What happened to Halloween?

When I was growing up back in the 1970s, October 31st belonged to the kids. It was our day to act crazy, consume lots of crap and party with reckless abandon. It was sort of like the pre-pubescent version of Spring Break, just without the expensive airfare and inconvenient genital warts.

Halloween was the one day when parents and teachers would give us a break. They looked the other way. They let us get away with stuff. We dressed up in costumes, got free candy, ate cupcakes with orange frosting and bobbed for apples -- which we didn't eat, of course, because they weren't covered in orange frosting.

Grown-ups were involved in all of these activities - as our servants, chauffeurs, costume designers and support personnel. They drove us to the mall to buy our costumes (or made them, if they were cheap or creative or both), they decorated the house with jack-o-lanterns and other scary items, they bought those little bite-sized candy bars and they handed them out to the kids who would ring the bell while we were out on the hunt for our own free candy.

That's it. No further participation was required, other than saying, "How'd you do?" when we would peel off our sweaty, plastic Batman masks and pour our gigantic bag of Halloween booty on to the un-vacuumed living room floor for inspection.

Sure, you might occasionally encounter an over-enthusiastic dad who dressed up like Dracula and would camp it up when he handed out candy, like, "I vant to giff you a Milky Vay Barrrr! Moo hah hah!"

But everyone knew those guys were gay.

Back in the 70's, real men didn't wear costumes. And they sure as h-e-double-hockey-sticks didn't wear make-up. If I had ever seen my father wearing make-up I would have checked myself in to a mental hospital.

Not only was Halloween looked at as a kids' holiday, it was day that was militantly ignored by the older kids. It was a right of passage for a teenager to scoff at Halloween and to ridicule the kids who were still dressing up (some, perhaps, a few years later than they should have been).

If you were in high school, your Halloween celebration involved shaving cream, raw eggs and criminal mischief. And, if you were really lucky, you got a treat called a JD Card.

And then, somewhere along the line, everything changed.

Now, Halloween is a multi-billion dollar business, and those billions are not being spent on plastic Ninja Turtle costumes. American adults - and I use that term loosely -- have co-opted this former children's holiday in their never-ending efforts to infantilize themselves and postpone maturity indefinitely.

As I walked the streets of New York City today, I saw tons of Halloween costumes: a cat, a cave girl with fake club, a vampire, a skeleton, a butterfly. What I did not see, however, was a kid wearing any of those costumes. The same thing goes for this past weekend, when I watched dozens of twenty- and thirty-somethings ride the subway to various parties dressed in all manner of expensive get-ups.

I love Halloween. I always have. I love vampires and werewolves and Frankenstein monsters and scary movies and all that goes along with them. But as Pete Seeger once wrote (quoting the Bible), "There is a season (turn turn turn)."

I will honor the spirit of Halloween -- and the memories of my Halloweens past -- until I have kids of my own, or die (whichever comes first).

But I am more likely to enlist in the army and request a deployment to al-Anbar Province than I am to walk around New York City dressed up as a pimp. Or a ho. Or a sexy Harry Potter. Or a sexy Dick Cheney. Or a sexy (fill-in-the-blank). My days of costume wearing ended when hair started growing around my genitals.

Come on people. Give Halloween back to the little kids and grow the fuck up already.




The number one movie in the country this past weekend, with 32.1 million dollars in ticket sales, was Saw IV.

I would love to have seen Saw IV, but I missed Saw I, Saw II and Saw III and I'm not sure I could follow the plot.

I think it's great that America has embraced the genre known as torture porn. After all, torture has become so much a part of the fabric of America in recent years, it's important to teach kids about it before they've developed any preconceived notions of negativity.

And thank the LORD that immoral filth like director Ang Lee's new film Lust Caution got branded with an NC-17 rating. That movie has sexual intercourse in it - not real sexual intercourse, but it sure looks real.

And we can't have kids under 17 watching movies with sex in it. They might get all kinds of funny ideas in their sinful little heads.
But good old patriotic American torture - rubber stamp it with an R rating!

R ratings are so meaningless nowadays, aren't they? With DVD, cable and gigantic mega-multiplexes where just about anybody can walk into just about any movie, a little old R rating isn't going to prevent our young people from learning to appreciate the unique pleasures of violent death and humiliation.

I mean, come on! It's not like it's going to have a negative impact on kids after they see it. There's certainly no evidence that young people in this country have gotten more violent and dangerous in recent years.

There is, however, plenty of evidence that young people are fornicating more than ever before. And, as Sister Dorothy Brown warned my entire 8th grade class back in 1982, "sex without marriage is a mortal sin."

I'm not sure what the penalties are for a mortal sin, but I'll bet you a nickel it has something to do with hellfire and damnation!

And here's even better news, if you visit the Saw IV official website, you can learn about how to bring the cast and crew to your event!

Think about it - not just the actors and crew people from Saw IV but the actual torture traps and props that were used in the movie -- at your next church picnic or Boy Scout Jamboree!

For more information, why not just visit the Saw IV official website.

And remember, torture - it's as American as apple pie!



There has been a flurry of comments regarding my story about accepting an incorrect amount of change from an Auntie Anne's pretzel stand in Penn Station.

And by "flurry" I mean three comments.

So far, I have been called "pathetic," "a total waste," "a real loser," "not normal," "terrible" and "Godless." As always, I thank my loyal readers for sharing their thoughts and I welcome perspectives that may differ from my own. The right to have an opinion and to defend it freely is a basic tenet of American life.

For example, I'm sure that there are people who read previously owned who are Republicans. I would never tell those people not to read, even though I'm sure that many of those readers have trouble understanding some of the bigger words that I write.

I might tell those readers that their efforts to vote for candidates who reflect their "values" have created an unfortunate reality in this country where their children are more likely to die at the hands of terrorists (sorry, I meant to say "evil-doers") who have been inspired by the misguided political actions of this country.

I might also tell those readers that the children whose lives they value -- so much so that they would vote for a candidate based on his (or her) stance on one particular issue -- those children are further endangered by the very likely possibility that a draft will be reinstated in this country.

What other option is there, if we don't have enough troops to do whatever this week's version of "the mission" is in Iraq? What happens when we invade Iran? And the tribal regions of Pakistan? And Syria? And North Korea?

Are any of those options out of the question if the next president we elect is a so-called "values" candidate?


But I would never mention that to a Republican reader of previously owned -- because they have their own opinion of what constitutes "values," and I have mine.

For example, I think that the majority of the people who work in the service industry in New York City are lazy, useless morons. Please note I didn't say "all." I said "the majority." Please note also that I'm not saying I could do their job any better. I'm sure I would hate it as much as they do.

But nobody gives me a break when I fuck up at work. And I do a great job, 99 out of 100 times. So why should I be expected to give someone a break when they routinely fuck up at their job?

Who am I, Mother Theresa?
Fuck you and the donkey you rode in on.

If I need money and someone gives me money, I'm taking that money. And if you don't like it, then don't give me money that doesn't belong to me.

If you are going to talk on your cellphone, text message your friends and gossip with your co-workers while you should be doing your job -- and those distractions cause you to give me the wrong change -- that is not my problem.

That, my friend, is your problem.

If the incompetent moron who gave me $17.87 more than he should have at Auntie Anne's happens to be reading this, I'm sorry you don't know how to do your job. And I'm sorry that you may have had to reimburse the faceless, soulless corporation for whom you work out of your own meager paycheck.

So how about this? Next time, you do your job and then you won't lose any money? Okay?

And, as for whether or not I believe in God, it's moments like this - when I need money and it falls in my lap -- that make me believe in a higher power. The only difference is, my God doesn't care who you fuck, how you fuck them, or when you fuck them.

He just cares if you have enough money for a train ticket when you need to go to the doctor.


2007 World Series Champions!



I have two stories in print this week.

The first is a review of a wacky, new, one-woman show called Shirley at the Tropicana, now running at the Access Theater in Tribeca. The show features the fabulous Amanda Ronconi as a Lucy-esque character named Shirley.

Click here to read my review.

The second is an interview with writer Dan Bianchi, the founder of RadioTheatre.

Bianchi has adapted four classic H.G. Wells stories --
The War of the Worlds, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Time Machine -- as live, staged audio dramas, now playing at the 59E59 Theater in New York City. I reviewed Bianchi's live version of King Kong earlier this year and I love his old fashioned, pulpy approach to the classics.

Read my interview with Dan here.

If you are in New York, I recommend both Shirley and the H.G. Wells Festival. Both are worth your time and money.



This afternoon I had the pleasure of taking a Rush Hour ride on a Long Island Railroad train.

LIRR trains leave from Penn Station on the West Side of Manhattan, which is not to be confused with Grand Central Station on the East Side.

Grand Central is a beautiful and historic landmark, -- its large, sunlit concourse often featured in films, TV commercials and print ads. Penn Station is dark, ugly and cramped. It’s hidden away in the basement under Madison Square Garden, like somebody is trying to keep it a secret from the rest of the city. Which is not such a bad idea.

Once upon a time Penn Station was as stately and majestic as Grand Central, but it was demolished to make way for the ugly concrete blob called Madison Square Garden in 1964.

There’s talk of restoring Penn Station to its original grandeur, by moving it across the street to the structure that is now a huge post office. I think that’s a great idea. Who uses post offices anymore? I’m more likely to visit a blacksmith to get my horse re-shoed then I am to go to the post office.

The only people who may disagree with the move are the Long Islanders who like to get sloppy drunk at Rangers and Knicks games. They might have difficulty navigating the journey across 8th Avenue.

Today, I was heading for a town called Rockville Centre, sitting there amongst guys in cheap, rumpled suits drinking beer from paper bags while yakking on their cellphones in Lawn Guy-lind accents.

If I had made a few different decisions in my life, I could easily have ended up as one of those guys: fat, bald, middle-aged and living in the suburbs. I’d like to thank my ex-girlfriend Mary for breaking up with me ten years ago and preventing that from happening.

But that's not what this post is about.

I'm not working at my freelance job right now. I'm "between projects," which also means "unemployed" or, "getting paid by the government to do nothing." Of course, I'm writing my little newspaper stories, and getting my government assistance checks each week (thanks suckers!) but I'm broke. I'm go-to-the-Coinstar-machine broke.

This is the paradox of life in New York City. I make enough money to be considered wealthy just about anywhere in the world - except where I live. Instead, I'm loading up Zip-Loc bags with loose change and cashing it in, right beside the homeless guys at the Food Emporium.

I had to visit my less-than-beloved childhood home of Long Island for an appointment with my cardiologist. Why does a 38 year-old man have a cardiologist? Because I had two of my heart valves replaced almost ten years ago, two days after my 29th birthday.

How it all happened is a long story, but obviously it has a happy ending. At least so far. You'll have to wait for previously owned - the book (coming November, 2029)

My dilemma was, I needed to buy a $14 round-trip ticket for my train ride, but I had only $5 in cash. And none of my credit cards work anymore, because the various banks that issued them have realized I have no plans to pay them back.

I briefly considering panhandling, but I think the MacBook Pro in my hands would have discouraged people from donating to the worthy cause that is me. I had written a long speech about how I had heart surgery and needed money to go to my cardiologist. But then I remembered I had heard that same story from a guy begging in the Amtrak terminal.

It is because of these brief cash-flow problems that I carry around a credit card belonging to my father. I try not to use it too often because, when I do, my father has a bit of a breakdown and starts worrying about “losing the house.”

This is his right, of course. The card is his and the money that will eventually pay the bills is his as well. Of course I reimburse him any time I use the card. And by "reimburse" I mean "partially reimbursement when funds become available."

I planned to use my father’s card to but my ticket, so I decided to live large and use my $5 to buy a pretzel at Auntie Anne’s pretzel stand.

“Do you have any salt, no butter?” I asked the cashier.

“Yeah. It’s whole wheat,” he replied. “Is that okay?”

“Yes,” I answered.

“Okay, one salt, with no butter,” he said. “Out of twenty.”

This last remark confused me. I had not handed the guy a $20 bill, nor had I intended to. I didn’t have a $20 bill. But before I could say anything, he was handing me $17.87 along with my tasty pretzel.

I could have said any number of things, such as “I didn’t give you a $20.” or “Why are you giving me change?” or “Take back this money. It’s not mine.” But I didn’t say any of those things.

“Thanks,” is what I said, as I grabbed my newfound cash and my whole wheat, butter-free pretzel. Then I used the money to buy a round trip train ticket to Rockville Centre.

My parents always taught me that the Lord works in mysterious ways. And today, at Penn Station, I felt the Lord’s hand giving me $17.87.




Same show, only more prominently. This time in the weekly Smartix email blast.



Last night I met a friend for dinner at a macrobiotic restaurant in the Village.

I know what you're thinking - Will has friends? Who knew?

Yes, it's true. There are still a few people left who like to spend time with me. Hopefully that number will increase now that I've vowed to stop hooking up with my female friends.

As you might guess, the macrobiotic restaurant was my friend's idea. She's married, and she and her husband are trying to have a baby. Apparently seaweed helps you get pregnant. I always thought it was semen. I guess that explains why I don't have any kids.

Even after eating at the macrobiotic restaurant, I'm still not really sure what macrobiotic food is. It's sort of vegetarian, but they serve fish. It's sort of all-natural, but they served me a cranberry soda in a bottle.

However, they would not give me ice with my cranberry soda. I asked for it, but the waitress told me no. Because apparently ice is not macrobiotic.

"It shocks your system," she told me.

"So does your haircut," I replied. "But I'm not going to tell you to buy a brush. That would be rude. And, by the way, a little bit of makeup wouldn't hurt either."

There's an old theory that you shouldn't offend servers at restaurants because they might do something vile, like spit in your food. But in this case a little bit of spit from the homely waitress might have added some flavor.

I guess I'm just not cut out to be a macrobiotic person. If ice is a no-no, what would they say to my diet of caffeine, nicotine and the occasional line of coke?

So much food...and none of it any good.




Last week I wrote about how my interview with comedian Margaret Cho was included in the press kit for her new show The Sensuous Woman.

And now, for the second time in a week, I am being used to help promote a show in New York City.

Today I received an email blast for a show called The Quantum Eye, which I had seen and reviewed for The Villager and Downtown Express back in July.

I scrolled down a bit and guess who is quoted, right below the critic from the New York Post?

It doesn't matter how many times I see myself quoted like this. It still feels weird to me.



My story about the Catskills, and the films that take place there, is in the current edition of Downtown Express.

You can read it by clicking here.



From the 1920s until the 1950s, radio was the primary entertainment medium in American homes.

Families would gather around the radio and listen to every imaginable genre of programming: drama, comedy, kid's shows, horror and sci-
fi, news, sports, even soap operas. Radio transformed this country by uniting it in a way that no other art form had before. And, during War time, radio was a vital tool in informing the general public.

As more and more families bought TV sets in the early '50s, many popular radio shows made the transition from sound to picture. Highly-rated shows like The Jack Benny Program, Burns and Allen, You Bet Your Life, Dragnet, Gunsmoke and countless others -- many of which had been on radio for years (or in the case of Jack Benny, decades) -- helped to ease Americans to the new medium.

As the decline of radio and the growth of TV overlapped, a number of shows were featured on both media. By 1960, the Golden Age of Radio was long over, and commercial broadcast radio transitioned to the music, news and talk venue that we know today.

In the late 1970s, I discovered the art form known as OTR (short for "oldtime radio") through a mail order company called Radiola Records.

Yes, that's records, as in vinyl. I'm that old.

It's very possible that I was the only ten year-old in America back in 1978 orderings
LPs of the classic radio shows that entertained my parents' (and grandparents') generation. For me, it was like my own little secret. All this fun, all these laughs -- and it seemed like I was the only one who knew about it.

Thirty years later my ipod is filled with hundreds of classic radio shows. And now I've found a website where you can listen on-line to thousands of classic broadcasts - for free.

If you'd like to sample an art form that I have enjoyed for my entire life, click here.

There are a lot of shows on the site, so here are a few suggestions to get you started:

The Phil Harris and Alice Faye Show featured Jack Benny's band leader (Harris) and his actress wife. This is a remarkably hip and funny sitcom. Younger listeners may recognize Harris's distinctive singing voice from his later-in-life roles in Disney animated films: Baloo the Bear in Disney's The Jungle Book, Thomas O'Malley the alley cat in The Aristocats and Little John in Robin Hood.

Dragnet. As a kid, I loved the comedies, and I still do. But as an adult, I've developed an appreciation for some of the dramas. Listen to an episode of Dragnet, and pay attention to the low-key, restrained style of both the writing and the acting.

The Lux Radio Theatre ran for two decades, and featured adaptations of some of the most beloved films in Hollywood history, like The Wizard of Oz, All About Eve, It's a Wonderful Life and The Maltese Falcon (with Edward G. Robinson as Sam Spade). These sixty-minute audio versions of iconic films tell a more compact story than the original, serving as an alternate version of well-known classics.

Of course, like in all entertainment media, there are good radio shows and not-so-good ones. But if you're ever having a slow day at work, and interested in looking through a window to the American past, I encourage you to give some of these shows a try.

Maybe you'll like them as much as I do.



My Amazon.com Wish List



This is Maggie.

Maggie doesn't believe.

Maggie doesn't believe that you would like to buy me a present for my birthday.

Maggie doesn't believe that you, the loyal readers of previously owned, would bother to click on this button to buy me a present for my birthday (which is coming up on November 11):

My Amazon.com Wish List

Maggie doesn't believe that you appreciate 748 posts in the 834 days that previously owned has been in existence.

Maggie doesn't believe in 28,256 hits.

Maggie doesn't believe in 35,000+ page views.

Maggie doesn't believe that people appreciate things, and that they might feel that buying someone a book or a DVD or a Nintendo Wii game system to show their appreciation is a completely appropriate thing to do.

Maggie doesn't believe that someone might click on this button, which contains a list of things that I would like to own, that you could buy for me, and have shipped to me, with little or no inconvenience on your part:

My Amazon.com Wish List
Maggie doesn't believe. In you.

I do.

Let's prove Maggie wrong. Together.


Did anybody watch The Jazz Singer on Turner Classic Movies last night?

I had never seen it before, so I was surprised by a number of things. First of all, it's essentially a silent film with synchronized musical performances. All the dialogue scenes are silent, with the title cards that stood in for spoken lines in silent movies.

I was also struck by the unapologetic Judaism of the film. When was the last time you saw a movie about a family's celebration of Yom Kippur? Or a Jewish Cantor receive fourth billing in a blockbuster film from a major studio?

I just wrote a piece for the Downtown Express about films that take place in the Catskills, the famous Jewish vacation enclave in New York State. I interviewed a few filmmakers who had to fight even to get the words "Jew" or "Jewish" into the film.

Lastly, the blackface scenes in The Jazz Singer are so odd to watch today, although they were still relatively common at the time. Today, if a white performer rubbed black grease paint on his face and sang Mammy in a "black-sounding" voice, people would riot -- and rightly so.

There's a scene late in the film where the mother of Jolson's character pleads with him to come home, and to stay true to his heritage as a Jew. All the while, he is wearing blackface and an Afro.

It's amazing how much this country had changed in eighty years, for better and for worse.

(Note: For a fascinating explanation of the history of blackface and minstrelsy, click here.)



Tonight, Turner Classic Movies celebrates The Dawn of Sound with an historic evening of early talking pictures.

At 8 PM (with a rerun at 4:30 AM) is a restored print of the first-ever all-talking, all-singing picture The Jazz Singer, released in 1927. This historic film features the great Al Jolson as a young Jewish man caught between family tradition and his desire to be in show biz.

At 9:45 PM is a collection of some truly entertaining Vitaphone shorts from the early sound era.

In the late 1920s the Vitaphone Corporation produced a series of shorts with synchronized sound recorded on phonograph-style discs. These shorts are often the only extant recordings of many popular Vaudeville and music hall acts of the era.

Special credit goes to The Viataphone Project, a group which has led the effort to find, restore and release these remarkable films. I've seen two different collection of Vitaphone shorts at Film Forum in the last few years and they are truly a pleasure to watch and a rare view into a world that no longer exists.

The Jazz Singer, along with many of the restored Vitaphone shorts, has just been released on DVD in a special boxed set. I just thought I'd mention that someone who writes a blog has a birthday coming up on November 11.

If someone who reads a blog that someone writes feels like doing something nice for the writer of that blog that they read, that person could click on this button:

My Amazon.com Wish List

It's just a suggestion, of course. Either way, watch TCM tonight!



My sure-to-be-controversial review of Margaret Cho's sure-to-be-controversial show is in the current issue of Chelsea Now.

Read it by clicking



I write a lot about how much I love old movies. And I do love them.

I've also been accused of being an anti-current-movie snob. And I am an anti-current movie snob.

I will confess that sometimes I paint all recent movies with the same broad brush that I use to dismiss mainstream corporate Hollywood dreck. But every once in awhile I see a more recent film, and I'm reminded that they're not all bad.

In fact, some of them are pretty good.

Case in point: the 1999 romantic drama A Walk on the Moon.

I watched this movie last night, as research for a newspaper story I'm working on. I found it to be brilliantly written, well-acted and deeply touching.

And the best part about it is, on Friday afternoon I'm doing a phone interview with Pamela Gray, the screenwriter of the film.

I'm not going to tell you how to live your life but, if I were you, I would add this great film to my Netflix queue.



Tonight I watched a compelling documentary on cable about a teenage boy who killed his abusive mother and was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

It was the really disturbing story of a 15 year-old kid who was driven to the breaking point, and ended up taking a meat cleaver to his mom's chest in the kitchen of their well-appointed suburban home.

After the documentary ended and the credits rolled, I heard the announcer say "Next on HBO
Family...It's Martin Short in Innerspace.

I stopped for a minute and stared at the screen.

"Did they just say HBO
Family?" I asked out loud. "Don't they run cartoons on HBO Family?"

So I checked the program guide and yes, before the matricide documentary, HBO Family had aired the 2006 animated film Over the Hedge, starring the voice of Bruce Willis as "the wily raccoon RJ."

So let me get this straight, on HBO Family, they interrupt the children's movies every now and then with documentaries about children who hack their parents to death. Way to break up the monotony! The world can only take so many funny cartoon animal movies.

If I were a parent, and I saw that I had a channel called HBO Family, I might be inclined to turn it on and leave it on, as something of electronic babysitter. Then I might come back into the living room some time later and say to my kid, "Hey Billy, whatcha watching?"

"Oh, it's a movie called
Brett Killed Mom," Little Billy might answer. "It's about a boy who kills his mommy with a big giant knife. It's cool!"

And they wonder why kids in this country keep packing automatic weapons in their brown bag lunches.

They shouldn't call that channel HBO Family. They should call it HBO Dysfunctional Family.



For the last year, I've been working as an arts reporter and critic for three weekly papers in New York City.

During that period I've been in print nearly fifty times. It's always exciting for me to see my name in print, but its particularly gratifying when other people promote my work in the promotion of their own work.

In the last year, my articles have been re-printed and mounted on sandwich boards, posted on walls within theaters and excerpted on websites, post cards, posters, emails and myspace pages.

But the best part about this is, I get paid to go see shows that I would probably want to see anyway. And I get free tickets. It's a great situation, and it happens on a regular basis. But last Friday night was a first for me.

On Friday I went to a press preview of comedian Margaret Cho's new burlesque show at the Zipper Theater here in New York. I've been a big fan of Margaret since I first saw her on TV almost 20 years ago, and I had the opportunity to interview her over the phone recently for a story that appeared in both The Villager and Chelsea Now.

I went to the show on Friday for the purposes of reviewing it and, when I arrived, the publicist handed me a press kit. I sat down before the show began, opened the press kit and saw something that looked strangely familiar.

My interview with Margaret was part of the press kit.

And then, when I sat down on Saturday to work on my review, I read over everything in the press kit -- including my interview.
So, I used something that I wrote as research for something I was writing.

That was a first.





Last night I was a victim of re-wiping.

There's a protocol at the gym. If you use a piece of equipment and you sweat on it, you wipe off the sweat. It's not a big deal. It's nothing personal. It's just good hygiene and good manners.

But what you don't do is re-wipe when someone else has already wiped. Because that is just rude.

Case in point: last night I was using a contraption called the captain's chair. Basically you lean your forearms on two pads, grip the handles and do leg pull-ups. I'm not explaining it well, but hopefully you get the idea.

So I'm on this thing, struggling through a set of 15 leg lifts and a guy comes over and stands right next to me. I hate that.

"Sorry but can I work in?" he said, in that sissified, faux-apologetic voice that is reaching epidemic proportions in this city.

"Sure," I replied. "Just give me one minute."

That's what I said. What I meant was, "There are three floors of equipment in this place. Go use something else for 30 seconds and leave me the fuck alone."

But I didn't say that, because that would be bad manners. And I am all about good gym etiquette. I am the Emily Post of the Equinox Fitness Club.

So I finished up my leg lifts, hopped down and used my towel to wipe off any moisture that my damp shirt may have left on the black padding upon which my back was resting.

My impatient friend then stepped on, and proceeded to take his towel and re-wipe the black padding that I had just wiped off. And then, as a little fuck you, he wiped off the padding where my non-sweaty forearms had been.

Okay, first of all, I find re-wiping to be completely disrespectful and blatantly passive-aggressive. It suggests that I didn't do a good enough job of wiping or that I am so diseased and disgusting that you need to re-clean and area that has already been cleaned.

If you're going to re-wipe the padding that I just wiped, at least wait until I have left the area. Don't disrespect me in front of our fellow gym-goers. And don't correct my wiping job. Don't wipe the fore arm pads in this fey little manner, as if to slap me on the wrist.

It's like he was saying, "Oh...tee-hee..you forgot to wipe your FILTHY SWEAT off the fore arm pads. Let me just take care of that for you real quick. There we go! Now I can begin my work out without your disgusting bodily fluids messing up my rhythm."

Fuck you. How dare you re-wipe. How dare you imply that I am unclean, or have poor gym etiquette.

I so wanted to say something sarcastic to that guy, but I didn't. I have a habit of shooting my mouth off to strangers (as you know if you've been reading this space for a while) and I'm convinced my mouth is eventually going to get me killed.

The last time I was in a fight was 6th grade. And I lost. I haven't gotten any tougher in the 26 year since then. I have, however, gotten balder and fatter.

And sweatier.




On this day in 1890, Julius Henry Marx was born in New York City. You probably know him better by his stage name - Groucho.

People of all ages have heard of Groucho. He’s the funny guy with the mustache, the cigar and the dancing eyebrows. But awareness of his work, and of the films of the Marx Bros., has been on the decline for decades.

I discovered the Marx Bros. back in 1978, after a renewal of their popularity in the earlier part of that decade. Groucho had done a comeback performance of story telling and singing in 1972 at Carnegie Hall that was released on LP as An Evening with Groucho. Soon after, Marx Bros. films (such as 1930's Animal Crackers) were re-released theatrically for the first time in a generation, drawing long lines at New York City revival houses.

There were books about Groucho and his brothers, Broadway shows (like Minnie’s Boys and A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine) and an unofficial canonization effort by high-profile fans like Woody Allen and Dick Cavett.

There was even a poster of Groucho, Harpo and Chico smoking a hookah (from 1946’s A Night in Casablanca) that became a fixture in college dorm rooms around the nation.

It was hip to be a Marx Bros. fan back in the 1970s. And Groucho’s honorary Academy Award in 1974, and the retrospective appreciation that followed his death in 1977, only served to further the legacy.

In the 1970s and early ‘80s here in New York City you could watch Groucho’s films on broadcast television with some frequency -- maybe once every week or two. Nowadays, the only channel where you can find those films is Turner Classic Movies – and they are few and far between.

And that's what it's all about. Exposure is the key. If young people today don't have an opportunity to gain appreciation for classic comedy, they won't seek it out. Maybe a few contrarians will, but most will not.

It's ironic that -- thanks to DVD -- Marx Bros. films (and Groucho's solo movies) are easier to find than ever before. Back in the Pre-VCR Dark Ages of the early '80s I would set my alarm clock to get up at 2 AM to watch films like A Day at the Races on The Late Show. Today, all you have to do is add the DVD to your Netflix queue.

And yet, with all the material so readily available, the cultural relevancy of classic comedy is substantially on the decline. And it's not just Groucho and his Brothers. It’s Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, the Little Rascals, Abbott and Costello (coincidentally Bud Abbott was also born on this date, back in 1897) and so many others.

And don't even get me started on silent comedy stars, like Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Harold Lloyd.

It's ironic that, back in the days before cable TV, viewers actually had more exposure to different types of movies and television shows. TV was far less segregated by content then. I would fall asleep at 3:30 AM after watching an old Marx Bros film on WCBS-TV and wake-up to a kids show called Captain Kangaroo at 7 AM, which was followed by news, game shows and soap operas. Today we have a separate channel for each of those genres.

Greater access to content is a good thing, but you have to give people a reason to seek out that content. If you don’t, the audience for that genre will dwindle.

I was thinking about why I love old movies - particularly old comedies - so much, and how that came to be. I'm not sure exactly, but I think it all started with The Little Rascals.

Back in the mid-to-late-1970s, I would race home after school and switch on the TV. There were seven channels to choose from: ABC, CBS, NBC, PBS and three local, independent stations. Here in New York, two of the independent stations - Channels 5 and 11 - aired kids programming in the afternoons, leading up to the dinner hour.

Today those stations are a Fox and a CW affiliate. They have the money and clout of multi-national entertainment conglomerates behind them. But thirty years ago, they were just piddly little local TV stations trying to make ends meet.

Channels 5 and 11 aired old theatrical cartoons like Bugs Bunny and Tom and Jerry, old sitcom reruns like Gilligan’s Island and The Munsters and old comedy shorts like the Three Stooges and the Little Rascals - not because they had demographic testing that showed that kids liked old stuff. They ran these programs because they were cheap.

Of course we didn't know that. We just liked the fact that, Monday through Friday from 2:30 until 5 PM, we had custody of two TV channels. That was our time. And it was even better on Saturdays, when the major networks would run cartoons and the indies would counter with full-length comedy features, like Abbott and Costello comedies and the Blondie series of films from the 1940s.

Now all of that is gone. Not really, but it feels like it is.

I know there are parents my age trying to turn their kids on to the great old comedies. And sometimes it works. This summer I saw a dad with his young son at a screening of Buster Keaton's The Cameraman at Film Forum in New York.

I watched the kid laugh his head off and, as he walked out, I heard him say to his father, "It was funny. But not as funny as The General." This ten or eleven year-old kid was speaking from an informed perspective about these films - because his father was making an effort to expose him to a dying art form.

But this is the exception, not the rule. Compare that to just thirty years ago, when every kid in my class watched The Little Rascals after school and talked about it the next day.

It's ironic that TV embraced black and white theatrical content for so many years. It was the life blood of early TV. And then TV went to color in the mid 1960s and cable gained national popularity in the early 1980s and soon all of it was gone, pushed first to just two channels (American Movie Classics and TCM) and now, to just one.

Because programmers refuse to believe that you don't have to be old to enjoy an old movie.

I'd like to tell you to watch TCM tonight, to catch an old Marx Bros. classic in honor of Groucho's birthday. But I can't do that.

Tonight, Turner Classic Movies is airing
A River Runs Through it.

What year was that classic made? 1992.




WILL McKINLEY, a handsome, thirty-something writer exits an uptown subway train, ascends the sticky staircase and pushes his way through the turnstile. He notices a foul odor and smell-tracks it to a grimy homeless man standing near the entrance, like a sentry guarding a castle. The SMELLY MAN makes eye contact with Will.

Hey, do you have some change?

Hold on. I'll see what I've got.

Will fishes through the pockets of his stylishly faded brown shorts. He pulls out a coin and hands it to the SMELLY MAN.

Thanks. Wait a minute. Did you just hand me a nickel?

Yes. You asked if I had any change, and that's what I had in my pocket.

A nickel?

Yes. A nickel.

You just gave me a nickel.

That is correct. I just gave you a nickel.

That's embarrassing.

For which one of us?

For you.

Well, we could debate that theory. But you look like you're busy...

I'm not busy.

Well then can I offer you some constructive feedback?


Maybe you should change your pitch. Don't say,
"Do you have some some change?" say something like,
"Do you have some change that is larger than one nickel?"
Then that will let prospective donors know that you have
a minimum donation of a dime or greater.

Well I said 'some change.' I think that implies that
I'm looking for more than just one nickel.
I mean come on. That's just common sense.

It's actually five cents, but who's counting.

I am.

Oh right. I forgot. Can I offer you another piece of advice?

Does it come with another nickel?

No it doesn't. But my point is,
while we're having this conversation,
dozens are people are walking past you.
Those people are all potential donors.
I mean, I'm enjoying our witty repartee,
but this conversation is not making you any money.
It's actually losing you money.

Okay, so can I have some more money
to make up for what I lost because of you?

You see, that's circular logic. I don't agree with your premise.
I gave you money. You didn't lose money because of me.

But you just said I did.

Well, I said you were losing money....

Because I'm talking to you!

But I didn't say it was my fault.

But you're the only person I'm talking to.
Do you see anyone else standing here?

No, but...

Exactly my point. Now why don't you
just give me a dollar and we'll call it even.

Um. Okay.

Will reluctantly opens his wallet, pulls out a dollar and hands it to the SMELLY MAN.

Thanks. I hope we can do business again soon.

WILL exits the station and makes a mental note to avoid that particular entrance in the future.



Except this guy.

He's the only one who didn't embarrass himself this season.