6.30.2008

TCM'S "ESSENTIALS JR." WEEKLY REPORT


I know I'm the only one who cares about this, so I'll keep it brief.

Last night's Essential Jr. feature, the frothy 1950 comedy Harvey, starring Jimmy Stewart, was the first truly essential family classic that the programmers of this misguided series have selected. It's a silly, joyous film that is truly enjoyable for kids of all ages.

But, while the movie may have been great, the intro by hosts Chris O'Donnell and Abigail Breslin was truly a head-scratcher.

Abigail described Jimmy Stewart's character Elwood P. Dowd as a "happy man," when, in reality, he is a habitual drinker, a tippler, a lush. I'm not saying that they should make light of the fact that the lead character enjoys a nip (or three) but why deny it? It's clearly stated though out the picture.

In fact, the fundamental question of the film is: Does Elwood see a giant white rabbit because he's:

a) Always drunk
b) Crazy and in need of institutionalization, or
c) Able to see what other adults have been trained not to see?
The clear suggestion on the part of the filmmakers is C. But denying that he is a drinker is to do the audience a disservice.

But the real disservice, as usual with Essentials Jr., was the inscrutable host intro segment with Chris O'Donnell and Abigail Breslin. Abigail mentioned that she once had a pet rabbit. Chris accused her of growing bored with her pet rabbit after a month and losing interest. Abigail seemed defensive/hurt. The movie began.

As most kids today would say (or text) -- WTF??

Listen TCM, Kit Kittredge: An American Girl is being released nationally on Wednesday. It will do strong business over the holiday weekend and will be gone after a week or two. Once it's out of theaters, you won't need to promote it any more on Essentials Jr..

So why not just find new hosts and tape new intros? I'm pretty sure you guys shot all the Breslin/O'Donnell stuff for the whole series in one shoot day, so it's not like you're going to be wasting all kinds of money on the stuff that doesn't get aired.

It's not too late to save this show! The whole summer lies ahead of us.

I, for one, will be glad to make myself available.

THE FINAL WORD ON "HAIRSPRAY"

I wasn't going to post this, but it's too cute not to.

6.29.2008

ROOT ROOT ROOT FOR THE HOME TEAM

Yesterday I went to Shea Stadium to watch the New York Mets play the New York Yankees in the annual Subway Series.

All in all, it was a pretty unpleasant day.

Maggie and I sweated our way to Shea in a cramped subway car, jam packed with disrespectful idiots wearing Yankees jerseys. I hate Yankee fans, but I really hate them when they come to my team's stadium wearing their team's regalia.

We waited in the endless bag check line, hiked to the far reaches of the upper deck (my favorite place to sit) and sat down in our seats. Then, on cue, the rain began. It continued, off and on, for the first five innings. But after the top of the sixth, the thunder and lightning commenced and the fans fled.

There aren't a lot of places to hide from the elements at Shea Stadium, particularly not when you're accompanied by 56,000 other people. And, by the sixth inning, the sweaty rabble had plenty of time to drink themselves into a sloppy stupor on $7.50 beers.

Maggie and I scampered down the vertiginous upper deck staircase and headed for the cramped inside walkway that circles the park. That was not the best strategy. Imagine 56,000 drunk, sweaty people jammed into tight walkways - and half the people (Mets fans) hate the other half of the people (Yankees fans).

It was a recipe for disaster. But thankfully, we all made it out alive.

The Mets, however, did not. After a one-hour rain delay, they went on to lose to the Yankees by a score of 3-2. And we got to ride home on the subway with a bunch of stupid, drunken, gloating Yankee fans.

Oh, and I also got stung by a bee. What a treat.

6.28.2008

TCM ALERT!

Sunday night at 8 PM (ET), Turner Classic Movies will broadcast Harvey, a 1950 comedy starring James Stewart as Elwood P. Dowd, best friend to a six-foot-tall rabbit.

Harvey will be presented as part of TCM's Summer series Essentials Jr., and it marks the best choice that the programmers of that show have made so far.

For more info, click here.

6.26.2008

NONE THE WORSE FOR WHERE

On Wednesday morning I took the train out to Long Island to pick up my nieces Emily and Laura.

I exited the train at the Lynbrook station, found them on the platform (in the care of my uncle) and, four minutes later, the three of us boarded a return train bound for Manhattan. Less than a hour later I was wandering the streets of a New York City with a 9-year-old and a 6-year-old.

"Be honest," I said to Emily, my older niece, as we exited the subway at 50th Street. "Your mother was nervous about the two of you being alone in the city with me, right?"

"Yes," she said. "We're supposed to hold your hand at all times. Just in case you forget."

We both looked down. I wasn't holding her hand.

"Okay, let's just keep this between us," I said, as I quickly grabbed her tiny arm. Honestly, I hadn't thought it was necessary. She's nine. Plenty of kids her age take the subway on their own, and nothing bad happens. In New York City, nine-year-olds are really just mini-adults. Kids grow up faster here. They drink and smoke and do drugs, all before age 10. Many of them go clubbing and stay out until 4 or 5 AM.

And we're okay with that. And so are their parents.

Moms and dads who visit here from out of town have the wrong idea about New York. They think that strange men are just waiting to snatch their children from them. Honestly, we don't want your children. We came here to get away from your children. The last thing we want is to keep them in this city any longer than absolutely necessary.

I know parents reading this may think I'm being glib. But New York City has never been safer for kids than it is today.

Back when I was making my first trip into the city for a play (Doug Henning's The Magic Show in 1977), Times Square was a different place. The legitimate Broadway theaters were mingled amongst the seedy porno theaters, creating a memorable stew of magic and mayhem that I still remember fondly. To the 9-year-old me, New York seemed to to a be a rough, dangerous dirty place -- a city for tough guys and girls who knew how to take care of themselves.

And I wanted to be one of them.

Nowadays, mom's clutch their kids as tightly as their knock-off Coach handbags, as they nervously navigate the 17 square blocks between 42nd Street and Central Park that have been deemed safe for tourists. Former mayor (and current fascist) Rudy Giuliani closed down all the porno shops and bought the hookers and homeless people one-way-tickets out of town, striping New York City of it's cloud of character and leaving only the faux silver lining in its place.

Despite all this, out of respect for my sister's wishes, I made sure to hold both of my nieces' hands as we walked the mean streets of the Disney-fied Theater District.

First we stopped off for some New York City bagels, where I explained to Emily and Laura the significance of lox, whitefish and salmon to the bagel-eating experience. Next we visited a small, independently owned ice cream shop.

Note the cone condom. I wish I had invented that.

As we lingered over soda and ice cream, the vaguely Middle Eastern owner tried to sell us some discount Webkinz. Emily was interested, but I didn't bite.


Then we made our way over to the Neil Simon Theater, where we met Maggie and took our seats in the orchestra -- seats I paid half-price for at the TKTS booth at South Street Seaport, which is always way less crowded then the booth in Times Square. (Only real New Yorkers know that.)

Hairspray was fun and contained numerous moments that were inappropriate for children. But that's part of why I picked it. They seemed particularly entertained by the fact that the lead character was a man in drag, dancing with and kissing another man.

Happy Pride Week, Emily and Laura!

We just watched a man kiss another man!

Afterwards we returned to the ice cream shop, where I relented and bought Emily a Webkinz penguin at an even greater discount than the owner had originally offered. Next we walked up to Central Park, where we were swarmed by aggressive, dark-skinned, horse-and-carriage drivers. (I mean the drivers were dark-skinned, not the horses. Well, the horses were too, but that's not the point.)


Aggressive, dark-skinned people tend to frighten out-of-towners. Often they frighten them enough to inspire them to part with their money. This is completely unnecessary.

As a reminder, none of the 9/11 hijackers were New Yorkers. None of them drove horse and buggy carriages or those strange bicycle taxis in Central Park. Dark-skinned people here are no more or less scary than light-skinned people. We're all just trying to make a buck.

You know how expensive it is to visit here, well imagine actually living here every day. We need every penny we can get our (light-or dark-skinned) hands on. And, if you seem like an easy mark, we're going after you. So just don't be an easy mark. Problem solved.

Waiting for the train at Columbus Circle.

Next we all got on the #1 train subway and the kids got another only-in-New York experience. Because if a sick passenger on the train ahead of us, we were trapped in the tunnel for 35 minutes. But Emily and Laura took it in stride, which is more than I can say for some of our fellow passengers.

An ancient, white-haired man sitting across from us kept throwing his hands in the air after every announcement. Honestly, where was this guy is such a hurry to get to? He certainly wasn't late for a date. And yet, he was apoplectic.

An Asian guy sitting next to Maggie just kept uttering the f curse under his breath. At least I think it was the f curse. He might have been praying in Cantonese, I'm not sure. If he was, it was certainly an angry prayer.


This is another thing that you tourists need to understand about us New Yorkers. We don't like to wait for anything, ever. We like to keep moving at all times. So when you guys stop dead in your tracks in the middle of the sidewalk to gawk at a celebrity or a tall building or Superman or whatever the fuck you like to gawk at, it makes us impatient. So don't do that. Just keep moving and there will be no trouble.

Eventually, the subway started moving again. I'm sure that the man in the train in front of us probably died. And that's okay. He had a memorable death, no doubt inconveniencing thousands of New Yorkers who were forced to stand on crowded, non-air-conditioned subway platforms. I, for one, will never forget him.

If you gotta go out, make it a memorable exit.

We got the kids back to our apartment and played some Wii, which is the only video game that my nieces do not own. We played Wii Sports and I gloated each time I beat one of them. Because they need to learn that life is tough. It is really all about who wins and who loses. Nobody gives a fuck how you play the game.

"Is there any food in this place?" Laura asked at about 7 PM. So we cooked up some "gluten-free" chicken nuggets that Maggie bought at the health food store. We didn't mention where we bought them -- or that they were "gluten free" -- because that would have insured that the kids wouldn't eat them. They're not much for health food.

Then we headed back to Penn Station, boarded the train for Long Island and returned Emily and Laura safely to my aunt and uncle -- none the worse for wear (or where).

It was a good day and an opportunity for my nieces to get a little taste of my New York -- no hand-holding, a death in the subway and some vaguely gay stuff.

Hopefully, they'll be allowed back some time for another dose (assuming that neither of their parents read this.)

LIVE FROM "HAIRSPRAY"

6.24.2008

WELCOME TO NEW YORK

My nieces Emily (age 9) and Laura (age 6) are visiting New York this week from South Florida. They're staying with my aunt and uncle out on Long Island, not far from where I grew up.

The last time my nieces were here (back in March for my mother's memorial service) Maggie and I took them to see The Lion King on Broadway. It was the perfect show for Broadway first-timers who just happen to be kids.

For the record, I believe that Disney is a soulless, corporate cheese factory that has commoditized childhood and significantly contributed to the genericization of American life.

But -- forgive me George Carlin -- I still love The Lion King.

Even though the Broadway production is based on a Disney animated film, there's nothing Disney-fied about it. It's a brilliantly staged, multi-cultural production that is equally enjoyable for kids and adults.

When I thought about what show to take my nieces to this time around, there were two obvious choices: The Little Mermaid and Mary Poppins. But that's the trap that Disney wants us all to fall in: If you have kids, Disney is the only option. We're safe, predictable, soft-edged and guaranteed not to offend, incite or titillate -- at least until our young stars hit 16-years-old and start taking suggestive pictures. But we promise that they will apologize afterwards.

We are so conditioned to accept Disney as the de facto children's entertainment choice in this country. It's amazing that, with all the technology we have at our disposal now, our choices are actually decreasing. We're losing the independent voices that made this country great. Larger companies, fewer options, less diversity of perspective -- this is what makes billionaires out of moustache-twirling villains like Rupert Murdoch.

I, for one, refuse to be a part of the destruction of America.

So I'm taking my nieces to see
Hairspray.

Is a six-year old a little young for a musical about inter-racial romance set against a backdrop of inner-city Baltimore in the 1960's? Sure she is. But that's a good thing.

Even if Laura doesn't entirely get it, she'll love the '60s-style dances, and the music and the colorful costumes and the funny wigs. And Emily will get a chance to tell her friends back in Florida that she saw a real Broadway show, with real actors, doing real singing and dancing -- not some Disney clap-trap with white bread talent who would otherwise be headlining at a theme park in Orlando.

I can't change what movies these kids go to see, where they shop, what restaurants they eat at or what shows they watch on TV. They will inevitably be products of the environment in which they are raised, for better or for worse.

But when they're in New York, they're in my territory. There will be no shopping at Wal-Mart or Target, no eating at Red Lobster or Outback Steak House or one of the same six chain restaurants that infect the endless Florida strip malls like a virus. There will be no attendance at the multiplex to see the latest computer-animated comedies released by movie studios owned by General Electric, News Corporation or Time Warner. Nor will we visit the gigantic Toys 'r Us in Times Square, or the Hersey store, Hard Rock Cafe, Planet Hollywood or the ESPN Zone.

We will see a real Broadway show and afterwards we'll eat at an independently owned and operated restaurant. And maybe afterwards we'll even go to a museum.

I know, I know. It's crazy talk. But remember, I'm the crazy uncle.

My nieces and me at The Lion King -- March 15, 2008.

P.S. - I know that if I was really the crazy, liberal, New York City uncle, I wouldn't be going anywhere near Broadway. I'd be taking them to see some free, experimental theater in a vacant lot in Alphabet City. But you gotta start somewhere, right?

6.23.2008

DECONSTRUCTING TCM'S "ESSENTIALS JR."

Last night was the fourth installment of the Turner Classic Movies series "Essentials Jr.," wherein movie stars Chris O'Donnell (Robin from the terrible "Batman" movies of a decade or so ago) and Abigail Breslin (the girl from "Little Miss Sunshine") introduce classic films "for kids of all ages."

After Week Two I wrote of how disappointing and misguided this series was. And sadly, Week Four was even worse.

The following is a transcript of the host intro segment from last night's broadcast. My notes are in italics.

Fade up on CHRIS O’DONNELL and ABIGAIL BRESLIN sitting awkwardly across from each other in lavender arm chairs on an orange shag rug. Because kids love things that are colorful!

Two light green coffee cups sit on a circular antique wood table between them.
Because kids love coffee!

CHRIS: Hi, I’m Chris O’Donnell. Thanks for reminding us, Chris. You haven't been in a movie a while.

ABIGAIL: And I’m Abigail Breslin. Welcome to TCM’s “Essentials Jr.” where you can join Chris and me every Sunday night at 8 PM Eastern to watch a great movie that kids of all ages will enjoy. That's debatable.Tonight we’re watching a movie based on a true story "Mutiny on the Bounty."

CUT TO: A clip from the movie of a sailor getting flogged. Because kids love a good flogging!

ABIGAIL: Captain Bligh proved to be such a brutal tyrant to the crew of the HMS Bounty that officer Fletcher Christian, played by Clark Gable, eventually leads the crew in mutiny.

CUT TO: A clip of Gable calling a fellow sailor a “scum.” Because kids love learning new, dirty-sounding words to call each other on the playground.

CHRIS: It was the best picture Oscar winner from 1935.

Most kids don't know who won the Oscar this year, let alone 73 years ago. Is this really the thing that's going to grab their attention, Chris? How about the fact that it was based on a true story, something that actually happened? How about putting the whole thing in a historical context, but in a fun way -- like they used to do on Schoolhouse Rock? Maybe a graphic with an animated, visual time line showing the events of this story in relation to American historical touchstones like the Revolutionary War? Something -- anything of substance here to set the tone?

ABIGAIL: (weakly) Really?

This girl is a good actress and she is trying her best to humor O'Donnell. But "Really?" Is that the best response she could come up with? And if it is, get her a writer. Show her the research before hand. Have her follow up with something of substance.

Speak, Abigail! Say something. Talk like a kid. Tell him, "Who cares, Chris? What's cool about this creaky old movie? Why should a kid today be interested?" Make it come to life as opposed to just sitting there like a dead fish (note the nautical metaphor.) This is not church. This is a show designed to get kids interested in watching a type of programming that they are disinclined to watch.

CHRIS: Yeah it was interesting, because Clark Gable was apparently reluctant to play this part at first. One, because he didn’t want to shave off his mustache.

CUT TO: Abigail (chuckles politely).

First of all, when anyone says "It's interesting" it's not interesting. Count on that. And Chris, you have got to remember that any kid being forced to watch this movie by a parent or grandparent has most likely never even heard of Clark Gable, let alone seen him in a moustache. You've got to approach this like you're talking to people who have no prior knowledge - because most young people don't.

So set up who Clark Gable is, who he was, how his moustache was his trademark, how he was the George Clooney of his day or the Brad Pitt of his day. Whatever. Again, establish context.

CHRIS: He’s almost unrecognizable when you see him.

That is a desperate exaggeration. You're grasping for straws here, Chrissy.

Do you recognize him? I do.
ABIGAIL: (weakly) Yeah.

Once again, Abigail is speaking for the entire American kid population. And she is saying, "We don't care."

CHRIS: You’re just so used to seeing him from "Gone with the Wind" and everything, with the mustache. Apparently this was the last time he ever shaved off his mustache.

I can't believe that he is still going on about the moustache. Also, kids are not "so used to seeing" Gable. Most of them have never seen him. And saying "Gone with the Wind" AND EVERYTHING? What everything? Tell us how many movies he made, how he was the biggest star in the world. Tell us how long his career went on. Something more than a treatise on his facial hair.

ABIGAIL: In movies I guess you have to do a lot of things (she waves her hand in front of her face).

God bless this child, she is trying to help out her fellow actor. But she can't even form a complete sentence. She is now reduced to pantomiming her responses to him.

Another thing, the real reason that this mismatched pair has been foisted upon TCM viewers is that they are in a new movie together. "Kit Kittredge: An American Girl," a live action film based upon the line of creepy, olde-fashioned dolls is coming out next week. Warner Bros. produced the "Kit Kittredge" movie and Time Warner owns TCM. Coincidence? I think not.

By the way, Abigail
plays Kit and O'Donnell plays her father (I think) in the movie. Hopefully they have better chemistry in that film than they do on this show.


CHRIS: That they wouldn’t normally do?

Like? For example? What have either one of you done in preparation for an acting job, or during shooting that you might not have done otherwise? Chris, why not tell us how hard it was running around in a rubber suit and codpiece when you played Robin? Give us something please!

ABIGAIL: Yeah, yeah. And stuff like that.

She's a kid. I forgive her lack of eloquence. O'Donnell, on the other hand, is an entirely different story.

CHRIS: Make sacrifices. Well it’s interesting, this was obviously made during the studio system so I wonder how much say he had, if he didn’t want to do this film. If he could have gotten out of it. The actors back then were under contracts and had to do whatever they were told.

Reminder #2 about prefacing a comment with "It's interesting."

And I really cannot believe that he is still harping on the moustache. Is this a gay thing? And Chris, don't say this film was OBVIOUSLY made during the studio system. No kid knows that. Most adults don't even know what the studio system was. Explain it. You can do it briefly, and draw a comparison to today -- where actors get so much more money because they negotiate each movie individually, as opposed to being locked in to a long term contract, like they were in the old days.


CUT TO: A clip of Captain Bligh threatening Christian with death. Because death is "fun for the whole family."

CHRIS: "Mutiny on the Bounty is a bit more of a challenging film for the whole family to watch.

Can you hear that Chris? That's the sound of America turning the channel.

Listen, if you are trying to get kids to watch something old, black & white and historical don't tell them it's "challenging." Tell them it's "cool" and "retro" with lots of action and waves and murder and killing and some hot Tahitian chicks who show up after about ninety minutes and are not wearing shirts. Not "challenging. "


ABIGAL: Yeah.

Are you noticing a pattern in Abigail's responses?

CHRIS: But…uhhhh…it’s one of the classics.

Okay kids, time to take your medicine! Open up.

CHRIS: Here’s Clark Gable and Charles Laughton as the brutal Captain Bligh in the Best Picture Oscar Winner from 1935, "Mutiny on the Bounty."

Again with this point about a 72 year-old Academy Award that no kid cares about. And since you've just talked about the missing moustache for the whole segment, why not intro Gable as the "Moustache-less" or "Moustache-free" Clark Gable? Or something witty. Something alive, something fresh. Anything but what just happened.

Honestly, I had never seen "Mutiny on the Bounty" because I find historical epics hard to endure (just as O'Donnell suggested). Even though I enjoyed the picture (and so did my girlfriend Maggie, who has a notoriously short attention span) I can't imagine many kids who would.

I am really
confused as to why the programmers at TCM chose this picture. It's summer, guys! Give us something fun, light hearted, easy to get through. Something that will capture the attention of young viewers -- not feel like a homework assignment.


Honestly, I'm not nit-picking for the sake of nit-picking. I love it when little kids gets turned on to great old movies. It makes me so happy when I see young people at the many classic film screenings I attend in and around New York City.

But I don't believe that a historical epic from 1935, with flogging, murder and an early scene with prostitutes entertaining the sailors before they depart is really an "Essential" for "kids of all ages."

Come on TCM, get a clue. Please. You have a great opportunity to turn on a whole new generation, to keep classic films alive on a wealth of new technological platforms. This is the turning point!

SO STOP BLOWING IT!

Two dozen lashes for the TCM programmers!
TCM Essentials Jr.
TCM Essentials Jr. TCM Essentials Jr. TCM Essentials Jr. TCM Essentials Jr. TCM Essentials Jr. TCM Essentials Jr. TCM Essentials Jr.TCM Essentials Jr.TCM Essentials Jr. TCM Essentials Jr. TCM Essentials Jr.

GET SMART!

...and skip the movie, like I should have done.

Save your money and buy the box set of the classic TV series that inspired the less-than-classic movie.

6.20.2008

CALL ME IRRESISTIBLE

I got a massage yesterday. I also got a haircut, a pedicure and I went to the tanning salon.

You can laugh, and question my manhood, but I had a hard week. And after a hard week I like to recharge my batteries with a Day of Beauty. But this post is not about my decidedly metrosexual approach to recovery from a taxing week of production.

This post is about the massage.


My back is constantly stiff, and to be honest, I blame you. I carry a backpack everywhere I go so I am always this close to my laptop. You never know when some fascinating thing is going to happen that I will need to share with you, my loyal readers.

I also carry my power supply, charger, digital camera and various cables. I'm like a walking multimedia production studio. And frankly my back can't take it anymore. Add to that the stress of this week, very long hours, two plane trips and 90 minutes spent on the runway on Wednesday night before we took off from O'Hare.

The result: my back muscles are tighter than Joan Rivers' face.

So I called my favorite spa on the West side of Manhattan and asked for the first available appointment on Thursday.

"We only have a male massage therapist available this afternoon," the booker said. "Is that okay?

"That's fine," I said.

As a rule, I prefer female hands touching my naked body. But when I am going in for a therapeutic massage (they call it a "sports massage") I actually prefer a guy. With male clients, female therapists can sometimes be very hung up on "towel placement" and issues of modesty. I prefer for the therapist to just do the work, not spend ten minutes doing origami with the sheet to make sure I'm as covered as covered can be at all times.

Who cares? It's not a big deal to me, whether it's a guy or a girl. This is a reputable establishment, with no hanky panky. I know where to go if I want some hanky panky, and this is not the place.

I arrived at the spa and was introduced to Howard, my therapist. He was a tall twenty-something, with muscular arms and a bald head. He escorted me into the room and lowered the lights.

"Are there any problem areas you want me to work on?" Howard asked.

I told him about my back, and how it was all your fault. He promised to focus his energies on that.

"Okay, now take off everything and get under the sheet," he said matter-of-factly, as he exited the room. I did that. He returned a few minutes later, more quickly than I would have expected. The door opened without a knock and Howard entered.

I found it odd that he didn't knock, or ask if I was "ready" like they usually do. I could have been standing there naked, still undressing. I was wearing shorts, sneakers and a t-shirt so the disrobing process was quick, but a knock on the door would have been polite.

But who cares, right? So we got started.

Howard started off by entirely covering me with the sheet and pushing down on my back in various places, like he was trying to find a trap door in the floor. I knew he was probably assessing the situation, checking to see how fucked up I actually was.

"Wow," he said, as his large, soft hands ran over my buttocks. "You're tight."

Now, I could mention that this spa is in a traditionally gay part of New York City, and that the therapist had a soft-spoken manner that might activate some gaydars. But who cares what his sexual orientation was, right? I know what mine is, and that's what matters.

This is not a story about gay or straight, male or female. It's about a therapeutic treatment for someone in pain - namely, me.

For the next 40 minutes or so, Howard worked his magic and I began to feel the tension leave my body. I ignored the fact that the sheet was often a casualty of Howard's work. Whatever. Nobody is getting their jollies by looking at my pale, pimpled ass!

"Okay, William" he said, as he held up the sheet. "Turn over when you get a chance."

It seemed like an odd way to phrase it -- "when you get a chance." What am I going to say? "Oh gosh, Howard. I'm really tied up now, lying here with my ass in the air. But how does next Tuesday work for you?"

So I turned over and the massage continued on the front side. There was some work done on the thighs and abs that may have gotten a bit closer than I would normally expect from a reputable establishment, but that's okay, right? And there was a split second "brush by" where his hand did technically make contact with my the tip of my "business." But it was all on the up and up. No hanky panky!

Next, Howard sort of rolled me on my side and began stretching me. At this point the sheet became purely an afterthought. And there I was, getting a naked chiropractic treatment from a gay dude in Chelsea.

And then my phone rang. It was Maggie.

"Just ignore the phone," I said. "Sorry about that."

It was an odd feeling, being naked in the arms of another man while ignoring a call from my girlfriend.

Now, I could have said, "Oh that's my girlfriend. I'm supposed to meet her at 6 to give her $100 so she can buy drugs." But I didn't say that. It seemed like poor timing, what with my nudity and all.

Then Howard turned me over on my other side and began the same stretch. I felt like a chicken on the rotisserie. And then my phone rang again. Of course, it was Maggie again. I knew she was going through withdrawal, but I couldn't answer it.

What was I going to say?

"Oh hey honey. I'm naked right now with a gay man in Chelsea. That's right. His name? It's Howard. Okay.I'll be finished in a minute. I mean, I'll be done in a second. I mean, I'll come when I'm finished. I mean...."

Yeah. Awkward. So I let it ring, as Howard twirled my naked frame around like his personal baton. And then it was over and I thanked him, dressed and headed to the counter to pay.

The cashier took my credit card and asked that I provide the gratuity in cash. Then she handed me a tiny manila envelope and a pen.


"Your massage therapist was named Howard," she said. "Here's a pen if you want to leave him a note."

If I want to leave him a note? About what? Since when do you leave a note with a tip? It's bad enough I have to pay extra for someone to do their job, but now I have to also compose a thank you letter?

What am I supposed to say?

Dear Howard - Thanks for twisting me around like a naked pretzel. You have seen parts of me that no other man has seen, and I hope to keep it that way. Love, Will.


But here's the best part: when the cashier handed me the pen, she turned away -- to give me privacy. At that point, I imagined that Howard had run down when I was dressing and grabbed the cashier.

"Hey Yolanda," Howard might have said. "The guy that's coming out in a minute -- the fat, bald, middle aged guy with excessive body hair and a pimpled ass - please try to get me his phone number. He's a stone cold fox!"

And then Yolanda constructed this elaborate ruse with the pen and the envelope and the tip. So I took the pen and wrote "thanks" on the envelope. Then I slid a $20 into it and sealed it.

"Okay, I'm done." I said to Yolanda, in a voice loud enough for all to hear. "Thanks. I've gotta get going now, to meet my girlfriend. My girlfriend is waiting for me. You know how girlfriends are if you're late. I'll be sleeping on the couch tonight, ha! That's right, because I live with her. I live with my girlfriend, in the same apartment, together. Like many other straight guys do. They live with their girlfriends. Like me. I do that. Because I'm straight. And I have a girlfriend. And I don't have sex with men. Ever. Okay. Bye!"

And then I left. Awkwardly.


6.19.2008

BETTER LATE THAN NEVER

This is usually the way it goes down.

I go "on-site" for a job in some city, it doesn't really matter where. All I see is the inside of our production office and the hotel ballroom.

What goes on there? Impeccably staged productions of corporate theater, with PowerPoint slides, live speakers, expensive videos, a band and sometimes celebrity guests.


All of it is rehearsed down to the second, plotted on Excel grids, staged by experienced tech crews and stage-managed by buttoned-up professionals who normally run complicated live shows like The Radio City Christmas Spectacular.

And I'm in charge of keeping it together. Are you impressed? Me neither.

When I tell people that I work on "pharmaceutical sales meetings in hotel ballrooms" they get a picture of a guy in a combover and acheap suit with an overhead projector, boring his colleagues to death in a musty meeting room at the Quality Inn.

I don't try to change their minds, because to do so would sound defensive. And honestly, I'm not doing this to impress people. I'm not doing it for the glory or the art.

I'm doing it for the cash.

An event like the one I just finished usually means a two-month booking for pre-production at nice freelance day rate, travel to an interesting place and the potential to make tons of money once we're on location, where overtime is paid at time and 1/2. Plus I get a $65 per diem each day, which I usually blow on mini bar snacks and hotel room porn.

Unless I'm doing a job in Vegas. Then I blow it at the roulette table, and hotel room porn. (I skip the snacks and smoke cigarettes instead.)

It's not a bad life, for now. The people I work with are cool, for the most part. I actually like some of them. And the clients are usually pleasant and appreciative.And by the time it's all over, I usually crawl back home with bloodshot eyes, a sore back and a pocketful of money.

It beats having a real job, that's for sure.

I've been doing this for a while now, so I have some traditions. The night I get home from a job I like to smoke a bowl (or five) and stay up late watching TV. Sadly, Maggie had nothing for me to smoke when I got home this time. This may come as a shock to any of you who know her. Saying Maggie has no weed is like saying Ronald McDonald has no hamburgers.

On the rare occasions it happens, I'm like, "What? Why not? Was there a breakout of mad cow disease?"

Thankfully, there was no mad cow in New York City. Just a mad bank, who froze Maggie's account because of fraudulent charges. Only problem was, they froze her account with all of her money still in it.

That means no drugs. It also means no food, toilet paper or cable TV. I got home and Maggie was huddled in the corner, jonesing for some dinner and reruns of The L Word on Showtime.

But all of that is fixed now. The cable is back on. The toilet paper is on the roll. And our drug courier is racing downtown as we speak.

Order will soon be restored to the universe.


BACK HOME

At 1:45 AM Eastern Time.

6.18.2008

RUN JESSE RUN!

I just ran into Jesse Jackson outside of the American Airlines terminal at O'Hare Airport in Chicago.

I mean, literally, I ran into him. I made contact with his body -- which is very tall, by the way.

I immediately reached into my pocket to grab my iPhone to take a picture, but by the time I was ready to go he was far away.

This is the best I could do:

Rev. Jackson is the taller man in front.

CYD CHARISSE (1922-2008)

The dancer and actress Cyd Charisse died yesterday at the age of 86.

Charisse made her first film appearance in 1943's Something to Shout About with Don Ameche. But she is best remembered for her appearances in numerous MGM musicals of the late 1940s through the '50s.

Charisse with Gene Kelly in "Singin' in the Rain" (1952).

Charisse also starred in MGM's 1956 production of "Brigadoon"
with Gene Kelly and Van Johnson.

Charisse married crooner Tony Martin in 1948.

They remained together until her death.

6.17.2008

YET ANOTHER LOSS FOR THE METS

The Mets fired Willie Randolph today, the 18th manager of the team since their inaugural season in 1962.

Randolph leaves the Mets with the second-best winning percentage of any manager in the team's history. And yet, he was dismissed in an unprofessional and classless manner. That's the thanks he gets for nearly four seasons of dedicated service.

After a
victory against the Los Angeles Angels on Monday night (the team's fourth in the last six games), Randolph and two of his coaches were fired by Mets general manager Omar Minaya when they returned to their hotel at around midnight Pacific time.

The New York media was alerted at 3:12 AM Eastern time.
Mets players found out about the change through word of mouth and some (including star reliever Billy Wagner) didn't discover that a change had been made until the next morning.

All of this could have been avoided with a closed-door team meeting following the Monday night game, with new manager Jerry Manuel introduced to his players -- and with the opportunity to offer recognition to Randolph for his loyal service. But that's not how it went down.

I understand that baseball is a business and that personnel decisions must be made objectively. And I have been rooting for Randolph's ouster since the team's historic collapse at the end of the 2007 season. I never really thought he was the right man to manage this team, even when things were going well. Maybe I'm biased, but I will always think of Willie as a Yankee (he was an all-star second baseman for the Bronx Bombers from 1976-1988).

But there is a way to do things, and a way not to.

Why can't a baseball manager's tenure end amicably? Why can't both sides agree that it's time for a change, and move on?
In that way, the man's legacy as both a manager and a player would remain untarnished, and he could still feel ownership for his successes.

But now, sadly, Willie Randolph will always be known as the victim of a mishandled midnight massacre that the tin-eared Mets brass tried to slip past the New York media at 3 AM on a Tuesday morning. Great.

The Mets have been roundly condemned for their amateurish handling of this transition. And they deserve every derisive article that has been written.

Today, I am embarrassed to be a Mets fan. Again.

But tomorrow I will still be one.


WHO'S ON FIRST? NOT ME.

I'm in Chicago working on the production of yet another pharmaceutical sales meeting.

I was scheduled to arrive here on Saturday night, but a bout of "violent weather" closed LaGuardia airport. So I got to stay home an extra night and I got paid for a travel day. Sweet deal, right? Not really.

On Sunday morning I got to the airport at 6 AM to check in for the 6:55 AM flight American had re-booked me on, but the joke was once again on me. They had given away my seat. Fifty five minutes early is apparently too late on American. Who knew?

The representative put me on standby for the next flight and I went to the gate and circled like a vulture. Finally my name was called, along with four others. We all waited on line for our boarding passes, but when I got to the counter the gate agent changed her mind. That's right, she called me from the standby line and then put me back on it.

"Sorry," she said. "That last person just showed up."

"That's funny, " I said. "Because I showed up too. I showed up last night at 6, and this morning at 6 and then again at 7:35. And yet, I am still in New York and that guy who hasn't been waiting for anything is on his way to Chicago."

No reply.

So I moved to the next gate, where I saw that I had been bumped back to number five on the standby list. That is not fair. You can't make it to number one and then get demoted back four places without a very good reason like, say, being a smart ass with the gate attendant.

But before I could complain, my name was called. This time I pushed to the front of the line.

"You called me," I panted, to the same agent who had just bumped me off the last flight. "You just called my name: William McKinley, remember? You called it before too. But then you uncalled it. You can't uncall me again. That's not fair. I have to get on this plane!"

Honestly, I didn't really have to get on the plane. I didn't need to be in Chicago until 4 PM, when we had our first rehearsal scheduled with an executive. But I was tired of being pushed around by American Airlines. So I put my foot down.

Don't let anybody push you around -- that's my motto.

I got to Chicago and found my suitcase which, unlike me, had actually made it on to the 6:55 AM flight. Apparently my luggage has better time management skills than I do. I got to the hotel, checked in and headed up to my room. And when I got there, a little surprise greeted me.

Someone else's suitcase was in my room. I looked at the tag. It said McKinley. For a minute I thought it might be a gift from the producer of the meeting. She knew that my luggage and I had been separated, and she offered to pay for new clothes if the suitcase never showed up.

Was it possible that she had gone shopping for me, bought me a replacement suitcase and packed everything in it?

Probably not.

I looked more closely at the tag. It said "Thomas McKinley." Thomas is my middle name, but it obviously wasn't my bag. I considered opening the suitcase and rifling through it, looking for valuables. But I couldn't steal from another McKinley, particularly one whose name is so similar to mine. That's like stealing from a relative. That would be bad karma.

So I called the front desk.

"There's a bag in my room, but it's not mine," I said.

"Who's is it," the bellman asked.

"It belongs to a guest named Mr. McKinley," I answered. "But it's not mine."

"What's your name?" he asked.

"Mr. McKinley," I answered.

"But it's not your bag?" he asked.

"No. I think I would know what my bag looks like," I said. "Plus, this is a rolly-bag. I hate rolly-bags."

"Yes, but everyone seems to use those bags nowadays," he said.

"Look, I'd love to debate the subtle nuances of luggage with you," I said. "But I have to get to work. So can you please bring this bag back to Mr. McKinley? I"m sure he's looking for it."

"Certainly, Mr. McKinley," the bellman said. "I'm sure Mr. McKinley will be very appreciative."

I have no proof of this, but I think he was being a smart ass right there at the end.

Not my bag.

6.15.2008

A STORY ABOUT FATHER'S DAY

I've always gotten along with my father, even though we don't have much in common.

I can't say the same thing for my mother and me. We battled each other throughout my teen years, until I moved to the city after I graduated from NYU. (I lived with my parents and commuted. Bad idea.)

Even with the fighting, I always felt closer to my mother than my father. I understood her particular brand of madness because, for better or for worse, she infected me with it too. I never really understood my father. He was (sorry, is) not a particularly complex fellow. He's an easy-going, honest, dedicated straight arrow who worked in a bus garage for 44 years, retired and then became a care-giver for my mother until her death six months ago.

My dad grew up in the Depression, lived through the war, survived prostate cancer and outlived four siblings, two parents and a wife. And he still is pretty much the same guy he's always been, despite all the hardships one experiences in nearly eight decades of living.

Now that my mom is gone, I am closer with my father, if only because he's still here. I make an effort to call him on a regular basis. I want him to feel engaged by life, and to to feel like there's a good reason to stick around for awhile longer.

I never lacked conversation topics with my mother. Like me she was aware of what was going on in the world and she was capable of -- and enjoyed -- debate. I could discuss the subtle nuances of life with her in a way that doesn't work with my father.

But my father and I do share interests that my mother and I didn't.

My dad is really the one who fostered my interest in old movies and TV shows. When I was very little he used to watch great old black & white comedy films on TV -- Abbott & Costello, the Marx Bros., Laurel and Hardy, the Three Stooges, etc. This was the stuff he grew up on and, in turn, it became the stuff I grew up on.

Every now and then I'll tell my dad about a great old movie I just went to see, or an episode of The Honeymooners I just watched or a classic radio show I listened to (I've got hundreds of them on my iPod.)

On Saturday I called my father, wished him an early Happy Father's Day and mentioned to him that I had just watched a Laurel and Hardy film called Blockheads from 1938.

"Laurel and Hardy are soldiers in World War I," I said to him, explaining the plot. "And they build a foxhole, and the the commanding office tells Stan to guard the foxhole..."

"And then the war ends, but nobody tells him," my father interrupted, breaking into his trademark infectious chuckle. "And he ends up guarding the foxhole for twenty years. Yup, that's a funny one!"

I couldn't believe it. My father actually remembered a plot point from a movie he saw seventy years ago, when he was a nine year-old kid watching Laurel and Hardy movies at the Saturday matinee.

"You know, it's pretty amazing that you can remember a movie you saw in 1938," I said. "You're pretty sharp for an old guy."

"Whaddya mean seventy years ago?" he said. "I watched it this morning on Turner Classic Movies, just like you did."

My father and me, 1971.

HAPPY FATHER'S DAY FROM CHICAGO

It's a long story, but I'm finally here.

6.14.2008

GOIN' APE AT THE LOEW'S JERSEY

6.13.2008

TIM RUSSERT (1950-1958)

Tim Russert, the host of Meet the Press and one of my favorite political commentators, died today of an apparent heart attack. He was 58 years old.

DAMN YOU ALL TO HELL

Tonight Maggie and I are going to the Loew's Jersey Theater to see one of my favorite movies of all time -- the original Planet of the Apes.

Coincidentally, where Charlton Heston is kneeling in this final frame from the movie is about where our apartment is...

6.12.2008

YOU CAN CALL ME HERB

Longtime readers know that my day job is in corporate communications. For the last few years I've been working primarily on large-scale meetings for pharmaceutical companies.

Actually, it's not as boring as it sounds.

Production is production, regardless of the final product. And these meetings usually give me ample opportunities to use my various creative skills.

Today I got a chance to demonstrate a skill I don't often get to use - my talents as a voiceover artist. We were cutting a video about a medication for Alzheimer's and the producer grabbed me in the hallway outside the edit room.

"You're an actor, right?" he said.

"No, not really," I replied truthfully.

"Okay, but you're a performer, right?" he shot back.

"Well, sort of," I said. "I'm a stand-up comedian."

This was all he needed to hear. A few minutes later I was in the sound booth playing an elderly man with Alzheimer's Disease. I'm not sure what part of "I'm a stand-up comedian" made the producer think I was qualified to play a man suffering from dementia, but I got the part.

I had one line: "It gives me the strength to keep going."

And I said it over and over again, with a dramatic pause in the middle for effect. I tried to sound old and tired, which wasn't really that much of a stretch for me at this point in my life. I lowered the pitch of my voice, gave it a growly rumble, and a bit of a nasal quality.

I constructed an elaborate back story for my character, identified as Herb in the script. He was originally from Brooklyn. He was a veteran of two tours of duty in Italy and North Africa during WW II. He returned to civilian life and had a long and fruitful career as a mailman. He had a loving wife named Betty and four kids. And he had a deep affection for ice cream.

This evening I saw the cut. I think I stand out like a sore thumb. But nobody has noticed yet how awful my performance is.

And that's really the secret of my success. I think I'm doing a terrible job. Everyone else thinks I'm great.


No doubt the truth lies somewhere in between.

6.11.2008

TODAY'S EBAY* PURCHASE

A poster from 1959's The Tingler, starring the great Vincent Price.

Technically this is not an eBay purchase. The seller, emovieposter.com, recently left eBay in protest of excessive fee increases and ill-advised rule changes. No longer can eBay buyers or sellers give (or receive) negative feedback, meaning that disreputable business people can now operate without fear of exposure.

The seller of today's buy, emovieposter's Bruce Hershenson, has established his own feature-rich auction site. If you love old movie posters as I do, I highly recommend visiting the site.

I also highly recommend The Tingler, although it is not a particularly good movie, per se.

What I love about this iconic William Castle production is the fact that it was filmed in a gimmicky effect called Percepto! In every theater that presented the movie, the seats were wired with tiny electric buzzers. During the climax of the film, the lobster-like Tingler creature escapes into the audience at an on-screen movie theater. The screen (both on scren and off) goes black and the buzzers buzzed beneath each seat, resulting in a slight electric shock for all audience members.

At the same time, theater staff ran up and down the aisles screaming and brandishing hand puppets that looked like the Tingler.

Of course I wasn't around to enjoy The Tingler's first run. But I did enjoy the film in Percepto! three decades later, when Film Forum in New York City rigged one of it's auditoriums to present The Tingler exactly as audiences had seen it in 1959 -- electric shocks and all!

Since then, Film Forum has screened the film a handful of times. I've been there each and every time, screaming my head off right on cue.

6.09.2008

SOMEBODY AT TCM PLEASE READ THIS!

You know how much I love old movies. And you know how much I love Turner Classic Movies. So it pains me to have to say this but, TCM has really blown it with its new summer series Essentials Jr.

The idea behind the show is a good one: expose a new generation of kids to great old movies, and you develop a classic movie fan for life. This is certainly in TCM's best interest. If young people don't develop a taste for the classics, TCM will eventually cease to exist.

The question of course is how to do this. That remains to be seen. But if want to know how not to do it, watch Essentials Jr.

First of all, no kid older than 6 wants to watch anything called Junior.

TCM's The Essentials (sans the Jr., and with an added The), with host Robert Osbourne, is the channel's signature program, airing every Saturday night at 8 PM (ET). Each season the producers pair the aging film buff with a new, younger co-host, most recently the sexy actress Rose McGowan. Some of these pairings work better than others, but you can always count on the films they show to be truly, as the name implies, essential classics that all film fans must see.

Such is not the case with the Jr. version.

Last night they ran 20 Million Miles to Earth, a boring, black & white, sci-fi clunker with bad actors and an even worse script. It's essential perhaps only for the effects work of mid-century master Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen was a genius well ahead of his time, but his stop motion effects work is positively laughable compared to what kids today are accustomed to.

The Essentials Jr. co-hosts, formerly-boyish-and-now-aging actor Chris O'Donnell and Little Miss Sunshine's Abigail Breslin, attempted to address this point in their stilted and awkward intro to last night's movie.

"My brother once did some stop-motion animation, on a video camera, with his action figures" Breslin said cutely.

"Cool," O'Donnell replied.

That was it. Why tease the supposedly kid audience with that fact? Why not have the two hosts do a little stop motion of their own? Do a fun demonstration, with GI Joe or Barbie or something . Show kids how they can do it themselves, with a video camera or even a cell phone camera and some simple computer editing software.

MAKE IT FUN!

Give them something more than these stilted, two-minute introductions where two mismatched actors sit awkwardly across from each other saying nothing. It's boring. And kids aren't going to watch just because it's a kid co-host -- not if she doesn't say or do anything interesting.

O'Donnell went on to mention that there's a restaurant named Harryhausen's featured in the animated film Monsters Inc., and that it was a tribute to the guy who invented modern special effects.

Who cares? Guess what. Kids don't want a history lesson. Particularly in the summer when school is a distant memory. Nor do they want to be force fed supposed "Essentials" that are picked by stupid grown-ups.

Nor do they want to be pandered to, which is exactly what TCM is doing by selecting films with juvenile protagonists: 20 Million Miles with little Pepe who discovers the alien, National Velvet with young Elizabeth Taylor, The Courtship of Eddie's Father with Ronnie Howard.

These are not the films I would pick to get kids excited about old movies. And later selections like Mutiny on the Bounty and Captains Courageous are even worse choices. I've never even seen these, and I don't imagine you have either. Is some 9 year-old kid going to sit through a black & white movie based on a creaky old novel?

IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SUMMER, NO LESS!!

Show kids fun movies: comedies, musicals, scary pictures, iconic stuff. These should be the best of the best that TCM has in its library. You have 15 chances over the Summer to hook these kids. And if you blow it JUST ONCE, you lose them. And they won't give you a second chance -- not with 150 other channels, and the internet and DVDs and video games and Myspace and all the million other entertainment options kids today have.

So if anyone at TCM is reading this. please do the following five things next Summer:

1) Pick better, more iconic movies. And if some of them like say, Gone With the Wind, are too long, then split them into two parts. And don't run stupid movies just because they have kid protagonists.
2) Give the hosts something to do other than stare awkwardly at each other. Make it fun. Make it dynamic. Make it interactive.
3) Interrupt the movie in the middle for a fun host segment (and potty break)
4) Remember that kids today are way hipper and smarter than you think, so call it something better than Essentials Jr. And don't talk down to them.
5) Hire me to produce this show. I guarantee I'll do it better than the people who are doing it now.