4.30.2007

ALL THE PIES ARE BROWN

I was watching the Mets play the Washington Nationals on TV yesterday, and I saw a commercial for a restaurant called Papa John's Pizza.

What does the guy from The Mamas and The Papas have to do with pizza?

John Phillips was a drug addict. What do drug addicts know about cooking up a pizza pie? They may know a lot about cooking up a spoon of heroin, but that is pretty much the extent of their culinary abilities.


Of course, I'm not the target demographic for a place like Papa John's. I'm not seven years old. I don't live in Indiana or Idaho or some other state that starts with the letter "I." And I make it a rule not to buy from pizza from drug addicts.


I don't even buy my drugs from drug addicts. You can't trust them. They have a tendency to do things like lace your coke with ground-up sheet rock, or use left-over wood shavings in place of mozzarella cheese.


But really, who leaves their house planning to go to a place like Papa John's Pizza? These are the same people who think that what they serve at The Olive Garden is Italian food.


I have a rule. I don't eat ethic food unless there is someone of that ethnicity involved in it's preparation. And yes, pizza is ethnic food. Americans may eat a lot of it, but we can't take the credit for coming up with it.

I know one thing. If you ever do go to Papa John's, stay away from the Magic Mushroom Pizza. The pies have a tendency to levitate in the air and then turn into fire-breathing dragons.

Don't ash on the pie, Papa.

4.29.2007

HOW TO GIVE A CHILD NIGHTMARES IN 3 EASY STEPS



4.26.2007

IT'S IMPORTANT TO HAVE GOALS

Last night I paid my nightly visit to the Gristede's supermarket on South End Avenue, near my girlfriend Maggie's apartment building.

I picked up a few things for a late dinner and made my way to the check-out. The clerk was a good-looking young black kid, probably still in his teens. I noticed that he was enjoying a flirty exchange with a customer, a white woman who looked to be in her mid 20's.

I held back and picked up a copy of Soap Opera Digest from the magazine rack near the check-out, pretending to read about the comings and goings on One Life to Live, in order to give him time to finish his macking.

As I stood there, surveying the landscape of young love, I was hopeful for the future. Maybe a handsome black grocery store clerk and and a pretty white Wall Street worker can actually find some common ground in this crazy mixed-up world.

After all, love is the universal language.


"Okay. You get home safe," the woman said with a sexy smirk, as she picked up her bright yellow sack grocery sack and headed for the exit.

When she was safely out the door, I put down my magazine and placed my items on the black conveyor belt. I looked at the kid with that look that guys give each other when an attractive woman has just left the area. He shot back a toothy grin.

"She's cute," I said.

"Damn," he replied. "I would fuck the shit out of that girl. For real. I love older women."

"Well, they know what they're doing," I agreed.

"I have two goals," he said. "I want to fuck an older woman, and I want to fuck a white woman."

"So much for the white devil," I said.

"Yeahhh," he laughed, as he reached across my bag of pre-packaged salad and extended his hand toward mine. "I want to fuck the white devil."

I grabbed his hand and did my best to shake it in as un-white a way as possible. Then I took my groceries and headed out into the warm April evening.

It was Spring and love was in the air.

4.25.2007

TALKING 'BOUT BAD GIRLS

Once upon a time tattoos were for soldiers, sailors and convicts. They were a souvenier of an overseas tour of duty, a drunken night south of the border or of time spent in the Big House.

Nowadays all that has changed. Tattoos are a fashion accessory. They are a form of self-expression. They are a work of art.

But for many people, a tattoo on a young woman is something of a brand, a signal to the world that she is a bad girl. The ubiquitous lower-back tattoos that are now on glorious display thanks to low-rider jeans are often referred to as a "tramp stamp."

I've always been obsessed with bad girls. I love women who make trouble, or smoke, or mouth off. I love girls with attitude, particularly a bad attitude.

Maybe this has something to do with the fact that I grew up watching the films of the 1940s. There was an emancipation process for women that occurred during wartime. The men were away, and the women had to step up and take care of themselves. That new sense of power was reflected in the entertainment of the age. Women were often portrayed as tough talking maneaters, brassy dames who knew how to get what they wanted. It was hot.


Of course there was a post-war backlash to this new found freedom. The Baby Boom placed women right back in the kitchen, with pearls and aprons and milk and cookies. But the box had already been opened. The spirits were out, and by the 1960s women cast off the chains, burned their bras and joined the Sexual Revolution.

So, where are we in 2007? Are the women of today feminists, or post-feminists or post-post? Is Girls Gone Wild the ultimate in empowerment, or just the opposite? How should I know? All I know is I think tattoos on a girl are hot.

Although I may have been turned on by the sterotypical ideal of a bad girl, I never had the guts to date one. My girlfriends have always been nice, sweet, kind, gentle women who would never challenge the delicate balance of my troubled masculine psyche.

But I always dreamed of dating a girl with a tattoo. I know, it's a shallow dream. But it's my dream, so fuck you. Maybe you dream of being on "American Idol." I don't make fun of you for that. (Well I do, but I do it behind your back.)

And now, finally, my dream has come true. And I didn't have to lift a finger to make it happen.

My girlfriend Maggie got a tattoo last night -- a small star right above her bikini line. It's nothing drastic, but it is a tattoo.

And now I finally get my wish. I'm dating a bad girl.

The first of many, I predict.

4.24.2007

THE APPLE SISTERS

I saw a great show at the Peoples Improv Theater here in New York last night.

It's called The Apple Sisters Variety Show and it features Kimmy Gatewood, Rebekka Johnson and Sarah Lowe as the three singin', swingin' sisters Candy, Cora and Seedy. The show is done in the style of a 1940's radio show, with able musical accompaniment by Tom Thomsen on keyboard.

(L-R) Rebekka Johnson, Kimmy Gatewood and Sarah Lowe as The Apple Sisters

Each month, Gatewood, Johnson and Lowe create a brand new show, tagged to the holidays that we celebrate here in the good 'ole U.S. of A. Last night was the April Fools show. The Sisters wore Easter bonnets, performed (messy) comedy routines with eggs and played hilarious tricks on each other. All the while they sang and danced their little Apple hearts out.


If you've read previously owned before, you know that I am obsessed with the movies and music of the 1940s. I've been listening to radio shows from that period since I was ten years old. My iPod is jam packed with episodes of The Jack Benny Program, The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show and many others. I have my Sirius Satellite Radio locked on channel 118, the 24-hour per-day oldtime radio station. And I love the Andrews Sisters to a degree that some people might consider unhealthy.

I don't need to tell you that I loved this show. But I will tell you any way. I loved loved loved The Apple Sisters Variety Show. It's everything that I enjoy about the pop culture of the early 1940s, but with a decidedly modern, funny spin. And it's only a half-hour, so you're in and out in a jifety-jif!

The next show is Friday, May 25 at 7 PM at the PIT. You should go. It's the cat's pajamas!

You can click
here to see video of the Sisters on their MySpace page.

4.23.2007

THE PAST AND THE FUTURE

Yesterday was a significant anniversary for me.

Twenty years ago, on April 22, 1987, I began a relationship that would last for a decade. At the age of 18 I met a 27 year-old single mother named Mary at the library where we both worked on Long Island. We became good friends and, after an extended courtship, we both declared our love for each other on the morning of April 22, 1987.

With two decades of hindsight I can see what was wrong with that relationship and what was right about it. Even though we were together far longer than we should have been, Mary was, and forever will be, one of the most important people in my life. And though we are no longer in touch, I still remain close with her son Ian.

Ian was a goofy, five year-old when I met him. Today he's a 25 year-old airline pilot who owns a house in Florida. I took Ian to his first baseball game (Mets, of course) in 1989 and just a few weeks ago he came with me to Opening Day at Shea Stadium. It's been fun to watch him grow up, and I'm glad that we're still close.

I've written about Mary many times in this space. And yesterday, to honor the anniversary, I submitted a story about us to the Modern Love column in The Sunday New York Times. The piece is called Love Means Never Having to Pay a Ten-Cent Fine, and it began life as a blog post right here on previously owned.

Note I said submitted, not sold. I hope that the editors at The Times will like the piece and buy it, but of course there are no guarantees.

Whatever happens, it felt good to spend the day yesterday revisiting the 18 year-old kid who fell in love with the quirky older woman.

I think he would be happy with the way things have turned out so far.

4.22.2007

READ THIS BOOK!

I read a great book recently.

It's called Girlbomb: A Halfway Homeless Memoir and it's written by Janice Erlbaum. Janice is also a member of the writer's co-op where I work when I'm not at my freelance job. And
I interviewed her for the current edition of The Villager.

I was very inspired by my conversation with Janice. I have a tendency to look at things that I want to do as unattainable by regular people. It's partially a self-esteem thing. I'm arrogant in many ways, but part of me feels like I'm not worthy of achieving dreams.

I've always thought that there was some special magic that makes you qualified to write a book, and that I didn't have it. I looked at stand-up the same way before I started six years ago. Then I took a class, learned how to do it and started performing. I'm not saying it wasn't hard, because it was, but it was an attainable goal.


Before I took the class I thought of stand-up in the same way that I thought of being an astronaut: cool job, but I'm not qualified. Turned out I was wrong. I loved doing stand-up and even though I don't do it very much anymore, I learned a lot from it. I figured out how to turn my life and my perspective on things into something that other people could enjoy.

And, after talking with Janice, I realize that writing a book is the same process. Janice actually did stand-up for a long time here in the city, but she quit to focus on writing her memoir. I stopped doing stand-up six nights a week for many of the same reasons. I loved the process of writing, but I didn't enjoy all the hours that I had to invest to get time on stage.

So now, as I do more and more writing, I look at a book as an attainable goal. I'm not saying I'm going to write it tomorrow, but I believe it's possible.

You can read my interview with Janice by clicking here. And if you're looking for a book that is both moving and funny, pick up a copy of Girlbomb. Maybe it will inspire you too.

4.20.2007

RED CARPET BLUES

Last night I did another of my red carpet celebrity interviewer gigs. The event was for a major travel magazine and was held at the just-opened Bowery Hotel in the East Village.

Here is a list of the fabulously famous people I chatted with: Claire Danes, Academy Award nominee Terrence Howard from Hustle & Flow, Cynthia Nixon from Sex & the City, Jason Lewis from ABC's Brothers and Sisters, Elisabeth Rohm from Law and Order, Adam Brody from The O.C., Sherri Saum and Callie Thorne from Rescue Me on FX, Damien Fahey and Susie Castillo from MTV, Olivia Wilde from NBC's recently canceled drama The Black Donnellys, Laura Allen from Dirt on FX and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee DJ Grandmaster Flash.

Julianne Moore was there, but she didn't talk to me. She also didn't talk to the other entertainment reporters, so I didn't take it personally.

4.19.2007

KITTY CARLISLE HART (1910-2007)

Kitty Carlisle played Rosa Castaldi in one of my favorite movie of all time, the 1935 Marx Bros. classic A Night at the Opera.

She died yesterday at the age of 96. In memory of Kitty, why not add A Night at the Opera to your Netflix queue? I guarantee you will laugh.

Here's an article about the film on the Turner Classic Movies website.

4.18.2007

YOU SHOULD SEE MY IPOD

I'm going through a phase right now where all I want to listen to is Big Band music from the 1930s and '40s. I'm obsessed with this music.

In the last few weeks I've seen eight musicals from this period at Film Forum here in New York. The total number is actually a lot higher, because this past Sunday I saw a program of about a dozen shorts made for the Vitaphone company in the late 1920s and restored through private donation.

I've also been downloading Andrews Sisters songs on Limewire. (I don't advocate piracy, but iTunes doesn't really cater to people like me, with senior citizen tastes.) If you are feeling depressed, I suggest you listen to Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy . It's impossible not to feel better when listening to the Andrews Sisters. It's like taking a three-minute Ecstasy trip.

A couple weeks ago I discovered this internet radio station called The 1920s Radio Network. The name is sort of misleading, because they also play music from the '30s, 40s and even pre-1920 rarities. Ever since then I've been listening to the station all day at work. It's perfect peppy motivational music.

I also subscribed to the
Big Band Jump Newsletter, a monthly publication that looks exactly liked the Dark Shadows fanzines that I used to write for back in the '80s. The gentleman who publishes the newsletter is an old-time announcer named Don Kennedy, also the host of the syndicated radio show of the same name. He has this absolutely perfect old school delivery and he does cute things on the air like explain website and email addresses to his listeners. I think he does this because the majority of the people tuning in are quite a bit older than me (like by 40 years or so), and look at computers the same way I used to look at my trig homework.

When my first issue of the Big Band Jump Newsletter arrived in the mail (yes, the mail, isn't that just adorable), I opened it up and noticed that it was hand-signed by announcer Don Kennedy. It said, "Mr. McKinley (funny he calls me "mister" when I'm probably half his age): Thanks for your request!"

Of course, I didn't really make a request, but Mr. Kennedy is an older gentleman, and I'm just happy he still has enough of his marbles to speak well on the radio. Who cares if he gets confused now and then?

So here's the exciting and mysterious conclusion of this story: someone has been calling my cell and playing the same Big Band song over and over again. I don't recognize the song, but it's the same one each time. It's very creepy because nobody (other than Maggie and now you) knows about my current addiction to this music.

This has happened about five times over the past two weeks. Either someone is playing a joke on me, or I'm being haunted by the ghost of Patty Andrews.

That's Patty in the middle. She was the cool one.

4.16.2007

MY NEW FRIEND? MAYBE NOT.

I had tickets to Saturday's Mets game against the Washington Nationals, but I was unable to go. I called all of my friends who are Mets fans (I refuse to be friends with Yankee fans) but no one was available to use them.

I even offered them to my fellow blogger Mike, who posted an offer for my free tickets on his often Mets-centric blog. But still, no takers.

This was surprising to me. This season's Mets team is considered one of the best ever. The team has gotten off to a strong start and is playing exciting baseball.


It's not that I paid a lot for the tickets. I didn't. They were part of a season-long package of 13 Saturday home games that I bought, primarily so I would have the rights to purchase tickets to post-season games. In fact these particular tickets had only a $9 face value. So it wasn't about the money.

It's simply this: in my thirty years as a Mets fan I've never let a ticket go to waste. There's something about a ticket to a Mets game that is sacred to me, and it felt profane to let it go unused.

So, on Friday night at 11:17 PM, I posted the following message on Craigslist:

2 FREE Upper Reserved Tickets for Sat Mets Game

I have two tickets for Saturday's 1:10 PM game against the Washington Nationals at Shea.

I can't use the tickets, so I am offering them to a true Mets fan for free. No catch (Get it? Catch? It's a baseball joke.) Here's all you have to do:

1) Send me an email and tell me about the first time you went to a Mets game.

2) Be available to pick up the tickets at 14th St & 7th Ave at 12 noon on Saturday.

First good response gets the tickets. Let's Go Mets!

At 12:59 AM I received a reply from a girl named Daina. She explained that she had never been to a Mets game, but that her brother was visiting her from out of town and really wanted to go.

Her email was not particularly interesting, but what was included in it was:
her full name, her cell phone number and a link to her personal website. Of course I clicked the link to her site, where I discovered that she was an actress and a dancer. Her entire performance schedule was included on the site, with her resume. Apparently, Daina went to Cornell University, she played a college student on The Sopranos, she is an award-winning swing dancer and she can sneeze on cue.

None of this is particularly unusual for a young performer in New York City. But what I found unusual was that she would take a leap of faith and email all of this personal information to a stranger who posted on Cragislist. What if I was a weirdo (which I am) or a murderer (which I'm not, at least yet)?

So I wrote back and offered her the tickets. The next morning I called her at 10:30 AM to arrange our meeting.

ME: Daina?
HER: Yes?
ME: This is Will. I posted on Craigslist about the Mets tickets?
HER: Oh yeah. Where are the seats?
ME: Um. Upper deck.
HER: Are they good seats?
ME: Not particularly. But they are free...
HER: Oh right. Sorry. I wrote to a lot of people.

So not only did she send ME all her personal information, she sent it to numerous people who offered Mets tickets for sale on Craigslist. I thought about mentioning to her that this may not have been the best plan for a young, single woman in New York City, but I thought better of it.

We made arrangements to meet outside the #1 train station at 7th Ave and 14th Street at 11:30 AM.
At 11:30 my phone rang.

HER: Um. Hi Will. We've hit a bit of a setback. We're going to be late.
ME: Okay. Just call me on this number when you get there. And bring a sweater. It's going to be cold at the game.
HER: Thank you so much. You're my hero.

Twenty minutes later I walked over to the station and waited for her call. At noon my phone rang. I told her to look for the guy in the Mets hat standing in front of the donut shop. A minute later, I was standing face to face with Daina.

ME: Hi I'm Will.
HER: I'm Daina.
ME: I know. Trust me.
HER: Thank you so much.
ME: Here are the tickets. Do you know the drill?
HER: The drill?
ME: Yeah. For getting out to Shea Stadium? I wrote it all down for you on this enevlope.
HER: Oh thanks. Okay, we better go or we'll be late.
ME: Okay. Have fun

That was it. No hug. No kiss. No nothing. I knew so much about her, yet she knew nothing about me I was just some anonymous dude who handed her a free pair of Mets tickets. I had such high hopes for our friendship. Maybe she would offer me swing dance lessons in return for my tickets? But no. She didn't even sneeze on cue for me.

The Mets lost the game 6-2. I never heard from Daina again. Not even a thank you email, or an offer of free tickets to her next performance.

Oh well. So much for me being her hero.

4.13.2007

I'M HEADED FOR THE PENTHOUSE

My 22nd published story is up on the Downtown Express website.

It's interesting for two reasons. First, it's my first straight review of non-comedic live theater. And second, it's not entirely positive.


When I started my tenure as an arts reviewer back in October of last year, my editor suggested that she preferred to run positive reviews. She never told me to lie, or to give a good review to a show that I didn't think was worthy. But she did make it pretty clear that she wasn't really interested in abjectly negative reviews.

Has that affected my writing? If I was going to be honest I would say yes. Sort of.

The fact is that, as a comedian, I have been connected to many of the shows I have written about, directly or indirectly. When you write something nice about somebody else in print, that somebody else is happy. And that somebody else may return the favor some day, in a variety of fashions.


Does that make me a sell-out? Maybe. Who gives a fuck? I'm writing for papers that nobody reads anyway. I'm doing it for the experience, and for samples of my work that I can show to others to get better assignments. I'm also learning how to find the "story," meet deadlines, deal with editors fucking around with my work, etc. It's all practice. And if I can benefit some hard-working people with a positive review, everybody goes home happy.

Sure it would be fun to tear somebody/something apart in print. I have very strong opinions and I enjoy voicing them. But the internet is such a wasteland of snarky hatred, I have avoided that instinct. If you're not part of the solution you're part of the problem.

Anyway, I've been doing this for six months now and I am officially getting bored. So I've gone back to my personal essays and I'm trying to work on selling a few of them. I just spent a few months in a writing workshop and one of the pieces I worked on in the class was called A Blight on the Manscape. It's a combination/rewrite of two pieces that originally appeared on the blog: Give an Inch, Get a Smile and Bush in '06.

Someone in the workshop suggested that I try to sell the piece to Penthouse. This was a surprise to me. The last time I picked up a copy of Penthouse (the 1980's?) it looked like a gynecological textbook. I mean, I like pussy as much as the next guy (maybe even more), but gigantic close-ups of labia do not get me off. Maybe that's just me.

Or maybe not. I visited my local magazine emporium today and bought a copy of Penthouse. I felt a little bit like a dirty old man. I don't think I've ever bought what the Beastie Boys used to call "a porno mag" before. But guess what? Penthouse is not really a porno mag anymore.

Now it's basically Maxim with full frontal nudity. The extreme pussy close-ups of yore are gone, replaced by hot, artsy shit shot by talented photographers. And it's not that gauzy, soft-focus, girl-next-door nonsense that Playboy still foists upon its aging readership. This is hot stuff.

But the nudie pictures are no longer front and center like they were back in the day. The magazine is filled with nicely art-directed features (with actual words) about guy-ish things like sports, cars, gadgets, etc.

I went to the website to try to find an editor's email addres, but Penthouse's website still makes it look like the previous incarnation. It's essentially a subscription porn site. Somebody needs to change that. If they are really going to make this new, hip approach to porn work, they have got to kick out the raincoat squad that used to make up their readership.

So anyway, if you know anybody who knows anybody who works at Penthouse, please let me know. I really want to get a story in there. I don't even care if they pay well (which they supposedly do).

I just doing it so I can tell my parents. I think they will be very proud.

4.12.2007

THIS WAR IS NOTHING TO SING ABOUT

As I've mentioned many times, Film Forum is smack in the middle of a three-week festival of B-grade musicals from the 1930s and '40s.

I've seen 7 of the 31 films that have spooled so far, but this past Sunday's offerings were an extra special treat.


As families all across the American heartland were enjoying Easter dinner, I was chomping down a large bag of New York City's best movie theater popcorn and enjoying a double feature of classics featuring the Andrews Sisters, the best selling female vocal group in the history of popular music. (Note: Sunday's program was actually a triple feature, but even I have my limits.)

First came the Sisters' 1940 film debut Argentine Nights, released only three years after they first caught the country's ear with hum-able hits like Bei Mir Bist Du Schon (Means That You're Grand) and numerous appearances on popular radio shows.

The Ritz Brothers in Argentine Nights (1940)

Argentine Nights is actually a vehicle for The Ritz Brothers, a schticky comedy trio that got their start on the Vaudeville stage. Unlike their contemporaries the Marx Brothers, the Ritz Brothers' comedy was slapstick and sophomoric, and only about a quarter of their gags in the film actually work.

Argentine Nights
is not a particularly good film, and it's clear why Harry, Jimmy and Al never graduated to A pictures.
It is a nice treat to see young George Reeves as the film's romantic lead, a full decade before he donned a cape and tights as TV's first Superman. But the real appeal of this cute clunker is Patty, LaVerne and Maxine - those swingin' singin' sisters from Michigan.

The second half of Sunday's bill was the 1941 "service comedy" Buck Privates, informatively introduced by film historian Bruce Eder. This hilarious musical farce was just the second feature film for the comedy duo Abbott & Costello, but it ended up being the most popular of the more than 30 pictures they made for Universal.

Title card of 1941's Buck Privates.

Shooting on Buck Privates commenced just weeks after the the Selective Service and Training Act was signed into law, inaugurating the nation's first peacetime draft. In the film Bud and Lou mistakenly enlist in the service (thus the designation "service comedy") and end up on a military base with two romantic rivals (Lee Bowman and Alan Curtis) fighting over the affection of B-grade star Jane Frazee.

Abbott and Costello have a number of laugh-out-loud sequences in the film, including an extended riff on basic training, a comically violent game of craps and a rare song from Lou (accompanied by future Stooge Shemp Howard). But the film really shines when Patty LaVerne and Maxine (as singing "Army hostesses") belt out Hit Parade chart-busters like Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, I'll be With You in Apple Blossom Time and the driving patriotic anthem You're a Lucky Fellow Mr. Smith.

(L-R) Maxene Andrews, Lou Costello, Patty Andrews, Bud Abbott and LaVerne Andrews
in a publicity still for Buck Privates


Buck Privates is unabashedly propagandistic, so much so that it occasionally appears to have been produced in conjunction with the War Department. This film makes being drafted look like the best thing that could ever happen to a guy. Hey, if the draft means that I get to boogie woogie with the Andrews Sisters, make hay with pretty girls like Jane Frazee and crack up with Bud and Lou - just tell me where to sign!

Watching this movie through the prism of our current misadventure in Iraq, I was struck by just how much the relationship between the military and the movies has changed in the 66 years since Buck Privates made its debut. Even though the United States had not yet entered the War when Buck Privates was first released, the American public knew what impending doom lurked across the oceans. With a draft in place, the sacrifice that is inherent in all military service became a shared sacrifice - and the movies of the era reflected that reality.

Wartime life pervaded many (if not most) of the films made in the first half of the 1940's, not just "war" pictures, but comedies, musicals, even dramas like Casablanca. World War II was tightly woven into the fabric of American life of that era, and popular entertainment served as an extension of that reality. The country was united behind a popular, credible leader in a fight against clearly-drawn evil - a fight that we only joined when our country was provoked by an attack by the Empire of Japan at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

How many movies have been made about the current Iraq War - a conflict that has now exceeded WW II in duration? Has there been even one? A few premium-cable TV shows perhaps, but not one major studio film. And certainly not a light comedy like Buck Privates.

You can argue that ours is not as clear-cut a war as that which united the Greatest Generation, that the bad guys are not as strikingly villainous, that the conflict lacks the widespread national support of WWII. But the biggest difference between the two wars is the absence of that shared national sacrifice.


Today, the burden of military service falls upon the few, not the many. And those few are often the financially disadvantaged men and women of small town America.

When The Andrews Sisters sang, "You're a lucky fellow, Mr. Smith, to be able to swing like you do. And to have that swell Miss Liberty gal carrying the torch for you," the message was clear: we're all in this together. From the draft, to the ration tickets to the war bonds - the burden was carried collectively by the entire nation. Today, the American military may be at war, but the American people are not.

Maybe all President Bush needs is a trio of singing girls to finally sell this war to an increasingly skeptical nation.

I wonder if the Dixie Chicks are available?


4.11.2007

PREVIOUSLY OWNED: THE BOOK?

Last night I did a reading of my story LOVE MEANS NEVER HAVING TO PAY A TEN-CENT FINE in the basement of an Italian restaurant in the theater district. Who says my performing career is dead?

I look like I'm performing in a liquor store.

The reading was the culmination of a nine-week writing workshop, and there were a lot of people who read from their work. A lot. The audience sat through more than two hours of excerpts from essays, novels, movie scripts, self-help books. You name it.

The instructor asked me to close the show and I was honored to accept. Only problem was, by the time I went on, half the audience had left.

But I soldiered on, through the distractions of feeling audience, chatty waitstaff and an electronic cash register that sounded like the machine that prints Lotto tickets.

After the show, a number of people offered complements. But one stood out.

"I loved that story, but I want to know more," said one woman. "Is it part of a book?"

"Not yet," I answered. "But hopefully some day."

This is the second time in the last week that the issue of a book has come up. Last Thursday night I covered a comedy show for a newspaper story that I am working on. I ran into a female comic I hadn't seen in awhile and she asked me what I was up to."

"I'm working on a book," I lied.

"What's it about?" she asked.

"Me," I said. "It's about me."

According to the immensely popular new self-help book The Secret, if you really believe something, it comes true.

So now I guess I have to write a book.

4.10.2007

MY TRIP TO OPENING DAY (IN PICTURES)

Yesterday afternoon I went to Shea Stadium to watch the New York Mets play the Philadelphia Phillies. And I was not the only one. The crowd of nearly 57,000 people broke the all-time Mets attendance record for Opening Day.

When I exited the #7 subway I got my first look at the rising skeleton of Citi Field, the new stadium being constructed right next door to Shea, the Mets home since 1964.

This season marks the beginning of my fourth decade as a Mets fan. And this team is as good as any I have seen during that period.

From my seat in the upper deck I could see the workers busily constructing the Mets' new home, which is scheduled to open in 2009. A lot of fans are saddened by the prospect of the team leaving Shea Stadium. Not me. I can't wait. I've had 30 years of memories at Shea and I'm looking forward to 30 years of new memories at Citi Field.

The players and coaches were announced one-by-one by Mets radio announcer Howie Rose. Certain Phillies players have suggested that they -- not the defending National League East champion Mets -- are the team to beat in the N.L. East this season. This resulted in some rather lusty booing for every single member of the Phillies organization, from the trash-talking shortstop Jimmy Rollins to the assistant trainer (I didn't catch his name).

But by far the biggest round of applause was for Mets manager Willie Randolph. Willie may have been a lifelong New York Yankee, but he is rapidly becoming one of the more beloved managers in the team's history.


There was much pomp and circumstance at the game, with a moment of silence for currently serving troops.


And a ceremonial fly-over from two F-16s.


My companion at the game paid particular attention to the fighter jets, because he's a pilot himself. At the age of 25 my friend Ian is too young to rent a car in many states, but old enough to fly passenger jets across the country.

It may have been unseasonably cold, but the Mets 11-5 pounding of the hapless Phillies kept the crowd (and us) buzzing with excitement.

It's always fun to be there for the first game of the season, particularly with a guy who I brought to his first baseball game at Shea Stadium nearly 20 years ago.

Let's go Mets!

SEE ME LIVE

Tonight I will be reading my story LOVE MEANS NEVER HAVING TO PAY A TEN-CENT FINE as part of a night of literary efforts from the Independent Project Workshop (a.k.a. my writing class).

There is NO COVER for this show AND it's at a nice Italian restaurant!

Me and some nice baked ziti - what more could you want from life?

Here is the info:

Trattoria Dopo Teatro
125 West 44th Street (btw Bway & 6th Ave)
DOWNSTAIRS PRIVATE DINING ROOM SPACE
www.dopoteatro.com
Seating at 7pm; Readings start at 7:30pm

4.08.2007

A VERY PREVIOUSLY OWNED EASTER (reprint)

Happy Easter to all those who recognize Jesus Christ as the true Lord and Savior. Represent!

Here is a reprint of a previously owned classic from one year ago!
+++

Happy Easter from South Florida!


On Saturday morning I had a 7:15 AM flight from JFK to Ft. Lauderdale, where my sister, brother-in-law and their two daughters live.

I had to arrive early in the day because there were Easter Eggs that needed coloring!

Will explains the fine art of Easter Egg Coloring to his nieces
(who shall remain nameless, for security purposes)


If you've ever colored Easter Eggs, you know it is a very complex procedure. The most important thing to remember is don't drop the egg. I cannot stress this enough.

Don't drop the egg!

You can't color an egg that has cracked, because the food coloring seeps through the shell and into the egg. Hard-boiled eggs are not the most appetizing thing in the world to begin with. But hard-boiled eggs that are green on the inside are even less appetizing - even if you are a fan of Dr. Seuss.
I do not like them here or there. I do not like them anywhere!

After a busy day of egg coloring, the girls took their baths and got ready for bed. But before she went to sleep, Niece #1 (age 7) decided that she wanted to write a letter to the Easter Bunny.

There's no "e" in bunny? Thanks Spell-check!

I find it fascinating that Niece #1 can describe to me, in intricate detail, the manner in which King Tut was mummified, yet she still believes that a giant rabbit hides hard-boiled eggs in her house on Easter Sunday. And that the giant rabbit can read.

If it's good enough for Santa, it's good enough for the Easter Bunny.

Of course my sister and I used to write notes to the Easter Bunny when we were kids, but we didn't have the same technology at our disposal. We used loose-leaf and a pencil. I think one year we used a crayon. No electricity was required for our notes to the Easter Bunny.

Note the correct use of punctuation in the salutation.

Here, in it's entirety, is Niece #1's note to the Easter Bunny (with my comments in CAPS):

Dear Easter bunny,

I think Easter is a great Holiday. Do you?
(RHETORICAL QUESTION, OBVIOUSLY)

My uncle in crazy (NOT TRUE, JUST OFF MY MEDS) and my Dad is a really good person with computers. (TRUE, BUT NOT SURE HOW IT'S APPLICABLE. MAYBE THE EASTER BUNNY NEEDS HELP WITH WINDOWS XP?)

I told you about them because they might be sleeping out there when you come to hide the eggs. So be careful! (GOOD POINT. I'M SLEEPING ON THE AIR MATTRESS IN THE LIVING ROOM AND I DON"T WANT TO GET TRAMPLED BY A GIANT BUNNY.)


Today we painted all 12 eggs each of us so that is a total of 24 eggs. Be careful not to break the eggs! (SOMEBODY WAS LISTENING) We already broke 3 eggs painting them. That is no big deal to us kids but I think it might be a lot to the adults. (OK, MAYBE I WENT A BIT OVERBOARD ON THIS)

Anyways here is a silly dilly Poem that I made up:
(EVERYBODY KNOWS BUNNIES LOVE POETRY)


"Fight"
(SHE'S 7 AND SHE KNOWS HOW TO PROPERLY USE QUOTATION MARKS)

Me and my best friend had a big fight,
and we got over it the next Saturday night.

So do you like it? If you do, write it here!
(NOT ONLY CAN THE EASTER BUNNY READ, HE CAN ALSO APPARENTLY WRITE.)


Love,

the ones who live here
(I DID NOT MAKE THIS UP. THIS IS HOW SHE ACTUALLY SIGNED IT.)


After everybody went to sleep, I asked my brother-in-law if he wanted help hiding the eggs. He said yes, so I went to the refrigerator and took out the two cartons of eggs that my nieces and I had spent the whole day coloring.

"What are you doing?" he said to me, as I began to hide the eggs.

"Hiding the Easter Eggs," I answered.

"We don't hide the real eggs," he replied. "We hide plastic ones filled with jelly beans."

I was speechless. How could they not hide the real eggs?! Dave explained that the eggs might rot. Well of course they rot! That's how you locate the hard-to-find ones, like two weeks later. That's the best part!

It's not like my nieces actually eat the hard-boiled eggs. They think they taste gross. So if you're not going to use them for hiding, what's the point? It's just one big photo op.

I believe in the sanctity of the Easter Egg! They should be painted, hidden and searched for - just like I used to do when I was a kid.

To use an Easter Egg for any other purpose, well, that's just wrong!

The Limited Edition previously owned Easter Egg. Order yours today!

Happy Easter everybody!

4.07.2007

THANK YOU EASTER BUNNY

The toilet in Maggie's bathroom is right next to the bathtub.

Here's why this is a good thing: Last night, Maggie and I went to see a show that I will be reviewing for the paper. After the the show, the producers had some wine and food for the opening night audience (sushi, steak tartar, cheese). It was good, so I gulped down a bunch of it and then Maggie and I headed back to her place.

We stopped at the supermarket and picked up a shell steak, cranberry grape juice and some chips and salsa. Then we went home and ate. A few hours later I began to feel sick. I headed for the bathroom and sat on the toilet. While I was sitting there I began to feel nauseous. Normally, when this happens, I deposit my sick in the bathroom bowl. But the bowl was occupied with a deposit of a different nature.

There was really only one choice to make. And, with the bathtub, a mere inches away, I made that choice.

I learned a few things from this experience:

1) I need to chew my food better;
2) Chunks of shell steak don't wash down the drain.

The only question now is, how did I get sick. Was it the food at the show? How can I give a good review to the a show that fed me food that resulted in a night of body-rattling vomit?

By the way, I have not posted this picture to gross you out. Rather, I hope that it serves as a cautionary tale. No matter how inviting an empty bathtub may look when you are about to be sick, remember that somebody (probably you) is going to have to clean it up the next morning -- by hand.

That was not fun.

4.06.2007

LUCKY NUMBER 21

Published story number 21 is in The Villager this week. It's a review of a live all-male, drag version of The Facts of Life.

In other news, I was hired today to write a story about the gay comedy scene in New York City for The Gay City News.

Tonight, I went to see a show called Homo Comicus at Gotham Comedy Club. When I told the gay comics that I was working on a story for Gay City, they practically trampled each other to talk to me. When I tell people that I write for Chelsea Now, Downtown Express or The Villager they usually have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about.

"I didn't know you were gay," said one of the comics I interviewed after the show.

"I'm not," I said. "Really. I'm not."

4.05.2007

I DON'T GET NO RESPECT!

Once again a theater in New York City is displaying one of my newspaper stories, but this time it's a bit of a dis.

A few weeks back I wrote a story about an experimental play called The Curse of The Mystic Renaldo, The (by the way that title is not a typo). The show was at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in the Financial District and the story was for Downtown Express. I thought it was a pretty good piece, as much a humorous personal essay as a review.

I emailed the artistic director a link to the on-line version of the story, but he never wrote back. "Maybe he didn't like the review," I thought.

But he must have liked it a little bit. Because last night I went to see another show there (I'm writing a review for next week's paper) and there was a blow-up of my review on a sandwich board in front of the theater!

I love it when my work is displayed, whatever it is. A decade ago I produced a flashy video wall for the Time Warner headquarters in Rockefeller Center, and I used to stand outside the building and watch people watch my work.

But as I got closer to the board, I noticed something strange.

At the top of the story, where my byline would normally appear, there was empty white space.

I flipped out. Why would they take my name off of my story?! And why would they think I would write a good review of their next show, in light of this slight?

But then I read a little further and realized that the dis wasn't quite as much of a dis as I thought.

They did include my name, but at the end of the story, in tiny little italics.

The story never appeared in print this way, nor on-line. That means that they went to the time and trouble to re-layout the story, with the WRITER'S NAME tacked on to the end of the piece. And then they used MY WORK to advertise their show, only with my name treated as an afterthought!

Sometimes I feel like the writing equivalent of Rodney Dangerfield.

4.03.2007

JESUS LOVES YOU, JUST NOT YOUR CELL PHONE

On Sunday we celebrated two McKinley family milestones: my parents' 50th wedding anniversary and the baptism of their newest granddaughter, Kate Elizabeth.

My entire family flew up from Florida on Jet Blue. Finally, Jet Blue has a distinction other than being the airline that holds people captive on runways for half a day. Jet Blue is also the Official Airline of the McKinley Family TM.

The baptism was at St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church in Hewlett, on Long Island.


This building has played a big role in the lives of every member of my family. My parents were members of the parish for more than four decades. My sister and I both were baptized there, and made our First Holy Communion and confirmation there. I was an altar boy for more than seven years and my sister worked part-time in the church rectory.

We also went to the parish school - me for eight years and my sister for nine.

A few years after I graduated, my girlfriend Mary sent her son Ian to St. Joseph's School. He started classes there just a few days before Mary and I met, working together at the nearby library.

The school closed before Ian could finish his tenure, unable to survive the increasing popularity of birth control among practicing Catholics. Gone are the days where Catholics were content to "be fruitful and multiply." It's a great idea, just no longer financially viable.

It's been a long time since I've been back at St. Joseph's, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. Everything looks exactly like it did thirty years ago.

If anything, it looks better than it did in the old days. I'm always surprised to hear that people still go to church. It's something that I always associate with the past, something that you grow out of.

But there was something comforting about being there, knowing that it's still there if I ever need it. When I spent three months in the hospital a decade ago, almost dying more than once, it was good to know that everyone in this church was praying for me.

Did it work? Well, I'm still here. I guess that counts for something.

Of course, the church is not the same in every way.

The votive candles are now electric, as demonstrated by my niece Emily. This is probably for the best. A century-old wood building and open flame at kid-level never seemed to me to be a very good idea.

And there's one other thing that's different.

Apparently, the Lord doesn't appreciate your "My Milkshake Brings All the Boys to the Yard" ringtone.

Praise God and please, turn off your cell phones.

4.02.2007

I AM ONE OF THOSE PEOPLE

I've always been an obsessed fan -- but not in a creepy, stalker-ish, restraining order sort of way. When I like something I don't just like it, I like it a lot.

This trend started when I was a toddler. I had to be home every day by 12 noon to watch Bozo the Clown on Channel 11 or I would flip out in the middle of Bohack's supermarket and make my mother deeply regret that impromptu stop to pick up lunch.

I think parents who raised children before the days of home video deserve some sort of special stipend from the government in their Social Security checks each month. They can use it to pay for their mood stabilizing medication, or DVDs for the grandkids.


The first obsession that I actually recall was with baseball in general, the New York Mets in particular. This one was courtesy of my older, Mets-loving next-door neighbor Timmy Jankowski, who taught me about the National Pastime using an arcane board game called APBA back in the summer of 1976.

Beginning at the age of 7, I played baseball every day, watched the Mets religiously on TV, collected baseball cards, made summertime pilgrimages to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown and attended the annual Mets "Welcome Home Dinner" at the New York Hilton every April from 1978 until 1983. At the conclusion of each of these gala events, I would raid the ballroom dais where the Mets players had eaten dinner and grab everything I could get my sweaty little hands on.

One of my most prized possessions from that era is Mets first baseman Ed Kranepool's Sweet 'n Low package, used by the portly (and perhaps dieting?) slugger during the 1979 Welcome Home Dinner -- sadly, his last one as a member of the team. I still have it in a scrapbook, along with various autographed napkins.

Of course, most of these activities required parental assistance of one sort or another, so my entire family shared my Mets baseball obsession, by default. Luckily neither of my parents were Yankee fans, or I would have had my own adoption legally revoked.

I also collected comic books as a kid, but my approach was different than most of friends. Each week I would visit a stationery store called Stan's, gently slide my comics out of the spinning display rack, wash my hands thoroughly, read the comic once and then meticulously seal it in Mylar plastic sleeves with acid-free backing boards. Then I would enter the issue number in an elaborate index card file that my mother and I had established. Who needed Excel when you had 3x5 cards?!

I dreamed that some day -- in the distant future -- I would sell my mint condition collection for large sums of money, perhaps to fund another obsession. Three decades later I had my collection appraised and I discovered that, while my youthful archival techniques may have been flawless, my selection of
what to archive -- nearly 2,000 Richie Rich comics -- was not. I am now in the unique position of having a collection that is worth less than I what I spent to collect it. This was the first in a lifelong series of bad financial decisions.

Later, I developed a fascination with reruns of the 1960s supernatural TV soap opera Dark Shadows. At the age of 13, I started my own fan club (we had meetings in our garage, which I adorned with Halloween decorations from the local party supply store). I began writing a monthly column for an international fan magazine and attending conventions and festivals around the country. During the summer of 1984, my family rented an RV and drove from New York to Dallas for a Dark Shadows convention at the Twin Sixties Inn. We slept in the camper because it was nicer than the hotel rooms.

Eventually I met Jonathan Frid, the actor who had starred in the show as the vampire Barnabas Collins, and I began working for him --
first as a sort-of junior apprentice, organizing his papers and later as a writer. I wrote a series of pledge solicitation spots featuring Frid for a New Jersey public television station, and later a prime time special for a TV station in Minneapolis and another for WNYC in New York City. All of this happened while I was still in high school.

As I grew older my childhood obsessions dissipated, but there is one that has remained with me for my entire life: my love for old movies.

When I was nine years old, while on vacation with my parents and sister in Puerto Rico, I saw the 1935 Marx Bros film A Night at The Opera. My parents wanted to go to the casino, but they had no one to watch my younger sister and me. So they left us at the Dorado Beach Hotel's tiny movie theater, where a room filled with senior citizens was enjoying a movie from their own youth. I laughed so hard I fell off my chair.

"I had more fun watching your son that I did watching the movie," an elderly moviegoer gushed to my parents when they picked me up. That day the dye was cast. I had fallen in love with the smart writing, slapstick physical comedy and other-worldly quality of the beautiful black & white musical comedies of the 1930s and '40s. And I love them more today than I did then.

Nowadays if you have an interest in old movies, there are a variety of outlets to met your needs: DVD, VHS, Turner Classic Movies, Netflix, even eBay for rare movies, recordings, collectibles and the like. But when I was a kid, all I had was
The Late Show and The Late Late Show.

Each week, when our mailman Roy would bring the TV Guide, I would scan it for Marx Bros. films with highlighter in hand. At least once a month (sometimes more), one of our local broadcast TV channels would run one of their movies (or a Groucho solo effort) usually between 2 and 4 a.m.. This was a bit of a challenge for a fifth grader, but I was an ingenious kid and a tireless negotiator.

My parents were opposed at first, but eventually we came up with a compromise: I could set my alarm and wake up to watch the movie if -- and only if -- I went to bed two hours earlier than my scheduled bedtime AND promised to go back to sleep immediately after it ended. I agreed, but after awhile immediately became a relative term.

On most of these occasions I would get up at 2 a.m., watch a Marx Bros. movie and then check out the other offerings on late night TV. There was always something great on in the wee hours back then, before latenight TV turned into 150 channels of infomercials. There were old musicals or comedies from the 1930s and '40s, reruns of TV classics from the 1950s and '60s, like
The Burns and Allen Show, You Bet Your Life or The Twilight Zone and of course the National Anthem.

There was something magical about watching those classics alone, in the dark when everything was quiet. It was like being transported into an alternate reality – one that existed only in glorious black & white.

I trolled public libraries and used book stores for reference volumes on TV and movie history and I read obsessively. I learned that many of my favorite old TV shows shows had begun life on radio, back in the 1940s. I discovered a small mail-order company called Radiola Records that sold recordings of oldtime radio broadcasts and I began ordering LPs and cassettes. While other kids my age were discovering pop music and rock and roll radio, I was listening to forty year-old episodes of The Jack Benny Program on an old phonograph I had borrowed from my grandmother.

Nearly three decades later I may no longer be watching Bozo every day, but I'm still in love with the old movies, TV shows and radio comedies that I somehow managed to grow up on - a generation (or two) later than most.

Technology has changed a lot since then. I own all the Marx Bros. films on DVD now, I obsessively watch TCM on cable and I have hundreds of episodes of classic radio comedies on my iPod. It's nice to have my favorites close at hand, but I miss the excitement of discovery that I felt when I was a kid.

Every now and then I get a chance to relive that feeling, courtesy of a movie theater called Film Forum. For more than two decades, the non-profit Greenwich Village movie house has been running innovative festivals of the classics films that I love.

This past Friday Film Forum began a three week, 49-film festival of classic "B Musicals" from the 1930s and '40s. I was honored to interview Bruce Goldstein, Film Forum's Director of Repertory Programming, for current issue of The Villager newspaper. And I was doubly honored when I stopped by the theater on Friday to catch the opening night double feature and saw a reprint of my interview with Goldstein mounted in the lobby.

One of the questions I asked the film historian was if some people would be coming to see every movie in the festival. He answered my question affirmatively.

"Are they crazy?" I asked.


A few of those crazy people were at Film Forum on Friday night. One older gent was so excited by the double feature of 1938's Hold That Coed and 1941's Rise and Shine that he couldn't stop talking to anyone and everyone who would listen. He had clearly memorized the entire festival program and was doing his best to convince fellow moviegoers to not miss any of the films.

"Claudette Colbert is gonna sing on Sunday!" he exclaimed to the tattooed, twenty-something concession stand clerk. "When was the last time you saw that?

"Um, never?" she answered.

I was back again on Saturday night for the double feature of the 1937 Bing Crosby musical Double or Nothing and 1942's Sweater Girl (which featured the chart busting hit I Don't Want to Walk Without You, Baby)

Midway through Double or Nothing one of the projectors broke down, and the audience watched a frame of the film burn on the big screen. There were gasps and screams of horror, as if the only copy of the movie was being destroyed before the very eyes of the film buffs who loved it. An usher came in and announced that they would continue the film, but would need to do manual reel changes. So every twelve minutes, a hundred or so people sat silently while a projectionist manually changed reels of a film that was made seventy years ago.

But it wasn't silent for a long. One balding, elderly movie-goer began doing a Bing Crosby imitation, singing in Bing's scatty baritone during the reel changes. You don't get that kind of live magic at home, alone in your apartment with a DVD player.

After it was all over I went home and told my girlfriend about what she had missed amongst all the "crazy people" at Film Forum.

"You've seen four movies at the same theater in the last two days, and you're probably going back tomorrow," she said. "But they're the crazy ones?"

You know, she makes a pretty good point.