Monday, May 26, 2014

100 hours of TV, pre-screened for your summer viewing pleasure

Commercial TV pretty much sucks, as I was reminded once again last night during the season finale of “Mad Men,” the critically-acclaimed show about a 1960s Madison Avenue advertising agency and the people who work for it.

Last night's episode took place in 1969, the night Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. A founder of the agency (played by Broadway star Robert Morse) dropped dead shortly after the moonwalk. The episode ended with his ghost performing a soft shoe routine while singing, “The Moon Belongs To Everyone, The Best Things in Life They’re Free” as main character Don Draper (Jon Hamm) watched misty-eyed, trying his best to convince viewers he was finding profound meaning in Morse’s performance.

My dachshunds could have come up with a more convincing ending.  

So, now that summer is officially here and all those God-awful series that weren’t worth watching in the first place are in re-runs, what's there to watch on TV?

Here’s my suggestion: Netflix Streaming Video. For $8.99 a month, you can choose from hundreds of foreign and American movies, plus dozens of TV series from around the globe. Non-English programming is subtitled -- helpful if you, like me, are hard of hearing and are missing half the dialogue in the programs you watch anyway.

If you don’t yet have Netflix, do not be intimidated by streaming video technology. All you need is wireless internet and a cheap ($50 or less) device any moron can easily hook up to his or her TV. (Trust me. If I can do it, you can, too.) All TV programming will be delivered via streaming video in a few years so you might as well adapt now.

Here are some recent Netflix streaming favorites, pre-screened for your viewing pleasure. Some are series, so you can binge-watch two, three or, on rainy days when you can’t go out and play, eight or nine episodes back-to-back.

The Great Train Robbery: This 2013 two-part BBC movie is about the 1963 robbery of a Glasgow-to-London mail train that captivated Britain like no crime before or since. Part I follows the perpetrators as they plan and execute the robbery, which netted them £2,100,000 in small bills. Part II is the story of the Scotland Yard detective who obsessively led his men on a quest to chase them down. It’s well-acted, intelligent and, best of all, true. (Truth is stranger than fiction, you know.) You will need to turn on closed captions for Part I because the South London working class accents of the gang are, to this American at least, unintelligible. (3 hours.)

Mother of Mine: You may not think of Finland as a major WWII battleground because American troops didn’t fight there, but it was -- the Soviets and Nazis went at each other, leaving the country in tatters. To keep them out of harm’s way more than 70,000 Finnish children were shipped to other countries, mostly to neighboring Sweden, to live with host families for the war’s duration.

The movie is the story of a Finnish boy who came to stay with a Swedish farm couple still reeling from the recent drowning of their only child. The farm wife is played to perfection by Maria Lundqvist, an actress generally known for her comedic roles. You, of course, have never heard of Lundqvist and I am only mentioning her name to make you feel inferior, as if you should know who she is when, in fact, I had never heard of her either until I saw this movie but I looked her up on Wikipedia and this is my blog so I can drop names if I want.

Lundqvist’s character takes out her grief on the boy whose mother, from Finland, eventually writes that she has fallen in love with a German soldier and plans to move to Germany after the war ends. The boy’s mother informs the Swedes they can keep her son. Something then happens you won’t expect.  

My wife got teary-eyed at the end, a sure sign of a good movie. (2 hours.)

Air Disasters: As long as one doesn’t fall from the sky with any of my family or friends on board, I’m into plane crashes big-time.

This series of Canadian-made documentaries examines 10 of the world’s most infamous disasters -- the Turkish Airlines DC-10 that killed nearly 300 when a cargo door blew off over France, the Air India 747 that exploded off the Irish coast because of a bomb planted by Sikh terrorists, the South African Airways 747 whose cargo caught fire over the Indian Ocean, etc., and investigators’ frustrations as they painstakingly try to determine what went wrong. Every episode includes re-enactments – pilots screaming “mayday” and the terror of doomed passengers as the plane plummets. (Macabre, I know, but don’t claim you haven’t wondered what it would be like because we all have.)

My favorite episode (nobody was killed) involved a shiny new Air Canada 767 that, due to a ground crew error, ran out of fuel in the middle of nowhere and the pilot was miraculously able to set the jumbo, which was flying without hydraulics, down on a racetrack. For air crash geeks only. (10 one-hour episodes.)

You Will Be My Son:  Philes, both oeno- and Franco-, will love this French thriller about an aristocratic winery owner who chooses as his successor the son of his overseer rather than his own well-meaning geek (there’s that word again) son, with unpleasant consequences. Uncork a bottle of Bordeaux and drink in the well-crafted plot, breathtaking scenery and the suspense, which builds from scene to scene. From the get-go you know this isn’t going to end well. Whose body is in that coffin being consumed by flames in the crematorium at the beginning of the movie? You aren't going to hear it from me. (2 hours.)

The Sea Inside: This Spanish movie, based on the true story of a quadriplegic who went to court for the right to end his own life, stars Javier Bardem, an actor who has made some questionable career decisions but not when he accepted this role. Shot in Galicia, the sliver of Spain directly north of Portugal, it is a darn-near perfect movie, a celebration of life and, surprisingly, death. Not to sound trite – OK, I’ll sound trite – this movie will stay with you a long, long time. 

We saw it at our local art movie theater when it came out in 2004. As the closing credits rolled there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. I’ve watched it twice since on Netflix but my wife can’t bear to. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Kimberly-Clark, which makes Kleenex, underwrote the production. (2 hours.)

Orange is the New Black: The storyline of this black comedy that sometimes takes serious turns can be summed up in five words – Private Benjamin goes to jail. An educated young woman from an affluent family is sentenced to hard time in a Federal women’s prison for drug smuggling in this original Netflix series that premiered last year. What the series does well is toe a careful line between making you feel sorry for the inmates as you learn their stories, and reminding you that these women deserve to be where they are. Taylor Schilling as Piper, the hapless inmate from whose point of view the story is told, is especially appealing and likable. Season II – 13 new episodes – will be available for your binge-watching pleasure on June 6. (26 one-hour episodes.)

Jobs: Generally panned by critics when it was released last year, this movie stars Ashton Kutcher as Apple founder Steve Jobs. So, whom do you trust? The critics or America’s only objective journalist?

It’s a good movie, not a great one, and Kutcher does a more-than-credible job portraying Jobs as what he was -- a socially awkward, immature, meglomanical, prone-to-depression perfectionist who was devastated when he was fired by his own board of directors and took perverse pleasure in jettisoning them years later when he was wooed back to save the company. (2 hours.)

Wallander: Based on Henning Mankel’s novels (not that I’ve read any but critics always imply they are familiar with the source) about a brooding Swedish detective who goes around solving heinous and often out-and-out bizarre crimes, there are two series by this name on Netflix –one from the BBC, the other from Swedish television.  Both were shot in Sweden. The BBC version starring Kenneth Branagh as the title character, is, for my dime, better than the Swedish version. For starters, it’s in English so no subtitles are needed. It’s also faster-paced, a bit glitzier, and the cinematography is incredible. It will make you want to visit Sweden or, at the very least, buy a Volvo. (9 hour-and-a-half episodes.)

Spiral: I’ve saved the best for last. This French attorney/judge/cop series will suck you in and keep you awake at night, dissecting what you just saw and looking forward to another evening of binge-watching. Intricate story lines cross then double-cross, the acting is extraordinary and -- a bonus that might enable you to sound intelligent should you ever find yourself deep in conversation with a French law enforcement official -- you’ll learn about the French justice system. It resembles ours in many ways but is decidedly different. For instance, French judges often become involved in cases before any arrests are made and the cops, once they arrest a suspect, can beat the s---t out of him to extract a confession. Not necessarily a bad idea if you ask me but most Americans would probably disagree.

Caroline Proust, as Police Captain Laure Berthaud, is incredible. She is, despite her tough exterior, deeply flawed, vulnerable and utterly human and for that reason you want to give her a hug and tell her everything will be OK. (I’m sounding like one of those effete critics again —forgive me.)

If you liked "The Wire" and/or "Breaking Bad," you will love "Spiral." It’s better. Really. (40 episodes, each approximately one hour.)

Enjoy your summer viewing.

You can thank me later. (And you will.)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Purple heart

My cousin Nancy displays in her home a framed, hand-tinted photograph of a handsome young man, her brother, James Timmerberg, who was killed in Korea in April, 1951. Jimmy was 21 years old. Next to the frame is a medal, the Purple Heart he was awarded posthumously.

As we prepare to observe Memorial Day, I would like to share with you a poem Nancy’s 16-year-old grandson, Colin Scott, wrote for a high school English assignment.
The purple heart

I duck and dodge as bullets fly
And watch men clutch their wounds and die.
In midst of guns, and bombs, and knives
Fifty men fight for their lives.

Shots echo through the mountain pass
The enemy has come at last.
Men run for cover, grab their guns.
A man screams: “Die Americans.”

This angers me. I turn to shoot,
A frag grenade rolls by my boots.
I run to safety, flee the boom,
I feel my impending doom.

My men are dying, dead or gone.
This mission’s going very wrong.
Then suddenly I wince and cry,
I fall back and stare at the sky.

Now I succumb to pain and gore,
And die in the forgotten war.
I then feel comfort, angels sing,
As happy death heals burning sting.

Then we travel, past the fray
All the way to present day.
In a tall house very far away,
Away from where the men were slain.

Across the house, down the hall
A boy takes something off the wall.
My great-nephew jumps with a start
And stares into my purple heart.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Tommy and his Reading Circle Certificate

The second grade class at Auxvasse School, 1958-59,
the year Tommy Dryden (second row, second from left)
finally earned his coveted Reading Circle Certificate.
Parents of students at the Archie R. Cole middle school in tony East Greenwich, RI were stunned to receive a letter last weekend announcing that the school’s annual awards ceremony, an event during which high-achieving students have traditionally received recognition in front of their peers and parents for their hard work, was canceled.

The school’s principal, Alexis Meyer, wrote, “Members of the school community have long expressed concerns relating to the exclusive (my italics) nature of Honors Night.” She went on to say it was decided instead to recognize students during a “team-based” recognition ceremony that will be more inclusive and make everyone feel special. “This will afford us the opportunity to celebrate the individual and collaborative successes of all students and their effort, progress and excellence. Additionally, our Cole Varsity athletes will receive their trophies and medals at an after school ceremony.”

Ms Meyer is probably too busy attending political correctness and inclusiveness seminars at taxpayer expense but, if she can spare the time, here’s a true story I hope she will read.

When I started first grade in tiny (not tony) Auxvasse, Mo., in 1957, I was five years old -- decidedly less mature than my classmates, most of whom had already turned six. I spent more time trying to amuse my fellow pupils than applying myself to the lessons our teacher, Mrs. McCune, was teaching.

The state of Missouri at that time awarded “Reading Circle Certificates” to schoolchildren who read a certain number of books and turned in written reports on them -- ten books in first grade, twelve in the second grade, etc.

Because I was too busy clowning around, I only read nine during the first grade – one short of the number needed to earn a Reading Circle Certificate. At the end-of-the-year assembly, when the names of my classmates who had read the required ten books were announced – the majority of the class if I remember correctly and, believe me, I do – and they were called up on stage to receive their certificates, I was devastated. It was the worst disappointment of my young life.

The next year I made sure I read more than enough books to qualify for a certificate, and went on to earn certificates every school year up to the eighth grade when the program ended. By that time, I was an avid reader, which was, of course, the purpose of the program in the first place.

I continued to read books for fun throughout high school, college, early marriage, parenthood and today, as a new grandpa, I still read an average of two books a week. In the last five days I’ve read “The Party’s Over” by former Florida governor Charlie Crist who whines that he had to leave the GOP, claiming it was hijacked by the extreme right when, in fact, he left because a candidate who better represented the views of mainstream Floridians presented himself when Crist decided to run for Senate and his only possible hope of winning was to run as an Independent. I also read “What Happened to Goldman Sachs: An Insider’s Story of Organizational Drift and its Unintended Consequences,” by a former Goldman employee who details how the world’s largest investment bank came to have no soul but hundreds of billions of dollars.

The week before I read “The Nazi Officer’s Wife,” an obscure autobiography by a Vienna-raised Jewish law student who, during WWII, avoided deportation to a concentration camp and almost certain death by posing as a gentile, and wound up marrying a Nazi officer and having his child. I also read Michael Lewis’ latest best-seller “The Flash Boys," which explains how the big Wall Street banks and hedge funds screw the rest of us by investing in technology that enables them to know, a nano-second before a "buy" trade is placed, how much the buyer is planning to offer so they can scoop up the shares and raise the price.

I tend to prefer non-fiction because, as they say, truth is stranger than. 

All that reading has served me well. The ability to pick up a book (or Kindle) and lose myself in it has seen me through bad times, providing a means of escape from any troubles I might be having, and has made good times, beach vacations in particular, even more pleasurable. I plan to continue reading right up to the day the Grim Reaper comes to take me away. I hope he’ll say OK when I ask if he can wait a minute until I finish the chapter I’m reading.

My love of reading is directly attributable to recognition I didn’t receive as a first grader at an Honors Ceremony not unlike the one that was canceled in Rhode Island. I wish the State of Missouri had awarded certificates to kids who achieved certain physical goals because I’ve never been much of an athlete. I would have made sure I won one every year and – who knows? -- might have been a jock instead of the manager of my high school’s basketball team who got to hand out towels to those who worked harder and were more motivated to succeed in athletic endeavors than I.

Recognition and awards matter  ... especially to kids. Not everyone can earn a varsity letter or a trophy for performing or a scholarship for academic achievement or whatever it is kids set their sights upon these days. But the possibility of earning an award – even one that’s nothing more than a piece of 8.5" x 11" photocopied paper, as the Reading Circle Certificate was – can motivate some children to go for it and, in so doing, can open a new world for them. Not every child who sets a goal of winning an award will earn one. That’s life. The sooner a kid learns that lesson, as I did in first grade, the better. If you want something, you have to work for it. (Unless, of course, you land a job at Goldman Sachs in which case you get millions just for showing up.)

Following unfavorable media stories instigated by outraged parents, the administrators at the Archie Cole school in Rhode Island have now decided to reinstate Honors Night.

Presumably Alexis Meyer will preside but my guess is she’ll resent those who earn awards and her bleeding heart will ache for those who don’t.


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Side effects may include ...

Here in southwest Florida where, according to the latest census, fully half the population is eligible for AARP membership, local TV stations rake in big bucks running commercials from pharmaceutical companies -- commercials that urge viewers to ask their doctors about the sponsors' products so the companies and the doctors they pay off to recommend those products can rake in mega profits from you, the taxpayer, in the form of Medicare reimbursements.

Viewers are bombarded by commercials for drugs that treat low bone density, diabetes, insomnia, erectile dysfunction, toenail fungus, psoriasis, dry eyes, dry vaginas, depression, memory loss, bi-polarity, overactive bladders, thin eyelashes, low estrogen, enlarged prostates, rosacea, high cholesterol, irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, COPD, macular degeneration, low testosterone and circadian rhythm disorders of the blind, among other maladies. I keep meaning to ask my doctor if any or all of them are right for me but then I forget. I probably need one of the memory loss drugs.

Many of the spots feature celebrity spokespeople, such as actress Blythe Danner, who hawks Prolia to strengthen bones, or golfer Phil Mickelson for Enbrel, an arthritis treatment. Big pharma wants viewers to believe the celebrities are sharing information out of the goodness of their hearts because they want others to benefit from the drugs that have helped them deal with whatever disease they may be suffering from.

What the spokespeople don’t reveal is how much they are being paid. All the millions they’re collecting would make anyone, even someone at death’s door, feel like a teenager again. For that kind of money, these celebrities could afford body transplants and get rid of whatever afflicts them once and for all.

What annoys me most about these commercials isn’t the celebrity spokespeople or being reminded I live among oldsters who probably take more drugs in one day than Janis Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix ingested during their lifetimes. It’s the side effects the FDA requires the drug makers to disclose. A celeb never talks about anything unpleasant that may result from taking the drugs he or she is promoting. That task is left to an unseen announcer who cheerfully rattles off a list of side effects that would scare the shit out of anyone in their right mind as the camera follows the celebrity going about his or her upscale celebrity life.

A typical commercial goes something like this.

Celebrity, speaking earnestly to camera:
“Hi, I’m (imagine your favorite 40 or older celebrity). For years I suffered from (disease or condition), but not any more. Now I take (drug name). Just one (pill/shot/patch) and I’m good to go for up to (a time period ranging from 12 hours to six months).”

Cut to quick shots of celebrity reading to children, playing croquet, dining with friends of all races, accepting a trophy and walking on a beach with a Golden Retriever as the announcer reveals side effects:

“May cause uncontrollable, barely controllable or somewhat controllable diarrhea, gonorrhea, constipation, passive-aggressive behavior, depression, possession, and drooling. Do not take (drug name) with macaroni, minestrone, pepperoni, rigatoni, communion wine or fruitcake as doing so may cause you to experience painful intercourse or vote Republican. Anyone over 50 should consult their doctor before taking (drug name) which has been known to cause side effects including sudden death, slow insidious death, ear hair, nose hair, teeth hair, psychosis, cirrhosis, fibrosis, trichinosis and halitosis. If you are pregnant or nursing don’t take (drug name) because it’s for a condition that only afflicts people who remember Lindbergh's landing in Paris but the FDA requires us to say this.”

Celebrity on knees in garden, holding a plant:
"I may still have (disease or condition) but now I control it, it doesn’t control me. I’m so glad I asked my doctor about (drug name). You should ask your doctor, too.”

Celebrity turns away from the camera and sticks the plant in a hole as drug logo and packaging supers over.

Fade to black.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

How I went on Jeopardy with a hickey the size of Rhode Island and lost

Some guys live for the Super Bowl. Others for the Daytona 500. Or the World Series. 

Me? This is the week I've been waiting for – the final days of the two week-long Tournament of Champions on Jeopardy! which will conclude Friday night. (The exclamation mark is part of the show’s official name but I’ll drop it for the rest of this tale.) The best of the best Jeopardy champions of the last three decades are going head to head and the winner will take home a million bucks.

I’ve never been much of a jock or sports fan but I’ve been crazy about Jeopardy since it debuted in 1964 when I was 12. The show was hosted by Art Fleming back then. I was (and proudly remain) a nerd. As a boy, I read every volume of the World Book Encyclopedia cover-to-cover. For fun. So I knew a lot of the questions. (Jeopardy contestants are given the answers. They have to come up with the correct questions.)

I wrote away to be a contestant and received a nice letter informing me I was too young but thanking me for my interest. That version of the show disappeared sometime in the seventies.

But, one hot summer Sunday night in 1985, I was flipping through the channels and, lo and behold, there it was again – a reincarnated Jeopardy, hosted by Alex Trebek. Better yet, there was a commercial announcing that local tryouts were to be held the very next weekend in New Haven, a mere 45 minutes from my Connecticut home. I called first thing Monday and booked a slot.

Hundreds of wannabe contestants showed up for the tryout, which was held in an auditorium on the Yale campus and consisted of a 55-question general knowledge test. Most of my fellow contenders appeared to be Yalies. I assumed I was doomed. But luck was with me. Once the tests were graded, I was among the top 15 scorers invited to the stage to play a practice game using old-fashioned board game “clickers” to ring in.

The contestant coordinator informed the group he was aware that, between us, we had a lot of information inside our heads. That’s why we were invited to stay. He said that what he was really looking for at that point were contestants with personality. I knew then that I was golden because New Englanders tend to be reserved, making them come across as having no discernible personality whatsoever, so I turned on my country boy Missouri charm and, sure enough, was told I’d be getting a call.

The call came a few weeks later inviting me to a taping in LA two weeks hence, on a Monday. The coordinator said five shows were taped in one day and, since I was coming all the way from the east coast, he would be sure I was among the first three of that week’s contestants in case I won and went on to win four additional shows – there was a max of five wins per contestant back then  so I wouldn’t have to fly home then fly back.

My wife was pregnant and we had a two-year-old, so it was decided I’d fly to LA by myself.

The night before I was to leave our toddler, in his high chair, began crying during dinner. I took a clown that was affixed by a suction cup to the chair’s tray, stuck it in the middle of my forehead and finished the meal. He was so amused by the sight of daddy with a clown sticking out of his head that he forget whatever he was fussing about.

A few hours later my wife informed me I had a perfectly circular two-inch purple hickey in the middle of my forehead. The suction cup had broken some capillaries, releasing blood that formed the hickey. I said I was sure it would go away.

But it didn’t. I woke up in the middle of the night to find my wife holding a flashlight, examining the hickey. “It’s getting worse,” she said sadly.

The next morning the spot was, if anything, an even darker, nastier shade of purple. My wife went to a drugstore and bought a brand of make-up called “Erase” to disguise it and laid it on thick. By the time I arrived in LA, got to my hotel and washed the make-up off, the hickey was black.

Monday afternoon I presented myself at the Sony Studios and learned I was to be a contestant on the first of the five shows that were be taped that day.

The make-up artist thought it was hilarious when I told him the story of my hickey which, he hoped but wasn’t sure, he could disguise with enough pancake make-up so it wouldn’t show. He called Alex over and told him the story. Alex, too, thought it was hilarious and asked if I would be willing to talk about it during the “get acquainted with the contestant” section of the show. I said no but if I went on to be a five-time winner I’d be happy to discuss it during my final appearance.

During commercial breaks, the make-up artist lightly powdered the faces of Alex and the other two contestants. He applied pancake make-up to my forehead with a trowel as if he was laying bricks  make-up that melted under the hot studio lights and ran down my face in rivulets.

At halftime, I was in last place. But, by the end of Double Jeopardy, I was leading with $6,700 – as much as the other two players combined. The champion had earned $5,000. The other challenger had $1,700.

While I’ve always had a head for useless information, I’ve never pretended to be good at math. I can’t even handle basic arithmetic – that’s why I became a writer in the first place. I figured the champion would wager $5,000, so I did, too. It never occurred to me I could have wagered $3,301 and, if we both came up with the correct Final Jeopardy question and he bet his whole wad, still have won.

It didn’t matter. The Final Jeopardy category was “Pop Music.” The answer was, “Written as ‘Moritat,’ this song has been in the Billboard Top 40 longer and more often than any other song.”

If I had once known but forgotten the correct question, that would have been a tragedy. But I never knew it in the first place. I stood there like a zombie. The 30 seconds during which I could see out of the corner of my eye my fellow contestants writing down their answers as the Jeopardy theme song played was the longest 30 seconds of my life.

The correct question turned out to be the title of a song composed by Kurt Weill with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht. It was originally entitled “Die Moritat von Mackie Messer” and was written for their musical drama, “Die Dreigroschenoper," which premiered in Berlin in 1928. It debuted in America as "The Threepenny Opera."

"Opera" flopped in New York in 1933 after just 12 performances, due in large part to an awkward German-to-English translation of Moritat’s lyrics, that went something like this:

And the shark it has teeth
And it wears them in the face.
And Macheath, he has a knife
But the knife can’t be seen.

It wasn’t until 1954, when lyricist Marc Blitzstein re-translated the lyrics for a new production, that the song became a bona-fide hit.

Oh the shark has … pretty teeth dear
And he shows them … pearly white.
Just a jack-knife, has Macheath dear
And he keeps it … out of sight.

That was the translation Louis Armstrong, Bobby Darin and Frank Sinatra used to record their versions of the song that, as of 1985, had remained atop the Billboard charts longer than any other pop song.

The champion, a fiftyish schoolteacher from Brooklyn, knew the correct question, which was, of course, “Mack the Knife.” I didn’t. Nor did the other challenger, who wagered everything. I finished second. Alex told me as he was shaking my hand during the closing credits that he knew I wouldn’t know “Mack the Knife’s” origins  – I was too young to have seen “Threepenny Opera” during its 1950s Broadway run.

My brother, who is 16 years older, had made me promise to call when I was finished taping and tell him everything. He knew the correct question instantly. He said he and his wife had seen “The Threepenny Opera” when they were dating in the mid-1950s. I wanted to jump through the phone and strangle him.

I took the red-eye back to JFK that night and was sure everyone at the airport and on the plane was looking at me, which they probably were because I was wearing approximately an inch-thick load of pancake make-up that barely concealed the hickey.

Later that week I received a call from a marketing manager at Hartford-based Heublein which was, at the time, America’s second largest wine and spirits marketer. I had been trying to get a meeting with Heublein for years. She invited me to come up and pitch the Harvey’s Bristol Cream business the very next day.

Before the meeting started, I knew I had to explain the hickey on my forehead, which hadn’t faded one iota, so I told her the story, and how, earlier that week, I had appeared on Jeopardy.

She loved the tale and gave me one project for Harvey’s … which evolved into two … then four more. Soon I started working for additional Heublein brands including Smirnoff, Finlandia, Famous Grouse, Club Cocktails, Paul Masson, Lancers and Inglenook wines and others. Heublein quickly became my agency’s largest client and the work I did for them helped win work from other big companies. My first Heublein client and her husband are good friends to this very day. So, even though I lost on Jeopardy, I won the business that made my career.

I found a VHS tape of my Jeopardy appearance as we were packing our Connecticut house last fall in preparation for our move to Florida. I’ve played it for a couple of friends but have to leave the room during the final 30 seconds of the show.

Do I wish I had won Jeopardy? Of course. If I had, I might have gone on to win four more games. I might even be competing right now because this year’s tournament features champions from three decades.

But I didn’t. So I’m not.

But, as Chance the Gardener, Peter Sellers' character in Being There (1979, screenplay by Jerzy Kozinski, directed by Hal Ashby, co-starring Shirley McClaine, Melvyn Douglas and Jack Warden and for which Sellers earned an Oscar nomination) put it so well, I like to watch.