Monday, April 30, 2007


Did you ever get emotionally bowled-over by something you read or saw in a movie or TV show? I just did. I think my reaction had do with the irony of attaining a great success and not enjoying it.

"AMERICAN MASTERS" is an hour-long TV show on PBS. Using a biography format, the show concentrates on US artists, musicians etc. Tonight's episode was on country singer Hank Williams, (1923-1953).
My familiarity with Williams had been filled with my own misinformation. Perhaps that's why the tragedy of his life hit me so hard. It should be noted that there is plenty of information on him at Wikipedia but the written word simply can NOT convey how much this man was loved.

A couple of years ago, I saw the movie, "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW." It featured Hank Williams tunes and even though I always liked his music, I never knew anything about the man.
I mentioned how great his music was in the film to one of my readers, TRPT, and he kindly burnt me a copy of Williams' greatest hits CD. Despite strong objections from my son and wife, I have worn that disc out! My four favorites are, "Your Cheatin' Heart," "Kaw-Liga," "Hey Good Lookin' " and "Jambalaya."

The most compelling aspect of Hank Williams life was that he was born with a mild, undiagnosed case of spina-bifida occulta; a disorder of the spinal column that gave him lifelong pain--a factor that led to his later abuse of alcohol and drugs.

Prior to the impact of Elvis Presley, Williams' honky-tonk style was an important link Country Western music had with Rock 'N Roll. Although Williams was too "hillbilly" to attain the widespread appeal that Elvis was to enjoy, he was still a superstar in every sense of the word.

While "enjoying" his success, Williams was haunted by his back pain and tortured by the nagging of his wife, Audrey Shepard. She repeatedly accused him of infidelity while on the road which led to horrendous fights. These emotional battles coupled with his fight against pain influenced the lyrics in many of his songs. It was said of his first wife, "Its hard to tell if he was drinking to numb his pain or drinking to block her out." But his love for her was also intense because it was also said of them, "They couldn't live together and they couldn't live apart."

To ease his pain, Williams had some vertebrae fused together but the operation didn't accomplish very much. While convalescing at home, perhaps influenced by morphine and "handfuls" of other pain-killers, he shot out the windows of his house. Although his motives are unclear, his wife was so spooked that she left him and filed for divorce.

Wiliams' pain, domestic woes and drinking were all common-knowledge to his fans. If anything these problems made him a more sympathetic character. At the height of his depression he confided in a friend, "I don't know who my friends are any more. I'd trade everything, to just entertain the folks back home."

In the early forties a friend and fellow singer Roy Acuff encouraged Hank to stop showing up at performances drunk. He said of Williams, "He has a million-dollar voice and a ten-cent brain." Nonetheless, Williams together with his band, The Singing Cowboys, only saw their popularity escalate. He hosted his own radio show and kept turning out records. In a span of about thirteen years, Williams wrote and performed 12 number-one hits plus many others in the top-ten.
At the pinnacle of his success, the public appearances became less important to him and he frequently just didn't show up. While a regular at the Grand 'Ole Opry, this attitude and erratic behavior got him and the Singing Cowboys fired. The band didn't want to work with him any more and they parted company. Williams left Nashville and got hired as a solo performer at another country venue, The Louisiana Hayride.

By 1950, Williams decided to clean-up his act and take back control of his life. He began writing moralistic songs; many of which were recitations rather than his usual crooning. He was fearful that this new approach would hurt his existing commercial appeal, so he wrote under the name "Luke the Drifter." His public recognized his voice and accepted this duality (going from songs about rowdy times and drifting to songs about religion and remorse). His legendary status remained untarnished and the new style widened his audience.

Williams began hinting to friends that he feared that he would die. Two of the last songs he wrote were, "I Won't Be Home No More" and "I'll Never Get Out of the World Alive."

On New Year's Day 1953, en route by car from Knoxville, Tennessee to a public appearance in Canton Ohio, (severe weather had cancelled all the flights), Hank Williams was found dead in Oak Hill, West Virginia, in the back of a rented limousine; he was 29 . His exact cause of death was never determined but he had injected himself with B12 and morphine. The only other item found in the backseat with him besides a few beer cans was the handwritten lyrics to an unrecorded song, "Then Came That Fateful Day."

I hope you can all discover Hank Williams' music for yourself. But if you want to kill two birds with one stone, rent "THE LAST PICTURE SHOW." Its from 1971, starred Cybill Shepherd and was a four-star movie.

Friday, April 20, 2007


The "REN & STIMPY SHOW" was a short-lived cartoon. Its founder, John Kricfalusi targeted the humor for teens and young adults. The show enjoyed a great success for two years until the network "stole" the rights from him. Then without Kricfalusi's creative genius, the network produced their own ersatz version. Driven by the it's early reputation the show remained popular but viewers noticed a drop in quality. Then within two years, the show was off the air. One of the bright spots throughout the run was Billy West, the voice of Stimpy.
Billy West molded Stimpy's voice from his impression of Larry Fine from the "THREE STOOGES." Apparently Mr. West is the only person in the world who does a decent Larry...of course, there probably isn't much of a call for Larry Fine impersonators anyway. Therefore on our family visit with Andrew's friend Vinnie last week to Philadelphia, I was surprised to see a huge (and not aesthetically beautiful) wall moral of Larry Fine over Jon's Bar & Grill on South Street.
Later when we wanted lunch, somehow Larry lured us back. The back of the menu included Larry's biography and we were surprised that he had actually lived in the building that the restaurant/bar now occupied. Oh, yeah in case you're curious...and PLEASE pardon the pun...the food was "FINE."

From there, we went to the Franklin Institute to see the King Tut Exhibit. They must have extremely long waits at times, because they had snaky railings set-up like at amusement parks. Our time slot was 5:30PM and luckily we walked past the railings directly to a holding area. At first it seemed like we would have a long wait but they allow 60 people in every three minutes. Our wait was about ten minutes.

Before going inside, a museum representative gives a short spiel on patron etiquette as well as some do's and don'ts . That's followed by a two-minute film narrated by Omar Shariff that gives a brief history of what you are about to see.

The exhibit is divided into five rooms. The crowds are small enough that if you wanted to see everything up close, the wait, if any was short. Also each item had a small plaque to read and this information was repeated in big print at the top and all sides of the individual showcases.

On the funny side, in the first room, a woman with a one-year old in her arm was dragging a whining three-year old along.
I was standing next to them when she suddenly bent down, stuck her finger in the tike's face and said, "You're NOT ruining this for me!" When the kid tried to rebut she interrupted, "When I take you to Disneyworld I don't ruin it for you, do I?"
I kept an eye on them and the boy never whined again.

In comparison to when I saw King Tut at the New York Museum of Natural History in 1978, the crowd was controlled much better this time around. I also think there was a lot more to see and the time restrictions in each room were more relaxed.

There were minor flaws in the presentation but I won't mention them because I wouldn't want to discourage any of my readers from attending.

On the way out, photography was permitted in the gift shop. They had tons of crap to buy to help you recall the memories of the trip but you should always remember, one picture is worth a thousand words.
It should be noted that the ticket price also includes the regular museum. If you've never been to the Franklin Institute, its great for all ages. We parked easily at a meter about a block bring plenty of quarters.

After we left, Andrew's friend wanted to see (as he called it) Independence DAY Hall. Being Philadelphia illiterate, I took the loooong way to get there but was able to come through on my promise. More importantly, through my guidance, Vinnie has dropped the word DAY.

Monday, April 16, 2007


I have nothing personal against New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine, I even voted for him. However, I can't seem to get beyond the irony of 'ole "Numbnuts" getting into his car accident and that out of four passengers--the only one who got injured seriously was Corzine, the one NOT wearing his safety belt. Therefore, one out of four, or for those of you into percentages...25% in terms of TOO a high enough number.

Speaking of one-of-four things coming from the State; the partial ban (25%) on smoking inside casinos went into effect on April 15th. Just like one person out of four not wearing a seat-belt is too many, the concession of 25% of the gaming space is too high.
For most front-line casino workers, exposure to smoke is the worst part of the job. In addition to the proven and re-proven health risks associated with second-hand smoke, the smoke is a firm barrier between the customer and the worker. The main reasons are; smoke physically hurts, it irritates the eyes and effects breathing. It also effects concentration and hinders the staff's number-one responsibility, game protection.

For those of you who aren't aware of actual issue, New Jersey outlawed smoking in ALL public buildings...yet the geniuses seemed to see it fit to exempt a small handful of buildings...casinos. After exhaustive protest, local politicians in Atlantic City pushed for a local ordinance to extinguish smoking...and they won.

After some delay tactics by the casinos, the big day finally came a few months ago. Then with the sweet smell of clean air in our grasps, there was some "eleventh hour" manipulation. Somehow, the powers-that-be were waylaid by special interest. The casinos, maintained that they were "certain" other gambling venues that allowed smoking would have an unfair economic advantage on Atlantic City.
Casino's came up with randomly high and self-serving numbers to claim that this town would lose 20% of its income. They then parlayed that notion by dangling the inevitability of vast employee lay-offs to off-set their losses. So the powers-that-be kowtowed to them. Once again, might over right (money over health) wins out.

It should be noted that on April 15th a couple of pro-active casinos bucked the trend by disregarding the 25% ban. These casinos set-up enclosed smoking lounges, just a short dash off the casino floor, to accommodate smokers. They were able to visualize the hypocrisy and live up to the assertion that they provide a clean and safe environment for their staff. (Nearly all the casinos state or imply this message in their Mission Statement).

But for all the other casinos its business as usual. The gaming halls are only serving themselves by setting aside 25% of the casino floor-space for smokers because the other 75% includes a lot of "less-traveled" areas. Therefore, in the case of table game employees, some pits are ALL smoking and only restrict it on individual customer request. In other pits, smoking is only allowed on the end games. However, when the pit is reduced (late at night) to two or three tables, these games would all be smoking. Unless this is addressed, the smoking ban will have succeeded in INCREASING the risk from second hand smoke.

Unfortunately, it gets worse because casinos are unwilling to "advertise" that the building (with a 25% exemption of casino space) is now smoke-free. Therefore smokers still smoke!
Smokers are limited to a narrow corridor plus gaming tables that touch this space. But the reality is, smokers come and go as they please. When asked not to smoke, they are often encouraged to smoke somewhere else (even though the vacant space they are now smoking in, is a restricted area).
In an article a few days ago in the Atlantic City Press, the reporter claimed that the ban was working and that no fines had been levied. I haven't seen a security guard stop anyone from smoking. I'm guessing this responsibility hasn't been added their job description. Beyond that, it would be too "costly" for the regulators to keep a division of smoke police so the violators overwhelmingly go unchecked and that's why nobody has been fined

Hopefully these quirks, in this utterly stupid law will be ironed-out soon because the spirit of the law is reduce the risk of casino worker health problems. Anyone who can't see that only has to look at the dealer from the Tropicana, a non-smoker, who from second-hand smoke developed lung cancer. When he became a vocal advocate of smoke-free casinos, he was fired.

Casinos have until the summer to build enclosed pits to house 25% of the table games to accommodate smokers. But these segregated spaces will probably never get built. Casinos have already found out that few people will voluntarily work in these rooms and that the amount of recompense needed to change these people's minds would be staggering...not to mention the cost of building these rooms to "cage-in" their customers. Me personally, I'll believe the smoke-free casino environment when I see it because the casino legal departments have the know-how and resources to tweak the issues, force delays and dilute policies to their benefit.

If justice was to be really served, the State would have enacted a 100% ban for one year. Then assessed the financial impact on the city and then, only if a great hardship occurred that threatened jobs would the 25% separate gaming rooms, be used.
At a time when casinos feel threatened by dealer unionization, you'd think this issue would have been laid to rest long ago.
Yet several casinos have gone smoke-free. These casinos are not profit-at-all-cost mega-corporation whores. They understand their greater responsibility to its front-line employees and community. More importantly, they recognize the contrived idea of other gaming venues having an unfair advantage over them and allow the competition right next door to smoke.