Saturday, February 18, 2017

SADDLE SORE

What would you be willing to be arrested for? I'm not talking about the cause, but the possible fallout. 

To put it another way, would you be willing to be the criminal in this headline?

13 pounds of horse genitals concealed in woman's luggage


If I were a smuggler I'd aim a little higher, like an original Van Gogh -- something not only worth the risk, but, if successful, an interesting story to tell on my deathbed. 

But horse genitals? I can tell you right now, I wouldn't want to be within five furlongs of that crime. 

And that was only part of the haul. The rest was just 
plain  ol' horse meat. Forty-two pounds worth, to be exact, hidden in juice boxes. 

I will never look at a box of Mott's the same way again. 

To wash down it all down, the smuggler -- flying in from Mongolia to Washington -- was thoughtful enough to bring three liters of yak milk, which sounds like a Johnny Carson punchline. 

For your next picnic on the beach
What makes the 13 pounds in question really impressive is that it appears to have been from one horse

Damn. I know horses are big, but I didn't know they could be 13 pounds big. Why was Mr. Ed hanging out with Wilbur Post when he could have been stormin' the cotton gin behind the stalls at Santa Anita?

By now, I bet you're wondering why anyone would risk a jail jolt -- not to mention wiseassery from people like me -- for equine genitalia.


Mae West doesn't want to wait for Mr. Ed
to croak.
It probably won't surprise you to learn that, as with leeches, morphine, and marijuana, it all comes down to "medicinal purposes."

That must be a Mongol thing. Never -- and I mean NE-VER -- have I been prescribed horse genitals for anything. More to the point, how did some quack decide that horse genitals were good for what ails you to begin with?

Put yourself in this situation. Your doctor is studying the results of your most recent test. He removes his glasses, takes a breath, and looks at you right in the eye. We've tried everything, he says sorrowfully. The only thing I can recommend now is horse genitals. 

Would your first reaction be, Whatever you say. You're the doctor!

Not likely. I bet the barn you'd whip out your cell phone and call the local board of health. But in Mongolia? Sounds good to me, Doc. Do I take it before or after a meal?

And why a horse? There's plenty of Mongolian wildlife to choose from. I understand skipping the dalmatian pelican, whooper swan, and marbled polecat. Let's visit Wikipedia to examine other possibilities:

Not the ideal choice.
The ibex: They are very agile and hardy, able to climb on bare rock and survive on sparse vegetation. Who would have guessed there would be a strong vegetarian?

The wild boar: Bulky, massively built, with short and relatively thin legs. The trunk is short and massive, while the hindquarters are comparatively underdeveloped. Doesn't sound like someone you'd want to mess with!

The musk deer: Yet another vegetarian, who maintains well-defined territories, and smell good to others of their ilk.  Every woman's dream!

I'm no medicine man. You think horse genitals are the answer, knock yourself out. I only look forward to the warning on the side of the package: Possible side effects include a craving for hay, sleeping while standing up, and winning a trifecta.

                                                    *********************

Thursday, February 16, 2017

HEAR DONALD TALK. TALK, DONALD, TALK.

What, me worry? No, us.
The great advantage of watching Donald Trump's entire press conferences, rather than just the "highlights" on the evening news, is that you can find out for yourself what the President said. 

Well, that, and the fact that they last only about 10 minutes -- and for good reason. You see, after catching a couple of them, I've learned that, for a guy who went to private schools and a good college, President Trump has an incredibly limited vocabulary. 

And by "limited", I'm talking about 20 words -- "very", "unfair", "disaster", and "fake" come to mind -- repeated ad infinitum. (That's a phrase he wouldn't understand because it has more than three syllables.) He probably thinks a thesaurus is what the Metropolitan Museum has on display in the dinosaur exhibit. 


How is it I remember Miss Bonnie, but not what
day it is?
It's gotten to the point where I'm getting flashbacks to Miss Bonnie on Romper Room circa 1961. She had the same cadence and reliance on a handful of easy-to-understand words and phrases. I keep waiting for Trump to end each press conference by whipping out a Magic Mirror and cooing, "I see Jimmy, I see Willie, I see Kevin..."

The difference is, Miss Bonnie talked that way because her audience was made up of very young children. Trump sounds like he graduated from the Rocky Graziano School of Communications.

For me, it came to a head when he and Japan's Prime Minister Abe faced the press last week. It was there that the leader of the free world welcomed the Prime Minister to "the very famous White House."

I'm starting to think he's giving signals to his
Russian handlers.
The very famous White House. Cripes! I didn't always agree with Pres. Obama, but if nothing else, he always sounded well-educated. Thoughtful. At times, witty. I enjoyed listening to him, especially toward the end of administration. 

But Trump! Did he ever open a book that didn't have his mistresses' phone numbers? Has he ever uttered anything quotable other than "You're fired"? Does he ever think about anything other than himself? Does he ever think?


And, like Trump, he's not playing with a
full deck, either.
That's why I can't believe that our new president, who sounds like he's forever talking to (or like) a dim-witted toddler, is linked to a Russian spy agency. Government moles go out of their way to fit in and not draw attention to themselves. Especially negative attention. 

If Laurence Harvey had behaved like Trump in The Manchurian Candidate, he never would have gotten clearance to sweep the floors of the Smithsonian Institution, let alone make his way past security at the presidential convention with a rifle. 

Unless... this is all part of the plan. 

The plan to bore us into unconsciousness every time Trump opens his mouth, thus making America ripe for a Russian takeover without a single bullet being fired. It will be, as Trump would put it, an unbelievable annexing. 

And then he would take out his Magic Mirror. I see Vladimir... I see Vladimir... I see no one but Vladimir. 

                                             ****************************** 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

MOVIE OF THE DAY: "NIGHTLIFE OF THE GODS" (1935)


Nutty professor Hunter Hawk, living in the comfy confines of New York's suburbs, has been driving his relatives even nuttier with his experiments, which inevitably end with earth-shaking explosions. He finally proves his genius by inventing tiny devices that turn people into statues, and vice-versa. This is not what Bob Dylan meant when he sang, "Everybody must get stoned."

After using the device on his relatives -- and, really, wouldn't you like that power? -- Hawk goes for a walk in the woods, where he meets a human-sized immigrant leprechaun and his equally-humanish, beautiful, 900 year-old daughter, Meg, who looks all of 20. (Don't tell President Trump -- he might want to build a wall around Ireland.)

Next time some drunk wants to talk politics
with you, try doing this.
Meg and Hunter hit the town, where they cause a commotion in a nightclub, turning drunks, dancers and cops to stone. Naturally, Meg falls in love him, proving once again that women always go for the troublemakers. 

Believing that the invention can be put to better use, Hunter and Meg stay behind at the Metropolitan Museum of Art after closing time, when they bring the statues of eight Roman gods and goddesses to life, buy them new clothes, and check them into a fancy Times Square hotel. How pathetic is it that statues have it better than I do?

Hunter and Meg (front row, right) party down
with the gods and goddesses.
Now, this might seem a dandy way to spend an evening in New York, until you learn that Bacchus really is a sloppy drunk, and Neptune has a serious fish fetish. Finally admitting that statues should be on pedestals and not pub stools, Hunter brings the gods back to the museum and turns them back to their original forms. As the police close in, Hunter realizes that he's fallen in love with Meg. Not wanting to be separated, they embrace as Hunter turns them both to stone.

By the way, none of this is based on a true story.

When it comes to movies I want to see, Nightlife of the Gods checked all the boxes -- interesting title, potentially fascinating story, pre-code, long-missing. 

By the looks of the P.R. book, they
made more posters than they did
prints of the movie.
Especially long-missing. Nightlife of the Gods disappeared after its original 1935 release. I couldn't even find any images of original, stand-alone posters or lobby cards on the internet -- just a couple of print ads and a page from a Universal Pictures' P.R. book. It was almost like the damn thing never existed... until one surviving print miraculously turned up in the mid-80s. It was polished up by the restoration boys at UCLA, before going into hiding once again, unseen by anyone outside the lab. 

By now, Nightlife of the Gods had entered the mythical plane shared by its titular characters -- no video or DVD, not even an airing on TCM. I hadn't thought about it in a while until I recently went on YouTube -- the unofficial repository of all entertainment previously lost -- and, on a whim, typed in the name, as I had done about 50 times over the years.

And there it was: Nightlife of the Gods, 73 minutes long, posted only a month earlier. 

I nearly choked on my homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. Could it be? Was this for real? Or just a cruel joke by the movie gods? A quick check proved it to be the real thing, alright -- a second or third generation dupe of what appeared to be UCLA's copy, but good enough.

At last, one of the legendary fantasies of pre-code cinema, available for free -- no need to fly 3000 miles and convince the folks at UCLA that I was a dying film scholar, whose final request was to watch the one surviving print of Nightlife of the Gods --and oh, by the way, could you burn me a copy while you're at it? And make it a Blu-ray, if you don't mind.
Mercury, Apollo, and Hebe take a
Roman bath at the Waldorf.

So caught up was I in my discovery that I neglected to take into account one very important thing: almost every "legendary" missing feature that finally turns up inevitably disappoints us salivating movie fans. Nightlife of the Gods, alas, was no different. 

It wasn't for lack of trying. Quite the opposite. Everyone involved in its production tried a little too hard to capture the eccentricity of the original novel, written by Thorne Smith four years earlier. It makes Mary Poppins look like Seven Days in May.

Nah, I think I'll just go to the movie
next door.

Universal Pictures seemed to have been worried by the final productseeing that the movie was slapped with a cutesy pre-credit foreword doubling as a warning and an apology. Its use of "whimsical" was worrisome, as it usually means "too cute by seven-eighths." 

While Hunter's family's dry reaction to his explosive experiments is initially amusing, their arch dialogue ("One doesn't do things about explosions -- they do things for themselves") probably read better on paper rather spoken aloud. In fact, nobody speaks what could be considered even faintly realistic dialogue -- even for a movie about turning people into statues.

The studio also made two big mistake in eliminating the novel's sexuality, and making Hunter Hawk's adventures simply a dream when he was knocked unconscious. As with many movies with this kind of cheap cop-out, it negates any reason for its existence, unless it provides a suitably ironic finale. (For an excellent example, track down the 1945 British thriller Dead of Night.)


This is sexier than anything in the movie.
But, as we were told, Nightlife of the Gods is whimsical. Really whimsical. Like what other whimsical thing can we do kind of whimsical. Meg suddenly stepping out of Hunter's suitcase after he moves to his New York apartment; a cop coming back to life after being turned to stone because he has gallstones (WTF?); Neptune getting into a fish-slapping fight with a fishmonger. Rarely has a movie been so exhaustingly whimsical.

Some people can handle that kind of whimsy. Others... well, I don't think it's a coincidence that both Thorne Smith and Lowell Sherman, the director of Nightlife of the Gods, died within months of each other before the movie's release. Unfortunately, there was no invention to bring them back to life.


                                                *****************************

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

JOHNNY ON THE SPOT

Fred was even too cheap
to buy a shirt.
During the 1930s and '40s, people laughed when Fred MacMurray showed up at the Paramount commissary every day with a bag lunch of a sandwich and an apple from home. What a cheapskate! A cheapskate who eventually became Bob Hope-rich.

Yet those misguided folks who were chuckling then would probably nod in approval when this headline appeared in the New York Post yesterday: JOHNNY DEPP SPENT $30K A MONTH ON WINE: EX-MANAGER.

You might think with that kind of bar tab, Depp was an alcoholic surpassing his legendary late friend Hunter Thompson. More likely, though, he merely had extravagant tastes. That's certainly the belief of Joel and Robert Mandel, the owners of the cleverly-named The Management Group, which has handled Depp's dough for many years.

Depp's financials came to light when he sued TMG for mishandling his money. TMG, in turn, claims its client handled the mishandling, and had the Excel sheets to prove it. Now that it's tax time and we're aware of our own finances, the lawsuit makes for interesting reading.


Hunter Thompson, happy at last.
Three million to shoot ashes from a cannon? That, friends, is someone who has more money than he knows what to do with. I mean, don't you wish you could drop four mill on a failed record label? 

This kind of behavior is reminiscent of many people who hit the lottery, and wind up broke in two years. Perhaps it's understandable. Depp, having come from a poor, unstable background (his family moved 20 times by the time he was seven), went from being, among other things, a telemarketer for pens, to the cover of teen magazines in a fairly rapid amount of time. He's pulled down roughly $280-million for his last 13 movies; his personal worth is estimated at $400-million. 

But apparently that isn't enough to live on if you're Johnny Depp. TMG recently warned him that to remain solvent, he would have to sell his property in France... which happens to be an entire village. I'm not sure if that's proof that he's rich or a harebrained spendthrift. It does, however, prove that it takes a village to raise some money. (Asking price: $55-million -- a steal when you consider it comes with its own villagers.)

The part that fascinates me is the monthly $300,000 in salaries for his "staff" of 40. OK, I know that stars need an entourage to maintain their lavish lifestyles, even if that is kind of contradictory. So let's list the usual suspects. Assistant. Housekeeper. Assistant housekeeper. Groundskeeper. Nanny (when Depp was living with the mother of his children). Chauffeur. Personal shopper. Chef. Secretary. Publicist. 

How did that bum
afford a guitar?
That's 10 people who could probably make Johnny's day run smoothly. Who the hell else are the other 30? It couldn't include stylists, unless it's a homeless guy who gives Johnny his cast-offs, a make-up person with cataracts, and a barber who uses sharpened stones to cut hair. 

Johnny Depp shells out $3,600,000 a year on 40 goddamn people when a quarter of them would do. That averages out to $7,500 a month per employee. Shee-it, I'd mow his lawn for half that.

Johnny and Amber in happier(?) days.
Depp alleged that he didn't realize how bad his finances were until he had to sell his French village. (I love writing that phrase.) He needed the cash to help pay for his divorce from Amber Heard, a bisexual almost 25 years his junior who lacked a prenup -- which must have seemed at the time to be the recipe for a perfect marriage. 

Like anyone going through an ugly divorce, Depp needed to get away from it all -- flying on his private jet to his private island in the Bahamas for some well-deserved me-time. 

The union to Heard lasted an epic 15 months. The settlement cost Depp $7-million, or over $466,666 for every month of their marriage. Wouldn't eating a sandwich and an apple for lunch every day make more sense?

                                              ********************

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

ONE FROM COLUMN DOG, ONE FROM COLUMN ROOSTER

Last Saturday marked the first day of Chinese New Year. That's always a big deal here in New York, as it's marked by the usual traditions of parades, fireworks, and the rounding up of dissidents. 

You're probably at least vaguely familiar with the tradition of animals representing certain years in the Chinese calendar. These animals are supposed to symbolize your personality. I was born in the year of the monkey, which, if you know me, is frighteningly on target.

This can't be Trump, because he pays
Russian hookers to do this to each other.
Donald Trump was born in 1946, making him a Fire Dog. This is not to be confused with Sparky the Fire Dog, the official mascot of fire departments and pyromaniacs everywhere. As one site devoted to Chinese astrology explains:


Putting aside his previous toe-in-the-water announcements to maybe, possibly run for president in 2008 and 2012, Trump certainly can't be accused of backing away from a situation, even when he should, which is almost always. And the only personal trait he has less of than circumspection is the ability to know a bad hair style when he sees it.

The site goes on to say that the Fire Dog is "impulsive in nature", making him "prone to taking risks." You don't say! "Such is their capacity for hard work that they can often make good whatever losses they might suffer." Otherwise known as bankruptcy. "Since the Dog is so idealistic him/herself, he/she expects others to follow the same code of ethics." Just imagine -- an entire administration with the ethics of Donald Trump. 

Remember when they had a
similar headline about Calvin
Coolidge?

It probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that Bill Clinton was also born in 1946. And you thought he was just a Horn Dog!

Now let's go to the other side of the barnyard. 2017 is the Year of the Rooster. If you want to know what that means, my wife's copy of The Handbook of Chinese Horoscopes will set you straight. In the book's very first sentence we learn that "the Rooster tends to be overconfident and is prone to come up with nonsensical plans." Hey, that didn't take long to learn!  

It goes on to say, "The rooster likes to flaunt his authority and a lot of trouble can come from his domineering attitude. [...] Everything will be precariously balanced in the Rooster's year, as his dramatic personality can set off all kinds of petty disputes." That's just what I want in a president in these perilous times.

Pathe News would've felt right at home
in 2017.
Need more proof that this astrological stuff isn't just a bunch of hooey? "Politics will adhere to hard-line policies. The diplomatic scene will be dominated by philosophical orators who rave a lot about nothing." Just turn on the news any time of day or night. 

Don't give up hope quite yet, though. "Governments will be found flexing their muscles at each other, but just for show. There will be no real confrontations. It is just that everyone will be too occupied with himself to hear or care what the other person is saying."  Ahh! Just like the good ol' days of the Cold War! 

There's actually good news ahead. "This will be a buoyant year in spite of the Rooster's knack for making simple things complicated." Actually, Trump was elected for doing the opposite, but never mind. "One thing is for sure: he seldom comes up empty-handed. This is the year of one very self-sufficient bird that will never go hungry." How's your IRA looking since Election Day? Not bad, eh?

The Handbook's prediction of the year winds up thusly: "We should all get by without too much hardship. Our pockets will not be empty although our nerves may be a bit frayed." It's better than the opposite. "Just keep your eyes open and your mouth shut and check facts and figures before making unprecedented moves." Tell that to Steve Bannon.

                                                   ***************** 

Monday, January 30, 2017

THE HUB OF HUBRIS

The only time Sinatra deigned to light a
cigarette for someone who didn't
break legs for a living.
Ever since Frank Sinatra helped throw the 1960 Presidential election toward JFK's boudoir, show folk have believed that they have the duty not only to tell people who to vote for, but that everyone cares enough about them that they'll stop whatever they're doing to listen.

(Now, this sarcasm doesn't include my friends in L.A., Leo, Betsy, and Jim. There's always a chair waiting for them at the Casa Fish-Eye dining room table anytime they tire of 75-degree sunny skies for 32-degree, 70% chance of snow.)

President Trump's decision to temporarily stop immigration from Muslim countries was ripe as a Georgia peach for a topic at last night Screen Actor's Guild Awards. 

You know the SAG Awards, right? They have the only award -- the Actor -- named after themselves. Because being an actor is the greatest thing possible. And who better to start the revolution in his opening remarks than the noted prince of perspicacity, that baron of brilliance, Ashton Kutcher?

“Good evening, fellow SAG-AFTRA members and everyone at home – and everyone in airports that belong in my America!", he bellowed in his best I'm-really-more-mature-than-I-look voice. "You are a part of the fabric of who we are and we love you and we welcome you!” 

The Ghandi of
Beverly Hills.
By the way, Ashton, maybe it's because you fly in private jets and, thus, never have to actually stand in NSA security lines or wait for all passengers to board before taking off to whatever gated tropical home you're vacationing in, but airport TVs are tuned to CNN, not TBS. The only exception to the CNN rule I've ever encountered was during a layover at Dallas-Fort Worth Airport, which was devoted elusively to Fox News. (The West Coast isn't the only place that plays into stereotypes.)

Or does he think that refugees from war and theocratic nations, having been suddenly rejected from the promised land, are saying to each other, Hey, let's watch the SAG awards on our $800 iPhones before we go back to our certain beheadings! 

As for the "fabric of who we are" -- well, that fabric doesn't exactly fit the people who run Hollywood's TV and movie studios in the 21st century, which is still proudly white, male, and American-born. Refugees are welcomed to Beverly Hills, alright -- to trim lawns, wash dishes, and wipe baby's asses.

Show biz's yearning for exclusiveness, in fact, was rather muted when anyone who was anti-abortion was barred from joining the recent Million Women March in Washington. Those women were forced into a segregated march of their own.

It was kind of like when black women at NASA weren't allowed to dine with their white colleagues in the cafeteria -- just as was portrayed in Hidden Figures, which won the SAG award for Best Ensemble in a Motion Picture.  

I'm not one of the "shut up and sing" people who are unable to separate politics from the person. As far as I'm concerned, show folk can keep yakking until the grass-fed cows come home. But if they embraced irony in their work as much as they did in real life, every movie would be The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. Just not as good.

                                             *********************

Personal notes to my Hollywood friends: 

Betsy: Keep fighting the good fight regarding the SAG-AFTRA voiceover strike. Don't cave like the writers did in 2008.

Leo: You were robbed at the ACE Awards. (I don't know if you were nominated, but you should have been.)

Jim: I'm still available for freelance work!

Thursday, January 26, 2017

TODAY'S MULTITASK

Every time I turn around, there's a new "study" from a university that I've never heard of, that "proves" either something you've always known or really isn't true to begin with, but sounds good because it plays into the Ah, I thought so! section of your brain. 


The effects of thinking too hard.
The latest comes from the Spinal Cord Injury Center at University Hospital Balgrist in Zurich. The scientists, presumably between servings of Toberlone and Gruyere, decided that women are better than men at multitasking.  Because scientists at a spinal cord injury center have nothing better to do all day.

The results came from a test where men were asked to carry out complex thinking while using a treadmill. The proof of their inability to do this? Many of the men stopped swinging their arms while walking. OK, Nils, make room for that Nobel Prize!

As "proof" goes, this doesn't quite rank with the polio vaccine or the correlation between smoking and heart disease. It doesn't even equal that whole "Iraq has WMDs" debacle. Because men are better at multitasking by the simple fact that they can about sex while doing anything. 

Changing a tire. Delivering the quarterly report. Painting a house. Attending a funeral. Examine the brain patterns of any man involved in these activities, and you can be sure that all of them have made plenty of room for sex. And still their jobs get done! 


Not to be taken literally.
Now, if you want to see a guy who can really multitask, I suggest you take a look at my friend and former writing partner Kevin Thomsen. Not only is this guy an award-winning producer and director of audio books, he's set up  something called the Red Trunk Project.

Quite rightly realizing that adults have made a pig's lunch of the world, Kevin decided that it was up to children to straighten things out. To quote from his site:


So, dig: Unlike celebrities who use their names and spare time to promote  booze, fashion, or their nebulous "brand," Kevin is actually trying to help the world in a cool, novel way, while still working at his (admittedly Grammy-winning) day job. That's multitasking to the nth degree. 

Go to the Red Trunk Project site and discover more about what  Kevin's doing. And if you think this is all just a free plug for a friend... Well, if you read his bio, you'll see that he's described as having "been fortunate to work with some of the greatest writers" of his time. And I think we all know who he's talking about, right? 

See, I can even backscratch while thinking about sex. 

                                                       ********************

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

BREAKING NEWS: 1/25/2017

Gwyneth Paltrow told InStyle magazine that ex-husband Chris Martin would "take a bullet for me."

When asked to comment, Martin explained that, like many people, he would be glad to take a bullet and put it in Paltrow's head.









Upon learning the explanation, Mayor Bill de Blasio said that if it were to really happen, they were to be immediately shot down.





"What I meant to say was, I'm a goddamn idiot who shouldn't be allowed within five miles of a government job, or, for that matter, human beings in general."



Democratic insiders say there is a 50/50 chance that Hillary Clinton will run for Mayor of New York this year.

In related news, local dating sites noticed an uptick in new accounts under the nickname "Ex-Prez Bill."







Asked for proof, John told her, "Have you ever heard Yoko Ono sing?"






                                                       ******************


Monday, January 23, 2017

LOWER END OF THE SPECTRUM

From bad...
Some months back, New York TV stations were suddenly inundated with commercials advising us that our cable service, Time-Warner, would soon become something called Spectrum. We were assured that this wasn't just a name change, but an honest-to-gosh upgrade in home entertainment.

Usually in this kind of change, the only thing that's upgraded is the price. But the friendly Spectrum spokesman assured us that we would see tremendous improvement in our television, internet, and telephone service. Excuse me, I mean voice service, the word "telephone" apparently sounding a little 19th-century for their taste.

I'm not sure what they meant by improvement. Our hi def was still hi; the internet still provided us (well, me) all the information I needed on old B-movies; and the phone -- voice -- still provided an outlet for scammers to call us at all hours of the day. What more was there to do?


... to worse.
Well, for one thing, Spectrum could fix those audio drop-outs that happened under the Time-Warner regime. And maybe they could provide us with a la carte TV choices, rather than forcing us to have entire channels in languages that I've never even heard of, let alone pronounce, just so we can watch TMC (for me) and HGTV (for the missus). And while we're on the subject, I have no interest in ESPN, MTV, or anything else that usually airs in bars or dorm rooms. Give us two dozen channels that we like, and we'll be customers for life. 

We woke up one day to find that Spectrum had finally taken over, much like the way Paris did when the Nazis invaded. The first change I noticed was that the cable app on my tablet was now a little sleeker. It also now had a habit of telling me that it was unable to program a DVR recording after it actually did. Such modesty!

As for the audio -- well, there was no change there. I still keep the remote handy to pause the live digital broadcast for a second or two, then resume it to bring the sound back. 

But here's the real "upgrade". Between 6:45 and 7:00 in the evening, it takes at least 15 seconds the change the channel with the remote. 


Hey, slow down, buddy! Can't you
see it's 7:00?
You can set your watch by it. You're on channel 44. Press 14... and go into the kitchen, pop open a beer, throw out the bottle cap, take a swig, wipe your mouth with the back of your hand. Walk back into the living room, and the channel will change just as you sit down.

Where was it mentioned in those commercials that Spectrum was going to perform an anti-upgrade at that time, night after night? Is it possible that every Spectrum customer in New York is flipping the channel simultaneously, thus gumming up the works? 

Online customer reviews for Spectrum (and Time-Warner) are almost entirely negative. But as I've scrolled through them, I haven't found anyone else complaining about the mystery of the 7:00 channel change. We must be taking one for the team, I guess, just so we can have our fill of film noirs, home-fixit programs, and the morning weather report. 

I'd like to continue talking to you, but there's a call coming over the voice service telling me I owe $3,000 to the IRS. Anybody know how to put that kind of dough on a debit card like they're telling me to do?

                                                  ************************


Tuesday, January 17, 2017

STRICTLY ON BACKGROUND, PT. 4: ELEMENTARY

After several gigs that involved taking 6:30 A.M. vans to such far flung places as White Plains, Queens College, and JFK Airport, it was a relief to book a job that was a subway ride away (137th near City College) at the more reasonable time of 9:45. 

Despite shooting in early December, it was a warm sunny morning -- a good sign for what was going to be an exterior scene. But by the time they were ready for us, the temperature would drop precipitously as a strong wind blew in a thick cloud cover, turning the blue sky to a dark, threatening grey, fit for a Sherlock Homes mystery.


It was appropriate, then, the series I was working on that day was Elementary, which re-imagines Holmes and Dr. Watson working in modern day New York. And if you think the stars bear little resemblance to Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce, you win a trunkful of back issues of True Detective magazine and a polyester deerstalker cap.


Before dining at The Edge, make sure it isn't
overrun with extras.
Other than the call time, something else that promised to be different about this shoot was the holding area. Instead of being lodged in a church basement as is often the case, we were ensconced at The Edge, a restaurant with an American/Caribbean/Jamaican cuisine, a gastronomic hat trick that got me hungry before I even checked in. 

Unfortunately, The Edge was merely the host, not the server. Perhaps it's just as well. Once I start eating that kind of grub, you can't get me off my chair until I pass out, which wouldn't do my reputation any good.

The group I was working with waited about three hours before going to the set -- the set being Edgecomb Avenue and 140th Street, where we crossed the street several times while a scene was shot several yards away. As I said before, the weather wasn't what you'd call clement, but at least we were dressed for winter when it was cold. I once had a "winter" shoot where I wore a sweater, scarf, and leather jacket on a sunny, 70-degree afternoon for a couple of hours. If nothing else, working up that kind of sweat is a great way to lose weight.

After 10 or 15 minutes of the back-and-forth, we were then assigned to walk east on 140th as they shot another scene. I was partnered with another guy, and we were told to go about half-way down the block. The p.a. would give us the OK when to start walking toward the featured actors. 

Our job was to look like we were friends, despite us looking completely differently -- he, a well-dressed businessman a decade or so my junior with salt & pepper hair; me in my tan overcoat, brown lamb's wool cap, and backpack. Diversity!

After the first couple of takes, we got the word that we were getting in camera range a little too early. We were then told to start near the end of the block, and, when getting our cue, to walk slowly toward the actors. That's the kind of thing that I really need to concentrate on to accomplish, so it would take some serious acting on my part. 

I think it took just two more takes to get it in the can. While the featured actors were in a two-shot, my co-extra and I were in a wide shot near the end of the scene as the camera crane pulled back. 

When I took a photo of the scene as it aired, I angled on us rather than the entire shot, just so you could tell it's me. You can tell, right?

This is exactly the way I walk against the wind on a December day: head kind of down with hands in pockets. I'm a natural at this extra stuff. Except for walking slowly. Then I need direction.

The Elementary shoot also provided valuable perspective on my job. This being a public area, non-actors were restricted from walking on the street until the shoot was finished. A bunch of teenage school kids, who were quite agreeable in waiting for the all clear, started chatting with us; none appeared starstruck. One of them turned to me.

HIM: You on this show?
ME: Yeah.
HIM: You a TV star?
ME: In my head, yes.
HIM: So you're crazy?
ME: (pause) Yeah, you could say that.


No danger of my ego running unchecked with that kind of interaction.

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