Subscribe in a reader

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

My Brushes With Greatness, Part Four

We'll call this, "The Atlanta Years."

Since The Weather Channel is just in nearby Marietta, I might as well start there. (I know that these folks represent the minor leagues of celebrity-dom, but they count. But only to ten, Mudhead.)

I saw Jim Cantore in the passenger seat of a convertible over by the Lindbergh MARTA station flirting with some attractive young ladies who were in a different car. (This, in itself, should be proof of the celebrity status of these folks. If he wasn't on The Weather Channel, Jim would have just been any of thousands of big-beaked baldies who consider themselves God's gift to women. Ladies, if you ever do receive this gift, exchange it.)

My wife and I also saw Mark Mancuso getting lunch at CiCi's Pizza in Marietta. Not quite the jet set yet.

In other late-breaking news, I once saw Cher walking along Peachtree St. downtown while some guy documented her day with a video camera. Either he worked for her or he was the pushiest of papparazzi. She was all duded up and appeared to be about nine feet tall, at least from my vantage point across the street.

Most of my Atlanta-based sightings came while I was employed at a bookstore located in the airport. Jane Fonda almost ran over me on Concourse B. I had to leap out of the way to avoid being trampled by Jane and her entourage. No "sorry" or "excuse me" or "beat it, skinny." (That was a long time ago.) I just leapt to safety while they continued on down the escalator.

Of course, I've also been in the same ballpark as she and Ted, back in the old days at Fulton County Statium. I was always seated a couple classes of attendee classes away, though and never got to mingle with the upper crust.

I did share a men's room with the sports announcer, Jack Buck, though. I think I whizzed at adjoining urinals with some other famous guy, too, but the name isn't coming to mind.

But back to the bookstore. I rang up both Spike Lee and Tommy Smothers. Both bought intelligent reading. Both made it obvious that they preferred to not be recognized, thanks. I complied, but wanted to say to Mr. Smothers, "Thanks for the pumas in the cravasses." They were not together.

Back in my former life, I used to spend some time at a well-known local bar called Manuel's Tavern. I saw Howard Hesseman there back in the mid-80s.

And that is where I met the toppersmost of the poppermost of the celebrities I've seen. I was in there one evening with a friend, indulging my love for Irish Whiskey. Someone came in and sat at the table behind me. My friend's eyes widened. It was Amy Carter. But that's not it yet.

A little while later, the combination of beer and whisky was playing havoc with my renal system, and I excused myself to make my way to the Men's Room. As I got up, I noticed a couple of guys in sunglasses standing by the doorway. As I tried to make sense of this image, tottering up the aisle in that direction, I came to realize that, coming along that same aisle, in my direction, was former President James Earl Carter. I was not exactly sober, but I tried to gather my wits as best I could. As I weaved in his direction, I could see the fear in Jimmy's eyes. However, being a politician, instinct overcame fear and his right hand extended in my direction. I grasped his hand and said, "It's good to see you, Mr. President." He smiled and relaxed perceptibly and said somehting noncommittal but pleasant and made his way past me. Rosalyn, it turned out, was right behind him, and she and a couple of Secret Service types also crossed my path as I resumed my trek to the men's room.

I'd like to say that we spent the rest of the evening jesting convivally, but no such thing happened. The Carters, who were seated behind me, apparently drank good Southern sweet tea. I don't remember who left first, but I think they did. It was an interesting experience. I hope to remind him of it one day.

Friday, December 16, 2005

My Brushes With Greatness, Part Three

I forgot one from the Rhode Island days, and it's probably the best one.

When I was a student a Community College of Rhode Island, those of us in the theater program would make semi-annual trips to New York for a day of theater and tourism. The bus would let us off near Times Square just before noon, and we would go our separate and sundry ways for lunch. The entire group would reunite for a matinee and then disperse again for sightseeing and dinner. A second show in the evening would be followed by the long bus ride back to the CCRI parking lot, where we would arrive about two or three in the morning. All-in-all, a full day.

On one of those trips, between I don't remember which shows, I was part of a small group that decided to eat dinner at Joe Allen's, a well known eatery on 46th St. For some reason, after dinner, I was the first one out on the street, my compatriots dawdling inside for several minutes before emerging to meet me on the sidewalk out front. Well, I come out into the cold winter evening and take up a position near the door under the canopy. And who is stading there not four feet away from me? It's Marilu Henner, then at the height of her fame on "Taxi," talking to some old goat while she waited for a cab.

Now, I have to say that on television she was pretty attractive. However, in person, she was downright beautiful. Actually stunning. I know this because I was stunned. Since I have a personal policy of never intruding into the lives of strangers just because I've seen them on TV, I just stood there and eavesdropped on her conversation and watched her disappear into a taxi and get absorbed into the bloodstream of Manhatten. I don't remember the conversation she had, but I do remember that she seemed very nice.

My companions emerged after she had left, but I think I kept my rendezvous with Marilu my own secret. I knew, somehow, that the beauty would have been lost in the telling.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

My Brushes With Greatness, Part Two

My salad days as a celebrity spotter came during the four years that I lived in Washington, DC. Many of them, of course, were somehow connected to politics. I saw Jody Powell crossing K Street. I saw Senators John Chaffee and John Warner crossing the street from one of the Senate office buildings to the Capitol. (I remember Warner gesticulating wildly and saying, "It's an 800-pound gorilla!" Chaffee looked like the guest at a party who gets stuck talking to another guest who has taken up Amway or Scientology.)

I watched the Reagans disembark from the helicopter after a special tour of the White House. (The Oval Office is smaller than you think. So is the Cabinet Room. The bowling alley was closed for repairs, but we did get to see the florist's shop. "An American President" booted that one!) The President was obviously wearing a flak jacket and Nancy was taller than I had expected. I disagreed with practically every move that administration made, still do, but it is something to see a sitting President up close.

I worked for a while in the building where Duke Zeibert's was located, so I used to see Larry King from time-to-time. Never an entourage. Just Larry walking to Duke's for some brisket.

One time at that location, during the visit by Gorbachev, I had to do one of my drudgery-filled legal assistant chores. As I came out onto the corner of Connecticut and L, I noticed that the streets were blocked off for the Soviet motorcade that was going to the White House. I thought about waiting just to see, but, feeling the pressure of my onerous duty, continued on to K Street, where I could get a cab. That evening I discovered that, not five minutes after I had been standing there, Gorby had stopped the motorcade at that exact corner and gotten out to shake some hands. That is my great near miss.

And speaking of near misses, I almost got run over by Ted Koppel as he was leaving ABC one afternoon. He was driving a Mercedes convertible and was not stingy with the accelerator. I had just stepped off the curb and actually had to jump back to avoid becoming a second hood ornament. And you know what? Even at those speeds in a convertible, his hair still never moved.

I saw E.G. Marshall walking towards Pennsylvania Avenue on 21st St. I followed Ron Moody (who was appearing in a revival of "Oliver" at the Kennedy Center) on 23rd. I went to see Ian McKellan in "Acting Shakespeare" at the National Theatre--was even part of the crowd that he invited onstage at the end--and happened to see him leaving by the stage door later, alone, head down, pensive.

I ushered what was supposedly the last performance ever of "In Regard of Flight" and got to watch Bill Irwin rehearse a single slap with one of the other performers for about ten minutes before the show. He had a New Years Eve party to attend in New York after the show, and got pretty huffy and cut "The Clown Bagatelles" short when a prop malfunctioned. The rehearsing was impressive, but the rest of his actions made him look like a swine.

I saw Art Buchwald coming out of the building in which he had an office one day.

But I couldn't go see Willie Mays when he did a book signing there. Talk about your regrets.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

My Brushes With Greatness, Part One

I have come to the conclusion, over the years, that celebrities just like me. They must. After all, for someone who has never lived in either New York or LA, I've had an enormous number of meaningless encounters with people who are well known, either from show business or politics (if there's really any difference), over the course of my life.

The first one, I guess, was the then center for the then San Francisco Warriors, Nate Thurmond. The then owner of the then Warriors was then a parishoner at the Catholic Church that sponsored the school that I was attending. Then. As a result of this connection, Nate Thurmond, all 6'11" of him, sat at the dais in our school gym at the year-end sports banquet. I was there to be awarded certificates for having been ejected from both the 5th grade basketball and baseball teams for refraining from appearing at practices and games. (I was also bounced from being an altar boy for similar reasons. It was a banner year.)

I also that year, as part of the annual Christmas Seal drive, sold the aforementioned seals to the maid of then-Councilwoman Dianne Feinstein, who lived a few doors down the hill on Lyon Street. I know this may not completely count since I never met the lady herself, but I did meet her front door and her maid, which is more than most people can say. And just for the record, pretty nice digs.

Of course, a few members of The Jefferson Airplane moved in about half a block from us on Washington Street in 1969. I don't think I ever saw them, but I might have seen the moving van.

And remember when George Harrison led a procession of Hell's angels and assorted hangers-on around Golden Gate Park in the summer of 1967? Well, I was conveniently located only half-a-block away on 36th Avenue at the time. And I'm sure that, as George promenaded around Spreckel's Lake that day, that he was heard to inquire about that "that lad who lost his boat here." All right. Maybe not sure.

Moving to Rhode Island in 1970 really put a crimp in the activities of my celebrity stalkers, although I did come to know a fair number of local TV and radio folk over time. I did, also, once meet a true player on a national level, former U.S. Senator John O. Pastore, who stopped into a gas station I was working at to ask directions to Bishop Hendricken High School. He was very nice and I was somewhat less than helpful. He thanked me anyway.

I also knew a guy who was Meredith Viera's stalker back when she worked at Channel 10. He also stalked Caroline Kennedy. I fully intend to discuss this fellow with Meredith some day, God willing.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Lost Art

Image hosted by

I miss letters. Good, old fashioned, fold 'em up and stick 'em in an envelope letters. Personal letters, ones to friends and relatives. I love both getting and sending, but neither occurs with any regularity anymore.

The letter has been replaced by the e-mail, but e-mails don't really work as well. There is a hurried quality to most e-mails, and most are as dense and cramped as telegrams used to be. "Will be leaving in morning. Stop. Would drop by, but can't. Stop." This, of course, has been exacerbated by the use of pointless abbreviations, such as u for you and 4 for, well, for. Reading some people's e-mails can be a task as daunting as breaking the Enigma Code and far less worthwhile for the fate of Western Civilization.

There is something else about e-mails, the very speed of the thing, that contributes to its pressurized aura. I think that the knowledge that a letter would take a few days to reach its destination removed some of the pressure in its composition. I remember it well: We used to write complete sentences and spell out entire three-letter words. Instead of writing "Things are good. Please send money." followed by a smiley face, stories were told and incidents were elaborated on.

Letters are an expression of a life; e-mails, often, the expression of a need.

My e-mails tend to be too long and loquacious, too thought out and too composed. They're most likely a bore to read on a screen, and, lacking smileys to indicate my intent, difficult to decipher and easy to misinterpret. Just as you don't use a screwdriver to loosen a lug nut, you shouldn't expect e-mail to serve the function of snail mail. You just end up with an unloosened lug nut and a broken screwdriver.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Almost Free at Last

For the fifty-somethingth time in a long and varied career of supporting myself with jobs that really aren't worth taking the time to do, I find myself taking leave of my employment. The way it happened is this: My job is being consolidated, but I'm not. Actually, the company I'm working for is treating me just fine on my departure; I have no complaints. No lawsuits shall be forthcoming, no anonymous tips to an investigative reporter. They're giving me a small clump of money, and I am going away. Everybody's happy.

The funny thing about this to me so far has to do with the people I have notified of my departure who have not yet returned my email. This can be expected in these situations, but I always have to wonder why most people are so silent. Are they afraid of being unconsolidated as well in a kind of weird guilt by association? Is it the stench of failure, even though I feel a sense of accomplishment and liberation? (I should write more about that liberation thing and get it translated into Arabic for the benefit of all my fans in Baghdad.) Am I now considered one of the unclean? Are they afraid that I'll hit them up for money or a job? Or are they just jealous because they are still manacled to their desks while I get to experience the heady brew of freedom?

Who knows? Maybe it's a mixture, a sloe gin fizz of fear and resentment. Or maybe it's something I've yet to consider. Could be, could be!

The point really is that I've been given a small chance to better myself in this deal. My ejection from the world of corporate stooges comes just at the moment that I am pushing the show forward. Can this be a coincidence? Of course it can, but I'm not going to consider that for a second. The Fates are conspiring, and, for once, I'm getting in on the ground floor.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Next in the Series: The Update

The demo is being assembled. A sponsor is being pursued. Cryptic messages are being typed. A full-out assault is being made on the future. But don't let the future know. It's a sneak attack.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Try Kim Jong Il

According to this article posted on the Harper's Magazine website today, one of the "titles allegedly used by 'prominent leaders from 160 nations across the world' to refer to Kim Jong-Il" as reported by North Korean State Television is "Leader with Extraordinary Personality."

Apparently Kim's PR department is made up entirely of retirees from the 1943 staff of Batton, Barton, and Durston. Just as an experiment, let's run a couple of variations up the flagpole and see who salutes.

"Kim Jong Il: He's Personalilicous!"
"The Leader with Pep"
"He Puts the 'Tic' in Lunatic"

Of course, another of the "titles" given was "Eternal Bosom of Hot Love," which was also the title of an email that wound up in my bulk folder. Let's throw this notion into the mix.

"Kim Jong Il: Who Says He Can't Be Licked?"
"The Leader with Staying Power"
"Kim Jong Il: He's Your Daddy!"

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

If at First...

I've revived the blog I set up last year when I was drafting my novel Michael Drayton, Detective Guy. I'm not going to be posting it as I write it this year, but will just use the blog to post updates on its progress.

Join the expectant crowds gathering now at Michael Drayton Detective Guy!

Monday, October 24, 2005


(I wrote the original version of the following story in 1984. I've sent it out a number of times over the years in different versions, but have never succeeded in placing it anywhere. This current version is a total rewrite of the original and is substantially different. Since I can't find a home for it otherwise, I've decided to self-publish it here. Of course, as with all my posts on this blog, "Seminar" is copyright 2005 Len Cassamas.

It did once get an Honorable Mention in a short story contest. I hope you enjoy it.)

The thing to do in these situations is to just put your head down and work. Ignore the distractions and avoid anything that will distract you from your task. Sure, you can take lunch. You can even take a break, if you have to, but the thing is, when you are at your desk that is your world. Go beyond concentration. Live it. Discover the process. Find patterns and motifs heretofore unnoticed even in the most mundane and tedious of tasks. And remember: Interruptions are the enemy. Which is precisely why I went after him with an exacto knife.

Concentrate on the mechanics of whatever it is you’re doing, no matter how silly or mind numbing. For example, take your pen. Hold it. Sense it in your hand. Move your fingers over the long, stiff shaft. Now, grasp it firmly, lovingly. And write. Now, what do you hear? Anyone? What are you hearing? Is it a scritch scritch scritch or a pfft pfft pfft? Because there is a sound, and it is constantly lifting itself off the paper, waiting for you to hear it. All you have to do is allow yourself to experience the pen. Feel its penness. Connect with the inner pen deep inside you. Live the mystery of hand, pen, and ink all cooperating, all working together, all synergizing in the achievement of writing. Maybe if his writing had been more legible, I would have been less likely to stab him.

Okay, now, let’s talk about your desks because they are very important. When you are at the office, it is your home. When you are at home, it is your office. We call this “duality.” Okay, so you have a desk at work, and you have a desk at home. You cannot escape this. Unless, of course, you are in your car, which is why we have laptops and cell phones. Now, the thing to remember is this: Love thy desk as thyself. Respect it. Keep it clean. Don’t carve your initials in it. Somebody else is just going to end up sitting there anyway. And you wouldn’t carve your initials in your house or apartment, would you? Because this is how you have to think of it: It is your home. And it is a home that comes to you free and clear from the company without the two mortgages and the home equity loans. All it costs you is forty to eighty hours a week, depending on your commitment. My commitment was six weeks, entirely voluntary. Long desk. Cool desk. My desk. Put your coffee somewhere else; you’ll leave rings. Phone rings. Coffee rings. Onion rings. Answer politely. Give name even though they never get it and always end up calling me Herb. Right, right, Tuesday the 12th. We’ll reference it. It impacted me. We’ll have to address the longitudinalzation of our imprint in the asymmetrical market-zone firing place. Optimize. Maximize the minimization. Damn the torpedoes, full steam for the shoals and rocks. Quacking? I wasn’t quacking. I think it was a cough.

Of course, your desk isn’t just hovering around the building like the mail guy or an escaped thought. Oh, no, it is anchored securely to a cubicle, and the cubicular life comes with a certain amount of responsibility. Just imagine if you had a neighbor who had walls covered with pictures and magazine clippings, every surface covered with junk and knickknacks, and piles of papers all over the floor. What would you do? Why, you’d do the only thing you could. You’d get the city to condemn the place and have the neighbor thrown into the street and their house razed. It’s the only civic-minded thing to do. Now, what is a cubicle if it is not a house on a street? Isn’t the person in the next cube your neighbor? And the guy over by the printer and the lady next to the copy room? And a good neighbor keeps his area clean and orderly. You’ll find that loose papers cloud the mind and block the heart. So, remember, there’s a place for everything. And everything had better stay out of my way. I’m busy. What? The Feldman file? I think my shredder ate it.

Now, as will sometimes happen with neighbors, disputes can arise. I didn’t start it. He did when he stole my stapler. Hurt feelings produce more hurt feelings. My beautiful stapler. There’s a temptation to act out I’ll poison his coffee or shut down right after I finish this game of FreeCell. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The key, here, right off the bat, is to try to relax. Take a deep breath and try to reassert your own personhood, your own value as an employee. Say to yourself, “I am a person. I have worth.” More than they pay me for. Find your center. Nougat. And if you can do that, do you know what you’ve got? A twitch along my jaw line. You’ve got the beginning of the first step of the dawn of a new relationship.

Remember that your relationships with your coworkers should be open and friendly. You should be a seamless part of the group, and yet still your own functioning ego system. A whole within a whole. I wish I were in a whole. I miss my stapler. But not the guy who stole it. Him I’m going to hit.

Work should be a fulfilling experience. You should leave work energized every day because fulfilling the work fulfills you. Every time the company’s stock goes up, you should get a jolt of pride. Enjoy your work. Luxuriate in it. But don’t lag or you’ll end up in a line downtown. Use your time well, economically and efficiently, and you’ll find yourself more productive, more proactive, and a greater asset to the company than you’ve ever been before. You’ve got sixty minutes in every hour. And twenty hours in every minute. Use them to their fullest and you could find that doing the same work at the same place for the same pay on the same days in the same weeks can be a very enriching experience. Emotionally, that is. I want my damn stapler! I called it Fred. It used to sing to me with its simple ker-chuck ker-chuck ker-chuck. How we’d improvise, me and Fred. Fred the Stapler. The thing is, he shouldn’t have had his hand there anyway. And he didn’t need a tetanus shot, only a booster.

Now, speaking of emotions, another good rule to have is to keep work at work and home at home. This is why we don’t encourage you to bring in pictures of your family, or to take personal phone calls or e-mails. It’s for your benefit. Because a cocktail made up of equal parts of work and home is a very heady brew, and not everyone can handle it. That’s what my ex-wife said. There are studies with pie charts and graphs that prove this. According to our figures, a recent survey of studies showed that all the real money is in research. Be a rhesus monkey for fun and profit! Just draw the pirate! And quarter him, too!

What I’m trying to give you here is tools. What I need is Valium. But you should feel free to go out and explore, do some research, ask your friends, and see what kind of coping mechanisms you can discover in your own life. Yeah, but then how would I ever pass the random drug test? Maybe you could hit a loved one with a pillow. Maybe I could hit you with a brick. Take the long view. Must stop at drugstore, get razor blades. Watch TV. Feel like high technology is over your head? Try Compugram, the digital vitamin. Keep your perspective. I wouldn’t worry about downsizing. It’s the poor performance of the 401k that’s got me oozing sweat. Examine your options. What did I do with the classifieds? Sharpen your skills. Twenty-seven across is the same as three down except on Thursdays when it’s “erne.” But most of all, I want to leave you with this one final thought: Relax. All right. Who’s vibrating? You or me? Now, who’s ready for a break? I know I am. Yeah, I'm ready. I’m ready for anything.


Friday, October 21, 2005

XM Satellite Radio Is a Many Splendored Thing

As my small but faithful audience will attest, I am not prone to using this space for commercial purposes. Lord knows I haven't made a penny off it. But this is not a post about commerce; it is a post about love.

It has been just over three months since we got our satellite radio receiver and our XM subscription, and I am urging each and every one of you to get yourself some XM today. And I'm not just saying this because I'm hoping to get my show on there some day. That is just one of the possible rewards (or liabilities, depending on one's point of view) that will come with this amazing service.

Let me tell you the whole story.

We got it so that I could test it out and see what the satellite radio experience was like. Still, we installed it first in my wife's car. I had long been away from listening to the radio in the car because I am, by nature, a generalist and modern radio prefers to focus on the specialist. If I were to listen to something while driving, it would be a CD. Most of the time, I just treated myself to the noise of the traffic and my own neurotic ramblings. It seemed my wife would get more use of it than me, and everyone was pleased.

Well, about a month into things, we planned on taking my car on a mid-length trip (about an hour-and-a-half each way), so I switched the satellite receiver and antenna over. And when we got back, I kept it. I started listening to the radio all the time. And I'll tell you why.

There is a feature on the receiver we bought--the Delphi SkyFi 2--that brings me more delight than I have ever gotten from a technological device before. You can program it to remember up to 20 artists whose work you enjoy. Every time a song of theirs comes on any XM channel, the receiver beeps. It shows you the name of the artist, the selection being played, and what channel it is on. And then you can either press a button and change over to the new channel or leave it alone and stay with what you've got.

This gets me all over the 150 channels and leads to occasional bits of serendipity. Take last night, for example. I'm driving to CVS and I hear the beep. I look at the receiver and find out that Bob Dylan is on Hear Music (the official channel of Starbuck's). They're playing selections from a CD made from a bootleg of Dylan in performance at the Gaslight in New York in 1962, and the first thing they play is "A Hard Rain's a-Gonna Fall."

Now, frankly, the Starbuck's channel isn't my go-to channel. Without this feature, I would never had heard it. But thanks to XM and the SkyFi 2, I got to hear the young Dylan, his voice still supple, rich, and melodic, singing the greatest folk song in history live. (The thought struck me while I listened that it was no wonder that he abandoned folk music. Where could he go after "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"?)

Now there were a couple of weeks there when we switched the radio back over to my wife's car. She missed XM. But then I began to miss it, too. So we bought a Delphi Roadie 2 for her and added it onto our subscription. I got the SkyFi back, and this morning got to enjoy both Alanis Morrissette and Allan Sherman without having to surf across the dial. There are three menus of favorite channels that you can set, so that, with the touch of a button, I can go from the 60s to Sonic Theater to Frank's Place to Lucy.

So go ahead. Line up and sign up. It's worth it. Believe me.

I Hate Symantec

We have Norton anti-virus on our new PC, and I just made the mistake of okaying it to do the Live Update while I went ahead to work on other things. (In particular a rather lengthy post for this blog.) Once it was finished, a warning came up that I needed to get out of everything else I had going in order for the damn thing to automatically reboot my PC. Well, I didn't really feel like rebooting at that moment, and tried to x out of it instead of clicking OK. And the stupid thing rebooted the PC anyway!

The earlier post? Gone. The picture I uploaded? Gone. My patience? You guessed it.

What paranoid bonehead came up with this program? Is it named after Ed Norton? Who says we have free will? Screw you, Thomas Aquinas!

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Beyond the Fringe

We were strolling through Border's over the weekend, just having finished our weekly troll for books, when we paused by the DVD section on our way to check out. My wife pulled the second season of "Bob Newhart" off the shelf, and we put that on the list for a couple of weeks hence. As she replaced it, my eye was drawn to the title next to it. My eyes bugged out and my jaw flapped open. They had finally released "Beyond the Fringe" on DVD.

This, for me, was monumental.

I've been hearing about Beyond the Fringe for more than 25 years now, since before Dudley Moore was in 10, at least back to the time that Cook and Moore appreared on Saturday Night Live and proceeded to cock things up by daring to be both funny and to-the-point, qualities rare on that program.

I've seen clips from the performance captured on this DVD. It was the farewell performance of the show, which had started at the Edinburgh Festival in 1960 and then transerred to London's West End where it became a smash hit. The four performers (Peter Cook, the aforementioned Mr. Moore, Jonathan Miller, and Alan Bennett) took Beyond the Fringe to Broadway for a year before returning to London. A legend was born.

I've been aware that it had been filmed for about ten years. Way back in the hazy '90s, I watched A&E's Biography of Dudley Moore, and there were clips of Beyond the Fringe in that. I was quite struck by the look of it, the aesthetic of the show itself. In place of elaborate costumes, they wore suits that they supplemented with hats, as needed. The set was a connected series of three platforms with a couple of flats attached to them. It was barebones basic theater, and even though I know that economics drove most of those choices, I liked it anyway.

So, the other night, I actually got to watch Beyond the Fringe. It was sublime. It was funny. It was beautifully staged. It made thoughtful points and was often just plain silly. One sketch, concerning Civil Defense preparedness in the shadow of the H-Bomb was frighteningly relevant here in the day of Homeland Security. When they demonstrated one method of warding off the effects of a nuclear blast, I had to think of the current administration. The protective device was a large paper bag that one pulled over one's head and body as protection. This seemed to me about as sound as using duct tape and plastic sheeting to protect one against chemical weapons.

I found much of the satire still effective, and it is for that very reason: They got beneath the headlines (mutally assured destruction) to the underlying ideas (fear as the basis for governance) of the things they were satirizing. Peter Cook's portrayal of the Head of Scotland Yard, updating the progress in the hunt for the perpetrators of the Great Train Robbery could have been any of the boobs who talk about dealing with terrorists these days. He hides his incompetence behind a smoke screen of words. (Interviewer: So, you think criminals are responsible? Cook: Oh, no! I think criminals are very irresponsible.) One feels certain that Mr Cook's Inspector would have assured the then-Prime Minister that catching the perpetrators was a "slam dunk." Plus ca change....

Cook is the funniest of the four and Bennett the best actor. Moore is very funny and easily the most musical. Jonathan Miller is, well, Jonathan Miller, intelligent and sardonic. Highlights include the above-mentioned Scotland Yard sketch, the above-mentioned Civil Defense sketch, Dudley palying "Colonel Bogie's March" from The Bridge on the River Kwai as though it had been written by Beethoven, Cook's monologue of a proto-E.L. Wisty sitting on a bench and explaining why it was he became a coal miner rather than a jurist, Bennett as an Anglican priest giving the homily on the text (allegedly from Genesis) "My brother Esau is an hairy man and I am a smooth man," the famous sketch "One Leg Too Few," and Jonathan Miller flailing about the staged after being stabbed in their Shakespeare parody. And everything else.

If you like British comedy in the line of The Goon Show and Monty Python and if you still chuckle at Sir Arthur Grieb-Striebling (or is it Strieb-Griebling?) detailing the menu of The Frog and Peach, you will definitely enjoy Beyond the Fringe.

N.B. There are a few glitches with the sound, but the journey is still well worth it.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The (Pause) Laureate


1ST COCKNEY:     Here.
2ND COCKNEY:     What?
1ST COCKNEY:     You hear the news?
2ND COCKNEY:     Sometimes.
1ST COCKNEY:     I mean today.
2ND COCKNEY:     What’s that, then?
1ST COCKNEY:     They been givin’ out the Nobel Prize.
2ND COCKNEY:     Have they?
1ST COCKNEY:     They have.
2ND COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) Which one?
1ST COCKNEY:     What?
2ND COCKNEY:     Which bloody prize?
1ST COCKNEY:     Which prize?
2ND COCKNEY:     That’s right.
1ST COCKNEY:     You want to know?
2ND COCKNEY:     It makes no difference to me.
1ST COCKNEY:     But you’re interested?
2ND COCKNEY:     I don’t bloody care!
1ST COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) You don’t?
2ND COCKNEY:     Not especially.
1ST COCKNEY:     I thought you might.
2ND COCKNEY:     Well, I don’t.  Nobody don’t.
1ST COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) I bet he does.
2ND COCKNEY:     Who?
1ST COCKNEY:     Him.
2ND COCKNEY:     Which him?
1ST COCKNEY:     The him what won it.
2ND COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) Oh.  (PAUSE.)  What did he win, then?
1ST COCKNEY:     Who?
2ND COCKNEY:     The fella that done won it.  Which prize?
1ST COCKNEY:     Lit’rature.
2ND COCKNEY:     (PAUSE) You don’t say.
1ST COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) And he won it.
2ND COCKNEY:     Did he?
1ST COCKNEY:     That’s right.
2ND COCKNEY:     Then, who’s he, then?
1ST COCKNEY:     Who?  Him?
2ND COCKNEY:     That’s right.
1ST COCKNEY:     He’s that fella.
2ND COCKNEY:     Yeah?
1ST COCKNEY:     The one what wrote those plays.
2ND COCKNEY:     Which plays?
1ST COCKNEY:     Oh, you know.  All of ‘em.
2ND COCKNEY:     Who?  Shakespeare?
1ST COCKNEY:     No!
2ND COCKNEY:     He deserves one.
1ST COCKNEY:     It’s not bloody Shakespeare!
2ND COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) Tell us, then.
1ST COCKNEY:     Who?  You?
2ND COCKNEY:     Come on.  Tell us.
1ST COCKNEY:     Guess.
2ND COCKNEY:     Give us a hint.
1ST COCKNEY:     Pause.
2ND COCKNEY:     Oh!  Pause.
1ST COCKNEY:     Pause.
2ND COCKNEY:     Oh, what’s his name, then?
1ST COCKNEY:     Who?
2ND COCKNEY:     The fella.  (PAUSE.)  With the pauses.
1ST COCKNEY:     That’s him.
2ND COCKNEY:     Is it?
1ST COCKNEY:     As far as we know.
2ND COCKNEY:     What’s his name, then?  Pinker?
1ST COCKNEY:     What?
2ND COCKNEY:     I said, “Pinker.”
2ND COCKNEY:     I did.
2ND COCKNEY:     What?
1ST COCKNEY:     His name.
2ND COCKNEY:     Yes?
1ST COCKNEY:     His name is (PAUSE) Pinter.
2ND COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) Are you sure?
1ST COCKNEY:     Yes.
2ND COCKNEY:     His name?
1ST COCKNEY:     Yes.
2ND COCKNEY:     Pinter?
2ND COCKNEY:     Not Shaw?
1ST COCKNEY:     Got his.
2ND COCKNEY:     Did he?
1ST COCKNEY:     Yes.
2ND COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) That’s good then.
1ST COCKNEY:     Is it?
2ND COCKNEY:     I suppose so.
1ST COCKNEY:     (AFTER A PAUSE) Yes.  I suppose so, too.
2ND COCKNEY:     Well, you would.  Wouldn’t you?


Thursday, October 06, 2005

Notify the Pulitzer Committee

Last November, I participated in something called National Novel Writing Month. This is an event held each November in which people from all walks of life and all around the world take a stab at writing a novel (the goal is 50,000 words) in 30 days. Last year, I participated and wrote 20,000 words of a novel I call "Michael Drayton, Detective Guy."

Since "Drayton" went unfinished last year, I have decided to take another stab at it this year.

This will not be an official entry since I am working outside the rules by resuming a work already in progress, but that's okay. I'm not really interested in winning a tee shirt anyway.

Unlike last year, I will not be posting the new stuff on a blog this year. Don't know why. Just don't feel like it.

I'm also going outside the rules by starting the other night. I've begun revising the chapters already to hand with the idea of using that to get a running start on the second half. With luck, I'll be finished with the revision by November 1.

I'm also not going to worry about going past November 30. The time has come to finish this--at least get it into good enough shape to send off. I'm not going to worry about writin' no radio scripts until this book is done. Unless, of course, somebody comes around with a wallet full of money.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Tooth and Nothing But the Tooth

We've just returned from a long weekend in Charleston, SC. Over the course of this trip (which was otherwise quite delightful) a wisdom tooth of mine decided to make merry some of the other wreckage in there, and I was periodically entertained with waves of excruciating pain.

When we returned, I took the opportunity of updating my Three Stooges page-a-day calendar, and was greeted with the following message:

Image hosted by

To add insult to injury, it was followed by today's entry:

Image hosted by

This is a prognostication of my tomorrow with me taking the part of Moe and the dentist Curly. I can't wait for the iron frying pan anesthetic.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Should I Start Wearing My Trousers Rolled?

Image hosted by
Like the Spanish Inquisition, nobody expects to be 46. I mean, sure, you have the knowledge that you'll turn 46. This becomes almost self-evident once the 45 threshold has been crossed. I mean that it doesn't often occur to one that someday one will turn 46. One contemplates 40. And 50. And 60. And even 99. (I've got my fingers crossed.) But turning 46 doesn't really cross the radar screen unless one encounters someone who is 46 and has the thought, "Jeez, I hope I look better than that when I'm his age." And I could have had that experience up until yesterday.

Or today, really, because today I turn 46.

I was born on the 27th day of the 9th month of the 9th year of a decade at about 9 in the morning. I'm nothing if not consistent.

Wifrod Brimley shares my birthday, although he had his first one some 25 years before me. I don't know what Tom Selleck's birthday is.

Other people who are extinguishing candles today are: Avril Lavinge, Shawn Cassidy, Robb Weller, Meatloaf (the singer, not the foodstuff), A Martinez, Liz Torres, Randy Bachman, Don Cornelius, Dick Schaap, Barbara Howar, Greg Morris, Will Sampson, Roger C. Carmel, Sada Thompson, Arthur Penn, Carl Ballantine, Jayne Meadows, William Conrad, Johnny Pesky, Louis Auchincloss, Leonard Barr, William Paley, Vincent Youmans, Sam Ervin, and Harry Blackstone, Sr.

Of course a fair number of those listed are dealing with neither cake nor candles because of a slight case of death.

To the others, l'chaim!

Monday, September 19, 2005

This Week's Surreal Satellite Radio Moment

I heard something on the '60s channel this past weekend that I had not been familiar with before, although the DJ insisted that it had charted back in ye day. This curiousity was Frankie Valli and the Fours Seasons singing Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice." It's a strange rendition of the song, with Frankie singing in a high falsetto that made him sound like the demon spawn of Tiny Tim and Dave Seville. It was cheery and nonsensical and the arrangement bore no discernable relationship to the lyrics. At times, Frankie made a sort of muted trumpet sound with his lips that the DJ identified as being him blowing Dylan a raspberry. I suspect that it was much more innocent than that, and was simply Frankie's attempt to channel "Sergeant Pepper." "Sergeant Pepperoni," if you will. (And you don't have to. It's not a rule.)

This was followed by The Byrds' time-honored rendition of "Mr. Tambourine Man," which hangs on Roger McGuinn's 12-string Rickenbacker and David Crosby's harmony. This is one of the Woodstock Nation's favorite sing-a-longs, up there with "Lord Won't You Buy Me a Mercedes Benz" and "Unchained Melody." My only question about it, and The Byrds themselves, is this: Why does Roger McGuinn always sing the lead when he's got Crosby standing there? Does this make any sense? I mean, McGuinn can ribbit along okay, but Crosby can flat-out sing. Would he have sawed away at a Suzuki method violin while Jascha Heifetz played the occasional eighth note? No wonder why Crosby moved on to--uh--what's their names.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

The Chamberlain's Man

I'm making what I hope is the final change in the lineup of "Next in the Series." I'm going to replace "The Political Thing" with an adaptation of a play I wrote many years ago called "The Chamberlain's Man."

"The Chamberlain's Man" is an out-and-out farce that has William Shakespeare as its central character. Although at the time of compostion I had thought him kind of a variation on the character Bob Hope played in movies like "My Favorite Brunette" and "Casanova's Night Out," I realized last week that he was really much more like Basil Fawlty. I intend to go forward with this idea in this revision.

I'm postponing work on "The Political Thing" simply because I think the story is going to need more than three episodes to tell properly. It could need half-a-dozen or more. And so it made sense to push it to the second season, where there will be plenty of room for something that big.

As for "The Chamberlain's Man," it's just long enough for three episodes, and really just calls for some polishing of what was a juvenile work. I'm taking as its credo a quote from John and Yoko: "All artists are con artists."

On a related creative note for the few who care, I've started marking up the printed out pages of "Michael Drayton, Detective Guy" so that I can retype and rewrite them. With any luck, I'll be able to push right through and finish it sometime this fall.

In the meantime, fight the power.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Satellite Radio

One of the interesting things about having satellite radio has to do with the multiplicity of formats that the unnamed provider throws at you. There is a run of channels devoted to the music of particular decades of the previous century. There are country stations and jazz stations and rock stations. There are talk stations and spoken word and the blues. You can get kids songs and the call of the Red Sox game. It is narrowcasting at a level undreamt of even by cable TV.

The playlists that can be found on any one station are unusually deep and this can sometimes lead to interesting juxtapostions of songs. For example, yesterday morning when I started up the van, I was greeted on the '70s channel by Bob Dylan singing "You Gotta Serve Somebody." This was followed by Elton John singing "I'm Going to Foist Some Pointless Crap on You" or something. Every silver lining is surrounded by a cloud, I guess.

This morning, on the '60s channel, I was treated to Paul Revere and the Raiders performing a song called "Let Me." This song featured the lyic, "Let me, let me./Baby, you don't get me" and a blatant ripoff of the musical break from "MacArthur Park." (This is the musical equivelent of a heroin addict rolling a sterno bum.)

Now, back in the '60s, I was prepubescent and quite the fan of Paul Revere and the Raiders. They had cool blue-and-buff uniforms and tri-corn hats and an afternoon TV show called "It's Happening," of which I was an aficianado. (I kind of remember seeing The Mamas and The Papas on there. Sometimes one wishes for the onset of senility.)

After hearing "Let Me," I had to check on on Paul and the Boys. I got this picture from the website.

Apparently they've gone over to the other side, since those are definitely Redcoats they have on. If you happen to be in the Sacramento area tomorrow, You'll be able to see Paul Revere and the Traitors at the Gold county Fair in Auburn, CA.

Mark Lindsay is no longer part of the group, but, according to his wesite, he's making a rather limited comeback.

There are some anomalies with satellite radio. For example, Depeche Mode plays nearly around the clock on one channel or another. I've heard Allen Sherman a couple of times on the '60s channel (including today; apparently "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" was the number two song 42 years ago today), but never on the family comedy channel. And I've heard cuss words several times on the family comedy channel. From Myron Cohen, no less.

But, all-in-all, I enjoy it. I recommend it. I wouldn't even mind being on it.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Gasoline Alley, or A Trip Down Memory Lane

Thanks to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the lemming-like instincts of the human animal, I got to relive those halcyon days of the 1970s gas crisis yesterday, right here in good old Atlanta, G-A.

Among the lesser evils that Katrina brought ashore with her were power outages that shut down the pipelines that piped in the gas that went to the trucks that delivered to the stations that pumped into the SUV that Jack drove. Once this news got out, widespread panic became the order of the day, and dolts of every shape, size, and description started lining up to top off their tanks and to drive the price-per-gallon just another notch higher. (When my wife filled up her car the other day, she paid about $2.50 a gallon. By the time I got in line yesterday, it was $2.79 and 9/10 per gallon. A couple of hours later, I heard that it was up over $3.00. Apparently, there was a gas station in McDonough, GA that was charging as much as $5.87. Gov. Sonny Perdue, showing the perspicacity of the average politician, suspects price gouging.)

Many of the folks lining up were just topping off their tanks. I was there because the minivan I drive was down to about an eighth of a tank. If I wanted to continue to drop off and pick up my kid from school for the rest of the week, I had no choice.

So, I pulled into the QT near Sam's school where cars were in lines four deep at each of the ten or so pumps. It seem that this was one of the better situations in town. Sam wanted to go inside to get something--some beef jerky or a pack of smokes, I guess--but I declined. I was a tad sharp, but I shouldn't have been. This was the boy's first gas panic, and he didn't know any better.

I did though. I am a grizzled veteran of the Carter Administration and remember long lines, odd-even days, and limits on the number of gallons purchased. One time, when I took my VW bug to a station I had worked at a couple of years before, I drove down to the bottom of a hill and got in line. The line inched along and after a few minutes, I noticed a disheveled young man walking down the hill counting cars. In one hand, he had a cardboard sign. A drama was in progress, and I was a member of the cast.

The disheveled young man, who was also greasy and thin, counted cars until he got to mine. The sign had magnets attached to it, and he slapped the sign to back of my bug. Mine was the last car to get gas there that day. The people behind me were angry, but not with me. They were angry with the greasy, skinny, disheveled young gas jockey. He just walked back up the hill.

I felt guilt, but it was balanced by relief. I was riding on fumes.

Today, the pipelines are piping again, although at reduced capacity. I have no idea what the price is at the QT or the Shell, but I'm guessing too much. The remnants of Katrina are escaping to Nova Scotia. Perhaps by next week the levels of price gouging for gas will have returned to their normal, seasonal levels. Maybe the panic is over.

Life is difficult for the addicted. The lush times of glut are more than balanced by the hard days of shortage. An addict will shudder and shake and panic and pay anything for another fix. It's not a pretty sight.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Conning Tower

Franklin Pierce Adams was a giant in his day. Through the first four decades of the 20th Century, his initials were perhaps as well known as any other set, including TR and his nephew, FDR. He was a journalist and versifier, a translator of Horace, and a panelist on the radio quiz show, "Information, Please." He was also a cultivator of young comic talent, and his well-loved column, "The Conning Tower," showcased early writings by such writers as George S. Kaufman, Dorothy Parker, Morrie Ryskind, and Ira Gershwin.

"The Conning Tower" was a kind of humorous miscellany. Readers contributed comic verse and jokes. FPA winnowed through the contributions and contributed his own verse, notes, jokes, and epigrams. He delighted in setting up the vaious tidbits in specials fonts and doted on its look. On Saturdays, he would recount his doings among the members of the Algonquin round Table in "The Diary of Our Own Samuel Pepys."

Long before the advent of blogging and the ubiquity of the Internet, I had among the list of Projects-I-Never-Got-Around-To the idea of reviving The Conning Tower. If I remember correctly (and I probably don't), I had thought of trying to market it to the ever shrinking number of local newspapers around the country, from the big city dailies to the small town weeklies. It never got done.

It has occurred to me, though, that this is an approach that blogging is probably perfectly suited for. Of the blogs currently of my ambit, only Phil Austin's Blog of the Unknown comes close to being this.

It would not be hard to do. I could set up a new blog called "The Conning Tower" (if that title is not already taken), contributors could e-mail me stuff, and I could compile it and publish it. I don't see this as being a daily event, but as an occasional group effort, I think it might be fun.

What do you think?

P.S. A Dialogue entitled, "WWJD":

Person: Rev. Robertson, what would Jesus do about Hugo Chavez?

Robertson: Whack him!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

The Quality of Marcy

One of the least popular features of this blog has been the entries in which I update progress on various scripts and describe the history of the composition of them. Today I continue this tradition of disinterest with an update on a script called "The Quality of Marcy."

"The Quality of Marcy" started out some years ago as an idea that my wife had for a short story. Hers was a dark story of betrayal and forgiveness concerning two sisters. When she told me the idea, I immediately jumped on it, and told her that I thought it made a good basis for a play and one with a lot of comedy at that. My vision of it didn't quite square with hers, though, and I sort of backed down and Stephanie sort of put it to one side.

The topic came up from time-to-time, though, and eventually we decided that I would just go ahead and write my version of it and that she might write her version still at some other time. (I think it would be interesting if she did. It's unlikely that the two would be recognizable as having come from the same idea. Fraternal twins instead of identical.)

I started thinking about it seriously about three-and-a-half years ago and then started to write it as a stage play shortly thereafter. A big chunk just popped out right off the bat, and I thought the writing of this script would be a breeze. I was wrong.

Another big chunk came and then nothing. I decided to try it as a radio play, converted the format and got a little more. Then nothing. It accumulated in fits and starts over three years. I thought about changing it back into a stage play, but never got around to reformatting it. I put it aside while I finished other scripts and then decided to shelve it for consideration as part of the first season of "Next in the Series."

But things changed.

I'm not sure what happened, really. It was too short to be a play, but it looked like I could keep it short enough to stay within an hour format. It was almost done. My wife liked what she had read. It was more of a drama than any of the other scripts, but still not quite an evening of O'Neill. (Although I have, for some years, played around with an idea that would have more of an Ibsen feel to it. It is the story of a man who spends his life in a seaside village perfecting the art of filling the chum buckets that the fisherman take with them to sea to attract fish. I call it "The Master Baiter." Maybe someday I'll be able to get a handle on it.)

Anyway, I worked on "Marcy" over the past week or so and finished the draft. It seems all right. I think I'm pleased. Stephanie liked it when she read it today. So in it goes.

Now, all I have to do is write two more episodes of "The Political Thing" and season one is written. Just like in the "Niagara Falls" sketch, we go step-by-step, inch-by-inch.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

A Possible Reprieve or Pardon Me

I don't know that I'll be adding much to this blog as time goes by, but I have decided to not delete it, at least any time soon. Occasional posts are still possible, although I'm not really sure what direction I want to take it in.

But I won't delete it. Not yet. No real reason to.

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

The Time Has Come for Us to Go

I've decided to give up the blogging life.

There are a number of reasons for this. First, I need to spend my time writing scripts, not blog posts. It all takes time and attention, and a blog post can start with me just popping off about nonsense and end with me reading appellate decisions. That's time not well spent when there are scripts to be created.

Second, blogging is a burden. It just sits there and waits for new posts. And, frankly, a blog is like a garden. It needs to be tended daily and carefully. I fear that my blog featured too much compost, anyway.

Third, I am in a mood lately to stop giving my writing away.

Therefore, I am stopping. I will leave this up for the next couple of weeks while I save the best bits and then I will delete the whole thing. The Next in the Series blog will be no more. It will cease to be. It will shuffle off this mortal coil and join the choir invisible. It will have passed on. Bleedin' dead.

Have a good journey.


Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Yahoos

I know that some of you probably think that the life of a blogger is nothing but roses and heart-shaped balloons, but let me assure you, that is not always the case. Sometimes miscreants stop by simply to shit on your front porch. They then invariably go running off into the night, giggling with adolescent glee. I had one such visitor to an earlier post of mine last night.

Now, I could have just let it go. What's one more knothead in a world full of them? And yet, I've always considered ignorance a treatable disease and couldn't help myself from trying to shine a dim light of knowledge into the dark corners of this fool's soul.

However, odds are that Simple Simon, like Pinkerton, will never return. That sort is always too chickenshit to do anything but run, a child pretending to be a man.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

I Been Everywhere, Man

I got this from my dear, sweet wife:

bold the states you've been to, underline the states you've lived in and italicize the state you're in now...

Alabama / Alaska / Arizona / Arkansas / California / Colorado / Connecticut / Delaware / Florida / Georgia / Hawaii / Idaho / Illinois / Indiana / Iowa / Kansas / Kentucky / Louisiana / Maine / Maryland / Massachusetts / Michigan / Minnesota / Mississippi / Missouri / Montana / Nebraska / Nevada / New Hampshire / New Jersey / New Mexico / New York / North Carolina / North Dakota / Ohio / Oklahoma / Oregon / Pennsylvania / Rhode Island / South Carolina / South Dakota / Tennessee / Texas / Utah / Vermont / Virginia / Washington / West Virginia / Wisconsin / Wyoming / Washington D.C. /

Go HERE to have a form generate the HTML for you.

Monday, July 18, 2005

In Memorium

My Dad would've turned 79 today, except for the fact that he died in 1982. Michael P. Cassamas was born July 18, 1926. He died much too soon. In this photo, I would guess that he was about ten.

My brother Mike, Michael S. not P., got married on April 8, 1972. This is my Dad in the monkey suit (his term) with his Aunt Rosie (front) and Aunt Loretta (back). I was 12 and I was there, and I have to tell you, it was one hell of a party. I will always remember my parents dancing, my father graceful and easily athletic and my mother enjoying the ease with which he guided her around the floor.

This is my father's sister, Albina, standing next to his 1934 Ford coupe. The photo is dated November 1946. This was probably taken either on Pieve St. in Pawtucket, RI, or in East Greenwich, RI. I'm guessing Pawtucket because of the flat terrain and the number of houses. My Dad told me that he first drove a car when he was ten. He snuck behind the wheel of my grandfather's Packard, pushed the starter button, and took it around the block. Fortunately for him, his father never found out.

My grandfather was the manager of the Providence terminal of Crown Motor Freight of Paterson, New Jersey. He pressured my father into the family business, and although my father was an unusally good driver, he didn't want to drive trucks. He was actually a top-flight typist and was very good with numbers, but he never got to find out where using those skills could've taken him. He was dutiful, but not fulfilled. I think he enjoyed his time as a pinboy in a bowling alley better than driving trucks.

I have no idea what the circumstances of this photograph are. I don't know why he's on the monument, what monument it is, who the woman or the girl were, or anything. It does show his mischievous sense of humor, though. And he wasn't afraid of heights.

I have the certificate for his First Communion, so I know that this was taken on June 4, 1933. Four years after this, his brother George would be late coming home from his First Communion. My grandfather sent my father to find him. George was still outside the church and was being bullied by three older boys. My father sent him home and then beat up the three other kids who had threatened his brother. He got home in time for Sunday dinner.

I have no idea who the other two fellows are. Probably Army buddies. The first squad he was part of saw their initial action near Remagen. I know this because I was once watching the movie "The Bridge at Remagen" and he simply pointed at the screen and said, "I was there." I think we changed the channel shortly thereafter. My mother told me years later that he was the only survivor of that squad after this initial action. He told me that he got separated from his group. He ended up being reassigned to Patton's Third Army.

The thing I never noticed about this photo until today is that it shows how powerful he was. I mean, he's carrying a full-grown man on his shoulders in a half crouch while tugging on the other fellow's ears. At this time he probably weighed about 165.

He was in Austria on V-E Day and met the Russians. Apparently they had a fine party, neither group of soldiers understanding the other. After that, he was stationed in a town called Traunstein in Bavaria. Recently, it has come to light that the young seminarian who would one day become Pope Benedict XVI lived there at the time. My Dad liked the locals and even learned a few bits of German. Who knows? Maybe he and the young Herr Ratzinger knew each other. Perhaps, had he lived, my Dad would have pointed at the TV and said, "Yeah, I knew him."

He was given an honorable discharge after he punched out a cruel sergeant who was terrorizing other soldiers. Two years later, he was standing in front of the Greenwich Hotel on Main Street in East Greenwich with his Uncle Johnny (who was only one year his senior) when a young brunette walked by. He turned to Johnny and said, "I'm going to marry that girl." Two years after that, you see the result.

When my parents left on their honeymoon to New York, they left their car in the care of Albina's husband, Jerry. Through no fault of his, the car was wrecked. There's probably a pretty good chance theat the car was that same '34 Ford. All good things, eh what?

This is my Dad with his sister Bina in about 1928. They were still living in Paterson, New Jersey at this time. He and Bina, the eldest of six, were always close. It shows in the hug. Or maybe she's trying to strangle him. You know how sisters are.

There's Dad and Bina. I have no idea who the blond children were. I posted this mainly because it's the earliest picture I have that looks like him.

This cat was named Mickey. We had always been dog people until Mickey came into our lives. Good cat. I miss him.

In the summer of 1970, we made the grueling drive across the country when we moved from San Francisco back to Rhode Island, a decision that was as shaky as the camera work in this photo. I can say that because I took the photo. My brother Rick was probably shouting at me to do this and that and the other and the shake you see is just a case of nerves. Either that or there was a tremblor felt only by me in New Mexico or Kansas or someplace that day.

My brother took this one.

Anyway, I just wanted to do something in memory of my father who was a lovely man and who I still miss very much.

The Tao Teh Ching

In the aftermath of the London bombings, I--for a moment--held out hope that one of the leaders involved would finally come to realize the futility of the approach that we currently take against terrorism. Over the weekend, I read that Tony Blair had begun to talk of the fight as one of ideas and emotions rather than as one of bullets and bombs, and I was heartened by this.

This morning, however, I read the following in a story called "Backing U.S. in Iraq put UK at risk, think tank says" on the Reuters online feed:

Security experts said the Iraq war had boosted recruitment and fund-raising for al Qaeda, suspected of being behind London bombings on July 7 that killed 55 people....Defense Secretary John Reid added his voice to the government's dismissal of the report, arguing the whole international community had to confront terrorism.

"One of the lessons of history is that if you run away from this it doesn't actually get better," Reid told the BBC.

Once again, my hopes fell. And then I thought of Lao Tse. There were some verses at the end of The Tao Teh Ching that applied to this, I was sure. So, here's what I came up with after purusing the text for maybe five minutes:

From Chapter 67:

I have Three Treasures;
Guard them and keep them safe:
The first is Love.
The second is Never Too Much.
The third is Never Be the First in the World.
Through love, one has no fear.
Through not doing too much, one has amplitude.
Through not presuming to be the first in the world, one can develop one's talent and let it mature.

If one forsakes love and fearlessness,
Forsakes Restraint and reserve power,
Forsakes following behind and rushes in front,
He is doomed!

For love is victorious in attack
And invulnerable in defense,
Heaven arms with love
Those it would not see destroyed.

(Translated from Chinese into English by Lin Yutang.)

To say that more killing is not the answer is not to run away from the problem. In truth, killing means running away from it. Confronting terrorism means having a courage greater than the kind that is found at the butt end of a gun or on the tip of a laser-guided bomb. It means having the courage to reach out and to comfort those who seem to hate you.

Of course, I am not the first to think of this. Jesus said, "Love thy enemy" and told Peter to put away his sword. Lao Tse certainly knew it, and so did Ghandi and Martin Luther King. Irrational violence, such as that practiced by al Quaeda, cannot stand up to love. Love makes it seem foolish and useless and brings shame to those who practice it.

Heaven arms with love those it would not see destroyed.

Unfortunately, we are ruled by children who think the tactics of the schoolyard bully are the epitome of wit and cunning. They cannot see that every terrorist you blow up creates two more and that every innocent life lost creates ten. To paraphrase Shylock, if we will be revenged, why not they?

Violence is a fire that can fanned and stoked quickly into an inferno. Only love can douse it. Sure, there will be embers that will burn here and there, but isn't it better to deal with burning embers than to live in a world aflame?

Thursday, July 07, 2005

One More Time

As promised, I have finished rewriting "The Anniversary Schmaltz." I changed it quite a bit, actually. I cut out a bit that took place on an airplane for a variety of reasons and wrote three new sketches to take it's place, rewrote the beginning of the next sketch to accommodate the change, and just spruced the whole thing up as much as I could.

When I first decided to pursue the making of this show, this script was the first one that I tackled, and rewriting it has made me realize how much I've learned about writing for this medium over the last three years. I've learned discipline in the rewriting process and am much less likely to kowtow to sentiment now. No matter what warm and fuzzies I may feel toward something, if it doesn't really work or blocks the flow of the scene or the script, it has to go.

Now I'm down to the three final scripts: two more episodes of "The Political Thing" and one that combines the main characters from "The Anniversary Schmaltz" and "Bitlle Joinsoin's Adventure Through the Watching Glass." I call it "The Rainbow Coalition."

I learned a lot from recording stuff over this past weekend, as well. From an actor's standpoint, these scripts have complicated characters who beg to be dissected and plots with dramatic tension and varied rhythms. As a director, I learned that these scripts will benefit from more rehearsal, not less, and now I'm planning on scheduling one day for rehearsal of each script before a syllable is recorded. I also need to become more familiar with my own scripts so that I can better guide my actors through the shoals and rapids.

Friday, July 01, 2005

And Now for Something a Bit More Upbeat (Or, Perhaps, Beaten Up)

Work has begun on a demo of the show. Tom O'Neill is already at work at editing and mixing one scene, and my friend and actor extrordinaire, Arthur, is coming down from Asheville over the weekend so that we can record as much of the rest of the material we're doing as possible.

The demo is going to consist of, I think, six scenes taken directly from the scripts for the show with short comic intros by me into each one. The equipment that I'll be using will not be of the highest order and the acoustics in my living room might not rival those of Abbey Road Studios, but Tom can mitigate many a flaw and Arthur's a talented actor. That leaves me. Well, every endeavor has to have its challenges.

Also, I had started to correct some format problems with the script called "The anniversary Schmaltz" and have ended up rewriting it some more. Expect an update next week.

On a very tangential sidenote, you can get Phil Proctor's Planet Proctor updates emailed to you. Just go to PlanetProctor and sign up. I got my first one this morning and it looked great. Thanks, Phil!

Finally, I wanted to wish everyone a safe and happy Fourth. Here in Georgia, they have decided to legalize the sale of fireworks and they can be purchased at Target and the local groc shop. We'll be spending the fourth in an underground bunker.

P.S. That reminds me of a story. George Kaufman was standing by himself at a lavish Independence Day party given by Moss Hart. Hart emplores him to join in on the festivities. Whereupon Kaufman, while continuing to stand alone, starts muttering, "Damn those British! Damn those British!"

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Let's Revue

Okay. I've done it. I finished another script. It's a collection of sketches and songs called "Let's Revue." Truth to be told, it's more a case of rewriting a script than writing one.

This script started out life as an act I intended for the corporate entertainment market that I called "The Amazing Three-Man One-Man Show." The idea came to me in the late '90s that Rule of Three, the by-then defunct comedy trio I was part of, could reunite and make money by doing some corporate gigs. Although we had done some live performances, we never really had an act that was designed for live performance. Mostly, we just recycled things we had done on audio, not all of which successfully transferred to the live stage.

In the months before implosion, we did a one-night thing that was an attempt to come up with a theatrical presentation. It was a kind of variety show with guest acts and a through line about how much one of the three of us hated working with the other two. (I was not the one.) There was one new sketch and some recycled stuff and some passive-aggressive scenes written by the member of the team I'll call Disgruntled Guy. The whole experience turned out to be the straw that imploded the camel's back.

Still, my naive optimism led me to think that we somehow had a future together. This belief and the non-cynical idea that the gentlemen I was dealing with were decent at heart and that the problems we had could be surmounted and corrected proved to be the source of a very deep and enduring pain for me. I've learned cynicism from two very astute teachers.

But before the knives were inserted and twisted, after only a few kicks to the crotch and slaps in the head, I thought that it might be a good idea to assemble our more stage-worthy bits and songs into a form appropriate for either theatrical or corporate venues. In the late evenings of less than a week, I assembled what I thought of as an outline in draft form, a starting point, not an end. True, I had written some new stuff and uncovered an old chestnut or two from the files that hadn't been previously performed, but I had also figured that we could all three rewrite the whole thing, trim it, change it, and make it our own.

When I presented it to my former writing partner, he was cold toward the project (after all, it hadn't originated with him), and I didn't even bother to present it to Disgruntled Guy, who had long since gone out of his way to be as insulting and condescending as possible to both my wife and me. He never told me that we had problems that we needed to discuss or even that he felt we were no longer friends. He was just a shit.

Eventually, I gave up. Every time I extended my hand, I got a slap in the face or worse. At last, the pain became great enough where I had to give up on them. That's when I started developing this show.

The script that I finished today is very different from "The Amazing Three-Man One-Man Show." I cut, I refined, I rewrote. I made it my own. For what it's worth, I made it my own.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005


Image hosted by

The first announcement is this: I signed the damn online petition yesterday. Happy? Huh? Are ya?

I was really just hoping to be the one millionth signer, since I'm guessing that there would be some sort of prize involved. Also, if I don't defend the right of cartoon rabbits to interview families headed by lesbian mothers, who will? And in conclusion, I would like to say, "Power to the People. Power to the People. Power to the People. Power to the People, right on!"

The second announcement is this: I finally finished the first episode of "The Political Thing." That means I've got nine scripts in the bag and only four more to go. The next thing I'm going to work on is a collection of sketches and songs I call "Let's Revue," because the sketches and songs are already written and I can just polish them up and knock the thing out in a week. At least, that's the plan.

Finally, I would like to announce that the "Next in the Series" team has grown by a factor of one. Tom O'Neill (known in the Firesign Theatre underworld as Doc Tech) has consented to bring his considerable skills to the editing, assembling, and mastering process. He's also going to compose some of the music and just be a general audio jack-of-all-trades. This is a real boost to the project, and I couldn't be more pleased than to have a partner of his caliber along for the ride.

We've embarked on putting together a demo for the show taken from the actual scripts. This confection will be used to lure unsuspecting investors into our nest. I believe the current internet jargon appropriate here is "Moo-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Who Pays the Piper

Image hosted by

So, there I was yesterday, poking along through the doldrums of my working life, when I got an email from (It's gotten to where you can't sign one petition without being inundated with email. I've got John Kerry and Ted Kennedy already stalking me. Now I've got this bunch.) Apparently, a recommendation has been forwarded from a House subcommittee to cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and to eliminate Federal funding entirely in what they call "the out years." This can be verified by actual news articles in The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Center for Digital Democracy--whatever the hell that is. MoveOn has a petition to sign, of course.

I actually clicked on the petition link, but couldn't bring myself to click "Submit." I couldn't think of a comment. And the reason is this: I am conflicted about the whole issue of government funding for arts and media.

Now, let me start out by saying that I am not against public broadcasting. Even though they are a bunch of left-wing freaks. (Just a joke. As far as I know, they're a fine bunch of guys and gals, all as mainstream as the Mississippi.) I don't think the cuts are justified monetarily, not since merely cutting three or four of the Pentagon's more outlandish weapons systems would provide funding for the entire domestic budget as it is. No, it's not about politics and money. It's about money and politics.

As has been demonstrated repeatedly since the current Republican insurgency took control of most of the government in 1992, who pays the piper calls the tune. Since public broadcasting is dependent on Federal funding like a junkie is on smack or like I am on snack cakes, the tenor of broadcasts can be altered not by the withholding of funds but by the threat of withholding funds. And before you know it, you're watching The Newshour with Jim Lehrer and Adolf Hitler, and there's a contract out on Buster Bunny's head.

Republicans understand money and its uses. They know how you can make people dance like monkeys at the end of an organ grinder's chain for the sake of a few dollars. They know how to use it to entice and how to withhold it as a strongarm tactic. Republican leaders like to study the tactics invented by Hitler and Goebbels, always taking time to point out what bad men they were, but praising their innovations and methods. They've studied propaganda and are familiar with its practices.

The funny thing is that public broadcasting still has to resort to all kinds of begging and pleading in order to stay on the air. It has its beg-a-thons and is all too often reduced to shilling for corporations. It stands on a street corner with a cupful of pencils hoping for the kindness of strangers. Whether it remains on the Federal dole or not will not alter that.

I'm not sure what the answer is. Public broadcasting reaches into sparsely populated communities where Clear Channel and Comcast dare not tread. But can it continue to accept government funds and still remain anything other than the official state media? I don't know.

But I'll leave you with a prediction: The recommendation of that subcommittee will end up shelved once everything gets to a final appropriations bill--and after PBS and NPR have made some sort of concessions concerning content.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Turn the Bastards Out

Image hosted by

As an Irishman would put it, I'm just after finishing a traipse through the online Sunday New York Times, and, as usual, I'm left with the feeling that the jamokes in Washington feel themselves to be a ruling elite, as a kind of royalty rather than as our employees. I vacilate between anger and despair at the way our republic has slipped away from us. Augustus had to defeat his rivals in battle and enter town within living memory of his uncle's dictatorship in order for him to assume the rank of Emperor and to reduce the Senate to a mere rubberstamp for his whims and dicta.

The recent uproar over judicial nominations was, in fact, a discussion of the imperial presidency and the role of the Senate as either representative of the People or lapdog of the executive. We forget that Rome was nominally a republic and that its Senate was not dissolved. In theory, the Senate retained its powers and perogatives, but, due to the politician's instinct for craveness, it relinquished its duties and traded them for the perquisites that come from being a stooge.

The logic behind the arguments put for by Dr. Frith and his neocon lackies was that the Senate serves the President and not the People. The first of the blocked nominations to move forward was a woman who--as judged by the attorneys who argued cases before her in Texas--was blatantly incompetent. The second was a black woman from California who believes that there is a higher law in this land than that of the Constitution--the law of God--and who also apparently believes that she is just the oracle to interpret it.

The compromise that was made was a monument to craveness and an abrogation by the Senate of its Constitutional responsibilities. Of course, there is nothing new in this. The vote that authorized the President to do whatever he damn well pleased in Iraq and the surrounding area was a complete abrogation by the Senate of its Constitutionally mandated authority to declare war, as has been every vote concerning military action since the Gulf of Tonkin resolution.

That both houses of Congress are overrun with mice and weasels is beyond argument. If there is anyone in Congress who works with any principles greater than those of a card sharp, then that person has remained well hid. And this is why, at long last, I have decided to put forward my own proposal for political reform.

It has occurred to me that the People (to whom any rights not enumerated in the Constitution are supposed to fall--including the right to privacy) have only one weapon left if we are to regain control of the government that is supposed to serve us and not rule us. We have the vote.

Somebody once asked W.C. Fields who he would be voting for. He replied, "I never vote for anybody. I always vote against." Given the current state of affairs, I have come to the conclusion that this is a wise policy.

So, this is my proposal. In the next election, don't vote for. Vote against. Vote against the incumbent, if at all possible. Let's throw the bastards out. And then the next time, do it again. And keep voting the bastards out until the members of Congress and the President himself come to realize that they do not own us. We own them.