Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Waiting for the Cable Guy

I am now officially off TiVo, and if you know me, you know this is a rather big deal. I've been a major TiVo advocate since 2003, to the point where I had two TiVo DVRs in my apartment up until last week. See, there'd be times, usually in September and October, when I'd need to catch three programs at once, one of them being the Red Sox and...well, the only way I could do it was by operating a couple of TiVo boxes. And a VHS recorder. It's complicated. And a little sick. But, as I tell anyone who'll listen, television is the only thing I do. I'm kinda like the shark in JAWS except for the making babies part. Substitute "watching TV" for making babies and I am the shark in JAWS. Except I don't swim. Okay, forget the shark in JAWS. But you get the idea.

Anyway, I purchased a nice 32-inch Samsung HD TV, so I acquired the Comcast HD box and DVR and after a week or so, it became clear to me that I didn't need TiVo anymore.

But as soon as I disconnected my TiVo boxes, the Comcast DVR broke down.


The Comcast DVR box I had was the third I had picked up from the Comcast office, which happens to be down the street from my house. The first two boxes I picked up already had the Comcast TiVo software installed. Except I didn't WANT the Comcast TiVo software installed, and, beyond that, if the Comcast TiVo software is installed in the box, you can't get it to work, because you don't have the various codes you are given to activate the damn Comcast TiVo box. Unfortunately, the clerks at Comcast just take the RECONDITIONED boxes out of their plastic RECONDITIONED bags and give you the box without knowing what's already programmed, which is why it took me three trips to Comcast to get a box that was not already programmed for TiVo.

Are you still with me?

I'm not.

So I get the third box and it works and three weeks later I stop TiVo and disconnect it and my second old Comcast non-DVR box (don 't ask) and bring that to Comcast. I get home, and the Comcast DVR now does not work.

I call Comcast. This is not the Comcast that is down the street from my house. Well, it is, but the person I'm talking to is not down the street from my house. God knows where she is. But I'm telling her I can no longer get any channels on my new Comcast DVR box. She sympathizes. I have talked to many Comcast phone operators and they are programmed to sympathize. Or empathize. Somethingthize. Anyway, she feels my pain and reboots my box (insert your own joke here) and I wait for something to happen. Nothing does. She reboots my box again. (Same joke, if you like.) Again, nothing happens. She says I need to make an appointment with a service guy. It's Tuesday. First open appointment is on Saturday. Does she understand whom she's talking to? She gives me the option to take the box back to my neighborhood Comcast in the morning. I keep the appointment, but take the box down anyway, covering all bases. I re-install it. It works fine. I cancel the appointment.

Next day, I record SEINFELD, which I do almost nightly, because I like to sit in front of the TV and watch SEINFELD while I dine. Eat. Whatever. I hit the "play" on the DVR and up comes Jerry and the gang.

But they are pausing. And tiling. And stopping. And going. And freezing. It is unwatchable.

I turn to live TV. It also is
pausing. And tiling. And stopping. And going. And freezing. It also is unwatchable.

I call yet another Comcast operator. The tone of my voice gets me $20 off my next bill. Because she somethingthizes with me. She reboots my box (I am starting to enjoy this), and reboots it again. I think Comcast operators like to reboot people's boxes. Nothing works. Still freezing. Then I make another service appointment.

Get up the next day, and the TV seems fine. I cancel the appointment.

Last night, I record SEINFELD again. Again, the freezing. Live and Recorded freezing.

I call Comcast. Again with the somethingthizing. Again with the rebooting. Again with the nothing. I make another appointment.

Which is where I am now.

However, I know it's the box. I know this. It's not the connection. It's the box. I just didn't want to bring it back on my own. Not again. I wanted a cable guy to come here and bring a box to me. I have become that person.

I will tell him (or her) that when the service is rebooted, it's fine, but when I record anything, it all goes to hell.

I hope to God he (or she) buys this, because I don't want to spend an hour watching him (or her) traipsing around my cluttered apartment trying to fix something. Just give me another box. That's all I need.

Preferably a new one. But that won't happen, because, I am told, all local Comcast DVR boxes are RECONDITIONED!

I am now within 20 minutes of the scheduled two-hour slot when the cable guy (or girl) is supposed to be here.

I am afraid. I am very afraid.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

In Case You Missed Them...

It's the time of year when Ten Best Lists start appearing everywhere. Such lists are essentially inconsequential, given the subjective nature of it all, but every once in a while a peek at a Ten Best List will prompt me to check out a movie or a book that I normally would bypass. Such was the case this past week when I came upon a couple of Ten Best Lists in Entertainment Weekly.

(What, you thought I kept The Economist on the magazine rack in my bathroom?)

((Before I continue, however, I want to report that a play of mine appeared on a Ten Worst List in a local newspaper a couple of years ago. I subsequently discovered that the "critic" who compiled the list had not reviewed the play for publication. In other words, he told the world my play sucked [It did not, incidentally. It's called THE BIG APPLE and it's kind of funny in a frightening sort of way.] but did not have the guts to explain why. He just stuck it on his friggin' Ten Worst List. Boom. Like that. When word got back to the "critic" that I was upset because of his cowardice, he became all huffy and harumphy and continued to refuse to write a review. Therefore, I determined that, in any future reference to this "critic," I will always identify him as a "critic" in quotation marks. It's my little rebuttal.))


My scan of the Entertainment Weekly lists sent me to two films: ADVENTURELAND and (500) DAYS OF SUMMER.

ADVENTURELAND is written and directed by Greg Mottola, and features Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart. Kristen's face is splashed over the entire checkout line universe as one of those TWILIGHT people. Eisenberg's claims to fame include something called ZOMBIELAND which must have generated some kind of interest because he's "in development" with ZOMBIELAND 2. He was also in M. Night Shyamalan's THE VILLAGE, which pretty much explains why he's not a household name. In any case, ADVENTURELAND is a relatively predictable coming-of-age movie, with "relatively' being the operative phrase here. What I mean is, that while what you expect to happen pretty much happens, the honesty and humor with which Mottola and his actors find their way to their conclusion is refreshing. And Stewart, who has the smoldering good looks one would expect from the female star of a vampire movie, turns in a nicely nuanced performance in a prickly, challenging role. "Coming of age" is not really applicable here, I think, because these characters are post-college, and any "of age" has pretty much come and gone. But their little story here is genuinely compelling, and the two stars stay with Mottola's through-line stride-by-stride.

(500) DAYS OF SUMMER is an even later coming of age story, directed by Marc Webb, written by Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Webb, and featuring Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I had seen him recently hosting SNL, and, of course, I had no idea who he was or what he had done to earn that job. Turns out he was on the TV series THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN and got the SNL gig because of the success of (500) DAYS. She has been around playing annoying cuties here and there, and I think I saw her for the first time on WEEDS a few seasons ago, being cute and annoying Justin Kirk's "Andy," among others. The storyline here, we've also seen before, because it would be very difficult to tell a love story, or write a romantic comedy, which breaks new ground in terms of the basic story. What's nice here, as in ADVENTURELAND, is that the writing is truthful and really funny, as opposed to being dishonest and faux funny. Plus, where we end up is in a little different place from where we usually end up in such films (although not really--there's a tag ending that we really could have done without--although not really). Both lead actors are terrific, and even if you've been annoyed by Zooey in the past, check this out. She will probably annoy you again, but that's kind of the point, unless you put yourself into the mindset of Gordon-Levitt's character, which you will, if you're a guy. And I am. And I did. Even though my age is going, rather than coming.

While neither of these films reaches the heights of the iconic SAY ANYTHING, each has its own charm, and each would be an especially fine New Year's Eve rental for those of you not braving the lunacy outside the house.

Me, I'll be watching Woody Allen's RADIO DAYS, as always. The best New Year's Even movie ever. Well, let's call it the "sweetest, most nostalgic" New Year's Eve movie ever.

Because there is, of course, THE APARTMENT, which is KING of them all.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A View from the Parking Lot

So it's that time of year when I'm in and out of my car constantly, to one sister's house for Christmas Eve, to my brother's in-laws' house for Christmas Day, to my other sister's house for family gift day tomorrow...and every time I get out of my car, which I leave in the parking lot across the street from my house, I see the Sacred Heart Church.

Abandoned. Empty. Decrepit. Cold. Lifeless. Dead.

And I wonder why nobody ever told me this might happen.

And I wonder if I should be angry.

Or sad.

Or understanding.

Or all of the above.

I think all of the above is what I am, although understanding sits very low on that particular list of reactions. I understand, because it's very clear to me why the church building is no longer viable. There are all kinds of variations and tangents of explanation that can be applied to this issue. I'm going with "mismanagement."

Not of this building in particular. I think it was managed quite well over the years by a number of different men who took their responsibility seriously. Middle-managers who were probably, in a lot of cases, much smarter than their superiors, but because one of the principal functions of their position was to obey, and because they were responsible individuals who took their job seriously, they obeyed.

And look what happened.

So when I step out of my car in the parking lot, and when I look at the church building and the convent to its right and the rectory to its left--all Abandoned.
Empty. Decrepit. Cold. Lifeless. Dead.--my initial, immediate, visceral reaction is that I have been let down hard. Were I to voice that reaction to those in charge now, I would be reminded that another, newer building has assimilated the congregation of the now empty Sacred Heart Church, and I will say, not really.

Because there was a promise made in, and by, that building, and the aura that surrounded it, that has gone unfulfilled, and a new building, in another part of town, is not going to remedy that. With that broken promise, hordes of parishioners have abandoned not only the building, but also the institution. And those of us who have not abandoned the institution are still waiting, I believe, for an explanation that makes sense.

Of course, it is time that has dealt the most powerful sledge hammer to the church and the Church. I recognize that.

But, sad to say, it is some of the people who called and who still call the shots who have inflicted the most severe damage.

So when I step out of my car in the parking lot, I am, for a split second, angry at the building I see. But then I remember what it meant to me as I was growing up, how vital it was, how friendly its people were, how much energy it engendered, how much future it promised, and sincerely promised, and I am no longer angry at the building. Because what it was made me who I am, and that's not the worst thing in the world.

The worst thing in the world is that it's not doing that for this or future generations.

And whose fault is that?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Christmas Questions

Just some things I'm wondering about...

When you're a couple in your sixties, and the wife says to the husband, "Here, wear this Santa cap. I'm going to wear mine and we'll go to the mall and we'll both be wearing these Santa caps." When the wife says that, why doesn't the husband lose the car keys or fake diarrhea or just do anything to stay home and not wear the Santa cap to the mall? Why doesn't the husband do that?

When you set up your cell phone ring tone, what's wrong with "ring?" Why does it have to be the 1812 Overture or Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You, Babe" or if you're a kid a recording of all your friends yelling at you to answer your cell phone? "Ring!" Remember how it used to be? "Ring..." So sweet. (Not a Christmas Question, but important nonetheless.)

Why did Barbra Streisand make a Christmas album?

Who invented those effin' blowup Santas and Snowmen and why do they depress me instead of putting me into the holiday spirit? Is it me? Or is it the blowup Santas and Snowmen? (Clue: It's the blowup Santas and Snowmen.)

Why didn't at least one person who sings NOT make a recording of "The Christmas Song?"

Who's idea was it to change the lyrics to "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas" to include the line "Hang a shining star upon the highest bough?" instead of "Until then, we'll have to muddle through somehow." It makes a beautlful, wistful, almost sad song damn near pointless.

Why did I feel weird about calling this entry "Christmas Questions" instead of "Holiday Questions?"

Why do so many people revere "A Charlie Brown Christmas" yet so few really adhere to the sentiment it evokes?

Why do people who refuse to acknowledge the popular brilliance of IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE, not bother to champion MEET JOHN DOE, which accomplishes, in essence, the same thing WONDERFUL LIFE does, but in a much darker context. Isn't that what you guys want???

Why do I start these entries and then have no idea how to finish them?

Is Bing Crosby wearing his toupee under his Santa cap at the end of the movie WHITE CHRISTMAS?"

Would you?

An observation as I close:

I watched WHITE CHRISTMAS for about the fiftieth time last night, and instead of relishing the beauty of all the chorus girls in the big dance numbers, I kept saying to myself, "Shit, if they're not dead, they're 85!"

Friday, December 18, 2009

I Got Nothin'

I have nothing to say.

That pretty much covers it.

I'm sitting here at Barnes and Noble in Peabody (MA), where they're not supposed to serve Godiva Hot Chocolate but they do anyway, hoping to get myself into a writing mood so I can get back to the play I'm writing with Cindy Williams and Eddie Mekka in mind. But nothing's coming. I finished a draft of Act One yesterday, and it doesn't stink. Problem is, when Act One is over, there are only a couple of options: go back and keep fixing Act One, or move on to create Act Two. Fixing is easy. Creating a new Act Two is not. So I have Cindy's character at home on New Year's Eve. She's just asked one of her neighbors to kill her before midnight. And that's the end of Act One. Something will come to me. Maybe not here, maybe not today, but sometime.

I hope.

I got nothin'.

I look at the magazine racks and see famous people staring at me.

Taylor Swift. Where have I seen her? Saturday Night Live. I didn't know who she was then and I barely know who she is now. On this magazine cover (what magazine?), she seems to be paired with another Taylor, this time a guy, from I think the TWILIGHT movies. Where have I seen him? Saturday Night Live. Didn't know who he was then get the idea. I don't know his last name. I sneak over and thumb through the magazine. Every time he is mentioned, he is referred to only as "Taylor." This means he is so famous, that everybody knows him by his first name!

But what if you're referring to Taylor Swift?

No wonder they're hooked up on this magazine cover. Poor kids. They're so rich and famous they have to be placed side by side on a magazine cover so they won't be mistaken for each other.

Alec Baldwin. Now, I've seen him lots of places, but mainly on...Saturday Night Live, where he is one of the best guest hosts. This would be a good place for an Alec Baldwin family phone call joke, but I've done that already in an earlier blog.

Tiger. On Golf Digest. Standing behind a superimposed photo of Obama. Something about 10 tips Tiger can give the president. Seems Tiger is a couple of presidents late on this one. The guy just before Bush II may have been able to learn something from the Tig Man.

Miley Cyrus. All I know about her is I have her father's one hit on my iPod because it's helpful to run to it. Especially at the beginning of a run. Really gets me going. Miley herself, I wouldn't recognize a tune by her on the radio. Sorry. And she's kinda hidden on the magazine under the two Taylors. Miley's fifteen minutes may be down to two or three.

Perhaps I should stop looking at the magazine rack and try to write that second act.

Wait! Rihanna on the cover of GQ! I don't know who she is, but she absolutely belongs on the cover of GQ. Way to go, Rihanna!

Oh, yes, I did see her on SNL as well, didn't I?

She is wearing far, far less on the cover of GQ.

Way to go, Rihanna!

Now, that second act...

Hold on...

Reese and Jake have split. What a shame.

Tiger and Jessica are linked.

Linked, get it?

Robert Pattison and Jaycee Dugard are among People's Most Intriguing People of the Year.

WDF are they?

He's one of those damn vampires, isn't he?

Jennifer Aniston says, "You just have to love your life!"

Well, why is she telling me that NOW? Damn!

So many magazines, so many celebrities, so little time.

Wait, if you pick up People Magazine with Jennifer Aniston upright, then open the magazine, everything else is upside down!

That means something...I know it does.

It means I'd better get back to that second act.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


Normally, you'd have to drag me kicking and screaming to a movie entitled PRECIOUS. A film produced by Oprah and Tyler Perry, no less. Nothing against these giants of entertainment but...I'm not first in line for their projects, let's face it.

But I trust Roger Ebert. And Roger Ebert gave the film four stars. And I hadn't been to the movies in a while. And neither THE HURT LOCKER nor UP IN THE AIR had opened in the Boston area, was either PRECIOUS or the Nick Cage BAD LIEUTENANT sequel or remake or whatever it is, which Roger also recommended. LIEUTENANT started at 5:25, PRECIOUS at 4:10. Didn't feel like eating at 8. So I went to see PRECIOUS.

It's not a great film. It may not even be a good film. It is gritty and it pushes all kinds of buttons about abuse and poverty's really what you expect it to be.

But then, there's Mo'Nique.

Not a big fan of the solo-named actors. I mean, look at Cher. Good actress. Won an Oscar. But, all these years later, she's still a punch-line, and I think a main reason for that is her single name. Okay, quick, everybody--let's holler out Madonna's movie hits:

Cricket. Cricket.

Okay, maybe EVITA wasn't too bad.

But you get my point.

Anyway, back to Mo'Nique. I don't know much about her. I know she's done some TV acting, some stand-up, some TV hosting. Pretty much thrived in the "celebrity" category. I mean--the name. It's the name. What else could she be but a celebrity?

Well, I'm here to tell you this woman is an actor.

Over the years, I've been an avid moviegoer (not so much this year, but...) and, maybe, five or six times in the past twenty years or so I've come out of a movie blown away by a performance. Robert Duvall in TENDER MERCIES. John Voight in COMING HOME. Emily Watson in BREAKING THE WAVES. Cate Blanchette in NOTES ON A SCANDAL.

Mo'Nique (fix your name, girl!) delivers that kind of performance as the mother of Clareece "Precious" Jones in PRECIOUS. Gabourey Sidibe is terrific in the title role, and she will be nominated for everything. But the heart and soul of this picture is Mo'Nique. As the film progressed, I was impressed with her work, but, truth be told, it appeared to be a one-note performance, which I was blaming on the writer and the director. However, as the film concludes, she is given a scene where she has to try to explain the abominable things she has done to her daughter, and while her abominations are waaaaay beyond forgiveness, Mo'Nique somehow manages (with the help of the writer and director, of course) to bring the viewer into her world, not really to accept it, or even to understand it--but to know it. It is a harrowing, magnificent scene.

And this actress nails it.

Except for maybe the Duvall performance, which is subtle perfection from first frame to last, what distinguishes the other three performances mentioned above is the bravery which the actors must have to bring the characters honestly to the screen. Mo'Nique's performance in PRECIOUS is brave to the nth degree. It is brutally honest and shattering. She has revealed that she was molested by a family member as a child, so what she brings to the screen, she brings with a backstory.

If there is any justice out there, the Best Supporting Oscar must be hers. Duvall and Voight won for their performances. Watson and Blanchette did not. So I'm two for two.

For the record, her name is Monique Imes. I'd go with that.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Voice Recognition Software

I am making this blog entry utilizing my new voice recognition software. Because I am new at this, I find that I sound very much like a robot at this point. However, this program is amazingly accurate.

It is relatively expensive, but at this time of the year, especially in a year when I had two plays produced for long runs in professional theaters, I have to find things to write off. If I don't, I'll be paying the IRS. So, if it's a matter of paying a few bucks to Apple for some new software or paying the IRS, I pick Apple.

Get it? I pick... Apple.

Okay, now it seems that every time I try to write something in a new application, all I do is tell the new application that I'm trying out my new voice recognition software.

So that's what you blog readers -- all one of you -- is/are getting today.

It must be very unsettling for my landlord downstairs. She never hears me talk to anybody. Even when I'm on the telephone I don't talk as loudly as I'm talking now. It's entirely possible she will make me pay more rent for this other person I seem to be talking to at all times now.

I think the best use of this new voice recognition software is going to be my transcribing the written material I found from my mother and from other relatives regarding family history. I have been bemoaning the fact that I don't know that much about my family, but the fact of the matter is my mother and other relatives have actually written things down that I can dig up and record for the family.

So that's what I'm going to do.

This program is amazingly accurate. I said that already.

By the way, side note to my one blog reader at this point -- I plan to tell more friends that I am writing this blog, and I plan to do this when I send out my annual end of the year letter. Problem is, my annual end of the year letter usually comes out sometime in the spring.

I'll see if I can get this done any sooner this year.

Robot signing off.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Why Have the Disease When You Can Worry About It Without Really Having it?

I am a hypochondriac.

I don't watch medical shows on TV, because when I do, I have all the symptoms of that week's disease about two seconds after the closing credits roll. I watched HOUSE for three seasons before I gave up. Most of his diseases were so exotic even I couldn't develop symptoms. But after three seasons House's dyspepsia did me in. So, in a way, it was a disease that killed that show for me as well.

About a month ago, my brother had surgery in which a couple of stents were placed where stents are placed to open up whatever stents open up. Naturally, since that time, I have had chest pains that radiate down my left arm. I had these same pains ten years ago and went through all the steps people go through with these pains and was declared free of any kind of heart issues. Since I was officially declared free, I stopped worrying about the pains. Now, they're back and it's because I am incapable of not sharing other people's maladies.

Today, as I sat at Barnes and Noble innocently working on a play, the two ladies sitting in front of me doing the volunteer Christmas wrapping thing started discussing a friend of theirs who had passed away. Not a heart attack, but something to do with chest pain.

I wanted to take their wrapping paper and just...wrap the hell out of them.

I have three little lumps of something in my right palm. A year ago, I showed these lumps to my dermatologist. She smiled and said, "Oh, we don't usually do anything about these lumps. Unless there's pain, we just leave them alone."

I've gone a year not worrying about the lumps.

But recently, it occurred to me that it was my dermatologist telling me there was nothing to worry about.

What the hell does a dermatologist know?

So now I'm worrying about the lumps again.

Last Christmas, I was feeling some muscle pain in my neck and skull area. Went to my doctor at Lahey Clinic on CHRISTMAS EVE! He looked at me for about 32 seconds, felt my head, told me I was fine. And I was.

Until this week, when the pains returned.

Now I'm worrying about the pains again.

Maybe it's a Christmas thing.

Every slight discoloration on my body must be melanoma.

Every headache must be a brain tumor.

Every chest ache must be a heart attack.

Every cough must be lung cancer.

I need an episode of HOUSE where, at the end, Hugh Laurie looks into the camera and says, "Nobody is sick. Everybody is well. You, particularly, Neary, have nothing to worry about."

That'll last me a while.

Until I overhear another symptom in the line at CVS.

Well, at least at CVS I can pick up something to take for the ailment.

Whatever it may be.

I am a lunatic.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Gus Bernier ("Uncle Gus")

It's that time of year when what has become depressing about the holiday season triggers memories of holiday seasons past when the holiday season was the Christmas season and hardly anybody was afraid to utter the phrase, "Merry Christmas."

Now, when you utter the phrase, you are being bold and defiant.


Oops, there's another un-utterable holiday phrase!

And it's his birthday!

I digress.

So as I fight, fight, fight to return this time of year to its former stature (i.e., better than Thanksgiving), I remember a guy who contributed greatly to making Christmas Christmas for me back in the day.

Gus Bernier. Just a guy who pretty much ran the old WMUR TV station in Manchester in the fifties and a bit into the sixties. I got the impression he showed up in the morning, opened the door of the station, cranked up the broadcasting equipment, and then did everything until he went home, probably after eight or nine in the evening. He did the news and weather, I'm pretty sure about that. And he had a kiddie show, called "The Uncle Gus Show," which ran a while.

But the reason I remember him, and the reason I bring him up today, is that I believed he was Santa Claus.

Yeah, I said "believed."

Sometime in December each year when I was extraordinarily young, Gus did himself up as Santa, sat behind a WMUR desk, and transformed himself. The show would open, as I recall it, with what had to be a miniature igloo or something being dusted by WMUR snow. There was a window in the igloo and the camera zoomed in to the window, then opened up on Gus as Santa. He had an elf, named Ooglook (forgive the spelling, I have no idea), who could have been a man or a woman, and who had the voice of a bursting steam pipe. Bernier's voice was perfect--booming, happy, blustery. He would spend the first part of the show talking to us kids, directly into the camera, as if each of us was his own personal visitor. The television was like Santa's lap, and, since he came on at about 5:00, we watched and listened as we had dinner, or "suppa" as we called it back then.

After this, he would go to his workshop, and show us (and our parents, who, in those days, had "suppa" with the kids) all the new toys he and his elves had "built" at the North Pole. For some reason, which we kids neither understood nor tried to understand, he would tell us (and our parents) that if we wanted to take a closer look at the toys he had built, all we (and our parents) had to do was visit his "friends at Mattel" or wherever. Sponsorship taken care of.

And that's pretty much it. He was as believable a television character as any of the greats--Ed Norton, Barney Fife, Archie Bunker, Cartman--and when I woke up as a very young child and found gifts under the tree, it was this guy I believed had visited the house the night before, left the gifts, ate the cookies and milk.

To me, that's an astonishing accomplishment for an actor.

Well, making me believe, I mean. The cookies and milk--any actor could do that. Most would.

Thanks, Gus.

Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009



I'm going to miss Heidi.

Heidi was my brother and sister-in-law's dog. I never learned her breed. I always thought she looked just like a small deer. So whatever that breed is, that's what she was.

Didn't matter.

What matters, at least from my standpoint, is that Heidi made me a dog lover.

I went damn near fifty years not really caring about dogs, one way or the other. Cats, I couldn't stand. Cats made me nervous and I didn't like to be nervous. Dogs didn't bother me. I never cared all that much about them, but they didn't make me nervous so...they didn't bother me.

Well, a couple of dogs made me nervous. One German Shepherd on my old paper route made delivering the Globe on Sidney Street a walk in Hell on a daily basis. But dogs in general--they were okay.

Then Heidi moved in downstairs on Andrews Street, and it didn't take long before I knew what they meant when they would talk about man's best friend.

Heidi had a terrifically mild and friendly temperament.

Unless you were a guy with a beard, or a guy smoking cigarettes.

Those guys would piss her off.

And if you were a bearded guy smoking a cigarette--head for the hills!

But with us, with the family, with friends, with neighbors, Heidi was a sweetie.

I was fortunate enough to dog sit for Heidi a few times, and just the notion of allowing a dog to be in my apartment when I was SLEEPING was proof that I had taken the leap into canine-appreciation land. My favorite moment when taking care of her was when it was time for a walk. All I had to do was reach for the long leash and she'd be leaping up and down like a 37-year old single bridesmaid going after the bouquet. After I held her down to link the leash, she'd lead me to the front or back door, lean up against it, panting with anticipation, and then we'd hit the yard or the sidewalk and get a breath of air. Loved doing that with Heidi.

Heidi was something of an apartment building explorer. Both my mother and I, at different times and in different apartments, woke to Heidi staring us in the face, first thing in the morning. She had found her way downstairs to my mother's apartment, and upstairs to mine, and seemed damned pleased that she'd done it.

Heidi knew me. Heidi knew I liked her, and she'd always come to greet me when I'd visit the downstairs apartment on Andrews Street or the house in Derry. But, after a couple of vain attempts on her part to get me to allow her to lick my face or my hand, she learned, she knew, that this is something that just wasn't going to happen with Uncle Jack. It was a tacit understanding between us, and, after about a month or so, when she'd greet me, she would never reach out in that way again. And it was fine.

Heidi has been sick, and she went away tonight.

I am forever grateful to Jim and Tracie, who took such good care of her, and to Heidi herself, for opening up her world to me.

So long, Heidi.

You did a very good job.


Uncle Jack

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Shrink Wrap

I need to hire someone to open things for me.

Otherwise, I will probably kill myself, accidentally or intentionally.

Shrink wrap.

Who the fuck invented shrink wrap?

Not regular, thin shrink wrap that you find on CDs and magazines that consider themselves worthy of shrink wrap.

I mean the kind of shrink wrap you get on utensils and batteries and DVDs and things like the LAN adapter I received from Amazon today. Maybe it isn't even shrink wrap. It's hard and plastic. But it's wrap. And it looks like it's been shrunk around whatever it's covering.


Oh, you can. Of course you can. Otherwise nobody would ever be able to put a battery into a camera or radio. But when you do open it, you take your life in your hands.

First of all, you need a box cutter or a very sharp pair of scissors to cut through the shrink wrap. Or the hard plastic. Or whatever the crap it is. But there's no real avenue of entrance for your box cutter or your scissor(s). You either cut through the shrink wrap into what is usually the instructions for whatever it is you're buying, thus tearing the instructions to shreds, or you decide not to cut, but rather to poke a hole into the wrap and slide the box cutter or scissor(s) up the side of the package. When you do this, it is entirely possible your box cutter or scissor(s) will miss the poke, and poke you, which is what happened to me when I tried to get to my LAN adapter opened yesterday, puncturing my palm. There is nothing enjoyable about a punctured palm, let me tell you.

What's even worse is when you buy a box cutter or a pair of scissors and they're all shrunk up into shrink wrap and the only way you can get to your box cutter is by using a box cutter or a pair of scissors, but you can't because your box cutter and scissor(s) is (are) shrunk up in the shrink wrap and....AAAARGH!

I used to like Graham Crackers.

I still do.

But I don't like opening a package of Graham Crackers. Not since shrink wrap.

It's depressing.

Opening Graham Crackers should not be a depressing experience.

I mean...they're Graham Crackers!

Remember when things used to be wrapped in paper? And aluminum foil?

That was nice.

That was safe.

Reynolds Wrap won't kill you like shrink wrap will.

I hate shrink wrap.

I really do.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Stuff Is Winning

Okay, I tried to work on the stuff yesterday. And I succeeded, to a certain extent. I went out to my hallway and picked up all the cardboard boxes I would have thrown away a long time ago had I not felt guilty about recycling them. See, it's not a concern for the environment that moves me toward recycling--it's guilt. But, you know, guilt pretty much drives every other action of mine, so there's no reason to be surprised that guilt drives this one.

Anyway, I gathered up all the cartons and boxes (are they the same thing?) and took a box cutter and went to work. Got them all cut up and packed in a bigger box to put in the recycling bin tomorrow.

So that was good.

But it was just a small strand on the full head of hair which is my stuff. And it took me an hour or so. And then I had to go to my directing job.

So today, I went at the stuff again, and the stuff just laughed at me. It didn't smile. It didn't smirk. It laughed. Out loud.

"Who the hell do you think YOU are to try to get rid of us?" the stuff said. "We are your STUFF, and we do not go down without a fight! Har Har Har!" (That's how stuff laughs. Har Har Har. I have no idea why.)

So what I ended up doing this morning was what I always do when I feel the need to get rid of stuff but when the stuff laughs at me.

I moved the stuff from one part of my apartment to the other, thereby clearing stuff from a portion of the apartment, allowing me to fool myself into thinking I have actually done something about the stuff.

But I have not.

Because there it was, on the other side of the apartment. Laughing.

And it took me two hours to realize it.

So, there is a certain amount of guilt removed by the work done.

But the problem remains.

And the stuff laughs.

Har. Har. Har.

Monday, November 23, 2009


I have way too much stuff.

And I just don't know how to deal with it.

In fact, that's the reason I'm writing this at this moment. Because, by writing this, I don't have to deal with my stuff.

And I've determined that it is, in fact, really, really time to deal with my stuff.

I am terrible at throwing things away. Somehow, the Depression mentality embedded in the generation previous to mine has embedded itself in my brain. I look at something--a piece of stuff that is no longer pertinent to my existence--and if it isn't shattered beyond comprehension, I tend not to toss it, but to store it. I guess I think that in some sort of Stuff Afterlife, there's gonna be a Stuff Resurrection when all this useless stuff is going to be refurbished and useful either to me or somebody else.

Right now, as I stare at the top of my refrigerator, I am looking at two cookbooks.

First of all, I have no need for one cookbook. I cook, but I don't cook by the book.

And even if it makes a tiny bit of sense to keep a cookbook in the house, why would I need two cookbooks, especially since one of them is torn and tattered and anything worth cooking inside probably wouldn't taste good anyway because of the decrepit shape of the book?

I currently own five televisions. Maybe six. I'll have to look in the back of the closet.

Radios. Boom boxes. Tape recorders. Walkmen. (Walkmans?) Telephones. Answering machines.

In a now-fully digital world, I refuse to let go of my analog past.

And I won't even start with the books.

Magazines. What is it about a magazine which, when I finish reading it, obliges me to think I need to keep it? (There's a sentence there, somewhere, just look for it.) Maybe it's the gloss. I can barely throw out non-glossy items, how the hell can I throw away something that's shiny and sparkly and has a picture of Reese Witherspoon on the cover?

And, on another matter entirely, when have I EVER finished reading a magazine?

Why do I even subscribe to magazines?

Wait a minute, I recall, a few months ago, I threw away a whole slew of VHS tapes. Not commercial tapes, mind you, but old VHS tapes I used to record TV shows. So somewhere in the dump, if you're interested, you can find VHS tapes full of old SEINFELDS and NYPD BLUE episodes.

What I need to do, is to get myself in whatever mode I was in when I threw out the VHS tapes, and begin to throw out everything else.

And I'm not going to get into that mode by typing this. I go. STUFF! GET READY TO MEET THE DUMPSTER!

Wait...who's that on the cover of Entertainment Weekly?

Jennifer Connelly?

Well, I guess I can hold on to just this one...

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Surrounded by Idiots, Part One

So you're driving. You're toodling up the ramp, aiming for the highway. Maybe it's 95 in Burlington. Maybe it's 495 at Woburn Street in Lowell. Maybe it's 93 in Stoneham.

But you're toodling. And you're in Massachusetts. What's worse, you're FROM Massachusetts. And what's even WORSE WORSE, you were BORN in Massachusetts.

So, as you're toodling, what's going through your head is this:

I am driving.

I am from Massachusetts.

I was BORN in Massachusetts.

I have the right of way.



So you toodle up the ramp, and you don't look in your rear view mirror to see what vehicle, most likely driven by someone nearly as human as you are, is heading in your direction. You don't look because you are a Massachusetts driver and YOU HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY.

Trouble is, there's a very good chance that the vehicle containing a human or humans nearly as human as you are is heading toward your ramp and the human who is driving is likely ALSO to be a Massachusetts driver.


And here's what you do if you're toodling up that ramp heading towards doom and destruction.

You put your foot on the gas. And you enter the highway. And you keep not looking. Because you know, because you are you and you are an IDIOT, that you are not going to be demolished by that SUV or SEMI. You know that. Because you are from or you were born in Massachusetts and you are an IDIOT.

And you know what? You are right. Because the human driving the vehicle you are about to CUT OFF, despite not having the right of way, is ME.

And I will back off. And I will let you on the highway. Because I, also, am an IDIOT.

However, I am an IDIOT who wants to LIVE.

After I allow you on the highway, I will then spout off a series of sentences featuring a certain f-word which you can hear on premium cable. I will curse you to within an inch of your life.

But you will live.

As will I.

Because while I am an IDIOT like you, I am an IDIOT who understands your IDIOCY, and who knows how to deal with it.

It doesn't make for an easy, quiet commute.

But I get to where I am going.

And I get to use the f-word. Loudly. Uncompromisingly. Enthusiastically.

Which is, somehow, soothing.

In an IDIOTIC kind of way.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Fred Gwynne

Visiting a friend in the Bronx last week. We went into a video store, to the television DVD section, and I noticed a sale video of the TV show THE MUNSTERS, with Fred Gwynne's mug doing the Herman Munster smirk for all the world to see.

And it occurred to me...

THIS is how guy is going to be remembered?

Oh, I know, it was TV and he probably made a lot of dough and nobody was twisting his arm to play Herman. I know all that. But Fred Gwynne did a couple of other things which certainly need to be remembered.

First and actually foremost are his two outstanding appearances on The Phil Silvers "Bilko" show in the 50's. In one episode, he played "The Stomach," a champion at food-eating contests in the army. Bilko, of course, gets him in his platoon and starts making bets with other sergeants knowing he can't lose with The Stomach on his side. Trouble is, The Stomach has lost his one true love, and has gotten over her. When he lost her, he started eating to overcome his sadness. But he's past that, and now he's lost his appetite. Silvers' Bilko then proceeds to do everything in his power to bring the memory of the lost love (and the appetite) back to life. The segment when Gwynne is forced to listen to love songs on Bilko's record player is priceless, mainly due to Gwynne's sweet acceptance of all the friendly bullying Bilko imposes on him.

And in another episode, Gwynne plays a soldier who has spent waaaay too many months assigned to work alone in a radio shack in Alaska, where his only entertainment was a book about birds. He knows everything about birds. Everything. So, naturally, Bilko recruits him for the big TV quiz show, where he and his platoon can use Gwynne's expertise to get the ever-elusive "million dollars!"

Hijinks, and failure, ensue. It's hysterical.

Both these are classic episodes, made classic by Silvers, his writers--and Gwynne.

And Gwynne's last appearance before his death, as the southern judge in MY COUSIN VINNY, I believe, deserved an Oscar nomination. Honest and funny and very different from, but as brilliant as, his earlier TV and movie work, it is a wonderful performance.

So the next time you consider Fred Gwynne and his contribution to the world of show business, go back and look at his Bilko stuff, and MY COUSIN VINNY.

That's the real Fred Gwynne.

November 17

My mother passed away six years ago today. The anniversary of her passing is just ten days after that of my father. Adds a little bristle to the late autumn chill.

She was a fighter. Challenged by heart and kidney disease for the last five years of her life, she shuttled and was shuttled to innumerable nurse practitioners and specialists and not-so-specialists and clinics and rehabs and hospitals and waiting rooms and nursing homes name it. Frustration found its way into her demeanor on occasion, but, for some reason, there was an overwhelming sense of hope in her heart that life was going to return to normalcy sometime, maybe soon, maybe later, but sometime.

She was fully prepared for such a final act--from pre-paid funeral to fully-covered life insurance policies to signing the house over to her kids. Except for the hideous bureaucracy one has to encounter when dealing with a sick elderly parent, our work was pretty simple when it came to letting her go, and moving on.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

The New New York

Haven't been to New York City for...oh, I don't know...maybe six years. And the last two or three times, I've visited exclusively to go to Yankee Stadium. So my return to midtown Manhattan over the past few days has been a long time in the making. A few observations:

There are more people. If that's possible. And very few of them look like they know where they're going. And usually, when they're at the point where they are the least aware of where they're going, they stop to take a picture. I guess just to make sure they remember forever that moment in time when they had no idea where they were going in Manhattan.

Forty-Second Street. Hear the beat. It's not the 42nd Street I remember from the mid-nineties. Most (not all) of the sleazy movie theatres are gone. Many more savory people crowd the sidewalks. There are a couple of active "Broadway" houses between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. One is for MARY POPPINS, the other for AFTER MISS JULIE. Couple of huge mainstream movie complexes. The biggest McDonald's marquee I've ever seen. And people. People everywhere.

And, speaking of people, there appears to be a uniform for women between 18 and 40. Black everything. Coats and boots and blouses ans sweaters and...everything. And tights. Black tights. It's as if all these women got together for a meeting and decided this is what HAD TO BE WORN. And remember all those secretaries and executive assistants back in the 80's and 90's who left the office in sneakers? There are about four of them left. Doesn't seem to be the thing anymore.

And there's a portion of Times Square around the TIX...well, I was going to say "booth" but I don't think it's a booth anymore. The An area where, if you want, you can sit at a table in what used to be the middle of Broadway and watch the world go by without fear of getting sideswiped by a cab. Most of the people who don't know where they're going congregate here to take pictures. Times Square is an...I'm going to use the word I never use here because here it's an awesome sight to behold if you've never been there before. Especially when the sun goes down. And I promise I will not use that...word...again for a year, at least. But Times Square, for the awe-inspiring.

Most importantly, I was able to find two places where a human can go to the bathroom without getting berated or thrown out, one in the Lincoln Center area (Barnes and Noble--they put it on the 5th floor to make it tough to get to, but one can get to it) and the Equity Office on 46th and 7th. Of course, you need an Equity card to use this one, but I have one, so there. Finding usable bathrooms in midtown is an important thing if you don't have a hotel room.

Priorities, you know.

Anyway, it was nice to get back. I've always loved New York, especially midtown.

Wouldn't mind living there again.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Couple of Things

Off today to New York City to see Judith Ivey's THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS and then to meet with Judith about my play, THE PORCH. Always pleased when a respected actor reads my stuff, gets it, and expresses interest in it. Doesn't happen all the time. Almost never happens with Artistic Directors, Literary Managers, or Dramaturgs. Anyway, we'll see what we shall see.

Netflix delivered the remake of THE TAKING OF PELHAM 1-2-3 yesterday. Good flick. Especially worth watching for John Travolta's lunatic villain--not a big challenge, showy role, but he pulls it off quite well--and, most especially, for Denzel Washington's mild-mannered, schlumpy, ferociously honest exec-turned-subway train dispatcher. I've never thought a lot about what Denzel brings to the table as an actor, but he never disappoints. Always seems to bring his A-game and, in this case, sacrifices leading man good looks and charisma for sincerity and accommodation of the story, making the movie, perhaps, a little better than it really is. There's a lot of action and things blowing up, of course. It is a Tony Scott film, after all. But Denzel's character--and John Turturro's hostage negotiator as well--ground the story in reality, and make the film worth watching.

That's all I have today. Must begin checking every faucet and electrical outlet in preparation for my three days away from here.

It's exhausting, being me.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


When I was a yoot (thank you, Joe Pesci), traveling to New York City was THE big thing for me. I did it annually, thanks to the Sacred Heart Band, which marched in the St. Patrick's Day parade every year for about 20 years. And I would continue to visit at least once a year throughout my time in high school. Back then, it was possible to see a Broadway show for a price that insanity had not yet overcome. (I don't know if that sentence makes sense, but I'm going with it, regardless.) I believe I saw CABARET for six bucks, mainly because I purchased a last-minute, half price ticket. So the ticket was twelve bucks. Or maybe it was 24 and I paid 12. Whateveh! It was cheap. I remember that Anita Gillette played Sally Bowles and she was terrific. I saw both Ginger Rogers and Pearl Bailey play "Dolly," in different productions, of course. Pearl's "Vandergelder" was Cab Calloway. One doesn't think about the iconic position these people would take when one is 15. I saw Robert Goulet, much maligned as a lounge lizard in his later career, in his wonderful, Tony-winning performance in THE HAPPY TIME, a lesser-regarded but beautifully written musical by Kander and Ebb. I saw Ruby Keeler in NO, NO NANETTE, along with Jack Gilford and Helen Gallagher. Irene Ryan doing her show-stopping number in PIPPIN. Ben Vereen, too, of course. (I think so, anyway. Not sure if he was still in the show when I saw it, but since Ryan was, I assume he was as well.) Jerry Orbach in PROMISES, PROMISES. Jack Albertson and Sam Levene as the original SUNSHINE BOYS. Later, when I was a grad student, I saw Robert Duvall in AMERICAN BUFFALO. Suffice it to say, I've seen some good theatre in New York.

I'm going back tomorrow, for the first time in maybe six or seven years, to meet with the actress Judith Ivey, to talk about her interest in my play, THE PORCH. I will meet with her carrying no expectations, because expectations in my business, at least with me, often lead to black holes. But the fact that she's interested, and seeing me, in the midst of the run of her one-woman show about Ann Landers, makes the trip well worthwhile.

And I may see a Broadway show. But it'll cost me $125.

It was better when I was a yoot.

Monday, November 9, 2009

The Remake of CAPE FEAR, or What Was Scorcese Smoking?

Because of the proliferation of Blu-Ray discs, many standard DVDs are sold inexpensively these days, so I've been piling up films I think I'd like to see one or two more times in my life, or films that look somewhat interesting, or films by great directors. With this notion in mind, I picked up Martin Scorcese's remake of J. Lee Thompson's 1962 thriller, CAPE FEAR, which I believe was based on a John D. McDonald novel. I had seen the remake on a date, as I recall, so I probably wasn't paying much attention the first time around.

Scorcese has made some great films (RAGING BULL, GOODFELLAS, and, yes, even his Oscar-winning THE DEPARTED), and some not-so-great films with compelling moments in them (THE AVIATOR, GANGS OF NEW YORK). But this one. I don't know what the hell was going through his mind with this one. it was as if Marty said, "Okay, that original? Good flick. Subtle. Sexually charged. Dynamite. Great. Let's just up the tempo a bit, see what happens."

What happens is loud and broad and ACTED within an inch of its life. Robert DeNiro, surely one of the great actors of our generation, got it into his head that he could play a trashy southerner with a trashy southern dialect. Sorry. There's too much Tribeca in him for that. Every drawled vowel sounded like it was italicized in a bad dialect manual. Nick Nolte, as DeNiro's target throughout the film, somehow managed to keep every strand of his slicked-down hair in place as he squinted and scrunched his eyebrows trying to determine how to get DeNiro off his back. (The first thing I would have done is report DeNiro's Max Cady to the fashion police. What was he wearing in this thing?) Jessica Lang seemed to try, frame-by-frame, to out-eyebrow Nolte, and when she couldn't, she yelled. And cried. And screamed. And yelled again.

Somebody thought it was a good idea to use an update of Bernard Hermann's original soundtrack. Not so sure it was that good an idea. In the early nineties, we had reached the stage where we didn't need all that music telling us how to feel. Worked in PSYCHO. The original, that is. Not so much here.

The only moments that worked were SOME moments with the very young Juliette Lewis, who withstood one of the smarmiest scenes in movie history, when DeNiro seduces her character in a school theater, and at least showed us that some thinking was going on in her head, unlike the heads of everybody else in the movie.

Scorcese hired Robert Mitchum and Gregory Peck from the original, and gave them kinda juicy parts, probably to keep them off his back when they saw the remake.

And here's the thing--I'm not saying this movie is unwatchable. It is scary at times and certainly entertaining on a number of levels.

But Scorcese?

I don't think so.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

November 7

So my father died 45 years ago today. This morning. A Saturday. That's how old I am.

I remember waking up and stepping into the kitchen to see my sister Claire sitting on my aunt (Sister Ann Teresa, SSMN)'s lap, crying. My mother was waiting for me. Father McLaughlin was there, too. My brother, Jim, only 9. I believe my mother said, "Daddy's gone." And I know Father McLaughlin said, "God took him." And I remember going right to my father's rocking chair in the kitchen, sitting in it, and saying, "Well, there's just another saint to pray to."

A little dramatic, perhaps portending my future. But there it is. I had last seen my father six days earlier, on a Sunday morning. I had gone to band rehearsal in the school hall, knowing he was heading back to Boston, to the Pratt Clinic, where he had been the preceding week for...the dreaded word...tests. I knew he was having an operation the next day, on Monday. I didn't know what the operation was for, because we were Irish and the adults didn't talk about cancer to the kids. But I knew it was kind of important, this operation. And I knew, when I got home from band and he was already off to Boston with my Uncle Bill, that I needed to see him. So I looked outside the front door and saw that my uncle's black Chevy Impala had just taken a left turn down Otis Street, which meant he'd be coming back out to Moore via Bourne. So I ran as fast as my then-chubby body would take me (pretty fast, to tell you the truth--they didn't call me "Flash" in the school yard for nothing), and caught up with the Impala at the corner of Moore and Bourne.

I have written about this, and performed the written piece on stage. So I won't repeat myself here. I've held off getting it published, but I think I'll do that someday.

And I did say goodbye that morning, to him, in person, to his face. And for that, I am eternally grateful. I didn't know, or even imagine, that the goodbye would be my last goodbye. But it was.

And it was a good one.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Laughing Out Loud

One of the most vivid memories of my childhood has me lying in bed, late at night, listening to my parents--mainly my mother--laughing out loud at the Jack Paar Tonight Show. Or maybe Carson. But most likely Paar. I didn't realize it at the time, because I was a KID and KIDS realize nothing about comfort and contentedness and happiness and well-being. All these notions kick into place when it's much too late in life to appreciate them. But, in recollection, I appreciate those out-loud laughs emanating from the TV Room. Which brings me to Thursday Nights on NBC.

NBC as a network, if you follow the showbiz news, is not performing all that well. Matters not a whit, because NBC provides us with Thursday nights from 8 until 10 and some excellent comedy. True, it has taken COMMUNITY and PARKS AND RECREATION time to settle in. P&R, in fact, is now in its second year and is just finding its comic legs. But, though it may be too late as network brass are probably already looking for a replacement for the show, it's getting better, and last night I LAUGHED OUT LOUD at least three times during the show, as guest Megan Mullalley played a manipulative ex-wife with an agenda, up against Amy Pohler's rigidly comic Leslie Knope. COMMUNITY is newer, but has leapt forward over the past few weeks as Joel McHale's character has subtly evolved into what the central character on a sitcom needs to be--the anchor and observer, rather than the looney comic instigator. And last night, finally, I found myself LAUGHING OUT LOUD at Chevy Chase, who has taken over 20 years to re-find his comic pulse. And then there's THE OFFICE, which has sustained a high comic sheen throughout its six-year run, and in which John Krasinski has turned his character of "Jim" into a work of art. Steve Carrell, also, is brilliant on a weekly basis, as is the raucous cast of supporting characters. I hope the producers and writers can find a way to bring back the incredible Amy Ryan for a week or two or three as Carrell's love interest. Rarely has a guest spot in a television show been so perfectly filled. And 30 ROCK, if you're out of your mind (in a good way) rarely fails to hit for extra bases. Many times last night I LAUGHED OUT LOUD, especially when Alec Baldwin's Jack Donaghy not-so-subtly did promos for the network (touting NBC's Winter Olympic coverage as he dumped on it) and for an Internet conferencing service. I even ALMOST LAUGHED OUT LOUD at Tracy Morgan last night, and, for me, that's an accomplishment.

Okay, so I live alone and nobody here in my apartment hears me LAUGHING OUT LOUD.

Maybe Ma does, though.

That'd be nice.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Now It Can Be Winter

Okay, it's November 5 and the World Series is over. Whew. Theeeeee Yankees win. Let me just say that if the sixth game had gone 50 innings and Pedro Martinez pitched the entire game, Matsui would have gone 23 for 25, with two hard-hit line drives for outs. Hideki owns Pedro.

It is gray and cold and the air is dead outside. I have located my shovel. I am ready.

I am heading down to New York a week from yesterday to meet with the actress Judith Ivey about my play, THE PORCH. Ms. Ivey, a two-time Tony winner, was given the script by Sheriden Thomas, an actor who played "Gert" so well in the Stoneham Theatre production last year. Judy (this is how she signs her emails) liked it, and we've been in email contact for a few months. She is currently starring at the Cherry Lane in New York in THE LADY WITH ALL THE ANSWERS, a one-woman show about the advice columnist Ann Landers. Then, I believe, she is taking her "Amanda" from her recent Long Wharf THE GLASS MENAGERIE to the Roundabout. She is one busy actor. So I feel very lucky and honored to get this chance to talk with her about my play.

In the meantime, I'm juggling 94 projects in various stages of development, none of them making me any dough. Couple of plays, a screenplay, a TV pilot. All speculative. All difficult. All---what I do.

Learned recently that my adaptation of THE TURN OF THE SCREW is going to be published by Playscripts in New York. Very happy about this. I think the play works very well--it certainly did when we staged it at New Century--and it's a title not seen too often in theatres, perhaps because there aren't that many adaptations of it available.

Well, in about six months, mine will be.

Along about the time the 2010 baseball season starts.

Winter will be over then.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


It's November 4, and the World Series still isn't over. This is not right. I'm not sure why this has happened--perhaps the World Baseball Classic nudged the beginning of the season by a few days--but it's not right. Baseball needs to be over before Halloween.

And yet, Pedro Martinez, that grand showman, takes the mound tonight for the Phillies against his Daddies, the New York Yankees. It's almost worth TiVoing. With so much at stake, and with the potential for such pressure on the Bombers tomorrow if they lose tonight, there is NO WAY they lose tonight. Seems like a reverse-reverse lock to me. The reverse lock would be the Yankees losing, because they are so highly favored. So in order for Pedro and the Phillies to lose, the reverse lock needs to be reversed. And that's where I think we are.

The only real hope for the evening is that Pedro goes six or seven and keeps the Phils in the game. Maybe they pull it out, maybe they don't. But Pedro needs to leave the game with face. He will put on face, regardless of the outcome. He always does. And when he steps before the microphones after the game, he will be more articulate and quotable and funny than maybe 95% of his fellow players.

So the stage is set (in that most stage-is-settable of cities) for high drama tonight. However, with the reverse-reverse lock in effect, it'll probably just be a Yankee blowout and we can get back to preparing for Thanksgiving and watching football as we should be doing at this time of year.

But with Pedro, there's always the "You Never Know" factor.

He's Baseball's Captain Show Biz.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Jack Benny

I guess I was always amused by Jack Benny. Growing up, I'd watch the occasional television show or special, laugh at little, enjoy his guests, be entertained and move on. It never really occurred to me to consider him in the pantheon of show business greats. Not as bodacious as Gleason. Not as maniacally driven as Silvers. Not as relentlessly comic as Durante. Just a nice man who liked to put himself in the middle of crazy people and react.

Now, I think he's a genius.

Recently, I came upon a DVD (very cheap, not surprisingly) which featured about twenty of his half hour TV shows from the fifties and early sixties. A basic show would begin with a monologue, maybe some banter with announcer Don Wilson, maybe some silliness with singer Dennis Day, and then evolve into a sketch (appearing behind a proscenium, theatre-style curtain) in which we the audience would participate in some kind of pedestrian, typical Benny day. He rents his house. He goes to the supermarket. He shops for Christmas gifts. Ordinary stuff.

But Benny and his writers' grasp on the absurdity of the ordinary was epic. Every situation could be turned into something ridiculously outrageous because Benny attracted the loonies of the world to serve him in his daily routines. Frank Nelson always appeared as a hotel operator or concierge; Mel Blanc sold jewelry or whatever Benny happened to want to buy; Bea Benedaret would be a receptionist or telephone operator. And none would allow Benny to proceed with his life without some kind of comic blockade that would trigger his patented stare of disbelief.

And when the day ended, he'd go home to his "Man" Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, whom he treated as an equal, and who knew how to dish it out when Benny stepped a little out of bounds with an order or an attitude.

I'm going to continue to think about Benny, in hopes of putting him onstage again. Before somebody else does.

In the meantime, enjoy this CLIP as I have. It features Benny, on his TV show, with the young and talented Gisele MacKenzie. They play a violin duet. And it's the closest thing to comic perfection I have ever seen.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Polanski, Rosemary and Chinatown

Roman Polanski appears to be a creepy individual whose personal life I must and will condemn. He seems to be remorseless about his hideous crime against a young girl and, despite the later tragedy in his own life, this tragedy imposed upon the girl and her family must be remembered and abhorred.

Having written the above, I must also say he makes a damn good movie.

At least two are favorites of mine, the nastily-driven ROSEMARY'S BABY and the brilliant CHINATOWN. Both movies are long and complicated, but never boring. If you're paying attention. Both are cast extraordinarily well, and feature absorbing stories told with scathing detail and awareness of what moves an audience viscerally. It took me two viewings of CHINATOWN to realize how great a film it is, mainly because I watched it lazily the first time around. CHINATOWN is not a movie that can be watched lazily and appreciated. Same goes for ROSEMARY'S BABY, which I watched again last night. Mia Farrow, probably not much of an actor at that time (she grew immeasurably in that department when she began working with Woody Allen), is dragged through an emotional and physical wringer in the movie, and one gets the impression that Polanski must have dragged her through it. The rest of the talented and experienced cast looks like they're on their own and they enjoy the freedom. Farrow is the director's tool and the movie is better for it. It seems odd to write favorably about Polanski treating his young leading lady this way, but I write purely about the cinematic aspects of the director's tool kit. I supposed I might read somewhere that he mistreated Farrow along the way to get what he needed from her performance. I hope not. ROSEMARY'S BABY goes on my list as one of the most successfully executed thrillers I've seen. Maybe not up there with PSYCHO and SEVEN, but pretty close.

As I watched ROSEMARY'S BABY, the Yankees stepped all over the Phillies again, leaving the third base bag uncovered for Johnny Damon to steal along with any momentum the Phils gained in the bottom of the eighth.

It will all be over soon.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Sang last night with my sister Tricia at the Sac Club in Lowell. I enjoy doing this but I will never, ever get used to performing in a small club where what you really are expected to be is background music. I find I get pissed off at the people. This is not a good thing when you are singing for their entertainment and pleasure. My sister doesn't seem to mind it all that much, and my brother Jim, with whom I used to "gig" back in the early eighties, really didn't seem to mind it. He used to worry that I was gonna display my displeasure and get us into a bar fight, which, the more I think about it, was always possible back then in the days of the Foxtail in Lowell and the Tailgate in Raymond, NH (home of Carlton Fisk--Raymond, not the Tailgate), where two guys who looked like Charlie Rich had a knock-down-drag-out while Jim and I were singing "Lyin' Eyes" by the Eagles. Anyway, a bunch of friends from the Sacred Heart filled up a couple of Sac Club tables and it made for a good night. My friend Dick Flavin also braved the neighborhood and showed up, buying a round for all my friends at the end of the evening. I remember reading once that Buddy Rich, equally annoyed at bar crowds but with much more influence than I, demanded in some club to have a large window placed in the middle of the room, separating the talkers from the listeners. I kinda think such a demand at the Sac Club would go unheeded.

(Side note: I'm typing this at Barnes and Noble, and there's a guy on a cell phone having an animated and incredibly loud conversation with somebody he is trying to sell something to, or he's at least trying to convince somebody to buy something. He seems to care not that the rest of us here have NO FRIGGIN' INTEREST in his stupid conversation. This is a phenomenon that is becoming more prevalent in life as we know it. On the other hand, a gorgeous woman just walked by having a very quiet cell phone conversation. Her, I don't mind. I wonder why.)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Universal Monsters

When James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN opened up the doors of horror at Universal Pictures, the bosses there walked happily through those doors and created a series of films that remain intriguing today. I'm in the middle (at Halloween time) of watching a number of these movies, and though the acting is a bit arch and the storytelling a tad stretched, the energy behind the films is viscerally potent and very entertaining. Over the last two evenings, I've screened SON OF FRANKENSTEIN, with Basil Rathbone chewing up whatever scenery Universal could throw at him as the son of Henry ("Heinrich" on the grave) Frankenstein, who created the Monster that will not die. Last night, it was GHOST OF FRANKENSTEIN, in which stodgy Sir Cedric Hardwicke, clearly counting the zeroes on his paycheck, trundled through the story of yet another iteration of the Monster, while Ralph Bellamy kept finding it impossible to locate Lon Chaney's Monster even when it walked down the main street and entered houses through the front doors. Regardless, thoroughly engaging and fun to watch. Also fun to see which straws were drawn when the casting sessions were held. Would the Monster be Karloff again, or Chaney, or Lugosi? Would Lugosi, in the wake of his iconic DRACULA, continue to play (and play extremely well) the misshapen Igor? Which British leading man would be hired to fall breathlessly into the thrall of the "It's Alive" mentality established by Colin Clive in the original? And how many townspeople killed in previous Frankie movies would appear bearing torches in the town in the next one? Great stuff. Always ready to toss a Universal Monster DVD into the player and await the silly little bi-plane (or whatever it is) circling the silver globe at the opening.

Friday, October 30, 2009

If The Mood Strikes...

So I like to think I'm a writer. At least, that's what I tell people when they ask what I do. The fact that people ask what I do kind of makes me wonder if I am a writer. But that's a question for another day. For now, I thought I would pass along a link to my WEB SITE. I do this for two reasons. First, I would like anyone reading this to visit the site and see what I've been up to as a writer, director, actor...Second, I want to see if I can make the HTML work on this blog and actually set up a link. Looks like I may have succeeded. Once you're on the web site, you will find a number of visitable pages, which I could easily link directly here, now that I know how to use this thing, or I could just let you visit the main page and wander through the site, which is what I am going to do. You'll find links on the site to my PLAYS, my PLAYS FOR YOUNG AUDIENCES, a number of VIDEOS from my plays, and, most importantly, my SCRIPTSTORE, where vistors may purchase perusal copies of my scripts, and even pay royalties for shows of mine they've performed.

As of this writing, or this blogging, I see that absolutely no one besides yours truly has read this thing. This is because, as is usually the case with me, I like to keep things to myself.

Perhaps I will figure out a way to change this.

For now, I remain a mystery to myself, and others.

Thursday, October 29, 2009


Yesterday was one of those days when people talked to me even though I had no need for them to do so. I'm at the box office at the Hollywood Hits movie theatre in Danvers, and I ask for a ticket to Julie and Julia. This is a difficult enough task if you're a guy, but I did it. The woman who had just purchased a ticket asked me if I was going to go home afterward and cook something. I chuckled. Chuckling is the only non-scatological response to something like that. Then I go into the theatre and two women sitting together in the last row of the virtually empty room see me and one of them says, "Hope you can find a seat!" I thought of chuckling again, but this one deserved a response. So I said, "I'll do the best I can." People wanted to be friendly yesterday for some reason. They had no idea whom they were dealing with.

Julie and Julia is a thoroughly engaging movie spiked by not only a monster performance by Meryl Streep, but also by an equally monster dual performance by Streep and Stanley Tucci, who plays Julia Child's husband, Paul. My God, these two actors conducted a cinema master class in timing, connection and truth-telling. The marriage depicted is supposed to have been a special one, and these guys, and Nora Ephron, brought it to the screen as if they'd been rehearsing since graduate school. They were getting laughs from barely audible voice rumblings and slightly arched eyebrows. There has been a lot written about the supposedly sub-par performance of Amy Adams as Julie, but...come on. Give her a break. The character is written and played as a kind of driven lunatic and Adams, I think, is letter perfect throughout. Chris Messina, as Julie's husband, is also terrific, and reminded me of the husband in...

Paranormal Activity.

Both these guys deserve medals of honor for dealing with the wives/girlfriends they've hooked up with.

The thing about Paranormal Activity is...the hype. You're going to see it or rent it or download it because of the hype.'s not all that bad. But if you are bored by looking through a night-vision camera at two people sleeping, this movie is going to drive you to the concessions stand pretty quickly. Yes, there are a few nice moments of boo!, but you can see the ending coming for miles and there's really nothing new about all this unless you count the fact that it cost them about 37 cents to make it. Blair Witch Project pissed me off because the hand-held camera made me nauseous, but I do remember at least being shocked and spooked throughout the movie. This one, not so much.

But those husbands/boyfriends in these movies...saints. Saints!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And Another Thing...

The next snot-nosed, lip-pierced, eyeshadow-slathered movie box-office or grocery checkout Britney who asks me if I want a senior discount is in for a tongue-lashing unheard of outside of an Alec Baldwin family phone call. I am not a senior. I don't intend to be a senior. And the only time I am EVER going to ask for a senior discount is on my death bed when I'm around 97 (I hope), when I will ask for a discount on the morphine drip. I run 3-5 miles every day, I went 3 for 5 at this year's UMass Lowell Reunion Baseball Game, and anybody who has sat through one of my note sessions after a rehearsal knows I have more energy than any 21st Century high school slacker who sells tickets at Showcase Cinemas. Stop asking! Anybody who wants a discount will ask for a discount. Those of us who don't want one, will not ask for one, and we do not want to be asked! Get it? Just because there's a little gray hair sticking out from under the sides of our Red Sox caps does not mean we are seniors. Shut DF Up!

There's Always A First Time

So I'm blogging. Knowing my track record for such things, this will last one, two, three days, tops. But I am blogging. I know I am. Because I can feel myself typing and I can see the words appearing on the Blogging Screen. I use "Captain Show Biz" as the title of the Blog because that's pretty much all I know. Yeah, I know a little baseball and a few things about Catholics, but when push comes to shove, as it does so often in my life, it's show business that I know about. And, to be truthful, I really only know about show business prior to 1970. See, now I can feel push coming to shove and I want to stop this thing altogether. But, what the hell, I'll post this and see what happens. Maybe what I'll do is blog and not tell anybody about it. That's pretty much the way I've managed my life in the arts, anyway. Surreptitiously. Under the radar. It's quieter that way.