12.29.2007

MOMMY AND ME

She was before her time.

Everything about her attitude, her persona, her carriage suggested a “liberated” woman, yet she was born in the middle of The Great Depression and married during the height of the 1950s.

She told me once that she married my father because he had a good job and a new car. Plenty of marriages before and since have had lesser foundations. It worked for them for 52 years.

I always felt like she wanted more than she had, to achieve more in her life than she did. And yet she still wanted my father to take care of her, like the other new husbands of 1955 did.

Was she caught between two eras? I think so. Did she listen to the radio in the ‘40s or watch the World War II-era movies? Did she hear the message “We can do it!” and see those posters with the bandanna-headed woman?

Maybe she took that to heart and then – when society tried to push the girls back into being girls, with their pearls and frilly dresses and spotless homes – maybe she balked then.

She was tough. She was in a gang when she was in high school. And she smoked when she was a teenager – maybe 13? I think she said 15. Either way, it was still the ‘40s. She was a bad girl.

No, not bad. Tough. I guess that’s what attracted her to my father. She was tough and he was nice, sweet, gentle. Sometimes too much.

I remember listening to her yell at him when I was growing up, and thinking, “Why doesn’t he yell back?” That made me think less of him, until years later, when the white-knuckled panic of aging changed him. Not totally. But enough to make me realize what he had been, and to respect it more.

She told me once (paraphrasing), “He didn’t tell me that I couldn’t work. But I knew he didn’t want me to.” So she stopped working. She had been an administrator in an office. Her boss was named Bob.

For many years my parents stayed close with Bob and his wife Myrna. They used to come over every Christmas even when my sister and I were kids. I think it was my parents’ form of Christian outreach – sharing the birth of Christ (and some Harvey’s Bristol Cream) with a Jewish couple.

Bob and Myrna disappeared from the Christmas radar when they divorced. Divorce was a no-no for my parents who, in their later years, became Pre-Cana counselors at our church.

I remember visiting them once, at our house on Long Island, when they were concluding a counseling session with a young Catholic couple about to marry.

I tried not to crack up. My parents telling people how to be a married couple? Ha. Then the girl (I don’t remember her name) said to me, “Your parents are so great. Such an inspiration.”

Well, what do I know? You can never be objective when you’re in the middle of something.

I always felt like I was in the middle of them. I was so much closer with my mother than I was with my father. It makes sense, of course.

After she miscarried (more than once?) my parents decided to adopt. They filled out the paperwork, endured the home visits from social workers and then I was born.

The fact that my birth happened on their wedding anniversary was entirely coincidental. Maybe. But by March they had me. And my mother and I became, as she put it once, “buddies.”

She had filled in the space where a job and/or children should have been, all through the ‘60s. Volunteer work. Arts and crafts. And Girl Scouts.

My Mom was a Girl Scout leader. I haven’t spent a lot of time around Girl Scout leaders recently, but I don’t think they make them like her any more. She threw herself into that (non-paying) job in the same way that she threw herself into everything she did. 100% all the way.

By the time I came around she was in the process of planning a “Trek” to Wyoming and the Dakotas with her troop. I think it was summer of 1971, so I was two. We still have the Super 8 film (now on VHS) of me riding on my father’s back in a backpack.

And there is Mrs. McKinley, the leader of the pack (literally). She called the shots and everyone listened. Or else!

I went everywhere with her when I was little. I just had to be home in time for Bozo. That was the rule. Then she would make me lunch and we would watch TV. Together.

We watched a lot of TV together. It sounds odd, but my mother turned me on to soap operas when I was little. I wrote a joke about it, back when I was pursuing my dream of stand-up comedy:

When I started first grade, my Mom went back to work. So my job was to watch her soap operas and report on what happened.

That was back in the ‘70s, before VCRs. Or child abuse laws.

And if something really important was going to happen on one of her soaps, my Mom would make me stay home from school. Then she’d send me to class the next day with a note:

Please excuse Billy from school yesterday. Luke and Laura broke up.

She had started her own business, teaching quilting and handcrafts with her friend Leona. They called it Which?Craft. She was good with names.

That joke I wrote is not entirely true. General Hospital (starring Luke and Laura) was about the only soap we didn’t watch together. Another World, The Edge of Night, The Guiding Light, Texas, Search for Tomorrow. I loved to fake being sick so I could sit there all day with her and watch. We’d drink tea, with milk and sugar. Actually it was Sweet 'n Low. Remember, it was the '70s.

And when we got a VCR in 1980, we would “time shift” and watch them at night. My poor father knew everything that was going on in Bay City, Monticello, Springfield. But he never complained about it.

Everything that’s good – and bad – about me can be traced back to her. She had me convinced that I was something special. And I acted like it.

I think she had some sort of a book, for adoptive parents, that said, “Always remind the child that he is special. And loved, because you chose him.” And that’s how I felt.

It caused some friction beginning at about age 12, and there were years where my mother and I did not much else but fight. But even when we would battle, it was like two worthy adversaries jousting. And at the end we would declare a truce and retain our mutual respect.

Fighting, yelling, raised voices – that was love, for us. And we did a lot of loving from about 1982 until I finally moved out almost ten years later.

I would love to say that our relationship became magically transformed after that. But it didn’t. Until 1997. That year I became very sick and almost died. I spent months in various hospitals and my mother was always there, strong, fighting still. Because even though she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, she was still that tough girl that married my father.

She did some research and dragged my father to a meeting with a specialist at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. He had a way to treat the aneurism in my brain without carving open my skull. She told me about it. I called him on the phone from my hospital bed. And I was sold. And saved.

I am a different person today because she advocated for me then. And I will be a different person for the rest of my life. I have her to thank for the thick scar that is not – thankfully -- around the perimeter of my bald head, calling attention to itself, condemning me to the role of “survivor” of something or other.

Thanks for that. And for all the other things that I can’t remember right now. I wish I could have done a better job being your advocate. But hopefully you know that I tried.

On Thursday night, the night before she died…it’s hard to type that word…the night before she left us for a better place (I hope such a place exists) my father called me on the phone and said, “Mommy will be okay. She’s a tough girl.”

And then, as if to convince himself, he repeated it: “Always been a tough girl.”

I will never forget that tough girl. And she will be with me – informing me, advising me, and inspiring me to achieve -- for as long as I live.

Billy and Mommy - April, 2007

Please forgive me for posting something this intensely personal. But this is my way of grieving and remembering. I hope you will understand.

12.27.2007

JET BLUE WIGS ME OUT

I spent Christmas in Ft. Lauderdale at my sister and brother-in-law’s house with my three nieces (ages 9, 5 and 1), my two parents (ages 78 and 72) and a German Shepard named Tito (age 35, in dog years).

Traveling each way was a nightmare. Of course. What more should I expect from Jet Blue, the Greyhound Bus of the air? Actually, that’s not fair to Greyhound.

I could tell you how my outbound flight on Sunday was more than three hours late and how my return flight arrived at JFK at 2:30 this morning. But what would be the point of that? I know what I’m getting when I fly Jet Blue, and I usually get it (and then a little bit more).

I’m just glad that I’m not the kind of person who loves Christmas and looks forward to it all year long. Because flying Jet Blue at this time of year totally obliterates any positive feelings you may have about the Season, leaving you feeling exhausted and sick to your stomach.

Jet Blue is like chemotherapy for Holiday spirit.

All I can say is, thank God I’m already bald.

STOP Flying on Jet Blue!

12.25.2007

THE 12 (HILARIOUS) DAYS OF CHRISTMAS

My niece Laura is You Tube's newest star!

MERRY CHRISTMAS


12.24.2007

IT'S A WONDERFUL REBUTTAL

Yesterday I wrote a rebuttal to a reader who had praised the new colorized version of It's a Wonderful Life in response to my dismissal of it.

Today my rebuttal was further rebutted by Barry Sandrew, the Founder and Chief Operating Officer of Legend Films, the company that produced the colorized version that appears on the new two-DVD set from Paramount.

Could there by any more appropriate time for a scholarly debate about It's a Wonderful Life than on Christmas Eve -- the night that most of the movie's story takes place and the occasion for it's annual broadcast on NBC?

Just in case some of you were too distracted by Santa's impending arrival to peruse the comments section, here is a repost of the comment:
12/24/2007 03:35:00 PM

Will -

I consider it admirable that you took the time to go back and view the colorized version of It's A Wonderful Life based on a reader's comment and I'd like to respond to a few things that you wrote in your post.

Unlike Hollywood remakes, colorization is not intend to replace or modernize black and white classics. Nor does the release of a colorized version somehow indicate that the black and white version is somehow flawed.

A colorized film is a legitimate color interpretation of the original black and white version and is in no way a statement against that original version. Indeed Legend Films and all the major studios fully restore the black and white film as an essential pre-requisite to the colorization process. We all include the restored black and white version along side the colorized version in each DVD or DVD Set we release.

Another misconception is that colorization is somehow applied by technicians who have no sensitivity to the original film. Colorization is a unique art form in it's own right, produced by some of the most talented color designers in the film industry. The design team that produced the color version of It's A Wonderful Life are expert in all aspects of current and past film production including set design, costume design, lighting, cinematography, etc.

I can understand how some people, heavily invested in the original format might find it distracting viewing their perenial classic in color. But for the vast majority of people (as evidenced by the record sales of this DVD set this season) there is a demand and appreciation for the color version. Choice appears to be an important consideration.

Will, I hope you don't consider this spam. This is a legitimate response to your post from the producer of the colorized release of It's A Wonderful Life. Over the past weeks I've noted a few reviewers who discount the colorized release out of hand, without even taking the time to view it. I consider such an uninformed review extremely unprofessional, and a serious disservice to their readers.

I applaud the fact that you took the time to view the color DVD before writing your informed opinion.

Happy Holidays to you and your readers.

Barry B. Sandrew, Ph.D.
Founder/COO, CTO
Legend Films, Inc.
http://www.legendfilms.com

First of all, I have no desire to rebut the rebuttal to my rebuttal of a rebuttal.

Got that?

But I will admit that I agree with much of what Barry says. And, upon extensive review of their website and catalog of current releases, my feelings toward Legend Films are very positive. Any company that is working hard to expose a new generation of kids to Shirley Temple, Our Gang, the Three Stooges, Abbott & Costello and Plan 9 From Outer Space is a-okay in my book.

While I may consider Its a Wonderful Life to be a sacrosanct pieces of art that should not be altered by anyone for any reason, I do acknowledge the realities of the marketplace. And, as I said in one of my comments, anything that gets more eyeballs on this film is fundamentally a good thing.

I wish that kids today loved black & white like I did when I was a kid, back in the 1970s and '80s. But, alas, such is not the case.

For instance: I went to see a holiday showing of Miracle on 34th Street on the big screen a week and a half ago. It was in black & white (of course) and the quality of the print was surprisingly poor.

There were a number of kids in the audience that night. I could just hear their parents after the show saying to them, "See what I mean? That was great! Wasn't that great? That was great, wasn't it?"

But I wonder how those kids really felt. Will they now remember that great film as somehow flawed because of poor print quality? Will they now associate black & white with imperfection, perhaps even more so than they already do?

And, how can you convince them to appreciate a dogeared black & white print when there's a pristine, Legend-produced color version of Miracle on 34th Street available on DVD?

Yes, film fans, it's a tough row to hoe.

Regardless, those of us who fall on the black & white side of this line owe Legend mad props for producing the flawless digital restoration of the BLACK & WHITE version of It's a Wonderful Life that appears on the two-disc DVD -- along with their color version.

This is a debate that will never end. But I would like to thank Barry Sandrew for taking the time to respond to my blog post in such a thoughtful and considerate manner.

And I would like to wish him -- and all of you -- a Merry Christmas.

TO COLORIZE OR NOT TO COLORIZE?

In my last post I referenced the new DVD of It’s a Wonderful Life, a two-disc set which includes a colorized version of the 1946 classic.

“Tragic” is the word that I used to describe the inclusion of the blasphemous color version on the second disc of the set.

An anonymous reader took me to task for that, writing:

This latest colorized one is truly amazing. I saw it with my family last evening and we all forgot it wasn't originally shot that way. I think you should watch it if you haven't already. This appears to be the definitive color version as well.

In fairness, I had not watched it. So I did as requested. I braved the utterly predictable Holiday madness at the Virgin Megastore in New York City and picked up the Paramount release for $19.99.

Then I watched one of my favorite black & white movies of all time -- in color.

There's no question that this effort is superior to the “original” colorized version that first appeared in the 1980s. That one looked like it had been created by a nine-year-old in Photoshop class. The colors were muted and smeary and characters left a blurry trail whenever they moved across the screen.

To whoever approved the release of that travesty, I say the following (paraphrasing George Bailey): “A pox on him for a clumsy lout.”

I managed to avoid the second colorized version, assuming that better than terrible is still terrible. And I would have taken the same approach to this third try, had I not been challenged to do otherwise.

I’ll say this about the new color version, it’s a lot better that the first one. But I still wish it had never been done.

The very act of colorizing a black & white movie (or TV show, or anything, for that matter) implies a flaw in the original work. I reject that notion. Black & white is not a drawback, an impairment, a defect. In fact, I consider it to be just the opposite.

Black & white is what makes many of my favorite films (and TV shows) truly timeless. From The Maltese Falcon to The Munsters, the moody, atmospheric look of black & white is inherent to what makes some of the classic works of Hollywood so memorable.

It’s a Wonderful Life is no different. Although it has an uplifting conclusion, it’s primarily a dark film. After all, the dramatic turning point of the movie is the lead character’s near suicide.

To remake that story in vibrant, pastel hues is to soften it, to (literally) brighten the darkness of the villainous Mr. Potter – a man who is the living embodiment of creepy black & white menace.

The current marketplace has taught an entire generation that black & white film is a quaint defect – something that American popular culture has evolved beyond.

Again, I reject that notion. Many filmmakers (and still photographers) use black & white today to convey a mood that color film/video often cannot.

I believe that movies are an art form. And I believe that art should not be altered, unless that alteration is done (or supervised/approved) by the artist. And, in the case of a motion picture, the director is the artist.

George Lucas decided to revise the original Star Wars trilogy twenty years after the fact. That is his prerogative. It’s his art. (Although he only directed the first movie, the other two are considered to works of his vision.)

If Frank Capra supervised a colorization of It’s a Wonderful Life, I would gladly accept it as part of the canon. But he didn’t do that and can’t do that now. Which leaves fundamentally important artistic judgments in the hands of technicians.

That is bastardization of art for commercial purposes.


And while the new version is technically superior to the two previous color versions, I still find it to be flawed. There’s an unnatural perfection to the faces, a similarity of skin tones that makes the film look cartoonish.

I choose to watch movies in a manner as close to the way the director intended as is possible. That means letterboxed (if the film was produced in wide screen format), unedited and commercial free.

As a rule, I don’t watch movies on commercial television and I particularly avoid so-called “pan and scan” airings, which I actually consider to be worse than colorization - because a technician rethinks a director’s widescreen framing for a TV aspect ratio.

So, to my anonymous reader, I’m glad to hear that you and your family watched one of my favorite movies of all time, and enjoyed it.

But next time why not give the black & white version a try?

12.22.2007

"IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE" ON THE BIG SCREEN IN NEW YORK CITY

It's a Wonderful Life is now playing at the IFC Center on 6th Avenue and West 3rd Street, through Christmas Day. The 1946 classic screens three times daily, at 11:40 AM, 2:20 PM and 7 PM.


Maggie and I went to see the film tonight. The print looked great and the crowd was a near sellout.

It's amazing how this movie has transmogrified from public domain cast-off to venerable Holiday tradition in only 30 years. The film itself (but not the story) fell into the public domain in 1974. After that, any broadcast or cable TV station could air It's a Wonderful Life, -- all they needed was a copy. And from the looks of the prints that aired back then, a few channels were just broadcasting bad recordings of competitors' airings.

By the mid-80s, it was not unusual to find
It's A Wonderful Life airing dozens of times, on dozens of channels, over the course of the Christmas season.

I distinctly remember a Christmas Eve circa 1987 or '88 where the movie ran simultaneously on at least five different channels available on my Long Island cable TV system - in both the original black & white and a blasphemously colorized version. It was also released on VHS (in both versions) by just about every small-time home video distributor.

This accidental ubiquity ingrained Frank Capra's film into the Christmas experience for a generation of Americans. At times it seemed as though the film was running for office - sort of like a contender for president who swamps the TV with campaign commercials in the last days of an election.

And in a sense, It's A Wonderful Life was campaigning for something -- to retroactively earn a permanent position in the public consciousness a generation after it's initial, less than stellar performance at the box office in December of 1946 and January of 1947.

It worked.

Nowadays, after years of confused copyright ownership, the broadcast and cable rights are held exclusively by NBC. The film airs twice each Christmas season, usually once in the middle of the month and again on Christmas Eve - the only two occasions in a given year when a black & white film airs on a broadcast TV network.

It's also available in a definitive home video edition, just released on November 14 (the rights are now controlled by Paramount). Tragically, that package includes a recently re-done colorized version (the third one produced).

But a new highpoint has been achieved with this year's theatrical release of It's a Wonderful Life. And it's not just a single showing, it's three showings per day for a week.

It's a long overdue show of respect for an unforgettable film that has become synonymous with this special time of the year.

12.20.2007

A VERY AWKWARD CHRISTMAS

Last night I went to my office Christmas party.

And, as usual, I found myself right in the middle of an awkward situation with a female co-worker. But this time it wasn’t my fault.

Here’s the back-story.

Two weeks ago I offered to set up a female co-worker – we’ll call her “Jane -- with a single friend of mine. It’s not like my co-worker asked me to do this. I was just trying to be nice. That’s who I am. I’m a nice person.

Jane has a great personality AND she’s attractive, but she is perennially single – and not happy about it.

I called my friend – we’ll call him “John” (even though his name is actually Paul) -- and asked him if he would describe his current status as “single.”

“Why do you ask?” John replied from Atlanta, where he was working on a business trip.

“Don’t worry, it’s not for me,” I answered. “And it’s not for Maggie either. Sorry to disappoint you.”

After a bit of cajoling, John confirmed his unattached status and I described Jane to him. He was cautiously optimistic.

“Have I ever steered you wrong?” I asked him.

“No, but you’ve never steered me right, either,” he said.

“Exactly,” I replied. “I have a perfect track record.”

After I got off the phone with John, I described him to Jane. She was intrigued.

“He’s out of town,” I said. “But maybe we can all get together a week from Friday and go to a movie.”

Jane balked at the movie idea, suggesting that two hours in the dark was not a great way to get to know someone.

“Well I guess that depends on what you want to know about them,” I replied. There’s nothing I enjoy more than inappropriate workplace conversation.

Jane suggested that perhaps Maggie and I could get together with John on a Saturday night, and that she would join us later in the evening for a drink.

“Okay,” I said. “I told him that we’d talk when he gets back to New York on Wednesday."

And that’s where we left it. In my mind, the plans were totally up in the air – to be confirmed when John got back to New York.

But apparently, that’s not what Jane thought.

This past Saturday at 6:30 PM, my phone buzzed with a text message from Jane, asking what time we were meeting. This was a surprise to me.

I had called John a few days prior and found out that he was still in Atlanta and was going to be there through the weekend. But I didn’t think I needed to tell Jane that, because we had never – in my mind – made a specific plan.

I called John just to see if maybe he had come back early. No answer. Then I replied to Jane’s text and invited her to go to the movies with Maggie and me, but explained that it was just us. Moments later she replied, turned me down and suggesting that she didn’t like being “the third wheel.” And that was that.

Until the Christmas Party.

I walked in and saw Jane over by the bar. I pushed through the crowd and said hi.

“Are you around this coming weekend?” I asked Jane, as I grabbed an Amstel Light from an ice chest.

“Oh no!” she said in a loud voice. “One rejection is enough for me!”

It occurred to me that wherever this conversation was going, it wasn’t somewhere good.

I explained to Jane that Saturday wasn’t a rejection, that John had been out of town when we spoke and only got back on Sunday. I then reminded her that our plans had never been finalized, not had they been confirmed prior to Saturday, which would have been proper protocol on Jane’s part.

“You can’t just text me on Saturday night at 6:30 to confirm a plan for Saturday night,” I replied. “I had no idea that you thought it was a firm date.”

The conversation went down hill from there.

Honestly, I have no idea how or why it went so wrong. All I know is that I tried to do something nice for a co-worker and I get branded as a thoughtless “typical straight guy.”

I may be a lot of things but I am certainly not a “typical straight guy.” I’d rather you think of me as gay, than “typically straight.”

So now I have this weird awkward thing with yet another female co-worker -- just because I wanted to help her.

Honestly, I blame it all on the Christmas party. If we had had this conversation in the work place, without alcohol involved, I have a sense it would have gone differently.

Further proof that office Holiday parties should be abolished.

12.19.2007

FUN WITH FOX MOVIE CHANNEL

Nobody loves Turner Classic Movies more than I do. But another cable network has recently earned a spot on my list of favorites.

Fox Movie Channel began life more than 13 years ago as FXM - Movies from Fox. It was rechristened and relaunched in 2000 and, like TCM, it shows movies the way God intended -- uncut, commercial-free and in proper format.

But best of all, Fox Movie Channel shows old movies - everything from the mid-1930s through the '90s.


FMC is no TCM -- not even by a long shot. They run way too many recent films, over and over again (a recent and unfortunate programming change). But they do run a number of fun old comedies and musicals from the '30s and '40s, usually in the morning or early afternoon.

So crank up those TiVos!


Last night Maggie and I watched Sun Valley Serenade, a 1941 musical starring John Payne (the male lead from Miracle on 34th Street) and Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie (yes, she was a Hollywood star for a few years).

In the supporting cast were Milton Berle, Joan Davis, the Glenn Miller Orchestra and the singing group The Modernaires.


There are some great musical numbers in this film. Here's a clip of the Glenn Miller Orchestra performing Chattanooga Choo Choo.

The guy with the glasses is Glenn Miller himself. The singer is Dorothy Dandridge and the dancers are the amazingly flexible and energetic Nicholas Brothers:




I'M DREAMING OF AN AWKWARD CHRISTMAS

Every year at this time I am struck by the same thought: office Christmas parties should be abolished.

You know I'm right. Absolutely no good can come of putting a bunch of people who work together in a room with tons of free alcohol. It's a recipe for disaster.

I have a history of getting myself into troublesome situations at these events.

A few years ago I was chatting with a lovely young British co-worker at the company Holiday party. She and I had spoken on a few occasions, but never before had alcohol been involved.

There were drag performers at the party and my co-worker remarked about how there were so many guys at work with ambiguous sexuality. She couldn't tell if half of them were gay or straight.

"So how about me?" I asked her. "What do you think? Am I gay or straight?"

In retrospect, I wish I hadn't asked that question. But I did. And when the answer was not the correct one, I only compounded the awkwardness.

"Not only am I straight," I said to her, after a gulp of my Amstel Light. "I've also been lusting after you for quite some time."

As you might guess, the conversation ended pretty quickly after that.

We never really talked to each other again, which I think was probably for the best.

12.18.2007

FUNNY SNL PARODY OF "IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE"

12.16.2007

MIRACLE ON KENNEDY BLVD.

On Friday night I went to the Loew's Jersey Theater to see a special holiday showing of the original Miracle on 34th Street, one of my favorite movies of all time.

I had been to the theater for the first time a few weeks earlier, and had returned a few days later to interview Colin Egan (the director of the Friends of the Loew's) for a feature story that appears in the current editions of both The Villager and Downtown Express.

That's the thing I enjoy most about writing for the papers to which I contribute: they may not be read by millions, but I get to write about topics that have personal significance for me. And the story of this theater, which is slowly being stored to it's original 1929 grandeur by a team of dedicated volunteers, really touched me.

I arrived at the Theater early on Friday night and happily noticed a long line snaking down Kennedy Blvd. I took my place on line, behind a group of three middle-aged women. The women were talking loudly, clearly excited by the occasion.

I find this a lot.

I tend to enjoy experiences, hobbies, events, etc. that attract a certain fanatical fringe element of society. In fact, I am a member of that fanatical fringe. Only I hide it better than certain other people do.

Foe example, I don't just start talking to random strangers on line about how excited I am to be somewhere - even if I am excited to be there. Perhaps I should do this more. Maybe I should be less concerned about being cool and be more open to looking like the closet fanatic that I am.

Regardless, the women in front of me on line at the Loew's was very interested in me and in sharing her excitement with me.

"How many times have you seen this movie?" she asked me.

"Oh, many times," I answered, trying not to smirk. I wasn't laughing at her in particular, just at the fact that I meet these people all the time: at Mets games, autograph signings, fan conventions and on line for old movies at revival houses (like this one).

And they all have that same, slightly wild-eyed expression on their faces. That expression tells me that they have been looking forward to this event for quite some time. As have I. I just do a better job of managing my enthusiasm.

Again, we can debate whether of not that is a good thing. But let's do that at another time, shall we?

"How old are you?" the crazy lady asked me.

"Um, 38," I answered, which was a lie. I'm 39, but it's only been that way for a few weeks, and I haven't come to terms with it yet.

"No," the lady replied. "You're as old as your tongue and a bit older than your teeth!"

This was followed by a brief, awkward silence.

"Don't you remember?" she added. "That's what Santa Claus says when they ask him how old he is!"

"Right," I answered. For once I was proud of myself for not memorizing every single aspect of something I enjoy. Then I remembered that I was a reporter, and good reporters ask questions. So I did.

"Do you live nearby?" I asked, not to suggest that she should invite me back after the screening to look at her memorabilia collection which, I'm sure, is impressive. No, I wanted to know if, by some chance, my story had had inspired her to come.

"I live in the city," she answered. "I've been coming here for years."

Oh well. But the purpose of my article was to convince people from Manhattan to make the short trip to the theater. And I still felt proud that both of us New Yorkers were there, on line, in Jersey City, to see a great old movie.

We got inside and the newly restored pipe organ was belching out Christmas classics. I sat down and enjoyed the deep, resonant sound. Moments later I noticed that my line buddy - seated not far from me - had taken it upon herself to launch an impromtou sing along.

I would have expected nothing less.

Maggie joined me in the audience, just in time for the actual, scheduled singalong to begin. We all sang Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and other old Holiday chesnuts, with the booming accompaniment of a fully restored, 1920s era theater organ.

Then the movie began. The first few reels of the print were a bit beaten up and audible gasps arose from the audience during skips, or missing chunks during reel changes. But for me, this was a small price to pay for seeing one of two greatest Holiday movies of all time on the big screen.

Afterwards, Maggie and I walked across the street to the PATH train station for our return trip to Manhattan. I looked for my friend, but didn't see her. I wouldn't be surprised if she lingered in the theater until they kindly asked her to leave.

Then again, I would have done the same thing, if I could have gotten away with it. But Maggie's presence tends to help me temper my fanaticism.

All of us fanatics need someone to help us keep things in perspective.
--

If you'd like to read my story on the Loew's Jersey Theater, click here.

If you'd like to listen to 60-minute audio versions of Miracle on 34th Street and my other Holiday favorite It's a Wonderful Life, as performed by the original stars on The Lux Radio Theater, click here.

12.13.2007

AU BON PAINFUL

Have you ever noticed that certain words or phrases become buzzwords, and no one really knows why or how it happened?

I experienced this first hand today when I had lunch at Au Bon Pain on 5th Avenue and 15th Street in New York City.

It was 12:30 PM, the middle of the lunch hour rush and the place was packed. The only available seat was on a small couch next to the cash register. So I sat down, inches from the last of the four busy registers, and unwrapped my smoked turkey on ciabatta with brie, cucumber and tomato.

And I listened. I listened to the cashiers interacting with the stressed-out, always-in-a-rush New Yorkers, anxious to get back to their desks.

After each of the four sales clerks completed a transaction, he or she summoned the next person on line. But the cashiers didn't say "next" or "next customer" or the ever-popular "step down."

The cashiers said, "The following guest."

All of them said it, each and every time.

Not surprisingly, many of the people on line had no idea what the cashiers were talking about. So the customers stood there. Waiting. Making an already-slow line even slower.

When no one showed up at her cash register, a cashier would repeat, "The following guest!" Only this time he/she said it more forcefully, and with a lilt at the end of the phrase, as if to draw the customer to her register with the power of his voice.

This happened over and over, at which point the customers realized that "the following guest" meant "next customer in line please move forward." And they did as instructed.

Apparently, someone at the corporate offices of Au Bon Pain in Boston decided that the words next, customer and line should be banned from all Au Bon Pain stores -- I mean, retail locations -- for ever.

I can hear the high-level conversations now, in the corporate board rooms at Au Bon Pain H.Q. at One Au Bon Pain Way in Boston:

Good morning everyone. Let's get right to our first agenda item.
Our market research indicates that the average Au Bon Pain customer is not really comfortable with being identified as a "customer."

So, what we have done is, we've reached out to our Retail Experience Team. And together we're launching what we call the "Au Bon Pain Guest Initiative.
"

Think of it this way: When an individual enters your family's home -- whether you know that person or not -- he or she is your guest. The same goes for those of us in the Au Bon Pain family.

The individuals who venture into our 2,673 retail locations are not just our customers. They are our guests.


So, beginning this Holiday season, we will no longer have customers at Au Bon Pain! We will have guests. And we won't say "next" either. Because next makes our guest feel less like a unique individual and more like a person waiting in a line.

The future is here at Au Bon Pain. And that future lies in the hands of "the following guest."

Thank you so much for your time.

THE QUIET CAR

On every Amtrak Acela train there is one car where cell phones are expressly forbidden and live conversation must be conducted in low voice or -- better yet -- not at all.

This car is known as "the quiet car." Yesterday, I traveled home from Wilmington to New York's Penn Station on the quiet car.

Here's the first thing I noticed about the quiet car: it's not very quiet.

First of all, the rules and regulations of the quiet car are announced over the public address system when the train pulls out of each station. These repeated, loud announcements contribute to an over-all lack of quiet in the quiet car.

If Amtrak is really serious about keeping the quiet car quiet, they should hand out fliers reminding people to be quiet. Or they should have an old lady with a bun in her hair make angry "shush" sounds at you with her finger pressed to her lip. This has worked in libraries for many years.

But they shouldn't make loud announcements over the PA system.

Also, if your cellphone goes off in the quiet car, and you answer it, you are breaking the rules of the quiet car.

It doesn't mater if you say, "I have to whisper. I'm in the quiet car." You are still breaking the rules of the quiet car.

And if you then proceed to have a five minute chat with the caller -- even sotto vocce -- about what to order for dinner, you are breaking the rules of the quiet car.

Also, if the sound from your ipod is turned up so loud that I can hear it bleeding from your earbuds from two rows away, you are breaking the rules of the quiet car.

Finally, if you are talking to your seat mate in the quiet car and I can hear you talk, you are breaking the rules of the quiet car.

The first rule of the quiet car: Nobody talks in the quiet car.

Let's not have this conversation again.

12.10.2007

MORE HILARITY FROM DOUBLETREE

Some advertising agency was paid huge money to write these little signs for the Doubletree chain.

Was it money well spent?

I'll let you decide.

THE DOUBLETREE HOTEL -- NOW WITH ANTHROPOMORPHIZED TOWELS!

I'm a on job in Wilmington, Delaware, staying at the Doubletree hotel.

When I checked into my room on Sunday I saw the following sign on the toilet:

How adorable is that? The pool towels get jealous. That is so cute.

It's almost as cute as the single lock of hair I found, sitting next to the sign.

If only I could say that hair came from my head. But alas, I cannot.

12.07.2007

SPEAK NOW OR FOREVER HOLD YOUR POPCORN

Last Friday night I attended a wedding at a movie theater in New York City. You can read all about it in a story I wrote for The Villager.

Click here!

12.06.2007

PAGE-A-DAY CALENDARS CAN KISS MY ASS

I am done with page-a-day calendars.

Really. Every day I have to take time out of my busy schedule to rip the page off. And if I don’t, I am suddenly the subject of ridicule for the entire office.

People pass my desk and they’re like, “Whoa. Your page-a-day calendar still says November 28! It’s December 6th! You really should change it.”

Yes I should. And you really should shut the fuck up. Sorry, I forgot I was at work. You should please shut the fuck up, when you get a moment. Thanks so much!

Yes. It’s December 6th. I know that because I have a computer that says “December 6th.” I haven’t checked the date on a paper calendar since 1979. Have you? Are you a senior citizen? If so, why are you reading my blog and not this one?

Page-a-day calendars should have gone out with the Betamax. And yet, they linger. Why? Because they make a good, lazy Christmas present for people you don’t know so well.

Like, “Oh I see Will wear a Mets hat every day to work. He must like the Mets. So I will buy him this cute page-a-day Mets calendar for Secret Santa.”

Great. Now I have to remember every day to change the page or the person that gave me the calendar might say something to me. I thought it was supposed to be Secret Santa.

I gave one of my co-workers an iTunes gift card for Secret Santa last year. Why? Because it costs $10 – no more, no less. And I don’t have to think about it ever again.

I don’t hound them to make sure they used it, or to ask them what songs they downloaded. Honestly, I couldn’t care less what music they listen to - or even if they listen to music. I’m sure that, if I actually found out, it would only make me think less of them.

Like, “Maroon 5? You paid money to listen to Maroon 5? Money that I spent, on your present? Are you fucking kidding me? I want that iTunes giftcard back."

So please don’t buy me any more page-a-day calendars. Save the trees – and my sanity.

HO HUM

12.04.2007

I WON! I WON!

I won an auction on eBay today for an autographed picture of Jerry Maren, an 87 year-old actor who is perhaps best known for his role as a member of the Lollipop Guild in 1939 classic The Wizard of Oz.
Maren was 18 years old when he played the kid who hands Dorothy Gale a gigantic lollipop upon her arrival to "the merry old land of Oz."

The picture I won is a still from the Marx Bros. film At the Circus (also from 1939). Maren plays Little Professor Atom, a crooked, cigar-smoking circus midget.

If you'd like to see Maren's performance in this film (and Groucho's terrible toupee) tune in to TCM on Wednesday at 12 PM.

A VIEW FROM THE WILMINGTON TRAIN STATION

Tuesday afternoon. 4:15 PM

12.03.2007

THANKS TCM AND NETFLIX FOR THE LAST FEW WEEKS

I spent Thanksgiving with Maggie's family, for the first time in a long time.

After dinner I chatted with Maggie's grandmother, who turned 89 on November 16. One thing you can count on if you see me at a holiday function at the home of a significant other (either present or past) -- I will be hanging out with either the kids or the old people.

I tend to get along best with those under 12 or over 72. It's those 6 decades in between that I seem to have trouble with.

I get along well with the kids because we're at the same level of emotional development. Plus I can run around and act stupid, and nobody seems to mind. In fact, people say things like, "Will is so great with kids." As opposed to saying, "Will is so weird and strange."

Of course the great thing about playing with the little ones is, I get to avoid awkward small talk with the grown-ups. I have a tendency to say things that rub people the wrong way, so I like to avoid those opportunities at all costs.

I also tend to feel a bond with older people, mostly because I'm interested in the same things that they are interested in. I enjoy talking about movies, music, radio, politics -- as long as it happened in the '30s or '40s. After 1950 my interest tends to wane a bit.

I sat with Maggie's grandmother, and we talked about my recent visit to the landmark Loew's Jersey Theater in Jersey City (which I will be writing about for The Villager next week). I told her that Maggie and I had seen Otto Preminger's Laura there, and that I had been watching a lot of black & white movies lately.

To clarify, I always watch black & white movies, but recently I've been watching them like I'm cramming for a test. And I wasn't really sure why.


Then Maggie's grandmother said something that really struck me.

"They're comforting," she said. "Black & white movies are comforting."

I never thought of it that way, but she is totally right.

I've been feeling depressed recently -- frustrated, angry, unsure of what to do next in my life. But when I watch a great old movie in black & white I feel better -- if only for an hour and a half.


The sense of comfort that Maggie's grandmother feels when she watches an old movie is, I imagine, the memory of her youth, of simpler or happier times. And even though, I'm less than half her age, it's the same for me.

I watch a black & white film and I'm immediately back in my childhood, staying up late to watch a Marx Bros. movie on the tiny TV in my bedroom, the one that was broken and required a pair of pliers to change the channel.


My sister and I called those pliers "the TV turners."

Talk about analog technology.


For the record, here's a list of movies that I've watched since Thanksgiving weekend:

Hold that Coed (1938) with George Murphy, John Barrymore and Joan Davis
Casablanca (1943) with Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains
The Great Gildersleeve (1942) with Harold Peary (based on the radio show of the same name)
Look Who's Laughing (1941) with Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Lucille Ball
Here We Go Again (1942) with Edgar Bergen, Charlie McCarthy and Jim and Marion Jordan (from the radio show Fibber McGee and Molly)
The Girl From Mexico (1939) with Lupe Velez and Leon Errol
Mexican Spitfire (1940) with Lupe Velez and Leon Errol
Easy to Wed (1946) with Esther Williams, Van Johnson and Lucille Ball
Saboteur (1942) with Robert Cummings and Norman Lloyd
Where the Sidewalk Ends (1950) with Dana Andrews and Gene Tierney
Weekend in Havana (1941) with Carmen Miranda, Alice Faye and Cesar Romero
Maisie (1939) with Ann Sothern, Robert Young and Ruth Hussey
Love Finds Andy Hardy (1938) with Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland
Fast and Furious (1939) with Ann Sothern, Franchot Tone and Ruth Hussey
Citizen Kane (1941) with Orson Welles and Joseph Cotten
Mr. Blandings Builds His Dreamhouse (1948) with Cary Grant and Myrna Loy
Heaven Can Wait* (1978) with Warren Beatty, James Mason and Jack Warden

* Yes, that last one was from 1978. And it was in color. But it was based on a 1941 film called Here Comes Mr. Jordan with Claude Rains and Robert Montgomery. And that film is in black & white.

Of course.

EVEL KNIEVEL (1938-2007)

This is a comic book ad for my all-time favorite line of toys, inspired by my all-time favorite motorcycle daredevil.

Unlike most of my other childhood favorites, I don't have any of my Evel Knievel toys left. Because I literally played them to pieces.

I guess that's what happens when you launch a toy motorcycle off the roof of the front porch and on to the concrete driveway.