Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The lesson: Get a bigger dog or a smaller shark

I love my dogs, even the dumb one (no need to name names -- she knows who she is, and besides, she can't read), but would I dive into the ocean to rescue them from a shark? I hope I never have to find out, but just in case I'm thinking of starting to carry shark repellent on my utility belt.

I'm referring of course to the story out of Florida in which a man punched -- punched! -- a shark to rescue his 14-pound rat terrier from its jaws. Yes, I know what you're thinking: Who would want to own a 14-pound rat terrier?

Greg LeNoir, a carpenter in the Florida Keys, that's who. After his dog was pulled under by a shark at a local marina, he sprung in to action, reports the Miami Herald:
''I clenched my fists and dove straight in with all my strength, like a battering ram,'' LeNoir, 53, said Sunday, reliving the frightening ordeal. "I hit the back of the shark's neck. It was like hitting concrete.''
To his credit, he succeeded and the dog is fine, although he is still a rat terrier. Meanwhile, if this doesn't become the source of a Dave Barry column, I will be very disappointed.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Springsteen at the Super Bowl!

Today is my birthday, and I got a nice present from Mr. Bruce Springsteen: The announcement that he is going to come to my house and sing highlights from "The River." Wait, no, he's actually going to play the Super Bowl Halftime Show. Which is the next best thing.

Still, I have my concerns. I thought this excerpt from the report at EW.com summed up my thinking:
As a bigger music fan than football fan, I wish I could say that Bruce Springsteen is bigger than the Super Bowl, that he should have better things to do than play a hasty 12-minute medley of his hits, as a sideshow to a sporting event, for an audience that didn't show up just to see him.
It goes on to say that given the appearances by U2, Paul McCartney and the like, Bruce isn't really bigger than the Bowl -- but I still put Springsteen in a different class. Even U2 did that iPod commercial, even if they didn't get paid.

That said, I'm certainly psyched to see Bruce and the band play for such a huge audience on national TV. And if it turns out to be in support of a new album, all the better. What's your opinion? Take the Blogness on the Edge of Town poll:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

COLUMN: Psssst ... Wanna buy some popcorn?

When I was a kid, some under-funded organization I was involved with assigned me the task of selling tremendous chocolate bars for $1 apiece. My strategy was to leave them on the kitchen counter at our house, whereupon they would eventually disappear (not a small number of them into me while I sat on the couch watching Scooby-Doo cartoons), requiring my parents to write a check to cover their cost. This plan never fails — I think there’s a class on it at Wharton now.

Today I am a parent, and I have discovered that there’s been a very important change in fundraising since then: The candy bars have gotten smaller. Other than that, it’s pretty much the same.

Actually, I should give my kids more credit. For instance my son, a freshly minted Cub Scout, has already taken to his task of peddling popcorn, adopting a have-order-sheet-will-travel mentality and cornering friends and family wherever he goes. So far he’s accosted people at the park, his sister’s soccer games and at least one funeral (or at the meal afterwards, anyway). He wants to know what he needs to do to get you into a gigantic tin of popcorn today.

It’s tough though, because as we all know people don’t have the expendable income they used to, and also there’s a lot of competition — at this rate it won’t be long before the Treasury Department is out canning. So the majority of the purchases tend to fall to a young salesperson’s family, which speaks to one of the great truisms of parenting: Don’t have kids unless you really, really like Yankee Candles.

Of course, there are some people whose eyes light up when your child asks them to shell out for whatever they’re peddling, because it means that they can then ask you to buy something from their kid without feeling guilty. Let’s face it, when you come down to it we’re all passing the same $20 around town to each other over and over again. OK, $200.

Now, so far my kids, age 7 and 9, have sold candles, cookies, cookie dough, popcorn, wrapping paper and housewares, not to mention soliciting pledges for miles walked, home runs hit and cartwheels, er, cartwheeled. And I’m sure soon someone will have them out there holding cans for passing cars; some people object to this practice because it’s like begging, but I like it because when the smoke clears, you’re not left holding another Yankee Candle.

And even if you get paying customers, there are other hazards. This is particularly true when you have a daughter who sells Girl Scout cookies, since the customers inevitably pay cash, which you then put into an envelope labeled “cookie money.” Then, you need some cash for takeout, your wife needs to get gas, your kid needs lunch money, etc., and suddenly it’s time to turn in the cookie money and you discover that you’ve indirectly purchased enough Thin Mints to cover the down payment on a Saturn L200.

I’m tempted to suggest that we all just make a pact to put aside a few hundred dollars a year to donate to these various organizations flat-out, in exchange for the abolition of fundraising drives that involve selling things people don’t really need or want. (Say, a raffle chance to win $1,500 in scratch tickets. Wait, no, that one I need and want.) But I look at my son peddling his popcorn, and I can’t help but think maybe these efforts are teaching him some usable skills or even building character — which is what these organizations are supposed to be about anyway.

At the very least, it might give him a future in retail. Or at the Treasury Department.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It beats crawling into the washing machine

I'll admit it: I was starting to get worried that science would not be able to develop a suit that you could wear in the shower during my lifetime. Oh, me of little faith! Apparently, scientists in Australia have cracked the shower-suit code. And here I thought everyone down there just wore khakis.

According to Ananova.com, the suit can be "cleaned under the shower head with no soaking, dry cleaning -- or even soap." But, you ask, who could possibly need such an item?
Australian Wool Innovation says it has already received 170,000 orders from Japan for its revolutionary shower suit.
OK, memo to the Japanese: Take a day off to do some laundry, for crying out loud! You're far enough ahead of us already.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Somewhere in an underground lair, cranky baristas are plotting their revenge

I remember getting a tour of McDonald's with my Cub Scout troop as a kid, and they explained to us how their french fries are cooked in the hottest grease in the world, and if they're accidentally left in the grease for even a second too long, they're thrown away and they make a new batch. Then, as soon as we left, they recommenced to picking old french fries out of the trash. I'm just assuming.

Anyway, McDonald's is still etched in my mind as the one place where you could be assured good, cheap, average-Joe, special-sauce greasiness. So it is with a heavy heart that I announce that McDonald's has taken another giant step on the road to (shudder) respectability, adding several “gourmet coffee” drinks to its menu. The chain will now serve cappuccinos, mochas, iced lattes and iced mochas. Whither the Shamrock Shake???

Anyway, to take the sting out, from Sept. 22 (that's today!) through 28 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., McDonald's will be giving away free samples of the above in Massachusetts stores. So check it out, but please, also get one of those machine-pressed apple pies while you're there, for old time's sake. (If they still sell them.)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Column: Gigi’s passing offers food for thought

My grandmother, Betty Rothstein, passed away last week at the age of 91 1/2. For a while now she’d been admonishing pretty much anyone who would listen not to feel bad for her when she was gone; she’d had a wonderful life — “not one tragedy!” — and she was ready to go. In fact, lately she’d been wondering why she was still here — not mournfully, but sort of matter of factly, like someone wondering why her train was still sitting in the depot when it was scheduled to leave four minutes ago.

I’ve written about my late grandfather in these pages before, but not so much my grandmother — my grandfather was definitely the more colorful figure, having been a stand-up comic who shared stages with the likes of Henny Youngman in the ’40s and ’50s. My grandmother’s main claim to fame was that as a young woman she had sung on the radio, and though we never saw any evidence of this (or of any actual singing ability, for that matter), her genes are always cited whenever someone in the family actually manages to carry a tune.

My memories of her, though, center on something else: her cooking. Which may be odd, since she and my grandfather had a reputation for eating out almost incessantly. (Youngman: “My wife said she’d like to go somewhere she’s never been for our anniversary. I said, try the kitchen.”) They were constantly switching regular restaurants after the wait staffs became so familiar they’d start pulling up chairs and joining the conversation during appetizers.

But she did have her specialties: For one, she introduced me to the joys of chopped liver, which as a kid repulsed and frightened me (Agh! It’s brown!) but which eventually won a place in my heart like only a mixture of chicken livers, eggs, onions and pure rendered fat can do. It’s terrible for you, of course, except that everybody who eats it seems to live to 91 1/2.

Then there was “Aunt Didi’s Spaghetti” (although it might have been Aunt Edie’s — I was never quite sure), which was essentially spaghetti and meatballs mixed with several cans of cream of mushroom soup. Well, not “essentially” — that’s exactly what it was. I loved this meal so much that I once tried to recreate it for my roommates in college, an experiment that resulted in something that looked like a janitor should be covering it with sawdust. But they loved it once I convinced them to give it a shot. (“Eat! Eat! You’re too skinny anyway.”)

I sometimes torture my kids with tales of the snacks their “Gigi” served me when she was babysitting. Their faces become noticeably contorted as I tell them — “Why would anyone mix bananas and sour cream!” they ask, plausibly, but it turns out that anything can be good if you put enough sugar on top of it. Then there was the time she gave me a tongue sandwich — she told me it was tongue, but I just assumed that was another one of those cold cut names that didn’t really mean anything, like “salami.”

But the thing I’ll always remember about the bowls of matzo ball soup and trays of Hamentashen was that they, along with most of her interactions with us, represented the sheer joy she seemed to get from being a grandparent — “If you’re happy, I’m happy,” she would tell us, and I think she actually meant it. A smile from one of us over a bowl of soup was truly all this woman needed to be content. Although to beat Alma and Lillian at Mahjong once in a while certainly wouldn’t hurt.

The family is getting together for a memorial service this week, and afterwards we’ll be — what else? — going out to dinner. There’s a particular deli near where I grew up in New York that I’m hoping we pick, because I know they serve chopped liver, and I might just give my heart a conniption by having some in her honor.

And here’s the toast I’ll give as I hoist it off my plate: Grandma, thanks for the meals and the memories. You may have been ready to go … But that doesn’t mean we were ready for you to leave.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

We Wish You a Merry Truthiness

Move over, Charlie Brown. Stephen Colbert is about to kick your ass. Reports Reuters:
Comedy Central star Stephen Colbert is getting an early start on Christmas, enlisting musicians Elvis Costello, Feist, Toby Keith, John Legend and Willie Nelson for a one-hour holiday special that will air November 23 on the cable network. "A Colbert Christmas: The Greatest Gift of All!" has something of a narrative arc: Colbert will be snowed in at his cabin in upstate New York and will pass the time with his musically inclined friends.
The real "get" there in my book is Costello, although between this and his new Sundance Channel talk show, it seems that Elvis is becoming the new millennium's answer to Glen Campbell.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

They don’t look like Presbyterians to me

The funny thing is, I have a feeling a real Hold Steady concert is almost exactly like this:

In related news: A new Muppet Christmas movie is coming. Unfortunately only featuring the Muppeteers who are not deceased.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

35 years later, and I'm still a little creeped out by it

All I remember about "Sigmund and the Sea Monsters" is that some poor short person in the worst sea monster suit you've ever seen wound up living with a couple of kids, who had to hide it from various authority figures and keep it from getting into trouble, as sea monsters are wont to do. Oh, and one more thing: I loved it with all my heart.

Well, maybe that's a bit strong. Still, it was one of those Saturday morning crapfests that left an indelible mark on my childhood, and now (natch) it's going to become a major motion picture. The question is, will the high-tech, CGI sea monster live up to the version we remember from our youth? And the answer is: No it will not. Still, it should make for a fine starring vehicle for Jason Lee, Breckin Meyer or someone else looking to collect a paycheck.

P.S.: They're also planning a movie of H.R. Pufnstuf, the scariest children's show ever.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Column: Meet the candidates ... If you dare!

A lot of people have been asking me why I haven’t written about the presidential election, and what I tell them is, I haven’t as yet felt informed enough to do so. That’s mainly because whenever anybody starts talking about it I put my hands over my ears and start humming to myself.

But every man has a breaking point, and mine came a few weeks ago when for some reason I decided to watch large chunks of both the Democratic and Republican national conventions, leaving me with the following two conclusions:

1.) It’s a good thing they have two separate conventions, because if they shared one the Republicans would spend the entire time stealing the Democrats’ lunch money and giving them noogies right through their donkey hats.

2.) George W. Bush is even scarier in IMAX.

But the other thing it made me realize is that there might be other people out there who until now have managed to tune out the election-season buzz, and who may be in need of solid information about the candidates. Those people are out of luck. However, in lieu of that you can reference the following candidates guide, which outlines almost everything you need to know.

Click here for the At Large Candidates Guide.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Best. Commercial. EVER.

I love it.

Almost makes me forgive Microsoft for making me miserable on a daily basis. I said almost.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Don't cross the streams!

Three things we need to see in the new Ghostbusters movie:
  1. Slime
  2. Sigourney Weaver
  3. The Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man
Three things we don't need to see in the new Ghostbusters movie:
  1. Slimer (the green ghost -- yes, he had a name)
  2. Rick Moranis and/or Annie Potts
  3. Shia LaBeouf
What I predict we will see in the new Ghostbusters movie:
  1. This lady.