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Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rant #1,408: Guilty Pleasures

The last two columns here have been about the WWE's Wrestlemania, so let's continue talking about guilty pleasures.

What is a guilty pleasure?

My definition is something that you would admit to enjoying that goes against the norm of what you normally like or what society thinks you should like.

Professional wrestling is certainly one of my guilty pleasures, and I certainly have several others.

For instance, although I don't like today's humor, I have nothing against more "adult" humor if it is well done and taken in context, not thrown into shows just to show how "hip" and "with it" they are.

Thus, I do like the TVLand show "Hot in Cleveland," much of it having to do with the cast, including Betty White and, of course, Valerie Bertinelli.

I have been seemingly watching these two my whole life, certainly growing up with Bertinelli on TV as I grew up myself.

She was the only reason I watched "One Day At a Time," a bit of TV nostalgia that I doubt I could watch with any regularity today.

She has had her ups and downs--in both her life and her weight--but I have to say that she looks terrific right now.

As for White, she has seemingly been around forever, and, in fact, she has been around forever.

Heck, the woman is 93 years old, so she has been around forever.

She had her own excellent career, but she always seemed to be very traditional, deferring to her husband, Alan Ludden, the host of the "Password" TV show.

When he passed away, she carved out her own career full force, and if there is a real TV Hall of Fame, Betty White appears to be that building's version of Babe Ruth.

And yes, the other members of the cast, including Jane Leeves and Wendie Malick, and occasional guest star Georgia Engel, are also very good in their roles.

The ladies all seem to be having such a good time making this show, and that feeling transfers over to the audience.

The show is going off the air after this season, and I will miss it. Each show gave me some laughs.

Another guilty pleasure can be found in the music I listen to.

I love 1960s music. It is really my heart and soul.

But I will, from time to time, move out of that era and listen to music of other periods. I grew up in the 1960s and early 1970s, and I became an adult in the 1980s, so I do have some favorites from the 1970s, 1980s, and yes, even the 1990s that I like to listen to from time to time.

One of those artists who carved a niche for themselves in the 1980s and early 1990s is Howard Jones. I think the guy's pop sense was his biggest draw to me, even though his music is rife with synthesizers and sounds oh so dated today.

Every time I hear "Things Can Only Get Better," it becomes an earworm that I cannot get out of my head. It is probably the poppiest tune that I have ever liked, such an '80s/MTV song that I guess most people turn their noses up at it.

But I have always liked that song, and I have found I like a lot of his other stuff, including "What Is Love," "No One Is To Blame," and "Lift Me Up." As you know, for some reason, I cannot put up videos here anymore, so just go to YouTube and refresh your memory on this guy. 

Now that I think about it, I think the positive nature of his songs really makes me like them.

So there you go, three guilty pleasures, things that I like that convention says I really shouldn't like, but I do anyway.

We all have them; what are yours?

Classic Rant #57 (July 30, 2009): Michael Jackson Will Not Alter My Eating Habits

I just read that comedian/social activist Dick Gregory has said that he will fast until the truth comes out about the death of Michael Jackson. He will fast for 40 days, only drinking water, "until the truth is uncovered, not just another story, about the sudden death of Michael Jackson, one of the world's most brilliant and talented people."

On first glance, I would say this has to be a joke, but Gregory hasn't made anyone laugh in more than 40 years, so I know he will go ahead with this. He has fasted before; he will do it again.

Perhaps he can get Rev. Al to follow him on this crusade. And what is the crusade?

Does he want the authorities to say that Jackson was murdered? Would that put him on the road to his next soy burger?

Well, it got Gregory's name in the paper. You know what they say: "No press is bad press."

As for me, it's easy as A-B-C.

Give me a hamburger!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Rant #1,407: Wrestlemania: The Alternative Universe Lives

Well, Wrestlemania was held this Sunday at Levi's Stadium in California, and all told, the alternative universe is alive and well.

To most people, professional wrestling is something that is heard about, but really, not totally understood, and to most people, the closest they get to professional wrestling is through the grapplers who turn actors and appear in mainstream fare.

And most of them are terrible actors, by the way, including the Rock, who is probably the biggest movie star in the world today based on box office receipts of his movies.

And yes, by the way, he was at Wrestlemania yesterday.

But that aside, the alternative universe is really alive and well.

For those people that are into pro wrestling, yesterday was the World Series, the Super Bowl, and Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus all rolled in one, less the elephants of course (yes, the PC Police get involved in the circus, too).

More than 76,000 people paid good money to attend yesterday's version of Wrestlemania. They spent millions of dollars to buy their tickets, and many millions of dollars more to purchase memorabilia, T-shirts, food, and rooms to stay in if they traveled from afar, and many of them did, with 40 countries represented by fans in attendance.

Many more millions of people watched either on pay per view, at about $60 a shot, or through subscription to the WWE Network, the brainchild of Vince McMahon, the chairman of the WWE, the largest and most important professional wrestling and sports entertainment organization in the world.

So no, he won't be waiting on any bread lines anytime soon.

Wrestlemania is not only big business, it is successful big business, and while professional wrestling will never be entirely mainstream, this event is as close as it gets.

Yes, Seth Rollins won the heavyweight title over Brock Lesnar and Roman Reigns by cashing in his Money in the Bank briefcase at just the right time; Big Show won the Andre the Giant Memorial Battle Royale; Triple H beat Sting while the NWO and Degeneration X beat each other up ... but you know what, it doesn't really matter who won or lost, it's not even how you play the game ...

The WWE was the real winner here, and St. Patrick's Day aside, they have the green to prove it.

The supposedly 100 percent legitimate sports leagues have copied a lot from the WWE, whether they want to admit it or not, from things like using entrance music to the spectacles they create around the All-Star, World Series and Super Bowl events. Much of that stems from what the WWE has done with its weekly shows and monthly pay per views.

People loves spectacles, whether it is movies like "Ben Hur" or "Cleopatra" or in their sporting events, making these events appear to be more important than they really are.

And that is really the bottom line with the WWE.

The whole thing is scripted, people generally know who is going to win and who is going to lose, but they are willing to spend their good money to ensure that they are correct in their assumptions.

Heck, it's not like a team winning the World Series or Super Bowl, but like these more legitimate events, Wrestlemania is an amazing diversion, something to take us away from our daily thoughts and chores.

It is fun, nothing more, nothing less, and last night's Wrestlemania was fun.

Classic Rant #56 (July 30, 2009): The Lucy Show Is Back!

This post is more a rave than a rant, but in keeping with the way I have been doing things, we will keep it as a rant.

If you fondly remember The Lucy Show--the series that Lucille Ball did after I Love Lucy and her marriage to Desi Arnaz ended--than you are in luck! MPI Video has just released the entire first season of the show on DVD.

No, this show was never, never up to the comedic standards--and trailblazing techniques--of the I Love Lucy show. The Lucy Show--and later, Here's Lucy, which is also being released in the season by season format by MPI at a later date--were basically off-shoots of the character Arnaz and Ball created for Lucy on I Love Lucy--the scatterbrained lady with ultimately, a heart of gold.

In The Lucy Show, Ball and during the first three seasons, her ultimate comic foil, Vivian Vance--Ethel from I Love Lucy--go it alone without steady males in their lives, and looking at this show nearly 50 years after the first season was produced, they carry it off very well.

They get into similar comedic scrapes like they did on their previous series, and yes, the ladies are a bit older here, but the show is corny, dated and very, very funny, all at the same time.

They certainly don't make sitcoms like this anymore!

The Lucy Show was a virtual family affair for Ball, as the show was not only executive produced by former husband Arnaz (she married comic Gary Morton during these years), but both Lucie Arnaz and Desi Jr. can be seen on the show from time to time if you look hard enough.

The one drawback is the kids on the show. They are cloying, annoying, and can't act at all, but I guess you get the good with the bad here. I will bet that Lucy realized this when The Lucy Show ended its run, because on Here's Lucy, her kids co-starred with her.

All in all, a fine package. For Lucy fans who have been stuck with third-rate DVD versions of these shows in the past, this release is a revelation.

By the way, there are many extras on the DVD, including a wide-ranging interview with Lucie Arnaz where she talks about everything from her participation in show to the uneasiness she felt with her mom, father and stepfather on the set at the same time. And Lucie looks terrific, by the way, as she talks candidly about many things, especially about here mom.

Also, you get to see an early Dick Martin, who played Lucy's next door neighbor--and quasi love interest--on the show.

If there is one DVD for you to get that's out right now, this is it!

So now that you are done reading this entry, scoot over to or and pick this DVD up. You will not regret it.

The only regret that I have is this: why did it take so long for this to come out?

Friday, March 27, 2015

Rant #1,406: Big Weekend In the Squared Circle

For most people, this weekend is just another spring weekend, filled with chores, some relaxation, and the usual stuff people do on Saturday and Sunday.

For pro wrestling fans, this is the biggest weekend of the year.

On Sunday, the latest version of Wrestlemania is held, this time in California.

Probably about 80,000 people will attend this gathering of the best of the WWE, past, present and future.

It is their World Series and Super Bowl all rolled into one, and cities that host this event don't look at it as phony, because it brings millions of legitimate dollars into their coffers.

Looking at the matches themselves, well, all I can say is that if you aren't a wrestling fan, you will have no idea what I am talking about or who I am talking about.

If you are a wrestling fan, this is the ultimate experience, without a doubt.

You have, among the most intriguing matches, the Undertaker vs. Bray Wyatt; Sting vs. Triple H; Brock Lesnar vs. Roman Reigns; John Cena vs. the Russian, Rusov; Seth Rollins vs. Randy Orton; a requisite women's match; and the annual Andre the Giant Battle Royale, which pits about 20 wrestlers against each other at once.

All the hype that you would associate with the Super Bowl is magnified with Wrestlemania, spread out over months and culminating with this weekend, beginning with the Hall of Fame gathering on Saturday, which leads right into Wrestlemania on Sunday.

And once again, because of the WWE Network, you can watch this in the comfort of your home for only $9.99 for not only Wrestlemania, but everything else on that novel network, or if you like, pay the full pay per view price of about $60 to watch this thing.

The four hour show really is a spectacle. You never know who you are going to see at the show, and it really is something to behold, especially when you consider the rather humble beginnings of this event more than 30 years ago at Madison Square Garden.

It has spread from that venue of 20,000 people to venues that hold upwards of 60,000 or more, and next year, it will be in Dallas, where perhaps 100,000 people will view the event live, with millions more watching it at home.

Yes, the action will be scripted, but the people at this thing will take it all in very, very seriously. They paid good money to be there in person, and they want to believe that one wrestler will beat another fair and square.

Sure, this really isn't the case, but really, everybody knows this, and nobody cares.

Heck, it's Wrestlemania, after all, and yes, I will be watching at home.

It should be a good one!

Classic Rant #55 (July 30, 2009): I Now Need a New Watch

I have been pretty snakebitten lately when it comes to electronic stuff.

First, my son's computer went bye-bye, now my watch is on the fritz.

Heck, it is a cheap watch. I bought it at Wal-Mart for $18 about two years ago. It is waterproof and has a lighted dial, although I found out that in a dark movie theater when I want to see what time it is during a crappy movie, it doesn't help me, because the clock hands are not illuminated themselves.

Anyway, the darn thing was starting to give out last week, but once I put it on my wrist, I think my pulse (I do have one) sparked it and got it going again. Now, the pulse isn't working on the watch, and it stopped dead last night at about 10 p.m.

It may need a new battery, but I haven't had much luck with watch batteries in the past. Once they are put in, they last a few months and then the watch is useless again.

I think I will get myself a new watch. It is the only jewelry, so to speak, that I wear, and I have worn a watch since I was about seven years old. I feel naked without one.

So I will have to buy a new one. And hopefully this one will be totally illuminated, so I can see how many minutes are left in the next cruddy movie I see.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Rant #1,405: Life's Greatest Moments

You don't have to be a world's most famous person to have memorable points in your life.

Even us common folk have days that helped to make us what we are today, days that we will never forget.

They are sort of in your own personal "Wikipedia entry" in your mind, and these memories stay with you forever.

One of those days was my bar mitzvah on May 9, 1970, and as I approach the 45th anniversary of that day, I also have to look at the prior day, on May 8, as another one of those days I will never forget.

All of this came back to me last night, after I watched the current New York Knicks--an amalgam of D-League players and NBA wannabees--get routed once again.

MSG Network, which normally would go right into a dire postgame show, went instead into a short, half-hour special about the 1970 New York Knicks, the first Knicks team to win an NBA championship.

It showed some quick footage of the games versus the dreaded Los Angeles Lakers that led up to the championship, and interviewed various players on the Knicks' championship team, including Walt Frazier and Captain Willis Reed.

I remember the whole thing like it was yesterday, and both May 8 and May 9 stand out to me as two of the most important days of my life.

Leading up to my bar mitzvah on May 9, when I had my ceremony--due to some quirk in the schedule, I had to have my actual party on May 23--I had had a really tough time. I was sick for about a week to 10 days prior to my bar mitzvah day, all from a case of nerves.

Look, I was the first grandchild, the first child, the first of the next generation in my family to reach this point in my life, and I guess I felt that he world was coming down on me.

Anyway, I had burst a blood vessel in my throat a few days prior to my bar mitzvah, and even closer to the date, I had anywhere from a mild fever to a high fever near 104-105. Yes, 105 degrees. In today's medicine, I would have been placed right in the hospital without hesitation, but back then, my doctor, old Dr. Geller, knew exactly what I was suffering from--nerves--and he kept me home.

Anyway, I watched every minute of the NBA championship series that I could. It was difficult because in those days, games were blacked out in the home city, so our local ABC outlet didn't carry a lot of the games live, but on tape delay.

But I had a secret weapon--my TV picked up Channel 8 very well, the ABC affiliate in Connecticut, and they carried the games live, so I was able to watch the games on that channel.

On May 8, I was really sick as a dog. I probably teetered to near 105 degrees in fever that day, and the pressure was on.

My Orthodox grandfather slept over because he would not drive on the Sabbath. At about 7 p.m. that evening, he came into my room and told me, "You will have to do your haftorah in my bed" if I was still sick enough the next day, so there was no way out of this.

I knew my haftorah--my speech in Hebrew that I would have to say at my bar mitzvah--inside and out, but I let my nerves get the best of me.

Anyway, after my grandfather made this proclamation, I decided to watch the Knicks game, the biggest NBA game that the team ever played up to that point.

I turned on Channel 8, and the game changed my life.

Team Captain Willis Reed, who was injured earlier in the series, decided that nothing was going to stop him from taking the court in deciding Game 7.

The rest of the Knicks had come out for their shootaround, as had the Lakers, but when Reed came out of the locker room apart and after his teammates, the Lakers were so stunned that they all stopped whatever they were doing and watched what was unfolding as the crowd cheered their hero, and they never really recovered.

Reed limped along on a bad leg, made his first two shots of the game, Walt Frazier had one of the greatest clutch games ever played by a Knick or any NBA player, and the Knicks won 113-99.

When I saw Reed limp out, I got goosebumps myself.

I thought to myself, if this guy can do what he is supposed to do on one leg, then what am I doing in the bed here as sick as I was--I can do it too!

I swear to you, when that game was over, I felt like a burden had been taken off my back. I felt maybe not 100 percent well, but I felt so much better. I know that that night, I went to bed with a smile on my face and a new determination to do my bar mitzvah the way it was intended to be done.

I woke up on May 9, all ready to go. Sure, I still had temperature--probably 100 or 101--but I felt like I could take on the world.

All told, I barely made it through the ceremony in our synagogue, and I nearly passed out toward the end. But I did it. And later in the day, I felt fine--100 percent fine, no fever, no nothing.

If I met up with Willis Reed and Walt Frazier today, I would literally tell them this story, and thank them for pushing me to do what needed to be done, under any circumstances.

Those two days--May 8 and May 9--were certainly the most important days of my young life, and over 40 years later, still stand out as two of the most important days of my existence, along with getting married the second time and the births of my two kids.

What a wonderful memory that I have of those two days, and I hope I conveyed to you exactly what I felt when Reed walked onto the court. It was as if a heavenly presence entered my body and made me almost whole again. Maybe he felt the same thing.

It is hard to explain, but I hope that I did.

Forty five years is a long time, but the time and place is so clear in my mind ... it is like it happened yesterday.

I am sure that we all have such moments in our lives; thanks for taking the time to read about mine.

Classic Rant #54: (July 29, 2009): Angels, Devils and Meet the Mets (and Press)

If ever there was a time that professional sports collided with sports journalism, yesterday was the day.

In a truly New York moment that ended up making national news, Omar Minaya, the general manager of the New York Mets, fired Tony Bernazard, the Mets' vice president of development, after word had leaked out through a column written by New York Daily News beat columnist Adam Rubin that Bernazard, among other indiscretions, ripped off his shirt and challenged one of the Mets' minor league teams to a fight. He also had verbal sparrings with several Met players, and all of this behavior, added to the recent failings of the Mets, led to his firing.

That would have been all fine and good, but during a press conference, Minaya insinuated that the reason Rubin wrote these accounts was ... to get Bernazard's job for himself.

Evidently, Rubin very casually spoke to owner Fred Wilpon some time ago about the possibility of "how to get a front office job." The question was very off the cuff, was done away from the Mets and Rubin's focus of business--the team's new Citifield ballpark--and was asked very innocently.

Minaya claimed that Rubin's more direct line of fire was to "get" Bernazard in his column, and when that was accomplished, move in for the kill--get Bernazard's former job.

As you can expect, Rubin was taken aback by this accusation, as he was now the focus of the story, not Bernazard and not the Mets. Did he write his columns to "out" Bernazard?

Of course, anyone who knows the Mets' situation knows that this is bunk of the highest degree. In fact, Minaya later held another news conference, where he said he still backs his accusations but agreed with others that the way he presented them really wasn't professional.

To use Rubin as a scapegoat for the Mets' mess is deplorable. Obviously, Minaya, Mets Manager Jerry Manuel, and the coaching staff are on the hot seat, and if the Mets don't improve they will be gone by season's end.

That is the obvious. The less obvious facet of the entire episode is this: even if he asked the question innocently, why was Rubin asking the owner of the Mets about future job opportunities--and more importantly, why are Rubin's sportswriter brethren sticking up for him as if he were a martyr?

I read one columnist today who said that with the recent fate of many newspapers--some of which have gone under in recent months--it was a smart move for a sportswriter to be asking about future employment. Also, so many sportswriters have gone into the front office in the past--former commissioner Ford Frick is one--that it is a "natural" move.

I say that Rubin should have known better. Heck, I am a writer. If I went to a competing publication, or one of our advertisers or companies that we deal with, and asked a similar question on the side, and word got out to my boss, my rear end would be on the carpet immediately, and I would surely be at least reprimanded if not fired.

It is totally unethical to ask the owner of the team that you are reporting on about "job possibilities." In fact, Rubin initially hedged when asked about whether he had made such inquiries, but he later admitted to it.

The Mets are under a tremendous amount of pressure to be competitive this year. They have a new ballpark and they are the perennial second team in town, behind the Yankees--who also have a new ballpark and are currently making the most of it. The Mets have been killed by injuries to major players this year, and someone has to take the blame ...

And Omar Minaya has elected Adam Rubin as his blame representative.

How infantile. Minaya should be out on his tush soon too.

But Rubin--if I were the Daily News, I would call him on the carpet too. He is the proverbial cat who ate the canary, and the feathers are beginning to stick out of his mouth.