Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Unpublished excerpt from "When Baseball Met Hollywood"

Last year I worked on a proposed book on the marriage of West Coast baseball and Hollywood. Whether this work will ever see the light of day via the regular publishing process is a mystery. But why let it sit forlornly on my computer. I will run pieces sporadically. Enjoy!
Herman the Rookie. Though by no means one of the first baseball and Hollywood get-togethers, it aired on April 8, 1965, it is one of the greatest. Let’s say an Abraham Lincoln, rather than a Founding Father. It’s another one of Leo Durocher’s appearances in a sweeping show biz career.

On a non-descript Los Angeles field, Herman begins by teaching Eddie the fine points of a curveball, fine to the point of causing the ball to explode in a chalky mist. Turning to a more non-destructive task, Herman gently lofts the ball in the air to hit a fungo. With a mortar shell whistle, the ball goes stratospheric, giving Herman an extensive period to explain proper hitting technique to Eddie, getting all the facts in before the ball clonks him on the noggin. Calmly Herman picks up the ball amid the debris of the first ball, and launches it into space, a Gemini rocket with red stitches.

Turn to Leo Durocher, looking like a wrinkled ‘30’s gangster. Outside Claudio’s CafĂ©-Bar, Leo bemoans the Dodgers' lack of a power slugger, seconds before he is nailed on his bald dome by Herman’s swat from eight blocks away. Leo is very believable as he slumps to the ground and baseball man to the end, ignores his dented skull to pursue the man behind the hit.
After the opening credits, we see Leo in the phone booth, tossing the ball in the air and talking to “Walt,” one of two Dodger Walts, Manager Alston or Owner O'Malley. Leo’s a natural, counting on his “sincere, lovable, charming personality” to get Herman’s name on a Dodger contract. Walt reacts with shock, because we all know, including the laugh track, that Leo is an irascible old cuss.

Over a dinner of double-headed pig (a sly little baseball reference - double header, not pig), Eddie recounts how Herman destroyed all their baseballs. Leo pulls up in his luxury convertible, stopping in front of 1313 Mockingbird Lane. Welcomed by the beautiful Marilyn, Leo little suspects what lurks inside. Like most who leave the East Coast for sunny California, Leo takes a shot at his former Dodger home, citing that he’s never seen anything so run down and creepy, even in Brooklyn. Now in L.A., there’s no time for fond reminiscences of the Dodgers' former home. Leo’s reacts queasily to Lily's greenness (in glorious black and white) and hides behind the dusty old couch when Grandpa appears in a giant flame. Nothing compares to his first sight of Herman emerging from the dungeon via the trapdoor in the living room floor. Grandpa, oblivious to the obvious, assumes that Herman’s black suit reminds Leo of past umpire foes and is the cause of “The Lip’s” swoon.

Settling him in to the electric chair, Leo revives in mid- argument with an ump. Though wary of Herman’s gullibility, the family leaves him alone with Durocher. Leo wins him over and Herman has visions of endorsements and appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show. Pontificating about career, Herman wonders about the relative merits of safety and security at his funeral home job, as opposed to the glory of a baseball career. Serious matters, one that all job-holders ruminate over, and Herman is no different, weighing these lofty issues as he throws an apple against the wall. The apple ricochets back into his face with a mighty squish.

Lily does her husband's dirty work and calls his boss, Mr. Gateman, to inform him that Herman is trying out for the Dodgers and we cut to a ball field. It’s more of a Little League field than a field a major league team would find itself on, but so be it. None of the uniforms have Dodger insignias or logos, signifying a possible lack of Dodger approval for this episode. Leo boots Bill from the batters box so Herman can hit. Sporting number 26, Bill looks like Darrell Griffith, Dodger outfielder of the time. Herman sports rookie pitcher Mike Kekich’s number 37. Breaking his first bat while tapping the dirt off his giant Frankenstein boot, Herman gets down to business. One ball is shot over the centerfield trees, a grounder digs a trench in the infield, and still another knocks part of the scoreboard over. And then players begin to fall. The third baseman has a grounder burn a hole through his glove, though not through his hand. The first baseman is sent flying as Hermie rounds the bag.

Herman’s brute strength causes Leo to ponder signing Herman to the Dodgers or sending him to Vietnam. In April of 1965, the war was still something one could joke about; the anti-war movement still a year or two from gaining momentum. We cut back briefly to Grandpa at home, showing off his new invention, a ball that always curves. It has nothing on Koufax though. As the players huddle around Herman for autographs, including one for Don Drysdale (although not by Drysdale), Herman heads to the field. Herman plows through the chain link fence to catch a towering fly ball. Trying his hand at second base, Herman levels the base runner merely by standing there, then forces the first baseman into a somersault with his throw to first. When Leo tells Herman to throw home, the catcher begs off. This backstop is former Los Angeles Angel outfielder Ken Hunt, who is credited with an appearance on the show. Everyone leaves the field and Herman whines “Nobody wants to play with me.” Another ball is destroyed in the tantrum.
Owner Walt O’Malley puts the kibosh on the Munster project, citing costs of $75,000 to fix Dodger Stadium after Herman’s trail of wreckage. Let’s be fair - with the 1964 Dodgers eighth in a ten-team league in batting average and known for their offensive futility, there’s no price O’Malley wouldn’t have paid for Herman’s power. Even without the towering green giant, the Dodgers managed to win the National League pennant that year followed by a World Series victory over the Minnesota Twins, who had their own slugging monster, Harmon Killebrew.

Back at the park, Herman punts a football that hits Rams great and General Manager Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch outside Claudio’s. But that’s for a different book.

Monday, December 22, 2008

You Are What You Read

I've always said you are what you read and watch and listen to. At least my oldest friend Jimmy points out that I've always said that. I can't recall, but itmakes for a great segue to what has been on my mind.

I don't fancy myself a reading snob. At 46 I still read my smattering of baseball books in the course of the year. What does bug me is when adults read kid's books. I know that the Harry Potter phenomenon was a tidal wave that seemingly few could resist, but resist they must. It doesn't even have to do with whether Potter is good or not. When my peers would say with great pride that they are reading Potter, my gag reflex would kick in. Aren't there any adult books for you to read? How about Crime and Punishment or Huckleberry Finn? Reading anything to say you read scores no points with me.

Which leads to the second point. I can't tell you how many times I've heard a parent say they are glad their kid is reading, regardless of what it is. So, if your kid reads the worse dross available, that's great because "at least they're reading." I have never heard such low standards applied to any other category. Sure, my 12 year old may be eating nothing but Zagnut candy bars, "but at least he's eating." Or, my 10 year old daughter chugs Jack Daniels, "but at least she's not dehydrated." I'm not saying the average 14 year old should read John Toland's 1000+ page bio of Adolf Hitler like I did at that age, which is troubling on a completely different level. It merely seems that a higher standard should be placed on the content, not simply the act.

With those curmudgeonly thoughts, I bid you all Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year. See you in '09.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008


I was going to tack this on to the last post, but it would have involved time travel, as my point for today only happened today, not earlier in the week.
Obama picks Rick Warren, Christian darling for the invocation. Fine, piss off the gay-lesbian community by signifying a pro-Prop 8 guy for a solemn and significant inauguration position. Sure, don't worry that your supporters are overwhelmingly pro-choice and Warren is ardently anti-choice, pro-life, or any other term that means the same thing. Every day, what passes as post-partisanship is just flat out stupefying behavior. I cannot recall anyone who has gone out of his way to this extent to suck up to his opponents and downright enemies, while screwing over his supporters and friends.
I hear Rush Limbaugh may be hired as chief speechwriter. It would be a nice nod to the "new politics." In an outreach to his foes, it wouldn't be out of line for Obama himself to admit that he pals around with terrorists.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Meet the New Boss?

Just a few points on Obama and the Blago scandal.
This delay to get together who in the President-elect's camp spoke to the greedy gov casts suspicion where perhaps none should be. But, realistically, how many people could it have been - Rahm, Axelrod, Obama. It shouldn't take long to find out.
Remember when everyone in the Bush administration refused to talk about the Fitzgerald-led investigation into the Plame leak? Anyone not in the tank for Bush pointed out that cowering behind a refusal to comment on an "ongoing investigation" was a patently empty position. No prosecutor can legally keep a lid on testimony like that. Today, Obama said he was asked by Fitzgerald to not comment. Really? I don't recall the U.S. Attorney giving that cover to the Bush-men. Maybe he is shielding Obama, Maybe Obama is using the current establishment's handiest excuse to clam up. It doesn't add up.
Either all this is a stall with a real purpose behind it, like a cover up, but I really doubt that. Or, it's a baffling posture that only creates skepticism, rather than diffusing it. Neither option are good examples of the "new politics" we heard so much about.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Semi-Comfortable Old Rocker

Neil Young has always had a place in my listening life, a place that I have never quite figured out. I kinda like him, kinda don't. Somehow I have accumulated 19 albums of his over the years, because you never know when you'll be in the mood to hear Welfare Mothers. I think my issue with Mr. Young is that he is, with few exceptions, pretty humorless. In other words, for those who think Neil Young is equal to (or better than) Bob Dylan, you're cracked.

So, why did I find myself driving 3 1/2 hours to Worcester, MA, to see Neil Young in concert? Partly it was a birthday present for my son. A bigger attraction was seeing Wilco as the opener. The drive was inspired, woods encrusted within a sheath of ice, some trees peeled like bananas from the weight on their limbs. White birches in particular couldn't handle the strain, bent over into arches forming wickets on a huge croquet course.

Everest led off the festivities with a reasonably enjoyable and predictably short set, followed by Wilco. I went to the show preferring an hour of Neil Young and 2 1/2 hours of Wilco. Not likely, I know, but I wish for it still. There are few better bands than the Chicago troupe, and few better songwriters than Jeff Tweedy.

The main event mirrored my feelings for the performer. There were some real highlights and some real losers. As a friend said, it seemed like the set list was created with the idea that he had to "put some shit songs in." I'm sure they are all gems to Young, but, like any good parent, judgment is clouded with the act of creation. I'll stick to the important points.

Cortez the Killer has always been one of my favorite Neil Young songs. I tend not to enjoy long-winded jam sessions, but this one is different. A dreamy vision of a genocidal madman. Nice touch. Young played beautiful laconic solos for the first 2/3 of the tunes, but when he spit out the first mention of the protagonist - "Cortez, what a killer"- his subsequent solo screamed with rage. A bit later in the show, Young did a trio of blatant, hit you on the head with a hammer, protest songs. Singing about coughing up the bucks, filling up the gas tank and saving mother earth was unaffecting. But the searing indictment of our foreign policy misadventures through the connection to Cortez' Spanish colonialism was hard to miss. And it hurt.

An acoustic version of another fave, Needle and the Damage Done, was also gripping, but brought to mind the problems of stupid audience participation. The song, a gut-wrenching account of losing friends and band members to drug abuse, is greeted with cheers and yells with every reference to junkies and narcotics. Not exactly the proper response. It's like in The Who's Baba O'Riley. It never fails that the audience will sing with pride "teenage wasteland." It's not a compliment, dude.

Now that I've mentioned The Who, another point needs to be made. When I saw Roger Daltrey in 1982 sing "Hope I die before I get old" as Pete Townshend thrashed away behind him, they seemed, at around 40, ancient and embarrassing to my 20 year old eyes. It seemed incongruous, to say the least. Still does. When Young sings in Hey Hey, My My that it's better to burn out than to fade away, all I can say is that if he thinks he is in the former class, the group he seems to admire, then he is using one long fuse.

Around this point in the show, the drugs kicked in for the guy sitting next to me. He stood up and screamed, loudly, "I came for the sugar cookies." Either this was some hipster code that a square like me just doesn't get or it was possibly the single dumbest thing I've ever heard uttered in or out of a concert. Long after this show has been forgotten, that moment will last. There will never be a sugar cookie in the presence of my friends, my son and myself, that will not be greeted with "I came for the sugar cookies." And so, a catchphrase is born.

Bathrooms at Worcester's DCU Center are poorly spaced and not nearly large enough. After a futile early attempt, I figured I'd try again during a slow part of the Young set. Word to the wise. When you go to a show whose audience demographics swing heavily to men over 55, prepare for long lines to the bathroom all night long. Prostate issues clearly abound.

Back to the show. The second half was malignantly boring. The encore was something else. My son and I had read, and seen on YouTube, that Young was performing The Beatles' A Day in the Life. I think we had both forgotten this, but not entirely, because when the first note rang out, we both looked at each other and smiled, mouthing the title. It was a fabulous finale and, like all great endings, redeemed the tedium of the bits that came before it. Kudos to Neil Young on his choice. While most artists save the best songs for the end, it is a truly confident one who picks the best song of the night as his encore, and it's not one of his own. Well-played, sir.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Laughs from the Past

For kids of the era, the Monster-mania of the late 1950's and 1960's was a high water mark for creep culture. Famous Monsters of Filmland, the monthly bible of the movement, was a gloriously ghoulish glimpse of the famous and not so famous things of the past. In any given issue, you might find an interview with Boris Karloff, or full-page photos of werewolves. For those who weren't there, you get the picture. The mag was influential, so much so that director Peter Jackson recalled seeing stills from a long since vanished scene from the original King Kong, which inspired him to create the segment for his 2005 remake. It is the highlight of the film.

Forrest Ackerman, who died one week ago, was the brain behind FMoF. (Visions of the flying brain and attached spinal cords from Fiend without a Face invariably spring to mind). To him I owe a longtime fascination with a picture of Conrad Veidt in The Man Who Laughs. Veidt had already made his mark on film history as the sleepwalker in the seminal Cabinet of Dr. Caligari when THWL came out in 1927. He would late create another timeless role as Major Strasser, who eats some Bogie-fired lead in Casablanca. Veidt plays Gwynplaine, the son of an anti-monarch rebel in 17th century England. He had been kidnapped as a lad and sold by the king into the hands of depraved gypsies, often the focal of intrigue in movies of the period. A surgeon, and who knew gypsies had medical staff, carve a huge clownish grin into the young boy's face. The image of Veidt with his frozen smile and sad eyes kept me awake when I was 6. I assumed the movie was a classic horror show.

It's not. It is a romantic melodrama and very affecting. However, like many over the top romances of the day, there are occasional inadvertent laughs. While the movie is silent, it has a soundtrack with occasional crowd noise and music. Without a hint of irony, a song called "When Love Comes Smiling" swells up as Gwynplaine realizes he is worthy of love. Words change meaning over time and are usually a source of unexpected yuks. In this case, it is hysterical. While ridiculous character names abound (Gwynplaine, Dr. Harquannone, Barkliphedro, et al), one actor suffers under the dreaded moniker of Homo. It may help that this role is that of a faithful and later murderous dog, and it also is of some solace that the furry thespian's real name is Zimbo. But when dialogue cards come up that scream "Be quiet Homo," "Where are you leading me Homo" and just plain "Homo," it is then the audience itself is left with a surgically affixed smile.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Gathering No Moss

After a couple of years of stalling, and countless issues of Consumer Reports later, I have finally dipped my toe in the waters of hi def television. With a 32" screen and a Blu Ray DVD player, the wonders of current TV technology have entered our house. The digital stations, particularly those that feature nature programs are staggering. I had no idea how hairy elephants were. Box sets like Blue Planet go one step further towards true reality television. But for the best and most true to life visions of the Grand Canyon and deep ravines, no disc could be better than Shine a Light, Martin Scorsese's concert film of The Rolling Stones. No natural formation can rival the deep crevasses and trenches that mark the faces of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. And no rock can rock like these old veterans.

One of my sons said, mockingly, that Keith has an "angel's voice." There's some truth in that. His rare vocals are always a treat, and they have an otherworldly quality. In fact, Keith himself only seems partly there. He is both participant and spectator, enjoying both roles equally. Richards is insanely appealing. Literally, his insanity is appealing and can't help but connect with the audience. He is a pal to everyone, resting his arm on Jack White, Ron Wood and the mike stand. When he puts his arm on Mick and rests his head on Jagger's shoulder, there is a depth of emotion that Jags, all show, can never reach. Richards has a natural feel that he could not come close to producing when he tried to act in the Pirates of the Caribbean 3.

Jagger is polished and performs his usual shtick. He has always been a caricature of himself, so self-parody is impossible. He is as ridiculous mincing around in his 60's as he was in the 1960's. It has always been hard to fathom how the Stones could be seen as sex symbols. There are few bands who are as remorseless ugly. When Jagger struts around Christina Aguilera, outdoing Martin Short's best Ed Grimley, there is a discomfort that is hard to shake. You just don't want to see this old dude touch her.

A note on Marty. Why do the Stones torture him by not allowing him a glimpse of the set list so he could set up the opening shot? I guess because they can. Buddy Guy steals the show in the same way that Muddy Waters did in The Last Waltz. Perhaps this is simply the presence of a genuine blues giant amidst pretenders, although very good pretenders. Maybe it's the way Guy and Waters seem possessed by their music, rather than merely presenting it. Whatever it is, Scorsese's work on these two legends, separated by three decades, seems directly connected. When Richards spits out his cigarette which sparks its way vividly across the screen, the fireworks are complete.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Conversation Overheard At the Eye Clinic Waiting Room

Elderly man, late 70's or early 80's, wearing a blue workingman's coat and sporting a hearing aid talking to a woman of his age in a beige jacket with pink roses, also with hearing aid.

"Did you ever dream you would have a phone in your own house?" she says with surprise.

"Whenever I needed a phone I would go over to Charlie's."

"Or a candy store where they had a pay phone." She stops, turns the page on an old magazine.

"Charlie Sheen looks pretty good for his age," the man says. Surely Charlie would be pleased to know that an old man, hard of hearing and waiting for an eye doctor, thinks he's hanging in there.

"The father?" she responds.

"What father? Oh, Martin Sheen. No, the son."

"Which son? He has two."


"Charlie Sheen and...," she stalls. No way, I think, she knows the other. " And Emilio Estevez."

"The son, Charlie."

Long pause. She continues through her magazine.

"Banana stuffed cinnamon french toast."

The man perks up. "Sounds good, All those good things together."

"What do they stuff in the bananas?" She is clearly puzzled by this. She goes on. "Diet foods that make you thin."


It says diet foods that make you thin. There's also diet foods that make you fat."

"Mr. Katz," the nurse calls. I get up from the coach to see the opthamologist, never to discover which diet foods work and which don't.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Today's Spins

One constant over the years has been my obsession with music, especially vinyl. At SUNY-Binghamton I was General Manager of Slipped Disc, the school's record store. It was a hotbed of musical activity and, for the most part, the place for high level discussions in the order of the relative merits of The Style Council v. Big Country (this was the early '80's). There were those who were buying the latest Asia or Lover Boy album, but usually they went to the Oakdale Mall to fill those needs. We stocked dreck like that, but only because we were all about the customer service.

Here are a few recent listens.

1) Here are The Chesterfield Kings. This 1982 offering from the Rochester garage rock troupe has always been a marvel. It took me until college to have my horizons opened by forgotten legends like The Standells and The Sonics. Certainly the early 1980's was time of revival for these sounds, The Pebbles LP series was a great vehicle for old band resuscitation. The Kings LP could have been cut 15 years before, it is that perfectly styled, as are their Byrds-like haircuts and clothes. On the back cover is a quote from John Lee Hooker. He says these boys sound just like the Rolling Stones, and old bluesmen never lie, do they?

2) Relaxin' with Chet Atkins - One of the true pleasures of eBay, and there are many, is that there are always used records sold in bulk lots. Not only does the per disc price drop, but postage is much more reasonable for a stack of discs than for one or two. The trick is finding the lot makes the most sense. Duplication is to be avoided and condition is a key, for the record more than the cover. One of the reasons that I don't mind cover wear or damage is that you find the most enjoyable items on people's record covers. Sure, there is the most commonly found "Property of Susie," or something like that, giving a glimpse into some sibling issues of the past. One person's stash of old jazz records, which is now part of my stash, has inner thoughts and poetry written all over the back covers. One man very scrupulously wrote where and on what date he bought his Porter Wagoner albums, useful information for some future archaeologist. Intact shrink wraps can provide the names of discount stores of the past, and as I have been buying lots of country and western platters, strange names from the South have entered my lexicon.
Which brings us to Relaxin' with Chet. It's a typically tasteful and fun Atkins affair, pop tunes like Sophisticated Lady paired with countrified takes on classical works like Czardas. I don't know if that is classical music, I just assume it is. Most Atkins LPs come with the aforementioned Dixie-centric store sticker, but not this one. This has a small rectangular label on the back cover, more like a return address sticker, from a place that sounds too good to be true - Music Man Murray's of Santa Monica, California. What Hollywood hipster was listening to Chet Atkins? Such is the mystery of each used album - they all have a back story that will remain unknown.

3) By Special Request. I haven't listened to this Chet Atkins-Hank Snow pairing just yet. I got a lot of Atkins records on eBay and they are vying with a ton of Buck Owens for my time. Having just cleaned this record, I can attest that it is the thickest record of the modern LP era. Regardless of whether this album is any good, having a record with the bulk of a tectonic plate was worth the price and the postage.

4) Classic Recordings: 1956-1959. This CD (yes, I realize I am diverting from the theme) is a 31 tune collection of Warren Smith rockabilly tunes recorded for Sun Records. I tend to set arbitrary limits on purchase prices, and this disc, on Germany's Bear Family label, was always too pricey at $18-20. I balk at spending that for any single compact disc. So, it was dutifully placed on my Amazon wish list about two years. I don't even know what sprouted interest in Mr. Smith, where I heard him. It's so long ago. When I saw one for $12 last week it was time for me to pounce at the opportunity. It's a very enjoyable set, with some studio talk interspersed that give it some historic weight. Glad to have finally gotten it, but I wonder if the the two year wait for $6 off was worth the tradeoff of lost discovery.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Katz Reacts to Cataracts

Ever since the corner of a cardboard box did an impressive imitation of the JFK magic bullet, finding it's way down under my glasses and then up and into my right eye, I have had a trauma-induced cataract. This, for a person who has worn glasses since the first grade, was one more sight-related issue I did not need.

I began regularly visiting my opthamologist (yes, now I have an opthamologist), it became certain that once this cataract infringed on my daily life to the point of discomfort, surgery would be needed. I learned from many that cataract surgery was the most commonly performed procedure in the country and that is was painless. This is a fact easy to digest when you are talking about other people's eyes.

Yesterday was the day. The most painful episode came during two aborted attempts at inserting the IV. A series of jabs to the right hand were unsuccessful, as was a mid-arm vein attempt. I have no needle fears, at least had none, until I felt a spike rooting around my insides. The nurse had an easier time on my left arm. Most cataract patients are in their 70's, not just mentally old like me. I heard one such patient behind the sliding curtain next to me. When mention was made of a "numbing jelly" I was more than a little nervous. While I hoped that I would only get drops, I did receive two spurtts of eye jelly. Now, one of my favorite lines in any work of art is when Oedipus, pre-eye plucking, wails, "Out, vile jelly." I always found that strangely amusing. Not so much now.

I've never had the pleasure of being wheeled into an operating room, but I was impressed how familiar it felt. Who says watching movies every day was a waste of time! The film reference turned macabre once it was almost time to begin. There is a creepy 1966 Rock Hudson flick, "Seconds." Directed by John Frankenheimer. It is the story of a man who gives up his old body in return for, well, Rock Hudson's. I won't give away the ending. It is memorable. When the nurse strapped my arms down, and the doctor taped my forehead the table, all I could think of was Rock Hudson, a possible first in the annals of eye operations. Unless Rock Hudson had some work done.

The oddest thing of cataract surgery is that you are awake. Calmed by an intravenous relaxation cocktail, and slathered with pain-deadening jelly, there really is no physical trouble whatsoever. What they don't prepare you for is the emotional trauma of seeing things, weird things. I would probably be curious to watch my foot being operated on while feeling no pain. My eye? Well, that is very much a part of my head and I'm pretty emotionally attached to everything in my skull in a way my foot will never know. Plus, you are seeing things with, well, with what exactly? I guess your eye, but there are all kinds of instruments in there. I'm still confused, but on to the strange sightings.

In the upper left corner of my field of vision, if that's what it was, was a vertical ellipsis of white light. Imagine being the person on the other end of the eye at the opening of a James Bond movie. Through that opening I may have seen an instrument or two. There are two incisions made, one from the right side, one from the bottom, and, while I wasn't seeing things from those directions, those devices are the most likely explanations. What I did see was a shape oddly reminiscent of a man's head wearing a fencing mask, popping in and out of the oval. Creepy. Plus, it would change colors. In addition to my epee-wielding new friend, various flashes of color would appear, as would a dark gray tendril, most likely a tool of the trade.

After 30 minutes of recovery time, and a quick trip to Taco Bell for comfort, I was home. Not much discomfort, but to be safe, I was given a clear plastic half-goggle to literally tape to my face while sleeping. The idea is to prevent a semi-conscious scratch to the eye. I felt like I was donning half of James Worthy's eyeware, for those who watched a lot of 1980's basketball.

I see now why the focus is on the physical aspects of the surgery in preparing a patient. There's no way to get ready for the psychological damage of being awake while someone is digging around your eyeball. After a visit to the surgeon today, there's even more best left untold, like the option of injecting a needle full of Novocaine into the small space between the eye and socket. Thank the lord for numbing jelly!

Monday, December 1, 2008

We Believe They Can Fly

I was going to write about watching one of my kids cratering at school and jeopardizing his future, but that's too miserable a topic to delve into. So, on to the New York Jets, equally traumatic, but less personal.

I've been thinking about how certain organizations have, or don't have, that certain something. I had ringside tickets at Wrigley Field for a decade, and there was something about the Cubs' futility that was constant, even while ownership changed, new front office people were brought in, hot managers picked up and players rotated. While it's empirically true that Alfonso Soriano has no connection to, say, the '69 Cubs, it is also a fact that the Cubs, in some metaphysical sense, are all of a piece. Whether it's the 2008 team certain to vanquish past demons, or the 1989 team certain to vanquish past demons, or the 1984 team certain to vanquish past demons, it all ends up following the same pattern from Aramis Ramirez to Keith Moreland.

On to the Jets. I was just a boy when Namath led the New Yorkers to their Super Bowl III victory over the Colts, but that moment had a lasting effect, so much so that our third son is named Joe Willie. It's easy to forget that after that January 1969 triumph the Jets were the odds on favorite to continue as champs for the next 2-3 years. I have pre-season books from that era that pick the Jets, albeit with the caveat that Namath had to be healthy. He almost always wasn't. From this point on, the Jets followed an eerily similar pattern of horrible play, but with just enough big victories or successful seasons to give the average fan hope.

Watching the Chiefs game a few weeks back at the home of a friend, it was all unfolding as predicted. Here they were, with a Hall of Fame QB who was clearly not enthused about playing for the white and green, struggling to beat a terrible K.C. squad. As they eked this one out, I turned to my host and said, "You'll see. They'll play great against the tough teams and, once they have you believing in them, they'll crush you." And so it proceeded, starting with a solid win over Buffalo, a crushing of the Rams, and impressive wins vs. New England and Tennessee. They're cruising now, Favre looks great, who can beat them, and on and on. Time to start booking the flight to Tampa Bay for the Super Bowl.

Of course, playing at home to a mediocre Broncos' club should have been a cakewalk, but, remember, these are the New York Jets. They are not to be trusted and for good reason. They proceeded to get whomped. There are only four weeks to go, a pretty easy schedule, but you just know they will limp into the playoffs. They will win the first game they play. They will convince the doubting public. Then they will get destroyed by a clearly inferior team in the next game.

I'll watch, but with a lot of detachment. I stopped investing emotionally in this franchise in late 1980 when they lost to the Browns by a field goal. That was my last Jet-induced stomach ache. To you die-hards, I wish you well.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

To Thine Own Self

Good movies, like good people, tend to have a true sense of self. They know who, or what they are, and as long as they stay true to that, they'll do fine.

Take Role Models. It's subject is fairly juvenile, two guys who need to become big brothers and thereby avoid jail time. Of course, in the end, they will have matured through their sympathetic mentoring of two freaks. In weaker hands, it could go several ways. It can get too maudlin in the end and ring false. It can also be too raunchy and lose all sense of character and plot. But in the hands of Paul Rudd and others, Role Models achieves incredible laughs brought to you by real characters with real depth. Rudd and Seann William Scott are note perfect as two guys going nowhere, one happy about it, one less so. Their wards, Christopher Mintz-Plasse as the awkward teen who embraces his Middle Age fantasies and Bobb'e J. Thompson as a foul-mouthed Gary Colemanesque tot with a serious boob and butt obsession are wonders. With Elizabeth Banks, who seems to be in every movie out and every preview, and Jane Lynch as the insane head of Sturdy Wings are perfect in limited roles. Lynch steals the show. Role Models is one of those movies that we are all conditioned to expect the worst from - smart-mouthed kids, nerds, man-children who need maturity, blah, blah, blah. But you'll leave smiling.

Hancock is like a trip to the bathroom that goes horribly wrong. It starts out solid but ends up all over the place. The first 45 minutes are very strong. Will Smith as a miserable superhero provides both action and humor in that Smithian way he does so well. Jason Bateman, is smart and funny as a PR consultant. Bateman has it all, cute kid and knockout wife (Charlize Theron). All is going well for the viewer until the three adults have dinner. It's a good scene. We get some background on Bateman and Smith and Theron cries. It's at this moment that it all falls apart. It's as if during the rushes some studio exec said, "Hey, there's no chemistry between Bateman and Theron. Let's get Smith and Theron connected somehow." I imagine a cigar sticking out of the corner of his mouth, but I don't think studio brass do that anymore.
Spoiler alert, although it's hard to spoil this piece of rotten fruit. Turns out Theron and Smith have spent eons together and the film goes for the next hour or so with a ridiculous plot line, hyperkinetic action, and the complete elimination of the humor that marked the first part of the movie. My wife and I kept looking at each other, stunned that things had taken such a terrible turn. In the end it was a quite awful experience and not even worth my average $1.57 per Netflix rental.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two of My Favorite Things

I've always had a fondness for the simian world. It must have begun when I saw Planet of the Apes when I was a wee lad. I also have a memory, dim and possibly false, of a chimp in a pet shop window on Rockaway Parkway in Brooklyn, near where I got my first pair of glasses. All of this led me to a fervent, but unrequited, desire to have a chimpanzee as a pet. I could just see the hairy little fella, most likely named Bimbo or Bongo or anything ending in a -o (a -y name like Zippy would also do nicely) riding his trike around and around in circles for my amusement. The thought of the diapering process and possible feces flinging put that fantasy in its proper place. Still, the monkey obsession lives.

I also have had a healthy, but not devoted, interest in comics, especially Marvel heroes. Read some comic books as a kid, saw the movies as they came out, nothing more. All of my sons have various comic favorites, so comic shops have been added to record stores as things to be on the look out for in any city we may visit, from New York to Vancouver. So, how excited was I to see a new comic, the second in a four part series entitled Marvel Apes? Well, you can imagine the giggles.

Marvel Apes is the Reese's Peanut Butter Cup of the comic world. These two great tastes are deliciously combined in the first three issues. If you can just imagine a silver back in a Captain America costume, Spider-Monkey or Thor-angutan, well, you'll begin to howl also. And you don't have to imagine it all! Just pop over to your neighborhood graphic novel emporium and pick one up yourself. You'll be glad you did.

As for my discovery, it was, as Dr. Zaius would say, "my destiny."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

"I'm Not the Oneonta, I'm Not the One You Need"

What is it about Bob Dylan that makes every detail of his person and performance so intriguing? Is there any one else who can get up on stage, stand behind a rinky-dink keyboard and croak semi-intelligible lyrics for two hours and have the crowd go mad?

Last night, Dylan held a quickly setup show at Oneonta State College. The school paper noted that the campus activity board only shelled out a little over $12K to get Bob, with the promoter, JAM Productions, footing the rest of the tab. Perhaps the haste in setting up the show added to the palpable buzz that permeated the field house crowdwd. Fortuitously, Dylan is on the cover of Rolling Stone this week, adding to the general excitement.

I won't go tune by tune, but hit the highlights instead. Dylan approached center stage for his second song, It Ain't Me Babe. Standing sideways to the audience, facing stage right, Dylan was a would-be crooner, while he played harmonica and pranced around. He was part-Jerry Vale, part-Scatman Crothers. High Water, in its live incarnation, sounds like Shot of Love with new lyrics. For Workingman's Blues #2, as apt a song for this economic collapse as any, the black backdrop was illuminated with celestial white stars. The static curtain constellation was answered by a plethora of moving lights, cellphones in the audience swaying in time. Some atavistic holdouts held lighters. It was a moving moment.

Dylan was less growly than usual. Is this guttural Bob-voice the real vocalizing of an old man, or just another Dylan style? I've wondered often about it. Dylan's voice, which netted him the #7 spot in the top 100 rock singer poll in the aforementioned Rolling Stone issue, has gone through enough conscious change that there's no reason not to think the froggy Bob is not an affectation.

Now that Dylan plays keyboards, often stork like with one leg seriously bent, the sight of him strapping on a guitar is, for most die-hards, a thing of memory. So when he turned around, picked up a guitar and strapped it on, it was a transcendent moment for the screaming throng. He ended the show playing guitar, looking like a mariachi in his gleaming outfit with wide side stripes and a flat topped white hat.

When he introduced the band, he began by addressing the crowd with "Thanks friends." On a night when Bob Dylan was extremely playful and seemingly having fun, it sounded like he just may have meant it.

On Tuesday I wrote a post about Joe Lieberman comparing him to Fredo Corleone. I took great pride last night when I heard Jon Stewart do the same on The Daily Show. Beat him to it!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Greatest Musician You've Never Heard Of

I was General Manager of Slipped Disc, the record store at SUNY-Binghamton (now the loftier and more athletically high end Binghamton University) during my junior and senior years. The best part in holding that position, besides whiling away the hours talking music with fellow students such as Paul Lukas ( and Uni Watch -
and David Bolotsky (creator of Uncommon Goods -, was that in lieu of a cash stipend, managers received free records. My wise predecessors created an elaborate point system, different list prices having different point values, which maximized the take. So, after my junior year, my needs were pretty much satiated in the pop/rock/new wave genres.

Where to turn? Classical was, and still is, something I avoid with great determination. Why not go for some jazz? We had a cutout bin, the home for cheaper albums, so a handful of discs would give me a nice starting sampler, while not draining any of my precious points. I can still remember what I started with - a double Art Blakey set on Blue Note, a Chick Corea LP (which I hated) and Freddie Hubbard's Ready for Freddie. From this humble beginning a jazz fan was born.

Out of college, working on Wall St., a group of co-workers milled about, beers in hand, around the South Street Seaport. This must have been in the summer of '85. Talk turned to music and one person, went on about the greatest saxophone player ever. I was just a year or so out of school, so I was ready for a talk like that, having been long removed from chats at Slipped Disc. Who would he name - Sonny Rollins (my favorite), John Coltrane. Maybe he would be more of an alto guy - Charlie Parker, Art Pepper. None of the above. The greatest sax player of all time was, wait for it, Clarence Clemons of Springsteen's E Street Band. It took years for my jaw to return to its proper alignment. I tried to explain the relative suckiness of The Big Man in comparison to the aforementioned geniuses. I got nowhere.

Now to the topic at hand. The greatest player out there today is Canadian pianist John Stetch. It's not Billy Joel or Elton John. Stetch, who began playing piano at the advanced age of 18, teaching himself to play TV theme songs, has an impressive pedigree. Prix du Jazz winner at the Montreal Jazz Festival, Stetch has played at the top festivals in the world - Monterey and Paris JVC to name but two. He put out a solo piano trilogy that will blow you away. The three discs, Ukrainianism, Standards and Exponentially Monk may be the best collective jazz set of the last 20 years. After the solo project, Stetch returned to a trio format with Bruxin', a collection of originals that drew comparisons to the great Bill Evans trios of the 1960's.

Now, Stetch returns to his original primer, the TV theme. His latest disc TV Trio is an amazing tour de force of musical originality and rhythmic creation with all the comfort and familiarity of a warm blanket. His takes on Star Trek, Love Boat and Rocky and Bullwinkle are startling in their newness and will leave the listen awestruck. Each cut on the CD is a gem and well worth the listen.

John Stetch - the greatest musician you've never heard of. But don't worry, that can be corrected simply by buying his latest CD. You won't regret it and you'll end up being the hippest person in the office. Your ears and your brain will thank you.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Take Him Fishing

When Sonny Corleone rashly speaks his own mind, his father Vito, the Don himself, gently scolds him in public, then rebukes him more harshly when alone. Just a pointed reminder not to transgress. But when Fredo actively works to take shots against his younger brother and new Godfather Michael, he is given the kiss of death and eventually whacked in the middle of a lake. One can go to far, you know.
So with Joe Lieberman. Here's a guy, who actively and determinedly, day after friggin' campaign day, set his sights on Obama, doggedly determined to take him down. This was no one-off, shoot from the hip remark. It was a contract job, and he, like Fredo, missed the mark. There should be repercussions.
Instead of a weak-assed slap on the wrist, the Democratic leadership should have told Ol' Joe to get his pole and get on the boat.

The Wheel Goes Round and Round

Talk of bailing out the auto industry is, or should be, the number one point of media attention. Sadly, the Hillary for Secretary of State tumult vies, and seemingly wins, the most scrutiny. Don't want to get into that, although, while I believe Clinton is smart and capable (not much of a praise-heavy word, capable), I'm waiting for someone to explain to me exactly why she would make a great Secretary of State.
Oops, almost fell into the trap of having the non-important dominate my mind. As to the car companies, in a time of economic collapse, allowing the jobs of millions to be ended by letting the Big 3 fall, seems an untenable position. Here's a simplistic take on it. Unlike the big bailout, which had no strings attached (like making the banks lend out the money they received rather than hoarding it), the possible auto funding could be an opportunity to reshape the industry. Let's make the money, in part, contingent on the companies manufacturing only cars over 35 MPG and hybrid or electric. Then, we give Americans tax credits for buying those exact models. We would build a market through incentive, and force the companies to produce in order to get the government funding.
As to the Republicans standing on "principle" in favor of the free market, let's call it for the bullshit it is. Michigan as a Democratic stronghold, is of no use to the GOP.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Very Small Comfort

Quantum of Solace, the latest in the James Bond oeuvre, is most certainly playing at a theater near you.
Solace is nowhere to be found in the evening's entertainment. It's rather grim, and, while Daniel Craig is fine as the none-too-pretty modern version of the formerly suave spy, the angst-ridden 007 is no fun to be around. Thereby lies the problem with the new Bond flicks, a problem inadvertently pointed out by my youngest son.
During one of the many blistering action sequences, this scene one of the hand to hand fighting variety, Joey mentioned it was like a Bourne movie. Aha! The light went on. What's been sticking in my craw (Not claw, craw!) is that the two recent Bond films are Bond in name only. Like it or lump it, and there are plenty of lumps to go around, the James Bond character is handsome, witty, constantly bedding beautiful women, and, if the occasional wife is shot in the head (On Her Majesty's Secret Service), so be it. He might think about it now and then, but there's really too much to do to dwell on the past.
The Craig Bond movies are loads of fun, dizzily action-packed (there's always a danger of Pokemon-induced convulsions for the viewer), well-acted and superbly written. But they could be Bourne movies or any character for that matter.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

When Good Qualities Go Bad

Paul McCartney's effortless ability to write catchy melodies caught up with him with 1971's Wild Life. That LP, Wings' first, was marked by memorable hooks and inane lyrics. John Lennon bottomed out the following year with Sometime in New York City. Lennon's passion for causes reached an extreme with tunes like Attica State and Luck of the Irish, tuneful but weak entries to his canon. Hardly singalongs.

I appreciate Barack Obama's post-partisan stance but, while admirable, it contains a whiff of weakness. I seemed to stand alone on my view of his race speech. It seemed all exposition, which, though important, didn't go very deep. A note - I was, and remain, very supportive of our President - elect. He is the most quintessentially American person to have run for the highest office of the land. Self-made, stable family, healthy amount of ambition - he really has a lot going for him. Unlike W., Obama is the one I would actually want to have a beer with. Unlike Clinton, he has all the smarts without the mishegas.

But I do have a nagging fear. In not holding Joe Lieberman;s feet to the fire, one might say Obama is above the fray and not looking back. OK, maybe. But isn't there a slight problem in letting people get away with outrageous behavior without repercussions? A theme of this election cycle was accountability.

The idea that the nation is "center-right" and that Obama needs to "govern from the center" in order to appease the party just trounced by the electorate, is patently false. We just bore witness to how fraudulent that claim is. Yet, Obama seems to have a tendency to make nice, even with those whose actions deserve something quite different. It worries me.

Back to John and Paul. Even at their weakest, I still bought their albums. They were, even at their worst, a cut above the rest. So for Obama.

Giving the scorpion a ride

There's a fable involving a turtle, a scorpion and a rising flood. A scorpion sits nervously at the shore as the raging river rises. He sees his demise, and the highlights of his scorpion life begin to flash before his eyes. Then, he spots a turtle out of the corner of his eye. Approaching the turtle, he pleads for transportation across the water. The turtle, with a healthy amount of suspicion, demurs, stating the obvious - the scorpion will sting him. The scorpion, tucking his stinger behind him, says, "Oh no, I would never sting you if you gave me a ride." The hard-shelled one remains suspicious, but endless coaxing by the scorpion finally hits the mark and the turtle caves in. Arriving on the other side of the river, the scorpion dismounts and, on his way off, stings the turtle, injecting his poison. The turtle yelps, "Why did you sting me? You promised you wouldn't." The scorpion replies, "You knew I was a scorpion when you gave me a ride."
OK children, the moral of this story is timeless. Beware helping those who are innately dedicated to hurting you. With the flood waters of the election still at the crest, I have heard a troubling meme the last few days. Arianna Hufington, speaking on The Rachel Maddow Show, said she believes in the two party system and we need the Republicans to survive. Frank Rich in today's New York Times spouts the same nonsense. In this time of trouble, he pines, we need a healthy second party.
All this may be so. My personal favorite future involves a four party system. That's just me. But we do need a two party system. However, that does not necessarily mean the second party is the Republican Party as constituted today. We've had other major parties come and go - Democratic - Republicans, Whigs, Know-Nothings. Who knows what will arise from the ashes of the present day GOP, but the idea that we all need to chip in and help them off their feet is insane.
Beware the scorpion.