Friday, February 17, 2017

Farewell IMdB Message Board

IMdB is shutting down their message boards this month. Here is one of my posts, in response to someone who thinks the phrase "men of color" is anachronistically agenda driven as it appears in a PBS period piece, MERCY STREET.

Re: "Men of Color"? Really?

You nearly turned if off, but some spark of curiosity kept you watching. Follow this link from the late, great William Safire of the NY Times in 1988 and see if this information changes your opinion on the use of the phrase.

Did you know when you see a play written by Shakespeare that he was not transcribing history? That is how to appreciate historical drama or fiction. Even if you right about this being anachronistic, we don't reject JULIUS CAESAR because we heard the clock strike three (the mechanical clock had not been invented yet). The Bard was not carrying out some clock-maker's secret agenda.

A lot of your anger seems to be against women, with liberals on the side. I wonder how many of the last 100 books you've read for leisure were written by or about women?

Your comment reminds of a line from the song by Steve Martin, GRANDMOTHER'S SONG:
Criticize things you don't know about.

Turn off Limbaugh and Hannity for a month and see your life get happier.

Re: "Men of Color"? Really?

^ best possible response!

I refuse to engage in a battle of wits with an unarmed person.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Sharon Jones

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Why Bother? Why I Bother.

We had the grand opening of our renovated co-op Rec Room last night. Got up early this morning and voted in the primary for Persaud for State Senate. Went out to get a corporation tax doc notarized for my co-op, mailed it. Went to work on my business.

People today are more disengaged than ever. Through force of will I'm involved in a lot of things, but I wasn't always like that. My involvement in the co-op board is my bowling league. I meet and know a lot more people than if I was home every night watching Netflix.

Go out and do something! Put down your phones and talk to somebody!

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Windows 10: Dead Start and Search Buttons--Fixed!

One day, my Windows 10 Start and Search buttons died. This fixed it. I posted at

Right-click desktop. Go to Personalize/Start (5th item). Click Start Full Screen/On.

Restart . . .

Right-click desktop. Go to Personalize/Start (5th item). Click Start Full Screen/Off.

Start and Search icons both restored.

The only odd thing I've done lately is let my son copy a DVD because his Mac has no drive. He used his old Windows logon, for the first time since I upgraded to Windows 10. I wonder if that is related to this problem in some way or just coincidence. I also had a problem with the icons locking into place to the left. There is solution for that too.

This worked just fine! Thank you so much!!

Friday, February 26, 2016

Heartland v. Big Town

The true narrative of a city is less existentially threatening and more life-affirming than the soul-sucking ennui of a dry, flat Footloose state that drives people to leave for the excitement and anomie of Big Town, wherever she lies.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Long-Range Reading and Viewing Projects

1920 by Eric Burns

This was an entertaining and informative chapter-a-day read for lunch, not bogged down in overanalysis, of the historical and cultural highpoints of the eponymous year. The author speaks authoritatively based on strong primary sources and admits where he speculates. I had one factual quibble with p. 69, referring to the rough blizzard of March 1920 and the effect of high winds: “Pedestrians in New York were blown off balance as they walked, even though the canyon walls of skyscrapers should have protected them.” I would suggest that this is not exceptional, as high winds from above are drawn down any building. The wind has to go somewhere and doesn’t only bounce back on itself. There is less volume of space for wind to blow at street level, and the result in a compressed, higher-velocity wind stream than the wind from above.  This phenomenon was also observed in Brooklyn by my mother-in-law, Rose Dunne, who called the Williamsburg Bank corner at Flatbush and Fourth Avenues,” the windiest corner in Brooklyn.”

Doctor Who: The Classic Series

How to approach the desire to see all the episodes of Doctor Who, 1963–1989? Plan A: watch them backwards in time, Doctors Eight through One. Before the return of the Paul McGann Eighth Doctor’s 1996 single television adventure, rescreened for the 50th Anniversary celebrations on BBC America in 2013, I was able to find the one free copy of this DVD in New York City, at the Seward Park branch of the NYPL. I saw all of the Sylvester McCoy Seventh Doctor’s (1987–1989) adventures courtesy of the NYPL 42nd St. branch, often watching a few shows in one sitting. Their Dr. Who collection is extensive. Then I switched to Plan B: watch them in order. I started at the beginning (1963) with William Hartnell’s First Doctor. I can’t explain why, after I had dipped into his Doctor several times, I didn’t get it. But somehow something clicked by watching episode 1, “An Unearthly Child.” Maybe it was my own advancing years and to learn that he was my age when he played the part (although chronic health problems made him look 15 years older). I’m in the middle of the final series that featured the original two companions, Ian and Barbara, and I will miss them dearly. I now watch one episode per week, on Saturdays, and it will take the next 20 years or to see them all at that pace, allowing time off in the Fall to watch the new series. I’ll be 78. I’m only 50 years behind, in 1965.

The 87th Precinct Novels by Ed McBain

If you take advantage of it, the Kindle Lending Library is one of the world’s greatest bargains, as found in Amazon Prime. (Note: I know they treat employees roughly, according to a recent piece in the NYT.) Included in the package is one free book per month on the Kindle (you can also read on a PC). The selection of Kindle freebies does not align with my taste, but I have found some great Kindle Singles, including short fiction (Crooning by Frank D. Gilroy [he resurrects the great Dick Powell in a humorous tale of 1958 Cuba]) and on subjects as varied as WW II espionage (The Secret Agent by Stephen Talty) and comical memoirs (Cautionary Tales by Stephen Tobolowsky); and one great series: Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels. For 50 years McBain (a.k.a. Evan Hunter) wrote these this punchy, moody accounts of tough detectives, low-life crooks, and beautiful dolls; denizens of Isola (a NYC-like city turned sideways) inhabit a universe where series regulars can die but justice always prevails; he delineates fleshy characters that lift this series up from dime novel to gilt-edged classic. I can’t wait until the first of the month (you get one free book per month) to read Lady, Lady I Did It (1961). There’s a new series on TNT this month about ‘60s cops and I’ll be watching to see if there is any 87th influence. McBain said he was ripped off by NBC when they did Hill Street Blues, a fact he alludes to in the intro to the reissue of some of the novels. TV’s Barney Miller owes a debt to him too. I am tempted to order the TV series DVD of the 87th Precinct, which lasted only one season in 1961–62, starring Robert Lansing. It beats watching a 2015 doctor show with underwear models pretending to be brain surgeons.

Holman Christian Standard Bible by multiple authors

Skipped the Old Testament, working on the New Testament. Read a chapter a day (takes less than 10 minutes), stop, let it marinate. You can read the first four books in less than a year. I just started the fifth book, “Acts of the Apostles.” Try this reading plan and if it doesn’t improve your life in some way, at least you’ll improve your cultural literacy and maybe win at bar trivia. My father said to my old girlfriend (now my bride): forget those shrinks, there is something good for you on any page of the Bible. He was right. My favorite book is John. Halfway in he starts up with the events of the Passion, which the other books seem to squeeze in at the end. I especially enjoy the miracles, many of which have come true again today through science, which doesn’t make them any less miraculous. Gift of tongues = Google Translate. Curing paralysis = electrical stimulation of the spinal cord (in development). Curing the deaf = cochlear implant.  It’s a roadmap to the possible for those afflicted, if not by illness then by apathy and depression. In John 9:3, referring to the blind man’s affliction and cure, Jesus says, “this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” I’m praying for a miracle cure for tinnitus and floaters.
Go out there, help somebody, feel good about yourself! My father, who I only knew as an older Irishman in his 50s to 70s (that’s like 60s to 80s today) and never in great health, had an even older Irish friend, Barney Brady, and he’d go over and help him out. “Where’s Dad?” we’d ask.  “He went to see Mr. Brady,” said my mother.

The Hornblower Novels by C.S . Forester

After I finished the 20-volume O’Brian Aubrey/Maturin series some 15 years ago, where to go? It’s like when your bar goes out of business. Do you go to the artisanal cheesemaker/gastropub that took its place, or do you find an even older bar? In reading the first Hornblower novel, Beat to Quarters, and finding the captain too dour, I then got into his psychological struggles with self-loathing, while admiring his bravery and calculating acumen in sailing and adventure planning. I’m now in the second book, Ship of the Line, and will no doubt keep far from leeward as I set topsails to the eleventh book across the horizon. I’m buying the print version to easily share with Mom. I made a decision to read the books in the order written, not in the chronological numbering order that the current publisher has chosen, in order to experience the works in the same order as the first readers. Belay that rope!

Ann Patchett

I have read five Ann Patchett novels and admire her work for its heart (without mawkishness): The Patron Saint of Liars, Taft, The Magician's Assistant, Bel Canto, and State of Wonder. She was crazy enough to open her own bookstore in Nashville after the big chains left town. As I understand it, the big chains lost money as chains, but there were certain cities where they made money (like Amtrak in the Northeast vs. the less-used Northern-Western lines). I’m still trying to figure out why you titled Taft as you did.
I read State of Wonder first, and then I believe, TMA, BC, TPSoL, and most recently, Taft. I hope her essay collection, This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, stays true. Bravo Ann!

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Fifth of July: There Used to be a Boardwalk Right Here

THE FIFTH OF JULY: I saw the Lanford Wilson play with Christopher Reeve in the early '80s. He played a paraplegic homosexual (apologies in advance, that was the word for "gay" back then--you couldn't say "gay" in the NY Times unless it meant otherwise). I probably paid the same as I paid this week to see MAN OF STEEL in Union Square ($14.50). MoS took away the stink that's been in my nose since SUPERMAN RETURNS. What won me over was the Burger King commercial. In 2 seconds of commercial screen time I could see in that pitch for the Whopper that the actor was actually an actor and not a model turned deadbeat-dad superhero. The Whopper by the way has breached $5 in Manhattan. The sign said "$4.99" on Fifth in the mid-30s but they charged $5.09. I asked for 11 cents back. As I left, I saw the new signage being delivered.

On this July 5 I took a trip to Rockaway Park to see how B116 St. weathered the storm. The Sandbar at B116 St. hasn't come back and the wooden boardwalk is gone all the way to B106. A concrete boardwalk is under construction. It was a shock to see new modern elevated bathrooms planted in the sand, the elevation being a good idea if there is another storm of the century. The locals have objected to the view being partially cut off. I observed that the old below-ground bathrooms at B116 have a few inches of green muck pooled at the bottom of the staircase leading to them.

To get from B116 to B106 you can walk along a metal-plank road plunked in the sand parallel to the shore. When you get to B106 you see another modern bathroom and the 21st c. version of The Sandbar: the Caracas Arepas Bar. I got there around 12:30 pm, a little too early for food, and killed the time with a tasty Rockaway (of Long Island City) beer. After Kindling some pix to world famous webmaster Kevin Walsh and a few of my other associates, I returned for a delicious chicken empanada and another brew. It felt like Park Slope by the shore.

Destruction and things falling apart are bad but what makes us America is growth and renewal. No flies on U.S. Would I like to see a dozen places like Caracas in 3 blocks of Rockaway? No, but its heroic return in 2013 after the storm is inspiring to anyone who likes a knosh and a drink on a sunny uncrowded day at the shore.

Postscript: I can recommend the carrot cake and coffee at the Last Stop Gourmet Shop, located next to the A train. Right outside was a blood drive to support a cop shot yesterday. You can't discourage Rockaway. Like the David Brenner gag about the New Yorker who sees the manhole cover explode into the air and yells, "Tails!" Rockaway goes on and will be better than before.

Photos of the Fifth of July, 2013, Rockaway Park, NY.

The old Sandbar.

Bathrooms in the sky.

 The long plank road of metal.

There used to be a boardwalk right here (apologies to Sinatra).

And here.

The future is now at B106.

Still getting the hang of these selfies.

There we go.

One last selfie. So long from Caracas, Rockaway. These folks make you forget that we're supposed to mad at them for selling cheap oil to seniors. Like the Texan said, what's all of their sand doin' on my oil?

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Next Doctor in Doctor Who

I regret not registering my Sarah Palin for veep prediction years ago so here goes:

The next Time Lord will be . . . a Time Lady: Hayley Atwell. She has sci-fi and real cred in spades, is a terrific actress, and not incidentally, is a beauty.

Let's see what happens.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Parody is Better Than the Show

The classic example is the Milton Berle song parody "Sam You Made the Pants Too Long" exceeding the popularity of "Lord You Made the Night Too Long." A modern one is the Nikki Heat series by Richard Castle. I stopped watching CASTLE after trying to get into it last season. However, the books are a great read, still unknown who is penning them. Publishing is a rare media where you can easily keep a secret.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Internet Scoop, or Just a Guess

Was that John Barrowman (ARROW, DOCTOR WHO) dubbing Jimmy Fallon in Jimmy's duet with Jay Leno last night? Jimmy can sing but this bit had Broadway quality. Find Barrowman's singing in the movie THE PRODUCERS doing "Springtime for Hitler" and you'll hear the similarity. Plus, he had a show in the UK with a similar theme to the Jay-Jimmy duet. Just saying. This may be the first post on the Interwebs to notice this, or just a bad guess.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

I Dreamed About Twins

I had a dream last night that I was talking to one of the boys in the E. 28th bedroom, sitting on the edge of bed. I said, Isn't that something, you're a twin and now you have twin brothers. Where are they?, I said in a panic. In the corner, opposite the window, I found two tiny babies up on a shelf in what looked like shoe boxes.

In the book I'm reading, CUTTING FOR STONE, the twins are placed in their crib apart, but by morning they are in a V-formation, touching at the head. That's how they were in the womb, slightly conjoined at the head but then separated immediately at birth. I remember our boys in the T-formation in the morning.

The dream must have come from my remark in the kitchen last night about being the son of a twin and father of twins.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

There's Nothing Worse than the Wino

My daughter received a voucher in the mail the other day for $100 worth of wine. She usually runs an amazing offer past me to see if it's a scam. I thought back to my father, who would be 102 years old today. The conversation, from the early 1980s, had turned to the Bowery. This was before you needed to pass a rope line to get in. Denizens included defrocked priests, broke lawyers, crooked accountants, shell-shocked vets, and working class joes and janes who lost the battle with the bottle years before. My father said, "There's nothing worse than the wino." I said, "Dad, haven't you heard about this crack cocaine epidemic? It's killing people every day and ruining lives." "Yes," said the old Irishman, "there's nothing worse than the wino." The crack epidemic subsided.  I wonder where the winos went?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

To the AMNY Hawker on the Herald Sq. Subway Mezzanine

To the lady who gives out the free morning paper:
When you hawk a paper, you're supposed to entice us with what "it" is: "Read All About It!: HUN SINKS LUSITANIA or "Read All About It!: SADDAM FOUND IN SPIDER HOLE,  not "Read All About It!: AM New York!"

Monday, September 10, 2012

Good News from the Barber

If a haircut were a speech, then the peroration would be the mirror ritual. Late Sunday morning, my barber angled the mirror in his hands so I could see in the big wall mirror the handiwork of the last 15 minutes. As the light from the spot at the top of my head reached my retina, I also reflected, on the time I was sitting on the floor playing with my kids as they were eye-level to me. Matt said, "Daddy, you have a spot!" I had known this but went into foolish denial. My wife later acknowledged the fact. In fact, she recently expressed the opinion that had thought by this time (some 20 years later) that I would have lost it all. I said to my barber, "Well, I still have that spot back there." He said, "Don't worry, that's from the summer. It'll grow back in the winter." Punked by my own barber. I tipped 20% for the laugh.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

WKRB--Sweet Sounds of Hal David

It's only blowing out 10 watts and heard in Bk and the Rockaways, but there were some big sounds coming out of WKRB 90.3 FM on Sweet Sounds tribute to the late Hal David. I think Jonathan Schwartz managed a single tune in salute to Hal David last weekend on WNYC-FM, but Prof. Ron Forman put together a terrific hour, including my personal favorites, "What's New Pussycat" sung by Tom Jones and "Living Together" from the much maligned musical version LOST HORIZON. Thank you professor. I live nearby so I can dial the show up from across Sheepshead Bay. If you live out of the coverage area you can also tune in from the Internet via this link.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

I Saved a Life Today

A tornado touched down in Breezy Point, Queens and Canarsie today. We also had some strong winds in Gerritsen Creek. After the storm, my wife and went out for a walk in the creek and spied a bluefish flopping in the trail. It must have been lifted out of the water by the winds. Rather than call Nanny Bloomberg and 311 to find out what to do when discovering wildlife out of its proper environment, I picked the fish up by the tail and tossed it some distance into the water. I say some "some distance" because due to so-called restoration, the water is fenced off. I seem to recall that the same restoration line was used for Prospect Park, which is now a tree museum. We lived in Park Slope when there was just three of us and I can remember walking down to the stream, a little bit of nature only a few blocks away from our third-floor walk up. Now, you can look at the stream through a chain link fence. You think these fences are temporary and after 10-20 years, you realize that it isn't so. Each time they "restore" Gerritsen Creek, it is claimed that it is being restored to its natural original state. I'm not sure which fixed point in time they use to simulate that antediluvian condition.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

I Can't Win--Caught Cheating While Asleep

My wife woke up upset today. It seems that international movie star Julie Delpy asked me out and didn't ask my wife to come along. I explained to Mrs. 1OTT that I couldn't be held accountable for something that happened in her dream. Going Jungian, I offered the theory that Ms. Delpy was an avatar for my wife, both being blonde, bespectacled, and beautiful. I think I smoothed it over and with luck it won't come up this evening.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

One Man, Two Guvnors: Whatta show!

In the late '70s I saw the late Dick Shawn play Fabulous Fantastic, Jr. in THE SECOND GREATEST ENTERTAINER IN THE WHOLE WIDE WORLD. I didn't think I or an audience could laugh any harder or longer than I did that night, but OM, TG made it happen last night. The cast and crew break the fourth wall at the edge of the stage and break all the rules of a proper Broadway show. I rank the laugh factor equal to Pryor, Chappelle, and the Marx Brothers. After the finale, the standing ovation grew as each part of the troupe came out for their bows, leading to a complete standing ovation when James Corden came out. I had never seen a complete standing ovation before. They are closing this weekend. Spend the baby's college tuition on this one. (That's the kind of cheeky humor you'll find in this show, which is not for the offendable.) You won't regret it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

One Man Two Guvnors

Going to see it tonight. Brit funnyman, Tony Award winner, and two-time Dr. Who guest star James Corden has a lot on the line--I paid closing week prices to go. Be funny!

Friday, March 25, 2011

Happy 92nd Birthday Mom!

Mom's doing great and we had a nice little party.

Blog hiatus: we're getting ready to go to Paris next month. I promise to return with a big photo feature in May. I expect Mrs. 1onthetown to be constantly stopped by well-wishers of the beautiful Julie Delpy.

Monday, February 14, 2011

UNFORGIVABLE BLACKNESS: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson

When I was a kid I loved boxing. I read about it, watched it on TV, even kept score round by round. What turned me off permanently was the Patterson-Ellis title bout on September 14, 1968. The old champ Floyd Patterson was attempting to regain the crown and become the heavyweight king for an unprecedented third time. He gave WBA (one of two crowning authorities, the WBC being the other) champ Ellis a beating and my scorecard gave it easily to my fellow Brooklynite and all-around good citizen. I'm paraphrasing but the post-fight dialogue with announcer Howard Cosell went something like this:
HOWARD: Champ! Champ! How do you feel? It looks like you're going to regain the crown and be the heavyweight champion again!
FLOYD: Let's wait and see what the referee says Howard.
The referee in Sweden was the sole judge and he gave the decision to Ellis for reasons unknown. My own conclusion as an 11-year-old buff was that there were powers greater than Floyd that wanted a young champion that they could control.

Part of being a young buff was learning the continuous lineage of the heavyweight championship line. From John L. Sullivan in 1885, there followed Corbett, Fitzsimmons, Hart, Burns and the greatest  champ of all time, Jack Johnson. Johnson lived like a modern man and how he avoided being shot, lynched, or physically destroyed is a testament to the sheer force that this man exuded. The racism of the time prevented him from fighting for the title for many years as white champs refused to fight him. Once he was given the opportunity, he took the title and held it from 1908-1915.

The Ken Burns documentary, UNFORGIVABLE BLACKNESS: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson, is very well done and especially clever in the showing of and commentary on real fight footage from 100 years ago. It's almost corny to dub in the sound of punches and the crowd noise but it works with silent footage. All the other Burns touches are there, such as period music and famous people reading from archival newspapers and magazines.

I particularly recommend the on-screen commentary from James Earl Jones, who played Johnson in THE GREAT WHITE HOPE on stage and screen. Some great still photos are shown of Jones and Muhammad Ali play sparring, back in the day when Ali was banned from boxing. Jones movingly talks about Johnson's ethos: how his heart, mind, soul, and very manhood was his alone: he was not a slave.

Part I concludes with Johnson's ascension to the title. Part II covers the fall and it's sad to see a man flee his country and have to bargain his way back in to serve a one-year jail term for violating the Mann Act. In 2011 there's recurring talk of a presidential pardon. Even though he lived his later years fighting bums and living off past glory, his final rounds are filled more dignity than many modern champs who end up addled from too many blows and broke: Joe Louis working as a casino greeter always comes to mind. I was happy to see Johnson make it to 68. It's implied that his fatal car crash was precipitated by some racial mistreatment; he drove off speeding in a rage. It's hard to believe that he would have done that.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Black History Month IV: Move Over Gabriel! Here Comes Satchmo!

Welcome to the 4th annual Black History Month for 1 On the Town. Check out the archives for 2010, 2009, and 2008 (there's some amazing prognostication or just hopefulness about our current president in the Pettigrew for President entry).

Move Over Gabriel! Here Comes Satchmo!

So said radio/TV man Fred Robbins at the end of his eulogy for Louis Armstrong in 1970. I can remember growing in the 1960s, the Golden Age of free television. A middle class kid could see the greatest artists of the 20th century on free TV on the late afternoon talk/variety shows and beg his parents to stay up and watch a late night show (9 pm) if it was a school night. Louis Armstrong was a frequent guest in that era, always welcome in the home. His avuncular ubiquitous presence was anodyne to the occasional racism a kid was exposed to by his older siblings. I can't recall feeling prejudice toward blacks and my Irish father scolded anyone in the house who used the N-word, but I can recall that one sibling liked to tell offensive Black jokes and another favored anti-Semitism. We had little exposure to African Americans inside the house, except for my father's friend from work, Holcombe Hall, who fixed TVs as a sideline, and the Edison man.

I recently read Terry Teachout's 2009 bio POPS (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) and recommend it. What comes though is the underlying sadness of the humorous trumpet icon who brought so much joy to the world. If Tracy Morgan wants to get his EGOT, he should star in the biopic.

"(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue?" Louis sang courtesy of Fats Waller and Andy Ratzaff. Twice Teachout comments and reports on Louis's interpretations of the song. From the first time he recorded it in 1929, Louis "made a point of blunting its confrontational edge," Teachout notes. When I hear anyone criticize Louis this is usually the thrust, that his good-natured stage and real-life personas made his people look meek or happy in their oppression, ignoring the reality of racism. They conveniently ignore the mixed-race bands he led, which did more to break down legal barriers and hidden prejudices than any professional speakers ever did or will do.

There's a beautiful scene in the documentary JAZZ ON A SUMMER'S DAY (1959) (thank you Netflix streaming) with Louis and Jack Teagarden doing their old chestnut, "Rockin' Chair." Teachout describes a 1957 TV perf "in which the broad shouldered Teagarden puts an arm around the shorter Armstrong and looks affectionately at him as they amble through their well-worn routine:
 [JACK:] Fetch me some water, son!
[LOUIS:] You know you don't drink water, father.
If you don't dig this kind of good humor and bonhomie, then you can't dig Pops.

One more note on Louis and childhood: I think every kid in the family did a raspy impression, which was always followed by Mom warning that you'd ruin your throat. I can even remember bringing out a handkerchief for verisimilitude.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Antenna TV: Old Shows on New Network; Back from the North Country


By "old shows on new network" I'm not talking about Dr. Phil repeats on the new OWN channel. The first day of the new year 2011 saw the return of the Three Stooges to channel 11, that is, eleven point four on the over-the-air digital dial, on a new national network called Antenna TV. A Stooges marathon was followed by regular programming later in the week. This channel trumps cable's TV Land by sheer variety, none of the four-hour blocks of the same show that I can't imagine anyone sitting through. Also, black and white is welcome on 11.4. I assume TV Land thinks that only color GUNSMOKEs would be of interest but I would love to see a b/w from the beginning of the run.

Antenna TV is running classic comedies like THE MONKEES and BENNY HILL that I'm pretty sure anyone under 25 either hasn't seen or only heard their parents talk about. How to describe, in a 24-hour Internet world, the joys of the naughty, bawdy Brit humor of Benny Hill? The one guest that Johnny Carson wanted but couldn't get, Benny Hill and his amiable troupe of old men and young ladies were last seen on a regular basis in New York in syndication on channel 9 in the '80s, late at night (after 11). Musical parodies and sketches that never reached the level of lewd (by 21st c. standards), Benny Hill and his backward salute could find favor with a new generation if they can find him. Hey Cablevision, can you drop one of your several end-is-near or PPV porn channels and put on something that more people would want to watch?


My last trip to the farm was in 2008 in the summer and this time I was promised soul-searching wind chills in the week after Christmas. Walking 3 miles to the F train through the aftermath of the blizzard of 2010 (I actually got a lift for part of the way from a van full of Chinese fellows) to catch a bus from the Port Authority, my arrival in Gouverneur found me above the snow line and the beneficiary of temperate weather on Lockie Lane Farms. Ken's wife Claire and her mother Elsie fed me so well that I gained 5 pounds in 3 days, which doesn't seem possible. Elsie's biscotti, Claire's sweet and sour pork and apple pie and more apple pie--not even a few hikes through the hills, or reading my trip book, GULLIVER' TRAVELS by Jonathan Swift, could work off the weight. The only thing close to work that I did was climb up the hay bale stairway to the loft and throw a few bales down to Mr. Sullivan and his father-in-law. One bale is going for 2 bucks this season.

Did you know that chickens need 12 hours of sunlight to lay an egg? Some folks force them to lay, by installing artificial lighting, but Ken's giving the girls these short days off.

One day we bought two new barn windows and a dump wagon, two things I probably won't do again for awhile, although we may buy a few hundred new windows this year here in the co-op.

Here come the pictures and some video. Turn down the volume if the sound of bleating disturbs you.

And here comes my new best friend, Major.  A black Lab, he was found on the side of the road with a bag of dog food. Who would do something like that? They actually know who did it--Major's collar had a chip in it. Best dog I ever met.

Comes running like a bullet from a half-mile away.

His Master's Voice.

Good boy.

Looking down on the farm from up the hill.

Who you calling chicken?

Ken said that Major barks at anyone new, but Major and I hit it off from the start. I miss Major.

The sheep. The barn smells a lot better in the winter. The coats are to protect the wool. Ken sells the wool and some go to slaughter. Sorry PETA.
 The rams are kept separate.

Ken and Claire are off the oil grid for heating--he chops wood and has at least a two-year supply for the furnace (made in USA furnace and fuel--take that, Kuwait).

Mom sends an ornament each year. This year I hand delivered one (this is an old one from the their tree--you can guess where they got the tree from).

Sheep on Film: Turn down your sound card if you're at work. These sheep are like sheep except when you ask them to keep it down at feeding time. There's another difference in visiting in the winter--no baa-ting when you're waking up.

Monday, December 27, 2010



1onthetown had a theatre companion this month for BLOODY BLOODY ANDREW JACKSON. We've been talking about seeing this for awhile and when the closing notice was posted she ran out and got us two ducats on the aisle in front of the stage right speakers. The intimate Belasco Theatre Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre houses this rousing Guitar Hero bio of the seventh president. The eponymous lead as played by Benjamin Walker proves he can fill a theatre with his voice even without a mic. The incredibly cluttered stage makes scene changes easy as everything is already up there. I liked a lot of it except for the dotty lady in the wheelchair who narrates the first half of the proceedings.

This show started in L.A. in 2008 and there's a West coast TV sick humor sensibility that may have contributed to this show not catching on, such as jokes stretched paper thin and too long (for example, in the very beginning we suffer through the narrator wordlessly tooling around and around the stage in the electric wheelchair). The other negative is the effeminate depiction of Eastern political figures. Except for the rugged postures of Jackson and Calhoun, figures such as JQ Adams and Martin Van Buren are portrayed as foppish jackasses. I can accept that Andrew Jackson is bringing back sexypants but the other male characters were too Paul Lynde for this context.


What does it take to get me off the couch and into a movie theatre?: a weekday afternoon and the Coen brothers teamed with Jeff Bridges making a movie out of the great Charles Portis's TRUE GRIT. But the real attraction is newcomer Hailee Steinfeld as the plucky miss out to avenge her father's murder by an ungrateful coward. I feel like Christopher Plummer giving you "Miss Daisy Clover" but I'm giving a money back guarantee based on her perf. She's real and the true grit of the title, with no phony 21st c. politics informing her acting.

Were the Coen Bros. joking by hiring a lookalike (Barry Pepper) for Robert Duvall to play the same part that Duvall played in the first version of TRUE GRIT? Oh brother!


I spent a good deal of week one of vacation watching DARIA on Netflix DVD, streaming Season 2 of HAVE GUN WILL TRAVEL, and also streaming the cult classic TV show FIREFLY. So sad that we have hundreds of ST: TNG eps and only 14 FIREFLYs but I'm telling myself it's like watching 5 or 6 great movies. I read that 20% of Internet traffic from 8-10 pm is from Netflix streaming and that only 2% of their customers currently stream. When this catches on it may break the Internet. I was running the laptop thru the TV but my new BluRay player makes it a couch potato's dream. How did I miss FIREFLY during its run on FOX in the early 2000s?

THE EMPEROR OF MALADIES by Siddhartha Mukerjee

This book is subtitled "A History of Cancer" and is a good read if you've ever liked a science class or read science for leisure. Stay away if you're looking for humorous anecdotes. The author's vocabulary is excellent and I learned some new words, or at least one of those words that you see but can't ever remember its meaning: febrile.

That's it for 2010. I'm off to the farm, bringing the camera, and will have a full report in the new year.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Merry Christmas from Mel Tormé 3

Cre-a-k-k! The private vault is open again for Mel Tormé. This time it's New Year's Eve, 1987. Like Santa, he comes around every December and leaves all with a great feeling. Enjoy!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Raw Nerve Touched: The Missed Opportunity of Sweeney Todd

I'm working on a book about Beer and one of the topics is Ale, which elicited a comment from my copy editor, and touched off some deep feelings I have about Sweeney Todd. I wrote about the movie in 2007, and some of those thoughts bubbled to the surface again today.

From: Jeff 
Sent: Tuesday, December 07, 2010 5:45 PM
To: Brian
Subject: Ale and Meat Pies
You saw the Cariou Sweeney Todd, no?
Ever see Cerveris/Lupone or Depp?
 From: Brian
To: Jeff
Subject: RE: Ale and Meat Pies

Sadly no; no/yes.
I saw Dorothy Loudon and George Hearn. I have the Lupone/Hearn/NPH DVD. Hearn filled in for Bryn Terfel, whose chronic bad back made him unavailable. I saw the Lansbury/Hearn on VHS.
If you saw the Sondheim birthday tribute on PBS, Hearn has become the Bublé of Sweeneys. I mean that as a compliment. Hearn was/is an amazing artist at any age and killed at the birthday tribute. It was a privilege to see him in his prime.
I saw Len Cariou and Angela Lansbury on YouTube sing at a charity event in LA in the 2000s, where Cariou probably gave his last singing performance. Word on the street is that role killed his voice. What a way to go as Dean said.
Not crazy about paying four times as much to see ¼ as many performers playing cymbals between their knees while they sing and juggle. It’s the kind of thing that people convince themselves is good.
Depp: fantastic actor, craptastic singer. The director’s wife was awful. The gal who played Joanna—awful. Borat as Pirelli—very good. The kid playing the kid—novel idea to have a kid playing a kid. You don’t get a movie made of a musical unless you get Depp/Burton. Then you get a Burton movie, not Sondheim. If I recall the trailer, the music was second to the FX. It’s extortion. I hope to live long enough to see it done right on screen. Dream casting would have been Bryn Terfel and Bette Midler. We can only hope some 10-year-old is doing the grade school version and is vowing to do it right when he or she is all growed up.
Dorothy Loudon was one of those very talented people you’d see on TV in the 1960s, when you could turn on a talk/variety show after school and see Count Basie rap with Mike Douglas or Robert Q. Lewis. It was the golden age of free TV.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Richard Pryor's Birthday Today

Richard would have been 70 today. I've never laughed as hard at anyone until the meteor that was Chappelle. Thanks again. You were the one-man Beatles of comedy.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Best Thanksgiving Ever

I cooked for 10 and made apple pie (DIY crust and filling). You can't ruin a Butterball. I also served glazed carrots and invented a green bean and small-potato (red and white) casserole. I believe I also made yams but a wild argument broke out over the difference between yams and sweet potatoes. Whatever it was, I added some sugar, pepper, and salt and all were pleased. I forgot to serve the cranberry sauce and applesauce but no one seemed to notice.

This year I saved all my vacation and personal time to take one week off at Thanksgiving, my favorite holiday, and two weeks off at the end of the year. I'm visiting Lockie Lane Farms next month to visit my friend the sheep farmer and his wife. If the weather holds we're taking a hop over the border to Montreal.

There was a great 80th birthday tribute to Stephen Sondheim on PBS last week. I bought his biographical annotated collection of lyrics, FINISHING THE HAT, today at Border's at an outrageous 40% off thanks to an email coupon. They typeset and printed this coffee table book in the US and were able to keep the list price at $39.95. Imagine if you were alive in 1936 and were able to read a similar tome by George Gershwin. Truly a must read for anyone who loves the theatre.

Later in the afternoon I got a sweet deal on a Sony Blu-ray at Best Buy. Apropos of Ed Norton's question to Ralph Kramden, Why don't you have a TV?, to which Ralph replied, I'm waiting for 3D, this player can do 3D. All I need now is the TV (paraphrasing Sondheim).

Over the holiday I watched THE BEGGAR'S OPERA on DVD and read EUREKA by Jim Lehrer. Lehrer writes clean usually and I figured this was SFM (safe for Mom). However, Mom was shocked at some of the content. I read it after her and I can guess what she was aghast at (at one point a 59-year-old man has a few normal hetero fantasies about a young girl). She enjoyed Lord Larry Olivier in BEGGAR'S OPERA. (THREEPENNY OPERA reworked the same story with new music.)

One of the saddest things in the novel EUREKA is a reference to an interview with Anthony Hopkins in which he refers to his entire career as a waste of time. It's so depressing that I had to look it up. After that quote from 1999, IMDb lists 30 projects finished or in development so Hopkins was kidding or just having a bad day.

The Jets are 9-2 after Thanksgiving night! I'm pretty sure they have never been 9-2. Another thing to be thankful for: Mom bounced back from a few weeks in the hospital this year to play host to the Thanksgiving dinner. Margie found her a nice apartment in an elevator building. Mom gave us a scare and made me appreciate her more if that's possible. At one point in the hospital, when it was unclear what was wrong with her, she asked if we were thinking of putting her in a nursing home. That hurt but that's what uncertainty does to a person, makes them ask questions that hurt. It has all worked out ok so far, and is continuing to do so thanks to everybody helping out in their own ways. Like the little drummer boy with his humble gift, I make turkey drumsticks and apple pie and bring books and DVDs.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Brother Victor, OSF--Rest in Peace

My high school Algebra teacher, Brother Victor Fischer, OSF, died this week. Victor was a combination of the comic rage of Lewis Black and the good-natured cynicism of Victor Borge. 

After eight years of Catholic school nuns in Blessed Sacrament School, who knew you could laugh + learn in a classroom? Brother Victor had a line for every occasion. Some of the humor was bawdy, which was legal in an all-boys school in the '70s. For example, if a kid raised his hand and asked to go to the bathroom, Victor would retort, "Didn't you go already this year?" Another lad would raise his hand for the same thing and Victor would throw a rubber band at him telling him he could hold it. Then there was the boy who reported that his two quarters were missing. He was known forever by Victor as "the kid who lost the fifty cents." Or an especially nervous student he pegged "the nervous kid." One very hot day, several students broke the rule on no beverages in the classroom. Brother got very angry, seized the offending cans, and ran one over his forehead in sweet relief from the late spring Brooklyn haze.

Brother Victor was a positive influence on my brother who, like Victor, was a ham radio operator. Victor's callsign was WA2LML (We Are Two Little Meat Loaves). He taught my other brother too. The year the school went coed, my sister enrolled and he call out to her in the hall, "You're a Black [ed. note--that's our last name], right?" 

I got a 98 on the Algebra Regents exam, which we took in the Fall. I also did well in trigonometry in the Spring. When I went to college I majored in Math, no doubt due to the solid grounding in numbers and fun given to me by Brother Victor, OSF. Through several layoffs in the 2000s, the math degree has been something for me to fall back on and gets the foot in the door.

The following is courtesy of

James Fischer, son of George and Charlotte (Haiser) Fischer was born in Brooklyn on July 24, 1932.

After attending St. Leonard’s High School and St. Anthony’s Juniorate he entered the Franciscan Brothers on February 11, 1950.

He received the Franciscan habit and the Religious name “Victor” on August 2, 1950 and made his profession of vows two years later on July 26, 1952.

Brother Victor’s first assignment was to St. Leonard’s High School.  He was Business Manager at St. Francis College from 1956-1959 before returning to St. Leonard’s until 1963.

Brother Victor taught at St. Francis Prep, first in Brooklyn then in Fresh Meadows, from 1964 until 1978.  He was a member of the Mathematics Department and subsequently Chairman of the Business Department.

Beginning in 1979 Brother Victor served in a variety of ministries including three years in Pennsylvania and many years in the Archdiocese of New York at St. Jean Baptiste High School.

In spite of a severe hearing loss Brother Victor volunteered during his retirement years at several Brooklyn locations that included CHIPS (Christian Help in Park Slope) and St. Martin of Tours Parish.

On October 16, 2010, while out for a walk, Victor died as a result of injuries suffered in an accident.

He is survived by a sister, Catherine Mattison of Florida, a brother, William of Pennsylvania, and numerous nieces and nephews.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Who says you have to wait for Christmas to hear Standards on terrestrial radio?

You just have to wait until Sundays:
WNYC 93.9 FM
Jonathan Schwartz, Sat/Sun (Noon-4 pm); the Sunday show is simulcast on SiriusXM. The dean of Standards broadcasters, Schwartz champions the American Songbook. My only criticism is that he plays a lot of the same people and excludes other performers that the other Standards channels feature. Some high rotation artists are from his circle of friends; he could widen his horizons a little bit. When I turn on cable’s Music Choice, Singers and Swing, I hear a lot of the artists that he rarely plays, such as Steve Tyrell. Schwartz may find him unworthy somehow but should give Tyrell et al. a better shot.

Danny Stiles, Saturday night 8-10 pm, plays a lot of pre-stereo era 78s. It might be the timeslot or my own listening habits but I’ve never made Stiles appointment radio. It’s a mix of well-know tunes and lesser-known (to me) records from the ’40s to the ’80s. Yet it’s good to know he’s there.

WBGO 88.3 FM Michael Bourne: Singers Unlimited. Sunday 10-2. Fantastic show and it’s overlapped with Schwartz’s programs from 12-2 for 20 years. Perfection would move it to 8-noon or Saturday morning.

Don’t listen much to these stations but good to know they are there playing Standards:

WHLI 1100 AM daytimer 7 days.

WBAI 99.5 FM—David Kenney. Everything Old is New Again. Sunday 9-midnight.

WNYM 970 AM—Dick Robinson, American Standards by the Sea. Sunday midnight.

WFUV 90.7 The Big Broadcast with Rich Conaty. Sunday 8-midnight. Standards from the ’20s and ’30s.

WKRB 90.3 FM (Brooklyn)—Professor Ron Forman. Sweet Sounds. Sunday 5-7 pm.

WPHT 1210 AM (Philadelphia) Sid Mark. Friday night and Sunday morning with Sinatra.

Too bad WVIP-HD2 no longer simulcasts WVOX Music of Your Life (they dropped the HD2 signal in October). Sorry Signore Marconi, terrestrial lost another listener when I switched to their Internet stream at night.

When WNEW turned off the lights, Mark Simone celebrated the long run and didn’t cry over the end of the era. We can look at today as a silver age for Standards on the radio. What is striking is the decades of longevity of most of these hosts playing music that no one wants to hear. Classic music keeps you young.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


Listening to Mike and Therese doing Depravity's Rainbow tonight on WFMU. Mike's an old buddy. He and his cohost fill in for Tom Scharpling and the Best Show. He's the regular producer, call screener, and background kibitzer on that show.

I love radio. Here are a few of my recent posts on the NYRMB (New York Radio Message Board).

New Media Pitfalls

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Posted by Bob T. on September 21, 2010 at 10:08:10:
We hear so much about the takeover of new media stripping radio of younger audiences.
You-Tube, Twitter, Facebook, etc. are so new that they really aren't battle tested.
This morning, news sites are full of info on a Twitter bug that apparently can takeover your computer with just a mouseover.
Can anyone come up with a similar weakness for radio?

Posted by Brian Black on September 21, 2010 at 15:44:58:
In Reply to: New Media Pitfalls posted by Bob T. on September 21, 2010 at 10:08:10:
If you mean technically, I have a portable HD radio that charges thru a mini USB. Something could crawl in with a firmware update.
Metaphorically, the mouse hanging over radio is everything online. When I run a Compaq thru a Sony tabletop I almost forget I'm not listening to broadcast; and it's that much less time listening to real radio.
Radio will always have the "I just want to turn it on" fans but now HD makes you wait for a buffer/rebuffer. Trivial? CFL bulbs (another enemy of AM) have run into similar resistance. We gave them away *free* to shareholders in a co-op and some users said it takes too long to get fully bright (less than 10 seconds!).
In summary, radio killed vaudeville, vaudeville came back as YouTube. Internet killed radio, radio can come back as something you can't get any more.
A step backwards to live and local news and deejays would be a start. Blogs are filling the gap for local news. When we had a shooting in our area, I turned to the neighborhood blog for street-level coverage that day, which was far superior to the newspaper, TV, or other Internet spaces the next day.

Why is AM 970 The Apple not doing better?

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Posted by Brian Black on September 14, 2010 at 10:50:22:
In Reply to: Re: Re: Re: Why is AM 970 The Apple not doing better? posted by Frank on September 14, 2010 at 08:35:58:
The signal? It's usually a terrible listen in Brooklyn.
I stumbled into Dick Robinson's American Standards by the Sea after midnight Saturday night, the only show on 970 other than Curtis that I might listen to. American Standards's website lists The Apple but The Apple's own website doesn't show American Standards on the schedule. So 970's promotion dept./budget might be a problem too.

More Talk from Stern About His Plans

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Posted by Brian Black on September 10, 2010 at 10:24:23:
In Reply to: Re: Re: More Talk from Stern About His Plans posted by SKlein on September 10, 2010 at 09:18:07:
Stern is starting to sound like film/radio/TV legend Bud Abbott, who died broke with tax problems, who agreed with a reporter's remark that even if all the fans sent him a few bucks he'd still be broke. (It morphed into a story of Abbott begging fans for money.)
I bought XM to listen ($9/month) to Standards when they left terrestrial radio. But 7 bucks a month just for Stern? Maybe when everyone had cash to burn. He's dreaming or bluffing. I miss his show biz interviews and amazing insight into the business but I don't miss the poor taste.

Standards HD/Internet Radio Update; Bob Elliott interview

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Posted by Brian Black on August 31, 2010 at 11:19:52:
To update a post from last month, it appears that WVIP-HD3 is off the air. The WVOX simulcast, including Music of Your Life after 10 pm, was moved to HD2.
Another bright spot for Standards is Radio Deluxe with John Pizzarelli. The August 14 podcast featured a rare interview with radio icon Bob Elliott. A must listen for Bob & Ray fans; Pizzarelli is a hardcore fan of the boys.

Posted by Brian Black on September 01, 2010 at 10:33:41:
In Reply to: Re: Standards HD/Internet Radio Update; Bob Elliott interview posted by Pete Tauriello on August 31, 2010 at 22:27:53:
To begin to make HD a "must have" you would have to improve reception, sound, and content.
Audio quality: Berle sold pictures with sound and color shows sold color TV, but an HD signal doesn't improve the regular FM sound greatly to my ears. I have a Sony XDR-S3HD and a cell-phone sized Insignia portable.
Content: On the cheap, only a few listener-supported stations produce original local HD-only shows.
Buzz: I study the 21-53 demo (my house) and no one is interested except me. I love it for the niches. I heard Conway Twitty on WLTW-HD2 this morning but I also like some of the new stuff on WFUV-HD3, and appreciate the artist/title readouts. I like WNYC-HD2's simulcast of WQXR-HD1 (whose 105.9 signal isn't as strong as WNYC's HD2). I listen to Imus and Batchelor on WABC-HD3 without the static (WABC-AM in HD is gone). WBGO gives me a static-free lock that I never had before HD. I enjoy True Oldies on WPLJ-HD2 and occasionally dial up TONY on WCBS-HD2. I like the Sony dial for some reason instead of push buttons. Nostalgia?
Even if the content were improved, no one except the hobbyist wants to adjust an antenna. People freaked on the iPhone antenna problem when most radio folks would have DIY'd a solution (buy a cover). I listen via roof antenna or outdoors so I'm immune to the indoor reception problems, but I can hear it when I enter a building with the portable.

Nice FM DX catch Yesterday from NY

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Posted by Brian Black on August 30, 2010 at 09:55:19:
In Reply to: Re: Nice FM DX catch Yesterday from NY posted by Mike Grayeb on August 29, 2010 at 22:35:59:
On the Brooklyn shore, CT stations were blowing out most of the pirates too on Saturday, all the way up to WEBE 107.9, Westport. Made me wonder if I might hear those stations regularly sans pirates.

Out of context!

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Posted by Brian Black on August 14, 2010 at 09:37:18:
In Reply to: Out of context! posted by Walt on August 14, 2010 at 09:11:16:
Yes, there are two Simones and when the opinion show gets too Ann Colterish I spin the dial and turn it back later for his Saturday night music show. Yet when he books a superior point maker like Frank Rich, he tamps down the right-wing rhetoric, or ignores Rich's cogent point.
Imus told his listeners this in 1971: change the dial if you don't like it and I have followed his advice, even for shows of which I'm a fan.


I was going to write about this show but it wasn't all that interesting, a fictional meeting between C. S. Lewis and Freud in 1939. The acting was fine but the writing left me flat. Freud bests Lewis in their meeting in Freud's office. The set was beautiful--old books, a cathedral radio, the couch, small objets d'art. I saw the lead actor arrive walking his bike through the front door of the Y that houses the theatre (The New Little Theatre on W. 64th) but this did not shatter the illusion. Lovely little house.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Happy 100th Birthday Thomas Black

Dear Dad:

Happy 100th birthday. We spent a lot of time with Mom over the weekend doing little things to help her in her new apartment. One of the last times I saw you twenty-five years ago, you said to take care of her and I hope we're all doing a good job at that.

Any time we see anyone who emigrates to America, and talks her down because she's not perfect yet, I think of the patriotic Irishman who came here when he was 12, loved his new country, and worked two jobs on two phlebitic legs and a bum ticker to support a family of six. I never heard you complain much, except maybe to "stop that roughhousing" when the boys and I were fighting on the second floor. Sorry if we ever woke you up from a well-earned sleep.

your son,

Thursday, August 12, 2010

THE PILLARS OF THE EARTH--The Disappointment of the Summer on Starz on Netflix streaming

The movie of a favored novel is almost always disappointing but this one disappoints in so many ways. After you've seen Monty Python's version of the era, the buckets of blood approach is hard to take without snickering.

Let's look at the ingenue, Aliena. In the novel she first appears as a spoiled brat, daughter of a lord, who survives a brutal assault and impoverishment by the villain of the piece. She comes out of it hell-bent to survive and to avenge her executed father, but also to restore her family's place in the order of things. Capitalism saves her as she becomes a successful wool merchant. She flirts with the brooding younger-than-her Jack, the cathedral builder's stepson.

Jack wins her over slowly and gently with his modest demeanor, artistic temperament, storytelling, and a well-timed love ballad. Jack first kisses Aliena in the woods during a chaste encounter. Even though she is starting to fall for him, she latter rebuffs him in her spinning room, the villainous rape still in her mind. All this is well-plotted and understandable by the reader.

The miniseries: Aliena may make one snarky comment but you don't find yourself not liking her. The assault isn't anywhere as awful as in the book even with TV sensibilities factored in. The courtship of Aliena and Jack is missing. The worst part is the second kiss in the spinning room. In episode four we see Jack kiss Aliena and there is no rebuff. She looks like she's a little flushed, maybe a case of the vapors, but no rebuff. It is a critical moment in their rocky relationship because Jack can't understand why she is acting this way. He has no knowledge of the rape.

Instead of character development we have frequent battle scenes, of which the book has several. The technical methodology of cathedral building is interesting in the book and must have also been thought to be unfilmable, because I haven't seen it yet in the still-running series. There's a nice bit of line art animation (made me think of the Hubleys) of the cathedral in the opening credits and this could have been a nice touch as an exposition of the building plans as the architect describes it to the prior. As it stands, the overarching character of the piece, the great cathedral, is an afterthought to the blood and gore.

So how to film the backstory of well-drawn characters from a novel? There must be a way.

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Girl with Something Extra

"THE GIRL WITH..." trilogy by the late Swedish author Stieg Larsson is a publishing phenomenon. The other day I was on the Q train with my daughter. I was reading the third installment of the trilogy on a Sony Touch, she was sitting on my right reading the second book and to my left a lady was reading the first, THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATOO. I also just watched the Swedish movie of TATOO on Netflix streaming on my son's Wii.

Is any of it any good? The first book has an interesting plot: an old rich man hires a disgraced journalist, Mikael Bolmkvist, to uncover the mystery of his missing and assumed-dead niece. The most compelling character by a factor of 1000 is the Aspergerish hacker, Lisbeth Salander, who is hired to do a background check on the journalist and ends up investigating the missing niece. The hacker and journalist meet and forge a relationship of unconditional trust and loyalty, like Spenser and Hawk without the sexual tension (unless I've been misreading Robert B. Parker). The second novel is about international sex trafficking and the third novel's plot follows directly after the second opening with Lisbeth's recovery from trauma.

If you're going to read this, it's for Lisbeth's character. Over the course of the trilogy, she slowly grows out of her turtle shell, which accreted from a lifetime of abuse at the hands of her family and government spies and factotums, to become an involved human being. Mikael, on the other hand, is a young middle-aged schlub who jogs a little yet has the kinetic sexual energy of Elvis in 1959. He walks into a room and women are instantly smitten. His character never develops. Most of the other characters have no depth and sound alike in speech and attitude.

Is it worse writing than The DaVinci Code (which I read on the Rocket eBook in the early 2000s)? No, but this is a translation and it would be interesting to see what someone fluent in Swedish and English can make of the writing. The love scenes and post-coital talk are boring and clinical with failed attempts at irony. The amount of space devoted to making and drinking coffee, eating a pastry or sandwich, getting dressed, the color of outfits, and falling asleep are considerable.

The TATOO movie: I saved 12 bucks by watching the Netflix stream rather that going to the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Like THE LORD OF THE RINGS, in which I lamented the lack of depiction of fellowship that is a charm of the series, this adaption stints on characterization. It's in the first book, subtle and a little charming between Mikael and Lisbeth, and Mikael and the rich man, less so in any of the other relationships depicted. There is a lot of technical detail in Mikael's detective work, such as the perusal of photographic archives, and this is depicted too fast and furiously in the movie, losing the revelelatory impact that his dogged work and analysis has in the novel.

The third novel (all three are on my ebook) is becoming incredibly difficult to finish, a real slog. Lisbeth, the eponymous heroine, is laid up and all of her action is from a convalescent bed. Not a great plotting decision. Supposedly there is a fourth novel, two-thirds complete at the time of the author's death. If it ever appears, one would hope for less keyboarding and more whupass from the heroine.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Jury Duty: Civil, Petit, Grand, and Beyond II; Ta Ka Di Ma at the AMNH

I was going to write about grand jury duty but just remembered that the proceedings are secret. I was able to write about the events of 30 years ago in the previous post because it was a public trial. Briefly, I will say that the experience was marked by a few luminous pearls connected by a string of intense tedium, making a token clerk's job look like intergalactic exploring. We listened, we deliberated, we voted.

Civil jury duty is one of the worst injuries ever suffered by the juror. I can speak from experience and from the many stories collected from fellow victims. A typical experience is:

Day 1: Wait most of the day in the Central Juror Room. Late in the afternoon, report to the court room for juror interviews.
Day 2: Get interviewed, be assigned to a jury.
Day 3: This may not be a consecutive day after Day 2 because the courts take more days off than Reagan. I once served in February and was stunned on Feb. 11 when the bailiff said he'd see us on the 13th. I don't think I'd had February 12* off since I was in grade school. When you report to Day 3, you are told that the case has been settled out of court, which is surprising the first time you hear it, but not after the tenth time. What's going on?

I sue you when I tripped on your stairs. You defend yourself and possibly file a countersuit. The court date approaches and a performance of chicken ballet begins. I start thinking I might not get as much as I asked for and you worry about losing your shirt. Your insurance company makes an offer. I don't like it and say let's go to trial. You say, see you in court! The jury is empaneled, we both blink, and a compromise is reached before the trial begins. Jurors time be damned and one considers that arbitration would be a better way to adjudicate most disputes.


I've been spending most Sundays the last two months wishing it were football season. I've been enjoying playing Scrabble with my 91-year-old mother and cooking big Sunday dinners, but yesterday I went to the Museum of Natural History to see THE SILK ROAD PROJECT. An amazing serendipity was a performance at the exit of the exhibit by "percussion legend Glen Velez and rhythm-voice virtuoso Lori Cotler." He performed on frame drum and sang and she also did vocal improvisations. The audience was invited in one part to sing along, which most did with gusto. "Ta Ka Di Mi" was the title of the performance and the audience participation song.

Ms. Cotler was accompanied by Mr. Velez in a performance of the American Popular Standard "Imagination" by Van Heusen (music) and Burke (lyrics), possibly the first time the tune was given a Middle Eastern, Central Asian, Indian flavored musical twist.

The day was concluded with chili at the Old Town. My 2010 World Cup shirt elicited a comment from the bartender (who looks like Neil Flynn, Janitor from SCRUBS) and we had a discussion on US soccer. Business was way up more than usual this year for the World Cup and if we advanced one more round it would have been even better.
* Lincoln's Birthday (actual)