Tuesday, April 23, 2013


I think if I had an extra hundred bucks, I could have a grand time at the deli counter.

The deli counter is a special place---somewhere to marvel at lunch meat, drool at salads and gaze lovingly at chicken wings and stuffed cabbage.

It's a place where you call the shots---one of the last places where you can do so.

You're in charge at the deli counter. You draw a number and when it's called, it's like you've been given the floor of the U.S. Senate. You don't have to rush. You can filibuster about garlic bologna, pressed corned beef and pimento loaf and dictate how thin or thick it is to be sliced. You can take your time. Nobody is breathing down your neck, for they all have numbers and they'll get their turn, too.

The employee behind the counter won't rush you either, because what do they care? They're there to slice meat and dish out salads. They don't care if the person in front of them has a list of 12 items or if 12 people have one item each.

Is there anything more powerful than holding the called number and looking at the selection of cold cuts and cheeses laid out before you, knowing that whatever you choose will be yanked from its place, unwrapped and placed on the slicer, to be cut to your specs and to your desired weight ration? Isn't it positively intoxicating when the employee dangles that first slice before you, asking whether it's the right thickness?

You're in charge!

The person behind the counter wearing the sanitary cap and the clear plastic gloves will even slice off a sample slice of any meat you choose, whether you decide to buy it or not. It's a great place for a free snack.

The counter is guarded by various breads, rolls and sauces. Maybe a foil packet or two of dried mix for something sensational, once you add in water, oil, or some mayonnaise.

There are always specials at the deli counter. It's not a clearance sale but it's a good place for a thrifty deal or two. Maybe it's smoked ham that normally goes for $4.79 a pound slashed to $3.49. Maybe it's mustard potato salad down to $2.99 a pound. It's never the same thing twice. That's part of the allure, too.

I could go crazy at the deli counter, yessiree, given ten sawbucks. I could certainly purchase more cold cuts and cheeses than I could possibly hope to consume in any given week.

So maybe it's just as well that my budget is limited to the usual $15 or so.

But oh could I do some damage otherwise. It's a special place, the deli counter.

You with me on this one? Take a number.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

More Evil, Less Shock?

Limbs lying on the sidewalk, unattached. Shrapnel filled bodies, including those of children. Smoke. Buildings with windows and concrete blown out. Screams from the injured and the maimed, fighting to be heard over the sirens.

Scenes from a battlefield, perhaps. Or from a war-torn, third world country.

Not in the United States. Not in downtown Boston. Not at the Boston Marathon.

The scenes of war have once again been played out in the streets of America. Once again our soil is sopped with blood of the innocent. The limbs were torn from the unfortunates who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But is there ever a right place, a right time?

How can there be, when you can be sitting in a movie theater and realize too late that you're not a sitting patron but a sitting duck for a crazy with a machine gun?

How can there be, when little school children are mowed down in their classroom?

How can there be, when a stroll across a college campus suddenly turns into a run for your life?

How can there be, when a drive along the freeway can turn your vehicle into an object of a gunman's target practice?

How can there be a right place, a right time?

So now they blew up the Boston Marathon. The carnage was awful, though it's a miracle that the death toll still sits at three, more than 24 hours after the two explosions rocked the finish line.

This wasn't 9/11-ish, contrary to some. I didn't get that feel. Had there been multiple attacks in multiple cities, then yes, I would have harkened back to September 11, 2001. But to me, the Boston Marathon bombings just felt like an isolated, horrible situation.

But how isolated are these things anymore?

I don't know about you, but it's getting harder and harder to muster up the same outrage, the same disgust, the same shock when episodes of violence occur that take mass lives and wound hundreds. And that in of itself is terrifying.

De-sensitizing is perhaps evil's greatest weapon of them all.

A less outraged society, one that throws its hands up and says, "What the hell?" but does little else to prevent further violence, becomes fertile soil for evil doers.

The more this stuff happens, the lesser the shock value. And the lesser the shock value, the lesser the outrage. And so on.

Not that we aren't those things---shocked, outraged and disgusted. Surely we are. But I submit that we are a tad less so, in the 11-plus years since 9/11.

Slowly but surely ours is a society turning into the defeated---the "Oh well, if it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen" type of people.

You may disagree. Frankly, I hope you do. I hope I'm wrong.

True, the chances are probably 99.99%, at least, that when you go see a flick at your local movie house, you won't be part of a madman's meltdown. Your kids are, for the vastly most part, safe in their schools. The next marathon that they run somewhere in this country likely won't turn into a scene from Saving Private Ryan.

But since the Oklahoma City/Timothy McVeigh bombing in 1995, random acts of mass violence in America are happening just often enough to make us bristle with uneasiness. No, it's not always with a gun, which the NRA folks will happily point out, as if we should be glad that people will always find a way to kill multiple victims in a quick and decisive manner that doesn't involve a firearm.

But it happens just frequently enough to make us feel as if no place is truly safe, though the odds are miniscule that it will ever happen to you. Still, it sometimes jabs at the back of the mind---could tonight at the theater be the night? When I kiss my child goodbye this morning, is that the last I will see of him/her?

You probably don't think like that, as a rule. If you did, you'd drive yourself mad.

But don't tell me that it hasn't crossed your mind.

But what is it doing to us? Is it making us stronger? More defiant against the evil doers? Is it girding us to do something about it?

Or do we just shake our heads, offer our thoughts and prayers to the victims, and then go on to the rest of our day?

Because, after all, that's just the way the world is today...right?

Evil is winning.

Thursday, April 11, 2013


There's no telling how many boys in the 1950s counted Annette Funicello as their first crush, but I bet the number at the very least compares with the WWII GIs who leered at the Betty Grable pinup photos, the 1970s adolescents who had the Farrah poster (guilty as charged), and whoever the Flavor of the Day is currently.

Heck, even I adored Annette, and I wasn't born until her years as a Mouseketeer were long over with.

They used to show reruns of the "Mickey Mouse Club" on UHF TV (remember that?) while I was somewhere in my early teens (circa 1976) and I had heard of this supposed "cute" girl Mouseketeer named Annette.

Then I saw her---the Kewpie doll face, the big, dark eyes, the jet black hair, all bobbed. And a smile that could light up Broadway. I was hooked.

Those poor boys never had a chance.

To be honest, I'm not sure adolescent boys have female crushes like we did back in the day. When I was growing up, part of the fun of having a crush on a female celebrity was the difficulty in accessing said celebrity's images and sightings on TV.

In other words, when you were lucky enough to catch her appearing on TV or see a photo in a magazine or something, it was a huge bonus.

Today's boys can fire up the computer, Google the object of their affection, and their screen fills with images of said girl.

What's the fun in that? Part of the excitement was the thrill of the chase!

Annette Funicello's career---and life---was front-loaded. Most of the good stuff happened when she was between the ages of 13 and 40. After that, not so much.

She contracted Multiple Sclerosis before she was 50, back in 1992. Needless to say, the final 20 years of her life were nowhere near as fun as the first 20.

Annette is gone now, passed away earlier this week from complications from MS. She was 70---maybe the oldest 70-year-old in show business.

Slowly but ever so surely, the MS robbed her of her quality of life. She lost the ability to walk in 2004, the ability to talk in 2009, and eventually needed 24/7 care just to stay alive. The end probably couldn't have come soon enough, sad to say.

But the images I have of Annette Funicello are, and will always be, of her young and vibrant---and not just as part of the Mickey Mouse Club. Don't forget all the "Beach" movies she made in the 1960s with good friend Frankie Avalon, when the cute teen had grown into a beautiful woman.

For once, one of those canned statements that corporations release when someone connected with them passes away, hit the mark.

Here's Bob Iger, Chairman and CEO of the Walt Disney Company:

"Annette was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney Legend. She will forever hold a place in our hearts as one of Walt Disney's brightest stars, delighting an entire generation of baby boomers with her jubilant personality and endless talent. Annette was well known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace. All of us at Disney join with family, friends, and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life."

Why? Because, Annette, we love you.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Two Thumbs Up

Roger Ebert once said, "No good movie is too long."

But what about a good life?

Ebert's was cut short, and it would definitely rank a "thumbs up."

Ebert, who was just a movie reviewer the same way Edison was just the guy who invented the light bulb, is gone, another whose battle with cancer was fought bravely but ultimately lost. Cancer never was much for sentiment.

Ebert was 70 when he slipped away this week, and if you think that was a full life, you're wrong. Not that Ebert didn't live it to the fullest.

Before Roger Ebert, movie reviews were relegated to a couple newspaper columns. Sometimes they'd find their way into a magazine. The movie reviewer was to the stage reviewer the same way the Toledo Mud Hens are to the Detroit Tigers.

Then Ebert started gabbing into a camera, bouncing in his chair as he either railed at or damned a film with praise, and the movie review was never the same.

It was unheard of, really, to watch a movie review, before Ebert began laying them down on videotape. It was considered folly, like listening to a book might have been. But we do that now as a matter of course.

Ebert's "At the Movies", especially when he, as the film reviewer for the Chicago Sun Times, teamed with Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune, became a national sensation in the 1980s. It was Ebert who came up the now iconic "thumbs up, thumbs down" method of approval or disapproval.

People now say "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" as part of their daily lexicon. They didn't do so prior to Ebert and his TV show slipping it into their consciousness.

But again, Ebert wasn't just a movie reviewer, even if he was one of the industry's most respected ones.

He was an author, penning many books about films, which he loved. He was a philanthropist. Maybe most importantly, Ebert was a husband, a father, and a fine man devoid of what Burton Cummings once wrote was "silly human pride."

Had Ebert been too proud, he would have become a recluse when the damned cancer robbed him of his speech and his jaw, irreversibly changing his physical appearance. But Ebert kept putting himself out there, letting his picture be taken, damning his fate, as if to tell cancer, "You can change the way I look but you'll never change me as a person."

Yes, the movie reviews stuck to us. Ebert's reviews were ones that did indeed impact a film's box office, because they were on television, which no movie reviewer dare tried, Gene Shalit and Rex Reed notwithstanding. I'm not talking about a three-minute segment on the Today Show.


Ebert made a TV show out of his movie reviews, and it wasn't considered hubris or an ego thing. How could it have been? Ebert was on TV but he wasn't all that photogenic. He was a tubby, round man with thick glasses, big lips and who wore sweaters. But despite TV being a visual medium, it was what Ebert said that drew us in, not how he looked.

Many, of course, tried the movie reviews on TV thing since Roger Ebert, but none came close to replicating Ebert's (and Siskel's) popularity and influence. It would have been a major upset had anyone done so.

So was Roger Ebert a ground breaker? A trail blazer? Is his legacy secure?

Well, he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and the ironic thing is, his is more deserved than some of those who have them, who acted in the very films that Ebert panned and praised.

Ebert never talked above our heads. He didn't have the arrogance of Reed, the zaniness of Shalit, or the pomposity of so many Broadway reviewers.

Who can't relate to this, for example? The words are Ebert's.

"If a movie is really working, you forget for two hours your Social Security number and where your car is parked. You are having a vicarious experience. You are identifying, in one way or another, with the people on the screen."

Roger Ebert, you get two thumbs up.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

A Life, Unplugged(?)

Is there such a thing as down time anymore? You know, just some quiet time where we are unplugged, disconnected, disengaged?

I strode into our favorite pizza joint on Saturday night to pick up a carry-out order. It's typically very busy on weekend nights and this was no exception. As usual, there was a line of people waiting to be seated. On the five chairs available sat five lucky folks who didn't have to stand. They were waiting for both carry-outs and to be seated.

I had to chuckle. Each of the five had their mobile devices out, and each were scrolling up and down the devices with their thumbs, using the touch screen feature.

Being nosy, I peeked and a few of them seemed to be scanning their Facebook accounts. But the sight of all five of these folks---and I don't know if any of them knew each other or not, because they weren't talking---thumbing up and down their mobile devices, their faces lit by the device's glow, was comical to me.

But it was also a sad commentary, at the same time.

Had these five folks been stripped of their devices, or left them at home, or---gasp!---decided not to pull them out to begin with, there might have been idle conversation. Or, better yet, some aforementioned down time.

You remember down time, don't you?

Is it too foreign for us anymore in this mobile communications age to consider some time just sitting, staring, and doing nothing?

I love to people watch. That's just me. I enjoy observing---people talking, the wait staff working, the bartender mixing drinks, etc. The pizza joint also had a television, beaming the NCAA basketball tournament and other sporting events into the restaurant. Yet none of the five---and they were all men, by the way---showed the tiniest bit of interest in the TVs.

They all had their faces aglow from their mobile devices.

I check my Facebook and/or e-mail on my phone, too---usually when I am walking the dog. But not always. Other times, I enjoy the outdoors, the fresh air, and the always popular people watching and observations. You can see a lot, making some 1,100 dog walks a year (you heard me; walk him about three times a day, on the average).

The men in the pizzeria probably had no more than 5-10 minutes to kill, waiting for their pizzas or dining room seats. Instead of relaxing and enjoying some alone and down time, they chose to whip out their devices and connect to the Internet world of social media, etc.

I'm not judging. People can do whatever they want with their time. But are there no such thing as empty minutes? Does every free moment have to be spent scrolling up and down our mobile devices? Is the latest from Facebook that important?

I remember when the only thing we thumbed through in public was a two-month old magazine. Or, we sat quietly, thinking and relaxing.