I’d Rather See Balki

Have you heard that Full House revival might be in the works?

Also: why?

Don’t call me a hater, but I’m really not interested in seeing Jesse & The Rippers twenty years later. And if the last thing Dave Coulier ever did publicly was stomp on Alanis Morissette’s heart (inspiring her revenge anthem “You Oughtta Know” in the process), I could live with that. I simply have no desire to revisit the Tanner clan, especially when so many other deserving sitcoms languish in the television graveyard.

If you’re going to revive anything, how about Seinfeld? Jerry and the gang never got a proper sendoff, anyway. I’d love to see what schemes Kramer would come up with a decade and a half into the 21st century. Besides, we could use some fresh new catchphrases. Think of all the great contributions Seinfeld made to the English language! Spongeworthy. Yadda yadda. “Master of my domain.” Low talkers. Close talkers. Festivus. “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” I don’t think there’s ever been a show so consistently fresh and funny. I’d love more Jerry!

I’d also be down for a Friends revival, even if the only characters returning were Joey and Chandler. They could do a lot with 22 minutes every week. While we’re at it, let’s bring back Cheers. Or Family Ties. Or Charles In Charge.

Just kidding about that last one. Although…

Hell, even Perfect Strangers is more deserving of a second shot, in my opinion. There’s no such thing as too much Balki.

I kinda miss this guy.

I kinda miss this guy.

So, we leave this evening for Nevada. I’ve been prepping Audrey in advance by giving her some tips on how to fit in. Like, for instance, she has to call a creek a “crick” and the glove compartment is actually a “jockey box.” And scones as we know them here are nothing like the scones out there (or the scones in jolly ol’ England, either). She has spent an inordinate amount of time figuring out how swaggy to look. I had to break it to her that Nevadans don’t give much thought to swag…at least not those in the part of the state we’ll be visiting. Ahh, teenagers.

Yesterday I was packing, and realized I’ve really got it down to a science after so much traveling these past few years. At one point, I even found myself piling up clothes in the order in which they will be worn.

“Hey, Audrey!” I called. “Do you pack your clothes in order?”

“Are you kidding?” she responded. “I’ve got two pages of notes with detailed information on what I will be wearing, and when.”

I didn’t believe her, but…

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She even listed items that were currently in the washing machine as she was compiling her notes. And she’s got outfits broken down by day and night. I’m beginning to think my daughter might be a little bit OCD.

Tonight, we’ll hit Baker City, Oregon. And then tomorrow it’s on to Ely.

Bon voyage!

Get Crazy With the Cheez Whiz

This crazy, busy summer continues to speed right along.

It’s hard to believe we will be in Nevada this week. We’re driving to Ely to visit family and friends. And bringing along Audrey, who is in for a serious case of culture shock because she has never experienced small town life before. We’re leaving Wednesday after work, driving to Baker City, Oregon for the night, and then staying three days in Ely and another in Elko before returning home on Monday.

In case any burglars out there are thinking of taking advantage of the public fact that we’ll be out of town, I need to warn you that we’ve got a very large and very hungry animal guarding the place in our absence.

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Her bite is worse than her bark, so don’t go gettin’ any bright ideas, okay?

Also right around the corner: Audrey begins high school next week! Where did August go? For that matter, where did May, June, and July go? For that matter, where did her entire freakin’ childhood go?!?!

When August rolled around, I mentioned it was going to be a very busy month. It has definitely lived up to its billing! Last week, we got to see Beck in concert at McMenamins Edgefield Amphitheater in Troutdale. This outdoor venue east of Portland is gorgeous, and the weather was perfect that evening. We had a great time; the self-described Loser put on one hell of a show, with a set that nicely represented his two decades of music. Can you believe Beck has been putting out records for 20 years now? I’m really digging his new album, by the way. I like mellow, introspective Beck more than “get crazy with the Cheez Whiz” Beck. The highlight was probably his duet with opening act Jenny Lewis, a cover of Rod Stewart’s cheesy disco classic “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.” Pretty much everybody was swaying or singing along to that little ditty.

Great venue for a summer evening concert! (Courtesy of edgefieldconcerts.com)

Great venue for a summer evening concert! (Courtesy of edgefieldconcerts.com)

The evening before, our Sacramento newlywed friends, Heidi and Ross, dropped by for a visit. I suppose the 580 miles between us means it wasn’t “dropping by” so much as making a planned trip north and coming over while in town, but still, we appreciated seeing them again. Tara made a fantastic dinner (roast pork loin and homemade mac ‘n cheese) and we spent hours catching up over wine. Our mutual friend Chris was there, as well. Everybody seemed to really like our new apartment, which was nice to hear.

Speaking of, I was out running errands yesterday and found myself in the vicinity of my old townhouse, so I made a detour through the complex and drove by the place. I don’t know what I was expecting to feel, but it ended up being surprisingly little. It felt familiar, I suppose, but no longer home. It makes me realize how quickly we adapt to change.

Beck. (Courtesy of the LA Times).

Beck. (Courtesy of the LA Times).

A similar thing happened years ago. In February 2007, I had ordered some CDs from Amazon (shows you how dated this story is!) and realized when I got the shipping confirmation that they were going to my old address – the house my ex and I had sold five months earlier while going through a divorce. So I drove over there one afternoon and knocked on the door. That was strange enough. When the new owner answered and invited me inside, that really felt odd. It was like stepping through a time portal and being spit out into the past. Except for the shiny stainless steel refrigerator in the kitchen and the scent of Vietnamese food permeating the air, the place was remarkably the same as when I had left it. Same ugly green carpeting, same Pergo flooring, same wooden pocket doors. And yet, it felt like a lifetime had passed since I had last set foot in there. In some regards, it felt like I had never actually lived there. I blogged about the experience, and wrote,

 It felt weird inside there, and natural, at the same time. As if both sentiments could coexist. The house didn’t make me feel happy or sad, but rather ambivalent. There’s a phrase about a house not being a home, and even though it feels like a bad cliche, it’s true. Did I have happy memories there? Of course I did. And last year, I had many sad memories, as well. I guess perhaps those conflicting emotions cancel one another out. I thanked him for allowing me inside…got back into my car and drove home. To my real home this time.

In many ways, the same sentiment holds true today. Even if I had been invited inside my old townhouse yesterday – and I should point out the same amount of time has passed since we moved out, 5 months – I would feel like it is no longer home.

By the way, the current occupant, according to my former neighbors, is a strange and paranoid man who has turned one of the kids’ bedrooms into “a gun room” and the other is devoted to video games. He takes the battery out of his cell phone every night because he believes the government is spying on him. And, he’s deciding which breed of large and vicious dog to acquire as a pet.

Yeah, the neighbors miss us…

Three Degrees of Kevin Bacon

I was driving in the car yesterday, and a Kenny Loggins song came on. I started singing along because sometimes you gotta cut loose. It was actually Kenny’s duet with Stevie Nicks, “Whenever I Call You Friend.”In that moment, I had a sudden epiphany. You know that Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game, in which most people can be linked to the famous Hollywood actor via six or fewer acquaintances? I can actually get there in three! Because I work with Kenny Loggins’ nephew.

It’s true. Kenny Loggins is the uncle of Bruce, one of my company’s marketing coordinators. He is so nonchalant about it, too. “Yeah, we got together for a barbecue at Uncle Kevin’s house last July. He made great ribs.”

He made great ribs?! That’s fine and dandy, but I want to know other things. Like, when he bought the meat, did he take the back roads or the highway to the Danger Zone? Did he get to meet the fake gopher in Caddyshack? And did Jim Messina contribute potato salad?

So, my 3 links to Kevin Bacon:

  1. I work with Bruce.
  2. Bruce’s uncle is Kenny Loggins.
  3. Kenny Loggins recorded the title song for the movie Footloose starring Kevin Bacon.

Whoa.

And then, I got really excited because I’ve always liked Stevie Nicks and I couldn’t help but wonder if Bruce knows her. Think about it. Kenny Loggins recorded the above-mentioned song with Stevie, so conceivably they might still pal around. Hell, maybe she was there at that bbq last summer, twirling around in her white flowing gown while scarfing down deviled eggs.

I so want to sit down at a picnic table next to Stevie Nicks and chat about music while eating deviled eggs. I’d tell her how much I love songs like “Rihannon” and “Edge of Seventeen,” but I’d have to playfully chastise her because thunder does not only happen when it’s raining. Minor quibble.

Because of good ol’ Uncle Kenny, I also realized there are only 4 degrees of separation between me and Tom Petty. I work with Bruce > Bruce’s uncle is Kenny Loggins > Kenny Loggins recorded a duet with Stevie Nicks > Stevie Nicks recorded several songs with Tom Petty.

Holy shit. I could be the next Heartbreaker! If Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers ever add a tambourine section, that is. Too bad I couldn’t have parlayed this close association into backstage passes for the Tom Petty concert we attended Tuesday evening.

If only I’d heard that Kenny Loggins song a couple of days earlier…

It’s pretty cool that I work with somebody who has a famous relative. Bruce isn’t the only person in the office with an interesting story. One guy played football in college, was drafted by the New England Patriots, landed an acting role on the recently-cancelled television show Leverage, and – in his spare time – is a fire dancer. Another one plays in a rock ‘n roll cover band (we’re actually going to check him out tonight). One woman raises chickens and quail and sells their eggs at a farmer’s market on weekends; another is married to a news anchor for the local CBS affiliate. What’s that famous line? There are eight million stories in the naked city? I can believe it, considering there are four or five good ones in this office alone.

So, how many degrees of separation lie between you and Kevin Bacon? Is Stevie Nicks really a witch? Do you work with anybody interesting? Isn’t this the catchiest song ever?!

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She’s a Good Girl, Crazy ‘Bout Elvis

And, I can cross another name off my rock ‘n roll bucket list.

When Tara moved here in 2012 and we started going to concerts, I named three classic rock artists I wanted to see before I died: Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. All were long-time favorites of mine, and their music entertained and inspired me.

In the span of a little over two years, I have now seen them all.

That, in itself, is kind of remarkable given that all three performers are well into their 60s. After all, time is finite. How long can they keep on rockin’? Bruce looked like he could easily last another decade. Then again, he is The Boss. Bob remained seated through much of the show, but that didn’t stop him from plowing through his hits with gusto. Tom was definitely more spry. From the opening chords of “So You Want To Be a Rock ‘n Roll Star” through hits like “Into The Great Wide Open,” “Refugee,” “Free Fallin’,” “Learning to Fly” and “You Wreck Me,” he brought it. The new material was pretty catchy, too. By the time he walked off the stage two hours later after the final encore – a spirited rendition of “American Girl” complete with red, white and blue stage lighting to hammer home the point – he had rekindled a rock ‘n roll love affair with the crowd. What a show! And let’s not forget The Heartbreakers, who brought great energy to back him up. Tom is humble, engaging and funny…and one hell of a story teller. It was definitely one of the better shows we have seen. And the timing was perfect: his new album, “Hypnotic Eye,” is #1 on Billboard’s Top 200 chart – and is the first #1 album of his career.

What’s cool is, the opening act wasn’t too shabby, either. Steve Winwood delivered a great set that included solo material (“Higher Love”) in addition to lots of classics from Traffic (“Dear Mr. Fantasy”), Blind Faith (“Can’t Find My Way Home”) and the Spencer Davis Group (“Gimme Some Lovin'”). After he finished, I turned to Tara and said if we left right then and there, we’d have gotten our money’s worth. It felt like we got two concerts in one.

Afterwards, we stepped out into a gentle rain as we waited for the light rail train to whisk us back to our park ‘n ride lot in north Portland. It was nice to avoid the hassle (and cost) of arena parking. Note to self: next time we see a show at the Rose Garden Moda Center, take light rail. We didn’t get home until after midnight, and had to get up early for work this morning, but it was totally worth the sacrifice!

Afterwards, we learned that my friend and business associate Erik had been at the show. We found this out through pictures he posted on Facebook. Here was Erik’s view of TP&TH:

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And here was our view:

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If that isn’t front row, it’s at least within spitting distance! Can’t say I’m really surprised. This is the guy who once had me over to his mansion on a hill for dinner and beverages. Great guy, that Erik, but I’ve got one thing to say to him:

Help a brother out next time.

So, who’s on your rock ‘n roll bucket list?

The Afterlife is Like Syndication

When did pizza places become synonymous with chicken wings? It used to be you’d call up your friendly neighborhood pizza joint (even picking up the telephone seems antiquated now) and order a pie. They might offer you breadsticks or a liter of Coke. If they were fancy, perhaps a salad. But now, everybody’s got chicken wings, too. I really don’t understand the logic behind this.

First off, pizza is Italian. And chicken wings are not. They originated in Buffalo, New York – about as far from Naples as you can get. And yet, every Tom, Dick, and Harry who sells pizza also sells chicken wings. We ordered from Domino’s last week, and couldn’t even get to the checkout screen without being bombarded by an ad for chicken. Yes, I’m QUITE SURE I don’t want to add it to my order, thank you very much. And Domino’s has taken things a step further; in addition to wings, they’ve got “specialty chicken bites” which are nothing more than gussied-up McNuggets coated in sauce and cheese.

How does this make sense?

How does this make sense?

If I’m ordering something coated in sauce and cheese from a pizza place, it’s going to be pizza.

This would be the equivalent of serving Pad Thai with pretzels. Or sushi with french fries. Or tacos with tater tots.

Only, that last one really happens. “Mexi-fries,” anyone?

Speaking of food, this weekend there are three big food-related events happening around town: The Bite of Oregon, the Clark County Fair, and the Alberta Street Fair. I’m a little annoyed that these aren’t spaced out better. We have 13 weeks of summer, and all three occur during the same weekend. It’s not even a matter of logistics so much as money. Who can afford all three? So we’ll pick one, and it’ll be The Bite because The Bite rocks. Besides, my bevy of belly-dancers is once again absent from the Alberta Street Fair, so really, what’s the point?

R.I.P.

Audrey has fallen into quite a routine this summer. First off, she’s been taking tennis lessons, and has gotten pretty good. But those don’t start until 2 PM, so to kill time before then, she’s been watching old television series on DVD. I usually come home for lunch, so I’m able to catch an episode or two before heading back to work.

First up was The Office. Watching the escapades of Michael Scott, Dwight Schrute, and Jam (Jim and Pam – right?) in their prime made me realize just how freakin’ good that show was. Week after week, for many seasons, it delivered big laughs without fail and was one of my all-time favorite comedies. I miss seeing the gang from Dunder Mifflin.

Eventually she ran out of new old episodes, so I suggested she check out Scrubs next. She was too young to appreciate the show when it originally aired, but oh how loved it. Zach Braff’s sitcom was side-splittingly funny, and the fantasy sequences that were a staple of the show were cleverly unique. Like The Office it grew stale the longer it dragged on, but in its prime there was nothing funnier on the air than Scrubs. 

18ixrp49kpnkvjpgSeeing these old favorites again, I had a revelation that a cancelled TV show is like a dead friend or relative. You mourn the loss of both and grieve their passing. These are people you saw on a regular basis. You invited them into your home, and shared in their laughter. And then suddenly they’re gone, never to appear again. Except in reruns, of course, which led to another thought:

The afterlife is kinda like syndication.

I’d expound on that thought further, but the preseason is about to begin and I’m ready for some football. Go, Broncos!

 

Ill_CatchMe

Catch Me If You Can

Have you ever seen the movie Catch Me If You Can? It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, a real-life con man who successfully posed as a pilot, a doctor, and an attorney in the 1960s before being captured by the FBI. It’s a great film, and an amazing story. I’d always wondered how somebody could be slick enough to get away with so many elaborate ruses.

Over the weekend, I found out when I stepped into Frank Abagnale’s shoes.

Tara is a social butterfly, and wanted to go to a local meet-up for an opportunity to connect with new people and maybe make a few friends. I’m all about supporting my spouse even if it’s not something I’m personally interested in, so I went along with her.

From the moment we stepped into the room, I felt uncomfortable. For starters, we were all seated at a long table in the private room of a nearby German restaurant. Not a big deal, but everybody in the group around us was at least 70 years old. We were easily the youngest couple there, until another younger couple sat down next to us. And there was no organized topic of conversation; we were simply asked to slap on name tags and talk with the people around us. I found the idea excruciating, but decided if I was going to be stuck there for another hour and a half, I might as well have a little fun.

“Whatever happens,” I whispered to Tara, “Just play along with me.”

When the woman across from me asked what I did for a living, without missing a beat I replied, “I’m an audiologist.”

And with that, I spent the next 90 minutes playing doctor.

Now, I’m not generally the lying type. If anything, I am honest to a fault. Because every time I fib a little, it seems to backfire on me. I just figured I was never going to see these people again, and was in the mood for a little storytelling. I honestly did not plan on pretending to be a doctor until I opened my mouth, and those words came spilling out. Fortunately, I work with audiologists on a daily basis, and develop content for ENT clinics every single day. If there’s one thing I know, it’s hearing. My friends have even come to me for medical advice, so it made perfect sense.

If Leo (Frank Abagnale) can get away with it, why can't I?

If Leo (Frank Abagnale) can get away with it, I bet I can, too!

When the lady across from me said, “Perfect! I’m a high school music director and could use your advice,” my stomach sank for a brief moment. I could have come clean right then and there; after all, my little white lie was still hanging in the air, only thirty seconds old. But I decided to soldier on, curious to see whether I could actually bullshit my way through this.

I have to say, I pulled it off pretty admirably. She asked for advice on preserving her hearing, and I suggested custom high-fidelity musician’s earplugs that provide balanced sound reduction without affecting mid and high frequencies. This reduces loud noises while allowing speech to come through clearly. She then wondered if her two-month old baby would benefit from hearing protection if she were to bring her to a high school football game. I told her earplugs were a must for an infant’s sensitive hearing, and suggested she prevent them from falling out of her baby’s ears by wrapping a scarf around her head to ensure they stayed in place. This is a real solution I picked up during research for articles I have written. Suddenly I felt giddy. Here I was, helping somebody by dispensing medical advice! No wonder many doctors infamously have a God complex.

“How did you decide to become an audiologist?” somebody asked.

I got a real pensive look on my face, cocked my head to the side, and replied, “Well, even from a young age I knew I always wanted to help people…”

I got so wrapped up in my fake story, I was even starting to fool myself. When I got a text from Audrey, I wondered out loud if it was my message service paging me with an after-hours emergency.

Tara has a hard time keeping a straight face in situations like these, but did a pretty good job playing along. She has difficulty fibbing herself, so when the woman next to her, whom she was engaged in deep conversation with, asked what I did for a living, she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “What do you do, dear?”

“I’m an audiologist,” I replied, the words flowing smoothly now.

“A what?”she asked, and then laughed.

“Ha-ha,” I said, recognizing immediately the little hard-of-hearing joke. “I’ve never heard that before!”

Cue laughter from the rest of the table.

I have to admit, I had a surprisingly good time once I got wrapped up in my fake life. So much so that I was almost disappointed when the meet-up came to an end. No harm, no foul…right?

Of course, with my luck, we’re liable to be shopping for groceries one of these days and have somebody recognize me. “Excuse me, Dr. Petruska,” they’ll say. “I need to schedule a hearing exam.”

At which point I’ll say, “I’m sorry, but I’m no longer an audiologist. I decided to become a pilot instead.”

Frank Abagnale, you’re a bad influence…

 

dewey-defeats-truman

Maybe Dewey DID Defeat Truman

I found out recently that people in Africa are walking around wearing shirts emblazoned with Denver Broncos Super Bowl XLVIII Champions on ‘em. Which I thought was a bit odd, seeing how the Broncos got their asses kicked by the Seahawks in this year’s Super Bowl.

Sniff.

(It’s okay. I can admit it: losing 43-8 is pretty bad. But we diehard fans stick by our teams through thick and thin).

I wish...

I wish…

Anyway, it turns out the NFL orders up championship gear for both teams before they ever take a snap. This way, fans can purchase mementos immediately following the game. It’s called capitalizing on the momentum. Or greed. Whatever. The losing team’s stuff is boxed up and sent to a warehouse after the game, and eventually shipped to Africa, where it is donated to people who could otherwise never afford such high-quality clothing. And, presumably, such high-quality bobble head dolls. Apparently, this practice has been going on for years, and is not just confined to football. Which means somewhere in Tanzania or Uganda, there is an alternate universe where the Broncos are Super Bowl champions this year. It occurs to me that, should aliens happen to land in the middle of Ghana, they are going to have a skewed perception of our society. They’ll board the Mother Ship thinking the Miami Heat won their 3rd straight NBA Finals, O.J. Simpson was convicted of murder, California Chrome became the first Triple Crown winner in 36 years, Dallas Buyer’s Club won the Academy Award for Best Picture, the Winklevoss brothers run Facebook, Dewey really did defeat Truman, dodos are popular zoo attractions, Beta tapes still rule, we won the Vietnam War, women can’t vote, Goonies sometimes do say die, Bernie Madoff was a shrewd investor, Pete Best was the “popular” Beatle, the Soviet Union won the Space Race and the 1980 Olympic gold medal in hockey, Justin Guarini was the first American Idol, Atlantis is a popular vacation destination, and ATMs dispense a lot of two-dollar bills. Actually, ray guns or not, they’d probably flee in terror believing dinosaurs still roam the earth. dewey-defeats-truman

Hey, it’s not so far-fetched. My ex-wife is fond of rewriting history all the time.

Do you suppose it’s possible that parallel universes really exist? I know the idea is farfetched, but I think about it sometimes. Perhaps every single decision we ever make in life is reflected in a separate, alternative reality full of entirely different outcomes. Take Robert Frost’s famous poem, The Road Not Taken. You know the one:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -

I took the one less traveled by.

What if Frost’s protagonist had taken the road more traveled by? How different would his life have been then?

Everybody can relate to that. Who hasn’t thought about how different their life would be if only they’d done this instead of that? I ponder those things all the time. I’m not just talking about wishing I’d invested in Apple stock in 1980 (though, yeah – that would’ve been pretty cool). I mean those big, life-changing events that might have seemed insignificant at the time. Like, what if I never had given my ex that second chance? Neither Rusty nor Audrey would have been born. Or suppose I’d been hired by the utility company for a crappy call center job when my unemployment checks were about to run out and I was desperate? I probably never would have ended up with this dream job. There are so many variables in life, it boggles the mind to think of the many different consequences to our actions.

People talk about Heaven and Hell, Olympus and Valhalla, and they’re all different examples of alternate universes. Much like Dorothy’s trip to Oz. Clarence the angel showed George Bailey a world where he had never been born in It’s A Wonderful Life. Even Plato pondered this, and he was a pretty smart dude. I think it’s an idea not entirely without merit.

Deep, man. Deep…

Barney Miller cast

Welcome Back, Barney Miller

I’ve got a new routine in the morning. Since I’m usually up really early, thanks to my dear wife (who thinks setting the alarm clock before 5 AM is a good idea), I’ll grab a cup of coffee and settle down on the couch to watch an old sitcom. By “old sitcom” I mean one of my favorites from the 1970s. Lately I’ve been on a Barney Miller and Welcome Back, Kotter kick.

I love those shows!

Growing up, both were childhood favorites. I liked the gritty realism of Barney Miller and the way the show mixed quick, often subtle wit with genuine issues of the day. And the fact that most episodes took place solely in the squad room is testament to the likability of the actors. The show never relied on different sets; it was all about the actors’ timing, and the ability to draw you into the story. Wojo, Harris, Yemana, Dietrich – they were all so personable and funny it was hard to pick a favorite. And of course, let’s not forget Fish. Long live Abe Vigoda! Who, as of this morning, is still alive. Plus, that show had the funkiest theme song ever.

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Speaking of great theme songs, Welcome Back, Kotter had one of the catchiest. There’s a reason John Sebastian’s tune reached #1 on the Billboard charts in May, 1976: it’s irresistible. So is the show. How could you not love the Sweathogs? Vinnie Barbarino proved John Travolta was a star in the making, adding several popular phrases to the American lexicon (“up your nose with a rubber hose,” “in your ear with a can of beer”). But Epstein, Horshack, and Freddie “Boom Boom” Washington all had their charms, as well. And of course, Gabe Kaplan was an expert at delivering one-liners. His jokes may have been corny, but then again, the whole premise was corny. But that didn’t detract from the fun of the show. It was pretty forward-thinking at the time, featuring an Italian, a Jew, a Puerto Rican, and an African American all coexisting peacefully. And it didn’t shy away from hot button issues of the day such as alcoholism and drug addiction.

Both shows are obviously dated, but the retroholic in me finds that appealing. They both take place in New York City during the 70s, when the Big Apple was a lot grittier than it is today. Times Square was a place you could catch a peep show or get mugged, rather than duck into the Disney Store or catch a Cup O’ Noodles ad on the Jumbotron. I was there in 1976, with my parents and aunt/uncle/cousin. We rode the subway, which was graffiti-strewn and full of shady characters. I kind of loved it. A recent episode of Barney Miller featured a gay couple and they couldn’t have been more stereotypically effeminate, but that just represented a more innocent (if less enlightened) era. It actually magnifies the humor today, because you’re not laughing at the joke so much as you are the backwards attitudes. The show made up for this later on in its run when one of the precinct officers “came out;” this was the first gay story arc in American television history.

The best thing is, I have gotten Audrey hooked on these shows. She marvels over the “white guy with an afro” (welcome to the 70s, my daughter) and the live studio audience and the opening/closing credits where the cars looked like boats and the Twin Towers still stood proudly. In a sense, it’s like opening up a time capsule. I’m glad she’s getting to experience some of the classics I grew up with.

Hmm. I wonder what she’d think of the hash slingers over at Mel’s Diner…?

Barney Miller cast

 

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The World Needs More Michael Keaton

Saturday night we were looking for a movie to watch from our DVD collection, and decided on Beetlejuice. It had been years since we’d seen it, and who doesn’t appreciate a little Harry Belafonte music now and then? But of course, the main draw was Michael Keaton. In my opinion, he is one of the most underrated actors of his generation.

I first became aware of Michael Keaton when Mr. Mom came out in 1983. He’s the perfect Jack Butler: charming but awkward, a little goofy with a bit of a competitive streak, a good father, and a loyal friend. Actually, he kind of reminds me a little bit of myself, a comparison I made when I was suddenly out of work and a stay-at-home father. I often call myself Clark Griswold, but I’m probably equal parts Jack Butler, as well. I mean, didn’t I just write about spilling the produce in the grocery store? I’ve also been similarly embarrassed while buying maxi pads. Here’s my favorite scene in the movie, one of the funniest two minutes and 48 seconds in comedy ever.

How can you not love Michael Keaton after watching that? He’s kind of dropped off the radar in recent years, and that’s a damn shame. The world needs more Keaton! The good news? A long-awaited sequel to Beetlejuice is in development. Here are 5 of his most compelling performances other than Mr. Mom:

  1. Beetlejuice. One of the most original, chaotic, hyper, and funny movies of the 1980s. Most of the cast, Keaton included, initially turned down their roles before reconsidering. Keaton absolutely kills it (pun intended) as the title character, a perverted and devious freelance “bio-exorcist” with his own agenda. We don’t know whether to love him or loathe him, and we certainly can’t trust him, but we want him onscreen for every possible minute. The film catapulted Keaton onto the A list of actors, and paved the way for his controversial casting in the next film on my list. Fun fact: director Tim Burton originally wanted Sammy Davis, Jr. (yes, that Sammy Davis Jr., of Rat Pack fame) to play Beetlejuice. Try as I might, I just can’t see that.
  2. Batman/Batman Returns. When Michael Keaton was cast as Batman, thousands of fans wrote letters to Warner Bros. to complain. They thought Keaton was wrong for the role, because he didn’t look like Batman (suave, handsome, muscular) and he was a comedic actor. Honestly, I thought the same thing when I first heard the news. But Tim Burton was convinced Keaton could conjure up the dark obsessiveness of the character, and he was right. Keaton was perfect as Bruce Wayne/Batman, turning in a dramatic performance in two films that perfectly captured the essence of the Dark Knight. When Burton was dropped for the third film, Keaton turned down $15 million to reprise the role, and let’s face it, Val Kilmer’s portrayal left much to be desired. The series was never the same (until Christopher Nolan rescued the franchise in 2005). No offense to Christian Bale, but I still think Keaton was the best Batman ever.
  3. Night Shift. Few people I know have seen this early comedy, one of Ron Howard’s first directing gigs, starring Michael Keaton and Henry Winkler. But it’s worth seeking out if you have not. Released in 1982, it features Keaton as Bill “Blaze” Blazejowski, a fast-talking entrepreneur working the night shift in a morgue alongside Winkler’s character, the nerdy and mild-mannered Chuck. The two end up turning the morgue into a front for a successful prostitution ring. This is the type of film that could easily cross the line, but does not. It proves that death can be both funny and sexy. Bonus points for the killer early 80s soundtrack, featuring Quarterflash, Rod Stewart, The Pointer Sisters, and Talk Talk, among others.
  4. Pacific Heights. The truth is, this is not a great film. It’s a formulaic thriller with an over-the-top premise, similar in tone to The Hand That Rocks The Cradle and other films in the “yuppie horror” genre. But it proved that Keaton had the acting chops to take on the role of a true villain in a film that at least aspires to be serious in tone. As Carter Hayes he is truly despicable, an obsessive stalker and schemer who will stop at nothing to reclaim the San Francisco apartment he believes is rightfully his. Cheesy? A little. But it’s fun to see Keaton in a different type of role.
  5. The Other Guys. This film may star Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg, but it’s Keaton who steals the movie as Captain Gene Mauch, the pair’s boss, who works a second job at Bed, Bath & Beyond to pay for his son’s tuition at NYU (“so he can explore his bisexuality and become a DJ”). His deadpan delivery coupled with an unwitting penchant for quoting TLC songs make every scene of his, well, arresting (pun intended). This was also Keaton’s first major film role in years, and his appearance was like a breath of fresh air. When he’s addressing the staff at BB&B: “First things first: the new bath mats are here. Second thing: there’s a serial rapist in Crown Heights… sorry, that’s from my other job, ignore that. No, wait, don’t ignore it, especially if you live in Crown Heights. Walk in pairs.” Vintage Keaton.

There you go. 5 reasons why Michael Keaton (who was actually born Michael Douglas, but changed his name to Keaton (a tribute to actor Buster Keaton) to avoid confusion with the other Michael Douglas) is da man.

Say his name out loud three times. I dare you.

Say his name out loud three times. I dare you.

Who’s your favorite actor/actress? Is he/she underrated, too?

 

 

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Yesterday’s News Today

Last week, I took my car to {INSERT NAME OF NATIONAL CHAIN SPECIALIZING IN OIL CHANGES} for an oil change. After checking me in, the attendant led me to the waiting area, where he instructed me to have a seat and feel free to read a magazine until my name was called. So naturally, I whipped out my phone and started playing games. There were three of us in there, and I couldn’t help but notice we were all doing the same thing.

That’s when it dawned on me: nobody reads magazines anymore.

At least not in waiting rooms. And probably not much at home, either. After subscribing to Entertainment Weekly literally since day one, I let my subscription lapse last year. I had been reading it faithfully for 23 years (!) but issues kept piling up and I could never find the time to get around to them. I knew things were bad when I picked up an unread issue and learned they were making a movie about the Titanic starring that kid from What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and some two-bit actress named Kate something. Was it really worth $60 a year when I was struggling to keep up with the latest pop culture news? I just didn’t think so. I still receive Portland Monthly and Reader’s Digest and Food & Wine, but those are a little easier to keep up with since there are only twelve issues a year versus 52. (And yet, I did just read about some great tips for a delicious Thanksgiving dinner. In 2012. Maybe I need to rethink those subscriptions, too).

I guess I shouldn’t really be surprised. I cancelled my newspaper subscription a couple of years ago for the same reason. I was like, What? Nixon resigned?? Really, the only thing I miss are the comics. And really, the only comic I miss is Pickles. The golden age of comic strips ended when Calvin & Hobbes, Bloom County, and The Far Side all came to an end. There are only so many Garfield-loves-lasagna jokes one can stomach. My dad, on the other hand, has a strict daily ritual. He devotes at least 90 minutes, every single day, to reading the paper, going over every column inch. Q: What’s black and white and read all over? A: My dad’s newspaper! He can probably recite the name of every person who died in Clark County last Tuesday, the sport score to every high school baseball game, and how much a head of broccoli costs at Safeway this week. Me? I just heard about some airplane that disappeared. I hope they find it soon.

What?!?!

What?!?!

I love my phone, but it’s a sad state of affairs that a tiny 4″ screen has replaced magazines and newspapers. That a two-minute round of Quiz Up or a quick scan of my Instagram feed fills those otherwise mundane moments. And I’d wager to bet that waiting rooms everywhere are the same: full of dusty magazines being ignored by people engrossed in their smartphones. The traditionalist in me wants to decry the practice and pick up that latest issue of Newsweek. But my 21st-century short-attention-span mentality demands I play another word on Words With Friends instead, because Jill is nipping at my heels and I just can’t have that now, can I?

Thankfully, I still read before bed. But that’s on my Kindle, and after scrolling through my phone, a practice that drives me crazy…and yet, I’m helpless to stop.

Maybe I won’t have as much time once this new TV show I heard about starts. It’s a sitcom about this guy who is telling his kids how he met their mother. Can’t wait to find out who the mom – clearly the love of his life, since he’s recounting this long tale to his children – is!

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