Thursday, March 31, 2011

Rant #474: Play Ball!

New York is slated for rain, snow, a perfectly miserable day weather-wise, maybe we'll get into the high 40s and it will just be rain.

As the drops fall, players won't be lacing up their cleats for football.

Baseball season is finally here, and while the season opens around the country, the real opening of the season will be in Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York, when the New York Yankees take on the Detroit Tigers.

Game time is approximately 1:09 p.m. for the Yankees' 109th season.

I can't wait.

The winter is wonderful if you are a kid, but you know that when baseball season opens, the warm weather is right around the corner.

And with the warm weather comes dreams of all sorts, mostly good ones.

The winter is dreary. The spring and summer revitalize you.

And when baseball ends in the fall with the World Series, you are totally spent.

And that's even true when you watch a good team like the Yankees.

It's a six-month roller coaster ride that I have been taking for most of my life. I just got published in Long Island Newsday newspaper yesterday with some thoughts about my first game.

It was 1965, I was barely eight, and my friend's father had some tickets to a day game at old Yankee Stadium. It was the tail end of the school year in June, so we played hooky from school for a day and went to the game.

The Yankees played the old Kansas City Athletics, and I think the Yankees lost 6-5 or 6-4 or something like that.

But it didn't really matter to me.

I was taken by the grandeur of the Stadium, the largeness of it all. The photo with this rant is the old Yankee Stadium, not the facsimile we have to live with today.

Back to the old Stadium ... It really took my breath away, and the whole experience made me a fan for life.

There is nothing like actually being at a baseball game in person, and my family and I will be going to two Yankees games this year--in June, of course.

But today begins it all, and I am all revved up for the season to start.

I think the Yankees will do just fine, certainly getting into the playoffs at least, and yes, I expect them to get into the World Series too.

Heck, if I was a Kansas City Royals or Pittsburgh Pirates fan, I would probably say the same thing.

Hope springs eternal, the saying goes. "Springs" is the operative word.

In the spring, everyone has a chance.

Play ball!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Rant #473: Summer Concerts Make Me Feel Fine

We are almost at April 1, April Fool's Day, but what I am going to talk about today has nothing to do with that.

With April, we are at the threshold of warmer weather, and that can mean only one thing to lots of people: the summer concert season is about ready to get started.

Many dates have been announced for these concerts, and you will have a wide choice of performers to see, from the latest, hottest bands to those who filled that mantle yesterday, but are still performing to enthusiastic audiences today.

My family and I are going to see the Monkees in June. I have seen them--sans Michael Nesmith--many times, and I have seen them as solo artists, and I can tell you that if there is one concert to see this summer, see this one. You will not be disappointed.

But looking back, I have been to lots of concerts over my lifetime, and yes, I can remember the first concert I ever went to, and the second one too.

And they both took place during the summer.

The first concert I saw was in 1966. My family and I went to Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey, which does not exist anymore. As we were riding the rides, I remember I got sick on the Swiss Alps ride, and needed to sit down for a few moments.

We came to the bandshell, and a concert was just ready to start.

Hal Jackson, the popular local DJ, was the emcee, and he brought out an act that was then totally unknown in the U.S.

Lulu was her name, and within a year, she would not only have the No. 1 record in the country with "To Sir With Love," but she would also be one of the stars of that now-classic movie.

Anyway, she was on for just a few minutes, and no, she did not sing "To Sir With Love."

The reason was that Epic, her U.S. record company, thought that what eventually became the flip side of that tune, "The Boat That I Row," penned by Neil Diamond, would be the plug side, or the song that they would push to radio stations.

So she sung that song, and a few others, and then that was it.

Of course, radio programmers flipped the single when the movie became a hit, and the rest is history.

My second concert was in day camp. At that time, in 1969, the then-named Westbury Music Fair (it has gone through several name changes since then) used to have both daytime and evening concerts during the summer. I had been there before, to see "Camelot" with Robert Goulet, but this occasion was my first concert there.

It was a "Motown Revue," with opener Willie Tyler and Lester, the ventriliquist and his dummy who would later be a regular act on "Laugh-In"; Gladys Knight and the Pips, who were a popular act at the time, but had not reached their heights as a recording act yet; and headliners the Temptations, who had had hit after hit at that point ...

... but nothing like the song that had just catapulted them to the top of the charts when I saw this concert.

"Cloud Nine" had just hit No. 1 on the charts, and they were probably the hottest act in the land now. When this show was booked months earlier, I doubt the promoters envisioned that the Temps would be this hot, but anyway, the place was jumping at this afternoon concert.

I remember that the place was packed, mainly with kids my age (12 years old), and there was dancing in the seats and in the aisles. It was almost like a precursor to Woodstock, which would take place just a few days later, but it was certainly more controlled than that massive undertaking, and, of course, not a drug was seen at Westbury.

But the place was hopping, especially when "Cloud Nine" was performed.

It was infectious. It was one of the greatest concerts I ever saw.

Nowadays, I might go to one concert a year, and it is probably an oldies concert. I have since seen the Temptations many times, but, of course, most of their members have passed on, so it is really the faux Temps, not the real thing that I saw way back when.

And I have never seen Lulu again. I understand she is huge in Europe, but she has only had a few fairly mild hits over here since "To Sir With Love."

So go to the summer concerts, have fun, and I guarantee they will remain in your mind for the rest of your life.

There's something about summer concerts that are truly intoxicating, without the alcohol or substances.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rant #472: A Penny For Your Thoughts, A Dollar For Your Groceries

Every Saturday, my family and I do our food shopping. When my son was a baby, I pretty much did it myself while my wife watched our little boy, but now that he is a teenager, we have been going to the supermarket together for several years.

It's a ritual for us, and it bonds us with our son, who I think enjoys going too.

However, the experience isn't that pleasurable anymore. Grocery prices have gone up, way up, for a variety of reasons, including the increase in gas prices, and we have noticed it in the money that we spend at the supermarket each week.

Then we discovered the dollar store, where everything is priced at $1.

When we first went to these stores, the selection was good, but it was basically off-brand stuff that nobody probably bought originally. The stuff was still good, but would you rather buy a Heinz ketchup or Joe Shmoe's ketchup?

However, now that we have been shopping the dollar store regularly for about the past two years or so, we have noticed a distinct change.

Sure, they still carry the off-brand stuff. I don't think they will ever get away from that entirely.

But they are also carrying more and more branded stuff, and I mean major brands, stuff that you can get in your local supermarket for several dollars more.

Sure, what you normally get in the dollar store are discontinued items, or what they call different SKUs (stock keeping units) of a popular item. For instance, the latest packaging of your favorite spaghetti sauce has an offer for a free cookbook right on the label. In the dollar store, you will get the same item, but without that offer, which was recently added on. Thus, it's a different SKU.

But inside, it is the same spaghetti sauce.

The dollar store by us has a freezer case too, so we can buy frozen food there also. This is a big plus, as we can get smaller portions of fish, vegetables and frozen waffles and pancakes there.

And yes, we buy our snacks there. Snacks that cost $3 or more in the supermarket cost $1 there, and yes, they have Frito-Lay products, so I can get my Fritos at the dollar store.

People thumb their noses at these stores, saying that the food is bad and the only thing good about them is that they have cheaper greeting cards and stationery items.

But really, the opposite is true--the food is better, and the greeting cards and stationery items really aren't the main draw anymore.

And I read the other day that major manufacturers are taking notice that this is turning into a billion dollar industry in itself, and are starting to design products specifically to be sold in dollar stores, smaller versions of what they offer to regular supermarkets.

So don't look down at these stores anymore. I estimate I save about $30 a week shopping in this store just before I do the major shopping at our local supermarket.

And $30 may not be a lot, but multiply that by 52 weeks, and you get about $1,500 a year that I save by doing some of our shopping there.

And although it's at the dollar store, that isn't small change.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Rant #471: An Invention That Sticks To You Like Glue

At Ranting and Raving, I like to celebrate people who had one major accomplishment that we take for granted, but that accomplishment may have changed our world.

Case in point is the story of Harry Wesley Coover Jr., the inventor of Super Glue, who died over the weekend at age 94.

This is a product we have probably all used when we need to put together things like broken handles, but without Cover, well, we would probably have to go to the tape--or the trash bin, where our beloved item would have probably ended up if not for Super Glue.

Cyanoacrylate, the chemical name for the glue, was first discovered in 1942, and like with many inventions, it was founded by accident.

In a search for materials to make clear plastic gun sights for World War II sharpshooters, Coover, a chemist, put together this compound, which didn't offer much sight but stuck to everything.

In 1951, Coover recognized the potential for the product as a glue, and seven years later, in 1958, it was first sold.

Coover just didn't sell the product, he promoted it too.

Among other stunts, he was on the old "I've Got a Secret" quiz show, where he hung himself up in the air on bars that were stuck with the Super Glue to metal supports.

A single drop of the glue was able to do it, and the stunt was often imitated, especially by Krazy Glue, a similar product, in TV ads, with a construction worker stuck to a girder by his hat and a single drop of the glue.

Coover's invention will live on well past its creator's life, but his legacy is that he created something that helped make life a little more easy for us all.

And that's a good thing.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Rant #470: Zsa Zsa Go Bye Bye?

The death of Elizabeth Taylor has sparked memorials and remembrances across the world from people in all walks of life.

And then there are some people who feel that her death signals not only the end of an era, but the end to their own time here on earth.

Zsa Zsa Gabor's publicist said the shock of Taylor's death made Gabor feel she was next, and this sent the actress, probably the first actress who was simply "famous for being famous," to a Los Angeles hospital with high blood pressure.

The 94 year old, who has had one medical episode after another in recent months, reportedly checked into a hospital after her blood pressure soared after learning of Taylor's death. That, coupled with the death of Jane Russell, who we also talked of a few weeks ago, sent Zsa Zsa into a fit, as she believes she will be the third 1940s and 1950s starlet to go soon.

It didn't last long. She was released from the hospital only hours after getting there.

However, the story may not be true. Supposedly, Gabor's daughter Francesca checked it out, and was told that her mother had never been in the hospital.

Incredible. Zsa Zsa, who had absolutely no discernible talent other than her beauty and her mouth, both of which she used to maximum effect on every talk show known to man in the 1960s and 1970s and into the 1980s, still makes headlines, even if they are off another person's demise.

But you have to hand it to Zsa Zsa. Through all her maladies, she hangs in there with the best of them.

It must be that good Hungarian stock she is made of. She always gave me the impression of being a romantic, but one with a stern interior.

She is stubborn, that's for sure, and I guarantee she won't leave this earth until she knows it's time.

Whether the recent story is true or not, Zsa Zsa is a fighter. And she won't go down without a fight.

Good luck Zsa Zsa. You may be down, but you're not out ...

Even if you think you are, or at least, even if your publicist thinks you are.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Rant #469: Elizabeth Taylor-ed Her Own Life

Elizabeth Taylor, the last of the real movie stars, died yesterday. She was 79 and had been battling a barrage of illnesses for years, although she died of heart failure.

With her passing, old Hollywood has finally closed its book.

She was part of the old Hollywood system, where a studio signed you, and you worked for that studio until your contract ran out. They basically ran your lives, generated publicity about you, blocked other publicity ... they were your mother hen.

But Elizabeth was not going to entirely go under their wing.

In fact, she basically flapped her own wings for her 79 years of life.

She was an absolutely stunning beauty, with nearly perfect features top to bottom. And she had those eyes--were they purple, or what color were they? They were as stunning as her figure was.

Scandal followed her like she invented it. When she wasn't bedding one man, she was bed-hopping with another.

And she did this all during the 1950s and 1960s, when such things weren't bragged about like they are today.

She was somewhat old fashioned. Once she bedded a man, she pretty much married him, until she bedded another guy, and then she married him. Eight marriages to seven different men ... yes, she was a busy woman indeed.

And who could forget--or at least not be fascinated with--her efforts in this regard related to the film "Cleopatra." She lived the life, stealing away Eddie Fisher from Debbie Reynolds and then dumping him for Richard Burton.

I guess she really was a modern Cleopatra.

She was a fine actress, not some busty bimbo who pretends to act. She won two Oscars, for "Butterfield 8," where she played a call girl, and for "Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolff?", where she played a raspy oversexed neanderthal woman.

And the love of her life, Richard Burton, even though he was something of Hollywood royalty, too, well, even he couldn't keep up with her, even after he gave her that huge diamond ring in the late 1960s.

Her later years were marred by illnesses which pretty much robbed her of her beauty, and often her sanity. Her bloatedness, and her friendship with the likes of Michael Jackson, pretty much defined that part of her life.

But she was sane enough to be one of the first spokespersons for those with AIDS. Her friendship with Rock Hudson made such a large stamp on her life that this will really be her ultimate legacy, beyond the films she made.

If she lived out her life in today's world, what would have been the impact, in this Facebook and Twitter age where the biggest star in the world right now might be mentally ill Charlie Sheen?

It is hard to tell. Today, Hollywood stars go bed hopping and brag about it, so I would say that she wouldn't have had the impact today that she had way back when.

She basically did things back then that rankled the staid 1950s and early 1960s.

Good girls didn't do that. And if they did, like in "Butterfield 8," they were called sluts and got slapped in the face.

Only in real life, Elizabeth Taylor was the one doing the face slapping ... to us, as a culture.

She will be missed, but not ever forgotten.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Rant #468: YouTube Makes Everybody a Star

Back in 1970, Sly and the Family Stone had a hit record with "Everybody Is a Star." The song, one of the feel-good anthems of the day, reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Hot 100. Everytime I hear the song, it reminds me of a different place, a different time in my life.

Well, Sly Stone couldn't have foreseen that the name of that song would come true.

Yes, with YouTube, everybody really is a star.

Andy Warhol once said that everyone would be famous for 15 minutes, and coupled with Sly Stone's song, that couldn't be truer than it is today.

YouTube gives everyone the potential to be famous. Look what it did to Justin Bieber. And look what it is doing for 12-year-old Jenna Rose Swerdlow.

Who is Jenna Rose Swerdlow?

Her YouTube song, "My Jeans," has now surpassed one million hits. It is pretty bad, a song likening her jewelry studded jeans with those worn by celebrities, including "Hannah Montana" (Miley Cyrus) and Ashley Tisdale, two other performers who have had their careers catapulted via YouTube.

The stuff is trash, but people love it. And they can listen for free, and if they know how to do it, they can capture both the video and the audio and keep it forever as a file on their computers.

Maybe this will start a career for young Jenna, maybe not. But the fact of the matter is that the stuff, as amateurish as it sounds, is out there, and you know that Hollywood is watching and listening.

This is where new stars are being born!

With that in mind, I have added my own YouTube video to the mix. You can see it here, but click onto so it will register as a hit.

It was shot back in 1966 or 1967, when I was just a young pup. I was playing baseball in the Rochdale Village Athletic League (RVAL), and you will see my athletic prowess (really lack thereof) in the video.

Let's get this up to 1 million hits and make it the latest sensation on the Internet!

It has already registered more than 500 views, so getting to 1 million shouldn't be that difficult.

I will be away tomorrow with some medical exams, but I will be back on Thursday.

By then, there's no telling how many hits my video will have!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Rant #467: Hardees Appetite

I heard this morning that the fast food chain that is known for the mega-1,420 calorie "Monster Burger" is going to the other extreme by making available to patrons something that none of its competitors is offering.

The hamburger chain is also offering a low-calorie turkey burger. I am sure it will come up with an "explosive" name for this new item on its menu, but whatever it chooses, no other similar chain offers a turkey burger.

I guess this gives patrons some choices when they go into Hardees restaurants, but the question still lingers in my mind: if you are watching your weight, why eat at a fast food joint to begin with?

Yes, I know that everyone has different needs. Some people like to eat themselves into oblivion, others count their calories. But you simply can't count calories at a fast food joint.

Even if the turkey burger is a calorie-conscious dish, once you pile on the cheese, ketchup, relish and everything else, you just come up with a poor relative of a regular hamburger. And don't forget adding in the fries and the drink, too.

But in today's fast food world, it's about giving patrons the maximum amount of choices possible. People aren't eating out that much anymore due to the economy, so once you've got customers in the restaurant, you don't want them to leave empty handed, so give them enough reasons to stay.

That is what the turkey burger is all about. (And no, the photo is not a picture of their turkey burger, although I guess it could end up looking like this if you pile on everything and order a fries and a drink.)

Other chains have tried low-calorie burgers. I think McDonald's tried one in the 1980s, which was made out of seaweed or something like that. I tried it once, and it was awful, and it was later pulled from the menu.

Here is my take on this: my family and I have eaten turkey burgers at home. They really aren't that bad, but again, once you pile all the stuff on it, what are you getting?

And grilling a turkey burger is a disaster. Grilling gets a lot of flavor off the fat content of whatever you are putting on the barbecue, and since turkey burgers have minimal fat, all you get is a hot, edible piece of flattened turkey. It really doesn't taste that good.

Give me beef any time!

But for those who are watching their weight or are vegetarians, I guess this will do.

But again, don't kid yourself. What value are you really getting from eating this hamburger?

If you are so conscious of this, eat a salad. And eat at home.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Rant #466: Today's History Lesson

I haven't ever done this before, but since there really isn't much happening today that I want to comment on directly, I thought I would look at "Today in History" and give everyone--including myself--a history lesson on what went on today through the years.

And yes, there will be a test later on this material.

1766: Britain Repealed the Stamp Act 0f 1765: I wish they would repeal the current Stamp Act, or whatever it is; it costs too much to send a letter through the mail nowadays.

1861: Sam Houston Stepped Down As Texas Governor: He refused to accept the state's decision to secede from the Union. If this would have happened, where would the illegal aliens be coming into our country from ... Oklahoma?

1910: The First Film of Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein" Was Released: And remember, Frankenstein is the doctor, and his creation is "The Monster." Why do people always forget that?

1911: "Alexander's Ragtime Band," Irving Berlin's First Major Hit Song, Was Published: Little did anyone know that this good Jewish boy would later write "White Christmas."

1931: Schick Introduces the First Electric Razor: Thank goodness for this! When I use a straight razor, I cut myself to shreds!

1940: Hitler and Mussolini Meet and Agree that Germany and Italy Will Join Forces To Fight France and England: Probably one of the dumbest moves in history. Italy later learned how dumb they really were.

1959: President Eisenhower Signed the Statehood Bill For Hawaii: Little did anyone know that this would be our last state to joint the union ... Guam anyone?

1965: Soviet Cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov Makes the First Spacewalk: They are so routine now that it is like taking out your dog to make a poop.

1974: Most of the Arab Oil-Producing Nations Ended Their Embargo Against the United States: Don't you think we should have learned then that we should be looking for our own oil, and stop relying on these crazies to supply it to us? We didn't, and look at the predicament we're in.

2009: Actress Natasha Richardson Dies As a Result of a Freak Skiing Accident: A sad thing, but it happens; remember Sonny Bono? Another reason I will stay away from the slopes.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rant #465: Eat, Drink and Be Careful

Today, March 17, is St. Patrick's Day.

It's a real big deal in New York City, always was, always will be.

The parade is the big deal, and every politician worth his salt will be a participant in this parade, no matter what their political or ethnic affiliation is.

Today, everybody is Irish.

However, in some years, the parade has been used as a political tool, banning some from marching the parade.

I know that gays are banned from marching in the parade if they are affiliated and representing a gay faction.

That being said, the parade has turned into a lovefest between New York City and its deep Irish heritage.

But let me tell you, it wasn't always that way.

I can remember in the 1970s and early 1980s, the parade--and the entire holiday--got completely out of hand due to over imbibing and drug use.

I remember the days, when I worked in Manhattan, that you really were taking your life in your hands on this day.

Using the Long Island Railroad to get to work, the ticket takers were drinking from morning to night, and they were allowing anybody to drink wherever they wanted on the train, even in sections where you weren't supposed to drink and smoke. On this day, the train smelled like a sewer.

Once you got into Manhattan, you had to push your way through hordes of people starting to line up for the parade, many of whom began drinking at 8 a.m. or earlier in the morning. I worked right off Fifth Avenue on 40th Street, and take it from me, between the beer and the pot, it was a mess.

Once the parade started, you had to be really careful. I remember that I couldn't even walk out of my building, because of all the public drunkedness that was displayed by both men and women. I recall that one time, I tried to get out of the building, but a young girl was throwing up her guts on the sidewalk right in front of my building's door, blocking my path with her body and her excrement. I stayed in for lunch that day.

My father, as a New York City medallion cab driver, hated to work on this day. He picked up so many drunks, his cab smelled like a bar, and I remember him telling me that one time, a parade reveler jumped on top of the hood of his car as he was waiting at a light near the parade route.

But over the last 30 years, the city has cleaned up the parade, figuratively and literally. You don't see the scenes I described anymore. People are generally well behaved.

The garbage has taken their scene to other places. Hoboken, New Jersey celebrates St. Patrick's Day a week early, and there have been many incidents of not just public intoxication, but attacks against women during their own parade that they have.

This year, there was a major crackdown on this type of behavior by the police there.

I hope it worked.

Nothing like ruining a good holiday with stupid acts, all tied into the stereoype of Irish people always drinking and partying way beyond their limits.

So stay sober this St. Patrick's Day. You will enjoy the festivities more with a clear head.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Rant #464: Jeter Great, But Babe Better

Showing the utter moronicness of those who participated, a Siena College survey of New York residents found that they have chosen New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter as the greatest athlete in the history of New York.

I need to ask one question: who are the numbskulls who participated in this poll? Were they under the age of 21, or just plain stupid (or both)?

Fourteen percent of those polled said he was the best ever. Ruth was named by 11 percent of the participants. There was a three-way tie for third between Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle and Joe Namath.

And get this, Carmelo Anthony, who was only signed by the Knicks a few weeks ago, finished ahead of Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson in the poll.

And, surprise, 41 percent of those polled said they were not sports fans.

More than 100 of those polled were from Long Island, and they picked Ruth over Jeter 12 percent to 10 percent.

The Yankees are Long Island's favorite team--which is a great changeover, as Long Island was Mets' territory as far as I am concerned--with 38 percent of the vote, followed not even that closely by the Jets, Mets, Knicks, Giants and Rangers.

Don't get me wrong, I am a Derek Jeter fan all the way. He is the heart and soul of the Yankees, and has been for the past 15 years or so. But to say that he was a better athlete than Babe Ruth ... c'mon.

Ruth was not only New York's greatest athlete, but he might have been the greatest athlete of all time in any professional sport.

Ruth is best known for hitting 714 home runs, but many people forget that he started out as a pitcher. If he started out as an outfielder, I don't think anyone would have caught him yet in the homerun derby, as he probably would have hit well over 800 dingers.

His batting average, power numbers, and records far exceed those of Jeter. He changed the game, from one of "dead ball" to one of power hitting. He was unquestionably the most famous face on the planet in the 1920s and 1930s, and he actually made an average salary that was much more than what the President was making, which is not unusual only in that he did it during the Depression years.

As I said, a good number of those polled weren't sports fans, but I wonder how many of those polled were in their 20s, 30s, and 40s.

You know that the younger ones polled have absolutely no understanding of their past, and they only know what has taken place in the world since maybe 1980. I call them "The MTV Generation," because everything seems to be geared to that year that MTV started. Everything before that is "ancient" and not worth understanding.

Bah! What balderdash and nonsense.

And by the way, the greatest basketball player I ever saw was not Michael Jordan--it was Julius Erving when he played in the ABA for the New York Nets.

Jordan couldn't even carry his shoes!

Take that, you people who don't know what you are talking about!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Rant #463: The Star Spangled Banner, Mets' Style

As you probably know if you read this blog with any regularity, I am a die-hard Yankees fan. I have been a fan of the team in the Bronx for as long as I can remember. They are the most successful team in American sports history, and are known the world over for their superior play and incredible legacy.

Then we have the Mets. The team from Queens, my home borough, has had their share of success over the years--primarily when they won the World Series in 1969 and 1986--but let's face it, even Mets' fans would have to agree that they have generally looked up to the Yankees as that team's poor cousin.

Mystery and intrigue always surrounds the Mets, as this year's Bernie Madoff crisis has proven to be a real pain in the butt to this team, whose actual name is the Metropolitans.

But maybe, just for one day, Mets' fans can forget all of this nonsense, as yesterday, the team held its annual tryouts--not for ballplayers, but for singers of "The Star Spangled Banner."

Once a year, just before the season, the Mets hold tryouts, where average folk can see if they can warble this difficult tune. If they are chosen, they sing the anthem before a future home game.

At these auditions, you get what you think you get. You get people who sing in the shower, you get those who can't carry a tune if it was handed to them on a silver platter, and you get others who really are quite good.

At these auditions, the wannabe singers have to sing a song other than "The Star Spangled Banner." Later, if they pass muster, they will sing that song.

Yesterday, about 250 "singers" auditioned, and five will be selected as finalists. Those five will be judged another day as they perform the anthem in front of a group of judges.

Sure, this sounds like a version of "American Idol," but I guess it is kind of nice that local people--not necessarily professional singers--get a chance to sing in front of maybe 40,000 people at CitiField, and countless others watching at home.

I wish them luck. I can't carry a tune at all, so I wasn't there.

And remember, as pop band REO Speedwagon said years ago, "You can tune a piano, but you can't tuna fish."

My philosophy exactly.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rant #462: Japan

What can you say about the devastation that has taken place in Japan?

The entire country, which exists on a major fault line, got socked by last week's tsunami.

For them, it was the end of the world as they knew it. I read that the death toll could pass 10,000.

And there is tremendous fear that there could be radioactive fallout from nuclear reactors over there.

It is scary.

Let's put it in perspective of our own country. We have been told for years that California lives on a major fault line, and it was just a matter of time before the West Coast experienced an earthquake that would be the do all and end all of all earthquakes, forever changing the landscape in that part of the country.

Well, that hasn't come yet, and may not come--and hopefully won't ever come--during our lifetime.

But, Japan had its own mother of all tsunamis and earthquakes last week, so they had theirs, so to speak.

Can ours be far behind?

My wife and I were watching the news yesterday, and we saw the devastation through video that was shot. It was incredible. Boats and cars were on top of buildings. Water ate through cities as if they were nothing. People lost loved ones, or were searching for loved ones under tons of rubble.

It was heartbreaking.

But the Japanese will bounce back. You know they will. It might take some time, but this massive event won't knock them out. It will only make them stronger.

But for right now, it really makes you stop and pause.

We have had earthquakes--minor ones of course--in my neck of the woods on Long Island.

If we can have such things happen here, well, it can happen anywhere.

And I think Japan's experience demonstrated that.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Rant #461: Ode to My Mom

Today is my mother's birthday, but it's not just any birthday, it's her 80th celebration.

My mother was born in 1931, and she is the oldest of two children. Her brother lives on the West Coast and is nine years younger than my mother.

My mother was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, but she grew up in the Kensington part of the borough, on Ocean Parkway. My grandparents lived on Ocean Parkway for decades, and into my 30s, I visited my grandmother often until she passed away in the 1990s. My grandfather died in the early 1970s.

Anyway, my parents got married in 1956, I came into the world a little more than a year later, my sister was born in 1959, and the rest is history.

With my and my sister's kids, my mom and my dad are grandparents five times over, with four boys and one girl.

My mother has been my Rock of Gibraltar for my entire life. She was there when I was little, and she is still there today. Through all the ups and downs, she has always been a source of strength for me.

I wasn't a perfect kid, and my mother let me know it on more than one occasion. But through it all, her upbringing made me a better person, and helped shape me as both a person and as a parent myself.

Actually, you wouldn't believe that my mother is 80 years old, or should I say young. She certainly doesn't look her age, and she has more get up and go than most people half her age.

One of the photos I included here is of my mother in about 1964 or 1965. Yes, look at that hair! The other is from this year. Sure, the hair has changed, but she is still the same person today at 80 that she was when she was in her early 30s.

She has always been a person that is always seemingly in constant motion. I remember growing up to the whirring of the vacuum cleaner at 4 or 5 in the morning during my youth. Although she doesn't get up that early to clean anymore, she, like me, isn't the greatest sleeper, and doesn't need that many hours of sleep per night, so she continues to wake up early.

She is the type of person you can count on to do a multitude of tasks and favors, if she can possibly do them.

Sure, at 80 she has various aches and pains and things she has to take care of, but all in all, my mother is in great health, and I believe she has many, many years left on this earth.

So here's to my mom. She deserves it on her special day.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Rant #460: Billionaires ... I'm Not One of Them

Did you know that there are 1,210 people who have enough wealth to be classified as billionaires?

According to Forbes Magazine, not only are there more than 1,200 people with this type of wealth, but the list actually includes 214 new members.

The world's richest person is Mexican telecommunications magnate Carlos Slim Helu, worth $74 billion, and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, worth $56 billion.

No, I am not on the list, not even close. Unless something dramatic drops in my lap, I'm lucky if I can even rate myself a thousandaire, or even a hundredaire.

I am just a working stiff, just like most people are. The people that achieve this amazing wealth worked hard to get it, were at the right place at the right time, and well, they had a lot of luck doing it.

That isn't sour grapes. You have to have some luck to acquire such a fortune.

Me, I have had absolutely no luck during my career. I wanted to become a teacher, went into a market that was as bad as today's market is, had to switch careers in a millisecond and market myself in a different direction, was hit by divorce, long-time child support payments, loss of my job, taking another job that paid less but kept me employed, etc. I could go on and on.

I haven't had much luck with money matters, but what can I do?

At age 53, I realize that my earning potential is waning by the minute. Although I have a love/hate relationship with my job, I am better off with it than without it.

I haven't had a raise in years--YES, YEARS--although I did ask for one last year, and, of course, got turned down. I plan on asking for another one this year, and hopefully, things will be better for me.

But, like many people, I am constantly watching my wallet.

So congratulations go out to these billionaires.

But me, I'm a working stiff, nothing more, and I know that these guys live in a different world than most of us do.

But they put their pants on the same way I do, so they really aren't that different from me .. are they?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Rant #459: Bits and Pieces

I really don't have anything major to rant or rave about today, but I do have some smaller bits and pieces I can talk about sparingly.

Charlie Sheen Fired From TV Show: So, this fool gets fired from his TV show and becomes an Internet sensation on Twitter, where he is accumulating millions of followers each day. Numerous corporations want him to sell their products there, and he is probably making millions from doing this. He also has offers to do other shows.

Again, this is the guy who beat his wife, slept with porn stars, is an admitted drug user, and may have made anti-Semitic slurs to his former producer.

I think his popularity shows a lot about this country, more than a lot of people want to admit to.

Lindsay Lohan Video Sold To Highest Bidder: For once, I am going to take Lindsay's side on this. If you tell me that she stole jewelry and you have the evidence of such a theft, why do you sell the evidence before you go to trial?

This is absolutely bizarre. If I were the judge, even if Lohan is guilty as sin, I would throw this case right out the door. Where is the store's credibility here? Did they do what they did to bank on (literally) Lohan's notoriety?

In my mind, Lohan is a free woman.

Monkees Tickets: I may be boring people to death with this, but I am a super fan of the Monkees, always have been (since 1966) and always will be. And yes, I will be seeing them in June, as I copped a few tickets yesterday.

I don't know if this is going to be the biggest tour since the beginning of time, but for me, it is ultra-important. This is music I really care about, performed by artists who I think are really talented.

No, I won't be purchasing Partridge Family tickets when they reunite for a tour (although I did see David Cassidy at a free concert two years ago).

Credit Card Account Stolen: I have had my American Express card for years, but evidently, my account numbers were stolen the other day, and people used the account to purchase computer equipment.

Luckily, American Express contacted me because they felt the purchases were a red flag that the card was not being used by me, since I never have made any computer or related purchases with the card.

I won't have to pay for these purchases, but I don't think they will ever catch these thieves. Heck, I hope whatever they bought blows up in their faces and they end up looking like the Elephant Man, who didn't deserve his fate--these idiots do.

Facebook To Rent Films: Well, it's not the end of the world as we know it, but movie rentals are coming to your favorite social networking site. Warner Brothers said it will test a service that will offer select movies for rental (or eventually purchase) through Facebook's public pages of these films.

Films will be streamed through a Facebook application, and will cost 30 credits, or about $3. Renters will have access to the movie for 48 hours and can replay it as many times as they want.

Personally, this is not for me, but I can see where kids might go for this. Me, I would much rather either rent or purchase a movie I want to see, actually have something in my hand when I spend my hard-earned cash. But today's kids don't know from this, all they know is files, so they might go for it.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Rant #458: Laugh-In: You Bet Your Sweet Bippy!

On my local PBS station the other night was a special during Pledge Week that I had been looking forward to for some time after hearing about it a few months ago.

PBS's look at "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" was only slightly more than an hour long (due to pledge breaks), but I think it got the essence of this classic show--and you can look that up in your Funk and Wagnals!

I used to laugh, laugh, and laugh some more when "Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In" came on the air for its six year run on NBC, every Saturday night in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The show was groundbreaking. Usually, variety shows went at the pace of a turtle, but "Laugh-In" was different--very different.

Jokes were rapid-fire, and just when you got done laughing at one joke, another came on, and another, and another. There were regular bits: The Party, the Farkle Family, Laugh-In Looks at the News, and, of course, the Joke Wall, but most bits lasted little more than a few seconds.

The show was tied together by its hosts, Dan Rowan and Dick Martin. Rowan and Martin were veteran Las Vegas entertainers who dabbled in both the movies and TV with varying degrees of success. They had made an OK movie, "Once Upon a Horse," which featured an un-named and then very unknown Mary Tyler Moore as one of the dancers in the film. Dick Martin had appeared semi-regularly as the next door neighbor of Lucy on "The Lucy Show." But generally, they weren't that well known outside of Las Vegas.

With producer George Schlatter at the helm, NBC ordered a special from Schlatter starring the duo. The show also featured a pretty much non-descript cast of players who also had had some minor successes in the entertainment field, including Arte Johnson, Joanne Worley, Judy Carne, Ruth Buzzi (she had been seen from time to time as Marlo Thomas's friend on "That Girl") and Alan Seus. All had been around for years, but had never broken through. They probably took this show as a lark.

But little did anyone know that this lark would turn to gold.

The special clicked with audiences, and a series was ordered.

Running during its first season after the equally groundbreaking "The Monkees," "Laugh-In" became the No. 1 show in the country, and stayed there for two or three years.

The cast, which also included Goldie Hawn and Henry Gibson, became megastars overnight.

And who can forget the debut of Tiny Tim?

Everyone wanted to be on this show, and such mega-stars as Sammy Davis Jr., John Wayne, and yes, even Richard Nixon made cameo appearances on the show.

The program ran afoul of the censors during its period on the air, but clever writing often was over the heads of those on the panic button. Alan Seus' wonderful performance as the slightly queer sports reporter was certainly a regular spot which went over their heads, as was the word "bippy," a word planted by the writers (including Coslough Johnson and Jeremy Lloyd) to throw off the censors. The censors thought bippy was something dirty (it wasn't), but they couldn't pull it because they couldn't find any evidence that it was something obscene.

They spent so much time looking for "bippy" dirt that a lot of stuff was left in that they missed.

What they did leave in included girls dressed in bikinis with sayings painted all over their bodies. You couldn't quite read some of those sayings with all the dancing about, but let me tell you, they missed plenty!

And you had oldtime black comedian Pigmeat Markham reaching new heights of popularity with white audiences with the "Hear Come the Judge" blackouts, which I don't think the censors really got as much as the public did.

But what you did get was a "Potpourri" of impressive talents. You literally saw the creation of several enduring stars taking their first babysteps, including Hawn and Lily Tomlin.

And you also had the foundation of "Saturday Night Live," as Lorne Michaels was one of the later writers on the show. He has said that "Saturday Night Live" is a combination of "Laugh-In" and "The Monkees," and I think he is correct.

Anyway, the show had its run, had a few spinoffs ("Letters to Laugh-In" and the later "Rowan and Martin Report"), several records (beyond Tiny Tim's "Tiptoe Through the Tulips," there was Shorty Long's "Here Comes the Judge" and many others by cast members and other acts), and several imitators ("Turn On," one of the all-time TV bombs).

In the mid 1970s, the show resurfaced, without Rowan and Martin or such a talented cast, but it did launch the career of Robin Williams.

So it was fun seeing "Laugh-In" again this weekend. Sure, as an 11 year old, I am sure some of the jokes on the show went way over my head, but looking back, I think I got more than I missed.

What a great show! There will never be another like it.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Rant #457: Back to the Past

It's early March, and although we haven't had much snow since the end of January in my neck of the woods, it's still winter. Today, it is a little crisp, a little windy, and quite rainy right now, although it is supposed to get nice and warm during the day, maybe pushing 50 degrees.

This weekend, other than doing food shopping, my family and I really didn't do much of anything, which is good, because I was pretty pooped from a very busy week.

Anyway, turning the channels yesterday to find something to watch, I came across the YES broadcast of Game 3 of the 1999 World Series--October 26, 1999--between the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. The Yankees would go on to win the World Series in four games, but this game is special to me for a variety of reasons.

One, because it was one of the most exciting World Series games I have ever seen, and two, because I was there ... yes, to this day it stands as the only World Series game I have ever seen in person.

What happened is that my childhood best friend, out of the blue, contacted me and said he was given a pair of tickets to the game by a client. They were in God's country in the old Yankee Stadium, but he asked me if I wanted to go.

I didn't hesitate saying yes. (Just to add that my very first Yankees game that I attended, in 1965, was with my friend and his father, so this really brought us full circle.)

I left work a half hour early, and somehow, I got from Western Nassau County to the Stadium, during rush hour, in about a half hour, which to this day I feel is an almost impossible achievement, but I did it. I parked my car, and met my friend at the old bat that was a popular meeting place at the Stadium.

Overshadowing the World Series that year was John Rocker, the big-mouthed but talented relief pitcher with the Braves. He had said some unflattering (but not totally untrue, unfortunately) things about New York City and the No. 7 Subway earlier in the season, and New Yorkers had had about enough of him. My friend and I went to our seats in the upper deck in left field, and we saw New York City's response to Rocker: about 100 of New York City's finest patrolling the bullpen area. There was also extra police in the stands, both uniformed and plainclothes.

It was unusually warm for late October in New York City. I had come pretty bundled up--I was at the 1976 playoff series and froze my rear end off--but it was very mild that night. We settled in, and ended up seeing an extraordinary game under extraordinary circumstances.

Andy Pettitte started for the Yankees, but he was battered early, and didn't last very long. I believe that the Yankees were down 5-1 when he was taken out in the fourth inning, and was replaced by Jason Grimsley, a pretty nondescript pitcher who has since gained notoriety as one of the bean-spillers during MLB's steroid investigation.

Anyway, whatever he was on that night, or even if he was on nothing but adrenaline, he had his shining career moment, pitching three pretty quiet innings, giving the Yankees a chance to come back.

And come back they did! Powered by home runs by Chad Curtis, Tino Martinez and Chuck Knoblauch, the Yankees rallied to tie the score at five, and the game went into extra innings.

And yes, John Rocker did pitch, but he was not pelted with anything but boos.

However, in the stands, I know that one fan, who was wearing top-to-bottom Braves apparel, was taunted and pelted to the point that I saw the cops lead him out of our section for his own safety.

Anyway, on the field, the Yankees took care of business in the 10th inning. Chad Curtis, who had hit only five home runs the entire season and had hit one previously in this game, homered again for the victory.

Yankee Stadium went nuts! That old place could get awful loud during big games.

After the game, the infamous non-interview of Chad Curtis took place, when he refused to be interviewed by NBC's Jim Gray after Gray interviewed baseball's banished all-time hits leader, Pete Rose, after the previous game. Many players took Gray to task for raking Rose over the coals during that interview, and Curtis chided Gray after hitting the game winning homer.

But when all this was happening, my friend and I were looking for my car. Yes, I said looking. I couldn't find my car! I had parked it in a parking lot adjacent to the Stadium, but tucked away in a corner. I couldn't find the car, but after about 45 minutes of looking, we finally found it, and drove back to Queens to drop my friend off at his apartment in Astoria.

When I got home to Long Island, I could barely sleep that night, but somehow dozed off.

What a kick it was seeing the game on TV for the first time yesterday, and the broadcast used the Yankees radio announcers, John Sterling and Michael Kay, to call the game, rather than the network guys.

I have it recorded and hope to watch the whole thing later. And yes, I saw myself, although with the other 55,000 people in the stands that night, my speck in left field wasn't discernible from the other thousands of specks I saw.

But I was there, make no mistake about that, and the broadcast, which I stumbled upon, brought back many, many memories.

Thanks Howie. You did good that night!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rant #456: Free Speech?

Normally, I applaud free speech decisions made by the Supreme Court because the entity of "free speech"--being able to say what you want, when you want, and not being persecuted for it--is a basic tenet of our country.

Without free speech, I could not be writing this blog every morning.

But yesterday, I have to take issue with the latest Supreme Court ruling, which said that religious zealot anti-gay protesters who picket funerals of U.S. soldiers cannot be sued for their actions.

The Supreme Court, citing previous rulings related to flag burning, decided that "simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable" does not allow the government to punish such words or ideas.

And the Supreme Court backed this view with an 8-1 decision, even though tit was not happy with its decision.

Nonetheless, it had to back First Amendment rights.

Well, the First Amendment is a wonderful amendment--it prevents any law that impedes our freedom of religion, free speech and peaceful assembly--but when it is abused, as it is by these protesters, the amendment becomes hurtful.

Imagine you are burying your child, and protests outside of the funeral home call your child's death a right one, because, the U.S. backs gay rights.

One thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other, but these idiots are equating soldier's deaths as justified, because we, as a nation, support gays.

Is this idiotic or what?

In their decision, the justices threw out an $11 million jury verdict against the Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, Kan., which was sued by Albert Snyder, a Maryland father who was burying his son, Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, USMC, amid protests from the group that the nation is "overly tolerant of sin" and "God kills American soldiers as punishment."

Not only does a father have to bury his hero son, but he has to see and hear these protests at the same time!

People have been known to bend the rules when they want to get attention, and I would say that the Westboro Baptist Church has done just that with their inappropriate protests.

When you infringe upon the freedom of others with these protests, I think you have crossed the line.

The Supreme Court should have ruled that in certain instances--this one in particular--freedom of speech should be trumped by human dignity.

However, they didn't rule that, and their ruling is a truly unfortunate one.

(I will have to take tomorrow off for some personal business, but I will be back on Monday.)

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Rant #455: Gas Prices Giving Me Gas

Have you noticed how gas prices have been rising at a dramatic rate recently?

Where I live, the best price that you can get is $3.59, and a lot of stations are pushing the $4 mark.

Gas has seemingly gone up in a skyrocket fashion the past few weeks, or ever since all the hub-bub in the Middle East was taking place (see recent post about Egypt--I told you so!).

Anyway, it seems that the price rise has been going on at every gas station on the map, but the question I have is:


Again, we receive minute percentages of oil from both Egypt and Libya, so why should gas prices be rising at such a ridiculous rate?

I would call it price gouging, but being more to the point, gas prices are rising because once again, I believe that the oil companies are taking advantage of the situation.

Why aren't our legislators calling for an investigation into the recent rise in prices? Why aren't hearings being set up so gas company executives can once again plead their case to a wary public?

The gas lobby is real strong in Washington, and I believe that with all the money they are funneling into our nation's capitol, the green stuff is keeping those we have voted into office quiet on the subject.

It shouldn't be that way, of course, but I don't hear any clamoring from anyone in Washington about being raised like 20 cents in price in a week's time.

And what are we to do? Are we to put away our cars and ride bicycles?

No, that won't happen.

There is really nothing you can do.

The only thing I have done is to never fill up my tank. I put in $20 and that is it.

Of course, it speeds my way back to the gas station, because, obviously, I have to make more visits because the gas runs out quicker.

But the days of driving just for relaxation are over, and actually have been over for years. I now drive when I need to, and that is it.

And that's the way it will be, because once we break the $4 mark, you know $5 will not be out of the question.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Rant #454: Keeping Abreast of Another Icon's Passing

To a certain generation, all you have to say is "Jane Russell" and their eyes will light up.

Russell was the first of the modern sex symbols. She smoked on the screen without revealing very much, certainly much less than actresses show on the red carpet of the Academy Awards.

Russell, 89, died yesterday of respiratory failure, but she will be remembered as the predecessor to the great screen sex symbols of the 1950s and 1960s, including Marilyn Monroe.

A local newscast, in reporting her death, said she was full figured, but I would call her sultry. She had a sex appeal that started with her wild, curly mane, moved down to her penetrating eyes, and then, well moved down a bit more.

Howard Hughes took her under his wing, and before she was in any movies, his publicity mill churned out photo after photo of her in low-cut costumes and bathing suits, all of which accented her exceptional figure.

Then, in 1943, right in the middle of World War II, Hughes and Russell made headlines in an absolutely horrible movie called "The Outlaw." There was more sexual innuendo in this film than had been seen and heard before, and it became something of a scandalous film. Russell wore low-cut costumes to accent her figure, but nothing came off on screen.

She starred in numerous other films, including "The Paleface," but even with her buxom figure and the possibility of made-up scandal, she mainly kept out of the headlines. She was married for many years to pro football quarterback Bob Waterfield, and really didn't generate much negative publicity.

She also starred with Marilyn Monroe in "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" and it was like the passing of the torch from Russell to Monroe in that film.

During the 1960s and 1970s, playing on her ample figure, she was featured in a number of bra commercials.

With her passing, the last great pre-1960s sex symbol still alive is Mamie Van Doren, but Russell paved the way for her, Monroe, and into the 1960s, actresses such as Raquel Welch and Ann-Margret to exude ultimate sexuality without revealing very much.

She will be missed.

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