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Palm Springs Weakened

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I’ve been watching some TV lately.  I don’t know why.  You can blame some personal struggles, the late winter, the inability to finish a Chabon novel.   HBO is currently running a free preview promotion.  I killed my subscription a while back because I don’t see the value if you were not a fan of Game Of Thrombosis or there isn’t a new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm to sop up like chicken soup and a loaf of challah.  I took the opportunity to check out some new shows from the once respected pay TV icon.  My son told me to  watch this show called Crashing in which the less than hilarious comedian Pete Holmes plays a struggling comedian (what a stretch) who finds his wife shtupping somebody from work ( I don’t care) and leaves the marital home with no place to go. He goes to a comedy club, bombs and spends a night with the legendary thespian Artie Lange.  There’s some male genitalia thrown in because you might as well get something for your $20 a month.  It is the kind of slacker comedy that HBO came up with to feed the audience for the concluding Girls and the itinerant Silicon Valley.  Nobody has anything smart to say.  Makes you pine for Flight Of The Conchords  which was brilliant, charming, lowbrow fun. If you are even within ten years of my age and you watch the above shows there is something gravely wrong with you, especially when it comes to time management.  You can add the stoner inadvertently tragi-comedy High Maintenance to that list .  There was another show on the freeview called Quarry which falls into the HBO genre of  need-to-take-a-shower-after-viewing crime drama.  It started with True Detective, the first season of which was three years ago (different girlfriend) and was a trainwreck worth some inspection.   McConaughey and Harrelson on screen were like an evening of sour mash and quaaludes.   No happy endings in a procedural that basically eviscerated any residual faith you might have held with regards about the ability of the human condition to overcome moral challenges.   Then came Season Two which should have been titled, Vince Vaughan’s Acting Doesn’t Measure Up To That Of Rachel McAdam’s Facial Mole.  A true vision of  SoCal as hell without redemption.  Fun.   Quarry is about a Vietnam vet who comes home to Memphis in 1972 to find himself branded a war criminal for his alleged role in a My Lai-type massacre which isn’t fully addressed in the first two episodes outside of some dream footage of him drowning in his fatigues, cut into scenes of him in his own swimming pool.  The sinking metaphor has been done in The Affair‘s opening credits.  His professional outlook is bleak and during a short stint as a grease monkey he loses it with a customer who brings some memories up to the surface.  He later is approached by some painfully cliched characters from a Death For Hire firm who send him on an assignment to terminate with extreme prejudice a guy who is, not coincidentally, faithfully shtupping our lead’s wife who wasn’t quite so faithful to her husband while he was ‘in country’.  Imagine happening upon that scene.   Hilarity ensues in shockingly pat cliched television lacking anything resembling life positive values, all at the low low price of a double saw per month.  Better to pull out a copy of the post-Nam classic Coming Home with Jane Fonda and Jon Voigt made back in 1978 when the shrapnel wounds to the country were still fresh. Schadenfreude is the shits.    I also caught a glimpse of Big Little Lies featuring an all-star cast of soulless female characters living  with various douchey husbands in hollow joyless lives in a region of California featuring some of God’s best work.  The irony is not lost although the outlood is  no less hopeless than Quarry‘s.   Makes you long for the gestalt of The Sopranos.  Or Madmen.

Yeah there are hours you can’t get back no matter how hard you try.  I made an effort last night at retrieving some lost time and I just felt worse for the effort.  From the age of about eleven or twelve my sister and I would find ourselves sitting in front of the TV on a snowy Sunday afternoon in March (see:Toronto pre-climate change) watching  a seasonal piece of fluff on one of the Buffalo channels called Palm Springs Weekend.  The film dated back to 1963, a west coast counterpoint to Where The Boys Are.  Troy Donohue is captaining a college hoops team escaping their tyrannical coach for some spring break r&r in the desert only to find him (the legendary character actor Jack Weston) on the very same bus along with Connie Stevens,  a high school girl faking a Beverly Hills pedigree to really escape into the palms.   The guys and gals converge on a local motel where some lighthearted comedy and romance ensue.  The passion play is provided by alienated rich boy Eric Dean, played perfectly by Hollywood asshole Robert Conrad, who drives a bitchin’ T Bird Fastback and comes on a little strong to Stevens who secretly prefers a good natured lonesome cowboy played by Ty Hardin.   Donahue gets into an argument over sexual double standards (very racy for the time) with his new love Stefanie Powers ( the then future Girl From UNCLE my friends) who just happens to be the police chief’s daughter.  There’s plenty of sedative switching going around (Jerry Van Dyke gets ‘roofed’ by his own conconction courtesy of the precocious tyke Billy Mumy who was the charge of Van Dyke’s date) until a climactic car chase in which Hardin winds up in the hospital under the loving gaze of Stevens.  Its a piffle from Warner Brothers then trying to catch up with American International.  But it became a ritual for us every year through high school, our own Rocky Horror Picture Show if you will.  We memorized the corny lines, laughed at the cheap sets (desert backdrops that didn’t quite cover the frame) and stayed warm in those cold Canadian winters of the sixties.PalmSprings

I have written about Marjorie in the past and thought I’d appropriately set the wayback machine courtesy of an old VHS copy of hers that I managed to hang onto.   I hadn’t seen it in years and even though I had a couple of smiles, the feeling is long gone and I just can’t get it back.  That kid who watched matinees is long gone and so is the Hollywood that made this film along with most of its stars.  Yes, its cheese aged 50 some odd years  and it had has no redeeming value in the battle for diversity but I remember watching it with a grin.  And it was the memory of those days that gives me a little warmth this morning.

Look for entertainment that inspires rather than drives you to despair.

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Working With My Thumbs

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I have said for years that most of my work days start like the first twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan – the nausea of certain doom, heavy email fire from the financial front, PTSD all over the office (Post Traffic Stress Disorder).   Monday didn’t start any better – a pre-dawn service recon mission to the car dealer (German too, just to top up the metaphor), radio signals of trouble at the warehouse, goods held hostage.  Yeah, the smell of payables in the morning isn’t victory.  What’s worse is that I left dishes in the sink because the handle on the kitchen faucet kind of freed itself from its mortal coil so to speak.

I beheld the suddenly disconnected low-end Moen swivel faucet like Larry Olivier  in Marathon Man, when der weisse engel  realized his deadly “wrist knife” was now stuck firmly in his own mid-section.  Now what?  Death can wait, I had dishes to clean before the girlfriend came over.

My choices at that point were thin.  One, I could call down and wait three days for someone to show up.  The collateral damage, beyond the pain of relocating my kitchen to the forensic killing field known as my bathroom sink is that look from the  super – the  “Are you that useless?” head tilt.  I regularly feel less independent than Mrs. Ruskin in 1008 who is pushing 99 and still has more game than me on any given day.  The alternative was to – give me a second just to find the courage to type it out – Try To Fix It Myself.

Before I continue, in the interest of full disclosure, I need to remind you that I am Jewish.  Cue the eyes rolling knowingly heavenward with the words “Of course…!” from the chorus of  gentile tradesman who have made millions visiting Hebrew households for the sole purpose of releasing a trapped chain in a run-on toilet.  That should explain just about everything.  You will never see our people hosting any kind of home reno reality show other than, “I Can’t Believe What This Marble Bathroom Floor My Wife Insisted On  Is Costing Me.”

Historically there is very little Biblical evidence to the contrary when it comes to manual skillsets amongst our people.  Apparently Abraham and Isaac dug wells but there is no tractate in the Torah which they actually appear shovel in hand.  I suggest that most of the digging was left to “schleppers” recruited from the heathens.  Jacob hands were so soft he had to fake his ‘evil’ twin Esau’s calloused hairy skin to steal his father’s blessing.

Here’s a perfect illustration – my girlfriend is close with a family who have a daughter who was “marrying out” so to speak, meaning that her future husband was not of the faith which was a blessing, so to speak, for his future father-in-law who now had genetically capable labor inside his own family.  However, once the kid converted to Judaism he suddenly went from singlehandedly installing a boat lift at the summer home to, “Dad, now that I’m Jewish…let’s just call someone…” when it came to dry walling the guest  house.  I’m not even sure it was a legitimate conversion but just the notion of Jewishness changed his  DIY DNA.

Back to my own ambitions which led me to the local hardware store.  Not Home Depot, just the local Home Hardware.  The former is so intimidating that my few trips there have usually left me on my knees in the parking lot  crying to the contractors stepping out of their Dodge Ram Diesels in the special VIP “Professionals Only” spots,  “Help me….please Help me. I have money, please.”  Reverse begging.   Home Hardware is a little more my speed.  They sell things I can understand like driveway salt and chocolate bars.  Most people come in looking for a decorative light bulb or a second house key.

The plumbing department is one small aisle that allows you a couple of minutes of almost looking like you know what you are doing.  I pulled out the old “fake nod of wisdom” as I handled the various Moen faucet kits.  A clerk  soon approached with his own nod, the old “this customer has no clue” look.

“I think I might need a new faucet,” I said pulling my tap out of my pocket, “The thingy that keeps this whatchamacallit in place kind of broke and I don’t know if I should replace the whole tamale or see if you have a part.  Probably have to replace it because its all a racket.”

My father is fond of saying that everything is a “racket.  Hardware, dairy products, marine fuel, colonoscopies. Its all fixed, all rigged by the unions and the manufacturers.  All at the expense of the honest taxpayer.

“Well are you sure you can replace it yourself?” was his response because he had clearly sized me up like so many others and was correctly thinking to himself –  ‘this Jew isn’t doing shit’.  Truly, there was no friggin way I was going to replace a complete faucet.  Would that I could there would be a Negev Dinner thrown in my honor with Mike Holmes leading the tribute, “Ladies and gentleman, this man sitting next to me taught me and, I guess all of us, that  home improvement has to begin in your heart before you can do the job with your hands.”  Something like that.  Then a half hour of Tim Thomas standup before we hit the valet parking.

However, the aisle had a parts section – various bags and little plastic bubble packs containing washers, bolts and pipe junctions unaccompanied by any kind of 4K Bluray instruction disc – and I noticed one package containing a little thingamajig that looked exactly like the thingamajig inside the handle in my hand!!!!  It came with a washer that looked vaguely like something that might fit my faucet.  And there was an allen key to boot!

Of course what followed was about a half-hour of soul searching.  Should I?  Can I?  What if I completely screw it up and the pipes blow up and the resulting flood seeps into Debbie’s apartment directly beneath me.  That’s a ticket to a permaglare every time we meet in the elevator together.  Forever.

Finally the clerk said, “Look, if its the wrong part just bring it back.”  Ah, an out.

For ten bucks – it is really a racket – I took a shot and brought it home.  I immediately set out to remove the screw in the tap that held the broken washer.  No go.  Pulled out the power drill with the screw driver attachment.  No go.  I then did something that truly defines the miracle of modern living.  I went to the computer and Googled ‘Moen Faucet Repair’.  Sure enough, up came a home made video from a guy and within a minute I figured out how to pull up the screw to get it loose.  I also was reminded to turn off the water before working on your faucet.  Solid advice.

Within ten minutes the job was done and I had very clean action on the faucet.  Not going to mention that I accidentally reversed the cold and the hot water, a minor detail, but I did it and holy shit, was I proud.   I was close to inviting the fellas over for wings and beer just to see the handiwork.  Trust me, they would be impressed.  Had I done this for the girlfriend…?  Well  a woman working for me had an Italian boyfriend who came over and in one afternoon completely rewired her house. After that she said, and these are her words, “He could do anything he wanted to me.”

Well, maybe not a faucet but if I fixed her fridge?   It has been on the fritz so much I am jealous of her relationship with the repair guy who seems to show up daily.  Another racket.

The lesson of the faucet is an easy one, albeit one learned late in life.   We are so dependent on others that when we achieve self-reliance, even on this tiny level, we  harken back to the untamed west when rough hewn men would build rough hewn homesteads from el scratcho for their families.  They figured it out, they improvised, they invented.   There is something intrinsically holy about working with your hands which are capable, with the right intention, of making all kinds of miracles.  Yeah Jesus was a carpenter.  And  Jewish.

Its actually embarrassing  to celebrate ten cents of workmanship, shoddy or not. However imagine if I had picked up some of the trade skills they were teaching us in Shop Class fifty years ago and ran with them from an early age.  Geez, I don’t even know how to replace a light switch.  What’s worse is that my former wife went out after our divorce and without a contractor for the most part and built a country home for herself.  Quite an achievement.

I am emboldened to again by the dream of going to Florida and buying an old yacht that needed a year or so of restoration.  I would do as much as I could myself, owning the experience as much as the boat itself – remember Tim Robbins in that last scene in Shawshank Redemption – the result of which would attach a value to it far more than what I paid.

In Memoriam

The Emmys are coming up and I have noticed in recent years that in this show and in others like the Oscars, Grammys and Teen Choice Awards I look forward with morbid curiosity to the scroll call highlighting the significant names lost during the past year.   It’s a bittersweet interlude to the festivities, mournful and  astonishing,  for the way these distant stars and their work impacted us so significantly during our lives.   There’s that sudden sinking feeling when a face comes up that you didn’t realize was gone.  It’s quite profound and it happened to me last weekend in Montreal which got me to thinking that we should compile our own “In Memoriam” reel every year to remind us of both what is gone and perhaps what was gained from our time with the now departed.  This is my first go at it so I have some catching up to do.

I did not know John Lubelski all that well in high school.  He was a couple of years back and what I knew of him was that he was rarity – a tough SOB Jewboy (I can say that, not you) from the wrong side of the street.   He ran with a guy from my neighborhood named Marty Cole and when it came to the girlies, well, he and Marty were Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid.  We, who got nothing, could only look on in awe.   As we got older he was a guy you played hockey with on occasion or ran into at parties.  Marty went to medical school, got married and moved to Calgary and the bromance between those two ended badly.  Lubelski, one of the most loyal guys I every met, took that hard but started his own family that produced three daughters.   I couldn’t call him a friend but he was always one of those guys that was, in the words of Billy Joel, “quick with a joke or a light of your smoke…”  Too many smokes in fact and about a dozen years ago was diagnosed with some kind of lymph/larynx cancer that earned him a hole in his throat through which he spoke for the rest of his days.   That didn’t stop the hockey, the insults or the extremely sharp opinions that came forth but this many decades later it was just Lubelski and he was part of the local fabric.  Strangely I became closer to John in recent years through a mutual friend.  He just seemed to turn up more and he was a lot more engaging.  He also had some wisdom, a very successful but unflashy guy,  that he was willing to share.  He also had guns (again the tough Jewboy) and was happy to share those too.  I still have my targets from the time he took me and his small arsenal out to his gun club .  Shit, that was fun.   Then, about a year and a half ago, he was playing hockey, made a quick move behind the net, tripped, broke his neck and died with his skates on.  Apparently the chemo had so weakened the neck muscles that he didn’t have the failsafes the rest of his have when it comes to sudden twists.  He was barely 60 and a new grandfather.   I had had lunch with him about ten days prior where he confessed to be on the path to be buying a condo in Florida, something he had been very much against in the past, especially if he heard you were thinking of it.  Again Lubelski and opinions.  Very much hand in hand.  I am writing about John now because his name keeps coming up and as the Rabbi at his unveiling said, “John is not gone, it’s just that our relationship with him has changed.” So true.

My business is a very niche corner of the entertainment segment.and I have been fortunate or foolish enough to be able to indulge some personal passions.  A few years ago I came up with the stupid idea to produce and write a documentary about Roller Derby.  I had been a fan as a kid and there was a new wave of roller girls out there and perhaps I could draft off the buzz of Whip It, a forthcoming roller derby feature from new hyphenate Drew Barrymore starring Ellen Page.  For better or worse I also knew Steven Bass, the only man in possession of what film and tape was available from the glory days of Roller Derby from the 50s to the early 70s. I had done some business with him a couple of years prior as he was in possession of the only copy of a rare HBO telecast of a hockey game between the Hartford Whalers of the World Hockey Association and the Soviet nationals circa in 1977.  I bought some DVD rights from him for a boxed set I put together on the history of that short lived league called the WHA Chronicles.  Uber niche.   I couldn’t get anyone to finance the Roller Derby doc so I plunged in with some corporate profits and entered Bass’s world of ancient derby stars, commentators and promoters.   Bass was one of those guys who didn’t care much for anything that happened past 1964 which is perhaps why he lived in Niagara Falls, New York,  a good place to be if you are not too fussy about your future and your present for that matter.  He was a terrible chain smoker and was married a woman from Toronto who shared that same addiction.  He looked like a vagrant thanks in part to more AWOL teeth than a smile can suffer.  Even though he had a full head of hair he would always show up at the office with a ratty trademark cap that you might have seen on a Bowery newsboy in the 30s and a a threadbare Namath-era New York Jets jacket   We shot the doc, Rolling Thunder, in the home of derby, San Francisco,  and thanks to Steve we had most of the greats on tape. It actually ran on a few PBS stations.  From there he was focused on launching Golden Sports which was going to be an internet subscription service where you could stream his library of vintage boxing, football and basketball films.  The stuff went too far back for most of the those who are above ground but I did what I could to support him.  He fell ill with cancer, bounced back and we stayed in touch until a couple of years ago.  A few weeks back I got an email from Jerry Seltzer, the godfather of syndicated sports television who said that Steve had passed away.  I called Steve’s number but there was no answer.  I tried getting a number for his widow but it just dead ended.   I am left a little empty at the thought that Bass will be forgotten quicker than he was remembered.  Not by me though because thanks to him, I got to make Rolling Thunder.   Rest easy my friend.

I am writing all this because of what happened last weekend.  I am a relatively observant Jew and try to get to shul every Shabbos.   A couple of times a year I get to Montreal and stay the weekend.  I make a point to schlep up to an old synagogue in the neighborhood made famous by the writings of native son Mordecai Richler.  This past Shabbat I got in late but it wasn’t until noon that they had the requisite ten men to run a kosher service.  When it finally was over the few of us who hung around gathered in the basement for a traditional post-service nosh called, for those not of the faith,  a kiddush.  The gentleman who keeps this religious landmark open walks in several miles every Shabbat to run the service and I asked him what happened to Teddy Millberg, a guy I had looked forward to shmoozing with when I came to the shul.   I hadn’t seen him in a couple of years in fact.  I honestly thought  he might have been away coincidental with my recent visits.  No, “….Teddy died” was what I was told from a face suddenly visited by an unwanted sadness.  Some kind of cancer came up quick a couple of years ago and he was gone.  I walked back to the hotel a little winded.  We were used to hearing other things in these situations. “Oh, he’s on vacation.”  “Oh, his wife dumped him and he moved away.”  “Oh, he spends his Shabbats somewhere else now closer to his house.”  But death, that was never part of the vocabulary.  Now it is part of the equation.  But one thing is for sure, that little shul a block or two away from Schwartz’s Deli will never be the same for me.  Alev sholom Teddy.

I have in my bathroom a black and white  8 x 10 of hockey legend Gordie Howe that my father brought me over 50 years ago after one of his frequent business trips to his Detroit office.  When I got the glossy my mother had already taken it down to the old Eaton’s on College Street in Toronto and had it framed.  It is signed to me in ballpoint, Gordie posing on the boards, leaning so slightly on his arms, wearing his battle worn hockey gloves. Not that I was the biggest Howe fan but if you were a fan of hockey back then in the days of the six team NHL you were a fan of Howe.  That’s how it was back then.  The first game I ever went to was Toronto vs Detroit and even though the Red Wings lost that night to the Maple Leafs Howe scored both for the losing side.  You didn’t see Howe play much because there was little hockey on TV after the Leafs on Saturday night.  You listened to the radio a lot more than you do today. By the time I saw him that night he was already a solid sixteen years into his career but still so dominant.  A few years later the Leafs traded my favorite player Frank Mahovlich to Detroit in one of the worst deals in sports history but I was there when big Frank came back to Toronto on a line with Howe and another legendary Red Wing, Alex Delvecchio.  Gordie was almost 40 but when they came down the ice but it was magical.   Cut to 2006 or so and I was compiling a DVD boxed set called The Lost Series, a retrospective of a little remembered showdown pitting the best of the aforementioned WHA against the Soviet national team that had nearly beat Team Canada two years prior.   It was mayhem on ice and to sweeten my package I reached out to the Red Wings to see if I could get Howe to come to Toronto to add his perspective in a commentary track.  It wasn’t cheap and if I didn’t get him out of there in time to drive back to Michigan to look after his beloved wife Colleen, then in the final throws of what I believe was ALS, I would have to pay for the nurse’s overtime.  Fair enough.   Gordie showed up as his usual soft spoken self.  Somehow big Frank had gotten the word and so did the widow of the late Carl Brewer, another legendary player and  she showed up for support.  Howe was marvellous on the mike, talking of the joy of playing with his sons Mark and Marty on that version of Team Canada.  I do remember him looking at the monitor and saying something like, “I never saw my sons smiling while they played and I said to them, ‘Boys are you not having fun?” because its fun to me and that’s why I play.  If it isn’t for you then you shouldn’t be playing.”  This is the kind of person Gordie was.   It was never really about the money.  He had a talent and he didn’t waste it.   When we interviewed Chicago great Bobby Hull a couple of years later he referred to Mr. Hockey as “Gordon Howe”.  Such was his respect for the man and they way he lived on and off the ice.   It would be impossible to find a more humble specimen of professional athlete today.   To say that I am going to miss Howe, gone at 88 this past June, would be inaccurate.  But I do miss what  his generation Gordie Howe and Frank Mahovalichstood for and what he did for the fans and people of Detroit in that old forgotten barn called The Olympia. That’s Gordie with me over his shoulder and Frank Mahovlich on the right.

 

My Lover The Car

Me and my 325is.

Me and my 325is.

 

I had breakfast with my father this morning and he openly talked about the end of his driving life.  Granted, at 91, he is doing way better than most including what’s left of his friends who aren’t parked permanently underground.  However, even I didn’t expect he would bring it up.   If my father has any unique talent, it is behind the wheel.   It has been a consistent quality of his for as long as I have known him even with his most recent rash of chafed and bruised bumpers and fenders. My fear is that when that day comes is not that I will have to do some chauffeuring but that a good chunk of my father’s remaining vitality will be sitting in a grease spot on the vacant spot in his condo.

Unfortunately, I don’t see the end of my driving career but I do see my last car on the horizon.  Not this one, not the next but after for sure.  And this is not because I’m cheap or broke.   At one point I will need to find one last lover between the sheet metal as a metaphor for both my own longevity and one last fling in my checkered carburated love history.    Such it is with cars and women. If the relationship with the woman lying next to you in bed goes to ground (I have given my current girlfriend way too much out of warranty trouble), you at least have the old girl in the garage.  After a while you just hang on to what you’ve got. You’ve witnessed it first hand – old duffers tooling around good in ancient Buick Elektras and Mercedes Diesels with 600K on them.  Most of these cars have been given feminine names as in  – “We’re taking old Bessie down to the legion hall.”

Its  an extension of the gender specific nature of marine vessels going to back to the “Good Ship Venus” and well beyond.   “She’s taking on water!” bellowed the bo’sun.   Or someone like that.

And for our generation, and maybe the older Gen Xers who remember leaded fuel, we are the last to feel that relationship, the primal need for high-power transportation we can own, drive hard, nurture and with which we can kill the planet.   Women will let you down.   An Eleanor in your life, (Nick Cage’s object of desire in Gone In 60 Seconds) well, that’s a girl that will never get old.  And you can be inside her without paying for dinner.  Not to get too graphic but its the truth.  See Judge Reinhold in the car wash scene in Fast Times At Ridgemont High.   Not sure the millenials will feel the same about the gender-neutral cars of today.  Especially when their women are paying half.  Or more.

Imagine your first love coming back in your life and looking better than she did way back when.  This is why guys my age go to Barrett-Jackson in Scottsdale every year and drop six figures on American muscle cars that sold for a small fraction of  the  price forty five years ago.

My first wasn’t really mine.  It was my mother’s – a 1970 Buick GS Stage 1, bought on my urging, a legend which is remembered with reverence to this day. Blue metallic, white vinyl roof, bench seats, power everything and nothing short of 455 cubic inches under the hood.  Three hundred and sixty horses.   With my learner’s permit in hand I could take the speedometer completely around the horn.  One hundred and forty miles per hour was not a problem.   For my idiot friends and I it was our chariot to the storied Watkins Glen Festival of 1973 and when my mother died later that year, the car became mine for a short while.  There was a pledge class trip to DC from Penn State, a complete destruction of the front end by my sister for which I took the heat lest there were two kids in the family with horrible driving reputations.    Mostly I remember my mother at the helm with my little brother sitting on seat beside her.  He is autistic and to this day if I ask him what his mother said in the car forty five years ago he parrots a good Brooklyn accent – “C’mon lady lets go!”  Was it my first love?  It was surely a schoolboy crush. Tantalizing but never really mine.

A few months later my father sold it off, like most everybody with little foresight and not enough garage to keep muscle around that would rise exponentially in value.   It was time for me to get my own car and I went in a completely different direction – a 1974 Fiat X/19  sled.   This was the coolest looking little wedge ever, complete with pop-up headlights and a trunk that could easily fit a couple of canoles.   I remember a drive to New York, some sketchy nights in the snow and a nifty car to take down to the campus where I had a parking spot thanks to my part time job as sports editor of the school paper.  As a lover it was thin skinned and the looks oxidized a little too quickly.  I remember taking the prettiest girl in the city to a wedding.   She was there purely for show, no different than the Fiat.   I was as shallow as the Italian engineering – dating for looks and looks alone.  My girl moved on and so did those old rusty Fiats which couldn’t survive a collision with a Corgi, the dog or the toy.

Next up was a Limited Edition VW Rabbit.  I think the limited element was the crushed velour interior.   This car coincided with my first serious girlfriend who, like the VW, was demanding but loyal.  Meatloaf was on the cassette deck going like a Bat Out Of Hell.  Sexy when it had to be.  I remember some front seat activity. Dependable too as it stood me for my first full-time newspaper job in Ottawa and a frigid winter up there covering the junior hockey scene.  I brought it back to Toronto a year later.  Eventually I took a break from my dependable girlfriend for a racier model with more than merely an infectious personality and both the affair and the car died, the latter courtesy of skid over an old railway tie that trashed the engine.  The mechanic stole my Porsche sunglasses out of the glove compartment.   Wish I had them now.  This what happens when you conduct a reckless youth.  Its never wreckless.

After that, wait for the harp, my first BMW!  Je suis arrivee! It was a three year old   320i, green, no A/C, no sunroof and manual windows.  Folks, this was back in the day when people with BMWs would pop their head-lights at each other when oncoming in traffic.  This was a club, a smug self-satisfied club to be sure, but a very cool place to be right down to my now defunct dealer who would let you hang out in the garage.  I was still in my mid-20s so combine that with a gig as a rock critic and an expense account….it was an equation for good times and some status for which I was foolishly lobbying.

I put in a kick-ass Bose sound system and in the short time I had the car – maybe six months –  I remember a really nice drive to Cape Cod with the girlfriend.   Yuppie porn.   The lack of A/C was not a problem.  It was a BMW.  I still remember the sound the door made as it closed.  Solid. The romance was like a starter marriage – over before it started.

Late that summer, on Labor Day, some drunk kid in his mother’s Mercury Montego  hit me  from behind at a stoplight.  I didn’t feel it.   The damage from my car hitting the guy in front of me totaled that car.  The Bimmer was swept up onto a dolly because it couldn’t be towed.  I had a spinal concussion and had to be pulled unconscious through the window.   Thankfully I had previously dropped off the girl I had taken to the concert.   The cop said that had I been driving anything less than the BMW I would have been looking at eternity.   The kid got a three-month suspended license, I got about $10K.  That’s the way it was back then.  Wham bam thank you insurance ma’am.  But the car saved my life.  I always wondered if my girl with whom I shared five fun years could have made my future better had I hung in there.

The writer on the auto beat at the paper knew somebody at BMW and got me a deal on another 320, this one a reliable 1981 model in silver with black interior.   Strangely, of all the cars I had I remember that one the least other than it was the vehicle with which I transported a lot of eager women (I was at my peak of hipness in those years) and ultimately, my future wife.   Both were keepers.  Maybe I was getting older, turning the corner, getting more practical.

In 1983 I sold it and moved to New York and went carless for at least a year and change until my uncle gave me his 1975 GMC Jimmy.  Now this was a cool truck because the entire roof could be unbolted and taken off to reveal a nifty roll bar and a removable backseat.  I gave it new paint, emblazoned the door with the logo for my concert promotion company – Gross National Product – and drove this bad boy everywhere including the Buffalo airport to pick up rap acts like Run DMC who were flying up on People’s Express (hands up if your remember the airline where you bought your tickets ON THE PLANE!)  In the summer I had to put a tarp over the seats and the center console could double as an aquarium when it rained but it was very Walker, Texas Ranger in the open air.    Lisa, my wife,  and I were a pretty cool young couple and the truck was unique, a metaphor for what we felt was our own singularity.   Hey, cops did “Catch and release” all day because they tried to nail me on the lack of shoulder belts.  Didn’t have none and the police just had to let me go!  You don’t realize the good times until they are gone.  I sold it to a firefighter for $1500.

From there it was back to Bimmerland and a used black-on-black 1982 320s.  This lady was trouble.  But so was I, in the last throes of my journalism career, struggling in business.  Parts of my life didn’t fit.  Similarly, the previous owner had put headers on the 320 and it needed leaded gas (remember those days) but the car had a reduced radius unleaded nozzle receptor so I had keep a funnel  in the trunk and pour the gas through that.  There were tune-ups in the four figure area which was a lot thirty years ago.  I kept it for a couple of years until I had enough money to buy something newer more dependable.   She was too high maintenance when you’re trying to quell your inner Peter Pan.  Remember Will Farrell in Old School working on the Firebird ?  Both of us were a little old for that crap.

Next was the best girl I ever drove – 1987 BMW 325iS in Salmon Silver (see the photo above) and a blue leather interior.  Although my wife, now ex, laughs at me about that color to this day, she would agree that the car was terrific.  If I needed some excitement “on the side” this was it.  Not an ounce of trouble, kept quiet and was responsive to my less-than-sensitive touch.   Life was good for four solid years.  (That’s it in the photo!)

Living in LA for the next few years, and now a family, we made do with a Lexus ES 300 when the lease ran out on the 325iS.  Made do, yeah.   I think that car was in the family for over twelve years and it was a lot more dependable than I was.   It was like an aunt that favored you but kept you in line.

When we moved back to Toronto, I was broke.  Whatever I had was put into the house.  My father-in-law took pity on my and gave me his Saab 2000 or 3000 or whatever the hell it was.  It came with a cell phone that was hard wired to the car.  Twenty one years later I still have that number.   The car however was one of those Saab lemons that never let up.  There were $5000 tune-ups I couldn’t afford and I don’t remember one decent moment in the car.   Life was a struggle back then and I didn’t merit anything better in a four-wheeled significant other.

Eventually I made enough money to lease a new Saab for reasons that I can’t explain.  This was a nifty 2-door turbo that was great for a couple of years until everything went wrong, including an episode where my wife and I forgot our 2-year old daughter in the backseat.  In the driveway.  It was one of those exhausting nights where it was , “You take her”.  “No you.”  Not one of our proudest moments.   I’m not sure if the statute of limitations has run out on that crime.  My daughter digs it up enough for a complete season of CSI: Useless Parents.

After that it was the first of several mid-life crises.  I bounced into a Volvo convertible for a couple of years which had the best seats my tush ever touched and the worst trunk for hockey equipment ever.

When that was done, and not flush with cash thanks to private school bills, I bought a brand new 2004 Chrysler Sebring convertible.  Zero down, zero interest. Limited edition my friend, which meant this one was limited to how many they could sell.   But you know what, this is the car that I will remember on my deathbed.   It was never a problem for the eight plus years I had it.   With the low and wide Italian design it looked like a Maserati.  My marriage broke up around then and the top down effect was a self-fulfilling prophecy on more than a few nights.   My best memories was the annual drive to Montreal for the Just For Laughs comedy festival followed by a long peaceful Sunday cruise up to my kids summer camp for Visitor’s Day.   The car was indestructible.   I had to sell it for cash to some Afghani kid when the top died and it would cost more to replace it than what the old girl was worth.   She was the love of my automotive life.  Funny how a simple American car can provide so much assurance and pleasure.    If only I had been as dependable and modest as the car.  Regrets.

What immediately followed the Chrysler was the biggest mistake of my automotive life.  I had gotten back into BMWs during the Sebring period when I bought a second car – I was making a lot of money at the time – an X3 in California when the strong dollar had made it easier to import cars from the U.S.  Technically it is mine but after a nasty accident in my ex’s relatively new third generation ES 350 – car was totaled but the airbags worked – it was pretty much hers to use and she still does to this day and a with a 100K plus on it, it gave great value.  Unfortunately, the next BMW offset every nickel of value in the X3.

I don’t know how it happened or what drove me, literally, to madness but with the X3 at the ex’s and the aforementioned Chrysler on the way out I passed a dream car, or so I thought, on a used lot downtown. It was a black on black 2008 535XiT wagon.  A rarity to be sure.  Loaded to the heated steering wheel to the sport seats to the gangster tint job.  Took it out for a spin and I was hooked.  I left it alone for a couple of months and saved a few grand but man did I love this bad boy when I took it home.   It was a big brazen hussy and the first order of business was to take my son back to school in Boston during a horrible blizzard and then stop off at Killington for a couple of days of skiing.   On the highway, it was a rock at 140 clicks.

Alas the honeymoon lasted about six months.  First, the  sunroof drains got clogged and water got into the electrical system shorting out everything including the suspension.  Then the warranty ran out just in time for a $2500 tuneup, then I replaced some dinged rims with after market cheapies and the car started to vibrate which I didn’t pin on the crappy rims till I replaced about $3K in Tie rods and front end crap.   On it went through transmissions and leaking gaskets and crank cases and thermostats – about $2k a quarter for the last year plus.  I actually took my problems to the tech guru at Bimmer Magazine and his response – “I hope you have a lot of money”.

Included was a full house of speeding tickets that put my insurance up to $6K a year for two years.   Soon after the electrics/sunroof fault popped up again and I limped into the dealer with a plea for charity.  That wasn’t going to happen.  The best he could do was bring in the used guy and throw me some trade-in dough   It was about $10K for a car that cost me close to $70K with all the repairs in.  Thats a $60K cost in about four years.  I could have leased a serious Porsche for the same dough.

It was irresponsible to buy this car.  With a significant other in my life I might have made a more prudent choice.  I am still bitter about this.  Once I chastised my father for missing the funeral of a close friend.  His answer, “This is what happens when you don’t have a wife.”  Truer words have never been spoken.

Now I had some credit but zero interest in another Bimmer.  Those “Nazi bastards” had won to quote Jackie Mason.  The service manager, having  a little sympathy, said  “You’re done here but we’ll honor the credit across the street at our Mini dealer.”   Yeah, right.  A Mini.  Talk about automotive “shrinkage”.   I had no choice.  I dragged my ass over there and mumbled something to a “Sales Hipster” or so it said on his card.   Even the service guys had that Williamsburg look.  He gave me a set of keys to a car outside and I thought of just thrashing through the gearbox to the point of shredding the tranny as revenge.  But I didn’t and the car provided more fun than anything you can do clothed. And so I sat down right then and there and ordered a brand new Mini in the 4-door configuration and dressed option by option like a four-cylinder sundae.

Here I am, eight month later, driving this little go kart with some remorse.  It’s just too small.  The racy number from my Rabbit days saw me in the gym parking lot and said, “Really?”   Yeesh.  My current girlfriend has bitten her lip to the point of bloodshed.   Its cute, its frugal, its fast and the ergonomics are funky but I am so far out of Mini’s target demo its funny.  The manual stick is impractical because nobody knows how to drive that way anymore.   Long drives are painful and the run flats are annoying. I have had and will have no adventures in this car past some quick lane changes.  My aforeblogged scooter is way more exciting.

I will be back into something new in the spring.  Something that is set higher  so I don’t bang my head the way in and out.  Something with a seat that is  suitable for more than the tush of a  super model.  Something I can grow older (already there?) with and christen with some goofy name like “The Great Gasby”.  Something with more character than cute.    That might be the ultimate problem – every vehicle today is a ‘chick car’.  But that’s another story.   Maybe Julio can write  a song, “To All The Cars I’ve Loved Before.”  Maybe I will.

 

The Night The David Letterman Experience Came To Toronto – A Truish Story.

I thought for years that I could rise in the business to a level where I could guest on Letterman and then “hijack” the show with this story. That, of course, never happened but very few of us have a good personal Dave yarn. Let me share mine. In the late spring of 1979, I was dividing my time at the Toronto Sun between the news desk as a ne’er do well Jimmy Olsen and the entertainment sandbox where I saw myself as the local punk rock answer to the legendary gonzo critic Lester Bangs. I also covered the comedy “waterfront”. There was a tidal wave of young talented comedians building their acts at the old Yuk Yuk’s club on Bay Street – Howie Mandel was still in town and I believe I was the first journalist to notice one Jim Carrey. One day in May of that year I took a call  from a local promoter who will remain nameless for reasons I will explain later. He wanted me to break the story that he was bringing David Letterman to Toronto! That was big news. First, to me and my coterie of standup crazed idiot friends Letterman, at that point, was the comedy Messiah. In little over a year he had parlayed the paradox of his gap-toothed golly-gee Indiana boy veneer with a nasty talent for cynical observation (“Breakfast is coming to McDonald’s? Now there’s something to look forward to!”) into a unique position in a fraternity dominated by neurotic east coast Hebrews. He had caught the eye of Johnny Carson and quickly moved from the odd slot to guest hosting The Tonight Show in weeklong swatches and ‘killing it’ as they say today. Even back then there was talk of Letterman being “groomed” as the heir apparent. This would be a big comedy event. Second, I was going to be the beneficiary of an exclusive interview in advance of the gig. This couldn’t come at a better time because I needed ammunition to get me into the entertainment department full time. You can only cover so many Miss Nude Ontario pageants. Further, my girlfriend of the time was making some disturbing noises –“I hear there’s a mixer down at the Faculty of Dentistry” – and I needed to show her that I could mobilize my readership to create a watershed moment in the city’s comedy history. “Guess what? David Letterman is coming to town and I have the only interview!” “Who?” “David Letterman. You know…?’ ‘The Lettermen? “No, David Letterman, the gap-toothed, sharp witted comedian now guest hosting The Tonight Show in weeklong swatches.” ‘Never heard of him.” Such was the exchange between me and the editor as I broke the good news. After much wrangling, however, I got them to hold some space in the paper. For the interview, a long list of questions were culled from the kind of pseudo-intellectual B.S. that my 25 year-old self was dealing in at that point, crafted specifically so that I could enjoy the sound of my own voice. Things like, “David, as America crossed the socio-political Rubicon from the shell-shocked Vietnam era to the new narcissism of the Me Generation….blah blah blah…Is the comedian’s roll to bridge the strata in society….blah blah blah….or the classic Nietzchian battle for the comic’s soul between what’s smart and what’s funny…..blah blah.” Letterman, to his credit, answered most questions with one cryptic question of his own, “Hey Jon, how about those Maple Leafs?”  Whatever, I managed to cobble together some kind of profile/post-doctoral thesis, illustrating the essay with Letterman’s publicity photo of the time in which he carried a pained expression reminiscent of Oswald’s as he was shot in the Dallas police station. I envisioned the piece would case a seismic shift in the local culture. Not so much as it turned out. The aforementioned promoter had booked Dave into the somewhat downscale Night Moves tavern located in a desolate strip in the industrial west side affectionately known back then as the “Film At Eleven District”. When I strode into the club with my girl I was greeted by none other than the aforementioned idiot friends to whom I had announced the show at our shinny hockey game the Sunday prior with promises of “hanging with my new friend Dave” after his ‘set’. Maybe fifteen of us plus the regulars at the bar – gals in mail order pants from “Short & Squat” and some rounders sporting chenille crested jackets from the local Junior B team with the rank of “Booster” sewn onto the sleeve which means they probably stole equipment for the club. All were smoking and drinking the same thing – Exports. The girlfriend hit the white wine spritzers pretty hard at this point, realizing she had made a poor romantic choice. Poorer still was the choice of opening act, the great Canadian crooner Vic Franklyn brought to the stage with his crushed velour tux and his tape recorder by local comic and emcee Steve Pulver. Franklyn possessed the unique talent of maintaining his equilibrium while performing in revolving restaurants which kept him employed and a moving target. Not tonight. The light show consisted of one spotlight aimed from the bar at the stage that hit Franklyn like a fire hose. To this day none of us understand why our friend Brad stood up in the line of fire to “dance” thus completely blacking out Franklyn. The bouncer, who looked like he was between arrests, politely planted him back in his seat with a clear warning of telethon-level injuries if he did that again. Why he did it again we’ll never know but he did which reduced the floor to mayhem as Brad was pretty much hurled across the room. Due to our ethnic heritage my minyan couldn’t do much more for Brad than promise a donation in his name to the UJA. Franklyn bolted. Enter Letterman to save the day. Stuck for a moment by the girl at the door who wouldn’t let him in until put his face, complete with the Oswald expression at impact, next to the 8 by 10 tacked to the wall, Dave then bravely commandeering the microphone and calmed things down with these words, “Folks, it’s okay, Vic Franklyn has left the building! By the way how many of you think Vic’s jacket was made out of the inside of a trombone case?” Classic Letterman ensued for a solid twenty minutes until the sound system went bad and the noise from the snack machines drowned him out. When it was over David wisely ran out of the bar with me and all my friends in pursuit. We caught up with him at the VIP parking meter as he was getting into his rented Chrysler Cordoba. I had mentioned to the guys that Dave played tennis and my pal Peter, still in university, offered to set up a game for the next day and shoved a scrap of paper with his number on it at Letterman as he sped away. Today my friend Peter can look back at one great career as a titan in the Canadian film and television industry. Great kids, tons of dough etc. But in his personal Top Ten List – David Letterman left a message with his mom. A few years later I had another crack at a Letterman interview when the Buffalo NBC affiliate {finally) picked up the first classic iteration of brilliantly dystopian Late Night where Dave quite correctly predicted that everyone had a role to play on TV – even one Calvert DeForest aka Larry “Bud” Melman. From what I remember Dave was open, generous and relaxed inside what he called, “basically a Mom & Pop operation”. Back then he had nothing to lose and all the freedom to risk it. When I mentioned the Toronto gig he gave me a sheepish shrug and said with a smile, “Worst thing was I never got paid.” Thus we keep the promoter anonymous because I don’t think there is a statute of limitations on stiffing comedians. You can imagine what a great day it was at 30 Rock, entrée partly courtesy of my sister Marjorie, then a young comic who had found favor with Dave and then talent coordinator Robert “Morty” Morton who gave her a few shots in the cleanup slot.  Dave is gone from TV after thirty five or so years on air. He won’t be back. My sister has been gone in a more mortal way almost twenty years but I have those recorded appearances in my library to visit when I feel the need to laugh or at least to relive the warm memories of the laughter that can only be had when you were young and foolish enough to believe that the fun would last forever. But we had fun that night on Weston Road. Thank you, Dave.

Buddy Boy

Years ago, decades ago actually, the great actor Jimmy Stewart sat beside Johnny Carson on the Tonight Show and read a poem to his beloved dog who had passed away.   Back in my callow youth which, to be truthful, should have at that point long morphed into responsible adulthood, I wrote it off as the maudlin ramblings of a slightly addled old man. My opinion changed a few days ago.  I lost my wingman. Technically Buddy wasn’t even my dog.  My ex brought him into the house after I had moved out – $1500 worth of ‘Goldie-Poo’ puppy, all paws and a face that could melt ice cream.  I wasn’t consulted.  Nor should I have been.  I thought it as a ridiculous idea.  “Its like having a child!  Who’s going to train him?” I offered in spite of the fact that my opinions were not solicited. The move was, as many of hers were, a good one.  Buddy gave the kids some responsibility and my ex some company. He grew to provide a little protection in the city and up north where she would rough it on a piece of property she was developing.  And Buddy gave back a lot of love.  A ton.  When I would come to the house, he would wag not just his tail but his whole hind quarters.   He had some issues with the mailman, people of color and a couple of dogs who were regulars in ravine by the house but for the most part he gave everybody a fair shake so to speak. He ate everything in sight and you didn’t leave food on a table for too long but he wasn’t a nuisance.   A couple of years in I was granted partial custody due to my son’s going away to college and the ex spending long stretches out of the country. We developed a little circus act.  I would take him down into the ravine to a spot where I could use one of those ball slingers to its maximum distance but directing the orange ball way up the slope to a “hidden green” as they say in golf.  Buddy would scale the heights like a mountain goat, rummage around in the foliage or leaves depending on the season, and then return to the lip of the landing, ball securely in his mouth and  hold a “Rin Tin Tin” pose for the cameras.  He would then negotiate the downslope while I hummed the theme from Lassie or Sassie, if you recall The Flintstones. We played to standing room crowds – no seats down in the ravine – for years. When I  was lucky enough to  have him down at my crash pad, we would throw the ball around at the local park.   He was always the alpha dog.  And when I took him to Starbucks he was a conversation starter, well, a ‘chick magnet’.   My wingman.  Didn’t have to leash him.  We strode down the street in a tight formation.  He loved my boat even if the poodle in him didn’t care for swimming.   And he would worry if I went in to the water and left him to watch the ship.  I even took him on the road a couple  of times.  My favorite hotel in Montreal took pets, albeit with a $24/hr pet sitting fee.  But the staff loved “Monsieur Buddee” and it was cool to throw the ball around the McGill University common or hit the patio scene with him.   Even  took him to Shabbat services a few times.   Not a peep did he utter.   Needless to say he was the Senior Vice President Of Cute at the office. Best of all  was that he opened up my heart a little.  They say that  the latin for dog “canis” comes from  the Hebrew word “chesed” which translates to kindness.  His kindness brought  on more  of mine along with a lot more courtesy which I am a little short of sometimes. He made me get up and hit the street when I wasn’t in the mood. He washed a lot of blues away just by being difficult with the most personality any four-legged creature could have. I have to say that in the last ten years he was the most significant thing to happen to my heart other than my spiking cholesterol levels. Good dog, bad arterial plaque. I didn’t host him much the last couple of years. My ex travelled less and took him up north more.  Our last weekend was in December and I remember almost every step of every walk.  I even took him to my girlfriend’s where her own three grown daughters went crazy for him.  Again, Buddy was a lethal force for hooking up if put in the wrong hands. Or right hands pending on your needs. The end was quick.  My son came home from a golf trip with me a couple of weeks ago. Buddy had gone in for his spring shearing and with all that fur gone, came back from the Pooch Parlor very gaunt and distended. Three grand worth of tests revealed a tumor by his heart that “could kill him at any minute” according to the vet who suggested my son and ex put him down right there. Wasn’t going to happen. Buddy went home with some medication, rallied a little while the rest of his walked on egg shells. Last Thursday my ex took him out for a walk with his beloved ball and he played even when it started raining. He had to be coaxed inside with some treats. She went upstairs to check her email, leaving Buddy on his bed. A few minutes later she heard what was a mortal ‘yelp’, came downstairs and Buddy was gone. By the time I got there he just looked like he was sleeping. My son is taking this the hardest. It was his first major loss and Buddy was really his “pup” as he called him. My daughter lost one of her favorite photo subjects. My ex lost some real companionship. I lost a friend. You can’t have the love of a pet without dealing with the pain when they’re gone. Buddy was only ten but he died at home and spared us the “dead dog walking” trip to the vet. He was a gent, a classy gent. I told my son that he is young enough to have a couple of more Buddys in his life. My ex is going to need a dog sooner than later. Just the way that goes. I don’t think at my age there will be another Buddy. I am not ready to take on that kind of responsibility and I don’t think I have the chops to take on a dog of that energy at my age. I can barely keep a relationship going that doesn’t involve full-time living in! I have some great memories that will sweeten with age. And when it’s all over, when I am supposed to meet those five people in the after world according to Mitch Albom, I might ask to switch one of them out for a part-time wingman named Buddy.

An Affair To Dismember

I can’t get back the thousands of hours spent absorbing The Dick Van Dyke Show and Flintstones reruns. Even though I had a short itinerant career in television – the highlight on the reel is a story credit on the Seinfeld episode The Fusilli Jerry – the hours could have been better spent.  Perhaps a little more homework or even a little more time with my mother who didn’t live to see my 20th birthday.

These days I watch a lot less TV.  The news is verbal diarrhea at best, sitcoms were dead to me after my sister Marjorie passed away, football is too violent, hockey isn’t quite violent enough (seriously).  Nobody my age is going to go their deathbed thinking they wished they had seen more of the World’s Biggest Loser, the title of which might refer more to the viewer than the fat shlubs on the scale.  Not that the ratings even track 60 year-olds past PBS and Fox News because the only people advertising to us are drug companies.  I’m not sure what half the drugs advertised even do outside of the legally required disclaimers that promise more downside than upside.  I remember when “oily discharges” were the worst side effect.  Now its “thoughts of suicide”.   Not exactly Flintstone Chewable vitamins.

However, I look forward with a looming sense of loss to the final episodes of Mad Men which is brilliant and of the era in which I grew up and I did enjoy the stunning Season Four comeback of Homeland which speaks volumes about today’s America.  Scary.   Yet there is one show on which I will share my thoughts – the recently completed first season of the Showtime series The Affair.

The story arc is very simple – two people blow up their lives and those of the people around them with a less-than-explicable affair during a hot summer way out on Montauk at the tip of Long Island.  Dominic West, late of The Wire, plays Noah Solloway, a ne’er-do-well author/schoolteacher married to the only child (Maura Tierney) of the kind of respected wealthy narcissist author Noah would like to be.  But he’s not and the in-laws are throwing money at the Solloways to keep them and their four kids in a lifestyle to which they have become accustomed.

The other half of the story – and its told Rashomon style with parallel but conflicting narratives – is provided by Ruth Wilson as the much younger Alison Lockhart, a former mother who can’t get past the loss of her young boy in a murky drowning incident. Her equally haunted husband is played very well by Josh Jackson. It’s been two years and the blame for the tot’s sudden death is a leaden weight on the soul of Alison, a trained nurse who didn’t take the boy to the hospital and the father who took his eye off the kid in the ocean when he went under.  The tragedy is palpable.

For reasons neither party ever explain the affair is on when Noah and Alison lock eyes at a seaside restaurant where Alison is waiting tables.  In my opinion Wilson plays the “street waif” to the point of annoyance and West to his credit is, for the most part, as his Cruella-esque mother-in-law would chime in late in the season, “a useless asshole”. That these idiots stumble into the sack with nary a consideration for the consequences cast them as more clueless than conflicted and extremely unsympathetic which is an interesting twist in itself.   We might not have applauded Don Draper’s extracurricular activities but they made perfect sense given that they were just more panes in the house of broken mirrors that is Draper’s history.

We have all seen the change in American TV drama.  When I was a kid a lead character provided a certain moral center  (Lucas McCain, Marcus Welby, Mike Brady),  breaking through all the crimes, suffering and bad ideas around him like a cowboy breaking and saddling a stallion.  Wrongs would be averted, not just righted.  Hearts would be healed.

Later in the century, the roles became a little more interpretive.  Jim Rockford and Harry O were middling symbols, more low-end shlamazels than heroes but each found a better part of themselves with each caper they solved.  I miss ‘em.

In today’s TV, it’s all kind of gone to shit.   From The Sopranos to Breaking Bad to Boardwalk Empire to Sons Of Anarchy to the imbeciles on Girls, there is no moral center.  In fact the sociopathic leads are so immoral and that they wreak havoc on what’s left of the value systems in the people around them.  They don’t clean up Dodge, they pollute it enabling the worst behavior.  In Lena Dunham’s world, smart girls make bad decisions that only lead to more bad decisions.  Like nude scenes involving Dunham.  I’m probably too old to even discuss the show other than I have a daughter in her early twenties and I fear for her if this is the way it is out there.

Back to The Affair because I do have a point to make.  Even though I don’t buy the actual romance and the somewhat overheated B and C stories, there is a lot of truth in the show’s depiction of the price people pay for such behavior.   Once you go outside the perimeter – in this case with very little discretion – bad things happen.  Kids are alienated, the wife never looks at you the same way again, your living space goes from a nice brownstone in Brooklyn to a shithole in a lesser neighborhood.  Cash is tight.  You get laid a lot for a while because you are fresh meat but even that has its ugly aftertaste.

In Alison’s case she becomes  an orphaned delusional zombie whose actions reopen wounds that might have healed had she not gotten involved with Noah.  Redemption is not on the horizon for either of them.

I applaud those aspects of the show because I have been there.  My marriage blew up – for reasons I don’t wish to share – years ago when I was just a couple of years older than West’s character.  Same deal though – I moved into a dump, my kids went a little sideways, I was eating out of tin cans.   There’s a solid 18 months I can’t account for.  Erego the zombie metaphor. Even if I went back, and I did for a year, it wasn’t and wouldn’t be the same.  Whatever problems we had should have been nipped in the bud decades before.  Even with a good divorce, the pain doesn’t go away and you find yourself having three-ways with the “elephant in the room.”

Yet, when it happened, I became something of a conscripted therapist to a raft of friends who were thinking of pulling the plug on their marriages.  Some guys already had one foot out the door, the others were going through a later-life crisis.  Fifty is past mid-life – when the focus has long switched from departed children back to the four prison walls and that wrinkly stranger who shares your bathroom. It can be rough.

I had some advice.  I would ask each guy if he was still having sex with his wife.  Some would say they couldn’t remember the last time.  To them I would say, “Life is short, find a way or move forward.  She might deserve better too.” Most would say yes to the sex and to them I would say, “You are still married.  Deal with it.”  If that didn’t convince them I would tell them to go to Vegas with about five grand in cash and buy the best hooker they could.  Buy a “girlfriend experience” – discreetly – and then go home to your wife.  You have a relationship.  You don’t need another one. Not the most politically correct advice but some secrets save lives.

Years ago when I was a young husband I  would always refer to Fatal Attraction, the Michael Douglas/Glenn Close bunny boiler, as a deterrent with Close as the Bipolar Express going off the  Crazy/Hot rails when it came to scorned women.

Now, any guy even parsing the thought should watch The Affair if just for its value as the marital version of those old “boating safety” films of our youth where the local Gilligan would add one too many passengers to his outboard and send the whole crew into the drink.  Nobody is spared the carnage of The Affair, the collateral damage of which is way more extensive than a mere dead rabbit.

Wish it was all Rob & Laura Petrie out there.  But, sadly, it ain’t.

Full Metal Motorcyle Jacket

“C’mon Gramps, you’re too slow!” The rain was coming in sideways and I had two inches of water in my boots as I steered the crappy little Yamaha back to the top end of the speed/stop drill in which you had to get up to a relatively deadly pace before braking hard in front of the drill instructor who bore a striking resemblance to “Large Marge” of Pee Wee’s Big Adventure. I could barely see through the visor in the monsoon-like conditions as I thrashed through the tranny to hike the speed and, apparently, my skirt to get the 200 ccs up to a sphincter tightening velocity.
There’s a lot of talk of bucket lists when you hit 60 – the travel, the novel, the one last spin on the marriage wheel. Few talk about the activities for which it’s a tad too late. No, I’m not going to get scouted by The New York Rangers. I might not ever get proficient enough at the piano to open a little wine bar and warble some clever ditties in a well-tailored tux. And it’s a little late to start riding a friggin’ motorcycle. Such was the revelation last week after two brutal days learning how to “ride” at a local training school which had approval from the local DMV to actually license its students who could successfully run the gauntlet so to speak.
This was about as unpleasant an experience as the first (and last) time I tried hot yoga only to wake up in a pool of my own juices on a gurney in emergency.
The spark for this outing was a “friend” who generously gave me his like new scooter, a low mileage Yamaha TMax with 600 ccs of displacement, perfect for a displaced individual like myself. He was upgrading to a BMW and I thought this was a great opportunity for me to groom my skills in case they need someone to play the Steve McQueen character in a remake of The Great Escape. My only experience with bikes was the fifteen seconds my father spent trying to teach me how to ride his Honda when I was fifteen and the few times I have rented some small bore scooters to whiz around Miami Beach and look like a complete idiot.
And so I bought the gear, some at the last bastion of machismo left on this earth – the annual motorcycle show at the convention center – and the balance at the local leather and testosterone supplement dealership. I took the written test and then enrolled in the course, sleeping through the perfunctory classroom session.
The riding sessions started promptly at 7:45 a.m. not the best hour of the day to drive a car let alone yank on the choke of a motorcycle. The first thing you notice is that most of the class is about a third your age. The fear of death , the inner mortality dialogue – they didn’t have that. There was one fool who was 50 and all the earnestness that comes with that age. Like that Viagra commercial where the guy takes the horses out of the trailer to get his pickup out of the mud with the slogan, “This is the age of getting things done.” When you are 60 it’s the age of, “Let’s just get this over with.”
So it went, from pushing your bike around the course to pushing some 6’5” lug on his bike around the course (he returned the favor) to clutch points and shifting and braking and …. and…. eight hours in all broken by an abbreviated lunch break and the constant yelling of the drill sergeants, “You are worthless and weak and if you don’t do what we say you will die out there! I have never seen such a useless group in all my years.” Felt like Gomer Pyle for a while there.
After it was over I went home, got into a fetal cringe with a bottle of Stoli and did my best impression of Marty Sheen in that hotel room in Saigon at the top of Apocalypse Now. The next morning MPs came in, threw me into the shower dressed me my bike fatigues and choppered my back out to the base. Yes I have a very active cinematic fantasy life.
The second day was conducted pretty much in a typhoon, the NCOs treating me like Richard Gere in An Officer And A Gentleman – “Are you out of it Gross? Because if you are we can bounce you…” “But I have no place to go, “ I cried as the dye from my leather gloves bled into my palms making me look like a very off color vaudeville joke.
We were cornering, accelerating swerving hundreds of times. Then they set up the test course and a few spins on that caused me to give up hope.
Just as the tsunami peaked we were told to line up for the test. I sat in a line of motorcycles for about twenty minutes feeling like I was some poor blighter on a bike at the Battle Of The Marne and when it finally came to my turn I screwed up the hard right and had to touch my feet to the asphalt. Now I’m wet and pretty much done. I angrily finished the rest of the test, or as much as I could because they cancelled the last part because of the rain.
Thankfully there was an ESL student named Mohammed in the class who could play the role of the requisite failure and they passed the rest of us. I took the soggy certificate homem, got into a fetal cringe with a bottle of Stoli….
If someone asked if the course was good, I would say it successfully convinced me that a motorcycle was perhaps the best way of shortening one’s life span this side of a three pack-a-day habit.
Thankfully, it’s too late to start smoking.
Now I know Charlie Don’t Surf… but can I?

Sole Surivor

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“…time for these boot heels to be a wanderin…” – Bob Dylan

I think I just might be done with shoe stores.   Seriously, I know it’s not completely realistic but if push came to shove, if my fortunes took a sudden tragic downturn, or I gravitated to a cult that advocated abstinence of the sole (you had to see that coming), I could subsist to my projected expiration date on the current ‘roster’.

I have a solid rotation of Monday to Friday business starters – blacks, browns, some sacrificial oxblood, suede in loafer and lace – and a bullpen developed to come in at any level of relief.  Longer relief comes in the form of distance walkers, middle innings hurlers for seasonal conditions and short relief for date nights, weddings, bar mitzvahs and holidays.  My ‘go to’ pair in the late innings are black suede monk strap bad boys that my Bobby Fleckmanesque publicist forced me to buy at a store – “the best evah” –   off Union Square in San Francisco.  Four years later she might have been right.  I also have  “fatte a mano” dreadnaughts that I can wheel out when the count is full and the bases are loaded.  Closers, to push the baseball metaphor further than necessary.

I’ve consulted actuarial tables and cross-referenced that data with rare tractates on sandal wear among my ancestral tribes during the Exodus.  I’ve used digital fitness devices to measure my average daily trudging and came up with a wear vs. style algorithm that predicts I could, with the help of a good cobbler – you know, the shop next to the guy who repairs Victrolas – die with a pair of boots on that wouldn’t embarrass my loved ones.  I wouldn’t be very stylish in my twilight years, and the collection wouldn’t be worth much at any charity clothing dump but it would suffice as we say at the Seder table.

Okay, I’m ridiculous.  Think of it this way you there, not yet forty or fifty – how many more pairs of hockey skates are you good for?  Or ski boots?

This is precisely where the sexes diverge.  Tell a woman of my vintage, or any for that matter, that she had bought her last pair of pumps and her response would be, “Today?”  In my limited experience I have found that the instinctive female behavior in the vicinity of any substantial display of retail footwear oscillates between that of an unapologetic gambling addict and a crack whore.  Of course that is an insensitive and unfair comparison.  My apologies to the unapologetic gambling addict and crack whore communities.

I have heard recently that oncologists, in order to persuasively convey the gravity of a terminal prognosis to a female patient, have couched terms of longevity in a currency they can easily grasp.

“What can I look forward do doctor?”

“Six, maybe seven pairs.  You might get to a sandal if you’re lucky.”

“ So soon? But I promised my daughter I would be around for…”

“The semi-annual sale at Saks?  That, I am afraid, is not up to me.”

Those old enough might recall that very few women even bothered to feign outrage over the criminally large shoe collection of the late Imelda Marcos.   Most just shook their heads and murmured under their breath, “I wish…”.

I did a tiny bit of research that reveals that of all the shoes sold in North America, only six per cent are in the men’s dress shoe segment.  This is not surprising in a culture where everything is disposable. Nothing is worth the trouble any more.  However, I am not one of those guys who wears thinly disguised athletic shoes to work.  You’ve seen those – black on black deals with black logos that are better suited to NBA referees.  I am partial to shoes that need a shine once in a while, another simple pleasure of which so few of us partake.   Although I do engage the services of the shine stands at the airport, there are better rubs for half the money in Penn Station in New York when you can sit back in your suspenders with a an old Herald Tribune, complain about ‘dem Bums’ and generally pretend you are in a Norman Rockwell painting.

The truth be told, caring for my shoes is what passes as a  longterm relationship I can handle. My ex suggested that I build up my nurturing skills far enough down the food chain so as not cause any cognitive lifeforms undue pain when it all goes to hell.   Someday I hope to be able to look after a Chia Pet.  Until then, I will take my guys out for long walks and make sure they are fed the proper nutrients.  When I am away they have shoe trees for company. I keep them out of the rain.  There’s some travel, the odd night on the town.  Hey, if Disney could make ‘The Brave Little Toaster’….

There’s a larger consideration here –  mortality.   Disposing of a pair punctuates a chapter in one’s life with a very hard hit period on the old Smith Corona.  Once they’re gone so is a piece of you. Forty five years ago my father bought an expensive pair of Italian boots.  Years later I remember seeing them and wondering why he would hang on to them when they were out of step with the latest styles like disco platforms.  Now I get it.

To conclude, I add this qualification.  When it comes to  corn plasters, insoles, replacement golf spikes, socks, visits to The Bata Shoe Museum (can’t wait for the Odor Eaters retrospective) and even some comfy slippers –  I can see myself being in that market for some time.  For the foreseeable future though – my Achilles Heel is not heels.