Monday, December 31, 2012

Rant #873: Happy New Year (?)

Today is the last day of the year, and I don't know about you, but I am happy to see 2012 go away.

This was not the greatest year for too many people, and it certainly wasn't for me.

I started off the year with a painful hemorrhoid, and ended it with a painful kick to my pocketbook.

You would think that I was into pain this year.

I had jury duty early this year, and almost got fired from my job for doing my civic duty.

In the summer, somehow I got a pinched nerve in my neck, and I am still suffering from that malady, and probably will until the day I die. It is better, much better in fact, but it isn't what it should be.

The, the final kicker was that my computer died, just flatlined, around Christmas.

I took it to a major retailer, they told me it couldn't be fixed, but charged me over $200 in the process to tell me it couldn't be fixed and to back up all my files, many of which I already have backed up.

But maybe there is hope on the horizon. I wasn't convinced, took the computer to a local guy, and VOILA!, I am typing this Rant on the previously dead computer.

Yes, I am looking for this year to end, and end quickly.

Just as a nation, we have weathered Hurricane Sandy, and we are still coming to terms with what happened in Connecticut.

We also lost lots of talent during the year, everyone from Dick Clark to Ray Bradbury to Don Grady to Davy Jones.

Can 2013 be better than 2012?

Well, some would argue that it isn't starting off very well.

We are ready to go over the fiscal cliff, and if we do, we will probably go into another recession, or worse, because everyone's taxes are going to shoot up.

Our paychecks won't be what they were in 2012, and thus, we won't spend money like we did in the prior year, a year where we generally didn't spend money anyway.

Lots of benefits will be cut, and people in Washington don't seem to feel the urgency to get this matter done as the general public does.

So, will 2013 be better than 2012?

I don't know, but one really bad sign is that it is a year ending in a 13.

I am not a superstitious person, but if things get worse in 2013, I might just become one.

Try to have a Happy New Year, and I will be back on Wednesday. I still have lots of work to make my computer comfortable to me after it was DOA the other day, so I will be mighty busy tomorrow.

I hope the New Year brings everyone the solace that they need to make 2013 a super year.

I really do.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Rant #872: The Pledge of Allegiance

The Pledge of Allegiance has seemingly been around forever.

It certainly has been around for my entire life. I can remember reciting it in school every morning, putting my hand on my heart and saying it with the rest of my class.

It has been around forever, but Congress only officially recognized it on this date in 1945.

The Pledge has taken a beating during the past 40-odd years.

Where once it was recited with glee, since the Vietnam War era, many people look down on it as something that doesn't mean anything, something that is archaic.

I remember as a high schooler in the early to mid 1970s, in homeroom, when we were supposed to all stand and recite the pledge, about half the kids in the class not only wouldn't stand, but talked when others were reciting the pledge.

I always thought this was wrong. It demonstrated that these kids had no respect for the flag and our country, during a time when a lot of people equated patriotism with either supporting the war or being against it.

Also during this time, atheists and agnostics fought against the Pledge, because of the use of "God" in its verse.

"God" was added to the Pledge during the Eisenhower years in the 1950s, and it has spurred controversy since.

Some people claimed that the use of "God" went against their values, because they neither believed in God or religion, so they could not recite it, and some even tried to remove its recitation from our schools.

As a teacher in the early 1980s, I found that some people would not stand for the Pledge for religious reasons.

I had a girl in one of my classes who refused to stand when everyone else did. She told me she was a Jehovah's Witness, and she was not required to stand or recite the pledge. Her mother sent a note in to attest to this, so she sat--and talked through to anyone who would listen--while the Pledge was recited.

Through it all, the Pledge has somehow persevered.

Sure, there is a lot wrong with this country, and nobody says we are perfect.

But we are as close to perfect as any country is or can be.

We have freedoms here that most other countries can't even contemplate.

So, to say a couple of words to show our love for this country isn't such a big deal, is it?

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
What is the big deal about saying this?

I don't know.

People can say what they want, but for the liberties we enjoy, I don't see any reason to knock it, to deride it, to make fun of it.

The Pledge has proven its strength, and will live on way past our own lives.

It is that strong, and it represents a country which is the best in the world.

What's not to like?

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Rant ##871: Radio City Music Hall

I am still without a computer. I am putting this Rant together on my wife's netbook.

It is adequate, but not as fun as my old computer.

I still have no idea what to do about a computer.

Stay tuned.

Anyway, today is the 80th anniversary of perhaps the most famous stage in the world.

Or maybe it isn't the most famous stage, but it is pretty famous nonetheless.

New York's Radio City Music Hall turns 80 today.

This famous venue was built during the Depression, which makes it all the more remarkable that it has persevered for so many decades.

When it opened for business on this date in 1932, it initially featured hours and hours of stage acts.

It laid a big fat egg, and from then on into the 1980s, Radio City featured a movie and a stage show, and its legendary Rockettes were born, and have thrilled audiences for generations.

The first time I ever went to Radio City was in 1969..My grandparents took my sister and I there to see "True Grit," featuring John Wayne. I am sure we saw the Rockettes there, but I don't remember. Back in those days, the Rockettes performed at just about every movie showing.

The place was so big, bigger than any movie house I had ever been in. It was ornate, and going to a movie there was like going to a major event.

As the 1970s turned into the 1980s, the single movie houses turned into multiplexes, and the need for a Radio City Music Hall waned.

The place was refurbished into a multi-use house, being able to showcase not just movies, but all types of stage shows and concerts.

The place was reborn, and is one of New York's marvels to this day.

The place not only shows films on occasion, but also all matter of concerts.

Heck, the New York Liberty WNBA basketball team has also played there.

Since the days of "True Grit," I have been there two other times.

In the 1990s, I went with my wife to see Liza Minnelli's elaborate show there.

It really was a spectacle, demonstrating that the old hall could be a wonderful concert venue, with great acoustics and a very large stage.

The other time was less memorable.

My family was among the hundreds of winners of tickets to see "Barney's Big Adventure," the purple dinosaur's one and only big screen adventure.

My son loved Barney, so off we went, with my daughter and wife in tow.

Well, my son was very young, probably less than a year old, and he could not sit still for the film.

I think the immenseness of the place got to him.

So, while the packed house was watching Barney--and he did appear in person too--I was out in the hallway, pushing my son back and forth in his carriage.

It was the only way he would calm down.

Now, he can sit for a movie like a lug. Back then, forget about it.

Today, Radio City Music Hall showcases not only concerts, but the yearly "Christmas Spectacular," a perfect fit for tourists.

So when people go back home, I am sure they talk about Radio City, and that is good.

There is nothing better than seeing a show at Radio City, and I am sure that anybody who has been there would agree with me.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Rant #870: I'm Back

Yes, I am back a little early.

I guess I can't stay away here for too long.

The holiday wasn't too bad, except for one major thing.

My computer broke down for the umpteenth time, so I am using my wife's netbook to type this out.

I since found out from the repair shop that the computer died, as the hard drive is shot. They are going to try to back up what they can, and then I have to get another computer.

Woe is me!

Otherwise, we saw plenty of relatives at different get togethers, which is always a good thing.

I actually slept until 8 a.m. today, probably the first time in at least six months that I was able to reach that milestone.

I watched my own mini-marathon of "Leave It to Beaver" yesterday, via some DVDs I have. It is still my favorite situation comedy of all time, and the very "Christian" values developed on that show made it the perfect program to watch on Christmas.

My Knicks lost yesterday, but you can't have everything. They play again tonight, so it is time to get back in the win column.

My kids seem happy, my wife is at work today, so she is not too happy, but all in all, things were OK the past few days ,,,

But if I could just get back my computer in one piece, I would be much, much happier.

It is so funny how computers have not only entered our lives, they sometimes run our lives too.

I don't know if I have gotten to that point yet, and I hope I never will.

But not having a computer is like having toast without butter.

So I am happy that I at least have my wife's computer to use in this time of personal emergency.

I hope everyone had a nice holiday, and it is back to work for me tomorrow, or "back to the salt mines" as Mr. Rutherford says on "Beaver."

Speak to you tomorrow.,

Friday, December 21, 2012

Rant #869: Have a Holly Jolly Christmas

Today has not started out as I had planned.

Although the world has not ended yet as the Mayans and some others said it would, at about 2:45 a.m. this morning, half our house lost power. I was awakened, as was my wife, and evidently due to a large rain storm and torrential winds, we had half the house with power, the other half without.

About a half hour later, we completely lost power.

We have been told that power will be restored by 9 a.m., but I am not holding my breath.

This is the world-famous Long Island Power Authority, the group that pretty much dropped the ball during Hurricane Sandy.

Anyway, this leads me in to this brief post today, which I am making on another computer.

Today is the last day I have at work before five glorious days off, which hopefully will be glorious.

Right now, they are anything but.

In the middle of being without power, we had a new living room set delivered, only to discover that the set is too large for our living room.

Don't ask me how that happened, but it did. The set they had in the showroom, which was supposed to be an exact duplicate of what we ordered, was actually smaller than what we received, believe it or not.

The bad luck started last night, when the TV remote fell, broke, and can't now be used, with or without power.

But the holiday is coming, and maybe it's time to refresh ourselves.

I don't know, because today has been nothing but chaos.

We must have woke up on the wrong side of the bed, but honestly, I wouldn't know, because I have been up since the power first went off at 2:45 a.m.

But to all of you, have a very merry, holly jolly Christmas.

For myself and my family, it hasn't started out too well, but at least we know that since we've hit bottom, it all has to better.

But going uphill isn't as easy as going downhill, so who knows what lurks behind the next corner?

Being Jewish, it isn't Saint Nick, but I am afraid to speak to my wife right now.

Who knows what she is going to tell me next?

Have a great holiday, and I will be back with you on Thursday, preparing for New Year's.

Oh, heavens, more craziness lurking somewhere for us?

I sure hope not, but we're moving into 2013 ... yes, a year with a "13" in it ... so who knows.

Have a good holiday.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Rant #868: Early Birthday Wishes

Next week, I am going to be taking a few days off from writing this blog.

This Jewish guy is going to celebrate Christmas the right way, by not working, not doing much of anything, and that includes posting entries on this blog.

If much of the world can take off, why can't I?

So, since tomorrow will be my last Rant until a week from today, I thought I would send out an early birthday wish to someone near and dear to me.

It's to my sister, who will turn 53 (eek! I actually said it!) on December 26, better known as the first day of Kwaanza and Boxing Day.

When I came along in 1957, some people actually wondered why my mother would have another child. She tells a story that someone approached her in a store way back when, viewed how bad I was, saw how pregnant my mother was, and asked her, "After having a horrible kid like this, why are you having another one?"

Yes, that actually happened.

I was Dennis the Menace on steroids, but my parents wanted at least one more child. I think they figured if they got another boy, they would try for a girl.

If they got a girl, closed shop, if you know what I mean.

Well, they got a girl, and a wonderful tax write-off at the end of 1959.

But they got much more than that.

They got a little piece of sugar that my mother could dote on, someone she could dress in nice outfits, someone who she could doll up her hair, and most importantly, someone who would settle me down.

When my sister was born, my mother has told me countless times that she sat me down and said I had to be a big brother to this little person, and that I was. According to her, my sister was just the antidote I needed to tone down my act, and I did.

We were very close growing up, figuratively as well as literally. From the time she was born until 1971, when I was 14 and my sister was on her way to being 12, we shared a room. She had her side, I had mine.

Most of the time, the room was separated with an actual divider, and it was clear what side of the room was mine, and what side was hers. On my side were my comic books, pictures of Yankees and Knicks all over the wall, bats and balls and gloves all over the place, and, well, it looked like a boy's room.

My sister's side was certainly more feminine. She had up all her girly stuff, including pictures of David Cassidy all over the place. She had her dolls and all of her girly games.

As we grew up, we had our friends, but we sometimes played together.

I can remember that I played dolls and the Mystery Date board game with her countless times on days when we weren't otherwise occupied. Yes, I got the schlub many, many times. My sister knew better about such things.

Oh, it wasn't all fine and dandy with us. Sometimes we didn't get along, sometimes we did.

When we lived in Rochdale Village, Queens, I remember standing behind her drapes on many occasions as she climbed in the bed to go to sleep, and scaring the heck out of her.

She had countless friends as I did, and she kind of liked all my friends. Her friends, pretty much from day one, I simply tolerated, but I think at some point, my friends came up to see her as much as they came into the house to see me.

We looked after each other, and at one point, she protected me in a fight that I had, and she earned the name "Super Sister."

As we got older, we kind of grew apart, and she got married way before I did, a marriage that still stands strong today. But we always had that sense that she was there for me and I was there for her.

I eventually married, and I had the first grandchild, by just nine days. Her first son was born right after my daughter.

That must have been a super hectic time for our parents. Two new grandchildren in nine days, almost like having twins, I guess.

I got divorced, her marriage sustained, and she has three boys. "Her Three Sons," if you will.

She was there during my tumultuous times, and I have been there through hers.

And she was there when I remarried, and she was there when I had another child.

As we both move through our 50s, she is still there.

The thing with the two of us is that we each haven't changed that much over the years.

Sure, we are older, and have been through many travails, but deep down, I am still her big brother and she is still my little sister.

I guess it will be that way until the end of our time on this earth.

So here's to you, Gail, on your upcoming birthday. You have been one of the most important people in my life for the past 53 years, and I am sure that will continue for years to come.

Congratulations, little sister. And I hope you aren't upset that I told everyone how old you are, are you?

I guess that's a little jab that a big brother has every right to make.


Love you.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Rant #867: Toning It Down

I am happy to say that Hollywood is reacting, in a positive way, to the Connecticut school tragedy.

Hollywood often glamorizes violence, and let's face it, the viewing public usually eats it up like they east their breakfast cereal.

But this time, the horror of this tragedy has made Hollywood look inside itself, and two big movie premieres of films that would be considered ultra-violent in any context have been toned down.

Quentin Tarantino's "Django Unchained" with Jamie Foxx and Leonardo DiCaprio had its red carpet event completely canceled, and the premiere was actually only relegated to viewing by cast and crew, with no outside media coverage.The film will debut in theaters on Christmas Day.

Meanwhile, "Jack Reacher," the new action/adventure film starring Tom Cruise, had its premiere last Saturday postponed. Instead, the film, which prominently features a sniper, will screen the film today in Pittsburgh, Pa., for fans, sans the red carpet.

For once, I think Hollywood is doing the right thing.

Movies and television shows often glorify violence, and thus, makes guns almost seem as much part of these characters as their wallets are.

In reverence for those who lost their lives in Connecticut, these films have had toned down premieres, and that is a good thing.

It is also wonderful public relations.

Can you imagine if these films opened now, just days after this massacre?

I don't think too many people who spend their hard-earned dollars on this stuff, right after the real thing happened last week.

These dulled premieres give people a little time to take a deep breath, breathe a little, and take in the air.

People will continue to view violent films, because that is part of our movie landscape, and has been for about 100 years.

We, as a society, love these types of movies, and a real tragedy like this isn't going to stop that love from happening.

But not now.

I have one question about such films that I would ask Hollywood that really has nothing to do with the subject of my Rant today, but kind of does:

Why are such violent films making their debuts during the holiday season anyway?

What do these films have to do with the serenity that we are supposed to feel during this joyous season?

That, I guess, is another question for another time, but it is one that has to be answered at some juncture.

Why do we want to see shoot'em ups during this season?

I don't get it, but at least Hollywood did this time around.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Rant #866: My Two Cents For Something That Makes No Sense

Honestly, I wasn't going to write about this topic.

With few exceptions, I have tried to keep it light here, because I know that for some of you, this is the first thing that you read in the morning.

But I can keep silent no longer.

That tragedy in Connecticut is bothering me, bothering me big time.

How a human being can go into a school and shoot innocent people is just mind boggling.

And to have children being the main crux of his anger is beyond my comprehension.

But what really, truly riles me about the whole, unfortunate incident is the availability to guns that this madman had.

Can someone please explain to me why his mother had a stash of artillery like she had?

Was she planning for her own World War III?

Believe me, I am not blaming her for her own death, but why keep these types of guns in your dwelling?

The word is that she was a collector, and one who enjoyed target practice as a hobby. She took her children with her when she went off shooting, and the kids learned how to shoot guns during these excursions. I have heard mixed reports about this too, but whatever the case, she seemed to be a collector.

OK, I can buy that. To each his own.

But the collector part is the part of this that I cannot understand.

Sure, she collected guns, including a semi-automatic rifle.

But do you collect the ammunition for these rifles too?

And do you have enough rounds of ammo in your possession to take on an entire army?

The shooter had so many rounds of ammo on him that honestly, the destruction could have been even worse.

He knew how to put together to magazines, tape them together so that when one ran out, the other would kick in.

Why did the mother keep such a large amount of ammunition in her house?

Yes, her guns were obtained legally. She had permits for them.

But this is a hobby?

This is not like collecting records or comic books or stamps or dolls.

This is a hobby that can be potentially highly destructive in the hands of a wrong person.

She might have had everything locked away, but her son knew how to get to the guns and the ammunition, so what was the sense?

Two things that we do know that were proven once again by this incident is that, like a lethal oil and vinegar combination, guns and mental illness do not mix. Ever.

The kid was sick, the mother may have been too. Put guns and ammunition in the hands of these people, and you don't know what you are going to get.

The President said that he will see to it that things like this never happen again.

That is a rough thing to do. Even with laws in place, people who want to kill are going to set about doing it, because to them, laws mean nothing.

But if he truly wants to do something about this, then he must start at ground zero, and by that I mean the very access point that guns are distributed.

Regular citizens should not own guns, period. Not as a hobby, not as a recreation, never.

But we know that is not going to happen.

So if someone wants to own a gun legally, only certain guns should be made legal for regular citizens to own.

Certainly not any of the guns that were involved in this incident.

And the ammo should also be registered, one bullet at a time, with ID numbers, and numbers printed right on the bullets. This way, it would be easier to trace them.

Maybe that is already being done, but if it is, more has to be done to trace both the guns and the ammo, from point of purchase to eventual use.

Sure, this won't remove the problem entirely, but it will show that we are trying to do something about the problem of guns.

Maybe I am overly sensitive to this subject. My sister was very friendly with a guy who, several years ago, went into a local gun shop, bought a rifle, went into a nearby hotel, and blew his head off. He suffered from schizophrenia. I remember the parents' anguish.

Years later, my son's friend, a son of a New York City police officer, got into his father's gun case, played with a gun, it went off, and he killed himself. That one made national news, and I remember the funeral. It is hard for 10 year olds to bear such a situation, and my son barely did. It was horrible, to say the least.

So in conclusion, yes, there is more to come out of this case than what we have already heard. We all know that.

But the availability of guns, even legally, and the availability of ammunition to feed those guns, must be lessened at the initial point.

This is the only way to do it, although admittedly, you know as well as I do, if you want a gun, you are going to get it, whether legally or illegally.

The right to bear arms ... why?

(There will be no Rant tomorrow, as I have to go to the eye doctor for a checkup. Speak to you Wednesday.)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Rant #865: Twinkie Fix Coming

For all you lovers of Twinkies, your fix may be coming.

I hear that two new suitors have arisen that are interested in buying up the brands under the old Hostess logo.

National chains Wal-Mart and Kroger have emerged, and they will be vying with such manufacturers as Bimbo and Flower Bakeries for the right to put out Twinkies, Wonder Bread, and the like.

If a chain wins the rights, I wonder how the whole thing works.

They don't have their own bakeries, so they would have to farm out the making of the products to established bakers--maybe Bimbo or Flowers themselves.

Would the products only be sold in these specific stores?

If so, few will be able to get Twinkies in my neck of the woods, because there aren't any Kroger Supermarkets on Long Island.

There are Wal-Mart locations, and plenty of them, so there won't be any problem is that chain wins the rights.

As it stands right now, it appears to be a wide open field for those looking to gain those famous snack names. No one entity is ahead of the others, or so it seems by everything I have read.

In the meantime, I don't know about your own local supermarket, but mine has upped the number of names it carries in the snack aisle.

We now have Tastycake, Freshley's and one or two others that I can't recall right now.

And yes, there are Twinkies ripoffs.

One is made by Freshley's. It think it is called "Dreamies" or something like that.

I bought it recently, but I think my son ate it.

There are others, and they taste just like Twinkies, so the world is not lacking in such cakes right now.

But they aren't Twinkies, at least by the packaging.

Personally, I don't think this bidding war will go on too long.

The iron is hot now, and those bidding--and those owning the assets--know that. They will want to tie this up with a bow really quickly so they can whet the public's appetite for these items.

So, in the new year, I can almost guarantee that you will have your Twinkies.

Who the manufacturer will be, and where you can get these things, is still up in the air, but again, I don't think this situation will last very long at all.

Eat the knockoffs now if you must, but Twinkies are on the way back to your local supermarket.

I can almost taste it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Rant #864: Who's Kidding Who?

The other day, during the premiere of the film "Les Miserables," actress Anne Hathway made a fashion faux pas that ended up becoming a hit on the Internet and was featured in newspapers around the world.

The comely actress, who is rapidly becoming ubiquitous for her big mouth and ego, and complete lack of any discernible talent other than her looks, wore a kind of short skirted outfit to the premiere, which is no big deal.

But when she got out of her limousine, everyone around her, including the papparazzi, discovered that Hathaway had no underwear on under the short skirt.

She moved in a certain way, and Voila!, you could see her privates.

And the papparazzi, being who they are and what they are paid to do, snapped away and away, and the picture made the rounds.

The actress then went on the "Today" show and defended her actions, berating the papparazi by stating, "And I'm sorry that we live in a culture that commodifies sexuality of unwilling participants."

Well, was she so unwilling or just plain stupid? Or did she know exactly what she was doing?

What I am now going to say is not a knock against women in any way, shape or form, although I will bet that some people out there will think it is.

Women have been using their charm to get what they want for centuries. It may have started with Eve in the Garden of Eden, or Cleopatra, but let's face it, women are built much differently than men are, and men are kind of weak when it comes to the female flesh.

And women are also apparently interested in what their fellow ladies look like and wear, as was quite obvious even decades ago, when Jayne Mansfield upstaged Sophia Loren in a catfight between two sex goddesses that was captured in a photo that went around the world.

Anyway, Hathaway is an actress, and here, she was acting too.

I mean, any woman with half a brain in her head knows that when you wear a short skirt, you have to dress appropriately underneath, too.

And since the glow was on her, and she knew it, don't you think she also knew that without an undergarment, if she moved a certain way, well, certain things would come out?

And she has the absolute nerve to get all "social" about it yet, talking about our culture and that she was an "unwilling participant."

Who are you kidding, you idiot? Don't be so condescending that you think the public is going to buy that.

She knew exactly what she was doing, and the reaction it would elicit.

Look, I am not going to laud the papparazzi. At times they are crass themselves, but in this case, they were pretty much just doing their jobs.

And for the "unwilling participant" to make this a social issue, well, do you think the public is that stupid?

Wear underwear, you moron, and such things won't happen in the future.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Rant #863: Everything Is Beautiful

On the morning after the day that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame named its latest inductees, let me talk about a performer who will never get into this supposedly hallowed institution, but somehow, I have more respect for him than the people who are in there, to be honest about it.

I like Ray Stevens, always have, always will.

His music is filled with sardonic humor, is catchy, and his non-novelty records have been about as successful as his novelty records have been.

Although today considered a country artist, Stevens has reported on the current state of mind of the U.S.A. since the early 1960s. His songs talk about mores, current trends, and he looks at everything in generally a fun way.

Take three of his singles, which were pretty much straight comedy recordings, and then take another, which is a straight, non-comedy record that topped the charts.

First, from 1963, you have "Butch Barbarian," which, quite frankly, I have had a tough time figuring out exactly what it's about. I guess it is about a guy who lives like a slob in our modern society.

The song never charted, but I have always liked it. It is silly as all heck, and that may be its charm.

Much later, take "Everything is Beautiful," from 1970. This was a straight, non-comedy recording, and it managed to hit the top of the charts.

It had almost a gospel feel to it, used a children's chorus, and was certainly an antidote for those who didn't buy in to the new artists of the day, like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin.

During the same year, Stevens followed up that chart topper with a song that wasn't going to top anybody's chart, "Bridget the Midget."

Today, the song might seem completely out of place, certainly non-politically correct, but I don't think Stevens would care about such things.

It is one of my favorite Stevens singles, talking about a girl who had height problems who got beyond that by performing on stage. Everyone loved her, and she became the biggest star in the land.

Social commentary, eh?

More of the same came in 1974, when Stevens had by far his biggest national hit.

"The Streak" talked about the phenomenon of "streaking," where people would strip naked and flash themselves upon unsuspecting citizens. Remember, this even happened on the Academy Awards, where, as David Niven put it, the man who streaked was showing his "shortcomings."

Anyway, the song made No. 1 and fed into the curious behavior.

There were so many other hits for Stevens, like "Mr. Businessman," and "I Need Your Help, Barry Manilow," and Stevens continues to record today.

In fact, I believe it was announced recently that all his work is planned to be released in a boxed set sometime soon.

As a social commentator, writer, composer, performer and singer, Stevens may have no equal, because rather than beat you over the head with his beliefs, he does it in a way that tickles your funny bone, or in some cases, makes you cry.

I don't know another artist who elicits that range of emotion, and yes, he is funny (see yesterday's Rant).

So here is to Ray Stevens, and yes, when I listen to his music, everything is truly beautiful, in its own way.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Rant #862: Comedy Is Not Pretty

I am sure you have heard by now about the two Australian shock DJs who made a prank call to the hospital where the Duchess of Cambridge was staying due to a bout of extreme morning sickness.

They impersonated the royal family, got through to the nurse, and asked when visiting hours were.

This was broadcast countrywide in Australia, and was thought to be so funny.

Well, the nurse didn't think so.

She allegedly killed herself from shame.

Of course, now the shock jocks, faced with losing their show, losing their jobs, losing their broadcast licenses, and being the world's biggest villains, are very apologetic for what they've done.

They cried and tearfully apologized to the family of the nurse for their misdeed.

They seemed to be dumbstruck themselves. The male DJ was dressed with collar open, looking like he was ready to take in a ballgame, while the woman--who normally wears low cut tops to show off her curvy figure (why do this on radio when you can't see anything?)--was dressed in very conservative black, with no cleavage to be seen.

Well, what does this all mean?

Comedy to me is pratfalls, funny jokes, the proverbial guy slipping on the banana.

Comedy to me is Abbott and Costello, the Three Stooges, Laurel and Hardy, Jerry Lewis, "It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World," "Leave It To Beaver," "The Andy Griffith Show," "Sanford and Son," Robert Klein, Andy Kauffman ...

Suffice it to say, it is not today's comedy.

Those comedians and comedies never made fun of others at their expense. Some of them were full of slapstick and wordplay, others derived comedy from the characters' personalities.

And the comedy never made fun of others in an evil way.

Today, comedy is comprised of just a few things.

First, you can't get past the vulgarity today. Lenny Bruce is turning in his grave at what he brought to the masses, because he used vulgarity as wordplay against our human foibles.

Today's comics use these words as commonplace as using the words "the," "of," and "a."

Then there's the sexual stuff.

You can say just about anything today. It doesn't matter.

Heck, Adam Sandler's last movie was about a kid in school who was raped by his teacher, fathers a child, and then has to care for the child later on when the kid becomes an adult.

Ha ha, the clown said.

Third, and this ties into the shock jocks' current problems, is that comedy today makes fun of people. The people have no comeback at all, no chance to redeem themselves.

Do you think these shock jocks really understand what comedy truly is? Do you think that they understand that when you make fun of someone, the hurt remains?

Look, the nurse who took the call obviously had many other problems, and this incident probably pushed her over the edge. This was an extreme case, and 99.9 percent of us, put in a similar circumstance, would probably pick ourselves up by our bootstraps and move on from it.

But this woman obviously didn't, and took her life. She leaves behind a husband and two kids.

I heard a U.S. shock jock yesterday actually have the nerve to say that the DJs should have received permission from those they pranked before they ran this thing on the air. That's what "we" do here, he stated.

This guy is really ignorant if this is the only thing he found wrong with this incident.

I don't even know where to go with this rant right now.

I think comedy has to change, get itself out of the gutter, and it has to be funny again.

I don't find current comedy funny. I don't laugh at "The Big Bang Theory," because I simply don't find it funny. I don't laugh at Chris Rock, because I don't find him funny.

Look, I am not a prude. I like an off-color joke as much as anyone.

But there is more to comedy than jokes about body parts and people's sexual adventures.

Comedy has to clean up itself, and be funny again. I am sure there are people out there with talent, who can do this without reverting to vulgarity, constant references about sex, and making fun of people.

It's so easy to resort to the lowest common denominator, but to rise above it is difficult.

I am sure there are talented people out there who can do it.

I hope, for the sake of comedy, that somebody stands up and shows everyone what comedy really is all about.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Rant #861: Presents of Mind

The celebration of Hanukkah started on Saturday night, and lasts eight days, so we are right in the middle of it now.

Hanukkah is a joyous celebration, filled with happiness, good eating, and good gifts.

This year, my family is having our official Hanukkah party right before Christmas on Dec. 23. It's the best time to have it, because my sister's kids will be back from school, so that is how we are going to do it this year.

But for my immediate family, we had our celebration on Saturday night.

Among the gifts that were given out were an iPad for my wife and a knockoff iPad for my son.

We had so much fun figuring out these gadgets this weekend that I am ready to puke.

I really am.

They don't really provide very many directions for these types of things, and you absolutely have to have another computer nearby, or you are sunk.

I can't tell you how many times I went back and forth to this very computer I am typing on now to try to figure out things for these devices.

It took some doing, but we are pretty much A-OK, mainly with the knockoff.

The iPad will take a bit more figuring out, but my wife is ready and able to do so, and eager to learn how to use this thing.

Thank goodness for that. I still have a headache over all of this, I really do.

I am no computer genius, but with a little ingenuity--and with some searches on the Internet--I was able to at least get everyone started.

As for me, I mainly got clothes, which is OK. It is stuff that I needed.

I got new shoes and sneakers, a new watch, and I also got something you can't wear--a few new DVDs.

That is fine with me. There is nothing more high-tech for me than DVDs, and I really needed the other stuff.

My son has to learn how fortunate he is this year, and that really was the theme of the weekend.

He said some things that showed that he does not yet understand this, so he is going to have to pay for his misdeeds.

Come Wednesday, when that big bash at Madison Square Garden takes place related to relief for the victims of Hurricane Sandy, he will be making a donation to the cause.

Sure, it won't be much. My wife and I will kick in a few dollars, and he will make that donation.

It will be good for him, teaching him that gifts do not grow on trees. They cost money, and he should be happy with what he has.

I reallize that a lot of what he said came out of the frustration he had trying to learn how to use his new device, but he said things that have to be accounted for.

He will learn by giving, and not taking.

I hope he understands, because with all his kvetching this weekend, as I said, I still have a headache.

Giving is good for the soul, and his soul will feel better when he gives.

Kids have to learn that this holiday season is not just about presents; it's also about making sure your fellow man is taken care of.

And he will learn this on Wednesday ... as he plays with his new device.

That appears to be the modern way to do it.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Rant #860: Hanukkah Lights

Tomorrow evening at sunset is Hanukkah, the festival of lights.

It's the first evening of a seven-day celebration that is in the November/December time frame each year.

It's not my favorite Jewish holiday, but it is the end-of-the-year Jewish holiday that all Jews look forward to.

But it is not Jewish Christmas, if anybody thinks it is.

It is a completely separate holiday that has nothing to do with Christmas.

In fact, it is probably older than Christmas.

Yes, it involves gift giving, but in the sum total of all the Jewish holidays, it is a relatively minor one on the calendar.

It harkens back to the victories of Judah and the Maccabees, and the days of the old Temple, which was destroyed, and its rebuilding, and the almost "magic" candelabra that burned brightly for eight days, although it had just enough oil for one, single day.

To me, it is a celebration of much more than that.

It is a day to be thankful, a day to look at ourselves and see where we have been and where we are going.

If that sounds like Yom Kippur, it is kind of similar, but this holiday is celebrated in a more fun way.

Dreidels are traditionally spun, Hanukkah gelt is given, small presents are exchanged, and food heavy in oil is traditionally eaten.

It is a holiday that the family gets together, and it's a day of fun.

Again, it's a relatively minor holiday on the Jewish calendar, but in the U.S., it has risen to much grander status.

Giant menorahs are lit around the country to symbolize the strength of the Jewish people. Sometimes, they stand proudly next to Christmas symbols, and this has often riled some people who think that their religion should not have to share the stage with another.

I happen to disagree. Both Christmas and Hanukkah represent the most joyous of seasons, but again, they are separate. One holiday has nothing to do with the other. But I certainly don't mind public sites where symbols of both holidays are represented.

I think some people believe that Christmas doesn't have to share the stage with another holiday because they are anti-Semitic, although they certainly wouldn't admit to it.

I also think that many Jews forget that they two holidays are separate. They so want to assimilate into the mass culture that they forget who they are, forget their faith.

I am offended when symbols of the two holidays are mixed into one, such as putting a Jewish star on top of a Christmas tree or reindeers wearing yarmulkes.

Sure, people think this is fun, but it is really a slap in the face of both holidays.

Yes, I know that there are many intermarriages, and multiple faiths are celebrated at the same time of year in the same household.

That is fine for some people, and for people in that situation, I guess it is a way to resolve the fact that there are two religions in the same household.

For me, I don't have such a quandary. My wife is Jewish, I am Jewish, and my children were raised as Jews.

I am not knocking Jews and Gentiles who have married, but that is something they have to deal with. 

I don't.

So happy Hanukkah to all my Jewish friends, and in a few weeks, I will wish my non-Jewish friends a Merry Christmas.

It's a joyous time of year, and each holiday stands proudly on its own.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Rant #859: Tall Tale

I read yesterday that the world's tallest woman passed away at age 39.

Her name was Yao Defen, she lived in China, and she was not only the world's tallest woman, she was one of the world's tallest people, period.

She was 7 feet, 7 inches tall.

According to reports, she suffered from gigantism, which can stretch limbs and other parts of the human body to almost unimaginable lengths.

And in some cases it can be deadly.

She played basketball at one time, of course, but Yao Ming evidently had nothing to worry about.

Defen was not happy with her size, often wondering why she was burdened by this curse.

I am sure that along with the height, other normal body functions that we take for granted didn't work right for her.

For one, I am sure the burden her heart could bare was increased by her size. A human heart really isn't made to support such a skeleton.

And like most very tall people, she probably had leg and foot problems.

I am sure she had to get her clothes custom made for her.

And socially, she was probably something of an outcast.

But she seemed to be a smart woman who was not comfortable with her body, her features, and her challenges, and probably all the people that stared at her because of her huge height.

I am 5 feet, 9 inches tall. That's pretty normal for the American male, I would say. 

I think the average height for the American male is 5 feet, 8 inches, so I guess I am slightly above normal height.

I just can't imagine someone as tall as she was. Put us side by side, and she was like half a person taller than I am.

I do feel sorry for people who have such a burden. 

They get stared at from the get go, and if they are not athletic, what do they do with their lives?

I remember in my old neighborhood of Rochdale Village in Jamaica, Queens, there was a guy who lived in the building across the street. 

There were a lot of rumors about him, but the fact of the matter was that as a little kid, this guy was absolutely enormous.

He must have been 6 feet, nine inches or thereabouts, maybe even a bit taller, give a few inches, and to us little kids, he looked like a giant.

We mocked him, we stared at him, we yelled things at him.

We did it because we were scared of him because of his height.

We weren't very nice to him, and there were other rumors about him that I won't get into now that added to our behavior toward him.

I always wondered about that guy. I know he didn't take kindly to our taunts, and would yell back at us.

But if you aren't a world famous basketball player, it must be difficult to live in a world where most people are at least a foot shorter than you are.

Defen was like two feet taller than her peers, if not more, and she must have had a very difficult life.

So here's to her, and all the other people in the world who have to bear the burden of enormous height.

And that's the long and short of it for today.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Rant #858: Wham Bam

I wrote about the Monkees the past two days, and I won't write about them again today.

But their very existence can be linked to this performer that I celebrate today, who is himself celebrating his 80th birthday on this very day.

Heck, not only do the Monkees owe their existence to him, but so do the Beatles, Buddy Holly and the Crickets, the Rolling Stones, yes, even Elvis.

Little Richard Penniman is an icon, a living legend, and the guy, who, for all intents and purposes, started it all.

Yes, he had help. Others, like Bill Haley and the Comets, Chuck Berry and Ike Turner, laid the groundwork, but Little Richard is the guy who allowed rock and roll to become mainstream music.

Having his first national hit, "Tutti-Frutti," about two months before Elvis had his first national hit, Richard set the benchmark for what followed.

And his flamboyance irked many oldsters, who looked upon rock and roll at the beginning of the end of the world in the very staid 1950s.

Richard had that high hair, he often wore makeup, and wore wild outfits. He stomped and preened for his audience, and they loved him.

Sure, his hit years were encompassed in basically a very short time period--between 1956 and 1958, although he continued to chart into the 1960s and beyond--but those hits, along with Chuck Berry's music, laid the groundwork for rock then and into the 1960s.

Every rocker worth his salt covered his hits, whether it was "Tutti-Frutti," or "Lucille," "Long Tall Sally," or "Jenny, Jenny." They were simple songs, but without them, dare say there would have been no rock 'n roll as we know it.

Little Richard has had his ups and downs. He has battled with his talent, leaving show business for awhile and going the religious route.

He has battled with other demons, including his sexuality, but for all his battles, he seems to have won each and every one.

His influence is monumental, and even at 80, he is seemingly as spry today as he was nearly 60 years ago.

I missed Little Richard's hit years, but I ran out and bought his last national hit, "Great Gosh A'Mighty (It's a Matter of Time)" in 1986. It was the theme song to the hugely successful "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" film, and it marked a major comeback for Little Richard, coming back into the rock fold. It only hit #42 on the Hot Singles chart, but Little Richard was back, and he has been going full throttle ever since.

I also have one of his greatest hits albums, and I have a lot of other material he recorded in my record collection.

But those early, seminal songs set the tone for rock and roll as we know it, and for those songs, Little Richard will always be remembered.

He was probably the first performer with that rock and roll attitude, and it's great that he is still around today, wowing audiences with those wonderful songs.

Happy birthday, Mr. Penniman. Here's to another 80 years to wow us even more.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Rant #857: Oh My My

I am still on the Monkees bent. The show was so good on Saturday night that I can't get off of it just yet, so bear with me.

In 1970, the Monkees were just about over.

The show had been cancelled by NBC in 1968, and while the group continued to spew out records, and still toured, the interest just wasn't there anymore.

After cancellation, the show went into reruns, and it was picked up by CBS, which ran it as part of its Saturday morning lineup of kids shows.

Although the Monkees' original fans, including me, were growing up, CBS knew that there was another generation to mine with the show, the kids born in the mid 1960s who were just getting old enough to know what they liked on TV.

With that in mind, the show was placed on the Saturday morning schedule, and years before MTV tapped into the Monkees' magic for another generation, they had another hit on their hands with the small fry generation.

Decisions had to be made about how to extend the Monkees' brand, and some wry choices were made to tap into this resource.

Although Mike Nesmith had, for all intents and purposes, left the band in 1969--and Peter Tork had left earlier--Nesmith still was contractually obligated to appear in some commercials with the band.

The newly formed Nerf line of products was first promoted by the Monkees in a series of commercials linked in with long-time sponsor Kool Aid. Nesmith--with Monkees lifers Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones--pushed this new product, and, well, Nerf has been part of our culture for more than 40 years now. This was the product line at its very beginnings.

The group also appeared on several cereal box records. Buy a Post Cereal, get a Monkees record on the back of the box. It was as simple as that, and thousands of records were produced in this way, probably a whole lot of them being the first Monkees' records--and the first records period--that these youngsters ever owned.

But the big ploy was to put out a record to appeal to this young segment.

Thus, the Monkees' last original record on the Colgems label was born.

"Changes" features just Micky and Davy. In fact, the cover photo is from their appearance on "The Joey Bishop Show," when Mike was still part of the band, but his part of the photo is cut.

Davy always referred to this record in negative terms as "our Andy Kim" record, and that singer/songwriter's stamp is, in fact all over the record, as a writer and producer.

It is a record for little kids, eons beneath the music the Monkees put out for their film, "Head," which probably most of their then current audience didn't see until they were in their 40s.

Even though it is a really bad record, it does have its moments, maybe two of them.

Micky's "Midnight Train" is a song that could have found its way onto any of the previous Monkees records. It is a spare production, but Micky's vocals rise it up to another level. I have heard that his sister, Coco, is also on this song, and if so, she adds to its attractiveness.

"Oh My My" was the Monkees' final, official single on the Colgems label. It is sort of a then-new amalgam of bubblegum and soul, and it features one of Micky's finest vocals.

It should have been a hit, and probably two years earlier, it would have reached the upper echelon of the singles chart. As it is, in 1970, it barely scraped into that chart at No. 98.

It wasn't for lack of trying, though. An original video was put out to run with the show to promote the single and LP. It showed Micky and Davy on motorcycles. It was the Monkees' first promotional video in two years, and it is a pretty good one, directed by Micky himself.

The album didn't even chart in its original form, but it did years later during the 1986 Monkees revival.

CBS soon dropped the show from Saturday mornings, it was picked up by ABC, ran on that network for awhile, and then went into syndication, only to be revived by MTV in 1986 ... and the rest is history.

Once woefully out of print, "Changes" today can be found today pretty easily.

As an artifact of its time, it is an LP to listen to, probably once, and put away for another time.

And that is it on the Monkees from me, at least for now.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Rant #856: Monkees Business

I have always absolutely loved the Monkees.

I loved the concept from the get go in 1966, I loved the music, and yes, I loved, as performers, the four guys who made up the project/band/group/experiment, whatever you want to call it.

And on Saturday night, my family actually went to see the three remaining Monkees in what was probably the next to last time the name "Monkees" will ever be used in a concert format.

The surviving Monkees--Micky Dolenz, Peter Tork, and yes, Michael Nesmith--decided to tour after the February 29 death of fellow bandmate Davy Jones, and they scheduled a very brief 14-date tour across the country.

They finally got to Long Island on Saturday night, playing in The Paramount, a relatively new concert venue. The old place--which started life as a vaudeville house and became one of my favorite haunts in my early 20s as a laser light show venue--shined brightly on this night, showcasing the surviving Monkees in a no holds barred celebration of their accomplishments, and those of Jones.

The spotlight was on Nesmith--who has rarely toured or seemed to care about the Monkees since he left them for good in 1969--during most of the night. Showcasing the songs that he wrote for himself and the other Monkees, Nesmith was fully in gear during this show, and I must say, he was really good.

His vocals haven't changed much over the years, and when he sang a song like "You Told Me," or "Tapicoa Tundra," you could just shut your eyes and really think that you were listening to him on the old records from the 1960s.

And contrary to what I've read, his guitar playing seemed to be intact. Maybe as the tour made its way north, he got more comfortable at what he was doing, but whatever the case, I didn't hear the slips he supposedly made early on.

Dolenz is Dolenz. He has been singing these songs for nearly 50 years, and I have never seen him where he holds back on these classic tunes. Each one he sings like he never sung it before. You can tell that he really cherishes this music, and this legacy. His vocals are still smooth as silk, as he possesses one of the great rock voices. "I'm a Believer," "Randy Scouse Git," whatever the song, those tunes are his. He owns them.

And while he played some guitar during the show, he mainly played drums and any percussion instrument he could find, and he was more than adequate.

Peter Tork is the oldest Monkee, and the one who has probably had the most interesting life--not necessarily career--after the Monkees of the foursome. Whether teaching, in jail, battling cancer, or just singing the blues, Tork has certainly lived the life. And his voice, never his best instrument, shows the ravages of those past times. But for a 70 year old, he is still spry. While he had the spotlight on just a couple of songs as the lead singer--"Auntie Grizelda" and "Long Title: Do I Have To Do This All Over Again" were two of them--he really showed his prowess in other ways.

As a musician, Tork was never given much credit back in the day, but he really can play multiple instruments, and he showed his talents by playing guitar, keyboards, banjo and several others during the show. And let me say, he is really, really good.

Now to Jones. His life and his contributions to the Monkees legacy were fully acknowledged during this concert. The trio took breaks during the show by showing videos of his most popular Monkees songs, and only one Jones song, "Early Morning Blues and Greens," was sung by the trio--Peter at the lead--during the concert.

How do you perform "Daydream Believer" without Davy? According the Dolenz, they took the suggestion of Nesmith and let the audience perform the song. Taking one audience member up on stage with them--was she a ringer?--Dolenz sung the tune with her and with the audience.

It was a perfect tribute to Jones, a nice farewell to their bandmate.

The place was sold out for months, the fans were really into this music and the trio, and I absolutely loved the show.

The backing band and vocalists--including Nesmith's son, Christian, and Dolenz's sister, Coco--was top notch. Many had been with one form or other of the Monkees during the past 25 years, some were new to the "family."

There is really no Monkees, per se, without Jones, so the feeling is that this will be it for the use of the Monkees name in concert. In fact, the show's program had ads for Nesmith, Tork and Dolenz's latest non-Monkees projects.

Yes, the trio probably will move on after last night's show, the last show of the tour, at the Beacon in New York. They will still perform as solo artists, but that will probably be it for them as the Monkees.

I have heard rumors that a DVD will be coming out of the tour, and I know there was filming being done on Saturday night.

Between all the pictures I took myself, and the video I also took from the rafters, and this supposed release. I will have a real keepsake of this tour, the final tour of the Monkees.

And yes, I bought a "Head" T-shirt.

And I will wear it proudly, probably wear it out from use.

And my wife loved the show, as did my son. In the midst of his love of rap, he loved the performance, only disappointed that his favorite Monkees tune, "Cuddy Toy," was not either performed or shown on the video monitors.

I guess you can't have everything, but at least my 17 year old "gets" the Monkees ... another generation embraces these guys.

However, I feel the Monkees are my band, made for MY generation, and I am not ashamed to say that.

Never have, never will.


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