Friday, May 15, 2015

You Know You’re Getting Old...

This October I will turn 65.  Yes, I’ve heard all of the “60 is the new 50” talk, and plenty of “65 today isn’t like 65 used to be,” but still, 65 SEEMS like it should be old even if people keep insisting that it really isn’t old.  After all, can I really call myself “middle-aged” at this stage?  If this is the middle, is 100 the end?  Let’s admit it, 65 is at least GETTING OLD.  For those who aren’t there yet (also for those who are), I offer this list of telltale signs that we are GROWING OLD.  But at least we’re still growing, right?

You Know You’re Getting Old When:

You’re not so much worried about your hair turning gray as you are about your hair disappearing entirely. Yes, ladies, I’m talking to you.

You seriously consider a visit to the Wizard on Park & 73rd for a little “work.”

You notice that the husbands of many of your friends look old enough to be their fathers.

You complete a survey and enter your demographic information into that box that reads “65+,” knowing full well that you are demographically undesirable to anyone who isn’t selling life monitors, reverse mortgages, adult diapers or Polygrip.

You use the phrase “back in the day” frequently.

You realize that three of the Supreme Court Justices are younger than you (Sotomayor, Roberts and Kagen).

You have been friends with people for more than 45 years and you didn’t meet them until you were in or out of college.

You’re surprised when the mother or father of someone you know passes away because you can’t help but think, “She still had a father?”

Your conversations with your BFFs always include a segment on medical issues.

You need a doctor for some specific or general ailment and all you have to do is ask friends for a recommendation because they either have, had, or know someone who has or had the exact same thing.  First, however, you and your friends diagnose the ailment yourselves.

You equate the word “senior” with “citizen” and then with “discount” and no longer with someone in 12th grade or graduating from college.

You’re only too happy to provide a urine sample at the doctor’s office because you really need to go.  Again.

You are colder or hotter than all of the younger people in the room.

Your friends all have grandchildren, some whom are in college or married.

You find yourself listening to ‘60s radio stations because the “Oldies” stations play music from the ‘90s that isn’t from your era.

You listen to old songs on the radio and they transport you to another time in your life.

You can recall when there were only 48 states.

You remember skate keys, the Princess phone, party lines (Note for the young people, this had nothing to do with parties), skipping stones, playing jacks and hopscotch and when cars had no seatbelts.

You’re still disappointed that nothing good is on TV, even though there are hundreds of channels.  In your day, there were channels 2-4-5-7-9-11 and 13, and there really wasn’t anything on.  Oh, and back then, YOU were your own remote, having to get up and manually change the channel.  So now you can change the channel remotely, but there’s still nothing on.  But at least you don’t have to get up.

You yearn for the days the milkman came to the house so you didn’t have to go out and buy milk.

You still have clothes you bought in the 80s and you think you had better hold on to them, just in case they come back in style.

You don‘t bother to wash your hair some days and justify it by saying that “it is too dry anyway” when your hair has been oily for your whole life.

You can’t bring yourself to throw out stuff you have been saving for years, even though it has no monetary value and the sentimental value is more habit than anything else.  This is why I still have my mother’s wooden spoon and shrimp fork.

You use the term “What’s her name” to identify someone and your friends know exactly who you mean.

You are grateful when you go to an event and everyone is wearing nametags.  And if they aren’t, you introduce yourself to them because you assume they won’t remember your name just as you don’t remember theirs.

You look around the room and feel relieved if you aren’t the oldest one in the crowd.

You decry the abuse of language and punctuation that is common in the vernacular (or is that just me?) and you relish the chance to use the word “vernacular.”  (Again, just me?)

You can’t put up with bad service by a waiter, by delivery people or by someone in a store because your lifetime quota of patience has been depleted.

You cannot tolerate unwanted phone calls by people trying to scam you or sell you things you don’t want – especially since you are on the Do Not Call List.

You don’t call people before 9 AM or after 9 PM, even though you can’t sleep.  In fact, virtually nobody you know can sleep through the night, although we can all sleep through a movie or TV show.

You rarely need to set the alarm because you can’t sleep past 6 AM.

You relish a nap because, well, see above.

You can recall Derek Jeter’s rookie season.  And you remember when Joe Torre was a player.

Forget Eleanor Roosevelt and Madam Curie.  Your new heroine is Maxine on the Hallmark cards because says exactly what she is thinking.

You watch reruns of “The Golden Girls” and think, “Dorothy was only 60 in this episode?”

You survey the room or the arena in hopes of finding a handrail if you have to walk up or down the stairs.

You and everyone you know is moving to single-story houses or at least to houses where the master bedroom is on the first floor.

You need an inordinate amount of light in a room to read, cook or function at all.  Operating rooms don’t have this much light.

You need a teenager or someone in his/her 20s to help with your phone and computer.

You think “these kids today” are crazy for going out at 11PM or later and you resent anything that requires you to come home after dark.

You have reconsidered the “early bird special” and decided that it isn’t so pathetic after all.  Who wants to wait on line at a restaurant?  And besides, this way you can be home before dark.  Or at 6 PM.

You notice that people in your circle spend a lot of time watching PBS and the History Channel.

You are resigned to the fact that your life revolves around moisturizing, a must in your daily routine.

You get all dolled up – nice dress, right jewelry, hair, make-up, shoes – and look in the mirror and say to yourself, “Let’s go.  It doesn’t get any better than this.”

You can’t remember if you wore this outfit the last time you saw these people and then you realize that if YOU can’t remember, they probably can’t remember either.

You walk into a room and you don’t know why, so you return to the previous room to remind yourself, and then you get distracted by something else and never end up back in the room you went to and didn’t know why.

You always have tissues in the house.

You cherish your friends, rely on them, confide in them, complain to them, listen to them, plot revenge with them and thank God for having them.

You realize that you probably won’t fulfill those dreams of climbing mountains or backpacking through Europe if you haven’t done them by now, but…

You realize that you are still here, you’ve probably faced down a challenge or two, or raised your kids, or done your job with some degree of distinction, and you have every reason to be feel proud and damn lucky.  What the hell – who’s better than you?  And there’s always SOMEONE older than you.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Tina's April 2015 Movies

April was the cruelest month for me for movies, as I managed to squeeze only six into my busy schedule.  Still, several were very worthy entries, and one is on my list of All-Time Favorites.  As always, movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, five being the highest, and movies marked with a * are ones I had not seen previously.  Numbering picks up from last month.

49.  The Woman in Gold* (2015) – Maria Altman (the marvelous Helen Mirren) was forced to flee from Austria as a young bride when the Nazis took over.  Hitler’s henchmen forced out the Jews and stole countless pieces of art, including a Gustav Klimpt painting of Maria’s favorite aunt, Adele, which hung in her family’s apartment for years.  In the1980s, following the death of Maria’s sister and with Maria living in America, she enlists the help of a young lawyer and family friend, Randall Schoenberg (Ryan Reynolds) to reclaim the painting that was now hanging in a museum in Austria.  This incident, a real life story that was portrayed in the outstanding documentary “The Rape of Europa,” took place just at the time a movement started seeking the return of the artwork confiscated by the Nazis to the rightful owners.  Randy and Maria face seemingly insurmountable odds to pursuing their case, but they persist in both the US and Austria.  Better than “The Monuments Men” (the George Clooney film), this movie is about the horror faced by the Austrian Jews, the imperviousness of the art execs who insist the painting is rightfully theirs despite its circuitous route to their museum and about the difficulty of going home and facing a dark past.  4 cans.
50.  Star Man (1984) – Jeff Bridges has always been a kind of quirky actor to me, and here he finds a perfect part for that quirkiness as an alien who crashes to earth and assumes the body of a young man who has passed away.  Jenny (Karen Allen), the dead man’s widow, takes him in and tries to help him rendezvous with the mother ship so he can return to his planet.  Bridges’ body twitches and moves oddly as he becomes less alien and more human.  Some 30 years after seeing the movie, I still remember the alien learning to drive and claiming that he understands that the red light means stop, the green light means go and the yellow light means go very, very fast.  3½ cans.
51.  Frank Sinatra: All or Nothing at All* (2015) – Thanks to HBO and Alex Gibney for this detailed documentary on the life of Ole’ Blue Eyes.  The emphasis is on the “All” here as Gibney uses a treasure trove of interviews and old footage to cover Sinatra’s rise from boyhood in Hoboken through his reign as the king of the Bobbysoxers, into the swinging ‘60s and, finally to the autumn of his years.  There were the marriages to the loyal Nancy, the irresistible Ava Gardner, the strange match with Mia Farrow and finally to his last wife, Barbara.  His career as a singer and actor had its ups and downs as Sinatra’s popularity waned in the advent of rock music but thrived in Vegas and on Capitol Records.  Who can forget Frank, Dean, Sammy and the rest of the Rat Pack, the ties with the Mob, the jaunty hats, the womanizing, palling around with JFK, and finally his coronation as the Chairman of the Board?  Through it all, he did it HIS way.  4 cans.
52.  The Queen (2006) – Helen Mirren Month continues for me, as she stars in her Oscar-winning role as Queen Elizabeth in the aftermath of the death of Princess Diana.  Raised to be royal, the Queen was not an admirer of the attractive and popular princess, particularly after her divorce from Prince Charles.  HRH did not approve of Diana’s lifestyle or dating habits.  She felt that holding a public funeral for the late Princess was not appropriate, and, although new to working with Prime Minister Tony Blair, she never hesitates to draw the line.  But she comes under fire from the public, who increasingly see her as cold and unyielding when she refuses to publicly acknowledge Diana’s passing.  Blair becomes the conscience for the country and is in the awkward position of having to take the Queen in hand and force her to mourn publicly while defending her to the media and his own henchmen.  4 cans.
53.  My Cousin Vinny (1992) – I hadn’t seen the movie is a very long time and I forgot how funny it is.  Vincent LaGuardia Gambini (Joe Pesci, with a huge head of hair) is the ultimate fish out of water, a stereotype of every Italian, male New Yorker, who finds himself in an Alabama courthouse defending his young cousin (Ralph Macchio, post-“Karate Kid”) and his friend on a murder charge.  The “yoots” accidentally left a convenience store with an unpaid can of tuna fish (author’s note: How could I NOT like this movie?) but are identified as the same two men who killed the clerk.  Vinny, armed with just weeks of legal experience after finally passing the bar exam on his sixth try, rolls into town with girlfriend Mona Lisa Vito (Marisa Tomei) and a wardrobe of black clothing and leather jackets.  The Judge (a droll Fred Gwynne) doesn’t appreciate Vinny’s demeanor or attire, and keeps holding him in contempt.  The byplay between Vinny and his fiancĂ©e is priceless, as is his relationship with the judge.  Since this movie is a comedy, you just know Vin will come through for the boys – with a big assist from the future Mrs. Vincent LaGuardia Gambini.  Well worth watching.  4 cans.
54.  The Way We Were (1973) – I have watched this movie countless times (it is in my Top 5 All-Time Favorites), but this time I tried to concentrate on the political aspects of the story.  I’ve always been distracted by the impossible good looks of Robert Redford and the histrionics of Barbra Streisand, playing polar opposites who fall in love.  She is an outspoken (understatement) radical who supports the Communist Party in college, where he is the All-American athlete.  Can politics and romance co-exist?  The problem is that he is talented but not committed to anything, and she knows he is better than he seems.  All I know is that the line in the theme song is true for all of us:  “Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line?  If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, could we?  Would we?”  It calls into question what we remember from our younger selves and what we treasure.  For me, it’s the laughter I’ll remember from my own life – but there is no laughter.  5 cans.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Random Thoughts, Spring 2015 Edition

Let’s start with the fact that I hope this month’s entry doesn’t come across as negative.  I can’t help finding things in the world around me that I observe and on which I can comment. So, here are a few things about which you can agree or disagree, laugh or simply dismiss.

Does anybody pay attention to those annoying ads in the top of the e-mail list?  On the side of Facebook?  Me neither.

Why does it seem there are so many cute kids and not nearly as many good-looking adults? What happens to all those adorable babies?  Growing up is a tough thing for all of us, I guess.

Does the world really need “Paul Blart, Mall Cop 2?”  I saw the first movie (at a friend’s house, nothing else on, I probably dozed) and am fairly certain we don’t need a sequel.

In the commercial I saw recently for a diabetes medication, the announcer spent more time explaining the possible side effects than explaining what this medication purports to do.  It sounded really scary  and then I realized that I take it!

People – if you decorate your mailbox with a seasonal motif, please change your decal when the seasons change.  It was all I could do not to slip a reminder into the mailbox with the “Let it snow!” decal on it in 65-degree weather!

We have all had enough experience with answering machines and voice mail by now that we don’t need lengthy instructions like “Hi, we’re not here now but please leave us your name, number and a brief message and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can.”  That recording is usually followed by further instructions:  “After the tone you may leave your message or press 1 for further options.”  Who presses 1?  Have YOU ever pressed 1?  What ARE those options anyway?  This whole process takes too long.  Let’s abbreviate to something like:  “Hi, not home, leave a message.”  Callers will figure out they have to do it AFTER the tone, right?

Sometimes I wonder:  Is there a method to my madness or a madness to my method?

I’m prone to respiratory infections and bronchitis, so every once in a while, I lose my voice completely.  I notice that generally no one seems to mind.  I also lose my mind every once in a while, but no one seems to notice.

Many of us have a place in our house with a comfy chair and a lamp where we can just sit and read, but how many of us actually do?  With so many activities, movies to watch, basketball games and TV shows recorded on the DVR, I find myself reading a couple of pages at a time, and NEVER while sitting in that comfy chair with the lamp.  I need to work on that.

I don’t understand how SPAM works (the e-mail kind, not the ersatz food thing).  What have I done on the internet that would lead to anyone to think I would have an interest in Christian dating, a career as a nurse (or a career at all since I have been retired for 9 years), scholarships for ME as a student, eliminating toenail fungus or finding a Russian bride?  I find this stuff perplexing and amusing at the same time.

The CAPS LOCK button is situated dangerously close to the letter A on my keyboard, which means that halfway through a sentence, suddenly I am typing IN ALL CAPS.  That’s probably because of my lack of finger control and the fact that I still look at my fingers instead of the screen while I type.  That’s just another area on my report card of life that comes under “Needs Improvement.”

Seriously, Siriusly Sinatra has more people who are not Frank singing than they do actual Sinatra songs.  And I don’t think anyone tunes in thinking this channel is Nancy Sinatra’s (although she does a good job).  Today I swear I heard Bob Dylan singing a Sinatra song.

On the subject of music, it wasn’t until I started listening via headphones (in my ear) that I realized that in all of these years I never had the lyrics right to “He’s a Rebel.”  Apparently the Crystals denied his being a rebel with the words, “he’s not a rebel, no, no, no.”  And listening to the Temptations' “Beauty’s Only Skin Deep,” I realized that this song is very insulting to the girlfriend – “a pretty face you may not possess...” even though the man appreciates her tenderness.  But it makes it sound like she is really unattractive and he’s being big-hearted by loving her anyway.  Let’s see what HE looks like, shall we?

Raise your hand if you downloaded Gary Lewis & The Playboys Greatest Hits so you would listen to “This Diamond Ring.”  So it was just me.  I thought so.

I listen to “60s on 6” on Sirius Radio in the car, and Cousin Brucie is one of the hosts.  How old must Cousin Brucie be by now?  He was a DJ in the 60s when I first started listening to music on the radio and he still seems to be pretty sharp.  I don’t know what he’s doing but I’ll have what he’s having.

It spooks me out when I tune in to an Oldies station and they are playing Casey Kassem’s “American Top 40” from the 70s.

I found it ironic to learn that Barry Manilow didn’t write the song, “I Write the Songs.”  Bruce Johnston, who performed with the Beach Boys, wrote the song, but Barry’s version made the charts.  Isn’t it ironic?  No, THAT song was composed by Alanis Morissette.

I like the song “Baby, Come Back,” a one-hit wonder by the Ohio Players, simply because of the line “All day long, wearing a mask of false bravado.”  Anyone who can include the word “bravado” in a song gets my endorsement.

There are so many songs that remind me of my mother.  Carly Simon’s “Nobody Does It Better” reminds me of how I would con Mom into making me a Bumble Bee Tuna sandwich (is there any other kind?) by singing that song to her, even when I was in my 30s.  She probably acquiesced just to make me stop singing.  When I hear Tony Orlando and Dawn’s “Knock 3 Times,” I picture Mom tapping her fingers on the steering wheel of the car, waiting for me to come back from S&S Stationers, where she made me go in and pick up cigarettes for her.  (Clearly, this was at a time when there was no age requirement, but I nonetheless would explain that they weren’t for me.  Luckily, the S&S folks knew her well enough to believe me.)  I think of her every time I hear anything by Barbra Streisand, particularly anything from the Broadway show “Funny Girl,” which my mother saw early in its run and henceforth claimed to have discovered Barbra.  Any Frank Sinatra song reminds me of those big old albums, the ones with ‘78s in them that she treasured, despite the fact that we did not own anything on which to play them.  My father favored Sinatra’s “Love and Marriage,” and “Young at Heart.”  The latter jived with his philosophy that you’re only as old as you feel.  

I never mind giving my opinion about something, whether or not I am asked.  But I can’t help but notice the uptick in requests to fill out a survey for practically any product or service I use.  One day it is the car dealer who serviced my Mercedes, where, God forbid, if I don’t rate every single item at the top of the scale, they make it sound as if someone will lose his or her job.  If I buy something at Amazon, I am not only asked how the shopping experience went, but they want me to review the purchase and comment on the shipping.  I know most of us will take the time to complain if we have a bad experience, but I actually have taken time to call or write about good experiences, too.  I called Del Monte once just to tell them I liked their peaches, and they couldn’t accept that there was no other reason for my call.  I even wrote to the county prosecutor’s office after serving on Grand Jury for four months just to compliment the assistant prosecutors on their performance in the courtroom (yes, I know, who else would do that?).  But please, enough with the surveys about every little thing!

Can it be that it was all so simple then, or has time rewritten every line?  If we had the chance to do it all again, tell me, would we?  Could we?  Ah, memories…

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tina's March 2015 Movies

It is approaching the 11th hour of the last day of March, and it is a safe bet I won't be able to watch any more movies this month.  Despite March Madness, I managed to see 16 movies, many of the sports-related, and a few interesting documentaries.  As always, movies are rated on a scale of 1-5 cans of tuna, 5 being the top rating.  Numbering picks up from previous months, and movies I had not seen previously are marked with an asterisk *.

33.  The Candidate (1972) – Since I am the least political person I know, there is only one reason that I would watch this drama – its appealing star, Robert Redford.  As a candidate for the US Senate from California, Bill McKay can rely on the same superficial judgment that led me to choose this film – his good looks and charisma.  McKay is the son of the former governor of California but is a political neophyte.  He works in the community to help the poor and improve society and all those idealistic things that rich people can do when they don’t actually have to work for a living.  He is persuaded to enter the campaign by political operative Marvin (Peter Boyle) with the assurance that he has no chance to beat the incumbent Crocker Jarmin (Don Porter), but that, just by virtue of campaigning, he can bring attention to the issues he champions.  His ideas will be expressed and he’ll get to do things his way.  But as the campaign continues, McKay sees his control slipping even as his poll figures rise.  Can an unknown knock off a well-established opponent?  It is worth the time to see idealism and reality collide.  A few years later, Redford would go on to make a masterful film about the collision of politics and journalism, “All the President’s Men.”  Meanwhile, this film gets my vote.  3½ cans.
34.  Step Mom (1998) – Of all the movies Julia Roberts has made, this one and “Pretty Woman” are my favorites.  Here she is Isabel, living in NY with boyfriend Luke (Ed Harris), the divorced father of Anna (Jena Malone) and Ben.  His ex, Jackie (Susan Sarandon) is Supermom, organized and perfect when it comes to the house and the kids, and more than slightly resentful of the presence of the younger, pretty woman in her former husband’s life.  Isabel, a professional photographer, never asked to be a mom, but Luke’s busy career often puts her in charge of the kids, and Anna in particular, cannot hide her disdain.  Over time, Isabel proves to be worthy of the challenge, and, when Jackie really needs extra help as a parent, Isabel gets a chance to shine.  Yes, this movie is melodramatic and formulaic, but I always get a lump in my throat watching it.  And forget “Pretty Woman,” because to me, Julia Roberts has never looked better than she does here.  4 cans.
35.  McFarland, USA* (2015) – We’ve seen this before: a ragtag group of underdogs, seriously underestimated and never expected to succeed, rally behind a dedicated coach and take down the bigger, better rivals.  These heartwarming stories are always served best with a side of corn, but this one, with Kevin Costner as a cross country coach, despite being too long, won me over.  It is based on the true story of Jim White, a football coach with a bad temper who ends up in a small California town as a last ditch effort to save his coaching career.  The town is populated by Hispanic families who work in the fields, picking almonds and anything else.  These kids work in the fields, go to school and go back and work more.  When White sees them running, he sees potential for a cross country team, and despite his having no experience in the sport, he persuades the principal to let him form a team.  It takes even more convincing to get the buys to join the team and train – and for the parents to spare them from work.   If I hadn’t known this was a true story, I might have dismissed it as simplistic and unlikely, but it was actually inspiring.  The acceptance of the man the kids call “Blanco,” along with his family, the warmth and power of the people in the town and how they rally behind their team, and the – never mind, I can’t give away the ending, now, can I?  This won’t be the last sports movie about overcoming the odds, and it isn’t the best, but it is worth seeing.  3½ cans.
36.  Chasing Mavericks* (2012) – This must be my month for sports-oriented movies about underdogs who triumph – wait, aren’t most sports movies about the same thing?  In this case, surfing is the sport, and a teenaged, fatherless boy is taken under the wing of the wizened, older surfer to learn lessons about surfing and life.  Gerard Butler is the experienced surfer whose scowl hides his affection for the boy, who lives with his irresponsible mother (Elisabeth Shue).  Jay (Jonny Weston) is a mature kid who is willing to write essays and learn to hold his breath to prepare to ride the huge California waves called “mavericks” that only the veteran surfers are able to tame.  I wish I had seen this movie in a theater (and without commercials) because the surfing scenes were breathtaking.  There is plenty here about man facing the challenge of nature, teenagers maturing and, of course, the requisite drama.  Young actor Weston looks like a cross between Christopher Atkins in “The Blue Lagoon” and Willie Ames from “Eight is Enough.”  He may be proficient at surfing (although he was probably replaced by a real surfer in the most grueling scenes), but he is absolutely wooden on screen.  The story is true, and I won’t spoil the ending.  3 cans.
37.  Places in the Heart (1984) – I really, really liked Sally Field in her Oscar-winning performance as Edna Spalding, a widow living in impoverished Texas during the Depression.  Edna is fighting to keep her farm and her children, so she wards off the mean old bank by taking in itinerant worker Moze (Danny Glover) to help her plant and harvest cotton.  The unconventional family also includes her blind boarder, Mr. Will (John Malkovich).  Will Edna keep her kids and her farm?  Will they survive a tornado (which is harrowing on screen)?  Will the Klu Klux Klan kill Moze and all of the other black people in the area?  Aside from an entirely extraneous subplot involving Edna’s sister (Lindsay Crouse), her husband Wayne (Ed Harris) and his girlfriend (Amy Madigan, his real-life wife), this is a first-rate movie that defines family and struggle.  It will always have a place in MY heart.  4 cans.
38.  Oliver’s Story (1978) – “Oliver’s Story” begins where “Love Story” ended – at the funeral of Oliver’s young wife, Jenny.  The morose Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) is living alone in New York and immerses himself in his work as a lawyer, sworn to doing good deeds for underprivileged people.  He is afraid to connect with anyone out of respect for his late wife until he runs across Marcy (Candice Bergen) in Central Park.  These two are meant for each other.  They are both rich and impossibly good-looking and both are unattached.  But Oliver can’t give up the ghost and enjoy their time together.  This sequel to the cheesy but compelling original seems designed merely to pair up two attractive actors with about the same dramatic skill level and is not nearly as satisfying as its predecessor, but if you’ve seen the first, how can you pass up the sequel?  3 cans.
39.  Hoosiers (1984) – What March Madness would be complete without a viewing of the quintessential basketball (and perhaps all-sports) movie?  Another underdog, rising to the challenge, the fiery coach, the rural setting, the undermanned squad – all staples of the sports movie but never portrayed better than in this based-on-a-true-story tale of Indiana high school basketball in the early 1950s.  I subscribe to Coach Normal Dale’s (Gene Hackman) philosophy of life – not just basketball – to always do your best, live up to your potential and everything will take care of itself.  You cannot be a true basketball fan if you have never seen this classic.  “I love you guys.”  4½ cans.
40.  Stop at Nothing* (2014) – This title is particularly appropriate for a movie about Lance Armstrong, noted cycling champion, Tour de France winner, cancer survivor and perpetrator of one of the biggest frauds in sports history.  Armstrong duped and doped his way to the top of the cycling world (as well as pop culture and advertising), fending off all accusations about his use of banned substances and intimidating people around him to perpetuate the lie.  When he improbably came back to win the Tour de France after recovering from testicular cancer, he expanded his power base and improved his image with the truly commendable work of the Lance Armstrong Foundation (remember those ubiquitous yellow wristbands?).  It is safe to say that he had a lot riding on maintaining his clean image, so denying his use of banned substances and his carefully constructed drug program for his entire racing team was part of the ruse.  He threatened and cajoled people, sued them, ruined their lives with malicious rumors and had absolutely no hesitation to lie – under oath – about anything he didn’t wish to reveal.  This documentary is compelling in its unflinching look at Armstrong as well as at the people whose reputations he sullied while trying to save his own, and the people who were absolutely determined to bring him down.  My lasting image of him will be his interview with Oprah, after all the facts were revealed and he responded with a simple “yes” to her direct questions about taking drugs such as EPO, human growth hormone, testosterone and cortisone. I don’t care if he used drugs and I don’t care about biking.  I do care about the people who suffered as a result of his imperviousness and those people who admired him and trusted him.  The saying goes that power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  That’s what Armstrong attempted, to control everything and everyone in his wake.  It is hard to imagine a more deserving fall from grace. 4 cans.
41.  Midnight Cowboy (1969) – This film is an unflinching look at the seedy underbelly of New York, in a period before Times Square underwent Disneyfication and offered little more than porno theaters and street hustlers.  It was unsafe, unseemly and full of desperation, not exactly what our hero, Joe Buck (Jon Voight), expects when he gets off the Greyhound from Texas with his goal of being a “stud,” servicing rich women with his handsome looks and boyish charm.  His expectations are soon dashed on the sidewalks of New York, first by an aging hooker (Sylvia Miles) whom he ends having to pay, and then by small-time hustler Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman, in a complete departure from his previous role as “The Graduate”).  Joe is reduced to hustling to, let’s say, a lower level of clientele, whom he picks up in movie theaters.  He’s barely making ends meet when he teams up with Ratso (most memorable line:  “I’m walkin’ here!”), squatting in an abandoned building and pawning his prized transistor radio.  An unlikely friendship and bond forms between the two lonely, sorry men, and when Ratso’s dream of moving to Florida and enjoying a warmer climate seems remote, Joe tries his best to make that dream come true.  This movie won the Oscar for Best Picture despite its X rating (which has since been changed to an R).  The performances and the milieu are spot on, even while the subject is difficult to endure.  4 cans and a tip of the cowboy hat.
42.  No Way Out (1986) – Imagine that you are put in charge of a murder investigation and the trail looks like it leads to you, even though you didn’t do it.  That’s the untenable situation faced by Navy Commander Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner, in my favorite of his films this side of “Bull Durham”).  He’s assigned to the Pentagon, where he discovers that he and his boss, the Secretary of Defense David Bryce (Gene Hackman) share something in common – a woman named Susan Atwater (Sean Young).  Susan is married Bryce’s mistress, and when she dies, Bryce and his chief of staff (Will Patton) will do anything they can to keep the investigation away from them.  Enter a theory about a mole in the defense department, a Soviet spy, whose existence is yet to be proven but whom they place front and center as a suspect.  This is a gripping story, as Farrell has to lead the team and deflect them from his relationship.  After 30 years, there is a lot of dated technology here (including the use of telephone booths), but the action and suspense are always timely.  Is there a way out?  Tune in to see.  4 cans.
43.  No Way Out* (1950) – Aside from sharing a name, this black and white movie about race relations shares nothing in common with the Costner movie above.  Luther Brooks (Sidney Poitier) is a young doctor who has to treat two brothers (Richard Widmark is one of them) who have been caught in a robbery and wounded.  When Dr. Brooks attempts to do a spinal tap, one of the brothers dies, and the other one, Johnny, a racist, accuses the young doctor of murder.  The class and race that divide the town are unrelenting, eventually leading to a confrontation between blacks and whites, which Johnny has incited.  This movie features more hard drinking and smoky rooms than I have seen in a long time.  It is depressing to think that the prejudice displayed here has continued even to this day, but it seems like the movie was portraying it accurately for its time.  3 cans.
44.  The Heiress and Her Chateau* (2014) – If you love the grandeur of “Downton Abbey,” you’ll appreciate this documentary about an estate right here in America that rivals the fictional British version.  Harriet Pullman Carolan, heir to the Pullman railcar fortune, fancied French things and rich people, so she and her husband moved from Chicago in the late 1800s and settled in the San Francisco area, in a wealthy enclave called Hillsborough, where only mansions were permitted to be built (no sideways, stores, gas stations or anything else for these incredibly wealthy landowners).  She commissioned a French architect to design and build Carolands, a 98-room palace, sometimes buying the entire contents of a room from a mansion in Europe to outfit it.  Though warned by her mother that even her vast fortune would not be enough to sustain the building and maintenance of the home, Harriet forged ahead.  As predicted, she outspent her fortune and ended up abandoning the property, which stood unclaimed for the next 29 years.  It passed through other owners but was left to decay and it became the target of area residents who wanted it demolished.  It finally became the home of a wealthy couple who painstakingly restored it and set up a trust to run it.  Now the home is used for charitable functions and remains a symbol of grandeur.  I hope I haven’t spoiled the plot enough to dissuade you from watching the movie.  3½ cans.
45.  Bang the Drum Slowly (1973) – As we approach baseball season, I thought it fitting to watch this touching story of the friendship between two baseball players.  Henry Wiggin and Bruce Pearson could not be more dissimilar.  Wiggin (Michael Moriarity) is a pitcher, an educated man who sells insurance and dupes people in card games when he isn’t pitching for the New York Mammoths.  Bruce (Robert DeNiro) is an uneducated catcher with a giant wad of tobacco in his cheek who is frequently the target of jokes by his teammates.  Catching equipment is often referred to as “the tools of ignorance,” and, in this case, that description is entirely appropriate.  An early scene depicts Wiggin and Bruce leaving the Mayo Clinic, where Bruce has been diagnosed with a fatal illness that he doesn’t really understand.  No matter, because “Author,” as they call the erudite Wiggin, is determined to keep Bruce on the major league roster and he even has a clause inserted into his contract to guarantee that they stay together.  Like Ratso in “Midnight Cowboy,” Bruce gets increasingly ill, looks disheveled and dirty, and is dying before our eyes.  It is only when his secret is revealed that his teammates show him compassion and care.  This film marked the debut of Mr. DeNiro, whom you might recall has starred in a few noteworthy movies since then.  4 cans and a box of tissues. 
46.  The Natural (1984) – Another day, another baseball movie.  Roy Hobbs (Robert Redford) is blessed with good lucks and other-worldly baseball skills.  And he is cursed by people out to stop him from being “the best there ever was.”  On his way to a tryout with the Cubs as a young man, Hobbs encounters a woman who will change the course of his life.  We meet up with him again 16 years later, when he is no longer young and he has finally recovered enough to begin a career.  He’s old, especially for a rookie, but he still has magic in his bat.  He elevates the play of his new team, but the people who own the club have things other than winning on their minds.  In this saga, the lighting plays a major role, as Hobbs spots his first love in the stands, her head backlit as if God himself was pointing her out.  He crashes a baseball into the stadium lights, which causes a celebratory effect as sparks fly on the field like sparklers while he races around the bases.  Can he go out a winner?  Will he be the best ever?  I don’t know about that, but he sure looks great in a uniform.  Glenn Close, Barbara Hershey, Wilford Brimley, Robert Duvall and Kim Basinger are on hand to celebrate and thwart him.  I won’t tell you who does what.  4 cans.
47.  Innocence* (2000) – Can love be rekindled after a 50 year absence?  What is love anyway?  Shouldn’t it be more than friendship, passion, routine, habit?  This touching movie examines these questions through the lives of Andreas and Claire, once young lovers, and Claire and her husband John, who have been married for more than 40 years.  In flashbacks, the young, smitten Claire and Andreas connect with purity and lust.  In the present day, the aging Andreas (Charles Tingwell), a widower, remembers that time fondly, so when he finds out that he and Claire (Julia Blake) are living in the same area in Australia, he decides to reach out to her again.  But love is complicated.  She confesses her love for Andreas and their renewed affair to her husband, who refuses to accept this change in his life.  Do either of these men truly know and love Claire?  Can she give up the life she has shared with John (Terry Norris) for one she now wants to share with Andreas?  This movie is about people approaching 70 who look and act like people approaching their 70s, with lines in their faces and health issues facing them.  Will love end?  Will life end?  And how?  This is a beautiful, tender story that asks those questions.  Life and love are not necessarily easy.  Is there more to life and can we pursue it even as we approach its end?  Think about it, which you will after watching this movie.  4 cans.
48.  Going Clear* (2015) – This inflammatory HBO documentary by Alex Gibney rips the Church of Scientology apart, lambasting it for intimidating its members, forcing them into hard labor, and controlling virtually every facet of their lives.  The “church” was launched by science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard, best known for his book, “Dianetics.”  Though classified as a church (which saves the organization/cult from having to pay taxes on the millions it collects from the membership), this group was first led by the paranoid, maniacal Hubbard himself and later by its self-proclaimed leader, David Miscavige.  The movie includes interviews with several prominent former henchmen who once dedicated their lives to the church and its torturous methods of accountability, all of whom now denounce its practices.  It is run like a Ponzi scheme, with various “levels” of training and knowledge, each one more expensive than the previous one.  The church has friends in high places, relies on people with visibility (including Tom Cruise and John Travolta) as well as a veritable army of automatons assigned to assure the loyalty of its members through fear, intimidation and abuse.  How so many people could commit to this line of bull is beyond me, and the film is downright scary in its portrayal of the methods used to control its members.  You can’t make this stuff up, people.  3½ cans.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Meandering March Musings

Why is it we can refer to someone as “unkempt” when we never describe anyone as “kempt?”

At the holidays and all of the time, I am grateful for NOT having to lick stamps.  Imagine that there are generations of people growing up who never had to lick a stamp.  So yucky!

If I don’t see you for some time, I’ll just assume that you and your car have been swallowed up by the many potholes that emerge this time of year.

Doesn’t it seem that your car drives better when you get it washed?

I will drive out of my way to go to the post office in Belle Mead because the man at the counter there (where there are all of two windows) is always so pleasant to the customers.  He has a smile on his face, enjoys helping people and knows his job.  In comparison, the people who work at the post office in Hillsborough are surly and seem to resent working there.  So I will continue to do my postal business down the road, where they are happy to see me.

On the downside, have you looked for a mailbox lately?  I walk all around Hillsborough and there is not a single mailbox on any of my routes.  I don’t really like leaving mail in my mailbox for the carrier to pick up, so the only alternative is a trip to the post office. Beside the surly employees, the local post office doesn’t open until 10AM, so you have to cram your outgoing mail into the box outside the office, which, during the holiday season, is next to impossible.  Whatever happened to mailboxes anyway?  I guess this is just another example of “self-service” that we have to experience.  At the supermarket, you can find a shorter line if you are willing to scan, pack and pay for your items yourself.  Yet they have expanded the selection of foods that are already cut and ready to be cooked, like broccoli florets, sweet potatoes and even apples.  I guess the time we spend as our own cashiers is counter-balanced by the shortcuts in the kitchen, for which we pay dearly.

The sign entering Hillsborough should read:  Welcome to Hillsborough, the Land of Dead Deer.  Between walking around town and driving, I see them all over.  As the kid in the movie “The Sixth Sense” says:  I see dead deer.  Or something like that.

My arms are too short – not only to box with God, but to reach the cylinder at the bank drive-through window.  I have to take off my seatbelt, open the window AND the door of the car and reach out to grab it.  My arms are just too short.

Raise your hand if you thought Brian Wilson would be the last surviving Wilson brother from the Beach Boys.  Yeah, me, neither.

Every now and then I get a card from the local chapter of the Society for Financial Awareness, which goes by the acronym “SOFA.”  I see the postcard and immediately want to take a nap.  Of course, that’s not quite as funny as a store that sells sofas called “Sofa King.”  Go ahead – say it out loud and fast.  You’ll get it, I hope.

It’s funny how we associate certain smells with certain times of our lives or certain events.  To me, every hospital smells the same, and the memory is never a good one.  To this day, I can walk into a candy store/newsstand and smell the newspaper and the candy.  I have to try to get out without reverting to really old habits, which involve buying comic books (Superman in my youth) and Hershey bars. That smell just brings it all back.  And remember the smell of a luncheonette?  It’s all about the burgers, French fries and fountain sodas.  Yum.

Here’s how I assess my mental acuity:  I try to sing all of the lyrics to The Association’s song “Along Comes Mary.”  If I even come close, I figure I still have a decent memory – at least a long-term one.  Don’t ask me what I had for dinner on Tuesday.

Shouldn’t the expression “put on your shoes and socks” be, “put on your socks and shoes?”  After all, you have to put the socks on first, right?

I don’t know what bothers me more – finding spacing problems on this blog because I use the customary two spaces between sentences or trying to eliminate those spacing issues by using only one space.  It must be the latter, because I just cannot bring myself to stop using two spaces between sentences.  Can’t.  Do.  It.

In writing this blog, I never know when a random thought will occur to me.  Since I am afraid I will forget one of these gems, if I think of something while driving, I call my home phone and leave myself a message so I can write it down when I get there.  Then I come home and see the message light blinking and I think, “I wonder who called.”

Sometimes I put my left earbud in my right ear and I don’t bother to switch.  The music sounds the same in either ear.  Call me a rebel.

What’s the point of contractions anyway?  Look, if you use “can’t” instead of cannot, it’s not like you save a whole bunch of space, right?  I don’t get it.  Get it?

At the holidays, I baked cookies, a noteworthy event for me, and I was questioned by the doubters about whether they were “from scratch.”  That led me to wonder how that phrase came about.  Anyway, I opened a box, added required ingredients and put them in my oven.  All of that constitutes “homemade” to me, whatever “scratch” may be.

I’ve probably mentioned this before, but I just don’t understand lint.  I clean the lint trap faithfully, but the towels always look the same once they are laundered, so what causes lint and does it affect wear?  I know you need to get rid of it, but is it what really holds material together?  I need to consult with Dr. Sheldon Cooper and the bunch from “Big Bang Theory” to see if they have a “Lots of Lint” theory.

Irony is buying one of those fitness devices and then spending so much time trying to figure out how to work it that you don’t have time to exercise.

Phew!  I was worried when Dr. Oz stopped e-mailing me on a daily basis about his fat buster product, but he must have been on a break because he’s contacting me again.  But as for 21-year old Adriana who wants me to look her up on Facebook and contacts me nearly daily, I have this message:  Trust me when I tell you that I am not even remotely interested.

It is truly amazing how many grocery bags, gym bags, etc., that I can carry into the house at one time just so I can make one trip.  I’ll spend five minutes organizing it all so I can carry every package, bag, the mail, the newspaper and my purse at once.  I don’t care if it weighs 50 pounds or if I look like a Sherpa.  One trip is all I’ll make.

On the question of liquid laundry detergent vs. those drop-in “pods” (did someone actually have a question on this topic?  No, just me.), I never believed the label on the liquid that said the bottle was good for 32 loads.  At least with the pods you know exactly how many loads you’ll get since it is one pod for every load, unless you roll around in the mud a lot.  I also never bought into the myth of number of servings on the carton of ice cream, either.  If you buy ice cream on a stick, you’ll know exactly what you’re getting.  And try to stick to the recommended dose!

I just replaced my old Samsung Galaxy tablet with a new, 10-inch model, which resembles an iPad but keeps me in the Android family.  Verizon was running a buy-one, get-one sale, so I also picked up a 7” model.  Between the two tablets and my sSmartphone, and my two laptop computers, don’t expect to hear from me for a while.  I have plenty of loading and updating in my future.  Since each one has its own placement of on/off switches and controls, I am about out of control trying to hit all of the right buttons.  You can find me in the near future at some sort of facility for the technologically overloaded.

I was in Chicago recently during the time change.  Since I couldn’t get the clock on my Garmin Vivo fitness device to change, I stayed on New Jersey time until we came home, and then I had to set that clock ahead by one hour for daylight savings time, which made me lose two hours body time.  At least I think so.

Do you experience this problem in hotel rooms?  The housekeeping staff makes up the bed so tightly that my feet feel like they are in a strait jacket.  You have to deconstruct the blankets and sheets just to get into bed.  The opposite of this phenomenon is when characters in TV shows and movies are shown in bed.  They routinely grab all of the covers off the bed to go into the bathroom, ostensibly being modest but practically speaking to prevent the viewing audience from seeing them unclothed. Seriously, if someone did that to my bed and I had to remake the bed, I’d kick them out of bed for the foreseeable future.  Unless they changed the sheets for me.  I never see that happen on TV or in the movies.

I still have (and frequently use) my original set of Corning Wear containers that I got when I moved into my first apartment in 1975.  I have the garden design ones, not the original blue designed ones, and I’m trying to remember if I even owned a microwave at the time I got them, because that is how they are used now.

Here’s a generalization for you:  Nothing in an infomercial or “Seen on TV” product ever works as well in your house as it did on the commercial.  I can attest to that fact by virtue of my experience with a pasta maker, the Slap Chop, the Pocket Hose and others, though I will admit that my first such purchase, the Berner V-Slicer, is definitely sharp and effective (I almost sliced off the top of my finger once and had to go to the emergency room).  Now I keep seeing the Flex Seal, which supposedly can be used to seal the holes in a boat.  Not that I have a boat, mind you, but I am just skeptical of its ability to apply as neatly as shown on TV and especially in its ability to really prevent leaking.  Let’s just say that I wouldn’t try out the demonstration in the commercial, where the pitchman is in a boat with a screen door that has been sealed.

Lately I have rediscovered the joys of the much underrated TV sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.”  The characters – Jennifer, Mr. Carlson, Andy Travis, Venus Flytrap, Herb Tarlick, Les Nessman, Bailey Quarters and Johnny Fever – are funny, interesting and consistently entertaining.  And oh, those 80s hairdos!

I’ve noticed lately that stopping at a red light appears to have become optional for many people.  Drivers don’t even bother to slow down in some cases.  They aren’t trying to beat the red light.  They just ignore it.  Please be careful and don’t assume that just because you have the green light that the lunatic coming the other way will stop because his light is red.  Let’s be careful out there, people.