Archive for Enotes

Apr
17

Mustang, Untamed

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Our daughter just turned 21. And, parked in front of our house as I write this, is the car in which we drove her home.

I remember strapping her tiny, 4-lb. body into her car seat and securing her in the Mustang’s back seat that day in June, 1993 in front of Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak. She was born two months premature, and thus weighed just 2-lb, 14-oz. when she was born via emergency C-section.

The Mustang was purchased in September, 1992, just before my bride and I were betrothed. Little did we know that some 21-plus years and 115,000 miles later, we’d still own the car.

But that’s OK. It’s been a good car. How could it not be, if it’s old enough to legally drink alcohol?

It’s starting to come apart at the seams now, which is to be expected. Rust is spreading like cancer.

But the Mustang still runs and it gets me front Point A to Point B. We just make sure that the distance between those two points isn’t too far. We have a 2003 Mercury Sable for that.

The Mustang almost bit the dust some two years ago. It’s a two-door, which means the doors are very heavy and put great strain on the hinging mechanism. It got to a point where you would have to do a lift-and-yank maneuver and then slam in order to properly close the driver’s side door.

One day in 2012, I slammed the door shut after getting gas and the driver’s side window shattered from the impact. It scared the bejeebers out of me.

So I took it to the collision shop and the proprietor delivered bad news. He could fix the door but it would be a job of monumental labor, because of where things were located and the work it would take to get to said things.

He suggested that I put the Mustang to sleep, due to inordinate repair cost.

Well, this was the Mustang. You don’t just put a Mustang to sleep without getting a second opinion.

Collision shop #2 had a brighter outlook. Second opinions are good because you can always play the doom and gloom of the first opinion against the second. Often, the second opinion person likes to play the hero. And, stealing business away from a competitor is never a bad thing.

So second opinion guy said he would give it a whirl, and for a reasonable price.

Over two years later, the repaired door is still working. The Mustang was saved from euthanasia.

I still get compliments and inquiries about the Mustang. Usually it’s at a gas station. Another customer will ask me if I am interested in selling.

Mustangs have a mystique.

Some seven or eight years ago, on a Saturday night, I drove the family to Royal Oak, ostensibly to get some food at our favorite Thai restaurant, Siam Spicy. We took the Mustang.

It was evident as we got closer to the city that something was going on. Traffic was very heavy. By the time we got to Woodward Avenue, it was all too apparent what I had done.

I had driven us right into the Woodward Dream Cruise!

I had no choice but to turn north onto Woodward. The bystanders and lookers-on assumed we were part of the Cruise, tooling around as we were in a Mustang.

They urged us to beep the horn and shouted words of encouragement from their lawn chairs, tipping their beer cans in honor of the great American Mustang.

I tried to tell them that I was just trying to grab some dinner with the family. Nobody heard me.

And, Siam Spicy was closed that night. So the trip was all for naught.

But the Mustang got one of its last moments of glory.

It’s seen its days in various mechanic shops over the years. It has had brake jobs, new starters installed, new exhaust systems and sundry other work. It’s been the Joan Rivers of cars.

But it still turns on when I stick the key in the ignition. And it still is the car we drove our daughter home in, and you can’t put a price on that.

You probably couldn’t sell it now, but it never was for sale anyway.

Long live our ‘Stang!

Categories : cars, culture, Enotes
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Apr
11

Utash: We Can Only Hope

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Sometimes the 24-hour news cycle gets extended.

Sometimes it’s a 48-hour or 72-hour news cycle. And, on occasion, a story manages to stay in the public’s consciousness for a week or more.

News stories anymore are like pieces of pasta thrown against the wall. Only some stick.

The Stephen Utash beating has beat the 24-hour news cycle, by far. Now the question is, Will it matter?

The Utash story is right out of a novel or a made-for-TV movie.

White suburbanite hits a young black boy with his pickup truck, in the city. The suburbanite stops to check on the condition of the boy and is then beaten senseless, perhaps to death (that’s a part of the story that has yet to be resolved), by a mob of black men.

It’s a story that almost had to happen, to provide the most recent litmus test of where we are as a society, particularly when it comes to violence and race relations.

The elements are all there, and if they weren’t, the story wouldn’t work as well. It would be a flawed test.

The driver was white, the hit boy was black. That’s the only way this can work. Any other combo would either not tell us anything we don’t already suspect, or it would be less newsworthy.

The white man is beaten by a mob of black men. Again, reverse it, and it’s just another example of what so many people already suspect, and what so many other people vigorously try to defend.

The person who intervened and got the mob to stop beating the white man was a black female nurse. Author, author!

The white man lies in a medically-induced coma as the suspects are rounded up. Score another for the fiction writer.

Oh, and whites and blacks come together in churches around town and try to pray the violence away. Money is being raised for the white man’s medical bills. Not bad, not bad at all.

And Detroiters did it all by themselves. They didn’t need anyone to zoom into town to rally the troops.

The author did a bang up job on this one.

Ah, but it’s all true.


Steve Utash

The Utash beating has a shot—an actual, legitimate shot—at bringing white and black folks together in an effort to take a collective look in the proverbial mirror.

Thankfully, the words “vigilante justice” have been rinsed off this story, revealing it to be what it really is—senseless, animal-like violence that wasn’t advocating for anyone or anything, other than an opportunity to take something out on a poor man. A chance to get your licks in, for whatever reason.

Unlike others, though, I’m not convinced that the mob saw a white man and decided to go to town. Maybe we will never know for sure. Maybe the five (so far) suspects that have been arrested—four have been arraigned—will start chirping, even against each other. Maybe a motive will trickle out.

Maybe had the driver been black, he would have been beaten, too—once identified as the man who hit the boy. Again, we may never know. But we may, eventually.

The fact that no one in the beating mob—according to witnesses’ recounting of the incident—appeared to show any concern for the boy’s physical condition before they started whaling on Utash, is the most damning piece of this horrible crime.

And that’s why the vigilante label doesn’t fit and has been ripped off, rightly so.

You can’t have vigilante justice if you don’t know what the heck you’re justifying.

The facts, of course, weren’t all in when the mob sprang into action. They didn’t know—or didn’t care—that the child stepped off the curb into oncoming traffic. The boy was 10 years old—certainly old enough to know not to step into the street without looking both ways.

But that’s another discussion entirely.

It’s terrible, but often it takes something terrible to finally drum something into people’s heads.

We can only hope that Steve Utash—and let’s hope he survives and regains his wits—evolves into a turning point of sorts. He will not only be a man but a landmark.

Then again, the beating of Vincent Chin didn’t necessarily change anything.

But that’s the thing about hope. You’re willing to throw the history books out the window and say, “Maybe THIS time.”

Maybe this time.

Categories : crime, culture, Enotes, society
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Apr
04

Later, Dave

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It’s not easy to be a trailblazer when so many of the trails have already been blazed, but David Letterman somehow managed to blaze one anyway.

You may think that late night television was an already-mined resource by the time Letterman, 66, came along in 1982, hosting “Late Night with David Letterman” on NBC.

It’s true that TV at the witching hour was nothing new in 1982, having been first attempted some 30 years prior and being refined for 20 years by Johnny Carson when NBC gave Letterman a late night slot, following Carson’s “Tonight Show.”

But it turned out there was still plenty that Letterman found to do that not even the iconic Carson managed to discover.

Letterman announced today, somewhat shockingly during the taping of “The Late Show with David Letterman,” that 2015 will be the year of his retirement.

“This (retirement) means Paul (bandleader Shaffer) and I can finally get married,” Letterman said to a crowd that seemed to need the laugh to digest the news. But Letterman was serious—about the retirement part.

The longtime late night host said he had a phone conversation with CBS president Les Moonves not long before tonight’s taping and informed Moonves that 2015 would see the end of Letterman’s run on “The Late Show.”

Letterman was a morning loser when NBC gave him a mulligan—a big time mulligan—and put Letterman where his milieu clearly was, in late night.

Letterman’s morning show, which lasted just a few months in 1980, was a critical success of sorts (two Daytime Emmys) but a ratings disaster.

But he was back less than two years later, after midnight.

Where Letterman was able to forage—and where Carson either chose not to go or simply never thought of going—was in the mostly unexplored forest of pulling life’s non-celebrities into the party.

While Carson would occasionally interview folks like an old lady who collected potato chips that looked like people and animals, Johnny’s genius was in his gregarious chats with the famous and in his sketch comedy bits.

Letterman made 15-minute celebrities out of the every man with bits like “Stupid Pet Tricks” and “Stupid Human Tricks.” He also made Larry “Bud” Melman—real name Calvert DeForest, a little-known actor but his day job was working for a pharmaceutical company—famous with Larry Bud’s strangely humorous appearances, which many times made it seem like the joke was on Melman.

While Carson ventured into the crowd for bits like “Stump the Band,” Letterman took it one step further and blended crowd games with cameos from comedic actor Chris Elliott, with hilarious results.

And while Carson had Doc Severinsen and Tommy Newsome leading the “Tonight Show” band and functioning as occasional kibitzing partners, Letterman and Shaffer formed almost a tag-team comedy duo, chatting during the first 10 minutes of each show like they hadn’t spoken with each other all day.

It’s no coincidence that pretty much every late night show after Letterman’s employed a band with a leader who tried to be Paul Shaffer Light.

Sid Caesar and company started doing “Man on the Street” bits in the 1950s (something Carson never really did), but Letterman again turned it up a notch, beseeching the regular folks to partake in stunts and pull pranks on other unsuspecting folks—their colleagues, so to speak.

There are many other directions that Letterman took late night comedy and talk, but they are too numerous to mention here. Suffice it to say that while the genre had been discovered, Letterman took that block of clay and molded it.

“The time has come,” Letterman said today in announcing his retirement a year hence.

He wasn’t emotional, he wasn’t melancholy. He sounded like a man comfortable in his place and with his timing.

It was as if he was saying, “My job here is done.”

Which, it is.

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Mar
26

Sugar, Spice and Puppy Dog Tails

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Timberlake Christian School (TCS) in western Virginia buried the lead in their letter to the guardian of eight-year-old Sunnie Kahle. The last sentence was the most true and the most telling.

“We believe that unless Sunnie as well as her family clearly understand that God has made her female and her dress and behavior need to follow suit with her God-ordained indentity, that TCS is not the best place for her future education.”

No kidding, it’s not the best place for Sunnie’s future education.

Like, I’d pull that child out of there yesterday.

Sunnie is an eight-year-old girl, but by her own admission and her grandmother’s (Sunnie’s legal guardian) own acknowledgement, Sunnie likes a lot of “boy stuff”—such as autographed baseballs and hunting knives, according to CBS-TV affiliate WDBJ.

But Sunnie also digs jewelry and stuffed animals, too.

“It’s fun,” Sunnie says of her varied interests—some of which don’t seem to fit TCS’ characterization of what a little girl should be.

Hence the letter, apparently quoting school policy, sent to Sunnie’s grandmother, Doris Thompson.

The letter began ominously.

“You’re probably aware that Timberlake Christian School is a religious, Bible believing institution providing education in a distinctly Christian environment,” the letter started, and nothing good usually follows a sentence such as that in a letter sent home from school.

And, nothing good did.

Sunnie Kahle

Why is it, that supposedly Christian entities—organizations based on ideals that are supposed to espouse and embrace inclusion rather than exclusion—seem to be the least tolerant?

And, from an educational standpoint, what happened to encouraging children to broaden their horizons and open up their worlds a little bit?

So an eight-year-old girl is sometimes confused for being a boy, as Sunnie told WDBJ. Is that the worst thing in the world?

For their part, school administrators told ABC 27 that they have not accused Sunnie of any wrongdoing; they just want the family to follow all guidelines set for students.

Good thing that the TCS folks are educators, because they certainly think we’re all pretty stupid.

“Sunnie realizes she’s a female but she wants to do boy things,” Thompson told WDBJ.

How ironic that TCS is discouraging that, because it seems like a pretty damn good life lesson to me—that girls can do “boy things.”

I mean, heaven forbid Sunnie grows up to be a CEO or a soldier or a fireman or something.

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Mar
20

Life Outside the Bun

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I admit it. I love Taco Bell.

There are so many reasons.

I have mocked it before, but I have been secretly in admiration of how the fast food entrant can make so much with such few ingredients.

Give the folks at Taco Bell a tortilla, some sort of meat, refried beans, rice and cheese, and stand back.

And they do it all without breaking the bank.

I can walk into a Taco Bell, order food for our family of four and still get a few bucks’ worth of change from a $20 bill. Try that at McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s.

I like a good old-fashioned taco for 99 cents. A bean burrito (with extra onions) for $1.49. In fact, I’m hard-pressed to find anything on the menu for more than four bucks.

And the quality? It’s not a matter of “you get what you pay for.” For the price, I think the food is pretty damned good.

I know it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. I don ‘t pretend that Taco Bell is Mexican “cuisine.” But I also don’t experience that “I paid $3.99 for THIS?” feeling, either.

And you don’t have to travel very far to find a Taco Bell, either. They are almost as ubiquitous as McDonald’s.

This isn’t a paid advertisement, even if it reads like one. I’m not getting a dime from the Taco Bell folks. Not that I couldn’t use it.

But it occurred to me that we eat Taco Bell almost weekly. There’s something devilish about walking out with sacks full of food for well under $20.

I have tried Del Taco, which is also near our house. And while I appreciate the delicious, pungent cilantro that is highly present in some of their items, it isn’t Taco Bell—which I know is exactly why some people prefer Del Taco.

Bottom line: Taco Bell isn’t for everyone. But it’s cheap, it’s filling, and it does great in a pinch.

Plus, I love chihuahuas.

Categories : Enotes, food
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Mar
06

Get Yer Red Hots On!

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Tonight we’re having hot dogs. This is a good thing.

My mom used to call it tube steak. Funny.

I love a good hot dog now and again. There’s so much you can do with one.

Before I married my bride, we took a trip to Chicago for a long weekend. That’s when I rediscovered my love for the Chicago Style Hot Dog.

Wendy’s sold the specialty dogs in the summer of 1988, and I scarfed them up often. I was mesmerized by the combination of celery salt, mustard, pickled hot pepper, dill pickle relish and tomato that was globbed onto the tube steak, which was nestled in a poppy seed, thick bun.

Then the Wendy’s promotion ended and it wasn’t until our 1991 trip to the Windy City that I found a place that sold them. Chicago Style Dogs weren’t plentiful on Metro Detroit menus, I came to find out. You know—our love affair with the Coney Dog and all.

The place in Chicago was called Madison Avenue Dogs, and they used their acronym to name their Chicago Style Dogs.

MAD dogs were a hit with us. Plus I loved the atmosphere in that place.

MAD was connected to a Thai Restaurant, and by the looks of things, Thais ran the hot dog joint, too.

You’d place your order—they offered many types of dogs but MAD dogs were by far their specialty—and the order taker would yell out, “TWO MAD!”, “THREE MAD,” etc., depending on how many you wanted.

My wife and I have dabbled with making our own MAD dogs at home. It’s still a work in progress.


The Chicago Style Hot Dog

But I can go for any type of hot dog—boiled, grilled, what have you. I like the hot dog because it’s one of those foods that turns into your own personal canvas. The hot dog is similar to the pizza in that regard, or a trip to the salad bar. Almost anything goes.

Diced onions, chopped up hot pepper, relish, mustard, you name it. Except for ketchup.

I don’t do ketchup on hot dogs. My wife does, unashamedly. I just can’t get into the flavor combo.

At old Tiger Stadium, the hot dog vendors carried with them two containers of mustard and none of ketchup. Someone once told me that was because the sugar in ketchup attracts flying insects.

Maybe it’s just that mustard is the only proper condiment for a hot dog.

In the TV show “King of Queens,” Kevin James’ Doug Heffernan ate a hot dog with mayonnaise on it in one episode. His friend Deacon called him out on it.

“Who puts mayonnaise on a hot dog?” Deacon asks incredulously.

“I do,” Doug responds. “And one day, so will everyone.”

Um, no.

As far as I’m concerned, other than ketchup and mayo, you can put anything on a hot dog.

Our local Home Depot gloriously serves hot dogs for a couple bucks a pop. It’s difficult to walk by the stand on your way in or out of the store and not stop for a quick tube steak.

But when we have the time and the ingredients, there’s nothing like once again dabbling with the celery salt, peppers, tomatoes, mustard et al.

Isn’t that MAD?

Categories : Enotes, food
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Feb
28

Oscar’s Weiners

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The distinctly debonair, razor-thin, legendary British actor was in the middle of his scripted bit of monologue when suddenly the crowd was in an uproar.

It was 1974, in the middle of an American craze that inexplicably had caught on ever-so-briefly, as so many other American crazes seem to do—-inexplicably.

This particular craze was called “streaking,” or running naked through a very public place. The nation’s ballparks and football stadiums, to name just a couple venues, were being overrun by those sans clothing, making their mad dashes.

And now the Academy Awards show was being interrupted by a streaker. He was male, even if just barely.

David Niven, startled by the sudden burst of hoots and howls from the audience, turned and looked to see what the commotion was all about. A streaker was moving behind him, across the stage, flashing the “peace” sign with his fingers.

Straying off script, Niven commented with spot-on—as they say in his country—comedic timing.

With typical British cool among chaos, Niven quipped, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen… But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”

Boom.

The Academy Awards—better known as The Oscars—are on this Sunday. Niven’s streaker incident was hardly the first time that the Awards were used to showcase one’s, ahem, views. Nor would it be the last.

Actors have used their acceptance speeches to push political agendas. Marlon Brando sent a supposed Native American (it’s been widely suspected that she was merely another actor, ironically) to refuse to accept his Best Actor Award for “Godfather”, purportedly in protest of the country’s treatment of American Indians.

George C. Scott declined his Best Actor Oscar for “Patton” because he didn’t like the political machinations of the Awards themselves. So he stayed home and watched a hockey game. True story.

Woody Allen made news by deliberately declining to attend the Oscars when “Annie Hall” was up for Best Picture, so he could keep a weekly clarinet-playing date in a New York club.

Those are just a few examples.

Others have put their foot in their mouths accidentally in acceptance of their awards, blurting out curse words or other untoward, awkward things. 

And who can forget Sally Field’s, “You LIKE me! You really LIKE me!”?

Personally, I enjoy watching the Oscars, but mainly to pick them apart. I guess I’m masochistic that way.

I hope to be entertained and laugh along the way, however. With Ellen DeGeneres hosting this year, the odds of that happening are good.

I also look forward to the montage of those in the film industry who we lost since the last Oscars. Invariably there’s someone about who my wife and I will look at each other and say, “(Fill in the blank) DIED? I didn’t know that!”

Even the montage has angered me in the past. The omission of Farrah Fawcett several years ago still rankles me.

Yes, the ceremony is notorious for running long and some of the speeches are boring and still others will make you squirm a little, but there are also some kick-ass ones as well.

Watching the Oscars is probably like sitting in the kitchen and eating ice cream right out of the carton, but it only comes once a year, so view with impunity.

Now…if they could only move it to Saturday night. The damn thing goes past midnight and people have to work the next day, don’t you know!

Oh, and here’s the famous Niven clip.

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Feb
25

Second City’s First Man of Comedy

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There’s a certain delicate symmetry when a person’s birth city and death city are the same.

Harold Ramis has such a line on his biography.

Born: November 21, 1944; Chicago, IL.

Died: February 24, 2014; Chicago, IL.

Ramis, the comedic actor/director who passed away Monday from a rare and painful vascular disease, was as Chicago as wind, deep dish pizza and crooked elections. If you cracked him open you’d have found a Cubs cap and a megaphone.

Ramis was always smirking. He had that twinkle in his eye, as if he knew something you didn’t. When it came to movie making and laugh making, he did.

Ramis was one of the leaders of a band of merry men and women who yukked it up at the original Second City improvisational theater group in Chicago, starting in the late-1960s. He was hardly alone when it came to finding fame later, but his imprint on American filmmaking puts him near the head of the class.

Ramis’s first role on the big screen saw him smirking all the way through 1981′s “Stripes,” the comedy he co-wrote and starred in with Bill Murray, directed by Ivan Reitman. Three years later, Ramis again took to the typewriter—this time with co-star Dan Aykroyd—and wrote “Ghostbusters.”

As the years went on, Ramis found more fortune staying behind the scenes, writing killer dialogue, physical comedy and directing the same.

Ramis’s body of work as a writer and/or director reads like so many film critics’ Top 25 lists of comedy vehicles.

“Caddyshack”; “National Lampoon’s Vacation”; “Groundhog Day”; “Analyze This”; “Analyze That”; “Meatballs”; “Stripes”; “Ghostbusters”; “The Office” (TV); “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”

That’s some serious comedy, right there. Iconic stuff.

And, of course, there was the transformation of Second City’s magic of improv from stage to small screen, when Ramis was a lead writer in the 1970s and ’80s on “SCTV,” produced out of Canada, when Toronto joined Chicago as a major contributor of raw talent that would go on to bigger and better things.

You’ve heard of John Candy, right?

Ramis spun his work off “SCTV” and made his foray into film, and we laughed and laughed.


Harold Ramis: 1944-2014

In the “I am not making this up” department, Ramis once worked in a mental institution in St. Louis for seven months.

“(The experience) prepared me well for when I went out towork with actors,” Ramis once said. “People laugh when I say that, but it was actually very good training. And not just with actors; it was good training for just living in the world. It’s knowing how to deal with people who might be reacting in a way that’s connected to anxiety or grief or fear or rage. As a director, you’re dealing with that constantly with actors.”

Sadly, the man who brought us to tears of laughter and split our sides so often, had a painful and debilitating end as he battled his rare vascular disease.

Vasculitis develops when the body’s immune system turns on its network of veins and arteries. Blood vessels become inflamed, restricting the flow of blood or cutting it off entirely, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Ramis was first diagnosed a few years ago.

Coming from someone who should know, having worn both hats, Harold Ramis once gave his analysis of the roles of writer and director.

“I always claim that the writer has done 90 percent of the director’s work.”

However you choose to slice it, there’s no number crunching needed with this: Harold Ramis made people laugh.

Today, Chicago is a little less windy, the deep dish pizza a little colder. Even the Cubs are worse off.

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Feb
20

More Progress = Nothing is easy

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A few weeks ago, hurried and on my lunch break, I stepped into the Barnes and Noble bookstore in downtown Royal Oak. My goal was simple: purchase a newspaper.

Every Friday I cash my paycheck in Royal Oak and then take in lunch somewhere in town. But I’m one of these people who can’t eat alone if I don’t have something to read. Hence the newspaper.

My usual provider, the gas station by the bank, was out of papers, so I remembered B&N.

The bank took longer than usual, so the sands in the hourglass were dwindling. But hey, it’s only a newspaper, right?

The newspapers at B&N are located behind the cashier’s counter. They’re not self-serve.

So first I had to wait for a cashier, which knocked off precious seconds from my meal time. But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part came when I voiced my request.

“Detroit News,” please, I said to the college-aged cashier.

He retrieved it. I had my dollar ready, eager to pay, leave, and look for sustenance to jam down my throat.

He needed to scan the newspaper, and that took a few tries before it beeped.

“Are you a Rewards member?” he asked.

No, I am not, I told him, as I jabbed the dollar toward him.

“E-mail please?” he asked.

My jaw dropped.

“For a newspaper?”

He gave me a sheepish look. “I just want to see if you’re in the system.”

Again, I said, “For a newspaper?” although with much more irritation in my voice.

By this time I sort of tossed the dollar toward him. But he still clutched my newspaper, holding it hostage.

He could see that I was not a happy camper—my annoyance was hardly subtle—and he looked at his co-worker, as if unsure of what to do with a man who just wanted to buy a newspaper and who wasn’t a Rewards member and who didn’t want to provide his e-mail address in order to purchase said newspaper.

I had had enough.

“I’m in a hurry. Can I just please have my newspaper?” I said.

Finally he relinquished it.

Now, this entire exchange obviously took less time than it did for you to read about it, but when you’re in a hurry and all you want to do is buy a newspaper for one dollar and you can’t do it without being asked about memberships and e-mails, your stomach grumbling, each second translates to ten times its length.

Thankfully, my normal newspaper provider (gas station) hasn’t run out of papers since. And if they do, I’ll be damned if I wander into B&N to purchase one. I’ll do without, or try to find a box dispenser.

I love the gas station, by the way. I grab a paper, give the attendant a dollar, and walk away. If there is someone ahead of me in line who is buying cigarettes or lottery tickets (don’t get me started), I just put the dollar on the counter, wave my newspaper so it is seen, then walk away. The attendant has my back.

At the gas station they don’t need to scan the paper. At the gas station they don’t ask me any questions. All they do is take my dollar and tell me to have a nice day. I love the gas station.

But this inconvenience, such as displayed at B&N, is happening all over. The ability to make simple purchases without being asked to present membership cards or provide phone numbers and e-mail addresses is slipping away from us. K-mart asks if you want a paper receipt or one e-mailed to you—even if all you’re buying is a gallon of milk. And the answer you give can’t be verbal—it has to be registered on their debit card thingy.

But hey, this is progress, right?

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Feb
12

Hail Caesar

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Television was pretty much an extension of the theater when Sid Caesar first started showing up in the living rooms of America in the late-1940s.

The performances were shown to audiences much like you would see something live on stage—few if any close-ups, archaic blocking, everything horizontal. Not that you couldn’t deliver the goods shooting that way—just look at any “Honeymooners” episode.

But it was the work ethic that also translated from theater to early television. The shows may have been in front of cameras, but the players performed like it was Broadway—live and often.

Sid Caesar is gone. The year, just 43 days old, has already been unkind. We’ve lost legendary animator Arthur Rankin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and, on Monday, Shirley Temple Black.

Caesar was 91 when he slipped away today in California after a short illness.

Caesar lit it up every week, for 90 minutes no less, in “Your Show of Shows,” which was basically television’s first foray into sketch comedy.

Every Saturday night, from 9:00-10:30, Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris—plus several regular guest stars, put on what was essentially was a live variety show—39 weeks a year.

It was, truthfully, the original “Saturday Night Live.”

“YSOS” won a couple of Emmy Awards along the way, but its lasting imprint has nothing to do with hardware. The early-1950s was a great time to be on television if you had any bit of pioneer in you and cared to blaze some trails. And Caesar and his band of merry men (and women) did plenty of blazing in the four years that “YSOS” was on the air.

Writing for Sid Caesar was as important as performing with him. If you wanted a career in TV as a writer, you wanted to write for Caesar. He was television’s doorman for aspiring writers.

Reiner called upon his years of writing and performing on “YSOS” as inspiration for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which set many scenes in the writing office of Buddy Sorrell, Sally Rogers and Rob Petrie, who wrote for the bombastic, hard-to-please TV star Alan Brady (Reiner).

Sid Caesar was widely known in the 1950s as the best comedian in the world—TV, radio, movies, you name it. He had the rubber face, the gangly body and the New York-soaked voice that always went well with comedy.

It was Caesar and fellow comic Ernie Kovacs who looked at television as a block of clay with which to play, like children in a sandbox. Maybe the better analogy is pigs in slop, for the comedy of Caesar and Kovacs was hardly spic and span—in terms of props, physicality and creativity.

In “YSOS,” Caesar and Coca could be anyone from a squabbling married couple to an artist and his muse to two bums on the street. Always, they were scenery chewers but most importantly, always they were funny.

“Television had its share of comedy geniuses,” Los Angeles Times television critic Howard Rosenberg wrote in 1994. “Yet arguably none has been as uniquely gifted and inventive as Caesar. Watching him perform, you just know light bulbs are popping continuously in his brain.”

Caesar wasn’t as prolific on the big screen, though he did do memorable turns in films such as “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and Mel Brooks’ “History of the World: Part I.”

But movies weren’t Caesar’s milieu. He was a performer who needed the rush of going in front of a live audience, being beamed live into people’s homes, eschewing multiple takes, cue cards and TelePrompTers, which weren’t even around when Caesar came on the scene—not that he would have used them anyway.

It truly was the Golden Age of Television in Sid Caesar’s day. Lucille Ball, Jackie Gleason, Reiner and Kovacs were lock step with Caesar when it came to television comedy—all pioneers in their own way and all making their mark in this new medium that supplanted radio as the family’s watering hole of entertainment.

Caesar’s shtick included his famous “double talk” bits, in which he’d shamelessly combine languages, dialects and jargon with hilarious results. Thankfully, YouTube functions as our own personal Museum of Broadcasting History, so we can fire up a Caesar sketch 24/7.

There’s great irony in one of Sid Caesar’s quotes, coming as it did from a pioneering genius such as himself.

“The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot,” he once said. “The guy who invented the other three, he was a genius.”

That makes for some laughs, but Caesar invented the first wheel of sketch comedy. There was nothing idiotic about that.

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