Tuesday, July 28, 2015

A Quetzal in a Tree


The guidebook told me that the quetzal was nearly an endangered species, and yet here one was. He was sitting in a tree quite a ways away. I never would have seen him if several guides had not set up their telescopes and invited us tourists to take a look.

It’s good practice when in a foreign country, in this case Costa Rica, to be, if not exactly suspicious, then at least wary of all you see around you. And frankly I did find it suspicious that this stunningly beautiful, and supposedly rare, bird just happened to be sitting in a tree right above the entrance to the cloud forest reserve. I mean, what an advertisement. It’s like a giant Mickey Mouse you might see standing outside of Disneyland, beckoning the cash-loaded tourists to come on in.

The two and a half hour walk through the cloud forest was impressive in its splendor, but yielded little in the way of wildlife; certainly nothing that compared with the photos I had seen on the website. Nor should it have, as you can’t expect to blow through a place like this in a short period of time and expect to see every known example of a Central American animal to form a conga line and dance for your entertainment.

The most impressive animal I saw during our hike was some sort of large rodent which was never identified, mostly because I was the only one in our group who saw it. I watched it as it scampered off into the foliage, and was impressed that I had been quick enough to get it on camera. Still, it was after all just a large rodent which probably could have been seen in any number of places around the world, and again I refer you to Disneyland.

The animal that caused the biggest stir, causing several hiking groups to congregate and take turns looking though telescopes was a green snake folded up in a distant tree limb. It took me several tries to spot the thing, but in my defense it was because I didn’t really know what I was looking for. I had been searching for a green snake in a tree, when it turned out that all that was visible through the telescope was a square-inch of green scales. And so this, then, was what all the hubbub was about.

And so as our too-brief hike through the cloud forest was coming to an end I thought back on the quetzal that we had seen at the park’s entrance. I felt somewhat amazed, and more than a bit fortunate, that I could have seen such a rare sight, and before I had even entered the park. And along with that amazement I again felt that twinge of suspicion.

And yet I knew I was being silly. What was I saying, that the magnificently colored bird I had seen off in the distance was nothing more than a decoy; a gloriously feathered puppet placed in that tree to lure tourists to the ticket window? Or, even worse, did I think it was a live bird, its feet wired to a branch for the day in order to impress the tourists and give them a magnificent photo and story to bring home?

I laughed to, and at, myself. Yes, it’s good to be wary at times, but thinking there was a fake quetzal in that tree bordered on the absurd. Still, I’d like to go back there one of these days. You know, just to see if he’s still there. 


Monday, July 27, 2015

If It Sounds Too Delicious to Be True…


Given the choice, I’d rather have hors d’oeuvres for dinner than, well, dinner. I’ve always been that way. Do you know that judgmental look from a server at a party or wedding as you lighten his tray for the third time in as many minutes? I do.

And so when I heard the television commercials for “unlimited apps” from that chain restaurant, I knew that one day I would have to try it. And today was that day. Still, when you’ve been around for a while, you tend look askance at everything. At a certain point the saying, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is,” becomes your personal mantra. And so, reverting back to the, “Be Prepared” motto of my Boy Scout days, I made sure to do my due diligence before making the long drive to the restaurant that had promised to make all of my gluttonous dreams come true.

In truth, I only went online to see if the “unlimited apps” promo was still going on. I was even going to go so far as to get the phone number of the closest restaurant and give them a call. “If I drive all the way there will I be able to eat appetizers until I explode like that guy in the old Monty Python sketch?” I would have asked them. Unfortunately, my research didn’t even get that far.

Once on the restaurant’s website I read the fine print about this so-called “unlimited” appetizer scheme. And here’s what I found out: Each appetizer costs ten dollars, and once purchased you can have as many of that particular appetizer that you can stomach. In other words, if you order the fried mozzarella sticks, you can have as many of them as you want. Hell, you can eat them all night long, assuming you have no major qualms about never pooping again. But if you want to try something different, that, my friend, will cost you another ten bucks.

So once I got the low-down I discussed it with Spike, and we decided that even if we each ordered a different appetizer, that would not give us the variety that we had dreamed of. No, the cost of that variety would put us up into the thirty, forty or even fifty dollar category. So we chucked the whole idea.

Further research told me that earlier this year the restaurant chain, to their credit, attacked this appetizer monotony problem by introducing the “Endless Choice” promotion. Here at last (for only two dollars more per) you could have your endless appetizers and choose any that the restaurant offered. Unfortunately, I saw no evidence that this promotion was still going on.

And besides, let’s face it: The appetizers featured are not the same quality you’d find at that upscale party or wedding. For the most part they are fried and/or breaded, and I suspect the “unlimited” aspect of your meal will find its stomach-cramping limit a lot sooner than you might expect.

And so I decided to scrap the whole thing, and get a cheeseburger from McDonald’s. Apparently today was a day I decided I needed to eat crap, so why not go to the pros? And as for appetizers, I suppose I’ll just have to wait until I’m invited to a party or a wedding and then scarf appetizers the way God intended, judgmental looks from the waiter be damned. 

And yes, I accept that my next appetizer-eating opportunity may be a while from now. I’ve noticed that at my age my contemporaries are no longer throwing many weddings or upscale parties. Now, if only they'd start serving appetizers at funerals. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Miracle Mets: A Quiz


I was there, you know. Yes, right there on the infield of Shea Stadium, happily yelling my head off with hundreds of other ecstatic Mets fans. It’s not a word you hear very often, but the best way to describe the mood of the crowd that night was jubilant.

The night was September 24, 1969, and the Mets had just clinched first place in the National League East division.  It had been a long, grueling haul to get there, as the sixteen year old me knew only too well. The Mets had never before finished a season any higher than ninth place in what was then a ten-team league. Even more remarkable, in their first seven seasons the Mets had never been over .500 after the ninth game of the season!

Over the years I had kept track as to how my team was faring with the help of my trusty label maker. For each game I punched out a “W” or an “L” and stuck it to the schedule that was taped over my bed. By the time 1969 rolled around I had nearly worn out the “L.”  

And still, although many decades have passed, nothing in the world of sports has ever even come close to recreating the excitement I felt during that long ago and improbable baseball season. One of the reasons, I’m sure, is that I was so young, and many things were still new and exciting. The main reason, though, was because the Mets’ 1969 World Championship season was a bona fide miracle. And they, well, they were The Miracle Mets.



1. What was the Mets’ regular season record in 1969?
a. 92 – 70
b. 96 – 66
c. 100 – 62
d. 104 - 58

2. Who was the manager of the Miracle Mets?
a. Gil Hodges
b. Yogi Berra
c. Casey Stengel
d. Earl Weaver

3. What future Hall-of-Famer was mostly a relief pitcher for the Miracle Mets?
a. Tom Seaver
b. Nolan Ryan
c. Jerry Koosman
d. Gary Gentry

4. True or False: The Miracle Mets won four straight World Series games.

5. Which Miracle Met was born on D-Day?
a. Tommy Agee
b. Ron Swoboda
c. Tug McGraw
d. Bud Harrelson

6. Which Western Division team did the Miracle Mets beat in the playoffs?
a. San Francisco Giants
b. Atlanta Braves
c. Los Angeles Dodgers
d. Houston Astros

7. Who was the 1969 World Series MVP?
a. Donn Clendenon
b. Ron Swoboda
c. Tom Seaver
d. Art Shamsky

8. How many of the Miracle Mets players are in the Baseball Hall of Fame?
a. two
b. three
c. four
d. five

9. This Miracle Met spent his entire 18-year career as a New York Met.
a. Cleon Jones
b. Amos Otis
c. Ed Kranepool
d. Ed Charles

10. Which Miracle Met was not a member of the 1969 All Star team?
a. Jerry Grote
b. Tom Seaver
c. Jerry Koosman
d. Cleon Jones


ANSWERS

1. The Mets finished their historic season with a record of 100 – 62. Their combined record for the months of August and September was 44 – 17. Meanwhile, to the west, the Cubs were collapsing like a house of cards in a tornado. You know, it still feels good to say it.
2. Former Brooklyn Dodger star (and former Mets player) GIL HODGES was the miracle manager of the Miracle Mets. He used a platoon system, and by October there were few people who would say he was wrong.
3. Although NOLAN RYAN was already throwing his feared 100 mph fastball, and would go on to pitch seven no-hitters in the majors, he couldn’t crack the Miracle Mets’ talented starting rotation, and was used mostly in relief and as an occasional starter.
4. TRUE. This is kind of a trick question. Although the Miracle Mets did not sweep the World Series, they did win four straight games against the powerful Baltimore Orioles. That is, after losing the opener.
5. Born on June 6, 1944, BUD HARRELSON was the brilliant shortstop for the Miracle Mets. He had the second longest career as a Met and was known as the lightest player in the game at the time, weighing in at about 150 pounds.
6. In the first year of divisional play in Major League Baseball, the Miracle Mets swept the ATLANTA BRAVES in three games and advanced to the World Series. Why, you may ask, was a team from Atlanta placed in the Western Division? Good question.
7. The future Miracle Mets were in second place, nine games behind the Cubs when they acquired DONN CLENDENON in June of 1969. He would go on to hit .357 in the World Series, including three home runs, and be named the Series’ MVP. Clendenon also hit two home runs during the division-clinching game where I was, as mentioned above, yelling my head off.
8. TWO.  In 1992 Tom Seaver was elected to the Hall of Fame by the highest percentage ever: 98.84%. Former teammate Nolan Ryan was elected in 1999, with a 98.79% vote. Yogi Berra, the first base coach for the Miracle Mets and legendary New York Yankees catcher, is also a member of the Hall of Fame. Berra, incidentally, had played briefly for the Mets in 1965.
9. ED KRANEPOOL was seventeen years old when he made his first appearance as a New York Met. Ironically, he was brought in the game as a replacement for first baseman Gil Hodges, who would later manage the Miracle Mets to the world championship. He would remain in the Mets organization until his retirement in 1978.
10. JERRY GROTE was not chosen for the 1969 All Star team. He was an All Star the year before, however, and would make it again in 1974.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A Leather Jacket


This is a story that happened back in the ‘60’s. It didn’t happen to me, or to my mom, who told me the story. So you’re getting this story second-hand. Or is it third-hand? I always forget exactly how that works.

When I say this happened in the ‘60’s it’s not just to convey that it was an event that took place long ago, possibly before you were born. No, if that was the purpose I could have said it happened many years ago, and left it at that.

As I remember the tale, a man named Joe who worked with my mom came into the office one day shaking his head. When asked what was wrong he told my mom about a discussion that he’d had with his teenaged son the night before.

Joe had been wearing a new jacket. I even recall Mom telling me that it was leather, except for the sleeves, which were knitted. His son had walked into the room and admired his father’s jacket. It was then that Joe made his offer:

“Son,” said Joe, “I will buy you a jacket just like this one, if you cut your hair.”

And this is why it is important to know that this took place in the ‘60’s. Joe’s son, like many, like most young men at the time, wore his hair long. How long, I can’t say. Remember, you’re hearing this second-hand. Or third.

“And do you know,” said my mother to me, “that his son said no!”

I don’t know that this was the first time that I fully understood that there would always be things that my mother and I, as close as we were, would not comprehend about each other. Clearly, my mother thought that turning down a new jacket, one that the kid obviously loved, rather than get a haircut was a concept right on the border of insanity. Perhaps across the border, even.

I, on the other hand, understood Joe’s son’s choice, and knew without a doubt that I would have absolutely done the same thing given that choice. I probably would have turned down a car. In fact, it was only a few months later that my father  told me if I didn’t come home with a haircut that night, not to come home at all. To this day the image of his stony face, more shocked than angry, looking out the window at me as I carried a suitcase to the garage before going out for the evening, is still etched in my mind. The suitcase, incidentally, had probably held, at best, maybe three pair of underwear and some socks.

Also that year a friend of mine had gotten caught shoplifting at a record store. His father went to pick him up, and the next day we saw up-close the punishment his father had administered. My friend now sported a short, a very short, haircut.

And so not to put too much emphasis on the importance of hair length in the ‘60’s, but clearly it did stand for something. It was more than a fashion statement; it was a political one as well. Your hair length told the world whose side you were on, and don’t kid yourself; there definitely were sides. And clearly defined ones at that.

And so when I saw my mom so surprised and so genuinely baffled by, to her way of thinking, the foolish choice made by Joe’s son, I chose to neither argue with her nor attempt to explain. I knew it was a point of view she would never understand in a hundred years, just as I would never understand hers. Ah, but I did understand the point of view of Joe’s son. I understood it then, and I understand it now.




Friday, July 17, 2015

Comedians I Have Seen: The Quiz



I tried stand-up comedy, you know. Twice. It was at an open-mic night at a club in Berkeley, many years ago. Seventeen singers with guitars, and me. Both of my performances were dismal failures. And it’s not that I wasn’t funny, although, make no mistake about it, I absolutely wasn’t. No, it’s that I was bored. Even by my second time, what turned out to be my “farewell performance,” I already knew what I was going to say, and I wasn’t much interested. So you can imagine how the audience felt.

Except for one guy. He was an employee of the club and he sat in the front row and laughed out loud at everything I said. I knew he was just trying to give me support, and I appreciated that loud laugh, as obviously fake as it was. I forget this guy’s name, but God bless him. He earned his way into Heaven on those nights, that’s for sure.

It’s an odd thing that for most of my life I’d much prefer to see a well-known stand-up comedian than a well-known rock band. Oh, I’ve seen some of the greats in music to be sure, including three of the Beatles, but I’ve seen even more of the comic greats, including each of who Jerry Seinfeld and I agree are the three greatest stand-ups of all time.

And so this quiz is not only about stand-up comedians, it’s about comedians I have actually seen perform. Some were amazing and some were disappointing, but they all had one thing in common. None of them needed a club employee with a phony laugh to boost their ego.


1. This comedian made me laugh so hard my face froze.
a. Rodney Dangerfield
b. George Carlin
c, Jerry Seinfeld
d. Sam Kinison

2. I saw this comedian perform when he was 95 years old.
a. Jack Benny
b. Bob Hope
c. Milton Berle
d. George Burns

3. This comedian drank cans of Tab throughout the performance.
a. Elayne Boosler
b. Bob Goldthwaite
c. Richard Jeni
d. Robert Klein

4. This comedian gave my date a frozen face.
a. Marsha Warfield
b. Rosie O’ Donnell
c. Bobby Slayton
d. Buddy Hackett

5. Which was not one of my, and Jerry Seinfeld’s, all-time top three comedians?
a. Richard Pryor
b. George Carlin
c. Bill Cosby
d. Robin Williams

6. Which comedian was not nearly as funny as his movies?
a. Robin Williams
b. Jerry Lewis
c. Woody Allen
d. Adam Sandler

7. Which comedian was not nearly as funny as his TV shows?
a. Ray Romano
b. Garry Shandling
c. Norm Macdonald
d. Bob Newhart

8. Which comedian did I not see before he became a household name?
a. Louie Anderson
b. Jim Carrey
c. Robin Williams
d. Gallagher

9. Which ethnic comedian’s 1966 album was enjoyed by my whole family?
a. Pat Cooper
b. Jackie Mason
c. Shelley Berman
d. Alan King

10. I finally saw them just months before they retired.
a. Smothers Brothers
b. Martin and Rossi
c. Rowan and Martin
d. Cheech and Chong



ANSWERS


1. If asked, both Seinfeld and myself would agree on the three greatest stand-ups of all time. I’ve seen them all but, curiously, the one comic who made me laugh so hard that my face froze, and I seriously considered running up the aisle and out of the theater, was not one of them. It was JERRY SEINFELD.
2. Neither Jack Benny nor Milton Berle lived to be 95, although Berle gave it a good shot, dying less than four months before his 94th birthday. Both Bob Hope and George Burns lived to be 100, but it was GEORGE BURNS who I saw doing stand-up when he was 95. Actually it was more sit-down than stand-up, but within a few minutes I didn’t pay attention as to how old he was. I was too busy laughing.
3. The thirsty comedian was BOBCAT GOLDTHWAITE, who I always thought had some interesting and insightful things to say, if you could get past that annoying voice he used to put on.
4. We were at a show featuring three comedians. I was enjoying it but was concerned that the woman I had brought wasn’t, as I hadn’t heard a sound out of her. I turned to look at her and out of the corner of my eye I could see her face had been frozen with laughter. The guilty comedian was MARSHA WARFIELD. You might remember her as Roz on the situation comedy Night Court.
5. I used to say that ROBIN WILLIAMS was the person I’d least like to be stuck with in an elevator. I never was that big a fan of his manic comedy. When it comes to movies, however, his brilliance was rarely equaled.
6. Jerry Seinfeld has said, “If you don’t get JERRY LEWIS, you don’t really understand comedy.” I was only a kid when I saw Lewis perform, but it was already many years after his break-up with Dean Martin. The one line I remember was, “If a light sleeper sleeps with a light on, what does a hard sleeper sleep with?” It was a disappointing show for me, because as a kid I idolized Jerry Lewis for his movies. And I still do.
7. Many people don’t remember that GARRY SHANDLING had two brilliant television shows. Oh, we all remember The Larry Sanders Show, but before that Shandling starred in the wildly creative It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, which ran for four hilarious seasons. Well, three actually. It sort of self-destructed in the final season, as Shandling himself will tell you.
8. Several times I saw unknown, or nearly unknown, comedians and thought, “This guy is going to be big.” And I was right. One comedian who I didn’t see, before or after he became famous, was ROBIN WILLIAMS. And it’s not like I didn’t have the chance. I recall living with my girlfriend in San Diego and seeing that this new comedian was in town. He was becoming popular and he had a new TV show starting soon. In the end we decided not to spend the money, or energy, to go see him. We weren’t even sure about his name: we thought it was William Roberts or something. His new TV show, of course, was Mork and Mindy.
9. PAT COOPER’s comedy album Spaghetti Sauce and Other Delights was played repeatedly in my (half) Italian home when I was growing up, and created laughter across the generations, from Grandma to my parents to us kids. The album cover alone, a parody of The Tijuana Brass’s Whipped Cream and Other Delights, was enough to crack you up. “Look at that kid, he’s eating a flower!”
10. A while back, over forty years after becoming a fan, I finally got to see the legendary SMOTHERS BROTHERS. And although they seemed as fresh and funny as ever, with the 71 year old Tommy bouncing around the stage like a man half his age, they announced their retirement within a year of that show.



Thursday, July 16, 2015

Trump Your Cat!


Isn’t Facebook amazing? It used to take hundreds of conversations and dozens of years to find out what idiots your friends and family are. Now this can usually be accomplished is the short space of a few hours. Yes, thanks to today’s electronic wizardry, over the course of a single evening you can learn that your Aunt Hilda is a racist, your cousin Joe is a homophobe and that friend that you’ve known for over twenty years actually believes that there are angels walking all around us.

As for humor, banality rules the day. People apparently are laughing out loud and rolling on the floor laughing their ass off at the most inane things. Just today I saw three separate posts showing the new photos of the dwarf planet Pluto, each with a picture of the Disney dog Pluto superimposed on it. Really, how high does this measure on the clever meter? Barely a blip, you betcha. And did anybody who posted these hilarious images even bother to read the articles about what the New Horizons spacecraft actually discovered? Not bloody likely.

There are, however, some rather amusing things that pass through the pages of Facebook. (And I don’t just mean the photos that show that your ex has gained about two hundred pounds.)  And that’s how you can tell whether something posted on Facebook is totally trite or outrageously funny. You see, if I think it’s funny, it is. If I don’t, well then it’s stupid. See how simple it is?

So my point is, and you knew I had to get to one eventually, that today I saw something on Facebook that made me laugh. Yes, out loud. People all over the country are “Trumping” their cats. That is, they are taking little clumps of their cat’s brushed hair, putting it on top of the cat’s head and taking a photo. And just like that, an army of little Trump cats.

And in the interest of full disclosure here, let me admit that I honestly don’t know if Donald Trump’s hair is real, a wig or some unholy combination of the two. I mean, if The Donald’s bizarre hairstyle is truly a wig, couldn’t he afford one that looks much better than thing sitting on his head? Why, with all his cash he could be sporting a flowing mane like Fabio!

Well, you know I just had to get in on this, and so I got the cat brush and a plastic baggie and headed out to the yard to look for my unwilling partner, Celine. Now Celine has had to visit the vet three times in the past three weeks, so naturally she’s a little skittish when she sees me approaching, especially when I’m armed with what are obvious instruments of destruction. What fresh hell is this? she seems to be asking.

But no, it was an easy matter to brush her long, orange hair and place a fair-sized specimen of it into the plastic baggie. Then I let Celine retreat to her favorite resting spot, behind the four foot tall catnip bush that makes her the most popular feline in the neighborhood. As you can imagine, she makes a lot of cat friends because of that bush, much like the kid who has the built-in pool in his backyard.

Two hours later Celine made the mistake of emerging from her catnip sanctuary, and I was ready for her. I took the tiny toupee that I had constructed from her hair and placed it on her head. It immediately fell off, despite my having applied a circle of Scotch tape to it. I returned to the house and found a roll of packaging tape. That should do the trick!

And it did, although it wasn’t a whole lot stickier than the Scotch tape. Miraculously, Celine didn’t shake her head, or attempt in any other way to remove her new extensions. I used this opportunity to grab my camera, stick it in her face and fire off two pictures. I thought the second one might have worked, so I checked it and it did. And again I found myself laughing out loud. And so back inside to post this already classic picture onto Facebook.

I downloaded the photo onto my computer, and when I saw it in the larger size I began to get a tad critical. Oh, it was a good shot, no doubt, but the wig could have used a bit more hair. And it could have been positioned a little more forward on her head. And wouldn’t it have great if Celine had been looking directly at the camera? I debated going back out, tracking down Celine, attaching the wig and getting a few more shots.

Are you out of your mind? said one of the many voices inside my head.  This isn’t going to hang in a museum. It’s a picture of a cat with a clump of hair on its head, and it will pass through the short Facebook cycle in about twelve hours, never to be referred to again. The voice, I realized, was right, and so I posted the picture that had first made me laugh out loud, and got a lot of nice feedback. 

In the end I’m glad I didn’t try for perfection. Already people constantly accuse me of having too much time on my hands. I didn’t need to spend half a day attempting to take the perfect picture of an annoyed cat with a clump of hair taped on its head and prove them right. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Sorry We Hurt Your Pool, Mister


It had been a long, hot day walking around Universal Studios, not to mention being shaken and stirred by a variety of attractions there. And so it was with an audible sigh of relief that I eased my tired body into the perfectly temperatured pool at the rather nice hotel where we were staying.

Yes, it was a vacation, but that didn’t mean I should let my usual highly disciplined exercise regimen go to hell. And by highly disciplined I mean swimming once a week for forty minutes. And so I began to do laps in the pool, which turned out to be quite rewarding, as the pool was about a third of the length of my regular pool. And happily, to my credit, not a single lap ended abruptly by me bumping my head on the side.

I had only been swimming a little while when a group of four kids, about twelve years old, entered the pool. They started splashing each other and having chicken fights, with the two girls flailing at each other from atop the shoulders of the two boys. And as they did so they meandered all over the pool, making it harder and harder for me to swim from end to end in a straight line.

Still, I did my best to maintain my direct route, going so far as to swim along the side furthest from the kids. Yet I could already tell that I was fighting a losing battle. This realization was made even clearer when a group of four or five new, even younger kids, splashed their way into the pool. Obviously I would not be able any longer to swim in a straight line to get my exercise. Hell, the loud laughing and screeching alone was enough to make me run to my room in defeat. And then someone dumped a box of water toys, including a bunch of those Styrofoam noodles, into the pool, and I was done.

And it wasn’t just the kids. This last group had brought with them an actual adult, in the form of a pudgy lady with a mass of peroxide curls atop her remarkably round head. Some adult, I thought to myself. She’s supposed to keeping an eye on these kids, controlling them, and here she is splashing and making as much noise as any of them. She’s old enough to be considerate of other people in the pool, and to instruct the kids to do the same. I had as much right to be there as any of them, and they were interfering with my work-out!

It was about then that I flashed on a scene from the movie A Hard Day’s Night. You might recall the part where the Beatles are simply running around a field, having fun doing nonsensical, silly things while “Can’t Buy Me Love” blasted on the soundtrack.  The Beatles in that scene conveyed pure joy, freedom and youth. You might also recall that the scene came to an abrupt end when a stodgy old man appeared in the scene, glaring at the Beatles.

“I suppose you realize this is private property!” he barked.

And so the Beatles slunk off the field, but not before George Harrison spoke to the old man.

“Sorry we hurt your field, Mister,” he said sarcastically.

Good God! All my life I’ve associated myself with what the Beatles represented: rebellion, joy and a healthy disdain for authority. And now, at long last, it turns out that I’m no longer the Beatles, young and free and running jubilantly all over that field. No, I’m now that grumpy old man! And I was just as eager to kick those gleeful kids out of the pool as the old man was to kick the Beatles off his field.  The only good thing about it was none of the kids came up to me and said, “Sorry we hurt your pool, Mister.” Hell, they’d never even heard of A Hard Day’s Night.


Thursday, July 02, 2015

Come for the Bugs. Stay for the Rudeness.


The reason I’m not very good at reviewing things is that I’m simply not that picky. If I go to a movie, I’ll usually enjoy it to some degree. Take me to a restaurant and I’ll clean my plate every time. Frankly, I’m just happy to be there. And so when I tell you that the Hacienda in Escondido, California is the worst motel I’ve ever stayed in, well, you can take that to the bank.

First of all, it wasn’t the ants in the sink. This, I know, might freak out some of you more delicate types, but as for me, who cares? There were less than a dozen of them anyway. And as for the bug crawling around the bathtub? Big deal. As my mom used to say, “How much can one bug eat?”

No, the problems that make the Hacienda so unappealing go way beyond these minor annoyances. It should have been a hint when I could barely stay in the office when checking in because of the nearly overwhelming stench of curry. Is that a politically incorrect thing to say? Sorry, my mistake. It actually smelled like a field of lavender. Mmmmm.

Once in the room it didn’t take long to notice that the air-conditioner, while functional, was held together with strips of masking tape. And the drawers under the bathroom sink were both broken and jutting out at awkward angles. Which is fine, I suppose, since I didn’t have to the courage to pry them open to see what might be lurking in them anyway.

In a shower the dial usually turns left for hot water and right for cold. At the Hacienda the dial just went round and round and round. And hot water? Forget it. But perhaps the most bizarre aspect of my room at the Hacienda was the overhead light. It kept coming on right over our bed, every few hours, all night long.

My wife and I never did figure out if the light was motion-activated or was just popping on at random intervals. At one point I dragged a chair over to the bed and stood on it, figuring I could cleverly solve the problem by unscrewing the light bulb. But there was no light bulb, just a grid of small lights in what looked like a futuristic shower head. Wouldn’t you know it, the only modern thing in the motel and it had to be that!

You know, all of these things could have been little more than the ingredients to an amusing story, and I might have left the Hacienda laughing rather than fuming. But no, it was the almost inconceivable rudeness of the manager that solidified my vow that I would write about this dump. It was eleven o’clock at night and I saw the manager was speaking to another guest at the night window. And so I went to the room, and returned to the manager’s window a few minutes later.

Upon checking in the manager had given me a slip of paper with the code for the Wi-Fi. I later noticed that one of the letters was indecipherable. To me it looked more like a symbol you’d find on an Egyptian pyramid than anything I’d ever seen associated with the alphabet.  “Try an “o,” a friend had suggested, which I later did. No dice. And so as the manager slid open the window I pointed to the cryptic letter and asked him what it was. At first he just glared at me, and then he spoke:

“What is wrong with you?” he said. “That is clearly an “r.”
Admittedly I was shocked, but not too shocked to reply.
“Not the way I write, it isn’t,” I said more calmly than you might expect. And before I left him I wanted to confirm that another letter was indeed an “s” and not a “5.”
“So this is an “s”? I asked. He glared at me and didn’t say a word. And so I asked him again. Finally, on the third try he barked, “Yes, that is an “s.”
And so I bid him goodnight.

Oh, and as a sort of final farewell, the fire alarm outside our room started clanging at seven the next morning. Thank you and come again, it didn’t seem to be saying. 



Friday, June 19, 2015




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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Asylum


This is an odd and funny little story. I rented a movie the other night called Asylum. I’m not sure why. It was a horror film, which is generally something I stay away from unless it’s a good old-fashioned ghost story. And these, sadly are very rare.

I wish I had read the back story on this movie before I started watching it, but I didn’t. And so I was confused almost from the start. To be sure, the story that had been described in the blurb was right there, when a hostage negotiator and his team are called to an insane asylum because the inmates have taken over the place, and haven’t we all worked in places like that?

Well, they haven’t just taken over the place, in some mild administrational way, but were actually killing and mutilating folks. Sure it was bloody and gory and gruesome, and not really my cup of tea. But then the film kept cutting back to an editing bay where two editors were actually watching the movie. The premise was that this was footage was from a film shoot and it was their job to whip it into something decent. “This is unwatchable,” said one of the editors. But of course they continued to watch it anyway.

And not only did they continue to watch it, but they made comments over the film besides. Funny comments that were clearly an imitation of the classic Mystery Science Theater 3000. And that’s when I became confused. Did these people actually go through the trouble and expense of producing an entire horror movie just so they could make jokes over it? It didn’t seem likely. And so I finished watching it, not really appreciating it because I didn’t know what was going on. And then I went to the Internet.

Here’s what happened. The writer of the horror movie, Chris Mancini, had handed in his script, only to be told the movie was going to be shot in Bulgaria, in an attempt to save money. The director in Bulgaria supposedly used almost none of Mancini’s script, save for the title. The result was, as the wise-cracking editor said, unwatchable. The production company decided that there was only one way to save the movie.

And so once again Chris Mancini hit the keyboard, but this time he was writing comedy. He borrowed the MST3K premise and created the storyline of the two editors watching and making fun of this horrible film, along with scenes with some other employees, and a crazed boss, around the office of the production company.

The IMDB rating for Asylum is an even three stars out of ten, and that’s probably about right. Still, I think that if I knew the back story going in, I might have enjoyed the movie more. The jokes, of course, were not up to MST3K level, but some of them made me laugh out loud. Had I gone in knowing the details of how this strange little movie-within-a-movie came to be I would have been able to fully appreciate what was, after all, a rather humorous situation. Hell, I night have even given it four stars.

Oh incidentally, the film starred both an Academy Award-nominated actor and the greatest quarterback in the history of the NFL. So there you go.




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