Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Here Comes Karen Claus

Natural Grinchiness aside, I'm amazed to report that not only do I have every single Christmas present I need (and probably some I don't), all save four are wrapped and labeled! Unfortunately, time constraints prohibited me from creating a Christmas CD for friends (that, plus the fact that I have yet to organize my massive music collection since it was moved nearly one year ago), but I'll just have to do a truly excellent one for 2005. Anyway, those who know me well also know that I recently put about everything I have into a tribute CD I created to memorialize someone special. Burn-out? Maybe. Nevertheless, thanks to Amazon and Signals/Wireless, my only in-store shopping was done via several lunchtime trips to Target and CostCo, plus I started early. Even the felines are taken care of (and you try to keep catnip hidden away from ferocious beasts like mine...difficult, but not impossible!).

Another day and a half and I'm on vacation until January 4. These upcoming days will be filled with merriment, old friends, trips to the gym and continued postings on this site. OK, maybe I won't be posting every day, but I'll do my best. There are sure to be antics/events worth sharing from this holiday break.

Monday, December 20, 2004

Old Favorites and a Wee Bit of Synchronicity

A couple of months ago, while surfing Amazon.com to find some new DVDs, I found that both "Foul Play" and "Silver Streak" were going to be released before Christmas. I immediately pre-ordered them and watched them over the weekend. (They arrived a few days before Christmas, making it much merrier.)

Both are ensemble comedies from 1976. "Foul Play" stars Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase (in his first major movie role -- I think he may have appeared before in "Kentucky Fried Movie") and also has Burgess (tv Batman's "Penguin") Meredith, Eugene Roche, Rachel Roberts, Billy Barty, perennial mobster Marc Lawrence (among his many credits are two Bond films, "Diamonds Are Forever" and "The Man With The Golden Gun"), and a young Brian Dennehy. And Dudley Moore made a huge impression in "Foul Play," prior to his breakout roles in "10" and "Arthur." He's hilarious. "Silver Streak" players include Gene Wilder, Jill Clayburgh, Richard Pryor, Ned Beatty, Scatman Crothers, Richard Kiel (another Bond vet -- "Jaws!"), Fred Willard, Ray Walston, and Patrick McGoohan.

Here's where synchronicity kicks in: both were written by Colin Higgins (and he also directed "Foul Play")! In retrospect, I should have remembered that. Higgins' first hit was the dark comedy classic "Harold and Maude;" one of his last was "Nine to Five." He wrote the screenplays for both and also directed the latter. Unfortunately, he was stricken with AIDS and died in 1988. (Thanks to imdb.com for the info.) Snappy dialogue and wacky ensemble comedy was his trademark -- he paid homage to the screwball classics of early film, as well as film noir elements -- and both "Foul Play" and "Silver Streak" are loaded with some of his best work. Check them out (along with "Harold and Maude" and "Nine to Five"). You won't be sorry.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Stuff That Makes Me Feel Less Grinch-y

1. "Mr. Magoo's Christmas Carol" (1962) AND "The Littlest Angel" (1969) are now available on DVD! (Check Amazon.com.) These were two of my favorite childhood Christmas specials, and both disappeared from television (until last year, when the Cartoon Network started showing the Magoo classic). For those of you who don't remember the first one, just think "razzleberry dressing," and it may all come back. As for the latter, it starred Johnnie Whitaker (Jodie on "Family Affair"..."Uncle BEEELL! Uncle BEEELL!") and Fred "Herman Munster" Gwynne, among others. As childhood Christmas memories are the best ones, these evoke some very pleasant times.
2. Peppermint stick ice cream is back! It used to be a staple at Baskin-Robbins and Friendly's, but times and tastes have changed, I suppose. Pair it up with chocolate sprinkles/jimmies or hot fudge and I'm in taste bud heaven.
3. Bro' Scott (along with wife Katy, son Karl, and daughter Shannon) is performing in a music recital tomorrow (little Mary Elizabeth is still too little). I get to heckle Scott. Christmas comes early. And an afternoon spent with the three cutest, smartest and most wonderful children (and their parents) is an afternoon well spent. It doesn't happen often enough.
4. Spunky Bastard, sans 'nads, is turning into a momma's boy. He is even trying to edge Moochie out of quality lap time. Trouble's a-brewin'. But having cats fight over which one gets to warm your body and purr is never a bad thing. Bring 'em on!
5. Snow is predicted for Sunday night into Monday morning. Can anyone say "SNOW DAY?"
6. Thanksgiving Stupid Teenage Tricks with Cousin Matt will turn into Christmas Stupid Teenage Tricks. We've already started stockpiling little foil-wrapped Christmas chocolates for ammunition. I think they need to be stored in the freezer for extra impact.
7. I can wear my tie-dyed Grinch t-shirt for a few days.
8. Bye-bye to the office for nine days straight.

Ho, ho, ho!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

The Adventures of Spunky Bastard (Part III)

I picked up Spunky B. from the vet last night, and was he glad to come home. My vet and his entire staff are wonderful, but I think he prefers his creature comforts at our apartment over a cage in a cat hospital. Of course Moochie hissed at him continually, as he had that cat hospital smell about him (or maybe she was disappointed that he'd returned), but Scraps welcomed him back. He showed no ill effects from the declawing and was scampering about just like his old self. Well...perhaps not ALL of his old self. I glanced at his nether regions and saw that tiny M&Ms were in the spot where small Peppermint Patties once...hung. Ouch.

He was a little purr box this morning, not wanting me to leave him. Truth be told, I would have gladly stayed, but I think my employers might have had issues with that. He's probably chasing Moochie and Scraps with wild abandon and getting very frustrated when he realizes his shredding days are over. And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Next James Bond?

Now that Pierce Brosnan's negotiations with EON Productions, the company that has the Bond franchise, have come to an end, the question is: who will fill his formidable shoes? I can't believe that Barbara Broccoli (daughter of original Bond producer, Harry) and her husband, Michael G. Wilson (who got his start as a Bond writer, then producer) would not do whatever was necessary to keep him. He's still young, rugged and virile enough (early 50s) to continue for at least two more films. Roger Moore was Bond when I started seeing the movies, so I hold a soft spot for him in my heart, but he really was pushing the envelope by the time he made his last appearance in the series, in "View To A Kill." He was OK in long shots, but close-ups were...painful. He was still a handsome man, but a bit long in the tooth to play Bond. His replacement, Timothy Dalton, nearly killed the Bond franchise (and that's not just me talking, that's a quote, but I can't remember to whom it should be attributed). Pierce Brosnan took over in 1995 in "Goldeneye," and was terrific. The irony of the whole thing is that he should have taken over when Moore retired. At the time, he was starring in "Remington Steele" for the NBC network, and was offered the role of Bond. NBC, seeing what a hot property they had, refused to let him out of his contract for the tv show. EON ended up with Timothy Dalton and "Remington Steele" didn't make it onto the next primetime schedule. It was cancelled, thus creating a double whammy for Brosnan and EON. Not to mention Bond fans like myself.

Before going further, I guess I should disclose that I am pretty much a Bond fanatic. My first cell phone was the horribly overpriced Ericsson model that came with a couple of Bond-type accessories and was not worth the extra expense. I own the soundtracks (both on LP and CD), the books, books about the character/films, all the movies (first on VHS, now on DVD), and have some framed posters in my office. Through the kindness of a friend, I attended the "Goldeneye" world premiere at Radio City Music Hall in November 1995, where not only did I have a VIP screening, but the chance to see the cast appear onstage, bantering with each other, before the film was shown. A most memorable evening.

So now that Brosnan has decided not to re-sign with EON, a bunch of possible replacements have been named in the press. The one that most disturbs me is Jude Law. He may be People's Sexiest Man of the Year, but he hardly raises the temperature on my thermometer. No, no, no. Pierce Brosnan has suggested Colin Farrell, but I think he's a tad too young at this time (and doesn't seem interested). I choked when I read that Eric Bana ("The Incredible Hulk" movie) was being considered, but thawed slightly after seeing him in "Troy." However, he was recently quoted in New York magazine, and his reaction to his possible casting was NOT positive. (Fool.) Hugh Jackman would probably welcome the role, but I just can't see him as Bond. Rupert Everett joked with the folks at New York, saying, "Well, you KNOW why they won't ask ME!" Yeah, I guess the world isn't ready for a gay James Bond.

Who should be the next man to carry a Walther-PPK? I've wracked my brain and so far have come up with only one name: Ewan McGregor. He's handsome, looks good in and out of a tux, and has a nice accent. OK, he's younger than the average Bond, but I'll allow it. (Hugh Grant came to mind briefly, but he's not edgy enough. Liam Neeson is too strong a presence to step into the character.) If you saw "Trainspotting," you know McGregor can be dodgy. In "Little Voice," he was sweet and charming. His versatility was showcased in "Moulin Rouge," and his physicality in the "Star Wars" prequel. In "Down With Love," McGregor demonstrated a flair for light comedy and wore a tux very easily. (He probably drank martinis in that one as well!).

Ewan McGregor has my vote for casting as the next James Bond, but I'd love to hear your ideas. Please post them, and when I have enough, I'll write about this again. In this case I'd prefer to be stirred, not shaken.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Updates: Two Sociopaths and a Spunky Bastard

1. As proof that justice does still prevail, yesterday saw Danny Pelosi convicted of second degree murder in the death of Ted Ammon (whose widow subsequently married Pelosi, but that's another story entirely) and Scott Peterson was given the ultimate sentence by the jury in the penalty phase of his trial: death. Of course, given that the appeals process can take decades, who knows how long it will be before the sentence is meted out -- if ever. Until then, he will be moved to San Quentin (which overlooks San Francisco Bay, where the bodies of Laci and Connor were dumped) and his arrival will be announced to all with the words, "Dead man walking." I thought that was simply a movie title, but I guess not.

Now it would be nice if the appeals process were to be overhauled. And I don't think California is the only state with such a problem.

2. Spunky B. is bouncing back (literally) from his surgery. The vet techs report that he's eating like a horse and trying to break out of his cage, even though he's running a slight fever. That's my boy! They suggested that I not visit before his release date (Wednesday night), as they're afraid he'll get too excited and really try to break free. I've been told that his "full name" is going to be written on his charts. Guess they won't miss him!

Moochie and Scraps seemed quite content to have me all to themselves last night. We'll have one more night of peace (and the ability to wrap Christmas presents without the paper being slashed) this evening, for which I'm truly grateful. Then, the return of Destructo Boy. Things will be back to normal, but better, as he won't be wreaking havoc on furniture, papers, boxes or screen doors, nor will he be attempting to rape Moochie. More things to put on the "grateful" list.

Monday, December 13, 2004

"The Life and Death of Peter Sellers"

This made-for-HBO movie bio was given major thumbs-down in every review I read, but as a "Pink Panther" fan with some general knowledge of Sellers' life, I taped it anyway. And I'm glad I did.

Casting of the three best-known characters in the movie was superb. Geoffrey Rush turned in a stellar performance as Peter Sellers. He became the man. (If you wonder why I referred to myself as a "Pink Panther" fan rather than a "Peter Sellers" fan, it's because, after watching this movie, I realized I have not seen enough of his work. The breadth of the roles he played is just astounding.) John Lithgow played director Blake Edwards, and from what I know of Edwards, Lithgow's portrayal was on the mark. Charlize Theron was breathtaking as Swedish sexpot Britt Ekland, the best-known of Sellers' wives.

I think the reviews were so scathing because of the segments where Sellers/Rush would speak/dress as one of the influential persons in his life. Okay, it was a cheesy device, but the movie was so much more than those few annoying bits. From this movie, I learned how Sellers made the transition from radio to film, and also that there are several movies of his that I must see: "The Mouse That Roared" (for which he received the Bafta award for best actor, the British equivalent of the Oscar), "Dr. Strangelove," and "Being There."

I've not liked most of Rush's movies, but he got my respect with his uncanny performance as Peter Sellers. It's definitely worth seeing. HBO will probably release it on DVD/VHS next year, and I hope they do, as it would be a shame to deny non-HBO subscribers the pleasure of seeing this biography. If it's not released, I'll sic Inspector Clouseau on them!

The Adventures of Spunky Bastard (Part II)

Today I did something that just might take some of the spunk out of Spunky Bastard...brought him to the vet for neutering and de-clawing (front claws only). No more will he climb up the inside of the screen door...slash the bag holding my lunch (then eat said lunch)...scale the heights of my wicker lingerie chest, then wreak havoc on closet shelves.

Of course, this doesn't mean he won't continue one of his newest tricks. I went to Bed, Bath & Beyond to buy one of those over-priced stainless-steel cylindrical garbage cans, with foot-operated lid, as Spunky B. was happily frolicking in the uncovered garbage. He wasn't happy. He first showed his displeasure by slashing at the exposed part of the can liner, expertly shredding the plastic and scattering it around the kitchen. Not long after that, he managed his best trick to date. One evening, I had disposed of the remains of a steak dinner, then returned to the kitchen a few minutes later. All of a sudden, BANG! The lid of the garbage can flew open, and up popped Spunky, like a little jack-in-the-box, a piece of steak hanging out of his mouth! Yes, now he knows how to pry open the lid, the little bugger. Lack of claws won't stop this from continuing.

This past weekend, as he was shredding the outside of an unpacked box in my bedroom at 6 am (trying to get me to feed him), I just smiled and thought, that's the last box you'll be destroying, you little shit. I crooned a little ditty to him, a special little number I came up with just for that weekend: "No more balls...no more claws...no more balls...no more claws."

In about an hour, I'll be able to call the vet to see how Spunky B. tolerated the surgery. That is, if my vet wasn't eviscerated by Spunky in the process ("You're doing WHAT to me? Here's my Puss-in-Boots imitation! SLASH"). Even though he's a Spunky Bastard, I'm rather fond of the little guy. I just hope I don't have to change vets.

Friday, December 10, 2004

France is not as nasty as some would have you believe

Ah, the French. So stylish, so sophisticated, so misunderstood.

I have been to France five times now, and it remains one of my favorite places. Some people think the French hate Americans. Up to now, when true, it's been because Americans can be just plain rude when visiting foreign countries. Now, of course, they hate our government (and about 49% percent of voting Americans do, too, so you can't fault them on that).

My theory on the "Ugly American" stereotype is that the French people are just not used to strangers coming up to them and jabbering away in English, expecting them to understand every word. How would you feel if you were in their shoes? (And here's the irony of the situation: people educated in Europe usually speak at least one or two other languages besides their own. Can we say the same?) In fact, they may speak English. But it's rude to assume that they do.

My own skills in French are not as good as they should be, but I make sure to practice a little before going there. (There are always key phrases that you should know in any country's language before traveling there, not limited to "please," "thank you," "how much is this?," and "hello." It's called common courtesy. ) My French is limited, but with certain key phrases and a smattering of the language, I have always been able to make myself understood. Plus, they are very flattered when they see you are at least attempting to speak to them in their language, no matter how badly you muck it up. Often, people have gone out of their way for me when they realize that, hey, at least I'M TRYING.

It's also important to realize that other countries do not have as lax a dress code as we do in the U.S. When on vacation, it's normal for us to "dress down," but our idea of dressing down just doesn't cut it in a lot of other countries. Leave the t-shirts and funny hats at home. It's OK to wear jeans when sight-seeing, even sneakers if you're walking a lot, but they should be clean and not ragged. At least most countries don't make women cover themselves entirely when in public (and it wouldn't be a lot of fun to visit those countries, anyway).

By the way, countries other than France have similar standards, so don't just pick on France. You can, however, single out France for its rich history, fine food and wine, glorious art, fabulous chateaux, fashion sense and design, cultural contributions (music, writing, etc.), and more. Plus, if not for the French, we'd be supporting Jerry Lewis in his old age, so I think they deserve some credit there.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Bizarro World

Ever since the O.J. Simpson trial/travesty, I find it hard to have any sort of faith in the so-called justice system. In most of the trials that have attracted national (or international) attention since, I have subscribed to the Dominick Dunne credo of taking the victim's side. (His book, "Justice," is a fascinating collection of the trials he's covered for Vanity Fair. Read it.) In some cases, such as the Ted Ammon murder (Long Island, New York) that is now in the hands of the jury, it's difficult to tell who may or may not be guilty. The accused, Danny Pelosi, has nearly every low-life quality you could name. For example, his alibi the night of the murder is that he was driving around, looking for a gas station that would sell him a six-pack of beer at 2am Sunday. That hard object his sister noticed in his jacket? A metal can of marijuana. He's got more than one DWI on his record and a laundry list of other offenses against society...but is he a murderer? I couldn't tell you. Bereft of character? Absolutely.

That brings to mind another guy on trial for murder, one who has been convicted, Scott Peterson. At the time of this writing, the penalty phase of the trial has wrapped up the statements from the respective families affected by the murder of Laci Peterson and her unborn son, and the jury is weighing the statements made both for and against the convicted murderer. Scott Peterson's father actually had the gall to say, "This is a life worth saving," with respect to his son. Oh, really? What do you think Laci would have to say about that? (In very emotional prior testimony, her mother cried out, "Divorce is an option, not murder." How true.) Then his mother tried to paint a picture of her son as a loving, nurturing soul, whose loss would destroy their family. Sorry, lady, but I don't think your murdered grandson would ever call your son "loving" or "nurturing." It really makes my stomach turn. I know there are a lot of people who don't believe in the death penalty, and I prefer it be reserved for only the most heinous of crimes, but if this doesn't qualify, what does?

Question: How much has it cost taxpayers to support Charles Manson? What does society have to gain by his existence? When he was convicted, he was sentenced under laws that then existed that allowed the death penalty. While on Death Row, the state repealed that ultimate punishment, so he was downgraded to life (with possibility of parole, which, fortunately, has not been granted). In years since, though, the death penalty was reinstated. Why his repeal was not then subsequently repealed boggles my mind.

Question: Is O.J. still looking for the "real killers?" It appears he suspects they're golfers.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Happy Belated Birthday (times two)!

A big HAPPY BIRTHDAY to Diana and Jamie. Diana is a dear friend dating back to college days, and Jamie is the lovely child of my college roommate, Val, who has known Diana since childhood. Both Diana and Jamie celebrate their birthdays on December 6. Synchronicity? I think so!
Anyway, since I'm lousy at the birthday thing, I thought I'd give them a most public, albeit late, greeting. Hope your birthdays were wonderful and that you got many great presents!

The Adventures of Spunky Bastard (Part I)

In mid-July, a tiny black kitten joined the mob scene of cats who come to my door for food. The other two (yeah, OK, a small mob) treated him well, but all my cat-loving friends and neighbors were concerned for his safety on the mean streets of Fresh Meadows. So, it was decided that I would trap and adopt him. (No one consulted my two furry roommates, 16-month-old brother and sister, Scraps and Moochie, but they had watched Spunky through the window and not seemed too upset by his presence. He would even jump into the flower box and try to communicate with them through the window pane. It appeared that they would get along.)
I'd never really wanted to have more than two cats, but my icy heart melted as the days went on and Spunky started feeling more comfortable with me, especially when I'd sit on the stoop and play with him, manipulating his favorite "play stick."
On Saturday, August 14, I trapped him rather easily (he'll never allow THAT to happen again, trust me) and off we went to the vet. He came out of the cage willingly for Dr. Tuzio (she has the magic touch) and even allowed me to hold him, purring nicely all the while. All his tests came back clean, except for a few fleas, which were treated with a miracle anti-flea gel, and we left for home. I brought him straight upstairs to the second bedroom (now being transformed into a media room) and set him up for his mandatory isolation from the other guys.
Spunky was more than ready to mix with his new roommates, but they were less than enthusiastic. After a couple of days, I started letting him have supervised interaction, and he immediately became enamoured of his new big brother, Scraps. It was very cute, reminiscent of how I once felt about Jack Wagner: total adoration. Scraps tolerated the hero worship routine fairly well, but ol' Mooch (who could pass for Spunky's mother) was less welcoming, showering him with hisses.
The next week and a half were exhausting for me, as I was trying to give them all equal time. I would go to sleep in my room with Moochie and Scraps, then switch to the other room around 2 am and spend the rest of the night with Spunky. However, after another weekend of supervised visitation, I felt comfortable enough to leave them all together when I left for the salt mines on Monday. It worked! Moochie continued to hiss for awhile, but eventually gave in to the inevitable and grudgingly welcomed him to the family. I knew all was well when I caught her bathing him. They were also caught napping together, two kitties entwined in a circle of jet-black fur. The hero worship of Scraps continues still, though wrestling matches are part of the daily routine.
And the m-f'in saga continues...next installment of The Adventures of Spunky Bastard to be posted soon!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Thanks, it's over

Why do people make such a damned fuss about Thanksgiving? Why, why, why?

Fill a room with relatives, preferably ones who see each other infrequently (for maximum impact).
Stir in alcohol (lots).
Garnish with snide asides.

You're probably getting the picture by now. Not my favorite holiday. And turkey sucks.

There are, however, a couple of saving graces:
1. My aunt is such a gosh-darned creative/talented cook that you can have a real feast and not even taste the bird. Look out, Martha, here comes Patricia, armed with a frozen quart of stock she made from scratch. No bouillion cubes allowed. Ever.
2. I'm able to play stupid teenage tricks with my cousin, Matt. We're both 17 now. I feel younger every year.
3. Get to see our Brit pal, O.D., who crosses the pond to join the former colonists for "their" holiday. Always a pleasure. AND he rakes leaves!
4. Pumpkin ice cream is usually available at a variety of places.
5. Nice block of time away from the office.