Monday, May 28, 2012
I'm happy to report that The Boston Herald saw fit to publish me again. Huzzah! I'm now averaging a sale of my writing once every nine weeks or so, which would pretty much qualify as a career if I lived in a refrigerator crate and ate nothing but the stray cats that wandered down my alley.
Anyway, I assume you can find the piece HERE. I hope you enjoy it.
Soon, with more better stuff.
Thursday, May 24, 2012
A short story from 1977. Why am I publishing it? Just re-living a time when I could be macho and idiotic without worrying about death, I suppose. Also, I happen to be a proponent of handling problems in the most direct and expedient fashion available, and this illustrates that approach nicely.
When I was 20, an idiot driver continually came screeching around the corner on our side street and then traveled up it at speeds far exceeding the legal limit. The noise bothered me and so did the attitude. It was unnerving, and very dangerous to neighborhood kids and pets (I had a cat at the time, and I didn't like the idea of letting him outside only to have him flattened by some a-hole doing 35 or 40 in a 20mph zone.)
Anyway, after about a week of this jerk pulling the same stunt three or four times every day, I had had enough. I was sitting in my living room, watching TV, when I heard his car, tires squealing, on another street nearby. I sprang into action.
We had recently had a wall repaired on our property. The wall was constructed of cinder blocks which, if you aren't familiar with them, are big whitish bricks weighing about five pounds each.
I ran outside, barefoot and shirtless, and picked up one of those cinder blocks. I then sprinted into the middle of the street just as this moron's car was careening around our corner. I held the cinder block over my head with both hands, hopeful that the angry look on my face made my intent obvious: to throw said cinder block through the next windshield that came near me.
Brakes were hit, the car squealed to a dead stop, then the driver reversed gears, backed up off of our street, and drove away. He never came down our street again.
In case you're wondering, yes, I would have put the brick through his windshield. I was young, pissed off, and didn't give a damn. But I'm glad he had sense enough to back off.
And that's the story. Feel free to discuss amongst yourselves.
Soon, with more better stuff.
Monday, May 21, 2012
That's what I have to keep telling myself, because the team I've joined at M Street is undefeated while I've been fairly worthless as a hitter.
QUENCHER - 12 Below Average Joes - 8
QUENCHER - 17 Clarkes - 2
QUENCHER - 12 Paramount Blues - 0
QUENCHER - 25 Stats Bar & Grille - 5
QUENCHER - 24 Stadium Stingers - 10
That's 5 and 0. We're in first place. And we deserve to be. Everybody is hitting a ton (except me) and the team defense has been good. We've gotten solid pitching performances. Everybody hustles, and I can't remember anyone making any bonehead plays. This team is definitely at least in the hunt for the league title.
Having said all of that, we haven't hit the tougher part of our schedule yet. The combined record of the five teams we've beaten is 9 and 12 (although the last win, against Stadium, came in a battle of undefeateds. They were 5 and 0 before we beat them.)
It's a good bunch of guys, personally, and they all know how the game should be played. I've only been with them for these five games, but I haven't seen any evidence of anyone being a major head case. Everybody gets along. And all of them have welcomed me aboard, despite my being a 55-year-old travesty of what I used to be.
Yes, I am now officially The Ghost Of Softball Past. I have been anemic with the bat. I've put one ball out of the infield in five games. I don't claim to have anywhere near the speed I once did, but now my baserunning just plain stinks. In the most recent game, for example, I was thrown out going first to third on what might have been a clean double from the guy behind me (Leo Evivriades, our CF, who was working on a streak of nine consecutive hits, by the way.) I felt like I was running in quicksand as I hit second base.
Enough whining. The team is undefeated. It sure feels good to be able to say that after the past two seasons of my managing The Swingers. They were a good bunch of guys, too, but absolutely the worst defensive team I have ever managed. If we didn't score 20 runs in a game last year, we had little hope. My poor pitchers had to count on inducing four or five outs almost every inning (one of them, Josh Lebron, who deserved much better, has joined me in moving to Quencher, going 3 and 0 so far.) This current squad can actually catch the ball, which is a good thing, and the lone bit of solace I can take from my performance on the field is that my work behind the plate hasn't been as hideous as my hitting. I've caught three of the five wins, including the shutout victory over Paramount (thrown by our other starter, Stevie Mills [2 and 0], who has six solid pitches in his arsenal - sinking fastball, riser, curve, screwball, change, knuckler.)
So, would I rather be batting 1.000 or be on an undefeated team? I'd have to be a total asshole to take the individual stats. I might be an asshole, but I'm not a total one, so there's your answer. I'll take the undefeated team, thanks. And if I go 0 for 50 the rest of the way, but we win the championship, I'll have a smile on my face while I'm slitting my throat.
Meanwhile, the Bombers season finally gets underway tomorrow (I'm writing this on Saturday.) I think this is the latest the Sunday season has ever begun in my 18 years in the league. I'd prefer starting in the first week of April and playing through October, but most of the rest of the league is sane so that won't happen.
Here's hoping we can get off to as good a start as Quencher. I'll be managing the Bombers for the first few weeks (Jack Atton has commitments, so back in the saddle for me, at least temporarily. I've been a sort of co-pilot for Quencher with Bob Carlson, so it's been a very busy season in that regard.) I've got little confidence as a player right now (can you tell?) so I'll likely just sit myself on the bench for the first game and (I hope) enjoy watching my guys win.
See you after the doubleheader!
BOMBERS – 14 Reds – 1
Reds – 14 BOMBERS – 11
It was an OK start, but we should have won both games. We completely blew up defensively in the third inning of the second game and paid for it.
Game one was never in serious doubt. We put two on the board in the first, two more in the second, and then a five spot in the third. Meanwhile, Robbie (a new pick up for us, and I don’t even know his last name) was pitching some lovely ball. He gave up one unearned run over five innings and we closed it out by slaughter rule.
Big Jay Atton took the mound in game two. He threw well enough to win, but he was totally abused by his defense.
It was a 3 – 3 game going into the top of the third. An error on a ground ball, a soft liner off a glove, a dropped fly ball, another error on a throw, a ball skipping under an outfielder’s glove, another ground ball misplayed… eight unearned runs later we’re down 11 – 3. We made a fair effort at catching them, but you can’t play ball like that and expect to win. Take away the unearned runs and we win going away. Oh, well. Unlike some other years when I knew our defensive lapses came about because the guys just plain couldn’t catch the damn ball, I know this team is basically sound. It was just one of those innings that comes out of the blue and causes a pitcher a nervous breakdown. I have no doubt this is actually a solid team and I’ll be extremely surprised if I see anything like this again.
For my part, I did nothing to make myself feel better as a player. I made the decision to not play a defensive position, letting Joey Baszkiewicz catch both ends of the doubleheader (I wanted to just manage game one, and then when it came to game two, with us having had such a nice first game, I decided to keep Joey behind the plate because Big Jay is a bit more comfortable with him than with me.) I inserted myself at the end of the lineup as a hitter only in game two. I’m still not making any good contact. I took three trips to the plate, popped up twice and grounded out once. I got a pity RBI on the ground out (that is, my fielder’s choice resulted in a run scoring, but I can’t kid myself into thinking that it was actually anything for which I truly deserve any credit.)
So, let me finish this up with a few props for good performances.
Billy Botting hit the lone dinger for us, a huge blast to right field in game one. He’s returning to us after a two year absence and it sure is nice to have his bat back in the games. This year, he brought his brother Jimmy with him, and I’m not sure which one is the better ballplayer. Jimmy had four doubles, displaying speed that will drive our opponents round the bend. They both have the good glove, strong arms, and great attitudes.
PK (Pat Kelly) had a couple of real clutch hits, including a laced triple. Fast Freddy Goodman had a four hit day. Joel Kershner reached five times – three hits and two walks. As I mentioned, both pitchers threw well. Hell, I’d like to go on and give everybody some love, but this is getting a bit long and I’ve got work to do. Suffice to say if I didn’t mention you by name, I still know the good things you did and I appreciate the effort. I’m going to have fun managing this group during the three weeks that Jack won’t be here. He’d better watch out – I might not want to relinquish the reins after a few more wins. It’s kind of enjoyable feeling I’m making some sort of contribution by making out the line-up card, and if I don’t start hitting, I might need the ego boost
Soon, with more better stuff.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012
[Yes, this is a rerun, but not if you're new here! In that case, it's all brand new and spiffy and surprisingly delightful! Anyway, whether you've seen it before or not, I expect you to read every word of it because it's about My Mother, damn it.]
[Anyway, this past Sunday was Mothers Day here in the U. S. of A., and today is My Mother's birthday. As a crummy son, this is the best present she will be getting, maybe, although I think if she checks outside her door every once in a while today, there may be something else nice. I'm just saying. However, that's one of the reasons why I adore My Mother: She's OK with my seeming ingratitude. And, if she is, I don't expect any guff from the likes of you.]
[Oh, boy. I'm not exactly endearing myself to anyone here. Well, My Mother loves me. And that's the point of this.
No, wait. The point is that I love My Mother. Even if I don't make it readily apparent (Ha! A parent!) by showering her with gifts on the two days a year when she might expect them most. So, Mom, here's the same tribute to you that I've published a few times before, except I threw in a few different photos this time and also wrote this hideous introduction. Happy Mothers Day! Happy Birthday! In honor of you, I will think of you a lot while I'm playing ball tonight. As a matter of fact, the first time I take a curveball off the shins, I'll consider it divine retribution in your honor!]
[My Mom always goes out of her way to have eclairs for me on my birthday. Meanwhile, I'm playing softball on hers, and... Oh, yes, I've already gone over that ground, eh? Mmmmmmmmmm. Eclairs!]
[My Mom and My Stepfather, Bill, both getting soused, as usual. No, no, no. This was at the rehearsal dinner for the wedding of MY WIFE and myself. Knowing the two of us, they had every good reason to get soused, but they didn't.]
[My Mom, showing off the acting skills that have won her numerous Tonys, Emmys, and Bills. Hah! She's been married to two guys named Bill, see? It's like I almost made a joke there, if any of you knew. I won't embarrass My Mom by talking about the Tonys, and the less said about the Emmys, the better off we'll all be.
Oh, OK, I'll shut up now. Here's the stuff I wrote a few years ago.]
[My Mother, left, and her sister, Jeanne, Easter 1950]
First, an explanation.
You know how some people have a birthday on or around Christmas and it kind of gets lost? It just sort of gets melded into the larger holiday and that person gets somewhat cheated out of two special days? My Mom's birthday is like that. She was born on May 16th, so her birthday always falls within a couple of days of Mothers Day. As a result, some people believe she gets the short end of things from me.
However, I'll tell you that my mother isn't all that worried about it. A shallow person she is not. She is very intelligent and she understands the situation. This is not to say that she wouldn't want two parties or two bunches of gifts or two of whatever; everybody likes twice as much good stuff if they can get it. But she understands. And I love her all the more for understanding that I love her just as much, even though I sometimes may not show her how much twice in the same week.
This is my birthday card to my mother. You may or may not "get" everything I write here, but she will and that's what matters. These are mainly just short fond memories of times I treasure; times I had with my mother and things we did together. The greater parts of them are from my childhood. So are the pictures, which look the way they do because I only barely know how to use a scanner and photoshop. If I waited until I knew what I was doing before publishing, this space would be blank for about a decade.
I suppose it makes sense to start with the usual Mom-type stuff.
She wiped my tears and bandaged my scraped knees and kissed my boo-boos and made them better. She vacuumed and made the beds. She did the laundry - early on with an actual washtub and scrub board and wringer - and she hung the clothes to dry on the clothesline in the backyard (or, in the winter, on a clothesline we had strung in the cellar) and a bit later we got a dryer. She did the ironing while watching Loretta Young and Mike Douglas. She was almost always ironing when I got home from school, it seemed.
She nursed me through all the usual illnesses and gifted me with my first copy of MAD magazine during one of them, and thank you for trusting me at such a young age with such revolutionary material, Mom. She put patches on my pants, as I needed them.
(Does anybody put patches on pants anymore?)
She gave me eggnog to drink for breakfast - an actual egg stirred into a big glass of milk, perhaps with chocolate syrup. Those were the days when it was considered healthy to feed your child eggs and milk every day, even raw eggs - maybe especially raw eggs. She gave me vitamins.
(One time, I decided that if a single vitamin tablet was good for you, then taking a whole bottle might turn me into Superman. Mom was the one who called the doctor.)
She packed my lunchbox with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, slices of apples or oranges, usually a cookie or two, and always a thermos of milk.
(How many thermoses did I break? Many. You'd drop one of the things and hear that shattering of the insides and you knew without checking that your milk now had big shards of glass in it. Mom always bought me a new one.)
She made dinners of swordfish or fish sticks or tuna casserole. My Dad did much of the cooking, and he hated fish, but when he wasn't around Mom made sure I got enough of the seafood that I loved. She would buy salmon and tuna just for me to eat straight from the can - something I still do often, although now I might spoon it out onto a plate first. She made me macaroni and plain tomatoes, still one of my favorite simple dinners - and one that, as it turns out, is quite healthy.
We would do some cooking together. We made peanut butter cookies. We made bread pudding. She would bake a cake and I would graciously help out by licking the bowl clean. I was always glad to do my part.
Sometimes, we would go out to eat, just Mom and me. We might go to the Liberty Deli in Lower Mills, or perhaps we would end up at a restaurant called Colstone's in downtown Boston. Both of these would be places we visited after we had been to church to say a prayer and light a candle. The Deli after Saint Gregory's; Colstone's after Arch Street. She would put a coin in the poor box at church and let me light the votive candle. She taught me to pray and she taught me reverence for holy places. She gave me a great sense of God as benevolent and likely to listen to me. It was, and is, a good thing.
She sang, always. She loved to sing; still does. She sang standards around the house. She had a lovely voice; still does. She and her sister, Jeannette, actually had their own radio show when they were teenagers, on WJDA in Quincy. The story, as I remember it, was that they had spoken to the station manager and complained that there wasn't enough programming for teenagers. He told them that if they thought so, maybe they could come up with some themselves. They said, "OK" and went on the air. Pretty gutsy stuff, that.
I owe my livelihood to my Mom. Even before I went into kindergarten, she was teaching me to read. I was always the best reader in my class in school. I am still one of the best readers I know and I work with professional readers every day. Without that early acquisition of knowledge, provided by Mom, I wouldn't have the job I have today. I am very grateful for that.
She taught me an absolute love for the written word and she taught me that acquiring knowledge doesn't have to be a drag. She would buy me books at every possible opportunity. I still have a half-shelf of Golden Library Of Knowledge books, which she bought for me - one at a time - from a store downtown every two or three weeks. I learned about dinosaurs and the planets and insects and the elements and animals from far off lands, and learned about them before I had to learn about them in school. I glided through much of elementary school because my Mom gave me such an enormous head start.
While I was in school, she kept a scrapbook. It is in my possession now. Entitled "Jimmy's School Years", it is an amazingly embarrassing collection of inept crayon drawings, declining-in-quality-as-I-moved-into-high-school report cards, class photos (who are half these people?), and other assorted ephemera from my times at the Gilbert Stuart, Boston Latin, the Woodrow Wilson, Boston Latin (again), and finally, Boston Tech. Grades K through 12 wrapped up in one overstuffed segmented package. While it is embarrassing, even for me to look at in private, I am so very thankful she did it.
I remember something I wasn't thankful for and which non-thankfulness I have been ashamed of ever since. One day, when I was perhaps four or five, Mom came home from a trip downtown and she had a small present for me. It was these two small replicas of phonograph records, one reading "YES" on the tiny label in the middle, and the other "NO". I don't know what their actual purpose was, but I suspect they were part of some advertising gimmick. I seem to remember that they came from Filene's Basement, but I may be mistaken.
Anyway, she had had a small little nice thought when handed them by whomever - "I'll bring these home and maybe Jimmy would like to play with them". My Mom came in and handed them to me, saying something to the effect of she wasn't sure if I wanted these but, if I did, I could have them. I behaved like a bratty little shit and said I didn't want them; why would I want them?; something entirely ungrateful. Maybe I was expecting something else from her for some reason? I don't know.
(Silly thing to remember, but I do. And I am ashamed about it. I was ungrateful for a gift given with love. Now, I'm almost willing to guarantee that my Mom doesn't have the slightest idea what I'm talking about. She remembers good stuff about me and forgets bad stuff. Well, I apologize anyway, Mom, and now I feel better.)
Well, you see, I'm getting into small weird things here and, if I keep on like this, it will be a book before long and even then it won't feel like enough. In the interests of getting this thing published by her actual birthday, I'm going to just list a few things now, things that - if you aren't my Mom - may well sound bizarre or psychotic or both. She'll read each and every one, slowly and lovingly, and have memories - perhaps many memories, and strong - conjured by each.
You were the savior of Davy and the unfortunate bearer of bad news concerning Tippy.
You were Sugar's midwife, twice, and every cat's best friend, always.
You were the teacher and player of Fish, Casino, Rummy 500, Chinese Checkers.
You were my pass to the cafeteria at Prudential and then to shuffleboard in the employee lounge afterwards.
You are the gatekeeper of the "For Now" room.
You were the grower of the rose bush, the tiger lilies and my willow tree.
You gave me a box of kitchen matches and a bowl of water.
You were the magician who made stars appear on my bedroom ceiling.
You allowed my jumps down the stairs and piled the pillows to land on.
You put up with marbles in the bathtub.
You made me believe that the second half of The Wizard Of Oz was in glorious color even though I was watching it on a black-and-white television.
You came to see me play at McCarthy's and you actually stayed through the second set.
You were the buyer of South Station bowling.
Your room had the jewelry box filled with shiny things and a Kennedy/Johnson campaign button, the atomizer, the radio that played Jess Cain every morning, and sunbeams that never were as warm after you left.
You were the person with me as I watched The Flintstones, The Addams Family, Camp Runamuck, Hank, Bewitched, That Girl, Fractured Flickers, The Hathaways, It's About Time and I'm Dickens, He's Fenster. At the very least, three of those were shows you really were not terribly fond of, but you watched them with me anyway.
You brought me to a brave radical church and I gained a new circle of friends.
You introduced me to MY WIFE.
You were the saver of newspapers - "Kennedy Assassinated", "Man Walks On Moon", "Red Sox Win Pennant" - and I wish to hell I had been the saver of them, too.
You were the person I reported the Dow Jones to every night. Why? I haven't the foggiest notion.
You were the person who brought me the news of a death of a person I knew; the first death I actually felt and understood the finality of. "Ma died", you said. And you held me close and I knew that in this world where people I had imagined as permanent were not, your love was.
You are possibly the fairest person in the world. At the very least, you always listen to everybody and give serious consideration to their thoughts and feelings. I've inherited some of that, but not nearly enough.
You were my traveling companion on the railway in the sky that took us to Ma and Pa's for Easter.
You are the child at heart who played miniature golf and skeeball, took swings in the batting cage, ate ice cream sundaes and candy bars, and did assorted other young things with great relish and panache, on your 65th birthday.
All things considered, you're probably the best mother I've ever had.
(Hey, I got some of this sense of humor from you, you know, so stop rolling your eyes.)
Something like this could go on forever, but I'll close with this:
I've described a large number of idiotic episodes of my life on this blog and will no doubt relate many more. I've done things that were illegal, immoral, stupid, and that otherwise seemingly reflect badly on my upbringing. Every single one of those things came about through my own volition.
Meanwhile, every good quality I possess - and every good thing I've ever done - came about as a direct result of how I was raised. That may sound like hyperbole, but it is the absolute stone cold truth.
Thanks, Mom. Happy Birthday! And Happy Mothers Day, too!
Tuesday, May 15, 2012
"I hate people, especially men!"
Those were the words I heard MY WIFE say as I sat in the bedroom having my first cigarette of the day. She could have been talking about me polluting the air, but she wasn't. Instead, she was referring to the men on her radio. They were discussing the Boston Celtics.
Some background: We attended last night's playoff game between the Celtics and the Philadelphia 76'ers. The Celtics, for the most part, did not play a game you would want to show to kids as an example of great basketball. Still, they came close to winning, the final score being 82 - 81 in favor of Philly.
I guess the guys on the radio were bemoaning the loss, possibly tossing in a few adjectives which expressed dismay at the C's level of execution. And MY WIFE took exception.
"Oh! We lost! It's the end of the world! The Celtics suck! We loved them yesterday, but now they're bums!"
I was on my way to the shower, naked. I instinctively covered my junk.
"What is the matter with men?", she continued. "They lost by ONE point! It's like beating a child because it got an A minus!"
I think I probably rolled my eyes at this point, because she said, "Oh! You think I don't get it, right?"
I said, "Well, you do... but you don't."
I then ducked into the bathroom and closed the door, taking the coward's way out, while she made annoyed animal sounds in the kitchen.
Here's the thing, my darling. There are only two possible outcomes in any sport. You either win or lose. The Celtics lost. You, unfortunately, confuse our male disappointment, over a loss, with a hatred of those human beings who went down to defeat. You think that because we are sad about losing, and have chosen to express our dismay verbally in a somewhat uncomplimentary manner, that we no longer respect the players as human beings.
That is not the case.
Despite the invective, fans do not hate a player or a team because of a failure to win (unless the player is an absolute churl who doesn't give a damn about the fans, such as Josh Beckett.) We have involved ourselves with the outcome of these games. We have made conscious decisions, for whatever odd reasons, to wish for one team or another to emerge victorious at the end of the day. When that doesn't happen, we need to vent our emotions. Sometimes we choose a non-playing scapegoat - a referee, a coach, or perhaps a player's spouse (which is, now that I think of it, not someplace I want to go while trying to defend men) - but, more often than not, we understand that the end result of a contest came about because of how the players did or did not meet expectations.
If we didn't expect much in the first place, there won't be much complaining. As a matter of fact, we will laud a valiant losing effort. Tragic heroes are OK; ask any pre-2004 Red Sox fan. When we expect a team to win, however, and that team fails to play to the levels of which they are capable, we tend to feel somewhat cheated.
Now, I'm not saying I feel cheated by how the Celtics performed last night. Personally, I think any win they capture, from this point in the playoffs onward, is worthy of applause. If this team somehow manages to capture the NBA championship, it should be celebrated in song for the next century. The banner raised to the rafters at The Garden should be edged in gold, studded with emeralds, and be put in a position about a half-foot higher than the other 17 it will join. This Celtic's squad is playing on (as Kevin Garnett described what it took the win a previous playoff game this year) grit and balls. Paul Pierce has a badly sprained MCL, Ray Allen is running and jumping on bone spurs in his ankle, and Avery Bradley dislocates his shoulder every other game. Greg Stiemsma, Garnett's best replacement off the bench, has been battling severe foot pain for a month. As a result, he can't play as much (or, at least, not as much as effectively) and that results in Garnett, the guy on the team with the most mileage on his body (17 seasons in the league) playing more minutes per game than coach Doc Rivers would prefer. Mickael Pietrus suffered a hideous concussion against these same 76'ers a while back. It is the opinion of some, including Celtics announcer Tommy Heinsohn, that he still isn't 100%. There are other, smaller, injuries to deal with on the bench. So, believe me, I have nothing but respect and admiration for most of these guys even playing, let alone winning as they have been. In sporting terms, they have been mightily heroic.
That having been said, though, the last two games have been ugly. The Celtics have had small spurts of brilliance surrounded by large bunches of not getting the job done. We could go on for pages about why the goods haven't been delivered, but I suspect that would qualify as another reason for MY WIFE to hate men (and maybe the paragraph previous to this one already gave her more fuel for her fire; I don't know.) The bottom line for most of us, as fans, is that the Celtics were somewhat lucky to win Game One (it was luck, combined with lots of heart, Kevin Garnett somehow apparently shedding 10 years off his age, and some seriously intelligent play by Rajon Rondo) and that they probably should have won Game Two, but failed to do so because they fell apart at the seams in the third quarter last night. They staged a valiant comeback, but still committed enough mental errors to earn them some form of enmity from radio announcers who are paid, after all, to say the sorts of things at which people such as MY WIFE get mad.
I love The Celtics. MY WIFE loves them, too. But hers isn't the same sort of love, and I guess that's just the way it is. She gets it, but she doesn't get it. Men sometimes love differently than women. No shame in that for either sex (or for those who love as the opposite sex does, I suppose, but let's not delve too deeply there, as that's another can of worms altogether.) No argument that some women are just as passionate in their fandom as any man, but the great majority of goofy-ass over-the-top rabid dress-up-in-ridiculous-costumery fans are male.
Yes, MY WIFE, we both wear green shirts to the game, and you've gone as far as to wear green shamrock dealyboppers - and I applaud you for that fashion decision - but come on. As a whole, my sex takes it to another level entirely and that's just the way it is. We love you women despite Lifetime TV. Cut us some slack, too. Stop being a hater.
Soon, with more better stuff.
Friday, May 11, 2012
I know you usually expect something lightweight and entertaining when you come here, but today I think we need to discuss a matter of vital importance to the well-being of society. It’s a question that has plagued mankind since the early 1950’s. It won’t be easy to come up with an answer we can all agree upon, but we have to try. If we don’t figure this out, the world we leave behind for our children and grandchildren just plain won’t be worth living in. So, as distasteful as it may be, let’s get to work.
What are your top five all-time favorite TV shows?
In order to go about this task in an orderly fashion, I have formulated a set of rules. To qualify as a top five all-time favorite TV show, a series has to meet the following criteria:
1 – Every time it is listed, you watch it. The only exception is if another of the top five is playing at the same time. In that case, you watch the one higher on the list, but flip to the other during commercial breaks.
(Another good test of how much you like a show is if your spouse says, "Are you insane? You're watching [fill in the blank] again?", and you seriously weigh the merits of slamming him or her over the head with a tire iron because... well, because he or she thinks you might be insane, anyway, so why not?)
2 – Reruns are swell. If you say, "Oh, I’ve seen that one already...", then it’s not a top five show.
3 – You probably know the names of all the actors, even those who only play incidental parts such as waiters and deliverymen.
4 – You have a favorite episode (or two, or seven.)
5 – It may have jumped the shark at some point, but you still found enough worth, in the episodes that followed, to keep you tuning in.
(By the way, I think Jon Hein, who originally came up with "jumping the shark", should be knighted, or at least given a two-for-one at Pizza Hut. Pure genius. Also, just so we're clear, I don't think anybody ever actually "tunes in" anymore, but I am ancient of days and unwilling to change my verbiage.)
6 – You would unashamedly recommend it to someone who has never seen it.
(Of course, your level of shame may differ from mine. I’ve recommended Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp and felt no shame whatsoever.)
7 – You immediately know if bits have been cut out of the reruns.
(It's best not to point this out to others who may be watching the show with you. You'll spend too much time explaining what is missing and, if you're anything like me, by the time you finish the explanation, the show itself will be over and the folks you explained it to will not be impressed beyond thinking you probably have some gentle form of autism.)
8 – You think of favorite scenes and smile – possibly even laugh aloud – if it’s a comedy. If it’s a dramatic show, scenes bear up under scrutiny.
(Is it just me? Or does "scrutiny" sound like a disease of the testicles suffered by British sailors?)
(Wow. That was pretty random. It's been, what, like a week-and-a-half since I last posted anything? You waited that long for a bad joke about balls? Sorry!)
(Enjoy it while you can. It's probably softball and reruns from here on out for the next three months.)
9 – You would probably like to see a reunion show of some sort; one that tells how the characters have fared and what they’ve been up to since the show went off the air.
(If there has been a reunion show already, and it sucked, you know the characters well enough to use your imagination and make up your own alternate reality. Never tell it to anyone, though, unless - as outlined in Rule #1 - you're on trial for bapping your spouse on the head with a tire iron and you've decided to plead insanity.)
10 – You quote from the show, often. Those quotes are sometimes met by a blank stare, but that doesn’t deter you.
11 – It does not have an abundance of “dated” scenes which make you ashamed of your generation.
(I think of this as The Mod Squad Rule. I could have called it the Three’s Company rule. Basically, any show that ever had the main characters wearing dashikis and/or leisure suits, sporting platform heels, showing off big gold chains embedded in copious chest hair, or which featured a white guy with an Afro, is disqualified. Here's a rock-solid fact concerning television: There has never been a show that tried to be hip that actually was. There have been hip shows, for sure - Monty Python comes immediately to mind - but they weren't that way because of any overt attempt at inclusion of what some network idiots thought might appeal to the younger generation.
(I suppose I should make it clear that if the thing you love about a show is the very fact that it is outlandishly dated, then skip rule #11 for that show. For instance, if you like to positively wallow in bell bottoms, bad hairstyles, and polyester clothing, then go ahead and put The Brady Bunch on your list. I won't kick you out of bed over it. Also, if a show consciously made an effort to be over-the-top and campy right from the outset, it can qualify. That's known as The Batman Exemption.)
[Yeah, I know this is from The Brady Bunch Hour, not the original, but Rule 11-a says your favorite cannot spawn a hideous variety show unless you're willing to claim it as your own when people bring it up, which they will.]
12 - It cannot be a show in current production. Why? Because then you can't tell if rule #11 will apply. The show has to have withstood at least some little test of time, and that's why all of the shows that follow will be older than dirt.
Now that we’ve set the ground rules, here are my top five:
1 – Leave It To Beaver
I’m sure some of you think I’ve slipped a gear naming this the best TV show ever, but it was a seriously good bunch of television. The acting was honest, the relationships between the characters realistic, it was always emotionally correct, there was at least one strong laugh in every episode, and it featured both the best TV father AND the best “character you love to hate”, those being, respectively, Ward Cleaver and the unctuously oily two-faced Eddie Haskell.
"Gee, Mrs. Cleaver, that's a lovely dress you're wearing!"
Hell, Eddie Haskell by himself is enough to make any show the best TV show ever. I'd even watch re-runs of old Providence Steamrollers basketball games if Eddie Haskell showed up every so often.
(By the way, here's your daily trivia that might win you a drink in a bar bet: Nat Hickey, of the Providence Steamrollers, was the oldest player in NBA history. He was two days short of his 46th birthday when he played a game for them in 1948. He missed all six of the shots he attempted, and had five personal fouls, so it wasn't a great game, but it was still a game.)
2 – The Dick Van Dyke Show
Strong comedy. Always well-written, and performed by an ensemble of comic actors unmatched in American television history. Nobody came close to Dick Van Dyke, at his peak, for fluid grace while performing physical schtick, and Carl Reiner, as viciously overbearing boss Alan Brady, was almost as much fun as Eddie Haskell telling Beaver to go eat his Maypo.
3 – One Foot In The Grave
Brits will be more familiar with this one than Americans. It was the story of the perpetually put-upon Victor Meldrew, a man given to uttering “I don’t believe it!” when presented with life’s latest indignity. Small detail heaped upon small detail until everything comes crashing down via belly laugh. Truly inspired, and definitely worth seeking out if you’ve never had the pleasure.
4 – The Honeymooners
"One o’ these days, Alice, one o’ these days… Bang! Zoom!"
Blustery blowhard Ralph Kramden, one get-rich-quick scheme after another, aided and abetted by his great pal, sewer worker Ed Norton, and alternately confounded and consoled by his ever-patient wife, Alice.
No other television show that aired for only ONE YEAR has been in reruns continuously for more than 57 years since then. Case closed.
5 – Bilko
The actual title was “The Phil Silvers Show”, but nobody called it that. It was always just “Bilko” to those who loved it. The first television comedy to have as its protagonist an anti-hero, Ernie Bilko was a self-serving, greedy, conniving, egotistical master sergeant in the United States Army. When not defrauding his platoon out of their last dollars by promoting crooked dances and raffles, he would make every attempt to become wealthy and famous via more outlandish schemes such as having the entire camp transferred to California because he had found a map showing that gold was buried on the land where the new base would be located. Phil Silvers was superb as Bilko, full of fast patter and double-talk for his always-befuddled commanding officer, Colonel Hall (Paul Ford), and, like many a hero of olden times, he had an Achilles heel – a conscience, which he was able to keep at bay most of the time, but which prevented him from ever really doing harm (and was the secret to the audience being able to root for such a louse, as he would use his considerable brain power for good purposes once every few episodes.)
OK, so now it's time for you to make your list, and...
Oh, hell, I have to name one more show.
5a – The Lone Ranger
The only non-comedy I chose, it makes the list because... well, just because. I love the simplicity of it. There is nothing at all complicated about this show. It's just good action/adventure, earnestly acted, with a hero so squeaky clean you could erect a statue of him inside a church and most priests wouldn't object. In retrospect, some of the dialogue seems insensitive (lots of calling Natives such things as "redskin", "injun", etc.) but The Lone Ranger never says those things, mostly just the evil guys so it gives you another reason to dislike 'em. The relationship between the principles (Clayton Moore as The Ranger, Jay Silverheels as Tonto) is sincerely friendly, and there are a few instances wherein Tonto is verbally defended by his friend when another white man belittles his ethnicity, something far from common during the late 40's and early 50's time period of filming. The production values - that is to say, the tactile feel, the sets, the costuming, the filming techniques, the cheesy sets - are similar to old Columbia short subjects (Three Stooges, etc.), which is a plus for me, but maybe not for you. Hugh McCollum, who was producer for much of the later Columbia output, also manned these half-hours, so no surprise.
OK, that's that, I promise. Now, why not go and do thou likewise, at your place? Or in the comments here, if you wish. I've certainly given you enough room to argue endlessly by those shows I didn't name as my favorites.
Soon, with more better stuff.
Tuesday, May 01, 2012
I'm so proud to be from Massachusetts. The town of Middleborough has proposed a $20 fine for those caught swearing in public.
OK, let's get the obvious out of the way. This would be a blatant violation of The First Amendment to The Constitution. While Middleborough's previous claim to fame has been that it is not Raynham, now it is on the precipice of national notoriety as the town that bankrupted itself because it didn't understand the basic American right known as freedom of speech. If the town actually tries to enforce this, it will lose MILLIONS of dollars. Lawsuits will eat up every last penny in the town's coffers. Go to Middleborough, say "Fuck you!", get fined, and in a year or two, if you play it smart, you might own the police station.
I'm tempted to go there myself and see what they're willing to enforce. What if I stand just over the town line, in Taunton, and tell the Middleborough board of selectmen to kiss my ass? What if I actually have a long-eared relative of a horse standing beside me? Can I "swear" if the words I use are actually descriptive of someone or something in the vicinity? What if I say "son of a bitch" while pointing at a male dog? Can I get away with calling the offspring of an unmarried couple a bastard? What if I describe someone as a "cocksucker" if he or she is actually licking a rooster?
(Yeah, all right, that's a stretch, but I might be willing to do it if we want to make a test case.)
Woe unto anyone who greets their good friend Richard in a familiar manner! Can I legally give someone directions to Athol? What if somebody says she's going to do something, but I disagree vehemently with her intent and I shout, "You can't!" in a particularly strong but clipped Boston accent? What if I want to trade favors with someone? Tit for tat? Not in Middleborough. You probably shouldn't go into a restaurant and ask for a rump steak until we get a ruling.
What if folks march down the street using perfectly acceptable scientific terms for bodily functions? Could women be arrested for chanting, "Two, four, six, eight, what we do is menstruate"? Well, they probably should be arrested just on principle, because that would be really dumb, but would the residents of Middleborough be so overwhelmed with embarrassment that they'd urinate their pants?
Will unspoken obscenities be against the law? For instance, can I flip somebody the bird? Probably not, but what if I'm just trying to flash the peace sign and I'm missing most of my index finger? Will the police force be asked to differentiate between someone obscenely grabbing his crotch and some poor schmuck just rearranging the furniture because his shorts rode up?
This could be potentially fatal for some businesses. I expect Costco wouldn't be affected, but what about BJ's?
Will there be a list of words that are forbidden? Maybe there is one already. If so, how can it be made public without basically trampling on the spirit of the law? You certainly couldn't post it anywhere. If it's not made public, though, how can anyone be expected to know if they're breaking the law or not? "Fart" might be an extremely dangerous word, one that would destroy the town's sensibilities if just allowed to let rip. Unless I clear it with the authorities, I certainly wouldn't want to unnecessarily milk things by tossing out a random "nipple". Imagine the tourism that will be lost when it's illegal to say "Middleborough is the place to come!"
Yes, I'm grasping at straws, but so is Middleborough. Considering the mental capacity of the folks who would like to see this happen, I'll bet we could call them a bunch of thespians who like to practice philately and it would probably make them defenestrate themselves.
Enough beating around the bush (take that whatever way you wish, Middleborough.) You are looking like a bunch of bucolic boobs. Quit jerking off before you send what little self-respect you still have down the shitter.
Soon, with more *%$^#!@! stuff.