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Friday, April 29, 2016

Rant #1,662: Birthday Talk

Yes, I had my birthday yesterday, and it was pretty much the same old, same old, which is OK by me.

I worked, I enjoyed myself with my family in the evening, I received a couple of gifts, and then I went to sleep.

Of course, there was one thing really exciting about yesterday: the Monkees released their first single since the 1980s, and if you look in the message section, that was my birthday present to you, as I provided the link.

If you didn't look in the message section, here is the link:

So all told, that is what the big 5-9 celebration was to me; next year, it will be different.

And I want to wish a happy birthday today to David Drucker.

David and I went to school together, through junior high school, and he was a good kid, as I recall.

One year, we were in the same class, and I swear to you, of the 35 to 40 kids in the class, roughly two thirds of the kids were born within a month of each other.

I remember that April was a month of birthdays, with just about every school day having a small segment of it devoted to someone's birthday.

Moms baked cupcakes back then, and my class probably got fat on these items that year.

I don't remember the other birthdays in the class, but I do remember the ones around mine.

First, Ilene Dailey had hers, then Larry Rosing, then Veronica White, then me, and then David the next day, today, April 29.

I am sure that there were some others mixed in there, but I can't remember them. These I definitely remember, and isn't it incredible that 50 years later I can still remember the people's names?

So happy birthday, David, how does it feel to join the 59 club?

The next birthday on my radar is my daughter, who turns the ripe old age of 28 on May 15.

I hoped to see her on her actual birthday, something that has eluded me the past few years, but she told me yesterday at my celebration that she will be with her boyfriend that day, so I guess dad has missed out yet again.

One thing or another has gotten in the way, but this year, I put in my "order" several months ago that I would like to see my daughter on her actual birth day, so I thought that maybe this year, that wish would come true.

Well, it isn't going to happen, and I have already put in my request for next year.

After that, my son's birthday comes up. He will be 21, so that is a big birthday for him.

He is like me, takes it all in stride, and I am sure that he will do so on the big 2-1.

Looking at my kids, I find it hard to believe that they are both in their 20s. I remember them right when they came into this world, and now they are growing up right before my eyes.

They aren't babies anymore, but they will continue to be my young'uns forever, just like at 59 years of age I am still my parents' little kid.

So if today is your birthday, have a good one.

If you shared a birthday with me yesterday, then I hope it was a good one.

If your birthday has passed or is coming up, I hope it was either good or will be good for you.

Me, right now I am all birthdayed out.

Speak to you again on Monday.

Classic Rant #309 (August 11, 2010): Elvis Is In the Building

As the 33rd anniversary of Elvis Presley's death approaches on Aug. 16, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland will be honoring the real King of Rock and Roll with an exhibit that looks at the icon when he was a young man.

The museum plans to celebrate its own 15th birthday with a look back at the year Presley turned 21. An exhibit of photos taken of the singer in 1956 by Alfred Wertheimer will open Sept. 13 at the hall.

According to the HoF, the pictures offer a record of a defining period for rock and roll's most enduring figure, showing Presley in public and private poses as he started to break through nationally.

In addition, visitors also will see a new display of nearly 30 Presley artifacts on loan from the Graceland Archives. They include a shirt and belt the singer wore for 1970 rehearsals, and a Memphis, Tenn., proclamation for a 1961 Elvis Presley Day.

I wasn't around in 1956, but the impact of Elvis Presley on popular culture is enormous. I'm sure that when people caught wind of this kid who was singing this new kind of music, they took notice, and probably a lot of kids learned to play guitar and sing when they saw this guy warbling on The Ed Sullivan Show.

He became a national phenomenon, then a global one, and even in this day and age, with the Internet supposedly bringing us all closer together, it is hard to create such a phenomenon today. In today's world, people are too set in their ways to accept somebody as radical as Presley was in his day.

Sorry, Justin Bieber fans.

Sure, there have been pretenders to his throne, including Michael Jackson, who some claim to be the King of Pop. But like people say that current athletes are better than those from years back, Elvis Presley is much like Babe Ruth; many may think somebody today is better, but I seriously doubt these people know what they are talking about.

Nobody can surpass Elvis' numerous Hot 100 singles, nor can anyone ever surpass his across the board popularity that continues to last well beyond his death.

He is truly the King of Rock and Roll. Nobody even comes close.

Sure, he was not perfect. He indulged beyond belief in everything from food to his relationships. He was squeezed for everything he was worth while he was alive, and the same can be said to be true in death.

But can anyone compare to him? Has there been a singer that has captivated the public as he has and still does?

I don't think so.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Rant #1,661: The Big 5-9

Yes, today is my birthday.

I have officially been on this planet for 21,535 days, plus a couple of Leap Year days thrown in for good measure.

Honestly, I cannot believe that I am this age. It seems like just yesterday, I was digging in the dirt, running around, playing stickball, and generally, being a kid.

I feel that I am still a kid, but I am a 59-year-old kid.

It is really startling, or at least to me it is.

I always look forward to my birthdays. Sure, I am getting older, but I do feel that I am getting wiser too.

Another year is simply another notch on my belt of life. And the good thing is that I do believe that I have plenty of room for a lot more notches.

I feel pretty good. Sure, I have the aches and pains that go along with aging, but nothing major that I cannot handle.

Heck, my biggest pain might just be work, and I will be spending my birthday at my place of work today.

I wish I could have taken off today to really do nothing, but alas, it was not meant to be, not with me taking off last Tuesday for my latest dental hijinks.

No, today I will spend the day at work, enjoying my day there.

And afterwards, I have a doctor's appointment, which I am sure will add to the pleasure of my special day.

After that, I will be with my family, we will have a short celebration, I will get some gifts, and then I will be ready for bed.

Looking back, I was born in 1957, and it has really been an interesting ride during the past 59 years.

As I said before, I really haven't changed a heck of a lot during the years, a big kid in adult's clothing.

I still basically like the same things that I did when I was a kid, and yes, I am very particular about certain things.

What has changed is that I think I have a different perspective on certain things that I could not possibly have had as a kid, because sometimes, experience is your best guide, and your experience at 10 years of age, or 20, or even 30, is different than it is now.

I am a husband, a father, an uncle, and I am still a son to my parents.

So yes, my perspective is different, but I am basically the same person that I was all those years ago, when I was digging in the dirt, running around, and playing stickball.

And yes, even on my 59th birthday, I am looking forward to next year, when I hit the big 6-0.

That should be something in and of itself, a landmark birthday for the ages.

Today's birthday at age 59 is just another one, but moving onto 60 will be something incredible indeed.

So, happy birthday to me and to all the others celebrating birthdays today, including Ann-Margret and Jay Leno.

It is really the most special day on the calendar, isn't it?

Classic Rant #308 (August 10, 2010): Rod the Dad

I have never been a very big fan of Rod Stewart.

To me, he is the ultimate poseur, not so much singing songs as much as dragging the life out of them by everything he does beyond his gravely voiced singing--the calculated moves, the head movements, the stance, everything like that.

I guess I don't like his style.

But as a rock star, he has had a career that stretches back more than 40 years. And he is such a mainstream personality now, that all the rock star glitz is just about forgotten by those people who bought his cover version albums, which massacred terrific, classic songs yet sold millions.

In fact, if you look at them together, you would swear that Stewart and Barry Manilow are the same person.

Again, I never liked this guy as a performer. And as a man, he has littered the earth with kids by several different mothers--some he had relationships with, some he was married to ... all for a guy who has had his masculinity questioned since the early 1970s.

Well, now word comes out of his camp that he is to be a daddy again, this time with Penny Lancaster, who he has been married to for three years. This relationship previously produced a son, so Stewart will become a dad for the seventh time when he turns 66.

Shades of Anthony Quinn, when this kid becomes a teenager, Stewart will be 79 years old--not really that old in today's world, but let's face it, a 79 year old having a 13 year old son is akin to him being a grandfather to his own child.

Lancaster will be 40 when she becomes a mom again, so she isn't old by any standard, but as a mom, she kind of is, if you know what I mean.

Heck, what goes on between a man and a woman behind closed doors is their business, but I could never fathom having a kid at that age. Sure, it proves that Stewart is virile, but when this kid looks at his or her old man, he or she will really be looking at his or her old man, if you get my drift.

Older men having children at advanced ages is nothing new, and Stewart is one in the line of thousands of men who have children beyond the age of 65 each year. Yet, I somehow think he will be cheating his child of something. Stewart loves soccer, and do you think he will be virile enough to kick around the ball when his two year old wants to do that?

I am not knocking older men, or women for that matter. Heck, I am 53, so I am not going to dig into anyone older than me. But my wife and I had our son at age 38, and let me tell you, it isn't easy for even a 40 year old to keep up with a two year old. Imagine if you are 66 ...

Good luck to Stewart and his wife. And if it is a girl, please don't name the child Maggie May. Give it a sensible name, like Apple or Brooklyn.

But I bet there will be one refrain from the new parents, whether the child is a boy or a girl ...

I love you honey!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Rant #1,660: More Passings

This has been quite a rough year for passings, and I have two more to report.

One received a lot of coverage, or more coverage than at least I thought it would get, the other pretty much went under the radar, although social media did pick up on it.

Let me do the former first.

Many thought of Billy Paul as pretty much a one-hot wonder, but if you have to be remembered for something outstanding, I guess Paul will be remembered for these four words:

"Me and Mrs. Jones."

This sultry tune, which rose to the top of the charts in 1972, told a story of two illicit lovers during a time when you could only say so much in music, and he said plenty by not saying too much.

His outstanding vocal, sultry yet inviting, captured the mood of the country way back when, and catapulted this jazz/soul/rhythm and blues vocalist to incredible popularity in the early 1970s.

Associated with the Philadelphia soul sound made popular by such acts as the Stylistics and Lou Rawls, Paul had been trying to break through for about 20 years when this song hit it big.

People think he was a one-hit wonder simply because they only remember that one song, and the all-important followup tune pretty much fizzled.

"Am I Black Enough For You" was too testy for that time, and with its Black Power overtones, it was banned by many stations. "Let's Make a Baby" was also controversial, even getting Rev. Jesse Jackson to crusade against it.

Thus, although Paul had several singles hitting the Hot 100, none ever reached the level that "Me and Mrs. Jones" did. His music was often thought to be too controversial to get wide airplay, other than that one song.

But the Civil Rights movement allowed Paul--and so many others, including Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield--to sing about more than just the usual "boy meets girl" thing, even if his signature tune was just that, illicit as it was.

He continued to release records and tour up until his death on April 24 of pancreatic cancer. He was 81 years old.

The other person I wanted to speak about today is tied into Paul in kind of a bizarre way, in a way that her TV persona never alluded to.

Madeleine Sherwood was one of those well-known character actors who graced TV and movie screens in the 1960s and 1970s, most of which few knew by name.

The Canadian actress' big screen credits include "Cat On a Hot Tin Roof," which she also appeared in on Broadway, but she is best known for her whimsical role on one of the more popular shows of the late 1960s.

Sherwood, who in real life was a Quaker, appeared as Rev. Mother Placido on the Sally Field sitcom "The Flying Nun," certainly one of the strangest sitcoms ever to appear on network TV.

Field, the younger, with-it nun, would go flying away as her habit caught the wind, while Sherwood, as a more weathered and stern Mother Superior, took Sister Bertrille "under her wing," so to speak, and showed her that she needed to be responsible when the winds came through their tiny church and school in Puerto Rico.

Sherwood also appeared on numerous soap operas, but her link to Paul, although kind of tenuous, was real.

The actress was blacklisted during the McCarthy era, and when the Civil Rights movement exploded in the mid 1960s, Sherwood was on the front lines.

She became friendly with Dr. Martin Luther King, and often attended marches and rallies on behalf of this movement, certainly one of the first Hollywood actors of note to join this movement. She also was jailed briefly for her participation in these events, many of which took place in the Deep South.

Sherwood later entered into the women's rights movement, as she continued to act on television, in such disparate fare as "Love American Style" and "Columbo."

She passed away at age 93 on April 23 in Quebec, Canada.

To some, Sherwood and Paul were simply footnotes on the times that they lived in, but they did share a common sense that allowed them to take stands on Civil Rights issues, whether subtly or directly--and become activists, in their own way, for change.

It is quite interesting that these two "footnotes" passed away so close to each other in time.

Classic Rant #307 (August 9, 2010): The Benefits

I am 53 years old, so by my calculator, since the federal government was so nice to raise the official retirement age to 66, I have to work at least 13 more years before I even think about retiring.

And even when I am 66, due to various reasons including money, I will probably work until I can't stand up anymore.

I use my father as an example. He still drives a cab, and he will be 79 in November.

I have heard that people who are hopelessly out of work--those over 60 who have tried to find a job for more than a year without any success--are giving into the system, and filing for Social Security benefits early. Sure, they won't get what they would get if they filed when they were 66, but due to circumstances far beyond their control, they feel they have no choice but to file early.

Social Security is said to be experiencing a shortfall this year as a number of people are filing to collect payments early before their full retirement age. And unemployment is still teetering in the 10 percent range, with some areas of the country well into the double digits.

All of this while our President tells us that the economy is improving while his wife and kids jaunt around Europe.

I remember being out of work two major times in my life. The first time, I was out of work for about a year and a half. Sure, I worked, often off the books, for a portion of that period, but I generally was making next to nothing and couldn't get hired by anybody. During this span, I applied for more than 800 positions, and received back less than 75 rejection letters.

I know all this because I had to--what made matters worse for me was that I was going through my divorce, and this set the whole process back probably about six months, if not more. The court wanted to know how my work search was going, so I had to submit everything to the court for their scrutiny. Talk about making matters worse than they were!

And I paid my child support--or as much as I could afford with the pittance I was getting--and I was in arrears when I finally found something, and I had to pay back what I owed, which I did.

The second time, I was out of work for about three months. My son was only a few weeks old when I got let go. No, companies don't care what your personal situation is when they get rid of you.

Anyway, each time I was offered very little in the way of positives by any prospective employee, and each time, when I was finally offered a job, I took a position with a pretty hefty pay cut. I had no choice.

I don't know what to tell people who are out of work today. It is harder than ever to find something, and find something decent.

I still say that employers are taking out the current fiscal situation on their employees, nickel and dimeing them to death, working them beyond their capacity just so they stay wealthy and afloat. I haven't had a raise in more than three years, but at least I have a job.

And to say "at least I have a job" is the current refrain today. You don't have to like your job, just be happy that you have one.

My daughter is in the job market now, and although she wants to be a teacher, there aren't any teaching jobs available now. So many districts have cut their teaching staffs that it might be a while until teachers are needed. My daughter did find a job as a teaching assistant, but with a teaching degree, she should be making much, much more than she is now. Heck, people working in McDonald's are making more than she is now--but at least she has something to build on.

I mean, she is just 22 years old.

What of the people who have put 30 and 40 years into the workforce, only to be told that they aren't wanted anymore? I went through this myself, and I was on in my 30s when I was laid off and was out of work for more than a year.

The more I was out of work, the more potential employers would ask this question: "Why are you still out of work after all of these months?"

When I would hear this question, all I wanted to do was stick my fist in their mouths. What did they know about being out of work? But I would have to grin and bear it, and reply, "I am out of work not due to anything else but the current financial situation."

It wasn't a lie, it was true.

It must be that much harder when you are in your 50s and 60s and nobody wants to hire you. What do you do?

I hope I never have to worry about such a thing. I guess I am happy that "at least I have a job."

But it really shouldn't be that way, should it?

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Rant #1,659: How Times Have Changed (?)

I came home from work yesterday, and since my wife was at the dentist--yes, she needs a crown too--I was left on my own to cook dinner for myself.

And yes, I had matzoh, this time with an egg.

Not matzoh brie, just had them separately, and I have to say, it came out really, really good.

As Lucy Ricardo said years ago, "And it's tasty too!"

I want to look at another character from TV history today, a character on one of the funniest shows of not just its own era, but of all time.

"Sanford and Son" was a situation comedy that ran on NBC on Friday nights in the early to mid 1970s, when television really was changing forever.

Gone were the family oriented comedies, where pretty much everyday life was talked about in a G-rated way.

Enter the more in-your face comedies, where much more could be talked about, although they still had to walk their way around certain subjects--and this was done very creatively.

If "All in the Family" set the tone for this era, "Sanford and Son" was certainly a byproduct of this more open type of comedy.

The show starred Redd Foxx, a veteran comic who had made his living on the old "Chitlin' Circuit," because network TV wouldn't and couldn't have a comic like this on the air in less open times, and a younger performer, Demond Wilson, who had actually appeared as a guest star on "All in the Family."

If you remember, they played father and son junk dealers, and the array of characters who were introduced on this show--most of them played by fellow Chitlin Circuit veterans--made the show an enormous success.

During the show's third season, when it was at its peak, there was one show that sticks out in my mind, one that shows just how far TV had come at that time, and it also shows how permissive the medium had become back in 1973.

The episode had to do with Lamont arguing a traffic ticket in court. He did not want to go to court, simply wanted to pay the fine, even though he was in the right, but Fred wanted him to pursue the case in a court of law.

So Lamont and Fred went to court, and with Fred's buddies in tow--Bubba, Grady, and even former Our Gang member Stymie--Lamont had his day in court.

The last 10 to 15 minutes of this particular show are incredible. It was run on Antenna TV yesterday evening, and as I ate my dinner, it made me remember just how open TV had become at that time, in particular for certain subjects, including race.

Lamont waits to be called for the court to hear his case. Fred is happy, because the judge is a "brother," or a fellow black man, so he feels that Lamont will get a good shake and beat his case.

All the while, Fred is taking bets with his friends that Lamont will win his case.

Lamont gets called, and he explains that yes, he broke the law, but sometimes, one has to do things like this in order to avoid an accident.

The police officer who gave Lamont the ticket was present, and Lamont wants to ask the officer a question.

The judge said that he would need counsel to do that, and Fred tells the judge that he is Lamont's counsel.

The first utterance out of Fred sets the tone for the rest of the show. Fred says to the officer, "Why don't you ever arrest white people? What do you have against blacks?"

The officer says that he does arrest white people, but Fred continues. "Why don't you like black people?" he says.

The judge tries to get order in the court, but Fred continues to rile up things.

He then says some other stuff related to the cop, including, "Look, nobody in this court will get a fair shake from you, because we're all black in here. Heck, there are enough n---- in here for a Tarzan movie!"

Yes, the "n word" was spoken on network TV, and it was actually used several times during this episode. Watching it more than 40 years after the fact last night, I had forgotten that this word was bandied about like it was on network TV, as were other racial epithets of the day, but the n-word ... still steeped in controversy, yet used to elicit laughter all those years ago.

To make a long story short, Lamont gets off from paying a fine, but Fred is held in contempt of court and must pay a fine for disrupting the court.

Not for the use of the n-word, per se, but because whatever he did cumulatively upset the court and the judge.

Looking at this from a perspective of 2016, this was a pretty raucous episode, one that could not be staged the same way today.

And I applaud Antenna TV for not editing this word out of the dialogue. In today's PC world, that took a lot of guts to do.

On network TV today, sex is the subject that is bandied about as it it were chewing gum. Just about every network sitcom is steeped in sexual talk of one nature or another. Current TV's top comedy, "The Big Bang Theory," with all of its supposed scientific, high-brow talk, is steeped in sexual talk, and I cannot think of any other sitcom running today that is any different.

But back in 1973, race was the taboo that was being dealt with in a way we had never seen.

I guess "All in the Family" really did open the floodgates, and when race talk was exhausted, sex talk was next in line to be explored.

I don't know what purportedly taboo subject is next in line to be explored by these shows, but I don't know if you can say that we have progressed--or regressed--when we have shows steeped in this talk.

But I have to say that that episode of "Sanford and Son" was absolutely hilarious, and the racial humor really made the show.

I guess there is a time and a place for everything, and yes, there is a time and place for this type of humor.

1973, yes, just not 2016, where the PC Police would be down producer Norman Lear's throat on shows like "Sanford and Son" and "All in the Family" for doing and saying things that were off the PC path.

Today, there seems to be no taboos, whether on TV or in life, but in 1973, that particular episode was really, really something extraordinary.