Monday, April 28, 2008

LEAVE IT TO BEAVER...not

During a recent visit with my mother, we reminisced about wild things that happened on our street. After she retold the story below, she reminded me how lucky she was to have such great kids.

Late fifties TV shows depicted family life as sterile and wholesome with dilemmas of minor consequence mixed in. Sit-coms like "OZZIE AND HARRIET" and "FATHER KNOWS BEST" typified this notion. However, I would expect that few TV viewers actually bought-in to the idea of housewives cleaning and cooking in beautiful dresses and high-heels. Or, that husbands, after a hard day at the office were taking off their suit's sports coat (while leaving their ties on) as they straightened-out the day's travails, in a smoking jacket.

When I was little, I didn't need to be Einstein to figure out that real-life families were different from TV. I only had to look outside daily, to see our impatient neighbor encouraging his dalmatian to do its business quickly by clearly enunciating to the world, the entire contents of the profanity handbook. Across the street, we had the head-shaved guy we kids called Mr. Clean. He seemingly wore his wife-beater tee-shirt outside everyday, even to shovel snow. A few doors further down George, from the filling station, came by a couple of times a week to visit his friend. After a while you'd think he'd realize that his friend was at work during the day and that his friend's wife was alone in the house...I wonder what they were talking about? Nevertheless, the most intriguing and most dysfunctional family on our street featured a dad, mom and son. Let's call them the Cleavers.
The father (I'll call him Ward) was the root of the Cleaver's downfall. An austere accountant, he walked drearily home like clockwork at 6:30. Expressionless, in a black suit and black fedora, he carried a black cloth briefcase in one hand and a black umbrella (rain or shine) in the other. This Willy Loman-like figure never acknowledged the kids on the street and never looked our way either.

My father used to make "Ward" jokes to my mother. Dad would say that Mr. Cleaver was giving her "the eye," (checking her out). This was made "funnier" because the gossip going around was that Ward was a monster who was no stranger to smacking his wife (I'll call her June) around. June frequently wore giant sun-glasses and/or gobbed-on plenty of make-up to hide her pummeled face.

June was certainly oppressed and Ward, in addition to being a tyrant was especially cheap.

Back around 1960, in many households the husband handled all the money matters. The Cleavers were one such family. June, because Ward was so thrifty...never had any "mad-money" until she developed this scheme:
In a rotation of housewives that included my mother, June would come by and ask if there was anything she could pick up for them at the market. At a time when a can of corn was probably 15c, her subterfuge rarely amounted to more than a dollar at a time. The selected neighbor would give her the money thus "padding" the Cleaver grocery order. When Ward came home, he'd check the supermarket receipt total and take back the exact change from June. This allowed June to pocket the pittance from what she picked up for the neighbor.

Please remember, Ward was an accountant. At some point, even though 1960-era cashier register tapes only showed prices, Ward, perhaps during a spot-check, itemized the list against the newly bought goods and discovered the discrepancy. At about that time, June accidentally walked into a door. She broke her jaw and never asked to go shopping for neighbors any more.

June and Ward had one son, Beaver. He was four years older than me and a nice guy. Once when I was around ten, he climbed a tree to free my friend's kite. Several other times he stopped to throw a ball with us. In my early teenage years Beaver began ignoring us. At about that time, I saw him hanging-out in the parking lot of a closed strip mall with "hitters" (outside Brooklyn most people call these trouble-makers, Greasers).

One afternoon my friends and I saw Beaver lurch out his front door and fall on the lawn. We ran over and thought he was sick. He laid motionless and stared directly at the sun. Suddenly, he began to shake. His convulsing got worse and he muttered incoherently. A woman looked out her window and saw our crowd watching him "trip." She rushed outside and ushered us away. Down the block, we occupied ourselves for a while until we heard the police sirens and the ambulance.

The next (and last time) I saw Beaver, we were playing stickball in front of the Cleaver's house. Ward was watering the garden and Beaver was stumbling up the street. He confronted his father and a violent argument ensued...until Beaver pulled a gun. He led his father into the house and after a few minutes, Beaver ran out, threw the gun into the bushes and fled. We could hear June screaming before she and Ward came out. June was hysterically crying as Ward set-out after Beaver...his chase lasted to the corner and he gave up.

I'm going to see my mother later this week and I'm going to tell her she was wrong to say, she was lucky to have such good kids...because it's the other way around.
With that in mind, remember, its never too early to get ready for MOTHER'S DAY.

Monday, April 21, 2008

MY HERO, DANNY KAYE

In my childhood, especially on rainy days or when I was sick, I had a nice selection of kiddie records to listen to. I had two featuring the Three Stooges, Peter and the Wolf, Tubby the Tuba, Captain Kangaroo and some less interesting ones. But the musical/comedy Danny Kaye record that I got for my fifth birthday remained my favorite--and through my sister's pro-action in the late 70's--she made a cassette copy (which I still have) when all our old records began warping.

I'm not certain what the title of the record was but I recall the cover had Danny Kaye laying across a wooden rocking chair holding an over-sized lollipop while dressed in short pants like a kid from the forties. My favorites cuts were: "I'm Five, I'm Five...I'm a Big Boy Now, I'm Five," "See-Saw" (which I regularly sang {badly} to Andrew), "Crazy Barbara" and "Mommy, Give Me a Drink of Water."

HOLY SCHNIKEES, I FOUND THE ALBUM COVER PICTURE ON THE WEB.

In addition to performing all those great songs, he was inspired to write them by the birth of his daughter in 1946.

I got on this Danny Kaye "trip down Memory Lane," because TCM played some of his movies last week, plus the classical music radio station featured his Broadway accomplishments on their Sunday show-tune edition.

It then occurred to me that my childhood hero...by today's standards...is a virtual unknown.

David Daniel Kaminsky (Danny Kaye) was born to Ukrainian immigrants in the East New York section of Brooklyn on January 18, 1913. Although he never graduated Thomas Jefferson High (my mother's school), he was already a star Borscht Belt comedian as a teenager. Among his many funny talents was the ability to play manic Russian accented characters, while speaking at breakneck speed.

Danny Kaye is most recognized for his work in movies, (he was dark-haired so the movie moguls had him dye his hair red to be more striking...and they were right). In the early thirties, he landed in Hollywood and performed in bit parts until hitting it big. His most famous starring roles were:

- The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
- The Inspector General
- White Christmas
- The Court Jester
- Merry Andrew
- Hans Christian Andersen (My favorite Danny Kaye movie)

Kaye also was a radio personality, had his own TV show and performed for the royal family in 1948, at London's Palladium Theater. That performance was later described as, "Worshipful hysteria," as the royals... so enthralled by Kaye, shockingly left the royal box to sit closer for a better view.

Kaye was such a high-level superstar that in 1952, he hosted the Academy Awards. Some of you might remember from the 60's that he was the host of the annual broadcast of the "Wizard of Oz." I also recall him being especially cute as a guest star on the "Muppets."

Beyond the glitter of the entertainment industry, Kaye was a great fan of the Brooklyn/Los Angeles Dodgers...and baseball in general. In 1977, he became an original owner of the Seattle Mariners.


Danny Kaye was an ardent fund raiser for UNICEF and later became their ambassador. He also helped raise over five million dollars for the Musicians Pension Fund. In addition to helping educate people about the Holocaust, Kaye came out of retirement in 1981 to play a serious role as a survivor in the made for TV film, "Skokie."

Andrew is familiar with Kaye only from that cassette of my kiddie record. I got him to watch a snippet from Walter Mitty (I admit, the non-daydream scenes are dated ) but I was thrilled that my son appreciated Kaye's genius.

Danny Kaye suffered from a bout with hepatitis in 1987 and died shortly thereafter of a heart attack on March 3rd of that year.

A true icon who succeeded in every entertainment medium, I hope you all take time out and discover or re-discover that great unknown superstar of my childhood.

Monday, April 14, 2008

THAT'S NOT A MIDDLE FINGER, HE JUST THINKS KOSUKE IS #1

I work with a gentleman named Richard Roundtree. I'm almost certain he doesn't know who I am...but I think of him all the time.

Richard Roundtree has the same name of the actor who played the title role in the original 1971 movie, "SHAFT." So, every time I pass him in the hallway, the Shaft movie theme song, sung by Isaac Hayes, comes to mind. My favorite lyric is, "That cat Shaft is a bad mother..." That phrase you may recall, is interrupted by the female chorus chiming in, "Shut you mouth!"

Well, if you are as old as I am, maybe you remember that in the original recording, there is an added "f" syllable after the word, mother. Apparently that hint of profanity forced the record producer to tweak the song to make it more presentable to the record buying public as well as the radio listeners of the time.

A similar problem has cropped up this year in baseball. But I do NOT see any way to "tweak-away" this profanity.

His first name is Kosuke but I have a feeling that he'll be someone known strickly by his last name. Having been imported from the Japanese major league, he's a rookie on this year's Chicago Cubs. He's gotten off to an impressive start and immediately developed into a fan favorite. Although his prowess on the field deserves mentioning, his name alone made him legendary before he stepped on the field. You see Kosuke's last name is pronounced FOO-KOO-DOE-ME but it is spelled...F-U-K-U-D-O-M-E.

The scope of his name's notoriety was evident on opening day. Four shirtless Cubs' fans each had a letter painted on their chest. When they stood together in sequence it spelled F-U-K-U. Unfortunately, a picture of them was unavailable at press time.

During that first game, Fukudome had three hits including a dramatic ninth inning three-run home run that sent the game into extra innings.

Yes, the lowly Cubs had a public relations boon on their hands. If he could have retired as he crossed home plate, he would have been crowned president of Chicago. But alas, the game carried on and in the next inning, they proved to be the same old Cubbies...and lost.
Through the first half-month of the season, despite Fukudome being a bad mother-f , (shut your mouth), the Cubs are once again especially ordinary.
(Editor's note) - In 2006, while at the Rock-N-Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland Ohio, Andrew and I listened to the Shaft theme song and they too had the edited version without the added "f."

Monday, April 7, 2008

THE MIGHTY MACS

My casino career in Las Vegas started on January 8, 1979, I weighed 185.
For those of you who didn't read my short story, "THE HEAT IS ON," it examines my first craps dealing job at the SLOTS-A-CASINO. My combined wages and tips in that toilet was $150.00 gross and I do mean GROSS!
I toiled there for three months before getting a better job but the habit of eating (gorging myself) at cheap buffets would last an entire year. By the time Christmas rolled around, I tipped the scales at 222 pounds. It was then that women's basketball changed my waistline's life.

I was invited to a friend's house for Christmas dinner. I was taken aside by his wife and encouraged to ask-out her sister, Suzette. Later, I struck up a conversation with her. She told me that she was a basketball player. When she saw my unimpressed expression, Suzette told me that she once scored all her team's points in a game. Her eavesdropping sister was quick to add that she scored the three points in a 27-3 loss.

At a more opportune and private moment, I asked her out. She said, "I don't usually go out with fat guys but I will, if you can beat me in a one-on-one basketball game." I overlooked the insult and remembered while attending Brooklyn College the time when a friend and I were challenged by girls to play basketball. It turned out to be a "touchy-feely" precursor to coupling-off. So with that in mind, I accepted Suzette's proposition.

If my life had depended on it, I never could put a hand on Suzette. In waterbug fashion, she whizzed past me for easy lay-ups or hit uncontested jumpers. In no time, I was laying on my back across the foul-line wheezing for breath when the score was 4-0. Needless to say, she and I never went out. But because of that incident, I went on the greatest diet in my life and lost 44 pounds by April 1st.

I look back at Suzette and that period of my life and wonder, when did women's basketball get to be MEGA? With the NCAA championship basketball game being played tomorrow on national TV, let's look back and trace where big-time women's basketball may have started.

Nestled in Malvern Pennsylvania, tiny Immaculatta College is an all-female Catholic University an hour or so from Philadelphia. In 1972 (and again in '73 and '74), they were the first national champions of women's college basketball.

During the tidal wave of the women's equal rights movement, the Mighty Macs as they were dubbed, went to that first tournament unclear of the format and without knowing that they were playing for a national crown. The backwardness of the times is underscored by the Immaculatta team uniform. It consisted of a white dress blouse under a billowy, skirt-like jumper.
To further illustrate the newness of the concept of women running, jumping, sweating and chasing a basketball, many women's college programs back then were still offering a "girls" half-court version of the game. Among other tweaks in the rules, try to imagine playing basketball with each player restricted to three dribbles at a time.

In addition to the theological angle, The Mighty Macs had a tremendous national following as women sought new ways to break domestic stereotypes and compete in all areas of society. However, most people who recall this phenomena remember the enthusiastic nuns on the sidelines yelling encouragement, rhythmically banging empty 5 gallon plastic buckets with drumsticks and razzing the referees in the name of divine intervention.

Immaculatta's pioneering did so much to put a face on women's college athletics yet because of a technicality (being an all-female institution at the time), they were not provided the funds that 99% of the other female college athletic programs enjoyed. Unable to offer scholarships, top high school recruits went elsewhere...and the Immaculatta dynasty slipped into obscurity.

On Tuesday night in Tampa Florida when Stanford faces Tennessee for the 2008 championship. I hope those involved take a moment to appreciate the roots of women's hoops and how it evolved into a professional sport (WNBA) as well as its explosion into our national consciousness.
And because of Immaculatta and other visionaries, women can now dribble all they want, on and off the court !