Monday, January 31, 2011

Rant #434: Two Comics Not Standing

Two comedians who reached the zenith of their craft in the late 1960s and early 1970s passed away last week.

David Frye was one of the top impressionists in the country, but was forever linked with Richard Nixon. During the Watergate era, he reached the pinnacle of success with his dead-on impressions of the scandal-ridden President.

He had everything down pat. The facial mannerisms, the way Nixon talked, everything. He was perhaps Nixon's greatest impersonator.

He had several best-selling record albums centering on his impressions of Nixon.

After several years at the top, Frye fell just as quickly as Nixon did.

He was so inextricably tied in with Nixon that when the President resigned and lived the solitary life for the rest of his life, Frye's career waned. He did other impressions, but none as well as Nixon.

He continued to perform, but was not the presence he once was--he was basically the Vaughn Meader of his day.

Charlie Callas is another story.

Callas began his entertainment career as a drummer, but the way he looked--wiry build, tall and lanky, almost like a human rubber band--made him the focus of the bands he was in.

His fellow musicians noticed that Callas had a knack for comedy anyway, and encouraged him to trade in his drumsticks for a microphone.

And he did to great acclaim.

When he wasn't appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show or on The Tonight Show or on every other major entertainment show of the 1960s and 1970s, he was drawing big crowds in Las Vegas.

He also appeared in a number of movies, never the star, but you knew he was in the movie by his presence.

Since the 1980s, he did mainly standup, and his star faded from television as the talk show faded. He was among the veteran comics who were basically squeezed out by the in-your-face, newer comics.

But he kept performing into the early 2000s, and had been in semi-retirement when he passed.

Both Frye and Callas left excellent legacies behind. Anyone who mimics a President has to take a listen to Frye's comedy albums, while rubbery comic actors like Jim Carrey certainly owe a debt of gratitude to Callas.

May they both rest in peace.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Rant #433: The Teaching Profession

Today is the 25th anniversary of the Challenger catastrophe, where teacher Christa McAuliffe and her fellow crew members perished seconds after the Challenger lifted off its launch pad.

I guess for kids born in the 1970s, this is a major touchstone, much like the JFK assassination was for us baby boomers.

If you hadn't realized the world wasn't perfect prior to these happenings, you certainly did right after.

I remember that I was 28 years old and just really getting my feet wet as a productive member of the community. I had two jobs--I was a teaching sub during the day and in the evening, I worked at a real estate office as a clerk.

I needed both jobs, as although I was actively searching for a regular teaching job, I had to take what I could get, and what I could get was a job as a sub, probably the worst job in America. But what was I to do?

Anyway, my personal dream was almost over. I couldn't get a regular teaching job, I was engaged to my first wife, and I needed steady work. I had worked in the real estate office part-time, they knew what I could do, and it was at this point that I was transferring over to full-time work in that office.

I think I was still subbing here and there, but I was nearly at the point where I worked full-time in the real estate office.

I remember that as we worked, we turned on the radio so everyone could hear the blastoff. This was such an anticipated flight because of McAuliffe, the first teacher chosen to be sent into space.

She wasn't an astronaut, and I think most of us thought that she was one of us. If she could travel into space, maybe one day we would all get the opportunity.

Well, that opportunity faded as we listened to the report. Seconds after liftoff, the Challenger exploded. There were no survivors. To this day, we don't know if the crew died instantly or if they didn't.

But they were gone.

The world listened in horror as this happened.

In the office, as we busily were typing away and basically using the radio as sort of "white noise," everyone stopped what they were doing. We crowded around the radio to hear more.

"Could what we heard happened actually have happened?" we asked over and over.

And, of course, the answer was a resounding, "Yes!"

McAuliffe and her crewmembers are remembered, not because they were the first to perish in man's quest to conquer space, but because of the young teacher on board. Numerous schools are named after her, and there are many school programs in place in science that exist because of her.

But what of the profession she so proudly represented on this flight?

Way back when, I could not get a full-time teaching position, and alas, times continue to be tight today.

More and more school districts are closing schools, laying off teachers, and not giving young teachers a chance to show what they are worth.

New York City alone has closed dozens of schools in the past several years during the reign of Michael Bloomberg, and has laid off teachers at an alarming rate.

My daughter received her teaching degree last spring, and continues to be without a job. She can't even get an interview. She is basically biding her time for a few more months, and then I think her dream may have to take a back seat to reality, as happened to me 25 years ago.

Teaching has taken a big hit, and I don't know how long people like my daughter can hold out.

The profession will lose these bright young minds, and they will never regain them.

Somehow, I don't think this was the message McAuliffe was taking with her into outer space 25 years ago, and the children born in her aftermath, like my daughter, who strived to become the next generation of teachers, are not being permitted to live out their dreams.

Who to blame? Well, I honestly don't know.

All that I know is that when the need for teachers arises again--and it will, this is a cyclical thing--I don't know if my daughter and others like her will be available.

Like me, they will have turned their backs on the profession they hoped to pursue.

It was a shame 25 years ago, and it is a shame now too.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Rant #432: Snow Go

We got hit again with about a foot of snow. This, coupled with what we got yesterday and my own recent health issues, has made this a helluva week for me.

And at this point, I don't know if I am going to work or not.

I woke up at 4 a.m., ate breakfast, walked the dog, and started to dig my wife and my car out and shovel the walk.

It was still snowing, and coming down pretty hard at the time.

After doing this, I came back into the house, totally pooped.

(No, that is not me in the photo. I did a better job than this guy did, I can tell you that.)

Again, I am not 100 percent yet from the cold that I have had the entire week. It really was something of a shock to the system to be shoveling like I did at that hour, but I had to do what I had to do.

My wife, who is a bank teller and who was supposed to open her branch today, was called and told she didn't have to be in until 11 a.m., so there really wasn't much of a need to continue to dig her out until maybe an hour and a half before she has to leave.

Something to look forward to!

My son's school district contacted us by email and phone--he is off today, as the schools are closed. He was supposed to take his math mid-term, but that has been postponed.

Me, I don't know anything about my work. The past couple of years, we have never closed during a workday, no matter what. They used to have a weather plan, but they don't anymore.

All that I know, I have a foot of snow on the ground around my house, and the street has not been plowed. Based on past experience, the plow won't come around until mid-day.

I will be lucky to get my wife's car out of the driveway. She has four-wheel drive, which will help matters.

My car has front-wheel drive, and unless they do a good job plowing, I am stuck in my house.

Happily, this didn't happen on a Friday. I get paid tomorrow, and no, as I think you can figure out, we don't have direct deposit. So either I am there or I don't get my check.

I hate the snow, I really, really do.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rant #431: A Cold In the Cold

I am sick.

I have been for the past few days. I have this miserable cold, which is affecting my sight and my throat. My voice is very raspy, and my eyes very watery.

My nose ... well, the less said about that part of my body, the better.

Mount Vesuvius never poured out more molten lava than that part of my body.

In fact, on Monday, I had one of my all-time sneezes. Thank goodness no one was near me when I sneezed--they would have been hit by flying debris.

I kind of figure I got this thing from my son. My son caught a draft from running outside with his track team about two or three weeks ago, and he had the sniffles for a while.

I am sure he passed it on to me.

And every parent knows that when you pick up a cold or some virus from your kid, you get it worse that the kid did.

And I did.

I know that I had a fever on Sunday, when the cold hit me full force. But it was a Sunday, so I just stayed in the entire day.

I went to work the last two days--don't know how I did it, but I did.

Yesterday was a rough day. I am surprised I made it the entire day, but I did.

But today ... well, I won't be going to work today. I feel lousy. I will probably go back to bed after typing this rant.

I had every intention of going to work, and that is why I am typing this so early in the morning.

But it just isn't going to be.

Hopefully I will be better tomorrow with some more bed rest and a relatively calm day under my belt.

Having a cold in the cold really leaves me frigid.

Speak to you tomorrow--I hope.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rant #430: Exercise Is Good For You

Physical fitness pioneer Jack LaLanne died over the weekend. He was 96 years old.

He was among the first of the superstar physical fitness personalities, and probably was the first using the then-relatively new medium of television as his springboard to success.

As a kid, I remember watching these syndicated shows, which I believe were run in New York City on Channel 11. They were in black and white, and featured LaLanne, a chair, maybe one other prop, and his beloved German shepherd.

And that was it. No fancy gizmos, nothing that would cost the viewer an arm and a leg to own, nothing like that.

And unlike most exercise gurus of this time, he appealed to women. Homemakers were the biggest chunk of his audience.

Sure, it was bare-bones TV at its finest, but it made LaLanne a household name, even in households that didn’t know a bench press from a bench warmer.

LaLanne, in his signature jump suit, would do jumping jacks and other relatively simple-to-do exercises during a quick half hour show, all the while his dog would be walking in and out of view.

LaLanne believed that anyone could get in shape, and he showed you how it could get done. Not only did he preach physical fitness, he lived the lifestyle, and was one of the first celebrities who pumped up the idea of healthy eating as well as an exercise regimen, leading to better overall health.

His fame spread, and he appeared on numerous TV shows, always in the character of Jack LaLanne, fitness guru. A lot of those appearances were satires on what he was famous for, but LaLanne took it all in stride. I am sure he believed that however he was able to get out the word on physical fitness, the better it was, and he was really good at selling this concept …

So good that in later years, he resurfaced on TV as the proponent of a juicing machine. Sure, it was an infomercial, but it was entertaining because of LaLanne.

And many of his original TV shows are finally finding their way to DVD. The physical fitness concepts he proposed 50 years ago are as valid today as they were in the 1960s.

So every time you see a commercial for one of those gadgets that will cost you lots of money to own, or see one of today’s fitness gurus go through the motions on what you should be doing to gain good health, think of LaLanne.

Without him, it is doubtful whether these gadgets and people would ever be able to be hawked, or be as visible as they are, without the guy who started it all more than 50 years ago.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Rant #429: Old Friends

I really enjoy revisiting my youth. Unlike things that I hear from other people, I can rightfully say that I had a terrific childhood, especially between the ages of seven and 14, those wonderful years when one moves from being a baby to becoming a young adult.

This weekend, I once again revisited those years, as I helped to assemble five of my friends from those days back in the mid 1960s and early 1970s into one place for the first time in over 40 years.

The Internet is a wonderful tool when it works (the reason for the lateness of this post is that the Internet was not working earlier). It can be used for so much good, but people find so many bad things to use it for too.

But let me focus on the good. The get together would not have been possible without the Internet.

The Internet draws us together as people, no matter where we are in the world. As long as one has Internet access, that person is as close to you as the keyboard in front of you. You just have to know where to direct yourself when you type, and Voila!, you can be there.

Anyway, over the past number of years, I have been trying to reconnect with my past by contacting my former buddies from those wonderful growing-up years.

First, I connected with people on something called Delphi Forums, a precursor to My Space and Facebook. I could not believe that I wasn’t alone in the pursuit of the past, and Delphi Forums allowed me to investigate that past.

But it had its limits. It wasn’t that well known, so only a handful of people actually visited it. But I did, and for 10 years it was the place to re-meet and re-greet my former friends.

Then the Facebook Revolution began, and there was no holding me back in my pursuit of these people. I initially hesitated to join Facebook, because my daughter had had some problems on another social networking site some years ago.

But when I finally joined, I found dozens of my old buddies on the site. Further investigations on sites like found others.

I have contacted so many old friends through these sites, and I am completely amazed that they actually remember me from the old neighborhood, Rochdale Village in South Jamaica, Queens, New York.

My comments about my old neighborhood are also included in a book about that place, and its place in New York City history.

None of this would have been possible without the Internet as the intermediary.

Now fast forward to this past Saturday. Through trial and error and some luck, I was able to get in contact with several of my old friends from the building I lived in, and after a couple of false starts, we finally met for breakfast this Saturday.

Even though I was battling the early onset of a cold—which became full blown on Sunday—I had an extremely enjoyable time. It is as if we had never left each other. We conversed as if we had been doing so for the past 40 years, talking about the old neighborhood, what we did after we left, and what we are doing now.

It was really a super morning!

The picture accompanying this rant shows myself and my buddies. We agree that circumstances may have pulled us apart, but we are still all joined at the hip forever because of our youthful experiences together.

Hopefully, we can get together again, possibly this summer.

There’s nothing like meeting up with old friends again to make this 50-plus year oldster into a kid again.

And I love that feeling!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Rant #428: Snow More

It is Friday, January 21, the day before my parents' 55th wedding anniversary (congratulations!), and it is snowing again in the Northeast.

It's the fifth major storm that we have weathered during this winter season, and we aren't even out of January yet.

I was out digging at 5 a.m. this morning. The snow was still coming down, but I had to get two cars dug out, my Kia and my wife's Jeep. It really wasn't that difficult, but anything is difficult at 5 a.m. in the morning.

The roads are terrible. I guess the plows don't wake up that early in the day.

So it's another snow. It's funny how your perception of snow changes according to your age and your situation.

Growing up in Queens, I didn't care about snow at all. It gave me another reason to get my sled and careen down the side of a slight hill that we had near my development's shopping center. I know I didn't have a care in the world back then.

Now, as an adult, I dread the snow. I hate driving in it, shoveling it, having anything to do with it.

When my kids were young, I would put them on their sleds and be a sled dog, dragging them around the block behind me. It was tiring, but they had fun.

Now, I just hate the snow. It is a nuisance that I can live without.

After a few winters that weren't much of anything, we have now had at least three winters that have been just horrible. Well, that's what you get from living in the Northeast.

Once solace that I have is that pitchers and catchers report to spring training in about two to three weeks. You know that when that happens, the warmer weather is right around the corner ...

But first, we have to get through February and March, and if this winter so far is any indication, I will be counting the days until April, in between snow shovelings.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Rant #427: Catwoman Gets My Goat

It was announced yesterday that Anne Hathaway will get to play Selena Kyle--the alter-ego of villainess Catwoman--in the upcoming "The Dark Knight Rises" Batman film.

I really don't like Anne Hathaway. Sure, she is a really pretty girl. But I remember what she did with the "99" character in the absolutely horrid "Get Smart" film--I know that she will trash the Catwoman role too.

Oh, give me the days when first, Julie Newmar, and second, Eartha Kitt, played Catwoman to the hilt on the old "Batman" TV show. They truly understood the character--her femininity and her viciousness, all rolled into one pretty package.

Lee Meriwether kind of fit the fill, too, in the original "Batman" big-screen film, and I guess that Michelle Pfeiffer fit it too--well, at least in her costume--in "Batman Returns."

Then we had Halle Berry. Sure, she has a great body--the best body of all the Catwomen--but what was her "Catwoman" movie really about--that body or the character?

Now we have Hathaway, one of the most over-rated actresses of this generation, taking on this role.

It is a complex one, and one that I feel is way beyond her abilities to handle. Of course, good writing will help, but sorry, I don't think Hathaway has it in her.

The Catwoman character has to have that mix of vulnerability and viciousness that certainly Newmar and Kitt completely understood. She has to snarl at the same time that she slinks.

Can Hathaway do it? Based on her performance in "Get Smart," no, sorry, I don't think so. She didn't get that character, and I don't think she will get this one either.

Who do I think should play Catwoman?

The choice is an obvious one.

Angelina Jolie would have the role of Catwoman in the palm of her hand. She has the looks, the brains, and the talent to handle such a role.

Would she do it? I don't know, but Hathaway can't hold a candle to her.

So I say go for "Tomb Raider" over "99."

You can't go wrong.

It's the "purr-fect" choice.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Rant #426: "Rock Concert" In the Sky

The music business lost a giant yesterday when Don Kirshner passed away.

Kirshner, 76, was a music mover and shaker in the 1960s and 1970s, and his influence was responsible for numerous hit records, as well as the solo careers of artists such as Neil Diamond and Carole King.

In the mid-1960s, he established Aldon Music, and put together one of the most impressive collections of songwriting talent imaginable, all working out of the Brill Building in New York City: King, Diamond, Carole Bayer Sager, Neil Sedaka, Gerry Goffin Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart ... the list goes on and on and on.

He was the music supervisor for the Monkees project, and eventually, his creation became bigger than he was. On the first two Monkees albums--which both hit No. 1 on the charts on the newly christened Colgems record label and spawned numerous hit singles--the Monkees played, instrumentally, very little of the music on these albums.

Led by Michael Nesmith, the Monkees challenged Kirshner, saying that they wanted full autonomy on their future releases. Kirshner balked, and released the single, "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" backed with "She Hangs Out", but it was immediately pulled when Kirshner was either fired or walked out on the project. A new single, keeping the A side and adding "The Girl I Knew Somewhere"--a Nesmith composition featuring the band actually playing on the record--was released, became a hit, and Kirshner nearly became simply a footnote to the whole Monkees' phenomenon.

However, Kirshner was far from done. Sensing that he didn't want to go through the Monkees process again with another actual group of actors/musicians, Kirshner created the Archies, a fictitious band led by more of his talented crew, namely Ron Dante and Toni Wine. He had his own record label, Kirshner, distribute the records, which were tied into the Saturday morning TV show starring Archie, Jughead and the gang.

Once again, his magic touch worked, as the Archies had several hits, including "Sugar Sugar," under his purview.

When this projected petered out, Kirshner once again reinvented himself. He discovered Kansas, one of the biggest FM rock bands of the mid 1970s which had hits like "Dust in the Wind."

And, of course, he became even more visible as the host of "Rock Concert," ironically, based on his Monkees experience, being one of the first shows to allow rock artists to sing and perform their songs live.

He featured many acts on this show, including the Rolling Stones and Sly and the Family Stone (in video below), and even made up with two of the former Monkees, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz, and had them on as part of their quasi-Monkees Dolenz, Jones, Boyce and Hart grouping.

When that show went off the air, Kirshner pretty much faded from view.

However, the success that the likes of Diamond and King had as songwriters for the Monkees gave them the impetus to branch out into successful solo careers of their own, and their music is still resonating with audiences to this day.

And the hits he had with numerous bands continue to get airplay, from the Monkees to the Archies to Kansas to many others.

Just turn on your radio, and you will hear his influence.

He wasn't a musician, per se, but he had that golden ear.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Rant #425: Not Your Father's Playboy (Channel)

Word has it that the Playboy Channel has gone soft.

And I mean that literally, not the way you think I mean it.

The channel, which has catered to men's interests for years, is starting to soften up a bit. It is trying to attract female viewers with a mix of very soft core "reality shows" that not only are geared to women, but more geared to women watching with their husbands or boyfriends.

Earlier this month, the channel began to show "TV For 2" programming, and recently debuted something called "Brooklyn Kinda Love," showing the relationships of several young couples who live in Brooklyn.

Evidently, they have several other series geared to women planned for the channel as it morphs from an all-male channel to one where men and their mates can watch together without cringing or getting turned off.

I don't know what the male watchers of this channel will have to say about this change in programming, but it tells me that the channel has gone off the deep end.

Sure, women read the magazine, but Playboy Channel is much more explicit than its print counterpart. Many things are shown on this channel, in original shows and XX-movies (no, that isn't shown), that will never, ever find its way into the publication.

I guess what Playboy Channel is trying to do is to strike a creative balance while expanding its audience.

Boring, boring!

This is a pay channel, mind you, so if you want this channel, you have to shell out the bucks for it.

So, I guess, if you want this type of programming, you give it your thumb's up by paying for it.

I just find this whole thing interesting. Why are they playing with the format now? Are they preparing for the time when Hugh Hefner is no longer with us, and both the magazine and channel will totally get away from his original vision?

I'll bet you that's the reason, and he probably knows it.

All the while, the guy is getting married to a woman who is 60 years younger than he is.

What can I say? The "Playboy" in all of us lives on!

Monday, January 17, 2011

Rant #424: Green Hornet Makes Green

As a huge Green Hornet fan, I went to the movies this weekend with my family to see the new movie.

I have to tell you, I went in with lots of trepidation. All the advance word that I heard about this film was that it was a bomb of major proportions. Any movie that has its premiere put off several times, and then is dumped into the post-Christmas January movie wasteland, can't be too good.

And when the reviews came out, they were so bad in the New York papers that I knew I was in for it, even worse than having to shell out extra bread to see the film in 3D.

I have to tell you that my preconceived feelings about the movie were warranted. Although it is not nearly as bad as some critics said it was, it really isn't such a great film. But again, its two hours sped by pretty quickly, so even though the Green Hornet and Kato to me will always be Van Williams and Bruce Lee, this movie, well, it could have been worse.

Several things were changed around to make the heroes more "contemporary," including that Kato is actually the "brains" behind the duo's success in this film. He is the inventor of all of the gadgets, including the well-stocked Black Beauty.

Why is it that the white guy is always the dummy in contemporary media?

To spell it out, Britt Reid is really nothing but a slacker playboy who gets sucked into his role as the publisher of the Daily Sentinel because of the death of his father, who in this story line, has nothing to do with the Green Hornet.

The DA, who in the TV show was Reid/Hornet's pal, and knew his identity, is one of the evil villains in this movie, and Reid's secretary is more of a love interest in the film, although in the TV show, there were undercurrents of something going on between her and Reid, but nothing concrete.

There are other differences, but I have to say that Seth Rogen, the co-writer and star of the film, definitely watched the TV show, the medium he got his greatest inspiration from, even though the character actually was born on the radio during the 1930s.

The final segment, where Reid/Hornet is shot, is lifted directly from the TV series. And I am happy to say that Al Hirt's memorable theme song is heard briefly at the end, as is the cool 1960s logo used in the ABC show.

What's wrong with the movie is that Rogen seriously miscast himself as the Hornet. He just doesn't fit the role well, even though he slimmed down to take on this character. He is simply not magnetic enough to get across the charisma of the Hornet to the audience.

Much better is Jay Chou, who as Kato, doesn't evoke Bruce Lee's classic performance, but kind of rounds his own portrayal of Kato a bit. He steals the show from Rogen.

But no one steals the show more than Christoph Waltz as the main villain. As he demonstrated in "Inglorious Basterds," he will stand out against most contemporary actors, even when he has to ham it up as he does here.

Cameron Diaz is ... well, Cameron Diaz. She once again demonstrates to me that she is one of the most overrated and over-exposed movie actresses in history. I don't get her bleach blond allure.

So, all in all, I would say that you should see this movie. It isn't great, but it isn't the worst piece of trash out there.

Evidently movie goers agree with me, as it is now the No. 1 movie in the land--of course, that is a phony distinction, as you are paying extra to see this in 3D, a technique which is completely unnecessary in this movie. It gave me a slight headache, which, coupled with all the car crashes, bombs going off, and gunfire, made for a very LOUD film.

So, go see this movie if you have two hours to totally kill--you can bet a sequel is not far behind.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Rant #423: Full Nelson

Amid all the snow we had in the Northeast yesterday, word came over the wire that David Nelson, the oldest of the Nelson brothers who rose to fame on the "Ozzie and Harriet" sitcom, had passed away. Nelson, in his 70s, suffered from colon cancer.

No other show epitomized the phony smugness of the U.S. in the 1950s as did "Ozzie and Harriet." The show, which started on radio in the early 1950s, starred former bandleader (and future star-maker) Ozzie Nelson, his wife, former band singer Harriet Nelson, and the two Nelson boys, Rick and David.

The show purported to show typical days in the life of the Nelson clan, and many of the episodes were based on the Nelsons' own experiences. Everything was white pocket fence-like, and seemingly the worst thing that could happen on the show was that the boys were stood up by girls they were dating.

The show, which ran on TV into the mid 1960s, really was the original show about nothing. Nobody knew what Ozzie supposedly did for a living, but he always wore the required sweater, even in the hot California sun. Harriet was the bellwether of the family, while Rick and David grew up before our eyes.

The family had music running in its veins, and as Rick grew up, pop Ozzie saw something in him that he decided to mold into something marketable--and he did it to the Nth degree. Rick became one of the first rock and roll idols, and had an incredible recording career that lasted into the 1970s and probably would have continued to this day if he didn't die mysteriously in a plane crash (was he freebasing cocaine?) in 1985.

David was another story. Always portrayed as the more scholarly of the two boys on the show, David lived up to that portrayal pretty much in his own real life. He also tried music, but it simply didn't work with him, and he knew it early on. He got into writing and directing, and many of the later episodes of the show were either written or directed by him.

He also expanded his acting skills appearing in numerous movies well into the mid 1970s, when he decided that directing was his niche.

He was the last surviving member of the original Nelson clan, and while he wasn't the teen idol his brother was, his incredible body of work is pretty much readily available. As long as there are TVs, the Nelsons will have a place in its history.

(Just as an aside, I will be undergoing some routine tests on my eyes tomorrow morning, so my next post will be on Monday. See you then.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Rant #422: Snow Kidding

Yes, it snowed in my neck of the woods yesterday evening and today.

In spite of predictions that we might get anywhere from 12 to 18 inches of snow, I think we got about six or seven.

Nonetheless, I have learned from my past experiences, and I stayed home from work. I took some work home, and just finished it in between shoveling duties.

Last year, during a snowstorm in February, I decided to go to work. It was horrible even getting near my place of business, but I trudged on.

I was about a block or two away when I hit an ice patch, lost control of my car, turned every which way, and finally came to a stop as I hit the sidewalk.

I said right then and there that if the situation ever presented itself again, I was not going to risk my life and limb to go to work. My place of business has no firm policy when it comes to the weather, so it is up to the individual to decide whether it is safe enough or not to go into work on a snow day.

This individual decided that today was not a day to take such a chance.

The fact of the matter is that while I, and my wife, dug our cars out and dug out our sidewalks--and started doing it at 5 a.m. in the morning--the plow has not come to our street in many hours, so the street is full of snow. I hope we can get our cars out with little difficulty, but when the height of the street is higher than your sidewalk due to the snow, you've got some problems.

Anyway, time to sign off and hope for a better day tomorrow.

More shoveling to do!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rant #421: The Green Hornet Is Back

As a kid, I loved comic books. I collected all the latest DC and Marvel titles, starting when they were 10 cents apiece, and through the 1960s, that was my collecting passion.

In 1966, ABC premiered "Batman", and along with Superman reruns on local Channel 11, I was in my element watching these shows, as they brought to the screen the comic book superheroes I had been reading about with such a voracious attitude.

In 1967, ABC, basking in the success they had with Batman, tried to duplicate it with "The Green Hornet." It was put out by the same production company, was highly promoted, and I am sure ABC thought that lightning could strike twice with this series.

It failed miserably.

However, even though I didn't know the Hornet and his valet and sidekick, Kato, from comic books, I did know the name. The Hornet was created in the 1930s for radio as the then up to date reappearance of a modern, more sophisticated Lone Ranger (and yes, Kato was the modern Tonto and the Black Beauty was the modern Silver ... well, I think you get it). In fact, Britt Reid, the Hornet's alter ego, was created as a relative of John Reid, the Lone Ranger himself.

Anyway, I loved the show. I loved the theme song (a modern take on "Flight of the Bumblebee" by Al Hirt), and I loved the whole concept.

It was done straighter than the "Batman" show, with few laughs, fewer weird camera angles, and fewer memorable villains (meaning none).

It was so different than "Batman" was, that I think it turned off the "Batman"-loving audience.

Me, having read the comic books, I knew that the Batman on TV and the Batman in the comic books were quite different. The one on TV was melodramatic and comedic, while the one in the comics was basically melodramatic and serious.

So I was prepared for the Hornet, but after 26 episodes, few others were, and the show went into oblivion. Like the "Batman" TV show, it is in a DVD black hole, as a prolonged lawsuit is keeping both shows from appearing on legitimate DVDs.

Back to the show ...

Van Williams, the Hornet on the TV show, had a sidekick, Kato, played by Bruce Lee, who went onto bigger and better things after the show.

As Kato, he really had to hold back on his martial arts skills, showing them off a few times each episode but not showing them off to the fullest extent that he could.

But ABC knew they had something with Lee. They cast him in "Longstreet," a show about a blind lawyer which starred James Franciscus. That series also didn't last long, and Lee had some bit roles in a few movies.

But during this time, his interest in the martial arts continued to heighten, and he had an idea for a TV series melding his love of the martial arts with a message--of peace, love and harmony.

That show was "Kung Fu." ABC was a little nervous about having a show with an Asian lead, and the lead role eventually went to David Carradine, who, ironically, was a martial arts pupil of Lee.

Lee was discouraged, went to Hong Kong to make several low-budget martial arts flicks, and became a worldwide sensation when these movies made millions of dollars.

But his life was cut short due to cocaine abuse, and well, the rest is history.

Lee, and Williams, live on in their roles in "The Green Hornet," and today, SyFy channel is running the 26 episodes throughout the day to commemorate the Friday opening of "The Green Hornet" feature film, with Seth Rogen in the tile role.

I don't know about the new movie, but I can tell you about the TV show.

Give the show a chance. Remember, it is not "Batman," but it is a straight-forward TV adaptation of the character, which started out in radio, to the small screen.

Williams basically deadpans it, as does Lee, but watch for the brief fighting scenes. You will actually see Lee completely holding back on his kicks and punches, but it is fun to watch nonetheless.

Back in 1967, we weren't really aware of the type of martial arts that Lee was displaying in a limited way on this show. It was so new that it was truly fascinating to watch, a few years before the Kung-Fu craze filled every movie house worth its salt with cheapo fight flicks that made millions.

And yes, the show is a lot of fun, even though it rarely cracks a smile.

By the way, not included in the 26 episodes being shown are the two "Batman" episodes where Williams and Lee made guest appearances. Those shows are as light as air, but Williams and Lee continue to deadpan it, in deference to Adam West (Batman) and Burt Ward (Robin), who do their usual comedic assault on the Dynamic Duo.

Anyway, watch the 26 "Green Hornet" episodes; you will not be disappointed.

I know that I wasn't more than 40 years ago when these shows were new, and I wasn't when I watched them as an adult years later.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Rant #420: Back to Reality

After devoting Friday's rant to that bum who is sitting on top of the world, I think the world was brought back to reality with that gun rampage on Saturday.

The venom was directed at Arizona Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, but the gunshots also hit several other people, including a nine-year old girl who was the granddaughter of former Phillies, Yankees and Mets manager Dallas Green.

A suspect is in custody, and this individual, by all accounts, is a deranged person who faces one count of attempted assassination of a member of Congress, two counts of killing an employee of the federal government and two accounts of attempting to kill a federal employee.

He has not yet been charged with the murders he allegedly committed, but those charges are coming.

What would possess an individual to commit such an act? The man is obviously not of right mind, but since he did not turn the gun on himself, the police have had a chance to question him. But with a person in this mental state, I guess they probably won't get much out of him.

What they do know is that the alleged gunman was a loner, who kind of fell off the deep end. He read numerous books in his poisoned state, including Adolph Hitler's "Mein Kampf."

A lot of the news reports questioned the recent severity of politics in Washington that was seemingly fueling the alleged gunman's venom. One, in particular, was that Sarah Palin made it known that Giffords was on her "list" because of various policies that Palin claimed Giffords backed.

Believe me, I am not defending Palin, who I find to be one of the scourges of the country right now. However, I think the media is missing a much larger message here.

How was this guy able to purchase, and supposedly legally purchase, a high-capacity semi-automatic weapon, or for that matter, any firearm, so easily?

It seems that in some states, it is as easy as buying a bottle of milk.

The gun lobby would claim that Americans have the right to bear arms, but guns should not be as available as candy is. If a proper background check was made on this guy, he would never have been able to get a gun, and get one so easily.

If nothing else, the check would have found that he was charged with misdemeanor drug possession some time ago--and to me, that's enough to say that this guy should never be able to get a gun--and I mean never, I don't care how long he has been sober (and all accounts are that he was a regular pot smoker even after the misdemeanor charge).

National laws must be drawn up to prevent people like this from ever legally owning a firearm.

Sure, if they really want one, they can get one on the street, but let them go to the trouble of buying a gun that way--perhaps, the road to doing this will be so filled with potholes that a person like this will either be discouraged or he will be caught by the authorities.

I just don't understand people owning guns, feeling the need to arm themselves as if they are involved in their own private war.

I knew a person just like this idiot. He was in a deranged mental state, bought a gun before New York gun laws were stiffened, went into a local hotel and blew his brains out.

That was 30 years ago, and I see things haven't changed much.

Well, if nothing else, this latest episode demands that gun laws in all 50 states be stiffened, and perhaps a national gun law should be established.

How many murders will it take to get this point across?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Rant #419: The "Golden Voice" or the "Golden Fraud"

Sorry, I don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but the latest feel-good story of the year is a fraud.

Nothing but a fraud.

No, I am not saying homeless person (read "bum") Ted Williams (love the name, though) was not a former sterling announcer who let his life be ruled by drugs and alcohol. I am not saying that he wasn't forced to live on the streets until some enterprising reporter posted a clip of him demonstrating his voiceover skills while begging on the side of the road.

What I am saying is the question, "Is this really the feel-good story of the year?"

Offers are currently being thrown from every direction at this guy, this former homeless person, who chose a life of drugs and alcohol over that of an upstanding individual.

He has been in jail, fathered nine children, and ran away from life, and ran away from his responsibilities.

This is a feel-good story?

There are millions of people who are out of work today, not because they decided that they needed to run away from life, but because of circumstances beyond their control.

There are also millions out of work who aren't getting benefits anymore, and aren't even counted in the national averages.

They have mortgages to pay, families under their belts, and they don't run away, they do the best they can.

Former executives are mowing lawns for a living just to attempt to get by.

Now you have this bum, who decided that drugs and drink were more important than his career and family, all of a sudden becoming one of the most famous men in the country.

This fellow, who chose to run away from life, is not only getting a second chance, that second chance is coming at him like a herd of elephants.

The media has jumped all over this guy like a bees goes to honey.

He is now the voice of Kraft Macaroni and Cheese. He has a gig with a cable channel, and has been offered a job with the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers.

Oh, how I wish the other millions who are unemployed were so lucky.

Somehow, I don't think that they are being drowned with offers left and right like this bum.

I think that since most people haven't had the experience of being out of work for any length of time, they are making this story into something it isn't. And that is really too bad, making those legitimately out of work into nothing more than an afterthought.

Let me tell you, several years ago, I was out of work, again not due to anything I did, but circumstances beyond my control.

I did everything I could to find work, and although I did odd jobs here and there, I couldn't find anything steady.

I have a college degree, as well as a master's degree.

One hiring "expert" actually had the nerve to say to me, "One day, you are going to become a millionaire, but right now, I have nothing for you."

I actually went on a television program and a radio program to try to find employment. I even handed out my resume at the local train station.

Nothing happened. I applied for upwards of over 800 jobs, and I couldn't find anything. Nobody would hire me.

After about a year and a half of this, and when my unemployment insurance was about to run out, and whatever other money I had was going, going, gone, I was forced to go to Social Services.

You are at the end of the line when you apply for Social Services. You are cooked. You have nowhere else to go.

I was turned down by Social Services. They decided, for some reason, that I had a pipeline of money to turn to in such circumstances, so they wouldn't help me. Not only didn't I have such a pipeline, but I was just about broke.

It must have been that I wore a suit at the interview I had--most indigent people there came in shorts and or sweats--and I was not the typical person who applies for such aid (I will let you read between the lines here).

Happily, right after this, I was hired. Although it was not a great job, and I was way overqualified for it, it lasted for three and a half year. Then, once again, I found myself out of a job not due to anything I did.

I was out for three months. My son was a newborn, just three months old, when I got let go.

I finally found work, again at a job that was far below my skills. I then found another job, and I have been employed by this company for the past nearly 15 years.

So, no, I don't think this guy is the feel-good story of the year. Nobody was throwing job offers at me, nor at the millions that are out of work right now.

I wish the guy luck, but please, let's not get all sappy and sugary about it.

This guy has done less to find a job, and get his life back in order, than the millions that are legitimately out of work, yet he is now on top of the world.

I have said it many times, and I am going to say it again ...

Only in America ...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Rant #418: Lotta Lottery

No, I am not here to announce that I won the second-largest Mega-Millions lottery jackpot ever, and that I am abandoning my current life to spend my millions.

I didn't win, although I did play in the lottery. I don't play often, but myself and my entire department at work decided that it was time to play again. We had played in the past, but never won much of anything, so we figured we would give it the old college try again.

It didn't work.

There are two winners of the $355 million Mega-Millions national lottery payout, and both are in the Pacific Northwest, one in Idaho and the other in Washington State.

I put in $3. I figured that that way, I would get three shares of the booty when we won.

But we didn't win, so I guess it was all for naught.

I know people--my father, for one--who play each and every week. They just don't put in a dollar, they put in lots of dollars.

I kind of understand it. It gives them reason to dream, reason to think that they can better their lives if they could actually win the jackpot.

But how many of us actually win these things? The odds are ridiculous, but we, as a nation, still play, even though it's almost akin to throwing away your hard earned cash into the dumpster.

The money supposedly goes for a good cause--I know the New York lottery money is said to go to education--but I have my doubts about where the money really goes. Have you read about New York City schools lately? I guess money can't solve incompetence by itself.

Anyway, here I am, $3 poorer and without a lottery win.

What could I have done with the $3?

I could have gotten a one-way fare on New York City's subways, with a little change left over--unless they raised the fare again, which they might have done while I wasn't watching.

I could buy some items off the dollar menu at any fast food joint, but I have noticed that some dollar menu items actually cost more than a dollar.

I could go to my local dollar store and buy three items, but I wouldn't have any money left over to cover the tax, so I guess I could buy only two items.

And, I could just have kept the $3 in my wallet. It would have made for a bulkier wallet, but at least I could then choose what to do with the $3 I didn't spend on the lottery that I knew I was going to lose anyway.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Rant #417: This and That

Yes, I know that they got Navy Capt. Owen Honors. He has been relegated to desk duty, which pretty much means his Navy career is over.

Yes, I know that Gerry Rafferty passed away. His tunes "Stuck in the Middle With You" with Stealers Wheel and the masterpiece "Baker Street" will live on forever.

Yes, I know that today is the 13th anniversary of the death of Sonny Bono, who was then a politician when he was skiing and struck a tree; he would be 75 years old this year.

Yes, I know that the tax filing deadline has been pushed to April 18, so the District of Columbia can celebrate Emancipation Day, a holiday that I, personally, did not know existed (how about a day off from work?).

Yes, I know that New York City, with all of its ills, raked in $31 billion in visitor spending in 2010, with more than 48 million visitors coming to Fun City during the year. The top number of visitors came from the U.K, followed by Canada and Germany (and when I say New York City, you know that most of these tourists aren't going to The Bronx; I mean Manhattan).

Yes, and talking about Fun City, I know that they are probing the reasons whey they failed so miserably in their snow cleanup efforts during the last blizzard we had on Dec. 26. Evidently, some sanitation workers decided to call in sick that day and ... well, you can figure out the rest.

And yes, I know that Yes is a band that has been popular for the past nearly 40 years or so.

And YES is the Yankees' sports and entertainment network.

I just decided to use "Yes" on everything today. I guess I am a "Yes" man.

Yes, yes, yes!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Rant #416: That Beauty Mark ...

I am sure that you already heard that actress Anne Francis died Sunday at age 80. She had been in poor health.

Francis came to the public's attention during the age of 1950s glamor girls like Marilyn Monroe and Jayne Mansfield, but she was less demonstrative with her sex appeal, although she certainly had a figure to match Monroe and even Mansfield or the other pretenders to the 1950s sex kitten throne.

What set her apart from her peers was that beauty mark on her face. It stood out, made her even more sexy and beautiful, and will be her lasting "mark" on Hollywood.

She also was a co-star in the sci-fi classic "Forbidden Planet." Ironically, her co-star in that film, Leslie Nielsen, also just passed away.

Francis' sex appeal came to the fore with her 1960s TV show, "Honey West." Riding the crest of James Bond-mania, although this show didn't last, it set the tone for strong female characters on TV, such as Emma Peel in "The Avengers."

The actress was never a huge star, but that beauty mark ...

In the current day and age, where every perceived body abnormality is often "corrected" through plastic surgery, Francis stayed the course with her beauty mark.

It became her signature, beyond her natural beauty and fantastic figure.

It's what people remember her by. And I guess that's the way she wanted it.

Good for her.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Rant #415: New Year's Honors

Happy New Year!

I guess when you read the title of this rant, the first of 2011, you thought I was going to give out awards for the best of various items of the past year.

Well, guess again.

I am sure that you heard that the Navy is targeting a video that was released on the USS Enterprise which supposedly starred Capt. Owen Honors, USN, when he was the executive officer of the ship. He has since been promoted and is now the ship's commander.

The video, which was supposedly only broadcast over the ship's closed circuit system, shows Honors talking about a variety of topics, including homosexuality and, err, self pleasuring.

No nudity is shown in the video, but there are scenes of two women in a shower and also two men showering, fake stimulation, and other things.

The video was made in 2006 or 2007, so why is it coming to the surface now?

Evidently, some shipmates were turned off by the video then, and may have voiced some mild complaints, but they kind of fell to the wayside.

In the meantime, Honors was promoted to the top helm of the ship.

An investigation has been launched, looking into whether Honors was actually personally involved in the making of the video. I guess they have to be sure, because using various techniques, he could be in the video but may not have authorized it.

Sure, the topics discussed in the video aren't politically correct right now, and supposedly the video was made to shed a lighthearted spotlight on some topics that were important to the ship at the time.

My question is: during wartime, when did the creators of this video have the time to put this thing together?

Sure, it's not all weapons and machinery on board a ship. I guess you have to have a lighthearted way of looking at things when you are manning such a vessel.

But why put out a video? And if it was authorized by Honors, why did he give his OK?

And again, when did the video makers have time to do this?

An investigation is being launched, and all I can say is that 2011 has gotten off to a bang, hasn't it?

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