Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Rant #394: Happy Birthday, Dad

After the calamities I experienced the past few days, I am happy to report that there is something good happening today.

My father turns 79 years young today.

And yes, I do mean young. Both he and my mother are the youngest older people I know. My mother has the energy of someone a third of her age (she turns 80 in March), and my father, while a little slower than she is, is as active as one can be at his age.

Proof: he still drives a New York City cab for a living!

No, he doesn't own his own cab anymore--he did for several decades--but he still drives a yellow cab for a fleet three days a week.

And don't think this is easy work.

He gets up at 1 a.m., leaves by about 2 a.m., gets into work by 3 a.m. or so, and begins work for the next 14 or 15 hours or so. Then he drives home, which is oftentimes a trip of two hours or more.

Double that regimen, and you get what he was doing for many decades before that when he worked five days a week (or sometimes six days a week).

He is the guy who brought me up with a sports-minded bent. I wasn't the greatest athlete--although I played all sports--but he was the one who taught me that the first part of the newspaper you turn to in the morning is the sports section.

He is my link to my heritage, as is my mom. With my grandparents long gone, both of them are the leaders of our family--spiritually, mentally, emotionally and religiously.

Sure, he isn't 25 anymore. He has had some health ills, but nothing catastrophic, I am happy to say.

He also has a wry sense of humor, says what is on his mind, and is stubborn as all hell--just like I am.

And I am very proud of him.

So happy birthday, Dad. I hope you have at least 79 more birthdays to celebrate!

And by the way, how is he celebrating his birthday?

He is, of course, behind the wheel of a New York City cab. As we speak here, he is happily at work.

He is a true one of a kind.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Rant #393: No, I Am the Turkey

Fulfilling a self-fulfilling prophecy, I had a real rough holiday and holiday weekend.

It all began rather innocently. I arrived home from work after doing my traditional holiday buying on the day before Thanksgiving. I have done this for years now, avoiding the crowds that take over the stores on Black Friday. I came home, with gifts aplenty but still with the feeling that I didn't get everything I wanted to buy simply because the prices weren't that great.

Anyway, I took out my battery charger to charge up some rechargeable batteries. I have done this a thousand times without incident.

I found another battery charger and decided to charge up another battery (yes, one battery) at another outlet.

I plugged the charger into the wall socket. Suddenly, there was a small explosion, a brief flame came out of the wall, and when all the smoke had cleared, I discovered that not only did I blow out the wall socket that I was using, but I blew out a whole bank of them on the kitchen wall--including the one hooked up to our oven!

We were having my sister and her family and my parents over the next day for the holiday, so this wasn't good.

My wife was able to cook the bird in my parents' stove, but it meant for a lot of minor problems.

Happily it went off without a hitch, but the electrician's bill was over $100.

Earlier that day, since my son made his school's track team, I decided to take him outside and have him run for a few minutes, as the coach suggested. He ran, and then I decided to run with him.

Big mistake--I threw out my back and while it's better as I write this, it still hurts and is uncomfortable. I guess I'm not 20 years old anymore.

On Thanksgiving Day, some stores were open. My mother turns 80 in March, so I thought I would buy her a Hanukkah/Birthday gift: a netbook computer. I found a good buy (no, a great buy) at a store that was open, and I went there to purchase the computer. I got one of the two they had.

I took it home, charged it up, and after the festivities of the day, I sat down to see if I could hook the computer up to the Internet. I had problems.

I called my provider, and to make a long story short (an hour on the phone in two separate calls), the operating system that the computer had was not compatible to the Internet service that I was using.

The next day, I brought the unit back to the store, asking for a refund. I had the receipt, and it didn't say on the receipt that the unit wasn't returnable.

Well, the cashier said that I couldn't return it, because there was nothing wrong with it. I had explained the the operating system was not compatible to what I was going to use the Internet on--I wanted to be honest.

Well, when I got turned down, I said something to the extent of, "So if I lied to you and said the computer was broken, you would give me my money back?"

He replied, "Yes."

Well, I didn't stand for that. I got the manager over, and he begrudgingly gave me back my money.

Of course, now I didn't have a computer for my mother, so ...

I did something I swore many times that I would never do. I shopped on Black Friday.

I woke up at 4:30 a.m. and trudged over to Radio Shack, where they were having a good deal on a netbook.

I was the fifth on line, and when the store opened at 5:30 a.m., I attacked a salesman, just like the other people did, and I got what I came for.

As I proceeded to my car, a woman ran out and screamed at me, "You got the last one!"

I replied, "Well, yes I did," and shut the door and drove away. Perhaps I should have offered it to her and see what she would have paid me for it. Sor-ry!

On Saturday, my son and I went to the New York Knicks-Atlanta Hawks game at Madison Square Garden. I bought the tickets months ago--actually, I bought four tickets, two for my son and I, the other for my nephew and my brother in law.

On Thursday, I gave my brother in law the two tickets for him and his son, and we planned to meet at the Garden. The deal was that the ticket for my nephew was his birthday present, and my brother in law didn't have to pay me for either ticket, just get my son and I food and beverages there (as you know, that can cost more than a ticket for each of us).

Well, my brother in law called on Saturday morning, telling me that my nephew was sick and that he tried to get up his second son to use the ticket with him, but he had come in at 3:30 a.m. in the morning and wasn't getting out of bed so quick. His third son had wrestling practice that day, so he couldn't go either. My brother in law asked me what to do with the two tickets. Frustrated, I told him to give them away (there wasn't time to pick up the tickets from him, we had a train to make). And that's just what he did.

We got to the game, and the other party with the tickets came. They were pleasant people, even offered to buy beverages for my son and I, but I was not too happy.

And, of course, as always happens when my son and I go to a Knicks game, they lost (that's five in a row now for my son and I--in fact, I have not been present at a Knicks win since 1985!).

I was not a happy camper by any stretch of the imagination.

Yesterday also started off poorly, but I won't get into those things because they were relatively minor.

My family and I went to the movies, and saw the film "Faster" with The Rock. It was surprisingly good, and I recommend it highly.

Anyway, that was my dreadful weekend. I left out lots of the details because I didn't want to bore you any further, but boy, do I feel bummed out right now.

Gobble, gobble--I am the turkey!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Rant #382: We Are All the Turkey

This rant, the last one for this week, is going to be short and sweet.

Sure, we will be eating turkey tomorrow as we celebrate Thanksgiving, one of my favorite holidays of the year.

But let's face it: as we come to the close of calendar year 2010, we are all turkeys to a certain degree.

The word "turkey" came to mean something else when I was growing up in the 1960s.

When you were called a turkey, it pretty much meant that you were a loser, somewhat inept, or somebody that was taken advantage of easily.

If you were called a jive turkey, that pretty much meant that you were a person that seemed to know what he was talking about ... but ultimately was what we now call a B.S. artist.

Now, getting back to turkeys ...

It seems we have been taken for a ride this past year. We have been promised many things by our government, but they haven't delivered.

Thousands are out of work, home foreclosures are up, and people are generally worse off than when a President they hated so much, and voted in two times to lead our country, was at the helm.

Gas prices are on the rise again, we are still at war, and the last time I looked at my paycheck, it was the same as it was when the previous administration was in power.

The rich get richer, the poor get poorer. We were told to tighten our bootstraps, but all I see are people like you and me doing that. I don't see the rich doing it.

So, friends, we are all turkeys, and have been given spiels by jive turkeys that we believed ... but using hindsight, we shouldn't have bought into.

So when you eat your turkey, it's not really cannibalism that you are participating in, it's survival.

And right now, most of us barely have our gobble gobble above water.

Have a nice holiday. See you next week.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Rant #381: Drive-by Hooting

Have you noticed that drivers at this time of year think they own the road more so than any other time during the year?

I know that Christmas (and for that matter, Hanukkah) are both just around the corner, but the rushing around I've already seen this time of year has been something to behold.

I have seen more people tailgating, speeding, going through Stop signs, and doing other ridiculous things on the road that you would think that in my part of the world there weren't any road rules.

Well, there are, and people are just ignoring them. I mean, they have to rush to buy their holiday gifts, so why should they follow any rules?

Just yesterday, driving home from work, one car cut me off, another was moving into my lane as the car was absolutely parallel to mine (I beeped and put on my brakes, avoiding a collison; the car eventually moved over behind me, and was staying well behind me), and I nearly got hit when a car shot out of a street and assumed everyone saw him (I didn't).

This morning, I was tailgated pretty badly, so the fun continues.

And it's not just in cars. My wife, son and I were in Target this weekend, and as we were exiting, a woman--and I have to give her credit, she did say "Excuse me"--nearly knocked me over with her cart as she was in a rush to leave. Once she got past me, we saw her running, with her cart, in the parking lot.

Why is everyone in such a rush this year, and every year at this time of year?

Those precious gifts that you are over-spending on to show how wonderful you are will still be there, whether you get to them now or five minutes from now. What is the rush?

And I hear that Kohl's is opening at 3 a.m. on Friday, the fabled Black Friday that retailers salivate over during the year. But better yet, Wal-Mart is opening at 12 midnight (although you can't buy your electronic bargains until 5 a.m.).

It is truly ridiculous.

Let's see what happens when I drive home tonight. I am sure I will see more craziness on the road.

Hopefully, I will just see it, and not be a victim of it.

That is my greatest fear.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Rant #380: Our Bleakest Moment

It is hard to believe, but 47 years ago today, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in a Dallas, Texas, motorcade.

Kennedy was the last of our beloved Presidents, the last President whose picture hung in people's homes. Sure, we have found out that he was a surly, womanizing adulterer in the intervening years, but back in 1963, he was a "rock star" before that was acknowledged as a way that one handled themselves.

He was young, vibrant, had a beautiful wife, young kids, and he pointed to the vitality of the United States.

When he died, I think our innocence went with it. The 1950s clearly ended, and the 1960s--the years of protest, war, murders, and many other eye-opening events--truly started.

I have often told this story, and I may have even told it here, but I will tell it again.

I was in first grade in P.S. 165, a good grammar school that still stands (under a different name) in Flushing, New York. I was six years old.

I seem to remember that it was nearing the end of the day in Mrs. Gold's classroom. All of a sudden, the next door teacher ran into the room in tears and screamed, "The President has been shot!"

A few moments later, the principal came on the PA system, explained what happened (or at least, gave us an update on what happened), and we were let out of school.

We ran home in horror, and I can remember sitting in front of our old black and white Dumont TV and being mesmerized by the images I saw. I even remember calling my mother into the living room when Lee Harvey Oswald was shot by Jack Ruby on national television.

And yes, I remember John John saluting his dad as the flag-laden coffin passed him.

In the 47 years which has passed, so much has happened. John John and Jackie are gone, Caroline moves along, Ted is gone and so is Bobby, who was also murdered just a few years later ... and the Kennedys are no longer much of a force in our political scene.

I, personally, have grown from a young child to a man, with my own family and responsibilities.

But that moment--when the teacher burst into the room with the news--is something that I will never forget.

I will never forget where I was when we heard he had been shot.

It is one of the touchstones of my life, and probably for most Baby Boomers who were old enough to remember that moment.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rant #379: Young At 91

Today, Alan Young is 91.

Who is Alan Young, you say?

Alan Young is the actor who will forever be etched in many Baby Boomer's memories as Wilbur Post, the architect who owned the talking horse on the "Mr. Ed" TV show of the early 1960s.

To be best known as the guy who talked to the horse--and got replies back yet--would make any actor cringe. But Young has seemingly enjoyed the admiration he has received for the past nearly 50 years. He has never steered away from talking about the role, a role that pretty much defined his career.

As a kid--and even, on DVD, as an adult--this show is one of the funniest, and most preposterous, shows that ever aired on national TV.

The premise was that Post and his wife, played by the absolutely luscious (more about that later) Connie Hines, bought a house that just happened to have a stable attached to it. They thought they would live the life in California, Post as a successful architect, and Carol as his dutiful and loving wife.

But what they got along with the house and stable was a talking horse.

Wilbur couldn't believe it at first, but Mr. Ed talked--but only to him. He wouldn't talk to anyone else (until the last season of the show). And this led to some high and lowbrow comedy that as a kid I found hilarious, and as an adult, watching on DVD, I found to be quite irresistible, with lots of in-jokes and sexual innuendo that went right by me as a kid and also went right by the censors.

One such memorable jabber was a conversation between Carol and neighbor Kay (Edna Skinner), where Kay compared Carol's rather voluptuous figure with that of a refrigerator. You had to hear it to believe it!

Anyway, such luminaries as Sandy Koufax, Clint Eastwood and Zsa Zsa Gabor guest starred on the show during its time on the air, and through almost constant reruns and now DVDs, the show lives on.

And certainly the theme song lives on. It is one of the best remembered of all the theme songs: "A horse is a horse, of course, or course ... "

Alan Young was the glue that held the show together, completely believable as this normal, everyday guy who was put into an incredible situation.

The best thing is that Young, as an actor, looked like he was having a great time playing this role, a role that for some actors would have probably led them to the nearest psychiatric ward.

So, happy birthday Alan Young, young at 91 and here's to you ...


Thursday, November 18, 2010

Rant #378: Not a Laughing Matter

And once again, we visit the obituary column, to bring to you a death that might be overlooked by some, but not here. This guy touched us all, sometimes in the wrong place, and it is time to honor him as he has passed from this earth.

The name Carroll Pratt probably doesn't mean much to anybody but the guy himself and his family, but this fellow is well-known to all of us due to his participation in the creation of something that we have all heard:

The laugh track.

For those few of us who don't have any idea what I am talking about, the laugh track is the background snickering and laughter you hear when you watch countless TV sitcoms. When the joke comes from the mouths of the actors, laughter follows, pretty much on cue, even when the joke isn't funny.

Pratt, his brother John, and Charles Rolland Douglass created the Laff Box, which was basically a series of audiotape loops of different types of laughing. This laughing was used either to stand alone or to augment the reaction from a studio audience.

It really has become ubiquitous with the sitcom, the half-hour comedic episodes that we are all so fond of. Shows from about the mid-1950s to the current time use a laugh track. It almost is a cue for us at home to laugh, too.

Sure, there have been backlashes to the laugh track. Certain shows have bypassed one, often either forgoing any canned reaction or mixing two tapings of the same show into one, and thus having the reactions of two audiences to one situation. "All in the Family" did this, and nobody knew the difference, because the show was not only topical, it was funny too.

But what about shows that simply aren't funny, although they are supposed to be? The laugh track was a necessity. It told us that at least "someone" was having a good time and finding this funny, even if it wasn't a human being per se.

Anyway, Pratt died at 89 years of age, and this Emmy Award winning sound engineer helped to create something that has been part of our lives even though we didn't know it.

I can hear the sound of one hand clapping for his achievement.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rant #377: An Apple a Day ...

So I hear that Apple will now offer the Beatles’ music catalog to the world as part of iTunes.

Whoopee do!

Look, I guess that it’s great to have the world’s most important catalog available to the masses via legitimate means. But I don’t think that this is going to be much of a money maker for either iTunes or the Beatles.

This time, the Beatles were late to the party. When iTunes was new and innovative, Beatles music was not available there, but it doesn’t mean it was not available. People still own the records and 45s, and their music has been available on CD since compact disks made their debut in the early 1980s.

And of course, their music—and every permutation of their music, not just the legitimate releases—has been available online for decades. You just have to know where to look for it. It’s not like the music has not been available, which was the case with the Dave Clark Five. The music has been out there, and by this time, if you don’t have at least some Beatles music in your collection … well, I feel sorry for you.

More to the point, offering the Beatles catalog to the masses is sort of like McDonald’s offering “healthier” food on its menu. It’s nice to have that choice when you go into one of their restaurants, but as far as volume, will these choices ever come anywhere near the volume that a Big Mac generates? Probably not.

It’s nice for iTunes to offer this prestigious catalog as part of its library. But the Beatles have been so available, I can’t see people rushing out and trashing their record and CD libraries just to get a hold of the Beatles mp4s on iTunes.

And for audiophiles, the mp4s Apple is offering don’t come anywhere near the fidelity of CDs or even records. They are certainly handier, but not better sounding.

So with the Beatles catalog in tow, iTunes can now offer single songs or albums from the most famous and influential rock band in history. And just for that, it makes sense for them to have the ability to offer the catalog to those who want it.

But for me— someone who has every Beatles album on vinyl, many singles and CDs of the Fab Four too—it really isn’t that big a deal. No, it’s not a big deal at all. Multiply “me” by millions of others in a similar situation, and you can understand why I, personally, am a little blasé about the whole thing.

But what do I know? I heard later that since their LPs have become available on iTunes, many of their albums are in the service's top-selling albums list. I guess people who already have these things 50 times over want it for the 51st time too. I mean, what is iTunes offering that you can't get elsewhere? There is nothing new, no previously unreleased cuts ... so is the newness having it digitally?

I guess people, even in a severe economic times, have money to burn ... literally.

What’d the Beatles sing? “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da, life goes on … .”

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Rant #376: Hey, Hey, They May Be Back

In 1966, a TV-concocted rock group revolutionized both prime time television and the record charts with their mix of rock chops and humor. They became the biggest rock act in the world, and although their show lasted just two full seasons--along with delivering a misunderstood movie and TV special--their legacy has been tremendous.

Flash forward to 1986. The young MTV network, hungry for programming that went beyond the typical three-minute video, programmed the original half hour show, and it became a hit with a new generation of young fans. Three of the original four band members reformed, had a hit single and album, and led the most prosperous concert tour of the year.

Well, it's almost 2011, and hey, hey, it's the Monkees all over again.

Reports are that Davy Jones, Peter Tork and Micky Dolenz will once again rejoin as the three-quarter Monkees for a tour in the new year, without, of course, Mike Nesmith, who if he decided to come on board, would probably make this the biggest and most anticipated tour in 2011.

Without him, it's just the three cogs in a four-cog wheel, but it's still impressive.

Why get back together now? The threesome had been successful in a number of tours since 1986, and even recorded two albums--one with Nesmith--of new material since that fabled re-launch.

They have had their differences in the past, and each has forged a solo career singing old hits and incorporating new music into their shows.

But the number 45 has become a very important number in pop culture recently.

No, its not just the speed we played those wonderful singles at on our phonographs. It goes way beyond that.

It seems that the number 45 is important because it sets the stage for the number 50.

Let me explain.

With CD and DVD sales slowing, entertainment companies have tried to come up with a new angle for their classic releases, and the number 45 is that angle.

When a classic movie or album or act hits the number 45, companies release product to celebrate that anniversary. Just this year, "The Sound of Music" was re-released for the umpteenth time, but as a 45th anniversary release. This time, the pull beyond seeing the great movie again is that all the living members of the cast are involved in the promotion of this gem ... and it will certainly lead to another re-release on the 50th anniversary of this movie's debut in 2016.

What I am trying to say is that the 45th lays the groundwork for the 50th, and helps to build a groundswell of anticipation for the 50th.

And that is why the Monkees, or at least three of them, hope to reform in 2011.

The new year is the 45th anniversary of the show's debut, their first album's debut, and their first single's debut.

To provide steam for the 50th, in today's market, you have to promote the 45th.

So that is what they hope to do, if all the pieces fall together the right way.

The Monkees, however, have something else in their favor as they go into this.

Rhino Records has taken great care with their wide and expansive catalog, and has been releasing deluxe editions of each of their LPs with bonus tracks and premium packaging for the past few years. They have been good sellers, but the penultimate Monkees re-release came out just a few weeks ago...

The deluxe re-release of the "Head" soundtrack, followed by the re-release, on both DVD and Blu-ray, of the film of the same title.

This has sparked so much interest, and been so well received, that the soundtrack found its way into the Top 20 of Billboard's top soundtrack chart--and at $60 a pop, and with "Glee" fever all around, this is no small feat.

So this is clearly the time for the threesome to get together, to mine as much public adoration--and money--as they can. There is clearly no better time to do this, and it creates traction for the 50th anniversary in 2016.

Maybe even ol' Wool Hat will come on board by that time, who knows.

So full speed ahead, boys, the Monkees are reportedly back ...

And you thought the reunion of New Kids on the Block and the Backstreet Boys was something!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Rant #375: Way, Way Too Early

Have you noticed that the nation has seemingly gone Christmas-crazy already, and we aren't even at Thanksgiving yet?

It seems that by mid-September, Christmas was being talked about by retailers and others as if the holiday was just around the corner.

Several radio stations have programmed all-Christmas music, I guess to get us in the mood for the holiday.

Now, we are closer to it, but heck, we're only at Nov. 15!

For retailers, last year's Christmas was a bomb of epic proportions. This year, to make sure that this doesn't happen again, many retailers are already giving customers fantastic discounts, and they make no bones about it--they proclaim that "Black Friday" has come early this year with these sales.

People simply are watching their pocketbooks a little more than they were in the past. I know that my family is. We just don't have the ready cash to be going out on shopping 'til we drop.

It simply isn't worth it, and it certainly isn't worth it when we haven't bought our Thanksgiving turkey yet!

This year is an interesting holiday period for us, because since we are Jewish, Hanukkah literally comes right after Thanksgiving this year. We light the first Hanukkah candle on the night of Dec. 1.

So yes, if we want to buy gifts, which we do, there is some urgency to this for us and Jews across the world, as we have two weeks to do so ...

But what's the rush? I was certainly not going to buy holiday gifts in September, or even October.

I will get my gifts when I have some money, which I certainly don't have right now.

All this rushing around for gifts gets to me after a while anyway. Sure, I like to give gifts, but I won't bankrupt myself in doing so.

But Christmas in September or October or November?

Bah humbug!

Friday, November 12, 2010

Rant #374: Munster, Go To Rehab

Well, another former child star is in the news, and it's not for something good (it never is, is it?).

Butch Patrick, who played Eddie Munster in the classic "The Munsters" TV show, checked into a rehab clinic in New Jersey yesterday. Evidently, he has finally chosen to battle what has been called his life-long addictions.

The Eddie Munster character became a career-defining role for Patrick, but nobody knew it then. He was all over the screen for years, even at this young age, and as a teenager, after the show ended its run, he continued to gain roles.

And then everything pretty much stopped.

He did pop up from time to time, like when he had a band, Eddie and the Monsters, and they performed on some TV shows.

But Patrick, like so many kid stars, pretty much faded away.

Before this latest episode, the last I heard of him was when he was offering himself for parties dressed as Eddie Munster. I mean, this guy is in his 50s, and he was so desperate that he was dressing up like little Eddie! It's a wonder he could even get into his costume at this point.

And he offered one of the dolls his character carried around for several thousand dollars.

But I guess when you get desperate, you will do just about anything for a buck.

From what I hear, Patrick had a relationship with a woman decades ago, lost track of her, but they joined up again a few years back, and he moved to Pennsylvania to be with her.

Unfortunately, once Patrick entered rehab, the woman announced that the relationship was over.

How sad.

But at least Patrick has acknowledged his problems, although as we know with Lindsay Lohan, being in rehab doesn't necessarily mean you acknowledge much of anything.

So let's hope Patrick gets through this, and is a better person for it.

Herman and Lily, and Grandpa and Marilyn, would be so proud of him if he did.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Rant #373: Not Rejuvenated

Yesterday, I took the day off to be with my beautiful wife, who celebrated her birthday.

I won't tell you how old she is, but I will tell you that she looks like a woman about 10-15 years younger. (See her photos here. They aren't the best pictures I have taken of her, but they're the only ones I had handy. And yes, my son is in one of them.)

Yeah, if it sounds like I am bragging, I am.

She keeps herself in excellent shape, goes to the gym several times a week, watches what she eats, and well, she is good looking and has a great figure anyway, but she really watches herself.

You would think that I would be ready to go today, since I had the day off yesterday. You would think that I had new energy, new vitality, and that even though it was just one day, I would be electric today.


Yesterday didn't go as I had planned it in my head, not by a long shot.

My wife took the say off like I did, and her car needed some work done on it, so I followed my better half to the service station. I told her to leave the car, when we were done with whatever we were going to do, we would pick it up.

I later found out that my mother was sick, or at least didn't feel like herself. My mother is the one in our family who has the energy of a person half her age, but she is approaching 80 years of age, so any sickness has to be taken as a warning flag of sorts.

My father was working yesterday. My mother wasn't up to taking herself to the doctor, so I had to do the job. Not that I minded--her health was the most important thing--but her doctor is about 30 miles away from where we are, close to the Nassau/Queens border in New York.

She made the appointment, and I took her there. She only has a bad cold, thank goodness, so I drove her home and she went to the pharmacy.

All the while my wife was sitting at home. Her car was done, but I couldn't take her to pick it up because I wasn't home.

I had told my wife earlier in the week that I wanted to take her out for brunch or lunch for her birthday, and she resisted. She said that she didn't want to go out.

Well, since we had to pick up the car, she finally agreed to go out. She picked Panera Bread, a place that really is for women. I don't know of any males who like this place, but hey, it was her birthday, so we ate there.

After we finished, I took her to get her car, we both drove home, and that was the end of that.

We watched "Judge Judy" together, which is about a step up from watching Jerry Springer. Not too romantic, and Judge Judy turns me off from my old Family Court days (I never had her as a judge, but I remember her.)

Before my son left for school in the morning, we gave my wife her gifts, but because of all the hub-bub yesterday, I made a major error:

I forgot to buy my wife a birthday cake!

I didn't realize this until after we ate dinner. She asked me, "Did you get a birthday cake?" and I must have turned every color in the spectrum (Roy G. Biv, yes, I still remember that).

I felt like a jerk. Everything else that happened made me completely forget the main course of a birthday--the cake!

She told me that rather than cake, she wanted ice cream, or more to the point, glace, which is less fattening. I went to a local place, picked it up for her and my son (not me, I had lost my appetite by that point), and gave it to her.

We sang happy birthday, and I swear that about a half hour after eating her glace, my wife fell asleep.

She has off today, so I won't see her at all until tonight, while I am laboring at work.

So yesterday didn't really go as planned at all.

Well, at least my mother is doing better.

However, I am not ...

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Rant #372: Ban Stinks

Here we go again, another “I can’t regulate myself, so I have to have the government do it for me” moment.

On Nov. 3, San Francisco's Board of Supervisors gave preliminary approval for a ban on unhealthy restaurant meals that include toys as enticement for children to consume their products--the so-called "Happy Meal ban," named after the popular McDonald's menu item.

Then on Nov. 9, the ban was approved. So, Happy Meals as they stand--including toys--are banned in San Francisco.

The ban dictates that a restaurant cannot provide an incentive item—such as a trading card, game or other prize--for a menu item that has more than 200 calories or for a meal that tops 600 calories. The law would also prohibit menu items from being sold as children's meals if they contain excessive fat or sodium as well as require that the meal includes at least a half cup of fruit and at least a three-quarter cup of vegetables.

I don’t knock anyone who doesn’t want their kids eating at a fast food joint. That is their right to do as parents, and there are alternatives.

But to legislate an outright ban on these items at local restaurants is completely ridiculous.

If I have said this once I have said it a million times: you do not go to a fast food restaurant to get healthy food. Sure, there are “healthier” items on the menu, but why go to McDonald’s if you are watching what you eat? You can’t watch what you eat and eat at McDonald’s.

So now, if you choose to go into a San Francisco McDonald’s restaurant, you probably won’t be able to get a Happy Meal for your child.

This is completely ridiculous. It takes the decision making out of the parents’ hand and puts it in the government’s hand.

I say let all parents have a choice, and don’t make the choice for them.

And again, if you are watching what your kids are eating, or watching your own wasteline, why would you go into McDonald’s, or any fast food restaurant?

It doesn’t make any sense to me at all.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rant #371: In the Dark

Do you remember the Northeast Blackout of 1965?

A series of power failures left 30 million people in seven states, including New York and stretching into Canada, in the dark for as many as 13 1/2 hours before full power was restored.

Today is the 45th anniversary of that occurrence, and for those who experienced it, it was something that they would never forget--even though they were in pitch black at the time.

The event became so famous it was made into a movie. And yes, birth rates went up in cities that were effected by the power outage. Thus, lots of babies were born in August 1966 because, well, in the dark, what else are two people gonna do?

Anyway, here is my experience, as I remember it, during this blackout.

It was not typical of people living in New York City at the time.

I don't remember what we were watching, but the whole family was watching the TV in our living room, an old black and white Dumont.

Suddenly, the lights flickered, but did not go off entirely. It was sort of a brownout more than a blackout.

We had some power because our community, Rochdale Village, had the foresight to have its own power plant, which did not rely on Con Edison for power.

It effected us, but not to the extent of other communities.

Anyway, I just remember that everyone on our floor--there were seven apartments on the floor--opened up their doors at about the same time. We could barely see, since we had a brownout, but we all expressed surprise at what was going on.

As it stands, Rochdale Village was one of the few places on the East Coast that had power. As the story goes, pilots used Rochdale's glaring lights as a beacon as they approached nearby Kennedy Airport. Without our lights, the pilots would have had a much tougher time landing their planes.

I know that this was something the community was so proud of in its early years. The founding fathers of the development, not wanting to rely on Con Edison, built the power plant so that we would generate our own power. Little did anyone know how valuable that idea became 45 years ago today.

We've had major power failures since then, but there was nothing like this first big one. Everyone who experienced it remembered it. People were trapped in elevators, cities were thrown into chaos--nobody had ever witnessed such an event, so few knew what to do.

But I lived in a place that, perhaps unwittingly, did the right thing.

P.S.: Just as a side note, during the week of Nov. 9-15, 1979, or 14 years after the blackout, the number one single in the country was ...

"Dim All the Lights" by Donna Summer!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Rant #370: Pam Am

Wow, it's funny how washed up former stars always seem to get into the headlines one way or another.

I have read that Pamela Anderson, who is competing in the Israeli version of "Dancing With the Stars," is also in the country for another reason: to speak with Orthodox Jews and ask them to forgo their traditional fur hats.

For Orthodox Jews both in Israel and the United States and for that matter, around the world, the fur hat is part of their traditional clothing, which includes black coats. For them to give up their black, fur hats would be tantamount to people like Pamela giving up the spotlight.

But Anderson, an honorary director of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), won't have any of that. She claims that with so many choices--including fake fur--why should the Orthodox choose the real thing?

And she is on a mission to keep Orthodox Jews, err, abreast of the situation.

She intends to talk to religious leaders while she is in Israel about this topic, and will continue to try to educate people about the uses of fur when she participates in other "Dancing With the Stars" competitions that she participates in around the world.

I guess what Anderson is trying to do is a noble gesture, but honestly, she is speaking to people who are so set in their ways that I wouldn't be surprised if it falls on deaf ears.

They have kept up their traditions for centuries--do you really think the former Playboy model will be able to sway them to her side?

Many Orthodox Jews--and more to the point, many ultra-Orthodox Jews--live lifestyles that harken back to a different century. They are never slaves of fashion, and they are not going to give up something traditional like this--a garment that they have been wearing for centuries--just because Anderson is asking them to.

It's funny that Anderson--who made a name for herself initially by keeping very few clothes on--wants to educate Orthodox Jews about clothing.

But honestly, if we were face to face, I would tell her that she is barking up the wrong tree here.

Save your breast, err, breath, and preach your cause somewhere else, like the next country's "Dancing With the Stars" that you bounce into.


Friday, November 5, 2010

Rant #369: A Partridge in a Jail Cell

I am sure that you have heard that former Partridge Family lead singer David Cassidy was picked up by Florida police for driving under the influence the other day. He has since denied being drunk, but his mug shot is all over the Web, but I won’t provide the site(s), you will have to look for it yourself.

Cassidy was the main teenybopper heartthrob of the early 1970s, competing with Bobby Sherman, Donny Osmond, Michael Jackson, and a slew of wannabes for the affection of pre-teen and young teenage girls. These guys were preceded by another slew of teen idols from the mid to late 1960s, including the Beatles, the Monkees, Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere and the Raiders, Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits, and another group of wannabes. Cassidy and his contemporaries preceded 1980s faves like Rick Springfield and Duran Duran.

Anyway, teen idols from earlier periods are in the news lately, but lucky for them, it isn’t as negative as Cassidy’s news is. Word is that the Backstreet Boys and New Kids On the Block are joining up for what they hope to be a blockbuster tour, and Davy Jones wants to reform the Monkees for their 45th anniversary in 2011.

Oprah just had a show with some teenybopper idols from days past, including Peter Frampton and Jackie Jackson.

It must be somewhat difficult to be a teen idol … I guess we have to ask Justin Bieber about being one. But when your time is over, what do you do?

If you are like some of the luckier ones, you move on with your career, and take it to another level. Michael Jackson certainly did it when he was alive, and others have learned to cope with life out of the spotlight.

Then you have others who can’t move on even if they try, and they end of getting in trouble. Look at Leif Garrett’s life since his heyday, and to a certain extent, look at what happened to Michael Jackson; his career was on high but his personal life was a major mess.

Then you have others who simply go with the flow. They will be teen idols forever. Davy Jones has certainly had a pretty good career since the Monkees, but let’s face it, he continues to be idolized by many as if he were 20 again.

Others just leave it all behind and move on. That’s what Bobby Sherman did, becoming an EMT. He performs occasionally, but he has basically left show biz behind to do something that he wanted to do.

Cassidy has had an interesting career since The Partridge Family—he has been on Broadway, he has headlined in Las Vegas—but I think he falls in the Davy Jones category. No matter what he does, he will still be Keith Partridge to millions of people.

And I know Jones has had his own ups and downs over the years, but he seems to embrace this type of stardom that he has. Cassidy has never done that. Not that this links up with what he just did, but he has never seemed to be man at peace with himself—unlike his fellow former teenybopper idol and half-brother Shaun, who has moved well away from his days of stardom and appears to know where he is going in life.

Even during his heyday, Cassidy reportedly hated the music that made him the idol of millions. He had a more rock and roll solo career, but those records pale in comparison to his Partridge Family output.

If, in fact, he was drunk behind the wheel, Cassidy made a major mistake, and the hope is that he can find the inner peace that I think he has been desperately searching for since the 1970s.

Rick Nelson, another former teen idol who did stupid things and paid for these things with his life, sang about being a teen idol:

Some people call me a teenage idol

Some people say they envy me

I guess they got no way of knowing

How lonesome I can be

I need somebody to be my baby

Someone to tell my troubles to

I've got no time to ever find her

Cause I'm just passing through

I travel around from town to lonely town

I guess I'll always be just a rolling stone

If I find fortune and fame and lots of people know my name

That won't mean a thing if I'm all alone

I get no rest when I'm feeling weary

I got to pack my bags and go

I got to be somewhere tomorrow

To smile and do my show

I travel around from town to lonely town

I guess I'll always be just a rolling stone

If I find fortune and fame and lots of people know my name

That won't mean a thing if I'm all alone

Some people call me a teenage idol

Some people say they envy me

I guess they got no way of knowing

How lonesome I can be

How lonesome I can be

It is a shame that Nelson succumbed to his own vices, but it isn’t too late for Cassidy. Here’s hoping that he learns from this experience, and tackles his own demons head on.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Rant #368: Tea Burn Idiot

Now that the Garden has re-opened, we can move on to more important matters ...

An elderly New Yorker (not the woman in the picture) has failed to persuade a U.S. appeals court that Starbucks Corp. should be held liable for severe burns she suffered after spilling tea served in a double cup.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld on Tuesday a lower court's dismissal of a $3 million lawsuit brought by Rachel Moltner against the world's largest coffee chain.

In February 2008, the woman, then 76, burned herself at a Starbucks coffee shop on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

She spilled tea onto her left leg and foot when she tried to remove the lid from a "venti"-sized cup of tea, causing burns that required a skin graft. Her hospital stay later resulted in other injuries, including bed sores as well as herniated discs caused by a fall out of bed.

I always knew coffee and tea weren't really good for you!

The plaintiff accused Starbucks of serving tea that was too hot in a double cup--one cup placed inside another--and that the cup wasn't designed correctly.

The appeals court rejected her case, saying "double-cupping is a method well known in the industry as a way of preventing a cup of hot tea from burning one's hand."

Once again, people are blaming others for their misfortunes. Blame McDonald's for making your kids fat! Blame Starbucks because you dumped hot tea on yourself!

It seems no one takes responsibility for their own actions anymore.

Will candy companies be liable when a kid has rotten teeth? Will clothing manufacturers be liable when a woman wears clothes that are too tight, or shoes with heels that are too high, and they either cut off their own circulation or fall on their faces?

People need to take responsibility when they make poor choices, whether it has to do with what we eat or what we wear.

The woman in this case simply spilled the cup's contents on herself. Haven't we all done this at one time or another?

If she did this at home, it would have simply been an accident. But because she did this at Starbucks, when she looked at her burns, she saw dollar signs.

Sorry lady, you didn't have a case, and I am glad that the court felt the same way.

In fact, the woman should have been fined for bringing such a frivolous case to court.

And I'll bet she's drinking something cooler now, maybe iced tea.

If she drops that, will she claim that she got ice burns?

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Rant #367: Back to the Garden ...

Yes, let's go back to Madison Square Garden for a few moments ...

Oh, that's right, we can't.

It was announced yesterday that Madison Square Garden, billed as "The Most Famous Arena In the World," is now the most toxic arena in the world. As workers were doing construction work leading up to a full renovation of the old place, asbestos fell onto the ice below, and the air was deemed dangerous, because asbestos can cause various cancers.

The game between the Knicks and the Orlando Magic was cancelled, and not yet rescheduled. The Garden announced that it would not open again until it was deemed safe.

Later that night, various authorities on this type of hazard said that the air was fine, this was a false alarm, and the arena was safe.

I'm sure that that will pacify anybody going to the next game there, won't it?

The Garden has been a "toxic" place for some time, especially when the Knicks play. They stink up the place, but it isn't really dangerous.

Asbestos was supposed to be the wonder material of our generation (at least in the 1960s). It was used for everything, including keeping pipes cool to the touch. I remember in our bathroom in Rochdale Village, the pipe was encased in an asbestos cover. When my mother wanted to make sure the heat was coming up, she asked my sister and I to touch the pipe. If it felt warm, the heat was coming up.

And I doubt we ever washed our hands after touching it.

In the early 1970s, when it was found that asbestos can cause cancer, it fell out of favor, but older buildings and houses still have it buried in their infrastructures. That's why the Garden still has it, as the building opened in 1968, when asbestos was still in general use.

With the renovation of the Garden that is just starting, they unearthed asbestos in the ceiling, and you just know that will be coming out ASAP now that it has been exposed.

The cancellation of the game received the full approval of the NBA, but the Knicks might have to reimburse the Magic for travel expenses to a game that never happened. It is doubtful if the Knicks will be fined for presenting an unsafe arena for the game, although the NBA has not ruled that out yet.

The Knicks were probably going to get annihilated by the Magic anyway, so yesterday's postponement just put off the inevitable.

But is the Garden now safe?

I don't know, but the next time I go there for a game later this month, you just know I am going to look at the rafters now and again, hoping for both some divine intervention in helping the Knicks to a win and to see if anything is falling from the heavens.

And if something is falling, it better be mannah, because if it is asbestos chips, my son and I are getting the hell out of there!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Rant #366: WWE: Woo, Woo, Woo

Fresh off of going to the Knicks' home opener at Madison Square Garden, my son and I went to Nassau Coliseum to see last night's live Raw show.

Months ago, I bought tickets for this show, and then entered a contest for tickets to the show. Lo and behold, to my surprise, I won the tickets. We sat all the way down, probably about 20 yards away from the ring, and these seats were by far the best we have ever had.

(I gave the tickets I had to a co-worker.)

My son and I have been to numerous WWE shows before, including a few Smackdowns, pay per views and one house show.

Say what you will about them, but the WWE knows how to put on a good show.

Right now, the big storyline is the NEXUS, a gnarly bunch of brow beaters who are trying to rule the WWE. John Cena, the all-American boy of wrestling (sorry Jack Swagger), has been pulled into the plot, because due to various circumstances, if he does not do what the NEXUS demands that he do, he will be gone from WWE.

He keeps on getting involved with matches revolving around various NEXUS members, so what's a poor boy to do?

Last night, Cena was a referee in a tag team match between NEXUS leader Wade Barrett, and fellow NEXUS member David Otunga versus popular wrestler R. Truth and the champion, Randy Orton.

Cena had to balance being a referee and leaning toward the NEXUS to win the match. And in true WWE style, Cena went for the "right" thing, and Truth and Orton won the match, to the consternation of the NEXUS bunch.

Yes, as you can see, wrestling hasn't changed, and it will never change.

It's still a soap opera for boys, although there were plenty of females in attendance.

I have been watching wrestling for probably about 45 years, and you still have the element of good vs. evil, and right now John Cena is somewhere in the middle.

He is the good guy, but because he has been dealt a bad hand, he now has to delve into being a heel.

But that's the way things are in professional wrestling. Things are never as they seem.

It's like they operate in an alternate universe ... and they do.

The WWE has come under additional scrutiny as we vote today on Election Day as Linda McMahon, the wife of WWE Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Vince McMahon, is running for a Senate seat in Connecticut. By all indications, she has spent about $50 million of her own money on the election, and she is supposedly trailing badly, if you want to believe the polls.

This point was brought up last night by a video showing Vince M. waking up from a coma to hear that Linda M. was running a political campaign and was spending all of this money. Vince M. almost went into cardiac arrest when he heard about this, but had to go to the bathroom first.

Yes, this is an alternate universe, and if you buy into it, as millions around the world do, you buy into the craziness, both real and written, that surrounds the WWE and professional wrestling in general.

Last night, the matches were good, pretty crisply orchestrated, and continued all the storylines that are in place now.

And Pee Wee Herman was the show's guest, promoting his Broadway show.

I mean, is this a circus or what?

But it was a fun evening, and I know my son and I will definitely do it again sometime soon.

(P.S.: First, congratulations to the San Francisco Giants for their World Series win, the team's first in 56 years and its first in California. Also, don't forget to vote today; it doesn't matter who you vote for, in my book, as long as you go to your polling place and vote.)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Rant #365: Same Old Knicks

My son and I went to a New York Knicks game on Saturday evening, October 30.

It was the day before Halloween, and the Knicks turned in another frightful performance.

They lost 100-95 to a very talented Portland Trailblazers team, and lost the game after leading by nine points with five minutes to go.

I have now taken my son to four Knicks games over the past three seasons, and he hasn't seen the Knicks win a single game.

It was the first game of the season at Madison Square Garden, and with Amare Stoudemire leading the team, there is a lot of hope that this year's version of the hapless sad sacks of the past might just make some noise this season.

Well, they have now started the season at 1-2, and face the Orlando Magic tomorrow, so that noise might just have to be put on hold for awhile.

The Knicks always promise so much, and in recent years, they have delivered so little, but the fan support is amazing for this franchise. They could lose 20 games in a row, and still have packed houses at the Garden.

That's what a little history will do. Today's team is inextricably linked to the golden years for the franchise, from 1969-1973, when they won two championships.

Those were the Knicks of Red Holzman, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and Walt Frazier, and later, Earl Monroe, and the only current link to the team is by Frazier, who does color commentary on the TV broadcasts of the games.

The Knicks have had some great teams in between their last championship--in the 1972-1973 season--and now, including those wonderful teams they had in the 1990s lead by Patrick Ewing.

But since Ewing left, there has been a curse on this team and organization, and this year there was hope that that curse could be obliterated.

Sure, it is just three games into the season, but you get the feeling that even if the Knicks improve upon last year--when they won just 29 games--it won't be enough to stop the boo birds at the Garden. Yes, Knicks fans support their team, but they will also let their team know it if they stink.

And losing a hefty lead in the last five minutes of Saturday's game isn't a good way to begin the season.

My son and I go to our next game on Nov. 27 against Atlanta, and maybe I will have a more chipper report for you.

Tonight ... WWE wrestling at Nassau Coliseum, Monday Night Raw. Look for us, we have tickets in the pricey area this time.

And that's another story for another day ... tomorrow.

P.S.: Since this is the 365th rant I have posted, that makes a full year of entries at this blog, even though the blog is much older than that. This blog has received over 8,000 hits, and while that is pretty small, especially compared to other blogs that get 8,000 hits in a nano-second, it is still impressive.

I realize that probably a good percentage of those hits are from me, but I appreciate those that regularly visit the site. I would like some more feedback, but what can you do?

Thanks again.

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