, they don't even get off a soundstage. For a movie from that era, it is still surprisingly modern. Because star Barbara Stanwyck plays a character very similar to Martha Stewart. A magazine writer who specializes in being an expert on hearth and home. And supposedly the greatest cook on the planet.

Her publisher hits on a publicity stunt where Stanwyck will provide a home-cooked Christmas meal for an injured soldier. Except nobody knows the woman can't cook and hasn't got one single domestic talent. The plot spins out into several directions from there, but it is all delicious screwball-y fun. And any movie that features S.Z "Cuddles" Sakall is okay in my book. This is a perfect film to watch while wrapping gifts on Christmas Eve day.  Or if you're finished off a quart of egg nog.
This is technically not a Christmas movie, but it should be, since all the action happens around the holidays. This 1941 movie is another one that never leaves a Warner Brothers soundstage, but it really doesn't have to. You may know that this was originally a big hit on Broadway as written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman. And two members of that cast, Monty Wooley and Mary Wickes, reprise their roles in the movie, which features the most razor sharp dialogue ever captured on celluloid. 

There's not one unclever moment in the entire six reels. Who can't identify with the holiday guest who just won't leave? In this case, it's renowed critic and lecturer Sheridan Whiteside, who sprains his ankle and then sets up camp in somebody else's house for the holidays. As portrayed by Wooley, Whiteside is loosely based on Alexander Woolcott and he has one great barb after another. He's described this way: "He would have his mother burned at the stake if that was the only way he could light his cigarette." I wish people talked like these characters in real life. 

When Whiteside's nurse (Mary Wickes) forbids him from eating some candy, he retorts, "My great Aunt Jennifer ate a box of candy every day of her life. She lived to be one hundred and two, and when she had been dead for three days, she looked better than you do now." If that's not enough, throw in the fact that this is the only movie in history that co-starred Bette Davis and Jimmy Durante! Grab a box of your own candy and savor this great Christmas treat.

Yeah, yeah, I know.   An obvious choice.  And, gee, Len, isn't this movie shown to death already?  Sadly, "White Christmas" is starting to fall in that category---the Christmas movie that is starting to look like your tree on January 15.  Dried out and ready for the dumpster.  You can thank some cable networks like the woefully annoying AMC for playing it over and over and over.  

Gee, thanks, idiots.  Because you're destroying another movie that landed on the list of my Top 25 Favorite Films of All Time at slot #23.  Sure, after repeated viewings, this film starts to look like "Off White Christmas."  But, still, it holds a special place in my heart and I even got to see it again just last night on a big screen here in Los Angeles where the Vistavision sings almost as well as Rosemary Clooney.

Right from the moment that Paramount's Vistavision logo exploded onto the screen to the last frames of the movie when the Pine Tree Lodge is celebrating a snowy Christmas Eve, I was moved to tears all over again.  Just like the very first time I saw it about 23 years ago.  When I was having a pretty crappy holiday and this boosted my spirits like a Vitamin B-12 injection. 

I had both my parents housed in separate hospitals with illnesses. Unfortunately, my dad was in the final stages of his cancer and this year would be his last Christmas. My mom was sequestered elsewhere dealing with one more smoke-provoked bronchial episode. I spent the holiday season shuttling between semi-private rooms located on opposite ends of Westchester. And I felt incredibly alone.

"White Christmas" gave me a little bit of hope and brightness for some darker days that would come. And it still shines for me every year.  Plus it's my second "must watch" holiday film featuring Mary Wickes.
Yeah, yeah, you've never heard of it.  I did list it as #25 on my list of Top 25 Favorite Films of All Time, but perhaps you missed that entry.  And you say it's not a Christmas movie??

Oh, pish and tosh.  The film opens and ends on Christmas day one year later.  Good enough for me.  And it embodies everything that Christmas is all about.

"Since You Went Away" came out in 1944 and it is 100% devoted to the homefront during WWII. For what "Mrs. Miniver" and "Hope and Glory" did for the London bombings (and I have a good friend who lived through that), "Since You Went Away" wonderfully depicts life in the United States when most men were overseas someplace and completely out of touch with their family and loved ones. David O. Selznick produced it and hoped to do for World War II what his earlier effort "Gone With the Wind" did for the Civil War. Yes, it's almost three hours long, but it sails by and, for me, is a big screen version of the best macaroni and cheese you can ever eat.

Claudette Colbert plays the mother of Jennifer Jones and Shirley Temple (here, she's a teenager and Bill Robinson-less). The family is semi-well-to-do and lives in Everytown, USA. Hattie McDaniel, who was obviously highlighted in Selznick's phone book for all servant roles, is their housekeeper and there is not a single stereotypical note to her performance. You never see the father as he has just left for active duty on Christmas Eve as the film opens. What follows is a year in the life of the Hilton family with Dad gone.

You visit USO dances. You experience food rationing and scrap metal drives. You watch as neighbors lose loved ones in battle and then sense the uneasiness as others in the community grapple to find the right words to comfort them. It is probably the truest picture of life in our country as that war raged on in Europe and the South Pacific. The courage. The resiliency. The dread. It is all here in this terrific slice of Americana.

I came to see this movie for the first time about 15 years ago. I've probably seen it once a year ever since and always during Christmas week.  For me, it is a annual reminder of my grandmother, who was a mother during World War II. And she shared virtually all of the stories that are portrayed on screen. On cold winter Sunday afternoons, I would sit in her living room and hear about rationing and community dances and the fear that wrapped around you when a letter from the government arrived in the mail. She lost a son in France in 1945---I was named after him. This movie gives me more than a history lesson. It gives me back my grandmother one more time.

"Since You Went Away" turns up on Turner Classic Movies. It is worth three hours of your time. I defy you not to well up at the end of Act 1 or just prior to the finale. I double defy you.

Forget "Elf" and any other Yuletide crap that Hollywood has passed off the last few years. The best Christmas movie to be produced in the last ten years is "Love Actually." It's one of those ultra-episodic scripts where about 15 characters have different storylines that may or may not be connected. It's a little confusing at first, as you meet practically the entire London phone book. But, hang on and you will get a wonderful present. 

Sure, there are about five characters and three storylines too many. But, they will scoot by quickly and you can revel in the more compelling tales. Laura Linney as a secretary who can't commit to any romance. Liam Neeson who is trying to be a parent to his young stepson as they both experience their first Noel without the recently-died Mom. The shaky marriage between Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson, who breaks your heart as she listens to a Joni Mitchell CD version of "Both Sides Now." I even liked Hugh Grant as a Tony Blair-like British Prime Minister. And there is a rendition of "All I Want for Christmas is You" that gives you goose bumps. If you've ever wanted to spend Christmas in London, this is the ideal virtual way to do so.
Okay, what's a Christmas without one Disney cartoon?  And this one is the best in my book.  Because it was my mother's favorite cartoon.  Curiously, I don't remember seeing it with her on one of the many Disney re-issues over the years.  But, when it came out on...wait for it...VHS several decades ago, I bought it and we watched it together one Christmas afternoon.  Suddenly, I was the child again and Mom was the parent again.  Indeed, as always happens with aging folks, the dynamic had reversed.  But, not on this day.  Thank you, Lady and the Tramp, for one of the very last good and lasting memories of my mom.
And then there's Christmas with Dad.  Here's the movie that connects me to him every December.  And, no worries.  This rollicking World War II comedy has a set piece that happens on Christmas Day when Tony Curtis is trying to steal some Polynesian farmer's pig for dinner.  But, moreover, this is the movie that I remember hearing my father laughing out loud for the very first time.

I know I saw it with him in a theater.  I do believe it played at the RKO Proctors in Mount Vernon, New York around Christmas time.  This may have been the way that I was shuttled out of the house for a few hours so that Mom could wrap my presents.  A lot of the ribald gags might have gone over my head.  But I didn't care.

My dad was convulsed with laughter.  And this was not a sight I saw frequently.  Plus there was one line that he repeated over and over and over when we got home.

"Can this submarine go down?"

"Like a rock."

For some reason, Dad loved that exchange.  Meanwhile, I did the same thing with this film when it came out many years ago on....wait for it again...VHS.  I watched it with my father one holiday season. 

He still laughed.
Okay, truth be told, I don't watch "Ben-Hur" every year.   Since I'm already devoting three hours to "Since You Went Away," I'm not sure I have the time to view this three-hour-plus epic.  But, frequently, I can hear the voices in my head.  Most notably that of my mother, who used to drag me to every Biblical movie ever made.  She may not have gone to church, but she sure did run to the theater every time Charlton Heston appeared in a gladiator outfit.  Oddly enough, this was not one of the movies she took me to.

But then there was one holiday season where Judah Ben-Hur and I finally crossed paths.

On December 30, 1987, I tripped on my sneaker laces coming out of my bathroom. Nevertheless, I still headed out for the evening, totally ignorant of the fact that I had fractured the rotator cuff in my right shoulder.

I was less ignorant in the morning when the excruciating pain and a neighbor drove me to the emergency room.

Happy F-ing New Year!

I couldn't raise a glass of cheer, because I could barely raise a pencil. So, I was cooped up for the frivolity. And, to get my mind off my chipped bones, I decided to rent the longest movie I could find at the video store. That would be the 1959 rendition of "Ben-Hur," which I had surprisingly never seen. And, so I sat in front of a 19 inch television, arm in a sling and watching, for the first time, one of the biggest and successful epics Hollywood had ever made. It was probably the worst way to sample this film. And I certainly have seen it several times since in much better viewing conditions. But, I can't say that I have enjoyed it more than I did that very first time.

"Ben-Hur" is total validation that, at one isolated point in the fixed universe, Charlton Heston could really act. For a movie that is so large in scope and long in running time, "Ben-Hur" is an incredibly intimate story. Because, indeed, it's about one man's spiritual awakening.

Many of the movie's sequences are so legendary that all I have to do is simply mention them and you can conjure up an immediate image. The ship's galley. The chariot race. The leper colony. But, for me, the most memorable scenes are the ones where Judah Ben-Hur encounters Jesus Christ. The first time finds a beaten Judah, enslaved in a road gang, and a traveling Jesus gives him a drink of water. Many reels later, Judah returns the favor when Christ falls in front of him while carrying the cross to his own crucifixion. The symmetry of those two points in the movie is truly amazing and wonderfully choreographed by director William Wyler.

Of course, this was in the day when Hollywood worked hard to never show Jesus Christ's face on camera. Today, they probably would have no shame and they'd probably even cast Seth Rogan in the part.

You can't truly appreciate "Ben-Hur" until you see it on a big screen. And a wide one. A really wide one like the Egyptian Theater had several years back when I saw it there.   But the Blu-Ray on the 42 inch-screen in my living room last year wasn't bad either. 

And my arm wasn't in a sling.

Okay, one more and I'm saving the best for last.  Truth be told, I watch "The Apartment" every year during the week between Christmas and New Year's.  Both those holidays are featured in the film, but it's the really organic blend of comedy and drama that makes it perfect for the post-Christmas doldrums.  You will laugh.  You will cry.  You will be moved.  It is life itself and that's why "The Apartment" is my #1 favorite movie of all time.  To understand it is to understand what we all deal with every single day.

There's no magical story why I am so connected to this film.  I did not see "The Apartment" till well after I got out of college. Now, it's one I see every year. It is an essential part of my annual film viewing. But, every time I see it, there is some new emotion or nuance that reveals itself to me. Perhaps it's a look or gesture from Shirley McLaine or Fred MacMurray that I missed. Maybe it's a line of dialogue that I suddenly realize was set up by another line of dialogue one reel earlier. There's always some new discovery for me.

And maybe it will be a discovery for you.  As well as the rest of the movies on this list.  Sure to bring holiday cheer...and even a tear...to your Christmas festivities.  Watch them with friends and family.  Watch them alone.

Just watch them.

Dinner last night:  Turkey reuben at Blue Plate before seeing...wait for it..."White Christmas" across the street at the Aero.