1.30.2007

JEFF ZUCKER MUST FLY

My family visit to Florida concluded on Sunday afternoon, when Maggie and I flew from West Palm Beach to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.

As usual, our Jet Blue flight was packed to the rafters with all manner of strange and wonderful characters. (Okay, planes don't really have rafters, so let's say it was packed to the fuselage.)


But the passenger in seat 9D really caught my attention. It was Jeff Zucker, CEO of NBC Universal, sitting there with his wife and at least one of his four children
.

Jeff Zucker is one of the most powerful executives in the American TV industry and he flies Jet Blue. Can you believe that? There was this multi-millionaire amongst the families, and the bargain-hunters and the miscellaneous rabble that tend to populate Jet Blue flights.

This amazed me. Sometimes I get embarrassed to tell people I fly Jet Blue. It's not as bad as, say, Spirit Airlines, but it's not exactly designed for the hoi polloi. Jet Blue is sort of the Greyhound of the sky.

First of all, there is no first class, or even business class. Everyone is equal in the eyes of Jet Blue, from the Harvard-educated TV mogul to the overweight insurance salesman/golfer who chatted Maggie's ear off as I slept.


As I watched him eat his complementary Doritos I wondered, "Doesn't Jeff Zucker have his own plane? Or at least access to the NBC Universal Corporate jet? Why would he choose to mingle with the unwashed masses?"


But then I remembered something. Jet Blue has TVs on the back of every seat. What better place for a TV executive to be than smack in the middle of 200 flying TVs? It's like a free focus group!

All Jeff Zucker has to do is casually walk from the bathroom back to his seat, and he gets to monitor the viewing habits of a disparate cross section of 200 Americans. And he is completely anonymous.
What a perfect plan!

Jeff Zucker, you are a frugal traveler AND a brilliant business tactician! And I salute you sir!

1.29.2007

A JOKE ABOUT MY NIECE'S BIRTHDAY

On Saturday night my family celebrated my niece Laura's fifth birthday. Everybody was there: my mother, father, sister, brother-in-law, the new baby, the older sister and the birthday girl.

My niece's actual birthday came and went thirteen days ago, but I couldn't be there on that day. I think I had a haircut appointment, or a pedicure, or something. Whatever. I have bad calluses. I was busy. Anyway, they live in Florida. It's not like I can just hop on the L.I.E.


So the whole family birthday party for my niece was pushed back by two weeks -- entirely for my benefit.

Do you understand what I'm telling you? The celebration of a child's fifth birthday on this planet was rescheduled until it was convenient for me.
That is a lot of power for one person to wield.

Maybe I could do that with Christmas. I would save so much money on airfare. I'd call my sister like, "Hmmm. Christmas. How is your January looking? I could do the second Sunday, anytime after two..."

$399 one way to Ft. Lauderdale on December 24th? I don't think so! Take that Jet Blue.

Everybody knows that Jesus wasn't actually born on December 25th, anyway. That was the date that the early Christians picked to celebrate the birth of their savior. And you know why they chose that date? Because everybody was already off from work. It was very smart marketing.

I am not a prisoner of the calendar. I do things when I want to do them, not when some piece of paper on the wall tells me.

Guess what? Today is Arbor Day. Maybe not for you. But I'm not inviting you to my party anyway.

1.27.2007

AN AMERICAN IN ORLANDO

On Friday Maggie and I rented a car and drove from Orlando to Port St. Lucie to visit my parents.

Clarification: I rented and Maggie drove. Me driving is not a good idea.

We arrived at my parents' home in their 55+ community, ate dinner and then sat down to watch An American in Paris on Turner Classic Movies. After six nights in a hotel, I was experiencing a severe case of OLW - Old Movie Withdrawal.

Sadly, it's not the first time I have experienced this particular illness. I have been traveling for work for seventeen years, and I have never once found TCM on a TV in a hotel room. Not even one time. The first thing I do when I check into a hotel is scan the TV channels, hoping that just this once I will see a gloriously black & white picture on my screen. But alas, this has never been the case.

They don't even carry TCM at the hotel located across the street from CNN Center in Atlanta. For those of you who do not know, Turner Classic Movies is named after Ted Turner who created the channel, and who also happened to be the founder of CNN, before he sold everything off to Time Warner more than a decade ago. (I should know because I produced the press conference announcing the merger back in 1996, and I personally thanked Ted for creating my favorite channel.)

So, why don't they show TCM in hotel rooms? After all, they have all kinds of other niche channels, like A&E. Why A&E and not TCM? I don't think I've ever watched A&E in my entire life. A&E stands for Arts & Entertainment, which is a somewhat ironic name for the channel that brought us Growing Up Gotti.

Frankly, I think the apparent ban on Turner Classic Movies in hotel rooms is a case of ageism. The giant hotel chains think that TCM viewers are people who were alive when those movies first were released, i.e. old people. And old people don't travel, because they are old and senile. So why put a channel for old people in hotel rooms, when they won't even be there to watch it? End of story.

Of course that is complete bullshit. I'm not the only person under the age of 70 who loves TCM. But good luck convincing the hotel chains of that. They just discount TCM as a channel for senile old people who don't travel.

An American in Paris happens to be a beautiful film that any movie lover would enjoy -- old or young. Directed by Vincente Minnelli, this classic 1951 MGM musical stars Gene Kelly as the titular American, dancing with Leslie Caron to a soundtrack of Gershwin hits.


"This is the movie where Gene Kelly does that scene where he's singing in the rain," my father said, as the movie was just about to begin.

"I don't think so," I said gently.

"Oh yeah?" my father replied. "What's that one called?

"Singing in the Rain," I answered.


Okay, maybe my father is old and maybe he's just a tiny bit senile and maybe he watches TCM a lot. He also doesn't really travel much. Okay, I think I'm not really helping my case here.

For the record: I'm young and not senile and I watch TCM more than my father does. And I travel a lot.

So if you know of a hotel that carries TCM, please tell me, and I will make it my business to stay there.

1.26.2007

ORLANDO IS A HOOT(ERS)

Yesterday was the closing session of our pharmaceutical meeting in Orlando, Florida.

It was very successful, except for the fact that our highly paid motivational speaker mispronounced the name of the company that he was trying to motivate. That was awkward.


Thankfully I was hidden away backstage on headsets, because the clients were in the back of the ballroom flipping out. Finally the stage manager asked the teleprompter operator to spell out the company name phonetically on the prompter so that the speaker could see it.

Maggie flew down to Orlando yesterday and met me at the hotel after my job had finished. We asked the concierge for a dinner suggestion, and she told us that there were no reservations available in the entire city, due to two gigantic conventions that were in town. She suggested we head over to an area called The Pointe Orlando, sort of a mall where there are a number of restaurants, shops and a movie theater.


First we tried a place called Tommy Bahamas: thirty minute wait. Then the Grape: forty five minute wait. Then the Capital Grill: so crowded we didn't even bother asking. Our last resort was an Italian place that sold itself as a "Little Italy Experience."

I live in New York City. I don't need to have a "Little Italy Experience" in Orlando, Florida. Anyway, the real Little Italy sucks. It's basically two blocks of shitty, over-priced Italian restaurants. It hasn't been a genuine Italian neighborhood since the 1950's. It's a tourist trap, just like Orlando. So maybe going to a "Little Italy Experience" in Orlando sort of makes sense.
At least that was my justification.

But it didn't matter, because there was an hour and fifteen minute wait for a table.
This left us with one other dinner option, and I hesitated to suggest it to Maggie because I know how she feels about this particular establishment. Maybe you've heard of it.

It's called Hooters.


Maggie is offended by the concept of a restaurant devoted to large breasts. It's not a moral thing. It's more because she doesn't think she has large breasts. I have no problem with the size of Maggie's breasts, but I guess I might be reluctant to eat dinner at a place called 12 Inch Cocks.


But, as usual, Maggie was a great sport, even though she was one of only three female customers in the packed "restaurant."
As we were eating our "food," we both noticed that our server, a lovely young lady named Lena , had a tendency to sit down at her tables and chat with her male customers. She even posed for pictures with some of them.

I was horrified by this! How could those fat, vile drunken men exploit this lovely young lady for their own folly! The whole thing felt very crass to me.

As Lena was giving us our check, I asked her if her technique resulted in better tips. She told me that it did and, after four years as a server, she was used to it. Then she asked us where we were from and told us about her family in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn.


At that point Maggie piped up. "Can I take a picture of you and Will?" she asked Lena. Lena agreed and we posed for this picture, taken with Maggie's phone.

Not only is Maggie a good sport, she's also a mind reader.

1.25.2007

LET ME CLEAR MY THROAT!

What's the protocol when you think there is something wrong with somebody, but you don't really know them well enough to ask them if there is something wrong with them?

Okay, maybe that's a little convoluted. I work with a freelance producer, a very nice woman in her (I'm guessing) mid-40's. Or maybe she's 50. Or 39. I don't know. She might be older or younger. I'm never good at guessing ages, particularly after women hit 35. But that's not the point of this story.

I don't like a lot of people in the world, but I like this woman. She is pleasant to work with, and has a very nice demeanor. She also has what seems like a constantly phlegmy throat.

You know how, when people are congested and they cough, they have that heavy, croupy sound - like there's some stuff inside that really shouldn't be there? That is how this woman sounds, but not when she coughs. It happens when she laughs.

I like to crack jokes at work a lot, and whenever this woman laughs it doesn't come out as "ha ha," it's more like roar, sort of like a lion with too much phlegm. It sounds thick and soupy and gross and almost painful.

Before you ask, no, she doesn't smoke cigarettes. I've never seen her smoke, and she doesn't seem to me like a closeted smoker (like some blog writers who shall remain nameless). This woman is thin, in nice shape and seems in good health.

"Maybe she has a cold," you may be thinking.

Well, if that's the case, then she's had the same cold for the last five years. This has been going on as long as I have known her. At first I thought about making a joke about it to her, but I decided against it. What if she has lung cancer or emphysema. That would be awkward for everyone involved. Can you imagine?

I would be like "Wow, you got some clogged pipes there, lady!" And she'd be like, "Nope. Just a fatal lung disease." Silence.

I already have enough people at my job who think I'm an arrogant, sarcastic dick. I don't need to add to their ranks. The fact that I actually am an arrogant, sarcastic dick is entirely irrelevant. I don't need more people knowing it - particularly at work.

But the problem I have now is, I live in fear of making this woman laugh. I've stopped being funny around her, and I cross my fingers and hope that our co-workers will not say something that tickles her funny bone.

This has been going on for so long, I don't know what to do about it. I can't just ask her what's wrong. That would be weird, when I've known her so long. Anyway, it's sort of an invasion of privacy. It's like saying to someone, "Have you ever had a doctor look at that mole?"

People do not respond well when you point out their physical oddities. For example, my niece Emily told me recently that I had a big nose. I wanted to smack her. What am I supposed to do about having a big nose? I'm a 38 year-old guy. I'm not going to get plastic surgery. It's just the way I look and I've made peace with it.

If you want to have friends, don't point out people's deformities. They already know what's weird about themselves, and most other people around them can probably tell, as well.

I guess you can make a tall joke to a tall person. But now that I mention that it reminds me of an ex-girlfriend, a tall girl I dated on and off for two years. She hated the fact that she was taller than most guys. So come to think of it, don't make tall jokes! At least not to girls who are in the mid-30s and have never had a stable relationship. But I'm getting off topic here.

The point is, this weird throat gunk has completely altered my interactions with this very nice woman. And I'm not sure if I can -- or should -- do anything about that.

I don't know if I explained this well, but it's too late now. I'm tired and I have to go to sleep now.

1.24.2007

THIS POST IS NOT ABOUT THE OSCAR NOMINATIONS OR THE STATE OF THE UNION ADDRESS

I have written many times about travelling somewhere exotic (such as Orlando) to work on the production of a pharmaceutical sales meeting. But I never really write about what happens at these meetings.

Come on. Admit it. You're curious aren't you?

I could tell you all kinds of things, things that would make your head spin faster than Linda Blair! I could tell you about the traditional offering of the sacrificial baby that usually opens each of our meetings, or how we pipe oxygen infused with superfine cocaine particles into the hotel ballrooms to keep the sales people awake and alert, or how most of our production budget is spent on Vietnamese hookers and peyote mushrooms.

But I'm not going to do that.

Because I am a loyal servant of Big Pharma. The secrets of the pharmaceutical industry will go with me to my grave, or at least until I get my book deal and you will have to pay $19.99 (or $16.46 on Amazon.com) to read all about it.

I know which side of my toast is I-Can't-Believe-it's-Not-Butter'ed. It's whichever side YOU are not on!

Por ejemplo: On Monday I worked from 6:30 AM until 12:30 AM, without so much as a break to sit down and eat or to move my bowels (which I did not have to do because I had not eaten, so at least there was an upside). But I'm not complaining about any of this because, with overtime, I made over $1,000 on Monday!

That's $1,000 for one day's work, and I didn't even have to suck anyone's dick (this time).

If you want to pay me a grand to come over to your house and tell you some funny war stories about producing multi-million dollar meetings for high-profile pharmaceutical clients, I will be glad to do that. But otherwise, my lips are sealed. And by that I mean, even if you pay me, I will NOT suck your dick. I won't even lick the tip. If I'm in a good mood, I MIGHT gently cup your balls in my hand, but I make no guarantees.

So, do not worry UNNAMED PHARMACEUTICAL COMPANY that is paying me huge amounts of money to be here in Orlando all week!

BECAUSE YOUR TRADE SECRETS ARE SAFE WITH ME!

Working on meetings for pharmaceutical companies = big money for me
Writing a post about it on previously owned = no money for me

END OF STORY!

And, by the way... congratulations to the excellent Ryan Gosling who was nominated yesterday for Best Actor for his role in Half Nelson -- one of my favorite movies of 2006! Add it to your Netflix queue!

Oh, and didn't you love the NYC subway hero guy showing up at the State of the Union address last night? I kept waiting for him to jump on top of President Bush. If anybody needs to be saved right now, it's George Bush.

1.23.2007

LAND DOWN CHUNDER

Remember that '80s hit Land Down Under by the Australian band Men at Work?

Let me remind you of the catchy lyrics:

Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men plunder?

One of the speakers at our pharmaceutical meeting on Monday was Australian and she told me something interesting about this song (which we played as her walk-on music when she did her presentation).

Apparently, there is an Australian version of the song that was a hit before the American version, and the lyrics were slightly different. Here is the Australian version of the lyrics:

Do you come from a land down under?
Where women glow and men chunder?

When she explained to me the meaning of the word chunder, I understood why Men at Work's record label wanted to changed it.

Chunder means "to vomit."

The funny thing is, the Australia Tourism Bureau uses this song in
their TV commercials. But they use the American version of the song.

Apparently, excessive puking does not draw tourists.

Not only is working on pharmaceutical meetings lucrative, you also learn important things.

1.22.2007

THE JOY OF SOCKS

Greetings from Orlando, where I am working on the production of yet another pharmaceutical sales meeting.

I was scheduled to fly out of JFK on Friday night at 9:30 PM, but my flight was delayed due to wind, or weather or general lack of interest on the part of Jet Blue. So I postponed my trip until Saturday morning. I had to be at the JW Marriott Hotel in O-Town by 11 AM for my job, so I figured it would be no big deal if I went early on Saturday morning instead.

I thought, "Saturday morning, no traffic, not a lot of people flying so early. No problem." So I made a reservation on the first flight out (6:15 AM!) and I scheduled a car to pick me up at home at 4:45 AM, figuring that would get me there in puh-lenty of time. At least it should have been plenty of time.

It snowed on Friday night in New York City -- maybe like .00001 inches. But it's been so long since the Big Apple has seen snow that people kind of freaked out. News Radio 1010 WINS was reporting the "snowstorm" like it was the BLIZZARD OF '07!! It was barely a dusting. I've seen more white powder in nightclub bathrooms.

I got into my car and noticed something about the driver. He could not have been any younger than 80. I'm not kidding. I don't expect the car service A Team is working on Saturday at 4:45 AM, but this guy looked like he was too old to be a professional anything, let along a driver. The only driving he should have been doing was in a hearse. As the passenger.

At that hour on a Saturday the entire trip should have been 20 minutes, door-to-door. Unfortunately, Methusala the Limo Driver refused to go faster than 29 MPH. People were whizzing past us at twice that speed. I think I saw the same car pass us in both directions. He had time to pass us, get to his destination, visit his family AND come back -- while we were still crawling along on the Long Island Expressway at illegally slow speed.

I felt like I was in a funeral procession, which felt oddly appropriate considering that: a) my driver was nearly dead and b) if I missed my plane I would be totally dead.

At first I subtly hinted that we should go faster. Then I asked. Then I demanded. Nothing worked. By the time we got to JFK it was 5:45AM, only 30 minutes before departure. I raced in, breezed through the (thankfully) near-empty check-in line, removed my sneakers for security and ran -- in my white gym socks -- across the terminal yelling, "HOLD THE PLANE! HOLD THE PLANE!"

Luckily, it all worked out okay. I boarded just as they were closing the doors to the gate. And yes, I was in my socks. It was embarrassing, but not as embarrassing as getting fired for being late. Or getting arrested for killing an elderly limo driver.

So in summation, if you are booking a car to the airport, DO NOT call the UTOG car service to drive you there.

I think UTOG stands for "UnTimely Octogenarian Guys WHO DON'T BELONG DRIVING A FUCKING CAR TO THE AIRPORT.

But they shortened it to "UTOG."


1.21.2007

THE KID OF COMEDY

My story about Alejandro Kolleeny, the 16 year-old comedian, is up on the Chelsea Now website.

Click here to read it.

1.19.2007

INTERVIEWING IN 10 NOT-SO-EASY STEPS

My ninth piece of print journalism -- an interview with Ronnie Koenig, the former editor of Playgirl -- is in the current issue of The Villager here in New York City.

I mentioned the story to a co-worker at my corporate communications day job, and I said something about how much time I had spent on it. The co-worker was surprised.

"Well you didn't really write it, right?" she asked dismissively. " I mean it's somebody else talking."

Yes, an interview is a conversation with someone else. But it does not just magically turn into an interesting story. There is a fair amount of work involved, even in the question-answer format interviews that I do for The Villager.

So, for the record, let me clarify the process of how an interview such as this gets into the paper.

1) I choose someone to interview, preferably someone in the arts with a connection to the downtown neighborhoods of New York City.

2) I pitch Nicole, my editor, on the interview.

3) I contact the show's publicist to arrange the interview.

4) I go to see the show, so I will know what I'm talking about when I do the interview.

5) I conduct the interview, preferably in person. This conversation took place at a diner after her performance and lasted for thirty minutes. Ronnie brought her sister with her to the interview. Maybe she was afraid I might try to turn it into a date.

6) I transcribe the interview. I am a terrible two-finger typist, so it takes me about an hour to type up ten minutes of audio. I spent more than three hours typing up my conversation with Ronnie.

7) I edit the interview. Once transcribed, the interview was more than 3,500 words. I had to get it down to about 750 words so, along with a 150-word introductory blurb, the whole thing would be around 900 words. This is a challenging process, because you need to tell an interesting story without altering the meaning, intention or context of a person's words.

8) I write the introductory copy.

9) I submit the story and wait for an editing notes. In this case, Nicole cut a few lines from my intro because she found them to be "condescending." I thought I was being funny. She kept all the questions and answers intact.

10) I re-write, revise or polish as necessary. In this case, not at all. But usually there is some crazy, last minute revising as the deadline looms (like there was yesterday morning with my Kids 'N Comedy story).

For all of this I get paid $50. I'm at work right now. I've made $50 in the length of time that I've been writing this blog post.

But again, it's not about the money.

If you would like to read my interview with Ronnie Koenig in The Villager click here.

Writer/Performer Ronnie Koenig (right) with her sister Meryl after my interview.

1.18.2007

YA GOTTA BELIEVE

This morning I had another submission due for Chelsea Now. This one is about a 16 year-old standup comedian and the program that taught him.

For those of you that are interested in these things, this was my most complex assignment so far for a paid piece of print journalism: the longest piece yet (1,200 words vs. a range from 600-900), the most "reporting" work done (stretched out over a full month) and the most time spent writing/re-writing.

I've worked at my highly paying day job the past two days, and then walked around the corner to my writing office, where I worked on the story. On Tuesday night I worked until 5 am and last night until 5:30 am. This morning I came home and played Pacman

By the way, if you added up all the hours I spent on this story, I'm making less than minimum wage. The old minimum wage. But I couldn't care less about that.

What's exciting for me is the challenge to do something I've never really done before, and prove to myself that I can do it.

1.16.2007

ME GUSTA LOS MAC BOOKS

This morning I woke up in the bedroom of the modest little New York City penthouse that I (unofficially) share with my former, some would say current and most likely future girlfriend, Maggie.

I visited the restroom, and then headed into the living room to check my email. When I entered the room I noticed that there were two unidentified men on Maggie's balcony.

Under normal circumstances, such a revelation would disturb and frighten me. But I am fully aware that workmen have been laboring for some time to sandblast the building exterior and make repairs to the balconies.

I know this because, for the last two months, we have been awakened each morning at the ungodly hour of 7:59 AM by a loud, persistent buzz not unlike a dentist's drill. I knew that it was only a matter of time before the harness-wearing workmen ended up on Maggie's balcony, with caulk and spackle in hand. Apparently, today was the big day.

Had I known I would have bought a nice piece of Danish to offer the hard-working undocumented Hispanics. But, alas, I did not know. So all I had to offer was the unintentional treat of seeing my morning wood in all of its unclothed glory.

After my brief -- and entirely unintentional -- peep show, I quickly put on a pair of sweats and ventured back into the living room to check my email.

Our unexpected guests from south or the border gave me a polite wave as I sat down on the couch and opened up my laptop. I logged on to my email account and began reading the penis enlargement spam when I heard a tapping sound on the window. I noticed that one of the workers was motioning for me to open the door to the balcony.

"Maybe their harness has broken and they are about to plummet to their death!" I thought, as I rushed to the open the glass door.

"Is that a Mac Book Pro?" the man in the Carhart overalls asked, pointing at my laptop.

"Um, no," I answered. It's a Powerbook."

"How much does it cost," my new friend inquired.

"Well, I paid about $1,500 but it's old now, so it's worth much less. Actually, it's kind of broken. I dropped it once and it's all bent. I really think its on it's last legs. It's essentially worthless."

"Don't worry," the workman said. "I'm not going to steal it. I just need to get a new laptop for my kid. He's going to college."

"Oh, right," I said. "Of course! I never thought..."

"That I was a thief?" he said. "That, just because I'm a brown-skinned working man, all I'm really doing here is casing the apartment of a bunch of rich, white people?"

"Not at all!" I protested. "I'm a working man myself. I'll be spending all day today toiling over PowerPoint slides for a pharmaceutical sales meeting! Trust me, it's hard work!"

"Right. And if you a make a mistake, do you run the risk of falling to your death and leaving your children as penniless orphans?" he asked.

"Well, no," I said. "But I do run the risk of preventing my client from effectively communicating a new sales strategy to the reps in the field. That's sort of the same thing, isn't it?"

The workman nodded his head and asked me where he could get a Mac Book Pro for his kid.

"Try the Apple store on Prince Street," I said, as I headed back to the bathroom to shower.

I would like to point out that the manual laborers who hang from the side of Maggie's apartment building are in the market for new Mac Book Pro laptops for their college-bound kids, whereas I am 38 years old and I can barely afford to buy new gym socks.

I think it may be time for a career change. Somebody get me a harness.

1.15.2007

DEAR BLACK PEOPLE: I AM SORRY

In memory of Martin Luther King Day, here is a joke I wrote for my standup act on September 26, 2002.

My last girlfriend was a black girl. She broke up with me on Martin Luther King Day. Apparently, she had a dream, and I wasn’t in it. So I tried to change her mind by any means necessary. And now we’re separate but equal.

Eventually the joke morphed into this:

My last girlfriend was a black girl. I’ve always been attracted to dark-skinned women. Or light-skinned women. Or really women with any skin at all. Pretty much, if you’ve got skin, I’m into you.

It was weird for me when I started dating her because I had never dated a black girl before. I didn’t know what to say to her. So I did some research. I bought that new 50 Cent CD. So now every time I see her I’m like, “What up gangsta?!” And she usually says, “Shut the fuck up bitch ass motherfucker.” It’s okay, though. I love her like a fat kid love cake.

You see, I downloaded the lyrics and I highlighted stuff. Because I have flava. But it’s artificial flava. If I was a rapper, my name would be Sweet & Low.

I used to do this joke in front of primarily black audiences at Boston Comedy Club here in New York. Every Saturday night, I would host the amateur show from 8 until 10 PM, and then hand out fliers in the freezing cold until 1:45 a.m. in return for five minutes of stage time at the end of the "pro" show. And I had a shaved head, which kind of made me look like a little Neo-Nazi-ish.

Needless to say, I was not an overnight success. Come to think of it, it's really a wonder that I'm still here to tell the tale.

1.11.2007

CUT TO THE QUICK

Like millions of New Yorkers, I ride the subway to work every day.

Each morning I pace the grimy platform at the Rector Street station, awaiting the arrival of either the R or the W train. The R train originates in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and, by the time it gets to my stop, it’s usually packed with surly commuters. The W train begins its run at Whitehall Street, only one stop from Rector. That means that the W train is often gloriously empty when it gets to my stop.

I am almost always running late for work, so I can’t allow an R train to pass me by while I wait for my beloved W. But sometimes, I hope and I pray and, every now and then, I get lucky and I get a W.

This morning I saw a train approaching in the distance and I hoped upon hope that it would be a W. And it was! Oh joy. I get my own seat, and I get to spread out with my giant cup of Subway Diet Coke and The New York Times. Sometime I even get a whole car entirely to myself!

This morning I boarded the W train and there was a young man sitting across from my favorite seat. He was ethnic, but I’m not going to tell you what kind of ethnic he was, for fear of being branded somehow racist.

I sat down, pulled out The Times and began reading about the latest salvo in the Trump-Rosie War (Remember when The Times used to ignore stories like that in favor, -- oh, I don't know - news?)

As I read my paper and sipped my Diet Coke, I heard a high-pitched clicking sound coming from across the aisle. I knew what it sounded like, but I was sure that it couldn’t be that. I asked myself, “Would somebody actually sit on a subway train and clip their fingernails IN PUBLIC VIEW?!”

The answer is yes. This guy was just sitting there, unapologetically cutting his nails while a handful of fellow subway riders looked at him with withering contempt. He wasn’t even catching the clippings in his hand. He was just letting them fly through the air, like his own little 4th of July fireworks show.

I briefly thought about saying something to him, like “Sir, I would really rather not spend my morning commute dodging flying pieces of your body” but I thought better of it. According to the eagle-eyed TSA official at JFK who confiscated my nail clippers over the Holidays, those things can be quickly transformed into deadly weapons! And you never can be too careful with these swarthy-complected terrorist types.

Anyway, I really don’t want to end up on the front page of the New York Post as the first victim of The Nail Clipper Killer. I can see the headline now: COMMUTER “NAILED” ON W TRAIN! I don’t want my death turned into a light-hearted morning chuckle for the morons who read The New York Post.

So I watched this genius cut his nails from Rector Street to Canal Street, all the while wondering if he felt the least bit of self-consciousness. Apparently, he didn’t because, after he was done, he put his clippers back in his pocket and proceeded to LICK his freshly cut nails with his TONGUE! And then he blew on them. This guy was giving himself a manicure on the subway.

Finally, I could no longer control myself. As we pulled in the 8th Street station I caught his eye. “You forgot your cuticles,” I said to him with a smirk.

“My what?” he asked.

“Your cuticles!” I answered, raising my voice over the screeching brakes of the subway. “Your cuticles!!”

“Oh thanks!” he said with a sly smile, as he exited the W train. “You’re cute too!”

1.10.2007

YVONNE De CARLO (1922-2007)

Yvonne De Carlo (born Peggy Yvonne Middleton) got her start as a Paramount contract player in the 1940s, but she will be forever remembered as Lily Munster, the ghoulish matriarch of the CBS television series The Munsters (1964-1966) and the 1966 feature film Munsters, Go Home.

Yvonne reprised the role of Lily in The Munsters' Revenge, a 1981 reunion film with Fred Gwynne and Al Lewis, and she made a cameo appearance in 1995's Here Come the Munsters (which featured a new cast in the classic roles).

Thanks to DVD (and TV Land) Yvonne De Carlo -- like her most famous character -- will live on forever and ever.

AUTOMATIC RED EYE BLUES

A few months ago I bought a cool new digital camera, a Canon PowerShot SD 700 IS.

I bought it, in part, because last year I worked on the production of a huge trade show for Canon at the Jacob Javits Convention Center here in New York. I spent months toiling long and hard to promote the many quality Canon products and, by the time the show was over, I was completely brainwashed. I had to have a Canon camera for my own. I thought about stealing one, but that was impossible. There were security guards everywhere, and all the cameras were all locked up, tight as a drum, safe from potential thieves like me.

In retrospect, giving some of my hard-earned pay back to the very polite Japanese folks at Canon feels like an appropriate thing to do. They were so nice to me, and they gave me so much money for doing so little actual work, it felt like the least I could do. And, when our client offered to get me the Canon employee discount, the deal was sealed!

I've been using this camera for awhile now, and I love it. But I have one big problem with it.

The SD 700 IS has something called "automatic red eye reduction." But you have to press a button in order to enable it. How is pressing a button automatic? Pressing a button is the exact opposite of automatic. It's manual. Not pressing a button is automatic. Pressing it is manual. Honestly, I expected the camera to take care of this whole thing on it's own, without any involvement from me.

Here's a stupid question: If Canon can figure out a way for your eyes not to look red in flash pictures, then why don't they just make all their cameras do that - all the time?

It's not like people sometimes want their eyes to look red in pictures. I think we all agree that it looks scary. So let's just fix it and move on an be done with it.

Maybe you're a Devil Worshipper, and you really like looking possessed by Satan in your snapshots. More power to you! All you have to do is press a button and you will look possessed. Other than that, I'm pretty sure that the average picture-taker wants to see normal-colored pupils in their pictures.

Hail Satan!

1.09.2007

DON'T BE SORRY

When did the phrase “I’m sorry” become synonymous with “I can’t hear you” in American idiomatic English?

This has become absurdly prevalent, particularly in the corporate world.

Usually the phrase is uttered with a slight lilt at the end, so it ends on an up sound, like a question, i.e. “I’m sorry?” Occasionally it’s shorted to “Sorry?”

The whole thing feels sycophantic to me. What, exactly, are you sorry for? The minute you apologize to someone else you create an imbalance of power between the two of you. And if you apologize for something that is clearly not your fault – like a bad cell phone connection, or someone else’s speech impediment – you have permanently cast yourself as the lesser party.

You say “I’m sorry?” but what the other person really hears is, “I’m sorry that my feeble ears have malfunctioned and not properly comprehended the profound utterances of your flawless mouth. Forgive my insolence. I am a worthless failure as a human being and, for that, I am sorry.”

If you can’t hear something that someone has said to you, there are many good options that have been around for years, such as:

Excuse me?
Pardon me?
Can you repeat that?
Come again?
Stop mumbling you stupid worthless motherfucker and open your goddamn fucking mouth.

But “I’m sorry?” is a bad choice.

1.08.2007

PLEASE STOP SAYING "HAPPY NEW YEAR"

It's January 8th. You're a week too late. So stop it.

Maybe you have not seen a friend or co-worker since the December 31. If so, please say "Happy belated New Year!" Or, if you prefer, "How was your New Year's celebration?


DO NOT SAY, "How was your New Year?" That is an impossible question to answer on January 8th. No one will know how their New Year is/was for another 51 weeks.


These considerations seem obvious to me, but apparently not to others.

It's over. Move on with your life.

GOODBYE(?)

There's a strange odor of gas that is slowly permeating the island of Manhattan. Nobody knows where it's coming from, or if it's dangerous or not.

Just is case, I wanted to take this opportunity to say "Goodbye" and thanks for all of your support.

1.07.2007

WRITING ABOUT WHAT I LOVE

My life tends to unfold in chapters -- you might call them "storylines." I think this is a function of my OCD (entirely self-diagnosed), or maybe it has to do with watching too many soap operas as a kid. (Luckily I haven't, as they say on the soaps, killed anyone off -- at least literally.)

I will usually be obsessed with something for a period of time, and then put it aside and move on to the next thing without looking back. This has happened with jobs, relationships even hobbies and avocations. I've been doing this for as long as I can remember and the end result tends to be a somewhat disjointed existence. Looking back on my life is like cutting through a giant Sequoia and looking at the rings.

If you read this space on a regular basis, you know that my current obsession is writing for print. You also know that I am a big fan of classic movies, an obsession that began when I was a little kid.

This week I have another story in The Villager, the weekly newspaper serving the Greenwich Village area of New York City. It's the eighth story I've had published in the past nine (or so) weeks, but it is the one that has meant the most to me, so far. It's also the one that merges my current passion for writing, with my childhood love for the classic comedies of the Marx Bros.

The stories that I have been paid to write (so far) have been arts reviews, usually about performances (or performers) that are funny in one way or another. The reviews contain my opinions and are written in my style but, unlike previously owned, they're not about me or my life.

This week's story is sort of a combination of the two.

Just before Christmas I saw a revival of the play Room Service here in New York City at the SoHo Playhouse. I am familiar with the story of the show because the Marx Bros. starred in the movie version back in 1938 and, I've watched the film maybe 100 times over the last three decades.


The great thing about this story was that I was able to pitch to the Arts editor a review of a current play, with the added texture of my awareness of two previous versions of the story: the Marx Bros. movie and a 1944 musical version called Step Lively (starring Frank Sinatra).

When I sat down to write the piece I ended up repurposing the opening paragraphs of a blog post I had written about The Palm Beach Story (which itself was a repurposing of a previous story) and then merged it with my thoughts on the play and the two films. The end result is the closest to a "personal essay" that I have ever had published. And it also makes use of the blog as an incubator for stories that turn into published works. Not that I don't enjoy entertaining you guys for free, but the blog version of previously owned was always meant to be a vehicle to lead me to something else (like maybe the book version of previously owned).

I enjoy being a critic, but my long-term goal is to publish humorous, personal essays about me and my fabulously entertaining life. Of course, for four years my long-term goal was to be a standup comic, and that particular obsession has abated (at least for now). So who knows how long this one will last.

But for now, I am enjoying getting paid to do things that I enjoy, and then write about them. What more could I ask for?

Click here to read my story.

1.05.2007

THERE'S NO BUSINESS LIKE SHOW BUSINESS

Growing up I always wanted to work in the movie business.

I loved movies as a kid, and I even made a few of my own. Back then, in the Dark Ages before home video cameras, the medium of choice was Super 8 mm film. My cousins and I made a number of movies during summers spent "up in the country" at their vacation house in the Catskill Mountains, two hours north of New York City.

One classic was
Billy & Patrick's Island. I played the character of Billy, modeled after Gilligan. My cousin Patrick played Patrick, also known as The Skipper. My sister Missy also made an appearance, waving to us as we took off for our "three-hour tour." A Fisher Price Cruise Ship stood in for S.S. Minnow.

Another classic Billy McKinley Production was
Psycho II. This was made before the actual Hollywood film called Psycho II and, in all modesty, I think my version was superior. I wrote a very elaborate script (even though it was a silent movie), made a detailed shot list and cast the film with vacationing family members. The highlight on the film was when my sister was discovered tied to a tree, covered in ketchup. I mean blood. She was covered in blood, her face wincing because the "blood" had gotten in her eyes.

Sadly,
Psycho II was an unfinished masterpiece. Half way through everyone in my family decided that I was impossible to work with, and they quit the project. Not surprisingly, I received the same type of response when I began working professionally.

I went to film school at NYU, got an internship at a production company during my last semester, and soon after was working as a producer and director of corporate videos. I had a lot of responsibility at a very young age, and I was a bit of a terror to work with/for. I'd like to say I'm better now, but I could find a lot of people who would disagree with that.

For a while I decided to try to be nicer, and easier to work with. Fuck that. If you fuck up, I'm going to tell you. There's too much coddling that goes on in this world. Do your job and do it right, and everything will be fine. Don't do it right, and deal with the consequences.


I've had drama with so many people I have worked with because I say what (in my estimation) needs to be said. I try not to come off as an asshole, but being outspoken is always going to rub some people the wrong way.


I've only worked on one
real movie, and I also had drama on that one. In 1996 I was the First Assistant Director of an action film called Night Vision.

You can buy it on DVD -- but you shouldn't.

This modern day classic featured Fred "The Hammer" Williamson ("the black Clint Eastwood)," world champion kickboxer Cynthia Rothrock and future Academy Award-nominee Robert Forster. A friend of mine, who had gone from directing Knight Rider in the 1980s to directing corporate videos in the '90s, was hired to direct this movie, and he brought me on as the A.D.

Fred Williamson was also the producer, and he was notoriously difficult to work with. Fred wanted to direct the movie himself, and he wanted no part of my friend, or me. He tried to scare/threaten me off the project, but it didn't work. We ended up shooting for six weeks (in Dallas) and I had (for the most part) a great time. There was a lot of low-budget action, a lot of nudity and a lot of working at night. What more could you want from life?


Unfortunately, I got paid next-to-nothing ($300 a week) and I had to pay for my own air-fare and put myself up at the Econo Lodge near the highway. It was just me and the truckers at the 'Lodge for a month and a half. I even had a mouse in my room.
Ah, the glamorous world of the movies!

Anyway, speaking of black action heroes, two great movies are on Turner Classic Movies tonight. At 2 AM, beginning the
TCM Underground block, is 1973's Blaxploitation classic Coffy, starring the fabulous Pam Grier. Next, at 3:30 AM is Foxy Brown, the 1974 hit that later became the name of a female rappper.

Who said I only like movies in black & white? Sometimes I just like them black
.

Set those DVRs. You won't be sorry.

1.04.2007

"BLOOD DIAMOND" IS A BLOODY GEM

I don't have time to write a long review of Blood Diamond, but I did come up with a great title for the review (that I don't have time to write).

This movie is great. I loved it. It's long (2:20) but you'd never know it. The story is fast-paced and engaging and the acting is refreshingly un-Hollywood.

Leonardo DiCaprio, who was also really good in Martin Scorsese's The Departed, plays a heavily-accented, South African diamond smuggler. Jennifer Connelly (my dream girl) plays a sexy American reporter and Djimon Hounsou is the African who must retrieve a hidden diamond in order to save his family.

I predict a Best Director nomination for Edward Zwick, and Best Supporting Actor for
Djimon Hounsou. I don't think Leo will be nominated because he will get the nod for The Departed. Or maybe he'll get nominated for both?

By the way, see The Departed too.

And maybe if more Americans see Blood Diamond, fewer of us will fall for that "two months salary" bullshit that the DeBeers cartel has foisted upon us.

Don't do it guys!



1.03.2007

I FORGOT TO TELL YOU

...what I got for Christmas.

(Left) George W. Bushisms Page-a-day 2007 desk calendar

(Right) The Frank Capra Collection DVD box set, including American Madness (1932), It Happened One Night (1934), Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936), You Can't Take it With You (1938) and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939).

Also (not pictured) a crisp $100 from my parents, which paid for exactly 25% of my airfare to and from Florida! Who knew that my parents selling the house and moving to Florida would end up costing me money?!


Also, I went swimming on Christmas Day for the first time in my life.

I love to go down when it's really wet.

And I always wear goggles. Because you can never know when you might get splashed in the eye with something.

1.02.2007

PREVIOUSLY OWNED - BEST OF 2006

Happy New Year!

As we slowly ease into 2007, why not take a few moments to reflect back upon the best previously owned moments of the last twelve months?

Here are a few of my favorites from 2006:

January

WORSHIPPING SATAN IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD read
--The strange but true story of my niece Laura's 4th birthday celebration at Applebee's.

February
NIGHT OF THE SCRATCH TICKETS read
--The gambling bug that I contracted in Vegas follows me back to New York City.

March
THERE'S SOME CROW IN MY SALAD read
--A post about salad catches the attention of the founder of Chop't Creative Salad Company.

April
A VERY PREVIOUSLY OWNED EASTER read
--My niece Emily writes a letter to the Easter Bunny, and I color some eggs.

May
BRAINWASHED KIDS SAY THE DARNDEST THINGS read
--Emily makes her First Holy Communion and I wax poetic.

June
MY TRIP TO THE BEACH (IN PICTURES) read
--The hottest post in the history of previously owned! Me in the buff at the beach!

July
BUSH IN '06 read
--That's not the "bush" I'm talking about.

August
GIVE AN INCH, GET A SMILE read
--How to get a bigger "manhood," courtesy of the folks at Philps Bodygroom.

September
SUNDAY IN THE HOTEL WITH BATGIRL read
--I meet my very first crush, live and in-person!

October
TRANSCRIPT OF MY PHONE CALL TO TIME WARNER CABLE read
--Desperate times call for desperate phone calls.

November
BABY WATCH - DAY 3 read
--My sister dispels the myth that all pregnant women eat healthy.

December
THE PHONE'S IN THE CRADLE read
--A heartwarming family tale for the Holidays.