7.31.2007

HELLO MUDDAH, HELLO FADDUH

I'm starting to worry that my mother is going to kill my father.

I talked to my sister about this on the phone the other day. "I think Mommy is going to call you one day and say, 'I just stabbed Daddy with a steak knife,'" I told her. "She'd never tell me first, cause she knows I'd call the cops on her."

My sister disagreed. She thinks my father is going to kill my mother. We argued about this for a while, each of us pleading our cases for who will be the murderer and who will be the murderee.

"Daddy's too nice to kill her," I said. "It's not really in his nature. But I really wouldn't be surprised if Mommy did it. I think she's kind of the murdering type."

I mean that in the best way. I think most people don't have the guts to off another person, even with good reason. I have always considered myself very capable of justifiable homicide, if the situation presents itself. So far I have never had to prove this theory. But, either way, I credit my mother with helping me to grow up to be a potential killer.

That's not a knock against my mother. In fact, it's just the opposite. Thanks to her, I can take care of myself in the situation presents itself.

For example: on Sunday I entered the subway station at Wall Street. It was jam-packed with tourists, yet I noticed that the only bench in the station had just one occupant - a creepy character who appeared to be homeless. He was sort of lounging on the bench, as if to say, "This is my bench. Don't even think of sitting on this bench."

So I walked over, looked him right in the eye, and sat on the bench. He glared at me, as I pulled the sports section of The Sunday New York Times from my backpack.

"Do you fight?" he said to me, revealing a mouth that had fewer teeth than most.

"Nah" I replied calmly. "That's not really my thing."

"Because you're a punk," he said.

"No, because I wouldn't want to mess up your pretty smile," I corrected him.

"So if I hit you, you wouldn't hit me back?" he asked

"Well, I can't really answer that," I said to him. "Mainly because I don't think that you would hit me. You look like you're smarter than that."

Then I smiled at him, and he got up and walked away, muttering "punk" repeatedly under his foul breath. Then a German-tourist-looking family came over and sat down next to me. I had reclaimed the subway station bench for the people of New York City.

I share this story, not to brag about what a tough guy I am. Rather, I share it to demonstrate the steely resolve that my mother instilled in me -- for better or for worse -- when I was a kid. She and I fought often and heatedly when I was younger, and she never backed down. She was a worthy adversary.

The ravages of time have weakened my mother, but she is still up for a fight at just about any time. And most of those times seem to occur when I call my parents at their retirement community in South Florida. They bicker constantly when I am on the phone with them, as if they are performing a skit for my enjoyment. Occasionally I will intercede; more often I will not.

The way I figure it, if you live with someone for more than half a century, eventually you will run out of stuff to talk about. And then what's left? Fighting. It's certainly a genuine way to convey emotion. And it keeps the blood flowing, which is good for old people.

I just hope it doesn't get out of hand -- or more out of hand than it already has. I'd hate to have to bail either one of them out of jail on a murder rap. It would feel disloyal to the other parent, the one who just got murdered.

So, if either one of my parents is reading this, I make the following plea: If one of you is going to kill the other, please make it a murder-suicide.

That way, I don't have to pick sides. And we don't waste what's left of my inheritance on legal fees.

7.27.2007

IT'S MAGICALLY DELICIOUS

My review of Sam Eaton's mental magic show The Quantum Eye appears in both The Villager and Downtown Express today!

You can read my story by clicking here.

7.26.2007

MY TRIP TO DODGER STADIUM - CONCLUSION

Dodger Stadium is 45 years-old, yet it still looks new.

As the Mets prepare to demolish Shea Stadium, their home since 1964, after next season, the state of the ballpark in Los Angeles came as a big surprise to me. I can imagine what it must have been like, almost a half century ago, to see the scrappy "bums" from Brooklyn in their fancy new west coast digs.

While the Dodgers honor their ancestors from the borough of Kings, they make a clear distinction between the two teams. Posted stats make reference to "franchise records" and "Los Angeles records."

This seems like a pointless distinction to me. The Mets are currently playing in their 46th season, yet they are still considered a relatively new team. The Dodgers however are a franchise steeped in baseball folklore.

From their founding in 1883, to their 45 years at the iconic Ebbets Field in Flatbush, the team once known as "Dem Bums" is one of the most historic in baseball history -- and not only for Jackie Robinson, the black player who integrated baseball during the 1947 season in Brooklyn.

I only wish the Mets had the history that the Dodgers seem content to ignore. In fact, Citi Field, the Mets new ballpark set to open in 2009, is going to be a replica of Ebbets Field. The Mets are so bereft of history as a franchise that they have to borrow the memories of a team whose departure led to their formation.


Of course, the Los Angeles team has plenty of its own history as well, and much of that is visible in blue-tinted art all over the park. From 1960s all-star Sandy Koufax, to the dominant Tommy Lasorda-managed teams of the '70s (with one of the best infields ever) to star pitchers of the '80s like Fernando Valenzuela and Orel Hershiser, to an unheard of five-year stretch in the '90s where a Dodger player was voted Rookie of the Year, L.A. has a lot to brag about.

But they didn't have much to brag about tonight.

By the time I got to my seat, the Mets had already scored six runs. Los Angeles answered the Mets first inning barrage with two runs against a shaky Tom Glavine in the bottom of the inning. But when the Mets came to bat again in the top of the second, their assault on pitcher Derrick Lowe continued.

All in all, fifteen runs were scored by the end of the third inning - more runs than ever had been scored in the first three innings in more than 3,400 games at Dodger Stadium. It was only my second visit to the stadium, but again I was experiencing baseball history.

One piece of history that I would not see was Mets pitcher Tom Glavine's 299th career victory. Glavine was knocked out of the game by the Dodgers after giving up six runs in two plus innings.

The slugfest continued, as I kept score of it all in my souvenir program. And all around me the crowd ebbed and flowed.

Attendance at a Dodgers game is truly a fluid entity. I saw people still arriving in the fifth inning, by which point 17 runs had already been scored. I also saw people begin to leave in the fifth inning, with the Dodgers trailing by a score of 10-7.

I've never understood the thought process behind leaving a baseball game early. I've certainly never done it myself (at least by choice). I stay until the bitter end, whatever the score, because you never know what's going to happen in a baseball game. And I don't want to ever have to say, "I can't believe I left early!"

The only time I ever left a Mets game early was sometime back in the late '70s, when I went on a bus trip with my day camp. The game ended up going deep into extra innings, and I watched the end of it at home - eating dinner with my parents - all the while cursing my camp counselors for forcing me to leave. (I didn't actually curse back then, but you know what I mean.)

The scoreboard at Dodger Stadium proclaimed that the "paid crowd" was 51,651, but there was not one moment when all of those people were in their seats at the same time. Although most of the fans were decked out in Dodger-blue hats and jerseys, they sure don't act like baseball fans.

I was seated in section 6, row S, right behind home plate on the reserve level (high up, but not as high as I could have been.) And my section was like a cocktail party. There were a bunch of cute girls getting hit on by young guys, kids yelling and singing, friends chatting with friends. And me, over-dressed in my fancy work clothes, keeping score in my program and sitting by myself - smack dab in the middle of a collection of people who seemed to have no interest in the game that they had ostensibly come to see.

I stood out a bit. But what else is new?

There were also celebrities there, of course. The Dodgers are the home team of Hollywood, and this night was no different. Tom Hanks was there, waving to the cheering fans (half of whom probably had a script they'd love him to read). So was Ray Romano, wearing a Dodgers cap - an act of treason for a native of Queens, New York

After the Mets moved ahead to a 12-7 lead in the sixth inning I headed for the concession stand. Dodger Stadium is known to have one of the best hot dogs in all of baseball. The Dodger Dog has been L.A. institution for generations, and it's reputation is well-deserved. The reputation for glacial service at the Dodger Stadium food stands is also well-deserved. It seems that everything moves more slowly on the west coast, including people's desire to take money from you.

I wolfed down two tasty Dodger Dogs and watched the scoring continue on the field - and in the stands, where a guy and girl who had spent the first few innings getting to know each other disappeared after the seventh inning, hand-in-hand.

When all was said and done, the Mets won an ugly, sloppy game by the score of 13-9. Mets pitching gave up 19 hits - a record number for a game in which they emerged victorious. By the end of the game, most of the Dodger fans had already left, leaving the many Mets fans to celebrate on enemy turf. I wished I had brought my cap with me, but it probably wouldn't have gone with my outfit.

I headed back out to the parking lot to find David the chubby cabbie, praying that he wasn't on his way to Mexico with my backpack. But there was one problem: I couldn't get a signal on my cellphone. I feared that I would wander the parking lot all night long until only one yellow bus remained with a pissed-off driver in the front seat. But moments later my phone rang. David had gotten through and he was heading right to me.

I jumped in the bus and David greeted me with a big laugh.

"I felt bad that you missed that first inning," he said. "But you still saw plenty of scoring!"

"I sure did," I answered. "And some of it was even on the field."

David started up the engine and we made our way into the long queue of cars snaking out of the Dodger Stadium parking lot. I didn't ask what David had done for the nearly four hours that I was inside watching the game. I hoped that, whatever it was, it didn't involve anything in my bag. Just to make sure, I checked. Everything was exactly where I left it.

"Feel free to catch some shut-eye on the way back to the hotel," David said as we headed for the freeway. And that's what I did. No awkward conversation, no panic about missing laptops, just a nice little nap as my driver chauffeured me home.

Maybe Los Angeles isn't so bad after all.

7.25.2007

MY TRIP TO DODGER STADIUM - PART 3

As the Mets poured on the first inning hits, frustrated Dodger fans listening to their car radios began getting out of line, turning around and heading back home.

After all, six runs is usually enough to win the game. And, if your team is going to lose, why put up with the inconvenience of actually getting into Dodger Stadium? Because going to a baseball game in Los Angeles seems to be one giant bowl of
pain-in-the-ass.

Perhaps Ticketmaster should pay fans an
inconvenience charge just for heading out to the old ballpark. But something tells me that's unlikely to happen.

The Mets were still batting in the endless top of the first inning when David and I finally rolled up to the parking lot attendant in his yellow van.


"That will be $15," the man in the blue Dodger windbreaker said.


Yes, it costs more to park than to buy an upper deck ticket. Something seems wrong about that, particularly when there's no way to get to Dodger Stadium other than by car.

But what do I know? The last time I parked at a baseball game was
never. I've always taken the subway to Shea Stadium for a grand total of $4 round trip -- further evidence of why I will never own a car.

So David forked over the $15 and we continued to roll along with the angry, horn-honking Dodger fans. Finally, I could see the Stadium. But I still had to get to it.


We reached the parking lot and I grabbed my bag.
"I'm going to jump out here," I said, as David pulled out his credit card machine. I guess I had just assumed that we would settle up after the game, not as it was occurring (and as I was missing it.)

"Can I pay you after the game?"I asked, as I began opening the door.

"Oh yeah, sure," David replied tentatively. "But you really should leave your backpack in the car. They're not going to let you in with it. They're very strict about that sort of thing here."

Yeah, right.

You can bring a backpack to a ballgame in New York, but not in L.A? That makes sense. What terrorist would even bother to blow up a stadium filled with Los Angelinos? Those people are hardly worth the trouble. Anyway, even if you take out 50,000 of them, there are still millions more. It's pointless.

I knew what was happening. David was afraid I was going to stiff him, and I was afraid that he was going to split with my bag (which was holding my brand new laptop). Even though I was taking the bigger risk (by far) I left my bag and started jogging toward the Stadium.

Dodger Stadium must be built on some kind of mountain, because the walk from the parking lot involved a hell of a lot of climbing. It was like making a pilgrimage to some sort of holy mountaintop retreat, where the gods battle each other for supremecy.

So I climbed and climbed, dodged more traffic and finally(!) made it to the gate.


"Welcome to Dodger Stadium, " the ticket-taker said with a big smile. "Glad you made it."

7.24.2007

MY TRIP TO DODGER STADIUM - PART 2

"Alright, here we go!" David the Cab Driver said, as I jumped into his fifteen-passenger van.

I was hoping that would have secured a limo or, at the very least, a black Town Car with smoked windows for my pricy ride to the ballpark at Chavez Ravine. But no such luck. There I was, bouncing around in the back of David's van , as we made our way toward the freeway.


All week long, David had made it clear that he was one of those cab drivers who enjoys chatting with his passengers. By strange coincidence, I am one of those passengers who does not particularly enjoy chatting with cab drivers.
It's nothing personal. I'm not a snob. Actually, I am a snob, but that has nothing to do with it.

When I'm in a cab I like to sit back and enjoy the experience of being chauffeured around. It makes me feel like a celebrity.
But David had been nice enough to offer to drive me all the way to Dodger Stadium and to sit and cool his axles in the parking lot while I enjoyed the game. I kind of felt like chatting with him was the least I could do.

David started by asking me if I had ever been to a Dodger game before. I explained that I had, on my first-ever road trip for work, back in the summer of 1990. I was working on a video shoot and I mentioned to the sound guy that I would love to go to see the Dodgers play. He just happened to have tickets to the game and that night -- June 29, 1990 -- I watched Dodger all-star Fernando Valenzuela pitch a no-hitter against the St. Louis Cardinals.


"Maybe tonight's game will be equally as memorable," I said, as David got on the jam-packed 5 freeway.
It became obvious pretty quickly that David's estimate of a one hour and ten minute drive to Dodger Stadium was not an entirely accurate prediction.

I don't even live in L.A. and I know that it takes forever to get to Dodger games. The Mets announcers always joke about it when I watch the games on TV. Dodger fans arrive in the 3rd inning because traffic is so bad, and they leave in the 7th inning to beat the rush on the way home. If they're lucky they see three innings of baseball (assuming there are no lines at the concession stands).


So, as David and I sat in the bumper-to-bumper parade of rush hour traffic, he starting making small talk. David asked me where I was from, where I went to college, if I was married, if I had a girlfriend, if I had kids, what my company did, how many employees we have, what we pay for cabs in other cities and on and on on.
Within half an hour David knew more about me than most of my friends.

I didn't ask him any questions, but that didn't stop him from offering information about his life, family, driving cabs in Southern California etc. As a point of clarification, I found David to be a perfectly pleasant guy. But I had spent all day interacting with thousands of chatty pharmaceutical sales reps, and I just wanted some peace and quiet. Awkward, start-and-stop smalltalk was the last thing I was interested in.


I was also getting nervous because the hands on my watch were moving, but the traffic wasn't. This didn't seem to concern David, but I wasn't particularly happy about it.
In addition to the $200 I was going to be shelling out for the round trip in David's van, I had also paid $39.05 for my upper deck ticket. The admission price was only $29, but the crooks at Ticketmaster charged me an "order processing fee" of $3.80, plus a "convenience charge" of $4.75. Then, because I wanted to print the tickets in advance so I could go directly to the gate, they charged me an additional "ticketfast fee" of $2.50.

Apparently, the Ticketmaster convenience charge doesn't cover any
actual convenience. For the real convenience, you gotta pay extra. I mean, more extra.

Now it was 7 p.m., and I was in the back seat of David's van, $240 in the hole so far -- and I had not even seen a sign yet for Dodger Stadium.
I asked David to turn on the radio, so at least I could listen to the game that I was paying so much to see. It took him a few minutes, but eventually he found it -- en Espanol.

"I don't really speak much Spanish," I said. "I bet it's on in English too, though."


David flipped around a bit more and I recognized the famous voice of Hall of Fame broadcaster Vin Scully, whose been the Dodgers announcer for more than half a century. Scully announced that the Dodgers were taking the field and, at that moment I finally saw the first sign for the Stadium.


As traffic funneled into one lane entering the park, the Mets came to bat. Twenty minutes later, David and I were still inching our way toward the parking lot, but the Mets had already scored six runs.
In three decades of watching the Mets play, I've never seen them score six runs in the first inning.

And, even though I had a ticket to the game, I wasn't going to see it tonight either.

7.23.2007

MY TRIP TO DODGER STADIUM - PART 1

My trip to the west coast ended with a bang on Thursday night.

I had worked very long hours all week on the production of a training meeting for 2,000 pharmaceutical sales reps at the Anaheim Convention Center. The event concluded on Thursday afternoon with a huge expo for all the attendees, with yours truly serving as the sliver-tongued public address announcer -- also known (appropriately) as the Voice of God.

All week long I reminded the people in charge that I realllly wanted to go to the baseball game on Thursday night. In a rare moment of cosmic synchronicity, the Mets had flown into Los Angeles just as I was preparing to leave. And there was only one chance for me to connect with my favorite team - that night, at 7:10 p.m. at Dodger Stadium.

Earlier that day I had asked David, the portly cab driver who had been shuttling our entire crew between the convention center and our hotel all week long, if he could take me to the game -- and back.

"Sure!" he answered. "That's no problem."

"Great." I replied. "How much will it cost?"

"Oh about $100 each way," he answered.

"And how about the time that you'll spend waiting for me in the parking lot?" I asked. I thought it prudent to clarify that I was not asking David to be my date to the game, just my method of conveyance.

"Oh, that's included," he said. "Assuming the game doesn't go 24 innings or something!"

So, $200 to see the Mets play the Dodgers, whose departure from New York for L.A. half a century ago led to the founding of the Mets in 1962? It sounded like a good deal to me. Really, any arrangement that allows me to go somewhere fun without driving myself is a-ok in my book.

David told me that we would would need to leave the convention center by 6 p.m. to make it to the game in time for a 7:10 p.m. first pitch. That was going to be a challenge. Even though out meeting was scheduled to end at 4:30 p.m., I had to supervise the dismantling of the whole expo floor -- a process that took more than three hours when we did it a few weeks prior in Boston.

The expo successfully concluded and my friend and co-worker Colette and I began to organize the wrap. But there was one problem. A number of the presenters who had booths at the event decided to split and leave all of the return shipping of their materials and gear to us. That threw a big monkey wrench into my plans. We had limited help and were now looking at hours of work.

As 6 p.m. approached, Colette looked at her watch.

"Go to the game," she said. "I don't want to be the one to make you miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity." I gave her a hug, called David the Cab Driver and raced out to the front of the convention center.

Moments later I was on my way to Dodger Stadium.

7.22.2007

SLIMETIME LIVE

Here's a funny story that I wrote for this week's Downtown Express about the Nickelodeon Slime Across America tour.

Read it here.

7.20.2007

MEET THE METS (IN LOS ANGELES)

On Thursday night I watched the New York Mets beat the Dodgers 13-9 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles.

If you wonder why I'm not reppin' New York with my trusty baseball cap, it's because I didn't even think I was going to make it to the game.

And I almost didn't...

7.19.2007

TIVO'S ON-DEMAND MOVIE DOWNLOADS

I've been writing a lot recently about my search for a digital service that allows me to watch classic movies on-demand on my TV. And now that search may have come to an end.

Premium cable networks like HBO, Cinemax and Showtime offer movies on-demand on digital cable, but those selections are limited to the films that are airing on the channel that month. And most cable systems offer a pay-per-view on-demand service, but those are typically new releases.

Rarely (more like never) will you find a true classic (released pre-1985) available on-demand on cable. And, when you do, it is almost always in the pan-and-scan (non-letterbox) format that is the bane of the existence of true movie lovers.


Netflix, the through-the-mail video rental service, offers limited on-demand downloads, but those titles are viewable only on Windows-based PCs. With proper cables, you can hook your computer up to a TV monitor -- but that is a pain in the ass that most people (even me, if I had a Windows-based computer, which I don't) probably won't bother with.

But TiVo has a solution to all of this.

For those that don't know, a "TiVo" is a digital video recorder that allows you to watch programs that you record (like a VCR) and to pause and rewind (like the DVRs that are now routinely offered by the major cable providers).

TiVo was the pioneer in this area almost a decade ago, but has been eclipsed in recent years by inexpensive options offered by cable systems that rip-off TiVo's functionality without the elegance and ease-of-use - and that don't require an additional monthly subscription fee (like TiVo does.)

But now, TiVo has come up with the "killer ap" that makes it a must-own for movie lovers.

TiVo subscribers can now digitally "rent" movies (and hundreds of TV shows) from Amazon.com. The movies download directly to a subscriber's TiVo player, so you can actually watch them on your TV!

All you need is a TiVo with broadband access connection (aka the high-speed internet access that you get from your cable, DSL or satellite provider). You can buy a small device that easily connects to your cable modem and sends the signal directly to your TiVo. And newer Tivo models come packaged with it.

The Amazon service is called Unbox and offers more than 2,500 movies for digital rental, as well as hundreds of TV shows (both current series like 24 and classics like the original Star Trek).

New movies rent for $3.99, classics for $2.99 and TV episodes for $1.99. The movies download from the internet directly to your TiVo (that's where the broadband connection works its magic) and you can keep them for up to 30 days. Once you have started watching the movie, you have 24 hours to finish watching it -- or to watch it again-- before it digitally disappears.

You can always re-order the movie or TV show it if you want, but you have to pay again.


You do have the option to buy your digital copy of the film, and archive it to a DVD (if you have a DVD recorder connected to your TiVo, which is a good idea for archival purposes). These "to own" files cost more ($14.99 for newer films and $9.99 for older ones) and there are more titles to choose from.

What sets the TiVo/Amazon partnership apart from Netflix and similar movie download services is the ability to watch the movies and TV shows on your TV set, instead of your computer. And what sets it apart from iTunes is the fact that you can rent the title for a fee that is comparable to a video store rental and you don't have to buy it.

A quick perusal on the "classics" choices on the Amazon Unbox home page shows a variety of choices - from iconic titles like 42nd Street, Captain Blood with Erroll Flynn and East of Eden with James Dean to more obscure titles.

And there are tons of classic TV shows like The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, The Time Tunnel and others that you will never find at the your neighborhood video store.

Of course there are plenty of current movie titles also available, but those are easy to find just about anywhere, so the need for an on-demand solution is not as great.

In summation, the TiVo/Amazon combo seems to be the leader in the march to the Brave New World where every movie and TV show ever made will be available at the touch of a button.

Technology is truly a wonderful thing.




7.18.2007

"MANHATTAN" ON TCM

Of course, if you're in New York City this week you should stop by Film Forum to see their beautiful, black and white, Panavision print of Woody Allen's Manhattan.

BUT, if you're not here, Turner Classic Movies will be running the 1979 classic this Saturday night at midnight (E.T.), as part of a selection of films they are calling Comedies of Manners.

The other films in the one-night series include Pride and Prejudice (1940) at 8 p.m., The Importance of Being Earnest (1952) at 10 p.m., Born Yesterday (1950) at 1:45 a.m. and Private Lives (1931) at 3:30 a.m.

For more about this TCM event click here.

Set your TiVos! (If you don't have one, buy one here. You can even order movies on demand through it, courtesy of Amazon.com.)

I'M QUOTED ON THE FILM FORUM WEBSITE

Film Forum, my favorite movie theater in New York City, quoted my Downtown Express story on Woody Allen's Manhattan on their page for the re-release of the 1979 classic.

It's only one sentence pull-quote, but there's a link to the complete story on the Downtown Express website.

I'm quoted along with the film critics from The Village Voice, The New York Daily News, New York Magazine and Time Out New York.

It's almost like they think I know what I'm talking about!

7.17.2007

I'M GOING TO DISNEYLAND

Well, not really.

I'm close to Disneyland, but I won't be going. I'm working on a large pharmaceutical meeting at the Anaheim Convention Center, and we can see the theme park through the window, but we can't go to the park, because we're working.

Not that I would want to, really.


There's something about a nearly forty year-old bald guy going to Disneyland alone that just feels creepy to me. I have no desire to make parents nervous.

"Hey Winnie! Will you pose for a picture with me? No, I'm by myself.
What? I'm 38-years-old. Hey! Wait a minute! Where are you going?"

7.15.2007

RALPH KINER NIGHT

Last night I watched the Mets beat the Cincinnati Reds 2-1 in a tense pitchers duel at Shea Stadium .
Tom Glavine notched his 298th career victory, only two wins away from the rarely achieved 300 win plateau.

It was a great night but, the most significant moments of the evening occurred before the game even started.

Last night, the Mets honored Ralph Kiner, a man who has been broadcasting their games on television since the inception of the franchise in 1962.

If you're scoring at home, that's 45 years on the job -- an accomplishment made even more impressive because it follows a Hall of Fame career as a major league baseball player.

Kiner was joined on the field by a group of living baseball legends, including fellow Hall-of-Famers Yogi Berra, Bob Feller and broadcaster Ernie Harwell and former Mets stars Tom Seaver, Keith Hernandez, Rusty Staub, Jerry Koosman, Bud Harrelson, Ed Charles and my all-time favorite Ed Kranepool.

In his speech to the fans at a nearly sold-out Shea Stadium, Kiner quoted his friend (and Jack Benny's bandleader) Phil Harris.

"If I had known I was going to live this long," Kiner joked. "I would have taken better care of myself."
One of the great things that baseball fans have always done is honor their veterans.

I've been a Mets fan for three decades and I will always remember Ralph Kiner as the voice of my childhood.

7.13.2007

MY STORY ON WOODY ALLEN'S "MANHATTAN"

Woody Allen's 1979 classic Manhattan begins a week-long run today at Film Forum in New York City.

I wrote a feature story about the film, which appears in the current issue of Downtown Express. A highlight of this story (for me at least) was receiving an email from former New York City mayor Ed Koch.

You can read it by clicking here.

7.12.2007

I KNOW JACK

Last night I worked out with an American hero.

As you can surely tell, if you’ve ever seen a picture of me, I am a weight lifter. Yes, I have that rare combination of both intellectual and physical perfection rarely seen in the world. Not only can I destroy an opponent with my searing, Oscar Wilde-ish wit, I can also bust his ass with a Rocky Balboa-ish right hook.

So last night, there I was, pumping iron at the Equinox Fitness Center on Greenwich Street in the West Village of New York City, when I noticed a familiar face. I stared for a minute at the blond-haired man, sitting on a weight bench, doing bicep curls.

“Could this be Jack Bauer?” I thought to myself. “Right here? Sweating amongst the rabble?”

It was.

He is thinner and slighter of build than he appears to be on television or in the movies. He has a barbed-wire tattoo around both of his biceps. And his tight, gray t-shirt was soaked through with sweat. But this was not just any sweat. This was the sweat of Jack Bauer!

As I stood next to him, a mere three or four inches away, I thought about striking up a conversation. After all, unlike the majority of his fellow weightlifters, Jack (I mean Kiefer) was not wearing headphones.

This proves a theory I have always had. Real men -- heroes -- don’t need artificial stimulation. High-energy music, sports drinks, performance enhancing drugs? Not for Jack Bauer! (I mean Kiefer Sutherland.)

As I curled my 50 lb weight (just a warm-up for me), Jack (Keifer) made his way to the rack and returned the weight he had been lifting. I looked at it. It was 40lbs. That means one thing.

I am stronger than Jack Bauer.

After he put down his weight, he looked up at me.

“If anything goes down, dude,” I said to him, sotto vocce. “I got your back.”

7.10.2007

LAST NIGHT'S DOUBLE FEATURE

First, Le Doulos, a 1962 French film noir, directed by Jean-Pierre Melville, now playing at Film Forum In New York City.

How amazing is this? Film Forum was showing a 45-year-old French film in black and white, and the theater was packed. That's what I love about New York City. I know very little about foreign film, even less about foreign classics, but I would much rather give my money to Film Forum to see a movie like Le Doulos than give it to a faceless chain like AMC to see a violent toy commercial like Transformers or some other big-budget, summertime dreck.

Next, the original Jaws, from 1975, directed by Steven Spielberg, on Turner Classic Movies.

Strangely enough, this is the movie that started the trend of the big-budget, big-hype summer event movies. It's the first and still one of the best. More than thirty years later there are plenty of genuine scares in this movie. I jumped in my seat two times!


And John Williams' score is so integral to the creative success of the film. Other than Psycho (scored by the great Bernard Herrmann) I can't think of a film where the music is more of a character unto itself.

I would recommend both movies, but maybe not as a double feature. Between the killer shark and the double-crossing French gangsters, I watched a lot of people get violently killed last night...

7.09.2007

360 DEGREES OF SEPARATION

I went out to get some lunch this afternoon and, when I got on the elevator, I walked into the middle of a bitch session between two secretaries (or “administrative assistants” or “administrative professionals” or “admins” or whatever is the PC term nowadays for “Gal Friday.”)

I don’t know these women, but I recognized one of them from out front of our building, where she seems to spend most of her time smoking cigarettes and yammering incessantly into a cell phone.

“Can you believe him?” the sallow-complected smoker croaked to her colleague, as we made the trip down nine floors. “On Friday he told me one thing, today he tells me somethin’ totally different. He did a complete 360!”

I’m no mathematician, but isn’t the term “he did a complete 180” as in 180 degrees? Saying that someone did “a complete 360” would mean that he decided something, changed his mind, and then changed it back again.

Please, if you are going to use a cliché in my presence, at least have the common courtesy to use it correctly.

INCREASE YOUR AFI-Q

My goal, before the summer is over, is to see every one of the movies on the American Film Institute's list of the 100 greatest American films of all time.

If you'd like to join me on this quest to expand my knowledge of the quintessential American art form, this week is a great time to start!

Turner Classic Movies, perhaps the only cable channel that I would take a bullet for, is airing five(!) of the films selected for the AFI 100 this week alone.

Here are the details:

Monday at 9:30 PM (E.T.)
#56 - Jaws (1976) Don't watch this movie if you plan to go to the beach anytime soon!

Tuesday at 4:00 AM (E.T.)
#16 - Sunset Boulevard (1950) Don't watch this movie if you are an aging silent film star!

Wednesday at 10:00 PM (E.T.)
#44 - The Philadelphia Story (1940) Don't watch this movie if you think it's the one where Tom Hanks has AIDS!

Thursday at 1:30 AM (E.T.)
#95 - The Last Picture Show (1971) Don't watch this movie if the name "Timothy Bottoms" makes you laugh uncontrollably.

Saturday at 2:00 PM (E.T.)
#3 - Casablanca (1942) Don't watch this movie is you just broke up with someone, or if you're trying to quit smoking or if you're a Nazi.

So set your VCR (if you still have one). Or set your TiVo or your DVR or just set yourself in front of the TV!

Watch TCM and increase your AFI-Q along with me.

We'll be movie buddies!
Yay us!

7.07.2007

TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES

My personal theory of life is, you shouldn't allow yourself to get too happy for any length of time.

Happiness is a dangerous thing. Once you have it for any length of time, you get used to it. And once you've gotten used to it, what happens when you lose it? Because the odds are you will, at some point, lose it. What do you do then, once you've seen the other side?


How do you walk around not being happy, once you've been happy? It's not possible. Who wants that?
You can't live that that.

Happiness is like a really good roast beef sandwich. Let's say you eat a really good roast beef sandwich every day for a year, and then you have to give it up and eat a roast beef sandwich from Blimpie's every day.

You're going to say, "Uh. This roast beef is terrible. It's tough and fatty and gray. The roast beef is gray. I don't want gray roast beef!"


But that's what you get in life. Most times, your roast beef is going to be gray.
So all I'm saying is, stay away from the really good roast beef.

Eat at Blimpie's and learn to like it. And you'll never miss it when it's gone, because it will never be gone.

(Editor's Note: If you are a vegetarian, please adjust this analogy accordingly.)

7.06.2007

MY BEST REVIEW EVER!

That's what my editor called it.

It's a review of Doppelganger, a new experimental play at the 3LD Art and Technology Center here in New York City.

I like it because I got a chance to reference The Twilight Zone, Dark Shadows and Twin Peaks all in the same story. It's sort of like hiding little Easter eggs for my own personal entertainment.

The review is in the current issue of Downtown Express. Or you can read it here.

7.05.2007

I AM "THE PRESS"

This morning I went to Film Forum, my favorite movie theater in New York City, to see one of my favorite films of all time, Woody Allen's 1979 classic Manhattan.

But here's the best part: it was totally free, and I had the whole theater practically to myself.

I was invited to a press screening of the film, because I am working on a feature story on Film Forum's screening of a new 35 mm widescreen print, for a week-long run that begins on Friday, July 13.

Needless to say it was very cool to be an invited guest at a theater that I have been going to since I was in college. The only drawback was the lack of popcorn. Why would you have a screening for the press and not have popcorn? Seeing a movie without popcorn is like having sex without being drunk or high. It can be done, but it's nowhere near as fun.

Of course, even though the concession stand was closed, the woman in the row in front of me brought in her own food. She had a Hersey Bar in some kind of a foil wrapper, and she spent the better part of ninety minutes crinkling the foil.

Here's a tip: if you're trying to be quiet about opening something, like a hard candy, or a chocolate bar wrapped in tinfoil, don't open it slowly! Somebody decided long ago that opening something slowly somehow makes it quieter. That is totally WRONG. What it does is take what should be a two second distraction and turn it into a two minute distraction.

Even at press screenings I am annoyed by my fellow audience members. But it was still a lot of fun.

I love the idea that I'm a member of "The Press." All I need is one of those old fashioned fedora hats with a little sign in the band that says PRESS. And maybe a cigar.

I would love to go back in time and be a reporter back in the 1940s, but only if I could bring my laptop.

7.04.2007

ROCKETS RED BLARE

I've been singing the National Anthem at baseball games for more than three decades now.

But, for the first decade or so, I had absolutely no idea what I was singing.


While 50,000 other people in Shea Stadium were singing The Star Spangled Banner, I was just trying to come up with stuff that sounded like what everybody else was singing.

The following is an actual example of how I sang two stanzas of the song that every American citizen should know by heart:


Oh say did you see? That the lawn is on tight!
And so proudly we bailed, on that par-ty last night.

And the rockets red blare! The bombs burst in my chair!
It proved for the right that the myyah myyah myyah myyah myyah.

Yes, I not only made up lyrics. I made up words too.

Even when I was a little kid, I preferred to write my own stuff.

My view from Maggie's building of the fireworks in New York Harbor.

WHEN IN THE COURSE OF HUMAN EVENTS

Today is the 4th of July. Or is it?

On Friday afternoon, as I was leaving for the long weekend, a co-worker said, "Have a great 4th!" The security guy in the lobby told me to have a "Happy 4th of July!" And one person actually wished me "happy holidays," like it was Christmastime.

Perhaps she feared that I might not actually celebrate the anniversary of our country's independence. Maybe she thought I was British, or a former Confederate soldier or a member of an al Qaeda cell.


But isn't that the whole point of this day -- celebrating our independence? Today we commemorate the 231st anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and we remember the occasion of the United States of America's emancipation from the rule of the British Empire.


I'm not going to bemoan the lack of political awareness of the average American citizen, particularly the young. Too much has been written about that already, and it's too depressing a topic.

But after being wished a "Happy 4th of July" by co-workers, Maggie's doorman and an eCard from my aunt and uncle, I finally received a "Happy Independence Day" greeting this afternoon.


Ironically, it was from a man who wasn't even born in this country.


Every day I visit the Subway Sandwich Shop on Greenwich Street in the Financial District for an extra large Diet Coke from the soda fountain. The restaurant is owned by a family from the North African state of Tunisia.

I enjoy talking with the mom and the dad, but get along best with their son, who goes to college in New Jersey and works at the store on weekends. He and I talk about baseball, and he has the good sense to prefer to the Mets to the Yankees.


I stopped by this afternoon, picked up my soda and talked to the kid about the Mets loss to the Colorado Rockies last night. Then another customer came in and I said goodbye and left. As I was leaving, I ran into his dad -- the owner of the store -- out front, smoking a cigarette.

"Happy Independence Day,"
he said to me with a thick accent and a big smile.

This man's native country was a French colony until 1956. There's a very good chance that he celebrated Tunisia's very first Independence Day when he was a kid, and he carried those memories along with him when he brought his family to the United States.

Most Americans look at "The 4th of July" as a long weekend, or a day off, or a time to barbeque or go to the beach or drink beer. But how often do we celebrate the independence that we once lacked and should forever remember?

This year it took a new American to remind me of what this day actually represents.

HAPPY INDEPENDENCE DAY

7.02.2007

ON DEMAND FOLLOW-UP

Since we've already established that I am obsessed with this topic -- old movies, and the ability to see them whenever and wherever I want to -- here's one more post about it.

Yes, Turner Classic Movies is my favorite cable channel. If you don't know that you're not paying attention, or you're skimming anything I write about old movies. If you are, SHAME ON YOU! No skimming.

Last weekend, when I got home from a week of hard work in Boston, I locked the TV on TCM and watched a few classic movies that I had never seen before.


First
Sunset Boulevard.

Yes, I can't believe I hadn't seen it either. I mean, I had seen that scene, the famous one - "I'm ready for my close-up Mr. DeMille." -- but I had never seen the whole movie. I was surprised by how dark it was, how pessimistic - particularly the end (I won't give it away just in case you haven't seen it either). This is definitely a must see, particularly if you enjoyed the Carol Burnett parody with Harvey Korman (and also Tim Conway) in a bald wig as Max. That bit cracked me up when I was little.

Next,
On the Waterfront.

How great is Marlon Brando in this movie? He shuffles and mumbles and chomps his gum, barely ever looking at anyone when he talks. Brilliantly natural. Sure the ending is a bit cliche, but any movie that gives you Brando and Fred Gwynne - TV's Herman Munster -- is a-okay in my book.

Finally,
The Lost Weekend.

Another great, dark film. Ray Milland chews the scenery hard and makes drinking about as attractive as a punch in the neck. And Jane Wyman (who was briefly married to future president Ronald Reagan, and later went on to star in the campy 1980s primetime soap opera Falcon Crest) as his long-suffering woman was a nice surprise.

If, like me, the only movie you had ever seen Ray Milland in was the 1972 camp classic
The Thing with Two Heads (wherein the elderly actor plays a racist who is forced to share a body with black football star Rosie Grier) see this movie.

I also watched a comedy from 1963 called The Wheeler Dealers with James Garner and Lee Remick. This movie is in color, which is usually a turn-off for me. But I wanted to see Jack Benny's bandleader Phil Harris, who plays a Texas oilman.

For those of you who don't know, Harris went on to voice Baloo the Bear in Jungle Book, singing the song The Bare Necessities.

Okay, this whole post is a diversion from the point I wanted to make.

The point is, now you can watch a full-length movie on the Turner Classic Movies website. There is only one movie there now, an obscure 1937 RKO picture called Living on Love, but it's a start. Soon there will be more. And, there are tons of trailers, clips and featurettes from other classics in the TCM library.


So check this shit out people.

If you are bored at work, watch every one of these trailers. It's better than clicking on some You Tube clip of Paris Hilton picking her nose, or a kid mistakenly hitting his dad in the balls with a plastic bat.

Go to TCM.com and watch and then the people in charge will give us more.
Some day every old movie will be available on demand. And I will lock myself in a room with my computer and you will never hear from me again.

Goodbye in advance.

CORRECTION (posted 07.04.07 2:10 PM) I mis-identified Ray Milland's co-star in The Lost Weekend as future Father Knows Best star Jane Wyatt. However the role was actually played by Jane Wyman, the one-time wife of President Ronald Reagan. Wyman was also the star of Falcon Crest, a 1980s primetime TV soap opera that I watched on a regular basis. So I should have known better.


NETFLIX ON DEMAND

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post demanding that the American Film Institute's Top 100 Films of All-time be made available on-demand.

Well, I have gotten my wish! Sort of.

Netflix is now offering a service called Watch Now. For no additional charge, subscribers can watch more than 3,000 films and TV shows on-demand, on your computer, streaming directly from Netflix.

There are a few things to keep in mind:

1) You must be a Netflix subscriber to use the service (rates range from $4.99-$17.99)

2) You must be watching on a PC running Windows. (Note to Mac owners: The new, Intel-based Macs are designed to run the Windows operating system, in addition to the Mac OS. So, even of you are on a Mac, you can watch these movies - once you have properly configured your Mac.)

3) The number of streaming hours each month relates to your monthly rate. For example, if you have a $17.99/month plan, you get 18 hours of on-demand streaming.

4) You will not own digital copies of the films. You are renting them, just like you do with DVDs that Netflix sends you in the mail.

As of now, Netflix offers 13 of the AFI Top 100 Films:

Casablanca
Singin' in the Rain
Chinatown
Bonnie and Clyde
A Streetcar Named Desire
M*A*S*H
North by Northwest
Cabaret
Network
Tootsie
A Clockwork Orange
Saving Private Ryan
12 Angry Men

Is 13 as good as 100? No.

Is it better than 0? You bet your laptop it is.

Speaking of laptop, if you don't enjoy watching movies on your computer (I don't), all you have to do it connect your laptop to your TV for playback on the TV monitor. To make this hapen you will need a few simple cables.

Eventually, we will be able to skip this last step -- having to run to Radio Shack to buy cables and balancing our computer on top of the TV set while we play back the movie from it -- but for now, we should just grin and bear it.

If you like movies, particularly old ones, now is time to subscribe to Netflix. The more people that take advantage of this download service, the more titles they are likely to add. And someday soon, every great movie ever made will be available to everyone, at the touch of a button!

So get going people. It's time to increase your AFI-Q, thanks to Netflix!