Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Len's Recipe of the Month - February 2017

A great memory of my childhood would be those Saturdays where my grandmother had a lot of stale bread in the house.   Because that would always prompt her to make her famous bread pudding.

Now I have no clue how she made that and, unfortunately, she's now dead.   But, my cooking idol Valerie Bertinelli offered up this recipe which is absolutely delicious.   Your guests will think you slaved away for hours.   Nah.   This treat is as sample to make as they come.   Follow me.

Add the following to a large bowl.

2 cups of Half and Half.

1/4 cup Limoncello.   What???   You don't have limoncello in the house????  You commoner!

3 tablespoons of granulated sugar.

1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest.   Buy a zester.   It comes in handy.  Especially if you follow Bertinelli's recipes.   She puts lemon zest in EVERYTHING.

1/8 teaspoon kosher salt.

3 large eggs at room temperatures.  Never use eggs straight out of the refrigerator.

Separately, in a two quart casserole dish, coat the bottom with melted butter or even that butter-flavored spray.   Layer in about five cups of cubed challah bread.   You can use the crust or not.   Makes no difference.

Whisk all the stuff in the bowl and then pour it carefully over the bread cubes. Put it all to the side and let the bread soak up the liquid for 20 or so minutes.

Preheat a oven to 325 degrees and then cover the casserole dish with tin foil for 20 minutes in the oven.   Remove the tin foil and then let it all stay in the oven for another 25 minutes so the top of the pudding gets a toasty brown.

You're not done.   You'll want to whip up a glaze to drizzle over the warm bread pudding.

In a small bowl. add 1/3 cup of confectioners' sugar.   Add a tablespoon of Limoncello.   Yes. Limoncello again.   Throw in another teaspoon of lemon zest. Whisk it all together and slowly pour onto the bread pudding.   Want it even more decadent?   Whip up some cream and top it with that.

You will love this.   I promise.

Dinner last night:  Had a big lunch so nothing really.


Monday, February 27, 2017

Monday Morning Video Laugh - February 27, 2017

"The perfect texture for running..."

Dinner last night:  Sausage chili.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - A Dead Mayor And His Connection to My Mom

Okay, this is going to sound a little bitter.   I don't care.   It's a long time in coming.

The guy on the right is the current mayor of my home town, Mount Vernon, New York.   He's Richard Thomas and it's apparently his job to preside over the impending death of this once great town.  If you've driven through that place lately, you will know it's an inoperable malignant tumor.   Destroyed by years of political corruption.

The scumbag on the left is the former mayor Ronald Blackwood who actually accelerated the city's cancerous state back when it still had a chance to survive. Blackwood might not have been the final nail in the coffin, but he certainly was the first twenty.  

Blackwood died this week and there are no tears on my pillow.  For those of you who think it's horrible to speak ill of the dead, why don't you sign off this blog right now and go play Words with Friends?   The following words will not be your favorite cup of coffee on this Sunday.

In the obits on this shithead, Ronald Blackwood was remembered as the very first African-American to be the mayor of a city in New York City.   Woot woot. Being first doesn't necessarily mean you're good.  In my world, a lot of politicians are sleazy.   And they come in all sizes, shapes, and...yes, colors.

You see, in an indirect way, Ronald Blackwood destroyed my mother.   And the so-called teachable moment here?   Racism actually is a two-way street.

A little backstory on Mom.  As soon as I was out of the third grade, my mother chose to go back to work.   She had always earned a salary her whole life.  I guess she was progressive in her own way.   Or, more likely, she needed the money to continually pay down her charge account at Bromley's Dress Shop on Fourth Avenue.   She was very much the clothes horse.

Once I got in high school and became pretty self-sufficient, my mom wanted to branch from the small factories or offices she worked at in Mount Vernon.   Her girlfriend's husband was a big wig at a major accounting firm on 42nd Street in Manhattan.   It was your standard bookkeeper position, but my mother really relished the opportunity to go down into the city every day via Metro North.  I don't remember her being as happy as she was during those years at the company which later became part of the famed Ernst and Young. 

As she got older, the commute became a bit tougher.   One morning while walking to a different office, she got mugged on 48th Street and Fifth Avenue at 7:30 in the morning.  That made her think that, as she entered her 60s, there might come the time to consider a job closer to home and not dependent on the 5:31PM express to Fleetwood.

As luck would have it, a golden opportunity came out of the blue.   The son-in-law of a good friend was starting out his small business, a custom bakery and he had already rented space on Sixth Avenue in Mount Vernon, a veritable five-minute cab ride from my mom's apartment.   He needed somebody to do the books and financials for his enterprise.   My mother jumped at this.   She resigned from the accounting firm after almost 20 years.   This was going to be her perfect "final" job as she still wanted to stay vital and work with a bit less travel.

There were good-bye parties and lavish farewell presents as the old firm sent my mother off.   Here's a photo with her showing off one of the lovely parting gifts.
All was good.

And then the bottom fell out.  The son-in-law called.   The city of Mount Vernon had denied him the necessary food preparation license.   You see, at this time, then new-Mayor Blackwood was only allowing small business licenses to go to African-American or, more specifically, Haitian entrepreneurs.   Of course, all others could still get licenses if they had the exorbitant money to pay for them. The son-in-law didn't have the coin.  The bakery never opened.

Suddenly, my mom was unemployed.   And forced into an uneasy, early, and unwanted retirement.   Ill-prepared to handle this, she fell into deep depression.  She was routine-less for the first time in thirty years.  With less activity, her manageable arthritis became less so.  There were pain killers.   There was a bit of alcohol.  After an accidental overdose, there was a prolonged stay in a hospital.   

After about two years of total despair, my mother rebounded a little bit.   But, ultimately, she was never the same until her death.   Hastened, I believe, because she did not get to finish her working career the way she wanted.   Sped up, I feel, because of Blackwood's rather discriminatory stipulation.   

Yes, there are consequences.   

So that's why I show no sympathy in the death of Mayor Ronald Blackwood.   And, since readers turn up on this blog all the time because of Google searches, I can only hope this tale will be a sobering view of one local politician who is being mourned and saluted this week.

Sorry.

Dinner last night:  Pot roast and vegetables.




Saturday, February 25, 2017

Classic Movie Trailer of the Month - February 2017

It's Oscar weekend and this movie won a bunch of them 70 or so years ago.

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

Friday, February 24, 2017

Your Winning Oscar Ballot Part 2

And the Oscar for the Dumbest Looking Dress ever goes to Big Mouth Babs when she won for "Funny Girl" almost fifty years ago.   In 2017, the only way she could slither into this thing is with a tub of butter.  That is, unless she eats it first.

It's Day 2 of your winning Oscar ballot.   As I wrote yesterday, I'm not playing in a pool this year.   Blame Donald Trump.   But I wanted you to have my picks so you can win like I probably would have this year.   Today I am focusing on the big categories.   Woot woot.  If you remember, yesterday's predictions wound up with La La Land getting seven Oscars.   Will there be more?

BEST DIRECTOR:  Of course there will be.  I mean, the guy is so super clever in the story he laid out.   There's no denying DAMIEN CHAZELLE FOR LA LA LAND.  Oscar #8.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS:  Oddly enough, one actress nominated here is in the wrong category.   Let's face it.  They knew she had no chance for Best Actress with Emma Stone tap dancing her way around Mulholland Drive.   Plus VIOLA DAVIS is really the only reason to see FENCES.   

BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR:  As much as I liked the work of the always reliable Jeff Bridges in Hell Or High Water or the young Lucas Hedges in Manchester, MAHERSHALA ALI has been taken about for this Oscar ever since MOONLIGHT opened.   A very good performance that will be boosted by the fact that there were all those pickets at last year's Academy Awards.

BEST ACTRESS:  How the hell did Meryl Streep get into this category for that dreadful piece of crap, Florence Foster Jenkins?  Plus Amy Adams was left out despite being the best thing in that otherwise dull Arrival.   I mean, do they have to nominate Streep every year??   They're liable to honor the year she gives an order at McDonald's drive-through.   It's all a moot point because, despite the fact that she really can't sing or dance, EMMA STONE was the star of LA LA LAND.  Her audition scene at the end of the movie helped her to nail this Oscar.  Oscar #9.

BEST ACTOR:   I got into an interesting discussion about Denzel Washington recently.   Okay, admittedly, I know way too much about him personally and I have a distinct bias against this guy who is a bad, bad man.  A friend argued that, whether I like him or not, he's a brilliant actor.   I countered that he used to be when he was younger.   But, over the past ten years, I contend that Denzel has gotten very lazy with his acting choices.   Everything is starting to come out the same way.   And, in this current performance, I will also argue that the despicable character is really an extension of Denzel himself.   Yeah, sadly, Casey Affleck, the winner will be an incredibly hammy DENZEL WASHINGTON for his overrated vanity project FENCES.  The real reason he will win?  The Academy doesn't want to see Al Sharpton walking around with a placard on Hollywood Boulevard.

BEST PICTURE:  While there are other nominees I did enjoy (I'm thinking of you, Manchester and Moonlight and Hell Or High Water and Hidden Figures), LA LA LAND gave me my most enjoyable time in the theater the past five years. And there it is.  Double digits.  Oscar #10.

Let me know how you did.   And please pass the Doritos.

Dinner last night:  French toast and bacon.


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Your Winning Oscar Ballot Part 1

Here we go again.   If you've been on this blog in past years, you know that I am an expert Oscar prognosticator.   I regularly won the pools with my pals.   This year, however, we didn't play because my two friends are still, in part, suffering through some malaise from the recent election.   

At the same time, why should I deprive you of my expertise if you've got an office pool to enter?   So, here we go.  Today I tackle all the categories that your Oscar party guests talk over.  But they still count so get out your pencils.

SOUND EDITING:   Wait, what?   You went to go get more potato chips already? The winner for this award is...I think...HACKSAW RIDGE.

SOUND MIXING:  Hey, you forgot the onion dip.   The winner for that glorious musical production number on the freeway is LA LA LAND.   You'll be seeing that a lot, I think.

ORIGINAL SCORE:  Of course, it's the only musical nominated.   The winner is LA LA LAND.   That's Oscar #2.

ORIGINAL SONG:  As much as they would like to hear a snarky and political acceptance speech from Lin-Manuel Miranda for that dopey tune from "Moana," the obvious choice is "City of Stars" from LA LA LAND.  Admit it.   You're humming it right now.   Oscar #3.

VISUAL EFFECTS:  Even I'll admit that those CGI animals were plenty scary in THE JUNGLE BOOK.

PRODUCTION DESIGN:  It had the most imaginative look of any movie I saw all year.  The winner is LA LA LAND.   Oscar #4.

MAKEUP AND HAIR STYLING:  The winner is STAR TREK BEYOND.  Why? It's the only one of the three nominees that I actually saw.

COSTUME DESIGN:  The winner is LA LA LAND.  I love anything Emma Stone wears.  Oscar #5.

FILM EDITING:  This just won't stop.  The winner is LA LA LAND.  Oscar #6.

FOREIGN LANGUAGE:  If La La Land was in French, it would win here, too. There is a nominated film whose director is boycotting the Oscars because of President Trump.   What a sneaky way to ensure you get an Oscar.   The winner is THE SALESMAN.

ANIMATED FEATURE:  I haven't seen any of the five nominees.  Where's Mickey and Bugs when you really need them?  The winner is ZOOTOPIA.

ANIMATED SHORT:  If I didn't see any of the animated features, do you really think I went to see the shorts?  I see something with a cute bird.  The winner is PIPER.

LIVE ACTION SHORT:  No clue.  Throwing a pencil.  The winner is ENNEMIS INTERIEURS.   Is that French for "enema?"

DOCUMENTARY SHORT:  I hear the buzz is for JOE'S VIOLIN.  Without the buzz, I would have no idea.

DOCUMENTARY FEATURE:  Okay, two films that didn't make into the five nominations were my favorites in this category.  "Weiner" and "The Witness."   These were terrific stories.   But I also saw OJ: MADE IN AMERICA and it is on the list.   Sure, it's nine hours long but, even watching it in eight parts, it's as captivating.   And disturbing.   What a freakin' dumb jury.

CINEMATOGRAPHY:  Los Angeles never looked more colorful on screen.  My God, you can't see any dirt.  The winner is LA LA LAND.   Oscar #7.

ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY:   One of the few movies I liked in 2016 has to be thrown at least one bone.  The winner, as grim as it is, will be MANCHESTER BY THE SEA.

ADAPTED SCREENPLAY:  For its ingenious story about three stages in a young man's life, the winner is MOONLIGHT.  

You'll have to come back tomorrow to see the major categories.   And find out if I think La La Land will crack the double digit Oscar club.

Dinner last night:  Pork chop with sauteed spinach and mushrooms.


Wednesday, February 22, 2017

This Date in History - February 22

Live from New York, it's "Happy Birthday, Don Pardo!"  That is if they celebrate that stuff in heaven.

1371:  ROBERT II BECOMES KING OF SCOTLAND, BEGINNING THE STUART DYNASTY.  

If being king of some place where men wear skirts is your thing, go have at it.

1495:  KING CHARLES VIII OF FRANCE ENTERS NAPLES TO CLAIM THE CITY'S THRONE.

And pick up a large pepperoni pizza.

1632:  GALILEO'S "DIALGOUE CONCERNING THE TWO CHIEF WORLD SYSTEMS" IS PUBLISHED.

Yeah, but it wasn't one of Oprah's book picks of the month.

1797:  THE LAST INVASION OF BRITAIN BEGINS NEAR FISHGUARD, WALES.

The last invasion?  What was the Nazis in 1939?  A class field trip?

1819:  BY THE ADAMS-ONI TREATY, SPAIN SELLS FLORIDA TO THE UNITED STATES FOR FIVE MILLION DOLLARS.

And they have been sending their people to live there ever since.

1847:  DURING THE MEXICAN-AMERICAN WAR, 5,000 AMERICAN TROOPS DEFEAT 15,000 MEXICANS.

That's 3 Mexicans for every American soldier.  Meanwhile, I don't think this war is over yet.

1855:  THE PENNSYLVANIA STATE UNIVERSITY IS FOUNDED IN STATE COLLEGE, PENNSYLVANIA.

When were the boys' showers built?

1856:  THE REPUBLICAN PARTY OPENS ITS FIRST NATIONAL MEETING IN PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA.

Why are these political groups called "partys?"  They don't look like much fun to me.

1862:  JEFFERSON DAVIS IS OFFICIALLY INAUGURATED FOR A SIX-YEAR-TERM AS THE PRESIDENT OF THE CONFEDERATE STATES OF AMERICA.

A six-year-term?  Yikes.  For me, four years is way too long if the guy stinks.

1872:  THE PROHIBITION PARTY HOLDS ITS FIRST NATIONAL CONVENTION IN COLUMBUS, OHIO.

Prohibition?   That is definitely not a party in my book.

1879:  IN UTICA, NEW YORK, FRANK WOOLWORTH OPENS THE FIRST OF MANY FIVE AND DIME WOOLWORTH STORES.

And, on this day only, you probably could buy something in there for fifteen cents.

1889:  PRESIDENT GROVER CLEVELAND SIGNS A BILL ADMITTING NORTH DAKOTA, SOUTH DAKOTA, MONTANA, AND WASHINGTON AS US STATES.

Well, that probably added about 27 people to the country's population.

1907:  ACTOR SHELDON LEONARD IS BORN.

Psst, hey, buddy....

1907:  ACTOR ROBERT YOUNG IS BORN.

Father knows best...and, in this case, also drinks most.

1915:  DURING WORLD WAR I, GERMANY INSTITUTES UNRESTRICTED SUBMARINE WARFARE.

You mean it was once restricted? 

1918:  BASEBALL OWNER CHARLIE FINLEY IS BORN.

Is it redundant if I call him a jackass?

1918:  TV ANNOUNCER DON PARDO IS BORN.

He worked till he was 90.   Hopefully, it wasn't because he had a lousy pension plan at NBC.

1924:  US PRESIDENT CALVIN COOLIDGE BECOMES THE FIRST PRESIDENT TO DELIVER A RADIO BROADCAST FROM THE WHITE HOUSE.

So he was officially the first one not to have anything to say.

1930:  SINGER MARNI NIXON IS BORN.

Really not a big deal until the day that Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood were born.

1932:  POLITICIAN TED KENNEDY WAS BORN.

Can you imagine the labor pains when little Rose had to push this fat load out?

1942:  DURING WORLD WAR II, PRESIDENT FRANKLIN ROOSEVELT ORDERS GENERAL DOUGLAS MACARTHUR OUT OF THE PHILIPPINES AS JAPAN'S VICTORY BECOMES INEVITABLE.

That's an awful quick hook, if you ask me.

1958:  EGYPT AND SYRIA JOIN TO FORM THE UNITED ARAB REPUBLIC.

The last moment of unity ever in the Mideast.

1965:  JUSTICE OF THE US SUPREME COURT FELIX FRANKFURTER DIES.

Hot dog!

1974:  SAMUEL BYCK TRIES AND FAILS TO ASSASSINATE US PRESIDENT RICHARD NIXON.

Talk about blowing your chance at immortality.

1976:  SUPREME FLORENCE BALLARD DIES.

She was stopped...in the name of love.

1980:  IN LAKE PLACID, NEW YORK, THE UNITED STATES HOCKEY TEAM DFEATS THE SOVIET UNION HOCKEY TEAM, 4-3. 

Do you believe in miracles??  Nah!

1983:  THE NOTORIOUS BROADWAY FLOP "MOOSE MURDERS' OPENS AND CLOSES ON THE SAME NIGHT.

That's what I get for buying tickets for February 23.

1984:  DAVID VETTER, THE BOY IN THE BUBBLE, DIES.

Symbolically, he died during the closing credits of the Lawrence Welk Show.

1985:  VIOLINIST EFREM ZIMBALIST DIES.

77 Sunset....no, wait, this is the father.  Never mind.

1987:  ARTIST ANDY WARHOL DIES.

In his memory, I ate a can of Campbell's Tomato Soup.

1995:  ACTOR ED FLANDERS DIES.

He killed himself.  Sad.  A terrific performance on one of my favorite TV shows of all time, St. Elsewhere.

1997:  IN SCOTLAND, SCIENTISTS ANNOUNCE THAT AN ADULT SHEEP NAMED DOLLY HAS BEEN SUCCESSFULLY CLONED.

So, well, hello...  Any need to finish this obvious joke?

2002:  CARTOONIST CHUCK JONES DIES.

That really is all, folks.

2016:  SONGWRITER/SINGER SONNY JAMES DIES.

From Young Love to Old Corpse.

Dinner last night:  Chopped salad.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Reunited

Christmas week 2016 was a lot different than most years with the untimely passing of Carrie Fisher, followed quite dramatically by the death of mom Debbie Reynolds one day later.   In show business, timing is everything.   And, if you remember the film "Postcards from the Edge" written by Carrie in a semi-autobiographical mode, you certainly understand why Debbie wanted to go and be with her daughter.

And if that Meryl Streep-Shirley MacLaine movie didn't demonstrate that enough for you, the HBO documentary "Bright Lights" is final validation about the intense connection between mother and daughter.  Filmed over a two year period from 2013 to 2015, this magnificent film chronicles the world of Debbie and Carrie, but son Todd as well.  The women are followed around by cameras as they toddle around on the same Beverly Hills compound where they both lived, separated by a hilly walkway.  Originally, the documentary was to run on HBO in the spring.   The recent developments prompted them to move up the premiere and wisely so.

Your emotions will ping pong back and forth from sheer laughter to tears.   Carrie, always fiercely funny, is a scream as she deals with her own career as well as bringing casseroles over to Mom on a nightly basis.   Their banter is so organic and funny that it couldn't possibly be conjured up by a writer.   At one ironic moment, Carrie asks Debbie if she's getting more than her brother in the will.  

Meanwhile, Debbie is desperately trying to keep performing and you watch as she makes some tour stops on days when she is certainly becoming more frail and forgetful.  At one point, she is motoring around a Vegas casino in a motorized scooter.   Carrie worries constantly about her mom and dotes over her.  At the same time, you can see how totally eccentric she is with a home full of memorabilia and enough junk to make Fred Sanford envious.

Punctuating the current day footage are magically candid home movies of the kids growing up in Hollywood.   Plus there is an incredibly poignant conversation from 2010 between Carrie and dad Eddie Fisher in his final days that will rip your heart out.  Their lives are all laid out in front of us with no curtains drawn.   As a result, you learn so much about the inner workings and psyche of a show business family.

Debbie's fervent connection with her daughter is so strong that, one more time, you completely understand how her daughter's death broke her heart.   On the flip side, you can also see very easily why Carrie is no longer with us.   In virtually every scene, she is either eating junk food, drinking a can of Coke, or smoking a cigarette.   Even without the publicized past drug use, her body was being battered from within daily.

This should be a must watch for you this winter.   Find it on HBO as soon as you can.

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

Monday, February 20, 2017

Monday Morning Video Laugh - February 20, 2017

Anger management...

Dinner last night:  Grilled ribeye steak and pan roasted tomatoes in balsamic jam.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Set Design in the Cellar

My childhood home on 15th Avenue in Mount Vernon, New York rises from the bottom of the memory drawer one more time.  You will note that the old homestead is on my mind since I drove past it on my NY visit in December.   Last week, I speculated about what the people there are now doing with my old attic.

Today we're moving to another part of the house.

At the far left of the photo on the first floor is a door that took you downstairs into our basement, sometimes known also as the cellar.  As my life has taken me as a visitor to many homes, I have seen some wonderful basements.  Some turned into family areas or so-called "great rooms."  Some converted to apartments.  Others being used as spare bedrooms.

For us, the basement was precisely that.  A basement.  Or, yes, a cellar.  You have heard of a finished basement?  Ours was unfinished.  Even more so.

An un-unfinished basement.

Yet, somehow, it magically gave me a place where my imagination had to work overtime.  In a bizarre way, our cellar was, for me, a ticket to worlds that I could only conjure up in my mind.

Not only was their entrance from the side of the house, but you could also enter the basement from my grandparents' hallway.  Two flights of stairs into one special flight of fancy.  The first landing found a bathroom, convenient for my extended play breaks.  At the bottom of the stairs, I'd find anything I would want it to be.

Now, when I was really, really young, my family was still trying to use the basement as an extended part of the house.  They laid down some linoleum which had obviously lived somewhere else in the house.  Ugly shelves, stocked with tools that had first been used during Franklin Delano Roosevelt's third term, were covered with paper curtains.  Bridge chairs were lined around the room.

Instant party location. 

For several years, my family's cellar was the central location for our New Year's Eve parties.  I've written before of those galas when I, at the age of five or six, acted as one of the bartenders and effectively liquored up a myriad of aunts, uncles, and distant cousins.  There would be dancing on the linoleum.  There would be sing-alongs to the record player in the corner.  Mitch Miller had popular record albums which provided enough of the sheet music to cover at least a family of 20.  The fact that there was no heat in the basement on December 31 made no difference.  The working furnace in the corner gave off some residual BTUs.  For added warmth, there was always that bottle of Cutty Sark.

There were good times. 

And they did not last long.

Over the next few years, the basement became nothing more than, well, a basement.  A place where you would throw things that had seen or lived better days.  My grandmother's old armoire.  A picnic table and two benches.  Had these ever been used in the backyard anyway?  An old table here.  An old wooden chair there. 

There was one room with a door in the corner.  Inside were all the windows for all the seasons.  Summer screens.  Winter storm windows.  And, on a shelf off to the side, the shoe shine box that my dad had built when he was a kid.  On the front, you could still see the price.  5 cents.  A bargain regardless of whatever year he had put this together.

On the other side of the basement, we found Grandma Central.  Specifically the laundry room.  Two sinks, a lot of hoses, and one ancient washing machine. 

This sort of looks like it, but even this version might be a little too modern.  This washer had a churning motion that could be felt and heard in the neighboring community of New Rochelle.  And the wringer mechanism was absolutely petrifying.  I had more than one nightmare that found my finger going through it and winding up like pancakes.  I'd always ask my grandmother if I could help her do the wash.

"Don't put your fingers too close."

Er, never mind.  I think you got this covered.

In this world of neglected treasures, this only child found a place where he could truly express himself.  Rarely did I play down there with any of my friends from "up the block."  I do remember some afternoons at the picnic table with my buddy Leo, playing some board games when it was too cold to lay out Strat-O-Matic Football on the front stoop.  But, other than that, my basement playmates were just the three of us.

Me, Myself, and I.

This became my Hollywood set.  In my earliest form of creativity, there would be two different television shows that I would stage down in that basement.  If that sounds a little screwy, I have since discovered friends of mine confessing to the same bizarr-o activity.   God bless us creative types.

Set design was my first project.  If I was going to put together my little pretend sitcom, I'd need to furnish the living room.  Grandma's laundry room was the kitchen.  The stairs upstairs would play, well, the stairs upstairs.  My characters were living in a basement apartment so the door to the outside world was, well, the world to the outside world.

Several of the New Year's Eve chairs moved over to the "living room."  The picnic bench became the sofa.  The old wooden table was the "dining room."  You never saw the bedroom.  There was in that spare room where my dad's shoe shine kit was housed.

It took me about an hour to put this together each time.  By the time I was done, I was frequently too tired to move on with the actual story development.  But, at least, the set was complete.

If I wasn't in the mood for an episode of "Len Knows Best," I had other television shows to tackle.  When I was a kid, I became particularly enamored with talk shows like "The Johnny Carson Tonight Show."  Heck, I can do that, too.

Set design was a little easier.  I simply organized a couple of bridge chairs into a circle and I was ready to meet my imaginary guest.

"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome please Miss Suzanne Pleshette"

Yeah, I used to pretend out loud.  And I frequently was heard by my grandmother upstairs.

"You shut up down there.  My stories are on."

There were times when she'd have the last word on my play area.  I'd be all riled up to run downstairs for another foray into the land of make-believe.  As I bounded down the basement stairs, I would be met with rows and rows of her laundry.  Hanging all over my sitcom/talk show set.

Yeah, there were clotheslines across the basement, too.

Dinner last night:  Shrimp lo mein at Wokcano.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Classic TV Theme of the Month - February 2017

Co-starring Goldie Hawn!!!

Dinner last night:  Beef vegetable soup.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Your Weekend Movie Guide for February 2017

Do these two guys think they can see something here?   Yes, it's the same shot of Marilyn Monroe getting subway air blown up her ass circa 1955.   

And, speaking of hot air, I guess we're all waiting for the Oscars and the ad nauseam preaching we will get from winners, hosts, seat fillers, etc..  If Hollywood was so concerned about the public, how about coming out with some decent new stuff in February?  You know the routine, folks.   I'll sort through the movie pages of the LA Times and give you my knee jerk reaction to the crap out there.

Maybe you should just tape "The Seven Year Itch" next time it pops up on TCM.

Fifty Shades Darker:   Hollywood's diversity push?

20th Century Women:   Had Oscar buzz, but fizzled out like a bad firecracker on July 5.

The Founder:  Blog review coming.   The fries need salt.

Lion:   Been meaning to catch up to this.  I haven't.  The fact that I haven't made it a priority might be noteworthy.

The Comedian:  Because Robert DeNiro needed to make a movie last Tuesday.

A United Kingdom:   I know one thing.  It's not about the US/

I Am Not Your Negro:   I'll keep that in mind.

La La Land:   See it before it wins Best Picture next week.

Fences:  Avoid it before it doesn't win Best Picture next week.

Moonlight:   Most likely candidate of  two that could unseat La La Land.

Manchester By The Sea:   The other likely candidate of two that could unseat La La Land.

Kubo and the Two Strings:  I'll wait for the one with three strings.

The Red Turtle:  I wait for the one that's blue.

Hidden Figures:   Well done and I hear they are taking kids in class trips to see it because of the math and science angle.

Paterson:   I saw it and reviewed it here.   My sleep pattern hasn't been the same since I took a nap through it.

Elle:   Comes after K and before M.

Arrival:   Any Adams got snubbed and rightfully so because this movie is dead on....

Hacksaw Ridge:   This movie must be really, really good if Hollywood nominated Mel Gibson for Best Director.

A Dog's Purpose:   Dog reincarnation.   Probably produced by Shirley MacLaine.

Rings:   I hated doing them in gymnastics class.

The Space Between Us:   In a NY subway, there's not enough.

The Lego Batman Movie:   I know some grown adults who actually saw this. Well, actually, I used to know them.

Split:   Child abduction by the guy who did "The Sixth Sense."   Always count on a creepy twist in his movies.

Why Him?:  What half of the country is thinking right now.

XX:   O.   I just blocked you.

In Dubious Battle:  A battle between California apple growers.   Yep, seriously.

The Great Wall:   Matt Damon and the erection of the China Great Wall.   Yep, seriously.

Ghost of New Orleans:  Note to all---Mardi Gras is late this year.

Fist Fight:   Another comedy from Ice Cube.   I'll wait till it melts.

American Fable:   A man is held hostage in a silo.   And forced to watch Fist Fight.

Dinner last night:  Penne with homemade meat sauce.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

And Here's Another Dope

His name is Glenn Lovell and he writes about film under some column called "CinemaDope."   Well, he's got it half right.  Frankly, I've never heard of the guy until I wandered into his op ed piece published in the LA Times.   A little research tells me he has a couple of books, a lot of articles, and what not dedicated to film.  He also teaches at a couple of small colleges with names that are a mystery to me.

It's fitting that he's a member of academia because that rhymes with macadamia and he's nuts.

In the aforementioned op ed article that got my attention, Lovell was writing about the upcoming Oscars.   His theory was that the front runner "La La Land" is too lightweight to be Best Picture.   He contends that the movie has no message.   Okay, at its heart, I think the film does have something to say that is quite universal across all people, regardless of race, gender, or religion.  Okay, Glenn, we agree to disagree.

But it's how Lovell arrives at his theory which astounds me.  You see, he argues that, since the Academy made a major membership push toward diversity last year, there are a bunch more members who are wanting the Best Picture of the year to be something of substance.   LIke "Moonlight" or "Fences."   Okay, while I wouldn't debate the former's worthiness, the latter was, to me, a misguided mess that took a Pulitzer Prize-winning play and turned it into a Denzel Washington vanity project.   Of course, Lovell's background suggests that his argument is pretty standard.   Carefully, Glenn, your bleeding heart is getting all over the carpet.

Lovell's conclusion is that "La La Land" will suffer from a backlash against Donald Trump.  WTF.   One more time, nobody is allowed to have nice things anymore.   It's like a couple of my Facebook friends who, when commenting on the recent passing of Mary Tyler Moore, could not resist tying some anti-Trump venom into their tributes.

This is how far we have come unglued.   And Glenn Lovell is the perfect example of that.   What makes it worse is that there are students being subjected to such one-sided debates.   If you're a parent and your kid is going to Fred's University and Hardware Store or wherever it is this lummox is on the faculty, you might want to suggest that your child take a Math or English class instead.

One more example of how the idiots are now running the asylum.

Dinner last night:  Marinated steak sandwich at Cafe D'Etoile.


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

This Date in History - February 15

As Jack Barry used to say...."Joker, Joker, Joker!"

1113:  POPE PASCHAL II ISSUED A BULL SANCTIONING THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE ORDER OF HOSPITALLERS.

The major note here is that there actually was a Pope Paschal the First.

1493:  WHILE ON BOARD THE NINA, CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS WRITES AN OPEN LETTER DESCRIBING HIS DISCOVERIES AND THE UNEXPECTED ITEMS HE CAME ACROSS IN THE NEW WORLD.

The first ever blog.  ColumbusSpeaks.com.

1637:  FERDINAND III BECOMES HOLY ROMAN EMPEROR.

And that's no bull.

1764:  THE CITY OF ST. LOUIS, MISSOURI IS ESTABLISHED.

They had to put that arch someplace.

1804:  THE SERBIAN REVOLUTION BEGINS.

Serbs them right.

1820:  SUFFRAGIST SUSAN B. ANTHONY IS BORN.

Some men have already decided what the "B" stands for.

1862:  DURING THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR, GENERAL ULYSSES S. GRANT ATTACKS FORT DONELSON, TENNESSEE.

All by himself?

1879:  PRESIDENT RUTHERFORD B. HAYES SIGNS A BILL ALLOWING FEMALE ATTORNEYS TO ARGUE CASES BEFORE THE SUPREME COURT OF THE UNITED STATES.

On Susan B. Anthony's birthday.  A nice touch.

1882:  ACTOR JOHN BARRYMORE IS BORN.

The Great Profile who was likely drunk by the same date a year later.

1898:  THE U.S.S. MAINE EXPLODES AND SINKS IN HAVANA HARBOR IN CUBA, KILLING MORE THAN 260.  THIS EVENT LEADS THE UNITED STATES TO DECLARE WAR ON SPAIN.

Remember the Maine....and all those wasted cigars that burned up along with the wreckage.

1907:  ACTOR CESAR ROMERO IS BORN.

One of Batman's classic villains.  He always looked like he got laid a lot.  You just never knew if it was with women or men.  Or both.

1916:  ACTRESS MARY JANE CROFT IS BORN.

"I Love Lucy's" Betty Ramsey.  I met her once.

1927:  COMEDIAN HARVEY KORMAN IS BORN.

I lit his candle once at Christmas Eve service.

1933:  IN MIAMI, FLORIDA, GIUSEPPE ZANGARA ATTEMPTS TO ASSASSINATE PRESIDENT-ELECT FRANKLIN DELANO ROOSEVELT, BUT INSTEAD SHOOTS CHICAGO MAYOR ANTON J. CERMAK, WHO DIES OF HIS WOUNDS SEVERAL WEEKS LATER.

Zangara was not the smartest assassin.  He was aiming at FDR's spine, so the guy would be crippled for life.

1944:  DURING WORLD WAR II, THE ASSAULT ON MONTE CASSINO, ITALY, BEGINS.

I don't think it's really a gambling place, but, at least, this is when Italy starts to cash in their chips.

1947:  ACTOR RUSTY HAMER IS BORN.

Make Room for Daddy's Kid.

1948:  DODGER RON CEY IS BORN.

I never met him.  I never lit his candle at Christmas Eve service.

1952:  KING GEORGE VI IS BURIED IN ST. GEORGE'S CHAPEL AT WINDSOR CHAPEL.

Let's hope that we don't read he died in 1954.

1954:  SIMPSONS CREATOR MATT GROENING IS BORN.

D'oh!

1961:  SABENA FLIGHT 548 CRASHES IN BELGIUM, KILLING 73, INCLUDING THE ENTIRE UNITED STATES SKATING TEAM.

Well, there goes the 1963 edition of the Ice Capades.

1965:  A NEW RED-AND-WHITE MAPLE LEAF DESIGN IS ADOPTED AS THE FLAG OF CANADA.

So what did the Toronto hockey team wear before that?

1965:  SINGER NAT KING COLE DIES.

Hack, hack, hack, I'm sorry, hack, hack, hack.

1971:  THE DECIMALISATION OF BRITISH COINAGE IS COMPLETED ON DECIMAL DAY.

Which make this February 1.5.

1973:  ACTOR WALLY COX DIES.

Underdog is really under now.

1984:  BROADWAY STAR ETHEL MERMAN DIES.

Everything's now coming up Ethel.

1989:  THE SOVIET UNION OFFICIALLY ANNOUNCES THAT ALL OF ITS TROOPS HAVE LEFT AFGHANISTAN.

They cleared out just before it started to get fun.

1996:  ACTOR TOMMY RETTIG DIES.

Now buried alongside a lot of Lassie's bones.

1996:  ACTOR MCLEAN STEVENSON DIES.

This time, it was for real and not the result of a salary dispute with Twentieth Century Fox.

2000:  INDIAN POINT II NUCLEAR POWER PLANT IN NEW YORK STATE VENTS A SMALL AMOUNT OF RADIOACTIVE STEAM WHEN A STEAM GENERATOR FAILS.

I still would like to own a wig store in this area of New York State.

2002:  JOURNALIST HOWARD K. SMITH DIES.

K as in Kaput.

2004:  ACTRESS JAN MINER DIES.

Madge, it's Palmolive.  You're soaking in it.

2013:  A METEOR EXPLODES OVER RUSSIA, INJURING 1500 PEOPLE.

No joke here.   Just in case they are monitoring this blog over the internet.

2016:  ACTOR GEORGE GAYNES DIES.

No paynes, no Gaynes.

Dinner last night:  Chopped salad.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

And The Square Root Is...

"Hidden Figures" is one of those movies where the very first shot features the slide..."based on true events."

Every time I see one of those films with the immediate validation of truth, I want to start questioning everything I see moving forward.   I remember when I saw the absolutely dreadful "Lee Daniels' The Butler."   The supposed true story was totally ludicrous.  

So, thinking about "Hidden Figures" before I saw it, I was skeptical.   I mean, why is it that we are first hearing about these three women, mathematical geniuses who just happen to be Black, now after fifty years?   Was the story suppressed due to racism?   Did these gals really exist?   Or are we being told this tale now because of the push from diversity from Hollywood?

Hmmm.  Well, you learn in the epilogue that there are several buildings at NASA now dedicated to their efforts.   I doubt there was a lot of fabrication here in the story about these three women who contribute mightily to the Mercury space program.  I think there's a tinge of overwriting when it comes to some of the hardships they suffered, most notably with tons of screen time devoted to bathroom segregation.

That said, "Hidden Figures" is an uplifting saga which showed me just how far we have come in the last fifty years in this country.   Of course, the exposition is always a little backwards because the tendency is to always remind us of how bad it used to be for African-Americans.   I prefer to think about the positive future as opposed to the negative past, but that's just me.  

Nevertheless, this is a biography that needs to be told.   While the characters played by Octavia Spencer and Janelle Monae are ground breakers, this movie belongs to Katherine Johnson, played by Taraji P. Henson, whose calculations helped to get astronaut John Glenn back to Earth after his three orbits around the planet.   She did so despite being a woman and Black and somebody who obviously has severe bladder issues (see the movie and you'll know what I mean).  Again, to remind us about our rotten past, most of the characters around Katherine are White and racist.   That strikes me as another example of some overwriting.   But I get the point and Henson's work here is marvelous.   

Equally good in this film is the work of Kevin Costner, who plays a composite of a bunch of NASA directors.   He champions the work of Johnson and I would be remiss in not remarking just how strong an actor Costner has become in his most recent roles.  Also we are treated to a surprising acting turn by "Big Bang's" Jim Parsons as a very villainous version of Sheldon Cooper.

What's also remarkable here is how a movie that features lots and lots of mathematical equations can be so damn un-boring.   Credit for that goes to director Theodore Melfi, who lets us feel the preciseness of the calculus without being confused by it.   

I was quite pleasantly surprised by how compelling a story this was.   And, yes, the true events at its base were...indeed...true.

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

Dinner last night:  Leftover chicken and veggies.


Monday, February 13, 2017

Monday Morning Video Laugh - February 13, 2017

What's Valentine's Day without a proposal at a basketball game?

Dinner last night:  Roast chicken and vegetables.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Sunday Memory Drawer - Another Mystery of Life

Okay, let's get the nonsense over with first.   I hit another birthday yesterday.   Or, at this juncture, maybe the birthdays are hitting me.   Whatever.

This annual passage of a special day again conjures up photos like the one above of a birthday party from years past.   That's me with the perplexed look on my face.   The two kids alongside me are Susan, the daughter of my mom's best friend.   The boy is Richie, son of my mother's slutty pal Marie.   This is the neanderthal who loved to beat the shit out of me in some fake military games and also liked to make me take my shirt off.  If Richie is still alive, he's probably in a prison shower as we speak with a broomstick in his hand.

If I go around the table of these kids birthday parties, I find some of my older cousins who clearly didn't want to be there.  The rest of the young guests were all the offspring of my parents' friends.   Kids I never saw unless there was a candle on a cake, whether it be my birthday or theirs.  I was thrown together with this bunch over and over on special occasions or, even worse, vacations. And, frankly, I had no great rapport with any of them.   Nor them with me.

But there I was.   Forced to have them in my life.

Yes, another mystery of my life that will never be answered, primarily because my parents are both gone.  The question I would put before them is simple.

How come I wasn't allowed to invite my real friends?

Oh, sure, I had some good ones.   Two "up the block" for sure.   My best friend from childhood Leo.   Also right next door to him...Dolores.   These were tried and true pals.  They still hold the same status in my world to this day with Leo still a neighbor, albeit about fifteen miles away on the 405.   When it came to my birthday party, however, where the hell were they?

Same with some good chums in school.   Heck, a couple of us were together for almost six or seven years.  Two, for instance, are Cheryl and Diane and we have all been reunited on Facebook.   Now I do recall going to their homes because our mothers had all become friends as parents in grade school often do.   But neither Cheryl or Diane ever came to my birthday party.  Or, more specifically, were never invited.

I wish I knew why.

I do know that the planning of these affairs were a big deal to my mother.   Every one went home with a prize or a toy.   It seemed that she needed to hold the best and the grandest of all birthday parties.   It was almost like she was in a competition with the other mothers.

Hmmm.

Hey, in retrospect, I had a good childhood and was treated quite well.   If this is the biggest complaint from back then, I am quite a lucky guy.   But, every year at this time, it does gnaw at me a little.

I had terrific birthday parties.   If only I could have shared it with real friends. But, as I think about it, I don't remember going to birthday parties in their homes either.

Another question for the ages.

Dinner last night:  Baby back ribs and Brussels sprout slaw at Barrel and Ashes.