Monthly Archives: May 2009

Kid Stuff: Monopoly

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by solecism.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by solecism.

I love Monopoly. I don’t always have the patience to play a game that can go on for a couple of hours. But when I do, like on a rainy day, it’s great fun. Of course, our games never approach the record, which is 70 straight days. Shoot, some nut even played for 99 hours in a bathtub!

There’s an almost infinite number of licensed versions of the game, and probably even more unlicensed. Do a Google Image search for Monopoly, and you’ll see what I mean. Hasbro, which owns the game now, says it’s produced officially in 37 languages.

Some interesting Monopoly facts:

  • The diecast metal game pieces were first used in 1937, but were changed to wood during World War II.
  • Neiman Marcus once offered an all-chocolate board for sale (“Uh, you owe me $150, I ate the Electric Company.”).
  • As you know, the game’s streets were based on real streets in Atlantic City; Illinois Ave. is now Martin Luther King, Jr. Blvd.

One thing worth considering – Monopoly is a little out of step with today’s “everybody wins” mentality. Here’s a game that’s built on hoarding all the money possible and laughing with glee when people go bankrupt. I wish Monopoly many long years of success. It may be the last place in America today where it’s still a good thing to accumulate wealth

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Food: Patsy’s Pizza

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Captain Scooter.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Captain Scooter.

The American pizza community is basically divided into three camps. First, those who like thin crust pizza (let’s call them the “Smart” pizza lovers). Second those who prefer the deep-dish style (also known as people who don’t understand what pizza is all about). In geographic terms, it’s New York vs. Chicago. The final group is California “pizza”, dough topped with goat cheese, bean sprouts, and other things God never meant on pizza.

Okay, maybe I’m a bit biased on this subject. (You think?) I love a crunchy crust, and nothing is crunchier than a pizza made in a coal-fired brick oven. Patsy’s way.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Home Slice Pizza.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Home Slice Pizza.

The original Patsy’s is in East Harlem, going strong since 1932. From most places in Manhattan, it’s a longer way to go for a pizza, not as easy as going around the corner. And its atmosphere can best be described as what atmosphere? But it’s worth it for the pizza… Read what Michael Stern of Roadfood.com had to say about it:

It is the simplest pie imaginable, easy to hoist slice by slice, built on a marvelous thin crust with charred spots all along the edge that have the smoky flavor that only a coal oven delivers. Two versions of plain cheese pizza are available: fresh mozzarella, with thin pools of creamy sliced cheese spread out within the microthin layer of tomato sauce, and regular mozzarella on which saltier, slightly oilier shredded cheese is spread evenly all across the surface. They have a very different nature, topping-wise, but they both sport that marvelous wafer-thin charcoaled crust.

This is one of the Great American Things I haven’t personally had the opportunity to try yet. Next trip to NYC, it’ll be a must-do. The only problem is, I may never be able to eat Pizza Hut or Papa John’s again…


Actor: Carol Burnett

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by feastoffools.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by feastoffools.

How’s this for a Saturday night TV lineup? On CBS in 1973 you’d see: All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, Bob Newhart, and Carol Burnett. That roster deserves its own wing at the Museum of Broadcasting. The first two were controversial, the next two were heartwarming, and Carol Burnett was just flat-out funny.

Her show ran for 11 seasons, from 1967-1978. It was a variety show with musical guests, but that element of the show is virtually forgotten. What we remember is the comedy from Carol’s wonderfully talented ensemble cast: Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, Vicki Lawrence, and Lyle Waggoner. Carol and Tim were hilarious in the continuing “Mrs. Wiggins” sketches, Carol and Vicki shone in “The Family” skits (later spun off as Mama’s Family).

Tim Conway would improvise, and because the show was taped before a live audience, the cast would have to adapt. The result was often chaos, with Korman and Conway breaking up on the air. The most memorable sketch, indeed one of the most remarkable in television history, was the send-up of Gone With the Wind called “Went With the Wind.”

Part 2 is here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Nt0yi4wbro

Carol had done TV before getting her own show, of course, and she did more TV and films after. But we’ll always remember her for the amazing talent she assembled (on both sides of the camera), and for being wise enough to give them the freedom that ended up making her look good.

The show won 22 Emmy Awards during its run. Best I can tell, it’s not on anywhere now in syndication. When you look at the morass of television today, isn’t there anyplace on 150 channels to replay one of the funniest shows of all time?

Food: Pop Tarts

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by frompamm.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by frompamm.

In honor of the 50th entry in this esteemed list, we add a cultural icon nonpareil: Pop Tarts.

I know what every Pop Tarts lover thinks of first: nutrition. Oh, yes, this little pastry is loaded with it. The frosted strawberry flavor has 203 calories and 5 grams of fat (per pastry, and can you just eat one?). And get this: it has ten percent of your RDA of iron. Now that’s what I call a nutritional powerhouse. No wonder 4 out of 5 certified nutritionists prefer Pop Tarts (to Bob Evans caramel banana pecan stacked and stuffed hotcakes).

Pop Tarts, a Kellog’s product, have been around since the early 60s. While they were obviously created to be warmed in a toaster, lots of people prefer to eat them right out of the foil pouch. “How do you take your Pop Tarts?” they’re asked. “Straight,” they reply.

They’re available now in dozens of flavors. Tired of chocolate frosted? How about Chocolate Banana Split. Or Frosted Strawberry Milkshake. Or Hot Fudge Sundae. (Why do I suddenly have the urge to go to an ice cream shop?)

I don’t know why, but there’s just something about Pop Tarts that makes you want to be silly. All I know is that as good as French pastries are, it took an American company to make a pastry thin enough to fit in a toaster. And to include this warning: “Due to possible risk of fire, never leave your toasting appliance or microwave unattended.”

Singer: Ray Charles

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by MTO-Graff

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by MTO-Graff

Ray Charles was a country singer. Now, of course, he wasn’t just a country singer. But the mere fact that he was able to perform such amazing songs as “Born To Lose” and “You Don’t Know Me” show what a versatile, genre-busting singer he was.

Ray was born with sight, but began losing it at age five. By the time he was seven years old, he was blind. He attended a school for the deaf and blind, and at night he listened to all the music he could find on the radio – big band, gospel, blues, even the Grand Ole Opry.

Those influences clearly shaped his musical persona, though at first he patterned himself after another icon of the time, Nat King Cole. He finally realized he had to let Ray be Ray, and let loose in the groundbreaking 1954 recording “I Got a Woman.” It reached number one on the R&B chart.

In 1962 he released the album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. It became one of the best-selling albums of its day by a black artist and one of the best-selling country albums. In addition to the two songs mentioned above, it also included the classic “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” The album has the distinction of having been included among the all-time great albums by groups as disparate as Rolling Stone magazine and Country Music Television. If all this doesn’t convince you of the greatness of Ray Charles, I just have one thing to say.

Hit the road, Jack.

Travel: Ocracoke Island

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by MCanedy.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by MCanedy.

Except for the village, Ocracoke Island is owned completely by the National Park Service as part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. It’s about 14 to 16 miles long, depending on who’s doing the telling, and a half mile wide. The only way in is by ferry, private boat, or small plane. You’ll find it on the map, down there at the tip of North Carolina’s Outer Banks.

But Ocracoke Island is much more than a place. It’s a state of mind.

Maybe you’ll stay at the picturesque Ocracoke Harbor Inn, or one of the town’s several bed and breakfast inns. From the village you can walk, cycle or paddle almost anywhere you need to go. You can spend time on a long, wide expanse of sand and have it virtually to yourself. You’ll definitely want to visit the Ocracoke Lighthouse. Built in 1823, it’s the oldest lighthouse still in operation in North Carolina.

Maybe the idea of staying at such a remote location is too much for you. You need just a little more action. Okay, that’s understandable. But if you find yourself anywhere near the Outer Banks, you owe it to yourself to make your way down to at least experience Ocracoke.

You might soon find all that going and doing isn’t as satisfying as relaxing and being.

Film: The Best Years of Our Lives

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Uncinefilo

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Uncinefilo

It’s amazing that this movie was made in 1946. It’s remarkable that the country could face such subject matter so soon following the end of World War II.

Three veterans return home to a small town from the war, and each encounters a different challenge in reentering civilian society. Al (Frederick March) can’t adjust to being a hardnosed banker. Fred (Dana Andrews) comes home to realize the wife he took before going overseas hasn’t waited for him. And Homer (Harold Russell) lost both hands in a fire, and now believes his fiance only stays with him out of pity, not love.

It’s a profound screenplay (Robert Sherwood – Oscar) brought to life by a talented director (William Wyler – Oscar) and a talented cast (March – Best Actor, Russell – Best Supporting Actor). To achieve as much realism as possible, Wyler used veterans behind the scenes as well, in props, grips, and mixing.

World War II had a definite conclusion and a signed surrender treaty. Now we fight enemies that don’t wear uniforms and don’t abide by civilized rules of war. So our wars are only over when we feel safe enough to say they are. Our soldiers come home one at a time, rather than all at once. But that doesn’t mean their adjustment problems are any less difficult than those veterans whose stories are told in this film.

That’s what the best movies do – give us timeless reminders of the human condition. And on any day – but especially on this day – this Best Picture gives us another chance to appreciate anew all those who served their country

Americana: The Greatest Generation

The Greatest Generation by crowleydave38My father was one of millions of American men and women who fought in World War II. He served in North Africa, then advanced through Sicily, Corsica, Italy, and into Paris. He attained the rank of sergeant, and I’m not sure he even wanted that.

Thank God, he made it back. But so many others didn’t. They gave their lives at Pearl Harbor, or Normandy, or on Iwo Jima. They were so young and scared, but they knew the threat our country faced. And we today live blessed lives in security because of their service. They were part of a generation that stared evil in the face, and didn’t back down. Not just the men who fought, but the women here at home who worked, managed the ration coupons, and raised the families. If only we had their strength. If only we could display their unwavering belief in our country.

My dad never talked much about his wartime experiences, but he and his Army buddies held an annual reunion until there weren’t enough of them left to reunite. It’s hard for me to believe that this worldwide conflict happened just a few years before I was born, and I didn’t develop a curiosity about it until after my father died. I never really got to discuss his experiences in depth. Now, when I consider some of the horrible things my father must have witnessed, I wish I’d appreciated him more, as a father and as a man.

Is there a member of the greatest generation in your life? If so, now is the time to say “Thank you. Thank you for all of your sacrifices.” You won’t have much longer.

Americana: The Blue Angels

Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy.

Photo courtesy of U.S. Navy.

What they do is impossible. You see it, and you’re thrilled and scared to death at the same time. They can’t fly that close together that fast. It’s just not possible.

And yet they do it in dozens of air shows and for about 15 million people each year. And they’ve been doing it since they were first organized in 1946 by Admiral Chester Nimitz.

The Blue Angels now fly in the Boeing F/A-18 Hornet. Hornet doesn’t sound so menacing, considering that their past aircraft have included Hellcat, Bearcat, Panther, Cougar, and Tiger.

Their purpose is to increase recruiting for the U.S. Navy, and they’ve obviously been successful in their mission. They’re known and admired around the world.

But as skilled as these pilots are, what they do is incredibly dangerous. To date, 26 Blue Angels pilots have been killed in air shows or in training accidents. So when you see them fly, say a prayer for their safety. And be thankful that the Navy and Marines they represent are on our side.

Food: Oreo

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by herobyday.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by herobyday.

This isn’t about Double Stuf. Or Milk Chocolate Covered. Or Cakesters. No, friends, this is about the classic, unbeatable, try not to eat the whole bag in one sitting Oreos.

For centuries, millennia, cows produced milk without knowing why. Now we know. As the perfect accompaniment to a handful of Oreos. I’m not making a judgement about whether you twist them apart and eat the cream filling separately, or if you’re a dunker. I reckon that’s your business. If you love the cookie, you’re my brother or sister.

Oreos have been around since 1912, though originally they were produce in two flavors: cream and lemon meringue. Lemon meringue. No wonder we elected Woodrow Wilson, we obviously hadn’t established our national preference for chocolate. I don’t know what that sentence means either.

If, on the oddest chance, you’re a product manager for Nabisco and you happen upon this post doing some market research, I’m sure you’d like to send me a case of Oreos as an expression of your gratitude. Just leave me a comment with your number, and I’ll be in touch. Thank you.

Film: To Kill a Mockingbird

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by jibber jabber

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by jibber jabber

With this entry in the list, I celebrate both a book and a movie. Both have moved so many people, affected so many lives. And the movie was a faithful adaptation of the novel, as Harper Lee said of Horton Foote’s screenplay, “I think it is one of the best translations of a book to film ever made.”

Harper Lee earned the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961, and even today there are more than 30 million copies in print. Consider what you’d do if your first novel turned out to be considered Best Novel of the Century (Library Journal). If you were Harper Lee, you’d never publish again. But you’d receive many honorary degrees, and eventually the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The movie was nominated for Best Picture, and enabled Gregory Peck to win the Best Actor Oscar. It came in at #25 in the American Film Institute’s rankings of the greatest movies of all time. And the character of Boo Radley marked the screen debut of a modestly talented actor you may have heard of named Robert Duvall.

To Kill a Mockingbird has been enjoyed, studied, and cried over. I don’t care how many times you’ve seen the film, it kicks you in the solar plexus every time. Harper Lee never published again, because she knew she could never top her first effort. In that respect, it was a blessing and a curse for her. For us, though, it’s a heartwrenching reminder of where we’ve been as a nation, and an encouraging reminder of how far we’ve come. As Atticus Finch tells Scout:

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.”

Sports: Mickey Mantle

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by hda9852.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by hda9852.

Now, I suppose we have to start this post by coming to terms with the meaning of “Great” in Great American Things. Because Mickey Mantle was a very flawed man. He was a philanderer, an alcoholic, and he squandered more talent than most ballplayers will ever have.

And yet…

There was just something about the guy that made people love him. In spite of his drinking, he still ranks as one of the finest players in baseball history. He was named to the All-Century team. The Sporting News named him number 17 in its listing of all-time greatest players. In its Sports Century series, ESPN ranked him no. 37 in its all-time greatest athletes.

As a kid, I thought there was magic in the name. And in the number 7 he wore on the Yankee pinstripes. As a man, I understand his flaws, and I know he wasn’t a saint. But I watch those films of his swing, hear that distinctive Oklahoma voice, look at his baseball cards, and all those memories come rushing back. I don’t know how, but there’s still magic in the name Mickey Mantle.

TV Show: 30 Rock

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by acboydan

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by acboydan

I had no idea when this show started that I was going to enjoy it so much. Usually, when the new season is being hyped, you see one or two entries that pique your curiosity. 30 Rock premiered the same season as a somewhat similarly themed and named show, an Aaron Sorkin comedy/drama called Studio 60. I did like that show, but it only lasted one season. But 30 Rock blows me away.

It’s very rare that I watch a sitcom and actually laugh out loud. If it’s good then I’ll smile, I’ll be entertained, but that’s about it. I laugh all the way through 30 Rock. I chuckle. I chortle. I’ve even been known to guffaw.

Like all great sitcoms, this one is smartly written and wonderfully cast. Remember how Alec Baldwin threatened to leave the country if Bush won reelection? If he had, we’d never have seen his inspired Jack Donaghy. Tina Fey is not only the brilliant force behind the show, she’d be great if she did nothing but bring Liz Lemon to life. I’m shocked at how good Tracy Morgan is.

And Jack McBrayer is so perfect as Kenneth the page, that I had to look him up to see if he was actually an actor. Kenneth has joined the pantheon of all-time great sitcom supporting characters, along with classic misfits like Barney Fife and Kramer.

I don’t know how long the show can hold together, how long the stars will stay, how long the premise can be sustained. But for now, at least, this is one very funny show.

Americana: Ford Mustang

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by stevoarnold.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by stevoarnold.

There are lots of cars that could be included in a list of Great American Things. (Uh, not you, Pacer.) But occasionally one rises to the level of an icon and represents its generation. Such is the Ford Mustang.

Much of the credit for the Mustang goes to legendary auto executive Lee Iacocca. He knew America was ready for a car that combined sports styling with a hint of muscle, with options that made it popular in the mass market. Though it’s never been a custom car (it was originally built on a production line along with the forgettable Falcon), it’s always achieved a sense of style that captured and held the country’s interest.

The Mustang was first revealed in the Ford Pavilion at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. For perspective, it went on sale about two months after the Beatles were first seen on the Ed Sullivan Show.

I remember when twin sisters showed up at my high school in a pink Mustang (several years before Mary Kay started giving away pink cars). I’ve forgotten every other car my friends drove back then – shoot, I’ve almost forgotten the clunkers I drove – but I remember that Mustang. That was a great vehicle. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was more than just a car. It was a Great American Thing.

Actor: Paul Newman

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by dagomatic

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by dagomatic

Which era Paul Newman do you like best? Young, pretty Paul, as seen in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and The Hustler? Paul in his prime, notably with Robert Redford in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting? Or mature Paul, in The Color of Money and Nobody’s Fool?

There’s no wrong answer; he was always great. His portrayal of Frank Galvin, an alcoholic lawyer brought back to life by a challenging case in The Verdict, is one of my all-time favorite roles.

Of course, you may know another Paul Newman. The one who at the age of 47 began a career in auto racing that he continued into his 60s. Or the one who started Newman’s Own food company, donating more than $250 million in profits to charitable organizations. Or the one who started the Hole in the Wall Gang Camps for seriously ill children, now helping more than 13,000 kids annually.

Paul Newman was a great actor, and a great man. It’s not often you can put those two qualities together in the same sentence.

Singers: The Beach Boys

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Epiclectic.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Epiclectic.

From 1964 to roughly 1967 or so, America experienced what was called “The British Invasion.” Following the success of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, any four guys from Britain with guitars and long hair could have their music played on American radio. One band, which had already begun making its presence known as early as 1962, stood up to defend the honor of American pop music.

That group was The Beach Boys.

Their music, based on surfing and girls, had an all-American sensibility that no imported group could match. They had their first Top 20 hit, Surfin’ Safari, in 1962. The next year they entered the Top 10 for the first time with Surfin’ USA, which peaked at number 3. Their first number one single? I Get Around. To put that in perspective, in April the Beatles had the top 5 songs on the Billboard chart, and 14 songs in the Top 100.

The Beach Boys were serious about taking on the Beatles, as evidenced by the production of Good Vibrations. It took more than ten months to create, and at the time was considered their masterpiece.

I remember hearing it when I went to see The Beach Boys at The Dome in Virginia Beach in April, 1969. Looking back, I’m startled to find that the Dome only held 1000 people, since it was the primary music venue at the time for all of Tidewater, Virginia. I remember the girl I went with, the couple we double-dated with, and the single innocent kiss in the car on the way home.

I’m picking up good vibrations. She’s giving me excitations.

Americana: The Prom

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Tobyotter

Photo courtesy of Flickr, uploaded by Tobyotter

Such a big night in the life of the teenager. For us, it was a senior prom, so we had to wait till the very end of our high school experience to enjoy it. Well, some girls went earlier with older boys, but never mind that.

I took a girl named Pat Hand. No, really, that was her name. (Pat, where are you now?) I wore a yellow double-breasted tux with a ruffled shirt. I thought I was the stuff. Today that seems hopelessly corny, but it’s easy to make fun in retrospect.

Our prom was away from the high school, and we were the first class allowed that privilege. A group of us went to dinner before the prom and again after it. Not sure why we felt that was necessary, but it was part of making the night special.  This was before the era of limousines and renting hotel rooms, and I’m actually glad about that. We did stay out all night, in a chaperoned environment, and when the sun came up you felt like you had conquered the night.

Now, when I go out to dinner in the spring and a group of kids in formal wear arrives, I think it’s so cute. But for us, all those years ago, it was a rite of passage, something we’d waited for all our young lives. It was the prom.

Food: Krispy Kreme Doughnuts

Krispy Kreme, originally uploaded by Scott Ableman.

Supposedly, out there in America, there’s a big debate going on. Do you prefer Krispy Kreme or Dunkin’ Donuts? And – get this – some people will say Dunkin’ Donuts.

Commies.

I will say that Dunkin Donuts are just fine – when there’s no Krispy Kreme store available. Otherwise…ARE YOU CRAZY?

There’s nothing like a hot, original glazed KK. Nothing. It melts in your mouth almost like cotton candy, but with so much more flavor. Now, you can choose lots of varieties, chocolates and sprinkles and whatnot. And they’re good, sure. You could also buy them at a grocery or convenience store. Not so good.

Yes, connoisseurs of the doughnutary arts prefer Krispy Kreme, and will brook no argument. Hey, wait – the Hot Light just came on! I’d love to stay and have this discussion, but I gotta go pick up a dozen…or two…

Architecture: Empire State Building

Photo courtesy of Flickr, posted by etep.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, posted by etep.

You can’t talk about the Empire State Building without being startled by the sheer scale of the thing. It’s almost a quarter of a mile straight up. It took 57,000 tons of steel just for the skeleton. Want to walk to the top? Be prepared to climb 1,860 steps. Hate washing windows? Imagine having to clean 6,500 of them. (I hope they’re the tilt-in double-hung style these days.)

Clearly, the new skyscraper immediately captured Hollywood’s imagination.  The building was completed in 1931, and by 1933 King Kong was already in production, with the giant ape clutching Fay Wray and swatting at planes from the tower’s upper reaches. The ESB reigned as the world’s tallest building for more than 40 years until the first World Trade Center tower was completed.

If you visit New York, going to one of the observation decks is one of those touristy things that you just have to do. (You were right, honey.) You can’t get such a unique perspective on Manhattan any other way. Oh, did you know all 102 floors of the Empire State Building were completed in only year and 45 days?

Today, you couldn’t even getting a building permit that quickly.

TV Show: I Love Lucy

uploaded by rightyblog.com

uploaded by rightyblog.com

Do you realize many of these episodes are nearly 60 years old? And yet they’re still funny, still relevant, because they create a group of friends we believe are real. Ricky really does put on shows. Fred and Ethel actually do live upstairs and hang around the apartment.

And Lucy. Our brilliant, scheming,  wonderful Lucy. She knew her strengths, and used them perfectly. Whether she was angling to get into show business, or buying a freezer with 700 pounds of beef, or stomping grapes at an Italian winery, she used her gift for physical comedy that had America in the palm of her hand.

I Love Lucy is one of only three shows (The Andy Griffith Show and Seinfeld are the others) to go out while still number one in the ratings. Even now, the show is syndicated and watched by millions. Old/young, rich/poor, red state/blue state, we don’t see eye to eye on much. But there’s one thing we all agree about.

We all love Lucy.