Friday, March 29, 2013

Rant #931: Happy Easter

Happy Good Friday and Happy Easter.

As a Jew, these are among the holidays where I am an outsider looking in. 

I don't have recollections of these holidays, per se, because I never celebrated them.

I know they are wonderful holidays, days where people can reflect, look back, and look ahead.
I know that Easter is a Christian holiday celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ on the third day after his crucifixion at Calvary, as described in the New Testament.

But as an outsider looking in, I have my own views of the holiday, just about all non-religious in nature.

I remember that at one time, nothing was open on Easter, and I mean nothing. No department stores, no movies, no restaurants, no nothing.

As you know, that has changed greatly in recent times. Many restaurants are open, and certainly the movies are open on Easter Sunday.

I remember painting Easter eggs as a child. I never knew the significance of this act, but I can remember that my sister and I made colorful Easter eggs using a product called Pas.

It was messy as all heck, and a lot of fun, as I recall.

I also never understood the significance of the Easter Bunny, but I guess that is almost equal to Santa Claus on Christmas.

I remember watching lots of TV on Easter Sunday, because nothing much else was doing.

I recall watching “Easter Parade,” “King of Kings,” and “The Ten Commandments,” sometimes back to back to back.

And I remember the actual Easter Parade in New York City, where so many people wore so many strange hats on their heads.

And I also remember that Easter Sunday was right near, or sometimes on, Passover, my holiday, and the significance of the two holidays being together is very strong.
The Last Supper, anybody?

I know that it is one of the few days during the calendar year that my wife has off. She has other days off from work, of course, but this one is a guaranteed day off, since she works for the country’s “friendliest bank.”

And I also know that to some, this is the holiest time and day of the year.

To them, and to everyone else celebrating these holidays, I wish you great holidays, time to reflect, time to recharge your batteries.

And to the rest of us … Easter is pretty much just another Sunday.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Rant #930: Back to the Salt Mines

That is what Fred Rutherford always said to Ward Cleaver on "Leave It To Beaver" when he referred to their workplace.

Does anyone know what Ward actually did for a living?

Anyway, the only reason I bring this up is that today is something of an anniversary for me, one that I won't go out and celebrate.

In fact, I will go to work to mark the occasion.

Today, 17 years ago, I started working at my current business establishment.

Looking back, I had had kind of a rocky road in by career up until this point.

I started out as a teacher, one who couldn't get a regular job.

I subbed all over, but it's like an educational caste system: once a sub, always a sub.

I worked part time in a real estate office, and then, when I gave up teaching after a couple of years, I worked there full time.

That place laid me off, and I was out of work for a time, only to re-emerge at a real estate publisher, where I worked for a few years.

Then I got laid off there--right in the middle of my divorce--and for a year and a half, I couldn't get a regular job. I was too educated, too old, had too much of this or that, whatever the case, I couldn't get arrested, so to speak.

I looked at ads, I placed ads, I went on TV and radio, I even stood at the bus station and handed out my resume. Nobody wanted me.

It was at this time that I met my wife, so it wasn't all bad, and I have to say, she must have believed in me totally to stay with me during this very rough period, because I really had nothing at this time.

I did a lot of freelance stuff, so it wasn't as if I didn't work at all, but another job did not come until I had applied for over 800 jobs in a number of fields. I know this because I had to provide evidence to the court that I was looking for work during my divorce. And not even the court could argue with me about this.

Anyway, I finally found a job at a security association, and I lasted there a few years, and was laid off once again. This was around the time my son was born, so it was very, very difficult.

But then, I found work at one place, and then, I found work at my current place of business.

By the way, every place I had worked for prior to my current employer has since gone out of business.

I kind of look at it as payback for what they did to me.

Back to my current job ... I am the associate editor of a trade publication that covers military commissaries and exchanges, which are basically supermarkets and department stores for military service members, their families, retirees, the National Guard, and the Reserves.

It is an interesting position, because one day, I can be writing about governmental legislation, and the next day, I could be writing about women's apparel.

It is that wide a field to write about, and in the 17 years I have been there, I have basically written about just about everything you can about this field.

There are actually some people who have been at my employer longer than I have, but I consider my stint there a real personal accomplishment, because at the other places I worked, it seemed that after anywhere from three to five years they canned me ... now I have proven that I have staying power.

Anyway, I won't have a cake today, won't get any cards for this, but it is a personal accomplishment that I feel pretty good about.

We all have love/hate relationships with our places of business. That is the nature of the beast.

But we are employed, and that is something special. With unemployment continuing to be high, I do cherish the job that I have. I don't enjoy every aspect of it, but I do respect the position and what I have to do each and every day.

So here's to me. I did it. I accomplished something that in my wildest dreams I never thought I could do.

To paraphrase Sally Field, "They like me. They really like me."

I guess they do, at least.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rant #929: Hugh and Cry

Hugh Hefner is a man's man.

Not only does he run the Playboy Empire, but he firmly believes in marriage.

Yes, the ultimate Playboy believes in that institution lock, stock and barrel ...

At least if you believe his latest rant, where the 86-year old publisher--who I swear looks like nothing more than a dirty old man with a sailor hat--claims that he never cheated on any of his wives while he was married to them, according to a recent interview he did with Esquire Magazine.

However, once he wasn't married, well, Hefner says that is when he really sowed his wild oats.

Now if you want to believe all of this, I have a bridge to sell you somewhere.

He claims to have been with 1,000 women, and he once claimed that he also was with one man, but didn't care for it at all. 

Are we to believe that Hefner didn't do anything with anybody during his marriages, the latest to 29 year old Crystal Harris?

Well, probably now he will stay committed to Harris, because after all, he is 86 years old.

But what about during his other marriages?

He had young things running around the Playboy mansion at all times during those unions.

In fact, didn't he marry one or two of those young things himself?

It's funny, but the reaction of the public is pretty much utter disbelief.

They figure that sure, he didn't fool around, per se, because the wives were part of the action.

Could be.

But Hefner claims that he never fooled around while married.

It almost sounds like then-President Bill Clinton's admission that he never had sex with that woman.

What do you believe here?

I think that "fooling around" to Hefner is quite different than "fooling around" for the general populace.

He probably did "fool around," maybe with the consent of his wives, maybe even with the participation of his wives in the fooling around.

In that case, he didn't "fool around," because he got the OK from his wife.

Of course, in the real world, that is "fooling around," but when was the last time Hefner actually lived in the real world?

He has had some life, no matter if you love him or hate him, but to say he never dallied in other women's pleasures while married is something that I personally can't buy.

But heck, he is an 86 year old man who is married to a woman a third of his age--what did anybody expect him to say?

And again, that sailor hat ... I would keep my daughter away from him, I really would.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Rant #928: Passover, the Next Day

We had our Passover seder last night, and it went pretty well.

With everyone in attendance--my family, my sister's family, and our parents--it was pretty raucous as usual, but it was fun, and really was an affirmation of how strong our small family is.

Eleven people, 11 people talking all at the same time, but we managed to have the seder, celebrate the holiday, and eat until we couldn't put another morsel in our mouths.

And that leads me to a "malady" that I call "Matzoh Stomach."

Every Jew who has celebrated this holiday has had it in one form or another.

You might not get it every year, but you have probably gotten it at least once during the holiday.

Here is what Matzoh Stomach is:

Most of the dishes that relate to the holiday are very, very heavy.

In our family, they are traditional Eastern European dishes, such as potato kugel.

These things are delicious, but they can lay in your stomach as if you've consumed an entire bowling ball ... and maybe a bowling pin too.

And then you have matzoh, the backbone of the entire celebration, signifying the Jews' flight out of Egypt all those years ago.

They had to rush out, so they couldn't take the time to let their bread rise, and out of this dash came unleavened bread, or matzoh.

It is basically a large cracker, but it is oh so good.

Well, you mix the heaviness of the other foods with matzoh, and after a couple of days of eating all this good stuff, you feel overly full, maybe even bloated.

And that is what Matzoh Stomach is to me.

I ate so much last night that I might be on the road to this malady, but the funny thing is that it doesn't necessarily hit you every year.

I, personally, haven't had this thing for the past three or four years, but when I get it, I know it, believe me I do.

You simply feel like you can't move at all.

The only remedy is to go back to your regular eating habits, but remember, this is an eight-day celebration, so if you get it, better to get it towards the end of the holiday, because bread and regular eating is just around the corner.

If you get it early on, well, you just have to grin and bear it.

Tonight is the second seder, the final seder of the holiday for most Jews. Religious Jews also have a seder to end the holiday, but my family just has the two seders and that is it.

I am sure I will continue to eat all the wonderful foods of the holiday, and I did eat matzoh for breakfast this morning, with some cream cheese.

And I had macaroons, which are so, so good.

Am I headed for Matzoh Stomach? I don't know.

I can ask the "Four Questions" and not get that answer.

But this is a great holiday, it really is, and if Matzoh Stomach is in my future, so be it.

It will be well worth it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Rant #927: Passover

We are right in the middle of the holiday season.

Yesterday was Palm Sunday, this coming Sunday is Easter, and for Jews around the world, tonight, at sundown, begins Passover.

Passover is probably my favorite Jewish holiday on the calendar. It centers around the family, and the only gifts that are expected are that everybody is supposed to be at the two seders that lead off the eight-day celebration.

Be there, or be square.

During the seder, we talk about the Jews' flight from Egypt all those many generations ago, and how they didn't have time for their bread to rise, and thus was created matzoh, the main symbol of the holiday.

Matzoh is like a cracker, and I just love matzoh.

I love it with cream cheese spread over it.

I remember as a kid, you would spread cream cheese from a matzoh end to end, and then sprinkle some salt on it for extra flavor.

As an adult, I know that I can live without the salt, so just having the matzoh with cream cheese is fine with me.

You can also have it with butter.

Butter on matzoh is also very tasty. And it is the same premise: spread it end to end, and just enjoy every morsel.

It is easy to give up bread for the eight days by substituting matzoh.

And now, there are several different types of matzoh--regular, egg and even wheat matzoh, and let's not forget chocolate matzoh--to satisfy any hunger or dietary need.

There are other great foods that symbolize the holiday, including macaroons, but for me, when I bite into my first piece of matzoh tonight, it really is the holiday.

It is a time to reflect on the past, look into the future, and move forward not just as Jews, but as human beings. 

Happy holidays to all.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Rant #926: Yoko Says It All

Let me say right at the outset that I am not a fan of Yoko Ono.

I never understood her "art," whether it was her music or her films.

She seemed to be more eccentric than artistic.

John Lennon fell in love with her, and the rest is history.

Although her husband has not been with us for more than 30 years, Ono has never fallen out of the public spotlight, and in the current digital age, she continues to pop up time and again, to get whatever message she wants to get across heard by the masses.

And she often uses social media to do it.

Her latest occurrence is that she tweeted a photo of her late husband's bloodied glasses on the occasion of what would have been their 44th wedding anniversary, in an attempt to draw attention to gun violence.

"The death of a loved one is a hallowing experience," Ono tweeted on Wednesday morning. "After 33 years, our son Sean and I still miss him."

Maybe she meant "harrowing" rather than "hallowing," and where is stepson Julian in all this, but I think she got her point across with that image.

Above the glasses, it reads, "Over 1,057,000 people have been killed by guns in the U.S.A. since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980."

Ono has used her husband's glasses as a symbol before this.

Right after his death, she used the glasses on her LP "Season of Glass" and single "Walking on Thin Ice."

Some people might find this type of commercialization of her husband's murder a little too much to take, but I think her heart is in the right place this time.

She lost her husband when someone used a gun to kill him. How many other husbands have been lost the same way? How many wives? How many nieces, nephews, cousins, children?

Things haven't changed that much in the more than 30 years that Lennon left us.

We have the Newtown, Conn. massacre as sort of a "gut check" if we think things have changed.

They haven't.

I personally do not understand why people need to have guns, legal or otherwise.

I know that in this country we have a right to bear arms, and most people do bear arms legally, but somehow, gun violence seems to be escalating, not receding.

And now in some school districts, teachers can carry guns.

I don't get it, and probably never will.

Maybe somebody can explain it to me, but I do think this time, Ono made her point, and she made it well.

Put the guns away.

I know that the following is almost a rosy thing to say, but remember, her husband said this long ago, and that, too, hasn't changed:

"All You Need Is Love."

Think about it.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Rant #925: Basketball For All

Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of leaving work early--always a pleasure indeed--and watching my son play in a basketball game.

This wasn't just any basketball game. It was between his school and another local high school, and it signified the end of the Challenger basketball season.

The Challenger league is an excellent idea, devised by educators so that every child is included in athletics.

The league is for kids who used to be forgotten, kids with physical, mental and emotional problems. My son has a learning disability, so he qualifies, but really, any kid who falls into these areas is eligible to play.

A couple of local schools are in this league, and they play a short schedule, but it is fun, a good experience for these kids, kids who in my day were completely forgotten.

The rules are bent to the limit in this league. No double dribbles, no walking with the ball, and few fouls are called. But the kids run up and down the court the best they can, and you can tell they are having a lot of fun.

And when they score a basket--sometimes with a lot of help--you can see how they beam with pride.

With yesterday's contest being the final game of the season, it was almost as if this game was a championship game. There are winners and losers--my son's team lost--and the atmosphere was playoff-like.

The place was absolutely packed--there must have been at least 200 people in attendance--and the cheerleaders cheered, the fans cheered, and everyone had a great time. There was even an announcer to speed things along.

This is a great idea, and I wish more schools would opt into this league.

In my day, anybody but the real athletes were excluded from school-sponsored athletics.

I personally loved sports, loved to play them, but it seemed that no one cared about me.

And I was just a kid who wasn't athletic--you can imagine how kids with disabilities were treated sports-wise during those years.

But now, everyone is included, which I think is great. There is no reason why these kids can't play sports, too. Sure, they aren't varsity players, but some of them are actually pretty good, and everyone has fun, so it is all good.

My son scored four points, got a couple of rebounds, and even committed a foul. But the look on face told me that statistics weren't really that important.

The rush that he was getting from playing was the most important thing.

On the weekend, he participates in a bowling league much along the same lines, although it is completely separate from the school.

The kids have disabilities, but they also have lots of fun.

And my wife and I are very proud of him. I really wish he would participate even more--every sport from baseball to lacrosse has a league for kids like him--but he enjoys what he does, and we love it that he is so active.

Sports really is for everyone. Like music, it is a universal language that jumps over every barrier.

And everyone can participate if they want to, and this league proves that no matter what the level these kids are on, they can have fun.

And I had fun too.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Rant #924: Mr. Waverly, I Presume?

Looking at my clock, spring is less than two hours away.

But a famous TV franchise from the 1960s appears to be springing back into action.

Reports are that Tom Cruise is ready to star in a movie version of the old show "The Man From U.N.C.L.E."

Why, oh why, do the movie studios continue to even think of TV-to-movie reboots when most of them have been so awful?

My goodness, the list of misses would take up the rest of this column, but off the top of my head, here are a few not only horrible films that fit into that category, but some of the worst films ever made:

"Car 54, Where Are You?"

"I Spy"

"Get Smart"

"The Beverly Hillbillies"

"Dark Shadows"

"The Honeymooners"

Need I say more?

And Cruise is already a veteran of this genre, as he has starred in a series of "Mission: Impossible" movies that defy description. One was worse than the previous one.

The problem is that producers think that since they have the name in tow, they can simply produce a film.

It isn't that easy, as they have proven time and time again.

Those TV shows were all classics because they had the right casting, the right writers, the right actors, they were done during the right time period, and they understood the limitations of television.

When these films are brought to the big screen, you seemingly have none of those attributes in place. You throw actors into characters that they--and the screenwriters--have no clue about, and you think that since people know who Ralph Kramden is, it will be funny, almost a guilt by association thing.

Well, it isn't, hasn't been, and won't be.

With this new "U.N.C.L.E." film, I doubt things will change.

Back in the mid-1960s, we were not only battling in Asia, we were in the midst of the Cold War, and that is what the original series really played on, Cold War fears.

It picked up from the "James Bond" franchise and ran with it, with almost tongue in cheek adventures with lots of pretty ladies and pretty involved plots.

Plus, the casting was perfect.

Robert Vaughan and David McCallum, along with Leo G. Carroll, fully understood what they were supposed to be doing, and they ran with it.

These two fairly nondescript actors, along with Carroll, a TV veteran from the "Topper" series, became huge stars through the show, but it was well deserved.

Casting Tom Cruise as the lead character in this reboot already spells doom for it. He doesn't fit the role, and what is the storyline going to be about?

There have already been TV reboots of the show. There was a reunion movie several years ago which bombed, and to think that a TV movie will rejuvenate the franchise is, well, something that even T.H.RU.S.H. wouldn't try to pull.

Put this one into the dumpster before it even starts filming.

You can bet that if it actually gets made, it will be another casualty of this TV-to-movie thing.

Star Trek, anyone?

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Rant #923: Here Comes Summer

Summertime is just around the corner.

Wait, we aren't out of winter yet, but will soon be.

People are preparing for the summer, even in the cold weather.

Yesterday, in my neck of the woods, we got some snow, which was washed away with rain.

But my thoughts still are on summer.

Spring training is winding down, and you know that when you hear the crack of the bat, summer is really just around the corner.

For my family, summer is going to be quite different this year.

We planned on taking our usual summer vacation to Florida, but our plans may have changed now that my son secured a summer job.

Yes, my son is going to be working, and making a paycheck, this summer.

He is going to be working at the day camp he went to as a camper for about 10 years, from the age of 5 up to when he was 15.

He really enjoyed that camp, and he is going to be the arcade room assistant, basically meaning that he will be working in the camp's game room this summer.

That is good. He worked the last two summers as a volunteer counselor at our school system's day camp, and while I think he liked it to a certain degree, he didn't get paid.

Now, for the first time in his life, he will be making some money. Not much, but something.

This throws a monkey wrench into our summer plans, though.

There really is no one to watch him during the time that we would normally go away, and even if we find someone to watch him, he can't go with us, as the job is for the two-month period that the camp is open.

So unless we find someone to stay with him when he is home, my wife and I are sunk; we can't go away.

We are trying to entice my daughter to stay with him. She is a teacher at a local education center for young children, right in the community, so she would be about five minutes away from work if she were to stay over the week that we would like to be away.

We have proposed this to her, given her some enticements, and she is going to let us know next week what her decision is.

I hope she says yes.

Look, this vacation, if we have it, will be a difficult one. It will be the first time my wife and I have ever taken a vacation without our son. It was hard enough not going with my daughter when she bowed out of coming with us years ago, but now we have the prospect of going without him, and while I am OK with it, my wife is understandably hesitant, but it is a day we knew was going to happen eventually.

Whether we have to stay home or we can actually go on vacation, really, that is a minor point here.

The major point, and the point that my wife and I are so proud of, is that our son finally got a summer job, no mean feat in this lousy economy that we are in.

He tries very hard at just about everything he goes after, and we are very happy that he got this job.

He is a good kid, and deserves this.

Now, I will be able to say that both my son and daughter are gainfully employed, even if my son's situation lasts just two months. It will be worth giving up our vacation to see him working.

And it will help him in the future when he looks for more permanent work.

So here comes summer. We are ready for it, raring to go, and my annual picture of Annette Funicello in her beach wear might just have to be postponed this year.

And again, it will be worth it.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Rant #922: Pizza, Pizza

Travel + Leisure's annual America's Favorite Cities survey--in which readers rank 35 cities for such things as luxury stores and live music--finally got around to a subject that I could sink my teeth into.

Pizza, pizza and more pizza.

But I have to say that I completely disagree with the poll rankings.

Topping the list is Chicago. People are enticed with its deep dish pizza, but having had the deep dish knockoffs that proliferate around the country, I have to say that this type of pizza doesn't entice me.

You eat it with a knife and fork. It kind of turns me off.

Other places on the list include Boston and Philadelphia, both of which can't hold a candle to the pizza I most love.

And Nashville is even on the list.

A number of years ago, while on vacation, my family and I had Nashville pizza. It was probably the worst tasting pizza I have ever had.

Now, for the best pizza in the country, bar none--

New York City.

Which, incredibly, is just No. 3 on the list.

I don't care what this list says, there is no better pizza than New York pizza.

The reason is the thick crust, the way the cheese and sauce and whatever else is on there rests on the pie as it if it were made for pizza, and pizza only, and the overall taste and convenience of a single slice of pizza.

There is nothing like it in the world.

For decades, people have said that it has to do with the water in New York City, which, of course, becomes part of the dough.

Out of town pizza parlors have, forever, "imported" their water from New York City, hoping to duplicate what we have in the city.

Heck, all over the country--and I have found, all over the world--pizza parlors that boast "New York-style pizza proliferate. Sure, I have seen Chicago-style pizza, but it just doesn't rate.

And again, I am talking about New York City pizza, not Long Island pizza, and not Westchester pizza.

There is something about New York City pizza--whether we are talking about Manhattan, the Bronx, Staten Island, Queens, or Brooklyn--that makes it extra special.

Sure, it probably is the water, but it is also the "love" and "experience" that goes into it.

Your corner pizza parlor in New York City is no fly by night operation. It probably has been making pies for generations.

And it isn't Pizza Hut, thank you.

No gimmicks here.

They know what they are doing, and they do it, and do it well.

I can remember, and I recall very vividly, the first time I ever had pizza.

It was probably about 1962 or 1963, so I was about five or six years old.

I was with my uncle, my mom's brother, and we went into New York's Greenwich Village to have pizza.

At that time, there wasn't a pizza parlor seemingly on every corner, and the Village was a place where you could find pizza pretty readily, probably one of the few places at that time.

I don't know what specific pizza parlor we went to, but once I had it, I was hooked.

And just a few years later, pizza parlors started to spring up everywhere.

We had one in my old neighborhood, Rochdale Village, called King George Pizza. It stands today, all these years later, as the best pizza I have ever had.

Everything was perfect about it, and you couldn't beat the price--it was 25 cents a slice, so for a dollar, you could get three slices and a Coke.

Sure, that was back in the late 1960s. Slices now cost pushing $3, and the Coke costs at least $1.

Things are different today, because you have so many choices. There is New York pizza, Chicago pizza, California pizza, you can make it yourself at home with frozen pizza, and there is Boboli ... there are so many choices, but I come back to one, and one only.

New York City pizza is the best. And to place it No. 3 on this list, well sorry, it makes it, in my eyes, a bogus list.

Just thinking about New York City pizza is making me hungry.

How about a slice for breakfast?

Hey, why not?

Friday, March 15, 2013

Rant #921: A Boone to Humanity

What some people won't do to stay in the public eye ...

Pat Boone--the whitebread singer who helped popularize the emerging rock and roll scene with his versions of "Ain't That a Shame" and "Long Tall Sally," allowing white kids to hear black tunes for the first time and opening up radio to black audiences--has slammed President Obama.

The aging singer went on Fox Business News the other night and called the President a Marxist, a socialist, and, get this, a progressive.

"He is following his playbook, which is Saul Alinsky's Rules for Radicals," Boone said. "This is the guy that trained him to be a community organizer, a Marxist, a socialist, a progressive, who wrote the rules for doing what Mr. Obama is doing."

The "Speedy Gonzales" singer went on to say that the President has turned America into "a virtually socialist nation" and is against the rich, which, based on Boone's successes, he probably is.

This "Kenyan Muslim,"--a term which Boone has called the President in the past--has forced the singer to claim that he is on Obama's "enemies list."

The last time I looked, Boone was pitching walk-in bathtubs for the elderly, and his daughter must be in a similar situation, because she was pushing face lifts.

Gotta keep up the house payments, I guess.

I don't know these days what the President is pushing, but I will bet he won't be spinning any Pat Boone records in his off time.

I remember the last time Boone got into the public eye.

It must have been 10 or 15 years ago already, and the singer recorded a heavy metal album, "No More Mr. Nice Guy," and was parading around in leather and chains.

Well, the critical response to that was such that Boone went back to his sweaters and white bucks pretty quickly.

And again, this guy is an entertainer, so like so many of his peers on the other side of the fence who mouth off about things they know little or nothing about, I guess you have to have other guys on the other side of the ledger who do this too, and Boone is the poster boy right now.

Pat, just give us "April Love" and be quiet. Or just push those walk-in tubs, they do look comfortable, don't they?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Rant #920: All Hail Paul Bearer

William Moody died last week.

He was in his late 50s and had been in ill health for years.

To most of us, that name really doesn't mean much of anything, but to others, it means quite a bit.

William Moody was the character "Paul Bearer" in the WWE. He was the "manager" of the Undertaker, Kane and several other wrestlers, and his popularity, and the popularity of the wrestlers he managed, truly moved professional wrestling into the global phenomenon it is today.

Moody, who was, in fact, a funeral director in real life, became the manager of the Undertaker in the early 1990s, and the two men took their characters beyond even what the wildest imagination could have seen for them.

Dying his hair pitch black and wearing garish makeup, the roly poly Moody fit the Paul Bearer character perfectly, and the Undertaker's story--basically that he was a dead man walking, looking to remove any and all human vermin that stood in his way--was a perfect fit too, and lasts, to a certain degree, to this day.

Moody's prop was one of the great ones in all history. Chaplin had his cane, and Moody had his urn. He carried it around, held close to his chest, like a baby holds its bottle.

As long as Paul Bearer had that urn, his charges could not lose. Sure, the urn sometimes ended up in other hands, but Moody always got it back, and the "dead" always managed to triumph over evil.

Some two decades later, the Undertaker remains the star attraction of the WWE. Say what you want about professional wrestling, but it has its everlasting characters, and the Undertaker is certainly one of them.

Moody had been in ill health for years, and he simply could not keep up with his charges. They went their separate ways, but without Moody to build the foundation, they would have never been.

Fast forward to 2013. Wrestlemania, the WWE's biggest show, is about ready to happen in early April, and Moody passes away. Rather than just receive a fitting tribute from the WWE, his death actually gets worked into the storyline!

CM Punk will be facing the Undertaker during Wrestlemania. This is momentous, because the Undertaker has never lost a match at Wrestlemania. He is 20-0. He comes out about once a year now, a 50-something year old guy that dusts off the character for this one match each year.

CM Punk is now the major bad guy in the WWE, and for him to face the Undertaker during their biggest show really is big news, at least in this alternate universe that is the WWE.

And with Moody's death, if a passing ever came at the right time, this was it.

On Monday Night Raw, the Undertaker was saluting his fallen comrade in a fitting tribute that only the WWE can do, using video clips and featuring that famous urn.

All of a sudden, CM Punk comes on the scene, interrupting the proceedings, bringing the intensity of their future match to a fever pitch.

Summarizing the whole thing, by the end of the show, Kane also gets involved, and Punk steals the urn from the Undertaker and Kane, the symbol of their success.

This is a writer's dream--what will happen next in the weeks leading up to Wrestlemania that will not only perk up the battle between Punk and the Undertaker but will keep Paul Bearer's name alive beyond death?

Some have criticized using someone's actual death as part of a storyline, but I say, BRAVO!

The WWE has never backed away from incorporating real-life situations into its storylines, and why should this one be any different?

It makes so much sense, with their biggest show coming up, to do so.

And when it serves as a juggernaut for the biggest match during Wrestlemania, featuring two of the WWE's biggest stars, well, why not do it?

I think William Moody, the everlasting Paul Bearer, would truly love this.

And next year, come Hall of Fame time, his posthumous induction should be a no-brainer.

R.I.P. Paul Bearer. You did right in "life" and your name lives on in eternity.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Rant #919: Bubble Ban Bursts

New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg's controversial ban on certain sized soft drinks burst in the air on Monday, when a judge tossed the regulation out like flat soda.

The ruling, made a day before the ban was to take effect, was made by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Milton Tingling because the law had too many loopholes and exceptions, and quite frankly, hit local mom and pop establishments more than it did national chains.

The ban was found to be "arbitrary and capricious," and agreed with numerous soda companies and business groups, which had taken the city to court and found the proposed ban unworkable.

Some praised Bloomberg, others knocked him, and the proposed ban made international headlines, but in the end, it was found to be unworkable, unfair, and ultimately, unenforceable.

Bloomberg said the city would appeal.

Ultimately, the ban was so circumspect that it is hard to believe it even got this far.

It served to ban greater than 16-oz. drinks from being available in certain locations throughout New York City, including stadiums and arenas, and certain neighborhood locations governed by the New York City Board of Health, such as bodegas and neighborhood shops.

But if the location didn't fall under the Board of Health's aegis, it wasn't impacted, and that is where the failing of the law hit the target.

For instance, one goes to a corner grocer for a soda. He is told that he can only get as large as a 16-oz. soda there, because the store falls under the city's regulations. He can buy two multiple sodas if he likes, but he can't get the single soda of more than 16-oz. And, of course, multiple sodas cost more than one single soda.

He walks out of the store, and on the same street is a 7-Eleven. He goes into that site and has no trouble buying a soda in any size that he wants.

What's going on here?

This is THE reason why the ban was struck down.

Mayor Bloomberg is a businessman at heart, a politician second. Since the major chains don't fall under the regulation, all the law did--even with all the "healthy" attributes it had--was helping to put the local store out of business, because when you go in for a soda, you just don't buy a soda, you buy some chips, maybe a sandwich, and maybe some other things.

If you can't get your soda there, you will go somewhere else.

This is a characteristic that Bloomberg's run as New York City's mayor has sustained, as he has done a similar thing with, for instance, under-performing schools.

The school doesn't work, well, don't fix it, close it, much like a factory that doesn't perform up to standards.

It is refreshing to see that a judge saw through all the rhetoric and saw the soda ban for what it was, a completely unenforceable law that served only to kill mom and pop enterprises.

And ultimately, the judge found that that wasn't a healthy move at all.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Rant #918: Glad All Over

Every once in a while, I like to go through my record collection, and see exactly what I have accumulated during the past nearly 50 years of collecting.

I have to say, I am especially enamored of my collection of vinyl 45s and LPs.

CDs and digital files are fine for what they are, but there is nothing like a vinyl record to get my temperature hopping.

Why do vinyl recordings do it for me?

I have thought about this point off and on during the past 25 years or so, or during the period that CDs entered the fray.

Now that digital files are wiping out the CD trade, it is even more obvious to me why I prefer vinyl over all the other musical formats.

And a lot of it has to do not with vinyl, but with cardboard.

Let's start with the vinyl itself.

Vinyl records are so easy to play on a record player, and there are plenty of record players out there, if anyone is truly interested in capturing the essence of their old records in the digital age.

And there is just something about the sound that you hear from a vinyl record versus the other formats that really shows, audibly, why vinyl is far superior to the other formats.

You get the full richness of the music. There is something about analog that makes aural splendor.

That is not to say that the other formats don't offer aural cornucopias of sound. But analog sound, to me, is so much purer than the digital sounds we hear today.

And then we come to the extras beyond the actual vinyl disk.

With a vinyl 45 or LP, you are not only holding a recording in your hand, you are holding, oftentimes, a work of art.

I am talking about the packaging, simple yet elegant.

Many 45s came with picture sleeves. These sleeves were one of a kind artifacts of their time. They often were used to promote the album from which the song came, but they also were unique works of art on their own, often featuring photos of the performer that you couldn't get anywhere else.

And they cannot be reproduced on CD or via the digital format. You can do it yourself with a turntable hooked up to your computer, but you lose the artwork, so for all intents and purposes, these 45s have been lost in the digital age.

Albums are another thing. Sure, they can be fully reproduced in the digital age, but because of their shrinking in size on CD--and their existence as files in the digital format--you don't get the full impact of the LP unless you own it on vinyl.

It is a complete package. Not only do you get the music, but you get the artwork, the liner notes, and everything else in a format that you don't need a magnifying glass to read.

Can you imagine if the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" album had come out on CD rather than on LP? The cover would have been minimized, and it would not have had the impact that it still has today, 46 years after it came out.

Can you name one single CD album work that has had even a minimal impact on our thinking?

And don't get me on digital, which are nothing more than files. They are great for listening in the car or on your portable digital device, but what is their worth beyond that.

I told my wife just a little while back that I am so beyond CDs and digital files that it really isn't funny. I have gravitated back to collecting vinyl, and although I don't really have much time or money to pursue this area, if something comes along that I need for my collection, I at least give it a look.

It doesn't mean that I won't ever buy CD or get digital files again.

It just means that I feel I have moved past the mundane and went back to something that I really can embrace.

And that is why this entry is titled "Glad All Over," because I am really happy about my choice.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rant #917: Today's Your Birthday

Today is my mother's birthday.

She is 82 years young today.

I have written about her in the past, and since today is her day, I will write about her again, so you get to know her even better than you do if you have read my posts over the past few years.

My mother is our family's Rock of Gibraltar. I really do not know where we would be if it wasn't for her.

As the matriarch of our little family--my family with two kids, and my sister's family, with three--she is the glue that holds us together, making her the strongest one of all of us.

You wouldn't think this way if you looked at her. She is probably the thinnest person I have ever seen, and my sister and I do not take after her, that's for sure.

She is slight looking, but not slight at all.

She is bright, effervescent, and seemingly hasn't lost a step over the past several decades. Of course, like all of us, she has, but she moves so fast that you don't see it.

She is the person that all of us go to when we have a problem. Sometimes she can solve the problem, sometimes not, but she is at least a sounding board for what we have to say.

And when she calls me by my real name, Lawrence, to this day I know I am in lots of trouble.

But she has always been there for my sister and myself, and for my kids and my sister's kids, and for my wife and my sister's husband.

My mother grew up in Brooklyn, and she has a tough veneer that she probably got from living there in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. 

But now, having settled down to life on Long Island, she is the typical suburban grandmother, but she has jets on her heels. I don't think too many people could keep up with her 40 years ago, and I know that not too many people can keep up with her now.

So here's to my mom. I am very lucky to have her.
Happy birthday, mom. Here's to another 82 years of forward motion.

And of everyone I know, you are the person who could actually do it.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Rant #916: "The Birds and the Bees"

Back during 1965, when I was all of eight years old, you could not turn on the radio without hearing the song “The Birds and the Bees.” It crossed over from being a rhythm and blues hit into pop radio, and it made it up to No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 during that year.

The singer of the song was Jewel Akens. If you couldn't get the song out of your head, you certainly wouldn't forget a name like that, either. The future looked bright for this young singer, but alas, he was never to have another real big hit. 

Defining a true one-hit wonder, Akens passed away on March 1 at age 79 after complications from back surgery.

Although he was best known for his hit "The Birds and the Bees," Akens had been recording since the late 1950s, usually as part of rhythm and blues groups such as the Medallions and the Four Dots. 

He had one other Hot 100 chart hit, "Georgie Porgie," which got up to No. 68, also in 1965.

But “The Birds and the Bees” cemented himself on pop radio, and due to the fame of his one hit, he had been touring on a regular basis since the mid-1960s to almost the present time.

He even received some type of push later in the 1960s when he recorded two singles for Colgems, the Monkees’ label. Although he never hit the Hot 100 with either of the two singles he recorded on the label--No. 1099, September 1967, "Born a Loser"/"Little Bitty Pretty One" and No. 1025, July 1968, "It's a Sin To Tell a Lie"/"You Better Move On”—he considered them to be among his finest recordings.

He also toured with the Monkees during his time on the label, then moved on to other things, including producing critically acclaimed rhythm and blues recordings by other artists.

Meanwhile, the song—written by the head of Era Records, Herb Newman--was covered by many artists, including Dean Martin and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates.

But he was best known to the public as a one-hit wonder, and that song still gets played today on a regular basis on oldies stations around the country, and around the world, where the song also was successful.

Although the tune gave him his two minutes of fame, Akens rode that fame into decades of recording and touring.

Here are the lyrics to this classic tune:

Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees
and the flowers and the trees,
the moon up above, and the thing called love.

Let me tell you 'bout the stars in the sky,
the girl and the guy
and the way they could kiss
on a night like this.

When I look into your big brown eyes,
it's very plain to see
that it's time you learn about the facts in life
startin' from A to Z.
Let me tell you 'bout the birds...


When I look into your big brown eyes...

Well, let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees...
Let me tell you 'bout the birds and the bees,
the flowers and the trees,
the stars in the sky, a girl and a guy.
The birds and the bees,
the flowers and the trees,
the stars in the sky and a girl and a guy...

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Rant #915: Twins

We have all known twins in our lives, people who were either born with an identical or fraternal buddy or people who just look like other people.

Growing up in Rochdale Village, Queens, New York, I was friendly with Eric and Larry. They looked alike, but were quite different people. They never saw eye to eye on much of anything, and were basically two ships at sea going in different directions. They were both good people, just so different from one another.

Then there was another person, Jay, who could have been my brother. We looked very much alike, but no, there was no hanky panky involved. We just resembled each other pretty strongly.

Later, my first wife was a twin, a fraternal twin. Her sister resembled Sandra Bullock, as I recall. My wife resembled her mother. 'Nuff said.

My wife, who I have been married to for nearly 20 years, early on told me that many people thought she looked like Adrienne Barbeau, top to bottom. She kind of does, kind of doesn't, head to toe, but to me, she is the best-looking woman on the planet.

I also believe that my maternal grandfather was a twin, but his twin died in childbirth, or something like that. I may have gotten that story wrong, maybe it wasn't him, but a close relative was a twin whose sibling died in childbirth.

I have known other twins during my lifetime, and even though they look alike, they are very, very different people.

You might remember that there was a movie called "Twins." Ahnold what's his name and Danny DeVito played fraternal twins. 'Nuff said about that one too.

And then you have people who just look like other people, like my ex-sister-in-law.

The latest example of this is that model Kate Upton, she of the famous Sports Illustrated cover, seems to have a twin somewhere in Russia.

And yes, she is pretty much a twin from top to bottom.

Evidently as a joke, young college student Ania (no last name) decided to put up on Twitter a duplicate photo of the one Kate Upton did on her famous S.I. cover.

Ania, like Upton, is blond, but the resemblance doesn't stop there.

She is tall, big and very busty like Upton, and since lots of skin was shown in that S.I. photo shoot, and lots of skin is shown in Ania's photo, it set the Internet world abuzz once again.

Yes, whether we like to admit it or not, it's what's up front that seems to count, and both Upton and Ania have proven that.

Upton even gave a thumb's up to Ania's photo, and that made the whole thing go viral and make Ania a star, at least for now.

She doesn't really think much of herself, saying something to the effect that she is a "mail-order bride" waiting to happen.

Yes, she would certainly be a "male order," she got that right.

What happens to Ania after everything dies down is anybody's guess.

I saw a picture of her other than the S.I. duplicate, and she is quite a pretty girl.

She kind of looks like Upton, kind of doesn't, but what difference does it make--is Hugh Hefner paying attention?

Anyway, it also proves another thing.

Models are looked at for their beauty, and many people hold them as the beauty ideal.

But there are beautiful women everywhere on this earth. You don't have to be a model to attest to the fact that beautiful women are everywhere, and some just go into a profession that exploits their looks.

Others become teachers, nurses, doctors, or stay home and watch the kids.

Yes, Kate Upton is beautiful, but I am sure that in your town, there are plenty of ladies that would be her rival for beauty.

Ania just happens to be one, in Russia of all places, but I am sure there are plenty of other Anias around the world, too.

And as they say, beauty is only skin deep ...

That's what they say, at least.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Rant #914: Let's Go to the Soundtrack

One of my hobbies in the digital age is to transfer my vinyl record collection--numbering in the thousands--to digital.

It is pretty easy to do. I use a turntable that I can hook up to my computer, and the transfer is just about seamless.

Over the past seven or eight years, I have transferred thousands of 45s and LPs to digital, and I also have a gizmo that can transfer tape to digital files, and I use that too.

Usually, I transfer over the files so I can listen to them in the MP3 player I have in my car. Other times, I transfer over the material so that others can hear it.

And I have plenty of stuff that you still can't get on CD, so the material I transfer over is often material that I couldn't get any other way if I wanted to.

Anyway, my latest obsession with my record collection is the large array of movie soundtracks that I have in my collection, and primarily my 1960s movie soundtrack collection, which numbers probably in the many dozens.

That really isn't that much when you look at the totality of my collection, but the interesting thing to me is that a lot of these LPs I haven't listened to in years, if ever.

My mother was a big record buyer when my sister and I were young, and when she went to a movie, or, for that matter a Broadway show, and she liked what she saw, she inevitably ran out and bought the soundtrack or the original cast recording, so I have plenty of material to choose from.

And she did exactly what the record companies wanted her to do. Movie soundtracks and Broadway cast albums were extras for those who saw these shows. You saw the show or film, you liked it, you just had to have the recording so you could relive the experience in your homes.

There was no home video in those days, so this was the closest thing you could have to actually owning the film.

Listening to a lot of these soundtracks, one had to really like the film to get some of these, because many of them are literally one-listen affairs. There really is nothing on them to sustain listening past that first time.

Others have a longer longevity, if you know what I mean. Repeat plays are essential, because not only were the movies really good, but the soundtracks are too.

And many of them were hits, spawned hits, and are essential pieces of a complete record collection.

My focus is on the 1960s for a variety of reasons. One, of course, is that the 1960s, to me, was the most interesting decade to be alive in. Hope was eternal, but a lot of that hope was shattered by senseless assassinations and war.

The movies reflected this perfectly, and through the decade, you could see that in the soundtracks. Earlier in the decade, the movie soundtracks were generally light and frothy. As rock and roll took center stage, they started to showcase that music, and late in the decade, the more serious music of the 1960s came out on those soundtracks, reflecting life as we were living it.

It is quite a changeover, and that is why I like what I hear on these soundtrack.

Notice that I haven't mentioned any soundtracks by name here. Yes, there are photos of some of these soundtracks throughout this piece, but whether talking about good or bad ones, they all share one thing:
someone--whether it be my mother or someone else, because some of these soundtracks I have picked up in used record stores on my own over the years--found it necessary to buy these LPs for their collections.

Someone decided that the film they saw was memorable enough that they wanted to have the soundtrack of the film for their collection.

There are some constants that run through a lot of the soundtracks--composer John Barry is one, especially on the James Bond soundtracks but certainly on others too--and whether good or bad, or for bad movies or good, this music meant something to somebody.

When I listen to the music in my car, much of it acts as white noise, a sort of background to my driving. Others perk my ears up, and I want to hear more.

And I do, whether I am listening to soundtrack veterans like a Julie Andrews, or just to a cut that really interests me.

And like these soundtracks when they first came out, when I am done listening, they are put away in my mind and my collection.

Perhaps I will listen to them again, perhaps not. But at least I took the time to listen to them with a 40-plus to 50 year perspective around them.

These soundtracks were new way back when, they are old now, but given that multi-decade perspective, I can truly appreciate the care that went into the creation of this music.

Things are different today. We are in a completely disposable society, and with iTunes and music files, I don't think that soundtracks really count that much anymore.

Sure, they are still produced on CD, but on the Internet, you can find the tracks you want, and you don't have to get the complete package.

My argument is that getting the complete package is vital to understanding both the music and the film, but I think that I am in the minority on that point today.

Whatever the case, I am glad that I rediscovered these soundtracks.

They are fun to listen to, and give me a personal glimpse of the music of the time, and what composers were trying to say with their music.

Listen to a soundtrack from that time, and I guarantee you will get what I am saying.


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