Wednesday, November 30, 2016

This Date in History - November 30

Happy anniversary, Lucy and Desi.

1700:  AT THE BATTLE OF NARVA, A SWEDISH ARMY OF 8,500 MEN UNDER CHARLES XII DEFEATS A MUCH LARGER RUSSIAN ARMY.

This was Sweden.  So how many of those 8,500 men actually started out as men?

1718:  SWEDISH KING CHARLES XII DIES DURING A SIEGE OF THE FORTRESS FREDRIKSTEN IN NORWAY.

I hope this Sweden thing isn't a trend for November 30.

1783:  A 5.3 MAGNITUDE EARTHQUAKE STRIKES NEW JERSEY.

If we had another one 228 years later, we could wipe out that Snooki bitch.

1786:  PETER LEOPOLD JOSEPHY OF HABSBURG-LORRAINE, GRAND DUKE OF TUSCANY, PROMULGATES A PENAL REFORM MAKING HIS COUNTRY THE FIRST STATE TO ABOLISH THE DEATH PENALTY.  CONSEQUENTLY, NOVEMBER 30 IS COMMEMORATED BY 300 CITIES AROUND THE WORLD AS CITIES FOR LIFE DAY.

That's a long way to say..."what a stupid decision!"

1803:  IN NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, SPANISH REPRESENTATIVES OFFICIALLY TRANSFER THE LOUISIANA TERRITORY TO A FRENCH REPRESENTATIVE.  JUST 20 DAYS LATER, FRANCE TRANSFERS THE SAME LAND TO THE UNITED STATES AS THE LOUISIANA PURCHASE.

Plus a ghetto to be named later.

1824:  FIRST GROUND IS BROKEN AT ALLENBURG FOR THE BUILDING OF THE ORIGINAL WELLAND CANAL.

And this is interesting why?

1829:  FIRST WELLAND CANAL OPENS FOR A TRIAL RUN, FIVE YEARS TO THE DAY FROM THE GROUND BREAKING.

I'm really starting to lose interest in November 30.

1835:  WRITER MARK TWAIN IS BORN.

And so is, in a way, the Mississippi River.

1868:  THE INAUGURATION OF A STATUE OF KING CHARLES XII OF SWEDEN TAKES PLACE IN STOCKHOLM.

I hope they weren't waiting for the statue to deliver an inaugural address.

1874:  SIR WINSTON CHURCHILL IS BORN.

His father later flashed V for "Vasectomy."

1886:  THE FOLIES BERGERE STAGES ITS FIRST REVUE.

Okay, now this November 30 is starting to perk up.

1900:  WRITER OSCAR WILDE DIES.

Finally tamed.

1918:  ACTOR EFREM ZIMBALIST JR. IS BORN.

77 Sunset Strip, snap, snap.

1920:  ACTRESS VIRGINIA MAYO IS BORN.

Hold the...

1924:  COMEDIAN ALLAN SHERMAN IS BORN.

Hello muddah, hello faddah...

1929:  TV PERSONALITY DICK CLARK IS BORN.

Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Virginia Mayo, Dick Clark....um, people born on November 30.

1934:  THE STEAM LOCOMOTIVE "FLYING SCOTSMAN" BECOMES THE FIRST TO OFFICIALLY EXCEED 100 MPH.

Amtrak, please note.

1936:  ACTIVIST ABBIE HOFFMAN IS BORN.

That should read "activist/creep."

1940:  LUCILLE BALL MARRIES DESI ARNAZ IN GREENWICH, CONNECTICUT.

Which was later used as a plot on "I Love Lucy" and the Ricardos married in the exact same place.

1954:  IN SYLACAUGA, ALABAMA, THE HODGES METEORITE CRASHES THROUGH A ROOF AND HITS A WOMAN TAKING AN AFTERNOON NAP IN THE ONLY DOCUMENTED CASE OF A HUMAN BEING BEING HIT BY A ROCK FROM SPACE.

Well, for the sake of today's blog, I'm glad the woman wasn't living in Sweden at the time.

1965:  ACTOR BEN STILLER IS BORN.

His parents were ten times more talented.

1966:  BARBADOS BECOMES INDEPENDENT FROM THE UNITED KINGDOM.

The dullness that is November 30 continues unabated.

1971:  IRAN SEIZES THE GREATER AND LESSER TUNBS FROM THE UNITED EMIRATES.

Seeking the correct pronunciation please of the word "tunbs."

1979:  COMIC ZEPPO MARX DIES.

He was forgotten in life, but I remember you in death.

1982:  MICHAEL JACKSON'S "THRILLER," THE BEST SELLING ALBUM OF ALL TIME, IS RELEASED.

The music lives on.  His bony ass, however, does not.

1993:  PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON SIGNS THE BRADY HANDGUN VIOLENCE PREVENTION ACT INTO LAW.

Because it was important that we stop a firearm from being in the hands of Ann B. Davis.

1995:  OFFICIAL END OF OPERATION DESERT STORM.

T-shirts available at the gift shop.

1996:  SINGER TINY TIM DIES.

I wonder if his grave has tulips.

2003:  OLYMPIC SWIMMER GERTRUDE EDERLE DIES.

It's tough to do a flip turn in a grave.

2004:  LONGTIME JEOPARDY CHAMPION KEN JENNINGS FINALLY LOSES, LEAVING HIM WITH OVER 2.5 MILLION DOLLARS, TELEVISION'S BIGGEST GAME SHOW WINNINGS.

No need to give him that Rice-A-Roni and a home version of the game.

2007:  DAREDEVIL EVEL KNIEVEL DIES.

Nobody survives that very last jump.

2013:  ACTOR PAUL WALKER DIES IN A CAR CRASH.

Not so fast and furious.

Dinner last night:   Chopped kale salad.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Morons of the Month - November 2016

Well, we obviously could have gone with something political here, but I'm done with that stuff.  

Instead, if you're going to be one of the idiots out shopping this Black Friday, take a look at what you will be surrounded by.   Good luck to you.











Dinner last night:  Leftover sausage, peppers, and onions.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Monday Morning Video Laugh - November 28, 2016

This is why it took ten hours to film an episode of "Friends."

Dinner last night:  BLT at Blue Plate.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Pass the Cranberries

Still hung over from last Thursday?   

I am happy to announce that I made my triumphant return to hosting Thanksgiving dinner after a year off due to a fractured kneecap and a gallstone stuck in my bile duct.   Well, you asked.   Actually you didn't.

The art of holiday cooking is new to me, but totally pleasurable and oddly therapeutic.  I approach it all like an Army maneuver.   Just keep it moving in an orderly fashion.   And keep the dishwasher humming.

Back in the day, Thanksgiving Day had me watching the parade while everybody else did stuff around me.   The smell of frying onions would wake me up around 8AM.  I was savoring a breakfast bowl of Rice Krispies and already my stomach was churning with this bizarre odor in the early morning.  It could mean only one thing.

It was Thanksgiving and Grandma was downstairs making the stuffing.

Our family Thanksgiving dinners were probably no different than yours.  Certainly not as warm and fuzzy as magazine ads would lead you to imagine.  Loving family members, heads bowed in grace, thanking the Lord for the food they were about to partake.  Good feelings all around.

Nah.  Maybe you heard the following, too.

"You didn't make turnips this year?  What's wrong with you?"

"The white meat is way too dry.  Did you bother to baste it?"

"I'm not sitting next to him/her unless they apologize."

Oh, yeah.  Norman Rockwell is a myth.

Our gatherings were frequently held at our house.  Grandma and my mother would co-op the cooking together as other ends of our family would come to call and dine around Grandma's big dining room table downstairs.  The fact that my mom and her mother-in-law were working together was news worth of Ripley's Believe It or Not.  Rarely on the same page, they were barely in the same book when it came to holiday cooking. 

I have an ultra-vivid memory of one such skirmish.  Mom and Grandma had such a dust-up that, when my grandmother turned her back, my mother picked up one of those Pillsbury biscuit cans and pretended to take a swing at her.  A tough vision for a seven-year-old.

"Oh, my God.  Mommy's gonna bash Grandma in the skull."

Or something like that.

I'd try to stay out of the line of fire by sequestering myself in front of the television and watching Bullwinkle float down Broadway.  Eventually, the other relatives would show up and even the arrival of Santa Claus at the end of the parade couldn't upstage that year's family drama.

"Stop telling me how to raise my kids."

"I will if you stop telling me how to raise my kids."

"If you've got gas, please go in the other room."

"Belch!"

And that's before dinner.

On our table were the usual staples.  Turnips and sweet potatoes, which I could never tell apart.  Green beans, which were usually fresh.  Mashed potatoes, which were never completely a unanimous favorite.

"I like them creamy."

"They're too lumpy."

"They're too dry."

"Did you forget the butter??"

And, amid all the fresh food, there was my favorite Thanksgiving dish.  Cranberry sauce.  Still is.  These days, I'm enjoying a homemade concoction of this fruit, usually mixed with oranges and cherries.  But it didn't get that fancy years ago.  Nope, my family always opted for the can.

The Ocean Spray can.

The one you opened with a can opener and the cranberry sauce slid out in one gloppy mold.  Just like we used to slip the dog food out of the Ken-L-Ration can.  With the cranberries, they didn't even bother to use a knife to slice it.  Somebody would simply take the metal lid and use that to cut up the mold.  If Martha Stewart had witnessed this scene, she would have used that same metal lid to slit her wrists.

But, to me, this was cranberry sauce and I loved it nonetheless.  Except, of course, when there was a much publicized recall of Ocean Spray Jellied Cranberries one Thanksgiving.  Seems there was some poison embedded or perhaps a soupcon of botulism.  Whatever the case, I was petrified.  The moratorium was quickly called off within a month, but that didn't assauge me in the least. 

I would pass on cranberries for the next five years.  I was convinced that there was still one can out there that had been ignored by the inspectors.  And the way my grandmother used to buy in bulk, I was sure that food poisoning and/or death was no doubt lurking right around the corner of Grandma's pantry.

There was always plenty of food on our table.  One Thanksgiving, as we dined on our respective second helpings, we heard the faint sound of chewing in the kitchen.  My beagle Tuffy had hopped up on the table and was helping herself to anything she could sniff out.  Nobody took home leftovers that year.

And, of course, the most popular after dinner activity in our house was undoubtedly no different than in any American home.  From various corners of the house, we could hear the same refrain.

"ZZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzz......."

Dinner last night:  Sausage, peppers, and onions.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - November 2016

Released forty years ago this month.

Dinner last night:  Leftover roasted vegetables.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Your Black Friday Holiday Shopping Guide for 2016

If you're out in the malls today, you are no friend of mine.  Why would anybody subject themselves to this kind of treatment?

So, let me help you stay at home.   Here are some nifty holiday gift ideas that you can purchase on-line.   Isn't this much easier?
 Wouldn't it be easier to pay the freakin' heating bill?
 How lazy can you be?
 For those can't bend over...ever.
 Remove fish before re-wearing.
 Oh, good.  Another reason for her not to get out of bed.
 If yours have skid marks on them, I may beg to ask a follow-up question.
 For those of you who lost an annoying uncle this past year...
 Well, that's cheery.
Nothing like sodium nitrate in a gift box.
 Life vests sold separately.

 This better be marked down.
For you single gals over the age of 70.
 Insert your favorite Donald Trump joke here.
Insert your second favorite Donald Trump joke here.
Operating instructions by Bill Clinton.

Dinner last night:  The usual Thanksgiving dinner menu.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

The Thanksgiving Day Tradition

And so the holiday season commences.   Given the mood of this country this year, there are going to be lot of half-eaten Thanksgiving Day dinners across the nation when Cousin Lou and Aunt Marge get to chatting about the election.

So let's go with my annual fun tradition here.   Another cheesy version of the ultimately cheesy number from "Promises, Promises."  Enjoy.   And don't talk politics over the cranberries today.

Dinner last night:  Barbecue chopped salad.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

This Date in History - November 23

Happy birthday, Harpo.  What do you have to say for yourself?

534 BC: THESPIS OF ICARIA BECOMES THE FIRST ACTOR TO PORTRAY A CHARACTER ONSTAGE.

Later signed as a client by William of Morris.

1227:  POLISH PRINCE LESZEK I THE WHITE IS ASSASSINATED AT AN ASSEMBLY OF PIAST DUKES AT GASAWA.

Perhaps the very first Polish joke.

1499:  PRETENDER TO THE THRONE PERKIN WARBECK IS HANGED FOR REPORTEDLY ATTEMPTING TO ESCAPE FROM THE TOWER OF LONDON.

Except he wasn't pretending to be dead.

1644:  JOHN MILTON PUBLISHES AREOPAGITICA, A PAMPHLET DECRYING CENSORSHIP.

Which was probably banned itself.  The original vicious cycle.

1808:  FRENCH AND POLES DEFEAT THE SPANISH AT THE BATTLE OF TUDELA.

Sure.  You'll notice the French couldn't manage this by themselves.

1859:  BILLY THE KID IS BORN.

And, for a while, I guess he really was a kid.

1863:  DURING THE CIVIL WAR, THE BATTLE OF CHATTANOOGA BEGINS.

Choo choo.

1876:  CORRUPT TAMMANY HALL LEADER BOSS TWEED IS DELIVERED TO AUTHORITIES IN NEW YORK CITY AFTER BEING CAPTURED IN SPAIN.

Back when political corruption was the exception and not the norm.

1887:  ACTOR BORIS KARLOFF IS BORN.

It is alive.

1888:  HARPO MARX IS BORN.

His first word?   ___________________!

1889:  THE FIRST JUKEBOX GOES INTO OPERATION IN SAN FRANCISCO.

The only problem was nobody had any quarters.

1890:  KING WILLIAM III OF THE NETHERLANDS DIES WITHOUT A MALE HEIR AND A SPECIAL LAW IS PASSED TO ALLOW HIS DAUGHTER PRINCESS WILHELMINA TO BECOME HIS HEIR.

Hey, that's cheating!

1902:  MEDICAL EXPERT WALTER REED DIES.

Ironically, he died at home.

1914:  DURING THE MEXICAN REVOLUTION, THE LAST OF US FORCES WITHDRAW FROM VERA CRUZ.

Almost a hundred years later, we're now waiting for the Mexicans to withdraw from California.

1936:  THE FIRST EDITION OF LIFE IS PUBLISHED.

And so Life begins...

1940:  BASEBALL PITCHER LUIS TIANT IS BORN.

Or so they say...

1946:  FRENCH NAVY FIRE IN HAI PHONG, VIETNAM, KILLING 6,000 CIVILIANS.

Just in case you thought all the killing over there was our fault.

1955:  STOOGE SHEMP HOWARD DIES.

Several years after the death of Curly.  That third Stooge slot was a killer.

1959:  GENERAL CHARLES DE GAULLE, PRESIDENT OF FRANCE, DECLARES HIS VISION FOR A EUROPE FROM THE ATLANTIC TO THE URALS.

Or, in the case of France, the Urinals.

1963:  THE BODY OF PRESIDENT JOHN F. KENNEDY LIES IN STATE AT THE WHITE HOUSE.

What the heck are we going to do with all this PT-109 junk on his desk?

1971:  REPRESENTATIVES OF CHINA ATTEND THE UNITED NATIONS FOR THE FIRST TIME.

Anybody for a game of ping pong?

1972:  ACTRESS MARIE WILSON DIES.

My late friend Irma.

1973:  ACTOR SESSUE HAYAKAWA DIES.

How cheap a joke would it be to simply write "sayonara?"

1974:  AUTHOR CORNELIUS RYAN DIES.

The author of "The Longest Day."  On November 23, he should only know how long.

1979:  ACTRESS MERLE OBERON DIES.

From Wuthering Heights to Withering Depths.

1981:  PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN SIGNS THE TOP SECRET NATIONAL SECURITY DECISION DIRECTIVE 17 GIVING THE CIA THE AUTHORITY TO RECRUIT AND SUPPORT CONTRA REBELS IN NICARAGUA.

You would have thought that Nancy's tarot cards would have told him this was a bad idea.

1990:  THE FIRST ALL WOMAN EXPEDITION TO THE SOUTH POLE SETS OFF.

When you've exhausted all your Match.com contacts on this continent.....

1995:  FILM DIRECTOR LOUIS MALLE DIES.

My Dinner with St. Peter.

2001:  SINGER O.C. SMITH DIES.

I guess the apples ripened.

2003:  GEORGIAN PRESIDENT EDUARD SHEVARDNADZE RESIGNS FOLLOWING WEEKS OF FLAWED ELECTIONS.

I guess those Chicago election booths got used here.

2006:  LYRICIST BETTY COMDEN DIES.

From On the Town to Below the Ground.

2012:  ACTOR LARRY HAGMAN DIES.

Not from a gun shot wound.

2014:  WASHINGTON DC MAYOR/DRUG ADDICT MARION BARRY DIES.

Another inductee into the Politician Hall of Shame.

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


Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Warren Beatty Returns!!!!

Here's a comparison of two film makers.   

Woody Allen is one year over eighty.

Warren Beatty is one year under eighty.

Both have won Oscars for directing.

Woody Allen regularly delivers one new movie a year.

Warren Beatty delivers on average one new movie every eight years.   

Now, at the pace of Woody Allen, he naturally delivers some good stuff and some not-so-good stuff.

You would think that, with the extended lag between movies, every film Beatty directs is a masterpiece.   Well, not so much.   His last work was in 1998 with the dreadful "Bulworth."

In the ensuing 18 years, Beatty has managed to conjure up a compelling, often hilarious movie called "Rules Don't Apply."   In this case, the prep work over almost two decades was well worth it.  I got to see it in a crowded screening before it opened and Beatty did a Q and A after the movie.   He's oddly shy and, at times, incoherent.  I guess that happens when you are 79.   Luckily, Warren never once mentioned that I almost knocked him on his ass several years ago in the lobby of the Beverly Hills Hotel, which is often featured in the film.

For those not in the know, "Rules Don't Apply" is a snapshot of five years or so of the life of eccentric, possibly clinically insane billionaire Howard Hughes. Beatty does double duty in the title role as he obviously enjoys playing real people, such as John Reed and Bugsy Siegel.   Indeed, he said as much after the screening and also told us that a lot of the story was based on things he learned from talking to many Hughes associates over...well, I guess...the last 18 years.

The story?   It runs from the mid 50s to 1964.  Hughes, among many other possessions, owns RKO Studios (if I am not mistaken, he sold it to Desi Arnaz in 1958).  Back then, there were a lot of pretty girls under contract to the studio which was often been run by the virtually invisible Hughes, who gave the actresses their paychecks by lowering them out a window.

Anyway, each girl has a driver assigned to them.   And one actress Marla, a Southern Baptist, starts to fall a little bit for her young driver named Frank.   He reciprocates, too.   But, out of left field, so does Mr. Hughes himself.   Did this really happen?  Hmm, maybe.   Beatty has said that the two young characters were composites of real people.   The tale, as it unfolds, is just crazy enough not to be made up.

As the romantic saga threads the film, "Rules Don't Apply" is uplifted by moments of sheer lunacy as Hughes' eccentricities are laid bare for all to see and laugh at.  It captures the era perfectly and the frequent rear projection of a 1950's Hollywood is gloriously provided.   

Also working in our favor is Beatty's ability to cast the film with some reliable and familiar faces with the likes of Ed Harris, Amy Madigan, Oliver Platt, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, and Martin Sheen showing up for a couple of scenes each.   The star value in the supporting cast lends to the notion that this is a real Hollywood movie about...well...Hollywood.

I have read that early cuts of "Rules Don't Apply" were three hours long.   The story certainly doesn't command that length.   Even at its slightly over two hour running time, the film starts to feel a little stretched and I was squirming.   Or maybe that was because the woman next to me was giving little to work with on the arm rest.   Small quibbles if you are laughing at the scene up on the screen.

"Rules Don't Apply," while I doubt it is Oscar worthy, is well worth your viewing time this holiday season.   I can't wait to see what Warren Beatty comes up with in 2025.

LEN'S RATING:  Three-and-a-half stars.

Dinner last night:  Leftover franks and beans.


Monday, November 21, 2016

Monday Morning Video Laugh - November 21, 2016

When imbeciles are in charge of the Thanksgiving dinner...

Dinner last night:  Franks and baked beans.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Sunday Memory Drawer - She Could Have Been My Aunt

Sadly, the person I was named after and his fiancee never got to play this scene on his return home from the front.

And the story continues.

Last week, you may remember that I had swallowed hard and called my late uncle's WWII fiancee to tell her about my dad's passing. 

Stella was elated to be talking to the namesake of her former beau.  I couldn't help but note the symmetry of life.  I thought our single conversation would be the first and the last.

It was not.  As she had done with my dad, Stella could not let go of the connection to our family.  And, for lack of anybody else, I was the handy choice at the moment.

Except I didn't really mind.  For the first time, I was getting a peak behind my family's curtain.  From the days long before me.

At first, Stella was a bit more intent on learning all about this "Lenny."  She wanted to get caught up all at once on my schooling, my career, and my friends.  And then some...

"Is there a girl that calls you her 'feller?'"

Huh? 

I told her yes, but spared her the really gory details.  Yes, at that moment, there was a girl calling me her "feller."  And, depending upon the day and time, she might have been calling me a myriad of other names as well.  It was that intense.  As comfortable as I felt with Stella, we didn't need to walk down that garden path.

I learned a lot about her years since World War II.  As I had heard from my grandmother, Stella did marry a man named Willie and had two sons who were around my age.  Yet, new information came when I learned that Stella had somehow kept flowers on my uncle's southern France grave all these years.  Had she done it with the full knowledge of her husband?  She was quite vague with her answer.  Or perhaps the non-answer really was my answer.

After my uncle had been killed in action, Stella had obsessed a bit on his final moments.  She told me of speaking with all his foxhole buddies and grabbing onto any information that was available.  Some of it was documented in a journal one of these other soldiers had kept.  She shared that with me.  I realized that I didn't know this man she was engaged to, even though he was a blood relative.  But I got to be acquainted just a little bit through her words.

I also got a compelling snapshot or two of my family during those years.  Apparently, there were gatherings and dinners almost every weekend.  Lots of love and good times.

Huh?  What had I seen?

Stella talked about my family showing up en masse to her wedding with Willie.  At the reception, Stella, or so she told me, was approached by my dad.  He was sobbing.

Huh?  My father?

As she stood there in her wedding dress, my father apparently poured out his heart to her.

"We really wanted to have you in our family."

I couldn't believe the depth of Dad's declaration.  These were not the emotions that were shown ever.  Except maybe for anger.  Not only was my uncle a mystery to me.  So, too, I guess was my own father.

Over time and phone conversations, I soon learned that Stella was, at last, making a long put-off pilgrimage.  To my uncle's grave in Paris.  At that time, I thought that no one in my family had ever done the same thing.  I very recently learned that my father's oldest brother had made the same journey several years prior.  No one knew because no one really talked anymore.  The sometimes inevitable tatters of a family fabric.

Stella was making this trip with one of her sons and I couldn't help but wonder what was going through this guy's mind.  He had recently lost his own father and now Mom was going to visit the final resting place of her first love.  I admired her courage and fortitude and, secondarily, the son's as well.  I pondered if I could have done the same thing.

When she returned from the trip, Stella shared with me dozens of photos and I experienced that bizarre Frank Capra moment of seeing my own name on a tombstone.  Naturally, it was a military cemetery and all the grave markers were identical.  But, the stories of each one of them were really as unique as snowflakes.  The visit seemed to give Stella some closure.  A tale that had remained slightly ajar for almost fifty years.

Stella and I stayed in touch regularly and frequently invited me to her own family get-togethers in Staten Island.  I begged off because of the distance, but probably was backing off for other reasons.  I thought about her own sons.  And, here I am, bearing the name of her first love.   When the invitations came, I was always conveniently "busy." 

Even after relocating to California, Stella was always a phone call or a holiday card away.  I stayed in touch as I could.  When we spoke on my birthday one February, she was almost blase with her news update.

"I have to go to the hospital tomorrow.  I have a little cancer."

When it comes to that word, it's never a little.  And always a lot. 

I wished her well and wanted to be updated regularly. 

But, as I would try to call her the rest of the year, I always got the answering machine.  Not having the phone numbers of her sons, I was stuck for new information. 

And maybe I didn't want to know.

When I didn't get the usual reciprocal Christmas card greeting, I decided to do a deeper dive on that Staten Island phone directory.

Except, right after New Year's, I got my answer.  A letter from her son, telling about his own mom's passing.

The words were heartfelt but measured.  Stella's son conveyed solace and appreciation of how I had kept his mom in my thoughts all these years.   And, yet, I could sense the uncomfortableness in his writing. 

Had this been a cloud over their household all these years?

I could have replied and asked the question.  One-on-one.  Son-to-son.

I didn't.  And my book closed as well.

Dinner last night:  Chicken teriyaki with string beans.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Classic TV Theme of the Month - November 2016

Crappy show, but always an infectious opening.   Plus dig those guest stars...Betty White and the Village People!!

Dinner last night:  Sausage and peppers at Vito's.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Your Weekend Movie Guide for November 2016

Another recently discovered photo of one of the two beloved movie palaces in my hometown of Mount Vernon, New York.   This theater played to three levels of seats and the most glorious smoker's lounge.   I know that because that's where my mother would park from time to time.   

This one was the first to meet the wrecking ball in favor of a parking garage. But I still recall it fondly as it provided air conditioning on hot summer days or a Christmas-decorated lobby in December.  

Yep, all you find these days are antiseptic multiplexes featuring tons of junk.   The holidays are upon us.  Let's see what "gifts" Hollywood is providing this year.  You know the drill.  I'll sift through the movie pages of the LA Times and give you my gut reaction to what is being unloaded on us.

Hmmm.  I wonder where "Flight Command" is playing.

Arrival:   Blog review coming.   It's a sci-fi film, but prepare not to be scared.

Moonlight:   Another blog review coming.   Not what I expected.

Doctor Strange:   One more comic book I never read.

The Accountant:  Ben Affleck stars?   Audit to come.

Loving:  Inter-racial romantic drama.   Is this any different from the story we have seen hundreds of other times?

Hacksaw Ridge:   Didn't he pitch for the 1932 St. Louis Cardinals?

Gimme Danger:   Any relation to Carlos Danger?  

The Handmaiden:   Fancy name for a manicurist.

Almost Christmas:  The now annual comedy about a dysfunctional family trying to celebrate the holidays.  Please make them stop.

Inferno:   Ron Howard has bombed again at the box office.   Sad to say that.

Trolls:   Allegedly Donald Trump voters.

Jack Reacher - Never Go Back:   Tom Cruise Stars - Never Go Back.

The Love Witch:   Somehow that's doesn't trip off Jack Jones' tongue like the theme from "The Love Boat."

Elle:   Isabelle Huppert as the head of a video game company who is attacked in her own home.   Interested?  I didn't think so.

Manchester By The Sea:  Casey Affleck as a Boston janitor with a past.   What did he do?  Steal Swifter refills?

Love Is All You Need?:  I see the question mark.   I note the irony.

Hunter Gatherer:   Without even seeing the log line, I'm not interested.

Life on the Line:  Electrical linemen in Texas keep the grid running during a storm.   John Travolta stars and that doesn't get a charge out of me.

Nobody Walks in LA:  True.

Nocturnal Animals:   Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal star as a couple whose lives take a dark turn when he writes a novel.  When Kindles attack.

The Take:  A CIA agent teams with an American pickpocket in Paris.   Solution: don't take out your wallet at all.

A Street Cat Named Bob:   I'm allergic.

Bleed for This:  Miles Teller in a biopic about a boxer who severed his spine in a car accident and then battles back to reclaim his title.   At what point in the script does he start to chase chickens around a coop?

The Edge of Seventeen:  A teenage girl discovers her older brother is dating her best friend.   What does Jughead think about all this?

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them:  Author JK Rowling tries to prove that she can write something without a wand.  Eddie Redmayne plays a magizoologist...whatever the hell that is.

Shut In:   Let me guess.

Dinner last night:  Asian chopped salad.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Len's Recipe of the Month - November 2016

Okay, it's November but, if you thought I was going to give you a full blown recipe for your Thanksgiving table, you're nuts.   

But what I am giving you is a super delicious side dish.   November might not be the right month to buy grape tomatoes, but you will thank me when it comes the time that they are in season.   I could eat this as a complete meal.

We're talking here Pan Roasted Tomatoes with Balsamic Jam and it's another gem that I have stolen from my first wife Valerie Bertinelli.   Well, she wasn't but it's fun to say.  This looked damn good when she prepared it on her Food Network show.   But the taste exceeds the looks by leaps and bounds.   You will thank me.

Get a pound of heirloom grape tomatoes.  Before you do anything, put a skillet on the stove and heat it till the darn thing smokes.   Super hot is necessary here.

As soon as the pan is scalding, dump the tomatoes in and let them blister on all sides.   Keep stirring so the blistering is even.   This takes about three to four minutes.   

You will have previously chopped up a medium red onion.   Lower the heat a little and add the onion bits.   Stir them all around for about a minute.

What the hell is balsamic jam?   Well, I'll tell you.   Take a half-cup of balsamic vinegar and add it to the pan.  Then stir in 1/2 teaspoon of confectioner's sugar. Yes, the powdery sugary.   Keep stirring it all together for about five minutes.   You will see the liquid get all syrupy and almost...wait for it...jam-like.   Add sea salt to taste and remember that salt and tomatoes marry very well together. 

Okay, plate the stuff and add some chopped basil (also a great partner for tomatoes) and a drizzle of olive oil.   The great thing is you can serve this warm or chilled like a salad (don't drizzle the EVO before you chill it).  

The result is a very unique tasting dish.   Because tomatoes are really a fruit, the sweetness here gives off the essence of a dessert salad.   

You still haven't thanked me.   I thank Valerie every day.

Dinner last night:  Steak, roasted tomatoes, and salad.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

This Date in History - November 16

Happy birthday, Dwight Gooden.  You broke my mother's heart.

534:  A SECOND AND FINAL REVISION OF THE CODEX JUSTINIANUS IS PUBLISHED.

I have no idea what this is.  Perhaps the earliest version of a phone book?

1491:  AN AUTO-DA-FE, HELD IN THE BRASERO DE LA DEHESA OUTSIDE OF AVILA, CONCLUDES THE CASE OF THE HOLY CHILD OF LA GUARDIA.

I've frequently flown into his holy airport.

1532:  FRANCISCO PIZARRO AND HIS MEN CAPTURE INCA EMPEROR ATAHUALPA.

I doubt he's any relation to Juan Pizarro who used to pitch for the Chicago White Sox.

1776:  DURING THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, HESSIAN MERCENARIES CAPTURE FORT WASHINGTON FROM THE PATRIOTS.

I should have taken the Patriots with the points.

1805:  DURING THE NAPOLEONIC WARS, RUSSIAN FORCES UNDER PYOTR BAGRATION DELAY THE PURSUIT BY FRENCH TROOPS UNDER MURAT.

Pyotr Bagration???  Now there's a historical name you don't hear every day.

1821:  MISSOURI TRADER WILLIAM BECKNELL ARRIVES IN SANTA FE, NEW MEXICO OVER A ROUTE THAT BECAME KNOWN AS THE SANTA FE TRAIL.

Master of the obvious.

1849:  A RUSSIAN COURT SENTENCES FYODOR DOSTOEVSKY TO DEATH FOR ANTI-GOVERNMENT ACTIVITIES LINKED TO A RADICAL INTELLECTUAL GROUP.

Sorry, Fyodor, Pyotr Bagration is still the name of the day for me.

1852:  THE ENGLISH ASTRONOMER JOHN RUSSELL HIND DISCOVERS THE ASTEROID 22 KALLIOPE.

He did this while standing on his Hind legs.

1907:  ACTOR BURGESS MEREDITH IS BORN.

The Penguin!!!

1907:  OKLAHOMA IS ADMITTED AS THE 46TH U.S. STATE.

Which means Oklahoma outlived Burgess Meredith who died in 1997.

1914:  THE FEDERAL RESERVE BANK OF THE UNITED STATES OPENS.

And I'm thinking Oklahoma will outlive that, too.

1916:  VOICE OVER ARTIST DAWS BUTLER IS BORN.

The voice of Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, and Elroy Jetson.

1938:  LSD IS FIRST SYNTHESIZED BY SWISS CHEMIST DR. ALBERT HOFMANN.

Unofficially, this is the day that Woodstock was born.

1940:  DURING WORLD WAR II, IN RESPONSE TO THE LEVELING OF COVENTRY, ENGLAND BY THE LUFTWAFFE TWO DAYS BEFORE, THE ROYAL AIR FORCE BOMBS HAMBURG.

Take that, you Nazis!!!

1944:  DUEREN, GERMANY IS DESTROYED BY ALLIED BOMBERS.

And take that, you damn Krauts!!!

1945:  UNESCO IS FOUNDED.

I read this too fast.  I thought it was the day the cookie company got started.

1960:  ACTOR CLARK GABLE DIES.

Just weeks after complaining that Marilyn Monroe was always late to the Misfits set, Clark is now late himself.

1961:  POLITICIAN SAM RAYBURN DIES.

No relation to Gene.  Not a match.

1964:  BASEBALL PITCHER DWIGHT GOODEN IS BORN.

I had a choice of photos to use.  One where he is wearing blue and orange.  The other where he is wearing just orange.

1973:  NASA LAUNCHES SKYLAB 4 WITH A CREW OF THREE ASTRONAUTS.

Were there more Police Academy movies than there were Skylabs?

1973:  US PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON AUTHORIZES THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE ALASKAN PIPELINE.

Perhaps the only legal thing he did do in 1973.

1981:  ACTOR WILLIAM HOLDEN DIES.

Died when, in a drunken stupor, he fell, hit his head on the coffee table, and bled to death.  Conspiracy theorists argue that he was attacked by the furniture.

1989:  A DEATH SQUAD OF EL SALVADORAN TROOPS KILLS SIX JESUIT PRIESTS AT JOSE SIMEON CANAS UNIVERSITY.

Is it too late to send them over to Fordham?

2000:  BILL CLINTON BECOMES THE FIRST US PRESIDENT TO VISIT VIETNAM SINCE THE END OF THE VIETNAM WAR.

He needed to see where all that Southeast Asian porn gets produced for his laptop.

2005:  TV HOST RALPH EDWARDS DIES.

This is Your Death.

2006:  ECONOMIST MILTON FRIEDMAN DIES.

Moving over to the debit side of the ledger.

2009:  ACTOR EDWARD WOODWARD DIES.

Death is the true Equalizer.

2010:  FILM PUBLICIST RONNI CHASEN IS KILLED.

About a mile from my Los Angeles apartment.  I'm still locking the doors at night.

2015:  ACTOR DAVID CANARY DIES.

Remember Candy from "Bonanza?"

Dinner last night:   Leftover chicken sausage and red cabbage.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Not What I Was Expecting

It's the time of year where Oscar buzz starts to be heard and this film is getting a lot of it.   Realistically, it didn't look like the type of movie I would enjoy but the platitudes were loud and frequent.   And I remembered how much I did enjoy "Straight Outta Compton."   So why not?

While I'm not sure "Moonlight" deserves all the raves it's been getting, I'm here to tell you that it is quite a good film.   And certainly not the movie I was expecting, especially when the very first thing you hear is the soundtrack and some song that proclaims, "N*gg*r, you can be a star!"  I started to squirm.   Is this going to be some drama acted out on an urban and gang-infested street?

Um, yes and no.  Again, surprises were in store for yours truly.

We start in Miami of the 1980s and we meet a shy, nine-year-old Chiron.   Daddy's long gone and his mom's a druggie.   Oddly, he's taken under the wing of his mom's dealer, who actually serves as a responsible Big Brother to Chiron.  And, then suddenly...

it's about seven years later and Chiron, still quiet and introverted but a big more responsible, is trying to fit in at school.   Remarkably, the actor now playing the character looks very similar to an older version of the 9-year-old actor.   Kudos to the casting department.

Chiron is also grappling with his sexuality...yeah, I didn't see that coming either.  His buddy Kevin is attracted to him and they share a moment under the...here comes the title...moonlight on a beach.  But, things happen at school as some gangs get involved.   And then, suddenly...

there's another clever morphing of character and actor as we meet present-day Chiron right out of prison.  And...I am surprised again...he is approached by present-day Kevin also out of prison but already re-established in the community.   And then we have the beginnings of a romance.

"Moonlight" ends before their future starts, but the trip to that point is quite refreshing and...again...nothing like what I was expecting.   Occasionally, the writing and direction by film maker Barry Jenkins falls into the cliche category. But, overall, it is a story that is captivating and well worth your attention.   

Is it Oscar material?  I don't really think so, but, given the Academy's diversity push, I'm sure "Moonlight" will get slotted some place.   And I suppose there are worse pictures to get that attention.

LEN'S RATING:  Three stars.

Dinner last night:  Hamburger and salad.