Monday, March 31, 2014

Monday Morning Video Laugh - March 31, 2014

One last classic laugh for anniversary month on this blog.  Oh, yeah, this never gets old.

Dinner last night:  Eye round roast beef, potatoes, onions, and vegetables.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Luxury Transportation

Another photo from the Mt. Vernon, New York page on Facebook.  I don't know where these people are finding this snapshots, but I hope they keep them coming.  It brings back my childhood and a world that was so simple.  In a hometown that was so livable.  That's not the case right now.

Okay, truth be told, I wasn't around to see trolleys on Mt. Vernon Avenue shown above.  This picture looks to be set somewhere in the late 40s, judging by the cars seen.  That trestle is still there.  Those Tudor-like apartment buildings are still around.  They would be right across the street from the Kimball Movie Theater, which is still a charred eyesore after a fire about ten years ago.  Indeed, I see cars stationed next to the Mt. Vernon West train station of the New York Central Harlem Line.  My guess is that these autos are cabs waiting to transport folks home.  I'm sure you can still find taxis parked there to this day.

I look back at this train station and it rejiggers a whole slew of wonderful memories.  Not that my family used the New York Central railroad a lot.  Actually, the most we were on there was....never.

You see, back in the day, this was luxury transportation.

Of course, when I was a kid, you generally stayed in the three mile radius of your home.  For me on South Fifteenth Avenue, I went as far as the Public Library of Second Avenue in one direction and our church on East 219th Street in the Bronx going the other direction.  Everybody in our family lived somewhere in between, either in Mount Vernon or the Bronx.  There was no need or thought to expand horizons.  All you needed was right there.  Relatives.  Food stores.  Doctors.  Movie theaters.

Going to Manhattan?  Oh, good Lord, no.

Meanwhile, there were rare occasions when we went "downtown."  Our regular holiday forays to Radio City Music Hall.  The circus or the rodeo at the old Madison Square Garden.  When they happened, we went on the subway.  For whatever small coinage you needed to buy a token.

The New York Central?  Both my father and my mother would scoff.

"That's for rich people."

Huh?

I was intrigued by this Mount Vernon West station so much that, when I would take my dog Tuffy on long walks either Saturday or Sunday, I would go down to the depot.  I'd climb the stairs on either the northbound or southbound platforms with the dog.  And I'd wait for a train to pull in.  I wanted to see who got off.  I wanted to see what rich people really looked like.

Of course, on weekend afternoons, nobody got off.  I was confused.

We even had a New York Central employee in our extended family.  He was a conductor on the railroad.  I used to see him leave holiday parties in his uniform and cap with that ticket puncher secured in his belt like a gun in a holster. Still, we never took that train "downtown."

I thought there was a chance to join that lofty crowd.  When I was about six or seven, I had a bunch of eye doctor appointments to a specialist on East 68th Street.  Heck, this was a medical condition.  I should be traveling in style.

Wrong?

Because my mom was so unfamiliar with the subway, we got hold of another relative, Aunt Edie, who just happened to be an expert on transportation.  If you ventured anywhere out of the territory, you had to take her.  It's like she was the family Sherpa.  Oddly enough, her husband just happened to be the guy who was the conductor.

D'oh!

I'm not 100% sure of this event, but I think my first solo ride on this luxury transportation was when I was 13.  I was already going to Met games at Shea Stadium on my own with a capable friend in tow.  On one Saturday, I was going to a game with a friend from school who had some mobility issues.  

"I can't take the subway.  Too many stairs."

Ironically, in 2014, I would probably reply in the same fashion.  But, back then, I realized that if we were going to this game together, I was going to have to step onto a New York Central train.  At this juncture, I think they might have even been calling it Penn Central.

I recall being on that train and sitting in style.  Sure, it was a couple of bucks to get on.  Yes, my father had sneered when he heard my plan.  And we actually were going to have to use the subway to get from Grand Central Station to the ballpark.  But, for me, this was glorious.

Once I got onto that railroad, I didn't want to ever venture onto the dirty subway ever again.  When I was looking for summer jobs in Manhattan, I boarded at Mt. Vernon West.  I was now officially a transportation elitist.

My mother climbed on board, so to speak, as well.  When she finally took a regular nine-to-five job, it was in an accounting firm.  On East 42nd Street.  It's not like she could take Aunt Edie to work with her every day.  She was one of those rich folks now.

Well, not really.

Frequently, I would go down to the train station to meet her when she came home.  I took the dog with me.  It was like old times for both of us.  More often than not, Mom would pile into one of those taxicabs for a ride home.  Nobody really liked to venture up that steep hill, which was Mount Vernon Avenue.  Plus the neighborhood was changing and ugliness was taking up residence. 

My family had evolved.  We were now embracing the very transportation we once thought was above our means.

Eventually, I started to work in Manhattan.  Oh, for cost cutting purposes, I took the subway for a while.  But a transit strike propelled me onto the Penn Central and I never looked back.  For almost two decades, from first Mount Vernon and then Yonkers, I was one of "those people." 

And, over time, I learned a lesson.  These were not rich folks on board.  They were all like me.  Reading the Daily News.  Gossiping about their boss.  Discussing that episode of "Moonlighting" the night before. 

And I looked around.  As Penn Central morphed into the much more reliable Metro North, torn seats were replaced.  Air conditioning was fixed and available in most cars.  But, more significantly, this travel was now commonplace.  Nobody lived in their three-mile-wide cocoons anymore. 

I remember one of my more recent trips on the train when I was back east.  I got off the train at the Greystone station on the Hudson Line.  A young boy was waiting for either his father or his mother.  He held the family dog on a leash.  They were anxiously anticipating the family unit coming together for another evening.

The more things change, some do stay the same.

Dinner last night:  Sausage pizza at Fabiolus Cucina.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Musical Comedy Production Number of the Month - March 2014

Yippee!  A month with five Saturdays.  That means we get a bonus video this month.  And what better number to watch than "That's Entertainment" from the wonderful "Band Wagon."  God bless MGM!

Dinner last night:  Grilled Taylor Ham, beets, and German potato salad.

Friday, March 28, 2014

If I Tweeted - March 2014

I don't, you know.  But, if I did, here's what I would have tweeted in this merry month of March.

#LenSpeaks  Torrential downpours the first weekend of March in LA.  The streets here drain like my sinuses used to in NY.

#LenSpeaks  LA on storm alert.  Hollywood has to walk a soggy red carpet at the Oscars.

#LenSpeaks  How does Botox hold up in the rain anyway?

#LenSpeaks  Ellen DeGeneres hosting the Oscars.  Does she even own a dress?

#LenSpeaks  A big celebrity selfie at the Oscars.  Me?  I remember the days when you had to go to Fotomat.

#LenSpeaks  The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming.  Not the movie.  For real.

#LenSpeaks  Doesn't Vladimir Putin look like the high school gym teacher everybody tells you not to take?

#LenSpeaks  Putin is Eddie Haskell and Obama is the Beaver.  Hey, squirt.

#LenSpeaks  How's that community activist President working out for you now???

#LenSpeaks  On the foreign landscape, Barack Obama has about as much relevance as a Diner's Club card.

#LenSpeaks  So nobody can find this Malaysian Airlines jet?  How do you lose something that big?

#LenSpeaks  It's sort of like somebody misplaced the state of Oklahoma.

#LenSpeaks  It's a jumbo jet you lost, not my suitcase.

#LenSpeaks  Rhetorical question: if the plane was hijacked some place else, do frequent flyers on board get credit for the extra miles?

#LenSpeaks  The plane disappeared after 30 minutes in the air.  That's one way to get out of having a meal service.

#LenSpeaks  Maybe it's me but I never want to get on a plane that is being piloted by somebody named either Shah or Farid.

#LenSpeaks  The Chinese are still wailing over the dead passengers.  Come on, they were an all-you-can-see buffet for piranha weeks ago.

#LenSpeaks  Good news.  My NCAA bracket do not match the President's.

#LenSpeaks  Obama supposedly watches ESPN for three hours a day.  No wonder nothing gets done in this country.

#LenSpeaks  But, at least, he's totally up on the latest news in ping pong.  Probably good for our relations with China.

#LenSpeaks   Obama went on Ellen's show to discuss health care.  She says it's a big success.  Five million people have signed up.

#LenSpeaks   Hey, stupid, that's less than 2 percent of the country.

#LenSpeaks    Meanwhile, Moo-shell Obama and the kids are living it up over in China.  On our dime.

#LenSpeaks  And so is Moo-shell's mother who's also living in the White House free of charge.

#LenSpeaks  Why are we carrying this fat slob on our backs?  And, while in China, she's barking orders at a fed-up hotel staff.

#LenSpeaks  Oh, yeah, those Obamas.  They're just common folk like you and me.

#LenSpeaks  You do know that, once they leave office, the First Lady will get her own talk show like Oprah?

#LenSpeaks  And his book will be made into a movie by Spielberg.

#LenSpeaks  Yeah, those Obamas.  They are so connected to the little guy.

#LenSpeaks  Okay, so now they say that plane crashed into the Indian Ocean.  Sharks in that area of the world, please contact your local Jenny Craig representative.

Dinner last night:  A great hangar steak at Xiomara.



Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Stritch In Time

Elaine Stritch is admittedly an acquired taste. You either hate her or, if you're a huge theater buff or gay or likely both, you love her.  

Me?   I fall somewhere in the middle.  When she's on and appearing in the right vehicle, she can be terrific.  About ten years ago, I saw her one-woman-show "At Liberty" with my writing partner.  I thought it was inventive and hilarious.  
My friend had the opposite polar attraction.

"God, I'm glad that's over."

Yep, that's Elaine Stritch. And, as we learn in this fascinating new documentary, she probably doesn't care what you think.  She's going to be her own person and do her own thing.  For that, I suppose we are lucky.  Because after a very long career in films and on Broadway, she's now in her late 80s.  And facing the end.  Of both her time on the stage of the Shubert Theater.   

And that stage we call life.

The filmmakers here follow Elaine for about a year as she literally crawls from one rehearsal studio for a supper club act to another.  Now a diabetic with increasingly frequent episodes of confusion due to low blood sugar, Miss Stritch allows the cameras to keep rolling.   We watch her life.  Her ups and many downs.  It is raw.  It is organic.  It is painful to watch.   But your eyes never divert from that screen.

You see a longtime show business pro holding onto her career with as much strength as she can.  She doesn't want to let go because she knows that, if she does, she likely will die.  Indeed, she is nothing unless she's on that stage, croaking out one Stephen Sondheim song after another.  She must have that audience in front of her so she can keep moving and breathing and living.

Stritch, a well-known recovering alcoholic, is candid when she talks about her past career and the role that a bottle of booze played in its direction.  The tales she tells are frank, candid, and immensely real.  It's a struggle for her to this day.   She reasons that, at this late point in her life, she should be able to cope with just one drink a day.   But she realizes how foolhardy that is.  

Meanwhile, the episodes of forgetfulness due to low blood sugar are staggeringly hard to absorb.   She suddenly can't remember the lyrics of a song that she's probably done over a thousand times.  She gets frustrated and angry.  She realizes that she is one step closer to the end.

Indeed, a good friend of mine told me that she actually witnessed one of these brain blips a few years ago when she watched Stritch co-star with Bernadette Peters in a revival of "A Little Night Music."  Elaine fell apart mid-performance and had to be replaced for the second act.  

My guess is that, after seeing this documentary, Elaine was back in there the very next day.   Once again, it is the audience which is the life force she craves.

I've often wondered why some show business performers just keep going.  Betty White, now in her 90s, is still working her butt off.   I remember about a decade when I myself had some dealings with "Desperate Housewives" creator Marc Cherry.   He had worked with Betty on "The Golden Girls."   Marc told me that he knew Betty will never retire.

"She has it in her mind that, if she quits, she will die."

So, too, is the thought process of Elaine Stritch and that's the main take-away in this superlative documentary.     Heck, she can barely sing now and she more stumbles than walks.  

But, once that musical introduction begins, she is now there in front of the footlights.  Doing what she can to make you love her.

And, even if you don't, she's going to keep on trying.  Because that's all she knows how to do.

LEN'S RATING:  Three and a half stars.

Dinner last night:  Sandwich and salad.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

This Date in History - March 26

Happy birthday, Diana Ross.   I might have to widen the blog columns in order to get this picture to fit.

590:  EMPEROR MAURICE PROCLAIMS HIS SON THEODOSIUS AS CO-EMPEROR OF THE BYZANTINE EMPIRE.

Father and son despots.

1027:  POPE JOHN XIX CROWNS CONRAD II AS HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR.

We love you, Conrad, so, yes, we do.

1169:  SALADIN BECOMES THE EMIR OF EGYPT.

Have Barge, Will Travel.

1484:  WILLIAM CAXTON PRINTS HIS TRANSLATION OF AESOP'S FABLES.

And the moral of the story is?

1812:  AN EARTHQUAKE DESTROYS CARACAS, VENEZUELA.

But an earthquake couldn't stop Fernando Valenzuela.

1812:  A POLITICAL CARTOON IN THE BOSTON GAZETTE COINS THE TERM "GERRYMANDER" TO DESCRIBE ODDLY SHAPED ELECTORAL DISTRICTS DESIGNED TO HELP INCUMBENTS WIN RE-ELECTION.

Gerrymander as is "crooked as all hell."

1830:  THE BOOK OF MORMON IS PUBLISHED IN PALMYRA, NEW YORK.

Not the musical, gang.

1839:  THE FIRST HENLEY ROYAL REGATTA IS HELD.  

Don?

1874:  POET ROBERT FROST IS BORN.

First frost of the year.

1892:  POET WALT WHITMAN DIES.

Some sampled the last candy in the box.

1911:  PLAYWRIGHT TENNESSEE WILLIAMS IS BORN.

Midwife on a Hot Tin Roof.

1915:  THE VANCOUVER MILLIONAIRES SWEEP THE OTTAWA SENATORS IN THE 1915 STANLEY CUP FINALS, THE FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP PLAYED BETWEEN THE PACIFIC COAST HOCKEY ASSOCIATION AND THE NHL.

They were over by the end of March.  Now they're still playing in June.

1923:  COMEDIAN BOB ELLIOTT IS BORN.

Partner of Ray, father of Chris, no relation to Win.

1931:  ACTOR LEONARD NIMOY IS BORN.

Beamed up.

1931:  SWISSAIR IS FOUNDED AS THE NATIONAL AIRLINE OF SWITZERLAND.

Duh.

1934:  THE DRIVING TEST IS INTRODUCED IN THE UNITED KINGDOM.

Still has yet to be implemented in China.

1934:  ACTOR ALAN ARKIN IS BORN.

The Russians are Here.

1936:  SPORTSCASTER HARRY KALAS IS BORN.

He died in the booth on Opening Day.  Talk about signing off.

1940:  POLITICIAN NANCY PELOSI IS BORN.

No way this birthday girl gets her picture on this blog.   It could spread a computer virus.

1942:  THE FIRST FEMALE PRISONERS ARRIVE AT AUSCHWITZ IN NAZI-OCCUPIED POLAND.

Fiends.

1943:  AUTHOR BOB WOODWARD IS BORN.

Which makes him under 30 when Watergate happens.

1944:  SINGER DIANA ROSS IS BORN.

I know somebody who saw her munching on Cheezits in the supermarket with her cart full of hot dogs.

1967:  TEN THOUSAND PEOPLE GATHER FOR ONE OF MANY CENTRAL PART BE-INS IN NEW YORK CITY.

Sanitation Department works overtime.

1973:  PLAYWRIGHT NOEL COWARD DIES.

Private Deaths.

1975:  THE BIOLOGICAL WEAPONS CONVENTION COMES INTO FORCE.

Bring your own mace.

1979: ANWAR SADAT, MENACHEM BEGIN, AND JIMMY CARTER SIGN THE MIDEAST PEACE TREATY.

Known as Carter's singular accomplishment, they're still fighting like lunatics over there.

1982:  A GROUNDBREAKING CEREMONY FOR THE VIETNAM VETERANS MEMORIAL IS HELD IN WASHINGTON, DC.

I hear this is a stirring monument.

1990:  FASHION DESIGNER HALSTON DIES.

Of AIDs.  No surprise there.

1991:  FIVE SOUTH KOREAN BOYS, NICKNAMED THE FROG BOYS, DISAPPEAR WHILE HUNTING FOR FROGS AND FOUND MURDERED.

And you thought dogs were prime game in Korea?

1999:  THE MELISSA WORM INFECTS MICROSOFT WORD PROCESSING AND E-MAIL SYSTEMS AROUND THE WORLD.

If computers can get worms, can they also get fleas?  Discuss.

1999:  A JURY IN MICHIGAN FINDS DR. JACK KEVORKIAN GUILTY OF SECOND-DEGREE MURDER FOR ADMINISTERING A LETHAL INJECTION TO A TERMINALLY ILL MAN.

I'm very concerned about the Youth in Asia.  Oh, never mind.

2003:  POLITICIAN DANIEL PATRICK MOYNIHAN DIES.

You just know he drank.

2011:  POLITICIAN GERALDINE FERRARO DIES.

Three years before, she sat in front of me on a flight from LA to NY.  It was the day Elliott Spitzer got caught.  She was looking at her Black Berry a LOT.

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


Tuesday, March 25, 2014

When You Really, Really, Really Love Lucy

Okay, no need to rub your eyes.  That's definitely not the original cast of "I Love Lucy."  The optics are not playing tricks on you.

That is the touring company cast of a kitschy concoction called "I Love Lucy Live On Stage."  It's been bouncing around the country for a couple of years and I finally caught up with it in Orange County.  Naturally, if you're going to recreate America's greatest sitcom ever, I need to go and be the final judge.

This rather ingenious idea first started a few years ago.  A small theater on Fairfax Avenue in Hollywood staged it.   There was some press and, well, I did need to be the final judge.  My friend, Djinn from the Bronx, wanted to take me for my birthday.  To our shock, the damn thing was sold out for the entire three month run!  

Flash forward to 2014.  My childhood pal Leo sees that the touring company has come to some Costa Mesa hall and inquires whether I would be interested.  Well, is a loving cup destined to get stuck on Lucy's head in the subway?  Of course, I was interested.  So, we all trooped down to see just what all the buzz has been about.

Hmmmm.

It would have to be completely perfect to get past my sniff test.  I am, after all, an expert.  And I had the added burden of totally focusing on the script.  I wanted to make sure the words of the original writers, Bob Carroll Jr. and Madelyn Pugh Davis, had not been altered one iota.

So, if you're the producers of this stage production, you've got the deck stacked against you as far as yours truly is concerned.

Well, they got away with it.  Sort of.  I can't say that I was overwhelmed by it all.  But I had a smile on my face as I left.  Even if I did have a few nits to pick.

The gimmick here is you're supposedly part of a studio audience for a 1950s filming of "I Love Lucy."  To stretch out the proceedings, you're going to watch not one, but two different episodes.  Okay, that would never have happened, but they had to flesh out the evening in some way.  I also noted that, back in 1953 and still in 2014, you can be part of a sitcom live audience for free.  But, if you want to see "I Love Lucy - Live on Stage," well, my seat cost 79 bucks.  And that wasn't even the top tier.

I wondered how they were going to get two hours of stage production out of two half-hour scripts, but they did.  Before it even started, I rifled through the Playbill to make sure Bob and Madelyn were listed somewhere.  They were.  Okay, we were off to a good start.

It all began with some stage manager welcoming you to the Desilu Playhouse.  You were instructed how to be part of a television audience.  Oh, yeah, do you see that applause sign?  This guy did the usual sitcom warm-up act.   Stale jokes and asking who had traveled the farthest.   There were plants in the audience, dressed straight from my grandmother's hall closet.  Points were belabored to the point of domestic abuse.  Yo, we got it.  But I began to understand how they were going to turn this hamburger into a lengthy six-course dinner.

Two actual scripts were used.  "The Benefit" from the very first season.  "Lucy Has Her Eyes Examined" from the third season.  I noted the set of the Ricardos' apartment.   It was the second apartment used with the window in the background.  Okay, that wasn't the apartment they were in during the first season.  Ahem.  Two points off from Len.

I also got the sense that the dialogue was being altered.   It seemed like there were elements from other episodes sifting their way into these stagings.  Suddenly, we have four women on stage singing "The Pleasant Peasant" number from "The Operetta" episode.  Oh, really? 

When it was time to change a set or wardrobe, the now ultra-annoying stage manager came back to set up a word from the "I Love Lucy" sponsors.   We saw staged versions of famous 50s commercials.  Brylcreem with that little dab that will do you.  Mr. Clean, which, by the way, did not get its first TV ad until 1958---a year after the half-hour version of Lucy went off the air.   Oh, yeah, and Chevrolet with their songstress/spokesperson Dinah Beach.   A dead giveaway that the producers couldn't get clearance to use Dinah Shore's name.

Of course, more points off from Len.   None of these products sponsored "I Love Lucy."   Where were the cigarette ads calling for Phillip Morris??  The little midget in the bellhop outfit?  Were the producers being sensitive to the Surgeon General?  Hello?  

Of course, if you're going to stage old "I Love Lucy" episodes in 2014, you have to expect that the actors would come under scrutiny.  Wisely, none of the players attempted to do imitations of the original cast.   Instead, they employed body language (and, naturally, a bright red wing) to invoke our perceptions of Lucy, Ricky, Fred, and Ethel.  Indeed, the two playing Lucy and Ricky were perfect.   The Mertzes, however, didn't fare as well.  Ethel sounds like a version of Granny Clampett.   She'd be ideal when they decide to recreate "The Beverly Hillbillies."   And Fred Mertz was way too tall.   As near as I can remember, William Frawley did not play for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The major problem with it all was that an "I Love Lucy" filming back in 1954 was a rather intimate affair.   There were probably no more 200 bleacher seats in their soundstage.   Heck, these days, most sitcoms don't have audiences bigger than 300 folks.  In this Costa Mesa barn, there were likely over 1,500 filled seats.   As a result, nuances were lost.  The closeness to the characters was non-existent.   You had to strain to hear Lucy's famed spider noise.

I also think that the producers really gave short shrift to Desi Arnaz.   In this show, he's basically one of the actors.  But, indeed, the real guy was a genius.  He essentially invented the whole "three-camera-film-before-a-live-audience" concept.  Admittedly, they probably didn't want to get too technical.  But, some mention of Desi's role in TV history should have been included.  I mean, Desi Arnaz is one of the top five people that I would have liked to meet in my lifetime.  Future versions of this live show really need to rethink this. 

So, as I saw in Row R, I was mentally clicking off one complaint after another.  And, then, at the end of the evening, the audience around me rose as one and gave it a standing ovation.

So did I.

What the hell???

Perhaps, the whoops and hollers had more to do with the legacy of the original than this recreation.   Or maybe the folks were just so damn appreciative to see this live and in person that they didn't really care about the inconsistencies and some of the hammier acting.

Go figure.  They all loved Lucy.

I guess we always will.

Dinner last night:  Leftover meat loaf.


Monday, March 24, 2014

Monday Morning Video Laugh - March 24, 2014

Another gem for anniversary month.  There is no mask for pain.

Dinner last night:  Meat loaf, butter noodles, and broccoli.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Sunday Memory Drawer - The Almost Symmetrical Life of Grandpa

This is one of the only photos I have of my grandfather.   Fittingly, he was right next to Grandma.   I don't think one ever really went anywhere without the other.

This date makes me think.

All the elders in my family are gone.  My parents, as well as my aunts and uncles, all got wiped out over a ten year period.  Some people remember the date their relatives die.  Truth be told, I'd actually have to look up the exact day that my parents and my grandmother passed away.  It's not worth remembering.  When I want to conjure up a calendar point to recall the good times, I much prefer to do that on their birth dates which are forever etched in my mind.

I, however, cannot forget the date my grandfather died.  March 23.  It's easy to remember because it was one day after his birthday.  Symmetry like that is not hard to ignore.  A few years back, I recall from his obituary that TV host Mike Douglas actually died on his birthday.  Well, that certainly makes for clean record keeping in Heaven's central office.  Grandpa missed that distinction by 24 hours.

So, I think about Grandpa this week and flashback to a piece I wrote here several years back.

In these Sunday memory drawer recollections, Grandpa's made only fleeting appearances. Part of the reason why is that he was one of the earliest departures from my life. Grandpa died when I was 12. So, I didn't get him that long. But, there are some random memories that have stayed with me.

In reality, though, I really don't know much about the man beyond what I was told by my grandmother. Or what I remember from my very wee years.

From what I was told, Grandpa had a variety of jobs over the years. I did see a picture of him standing behind a bar with an apron on, so I assume he was a bartender at one point. There was some other talk about him driving a delivery truck. But, the job I know he had the longest was for a milk company. Borden's or "Bordink's" as my grandmother called it. What he did there was a mystery, except, at least, he had achieved an upgrade in the healthy aspects of the beverages he was involved with.

But, as far back as I can remember, he was already retired. Sitting in that big easy chair in the living room and yelling at the wrestlers on TV. If the match got particularly nasty, he would move closer to the edge of the cushion, as if his next move was to vault into the ring himself. If it was really intense, the instructions yelled at the set by both Grandpa and Grandma were in German, so I'd be lost. At the foot of his easy chair was always a glass bottle of Kruger Beer. My grandfather actually had beer delivered to the home every Wednesday morning. Tuffy, our dog, would hear the truck's squeaky wheels from blocks away and her incessant barking always heralded the "beerman's" arrival.

On Sunday afternoons, I can always remember Grandpa sitting at the kitchen table, reading the Daily News. I'd sit alongside him, which was always the signal for him to go into Fiorello LaGuardia mode. Even though I could read at a very early age, my grandfather liked to read the funnies to me.

"So, Moon Mullins sits down on the couch and says to Kayo..."

I have no clue why Grandpa liked to do this with me, but it happened like clockwork every Sunday.

There are other snapshots.

Grandpa's lunch often consisted of a slice or two of head cheese in a plate covered by vinegar. Head cheese is the cold cut that is made up of all the parts of a pig most people don't eat. The whole meal looked gross to me.

"Wanna try some?"

I'd run away in horror.

My grandparents would eat their supper early. Usually around 4:30PM. Which meant that, from 3:30PM to about 4:15PM every day, Grandpa was missing in action. That was his time to walk two blocks and hoist a few brews at what my grandmother referred to as "the beer garden." He never came home drunk. It was simply his daily cocktail hour.

I do recall, however, one night where Grandpa was completely snockered. There was a community place on Stevens Avenue in Mount Vernon called the Turn Hall and they frequently featured Saturday night dances for any Germans interested. My family and all its tentacles always showed up. And, for some inexplicable reason, I got carted along at the age of 5. They'd sit me down at a table with a Coke and my favorite Colorforms set while the immediate world would commence to polka. While I got bored, Grandpa got pickled.

It was a rainy night and we all piled into my dad's car for the trip home. I was in the back seat, seating beside Grandma and on my grandfather's lap. Soaked to the gills, he used the moment to get very amorous. With me.

Kissing me all over my face, Grandpa kept announcing over and over. "I love you, I love you so much, I love you, I love you so much."

It was mere minutes before Grandma had endured enough. There was an ice cold stare.

"If you don't stop that, I'd gonna pop you one with this goddamn umbrella."

Who knows what happened behind their closed bedroom door that night.

When I was really young, my father worked days. So, any transport that my mom and I needed during the daytime hours was provided by Grandpa and his green Buick sedan. On my very first day in the first grade, my school was closed at noon because of an impending hurricane which was going to hit New York dead on. Grandpa picked me up outside for the five block ride home. He never ever showed much emotion. But, looking out the window at a raging wind and blinding rain, he appeared a little vulnerable. Almost scared.

"Oh, my God, this is going to be a hurricane."

During the summer months, the Grandpa transport extended to Orchard Beach where he would drop us off and pick us up after a day at the "Bronx Riviera." On one ride home, there were two other passengers with us. One of my mother's friends and her kid. Well, anyway, mucho chatter had ensued. And, for some reason, Grandpa seemed to be a little unsure about the way home. And then he ran a stop sign. And whacked a car coming the other direction.

I got knocked onto the floor of the back seat, but everybody was otherwise okay. Surprisingly, there was no damage to our car. And a medium-sized dent on the car we hit. But, the real trauma was etched on Grandpa's face. He was crestfallen. He had never been involved in an accident before. His demeanor showed the result of his epiphany. With his reflexes slowing down, he was encountering the inevitable.

His driving days were over.

As my family often did, we went into lockdown mode. Grandpa whispered to me.

"Don't tell your grandmother."

Check.

My mother whispered to me.

"Don't tell your father."

Check again.

Somehow, this was going to be a little secret between my mother and my grandfather. And me. But, there was an obvious leak because I soon noticed that my father would do all the driving whenever my grandparents needed to go someplace. To the supermarket every Thursday. To the Bronx on the first Tuesday of every month when my grandmother saw her doctor and then they shopped for Kosher dill pickles at some neighborhood they called "Jew Town." More importantly, that accident was never discussed ever again.

The years and more were closing in on Grandpa.

That fall, he came down with pnuemonia and pleuresy, which had him bedridden at home for about a month. He really was never the same after that. Breathes became shorter. Walks to the beer garden became extinct. And he even stopped smoking his beloved pipe.

By the following March, the days were dwindling down to a precious few. On the day Grandpa would pass away, I would conveniently be home from school. I had brokered an afternoon home sick. Partly because of a sore throat. Mostly because I wanted to listen to a Met spring exhibition game on the radio. My mom had walked around the corner to the grocery store. Sequestered in my room on the bed with my transistor radio, I suddenly heard my grandmother wail from downstairs.

"Lenny, quick. Go run and get your mother. I think something happened to Grandpa!"

I scooted quickly out of the house like Lassie when Timmy fell down the well. My mother dropped all her groceries in the store and told me to come along. I told her I would stay there. It was no time to argue. She ran out.

Within five minutes, amidst the cans of Krasdale vegetables, I could hear the faint but scary sound of sirens. Those noises have bothered me to this date. But, the only thing worse than hearing those piercing mechanical cries is knowing that they are headed to your house.

Eventually, I headed home and kept myself busy. Upstairs away from the activity. Because of all the strangers in the house, I grabbed Tuffy and hid in the bathroom. I don't think I came out for an hour.

Grandpa was gone. I later heard the details. His labored exhales had caught the dog's attention as she sat at his feet. My grandmother noticed this.

"Pop, Tuffy is listening to you breathe."

He apparently leaned forward to look at my dog, smiled, and then leaned back to die. In his favorite easy chair.

The sum total of my memories about my grandfather, my dad's dad, are etched above for the ages. I just wish I had him a little longer than I did. 

Dinner last night:  Italian sub at Jersey Mike's.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - March 2014

Well, March does have St. Patrick's Day.

Dinner last night:  Grilled Taylor Ham.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Beware the Ides of Awkwardness

He's got the whole bride in his hands.
Great wedding gift idea if the bride and groom live in China.
No tongue, Grandma.
What a bunch of dummies.
We were wondering what happened to Grandpa.
You can hang them anywhere.
 
Arf.
Hey, kid, you know where that's been??
"You're from Roto Rooter, right?"
That's one way to dump the bride.
Five seconds later....splat!
C_te.
I think Dad is the real dummy in this photo.

Dinner last night:  Steak, potatoes, and broccoli.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

American Idull

Zzzzzzzzzz.

In an odd way, it pains me to write that.  Not that I'm a huge devotee of "American Idol."  But I used to be.   And longtime readers of this blog will remember that this show was part of the impetus to start this daily extravaganza. 

Back in 2007, I was such a fan of this show that I wanted to comment on it daily in this forum.  Comically, of course.  It was an easy target for laughs.  

I hate to admit that, years backs, there was one season of "American Idol" where I actually voted.  Yes, I know, the shame.  But I was a big fan of that particular season's Melinda Doolittle and cast one or two or ten votes for her every week. 

I was that fan.

Truth be told, I lost interest as soon as the show lost Simon Cowell as the main judge.   He was the anchor of this love fest.  The voice of reason.  The guy who really did honest and accurate critiques of the contestants.  Simon made sure our time was not being wasted and ensured that this was a truly legit talent competition.

When Cowell left, there began a revolving door of idiot judges, one less qualified than the next.  Ellen DeGeneres, for Pete's sake!  Mariah Carey, who probably has yet to score well on a fifth grade spelling test.  Nikki Minaj, whoever the hell she is.  Steven Tyler, whose relevance ended when the first George Bush was President. 

And, of course, there's Jennifer Lopez.  She left and came back this season.  Lucky us. The absence hasn't improved her.  She's still as dumb as a post.  But, what can you expect from some slob who grew up in the Bronx?  Indeed, you wonder if the contestants will truly benefit from JLo's advice.  I mean, as allegedly one of the biggest and nastiest bitches in Hollywood, she could teach them all how to effectively drop F-bombs when their assistants forget to include lemon with her tea.

As uninteresting as all those judges are, the main challenge with them was that they seemed to like everybody.  There was no real judging, just platitudes.   It was like singing in front of your father's aunt.  She'd like you no matter what.   And send you five dollars every birthday.

This is where I tuned out.  And so did lots of other viewers as American Idol jumped the proverbial shark.

So, with their audience leaving so fast that somebody must have yelled "fire," the Idol producers decided to revamp the show.  They moved that load Randy Jackson into the role of "mentor," just in case these contestants need help picking out clunky eyewear or jewelry.  As I wrote earlier, JLo is back.  That's what happens when your film and music career goes belly up.  Keith Urban is there.  Who cares?  Ryan Seacrest continues as host so the young finalists will have at least one person on stage shorter than them.

Yawning as we speak.

But I was mildly intrigued to see Harry Connick Jr. as a new judge.  I've enjoyed his work before.  I saw him in concert twice.  Harry doesn't get involved in crap.  Maybe there was hope for Idol again.

I finally tuned in last week and then again last night.  And, truth be told,  Connick brings some much-needed credibility to the festivities.  For the first time since Simon Cowell left, there is finally a judge who's not an automatic "love you" review.  He gives honest and pointed critiques for these hopeful rock stars.  Seated against the other two morons, Connick is that proverbial sore thumb. 

The problem with American Idol, though, is really the concept.  It is incredibly tired.  They've changed the judges, the sets, and the lifts in Ryan Seacrest's shoes.  It's a new paint job, but the car is still the Edsel.  Or the Ford Maverick which exploded upon impact years ago.

The songs are all the same.  The finalists all look alike.  The composition never changes.  You can count on at least two kids singing ditties with their teeth wrapped up in braces.   There's always at least one or two Black girls who fill the "Jennifer Hudson" role and even sing her songs from "Dreamgirls."  There's a couple of hillbillies who are wearing shoes for the very first time. 

It's now nothing but a formula and it never ever changes.

Translation: I was bored to tears.

In the past, you could always count on some of the kids being at least attractive.  Eye candy for the teenagers in the audience or the older guys at me living vicariously at home.  This season, they have amped up the geek quotient.  All the kids are dorky.  They all remind me of the best friend of the hero in that 80s slasher movie.  You know, the schmuck that gets killed off in the first half hour.

This year, there is the first openly gay contestant, some schlub named MK.  Despite the fact that she's a history maker on this show, she could be the most atrocious singer they've had since that Sanjaya idiot years ago.   Listen to five seconds of MK screeching like a cat on your backyard fence and you'd rather be listening to Penny Marshall sing La Boheme. 

Sure, they all sing their hearts out.  They battle each week for votes.  Seacrest keeps talking about record numbers of people casting ballots.  How does that happen when the show itself has reached its lowest rating threshold ever?  Well, in 2014, there are tons of ways you can love your favorite Idol.  You can vote on the phone or Twitter or Facebook or by signing up for the Affordable Healthcare Plan. 

Still, that all doesn't mean squat if the actual show itself is lulling you into a coma.

So, Harry, I sampled again.  And, despite your valiant efforts, I am done.  Again.  And, like so many of the recent Idol winners, I will disappear.  Not to be heard from again.

Len....out.

Dinner last night:  Leftover sausage and rice.



Wednesday, March 19, 2014

This Date in History - March 19

Happy birthday, Phyllis.  Or should I say......hello, Newman.

1279:  A MONGOLIAN VICTORY AT THE BATTLE OF YAMEN ENDS THE SONG DYNASTY IN CHINA.

My kingdom for a Song.

1649:  THE HOUSE OF COMMONS OF ENGLAND PASSES AN ACT ABOLISHING THE HOUSE OF LORDS, DECLARING IT "USELESS AND DANGEROUS TO THE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND."

Sounds like our own Supreme Court.

1812:  THE CADIZ CORTES PROMULGATES THE SPANISH CONSTITUTION OF 1812.

I never promulgated...either junior or senior.

1848:  WYATT EARP IS BORN.

Jeez, that makes Hugh O'Brien really, really old.

1861:  THE FIRST TARANAKI WAR ENDS IN NEW ZEALAND.

Isn't this the new pitcher on the Yankees?

1865:  DURING THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, THE BATTLE OF BENTONVILLE BEGINS.  BY THE END, CONFEDERATE FORCES HAVE RETREATED.

If my history dates are correct, they're in the bottom of the ninth inning.

1891:  SUPREME COURT JUSTICE EARL WARREN IS BORN.

Report coming.

1894:  COMIC MOMS MABLEY IS BORN.  

My grandmother loved her on the Merv Griffin Show.

1895:  AUGUSTE AND LOUIS LUMIERE RECORD THEIR FIRST FOOTAGE USING THEIR NEWLY PATENTED CINEMATOGRAPH.

Raisinets, please.

1906:  NAZI ADOLF EICHMANN IS BORN.

Makes you wonder if anybody in Germany names their kid "Adolf" anymore.

1914:  ACTOR FRED CLARK IS BORN.

One of several Harry Mortons on the Burns and Allen Show.

1918:  THE US CONGRESS ESTABLISHES TIME ZONES AND APPROVES DAYLIGHT SAVING TIME.

Before this, was it really the same time in NY and LA???

1921:  ITALIAN FASCISTS SHOOT FROM THE PARENZANA TRAIN AT A GROUP OF CHILDREN.

Killing kids???  Now that's real terrorism.

1931:  GAMBLING IS LEGALIZED IN NEVADA.

Vegas, baby!

1933:  ACTRESS PHYLLIS NEWMAN IS BORN.

She was married to songwriter Adolph Green, so you know Miss Newman didn't really judge people by their looks.

1941:  DURING WORLD WAR II, THE TUSKEGEE AIRMEN, THE FIRST ALL-BLACK UNIT OF THE ARMY AIR CORPS, IS ACTIVATED.

Screenplay pending.

1943:  FRANK NITTI, THE CHICAGO OUTFIT BOSS AFTER AL CAPONE, COMMITS SUICIDE.

Gee, was it something we said?

1944:  ASSASSIN SIRHAN SIRHAN IS BORN.

Rot in jail, you miserable piece of Arab shit.

1945:  OFF THE COAST OF JAPAN, A DIVE BOMBER HITS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS FRANKLIN, KILLING 724 OF HER CREW.

Enjoy that, you rotten Japs.  It will be time to say sayonara soon.

1945:  ADOLF HITLER ISSUES HIS NERO DECREE ORDERING ALL INDUSTRIES, MILITARY INSTALLATIONS, AND COMMUNICATION FACILITIES IN GERMANY TO BE DESTROYED.

Hmmm, something to hide?

1947:  ACTRESS GLENN CLOSE IS BORN.

As a result of a fatal contraction.  I don't know what that joke means, but I have nothing else to write.

1954:  JOEY GIARDELLO KNOCKS OUT WILLIE TORY IN ROUND SEVEN AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN IN THE FIRST TELEVISED BOXING FIGHT SHOWN IN COLOR.

The Wonderful World of Cuts Above Your Forehead.

1954:  WILLIE MOSCONI SETS A WORLD RECORD BY RUNNING 526 CONSECUTIVE BALLS WITHOUT A MISS DURING A POOL EXHIBITION.

Showoff.

1958:  THE MONARCH UNDERWEAR COMPANY FIRE LEAVES 24 DEAD.

Life is all too briefs.

1962:  MUSICIAN BOB DYLAN RELEASES HIS FIRST RECORD ALBUM.

I have heard from people who have dealt with him that 1962 might also be the last time he took a bath.

1966:  TEXAS WESTERN BECOMES THE FIRST COLLEGE BASKETBALL TEAM TO WIN THE FINAL FOUR WITH AN ALL-BLACK STARTING LINEUP.

That hadn't happened yet??

1974:  ACTOR EDWARD PLATT DIES.

Sorry about that, Chief.

1979:  C-SPAN BEGINS BROADCASTING.

Purely for those who needs naps during the afternoon.

1987:  TELEVANGELIST JIM BAKKER RESIGNS THE PTL CLUB DUE TO A SEX SCANDAL AND HANDS OVER CONTROL TO JERRY FALWELL.

As if that's an improvement.

2005:  AUTO DESIGNER JOHN DELOREAN DIES.

Virtually no Blue Book value now.

2007:  ACTOR CALVERT DEFOREST DIES.

Better known as Larry "Bud" Melman.

2008:  AUTHOR ARTHUR C. CLARKE DIES.

2008:  An Eternal Odyssey.

2008:  ACTOR PAUL SCOFIELD DIES.

A Man for All Seasons, Except Late Winter 2008.

2011:  AFTER THE FAILURE OF MUAMMAR GADDAFI'S FORCES TO TAKE BENGHAZI, THE FRENCH AIR FORCE LAUNCHES OPERATION HARMATTAN.

It's amazing that people still don't know what happened to our people there in 2012.

2013:  PORN ACTOR HARRY REEMS DIES.

So when is the erection....of his monument?

Dinner last night:  Leftover Chinese beef and vegetables.


Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Je T'Attendrai

How's that for a blog title?  It's my best translation for the name of a song from this movie.  It was a struggle coming up with that.   And you should note that I took French every year from the fifth grade right on through my sophomore year in college.

Mais je digresse....

"The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" presented this blog author with a curious dilemma.   As you are painfully aware, I frequently review and rate current movies in this forum.  Now, here in Los Angeles, I am lucky to be able to go out to classic movie houses and see some wonderful old films.   I don't review them here, because most of them can be found on Netflix, TCM, or your own DVD shelf.

But what about a 50-year-old movie that's currently being restored and released to theaters?  And one that I have personally never seen before?  Is it worth a blog review?

Mais oui. Or so I decided.

I had always heard about "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" but never bothered to seek it out.   Well, it's got its golden anniversary and that was apparently worth a digital restoration.   It was playing down the block from my house.  Hey, why not?

To my surprise, I discovered that the Nuart Theater was packed.  Allegedly, this film has its fans.   I saw grandmothers with their daughters and their granddaughters.  I saw old couples.  I saw young couples.  I saw actor/dancer George Chakiris.  He's supposedly a big fan and also did a later movie with the director Jacques Demy and Umbrella's star Catherine Deneuve.  

Hmmm?  What had I fallen into?

I'll be damned if I know.   Indeed, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is an acquired taste.  If you did not know this, every word of dialogue is sung.   Well, not sung like a song but uttered as if the person is singing.   Confused yet?   There are three main melodies that play throughout the movie.   They were totally recognizable to me because they played on my mother's hi fi record player back in the sixties.

The most famous is "I Will Wait For You."   Or, as I translated, "je t'attendrai."  Recorded by everybody from Andy Williams to Connie Francis.

There's another well known ditty or melody.   "Watch What Happens."  I don't have the energy or time to give you the French translation of that one.  Recorded by everybody from Andy Williams to Connie Francis.

If you like and remember either of those tunes, this is the movie for you.   Because they are played on the soundtrack over and over and over and over.

Mon dieu.

Of course, there is a plot that starts in November of 1957.  There's this good looking auto mechanic who's dating a beautiful sales clerk at an umbrella store.   Before he goes off to his two-year hitch in the French army (a joke in itself), he knocks her up.  When he comes back, she's already left town with another man who will raise his child.   The two lovers reunited briefly six years later when she tries to tank up at his gas station.   

End of movie.

Yes, fin.

Truth be told, my grocery list has more intrigue and plot.  But, then again, I am not singing along to "I Will Wait For You" as I call off milk, orange juice, and soap detergent.

As flimsy and as stupid as I just made "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" seem, here's the problem.

I liked it. I have no clue why.  I doubt anybody else in the theater did either.   But everybody was applauding like crazy.   George Chakiris was smiling from ear to ear as he tossed his empty popcorn container into the lobby trash can.  

Indeed, "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is a joy to listen to.  You can't help but hum one of the two melodies for days afterward.  And it's also exquisite to look at.  Bright colors that explode off the screen.   You also get a nice snapshot of just how bad wallpaper is in France.   I would have loved to have the Sherwin Williams account for this movie.  One ugly and hideous pattern after another.  It all looked like Paul Lynde's shirt closet in 1974.

Yet, I enjoyed it all.  I left the theater amused and confused.  How did I get sucked into something so banal and utterly slight?  

Perhaps it's a movie I need to see again to understand just what the hell I saw and apparently liked?   If you want to come, let me know.

I will wait for you.

LEN'S RATING:  A mystifying three stars.

Dinner last night:  Hot sausage, Spanish rice, and salad.