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.