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.)