Book Report: Chapter Two by Neil Simon (1974)

Of all the Neil Simon plays I’ve read (I Ought To Be In Pictures and Biloxi Blues recently), I like this one the best. It details two middle-aged (in 1974, this was 42 and 32) people coming out of their first marriages. The man is a widower still grieving for his wife, the woman a divorcée. Their friends are trying to set them up with people, and a chance meeting in a restaurant puts these two on a collision course of love. When the man dials her accidentally, it starts a whirlwind romance and marriage that aren’t as rosy as they could be, as the man still wants to hold onto his self-pity in losing his wife.

Unlike Biloxi Blues, there’s a unifying and identifiable theme here: the way middle-aged (in 1974) people deal with long-term relationships and the loss of the same. It’s billed as a comic play, but it’s definitely more serious than straight-ahead comedy. Also, I like the set designed by the playwright, which requires no scene changes even though it shows two scenes–the apartments of his and hers–and allows interaction via telephone. Smooth.

Side note: the original production used Judd Hirsch as the man character; I just read a complete episode guide for Judd Hirsch’s comedy television series (Taxi). Isn’t it funny how the mind imposes order on disorder (that is, my reading list and my wandering journey through the same)?

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Book Report: Tuesday Night Football by Alex Karras with Douglas Graham (1991)

I bought this book for a dollar at a book fair this year because I liked Alex Karras as Mongo, and as Webster’s father, and in all his television and film roles; I wasn’t born when he played football (but man, they all became movie stars from that era, didn’t they? Alex Karras, Bubba Smith, Merlin Olsen). Still, I bought the book because it was written by Alex Karras with Douglas Graham. And I think it was mostly Alex Karras.

What an absurd little book it is. It reads like a polished high school creative writing piece, like something I would have written in the tenth grade. Seriously, it reminds me of something my creative writing class group came up with when we were doing the “stories in the round” schtick, where every row of students working as a group would write a scene into a short story and pass it to the next group for them to write a scene, and we would get a story from another group and write a scene. We created an absurd character and inserted him into all of the stories.

In this book, the character is the happy-go-lucky or lucky-go-happy son if immigrants named Lazlo. He’s eventually going to be on Tuesday Night Football, the also-ran behind ABC’s Monday Night Football. But the first half of the book deals with the youth of the precocious Lazlo, who became an accordion prodigy, lived through a slightly cracked but within the bounds of normalcy family, and ended up as the Jingle King. From an early age, he has always connected to commercials and loved jingles because the people depicted within commercials are all happy, and Lazlo associates that with happiness. He’s never anything bad to say about anybody and looks on the bright side of life.

A network executive catches him in his act in a Holiday Inn and decides to bring him to Chicago to be the third man in the booth with the play by play man, a veiled rendition of Howard Cosell, and an extremely randy color man. Thus, the second half of the book deals with the middle-aged young Lazlo coming to the big city, seeing what happens behind the scenes, learning the meaning of the University of Michigan fight song to Lance Allgood, and thwart the middle level executive and the professionals who think Lazlo will sink the sunken show.

But in the end, when Haywood’s ex-wife incapacitates him with drug-laced cookies, Lazlo has to step in and briefly save the day. And he does, at which point the authors realize they’ve reached novel length and end.

The prose wasn’t bad, the characters were obvious caricatures, and the plots outlandish. The book is billed as a comic novel, and while some of it is very, very mildly amusing, it doesn’t reach the level of Hiaasen or Barry. It was designed and packaged with the football fan who reads in mind, as the cover depicts not Lazlo, but Alex Karras sitting in a cartoon chair in a cartoon living room watching football.

But I had a good time reading it.

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Book Report: Nick at Nite’s Classic TV Companion edited by Tom Hill (1996)

This book, written right after Nick at Nite’s 10th anniversary, comes from the days when Nick at Nite was TV Land before TV Land became its own channel and Nick at Nite began showing whatever it shows now.

This book is an episode guide for some of the more popular classic television shows that Nick at Nite aired, including:

  • The Mary Tyler Moore Show
  • Welcome Back, Kotter
  • I Love Lucy
  • Bewitched
  • Taxi
  • The Munsters
  • I Dream of Jeannie
  • The Bob Newhart Show
  • The Dick Van Dyke Show

I can almost count the number of episodes of these I’ve seen on television. A couple from Welcome Back, Kotter, certainly, and one from The Dick Van Dyke Show because it was on one of those dollar DVDs you can pick up in the grocery store that contains 4 old television shows. I know I’ve watched episodes of some of the others and snippets of all of them, but for the life of me, I couldn’t match the scenes to the episodes.

Hopefully, I’ve picked up some useful trivia in the months I’ve spent working on this book a little at a time. The book also triggered in me a slight urge to pick up DVDs of some of the shows so I could watch them in the original order–imagine that; ten years later, the book isn’t triggering an urge to watch the cable station whose brand is on the book, but to consume the shows in another format entirely. But I won’t act on it that quickly.

The chapters are introduced with a section on when the show first aired on Nick at Nite and a compendium of quotes about the series from other books. Ergo, the introductory matter was meaningless. However, some of the episodic addenda was interesting: little footnotes about recurring actors playing different roles, singing and dancing numbers within the shows, or breaks in continuity.

Worth a buck if you have five hundred pages of reading time to spare and enjoy old television shows.

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One of These Things Is Not Like The Others

Let’s see here:

  • A talk show host known for being acerbic and insulting says something stupid and insulting about a basketball team: fired.
  • A talk show host and former political “leader” says he thinks a rival talk show host killed his mother, who died in an accidental fire: Suspended, replaced by his son, a current political “leader” under several clouds.
  • A talk show host makes a humor bit about a crime in the community where the humor relies on mocking a local paper columnist: Fired, although the radio station was planning to replace her soon with syndicated material anyway.

In all of these cases, the target of the radio talk show host’s ire was of a different race. In one, the radio talk show host was suspended. Because of White Privilege!, he must have been treated differently.

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It’s Gonna Take Martial Law, Curfew Ain’t Gonna Get It

They told us all along that reelection of George W. Bush would result in the further encroachment of fascism on the American public. Here’s a new proposal in Baltimore to give the mayor the power to set up checkpoints and block off whole sectors of the city for, well:

A city council leader, alarmed by Baltimore’s rising homicide rate, wants to give the mayor the power to put troubled neighborhoods under virtual lockdown.

“Desperate measures are needed when we’re in desperate situations,” City Council Vice President Robert W. Curran told The (Baltimore) Sun. He said he would introduce the legislation next week.

Under Curran’s plan, the mayor could declare “public safety act zones,” which would allow police to close liquor stores and bars, limit the number of people on city sidewalks, and halt traffic during two-week intervals.

Police would be encouraged to aggressively stop and frisk individuals in those zones to search for weapons and drugs.

You know, something’s missing in that story. All the stories on the wire just lack a certain detail whose omission is glaring. What is it? I can’t quite put my finger on it. Oh, wait.

“Desperate measures are needed when we’re in desperate situations,” City Council Vice President Robert W. Curran (D, District 003) told The (Baltimore) Sun. He said he would introduce the legislation next week. [Emphasis added, as well as a big blinking D]

I guess we know why some Democrats want the US troops out of Iraq: so they can set up checkpoints, conduct raids, and do their pacification in the United States.

Fortunately, another city councilman takes a bold stand for civil liberties:

Councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell Jr., a mayoral hopeful, said Curran’s idea was an interesting concept but it raised questions about civil liberties.

“We have to make sure we’re not declaring martial law,” he said.[Emphasis added]

An interesting concept? Forget it, we’re done.

And you know, I made a big deal about Curran’s party affiliation, but it’s not so much democratic party as it is the new Aristocratic party:

With strong family ties to politics (his brother is Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr., and his niece Catherine Curran O’Malley is the mayor’s wife and a District Court judge in Baltimore City), Curran was one of 10 council members to hire relatives for staff positions. Curran reportedly put a niece on the City Council staff payroll. Hiring a niece was legal, though the council found itself in ethical hot water because of it.

Like the Gores, Blunts, Carnahans, Bushes, et al., our country sure looks to be heading toward a rule by self-selected families instead of citizens, is it not?

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Giving Downtown St. Louis Its Props

I’m the first to tut-tut the revitalization of downtown St. Louis, but this is a positive step: Schnucks planning downtown store:

Finishing touches are being put on a plan for a 20,000-square-foot Schnuck’s to go into the first floor of the Desco-DFC Group garage development at 9th between Olive and Locust streets, several sources said Thursday. The Century Building formerly was at the location.

I’ve always maintained that an urban core is only as good as its supermarkets. With the inclusion of a Schnucks (no apostrophe) down there, it will help a lot, since the downtown dwellers won’t have to drive out to the suburbs to shop or pay boutique prices.

I will note, though, that it’s a DESCO development, which is the property company owned by the Schnuck family, so it’s not as though Schnucks has to pay going rates, but on the other hand, the DESCO first floor won’t sit empty for years awaiting a tenant. Besides, that’s how the companies operate in the suburban locations, too.

Good work, downtown. It’s a supermarket. If you can keep it.

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It’s Either A Dream Or Alternate Universes

I’m not sure how television people plan to pull this off:

“The Sarah Connor Chronicles,” is based on the character from the “Terminator” movies and essentially moves her and her son, John, to New York where they prepare to stop running and fight back.

They could easily run afoul of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and its its books which don’t talk much about John Connor in New York.

But you know what would be cool? A Terminator-based series about Sarah Connor going to Washington and lobbying/protesting against the computerization of the military. Because that would have message, baby!

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A Stunning Turn Of Events

Public/private redevelopment effort requires more participation from the public portion:

Glendale will have to borrow an additional $16.5 million to pay for public improvements at the Bayshore Town Center, bringing the total spending by the city to $57 million.

Don’t worry, though. As this elaborate scheme is described in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the private half is getting its own soaking:

RNC Capital Markets conducted a financial study of the city last fall and determined that Glendale could pay an additional $16.5 million toward the financing. The $300,000 or more will be absorbed by the developers as part of the agreement with the city dating back to 2004.

The developers will pay for the study that says the city could pay its millions. And don’t fret, gentle Glendalean; the Journal-Sentinel waves its handy assertions wand to put you at ease:

Home and business property owners in the city will not shoulder any of the borrowing for the project.

Because the city exists independently of your taxes, apparently.

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Another Thompson I Can Support

New Packers signing Paul Thompson:

Paul Thompson (6-4, 215) is relatively green in terms of quarterbacking but has already established his reputation as a leader. He started four games at receiver and caught 11 passes in 2005 but was reinserted at quarterback in 2006.

He started all 14 games as the Sooners went on to win the Big 12 championship. Thompson completed 204 of 336 attempts (60.7%) for 2,667 yards and 22 touchdowns last year. He was sacked 17 times and intercepted 11 for a quarterback rating of 142.45.

“He can move around, he can make plays with his feet, but we thought he played the position of quarterback well enough to take a look,” said Ted Thompson. “I know some teams were looking at maybe an alternate-position type guy but we wanted to see him as a quarterback.”

I am about ready to call this the Year of Thompson at MfBJN.

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Maybe The Developers Are Trying To Tell You Something

St. Louis’s Bottleworks District, one of its centrally-planned collections of retail and housing in an already glutted market, has run into trouble. However, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch rah-rahs that in spite of the developers backing away:

The last initiative, announced in September 2005, called for three high-rise condo buildings on the approximately 16-acre site — the tallest of which would be 630 feet. The city pledged a $51.3 million tax break.

At the time, Ghazi Co., based in Charlotte, N.C., was named co-developer and Clayco was the general contractor.

Since then the project has stalled, and Ghazi dropped out about eight months ago, giving rise to speculation that the Bottle District may be dead.

51.3 million dollars given up by the strapped city of St. Louis apparently wasn’t enough. Still, the optimism of the project in the article is based soundly on someone involved in the project saying that the project is recalibrating and is going swimmingly.

Except that no one’s building it.

Probably because the stone doesn’t have enough blood to wring.

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Wilding On Two Wheels

Another Critical Mass in Berkeley, another attack on a motorist. Instead of a mother and her kids, this time the hooligans targeted a 70-year-old man:

A Friday clash between a Berkeley minivan and Critical Mass bicyclists continued to generate conflict Monday as the van driver said the bicyclists placed bicycles under his front tire during the violent melee.

“A certain number of the bicyclists were prepared to do this with malice aforethought,” said Harlan Head, 70, driver of the Chevrolet minivan. “They shoved bicycles under the car and attempted several other things.”

Critical Mass organizer Jason Meggs, 38, who filmed part of the incident on his digital camera, called Head’s accusation “outrageously ridiculous.”

How convenient that the leader of the bihadists had a video to upload to YouTube. So that next month’s Critical Smash event is even more popular amongst the brown jerseys who think they’re not only above the laws of the road, but the laws of the land as well.

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Brownback Loses Wisconsin

Football reference trips up GOP hopeful:

Note to Sen. Sam Brownback: In Packerland, it’s not cool to diss Brett Favre.

The GOP presidential hopeful drew boos and groans Friday at the Wisconsin Republican Party convention when he used a football analogy to talk about the need to focus on families.

“This is fundamental blocking and tackling,” he said. “This is your line in football. If you don’t have a line, how many passes can Peyton Manning complete? Greatest quarterback, maybe, in NFL history.”


(Link seen on Outside the Beltway, where James Joyner underestimates the cataclysm and defends Peyton Manning.)

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Framing, Dear Brian, Framing

A rapacious government doing whatever it can to extract money from its citizens to fund dubious programs? The St. Louis Post-Dispatch cannot tear itself off of the legs of the monied political class. Wait, it’s not just poor governance! It’s predatory bullying:

Some homeowners fuming over reassessment left a town hall meeting here Saturday feeling bounced around by government with no way to fight the double-digit percentage jump in home values.

“The politicians create a bureaucratic jungle,” said Bill Powers, 72, whose Ladue home’s assessed value rose 39 percent.

“The county points to the state. The state points to the county — and they all point to the computer system” that compiles the numbers, Powers said. “The system is flawed, and it’s predatory.”

Well, yeah, that’s how the governments that the Post-Dispatch continually rah-rahs work. They take more and more money from citizens to fund the development projects and other goofball projects for which the paper asks us to “Gimme a G! Gimme an O! Gimme a V! Gimme a E!” and so on.

One must wonder how much the landowners at the top of Post-Dispatch masthead got soaked to allow citizens to feel bullied in print.

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And Whosoever Shall Be Found Without The Soul For Getting Down

Must stand to face the hounds of hell and rot inside a corpsed shell:

Private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management LP likely will be the winning bidder to buy Chrysler Group from DaimlerChrysler AG, and an announcement could come as early as Monday, a company official said Sunday.

Jeez, what marketing genius came up with the idea to name a company after the three-headed hound who guarded the gates of Hades? How would you feel if the company you worked for was from the Greek for Hellhound? Seriously, someone either made a whacked naming decision or they’re telling us something.

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Good Book Hunting: May 12, Alton, Illinois

Yesterday, my beautiful wife and I loaded up the baby and excurted to Alton, Illinois, a small town in the upper northern reaches of the St. Louis metropolitan area. To get there, we had to drive for almost an hour, cross two rivers, and navigate the revitalizing downtown area of Alton.

The Friends of the Haynor Library hold this book sale twice a year, in May and in October. As such, they have a decent amount of material, but a lot of it is ex.lib. Also, I think the selection represents recent library remainders, the detritus from past book sales, and a couple or three donations from the last five or six months. As a result, there’s volume, but it has a pre-picked over quality to it. The good books were already sold. As a barometer, Heather spotted a single Ed McBain novel–and I didn’t even see that.

Also, the books were predominantly displayed on actual bookshelves instead of tables. Whereas this works in a bookstore, a book sale tends to have a larger number of people moving around, which doesn’t lend itself to leisurely browsing. Books on the bottom shelves get short shrift as they’re not at eye level, and I cannot browse disorganized shelves very quickly.

That didn’t stop me from buying, though; as the picture below indicates, I found 11 books to Heather’s 6. Which is a shame, since the books were priced well; fifty cents for a hardback, a quarter for a paperback. This is one step above bag day, my friends; if a book remotely tempted me, I picked it up. But I wasn’t very tempted.

The book sale also had a large room full of other media, including cassettes, CDs, VHS cassettes, computer software, and magazines. As you know, you can rip a CD into MP3 format, so a quarter for a cassette is worth it if you know one song on it (versus online music services). I dug into these and found 7 (several are compilations of songs of easy listening) to Heather’s 1; again, these were not merchandised well, as the cassettes were stacked on end so the name was not visible. It’s just as well, since most of them were mixed tapes, bootlegs, recordings of various lectures, or theological programs. I have a greater patience than Heather, but even I wasn’t that thorough when going through them.

Well, here’s the picture; notice I’ve turned the spines toward you, gentle reader, so you can see what I’ve bought and so I have a record and can report faithfully where I got the books when I actually get around to reading them.

Alton Book Sale Pickings

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Book Report: Biloxi Blues by Neil Simon (1985)

I bought this book at the Kirkwood Book Fair this year, which is odd, since I bought I Ought To Be In Pictures last year. I have to wonder if the owner is trickling out his or her library at a slow pace, or if I just missed it last year.

This book isn’t a complete enough play for me; I mean, it’s about a man’s experience at military training in 1943 and some things that happens there. From the outset, we don’t know what’s at stake, and then something happens, and the play is over, framed with a last scene very like the first scene. There are some amusing lines and situations, but ultimately, I’m not sure the play says anything or leads anywhere.

As some of you know, this is a sequel to Brighton Beach Memoirs; both were made into movies in the middle 1980s. I saw parts of this movie on Showtime, and I read excerpts of the first in Weekly Reader, for crying out loud. How old am I?

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