Saturday, September 29, 2012

Not-so-happy endings

What’s with this new fad of ending books and movies suddenly, with no warning?
In the last week, I read “Gone Girl,” a riveting mystery that ended when the author apparently got writer’s cramp … went to the theater to see The Master which inexplicably ended the way it started because the screenwriter/ director, Paul Thomas Anderson, had written himself into a corner from which he couldn’t escape, as he did five years ago with There Will Be Blood …. and tonight on pay-per-view we watched Arbitrage, the much ballyhooed new movie starring Richard Gere and Susan Sarandon. Just as I was wondering how Gere, a Madoff-like character, was going to extricate himself from the latest pickle in which he found himself, the credits started rolling.

It’s maddening and, if you ask me, it

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Movie Review: The Master

So, you’ve read about The Master, the hot new movie supposedly inspired by the life of Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard, which won awards out the wazoo at the Venice Film Festival, has garnered rave reviews, and is apparently going to earn Oscars for its all-star cast that includes Joaquin Phoenix, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Amy Adams and Laura Dern. You are thinking about going to see it since you love movies but have no interest in 99 percent of the formulaic crap Hollywood churns out that targets people with the IQ of deer ticks but this sounds intelligent, like something you might enjoy.

Save your $11, stay home and watch Here Comes Honey Boo Boo re-runs instead. The Master is that bad. Pretentious. Self-indulgent. Nonsensical. I can’t imagine how the script  -- if there was one – must have read, or why anyone at the studio signed off on it.

Here’s the plot:

Phoenix, who mumbles, rendering many of his lines unintelligible, which is probably a blessing, is an alcoholic sailor stationed in the Pacific during the final days of WWII. His sailor buddies build a sand sculpture of a nude woman. Phoenix has simulated sex with it then masturbates on the beach. 

The war ends. Phoenix celebrates by ingesting a cocktail made from torpedo fuel. (Other ingredients from which he makes cocktails during the movie include paint thinner, photo developing fluid and Lysol.) During his separation interview, he identifies inkblots as sex organs so he’s sent to a military hospital, after which he becomes a department store photographer. He shares one of his signature cocktails with a model who shows him her boobs, gets in a fight with a customer, runs out of the store and becomes a cabbage picker.

A fellow picker dies after drinking one of his concoctions, so he runs away and hops on a ship docked in San Francisco that, unbeknownst to him, has been chartered by Hoffman, the Hubbard character. Hoffman likes Phoenix’s cocktails, and hires him to crew the boat, which is sailing to New York where Hoffman is going to put on a demonstration of his religion to a group of bored society folks.

In New York, one of the society people makes fun of Hoffman. Phoenix visits the guy’s apartment and beats – maybe kills – him. We never find out. Phoenix may have revealed what happened but, like I said, he mumbles.

The road shows travels to Philly for another demonstration at the home of Dern. Hoffman makes Phoenix walk back and back between the wall and window of a dining room for days as cult members watch. Hoffman is arrested for fraud. Phoenix goes bat shit trying to prevent the police from taking him away and winds up in an adjacent cell.

They then move to Phoenix (Arizona, not Joaquin) where Hoffman introduces phase II of his new religion, parts of which contradict phase I. 

Phoenix goes to Boston to find a girl he once dated but learns she has married. Hoffman tracks Phoenix down and begs him to return. Phoenix and Hoffman reconnect in London. Hoffman’s wife, Adams, who was pregnant in earlier scenes but isn’t any more, informs Phoenix he shouldn’t stay unless he is prepared to make a billion-year commitment. Hoffman sings “Slow Boat to China” and tears flow down Phoenix’s face as he realizes he will soon be collecting his paycheck because the idiotic movie is almost over and he doesn’t have to pretend it makes sense any more.

I recently read that Hollywood is having its worst box office year in 30 years.

Good. It’s creatively bankrupt. Might as well be financially bankrupt, too.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The redhead at the gym

I’m at the gym, rolling back and forth, back and forth, back and forth on the abcoaster, trying to regain the six-pack I never had, when a cute redhead comes up and says, “You look great for a man your age.”

“Thanks,” I reply, sucking in my gut.

“Do you mind if I ask how old you are?”

“Sixty. Sixty-one in November.”

“Oh,” she says, looking confused. “I was thinking you’re my father’s age.”

“How old is he?” I ask.


En route home, I stop at CVS, buy a Halloween-sized bag of Butterfingers and eat all 17 mini bars before I get out of the parking lot.

Give me one reason why I shouldn’t have.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Delores Suarez de Fernandez's world-famous chicken tortilla soup

If I were in Florida, I could have asked Marie, my neighbor who is a professional chef and food stylist, to make this look nice-nice for my readers. But I'm not and, frankly, this photo, which I took myself, makes my tortilla soup look like something one of our dachshunds regurgitated. You'll have to take my word that it is idiot-proof and tastes great. 

Last night was so cold we turned on the heat. All day today the sky was gray with intermittent drizzle and gusty winds that slapped the leaves around, leaving them looking stunned, as if they know their summer gig is over. 

In short, perfect weather to make my world-famous chicken tortilla soup.

I love to cook. Problem is, I’m not very good at it. Most recipes I attempt turn out badly. There are only three dishes I don’t muck up -- beef stew, chili and the aforementioned tortilla soup.

I should tell you this recipe was revealed to me by Dolores Suarez de Fernandez, my beloved childhood nanny who, as she had always promised she would when her time came, asked me to come close and whispered it in my ear moments before she drew her last breath. 

But I can't. I stole it out of one my wife’s Southern Living cookbooks and, over the years, have made a few refinements. Anyway, this one is a keeper, perfect for the cold days to come. And it's idiot-proof. Even people who read can make it.

                             Delores's World-Famous Chicken Tortilla Soup

4 chicken breasts, boiled and chopped. (Or, if you're lazy, cut up a rotisserie chicken)

1 large onion, chopped up

2 (14.5 oz) cans of chicken broth

2 (14.5 oz) cans stewed tomatoes

1 can Rotel tomatoes (any variety)

1 (16 oz) jar of salsa (whatever’s on sale)

1 can Campbell’s Cream of Chicken soup

1 tablespoon chili power

1 teaspoon garlic powder

1 teaspoon cumin

1 small zucchini, chopped

Fistful of chopped cilantro (optional, but a nice authentic touch)
Boil chicken broth and chopped onion in a large pot for five minutes. Stir in everything but the zucchini and cilantro, and bring to boil. Simmer 30 minutes.

Add chopped zucchini and cilantro, and simmer for 10 more minutes or until zucchini is tender.

Serve in bowls topped with shredded Monterrey Jack cheese and Fritos. (The original recipe recommends you slice tortillas into strips and fry them up but why bother? Fritos are better.)

Friday, September 14, 2012

How old would Honey be?

I’m listening to an oldies radio station when Bobby Goldsboro’s “Honey”, a 1968 chart-topper in which a sadist relates the horrific tale of his dysfunctional marriage and his wife’s tragic death, starts playing.

If you’re unfamiliar with it, here’s a synopsis: Cruel husband laughs at wife, “Honey,” for planting a twig in the yard. He laughs again when she slips and almost splits her head open while running out to brush snow from the twig, which has miraculously taken root. Calling her simple-minded (“kinda dumb and kinda smart”), he buys Honey a puppy, but then complains when the dog keeps him awake on Christmas Eve. Not surprisingly, he often finds Honey crying “needlessly.” She claims she’s crying because of some sappy TV movie but anyone can see it's because she’s trapped in an abusive marriage. She wrecks the car (probably while trying to get away) and is terrified he will erupt but, uncharacteristically, he lets it go. (Poor Honey never knows from one day to the next how the monster she married will react.) One day he comes home “unexpectedly” and finds her weeping yet again and with good reason. She’s dying, but he makes no effort to comfort her.

Now, here comes the most disturbing part:

“One day when I was not at home,
When she was there and all alone,
The angels came.
Now all I have is (sic) memories ….”

Where shall I begin?

For starters, why wasn’t Honey in a hospital or hospice?

Why would anyone leave a terminal patient at home and go out? Where’d he go? To Walgreen’s for drugs to relieve her suffering? To the corner bar to watch a game with his buddies? To a Nixon campaign rally? (Remember, this was 1968.) To work? Surely his employer would have understood if he called and said, “Look, I’m not coming in today. Honey’s dying.”

If he had to be gone, why didn’t he at least call someone to be with her at the end – a nurse or minister perhaps? And where was Honey’s family? Had he cut her off from all contact? I can’t imagine her parents or siblings wouldn’t have come if he had told them how ill she was.

Who, exactly, was Goldsboro referring to when he sang, “the angels came?”  The Guardian Angels?  The California Angels infield? The Hells Angels, bringing chains to beat her and put her out of her misery once and for all?

And what did he do when he arrived home and found “the angels came?” Cradle her lifeless body in his arms and weep? Call 9-1-1?  Plop down in front of the TV to watch Gomer Pyle USMC? Maybe she wasn't dead yet -- he's not a doctor, he's a performer -- and he could have saved her, but he doesn't think it's important enough to tell us.

What’s more disturbing than the song itself is why, 44 years ago when it was released, people didn’t demand that Goldsboro be jailed for spousal abuse. Instead, they went out and bought the record, making him rich, which encouraged him to record another maudlin song about an ill-fated marriage, “The Autumn of My Life.”

Realistically, I guess people didn’t know better back then. There was no Dr. Phil telling women how to get out of abusive relationships.

It’s a shame, a crying shame, because Honey would be alive today had she lived in more enlightened times and Goldsboro, who makes Drew Peterson look like "Husband of the Year," would be in jail where he belongs.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Hate Comcast? Tell me about it. I'm writing a book. And you're writing it with me.

If, as Mitt Romney once said, corporations are people, then there's a special place in hell reserved for Comcast, the cable tv company.

It occurred to me today, after my latest experience, that I could write a book detailing my five miserable years as a Comcast subscriber. I could write about the incompetent customer service. About the products that haven't worked – Comcast long distance, Internet, high-definition TV and pay-per-view. About the time I called the 800 number after a frustrating experience in which nobody was able to help, pushed option 4 to disconnect my service, and was connected to a helpful representative who, to my amazement, actually solved the problem. "Whenever you call, always push option 4," he advised. "Comcast directs those calls to its brightest and most knowledgeable reps to try and prevent you from leaving."
I could write, probably, a dozen lengthy chapters.

Then inspiration struck. Why not invite you, my readers, to contribute chapters in which you share your own Comcast customer service horror stories? The best will be compiled into an ebook that will be featured on reaching, potentially, millions of readers. Comcast subscribers tend to read a lot because their cable is often out.

I am confident that hundreds – probably thousands -- of Comcast's victims would enjoy publicly sticking it to the company that year after year, is ranked by its customers as one of America's very worst companies, yet runs commercials proclaiming it guarantees customer satisfaction. 

Not that I am able to see Comcast commercials or, for that matter, anything on my TV any more. 

After being out of town for three months, I returned home Monday, September 4. The cable wasn't working. I called Comcast. The rep said someone would come between 1 and 3 on Wednesday. Lo and behind, the guy showed up. After an hour or so, he announced he couldn’t fix the problem, but that another technician who could, would be coming by that same day. He handed me his supervisor's business card and advised me to call him if I experienced any further problems.

When the second guy arrived, he couldn’t fix it either, but promised that a third technician would be out on Thursday.

After waiting until 2 that afternoon, I called the supervisor whose card I had been given. An automated voice announced his voice mailbox was full and I couldn’t leave a message. So I called 1-800-COMCAST. After listening to a menu of options, I finally reached a human. I explained I was calling to find out when the technician was going to arrive. 

“September 25,” she replied. That’s 22 days from the date I reported the problem.

“You're saying I’m not going to have TV for three weeks?” I asked incredulously. She said that was the earliest they could get to it.

Comcast has no incentive to provide any service at all, much less responsive service. It is, after all, the only cable company in town.

I’m sure you are wondering why, if I hate Comcast so much, I keep it. The answer is, because I live in a planned development of 3,000 homes. My fellow residents and I pay for basic Comcast cable tv service in our yearly assessments. Comcast, in return for the community signing a bulk agreement, provides us with a dedicated channel detailing the many exciting activities and events of which we can avail ourselves.

Even if I had the ability to learn about these events on my TV, which I don't, I wouldn't be able to attend them because I’d be waiting for someone from Comcast to pick up the phone or show up at my door.

Mercifully, our community has other options for telephone and Internet service but when it comes to cable tv, Comcast is the one and only.

I have lots of other Comcast stories but I'm saving those for the book. And I look forward to receiving and reviewing your Comcast horror stories, too. You can email them to me. The address is 

If you're not a Comcast customer, please forward this to people you know who are … and post a link to this blog on your Facebook page so as many Comcast subscribers as possible will see it and respond. With your help, my request will go viral and the book will become a best-seller. Those of you who know me recognize I am being serious here ... and you know I have the ability to make this happen.

I have no clue whether our book will make a whit of difference in Comcast's service. Probably not.

But it will sure feel great to make the bastards squirm.  

Living in the land of the free

It's almost closing time at my local Publix supermarket. The woman ahead of me in the only open checkout line has a cart full of purchases – cereals, milk, meat, pasta, foil, frozen foods, canned goods, paper towels, cleaning supplies. The cashier scans them and announces the total. “That comes to $112.25.” 

The woman hands over a fistful of coupons. Some are from Target – Publix accepts competitors' coupons -- and can’t be scanned, so the cashier has to enter the numbers manually.

The shopper, an Hispanic woman in her thirties, says nothing. She simply stares ahead toward the front of the store, as if she is afraid the cashier is going to say something that will draw attention to what is taking place.

I'm annoyed at the delay, but then get into it as I watch the value of the coupons being deducted from the total. It’s clear it’s going to be close. Ten minutes later the cashier calls the manager over to confer. The manager confirms the total, and tells the cashier to pay the shopper 99 cents.

“Good for you!” I tell the woman. She smiles shyly. “Gracias,” she replies. She takes the 99 cents, and wheels her cart full of free purchases out of the store.

“I’ve been doing this 20 years and I’ve never seen anything quite like that,” the cashier says admiringly after the woman has exited. 

As I drive out of the parking lot, the woman is loading her bags into a beat-up mini van. 


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Don't send a man to the supermarket

Friends are always emailing links to videos they find interesting or amusing or that promote their political point of view. Most of the time, I delete without reading them. For some reason I clicked on the one (above) I received today. It’s clean, no politics, just friggin’ hilarious. Male readers, I must warn you it’s yet one more example of how women bash us, but he's redeemed at the end. Enjoy.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

An important message for those who think the media is too liberal

There is a great deal of talk these days about whether the U.S. media is too liberal. As editorial director of, one of our nation’s most widely respected media properties, I’m here to tell you there is little if any bias in the vast majority of print, broadcast or online journalism.

All this controversy, which no intelligent person should pay attention to, is propagated by those weasels at Fox (Faux) News, fascist commentators like Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin, and by the editors of the National Review. These paid pimps for the party that brought you Herbert Hoover, Richard Nixon and Sarah/Bristol Palin, hate our president because he is an African-American who dared venture into their white bread world. The fact that their party has nominated for president a member of a church that, until 1978, wouldn’t ordain African-American men as priests, proves it.

The venom these so-called “journalists” spewed during the 2010 election cycle in which the GOP seized control of the House of Representatives is the reason we lost the most effective Speaker of the House in American history – a woman who, unlike the current Speaker, has never spent as much as one minute in a tanning booth.

These bullies push for the continuation of tax breaks for the rich. They wrongfully assert that raising taxes on them will only pay a few days worth of interest on our national debt (thanks to George W. for that and I ain't talking about George Washington!) while undermining the recovery, a term they persist in using when everyone knows it took place several years ago. Why, those rich fat cats who outsourced union jobs to faraway countries wouldn’t even miss the trillions of incremental tax dollars they would be forced to fork over as their fair share for living in a land that made it possible for them to profit at the expense of the proletariat. OK, perhaps they would suffer a wee bit … if your idea of suffering is having to put regular gas in your Rolls or take the ferry to Nantucket instead of your corporate jet. A small price to pay to right our ship of state.

Those of whom I speak support the racist, expansionist state of Israel, claiming  (falsely) that it is our only ally in the Middle East. (What about Pennsylvania, which has stood by America in every struggle since 1776? Hello!) They fought against the affordable health care act, because they don’t want the poor, who tend to vote Democratic, to have access to life saving medicines. They want them to die when they get sick.

I’m not the only journalist who feels that all this hype about the media being too “liberal” is, as Harry Truman used to say, “hooey.”  I recently shared the dais at a forum held to discuss this very topic, sponsored by the Huffington Post, with Chris Matthews and the Rev. Al Sharpton of MSNBC, George Stephanopoulos of ABC News and Maureen Dowd of The New York Times, and these highly respected members of my profession concur with my assessment.

With the upcoming election – the most important in history -- at stake, I urge you not to listen to the numbling nabobs of negativism who are trying to paint a biased, racist picture of America for their own nefarious purposes. American journalism has never been more credible. Rest assured you can continue to believe everything you hear and read from the vast majority of print, broadcast and online media outlets (excluding the ones mentioned above which will hopefully be shut down once we win the election) including, as always,