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Thursday, June 28, 2007


One of my mottos -- and I don't say this self-servingly -- is: "Honesty is the best policy." I learned it from watching "Leave it to Beaver" reruns. Half the problems that poor kid had would evaporate if he only stopped with the coverups.

Richard Nixon could have learned a lot from Theodore Cleaver. But those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it.

When Nephew was only 4 and he said, "Batman is cool!" I said, "Yeah, Batman is cool!" Then when he said, "Turtles are cool!" (meaning the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), I said, "Turtles are beat!" ("Beat" was our slang for uncool.) Nephew had an initial look of confusion -- like, "Hey, this adult is not patronizing me" -- and then I saw the light go off. "Ah, Uncle Vogie disagrees with me. So that's how it works."

When Neice was 4 or 5, everyone would tell her how beautiful her blond curls were. But I told her, "You have the second-most beautiful hair in the family." (The first-most beautiful hair was my own. Ted Nugent WISHES he had my mop.)

I was also brutally honest with my Kathy. I always told her, "You are the second-most beautiful woman in the world." She knew who No. 1 was: French supermodel Laetitia Casta. Why should I have lied to her?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


The 1974 musical "Mame," Lucille Ball's final theatrical film, has been released on DVD as part of a Lucy box set. That brings me back to the time my whole family went to see the film when it first came out. I remember two things vividly: (1) the lens looked like it was smeared with Vaseline during every closeup of Lucy, and (2) my father hated it so much, he walked out of the theater, leaving his family at the mercy of this awful movie.

On the way to the theater, my parents were having a discussion in the front seat. Dad: "I'm NOT going to this movie." Mom: "This is a family outing."

Us three kids in the back were getting a bit stressed. I whispered to my little brother, "I know what Dad's doing. He's setting us up. He's pretending he's going to hate it, but then he'll love it, and then we'll ALL love it."

Dad relented. We arrived at the theater, paid for our tickets and took our seats. The movie began.

A few minutes into the movie, you see Lucy for the first time. She's dancing on a table in a '20s "flapper" costume. (In my memory, she's got a black feather boa around her neck and she's clutching a glass of champagne.) At that moment, my dad says very audibly, "That's IT!" and tells my mom, "I'll be back to pick you up." He then marched out of the theater.

People sometimes have a hard time understanding that story. You just had to know my dad.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


When the deplorable Abu Ghraib torture photos surfaced in 2004, a lot of people bought the line that this was the work of isolated M.P.s and not an officially sanctioned approach to the interrogation of detainees. After all, we're the good guys. The good guys don't torture -- officially. That's something the Nazis did in concentration camps and the North Vietnamese did at the "Hanoi Hilton."

Then, in 2006, Vice President Dick Cheney publicly endorsed the interrogation technique known as "water boarding."

We've all noticed a shift in the culture. I've read that the TV show "24" is full of torture -- I won't watch it because I can't stand Keifer Sutherland -- though my brother, an avid "24" fan, told me he's never noticed any torture on the program. I've certainly seen good guys torturing bad guys on "Lost," and more than once.

But when I opened DC Comics' "Superman/Batman" #35 recently, I couldn't believe what I saw on the fifth page of the story.

At "Blackgate Penitentiary, 20 miles outside of Gotham City," Superman is saying to bad guy Metallo, "I'm not going to ask you again." (Superman wants to know what Metallo was trying to steal from Waynetech.) Metallo is hanging by his arms, which are bound in sci-fi-looking restraints. Metallo taunts Superman, "Your threats'd have a bit more bite to 'em if you could get close enough to lay a finger on me. That is, without dyin' of Kryptonite poisoning." (Metallo has Kryptonite innards.) "I don't need to lay a finger on you, Metallo," Superman says as his eyes begin to glow red. He aims his heat-vision at Metallo's shoulder (it makes the noise, "ZZZZZZZZ") and burns off some of Metallo's flesh.

OK, it's synthetic flesh. And Metallo is a cyborg. And this is a comic book. I get that.

But Superman is an icon -- the first and greatest of the costumed superheroes. The character has been around since 1938. I'd wager that's before writers Mark Verheiden and Marc Guggenheim; artists Pat Lee and Craig Yeung; and editor Eddie Berganza were born. Take a look at that page and tell me if you don't see something sickening.

Monday, June 18, 2007


I've been watching the finale of "The Sopranos" nonstop for three days. I've blacked out my windows with cardboard and duct tape so I don't know if it's day or night. I get pizza or Chinese delivered every fifth viewing. As Lon Chaney Jr. once said of being made up as the Wolf Man, "We won't discuss the bathroom." That's a verbatim quote.

It was time well spent. I've unearthed more amazing clues from the "Sopranos" finale:

Nancy Marchand again appears posthumously as Livia Soprano. Through the magic of digital technology, she's the cook who lowers the onion rings into the fry-o-lator at Holsten's.

Steven Van Zandt's wig is too low on his forehead in the hospital scene.

Journey's lyric "Just a city boy, born and raised in South Detroit" from "Don't Stop Believin'" is an anagram for (are you sitting?): "Tony will die after the seventh onion ring." Get out your Scrabble pieces and try it!

In a flashback, Bobby Baccala says, "At the end, you probably don't hear anything. Everything just goes black, and then you get nothing but gangster roles for the rest of your career."

Thursday, June 14, 2007


To me, the final sequence in "The Sopranos" finale was brillante. And not just because I'm an onion ring fan.

It's all in your noggin what happened after the abrupt blackout -- sort of like Rocky Sullivan at the end of "Angels With Dirty Faces." (Did he REALLY turn yella, or was he doin' Father Jerry a huge solid?)

If instead, we had seen Tony Soprano waltz into the sunset with a veal-parm sub under one arm and a stripper under the other, it would have seemed like a reward for all of the lying, stealing, cheating, bullying and murdering we've seen Tony do since '99.

But since, in a weird way, we WERE rooting for Tony all along (don't deny it), it would have been a horrible thing indeed to see him get what he really deserved.

This way, we were spared both unpleasant conclusions. I think.

Some random thoughts: Loved that Phil whacking. The man always looked so resplendent in his tailored suits and perfectly pomaded hair. But on the lam, in his fuzzy purple sweatsuit, he looked as powerless as a Miami retiree.

Going back an episode, I thought time was too condensed. Too much happened. Events that would have taken up whole episodes flew by in moments.

Cheers: The Baccala whacking was so inventive, right down to the miniature plastic "onlookers" in the toy train sets. Jeers: But Dr. Melfi "firing" Tony seemed rushed and gratuitous.

Of all the episodes of the series, the last two are probably the most dense. There's a lot to absorb. It hasn't all sunk in yet. And with no more "Sopranos" episodes on the horizon, we've got the time to let it.

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Two visuals combined in an instant to trigger sadness and a smile today.

I'm sure you get solitications for donations from charities through the mail -- who doesn't? A trend in recent years has some charities sending you sheets of custom mailing labels with your name and return address. The hope is that you'll send a donation for this unsolicited "gift." (My policy is to discard the labels unless it's a charity I donate to.)

I was sorting my mail at my patio window. Such an envelope was addressed to Kathy, with her name printed over and over on 50 colorful mailing labels. A knife in the heart.

At that exact moment, I looked out the window and saw the first two day lily blooms of the season. I love day lilies; Kathy did too. I love driving along back roads in the summer and seeing that crazy orange glow in my peripheral vision.

But Kathy was the gardener, not me. For the second time since losing Kathy, the blooms have begun -- an unsolicited gift from my late wife.

But in her fashion, these day lilies are the rare red- and yellow-colored ones, not the common orange ones. I like orange best; Kathy liked yellow and red. (We disagreed on so many fundamentals.) Today's blooms were both yellow. So just in case I forget who it was who picked, planted and nurtured these particular day lilies, their color provides a loud hint.

Thursday, June 07, 2007


Stop thinking bad things about Paris Hilton for getting sprung from jail after serving only five days of her 23-day sentence.

The poor thing was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, for goodness sake.

She'll learn her lesson being under house arrest in her mansion.

Although, her mansion is probably a real nice place with a lot of luxurious amenities.

Don't you wish YOU were sentenced to 23 days of house arrest in Paris Hilton's mansion?

And stop thinking that justice is for sale in America.

Although -- can ANY prisoner now get sprung if they claim to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown? Is this a can-of-worms moment?

Oh, right -- just the ones who can afford psychiatrists who make cell calls.

Hey, that was unintentionally funny: "Cell calls." Not as in cell PHONE calls -- as in JAIL cell calls.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007


I inherit some neat VHS tapes from people who upgrade to DVD. Someone I know recently handed me a box of store-bought "Abbott and Costello" TV shows! I'd never seen any of these treasures. (I grew up in the Philadelphia viewing area.) Joe Besser as Stinky is so bizarre and hilarious, words can't do it justice.

A friend I'll call John Ford Freak recently upgraded to DVD, and decided that I must inherit his Ford VHS's. "You'll love these," he insisted, although I've never really felt a connection with the Ford westerns. I always thought they were too old-fashioned. I think my Dad may have liked them. I did appreciate "The Lost Patrol" thanks to its manic Boris Karloff performance; I adore "The Informer" because it's a compelling drama; and I've always loved John Wayne, if not necessarily his westerns.

Anyway, John Ford Freak not only gave me this huge stack of Fords, he even told me the order in which to watch them. I've got three down so far, and of course, I'm in love. I've watched "The Searchers," "She Wore a Yellow Ribbon" and "Rio Grande." Wayne is great, but he's no match for Victor McLaglen, who effortlessly steals every scene he's in. And Maureen O'Hara is, as the Duke astutely observes in "Rio Grande," a "fine figure of a woman." But this we knew from the Charles Laughton "Hunchback of Notre Dame" and especially "Miracle on 34th Street."