Wednesday, February 24, 2010

not everybody loves Raymond

If the parade police wanted to cut a parade short this year, they should be looking at the Tournament of Roses Parade, not the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Unfortunately for me, it's the New York Police Department, not the parade police, who are making the demand.

The New York Daily News gets it right by calling police commissioner Ray Kelly "a turkey." His edict to shorten all New York parade routes by 25% doesn't go into effect until after Kelly serves as grand marshal of the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

The Macy's parade is not the target of the cost-cutting move. My favorite parade is part of the collateral damage. With his five-hour time limit, Commissioner Kelly appears to be going after lengthy marches such as the West Indian American Day Parade and the Puerto Rican Day Parade. Thanksgiving is exactly nine months away. There's plenty of time to fix the mistake.

Maybe Commissioner Kelly can copy his predecessor Bill Bratton and move to California. He could help my second-favorite parade, the Rose Parade, by eliminating the equestrian units. The floats and marching bands are great but the people on horseback don't add much to the telecast. I realize that they are included as part of a 122-year old tradition. Maybe the horses could walk alongside a flower-covered float. Or better still, a team of horses could pull each float.

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Monday, February 08, 2010

on fire!

David Letterman and Jay Leno get all the attention but the best gig in television may actually belong to Regis Philbin. The hours aren't bad and he gets to work with a great co-host, Kelly Ripa. Philbin was born a year before my father and has been on the air since before I was born. Like my parents, he is from The Bronx. In fact, he went to the same high school as two of my uncles.

This morning I got to live out a little bit of my Regis fantasy right here in Knoxville. Two months ago when I was a guest on "Eleven O'clock Rock," the producers at Knoxivi told me that co-host Brent Thompson would be taking a few days off when his wife delivered their baby. They offered me the opportunity to fill in as one of their guest co-hosts. I got the call last week that today would be the day.

It was an absolute pleasure to work with Lauren Lazarus, who made things very easy for me. She was willing to go along with my idea for a cold open that referenced couple of yesterday's Super Bowl ads, especially the commercial for Snickers.

The show streams live each weekday at 11:00 a.m. To view today's episode in the archives, go to and click on Monday and then on 02/08/2010. You can also get information about the show on Facebook and Twitter.

The musical guest was Davis Mitchell from the band Dishwater Blonde. He performed some of his solo material, which had a nice Christian feel to it. Mitchell is a music minister at Knoxlife Church, which usually meets at Remedy Coffee in the Old City.

During the show, I got to interview Jeff Joslin, who directed the movie I was in last year. We talked about how Jeff got "Fish Bait" off the ground and how he is writing a sequel. Before the show ended, Jeff texted me and offered up a special link for viewers to buy the DVD and soundtrack for only ten bucks.

Jeff told me that he and his New York-based pals plan to make another spoof music video soon. He recently posted an amusing parody of Jordin Sparks' "No Air" on YouTube. It's about a follically challenged man and it's called (you guessed it) "No Hair."

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Thursday, February 04, 2010

ever and anon

A potential blogger emailed me early this morning. She introduced herself as a friend of a college friend of mine. She immediately flattered me by saying that my name had come up in their conversations several times over the years. Here is the main part of her email:
Two great passions of mine are the arts and travel. While getting laid off from the travel industry has put a hold on any travel desires, living in New York gives me the solace of the arts, especially the performing arts; almost as necessary to me as the air I breathe. (Which, thankfully, there are inexpensive ways of enjoying.) A musician friend, whose talent and taste I hold in great esteem, has been urging me for months to start a blog of my impressions of performances, art exhibits, and other arts-related notes. Hopefully, travel will come back into my life and those observations can be added as well.

Amongst all the other decisions - name, colors, graphics, fonts - is the question of whether to use my real name or not. Although my musician friend says he wouldn't compose anonymously, this is slightly different. As I am applying to job postings from arts organizations it gives me pause. Part of me says I am being ridiculous. First of all, who says any of these people are going to even find, much less read my blog and, secondly, it's not as though I would be insulting to anyone. But, caution plays a part because of my jobless situation, although another friend of mine who is always cautious, thinks my writing could wind up generating interest that could benefit my career. (But, playing devil's advocate, anyone could respond via the e-mail link if they want to contact me.)
I am not a fan of anonymous blogs. They seem cowardly to me. Within the past year I exchanged emails with an anonymous blogger who ended up deleting her blog because people were starting to figure out that she lived in Knoxville.

I think she has to assume that her blog will eventually be discovered. Is she willing to deal with the consequences when that happens? What does she have to say that she would be ashamed to attach her name to? And if she is ashamed to say it publicly, should she really be saying it in the first place?

I do believe in blogs as a way to promote your personal brand. Put yourself in the position of someone who is hiring in 2010. Which candidate do they hire, the person with no online presence or the person who has figured out how to use blogs, Twitter and Facebook?

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Wednesday, January 06, 2010

so many contenders

One of the friends we visited in Saugerties over the summer didn't plan on buying me a second Christmas present this year. However he couldn't resist the item he saw at an auction house. He had read my blog post about the late, great Ed McMahon and knew I would love an autographed picture of the legendary broadcaster.

The salutation reads "For the gang at S.M.C., All the best!" I wonder what S.M.C. stands for. Considering that the photo was purchased in New York State, I think a likely candidate would be SMC Stone. It could also be from SMC Furnishings, the Systems, Man & Cybernetics Society or the Snowsports Merchandising Corporation. Maybe Ed supported either an organization called Single Mothers by Choice or the Sacred Music Chorale of Richmond Hill. How could I forget the Black Irish chapter of the Shamrocks Motorcycle Club?

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Thursday, November 26, 2009

acid redux

For several years, I have enjoyed trashing CBS' attempted coverage of the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. I assume the only reason they bother doing a telecast is so they can sell ads to Macy's competitors. The parade participants don't perform for the CBS cameras like they do for NBC's.

I could only tolerate a few minutes of the CBS broadcast this year. I knew it would be bad when Maggie Rodriguez started off by referring to the new Spider-Man balloon as Superman. Really. Instead of watching the whole thing I did a Google search for "CBS Thanksgiving parade" followed by words like "awful" and "terrible." One of the searches brought me to the comments posted on Let me copy and paste a few for posterity in case Les Moonves deletes them.
by ayearwasted: CBS's supposed Macy's Parade coverage is merely celebrity snaps and gab. The token camera shots of the parade are so distant as to appear like an ant farm, and even those token images are blocked by a cheap computer overlay of fall leaves. Clearly CBS has no respect for the thousands of people who created the floats, no respect for those who practiced for years to march and perform, and no respect for we who do appreciate their extraordinary accomplishments. Shame, shame, shame!

by Alliterated: Disappointing coverage of the Macy's parade was highlighted by -not the parade- but a bunch of commercials and dance routines. Disgusting appearance by an alleged comedian, who denigrated his mother and father with references to his father looking like Hugh Hefner. Your rush to catch up with the crudeness of cable is alienating scores of boomers who still control the remotes, the majority of the buying power and so also the commercial dollars.

by tsummer99: We must say that this is the WORST coverage of a Thanksgiving Day parade we have ever seen. In fact, we don't think we are even watching a parade but in fact watching the hosts chat it up and commercials. COMMERCIALS EVERY FEW MINUTES IT SEEMS. We want to see a HOLIDAY PARADE. NOT A PARADE OF COMMERCIALS!!!! We have an exchange student here that we made get up just to watch this. She has since fallen back asleep because this coverage is so terrible. She was excited to see the marching bands, but has not seen a single one. Every time it looks like a band is coming up, the coverage cuts to commercials. A few balloons, a couple floats and some celebrities does not a parade make. We will never watch this parade again. Thanks for ruining a family holiday tradition CBS.
The fun for me this year came from reading and posting comments on Twitter during NBC's parade telecast. At a few commercial breaks, I flipped over to CBS in case I saw something silly.

As you would expect, the new balloons looked less wrinkled than the older ones. I thought it was an odd choice to put the new Mickey Mouse balloon on an inflatable boat anchor. My wife noticed that Poppin' Fresh had a blank blue circle on his toque instead of the Pillsbury logo.

Unfortunately for smart-alecks like me, there were no train-wreck moments in this year's line of march. Singers like Carly Simon and Cheyenne Jackson were barely memorable. Of the lot, I found Jimmy Fallon to be the most entertaining.

When I was a kid, my father took us into the city to see the parade in person each year. After we got home and had dinner, we would look at slides of the parade from previous years. Nowadays, I can read my blog posts from 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008.

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Monday, October 05, 2009

Goren piece

A big fan of Vincent D'Onofrio is making an heroic attempt to keep him on "Law & Order Criminal Intent." Her exhaustive attempt to reach all corners of the Internet has even brought her as far as contacting Frank Murphy Dot Com. Why? Because I love Marshmallow Fluff.
My name is Nantz and I wanted to make you aware of a massive writing campaign that the fans of LOCI have been involved with. We have been sending postcards, emails, snail mail, tweets and posting everywhere we can to get our message out there of our displeasure at the dumping of Vincent D'Onofrio, Katie Erbe and Eric Bogosian. In answer to USA Network's trending towards "lighter fare" and "fluff" I have come up with the idea to send jars and jars of "Fluff" (that's the marshmallow crème) to the execs to let them know they can "stuff their fluff." As soon as the season premiere airs and all the aforementioned actors are gone, so are we, and long with us the ratings will go too. Not such good news for a cable network that is currently #1 and the reason they have such high ratings is because of shows like LOCI in the first place. Our voices have been heard as we have been highlighted in twice now. Soon cases of Fluff, cotton balls, Polyfill will arrive and right now they are being inundated with thousands of letters and postcards. WE control the numbers and if it's all about the almighty dollar in cutting these actors because of their salaries then they will find out what exactly numbers really mean.
Nantz is using her blog dedicated to D'Onofrio to spread the word about saving her favorite characters. The blog links to a Twitter account called saveGorenEames. They are hoping other Twitter users will copy and paste their "tweets."

I am curious to learn more about a site called On Location Vacations. They are encouraging "Law & Order" fans to bring Marshmallow Fluff to the set in New York on October 16. I'm interested in checking the site before I take my sightseeing trips next year just in case somebody happens to be filming in Iowa or South Dakota. It will be especially helpful when I can get around to visiting L.A. again.

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Saturday, September 26, 2009

rain, man

A nice swim after a torrential storm feels great for two reasons. First, it's as if I have stolen a rainout back from Mother Nature. Plus, the pool water has a clean, fresh taste from the infusion of raindrops. Tonight it also helped clear my head and burn some energy after one-too-many cups of delicious free coffee at work.

While I was enjoying the water, my thoughts went to two swimmers in the news this past week. Natalie Coughlin exceeded my expectations on "Dancing With the Stars." For the most part I'll be splitting my votes between her and Donny Osmond. Both she and he are posting updates on Twitter.

Another swimming story popped up in one of my Google Alerts. The granddaughter of a man named Frank Murphy swam the English Channel. Samantha Simon is only 19 and plans to go for the Triple Crown of open-water swimming. She hopes to swim around Manhattan and from L.A. to Catalina within a year.

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Sunday, September 20, 2009

frosting shot?

Have cupcakes jumped the shark? The New York Times predicted a cupcake crash a year ago, comparing them to the brief, big-city popularity of Krispy Kreme doughnuts. Several other publications, including Newsweek, are saying that the cupcake fad is about to fade. The intensely pro-cupcake blog, Cupcakes Take the Cake, alerted me to the latest round of naysayers. At least The Philadelphia Inquirer says the "trend has outlasted expectations."

The recent popularity of cupcakes is credited to the product placement of Magnolia Bakery on "Sex and the City" and the opening of the cupcakes-only Sprinkles in Los Angeles. Here in scenic East Tennessee, it takes a little longer for trends to reach us. One would assume that the same delay applies to the end of the cycle.

Based on two hours last week, I would say that the cupcake bubble has definitely not burst in Knoxville. I observed a nearly constant stream of customers going into The Cupcakery while I was doing a remote broadcast from Massage Envy on Thursday. As I told my sales manager, The Cupcakery has the best looking cupcakes even if other places have better tasting treats. I'll attempt to prove it with some repeat photos from previous blog entries.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

bravest of the brave

Instead of going to Ground Zero each year, my aunt and uncle have preferred to attend smaller memorial services on Long Island. Their son, FDNY Captain Terry Hatton, lost his life in the service of others on September 11, 2001.

Last night, one of Terry's high school classmates found my blog entry from two years ago. He posted a comment that I'm sure my family members will appreciate. You may also want to read my posts from 2008 and 2006.

A website called Wear RED on 9/11 has a tool for you to update your Twitter icon and a link for a Facebook fan page. As the name implies, they want us to wear red clothes today. How do you plan to commemorate the anniversary?

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

lex men

Eleven days before the anniversary of the moon landing, I went to the place where I watched the historic moonwalk as a child. My grandparent's cottage in Noyac was unrecognizable after the renovations by the new owner. While we were on Long Island, we were able to visit with my sister.

She had accumulated several old family photos that I hadn't seen in years. When she went into the city to run an errand, my wife and I removed some of the pictures out of their frames and took them to the CVS in Southampton. We scanned them at the Kodak Picture Kiosk and had them back in their frames before my sister returned.

Here are three pictures of my father from three stages of his career. He started as a newspaperman, eventually covering the New York State legislature for UPI. He served as assistant press secretary to Governor Nelson Rockefeller for a couple of years before moving into public relations. I liked the dramatic lighting in the third shot. My sister thought it might have been taken at the Cloud Club atop the Chrysler Building. I think the other man on the stairs is probably William Gaskill, my dad's boss at the p.r. firm.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

citiots and faddicts

When she saw that I would be on Long Island for a day, my friend Jessica told me to be on the lookout for the guys from "Royal Pains," a new series on USA Network about a so-called concierge doctor in the Hamptons. I had to admit that I had never seen the show. Jessica has good taste in TV, so I made a mental note to try it. I didn't have to wait long.

After we ate the lobsters we had purchased in Newport the day before, we looked for something to watch on TV. I got the idea to see if Cablevision had as good an on-demand menu as Comcast does back home. Sure enough, the first several episodes were available. We watched the 88-minute pilot and the 44-minute second episode. On-demand shows have limited commercials. Now that I'm home, I have watched the third episode via on-demand and set up my DVR to catch the new episodes. Yes, I like the show and I'm hooked.

How do the locals feel about the way "Royal Pains" portrays them? According to Dan's Papers, the president of Southampton Hospital doesn't like the way the fictional hosptial on the show is called a "taco stand" and "the local cemetery."

Before our evening visiting with my sister, eating lobster and watching TV, my family and I walked around Southampton and Sag Harbor. On the way out of a favorite pizza place, my wife saw some almond cookies and thought they looked like they were covered with maggots. I thought they would be great for a party at the Body Farm.

Are you interested in buying a house in the Hamptons? At The Morley Agency, $3.95 million will get you a place on a "most coveted lane."

A few doors down at the Hampton Road Gallery, there was a photo in the window of some guy wearing a Tennessee shirt. Is he a famous artist that I don’t recognize?

My friend Bean could see this either bad news or good news. Is it a sign that the USPS is in trouble or is it the perfect way for Bean to spend his next vacation? The Southampton Post Office is for rent.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

east ender

Because we had a reservation, we had to make sure we got from Newport to New London in time to catch the 6:00 p.m. Cross Sound Ferry to Orient Point. The boat was almost exactly the same as the ferry we took from Bridgeport to Port Jefferson on our road trip two years ago. This time we also took two smaller ferries to get us from Greenport to Shelter Island to North Haven. From there, it's a short drive to Sag Harbor and Noyac.

Once we were on Long Island, I tuned the car radio to the so-bad-it’s-good WLNG, which does stream online if you want to hear it for yourself. Rusty Potz would ask a TV trivia question, start a song and then interrupt the song a moment later to say "we have a winner, no more calls please."

I was saddened to hear of the passing of 92.1 WLNG's legendary Paul Sidney. Somehow I find it appropriate that he died on April Fool's Day. Or, depending on who you ask, April 2, which was the 92nd day of the year.

When my wife and I honeymooned in the Hamptons, Paul gave us a tour of Broadcast House and then gave us a ride in their newest mobile unit. He drove us to Main Street in Sag Harbor where Alan Alda was filming a scene from "Sweet Liberty." I had a chance to tell Alda that my father knew him when they were both enrolled at Fordham University. In subsequent years, we would vacation in the Hamptons and go see Paul at the Southampton Fourth of July parade. Long Island won't be the same without him.

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Thursday, July 02, 2009

high in the middle

To accent our salads, my wife sometimes buys Bac'n Pieces or croutons. She recently found some croutons on sale that are pretty good. The package says they are made from French bread and cut into Texas-size pieces. Maybe they come from Paris, Texas. What I don't get is why the brand name for this product is New York Texas Toast Croutons. Like they used to say in the Pace Picante Sauce ads, "New York City?"

So where do famous New York brand Texas toast croutons come from? The Bronx? Brooklyn? I grew up in Yonkers and never heard of them. Maybe they are from someplace upstate like Buffalo or Rochester. Nope. The back of the package says that these New York slash Texas treats are made in... Columbus, Ohio.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

secret family recipe

Back in the 1960s and '70s, my father handled public relations for several big companies including Bacardi Rum. One day he was faced with a PR emergency. For whatever reason, the Bacardi Rum Cake that was supposed to be at a photo shoot was either unacceptable or just plain absent. He needed a new one right away. Dad called home but my mother was at work and couldn't help. Instead my sister Catherine, who was 12 at the time, would have to make the cake. She remembers that our grandfather was there to help measure the rum. Catherine chopped the pecans, mixed the batter and did everything else.

After the cake was baked and glazed, they needed to get it from our house to my father's office in the Chrysler Building. My mother told me that they brought it to the Crestwood train station and entrusted it to a conductor on the Harlem line. My father met the train at Grand Central Terminal and took it to the photo shoot. For years after that, Bacardi used my sister's rum cake on the recipe cards that they distributed to liquor stores. My wife helped me find our copy in her recipe file, which we used to make the cupcakes I showed you yesterday.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

fish tale

South Florida may be a long way from New England but my son and I found a place for Maine lobster without even trying. The sign for The Lobster House caught our eye as we drove along Federal Highway in Tequesta. Once inside, we saw a flyer for a Two for Tuesday special that was exactly what we wanted: two lobsters for the price of one. I was surprised when they told me that the two lobster meal was intended for only one person. Despite their intentions, we ordered it and each had our own crustacean.

If not for the special, we could have tried to win our dinners by each putting $2 in the Love Maine Lobster Claw machine. I had read about these machines over the years but didn't realize that any were still in operation. The price card next to the joystick shows that a determined player can get 14 chances for $20. The lobster at the front of the tank was enormous. I wonder if the machine's claw is even strong enough to lift him.

The talk of the gigantic lobster led the restaurant host to tell us about a huge great white shark that his boss once caught off Montauk. Lobster House owner Tony Gambino was fishing with his uncle and some others when they saw a dead whale being eaten by sharks. They stood on the whale's floating carcass and hooked a behemoth using rod and reel.

Before long Tony himself had come out to meet us and to tell us that his uncle was famed shark hunter Frank Mundus. His autographed photo hangs in the kitchen near a model of the big shark. Next thing we knew, Tony was leading us through the kitchen to see his live lobster tanks and other mounted fish heads.

I told Tony that I had been to Montauk and that my grandmother used to have a place in Noyac. He said we should try to visit his family's other restaurant, Southside Fish and Clam, next time we're up that way.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

hold the pickle, hold the lettuce

A restaurant that I plan to visit in Florida later this week has brought back some old memories and I haven't even been there yet. The restaurant is Cheeburger Cheeburger and the memories are from high school.

"Saturday Night Live" was a favorite of mine while I was in high school. I still watch it today, thanks to the invention of the TiVo. There were many years in the middle that I missed. Back then, it seemed that everyone knew the latest catchphrase by the time school started on Monday morning.

One such phrase was "cheeburger, cheeburger" from a skit set in the Olympia Restaurant. John Belushi would tell his customers that they had "no Coke, Pepsi" and "no fries, chips" before shouting out their cheeseburger order to Dan Aykroyd on the grill. The burgers and the grill were real. I know because I smelled them.

My father used to play tennis with NBC announcer Bill Wendell. Mr. Wendell arranged for my wife and me to attend a taping of "Late Night with David Letterman" during our honeymoon. Years earlier, I had asked Mr. Wendell for tickets to "Saturday Night Live."

A couple of factors came into play. I was only in high school and there may have been an age limit for attending the show. Plus, at the time, SNL was a hot ticket. Mr. Wendell said he couldn't get me any tickets to the show but he could get me into the next best thing, the dress rehearsal. The dress rehearsal was held about three hours or so before the live show. It would be recorded and could be used all or in part if something went terribly awry later that night. Also, skits that didn't get a good enough reaction could be cut or rewritten before 11:30 p.m.

I just barely got up the nerve to ask a cute girl from a neighboring all-girls high school to go with me to the dress rehearsal. I figured that the hot ticket and the earlier showtime would guarantee a "yes" from her. They didn't. Instead of just saying no, Margaret Finneran turned me down because she planned to go to a father-daughter communion breakfast the next day. I ended up calling Ed Gough, my friend from seventh and eighth grades, who met me at 30 Rockefeller Plaza. By the way Margaret, I was home in time to watch the 11:30 telecast. And I made it to church in time the next morning.

That week's
host was comedian Robert Klein. The musical guest was a newcomer named Bonnie Raitt. In that episode, they introduced some new skits and characters that would turn up again in later shows. Bill Murray and Gilda Radner played nerds Todd and Lisa for the first time that night and the Olympia Restaurant opened for business with its real "cheeburgers" on the grill.

During "Weekend Update," there was a joke about giant lobsters headed toward Manhattan. The show concluded with the lobsters attacking 30 Rock. Comedy writer Al Franken came up into the audience during a break and sat next to Ed and me. He informed our section that we would need to react in terror to the news of the lobster attack. The director was going to superimpose an image of a giant lobster coming toward us. Franken said that if we got it right, they would repeat the process with the live audience. If we messed it up, the bit would get dropped from the show. We must have done well enough because the shot stayed in the actual broadcast.

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Wednesday, February 25, 2009

no accident

Some interesting stories have emerged from the recent plane crashes in New York. Two Blount County women have now met because they were both on the plane that crash landed in the Hudson River. The News Sentinel featured them on Sunday.

I was even more interested in the Florida family who avoided the fatal crash near Buffalo. A gate agent at Palm Beach International Airport rerouted them off Flight 3407 for two reasons. They missed the boarding call for their flight to Newark, where they would have gotten on the doomed plane. Rather than rush to catch their scheduled flight, the gate agent advised them to switch to a different airline. Turbulence and delays in Newark also factored into the decision.

My father used to say that he missed a deadly crash due to the Immaculate Reception. He regularly flew to Miami on business for Bacardi Rum. In 1972, he had plans to see the Dolphins in the AFC Championship game near the end of their undefeated season. Back then, the rules for which team hosted playoff games were different than today. Even with their record, the Dolphins were not guaranteed home field advantage. When Franco Harris made his improbable catch and helped the Steelers defeat the Raiders, it meant the Dolphins would have to travel to Pittsburgh the next week. The flight my father probably would have taken from New York to Miami, had the Dolphins hosted the Raiders, crashed into the Everglades on Friday, December 29, 1972.

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Monday, February 16, 2009

force of habit

In an effort to see at least some of the Oscar nominees before the awards ceremony, my wife and I watched "Doubt" this afternoon. The story takes place in 1964, before people became aware of the failings of an organization which is built on the forgiveness of sins but exists in a society that requires justice and demands vengeance.

The film is set at a fictional parish in the Bronx within walking distance of the Parkchester neighborhood where my mother grew up. Most impressive was Meryl Streep's perfect accent. She sounded exactly like my Aunt Marion, with maybe a dash of Aunt Grace thrown in. The parish school is run by the Sisters of Charity, an actual order which has put information about the movie on their website.

The first time Father Flynn did the sign of the cross during Mass, I absentmindedly crossed myself along with the onscreen congregation. In that scene, Sister Aloysius hits a disruptive child on the back of the head. I wanted to her to do the same thing to a disruptive audience member at the Regal Downtown West Cinema 8.

My wife said that they used the modern arrangement of "Holy God We Praise Thy Name" instead of the old-school version of the tune. Also, they had the priest deliver his sermons following a hymn instead of right after the gospel proclamation. Several scenes are so theatrical that you can't help but be reminded that the film was adapted from a stage play. There were also a couple of times when the camera is tilted on an angle, just like when a villain's lair was shown on the old "Batman" series.

I hope Viola Davis wins for Best Supporting Actress. There was one emotional scene that should clinch it for her. It's the one where her nose starts running. I may feel differently after I see "The Wrestler," but for now I'm pulling for Viola.

I came out of the theater whistling "Blame it on the Bossa Nova," which is featured during a small scene in the film. It reminded me of an interview I did with Emily Procter when I had a show on the Comedy World Radio Network. At the time, she had a part on "The West Wing." I was rather smitten with her Ainsley Hayes character because of a well-known bathrobe bossa nova scene. I tracked down a copy of the song, which wasn't quite as easy then as it is now, and played it for her during the interview.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

downtown revitalization

Former New Yorkers like myself never stop looking for a pizza that replicates their memories of what they had back home. Tonight my wife and I had dinner at Dazzo's Italian Castle Pizzeria on Gay Street, between the Bijou Theatre and the Tennessee Theatre. It's actually sandwiched between the offices of two law firms.

Dazzo's got some publicity from WBIR last month, shortly after they opened. We went there between shows at the Bijou Jubilee and were lucky to get the last two seats in the place. From the chatter around us, it sounded like some of the other customers were planning to see Henry Cho at the Bijou while others were headed to a movie at the Regal Riviera.

The back of the menu says that the owner grew up in Ozone Park in the 1960s and that he started working for the best pizzerias on Long Island in the mid '70s. Like a true New York pizza joint, they offer it by the slice for $2.75. Except at night. The waitress told us we would have to order a minimum of four slices, which is half a pie. It was more cost-effective to buy a whole pie for $15.95 and take home the leftovers. We ordered a plain Neapolitan, which is the best way to truly judge a new pizza.

Dazzo's crust is the way I like it, very very thin. In addition to salt and pepper, our table had shakers of garlic, chili pepper flakes and oregano,
my favorite pizza topping. As my wife paid the cashier, I watched the pizza chef smother somebody else's pie with sausage, pepperoni and bacon. Next time we go, we might try one of their specialty pizzas called "Grandma's Pizza." It's a thin crust pan pizza. Or we might stick with what we know we like.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

what exit?

A highlight of NBC's holiday schedule is their annual broadcast of "Christmas in Rockefeller Center." I thought that this year's telecast was considerably better than last year and the year before. There were still some things to nitpick though. Al Roker said the tree lighting was the "official start of the holiday season." I'm almost positive he said the exact same thing about the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade last week. C'mon Al, pick one.

The "miracle tree" came from 74-year-old twins Bill and Bob Varanyak of Hamilton, New Jersey. They explained that their late mother fertilized the tree with a mixture of manure and water for many years after planting it in 1931.

"America's Got Talent" winner Neal E. Boyd got to sing during the 7pm hour, which is shown only on WNBC in New York. His performance of "O Holy Night" had too much vibrato for my taste. For the nationwide broadcast, all they let him do was introduce "American Idol" winner David Cook, who did a good job on John Lennon's "Happy Xmas." I like David Cook's voice but his version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas"on the pre-show wasn't that great, mostly because of his guitar playing and the way he "made it his own" by leaving out parts of the song. His guitar sounded like it was playing a different song than the one he was singing.

Faith Hill and Rascal Flatts made appearances on the telecast. I generally find country artists to be tolerable when they are singing Christmas standards. Faith did justice to "Little Drummer Boy" and "Joy to the World." Rascal Flatts was okay with "White Christmas." In fact, I preferred it over Harry Connick, Jr's jazz arrangement of "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year." My wife says I'm biased because it was too different from the way good old Andy Williams sings it.

I may be in the minority but I thought Miley Cyrus sounded good on "Rockin' Around the Christmas Tree." It was the right song for her voice and was way better than the non-holiday song she did on the pre-show. It was fairly obvious that Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers and Beyonce pre-recorded their segments. Otherwise why would NBC stick them on a rooftop, away from the fans? Plus, the Jonas Brothers were on CBS minutes later in a live telecast from Los Angeles. I did like seeing St. Patrick's Cathedral in the background as Beyonce sang a song with a hint of "Ave Maria" in it. Co-host Jane Krakowski called it "her own personal version" of the hymn. As of last night, there were some comments on Beyonce's website complaining about her low-cut dress and the differences between her rendition and the actual "Ave Maria." After Jane Krakowski said that Beyonce's stage persona is "Sasha Fierce," Al Roker said that his was "Sir Gay Mild." Oh wait, maybe he meant "Sergei Mild."

The network did a good job of concealing Rosie O'Donnell's participation in the show. Britney Spears did less yet was promoted more. It was a surprise when Rosie showed up playing a bongo drum while her "Broadway Kids" lip-synced a song about Santa doing the mambo. Britney got a few seconds of screen time as she opened the show and teased the actual tree lighting prior to a commercial break.

Tony Bennett continues to make it sound easy when he sings. I can't believe he's 82 years old. I was also amazed to hear that "A Swingin' Christmas" is his first holiday album in 40 years.

I mentioned that the Jonas Brothers were in Los Angeles, not New York last night. They were present for "The Grammy Nominations Concert Live" on CBS. Mariah Carey opened that show with "Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)." That song is one of my all-time favorites, especially the cover version by U2 and the original by Darlene Love. I wonder if Mariah has got a cold or if the song was not quite in her range. She didn't sound as good as usual. I think I'll click over to YouTube to see Darlene Love do the song on David Letterman's show.

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Thursday, November 27, 2008

never gonna give you up

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade will always be a major part of my holiday. We could vary the dinner menu and I could miss a football game (as long as the Redskins aren't playing) but I cannot miss the parade and have it still feel like Thanksgiving.

Why does CBS bother to cover the parade each year? Better yet, why do I bother to watch? The broadcast is not in high definition, the camera angles are terrible, none of the bands or singers perform and the anchors often give erroneous information. For example, they said that Horton the Elephant was from Whoville, when everybody knows that all the Whos live in the speck of dust on the clover Horton carries.

Actually I do know why I tune in. I always hope to see additional coverage of the giant helium-filled balloons. This year CBS replaced Hannah Storm with Maggie Rodriguez who, like Hannah, referred to the balloons as "floats." She referred to the floats as "floats" as well. When a balloon did pass by, Maggie and co-anchor Dave Price would turn their backs to the camera to get a look. Can't say that I blame them for that.

Maggie and Dave seemed to spend more time interviewing random guests than describing the parade. Some of the celebrities who dropped by were Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Broadway star Roger Bart and singer Clay Aiken. A soap opera actress named Julie Pinson brought photos of the European vacation she and Maggie took together about eight years ago. Maggie revealed that she and Julie have blackmail-able photos of each other that were snapped on a beach in the south of France. I think we know what she means.

To truly enjoy the parade, you needed to watch the good-looking HD coverage on NBC and not pay attention to the corny scripted lines that Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer were reading. They deviated from the script twice today that I noticed. Meredith got the stuffing scared out of her when the Keith Haring Heart balloon got too close and brushed their broadcast booth. We only heard her distress because the camera was already focused on the next entry. Later, there was some confusion over what paragraph to read when Andy Williams was about to perform. How come my man Andy didn't get a float or even a car to ride? I doubt they made an almost-81-year-old walk the parade route. If Andy did have a float that broke down, it might explain the mistake in the NBC booth.

Without question, the greatest moment of the parade was when the "Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends" float Rickrolled us viewers. NBC tried to spoil it twice by listing Rick Astley's name in the opening credits and by having Matt Lauer say, "watch carefully, we hear there is a special musical surprise." I had just called my wife into the room to hear the Friends' version of the theme from "The Courtship of Eddie's Father" when Astley interrupted with his '80s classic.

For the uninformed few among us, Rickrolling is an Internet sensation where you expect one thing but get Rick Astley. My friend Bean did a great job of explaining it on March 31 and then executing it on April 1 of this year.

I feel for the guy in the photo below. The good news is that he gets to be in the best parade in the country. The bad news is that he had to wear the most ridiculous costume and ride on the Jimmy Dean sausage float with some country singer. What's he supposed to be, a pat of butter?

Let's "dot dot dot" our way through the rest of my notes... my daughter heard that the Rockettes must all have the same length inseam... James Taylor's electric guitar looked like a really thin acoustic guitar... the NYPD band got ripped off when the network ran a recorded drum track instead of the band's audio... Shontelle almost fell off the Rhino Mountain float twice... the Clique Girlz send the exact opposite message I would want my children to get from a group targeting kids... there's an "Internet phenom" named Charice?... when these same balloons appear in the Macy's Holiday Parade at Universal Orlando Resort, do they get deflated and re-inflated every day?... did Varsity Fanclub take the place of the Cheetah Girls in the line of march?... my wife is happy because the best sounding band in the parade, the JMU Marching Royal Dukes, is from her alma mater... Al Roker apparently pulled some strings to get his kid aboard the Santa float... did I mention that the fools at CBS wasted the first ten minutes of their broadcast talking about nothing?

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

strings attached

Somebody fixed the Wikipedia entry for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. When I looked at it a couple of weeks ago, a contributor had mistakenly written that one of this year's new balloons would be Bolt, the dog in a new animated Disney film. I think they got the idea from a poorly worded press release that has since been rewritten. It's also possible that they didn't know the difference between a balloon and a float. Bolt is part of a new float.

The major balloons that will debut on Thursday are Buzz Lightyear, Horton the Elephant, and a Smurf. I found a good web video that shows some of the steps in creating these giant helium-filled creatures. The returning balloons are Abby Cadabby, Beethoven (the dog, not the guy although that would have been amusing), Dora the Explorer, Energizer Bunny, Kermit the Frog, Pikachu, Ronald McDonald and Shrek. Hmph. Still no Underdog.

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Thursday, October 23, 2008

never give up, never surrender

Today's guest blogger from beyond the grave is once again my father. When I visited my mother this Spring, she gave me copies of three letters he had written to various famous people. I posted the first two here and here. I think you'll agree that I saved the best for last.

I was reminded to look for this third letter one day last week when my mother wrote a comment on my blog entry about the B-17. She recognized the title of that post as an homage to my father. The phrase was a campaign slogan he came up with when a friend of his was running for city council.

As mentioned before, my father was a big fan of sports, especially of the New York Football Giants. They were a championship team when he was a young man but not so good during the twenty years he was a season ticket holder. Unfortunately he died before the Giants made their first Super Bowl appearance.

My father was set off by an article in the New York Times titled "Giants Shown Game Films; Csonka Is Ill." Coach Bill Arnsparger had decided to show game films to the team as a whole instead of dividing them into offensive and defensive squads. Here's the part that Dad highlighted:
The emphasis, said Jack Gregory, the defensive captain who had never before seen offensive films, was on the positive. "It accomplished what [Arnsparger] set out to do," said the defensive end. "I think he was trying to get us to have confidence in each other. He told us we're still his team, he hasn't given up on us and we shouldn't give up on ourselves.

"Let's face it. This is an ideal time for guys to start quitting."

Gregory, echoing the official team line, said the Giants' main problem has been "lack of concentration."
The day after the article was in the paper, my father wrote to Jack Gregory. At the time, the Giants were at a low point in team history. They were near the beginning of a nine-game losing streak in the 1976 season that would end with a 3 - 11 record. They were 5 - 9 in 1975 and 2 -12 in 1974. The previous year wasn't much better. They were 2 -11 - 1 in 1973.
September 23, 1976

Mr. Jack Gregory
Defensive End
New York Football Giants
c/o Pace University
Pleasantville, NY

Dear Mr. Gregory,

I was greatly distressed this morning by a statement attributed to you. And I would only hope that you might consider and pass along to your teammates the corrosive effect such an attitude, as implied in your statement, could have, not only on your current year but on the future of pro football and the security of the future of the pension program for all players.

I do not begrudge professional athletes their above average salaries (the median family income for the U.S. is about $13,000 per annum), their generous pension programs which beat virtually everything other than very top management gets in industry, or the emoluments, opportunities, adulation and favors that flow your way.

What I do resent, is the hint at the possibility that short of gaining the playoffs, the professional athlete does not deliver his finest performance. There are a lot of us in life that never make the playoffs.

This hurts. Those of us who work in offices all week genuinely look forward to just getting out on a Sunday afternoon to see a football game and enjoying ourselves. We love the sport. We love the competition. We stand in respect bordering upon awe, for the outstanding performances that we pay to see. There isn't a single person in the stands who could take your place on the field, for if there were they probably would be there.

So, we come and pay to appreciate your skills, your energy and your perseverance in a difficult, demanding and exhilarating sport. Whether you win or lose frankly only affects us in a vicarious way. We brighten to your wins, we regret your losses, but we don't get to share in your playoff purse. It hardly matters -- unless we bet -- what the score is. The most we can hope for is the opportunity of buying a ticket to see in person the playoffs, or divisional championship if it happens that they are being held in the home city of the Eastern Division winner that year.

We buy tickets because we love the game. And that means we expect to see a good, fair, even competition whether the team has a shot for the Super Bowl or not. It's a Sunday afternoon's entertainment and on those cold days in December -- in snow or sleet or rain i.e. Giants-Vikings Yale Bowl Dec. 1973 (sleet); Giants-Eagles, Yale Bowl Dec. 1974 (snow/sleet/rain) for even in a "meaningless game" (whatever that is) the fan is entitled to a good game. To us, it is the entertainment we pay to see.

We'd rather see you win. But we deserve more than to see you quit. And frankly, the team has quit several times in recent years. I have to go no further than the two games mentioned above for two miserable performances or two equally miserable days.

I realize that you were attempting to say that the Giants were not going to quit even after two disheartening losses. But I say that the notion of quitting should not even be a part of your vocabulary.

As a Giant fan, I have spent about $1,962 for season tickets since seeing the Giants beat Pittsburgh to win the Eastern Divisional title in 1963. In the years 1964 through 1975 the Giants have played 84 "home" games including 12 at Yale Bowl and seven at Shea Stadium. In all of those games, I dare say, there were fewer than a dozen or so interesting ones. I'm not talking about Giant wins -- although I enjoy them more than losses -- I'm talking about good, well played, evenly matched competitive games. In other words -- games in which neither side quit, the Redskin game at Shea last year, for example.

At present, Giants tickets are $9 and $11 each, and we send our money off to buy these seats, including those games in cold, windy, weather-uncertain December, by June 1st. With four seats -- so I can take my wife, children or friends -- that comes to an annual outlay of $322. That's a lot of discretionary income to tie up all summer and most of the autumn, before getting any return.

The cost of going to a Giants game easily approaches $50 to $75 each Sunday. Add to the $46 ticket price, the cost of tolls, parking, program, tip, refreshments, gas and oil, extra clothing, and time, and you have a pretty expensive afternoon. That's the price of four rounds of golf, or rental of an indoor tennis court for 3 hour-long sessions or a good steak dinner for four at Gallagher's.

Tickets for the Metropolitan Opera or New York City Ballet or a Broadway show are cheaper and I don't hear any of those performers "quit," even if it is late in their season. Maybe it's because they just concentrate on offering the best that's within them and devote themselves to excellence in each performance. Maybe that's because they don't have to worry about making the playoffs. You seem to lose sight of the fact that the playoffs are merely the logical product of the season. It's the season that counts. It's the four months of excitement, excellent performance, unpredictable entertainment we pay to enjoy. The season came before the playoffs and that season consists of 14 games. Don't sell the product short.

I mentioned both salaries and pension at the outset. If the prevalent attitude becomes one of quitting because a game has no effect upon the standings -- or because a team has lost the first two games of the season, there is great danger that the fans might become disenchanted with what they get out of this considerable investment of money, time and interest in pro football. And unless the stadium is full, and people are clamoring for tickets -- the wherewithal to provide those salaries and pensions will evaporate -- and so will your economic security.

Giant fans have stuck with you guys through 12 lean years and haven't quit yet. I don't think it's appropriate for you to talk of quitting at this stage or any stage of the season.

With kind regards,

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Friday, October 10, 2008

in the pie hole

Which is better, cake or pie? It's an age-old dilemma that pits brother against brother. Or in my case, co-worker against co-worker. During my KROQ days, the morning show staff used to travel to New York for the MTV Video Music Awards. One year Jimmy Kimmel and Adam Carolla posed the cake or pie question to the rest of us. The friendly argument continued during the award show as all the people sitting near us in the Radio City Music Hall balcony weighed in.

I had an opportunity to resurrect the debate in Knoxville at one of the now-defunct stations where I worked. Although I don't dislike pie, I argued convincingly for cake. I mean, who has birthday pie or wedding pie? I also opined that a cheesecake is actually a pie. I used to have an aircheck of the bit visible on my website but now it's stuck in a little-used subdirectory.

Last year I was asked to judge a cake decorating contest. I found out after I got there that there would be no tasting the cakes. Tonight it was pie's turn. When I was invited to judge a contest at the St. Joseph School Fall Festival, I made sure to ask in advance whether or not the judges would get to taste the pies.

St. Albert the Great pastor Fr. Chris Michelson, school booster Jim Humphries and I tasted small pieces of seven different pies. A very light pumpkin mousse pie barely edged out an excellent pecan pie as the winner. For third place, we had a very difficult time choosing between a chocolate chess pie and a Ritz mock apple pie that completely fooled us. After dessert, we had some of the festival's famous BBQ. I chose the chicken dinner over the ribs. Chopped pork gets added to the menu on Saturday.

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

disturbance in the force

Soft-serve fans in New York and elsewhere are mourning the loss of the original Carvel Ice Cream store. It closed on Sunday so the franchisee can build a Japanese restaurant on his property instead. The local paper interviewed several of the last-day customers and posted a series of photos.

My friend Bean sent me the news, just like he did last year when there was talk of exhuming Tom Carvel's body. Meanwhile the legal battle over Mr. Carvel's estate continues as do the suspicions that he was murdered by his secretary.

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Sunday, September 14, 2008

deep in the heart

They do everything bigger in Texas, which is why they are moving forward with plans for not one but two body farms. An article in The Dallas Morning News today reports that in addition to the newly opened Forensic Anthropology Center at Texas State University in San Marcos, there's one coming soon to Sam Houston State University in Huntsville. Dr. Jerry Melbye, the director of TSU's facility has a license plate that reads DR4N6. I remember once seeing a license plate in California that was either NNNN6 or NNNNSICS.

Of course the original Body Farm is at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Given that Sam Houston used to live in East Tennessee, it's apropos that his namesake college would get a body farm too. Last month UT opened a new training center at the National Forensic Academy in Oak Ridge with a bang.

Since my last Body Farm update, I've noticed that some kids at Bronxville High School in New York are reading "Death's Acre" and posting their book reports on their forensics class blog. I found this interesting because I used to scoop ice cream at the Baskin-Robbins that was in Bronxville.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

touching the lives of others

On the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks, both presidential candidates visited Ground Zero in New York. Earlier this year, the Pope prayed at the site.

In case you missed it six months ago, let me point you to a blog entry about a 9/11 memorial at the Garland Fire Department in Texas. Also, an article from the Christian Science Monitor turned up in my email inbox. It describes some people who have dedicated their lives to good deeds since the attacks.

Another email came from a listener who wanted to express his feelings about my cousin, FDNY Captain Terry Hatton, who gave his life at the World Trade Center. He chose to run into a building that was already on fire and told one of his firefighting brothers that they may never see each other again. Here is the message from listener Michael:
I have listened to your morning show ever since I moved here from Los Angeles in 2004. Every morning as I drive to work, I tune in. I have never called in, and I more than likely never will. However, I heard you mention this morning that your cousin was a firefighter who lost his life on 9/11. First off, I must say I am sorry for your loss. With that being said, your cousin is truly an American hero. For someone to give their life helping people -- not only people, but people he didn't know -- is amazing. His family should be very, very proud. He was truly an unselfish man. So many people have him to thank. They may not know his name, or what he looked like, or his family but they had to have known his character, heart and his unwillingness to give up in adversity. Again, he is the true American hero. Not the celebrities that give donations, but never lift a finger to help. Or politicians that promise to make the world a better place, then back off when it becomes too hard to make a difference. But your cousin. I am not one to call in with my opinion but I wanted to let you know that even though I was not a victim of 9/11, nor was any of my family, I am still very grateful. Thank you to your cousin.
My wife and I turned on the radio tonight and happened across some music that was appropriate for today. It was a performance of the Berlioz "Requiem" by the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra and the Knoxville Choral Society, recorded at the Tennessee Theatre during one of the concerts I wrote about last April.

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