1. Gary and Merv and a Squeaky Wheel of Fortune
2. Lebovitz and Warhol and a Case of Withering Sights
3. Pointing and Shooting in George Plimpton's Apartment
4. When Irving Got Mad. And Vice Versa.
5. Misshapen Chaos (my Juliet adventure)
6. Joe Franklin: Venerable. Inimitable. Flammable.
7. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Marquee
8. A Radio Flyer in an Empty Nest
9. By the Way, We Even Called Him Satchmo
10. Love Between the Covers
11. A Speech for and/or by Donald Trump
12. The story of a water-breaking app
13. The non driverless car of the future
14. The best inning of a football game
15. Pot luck in Colorado
1. Gary and Merv and a Squeaky Wheel of Fortune
But Gary survived it—and did become a television producer not long afterward. Ultimately he would develop, produce—and in some cases fix and save—such shows and specials as “Lingo,” “Totally Hidden Videos,” “Anything For Money,” “Yahtzee,” “You Don’t Say” “Pick Your Quiz,” “Wisdom of Dreams” (hosted by Martin Luther King III), “U.S. Customs Classified,” “Behind Bars” and others. He continues to this day to consult with Martin Luther King III on a number of potential television and documentary projects. He has also been a top programming executive, mostly on the vice presidential level, for MTM, Osmond Television, Columbia Pictures Television, All American Television (which produced “Baywatch”) and other top entertainment firms.
2. Lebovitz and Warhol and a Case of Withering Sights.
I’m sure there were a lot of different kinds of people who appeared in Warhol films in the 1960s, but I doubt that a Peter Lebovitz type—which is to say a Judd Hirsh/Allan Arbus/Samuel Clemens type—was ever one of them. After all, didn’t Peter’s revelation mean that he participated in a crazy approximation of a motion picture production directed by the eccentric Warhol? Didn’t the revelation mean that Peter was surrounded by a phalanx of drugged-out, sexed-up, weirdo Warhol sycophants in a paint-splattered den of vice somewhere in lower Manhattan?
3. Pointing and Shooting in George Plimpton’s Apartment
4. When Irving Got Mad. And Vice Versa.
5. Misshapen Chaos
|From the high school yearbook:|
bottom right, rehearsing with Linda
Not long ago Bonnie had to take a diagnostic test at the hospital. The staff was very nice and personable. We met doctors and technologists who made us feel relaxed. It was around this time that my job as a corporate writer was eliminated and I was starting to build a career as a full-time freelancer. I was working at home, elated at the prospect of not having to wear a tie and not having to shave every day. I wrote well into the early morning hours, puffing on pencils and pumped up with day-old coffee. I felt like the starving artist I had always wanted to be (without actually having to starve to do it).
You be the judge.
I’m glad his office never burned down. He’s been gone more than two years now, and there hasn’t been much news—at least not publicly—about what happened to the hundreds of thousands of items that I saw stacked in not-too-neat piles throughout the room. I’m sure proper arrangements were made. But since the legend’s not there anymore, I’m not really going to worry about it too much.
7. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Marquee
|Celia in 1986|
|Me in 2015|
* * *
|From my high school yearbook|
11. A speech for and/or by Donald Trump
I have struggled, as have many of my friends and relatives, to put aside my distaste and unease about the recent election—at least temporarily. The anxiety is debilitating. But as soon as I try to put the worry aside, I realize all over again just how scared I am about the plunge our national reputation may soon take and about what the incoming administration may do to further swamp our daily lives. Just as soon as I tell myself that things might work themselves out in some reasonable ways, I remember that I am as nervous about losing our past gains as I am about the American future my grandchildren will inherit.
I would love to find something positive on which to focus. That would not spell the end of my concern, but it would certainly diminish my torment. You see, I can be critical and upbeat at the same time. Believe me.
But it hasn’t been easy to find anything positive. No matter what tricks of the mind trade I employ, I end up convinced that there will be some new precedents set by this new president, and that those precedents will be frightening.
The other day I took a step back and asked myself, Well then, what would make me happy? The answer was remarkably simple: if Donald Trump were to give a speech on the national stage that combined a mea culpa for some of his past comments and actions with a compelling call for national unity and respect of all peoples and viewpoints, I might actually be able to give my first sigh of relief (albeit a small one) since November Eighth—even if that speech contained many unsubstantiated assurances and polished pretenses. To my way of thinking, all the president-elect would have to do to make such an effort count is commit to delivering it to a full court press and acknowledge in no uncertain terms that he is doing it because he wants to and believes every word of the script.
Of course, making such a wish is one thing; having it come true is something else. That’s why I took another step back (which, if I were the cynical type, I’d say is a metaphor for what the country might be in for) and asked myself, Is there anything I can do to drive this wish toward possible fulfillment? Once again, the answer was astonishingly basic: I’ll write the speech myself and offer it to him through social media channels. I’ll draft it, ask $100 for my services, expect not to be paid (what, me cynical?), and then wait for him to deliver it at a well-publicized press conference. I wouldn’t need the money anyway, because the kind of speech I have in mind would be priceless.
So here’s the speech I have written for Donald Trump. I will eagerly await his reply.
“Good afternoon. Now that this long and fractious campaign is over, I would like to take a few moments to address the two distinct groups of people who have been invested in this election: those who voted for me, continue to support me, and agree with my vision for America, and those who did not vote for me and remain averse, often stridently, to my victory, my team, and the plans I have for the future. It is vital to note that there are two very important things both groups have in common: they are comprised of proud Americans, and both are passionate in their beliefs and convictions. So I appeal to both to somehow find a way to bring your pride and convictions together for the sake of our country.
“I hope to make that a little easier by sharing two critical truths with you—truths that have been lost in all the drama, the rhetoric, and the campaign games of the last fourteen months.
“To those who fought against me and continue to do so today, let me assure you of the first truth: that I am not the hateful, insensitive man you have come to believe I am—that I respect the rights, beliefs, religions, struggles, accomplishments, freedoms, and hopes of all Americans. A moment ago I alluded to drama, rhetoric and campaign diversions. Dramatics, theatrics, and games have been going on for generations in American politics, and I submit to you the second truth: that the impolite and tactless comments I have made at times on the campaign trail are directly attributable to that unfortunate reality. Let me address four of them at this time.
“To begin with, no one should ever mock a disabled person, as I did in the heat of one regrettable moment. That’s not the kind of country we have, and you will never hear that kind of utterance from me again, nor from anyone in my administration.
“Secondly, no one should ever disparage the service of our brave men and women in the Armed Forces, particularly prisoners of war, as I did in a lame attempt to make a point in my favor. I apologize for it, and vow to lead the charge to bring as much respect and dedication to all our servicemen and women that we as a nation can provide.
“Thirdly, no one should ever goad or deride women who make claims of sexual harassment, the way I did during that period of time when many unsubstantiated claims were being made against me. Even in instances where charges are fabricated, such scorn makes it harder on all women who suffer harassment and other forms of abuse. We are a country of laws, we have protections, and we have due process of law—and I pledge to uphold those values on behalf not just of all women, but of all Americans.
“And finally, I regret tossing off the debate question about my taxes with the impromptu jest that I was ‘smart’ for being able to avoid my civic responsibility. I misspoke. As we can all agree, the tax codes are exceedingly complex, and I was simply referring to an allowable action of which I took advantage based on loss of business income. It was not smart, and certainly not smart to say. It was, in retrospect, an abysmal way of saying that the system, which I know how to navigate, needs a lot of work.
“Without a doubt, there are many other examples of harsh, insensitive and, frankly, dumb rhetoric you heard during the campaign. To be sure, I am not a skilled orator, and at the same time I have an uncompromising desire to win—a lethal combination, I suppose, that can lead to unfortunate words. I am sorry for them, and will redouble my efforts to do better. I will not, however, compromise my desire to win—to win for our country and for our citizens the best, safest, and most progressive future imaginable. But words do matter. And that’s why this private person will concentrate very hard on improving that aspect of his new public life.
“Now I would like to address those of you who voted for me and remain my committed supporters. There are, I’m afraid, too many of you right now who have made the erroneous assumption that I hold biased attitudes on people of races, colors, creeds and religions other than my own. You mistakenly believe that my triumph in the presidential race has given you a license to assert your own prejudices and to use my name as a public certificate of acceptance of such attitudes. I do not believe the majority of you are like that, but the vocal minority who are need to stop it immediately.
“That is not the United States I know and love, and I do not and will not accept any such behavior. This nation was founded upon the principles of tolerance and inclusion, and it was built over the course of more than 200 years on the backs of people of every race, color and religion. To use my name as a calling card for bigotry and discrimination is a terrible miscarriage of free speech, a gross misrepresentation of my viewpoints, and I demand that it cease at once. Free speech is one thing; threats and violence are another, and I urge the law enforcement community to punish those who cross the line of decent public morals and behavior—whether my name is used to those ends or not. There is no room in America for hate groups of any kind. I condemn each and every one of them unconditionally.
“To those of you who identify as a member of that fragment of our society, I must convince you of this fact: the vast majority of voters on the other side of the aisle—those who express views that are different from mine and yours—are not the wicked people you may think they are. They do not deserve to be insulted, threatened, or victimized in any way whatsoever. They are Americans with contrasting views, and that’s all. We need to show the world that we are a charitable and broadminded people. That is what we have been, that is what we are, and that is what I want us to continue to be.
“To those of you who voted against me, and who are equally full of rage and use freedom of speech to offend and menace citizens on the other side: that, too, must end at once. That serves no purpose other than to assuage your own fury. Instead of being furious, engage in a healthy debate. In fact, this is an urgent call to both sides: listen to each other, consider each other’s viewpoints, and as my opponent rightfully said time and time again, learn to work together.
“Now, there will be many important topics with which to deal once my administration gets underway. The issues I covered today are no less important, but they are the ones I felt compelled to cover even before we embark on the road to America’s future. I want you to know that I take responsibility for my words and actions, and that I respect all Americans—black, white, Jew, Gentile, Hispanic, Asian, gay, straight, and so many others who are part of that medley that I would never have enough time to mention them all. I am also very mindful of all those who came before me into this position, which is why I give you my word that I will respect the office of the President of the United States, and work hard to earn your respect, as well.
“Thank you very much.”
Fanciful thinking? Some sort of cockeyed optimistic wish fulfillment fantasy? A fictional concoction designed to simply pretend that everything will be okay?
Or, ultimately, just a hopeless idea? After all, if Mr. Trump did read a speech like that, I’m fairly certain that it would looked upon and immediately savaged as nothing more than a ruse, populated as it is with so many common equivocations, earnest-sounding yet unproven promises, slick evasions around some very serious charges, and other tricks of the trade. But I sure as hell would like to hear him deliver it! Then I can at least search my own heart and soul for my true reaction. As I said earlier, if the president-elect committed to delivering a speech like that in front of the free world, and pledged that he is doing it because he really wants to, I think I might be okay with that. Yes, I’m willing to be that positive about it. Right now, though, my judgment is that this dream will remain just that—a dream, and a hollow one at that. I doubt Mr. Trump will ever use it, or anything like it (regardless of whether he pays me or not). I fear it is not in him.
I guess you can be a cockeyed optimist and a cynic at the same time. Believe me.
12. The Apple of My Eye
Inventions are supposed to make life a little easier, safer and healthier. The new gizmos, gadgets and formulas announced in 2016 have not let us down, and it looks as if 2017 may be even more interesting. Someone recently invented a super-lens that enables us to see germs that are too small for conventional microscopes. That can improve treatment of sickness and disease. We also finally learned how to generate power from raindrops—another decisive step on the road to energy independence. There’s even a new kit that anyone can use to change the oil in their cars quickly, effortlessly and immaculately. No more waiting an hour at a quick-oil-change joint just to be told that there are three things on your car that require immediate fixing, or else.
It just goes to show that even after the digital revolution, some inventions can still surprise us. Maybe we’re just naturally skeptical. After all, most of the biggest inventions that have truly changed our lives happened in just the last fifty years; perhaps routinely believing in amazing new things is not yet etched into our ancient DNA.
And then, of course, there’s Apple, which just came out with a device that senses when a pregnant woman’s water is about an hour away from breaking, and automatically sends a text to the mother and father’s cell phones that says something like, “Hey, it’s me, Ella. I’m planning on coming out in about 55 minutes. Mom, get your things. Dad, leave work NOW.” (My new granddaughter’s name is Ella.)
Before you go running out to buy it, read on: this is not true. No such device exists. I made it up. But maybe one day it will be invented. And when it is, at that time—and only at that time—I will pat myself on the back and tell everyone how prophetic I am. Just like I did when the iPod came out, twenty-four years after I first predicted it.
Here’s the story about that.
In 1981, my wife and I were visiting my friend Bob. Bob is very smart. He knows mechanics, physics, electrical engineering and a few other scientific disciplines. He has a few patents. I was working for a public relations agency at the time, and one of my coworkers had been on the PR team that helped introduce the Sony Walkman two years earlier. Bob and I were talking about the Walkman. We thought it was a great thing—a device not much bigger than a pack of cigarettes that you could carry around with you and play as many as twenty songs before you have to change the little cassette inside. But I insisted that it was just the tip of the iceberg. I said that one day there will be a mechanism no larger than a postage stamp that will hold as many as two or three hundred songs. Bob said that was impossible, and he cited reasons having to do with bits or bytes or other kinds of digital thingies that were still relatively new at the time and entirely foreign to me.
Bob is still my friend. I admire him, look up to him and enjoy his company immensely. But let’s not forget that the iPod Shuffle was introduced in 2005.
My point: no one should ever say that something is impossible. The truth is that anything is possible. Obviously I am speaking exclusively about technical matters here, but I suppose it can also apply to fashion (clothes made out of rejection slips from publishers), politics (Téa Leone really becoming Secretary of State) and dozens of other things.
I am convinced that many of my predictions will come true one day. Like the ability to attach an object to a beam of light and travel at warp speed. Or an app that translates animal sounds into the human words. Or a button that, when you press it into a phone after receiving a scam call, completely destroys the caller’s entire phone and computer system. Or a machine that records and plays back dreams.
Well, actually, that last prediction can be a little dangerous. I’m not sure I would want anyone to see my dreams. I don’t want my next grandchild, through the water-breaking app, to say, “Hey, mom, dad, it’s me--but I ain’t gonna come out as long as that weirdo’s my grandfather.”
Some Kind of Lonely Clown
14. Sore Loser
Now that the Olympics are long over, I feel safe sharing my opinion about them because we’re onto so many different world topics now. I doubt anyone will kick up a storm about my opinion, even though it's shared by so few of my fellow Americans. But that’s okay; no one agrees with me about Adam Sandler, either.
Here’s what I think: by its very nature, the world-famous Olympics constitute a mammoth overstatement of just about everything: importance, influence, opportunity, reality... To explain why I feel that way, I have to start with a mammoth understatement of my own: I am not a sports person.
Quite the contrary, I’m the one who walks into a room where a bunch of guys are watching the Super Bowl and poses this question, “What inning?”
I realize that not being a sports fan does not preclude me from appreciating what athletes can accomplish. Two hundred and six nations participated in this year's Olympic Games in Brazil, and it is certainly a marvel of cooperation, not to mention logistics. Plus, it’s nice to feel part of the national community and root for our countrymen and women. Yes, I should enjoy the Olympics. Alas, I don’t. (What true sports guy would ever use the word alas?)
First of all, to me it reeks of blatant commercialism. What started as a quadrennial in Greece in the year 776 B.C. (they were not televised at the time) is now a biennial, with the Summer Olympics held one year, and the Winter Olympics two years later. I’m a sucker for good traditions, and the quadrennial system appealed to me. When they switched it I said to myself, “Sure, this way everyone can make more money.” Maybe I’m just jealous. I tried to earn twice as much money at my last freelance job by handing in one project twice, and followed it up with two invoices. Accounts Payable just ignored the second one. I know it’s an imperfect analogy, but the Olympics are an imperfect spectacle—and not just because they’re no longer held every four years.
Do the Olympic Games really represent the pinnacle of human physical achievement, or just the results of what can be achieved when you devote every single waking moment to winning, naturally or otherwise? I would love to see an Olympic athlete who reminds me of myself—the Howdy Doodie-ish way I look, the pear-ish way I’m shaped, the oafish way I can’t tear myself away from “Road House” whenever it’s on TV despite the fact that it’s one of the cheesiest movies ever made... If there were Olympic athletes like that, I might be inspired to Olympic greatness. But so many of the athletes in the Olympics don’t even look human, let alone Joelish. They’re walking muscles. Humorless automatons. Holders of MBS degrees (manufactured by steroids).
It doesn’t inspire me. It frightens me.
Lastly, I still fail to understand the appeal of many Olympic sports, such as gymnastics. Everyone I know (even me!) can go outside and pretend to play a game of, say, baseball, or football, or soccer, or almost any other field game. We don’t have to do it well, but we can follow the rules, go through the motions, and get a little exercise at the same time. Same for swimming. We can jump in the water, swim a lap or two, race against a friend. But gymnastics? There is not a single, solitary gymnastics move I can duplicate or even pretend to imitate, and I’m willing to bet that the same goes for dozens of my friends and acquaintances. So why do I have to go gaga over seeing someone do something that I can’t do, that none of my friends can do, that I don’t want to do, never had an urge to do and (because it looks so painful) wouldn’t do even if I could.
Once again, I know I’m in an exceedingly small minority in my criticism of the Olympics. But I don’t care. After they read this column, no one who knows me will ever invite me over to watch another game with them on TV.
Which I guess means that I win the gold medal.
Grandpa Had a Long One
15. Hell of a Joint
The legalization of marijuana in Colorado has nothing to do with the decision my wife and I made to take a trip to the Centennial State two months ago. But it may have a little to do with why we’re not anxious to go back.
Pot has been in the news a lot lately. Just last week the DEA refused to reclassify marijuana for medicinal uses, claiming there is still no decisive proof of its health benefits. Over in Denver, people are getting ready to vote on a measure to allow the use of marijuana at social clubs and on private business property. And that’s just the tip of the doobie. There are a lot of other things going on in Potland. So when my wife and I were preparing to board the plane for our Colorado trip, I was well aware that in addition to trying to rest and relax, as a journalist I also needed to observe and assess.
A couple who used to live near us in Connecticut had relocated to Colorado Springs three years ago. We were invited to their wedding and decided to turn it into a little bit of a vacation. It turned into one of the most discomforting vacations I had ever taken.
(I almost wrote ‘had ever tooken,’ but believe me, that’s simply because I’m tired; it has absolutely nothing to do with being under the lazy, grammatically-challenged influence of anything at all. I swear.)
Shortly after we arrived in Colorado, a waiter who served us at a small luncheonette in Manitou Springs was so high that the line was completely blurred between knowing if he was serious or joking around. At one point I asked him if I could have a bottle of ketchup and he barked, “NO!” with such gravity that I lost my appetite. Moments later he added, “Just kidding. I like doing that to people.” He then proceeded to tell us how he lives in the mountains with a chipmunk and a bear.
Now, I know you’re not allowed to smoke marijuana while walking around Colorado streets, but I’m not sure what the law is regarding being under the influence while you’re at work. The waiter was wearing a Superman shirt and Clark Kent glasses, both of which made him seem normal enough. But his hair, his demeanor, his speaking voice and his on-the-job behavior told a completely different story. Admittedly, he was very colorful, but our luncheon was marred because we were unable to relax, wondering as we did about everything from what was (inadvertently or otherwise) put into our food, to the accuracy (or lack thereof) of the charges on the check.
When we walked around the neighborhood where our bed-and-breakfast inn was located, we had to avoid several fellow pedestrians who looked, shall we say, dubious. In New York City we would have simply assumed they were homeless. In Colorado Springs, we couldn’t merely assume it; stoned was just as likely. Now, having never researched the effects of marijuana on social behavior (other than the half-hour experience with our Manitou Springs waiter), I didn’t know what to expect from these passersby had they passed by a little closer. I put me on edge.
Finally, on one the several hikes we took in some of the region’s glorious mountainous terrain, I had a whiff of the unmistakable weed of which we are speaking. On one hand I could not help but smile at the thought that people in this state have a better chance than most of indulging in two of their passions at once—mountain hiking and smoking grass. On the other hand, having never indulged myself, I had to wonder if the contact high I was getting could have put me in the mood to pretend I was Superman and jump off the steep face of the cliff I was on to save Lois Lane, who was probably halfway down by then. Because as I’m sure you can well imagine, if I did that, it would have been the last vacation I ever would have tooken.
Please forgive me for taking a moment to plug my TV projects. Maybe there's someone out there who wants to take a look? Just to see? That would be awesome. Because hey, you never know. I have written six pilots--four sitcoms and two dramas. The sitcoms are "Oyster Bagel," "Between Forks," "One Dag," and Old Rockers." The dramas are "Exposed" and "Rose in Spanish Harlem." If you'd like synopses, just let me know! Thank you very much.
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