Will McKinley lives in New York City. He thinks you might be interested in what he has to say.
AULD LANG SYNE
I have always found New Year's Eve to be a depressing night.
I'm not a big fan of partying in general, and that's what New Year's Eve is all about. Old people, young people and everyone in between gets caught up in the pressure to do something -- anything -- to mark the turn of the calendar's page.
There's a desperate, prom night quality to the whole exercise that has always felt forced and unnatural to me. New Year's Eve has to be a spectacular night, and the end result almost never lives up to the expectation. Restaurants, bars, clubs, shows - everybody jacks up their prices, mindful of the fact that people are desperate for something to do. And the streets (and roads) are filled with idiots who left their good sense at the bottom of a bottle.
So I just usually stand on the sidelines and let the unwashed masses dance as the world fires gunshots at their feet.
For me, the conclusion of another calendar year has never been about celebration. It's about reviewing what has come before. New Year's Eve has frequently been a sad night for me, a night of regret, recrimination and resignation. For many years -- throughout my 20s -- I felt trapped in inaction, frustrated by my inability to make positive change in my life. I knew what I wanted to do, but I had no clue how to make it happen. Or, more likely, I was too scared to do what it took.
I have always spent New Year's Eve looking back on the past twelve months and what I accomplished -- or didn't accomplish -- and felt a sense of hopelessness. Another year, another opportunity missed. But as 2006 fades into memory, I feel better about the year's accomplishments that I ever have before.
After years of writing for my job, for standup comedy and for previously owned, my goal for this year was to finally get published. And it happened. Not once, but seven times.
Last summer I enrolled in an intensive writing workshop to help refine my work, and push me to the next level. One of my fellow students in the class was the arts editor for three weekly New York City newspapers: The Villager, Chelsea Now and Downtown Express. She liked my work and asked if I would be interested in writing for her. I contributed my first story at the end of October.
This week I have two different pieces in two different publications. And I've sold two more stories that will appear in the next few weeks. Each time one of these publications hits the streets I open it up and look for my story. I've written more than 500 posts to previously owned, many of them good enough for publication, but there is something about seeing my name in print that feels very cool.
Lots of other good things happened in 2006. I worked consistently at my freelance corporate communications job, and made more money than I ever have before. I got to interview lots of interesting, famous people and my work appeared on various TV shows. I made a couple fun trips to Vegas and lost a ton of money. My sister had a very cute little baby girl. And, thanks to the blog, I reconnected with some old friends that I hadn't seen in many years.
And throughout all of it, I have had Maggie by my side: an "ex-girlfriend" in name only.
So, as we pack up the tents of 2006, let me take this opportunity to say thanks to you. Whether you are a regular reader of previously owned or just an occasional visitor, thanks for giving me a reason to write, and a goal to achieve
Published stories from 2006 In the Footsteps of Loudmouthed Ladies from "Chelsea Now" read New Year’s Eve with the King of the Hill from "The Villager" read Angst for the Memories from "Downtown Express" read He’s Dreaming of a Weird Christmas from "Chelsea Now" read A Comedic Coming-Out Party from "Chelsea Now" read Death Becomes Him from "The Villager" read Sex, Lies and a Free T-shirt from "Chelsea Now" read
So did anybody watch Rocky on Turner Classic Movies the night after Christmas? I did, for the first time in thirty years. I had forgotten how raw and low budget the original is. It really looked like an independent film from 1976, which is kind of what it is.
I thought it was great, and it made me appreciate the new Rocky Balboa even more. Unlike the bloated sequels, Balboa captures that same low budget aesthetic - probably because it was also low budget. Nobody was going to give Stallone a lot of money to spend on this potential embarrassment, and it was probably the greatest gift they could have given him. The movie ended up being very well reviewed and coming in second place for the week.
I watched Rocky on my parents' gigantic widescreen TV at their house in Port St. Lucie. Earlier in the day my sister, her three kids and I had driven up from their house near Ft. Lauderdale. My father is half deaf (you'll never get him to admit it, but it's true) so my parents keep the closed captioning subtitles on the screen at al times. At first it bothered me, but after a while I really enjoyed reading along, particularly when I couldn't decipher one of Stallone's mumbled lines.
But here's an interesting fact: they cut the curses out of the closed captioning! It sounds like a joke, but it's true. They sanitized the subtitles. It was particularly obvious during Mickey's lines. Every other word Burgess Meredith said as Rocky's elderly trainer was "goddamn." But that word never appeared in the subtitles. I wonder why? Maybe the crusty old actor ad-libbed the obscenity to give the character an edge?
My eight year-old niece Emily watched a lot of the movie with me, transfixed by the realistic boxing violence (just as I was when I saw it for the first time at age eight). The night before Emily and I had watched a terrible Disney film called Air Buddies, a sequel to the movie with the talking dog who plays basketball. What fun!
I think there is a plot to lull our kids into a false sense of security with these soft-edged, cliched family movies. At least in the old days -- with movies like Bambi, Old Yeller and others -- the animals would die and the kids would cry. Now it's all happy smiles, familiar plots and fart jokes.
What these kids today need is a good, grown-up movie like Rocky to pound some sense into their heads - excuse me, some goddamn sense into their goddamn heads.
Like many lapsed Catholics, I lapse from my lapsing and go to church on Christmas.
Is it hypocritical to attend a Christmas church service when I stay home the other 51 Sundays of the year? Perhaps. But it's not really my decision. For the last few years I have spent Christmas with my sister Missy and her family in Florida. Missy is raising her kids the same way that she and I were brought up -- as Super Catholics. There is no half-hearted, doing-it-for-the-kids going on here. My two older nieces (aged 8 and 4) go to church every Sunday, attend religious instruction classes and sing songs about how great Jesus is.
As a person who is still recovering from the childhood illness called Catholic School, I have mixed feelings about all of this. But it's not my decision to make. Of course, my parents strongly encourage all of this Kiddie Catholicism. They know that my nieces are the last hope for continuing the traditions that they developed when my sister and I were young. And God knows if I ever get around to having children I'll probably raise them as Buddhists or Unitarians or Tree Worshippers -- anything but Catholic, thank you very much.
So here's the logic, as I see it: when I visit my sister for Christmas, I am her guest. To not attend church with her and her family would be disrespectful. If I visited a family in India and they were attending a Diwali celebration, of course I would go with them. To not go would be poor manners.
Whatever my moral dilemma, I have no interest in casting myself as a conscientious objector in my sister's parenting plan. And I don't want to be subjected to the why questions that will inevitably come from the kids when I decide to take a pass on Jesus' birthday party.
I spent all week at work listening to a bunch of idiots chirp Happy Holidays to each other like good little politically correct robots, even when both participants in the conversation knew that the other was a Christian. What, exactly, is the point of that?
I don't want to sound like Bill O'Reilly, but this fear of the word Christmas has gotten completely out of hand. Christmas has been a secular holiday for my entire lifetime. From Frosty the Snowman to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to Santa Claus, Christmas is a holiday that everyone can love. I have known plenty of Jews who take their kids for pictures with Santa, and many who even decorate a tree.
The same concept does not work in reverse, though. I don't know any Christians who put up a menorah just for the fuck of it. The only good thing about Hanukah is, most Jewish parents are so worried that their kids will be disappointed by their lackluster holiday that they over-compensate and go all out on the eight nights of presents thing. It's Jewish guilt, in microcosm. And the kids are the beneficiaries. They are, in effect, being bribed to keep the traditions alive. And I say, good for them.
But Christmas has become a holiday for Americans of all religions. Even atheists celebrate Christmas. So let's relax with the paranoia, okay? God forbid you should say Merry Christmasto someone who's not a Christian! What's the worst thing that could happen? The person will smile politely, say "same to you" and maybe they'll think you're an asshole. Who cares? Most people I know think I'm an asshole and I honestly don't give a fuck.
On Sunday I flew to Ft. Lauderdale on Spirit Airlines to visit my family for Christmas. Many years ago, after a particularly harrowing flight, I vowed never again to darken the doors of a Spirit Airlines plane. Well, prices go up, bank balances go down and sometimes you gotta just roll the dice. But if there's any day of the year to fly an airline called Spirit, it's Christmas (or in this case, Christmas Eve.) Just bring your Rosary beads, say a novena and hope for the best.
Of course, once again it was the most turbulent flight I've been on all year. The pilot blamed it on "bumpy air." What a coincidence. So did the pilot last time I flew on Spirit. I'm sensing a trend here with Spirit. Perhaps the geniuses who run the company can come up with some new flight plans, because the current ones just aren't cutting it. The only people who enjoy a Sprit flight are the investors who own stock in the company that makes the airsickness bags.
When we finally touched down in Ft. Lauderdale there was an audible sigh of relief, and the passengers broke into a spontaneous round of applause. Honestly, I think we were being just a wee bit sarcastic.
The one good thing I will say about Spirit is, there were a lot of cute young women on the flight. And a bunch of them asked me to lift their suitcases into the overhead bin. Years ago, when I was a scrawny twentysomething, I didn't get those kinds of requests. Women would actually offer to help me lift my bags -- and I would take them up on it. I needed all the help I could get back then. Seriously, if you're a young dude who's not getting any play from the ladies, start lifting weights. You don't have to go crazy with it. Just a little bit of upper-body bulk changes the whole equation.
My brother-in-law picked me up at the airport and drove me back to the house, where I met my brand new niece Kate for the very first time. She is a very cute baby and it's nice to finally meet her, after waiting so long for her arrival.
I think Christmas is a good time to welcome new babies into the family. It's like having your own personal Jesus, assuming of course that the Messiah is a half-Asian/half-Caucasian baby girl with a bad case of gas.
Luckily I came bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and Children's Tums.
I truly am a Wise Man.
My own personal Jesus (with apologies to Depeche Mode).
"I ducked out of work early to see Rocky," the young man said into his cell phone, as the escalator carried him down to the lobby of the Regal Union Square movie theater.
"People were cheering like they were at a real fight. It was great."
He seemed surprised by the spontaneous applause that erupted throughout Rocky Balboa, the sixth -- and one would assume final installment in the franchise that began with the 1976 Academy Award winner for Best Picture.
Remember? Or maybe you don't. Rocky won three Oscars that year, and it was nominated for seven more - including two for star and writer Sylvester Stallone. This was before Mr. T, before Eye of the Tiger, before 'I must break you' before all the camp and catch phrases and nonsensical sequels that, in a decade and a half, turned Oscar gold into fool's gold.
But if you remember what it was about the original Rocky that capitivated a nation - and I do - then go see Rocky Balboa. Forget everything that happened between 1977 and today. Forget it all, and look at this movie as an elegy for a screen legend. Give in and allow yourself to be carried away with the film's convenient logic: that a nearly 60 year-old man would even be allowed in the ring with the undefeated heavyweight champion of the world, let alone want to be there.
Right now, you are one of three things: young, old or somewhere in the middle. I was young when I first saw Rocky on a pull down screen during a boy scout meeting in 1976. Back then I enjoyed it as parable of hope for the future. Today, I'm 30 years older and a so is Rocky. And even though I am more than two decades younger than the character, I relate more to him now than I did before. I relate to the theme of fighting time, age, opinion, prejudice and pessimism.
And this is the genius of this unapologetically crowd-pleasing film.
It's all about how you take the punches. And if you are closer to the end than you are to the beginning, or even squarely in the middle, the concept resonates. Rocky can still take a punch and he can still throw one. Stallone can still charm an audience and we can still be charmed by him -- all these years later, when everyone had counted him out.
If you can, watch the original first. (It's on Turner Classic Movies the night after Christmas at 8 PM.) Then go see this one. Ignore everything that happened in between, particularly things that involve Roman numerals.
If you are not moved by this film, then I fear for your eternal soul. Rocky Balboa may be cheese, but it's cheese that has been aged to perfection.
Note: This is a story I'm working on for publication.
One of the great injustices of modern American popular culture is our collective lack of appreciation for the classic films of the first half of the 20th Century.
Case in point: I visited my parents in Florida recently and, after an early bird dinner at Applebee’s, we decided to make it a Blockbuster night. Once inside, I was overwhelmed by what seemed like hundreds of DVDs of You, Me and Dupree, a rather unfunny looking comedy from last summer. I looked further and noticed that almost every movie available for rent had been released within the last few years. So I ambled over to the checkout counter and asked the teenaged attendant where I could find the "old movies."
"You mean, like from the '90s?" replied the young woman with the crispy perm.
"No," I smirked. "I mean, like from the '40s."
"Oh, I don't think we carry any of those," she said, in between snaps of grape Bubble Yum.
“Well you should,” was my witty reprimand. Then I went back to my parents’ house and switched on Turner Classic Movies.
There are more movie channels on digital cable than I can shake a remote at, but only one of them consistently airs films produced in glorious black & white. I live in constant fear that the bean counters at Time Warner will yank my beloved TCM in favor of a channel devoted entirely to the “American Pie” movies. I even promote the TCM lineup to friends and co-workers in a desperate effort to carry the monochromatic torch and preserve the art form that I have loved since childhood.
New York City’s Peccadillo Theater Company has a similar mission, but with classic works of the American Theater. Now in its second decade of producing what they call “forgotten American classics,” Peccadillo’s current project is a revival of the 1937 comedy Room Service. This classic farce about a shady Broadway producer and his efforts to outwit the management of the hotel in which he and his cast are living, had a successful, well-reviewed run last summer. The show recently reopened at the SoHo Playhouse and is currently selling tickets through the end of January.
I have always known Room Service as a Marx Bros. film, which I first saw on Channel 9’s Million Dollar Movie sometime in the late 1970s. Yes, not so long ago, a broadcast television station ran black & white movies in primetime, and nobody called the cable company to complain that their TVs were on the fritz. Of course, back then there wasn’t a cable company to call, because TV was free. Thank goodness we are so much better off now.
I wondered if Peccadillo’s production of Room Service would be better than the movie (which I consider to be among the weakest of the Marx canon) or if the actors would be dressed up as Groucho, Harpo and Chico. The answer to those questions is (in order) yes and no.
There was a lot of gray hair in the audience when I saw Room Service on a recent Monday night. There were also a number of bald heads, and at least one toupee. As the creaky crowd slowly filed into their seats, I wondered if the Peccadillo brain trust had ever considered touring South Florida with one of their revivals. The residents of my parents’ 55 Plus Community would eat this up like complementary Jell-o.
But you don’t have to be an AARP member to enjoy this blast from the theatrical past. Director Dan Wackerman keeps the action tightly staged and fast-paced. The competent cast is led by David Edwards as the fast-talking producer Gordon Miller. And no, he does not sport a greasepaint moustache. Edwards’ portrayal of this producer is more Nathan Lane than Groucho Marx. Apparently, Edwards has played Max Bialystock in touring productions of TheProducers and one hopes, for his sake, that Lane’s signature comedic vocal modulations are not patented.
The other standout of the cast is Dale Carman as the nervous Nellie manager of the hotel, Mr. Gribble. Carman seems to be channeling the spirit of the great character actor Franklin Pangborn, who perfected the archetype of the prissy, perspiring sourpuss in dozens of classic films. Scott Evans is also strong as the Andy Hardy-ish playwright Leo.
As the smiling crowd poured out of the SoHo Playhouse after the show, their step seemed to be just a bit more sprightly. I even caught one older couple doing a few dance moves to the 1930s walk-out music.
It’s doubtful that even the eldest of the audience members at the SoHo Playhouse was there when Room Service opened at Broadway’s Cort Theater on May 19, 1937, where it ran for 500 performances. Early the next year the motion rights were sold to RKO Radio Pictures for the then record sum of $225,000 and RKO offered the Marx Bros. $100,000 to star in the film version. The story was awkwardly adapted to fit the familiar stock characters of fast-talking shyster Groucho, conniving immigrant Chico and madcap mute Harpo. While the film was a critical success, it was a box office disappointment – and a disappointment to the Marx Brothers.
“We can’t do gags or play characters that aren’t ours,” Groucho said at the time. “We tried it and we’ll never do it again.”
Six years later, RKO attempted to recoup their investment by turning Room Service into a musical comedy vehicle for a young, blue-eyed crooner named Frank Sinatra. Step Lively rejiggers the story, turning the young playwright character into the romantic lead and transforming him from a small town rube into a tough guy with a killer voice. It also features some addictivey hum-able tunes by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, including As Long as There’s Music (Sinatra’s lovely duet with co-star Gloria de Haven), Where Does Love Begin (with Frankie being chased by the lovesick Anne Jeffreys) and Some Other Time (the love theme accompanying Sinatras’ first big screen kiss).
Of the stage and screen versions of the Room Service story, Step Lively is -- as the Chairman of the Board might have said -- top of the heap. It’s a sharp satire of the entertainment industry with a hip edge lacking from the plot-heavy stage play or the tin-eared, claustrophobic Marx Bros. movie. Unlike the other two versions, Step Lively brings the show-within-a-show to life and features some inventively-staged dance routines and a pitch-perfect performance by George Murphy, out-Groucho-ing Groucho in the role of the crooked producer.
Step Lively is not only the most enjoyable version of Room Service it’s easily the most enjoyable film I have seen in recent memory. I would love to tell you to add it to your Netflix queue but, shockingly, it has never been released on DVD. In order to see it I had to order a used VHS copy from 1989 on eBay. Clearly, in the world of DVD releases, there is no justice.
That gives me an idea. Maybe when the Peccadillo Theater Company is done with RoomService, they could produce a stage version of Step Lively. I guarantee they could take that one straight to Broadway! Or at least to the Savannah Club in Port St. Lucie, where my parents and their friends are sure to be in attendance.
And speaking of my parents, the next time I visit I plan to return to Blockbuster Video with a few dozen pirated DVDs of Step Lively. I’ll be inserting them into the boxes of You, Me andDupree, hoping to change the world one DVD at a time.
Christmas is less than a week and a half away, and the temperature in New York City right now is a balmy 60 degrees!
Yes, it's mid-December, but the thermometer makes it feel like mid-May. And the forecast is for unseasonably warm temps until at least the middle of next week.
At lunchtime today I walked around Union Square Park and noticed an unusual amount of bare arms and shirtsleeves for this time of year. Union Square is home to the Holiday Market every Christmas. The good news for the vendors is warmer weather means more shoppers. And it's more pleasant to stand outside all day and work at your booth.
The bad news is, it doesn't really feel like Christmas is only ten days away. So people may be less inclined to waste their money on holiday trinkets like homemade soap in the shape of the Baby Jesus.
This holiday shopper is kept naturally warm by his huge girth, just like Santa.
I have not worn my winter coat at all this winter. This guy did, and didn't he wish he didn't!
I would like to take pictures of this girl taking off more articles of clothing.
I think these two young lovebirds are having a fight. The guy looks like he's in trouble for something.
BTW, is it a South Asian custom to chew on plastic spoons?
It's so much easier to hand out fliers for Subway Restaurant when people don't have their hands in their pockets.
Restaurants and delis have kept their outdoor cafes open much later in the season than they normally would. This cafe is called Toastie's, which is exactly how I felt while walking around!
Tell me this: if the UPS guy is on break, then WHO THE HELL IS DELIVERING THE CHRISTMAS PRESENTS??!!
Holiday shopping marches on, even if it doesn't feel like the Holidays.
Happy Holiday! And remember - global warming is just a myth propagated by the liberal media.
In a few weeks I will celebrate my 17th anniversary working in corporate communications. Actually,celebrate is not really the word I would pick. How about mourn?
One of the good things about my job is that I get to travel a lot. Or maybe that's one of the bad things about my job. I'm not really sure. All I know is I have stayed in many hotels over the years, all across the United States.
There are some very nice hotels that cater to business travelers (Mandarin Oriental, Hotel Nikko), and some very not-nice ones (Embassy Suites, Garden Inn). But there's one thing that all of them have in common: USA Today.
In my experience, every single hotel catering to business travelers leaves a copy of USA Today at the door of every single guest room, every single morning.
Good morning, USA Today. How are ya?
For those of you that are not familiar with it, USA Today is the nation's only truly national, daily "newspaper." It is designed for busy business travelers who don't have time to do things like, say, read.
The average story in USA Today runs about two paragraphs. It has more pictures than words. And a poll. USA Today always has some sort of a poll, or graph of some sort. Sometimes they are about current events. More often they are about celebrities. Like, did you know that 48% of Americans think that Britney Spears should wear underwear? Fascinating! Who says that the average American is not aware of what's happening in the world?! Outside of a hotel, I've never touched a copy of USA Today and, if I stopped traveling for work, I would never look at one again for the rest of my life. I don't even read the ones they leave in front of my door. It's like spam: real life junk mail that I have to step over each morning as I race down to the gift shop, hoping that they will have a copy of The New York Times.
Does that make me sound like a news snob? Good. Who decided that USA Today should be forced on millions of Americans each day who didn't ask for it, and don't want it? Just imagine if every single business traveler was given a free copy of The New York Times each morning. Maybe the level of public discourse in this country would rise above celebrity gossip. Maybe we would be a more aware nation. Maybe we wouldn't be so docile and accepting of failed national and international policy.
Or maybe it's better that more of us are talking about Britney Spears' lack of underwear than George Bush's lack of vision.
AT LEAST THEY DON'T PUT THE NAMES OF THE MOVIES ON YOUR HOTEL BILL
There was a flood at my hotel in Philadelphia on Sunday night.
The recently renovated top three floors of the hotel were soaked when a workman accidentally turned on the sprinkler system. After about 30 minutes of sprinkling, the fire department arrived and guests were evacuated from their rooms.
I heard about this on Monday morning when I showed up for work. A bunch of people were sitting around in a hotel ballroom sharing tales of being forced from their ruined rooms. I called it the Wetness Relocation Program, because I am witty.
I had been across the street at Starbucks writing one of my newspaper stories while the evacuation was happening, so I missed the whole thing. But I was not immune from the impact of it.
On Monday afternoon all of us on the crew had to check out of the hotel (the Loews) and move across the street to a diffferent hotel (the Marriott). I was too busy working to check out, so I had a production assistant do it for me.
She packed my clothes and settled up my bill at the front desk. In situations such as these, the client usually pays for the room charges but I am responsible for everything else, like room service, restaurant charges, the mini-bar and movies. I was at the Loews for two nights, less than 48 hours. I ordered no room service. I ate nothing at the restaurant. I drank nothing from the mini-bar. But I did manage to order four "movies" in the 36 hours I spent at the hotel. That's an average of one movie every nine hours. With tax and fees the total charge was more than $50. Now that's irresponsible, even for me!
There's something about hotel room porn that is just irresistible. It's like an old friend who welcomes me with open arms every time I travel. I know which cities have the best selections, and which to avoid. Unlike many other cities, Philadelphia hotels will show you what I like to call the climactic moments of these films. Other hotels in other cities edit these portions out, which is somewhat disappointing when you're paid $13.99. But you can't exactly call the front desk and complain that there's no cum shot in your rented porn, particularly when your client is paying for your room.
I'm excited because the Marriott has a completely different collection of movies than the Loews. Perhaps I will spend some more of my extra overtime money (I made a a bunch on Monday) on these fabulously entertaining films. I'd like to think I have the willpower to not waste my money, but I think I've proven time and time again that fiscal responsibility is not my forte.
It could be worse. I could be in Las Vegas, where I hemmorhage money like a hemophiliac on blood thinner. The good thing about Vegas is they don't cut anything out of the movies there. Yet another reason to visit.
Come to think of it, maybe it's time for another trip to Sin City. I haven't been there since June. I'm due. But first I'll need to save up some money. You know what that means: no more over-priced hotel room porn!
Okay, maybe just one more. The Marriott is offering an fascinating film called College Sex Party Part 2. I wonder what it's about?
Greetings from Philadelphia where I am working on the production of yet another pharmaceutical meeting.
One of the amenities of fancy hotels is what they refer to as "turndown service." A housekeeper sneaks into your room in the early evening, fluffs up your pillows, turns down the covers of your bed and perhaps leaves you a chocolate.
This is designed as a courtesy for weary travelers like myself, who arrive at the hotel exhausted by the grueling 1 hour and 15 minute ride on the Amtrak Acela, and are far too tired to lift their own sheets.
When I returned to my hotel room tonight after a hard day at PowerPoint, I noticed something unusual.
In addition to the standard turn-down, and the supple, terrycloth bathrobe, the hotel had added another touch of class.
Of course, when they saw a strapping young man like myself check in, they just assumed hordes of women would soon follow.That explains the two glasses, and the bucket of ice awaiting an over-priced bottle of champagne from room service.
But just in case I would be flying solo this evening (which I was), the hotel also very kindly prepared the remote control, which provided me with some female companionship of the "video on-demand" variety.
Sorry I can't write any more but I'm feeling very sleepy.
On Thursday night I went to see a show that I will be reviewing for next week's edition of Chelsea Now.
It was a live performance in a small, black box theater downtown. When I got there I immediately headed for the last seat in the last row. I like to sit out-of-sight when I am reviewing because, if the house is darkened during the performance (as it was tonight), I use the bright screen of my Treo cell phone to illuminate my notebook as I take notes.
I try to keep all of this subtle, do I don't disrupt the show for other audience members.
The show tonight was sold out and, when I arrived, the house was filling up fast. I headed for my seat in the last row, took off my coat and pulled out my notebook. Two pretty girls in their 20s filed in behind me. They hesitated for a moment, as if they were not sure where to sit. Then the girl who was closer to me spoke.
"How many are you?" she asked me, as they began to put down their bags.
"I am just myself," I said, existentially.
At this point the girls picked up their bags again and moved two seats away from me -- after I had just told them that nobody was sitting next to me. It was if they were saving two seats for the friends they thought I should have.
A lot of people might interpret this as a "dis" or a suggestion that the girls in some way found me creepy or unpleasant to sit next to.
To that I say, "Balderdash!"
I thought they were being very considerate. They must have known I was reviewing the show, and they didn't wish to distract me from the task at hand. That's why they moved their hot little bods out of the seats beside me and left them open for two gay dudes to take instead. They knew that gay dudes would distract me a lot less than two pretty twenty-something girls.
They were right. Thanks, girls, for your act of selflessness.
On the morning of Sunday, December 7, 1941 the First Air Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii killing 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians.
President Franklin Delano Roosevelt called it "a day that will live in infamy" when he declared war upon the Empire of Japan less than 24 hours later. On December 11, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States.
After losing the lives of so many Americans at Pearl Harbor, this country unified behind the war. Every man, women and child pitched in to help the war effort with service and sacrifice. It touched the lives of all Americans, regardless of their political affiliations or socio-economic status. The United States changed as a nation on December 7.
Today, the burden of military service falls disproportionately on the backs of the economically disadvantaged. Service to our country is no longer a shared effort. In fact, the majority of Americans have no connection to those who serve. Many of us feel that it is not the United States who is at war, it's the United States military. And this disconnect has allowed a profoundly unpopular and misguided war effort to drag on longer than American involvement in World War II.
What better way to honor the memories of those Americans who died on December 7, 1941 than for our current administration to figure out a way to prevent us from losing even one more soldier in Iraq.
Anything less would be a disservice to those brave men and women who serve our country today, and those who lost their lives on that fateful day 65 years ago.
There is a growing movement in this country to transform December 5 -- the anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition -- into a national drinking holiday to be known as Repeal Day.
This strikes me as somewhat absurd, since many of those who would ostensibly be celebrating this "holiday" have no idea what Prohibition actually is!
As a rule I would decry this movement as yet another cynical attempt on the part of the wine and spirits industry (a.k.a. Big Alcohol) to increase sales by co-opting world history, as they have done with Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick's Day. But maybe this is the wrong approach!
There is no question that the current generation of American youth is woefully ignorant when it comes to history. And as American author, poet and philosopher George Santayana said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
So, what better way to engage young people in American history than by attaching it to their favorite pastime - binge drinking?
In the interest of expanding the historical awareness of young America, I humbly present The Repeal Day Drinking Game!
This evening why not stop by a watering hole located in close proximity to a college campus and locate a few enthusiastic young imbibers. Something tells me they won't be hard to find!
Once you have made contact with your young students, present them with the following Prohibition Quiz. For every question he or she answers correctly, buy your young friend a shot of their liquor of choice. For every incorrect answer, take that shot away!
It's just like the carrot-and-stick approach to learning, except in this case the carrot is a shot!
Now, wet your lips and prepare your shot glasses because it's time for The Repeal Day Drinking Game!
1) What is your name? ANSWER: Of course, each answer will differ! But this will guarantee that your player gets at least one question right. And it will build a bond of trust between the two of you!
2) Was it ever illegal to consume alcohol in the United States? ANSWER: No! (Hint: This is a trick question. See next question.)
3) What is Prohibition? ANSWER: According to Wikipedia, Prohibition is a law by which the manufacture, transportation, import, export and sale of alcoholic beverages is restricted or illegal. The consumption of alcohol was never illegal in this country.
4) How and when was the sale of alcohol outlawed in the United States? ANSWER: With the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on January 16, 1920. NOTE: You get one shot if can name the number of the Amendment, one shot if you can name the year and TWO shots if you can name the exact date.
5) What types of establishments served liquor to customers during Prohibition? ANSWER: The speakeasy. These were exclusive, private clubs that dispensed alcohol (often home brews) to patrons.
6) Name the 1932 Marx Bros. film with a major scene that takes place in a speakeasy, and the password that is used to gain access. ANSWER: If your player even knows who the Marx Bros. are, give them a shot. If they name the movie (Horse Feathers) and the password (Swordfish) they get double points/shots!
6) Were there any other countries that also outlawed the sale of alcohol? ANSWER: Yes! They were Russia (1914-1925), Iceland (1915-1922), Norway (1916-1927), Finland (1919-1932) and Prince Edward Island (1901-1948). Of course, devout Muslim countries such as Afghanistan under the rule of the Taliban also have outlawed the sale and consumption of alcohol, but these were often not based upon acts of elected, legislative bodies.
7) How and when was Prohibition repealed in the United States? ANSWER: With the 21st Amendment to the U.S. Constitution on December 5, 1933. NOTE: Again, one shot for the Amendment number, one for the year and two for the exact date. Even your worst students of history should get the date correct! All they have to do is look at a calendar (assuming that they are still able to focus their eyes).
So why not spread the joy of history to young people around the country tonight by playing The Repeal Day Drinking Game!
They will learn something and you may too -- although both of you will probably have forgotten everything by tomorrow morning!
I have another story in the current issue of Chelsea Now, the weekly newspaper serving the Chelsea neighborhood of New York City. The piece is a review of Dina Martina's Yule Log, a holiday-themed drag show at the Cutting Room here in New York City.
If you're scoring at home, this is the fourth arts review I have sold in the last month. It's also the second review of an event designed for a predominantly gay audience.
Perhaps my editor knows something that I don't know? Perhaps I have a particular talent for reviewing gay-themed events. Perhaps if I want to erase any doubts about my sexual orientation I should stop using words like perhaps.
My next assignment for the paper is to review an off-Broadway play. I don't know if I'm qualified to be a theater critic, but I'm not going to mention that to my editor. I guess I'm just as qualified as anyone else is. I see plays (sometimes). I have opinions about them (often). And I like to share my opinions with others (always).
Finally, I'm getting paid to be opinionated. For the last 37 years I've been doing it for free.
Whenever I picture myself as a theater critic, I can't help but think of Addison DeWitt, the martini-sipping critic played by George Sanders in the classic All About Eve. Sanders won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as the dry-witted narrator of the 1950 film, in which he spends most of his time with his much-younger "protege" Marilyn Monroe.
Another interest that Addison DeWitt and I share.
Twenty-two years later Sanders killed himself with an overdose of barbiturates. He left the following note:
Dear World: I am leaving because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool. Good luck.
As suicide notes go, it's a pretty good one. It's short, sweet and to-the-point. On the negative side, he does use the word "leaving" in two consecutive sentences. That's a bit redundant for my taste. I would have gone with "departing" or the more dramatic "shuffling off the mortal coil."
You see? I always have an opinion. Perhaps I have found my true calling.
My father left me a message on my voicemail last night.
"William, it's your father," he said. "Listen...give me a call, okay? (pause). Just give me a call."
That was the whole message.
No "it's nothing urgent" or "call me when you get a chance." Just "give me a call." Even more disturbing than the cryptic quality of the message was the tone in his voice. He sounded very serious and he was speaking in something of a low whisper, particularly after the dramatic pause.
These enigmatic messages from my father are nothing new. Usually they are pretty innocuous, but on certain memorably occasions they are not.
About ten years ago I got a similar message from my father. He identified himself as my father (which he always does, just in case I've forgotten) and he requested that I call him back, which I did immediately. I asked him what was going on.
"Not much," he said. "Mommy and I went to Costco today and we picked up some of them socks you like, you know, the white gym socks? Oh and I got a little bit of prostate cancer."
If our conversation had taken place in a movie trailer, the line I got a little bit of prostate cancer is where you would hear the needle scratch the record. When my father said this, many thoughts flooded through my head.
First of all, I didn't even know you could get prostate cancer at Costco. And if you can, it certainly wouldn't be a little bit. Have you been to Costco? The sizes at that place are huge. No doubt Costco would carry the extra large jumbo economy size cancer.
Okay, as you may have noticed, I tend to use humor and sarcasm to defuse emotionally charged situations. I know that because at least three of my many shrinks have told me so. And I was paying them, so I'm sure they were telling the truth .
But in all seriousness I was shocked that the fact that my father had cancer was an after thought to him, ranking somewhere below an afternoon shopping excursion on his report of the day's activities.
It actually took a minute for what he had told me to register. I was still thinking about the socks. Because I always need socks.
The other thing was, my father didn't say "prostate cancer" he said "prostrate cancer." For a minute I thought he was kidding, like he was telling me he had cancer of the ability to lie down.
"Maybe he's been on his feet all day," I said to myself. "And he's making a joke about how he has no time to rest."
But I know better than anyone that my father isn't a big user of sarcasm for comedic impact. So I inquired further.
"Yeah, the doctor told me I had cancer of the prostrate," he elaborated. "So they're just gonna take out the prostrate gland and be done with the whole thing."
Again, he mispronounced it. I thought about correcting him, then decided against it. I think if you have any sort of cancer you should be able to call it whatever you want. After all, it's your cancer. You could call it Uncle Ernie is that makes you feel better.
A decade later, what strikes me about that conversation is how matter-of-fact my father was when he told me. It was so big deal to him, no more important than buying a pair of gym socks. Of course, that is only how he presented it to me. Inside he may have been scared out of his wits. But I will never know.
My father lived through the Depression, World War II and 44 years of working in a bus garage. In case you haven't noticed, the Greatest Generation doesn't waste its time talking about things like feelings. They're too busy clipping coupons.
Thankfully, everything worked out okay. My father had surgery and he is fit as an elderly fiddle more than a decade later. But every time he leaves me one of his terse voicemail messages I reluctantly dial his number, expecting to hear the worst. Once bitten twice shy.
Last night I didn't hear my Dad's message until 12:30 a.m.. I had just arrived at Maggie's apartment and she was sitting there sucking on her blue bong, watching reruns of Family Guy. In other words, it was just another night.
"Should I call him now?" I asked her. "I don't want to wake them up, but what if it's something important?"
"You always call them late," Maggie reminded me in between bong hits and coughing fits.
She was right. I often call my parents late at night. My mother takes certain medications that keep her awake, and it's not unusual for me to call them after Midnight and find them both awake, watching The O'Reilly Factor on Fox News.
But plenty of other times I call and they are sleeping. I get nervous that the ringing phone is going to shock them into a heart attack or something. Wouldn't that be ironic? I call because I'm afraid my father is dying and it's my call that actually ends up killing him?
I think that I saw that storyline one time on Murder She Wrote.
So I dialed the number and my mother answered. That is a bad sign. My father is responsible for all incoming and outgoing phone activity. If my mother answers, that means there is something terribly wrong.
"What's the matter?" I said. "Where's Daddy?" Yes, I'm 38 years old and I still refer to my father as Daddy. Get off my back, okay?
"He's in the bathroom," my mother said cheerily. "He'll call you back."
Half an hour later my phone rings.
"That was a long visit to the bathroom," I said. "So, are you dying?"
"What are you talking about?" my father replied. "I called you because we've been getting calls from a bill collector looking for you. Do you owe money to Banana Republic?"
"Probably," I answered. "But I've kind of lost track." That may not have been the best reply to your father when he is getting harassed by your bill collectors.
"You gotta call these people," my father bleated. "They're coming after us. Mommy and I are gonna lose the house!"
"It's $300," I reassured him. "I doubt they'll get the house. Maybe just a few shingles."
"Look, just call them and take care of this, okay?" he said. "Do you need money?"
I couldn't really explain to my father that I owe so much money to so many different credit card companies, that I've just stopped reading my mail. And I had my phone turned of too, which is probably why they tracked my poor old parents down in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
"No," I lied. "I have plenty of money in the bank. I'll call them tomorrow."
"Okay son," my father said. "Good night."
"Good night," I replied, happy that he was still around to care.