Wednesday, January 31, 2007

My Son's Brilliant Careers

One of the many ways my son Adam brings joy to my life is discussing his future plans with him.

He has always loved airplanes, and last summer I took him on his first airplane flight, to see my parents in Tennessee. Since then, his career plan has been to become a pilot.

This was not always the case. When he was very little, he desired to be a baseball player, like his hero Sammy Sosa. We live fairly close to Wrigley Field, so he's gotten to see "Old Corky" and lots of other Cub greats play a number of games.

He plays little league every summer. I remember that the first time I signed him up for baseball was the day that the Space Shuttle Colombia was destroyed. Maybe this was an omen.

I happened to have the day off of work (I think it was my beloved Pulaski Day) on the first day his team, the Minor League Tigers, had practice. He was chatting up the coach and told him that he loved baseball and planned on having a great season. Coach John asked to see a display of his prowess, handing him a baseball and asking Adam to throw it to him.

Adam wound up and threw. The baseball went almost perfectly perpendicular to where he had aimed.

"Well, I think I'm going to be more of a hitter."

He improved rapidly, and continues to enjoy baseball, but has definitely dropped it as a career plan.

Since he was a baby, he's loved money-- not just the concept, but physical money. One of his first words was "coint"-- his word for "coins."

When he was three or so, he came to me and told me he'd made a decision: that he'd decided that he was going either a policeman or a bank robber.

Dad: "A bank robber?"

Adam: "Yes, they make a lot of money."

Dad: "Aren't you afraid of being arrested?"

Adam: "What do you mean?"

Dad: "Robbing banks is against the law. If you get caught, you get arrested."

Adam: "Oh. Well then maybe I should just be a policeman."

He went through a period a couple of years ago where he decided he was going to be a hockey player. Never mind that he could hardly skate at that point.

My landlord and upstairs neighbor is a season ticket holder for the Chicago Wolves, and invited Adam and I to a game. My son had been to a Black Hawks game when he was little, but our seats had been high up in the stands of the United Center. This game was at the Allstate Center (it used to be the Rosemont Horizon), a much more intimate setting. And we had seats near the ice.

It was a good game-- lots of contact. At some point, a player checked another player into the boards near us with an impressive concussion that we could feel from where we sat. I don't think Adam had considered this aspect of the sport-- his jaw dropped at the force of the check.

He never brought up being a hockey player again.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

My Favorite-Ever Presidential Candidate

The first Presidential election I remember is the 1968 election. I was in second grade for most of that year (the actual election came when I was in third grade, my year as a "playah"-- more on that another time). It was a weird year-- my second grade teacher was sick, so she would teach for short stints, and leave. We had a succession of subs who slowly lost control, until a very strict sub, Mrs. Never (I'm not making this up) came in and straightened us out.

We had our little rhymes: "Humphrey, Humphrey, he's our man/Nixon belongs in a garbage can" was our amazingly clever poem. They would reply, devastatingly, with "Nixon, Nixon, he's our man/Humphrey belongs in a garbage can." The level of political debate was amazing.

Most people forget that segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace won over 13% of the popular vote and actually won the electoral votes of five southern states in the 1968 elections.

There was one other candidate in that election, albeit a gag candidate: Pat Paulsen.

Paulsen was a writer on the Smothers Brothers show. The Smothers Brothers were a comedy duo, disguised as a folk duo. When all the other kids at school complained that they had to watch Lawrence Welk with their parents, I had a smirk of superiority; didn't everybody get to watch the Smothers Brothers with their parents last night?

The Smothers Brothers discovered that Paulsen was a deadpan comic genius. In 1968, the Smothers Brothers pursuaded him to run for President as a gag. His reply? "Why not? I can't dance — besides, the job has a good pension plan and I'll get a lot of money when I retire."

I couldn't find a good video clip on Youtube, but I found a few quotes:

"All the problems we face in the United States today can be traced to an unenlightened immigration policy on the part of the American Indian"

"If elected, I will win."

"I've upped my up yours!"

Paulsen continued his gag campaigns, and got actual votes. According to Wikipedia, Paulsen came in second to George Bush in the 1992 North Dakota Republican primary, and second to Bill Clinton in the 1996 New Hampshire primary (Paulsen's 921 votes gave him 1% of the vote).

Pat Paulsen died in 1997, ending his Presidential runs, though even dead he couldn't do much worse than the current imbecile.

Monday, January 29, 2007

It Has Begun

I get emails all the time about all kinds of internet "urban legends." I think the most current one I got was the claim that if you put your PIN number into an ATM machine backwards, it alerts authorities that you're in trouble-- in otherwards, if you're held up and brought to an ATM, punch in your PIN backwards and the cops will show up.

This kind of information is total bosh, of course, and all over the internet. And there's all kinds of stuff like this. And some of it's damned dangerous.

In that vein, there's already disinformation being put out on the net about the 2008 election. The New York Times is reporting today that the Insight website, which is a vestige of a defunct conservative magazine that was funded by whacko Rev. Moon, claimed that the ever-popular "anonymous source" said that Hillary Clinton was preparing a preemptive attack on fellow Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama was covering up that he'd spent a period of his youth in an Islamic fundamentalist religious school in Indonesia.

The problems with that story:

  1. Yes, Obama did go to an Indonesian school while his parents lived there, but the school was a secular school

  2. Obama has never tried to cover this up

  3. There is no evidence that Ms. Clinton was going to try to attack Mr. Obama with this

During the 2004 election, I watched in horror as John Kerry ran his incompetent campaign, allowing the most bizarre and outrageous claims to be made about him. The internet and email have opened up a whole new avenue for right-wing whacktards to spew their vomit. I'm hoping Americans are a little smarter this time around.

By the way, anytime you get some email claiming that Public Television is about to be shut down, or the ever-popular "Lights Out" (that someone flashing their lights indicates that they're about to kill you to gain entry into a gang), check it out on the Snopes website. It's dedicated to debunking internet myths and urban legends. Here's their entry debunking the PIN story.

They haven't gotten to the Clinton/Obama story yet.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Johnny Yen's Fave Raves: Withnail and I

Back in the mid eighties, the woman I was dating took a break from dragging me to see her favorite bands, Soul Asylum and the Dead Milkmen, and dragged me to see "Withnail and I," a movie that was playing at The Music Box theater, which was just a few blocks from where I was living at the time. If you've seen "High Fidelity," this is the movie theater that Rob goes to.

It has become, over the years, one of my very favorite movies. The plot revolves around two out-of-work actors, living in London shortly before the turn of the decade, in 1969.

London may be swinging, but they're not. They live in a filthy apartment, in abject squalor. Housekeeping is not their forte. Withnail, played by Richard Grant, is from a rich family. He is brilliant, an alcoholic, lazy, self-absorbed and the best friend and housemate of "I," played by Paul McGann. While waiting for acting jobs, their main obssession is staying intoxicated, through alcohol and whatever means they can come up with, including lighter fluid.

The people in their lives include their dealer, Danny, played by Ralph Brown, a British character actor, who hilariously reprised his Danny character later in Wayne's World 2.

At some point, they decide that what they need to do is have a holiday in the country. In order to do this, they have to finagle the use of the Northern England cabin of Withnail's rich, eccentric, extremely gay Uncle Monty. Monty is played by Richard Griffiths, who has played the evil uncle in the Harry Potter movies.

They make it to the cabin, and run-ins with a poacher, a nearly-deaf lady, a barely-English-speaking farmer and a drunken bartender ensue.

This movie has more memorable lines than Animal House. Among them:

"You've got soup. Why didn't I get any soup?"

"The reason the wanks don't do lighter fluid is that they can't handle it."

"We're not from London!"

"We've gone on holiday by mistake!"

"I feel like a pig shat in my head!"

"Make it dead!"

"We want the finest wines available to humanity. We want them here and we want them now!"

The movie has developed a cult following, particularly in England. On the Criterion edition, which is worth owning, there is a short little documentary about this, and how people who were babies when this movie came out, walk up to the actors shouting out lines from the movie.

It was only available for years on the Criterion version, which my favorite online DVD store, has for a little over 20 bucks. They are supposed to release a regular version soon, but for my money, the Criterion edition is worth having, for the extras and for the Ralph Steadman poster that comes with it.

I've probably watched this movie 20 times, and everybody I've ever watched it with fell in love with it. There are lots of clips of it on Youtube. I've included one of my favorite parts of the movie, in which Withnail and "I" drunkenly stumble into an effete tearoom.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Hot DVD News-- WKRP in Cinncinatti

This just in: the first season of "WKRP in Cincinatti" is coming out on DVD in April! This includes their most famous episode, indeed one of the funniest episodes of a television show ever, "Turkeys Away" in which a Thanksgiving promotion goes disasterously awry. It's become a Thanksgiving tradition for my son and I to watch the copy I taped off of television a couple of years ago.

One of the issues in DVD releases has been the paying of music royalties. In a show about a radio station, you can imagine there were a lot of musical issues to iron out. I truthfully didn't think that this show would ever get released on DVD.

Until April, enjoy this clip from "Turkeys Away," which first aired October 30, 1978.

Suburban Coyotes

A couple of days ago, Kristi posted some pictures of some mule deer that showed up in her Boulder, Colorado backyard. It reminded me that we have our own wildlife here in Chicago-- that deer occasionally work their way along railroad tracks into the city, where they take up temporary residence on someone's lawn. About ten years ago, I actually saw one of these deer, walking on the railroad tracks across Foster Avenue, near Pulaski.

Increasingly, coyotes are being spotted here, in Chicago proper and the suburbs. Today's Tribune has a front page article about one guy, Rob Erickson, who has been making a living trapping and sometimes killing coyotes that have killed housepets. Coyotes have been caught in a number of suburbs, like Arlington Heights and Glen Ellyn, and blogger Vikki, a former Chicagoan, pointed out that she spotted one when she lived here. A few days later, a coyote, maybe the same one, was caught in Lincoln Park Zoo.

According to this article this is a phenomenon across North America. The article says:

  • Coyotes are intelligent and extraordinarily difficult to trap, or even spot

  • Urban (and suburban) coyotes are keeping the Snow Goose population in check by stealing eggs out of their nests, reducing the Snow Goose population's annual increase from the 10 to 20% it was running, to 1 to 2% a year

  • Scientists have trapped and put tracking collars on over 200 coyotes in the Chicago area

  • Urban coyotes can cover 50 square miles in a night

  • That urban coyotes generally live much longer than their rural relatives

  • That many people are unintentionally feeding coyotes-- that they often eat food left outside for pets (are you reading this, all the idiots who leave bread out for the pigeons in Welles Park?)

  • That coyotes pose no threat to humans-- that in fact, they strive to avoid contact with humans

  • That there are no parts of the Chicago metro area that they didn't find coyotes living in

I saw an article in Chicago Magazine a couple of years ago about this, but couldn't find it in their archives. It stated a lot of what this article stated, and pointed out the futility of trapping and/or killing coyotes-- they are territorial, and a new coyote just moves in on the vacated territory.

Roadrunner was not available for comment.

Friday, January 26, 2007

The "Thank God It's Friday" Random Ten

Today is a "professional development day," which means we sent out little thugs home after third period, and we'll sit through teacher meetings, the bane of my existence, all afternoon. Since we have to wait for the people from the South Side campus to get up here, I have time for lunch and my random 10.

1. Boogie Fever- The Sylvers
2. I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For- U2
3. All LA Glory- The Band
4. Face on the Barroom Floor- Hank Snow
5. Is that Justice-Jon Wayne Texas Funeral
6. Carnival- Natalie Merchant
7. Living on a Thin Line- The Kinks
8. Generals and Majors- XTC
9. Long Way Home- Supertramp
10. Luther Played the Boogie- Johnny Cash

One More: Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan doing Elvis' first single, "That's All Right, Mama."

1. How the hell did this get on my itunes? I can only thing of one redeeming quality for this song-- it proves that there could be stupider songs than Carl Douglas' "Kung Fu Fighting," and Rick Dees "Disco Duck"
2. Pre-suck-point U2.
3. From the Stagefright album.
4. The best story song since Lorne Greene's "Ringo."
5. The funniest song from the funniest album ever. "Is that justice? Is that proper?"
6. Why is Natlie Merchant always so serious? I think she needs to cover a couple of funny songs-- maybe "They're Coming to Take Me Away." Or "Kung Fu Fighting." Or maybe even "Boogie Fever."
7. I think that the Kinks are incapable of sucking. Except when my wife saw them live, and The Davies brothers got in a fistfight in front of thousands of people.
8.These guys jumped the shark with "Mayor of Simpleton." In the late seventies and early eighties, they rocked.
9. I know/they're only wimp-rock/ but I like it.
10. Johnny Cash-- now that's what I'm talking about!

Funniest. Thing. Ever.

It's Friday. You made it. Here's your reward-- the funniest thing I have ever seen on the internet.

I first saw this over ten years ago, and it made me realize that disseminating this clip, from 1970, was reason enough to invent the internet. And since I first saw it, I've pondered two questions:

1. Why did it fall to the Oregon State Highway Commission to get rid of the dead whale?

Unintentionally Hilarious Headline

"Sharpton sizes up contenders before deciding on 2008 bid"

Does he mean, like, their physical size? Does he plan on wrestling them?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

I Couldn't Resist

Took the "Are You a Geek" Test. Proud to say that I scored only 18%. I own one They Might Be Giants album (all the rest of my TMBG is MP3's). I think that cost me.

You are 18% geek
OK, so maybe you ain't a geek. You do, at least, show a bit of interest in the world around you. Either that, or you have enough of a sense of humor to pick some of the sillier answers on the test. Regardless, you're probably a pretty nifty, well-rounded person who gets along fine with people and can chat with just about anyone without fear of looking stupid or foolish or overly concerned with minutiae. God, I hate you.

Take the Polygeek Quiz at

But what's with the picture of Arnold Schwarzenneger? Oh yeah, he's a dork, not a geek.

The Suck-Point

A few years back, a friend and I were discussing music, and came to realize that there were a lot of artists who were formerly great and had come to suck. The specific group that this discussion centered on was the Red Hot Chili Peppers. We wondered when a group that performed joyous R and B inflected songs started performing song after song in which Anthony Keidis bemoaned his poor sex and drug-filled rock star's life. In the course of this discussion, we came up with the idea of the "suck-point"-- the point in which a formerly great artist started to suddenly suck.

Around the same time, I began to hear the phrase "jumping the shark." It referred specifically to an episode of the old "Happy Days" show in which Fonzie ski-jumped over a shark. It marked the point where the show was struggling for plots, and was rapidly becoming unwatchable. I realized that it was pretty much describing the same phenomenon-- something that was formerly great, now suddenly sucking.

For some artists the suck-point is clear. For Stevie Wonder, it was his horrendous Grammy-winning single "I Just Called to Say I Love You." The amazingly talent guy who'd written and performed so many of my favorite songs-- "My Cherie Amor," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," "Living For the City"-- was now turning out such tripe. It was heartbreaking.

I was highly amused when I went out to see the movie "High Fidelity," and there was the exact same discussion about the exact same artist.

For other artists, the suck-point is less clear. For the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the suck-point was camouflaged. It was in the middle of one of my all-time favorite albums, bloodsugarsexmagik-- the song "Under the Bridge." If it had been a lone, retrospective song, it would have been great. Unfortunately it was the beginning of a growing string of piss and moan songs like "Scar Tissue," "Soul to Squeeze" and "Otherside."

There are others, like REM and U2 that haven't actually gotten bad-- they've just ceased to be interesting to me. I wish they'd quit just because every time I hear them, I remember how unbelievably great they were when they were turning out albums like "Reckoning" and "The Joshua Tree."

And then there are others who, every time you think they are about to suck, turn out an amazing album, like Bob Dylan, with "Love and Theft."

Do you have a favorite band or artist who reached their suck-point? Who were they and what album or song?

Breathing a Sigh of Relief

Yesterday, John Kerry announced that he would not run in '08. There's a bunch of Republicans breathing a sigh of relief today.

Oh, no, wait-- that was us Democrats.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Route 66 and Other Roads Travelled

This evening, after dinner my wife, stepdaughter and I were in the kitchen hanging out, talking. I had finally figured out how to get my Sirius satellite account to play over the computer, so I had Channel 25, the Underground Garage playing on my laptop. The Rolling Stones' version of "Get Your Kicks on Route 66" came on and suddenly my stepdaughter and I were bellowing along to it, and to my wife's combination of amusement and horror, dancing around the kitchen.

I was surprised to find she knew the song, one of my favorites. I found out that she knew it because it's played a couple of times in the Pixar movie "Cars," including Chuck Berry's version. She and I started talking about notable versions of the song. The first time I'd ever heard it was as a teenager, when WXRT, the local "progressive rock" station played a live Tom Petty version. I came to know and love Asleep At the Wheel's version from their live classic "Served Live." My stepdaughter wondered if Elvis had covered it. We checked and could find no evidence of Elvis ever covering it, much to our surprise.

She and I started talking about music that she likes, and she asked if the Doors had ever covered it. She likes the Doors, she told me. I just about fell over. I had no idea.

The fact of the matter is that she and I are finding more and more musical common ground these days. Just a few months ago, in October, I bemoaned her musical taste-- basically, she had the taste of a nine-year-old girl (which she was)-- Hillary Duff, Hannah Montana, Jesse McCartney, etc. My wife and I only half-kiddingly prayed for the day to come soon when her musical taste improves.

Fortune shone upon us. Her musical taste is rapidly improving. The old Madness song "Our House" is getting more and more play on her itunes. Also, the Stones' "Playing With Fire," which she found while looking for another song. And now whenever we're in the car, she asks me to play Janis Joplin's acapella classic "Mercedes Benz." We also share a love of the Beach Boys. I don't care what anybody says, Brian Wilson was a songwriting and studio genius.

And just yesterday, she and I were watching a couple of old Eurythmics videos, "Sweet Dreams Are Made of This" and "Love is a Stranger" together on Youtube. She digs both songs, and was fascinated by the videos. Her current plan is to direct music videos when she grows up.

When my wife and I started talking about getting married, our first concern was our kids. My son had endured two previous marriages-- marriages that foundered on the fact that I had a kid already from a previous relationship. And my wife's daughter was still processing her parents' divorce. We proceeded with caution.

We talked it over with our kids; we'd made the decision that if either kid had a problem with it, we wouldn't do it. But we were lucky-- our kids liked one another, and have done better that we ever dreamed.

Things with my new stepdaughter and I were good, but it was an adjustment for me, after having my apartment mostly to myself for a couple of years, except when my son was there every other weekend, to all of a sudden having a wife and a little girl there too. I'd been raising a son for more than ten years, and all of a sudden had to figure out how to raise a daughter too. And her wheels were spinning, figuring everything out-- dad and stepdad. She and I were adjusting to one another, and we were trying to figure this all out.

One day last year, my stepdaughter and I had a day off-- since she's a student, and I'm a teacher, this frequently happens. It was a day she's normally with her dad, so I was going to drop her off at his house. She and I had breakfast and chatted, and then we got in my car to head to her dad's house.

As we talked on the short drive to his house, I had my ipod shuffle going. As we neared her father's house, the Ramones' "I Wanna Be Sedated" came on, and we spontaneously started singing along to it. I hadn't known she knew and liked this song. We got to her father's home, but had to wait a minute while we finished singing the song. It was a great stepdad/stepdaughter bonding moment. God bless the Ramones.

The song finished, and we got out of the car. I walked her to his door, gave her a hug and left her with her father. I got back in my car realizing, with relief, that this was going to work. She's my girl.

This Just In: Abe Vigoda is Still Alive

Chris was commenting on Ernest Borgnine's 90th birthday, and the fact that he didn't realize he was still alive (isn't Ernest doing an infomercial with his wife these days?). He pointed out that Abe Vigoda is among the living as well.

In case, in the course of your day, you get concerned about Abe Vigoda's status, you can get an up-to-the-minute report on him at Seriously.

We Can Win the War on Hypocrisy

When I was in college, at Eastern Illinois University, in the early and mid eighties, my congressman was a guy named Dan Crane. I suspect that he managed to get elected because his brother was powerful Illinois congressman Phil Crane.

Though I hated Phil Crane's politics, at least he was a functional congressman for his district. Brother Dan, my congressman, was a dentist. And as a congressman, well, Dan was a pretty good dentist.

Dan got not one piece of legislation through in his three terms and six years in office. In fact he only proposed two pieces of legislation. One I can't remember, the other was a resolution against the practice of cockfighting in the Phillipines, a burning issue of the day.

Dan took a stand on a couple of issues. One, was family-- nuclear, straight families. Anything else was bad, bad, bad. And he hated higher education, although the University of Illinois, the biggest school in the state, and Eastern Illinois University were in his district. Dan loved to come to campus for forums and explain why he voted against student aide. If he put himself through college, well dammit, so could we. Never mind that the costs of college had begun their insane upward spiral by that point.

So when Dan got caught boinking one of his Congressional pages, a 17 year old girl, it was hard for us to have a lot of sympathy.

Dan put on a big show, with his kids, including a newborn, and his ugly wife, and blubbered for the camera, crying "I broke one of God's commandments!"

Dan was not re-elected. He lost to a Democrat who served for over a decade afterward.

My friend Hank's sister was a page down on the Hill, and she said that when Dan got a couple of cocktails in him, he would chase anything that moved.

My point? Well, guys like Dan Crane seem to love telling everybody else what they can do in their bedrooms, and with their wombs. Blogger Bilerico has a grand idea: if they're so concerned with our lives, let's get concerned with theirs. When they do something hypocritical, put it out on the Blogosphere. Read Bilerico for details.

Thanks to Shakespeare's Sister for this one.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Famous Feline Test

I know that these types of tests are right about to jump the shark, but I had to try this one, given that I'm not a cat person: Which Famous Feline Are You?

Which famous feline are you?

You're Hobbes. First of all, the makers of this quiz would like to congratulate you. You have our seal of approval. You are kind, intelligent, loving, and good-humoredly practical. You're proud of who you are. At the same time, you're tolerant of those who lack your clearsightedness. You're always playful, but never annoying. For these traits, you are well-loved, and with good cause.
Take this quiz!

Quizilla |

| Make A Quiz | More Quizzes | Grab Code

My son, who loves Calvin and Hobbes, will be very pleased about this.

Is THAT Why They Call Them French Fries?

This hot new beauty tip: Injecting Mazola Cooking Oil into your face. It was called "French Polymer Treatment." Someone died from it, and the beautician, who was charging $1400 per treatment, got 15 years.

Couldn't we just call it even, if she promises never to do it again, since she removed someone from the gene pool who probably needed to be culled?

Always the Last to Know

This morning on NPR, Tony Snow, when asked if W. was going to address the war in Iraq in tonight's State of the Union Address, told reporters that while he couldn't tell them how many minutes it would be, yes, the "President" would be addressing the "War on Terror."

Can someone please tell this poor, dumb son-of-a-bitch that the jig has been up on the "War-in-Iraq-as-war-on-terror" thing for awhile? That it's not even working on Republicans anymore?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A Tag-- Am I Really That Boring?

Some time ago, Katie Schwartz tagged me with a "Ten Things You Don't Want to Know About Me" meme.

I feared that she'd think I was ignoring her, but the fact of the matter is that I am such a damned boring person that I could not think of much that was outrageous about me, except for one thing.

I considered all kinds of things that various people find amusing or weird about me. One is my love of hot sauces. I typically have 15 to 20 different hot sauces on my shelves. At work over the years, people have always known I was the "go-to" guy when it came to accentuating a lunch with hot sauces-- I always have a desk drawer devoted to hot sauces. But this is not a unique quality, really. A couple of weeks ago, when dropping off my stepdaughter at my wife's best friend Pallette's house so my stepdaughter could hang out with her buddy Ewan, Pallette and I had a chance to chat and found we shared a passion not only for hot sauce, but a particular one-- Marie Sharpe's Habenero Sauce-- so this is not weird or unique.

The only thing people find upsetting, appalling or disturbing about me is that I recently went 20 years without seeing a dentist.

Now don't get me wrong-- I floss every day, I use anti-tartar toothpaste-- I take good care of my teeth. But it was like coming home late-- you know you're going to be in trouble anyway, so why not stay for another round. I knew I was going to get scolded after the first six months, and started putting it off. Year after year, I knew that it was going to get worse, and it gave me more reason to put it off.

Finally, in the last year of my last job, in desperation, I signed up for the optional dental insurance. Surely this would make me see a dentist-- after all, I was paying for it already.

But my powers of procrastination won out. As the job ended, I still had a couple of more months of coverage-- to the end of last summer. I was able to delay it until the month coverage was going to run out, August of last year. I finally bit the bullet and made an appointment for a month hence.

As luck would have it, of the over 7,000 days from January, 1986 when I last saw a dentist, to August 4, when I had the appointment, that day happened to be the day there was a memorial service for my late friend Mark. It was to be a solemn occasion, taking place just a few feet from where he was slain. And of course I was asked to speak. No problem, I thought. My gums might be a little sore, but no big deal.

Wrong. Amazingly, the exam showed that I had no cavities. But since it had been 20 years since I'd had a real cleaning, my dentist had to shoot my whole mouth full of novocaine and clean under my gums. As I walked out of the office, the entire bottom of my face was without sensation. I could talk, but only like "Mushmouth" from the Cosby kids. I was appalled.

The rest of the day became a race-- as I nervously watched the clock, sensation slowly returned to my mouth. Finally, an hour before I was to speak, enough feeling returned to my face that I felt confident that I could speak pretty clearly. I was more relieved than just about any other time in my life. I'd have felt like a real asshole if I'd have stood there sounding like an extra from "Deliverance" while I eulogized my friend.

A couple of weeks later, I got a notice that they were offering to COBRA my dental coverage for my son and I at the same very reasonable cost of the original coverage. I jumped at it.

My teeth have suffered many assaults in their lives-- they got jarred pretty good in a couple of fights. For years, they were worn down as I ground them in my sleep until I mysteriously stopped doing it (just as mysteriously as I had started). Nearly every day I douse them with favorite things of mine that love to stain them-- tea, coffee, tomatoes, red wine. They even took a direct hit with a cinder block when I was younger (don't ask) with no damage. And they continue to serve me. If I'm not going to spend my waning years eating corn meal mush and blender-shakes, I need to see a dentist twice a year. And whenever I fear a visit to my dentist, I remind myself of that nervous August afternoon-- when I know that Mark was up there laughing his ass off at my predicament.

Inconvenient Lies

Last night I stayed in with my kids, giving Mrs. Yen a chance to get out with her best friend.

After posting that last post, about the abomination of casting Tony Danza as Max Bialystock, I realized it was time for my 12-year-old son to see the original movie. He loved it-- he got all the jokes and loved the characters.

There's a great scene in the movie that always sneaks up on me-- I always forget it's coming. Right before the premiere performance of the attempted flop musical "Springtime for Hitler" is about to start, Max Bialystock, placed by the imcomparable Zero Mostel, tells Leo Bloom (played by Gene Wilder) that he is going to hammer the last nail in the coffin, to assure that the musical will be a flop. He walks over to the New York Times theater critic and openly, brazenly tries to bribe him. The man is of course, incensed.

This morning, as I read the New York Times op-ed pages, I chuckled, remembering that scene, and thought that the Bush Administration might want to bribe the New York Times into returning Frank Rich to his former post as chief theater critic there. As a political editorialist, he's become an embarassing thorn in their side.

His piece today, entitled "Lying Like It's 2003" is devastating. He points out just how farcical this whole thing has gotten.

Dick Cheney is back, accusing administration critics of aiding the Al Queda. Rich points out that that the last time he did this was in 2003, when he was "hawking Iraq's nonexistant W.M.D and nonexistent connections to Mohamed Atta..." and "set the stage for a war that now kills Iraqi civilians in rising numbers (34,000-plus last year)"

Apparently on Fox New Sunday, Chris Wallace asked Mr. Cheney about the White House's decision to overrule commanders who recommended against a troop escalation. Get this: Cheney replied "I don't think we've overruled the commanders."

And then came the biggest whopper of all: he said that the administration is not "embattled."

I don't know what I'm more incredulous about-- Cheney's fictions or the fact that someone at Fox News gave him some questions that weren't great big fat softballs.

Rich went on to point out some of W's whoppers on Sixty Minutes. One of the great ones was that "everybody was wrong on weapons of mass destruction." Yeah, everybody-- except UN weapons inspectors, the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). They told you there were no WMD's.

If you can get ahold of the article, read it. Rich points out how now the administration is even trying to rewrite the past events trying to justify their failures and mistakes.

When Frank Rich was theater critic, he was hated by a lot of the New York theater community-- he was very, well, very frank in his criticism. He has a long and deep love of the theater, and never pulled his punches. He did not cotton to bad, unconvincing drama-- and apparently still does not.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Is This Someone's Sick Joke?

One of the funniest movies ever in human history was Mel Brooks' movie The Producers.

I'm guessing that most, if not all you bloggers, know the movie. It's about a Broadway musical producer who figures out that he can make money on a flop than a hit, and proceeds to try to intentionally make a flop.

The cast of the original movie was brilliant-- it included Zero Mostel as washed-up producer Max Bialystock and Gene Wilder as his bookkeeper Leo Bloom, as well as Dick Shawn, Kenneth Mars, Christopher Hewett (later "Mr. Belvedere"), and Lee Meriweather (Catwoman in the Batman movie) in various roles.

A few years ago, they did a live version of it, with another inspired cast-- Nathan Lane played Max Bialystok and Mathew Broderick as Leo Bloom.

I saw in the New York Times that they're doing another live version of The Producers. It has to be someone's sick joke. Playing Max Bialystock is....

Tony Danza?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Friday Random Ten To Go

I wasn't sure when I was going to get to do my Random Ten today-- my wife, my son and I (stepdaughter's with her father going to see High School Musical live tonight) are going to a dinner party. Brought the ipod to work with me, with the hope that one of my lesser-attended classes in the afternoon might be empty. Unfortunately, some of the little bastards insisted on showing up, so I did my Ten going from work to my ex's house to pick my son up.

1. Smalltown Boy- The Bronski Beat
2. The Ballad of Spider John- Jimmy Buffett
3. Voodoo Child- The Jimi Hendrix Experience
4. Doggone- Marvin Gaye
5. Kansas City- Wilbur Harrison
6. Baby, I'm Yours- Barbara Lewis
7. Frankenstein- They Might Be Giants
8. Black-Eyed Farmer- Frankie Miller
9. The Moon is Shining- Indigenous
10. Heart of the City- Nick Lowe

Yes, it's that "Frankenstein"-- the old Edgar Winter Group song. It was live, from a concert TMBG did in Central Park. It's probably one of my five top favorite covers.

I have no idea how the Frankie Miller song got on there. He's an old singer who's best known by my generation for being the guy who sang the theme song for Mel Brooks' "Blazing Saddles."

Riding With the King

It was April 5, 1985, and the Spaghetti House Girls were having a party.

I know this, because the dates on the backs of the old photographs documenting my visit to the King's resting place are marked "April 6, 1985." It all started the night before, at the Spaghetti House Girls' party.

They were called the Spaghetti House Girls after a wonderful party they'd had earlier in the year in which they cooked an enormous batch of spaghetti and invited everybody, telling them to just bring whatever they were drinking. They'd even passed out a flyer with a picture of Frank Sinatra, with the caption "Those little town blues getting you down? Come to our party." The party really hit the spot and was a big hit, and from then on, their house was the Spaghetti House, and they were the Spaghetti House Girls, a nickname they treasured.

There were a lot of nicknames and houses with nicknames: the House of Science; the Nut House; the Kool-Aid House; Stately Wayne Manor; the House of Reason. This was, after all, Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois in 1985. Nearly two years before, the campus had exploded when a critical mass of lefties, punk rockers, gay men and women, journalists and other malcontents had somehow found one another. The resulting frenzy of sex, drugs and rock and roll lasted several years. In April of 1985, it was still going strong. Punk bands, politics, parties, couplings, uncouplings, underground newspapers, lifelong friendships-- even today, it's still a little dizzying looking back.

The high point had come when the singer for my roommate's punk rock band ran for student body president in the Spring of 1984 as a joke, on an avowed platform of "Graft, Corruption, Decadence and Lies." Much to his surprise (and ours), he won overwhelmingly. We rocked, and we ruled the campus for years afterward. We were the fun people to be with.

But back to the Spaghetti House Girls. They were having another party. The reason for the party was that the movie Repo Man, which everyone could see was clearly going to be a cult classic, was going to be on cable for the first time that night. The Spaghetti House had cable tv. What they lacked was a color television. My roommate Curt had a color television, which he graciously lent to the Spaghetti House for the party.

I was not to see the end of Repo Man until about a year-and-a-half ago for reasons that will become obvious.

I ended up hanging out that evening with Alan "Madman" Matthews. Alan had tracked me down after finding out that I was, along with my friend Viktor Zeitgeist, responsible for "Welcome to Disney World," one of the photocopied underground newspapers that were floating around campus. He was a deejay with my roommate Curt, whom I shared a trailer with, at the school radio station.

The school was in the process of replacing the radio station's tiny antenna with the behemouth that is to this day spreading the station's "college rock" sounds across the corn and soybean fields of East Central Illinois. But for the time-being, the only way you could get the station was to hook your stereo up to cable. This meant that the only people who listened to the station were those who:

1. Listened to the station to begin with-- a small number
2. Had cable, an even smaller number
3. Knew how to hook their cable up to their stereo, a yet smaller number.

The result was that there were probably, in reality, fewer than 100 people listening to the radio station. Sad, but there was one good thing about it all. Because their signal did not go out over the airwaves, the station did not have to abide by FCC rules for that year. We could call and request the uncensored version of the Nails' "88 Lines About 44 Women." We got to hear exactly what Tanya Turkish liked to do while wearing leather biker boots, not just a blank spot. We called and requested the Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized" until the station manager banned it for excessive play. We called and could hear songs from albums we could not afford-- REM's "Radio Free Europe." Rank and File's "Sound of the Rain." The The's "Uncertain Smile." The Smith's "How Soon is Now."

Alan and I had become fast friends. So had Rex the Scumbag and I. Rex set world record times that still stand to this day for hitting on women his friends had just broken with. Physicists have determined that the smallest known amount of time is the time between one of Rex's friends breaking up with a woman, and Rex horning in on her. Our friends all have their quirks.

Rex, Alan and I had been drinking at the Uptowner/Cellar. We were, that night, in the Cellar. Rex was hanging out with Maxell. Her name wasn't really Maxell-- it was a nickname acquired in a typically Eastern Illinois University way. Some guy had been hitting on her, and she wasn't interested. He had asked her name, and trying to think of a fake name had looked up and seen a Maxell tape sitting there. She told him her name was Maxell. The nickname stuck.

At some point, we were joined by Harlan and Stenny, who were both friends of friends.

Eventually, we piled into Alan's car, "Christine," and went to the Spaghetti House Girls' party.

It all started with the big piece of butcher paper and crayons that the Spaghetti House Girls had put out on a table. This was a common mode of collective expression at parties at Eastern Illinois University in the mid '80's. Usually it was taped or tacked to a wall.

We watched the beginning of Repo Man, but soon gravitated toward the butcher paper.

As the night flowed, and the artwork and grafitti collected on the butcher paper, someone had written, in crayon, "Elvis Lives." Alan had seen this and said "Yes, Elvis Lives!" "I replied, no, he's dead!"

Alan replied "Let's go check!" And that was that. We were off. Just as suddenly, a plan began to take place. We were going to go visit the King. Never mind that it was around midnight and Memphis was a nearly 400 mile drive.

We spent the next 45 minutes or so gathering up all the hooch, money and Elvis tapes we could muster. Alan grabbed his boombox. We fueled up the car and we were off.

As the night wore on, everybody but Alan, who was driving, and I fell asleep. Rex and Maxell, who was someone's ex-girlfriend, fell asleep entwined. They were now, apparently, a couple.

As we drove through a night that made me think of Alan Ginsberg's "starry dynamo in the machinery of the night" in Howl. Alan and I talked of things that men talk of during those times-- women, dreams, the future.

The sun rose, and we approached Memphis. We stopped to fuel ourselves and the car. We were, after all, about to fulfill our culture's version of the hajj. It was a pilgrimage to pay respects to our fallen cultural hero.

We knew that we were getting closer when we spotted the "Lisa Marie," Elvis' private airplane that was named after his one and only child.

We arrived at the gates of Graceland. To our surprise, we were able to park on the street nearby. The excitement was palable.

We stopped for a couple of snapshots at the gate.

We found out, to our delight, that from 8 am to 9 am, they allowed visitors to roam the grounds of Graceland for free. This was good, because we were now having to budget our money. We would need money for souvenirs-- what would the point of making this trip have been if we didn't bring back evidence for our friends back in Charleston? Plus, we would need gas and beer for the trip back.

The viewing of the Safari room could wait for another day.

We entered the grounds and made our way to the King's grave. We were unprepared for the experience.

There was Elvis, with his middle name misspelled, just like I'd read. Near him was his mother and his stillborn twin brother. It was, unexpectedly, quite moving.

I did have one thing I needed to do. I'd brought along my 45 of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire." The reason for this was the B-Side, "Johnny Bye-Bye," a touching tribute to Elvis.

Well she drew out all her money from the Southern Trust
And put her little boy on the Greyhound Bus
Leaving Memphis with a guitar in his hand
With a one way ticket to the Promised Land
Hey little girl with the red dress on
There's party tonight down in Memphis down
I'll be going down there if you need a ride
The man on the radio says Elvis Presley's died

We drove to Memphis the sky was hard and black
Up over the ridge came a white Cadillac
They drawed out all his money and they laid him in the back
A woman cried from the roadside "Oh he's gone, he's gone"
They found him slumped up against the drain
With a whole lotta trouble running through his veins

Bye bye Johnny
Johnny bye Bye
You didn't have to die
You didn't have to die

I knelt by his grave with the record, and somehow felt like this was my little totem, my lifetime reminder of this trip-- the friends, the fun, and just how moving it ended up being. I still have the record to this day.

We realized that we were going to have to get moving if we were to start the seven hour trip back. We bid adieu to Elvis, and I got everybody to pose for a picture in front of Graceland.

Before we started the trek home, we needed to head across the street to the souvenir shop. We tallied our money, accounting for gas, food and beer money, and figured out how much we could spend on souvenirs. It was not much.

We knew we needed to get something for the previous night's lovely hostesses. We thought an Elvis shotglass would be fitting. Then we discovered that Elvis swizzle sticks and pencils were only 5 and 10 cents, and we spent the rest of the souvenir budget on them.

As we started back, Rex and I had one concern-- we were going to miss the "Gentlemen's Lunch." The Gentlemen's Lunch, or "Lunch" ("Will you be at Lunch tomorrow?") had started out as an all-gay institution. This group of men would gather to talk politics, history, gossip and just have a grand old time. Rex, our friend Kevin and I had become friends with this group, one of whom is now my co-best friend Jim. We were the first straight guys invited to the Lunch, which was indeed an honor.

Because of the trip, we were going to miss Lunch. As we pulled into a small town in Missouri for gas, Rex and I mulled over what to do. Then one last little miracle of the trip happened.

At 1 pm on Saturday, the normal time of the Gentlemen's Lunch, we pulled into Charleston, Missouri. It occurred to us that we needed to call Kracker's, the restaurant in Charleston, Illinois. We culled all the change out of the car and made the long distance call to the Gentlemen's Lunch. They were delighted.

We hit the road again. Knowing that the other people in the car were rested, having gotten at least some sleep the night before, I felt confident that they could make sure that Alan, who was now running past 24 hours without sleep, would not doze off at the wheel. I had a nightcap and got a little reading done before I dozed off.

At some point, we used Alan's boombox to record a punch drunk, on the road acapella version of "Suspicious Minds." Alan later transferred it to a carte for playing on his radio show. We were later to find out that it became a cult classic on the radio station for years, requested by listeners.

At around 4pm, we arrived back in Charleston. We'd heard that Crazy Bob, who lived in a rented house out among the cornfields with his brother Jimmy, was having a party/barbecue. We stopped at the ATM, got some money, and headed to Wilb Walker's grocery store for beer and food.

We arrived at the party feeling like Odysseus returning. The people we'd left the night before were now at a new party. People stood slack-jawed as they realized that we had actually done what we had threatened to do the night before. We threw out Elvis pencils and swizzle sticks like Robert Duvall throwing cards onto dead Viet Cong in Apocalypse Now. We found the Spaghetti House Girls and presented them with their shotglass. They were ecstatic.

The people on that road trip kept in touch for a long time, but slowly lost touch as the years passed. Alan transferred to Northern Illinois University, which was closer to his hometown of Sandwich, Illinois. Maxell dropped out of school and eventually moved to Mexico, where she settled down with a guy and had kids. Harlan graduated, and lived in Israel for a year, serving in the military there in order to have dual US/Israeli citizenship. Stenny took my place when I moved out of the Wrigleyville apartment I'd lived in after college with friends Dan and Mark. He himself left when he married some girl he'd met on the el in Chicago.

Rex is still a scumbag. But he's OUR scumbag.

Thinking about the trip and the almost religious significance of it for us, we realized a couple of things later happened: there was a sudden, unexpected, huge resurgence of interest in Elvis in the late eighties. We took credit as being pioneers of this movement.

Elvis subsequently became many times wealthier in death than he'd been in life.

Also, just a couple of weeks before that trip, a relatively young guy named Gorbachev had come to power in the Soviet Union. He was later able to wrestle with the old powers in the Soviet Union, institute Glastnost and Peristroika reforms, and change the course of history. We had obviously given him, through our pilgrimage, the good mojo to accompish this task.

And what about Repo Man? For years and years, I would see the beginning of this movie, but miss the ending. I even bought a copy of it-- but ended up giving it to my friend Ron; it's his favorite movie. Time after time I'd start watching it, but always after I'd had a few drinks; I'd always end up falling asleep before the ending.

I finally saw the whole movie in 2005, twenty years later. While my son and I were visiting Ron and his son, Ron and I figured out that the key, in my case, was to watch it before we went out drinking.