Ginger Baker and Old School Phonographs

I was surfing the latest Netflix offerings and noticed a new one: Beware Mr. Baker. Turns out the title comes from a sign posted outside Ginger Baker’s South African Home.

If you’re asking: Who is Ginger Baker?, you are not a Cream fan. If you don’t know who or what Cream is, you’re not a Rock Music fan, and almost certainly are much younger than me.

Cream was a band that had huge success in the middle sixties and is considered the archetype for 3-man Power Rock bands, and Power Rock in general. If you don’t know what Power Rock is, I can’t help you, but Cream consisted of Eric Clapton on Guitar, Jack Bruce on Base, and Ginger Baker on Drums. Here’s the trailer from the Ginger Baker movie:

The band was named Cream by its members because they were considered the very best musicians in the world. You could say they weren’t particularly modest, but if you research it, you’ll find that many people who are knowledgeable about such things actually agree.

Eric Clapton is a living legend and needs little aggrandizing. Jack Bruce has been called the best bass player ever, not to mention a great songwriter (he wrote most all of Cream’s hits). Probably least known is Ginger Baker, who virtually disappeared in the seventies. He resurfaced from time to time, but never regained widespread recognition.

When Cream was famous, I heard a rumor that Ginger Baker had the internal organs of a seventy-five year old man. The cause of this condition? The incredible amount and scope of the drugs he was abusing — especially Speed. In those days I didn’t question how a doctor or anybody else could make such a determination, but it turned out the drug abusing part of the rumor was probably understated.

While checking out upcoming performances at B.B. King’s in New York, I did a double take when I saw that Ginger Baker was scheduled. It would be with a three-man jazz ensemble, which made sense because both he and Bruce considered themselves jazzmen first. Not wanting to pass up a chance to see an original member of legendary Cream, I bought a ticket.

Here’s a little movie about it:

We didn’t get to see Ginger go off on any insane tirades, but he did tell the first guy who shouted something out to shut up. Though I doubt Ginger had the strength to mount any kind of attack on the guy, the call-out was enough to put an end to further interruptions from the peanut gallery.

I’m not much of a jazz fan, but I enjoyed the performance. Watching Ginger Baker drum at all was a treat, but I have to admit I left wishing I’d gotten to see him play when he was in his prime.

Everything reminds me of something else

The first Cream record I bought was called Disraeli Gears, which is said to come from a roadie’s malapropism. Seems Clapton was telling Baker that he was getting a new bicycle, and a roadie piped in that it came with Disraeli Gears. As Disraeli was a British Prime Minister in the 19th Century, what he had meant to say was “derailleur gears,” which in the sixties were a recent development, uncommon and expensive.  The band found it funny and decided it would make a good title for their second album.

Disraeli Gears was recorded in New York City in less than four days. It was produced by future Mountain bass player Felix Pappalardi, who with wife Gail co-wrote the song Strange Brew, which is on the album. (Sadly, in 1983, Gail shot Felix dead, and was charged with second degree murder. She spent almost two years in jail after pleading guilty to a lesser charge.)

The album was released in 1967 and was a huge record for Cream. It had a couple of gigantic hits on it, including Sunshine of your love. I remember listening to this record in my bedroom on a player that was a self contained unit. For storage, the turntable flipped up and the speakers on each side folded over it. In this position, there were clasps to hold everything shut — which made it somewhat portable. In a way, it was the nineteen-sixties version of an iPod. They looked something like this:

Sixties version of an iPod

Sixties version of an iPod

I would turn up the volume to ten and lean into the space between the speakers to try to get the full effect of the stereo separation. This was a time when headphones were worn by professionals in radio and television studios, not by young, pimply-faced Long Island teenagers.

If you look closely, you’ll see an arm extending over the turntable. Its purpose was to allow music lovers to pile up their vinyl records at the top of the spindle. When each record was done playing, the stylus lifted from the platter, moved out of the way and allowed the next record to be dropped onto the turntable. The stylus would then index to the beginning of the album, which allowed for a couple hours of uninterrupted play.

This was considered an unbelievable technological achievement — as long as you were willing to accept that the machine would scratch and eventually render all your records unlistenable. Most people didn’t seem to mind, but it was probably because they didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late.

As archaic as these contraptions now look, the way of playing recorded music didn’t fundamentally change until the introduction of the iPod and other digital media players in 2001. The intervening years were occupied by expanded use of magnetic tape (Eight Track, Cassettes) and Cd’s — which still moved the recorded media across some kind of sensor — so very analog.

Not to worry: Almost everything from those days has been re-mastered and is available digitally — and that includes Disraeli Gears and everything else Cream did — a great portion of which still holds up rather well.

Till next time.

B-17’s and Model Airplanes

For quite a while now, they’ve been flying vintage aircraft into a nearby airshow and making rides available to the general public.  For just as long, I’ve been meaning to go on one but haven’t gotten off my duff to do it — until last weekend!

What follows is the tale of my finally driving the twenty-five minutes over to Teterboro Airport and getting on the Yankee Lady, an honest-to-goodness B-17 Bomber from World War II.

Everything Reminds me of something else

From an early age, I was interested in building scale models, usually of battleships and airplanes, including the B-17. I haven’t bought a model in a long time, but I suspect the plastic parts still look like this:

All the parts are molded together using what is called a "Cold Runner."

All the parts are molded together using what is called a “Cold Runner.”

The first thing you do is break the pieces out of the runner system and then glue them together. I was about six when I built my first model—which was an aircraft carrier—and one of the first things I learned (the hard way) is that too much glue is far worse than not enough.

For a memory that’s over fifty years old, I can still almost see the special cement oozing from the seam between two parts of the assembly when pressed together. My father would try to wipe the excess away, but it was nearly impossible because the chemicals in the glue partially dissolved the plastic, which discolored and distorted it.

model_on_stand

Model with paint, on a display mount — not mine!

Each kit usually had some special components, either clear plastic that was used for windows, or in the case of automobiles, red plastic that was used for taillights. These pieces were especially ruined by over application of glue, because it would fog up their transparency.

Special paints were offered in little glass bottles with metal screw caps, which you had to apply with fine point brushes. I was content to just put the pieces together, but I always applied the decals that came with the models. They were printed on clear plastic and mounted on wax paper that you dunked in water until you could slide them off and onto the model. Getting these things into position was not the easiest thing in the world.

Another thing I remember was the smell of the special glue, and warnings that it was never to be used in an unventilated area. I wasn’t told this then, but it was to keep me from getting high on the fumes.

It’s astonishing to me that airplane glue still contains dangerous chemicals that merit very serious package warnings. Just about anybody of any age can go into the store and purchase these products. I would’ve thought that in all this time safer replacements would have been found, but apparently not.

As we’ve moved to a virtual world, fewer and fewer young kids are building models—which is too bad. There is something about holding the physical pieces and assembling them that no virtual reality—no matter how sophisticated—can replace.

The business is still alive, primarily driven by adult enthusiasts who are making some pretty sophisticated models. Building one sounds like it might be kind of fun.

Till next time.

The Cyclone and The Warriors

Can I ride forever?

When I posted on my visit to Coney Island to watch the Polar Bear Club take their annual New Year’s dip, I mention that I was resolved to return there and ride the Cyclone Roller Coaster. Well I did, and here’s a movie about my little hometown adventure:

Everything reminds me of something else

In 1979, a movie named The Warriors was made, and its since become a cult favorite. It follows the adventures of a bunch of New York Theme Gangs who for reasons I won’t go into here are chasing the Warriors, a gang that happens to hail from Coney Island!

It’s based on Sol Yurick’s 1965 novel, which is loosely based on an ancient Greek story called Anabasis, which I am not familiar with and offer the factoid for those that are. The most concise movie review I saw on Rotten Tomatoes was by reviewer Bob Stinson, who offered: “Welcome Back Kotter meets A Clockwork Orange.” Nearly perfect.

So what’s a Theme Gang you ask? How about guys dressed up in baseball uniforms (nice until you see them swinging their bats at people’s heads), calypso dancers, suspendered mimes with top hats, a bunch of black dudes wearing satiny Kung Fu fighting robes (I think), and a group of gum–snapping, tough talking city girls who can probably kick all their asses.

Here are some scenes that didn’t make it into the original movie, but I’m including them because of several great shots of the Coney Island boardwalk, many with the Cyclone in the background.

The movie presages the whole dystopian craze that’s overtaken popular American literature and entertainment. Best of all, it is a travelogue through seamier NY, and what it looked like in the late seventies. I’ll leave you with the movie’s trailer:

Till next time,

Joe

Joe

 

Skyscrapers and Trench Coats

Lever House as shot from the Seagram's Building Plaza

Lever House as shot from the Seagram’s Building Plaza

Lever House was the second glass-box skyscraper built in New York, designed by adherents of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s International style of architecture. It was completed in 1952, and was the second to utilize a curtain wall exterior (the United Nations was the first). It has an innovative courtyard and public space, and a relatively small, glass enclosed lobby at street level. I spent a lot of time inside this building in the eighties, and snapped this picture last Saint Patrick’s day.

Lever House marked the transition of Park Avenue from a boulevard of masonry apartment buildings to one of glass, big-company office towers. It was declared a NYC Landmark in 1982, and went on the National Register the following year.

It was the pet project of Lever Brothers president Charles Luckman, who was described by most as a bona fide wunderkind. He left Lever prior to the building’s completion and returned to his first love — architecture, and boy, did he! He designed Madison Square Garden, the Aon Center in L.A., buidlings for the Kennedy and Johnson Space Centers and was part of the team that built that space-shippy looking building at LAX.

The Seagram Building

Across Park Avenue and on the south side of 53rd street stands the Seagram Building. Up until the early nineteen hundreds, it was where Steinway pianos were built. It is another building where I spent some time, but more about that later.

It was completed in 1958, and its primary design was by none other than Mies van der Rohe. This photo was taken at its base from its much admired plaza.

Seagram Building

Seagram Building

It was built on a steel frame from which non-structural glass walls were hung. Mies felt the building should externally articulate its physical structure and wanted its frame to be visible — but NYC building codes required that it be covered in fireproof material. That would ruin the esthetic, so to give the impression of an exposed frame, he applied non-structural, bronze-toned I-beams to the outside.

Phyllis LambertIt is thirty–eight stories tall and is among the finest examples of the functionalist aesthetic and corporate modernism. It would have been more ordinary hadn’t the CEO’s daughter involved herself in its planning. Recently divorced and studying art in Paris, Phyllis Lambert heard of her father’s plans to build what she considered a totally unremarkable company headquarters. She sent him a letter arguing for a more notable building, and convinced him to change his mind. Being the bosses daughter has its advantages, and she had the opportunity to work with Mies on the project, which led to her becoming an accomplished architect.

Like Lever House, the edifice has had enormous influences on American architecture.

Everything reminds me of something else

Trench CoatIn the early eighties, everyone was wearing Trench Coats, many of which were made by a company called London Fog.

In those days, Seagram Distilling used to have an annual Christmas party which was held in a large ballroom at their corporate headquarters on Park Avenue. Bars were set up in all four corners, and of course there was plenty of booze and non-stop delivery of quality Hors d’oeuvres. At the time, it was considered pretty lavish.

In the lobby were rows of self-serve coatracks for the hundreds of guests that attended, which was where I hung my beige London Fog before joining the party.

The affair was scheduled to end at eight or nine, but the group I was with wanted to leave early. I didn’t want to go, but for some reason felt compelled to leave with them. When I went to retrieve my coat, to my dismay I discovered that it was gone. It was late December and rainy and cold, so I needed a coat — not to mention that I didn’t want to buy a new one. 

But then inspiration struck. Rather than just steal some other poor slob’s coat (I admit, it crossed my mind), I would stay at the party until only one trench coat remained. That way, I’d have a coat for the trip across town, and maybe there would be a nametag or something inside that would allow me to contact its owner and arrange a switch. You never know.

As an added benefit, I got to stand around the bar for another hour or two, eating fancy Hors d’oeuvres, drinking top shelf liquor and having a delightful time. As the night wore on, the crowd thinned and I periodically checked the coatracks. Finally, with a few stragglers remaining, only one was left.

I could tell something was wrong the moment I lifted it from the rack: it was way too light. When I put it on, the sleeve was tight and came nearly to my elbow. As I struggled to put my other arm in, I could feel the fabric stretching across my back, and I half expected to rip it open like when David Banner changed into the Incredible Hulk. I could only secure a button or two, and its length reach only to mid-thigh. I looked ridiculous, but wearing it was my only option.

Wet and frozen, I made my way to the Port Authority and silently cursed the drunken fool who I imagined staggering down the streets of New York, dragging my coat behind him like a bride’s train, its sleeves so long they would have covered his freaky little hands and made buttoning it impossible. How could he have mistaken my coat for his? He was the size of a ten year old!

But I made it home and before discarding it, thoroughly checked it for any scrap of paper that might lead me to its owner. I so wanted to talk to this guy. Maybe he could say something that would explain everything — something I hadn’t considered. Sadly, there would be no such explanation — the pockets were empty.

Joe

 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saint Patrick’s Day

The first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City took place in 1766, and was organized by the Irish members of two British Regiments that were stationed there, organizing themselves into The Society of the Friendly Brothers of St. Patrick.

Their observances included military men and civilians, who would toast the King (of England, damn it!), as well as the prosperity of Ireland — at least until the American Revolution started.

As the Irish population grew in New York, the celebrations spread to various parts of the city, and yes, to bars and taverns. The “Marching Tradition” took hold when different Catholic parishes around the city organized processions from their churches to the original Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, which was downtown on Mott Street.

Interestingly, the old cathedral was once attacked by Know-Nothing nativists, which led to a number of riots and other physical exchanges. Part of what led to the friction was a book supposedly written by a young, mentally challenged woman (I’m not making this up), who had converted to Catholicism and purportedly was forced by nuns to have sex with priests for the purpose of providing newborns for some kind of bizarre sacrificial ritual.

Like the Know-Nothings of today, no evidence was required for believing these ranting, leaving them to conclude that the only logical course was to attack the cathedral. They didn’t reckon that the parish fathers might resist, which they did — firing their muskets through holes hastily cut through the church’s outer walls. To keep a watchful eye on the premises, soon afterward the Ancient Order of Hibernians set up headquarters across the street.

It was the Hibernians who In 1891 laid out the parade route that’s still followed, which runs up Fifth Avenue to Central Park, and passed in front of the new St. Patrick’s cathedral in midtown.

Even though there are no floats, autos or exhibits, over 150,000 people march. That would be like lining up every man, woman and child in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and marching them a couple of miles — many in bizarre costumes, some playing archaic musical instruments while others dance. To top it off: they get it done in about six hours.

I’ve gone to the parade before, but usually watched for only a little while because I was supposed to be doing something else — like working.

This year, I decided to make a special trip and bring the camera. The scale of the parade really is astonishing, and it’s amazing that it goes on while all other business in New York proceeds with little disruption.

This year it was very cold, and despite some shivering, I managed to get some interesting shots of the marchers, and a few of the LGBT protestors.

The parade allows no political groups to march, so in effect they ban any group that isn’t concerned in some way with Irish Heritage. I’m not sure they’ll ever change these rules (as the Irish are known for being a bit stubborn), but it is ironic that the parade has become as much a platform for dialog over inclusion, as it is for being a fine way of displaying one’s Irishness.

Here’s the slide show:

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Everything Reminds me of Something Else

I included a picture of New York City landmark bar, P.J. Clarks. Part of my plan was to stop in on my way home for a Pint of Guinness, which would be keeping with a tradition of at least having a pint of Guinness (but not necessarily at P.J. Clark’s).

Alas, the bar was packed to the rafters with similarly minded revelers and I just wasn’t in the mood for fighting my way to the bar. Instead I partook at another pub over on First Avenue, which I would not have done had I known that it would be served to me in a plastic cup.

A beautiful Pint

A beautiful Pint

Guinness Stout is never to be served in a plastic cup, but if there is one day above all others when it should not be, that day is St. Patrick’s day — and they charged me eight bucks, too, which really got my Irish up (which believe me, is none too fearsome).

Did you know that a true vegetarian will not drink Guinness Stout, no matter what kind of glass it’s in? It’s true.

When brewing beer, there’s a process called fining where unwanted solids are removed. To quicken the process, certain agents which are called finings are added to the brew (it’s done in making wine, too), which absorb these solids and are then filtered out of the final product.

I’ve written before how a recipe change can sink you in the brewing business, and this is especially true of a product like Guinness that has a near mythical aura surrounding it. Wisely, the brewers of the product are in no rush to make any changes, so they’ve been making it pretty much the same way since 1759.

The fining Guinness uses in its beer is called isinglass, which is made from dried swim bladder, which is an internal fish organ that helps the creature regulate its buoyancy in water. As a result, a really, really dedicated vegetarian will avoid drinking Guinness Stout.

It hasn’t kept me from having a Guinness from time to time (alright, probably a bit more often than from time to time), but I’m not a vegetarian. I try not to think about the isinglass, as its image wants to crowd out the normal, pleasant evocations brought forth by the black, white-foamed brew, and dampen them with disagreeable memories of cutting bait.

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day!

Joe

Spare Tires and Last Tangos in Paris

The car wasn’t rolling like it usually does, and it didn’t sound right. Just a half-block from home, I pulled over and did a walk-around. The front-right tire was nearly flat, but I got it home. Before swapping out the spare, I tried inflating it and was surprised when it stayed hard. I didn’t see or feel a nail, and hoped that that maybe a pothole or curb-strike was to blame.

Sunday morning it still looked fine, but after picking up some bagels, I came out of the store and saw it was dead flat. With no choice, I popped the trunk and went to work. I was a little surprised that I had a full-sized spare, an option that’s becoming less common due to weight and space requirements.

Only half the people who get flats actually endeavor to change them themselves. Usually they call Triple A or somebody else.

A lot of cars come with temporary spares, sometimes called “donut” tires. Am I being overly picky by observing that any tire could be so described? Doesn’t matter, but these kinds of spares are smaller and lighter, and can’t be driven for long.

Others cars are equipped with “drive-flat” tires, which as the name implies, allows for getting the vehicle off the road under its own power. This appeals to me as there are plenty of places where it is not advisable to change a tire. Sometimes it’s the neighborhood, but often its the proximity to speeding cars that don’t give a damn if they leave you as flat as your tire.

Another approach car manufacturers are taking is the tire repair kit. They used to sell products like this, with names like: “Spare in a Can,” or something like that, which I’m pretty sure didn’t work very well — if at all.

The new approach is that the kit includes a small compressor that plugs into the cigarette lighter (God help you if your battery is also dead). It includes some sticky, rubbery spray that you squirt into the tire before using the compressor, which allows you to drive home, safe and sound.

It saves a lot of weight and space, is much easier than jacking up your car, but there is a significant drawback: it doesn’t work if the hole is too big or on the sidewall, which is about 15% of the time. So, you might want to keep that Triple A membership active.

Old school tire jack

In days of yore, a car would be jacked up by hooking a device onto its bumper. Trying something like that on a modern bumper would quickly result in a full reveal of what is hidden by what passes for bumpers these days, and a giant piece of cracked plastic that will cost upwards of $1,500 to replace.

The modern tire jack is much smaller and lighter, and slides underneath the chassis. It’s called a scissor jack, which doesn’t make a lot of sense to me because you raise it by turning a crank.

Scissor Jack

Scissor Jack

I admit, It’s pretty cool that you can lift a car by turning a crank, but the bad thing about it is that you have to get on your knees and align it at the right place under the chassis. If you don’t do this properly, you can mess up your car and really, really wish you called Triple A to do it.

Everything reminds me of something else

In 1972, Marlon Brando starred in a movie called Last Tango in Paris. It  was a worldwide sensation because it contained nudity and somewhat explicit sex scenes between Brando’s, Paul, and his costar, Maria Schneider. It was one of the first legitimate movies with a real star that ventured into such taboo subject matter. Schneider was 20 when she made the movie, which was the same age I was when I saw it. Brando was 48 and struck me as being pretty old — now, not so much.

Paul is a recent American widower whose wife has committed suicide. Schneider’s character, Jeanne, is a carefree Parisian girl who is soon to be married. They meet at an apartment that’s for rent and have a sexual encounter, after which they agree to return for ongoing trysts.

Paul is a sad and damaged person who is wracked by guilt and shame over his wife’s death. Through their depersonalized and often depraved sex, he vents his suffering and grief upon the inexplicably compliant Schneider, who seems an almost indifferent spectator of her own debasement.

Paul insists they keep things anonymous, to the point where they don’t even know each other’s names, another demand Jeanne goes along with — but in spite of the rule, they can’t help but reveal more and more about themselves.

There are quite a few interpretations of the movie, but one thing that’s pretty well agreed upon is Brando’s acting put him in the running for being one of the greatest screen actors ever.

Toward the end of the movie, Paul deserts Jeanne, but then returns, this time treating her much better and expressing his love and a desire to get married. He starts telling her about himself, and this is when he says something that the flat tire reminded me of:

“I picked up a nail when I was in Cuba in nineteen forty-eight, and now I have a prostate like an Idaho potato. I’m still a pretty good stick man, even if I can’t have any kids.”

What an odd admission! (The urban dictionary defines picking up a nail as catching a venereal disease, and I’ll leave the definition of stick man to the reader’s imagination.) Here’s the scene — I’m afraid you have to watch the commercial, but it’s not too long. To get back to this page, use your browser’s back arrow.

Me again

In the dance hall there’s a tango competition taking place and the couple gets very drunk. At first it looks like they’re going to end up together, but for reasons that are unclear, Jeanne decides she doesn’t want to see him anymore. Here’s the dance hall scene:

The movie is over forty years old, so there’s no harm in exposing that it ends with her shooting Brando dead — and it’s just after she tells him her name. As she waits for the police to come, she’s heard practicing her lines: saying that she didn’t know who he was and that he was threatening her.

All and all, quite a period piece from the seventies, and they sure don’t make ‘em like that anymore.

All the best until next time.

Wild in the Streets

It’s fascinating how people who the gods smile upon sometimes reject the bounty the world is so eager to bestow.

Nineteen-sixties actor, Christopher Jones died this past January at the age of 72 from complications brought about by cancer. He bore a likeness to James Dean and is said to have been fascinated by him at an early age. I became aware of him when he starred in the movie Wild in the Streets, which is a low budge, bizarre film where the Jones character becomes President of the United States, after which he locks up everyone over thirty and forcefeeds them LSD — from water coolers! Here’s the trailer:

Shelley Winters, Hal Holbrook, Ed Begley and Richard Prior were in it. I didn’t realize it when I saw it, but the whole thing was more or less a total joke.

Christopher Jones was born in 1941 without any semblance of a silver spoon in his mouth. In Jackson, Tennessee, he lived above the grocery store where his father was a checkout clerk. His mother was a artist who was plagued by mental instability and ended up in a mental hospital when he was three — and lived there until she died in 1960.

He was sent to an aunt’s house, who later pawned him and his brother off to an orphanage in Memphis. He lived there until he was fifteen, at which time he took up with a married, eighteen year old woman with two kids. He said that he realized then that women liked him. What took him so long?

chris2

I realized women liked me

He deserted her after awhile, and joined the army — which lasted two days before he went AWOL. He stole a car and headed for New Orleans, and then New York to turn himself in. He spent six months in military prison on Governors Island off the tip of Manhattan.

When he got out, he took up with another married woman who’s husband was in jail for peddling marijuana. He began studying painting and sculpting with artist Edward Melcarth, who by then was a pretty notable artist and was almost certainly attracted to the younger man.

An actor friend introduced Christopher to Producer Frank Corsaro, who taught at the Actors Studio and had been a friend and mentor to James Dean. In 1961,Corsaro cast him in a minor role of a Broadway play he was producing, which initially starred Bette Davis, who was replaced by Shelley Winters, who also took a shine to Christopher.

Winters introduced him to Actor’s Studio Founder Lee Strasberg’s daughter, Susan, who he ultimately married, but it didn’t go well. He later admitted to hitting her — and then there was the accidental discharge of a shotgun in their apartment.

He got his first TV role in 1963, playing a member of a street gang in an episode of East Side, West Side, and by 1965, landed the starring role in the TV series The Legend of Jesse James. It lasted only one season because of ratings competition from The Lucy Show and Dr. Kildare.

Wild in the Streets (1968) was his breakout role, which led to another exploitation movie Three in the Attic. He did two movies in Europe before getting the lead in David Lean’s Ryan’s daughter, which began filming in March of 1969.

Filmed in Ireland, it took a year to make — which was twice as long as it was supposed to. There were reports of friction between Lean and Jones, and though it was panned by critics, it made money, which is all that matters in, well…everything.

At the top of his career, when he returned to Los Angels he quit pursuing movie roles. Except for a three minute cameo in 1996, he never got in front of the camera again. In later interviews, he revealed that he and Sharon Tate had had an affair prior to his leaving for Ireland, and her murder played a role in his having a nervous breakdown.

For awhile in the seventies, he lived in a hotel on Sunset Blvd. and could be seen slumming around the Sunset Strip. He had a house in the Hollywood Hills, and moved to the San Fernando Valley with another woman, with whom he had a child and devoted himself. He also refocused on his artwork.

In the 1980’s that relationship went south and he was set adrift. With his movie money gone, he was left to rely on his friends for living arrangements until he met Paula McKenna, with whom he had four kids. After ten years, he moved on once again.

Christopher Jones was one of those guys who got a lot of slack from everybody because he was one of those lucky, usually handsome and charismatic guys the world can’t get enough of — no matter what they do.

Everything Reminds me of Something Else

Me and a group of friends went to see Wild in Streets at the Bay Shore Theater (the one that was kitty-corner to Saint Patrick’s Church on Main Street). There used to be a guy who stood outside the theater and as people were leaving, he would ask them for a cigarette. I always thought that was an odd approach, since he probably would’ve done better if he asked for money.

Another thing I remember about this theater is a show that Newsday once put on there for all its paperboys, which I was for four or five years (girls were not yet granted the privilege of doing this crappy, mostly thankless work).

It was sort of a paperboy appreciation rally, where we could eat all the popcorn we wanted, and fill up on sodas and candy. They had a rock band, and the lead singer told us a joke that still comes to mind:

A guy is working behind the counter at a restaurant and a nasty woman patron keeps demanding, “Make me a hamburger. Make me a hamburger.” After awhile the guy — who unbeknownst to her has supernatural powers — gets fed up and says: “Poof, you’re a hamburger,” whereupon the woman is changed into a hamburger.

This joke was used to lead into the song Do you Believe in Magic, by the Lovin’ Spoonful.

At that time, Newsday cost a nickel each, and we only delivered it Mondays thru Fridays. They had a Saturday paper, but if you wanted one, you had to go buy it, probably because the carriers couldn’t handle the much thicker Saturday edition. Most of us had this kind of basket on our bikes:

bike basketWhen it was filled with papers, it wasn’t real easy to hold steady, and I remember falling over on many occasions, the worst being windy days when you had to get a hand on the papers before they blew all over the place.

It’s been said that doing this kind of work is good because you learn a lot about running a business. I don’t know about that, but I did learn one very important lesson and that is: Far too many people are no damned good.

How did I learn this? By the number of people willing to give me a quarter when I came to “Collect” for the week’s delivery. I mean, for Christ’s sake, I hand carried their paper to their front door five days a week! Isn’t that worth something extra?

Not to these soulless, pitiful mounds of flesh, who were only slightly more reprehensible than those willing to pry an extra nickel from their rusty purses and pay $.30. People who paid $.35 barely entered the realm of marginal acceptability. The truly admirable members of the human race were the ones who always paid fifty cents, usually with two fine looking quarters. They also usually gave me five bucks for Christmas.

May God have a special place in heaven for them.

Cheers!

Shaefer Beer

There was a joke that used to go something like this: What kind of beer did the Doctor recommend to the woman who was going to have twins? Answer: Schaefer, because it’s the one beer to have when you’re having more than one.

If you’re of a certain age and lived in the New York Metropolitan area, you remember this little bit of advice because it was oft repeated in highly polished ads like this:

In the nineteen sixties and early seventies, it was the rare New York bar, deli or restaurant that didn’t display a neon Schaefer sign. They promoted on television and magazines, using movie stars and celebrities. Schaefer sponsored the Brooklyn Dodgers before they left the borough, and there was even a Schaefer pavilion at the World’s Fair in 1964.

What happened to it?

Schaefer History

Brothers Frederick and Maximilian Schaefer started brewing in Manhattan in 1842. They started small, but stepped it up when they moved to what was then considered the “sticks:” Fifty-first Street and Park Avenue. In 1915, Maximilian’s son, Rudolf, realized they were sitting on a real estate fortune and sold the property — part of which was to Saint Bartholomew’s Church, which is still there and became the focus of a high profile, potential real estate deal and ensuing controversy.

Schaefer built a new brewery in Brooklyn, but the passage of Prohibition in 1920 put a crimp in their plans. They kept the brewery running, producing “near beer,” and some other stuff like dyes and artificial ice — the latter being cited in most research articles about Schaefer, though how can you have artificial ice is? Isn’t all ice, ice?

When Rudolph passed away in 1923, control of the company passed to his sons, with Rudolph Jr., eventually becoming president. When Prohibition was repealed on April 7, 1933, he had already launched an extensive advertising campaign that solidified the company’s dominance in the New York market.

By 1944, they were selling over 2,000,000 barrels of beer annually, which at the time was unheard of. Beginning in 1950, they expanded out of their home market with mixed results, but their most dramatic move was in 1971, when they built a ultra-modern brewery just outside of Allentown, Pa.

It was so efficient, they no longer needed their other breweries, which they began shutting down. The most noteworthy closing came in January of 1976, when they announced the shuttering of their Brooklyn plant, which brought to a close a 134 year association with NY City.

It was this decision that really sealed the company’s fate. New Yorker beer drinkers — like most beer drinkers of their day — were loyal, but not to out-of-towners. With the geographical connection severed, there was no longer any reason for their allegiance.

At the same time, there were tectonic changes afoot in the beer industry. Large regionals like Schaefer and Rheingold (and Piels, Schmidt’s, Hamms, Old Style, Lone Star, Blatz, etc.) came under attack by the growing national brands like Budweiser, Schlitz and Miller. It was grow or die, and Schaefer was fading. In 1981, it was purchased by a large Midwest brewer, Stroh’s, who hoped that together they could achieve the critical mass necessary to compete. It wasn’t to be and in 1999, Stroh’s was purchased by Pabst.

Still Around

Since the demise of Schaefer and others like it, breweries continued to grow larger through acquisition and merger, with their tentacles extending around the globe. Even US behemoth Budweiser wasn’t too big to get absorbed into beer juggernaut, AB Inbev.

At the same time, craft brewing exploded. Practically everywhere you go, there’s a local brew pub that produces quality beer by the thousands — not millions — of barrels per year. It’s almost a throwback to the days when one of the joys of traveling in America was to sample the local brew.

Somewhere in the middle are the lost brands of yore. As it turns out, after purchasing Stroh’s, Pabst Brewing continued acquiring similar, regional breweries, and producing the beers with their original recipes.

Schaefer Coaster

Schaefer Coaster

Thanks to this company, a twelve-pack of Schaefer turned up in the cooler of my local liquor store, sporting its distinctive logo with the sprig of barely in silhouette in the background.

I made the purchase, noting that it was quite a bit less expensive than the heavily promoted national brands, and to a greater extent than the imports and pricier new domestic premiums like Sam Adams.

It had been a very long while since I’d last sampled this once iconic brew, but if my taste memory is still in tact (and I think it is), it seems to me that they got it about right.

Everything Reminds me of something Else

Orig_Jones_BeachThe Jones Beach Marine Theater opened in 1952, and was one of Robert Moses’s pet projects. It was unique because of the moat that separated the stage from the on-shore audience. This arrangement allowed for “in-water” performances, but made floor seating impossible and created a gigantic separation between stage and audience. The set-up was so impractical, actors and musicians were ferried by barge and dinghy to and from the stage.

It was conceived as a venue for musical plays, with music provided by Moses’s friend, Guy Lombardo and his orchestra. Guy was famous for his very square, televised New Year’s Eve celebrations, broadcast live from the Waldorf Astoria Ballroom. His final concert at Jones Beach was in 1977, and in the eighties, the theater evolved into the major Rock and Roll venue that it is today — newly branded The Nikon Jones Beach Theater.

I don’t recall what I’d gone to see, but it was a musical and Guy Lombardo was playing. This was in the early seventies, so the moat was still there. Even looking through youthful eyes, everything seemed too far away — I mean, the stage was on an island for Christ’s sake! But that was okay, because what I remember really looking forward to was going to the Schaefer beer tent after the show, which was set up for the expressed purpose of dancing and drinking beer — and I repeat: after the show.

What you have to understand about the Jones Beach Theater is that it is on a barrier beach, accessible by crossing narrow bridges that connect to the Long Island mainland. I suppose some people arrived by bus, but my guess is that most theater or concert goers arrived in private automobile, which they would have to drive home after throwing back a few in the tent, and perhaps doing a little dancing to burn it off.

I don’t have an independent memory of actually drinking a Schaefer beer in their famous tent. I remember it being there, but I think it was closed for some reason. It would have been okay for me to order one up, as the legal drinking age at the time was eighteen.

new Jones BeachThe Jones Beach Theater changed a lot over the years. Firstly, the moat was filled in and orchestra seating was added. Secondly, an upper level was added, bringing seating capacity to 15,000. Huge video screens flank both sides of the stage, which is good because there is still too much space between the original seating and the stage. If you’re planning to go, I recommend paying up and sitting where the moat once was.

So…What?

No one understands why or how, but occasionally large groups of people start doing the same thing, or liking it, or wearing it, or eating it, or believing it.

Beginning a few years ago, I noticed that when some people were asked a question, they started their answers with “so.” It probably started on the Sunday morning talk shows, and then spread across the rest of the broadcast media until you can now expect it if you ask someone for the time: So, it’s…eleven thirty.

There’s nothing new about using “filler” words at the beginning of an answer, the theory being that the speaker is stalling for time. It’s like the old grammar school ruse of beginning an answer by repeating and embellishing the teacher’s question.

Teacher: Mr. Nolan, can you explain the three primary exports of Bolivia?

Me: Yes. The three primary exports of Bolivia, a South American country whose climate is similar to ours, are : bauxite, fresh cut flowers and anchovies.

Teacher (shaking head ruefully): Please sit down Mr. Nolan.

(This shows that the slight pause only helps if you know the answer and just need a little extra time to dig it out of memory.)

The most popular filler word at the beginning of a sentence is “Well,” which doesn’t make sense when you consider that the word is meant to denote a favorable condition, state of being or outcome — or a place from which to draw water.

The people who write dictionaries acknowledge this in their most subordinate citations by saying: It’s employed when pausing to consider one’s next words.

True enough, but that could apply to any of the similarly used non-words, such as “Hmmm,” and “Uhh,” the latter of which we learn pretty early-on to avoid because there’s always some little prick eager to mock us by making us sound like Lenny from Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

I asked around a bit to see if any of my acquaintances were aware of the “so” trend, and got the feeling that this change had passed unnoticed into the culture — but I was wrong. As far back as 2010, a few publications took note.

The New York Times article offered a few explanations. Linguistics scholar, Galina Bolden, opined that it’s about the culture of empathy, and its use signals that your explanation has been chosen for its relevance to the listener. Maybe for some, but I don’t think there are too many people thinking that much about what’s relevant to anyone except themselves.

Another theory is that it started in Silicone Valley and has something to do with how computer programmers answer questions, and the growing influence of our data-driven culture. The writer of the piece, Anand Giridharada, opined that it’s use has the “whiff of logic to relay authority,” and conveys an “algorithmic certitude that suggests there is a right answer, which the evidence dictates and which must not be contradicted.”

That sounds logical and leads nicely into what Ben Yagoda wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2011, that when people use it, the underlying message is: “I understand the question and how it displays your incomplete knowledge of the subject. What follows is an answer that will help you comprehend what’s really going on and, in addition, suggest a unified theory of the reality.”

I’m sure some people are consciously trying to impart such a message when they start answers with “so,” but most aren’t that guileful. I tend to agree with Doctor Penelope Gardner-Chloros, from the department of applied linguistics and communication at London’s Birkbeck College, who was quoted in the Spectator: “We accommodate, and converge with the group of people we want to belong to. Someone using “so” like this may well be doing it because they’ve heard other people doing it. It spreads like the flu.”

Pharrell Williams Hat

This hat speaks for itself

So, in other words, people do this for the same reason they do almost everything: they want to fit in. The way we talk has a fashion of its own, with phrases and expression going in and out of style. It’s no different than running out for one of those traffic-stopping Smokey Bear hats that Pharrell William’s wore to the Grammy’s. We have the idea that conformity is all that stands between ourselves and the acceptance of our peers.

Everything reminds me of something else

When we were kids, sometimes you’d say something to a playmate and they would answer: “So?” which was intended as an insult. For example:

Me: Hey, Steve, my uncle is going to take me to the Yankees game this Friday.

Steve: So?

This is kid-speak for “I don’t give a damn,” or “Who gives a you-know-what?” The best way to reply to this slight (even as an adult — especially as an adult!) is to smile and answer calmly: “Go sew your mother’s girdle.”

Of course, this is kid-speak for “F” You, and I so treasure the few opportunities I get these days to employ it.

One last thing, the cartoon above is from the film Of Fox and Hounds, which came out in 1940, which was voiced by Tex Avery and Mel Blanc. It’s the first time Tex Avery used characters based around George and Lenny of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

All the best,

Joe

Pizza, Lou Malnati’s, Facebook and the NSA

People get emotional over many things that have no bearing or effect on anything important. I have fond memories of heated, teenage arguments over who was better: The Rolling Stones or The Beatles. Many people self actualize through the performance of a favored sports team, even though its success or failure has no impact on their own.

Food’s another thing people get parochial over. Friendships have been terminated over who makes the best clam chowder, barbeque, gumbo, chili, pasties or chow mien. Disagreements over pizza have a tendency to get heated, sometimes with one party going so far as rejecting the very legitimacy of what the other guy claims pizza to be.

A Facebook friend posted John Stewart’s rant about deep dish pizza, making a mockery of how your stereotypical, outer-borough New York  character views the matter:

Pepsi paper cup

Most cones were white

I get this. I grew up on Long Island and for me, haute cuisine was two slices and a Pepsi, served in a cone-shaped paper cup that was stuck into a stainless steel base. (If this drink delivery system means nothing to you, you’ve missed out because it’s as extinct as the dinosaurs. The bright side?: you’re young.)

The paper cup was put in this pedestal

The paper cup was put in this pedestal

In and around New York, most pizzerias turn out a pretty consistent product because there are only a handful of companies that supply these restaurants with everything from dough, cheese, sauce, boxes, toppings, napkins and paper plates. I’m talking Pizzerias, not restaurants that also make pizzas and with straight faces offer abominations like goat cheese, hossenfeffer and horse radish pies — which, incidentally, is clearly not legitimately classified as pizza.

In spite of the consistency, many New Yorkers develop strong opinions about which of their local pizza places is best. Their loyalty is so strong that even late at night they’ll drive past more convenient parlors to get to their guy,

After watching Stewart’s act, I Facebook commented that while it is true that Deep Dish Pizza isn’t really pizza, it can still be good. I mentioned a chain in the Chicago Area called Lou Malnati’s, and how I usually try to stop by when traveling there. My friend came back and said that he agreed that it could be good, but repeated the “not pizza” stipulation. I resisted observing that since my friend had long ago moved to the Boston area, he had no pizza credibility because a sound case could be made that New England pizza isn’t pizza either. I bit my tongue.

Lou’s pizza is different. The somewhat watery sauce has pureed tomatoes in it, over which a ton of Mozzarella is poured and melts into a single, pie-covering, eighth inch thick cheese disk. On top of that go the usual suspects: sausage, mushrooms, etc., and New Yorkers will complain about their quality, especially the sausage and pepperoni, but that’s because they just don’t do that stuff the same way in Chicago. And yes, more sauce is added on top of everything, which is pizza heresy and should come with a prison sentence, or at the very least a public admonishment delivered by the a famous and very, very rich, faux news caster.

After this exchange, I briefly considered going online to order a pie from Malnati’s, which I’d never done before. The urge passed, but I would not be forgetting about Lou’s pizza. A few days later, I logged onto Facebook and after clicking around a little bit, an advertisement came up for, of all places:  Lou Malnati’s!

So, I thought, that’s how Facebook is monetizing itself. It’s a profit deal (enjoy Steve Martin in The Jerk realizing that a carnival weight guesser doesn’t care if he guesses wrong because the prize is worth less than the dollar he charges).

On some level I knew this was going on, but it was the first time I’d experienced it. It’s pretty clear that Facebook is scanning everyone’s posts and then running them through an algorithm that looks for matches with the names of companies that pay them money to direct traffic to their websites. Badda bing, badda boom, when a user clicks the website: cha ching!

What did you think, somebody was going set up this gigantic contraption for you to waste time on for free? Hey, this is America.

I guess the NSA doesn’t have anything on Facebook. Now all I have to do is figure out if this bothers me. I’m leaning towards: It doesn’t, but that could change.

Everything Reminds Me of Something Else

I went to collage in Northern Wisconsin and back then, the pizza places started their dough by running it through a machine that had rollers like a motorized, old fashion clothes wringer. To make it pie-shaped, a pizza cutter was run around a circular form, and the excess was “recycled” into the next pie. From there they would proceed in the normal fashion, first sauce, then cheese, and finally toppings, that would rightfully get you a good beating if you tried serving them in the New York Metropolitan area.

The sausage were little balls of greasy, grizzled mystery meat that was seasoned with fennel seeds, garlic and salt in depressingly excessive quantities. Onions, peppers, and mushrooms came out of a jar. The only topping I considered barely acceptable was the pepperoni, but only after I used a pile of napkins to sop up the slick of greasy oil that had been liberated by the heat of the oven.

And as bad as that was, I don’t think it would have left such a lasting negative impression hadn’t it been for what followed. Upon taking it from the oven, it was cut it into squares. Squares! I swear to God! When I first saw it, I thought I was the butt of a practical joke, but no.

It seemed to me that everyone knew that a round pizza — even one formed by a clothes wringer and a plywood die that was probably never, ever cleaned — was cut into triangles. Only a square pizza, which is known as Sicilian, was cut into squares. But no, I was not having a joke played on me. I was told that this “cut” wasn’t at all unusual, not just in northern Wisconsin, but all over the Midwest, even Chicago (which as it turned out, was no big ringing endorsement).

Another Pizza anomaly that I noticed was that pizza was not sold by the slice, which to me was comparable to offering hamburgers only by the dozen.

One of my friends, Hank, an easterner like me once engaged one of the local pizza merchants in a drunken, drawn out interrogation concerning why pizza was not offered by the slice. The merchant kept saying that the traffic wasn’t sufficient. Hank kept looking out at the street and the cars going by, and asking: “What does the traffic have to do with selling pizza by the slice. Most of the people who come in here are students and don’t even have cars.”

God, I miss Hank.