Friday, December 30, 2011

Rant #647: Happy New Year

2011 is just about over--thank goodness for that--and we are about to move onto 2012.

Looking back at the nearly past year, I really don't think this was the greatest year we have ever had.

The country is in a mess. We continue to have high unemployment, the economy is lousy, and we have legislators who really need a reality check on who they are and what they were elected to do.

The rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer. Protests around the world showed that people have had it up to here with promises, they want action.

Unfortunately, those protests--including the "Occupy" folks--became parodies of themselves after awhile, and people, myself included, started to look at them as a joke, a place for hangers-on and never-will-bes to congregate, to hang out, and, unfortunately, to physically, emotionally, and violently attack others.

The weather was miserable. We had snowstorms, hurricanes, you name it, all over the country. It seemed like we got hammered this past year.

And one good thing--we got out of Iraq. Now they can kill themselves rather than kill our men and women.

Next, Afghanistan.

And yes, some world leaders who were our enemies met their end in 2011.

Good riddance to them and theirs.

Onto lighter things, the entertainment industry pretty much stunk up the place this year. People aren't watching television or going to the movies like they once did, because nothing is being created that interests people.

As I previously said, this holiday season produced the worst stench of movies I have ever seen, and I was backed up in my opinion by the fact that movie attendance has plummeted to record low levels during the holidays.

I wonder why?

In sports, well, my beloved Yankees and Knicks didn't really win anything this year, but there is a lot of hope on both sides for something better in 2012.

And I guess that is my final thought in this blog for 2011.

There is a lot of hope that 2012 will be a better year than 2011 was.

Heck, 2011 wasn't as bad as, say, 1968 was, but it was bad enough.

Like Howard Jones once sang in his hit song, "Things Can Only Get Better."

See you next year. Have a great New Year's, and I will be back on Tuesday to rant and rave once again.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Rant #646: No, It Wasn't Me

You probably heard that there was a $208 million lottery ticket sold on Long Island for the recent Mega Millions drawing.

No, I am not the recipient of this prize.

It was sold at a King Kullen supermarket in Middle Island, and it was a Quick Pick ticket bearing the numbers 23, 32, 33, 39, 43 and a Mega Ball of 8.

The lump-sum cash option checks out at $153.3 million over 26 years before taxes.

No, it wasn't me.

At work, when these types of drawings get very high in cash value, we all chip in our dollars hoping to eventually cash in on a dream.

We won in this drawing, but just $2. That breaks down to like 50 cents each person who participated.

Oh well, one can dream.

One can dream of leaving his or her job, paying off every dollar you owe, and setting a course for yourself for the remainder of your life.

But it wasn't me.

When I heard that the ticket was sold at a King Kullen in Suffolk County, I immediately thought of my wife's brother, who has worked out there for the supermarket chain for decades.

But I guess it wasn't him either.

And who knows who it is? Customarily, the winners of such jackpots take their time before they make their good fortune public. They get a lawyer and a financial advisor, and make sure that they say the right things when they hold their news conference.

And sometimes, the winners never show, not realizing that they had won.

But it wasn't me, wasn't anyone I knew, but I still want to hear about who won and what they plan to do with the money.

I know what I would do, but I guess it wasn't in the cards for me this time.

Maybe the next time around ...

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Rant #645: Downer Christmas, Part 2

And you think what happened to me is an isolated incident?

No, I don’t think so.

There is a rise in anti-Semitic activity this holiday season, whether anybody acknowledges it or not.

Just several weeks ago, a Hassidic Jewish enclave in Brooklyn was attacked when several cars were set on fire and others were painted with swatstikas and other anti-Jewish venom.

Several synagogues have been desecrated recently with swatstikas and anti-Jewish hate.

I received my letter in the mail, with about as much anti-Jewish venom as I have ever seen.

Now I read that a man who was in mourning for his recently passed away wife has another burden to bear: his Hanukkah menorah, which has been displayed on his lawn for many years during the holiday season, was smashed to bits yesterday.

And this happened in a place called Plainview, one of the Long Island areas with a high rate of Jewish residents.

No, I don’t think the incidents are at all related, but there is a definite rise in anti-Semitism out there.

Just look at the Republican presidential candidates. Most of them are evangelical Christians, meaning that they don’t recognize the Jewish religion at all. They are out to convert us to their ways.

One candidate, Ron Paul, is so virulently anti-Jewish that I can’t believe that people are even considering him for the top spot in the land.

And people—and yes, I include many Jews themselves—accept this type of behavior. They look the other way when things like this happen, because it hasn’t happened to them.

But let me tell you, Jews that have so blended themselves into our society that they forget who they really are aren’t doing anybody any good—including themselves—with their behavior.

Yes, they are part of the problem, but the greater problem is answering the question, “Why is this happening in the first place?”

It is hard to pinpoint the reason, but I think that during tough times, scapegoats are always sought, and Jews are often categorized as the reason for whatever mess we are in.

That is wholly unfair, but to uneducated, ignorant people, that is what they believe.

And many Jews, by ignoring these incidents, just add into the senselessness of it all.

Well, I am not ignoring what happened to me. I did what I had to do—reporting the incident to the police—and when I hear of others who have been violated, it turns my stomach.

Both Jew and Gentile alike should be alarmed at these incidents.

If they aren’t, I feel sorry for them. Something is missing from their makeup that prevents them from being saddened by such incidents.

Hanukkah ended last night. The menorahs and all the decorations will come down, but my Jewishness will not be taken down at all.

It is who I am, what my family is, and what my ancestors were.

And if people don’t like it, that’s tough. I really don’t care.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Rant #644: Downer Christmas

This will be a short Rant because I am not feeling too well today.

I had a lousy Christmas break.


I was sick virtually the entire time, and I still am.

I hope to make a doctor's appointment today, because as you can imagine, it was pretty impossible to get a doctor over the holiday.

On Friday, my first day off, I received a mysterious letter in the mail which had no return address.

I should have known this was going to be trouble.

Let me preface it by saying that a few weeks ago, I had a Letter to the Editor published in my local paper, Newsday.

The main crux of the letter was the lack of Jewish representation on network TV, but Newsday highlighted the portion of the letter about the popular coverage of Hanukkah, as opposed to Christmas.

Basically, I said that network TV shows ignore the holiday, and Jewishness altogether, unless it is used as a plot device.

Well, all hell broke loose with that letter.

About a week later, several replies were printed by Newsday, and they weren't pretty.

One person called my letter "anti-Catholic," and both Jews and Gentiles alike pretty much condemned what I said ... although I didn't think I said anything that wasn't out there already.

I mean, name me one Jewish family on network TV ... there, I have pretty much proved my point.

Anyway, fast forward to this past Friday, two days before Christmas.

I opened the letter, and there was this anti-Jewish diatribe that had to be seen to be believed.

It was scrawled--and I do mean that literally--across several sheets of paper, in often unreadable scratch. It was even worse than my own handwriting, which is pretty bad.

It blamed the Jews for everything, from the war overseas to 9/11.

It showed how all the evil people in the world are or were Jewish.

And it also included this final sendoff (paraphrased) "Most people in the world don't like Jews."

Very nice present for the holiday, wouldn't you say?

My wife had me call the police, and they made up a report on it.

On Facebook, I found that most people didn't want to acknowledge such a thing could happen during the holiday season, and I mean Jews and Gentiles alike--and mainly Jews, I might add.

I got ripped by both for even talking about this thing.

Of course, few of the people expressing displeasure at my nerve to posting such an entry forget that I called the police because I thought my family's well-being was in jeopardy.

I guess few people care about that when they are opening their presents and drinking egg nog and sitting by their tree--Jews more than anyone, by the way.

So I really couldn't win during this time off I had.

I got lambasted, and I got sick.

Oh, how I look forward to New Year's!

(I guess the rant was longer than I thought it would be.)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Rant #643: Snoopy's Christmas

A continued Happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends, and a three-day-early Merry Christmas to everyone else.

Even though I am Jewish, I still occasionally get caught up in the frenzy of the Christmas holiday season.

And part of that frenzy is the music, more to the point, the contemporary music celebrating the holiday.

While there is scant little for Hanukkah—more than you might think if you want to look for it, but still not that much—for Christmas, of course, there is plenty.

Some radio stations jump onto this point with a loud crash, playing Christmas music—and nothing but Christmas music—from like September on.

Other stations mix it in with their usual fare, but during the week prior to Christmas, they mix it in ad nauseum.

But I’m one to talk. I have so many Christmas recordings that you might think I am a good goy, as in gentile. But I’m not, of course. I just have lots of Christmas recordings in my collection.

What’s my favorite Christmas record? Or more to the point, what's the favorite Christmas record of this Jewish guy (not goy)?

A year ago, I told you it was "Riu Chiu" by the Monkees, which really isn't directly a Christmas song, per se, but a Spanish folk song dating from the 1500s that the Monkees used on their Christmas episode. Thus, for the past 44 years, it has morphed into a Christmas recording.

And if there is a No. 2, it most definitely has to be "Snoopy’s Christmas”/”It Kinda Looks Like Christmas” by the Royal Guardsmen. Yes, the entire 45 that was released in 1967.

Both songs--and the Monkees recording--bring me back to a different time, so they are both nostalgic and Christmasy at the same time.

Although on their Christmas episode, "Riu Chiu" was never officially released until many years later. I will bet that if it was released in 1967, it would have been a huge holiday hit.

The Royal Guardsmen tunes are another thing altogether.

Dating from the same period as the Monkees’ tune, the A side of the single is simply a continuance of the band’s “Snoopy” saga, which would encompass at least four singles: “Snoopy vs. the Red Baron,” “The Return of the Red Baron,” “Snoopy’s Christmas,” and “Snoopy For President.”

(And I found two more: "The Smallest Astronaut" and the Royal Guardsmen reunion-related "Snoopy vs. Osama.")

It kind of blends bubblegum with the holidays, and it works to perfection.

It did not chart on the Hot 100 of the time, although it did chart on Billboard's Christmas chart. It has been a favorite for the past 44 years, and you regularly hear it during this time of year.

The B side is basically a standard Christmas song, but it works wonderfully with the more popular A side.

It's very light and fluffy, almost like aural snow.

The Royal Guardsmen kind of got pigeonholed into the Snoopy thing, and they aren't remembered for much else. But they did have several other terrific singles, including my favorite "Behind Enemy Lines."

But they will always be remembered for those Snoopy records, and I will always love "Snoopy's Christmas."

I still have the original single that I bought in late 1967 in my collection, and it still plays well.

So have a Merry Christmas everyone. I will take a few days off, and be back ready to look at the New Year on Tuesday.

"Christmas bells, those Christmas bells, ringing out from the land ... "

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Rant #642: Phil 'Em Up To 76 Today

Phil Donahue turns 76 today.

Although I often did not agree with his liberal politics, Phil Donahue, in my mind, is an icon of the TV talk show circuit.

Without him, there would be no Oprah, no Morey, no Ellen, and none of the other clowns who populate that genre today.

I used to watch Donahue's show--with a theme song by Don Agrati, better known as Don Grady from TV's "My Three Sons"--on occasion, when I was home, so I am by no means an expert on him.

But when I saw his show, I knew I was in for a roller coaster ride.

Whether he had on a famous politician or a porn star, you knew you were going to get everything Donahue had in him.

He was one of the first of the talk show hosts to run around with a microphone, trying to get the impressions of what was going on from his audience. He stuck that wand in front of their faces, and he let them speak their mind.

Donahue was as comfortable with important people as he was with the average Joes, and I think that is why people liked him so much.

I believe his very first guest was a young girl born without arms or legs. He treated her with dignity, and had her on several times as she grew into a woman to see how her life was progressing.

He had on transvestites, the latest TV and movie stars, everyday people with incredible problems, and the like.

And everyone seemed to like him, as his show seemingly went on forever.

And when he announced that he wouldn't do the show anymore, there wasn't this big fanfare like what Oprah wanted and got.

He just ended it.

Sure, he went onto cable TV, pretty unsuccessfully I might add, but when his regular show was over, that was pretty much it for him.

And I can't forget that I have always been a fan of his wife, Marlo Thomas, of "That Girl" fame.

So there you have it.

Have a happy birthday, Phil. You weren't the first TV talk show host, but you were certainly among the best of the lot.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Rant #641: Hanukkah, Hanukkah

Tonight is Hanukkah.

I know that for most of our culture this means absolutely nothing, but for many of us, this holiday, which begins at sundown tonight, reflects the culmination of a year's work, and the time to party and celebrate.
Tonight is the first night of Hanukkah.

I know to most people, this means absolutely nothing, but to us 3 percenters--the percent of the U.S. population that is Jewish--it does mean something, maybe more to some than others, since there seems to be a rising tide for Jews to celebrate Christmas. No, I don't get it either.

Anyway, on the Jewish calendar, Hanukkah is not a major holiday. But it is a joyous and festive one, celebrating the rededication of the Temple of Jerusalem at the time of the Maccabean revolt, during the second century BCE (before the common era).

After the Jews regained control of the temple, they found that they only had one night's oil for their candelabra, their eternal light. Somehow, through some type of miracle, the oil burned for eight days, hence the celebration of Hanukkah for eight days and the use of a menorah to signify the eternal light.

It is a joyous holiday and a festive one, but, as I said, it is not a major holiday on the Jewish calendar.

That is the reason that many give for high-profile Jews basically ignoring the holiday, at least out in public.

But of course, that is nonsense.

Whatever anybody says, Hanukkah is a huge holiday for Jews around the globe.

It is a gift-giving holiday, a holiday where you reaffirm your family ties, a holiday that is to be celebrated, and not shunned, like some unfortunate Jews do.

Sure, it's always right near Christmas, and a lot of people believe that it is the Jewish Christmas.

Well let me tell you, it isn't. It has nothing to do with Christmas at all.

However, because of the actions of some high-profile Jews, many people think that Hanukkah simply doesn't measure up, that Jews celebrate Christmas.

Sorry, at least in my family, we don't.

Christmas is a wonderful holiday, with its direction very similar to that of Hanukkah.

But Hanukkah isn't the Jewish Christmas much like Christmas is not the Gentile Hanukkah.

No matter how much society wants the two holidays intertwined, one has nothing to do with the other.

On that note, I wish everyone a joyous Hanukkah. Eat lots of sweet things, get and give your presents, and feel content with who you are and what religion you are.

I know that I am content, very content indeed.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Rant #640: Wrestling to Get My Mind Off Things

Saturday was one of the strangest days I have ever experienced.

In the morning, we put our dog Max to sleep. He was a fine dog and I know he is in dog heaven now.

In the afternoon, we had some people over--my wife's side of the family--for a holiday get together.

And during the evening, my son and I saw a WWE wrestling house show at nearby Nassau Coliseum.

A house show is sort of like a pre-rehearsal or a dry run. You are not going to see any championship belts change hands, and while you will see some stars, you will also see plenty of bums.

The wrestlers are allowed to show more of their skills at these shows, because really nothing is on the line, except to put on a good show for the crowd.

And they did during the roughly three-hour show on Saturday night.

Playing to what I would say was less than half of capacity--TV shows and pay per views regularly draw sold-out crowds there and around the world--the WWE superstars put on a good show.

They played everything to the hilt, and wowed the audience--probably 75 percent kids from the ages of 5 to 16--with their moves, and with their mouths.

The good guys played that up to the max, the bad guys did everything bad guys are supposed to do to be bad guys--they put down Long Island, they put down the rickety Coliseum, they put down their competitors.

But the good guys won every match, the bad guys lost every match, and the WWE sold a lot of T-shirts.

Perfect fare for a cold December night right before the holidays.

My son and I had a nice time there. Our seats weren't that great, but we could see everything pretty clearly.

The crowd--the smallest I have every seen for a wrestling show there--was very loud and vocal, and cheered on their favorites and hissed and booed the villains.

And for me, it was a perfect tonic for what happened earlier that day.

Our dog sat by us many days that my son and I watched wrestling on TV. Every Friday, we would make popcorn as we watched the Smackdown show, and Max just loved popcorn, so we threw him some as we watched the show.

He loved it, he really did.

So as I watched the wrestling show unfolding before me, I did think of Max once or twice.

And I am sure in dog heaven, he really enjoyed that.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Friday, December 16, 2011

Rant #639: Done

Well, almost.

My wife and I have decided that our dog must be put down.

And we are doing it this weekend.

Our dog, Max, has lived a good life, but he has not been the same dog the past several months.

He has cancer, plain and simple, and a bum hind leg to boot.

The cancer is in his left side, and the tumor has ballooned to the point that he can't use his leg, and he can't hold his bowels.

He is 14 and a half years old. He is a mixed breed terrier and pit bull, but don't let the pit bull part of him fool you; he is about the nicest dog that you would ever want to meet.

He barks a lot, which puts people off, but he wouldn't hurt a fly.

Max has lived a good life as a house dog, but I think that time has just about come to an end.

We adopted him from a shelter after losing another dog to a variety of physical ailments, and unfortunately, due to financial constrictions, we are going to have to bring Max to the pound for disposal, just like we did his predecessor.

I would love to have the vet do it, but it costs several hundred dollars, which my wife and I don't have.

So it will be like a death march tomorrow morning, but we will march in a car to the dog death camp.

My wife can't bear this, so my father will come with me, as he did with the other dog.

Max is not pictured here, but Max was a handsome, lovable dog in his day. He had his quirks, but he always knew when he did wrong... and when he did right.

I don't know about other animals, but dogs do have a soul.

And this poor soul, who we are telling ourselves that we are putting out of his misery by doing what we are going to do, will go to dog heaven.

And he will be in our hearts forever.

See you, Max. We will always love you.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Rant #638: One Day At a Time With Schneider

Another guy who had a tremendous influence on my youth is gone.

You might not know the name Bert Schneider, but he died on Monday at the age of 78.

No, he wasn't the Schneider from the TV show, "One Day At a Time."

No, this guy had a much more important role in Hollywood.

Bert Schneider was a key person in Hollywood's counter-culture movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The son of Columbia Pictures president Abraham Schneider, he somehow convinced his father that a teen-oriented rock show was needed on network TV, a show that would showcase the new, emerging talent that was playing out throughout the country.

Yes, there was "American Bandstand," and later, "Where the Action Is," but these Dick Clark productions weren't on in prime time. Schneider convinced his dad, sometime in 1964 or 1965, that the popularity generated by the Beatles could be compressed and repackaged in a half hour comedy show in prime time.

His father went for the idea, but who would star in show?

Jan and Dean were first mentioned, and then the Lovin' Spoonful. The Spoonful were what they were really going for--a lovable, daffy bunch who could play music--but then Schneider and his partner, Bob Rafelson decided that a created-for-TV group was more to their liking.

In 1965, an ad was placed for "Ben Franklin" types to audition for the TV show, and a horde of rock and roll types auditioned for these roles. Some were already established in the business, such as Paul Peterson, who was a star from "The Donna Reed Show." Others were just starting out, such as future Oscar winner Paul Williams.

But four guys were chosen, and the Monkees they became. Micky Dolenz, Davy Jones, Michael Nesmith and Peter Tork became overnight sensations, and solidified the newly named Raybert Productions as a force to be reckoned with.

Through the Monkees, Schneider and Rafelson brought long-hairs to living rooms around the world. The show was an unqualified success, and the music was among the best of the period.

And through this show, Schneider and Rafelson met Jack Nicholson, a partnership that would pretty much begin with the Monkees' film "Head" and which would continue for the next several years.

Using money that came from the Monkees project, Schneider and Rafelson were able to make "Five Easy Pieces and "Easy Rider," films that brought the counter-culture to the masses and which made people like Nicholson, Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper massive stars.

He also produced other well known films, including "The Last Picture Show" and "Hearts and Minds," but it all started out with a little project called "The Monkees."

Schneider had been retired from the business for many years, but his legacy is an incredible one, one that most people really don't know about.

The films and TV shows that he was involved with live on on DVD, and his knack for capturing the moment really was pretty incredible. Of course, he had the proper Hollywood connections, which certainly helped, but his ability to launch new talent--remember, he also launched the career of director Peter Bogdanovich--was amazing.

Rest in peace, Bert. You done good.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rant #637: Patty Dukes It Out At 65

Actress Patty Duke is 65 today.

I find that hard to believe, but it is true.

In the world where people worship Lindsay Lohan, it is hard to believe that just about 50 years ago, people were holding Patty Duke in the same high esteem as they do Lohan today.

But it's like comparing apples with oranges, isn't it?

Duke was one of the younger stars of the pre-Beatles era who filled our minds just before we were going to get smashed upside the head by the four lads from Liverpool.

She was hot as a pistol. She won an Academy Award for her portrayal of a young Helen Keller in "The Miracle Worker," and the world was literally her oyster.

She even had her own TV show, "The Patty Duke Show," and that is where I first encountered this young actress.

The show had not only one of the all-time great TV theme songs, but the theme song played off a gimmick: the versatile Duke played two characters on the show: a typical, nutty, fun-loving teenager, and her cultured, European cousin.

They would go to the same high school in Brooklyn Heights, but the fact that they looked so alike--heck, they could have been twins!--led to most of the show's comedy.

The show was funny in an almost subtle way. I know that I laughed out loud at this show when I was a kid, but now, the laughs are a little more subdued--especially when you know Duke's back story.

Duke suffered from mental illness, which was made worse by the fact that she didn't really know who she was until years later. She was mentally abused by many, and the realization that the Patty Duke everyone knew was not the real Patty Duke--her actual name was Anna--stifled her career after the mid to late 1960s.

Through all of this, she still acted, appeared on every game show there ever was, and continued to stay visible, especially during the 1970s when she was married to actor John Astin. She had several children, including actor Sean Astin, and the public persona pretty much took hold of the private persona.

She has come clean with her troubles, and, at 65 seems to finally be happy in the skin that she is in.

But as one of the first public personalities to come clean about her own mental illness, she was something of a pioneer.

So to Patty Duke, happy birthday, and many more.

And she is 65? I still can't believe it.

I guess she will always indelibly be in my mind as that wacky, crazy teen on "The Patty Duke Show."

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rant #636: The Incredible Hulk

It is incredible how Hulk Hogan's name constantly is in the news.

While 30 years ago, it was for all the right reasons--he was the top wrestler in the world, and his popularity helped bring professional wrestling to a new level--today, it is for all the wrong reasons.

The latest one is that the Hulkster--Terry Bollea on his birth certificate--is suing his ex-wife for defamation.

Evidently, Hulk's ex-wife claims in a memoir and in interviews to promote that tome that not only did he brutally attack her while they were married, but that he had an affair with another person.

And the other person just happens to be ex-wrestler Brutus Beefcake.

She claims the Hulkster had his Beefcake and ate it too, I guess.

Of course, Hogan says that this is nothing but a pack of lies from a vindictive ex-spouse.

"If any of that was true, I would admit it, and I was a homosexual I would embrace it," he is reported to have said in news reports. "It's just so crazy to hear, so I have a real problem with it. ... If you're going to say I'm something that I'm not to try to ruin my career and my livelihood ... I have to answer her back."

The Hulkster has been happily married to his current wife--who looks just like his former wife, but much younger, of course--for a year now, but his divorce has been anything but amicable.

Both sides have leveled various charges against the other over the past several months, and it doesn't appear as if it is going to stop anytime soon.

So much for amicable divorces! I can tell you from personal experience that there isn't any such thing. Both sides can appear to be pleasant toward each other, but let's face it, there had to be something to divide the two, and you just know that there is something kicking inside of at least one of them that makes the prospect of a "happy" divorce completely impossible.

Are the charges true? At this point, it really doesn't make any difference whether they are true or not. It is pretty much all water under the bridge.

Hulk and his ex are divorced, they have each seemingly moved on with their lives--his ex is dating a guy who is probably less than half her age--and that should be that.

But his ex keeps on bringing things up, negative things about the Hulkster.

Again, who knows if they are true, but I see a very vindictive ex-wife here.

They have two children to parent. That should be their focus, and not this nonsense.

But I can tell you, again from personal experience, that the nonsense seems to always creep into whatever happens in the family that is rocked by divorce.

And what of Brutus Beefcake? What does he have to say about this mess that he has been drawn into?

Nobody has heard from him at all at this point in time. Maybe the former "Barber" has taken the best tack in this whole thing.

Just don't say anything.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Rant #635: Holiday Flops

I am sure that you heard that this past weekend was the worst in the past three years for the movie industry.

In fact, even fewer people went to the movies this past weekend then went to theaters right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"Only" $77 million was made this weekend. The top film was the flop "New Year's Eve," a film that will probably wind up on most "worst" lists for 2011. It recorded a "paltry" $13.7 million in ticket sales. It was followed by another new movie, the dreadfully reviewed "The Sitter," and the other top movies included "The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 1," "The Muppets," "Arthur Christmas," "Hugo," "The Descendants," "Happy Feet Two," "Jack and Jill," and "Immortals."

Each and every one of these films received poor to horrible reviews when they came out--including "The Descendants," sorry George Clooney fans--and heck, with this slate of films, why would anyone want to go to the movies today?

My wife and I have been talking about this recent slate of holiday movies, and I cannot ever remember a worse lineup of movies during holiday-time ever.

And I mean ever.

The next "blockbuster" that is supposed to thrill us is the "Sherlock Holmes" sequel. You know, the sequel where Robert Downey Jr.'s portrayal as a lazy slob superhero--Arthur Conan Doyle is probably turning in his grave--will continue. My family saw the first one, and even though my wife just loves Downey, she even said that it was one of the worst movies she ever saw.

So we won't be going to the movies for a long, long time.

I don't know where Hollywood's head is. The either remake movies or retread old ideas, and let me tell you, it generally does not work.

My parents were the type of people who used to go to the movies every week. And they continued going every week--they are now both 80 years old--until the past few months. They just can't justify spending $9 or more on the slate of films that Hollywood is releasing nowadays.

And don't be fooled by the dollar figures. Remember, movies cost about $9 a ticket now, and a couple of dollars higher for 3D fare. So while revenues have probably increased, the number of tickets sold has actually decreased.

And also, let's not forget that if you want to eat anything at the movie theater, you are going to have to pay for it, and pay for it with a lot of money.

So for a family of four, a movie day can cost over $50.

Why go to the movies? You can see the same trash, and save money, at home.

We did just that. My wife and I rented--and I really mean we rented because there was nothing else out there--a movie called "Bad Teacher," a film which certainly spells the end of Cameron Diaz's movie career.

She plays a teacher who is only in it for the money for a future boob job.

Yes, you read that right.

Diaz--who was never my cup of tea anyway--is horrific in this movie, as is her former real life boyfriend, Justin Timberlake.

The movie is embarrassing.

But we paid just $1.30 to see it through the local Redbox machine.

What trash.

And I know the other day I said that the "Three Stooges" movie looks interesting.

It does--but I pretty much expect that to be trash too.

But yes, I will probably fork over my money to see this trash.

Movies are a habit, and even though my family and I don't go regularly anymore, I wouldn't say the recent garbage put out by Hollywood is its death knell.

Dopes like me will always go to the movies, even if it isn't a weekly occurrence anymore.

But please, Hollywood, please put out something that is worth seeing.


Friday, December 9, 2011

Rant #634: Culture Vulture

I guess I am a culture vulture, looking for scenarios of interest that are interesting to me.

With the holiday season in full swing, there are usually lots of things to talk about around this time of year.

Here are a few of them.

The 31st Anniversary of the Death of John Lennon: This one kind of came and went. It happened yesterday, when I was talking about the new Three Stooges movie. I could have written about Lennon, but so much has been said about him, why add to it?

But it was 31 years ago that he was so senselessly murdered. I remember the night vividly; it is something I will never forget.

But 31 years--incredible! The time goes so, so fast.

Lindsay Lohan Poses For Playboy; Issue Cover Leaked: We move from a cultural icon of my youth to a cultural icon of today, the very pretty but completely vapid Lindsay Lohan.

If anyone needs to put a finger on how society has fallen since Lennon died, just look at jailbird Lohan, now posing in the bunny book.

If I have said it once, I will say it again: if she looked like Rosie O'Donnell, nobody would care about the nonsense surrounding this idiot. But she is gorgeous with a great body, the media loves her, and she poses in her nothings and gets $1 million for it. What do the Occupy Wall Street protesters have to say about this?

NBA Star Amare Stoudemire Teaches Kids Hebrew: New York Knicks basketball star Amare Stoudemire appeared on Shalom Sesame, Israel's equivalent of our Sesame Street, in a short segment teaching kids the meaning of the Hebrew word "tov," as in "mazel tov," a word which means "good" in English.

And it's good--of tov--for Stoudemire. He is black, and I only say that because it belies his origins. Since coming to the Knicks, in a town with a large Jewish population, he has been very proud to say that he has Jewish roots on his mother's side.

He didn't play this up when he played elsewhere, but, of course, he is going to play that up here.

Heck, I like him as a Knicks fan, and it really isn't important to me that he considers himself at least partially Jewish. But it is interesting, isn't it? Judaism takes on all different types of people, and I am happy to have Stoudemire as part of the flock.

Albert Pujols Signs With the Angels: I tried, I really tried, to make my son into a baseball player. He played Little League from ages 5-12, but that was it.

I am sure that Albert Pujols' parents are very proud that they put him in the direction of baseball, because this former St. Louis Cardinal is going to get a payday from the Los Angeles Angels that is mind boggling, to say the least. In the biggest surprise of Major League Baseball's winter meetings, the Angels signed free agent Pujols for something like $25 million a year, snaring him away from the World Series winning St. Louis Cardinals.

Well, my dad tried to make me into a baseball player too, but it just wasn't in the cards. Neither was it for Pujols with his former team.

I Get Attacked For My Letter to the Editor: What else is new? I write a Letter to the Editor of Newsday about the lack of Jewish representation on prime time network TV shows and the lack of Hanukkah programming on television, and both Jews and non-Jews attack me online and in the newspaper.

One person, in the newspaper, even called my letter "anti-Catholic," which was clearly not my intention. My letter was edited by the newspaper to make it more of a holiday letter, but people sure take things the wrong way, and they sure did it here.

If you want to read the letter they printed and all the backlash, go here:

I am done for the day. Speak to you next week ... if a pox has not been put on me by one of the responders who must think I am the anti-Christ. Do I look like the Anti-Christ in my Yankees regalia?

That's right. The Red Sox call the Yankees "The Evil Empire," so maybe there is something to this anti-Christ thing.

Maybe ... maybe not.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Rant #633: I'm Larry the Stooge

When I heard that the Farrelly brothers were going to do a reboot of the Three Stooges in a feature length film, I have to tell you, I cringed.

How can you remake comedy perfection? And why would you remake a film where, essentially, the actors would not only be portraying characters, but essentially, they would be aping Moe Howard, Curly Howard and Larry Fine?

Well, the trailer for this film--set to premier in April 2012--has just been released, and I have to say that at least over the course of the trailer, I am impressed.

The film, starring Sean Hayes (Larry), Will Sasso (Curly) and Chris Diamontopoulos (Moe), at least looks promising.

All the sight gags are there, all the slaps, pops and crackles are intact, the boys still have eyes for the ladies, and the breakneck pace of the trailer makes it look like a live action cartoon, which the Stooges' shorts were pretty much anyway.

The film will be kept at PG level though, because the filmmakers said that that was what the Stooges were, never venturing out of that territory, even though, of course, at the time of their heyday in the 1930s, 1940s, and early 1950s, there was no movie rating system.

And no, there are no apparent nods to Joe Besser or Curly Joe De Rita either. This is a plus, but nothing for Shemp Howard? He was an integral part of the Stooges story, and to completely omit him is a mistake.

Two other negatives, and they really aren't major negatives, in the film--it appears a lot of it takes place at a Catholic orphanage, so probably not only will some people be offended--there is one scene where one of the nuns wears a bathing suit that doesn't leave much to the imagination--but heck, the Stooges, less De Rita, were all Jewish in real life, and a lot of their schtick was related to that experience.

Second, and this is not a knock, although I guess it kind of is--every woman in this film, at least from the trailer, is built. And I mean really built, either naturally or by man-made means.

Yes, that means the Stooges will be sexed up, I guess to keep modern audiences interested. Of course, modern audiences have no tolerance for any actress that doesn't have a 36D chest, as you know. Even female viewers.

But that aside, the trailer does look promising. The actors do look like the characters that they are portraying, and they even have the vocal patterns down pat.

Larry, of course, was my favorite Stooge, and Sean Hayes looks like he "got" it, as do the other two actors.

Yes, I will eat humble pie here. The Three Stooges movie looks interesting, and with all the trash out there pretending to be art, I can go for some obviously lowbrow 90 minute garbage when it comes out next year.

And it comes out in April--around my birthday.

This Larry appears to be very, very amused.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rant #632: NBA Schedules Released

The National Basketball Association has put is woes behind it, and the new Collective Bargaining Agreement appears to be set in stone.

So finally, the NBA released its less than 82-game 66-game schedule.

All teams will play a much-compacted schedule, and that goes for my beloved New York Knicks, who open the season on Christmas Day, December 25, against the Boston Celtics.

Most teams have already put their tickets on sale, but no, not the Knicks. Their tickets won't go on sale until December 13 ... I guess, to build the excitement for the team in its partlially refurbished home of Madison Square Garden.

Look, I grew up in New York City, a place where basketball was, and still is, king on the sidewalks of the five boroughs.

I was growing up in the era of Walt Frazier, Willis Reed, Bill Bradley and the others that made up the greatest Knick teams of all, coached by Red Holzman.

The Knicks haven't won a championship since 1973, and they may not ever win another one in my lifetime.

But I still love the Knicks, and I love going to the Garden to watch them play, no batter how good or bad they are.

And the best thing is that my son loves going to the games too. (For the record, my wife hates basketball, and even though I have asked her numerous times to see a Knicks game with us, she has refused. I won't give up though.)

If he had his druthers, I would get us season tickets so he could see every game in person.

Financials aside, that isn't going to happen. But he loves to go to the games, and he is now at the same age that I was when the Knicks won their last championship, so we will be there for at least one game this season, sitting in the 400 seats that are closer to God than they are to the court.

But it will be fun, and I really can't wait to go.

Call me a poor idiot, but the lockout aside, I guess I enjoy watching petty, ego-driven millionaires play others in the same tax bracket.

How will the Knicks do this year? Who knows. I don't live and die with the Knicks like I do with the Yankees, whose expectations are always high.

But I think the Knicks will do fine this year. With Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony leading the way, they will certainly be a hot ticket in New York.

But all I need is two tickets to one of their games, that is really all I need.

Let's see how I do next Tuesday.

The 400 section, here I (and my son) come!

Here is the Knicks' 2011-2012 schedule:

Sat 17 @ New Jersey Preseason 2:00pm
Wed 21 vs New Jersey Preseason 7:30pm

Sun 25 vs Boston 12:00pm
Wed 28 @ Golden State 10:30pm
Thu 29 @ LA Lakers 10:30pm
Sat 31 @ Sacramento 8:00pm

Mon 02 vs Toronto 7:30pm
Wed 04 vs Charlotte 7:30pm
Fri 06 @ Washington 7:00pm
Sat 07 @ Detroit 7:30pm
Mon 09 vs Charlotte 7:30pm
Wed 11 vs Philadelphia 7:30pm
Thu 12 @ Memphis 8:00pm
Sat 14 @ Oklahoma City 8:00pm
Mon 16 vs Orlando 1:00pm
Wed 18 vs Phoenix 7:30pm
Fri 20 vs Milwaukee 7:30pm
Sat 21 vs Denver 7:30pm
Tue 24 @ Charlotte 7:00pm
Wed 25 @ Cleveland 7:00pm
Fri 27 @ Miami 8:00pm
Sat 28 @ Houston 8:00pm
Tue 31 vs Detroit 7:30pm

Thu 02 vs Chicago 8:00pm
Fri 03 @ Boston 8:00pm
Sat 04 vs New Jersey 7:30pm
Mon 06 vs Utah 7:30pm
Wed 08 @ Washington 7:00pm
Fri 10 vs LA Lakers 8:00pm
Sat 11 @ Minnesota 8:00pm
Tue 14 @ Toronto 7:00pm
Wed 15 vs Sacramento 7:30pm
Fri 17 vs New Orleans 8:00pm
Sun 19 vs Dallas 1:00pm
Mon 20 vs New Jersey 7:30pm
Wed 22 vs Atlanta 7:30pm
Thu 23 @ Miami 7:00pm
Wed 29 vs Cleveland 7:30pm

Sun 04 @ Boston 1:00pm
Tue 06 @ Dallas 8:30pm
Wed 07 @ San Antonio 8:30pm
Fri 09 @ Milwaukee 8:30pm
Sun 11 vs Philadelphia 12:00pm
Mon 12 @ Chicago 8:00pm
Wed 14 vs Portland 7:30pm
Fri 16 vs Indiana 7:30pm
Sat 17 @ Indiana 7:00pm
Tue 20 vs Toronto 7:30pm
Wed 21 @ Philadelphia 7:00pm
Fri 23 @ Toronto 7:00pm
Sat 24 vs Detroit 7:30pm
Mon 26 vs Milwaukee 7:30pm
Wed 28 vs Orlando 7:00pm
Fri 30 @ Atlanta 7:30pm
Sat 31 vs Cleveland 7:30pm

Tue 03 @ Indiana 7:00pm
Thu 05 @ Orlando 7:00pm
Sun 08 vs Chicago 1:00pm
Tue 10 @ Chicago 9:30pm
Wed 11 @ Milwaukee 8:00pm
Fri 13 vs Washington 7:30pm
Sun 15 vs Miami 1:00pm
Tue 17 vs Boston 8:00pm
Wed 18 @ New Jersey 7:30pm
Fri 20 @ Cleveland 7:30pm
Sun 22 @ Atlanta 1:00pm
Wed 25 vs LA Clippers 8:00pm
Thu 26 @ Charlotte 8:00pm

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Rant #631: Wally World

Today would have been actor and comedian Wally Cox's 87th birthday.

Again, like yesterday's Rant about Alan Sues, I doubt a lot of kids know who Wally Cox was.

But I remember him fondly.

Cox was sort of a nerd before nerd became a word.

He always seemed to play nebbishes, milquetoasts, henpecked characters. I guess that look that he had, appearing thin and bespectacled and gaunt, added to that typecasting.

And his voice, which was very wishy washy and nasally, just added to the stereotype.

But Cox, in real life, was far from that stereotype. He was actually quite athletic.

Cox was one of TV's first created stars as the star of "Mr. Peepers," one of the new medium's seminal shows. He played a milquetoast character on that popular show, and it carried over to just about everything else he did as an actor.

Growing up in Evanston, Ill., Cox became friends with another neighborhood child, Marlon Brando, and that friendship lasted his entire lifetime.

But unlike Brando, Cox couldn't break out to more demanding roles than his stereotypical role as a nebbish. He perpetuated that role in a number of movies and guest shots on numerous TV shows, including on "The Lucy Show" and the original "Bill Cosby Show."

In the mid 1960s, Cox leaped to fame as the voice for the cartoon character "Underdog." And again, Underdog's alter-ego, Shoe Shine Boy, was a nebbish, and it fit his stereotypical character to a T.

Cox then found further fame as one of the regulars on "The Hollywood Squares" game show, where he continued in his stereotypical role. But here, he showed just how bright he was in between the laughs.

Personally, I always found Cox to be an adept comedian. Whenever he came on the screen, I knew I had to be ready for the laughs to come, because they invariably would. And when he was on "The Hollywood Squares," there seemed to be a bit of resignation about him that I couldn't put my finger on. It was as if he believed that this was the level he was stuck at, and he was going to make the best of it.

He displayed a very dry wit, and unlike Paul Lynde--who you knew was reading jokes that were given to him--Cox appeared to be answering from his own mind. Whether that was true or not is open to speculation, but I always thought that he answered himself without prompting.

Cox was married three times and had two children. He died on Feb. 15, 1973 of a heart attack. Brando scattered his ashes in Death Valley and Tahiti.

Cox's legacy can be found in all the nerdish characters that followed him, from those actors in "The Revenge of the Nerds" series of movies to the actors who currently populate "The Big Bang Theory." Even the Steve Urkel character owes a lot to Cox.

Cox set the tone for these type of roles, but to this day, nobody did that type of character better than he did.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Rant #630: He Laughed In, But Never Came Out

Alan Seus died a few days ago. He was 85 years old.

For many people, the name of Alan Sues means absolutely nothing, but to a generation of baby boomers, he was one of the biggest TV stars of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Sues was a cast member on Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In, probably the most irreverent, off the wall show in television history. Changing the way we watched TV, the original show lasted five seasons, helped to make huge stars out of many of its cast members, including Goldie Hawn and Lily Tomlin, and as far as I am concerned, has never been equaled to this day.

Alan Sues was a member of the zany troupe which included Arte Johnson, Ruth Buzzi, Henry Gibson, Joanne Worley, Judy Carne Dan Rowan and Dick Martin themselves, and many others. They brought a youthful zing into our homes in the late 1960s, reshaping the variety show forever--and probably leading that format to its death in its own way just a few years later.

Sues played an integral role in the proceedings. He got under the radar of the censors, somehow, in his playing of the generally effeminate character on the show.

His greatest achievement, and character on the show, was his portrayal of the less than masculine sportscaster, Big Al, where all the wispy posturing came right out to the fore. No one ever said the character was gay, but even in this then young kids' mind, there was something "funny" about this character. He not only made me laugh, but he made me think.

His character was the perfect play on the ultra-masculine sportscasters of the day, and his parody of them is one of the most memorable in that show's history.

He also played Uncle Al, the Kiddie's Pal, which was less successful, but still funny.

And the skits on the show often put him in situations where his "gay" attitude was allowed to shine, even though it wasn't broadcast that he was gay.

Remember, this was the late 1960s. Things started to be lampooned that hadn't been tackled in prior years, but one of the taboos continued to be homosexuality.

There were several actors who appeared regularly on TV who were gay, even though they either didn't admit it for years or never admitted it while alive. That list includes Raymond Burr, Roger C. Carmel, Robert Reed, Paul Lynde and Richard Deacon. They didn't admit it because during those years, it might have meant the end of their careers.

However, in Lynde's case, even younger viewers kind of knew there was something "odd" about this guy, and I think the same thing can be said for Sues.

In his private life, he never admitted to be gay. He was a military veteran, married, and actually had a long-running act with his then wife, who he divorced n the late 1950s but was friendly with until his death.

But there was something with this guy, and as a young kid watching Laugh-In, I thought he was absolutely hysterical. And I mean funny. I probably didn't even know what "gay" was at that time.

After Laugh-In rode its course, Sues continued to be active. He appeared in numerous Peter Pan peanut butter commercials in the 1970s, and again, he played that effeminate-type character. Nobody minded, as long as the peanut butter flowed.

He appeared on Broadway and several films, and at the time of his death, was actually putting together a somewhat autobiographical audio book on his life in show business.

Sues was a definite pioneer on television, but to me, I am able to look past that, and just admire him as a terrific comedian, a guy I really liked on Laugh-In.

And maybe that's the whole point, and the point he was going for. Acceptance comes in many forms, and for Sues, the medium of television was his way to get the word out that he could be as funny as anyone, no matter what skin he was in.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Rant #629: Baby Talk

I have to begin this Rant by telling you that my eyes are really bothering me today. Everything is fuzzy--like the way it was before I had my procedure a few years back--and I can't see clearly.

I have had this problem before, so I am hoping it goes away. If not, then I will have to see my retinologist sometime in the near future.

And with this fog encapsulating me, I am going to tell you what some of the most popular baby names are today.

Evidently, according to an annual survey done by something called, two out of five mothers find inspiration among famous people in naming their newborns.

The most popular female names are currently Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Olivia, Ava, Lily, Chloe, Madison, Emily and Abigail. A big trend here appears to be names with vowels as their last letter.

Boys names include Aiden, Jackson, Mason, Liam, Jacob, Jayden, Ethan, Noah, Lucas and Logan. I see a definite pattern here, with the letter "n" found at the end of six of these names.

I like the way myself and fellow Jewish people pick names. We honor someone who has passed away by either naming the child directly after that person or taking the first letter of his or her name and using it to name the child.

And we do the same for the child's Hebrew name too.

There are no juniors or repeat names in Jewish families, such as II or III. However, Sephardic Jews do often name their children by using "Jr."

So perhaps one day, the "L" in my first name of Larry will be passed on to a child in my family.

Or maybe the entire "Lawrence/Larry" will be recycled.

I hope that child will know who he or she is named after.

My hebrew name is Yoael, so I guess that that name will be passed on too.

I hope that person wears the name or initial well.

Believe me, I have tried, I really have.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Rant #628: And It Cost Just 10 Cents ...

Just as an afterthought to yesterday's Rant about my father, another thing he passed on to me was the love of comic books.

He collected them as a kid during the 1930s and 1940s, read them, and put them away. In the mid 1960s, my grandmother got rid of them in the trash--on the very day my father and I came to her house to pick them up for me.

God, I wonder what issues were in that collection, and what they would be worth today?

As a kid, this was my hobby. I collected comic books like mad, read them all, and put them away in my closet, where they sit, virtually undisturbed, to this day.

Unfortunately, most of my comics are from the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, and evidently, they aren't worth too much, especially compared to the first issue of Action Comics, which featured the first appearance of Superman.

A pristine mint copy of this issue set a record Wednesday for the most money paid for a single comic book: $2.16 million.

It's the first time a comic book has broken the $2 million barrier, and no, the 2,000 or some comic books that I have sitting in my closet don't total anything near that amount that was paid for one, single comic book.

The most amazing thing about it is that the issue was published in 1938 and cost just 10 cents when it first came out.

I am sure thousands of kids bought this comic, but because of its age, not too many in any condition still exist. On top of that fact is that many kids' comics were trashed when the kids became older. People just didn't understand the value of these things way back when. I'm sure many others were scuttled during the paper drives of the 1940s revolving around World War II.

About 100 copies of Action Comics No. 1 are believed to be in existence, and only a handful of those in good condition.

But no, I don't have the issue in my collection, but I do have a reprint from I think the early 1970s. I wonder what that would go for on the open market today?

Heck, at this point, forget about the $2 million, I would take $20 for it--and maybe a couple of thousand dollars for the entire collection.

Anybody want to make me an offer?


Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Rant #627: My Dad's Day

I am happy to announce that today is my father's birthday.

He turns 80 today.

I can't tell you how much I look up to my father as the patriarch of my small but vibrant family.

He has truly done it all in his 80 years, and still has lots to do in the future.

He grew up on New York's Lower East Side, the first child of my grandparents. They had come to the United States from Europe and my dad was the first of four children they would have.

My father was very smart, and also an excellent athlete. He skipped a grade or two, played basketball in school, but education was almost secondary to work.

My grandfather owned a butcher shop on Delancey Street, and my father worked there at a very young age, and continued to work there as an adult.

He went into the Marines, and was a cook. After his tour of duty ended--he was supposed to go to Korea but never went due to a mixup of orders--he returned to the butcher shop.

By that time, the family had moved to Queens. Subsequently, my father met my mother, and the rest is history.

I was their first born, and I think since the moment I was born, I looked up to my father as my ideal.

He was a hard worker, supported my family as best he could, and he took a chance in life--a major chance--and it paid off handsomely.

He had driven a cab on occasion even while a butcher, but at the prodding of a friend, he went into it full time.

My grandfather's store was about to close, due to a changing neighborhood and the city's plan to build a roadway right through the store on Delancey Street, a plan that never came to pass.

But he left the butcher business to drive a New York City medallion cab full time, and he still does--at 80 years old.

In fact, today, right as I type this, he is driving a cab, picking up passengers and taking them wherever they want to go.

At 80 years old.

No, he doesn't own his own cab anymore, and works for a fleet.

No, he doesn't work five or six days a week anymore, just three.

But he works, he is strong, and he could go on like this for many years to come.

He loves his family, his days off, his TV, and his work.

He and my mother will be married 56 years in January, and they might very well be married 56 more years for all I know.

My parents are grandparents to five kids, one girl and four boys. They love their grandchildren dearly, and are very involved in their lives.

They know my father as "Zaydy," a Yiddish term of endearment meaning grandfather. My father wanted to be known that way to honor his own grandfather, who spoke very little English but was a highly intelligent man, a man of dignity.

As for me, I look up to my father as someone I have always aspired to be. Sure, we have had arguments and haven't seen eye to eye on everything, but I believe if I could be like him, I will be a better person.

I have tried to pass on these attributes to my own kids, with varying degrees of success.

They are still young; I don't know if I have been successful, and won't know for years to come.

Anyway, here's to my dad, one of the most important people in my life.

Another 80 years of vim, vigor, spit and blood, sweat and tears.

That is how he would want it to be anyway.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Rant #626: Through the Hoop

Now onto some better news ...

The NBA's 2011-2012 season will actually be played.

On early Saturday morning, the owners and players agreed, in principle, to a deal which would salvage the season.

Again, this is a tentative deal, and if it passes both the owners' and players' wrath, we will see a 66-game season this year, beginning on Christmas Day.

I am happy that the NBA season might be saved, but I wish they would have waited until this thing was 100-percent approved by both parties.

But I know why they announced a tentative agreement when they did.

It was the Thanksgiving weekend. People were out to shop 'til they dropped.

And now, they had a reason to buy NBA merchandise.

You can bet that merchandise sales--like T-shirts, jackets, hats, and every little chotchka imaginable--dropped while the two sides were haggling.

People were getting turned off big time.

But now, with an agreement supposedly in hand, people could show confidence again in the NBA, and buy its merchandise with pride.

There is always a tie-in to why things happen, isn't there?

The owners seem to have won this duel. They got their percentage of basketball-related income--BRI, another new acronym that we really don't need--to a more manageable level, and that is really all they wanted, wasn't it?

Sure, there are other things that they wanted, but this was the big thing, carving up a billion-dollar pie to their advantage.

But, raspberries to both sides.

With so many people out of work, underemployed, and miserably employed, and with so many people finding it hard to put food on the table during this prolonged recession that we are in, for millionaires to be fighting with billionaires like this puts them out of the realm of reality.

At least baseball gets this, years after their own strike, and ratified their own collective bargaining agreement without any fanfare or acrimony at all.

More importantly, all the industries that feed off an NBA season, like ticket takers, vendors, and restaurants, took a hit with this.

Of course, the players and owners claim they care about these people, but, c'mon, do they really? If they did, they would have settled this thing a long time ago.

And again, it is not yet a done deal, so while I would love to get some Knicks tickets for my son and myself, I am not reaching into my wallet just yet.

Let's see what happens.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Rant #625: Glad the Holiday Is Over

I always look forward to the Thanksgiving holiday break. It gives me four days to recharge my batteries, and when I go back to work, I dive right into whatever I am doing.

And it is great to have four days off to share with my family.

Well, this year, I am not happy to say that I am glad the break is over. It wasn't the greatest holiday in the world for me.

Oh, yes, I did what I normally do. I bought everything I need for Hanukkah prior to the holiday and prior to the dreaded Black Friday. And I really did well. I got everything I wanted to get for family and friends.

We celebrated Thanksgiving at my sister's house this year. Although we didn't spend that much time there--my mother is a little under the weather--it was fun.


Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Rant #624: How Will You Choose to Celebrate Thanksgiving?

Well, it is the day before the Thanksgiving holiday.

And the day before the day before Black Friday.

How do you choose to spend your holiday?

My family and I will be celebrating the holiday at my sister's house this year. For the past several years, we have made the big turkey at our house, but this year, it will be over at my sister's abode.

My parents will be there, and it will give me a chance to see three of my nephews.

I don't know if I will see my daughter. She has been out of sight, out of mind for the past few weeks. I don't really know why.

On Black Friday, I plan to not get involved in all the sales hoopla of the day.

Last year, I got a terrific deal on a computer for my mother, which I bought for her 80th birthday. It was something I could not pass up, so, for the first time in memory, I got up real early on this day, and waited in line for the store to open. And I got the last one they had at such a price.

This year, my pocketbook will hopefully rest for that day.

But you never know ...

This is the oddest holiday period of the year, going from one extreme to the next.

Thanksgiving is such a joyous holiday, very family oriented. I really like that aspect of it, and it is my favorite holiday on the calendar, along with Passover, which, similarly, is family oriented.

Then we have Black Friday, a day where all of the animalistic instincts of our species come out. People are generally nasty, rude, vulgar, and hateful, because they are all out to do one thing: buy, buy, and buy some more.

I can live without Black Friday, I really can.

So it is really up to the individual to choose how he will celebrate the holiday.

Will you bask in the joyousness of Thanksgiving, or burn in the insensitivity of Black Friday?

Or will you do both?

Me, I am going to relax as much as I can.

I am very happy to be off from work on both days, so I have what amounts to a four-day holiday to recharge my batteries.

Have a great holiday. Speak to you again on Monday.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Rant #623: Time To Remember

Amid all the Thanksgiving holiday cheer, I think we must pause to remember that today is the 48th anniversary of one of the most chilling periods in our country's recent history.

President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in a motorcade in Dallas on this day in 1963.

I have spoken about this event many, many times, and have done it on this blog too.

All these years later, it continues to send shivers up my spine.

I won't rehash my personal story again, although I will say that I was in the school, and we heard about it via another teacher and then an announcement on the loud speaker system. We went home, watched its aftermath, and it has stayed with us for decades.

JFK was the first hero of our generation to die, followed a few years later by Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. Whatever you think of those men, for the baby boomer generation, they were living and breathing touchstones for our existence.

But JFK was the President, so it was something much, much different.

The country's leader was gunned down, and we kind of lost our innocence then. This signaled that the 1950s were truly over, and we were moving into a new world, the 1960s, which would end up being probably the most revolutionary decade in our country's history.

Everything was turned upside down during that decade, and JFK's assassination pretty much started all of that to happen.

Remember, he was probably the last President whose portrait hung on walls of our homes.

The U.S. President was revered in those days. He was an icon. He was respected. We believed everything he said, and rallied around everything he did.

After JFK's assassination, things changed. The country changed. And the world changed.

Could you imagine if in 1963 we had the Internet, cell phones, and the like?

No, those were much simpler times on the outside, but very complex on the inside, just like today's world is.

So with the holiday turkey in sight, take a moment to think about JFK.

If you weren't around, read up on him, and read up on the day that the world stopped, at least for a brief moment, when some person decided that he would be JFK's judge, jury and executioner.

Like I said, the chills still run up and down my spine.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Rant #622: Something to "SMiLE" About

I alluded to this release a couple of Rants back, but now, it's time to review this long-awaited LP.

The "SMiLE" set by the Beach Boys has arrived in stores, and with the holidays right around the corner, it might be time to invest some of your hard-earned cash into buying this release.

It comes in three version, as far as I know: the all inclusive boxed set, which not only comes with several CDs worth of songs, sound-bytes, dialogue and other features, but it also comes complete with the album on vinyl and a couple of vinyl singles.

Then you have the more economical boxed set, with two CDs and a button to wear on your shirt.

Finally, you have the vinyl LP version. This approximates the way it would have been released in early 1967 if the album would have ever seen the light of day.

I opted for the middle ground: the economical boxed set, which at 20 some odd dollars, fit my wallet a little better than the all-inclusive boxed set, which would have run me about $150. imagine the vinyl LPs would have cost me in the $35-$40 range, so what I did was save a little bread for myself.

Anyway, onto the recording.

As you probably know, "SMiLE"--and that is how it was supposed to look--was an album that Brian Wilson was creating for his Beach Boys. So many things got in the way--illness, in-group fighting, drugs, and probably more drugs--that this album never was finished in its entirety, and although it was to be released in January 1967, only bits and pieces of the LP ever were officially released, although bootlegs abound.

Right off, I am going to tell you that this album is not "Pet Sounds." That LP is probably Wilson and the Beach Boys' finest work, and this is not that, it doesn't even come close, if you want my opinion.

"SMiLE" isn't really an album, per se, or an album as we came to know what albums were during the mid to late 1960s.

Sure, there is music on it, but it more of a sound collage than anything else.

The music is often intercepted by noises, other sounds, and really, I think what Wilson was getting at was that he wanted to make this sort of the aural equivalent to being at a carnival, with all the sounds, rides, barkers, and everybody else going at it at once, trying to get your attention.

It's the same thing here. There is so much going on, so much for your ear to nibble on, if you will.

But does it all work?

That is the big question, and my answer is, that I really don't know.

Even after listening to this thing, I just don't know if Wilson's vision would have translated to the acclaim that he evidently so wanted.

He wanted it so much that it might have led to his eventual nervous breakdown.

The centerpiece of "SMiLE" was not, in my opinion, "Good Vibrations," which was being worked on at the same time as the rest of the LP. The centerpiece, was "Heroes and Villains," a weaker song than "Good Vibrations" but still a powerful one.

The song, like "Good Vibrations," did eventually get released, and became a hit single. But as the centerpiece of the LP, all of the bits and pieces given to us here demonstrate how Wilson worked and worked and worked on this song to make it perfect--just like he did with "Good Vibrations."

If I learned anything from this release, it is that "Heroes and Villains" was held in the same esteem by Wilson as was "Good Vibrations," and that miscalculation may have led to the LP's downfall and non-release until now.

Wilson was a perfectionist, a perfectionist stressed out on being perfect, abetted by lots of drugs.

His attempt to get this album right--and to get those two songs to a state of perfection--stuck a nail into this set.

What we have now, more than 40 years after the fact, is Wilson's vision, all right, but what his actual vision for the album was may never be known.

Wilson, himself, released his own version of the LP a few years ago, and it was one of the best albums of the year. But again, it was his vision more than 40 years after the fact.

What was his original vision? What did he want the album to say, what did he want the album to do?

This current album is the closest we probably will ever get to peer into his drug-addled mind at that time.

And for that, it is worth every penny.

If you are looking for a classic, a masterpiece, a master work from one of rock's greatest composers, I don't think you are going to get that here.

I wonder if Wilson, himself, thought that the project was doomed to failure, and that made him work even harder--and ingest more drugs into himself--to try to make it better than it really was.

I don't know about any of that, but I can tell you that SMiLE is worth your while.

I don't know if, when you finish listening to this, you will want to listen to it again and again.

That is my watermark for a classic. Any album that you want to hear again and again is a classic.

I don't think "SMiLE" is that, or even would have been that in 1967.

But it foreshadowed the coming album boom, when acts led by the Beatles took the LP format and made it into more than simply a collection of singles and other songs.

"SMiLE" might put a smile on your face, but is it a classic, a masterpiece.

No. Its legend precedes it, but don't be fooled.

"SMiLE" is a fine album, I think it is at least. But it is no classic, no masterpiece.

I don't think that Wilson regressed with this LP, I just think he got in over his head with a vision that he probably wasn't going to reach, even if he were completely sober.

Don't listen to snooty rock critics. They have no idea what they are talking about.

Go back to "Pet Sounds" and compare.

But get "SMiLE" anyway. You won't be sorry that you did.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Rant #621: The World HAS Gone Crazy

I look at the calendar, and it says November 18.

It's a mere six days before Thanksgiving, and a week until Black Friday.

But when I saw this news item, I could have sworn it had April 1, April Fool's Day, written all over it.

NBC and the people that did the failed show "Pushing Daisies" are reportedly teaming up to create a revival of the classic CBS sitcom "The Munsters."

That in itself is an insipid thing to do, but they are really throwing themselves into the dumpster by what they plan to do with the show.

They are planning on making it into an hour long drama.

That's right, an hour long drama.

How can you make a situation comedy featuring a family of oddball characters like this into a drama?

Remember, "The Munsters" was originally a takeoff/satire on one of the creators' original shows.

Joe Connelly and Bob Mosher were the talent involved in the creation of "Leave It To Beaver," one of TV's most beloved sitcoms. The family was perfect--although Beaver was not, which is where most of the comedy came from--but they lived in a perfect city, had a perfect mom, a perfect dad, Wally was the perfect brother, and even Eddie Haskell was the perfect instigator.

A few years later, Connelly and Mosher came up with "The Munsters" as a perfect counterpoint to their earlier show. Here, you had a family of what most of us would call monsters, but they also had the "perfect" family. The only "imperfect" one was Marilyn, because she ... well, she stuck out like a sore thumb.

How can you make this show into a drama? Just the sight of the hulking Herman, the gorgeous but ghoulish Lily, the smart but vampiric Grandpa, and the mite Eddie would have to put a smile on your face.

How can they make this into a drama?

Will Herman be having affairs with the women he works with at the parlor, because his hulking stature also brings with it some other unforeseen prowesses?

Will Lily actually be having an affair with the milkman, because, like her husband, she has certain prowesses too?

How about Grandpa? Will he create a device so he can be a peeping tom on the rest of Mockingbird Heights?

And little Eddie ... is he really a drug dealer/user, and that's why his skin is so green?

Let's not forget Marilyn ... heaven knows what they have in store for this character.

Look, it's not like "The Munsters" haven't been revived several times already.

Not only did some of the original cast appear in the theatrical "Munster, Go Home" (which actually was supposed to herald the show's third season, which never happened) and a TV movie here or there, but other actors have portrayed the family in several TV movies and one absolutely dreadful 1980s show "The New Munsters."

Several years ago, the Wayan Brothers were supposed to be involved with a revival of the show--with an all-black cast.

But to actually make such a comedic situation into a drama ... well, that's why network television is so bad nowadays.

I guarantee they will have a "Charlie's Angels" situation on their hands if this thing ever sees the light of day.

I give it one or two episodes, tops.

And while they're at it, why not make "I Love Lucy" into a drama too. Heck, I always wondered what Ethel saw in the much older Fred ...

Maybe there's a premise here for something really, really big.

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