Over the past couple of weeks, I've eaten four "Movie Donuts" -- a confection tied into "The Simpsons Movie."
That's four steps in the opposite direction of good nutrition. But it was glorious.
Well, the first Movie Donut was glorious, anyway. The second, third and fourth Movie Donuts were, as we Irish like to say, a case of "flying in the eyes of God."
Movie Donuts are sold at 7-Eleven convenience stores for 89 cents. They sell out quickly. They have pink icing and sprinkles. The moment you lay eyes on one, you recognize it from the many donuts you've seen Homer Simpson eat at his workstation at the nuclear power plant. It's positively iconic.
I remember the first time I realized that I have a problem resisting fictional food.
When Tim Burton's "Batman" was released in 1989, McDonalds offered tie-in toys with Happy Meals. I ate a bunch of Happy Meals to collect the toys, and soon began to notice a change in my physiognomy. The same thing happened three years later, when I ate a bunch of fast food to collect "Batman Returns" drinking cups.
In 1994, when "The Flintstones" came out, I vowed not to eat fast food just to collect the tie-in glass mugs, however spiffy. But apparently, the marketing geniuses were prepated for that. They created a new sandwich named after a fictional sandwich from Hanna-Barbera's 1960-66 animated series, "The Flinstones." If memory serves, it was the "Bronto Burger."
Maybe I had a shot at resisting everyday fast food to collect tie-in toys, but there was NO WAY I could resist eating the same sandwich my hero, Fred Flintstone, used to eat when I was a little boy. I saw this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to eat fictional food. (And, actually, I was right. Bronto Burgers didn't stay on the menu after "The Flintstones" movie limped out of the multiplexes.)
Today's Movie Donut is the same situation. But, of course, now I'm 13 years older than I was when "The Flintstones" came out. And those were 13 hard years. I don't burn this stuff off as quickly.
So if you're listening, Jebus, give me the strength to decline Movie Donut No. 5.
My crew and I bopped into the Bernie Brausewetter tribute around 9 p.m. Sunday night at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park. I missed Supreme Court's set but I was there for Matt O'Ree, Billy Hector and the all-star jam at the end.
Matt was out of this world as usual -- really rippin' it on a couple of Hendrix tunes and some of Bernie's originals. Matt played with at least two bassists and two drummers, maybe more. His last song was one of Bernie's, an instrumental titled "Tears." I know I wasn't the only one with some tears before the song was over.
Billy showed up without knowing what he was going to play or who he was going to play with. Brother and Sister-in-Law, who are huge Billy freaks, keyed me into Billy's technique. He'll just start by playing a riff for the bassist and drummer. The guys will follow, and off Billy goes. With a vocal cue here and there, or a raised eyebrow or hand signal, Billy tells the boys what he wants them to play. It's pretty amazing to watch. The guy really comes alive during his solos.
The all-star jam was a real event: four guitarists doing "Little Wing." You'd think a subtle song like "Little Wing" would be a mess with four guitars, but everyone onstage had the wisdom and restraint to underplay -- unless, of course, it was their turn to unleash a solo.
The Bernie tribute was such a bittersweet occasion. Being among all of these people who knew and loved Bernie was heartwarming. Not having Bernie be one of them was heartbreaking.
You may have read my JERSEY ALIVE! cover story previewing the event. When I was working on it, I remember asking "Big Nancy" Swarbrick of Supreme Court if she thought it would be too painful for Bernie's mom to speak with me. "She's a tough old broad," Nancy said. Seeing Norma May at the tribute to her son, I must concur. Around 11 p.m., she was on the floor watching Matt O'Ree's set. Someone brought her a chair. She waved it off.
GO SEE "CHAPTER TWO"
OK, I lied; here's a blog a day earlier than predicted.
I buzzed in early to review last night's New York Dolls show at The Stone Pony in Asbury Park, which was a real love-fest. Tomorrow, I'm going to try to catch some of the Bernie Brausewetter tribute at the same venue. (I also plan to share some Bernie memories with you in my next blog.)
But for now, I wanted to talk about Neil Simon's "Chapter Two," which is being performed at the Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University in West Long Branch through July 29.
GO SEE IT.
I caught opening night on Thursday, and it was like that old cliche: I laughed, I cried. I laughed because Simon is a witty linguist, and the bright four-member cast made his wonderful words come alive. I cried because "Chapter Two" is about a man who loses his wife tragically young, so a lot of it was pretty close to home.
Bryan Cranston -- the Emmy- and Golden Globe-nominated actor who played daddy Hal on "Malcolm in the Middle" and dentist Tim Whatley on "Seinfeld" -- stars with his lovely wife, Robin Dearden. Rounding out the cast is another married acting couple, Monmouth County residents Bill and Georgette Reilly Timoney. The two couples are close friends offstage, which adds resonance in the strangest places, such as the hilarious scene in which Bill's character tries to seduce Georgette's character.
(As I shared in an earlier blog, I've known Bill since the '80s, therefore I could not formally review the play. Thank goodness for this far-less-formal blog format, because I sincerely recommend this production of "Chapter Two.")
These four are having a ball up on the Pollak stage and, I strongly suspect, finding laughs that aren't necessarily in the script. But it's not all fun and games; the Cranstons worked up visible tears during one emotional scene.
After the performance, the cast met the audience in the lobby for cookies and bubbly. That rascal Bill confessed that he nicked a bit of business from a performance of "Chapter Two" he witnessed on Broadway in the '70s. Georgette said she was gratified to hear the audience laughing at points that were, of course, dead-silent during rehearsals. We charmed audience members craned our necks to learn these backstage tidbits.
It was just a sweet evening -- another reminder that the Jersey Shore is a place like no other, where magical things can happen, and often do.
for more information.
LAST POST UNTIL 7/22
As the kids say, I'm Swayze until July 22. I'm gonna swim for two weeks. I have lotsa cool stories comin' out while I'm gone -- 12, to be exact. It's too much to keep track of, so I'm gonna purge 'em from my noggin the minute I waltz outta here.
On the band front, a couple of things fell together just this week. One is the realization that the Burners have officially flatlined. Our drummer Jazzy (who was on loan from another South Jersey club band, Sordid Past) has left us without so much as saying, "We have to talk." It's funny -- someone said to me, "It should be easy to find a drummer." You'd be flabbergasted. At our age, to find someone who can play this challenging material -- and especially, not be a substance abuser -- is just this side of impossible. I'm not saying we would take out an unreliable bandmate the way Tony Soprano took out Chris Moltisanti, but we'd consider it. Life is too short to be babysitting 40-somethings.
The other thing: It looks like the onstage reunion of my high school band, Scream, is really going to happen! Since one of us has to fly in from Los Angeles for the occasion, this is pretty huge stuff -- to us. In a frenzy of activity, brother Brinie finished mixing the 11-minute "Scream Medley" we recorded in March and e-mailed it to everyone. We've figured out many of the show logistics. Scream would be the "special guests" of Mad Jack (our guitar quartet), but in a twist, Scream would go on last. Jazzy (yep, the same guy who quit the Burners) is Scream's drummer. Mad Jack, who opened for the Burners at the last two gigs, would finally headline for the first time in our lives. We're shooting for late October to mid November in Gloucester City again. Maybe this time we'll slink over to Cheerleaders between sets?
See you in two weeks, brothers and sisters.
A MESSAGE FROM KATHY
On Friday, I was heading out to a field assignment and I needed a fresh cassette for my hand-held recorder. I reached up into a closet where I keep blanks, and grabbed one with the cellophane already removed. It looked as though it had been played for 15 or 20 seconds, but there was no label on it. I popped it in to make sure it wasn't some unlabeled interview tape. I heard a dial tone, and then I heard the sound of a number being dialed, and then I heard ringing on the other end, and then I heard Kathy's voice.
"Test, test, test. Mark's probably having lunch. Test, test, test."
Then I heard my outgoing office message: "You've reached Mark Voger ..." etc., etc. "... please leave a message."
Then Kathy again: "Hello, darling. I'm testing your machine right now. I might have it going. Still try to get that piece. We should have a backup here. I don't know how long this is going to last, or if it's even working. Please call me. Love."
Her voice was so crystal clear, I could have almost talked back to her. This surprise tapped into a problem I've been having: I'm afraid of forgetting her, of forgetting what she sounded like or what she looked like. After all, time is marching on. In 10 days, it'll be 22 months.
On the assignment later that day, I found myself interviewing an actor while we both sat on a stage on which, a few years earlier, Kathy had posed another actor for a photo shoot. The following evening, I reviewed a show in a venue that, two years ago this month, was Kathy's final professional field assignment. The "habituation" moments are still flying, fast and furious.
Even the content of Kathy's message is such a reminder of how much that girl supported me in my work. (She was testing a telephone tape recorder at home, because I do so many telephone interviews that I burn through recorders every few years.) I believe she became a freelance photographer in order to spend more time with her workaholic husband. I remember her once telling me, when I was obsessing about work, that on my deathbed, I would regret the time I spent working instead of being with her.
I already do.
In reading "The Little Rascals: The Life and Times of Our Gang" by Leonard Maltin and Richard W. Bann, I flashed back to a bad memory from my childhood. I was once traumatized by an "Our Gang" comedy short. I'm not kidding.
When I was very little, from about ages 4 to 6, I was afraid of photo enlargements of insects and certain creepy sea critters such as crabs, shrimp and lobsters. All those fuzzy, alien-looking, tendril-y things made my skin crawl. I sometimes wonder if it's because I was born in 1958, when the "BEM" (bug-eyed monster) movie craze was still in full swing. I couldn't watch movies like "Them!" or "The Beginning of the End" or "Tarantula" or "Fiend Without a Face."
I remember once, when I was a tiny kid, looking at a children's book at a neighbor's house. On the back cover was an advertisement for other books by the same publisher (a Golden Book imitator), which showed some sort of children's science book with a closeup of an insect or a lobster on the cover. It scared the (expletive) out of me! When "The Outer Limits" aired the episode titled "The Zanti Mistfits" -- about bugs from another planet with human faces -- I hugged my dad the whole time.
Anyway, there was an "Our Gang" episode that REALLY FREAKED ME OUT. It stayed in my psyche for a lifetime. I now know its title, thanks to Messrs. Maltin and Bann. In "Fishy Tales" (1937), Alfalfa (Carl Switzer) fakes a leg injury to avoid a beating by Butch (Tommy Bond). To do so, he sticks his leg in a secret hole in his bed. But underneath the bed is Junior (Gary Jasgar), who puts a crab and a cat on Alfalfa's hidden foot, to Alfalfa's panicked screaming.
I remember being about 5. My family was watching it on a Sunday morning. Everyone was laughing except me. I couldn't fathom what everyone found funny about this terrible situation Alfalfa was in.
But now that I know the title of this childhood daymare of mine, of course, I want to confront my fears and watch it again.
A couple of days after losing Kathy, I was wandering in a daze in a supermarket while my dear brother and sister-in-law were loading up a shopping cart on my behalf. I saw a little selection of dollar DVDs. There was a two-for-a-dollar double-feature DVD, "Carnival Story" and "Cassandra Cat." On the back was a small photo from "Carnival Story" of a circus strongman who looked a lot like Tor Johnson (the swedish wrestler who played Lobo opposite Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood's "Bride of the Monster").
In that terrible, terrible time of my life, anything that interrupted my thoughts of the tragedy were few, far between and in their small way, golden. But I didn't buy the DVD; there would be no celebrating for a long while.
Ever since, when I shopped at that supermarket, I would still find copies of that dopey DVD. Every time I looked at it, I flashed back on that desperate moment when life as I knew it had come to an abrupt end. But I still wouldn't buy the DVD. The reason: according to imdb.com, Tor Johnson was not in "Carnival Story."
However, the more I looked at that little photo, the more I was convinced that this must be a rare instance in which imdb was wrong. Finally, about two weeks ago, I bought the damn thing.
Well, it ain't Tor. It's a guy named Ady Berber who, from a distance, looks like Tor's twin. He plays Groppo, a dimwitted strongman with a heart of gold. Tor would have made a meal of this role, but then again, Tor made a meal of just about everything he encountered.
There were two nice surprises in watching "Carnival Story," a 1954 circus soap opera filmed in Germany with a largely American cast: (1) It was directed by Kurt Neumann, who also made "The Fly," "Kronos," "Rocketship X-M" and four Tarzan movies, and (2) Anne Baxter had a smokin' body. I'm sure a lot of you knew that already, but I only had a 1973 "Columbo" episode to judge by.
Just to bring closure to the experience, I also watched "Cassandra Cat," a fantasy made in 1963 in Czechoslovakia (original title: "Az prijde kocour"). I have to say it's the WEIRDEST MOVIE I'VE EVER SEEN.
On the cobblestone streets of a Czech village, a strange circus comes to town playing Dixieland. The ringmaster is the twin brother of the village hobo. The star of the circus is a female acrobot wearing a red leotard so tight, she might as well be naked. She carries a cat that wears sunglasses. During her act, she removes the sunglasses and the cat looks at the audience, seeing what lurks in their black hearts. This causes the audience to panic. The village schoolmaster, who has as much clout as a mad dictator, orders the cat killed and stuffed. (He doesn't want everyone to know he is shagging his secretary.) In protest, all of the children in the village disappear. I forgot to mention that when the cat looks at people, they change colors according to their sins.
I would describe "Cassandra Cat" this way: It's one of those movies that makes you want to swear off LSD, even though you've never done LSD in your life.