Benny Jay: Only an Idiot Would Subscribe to The New York Times

December 29th, 2011

Get an email from The New York Times — says my subscription has expired and if I don’t call this 1-800 number to pay up, they’ll cut off all service.

The email’s got an edge of danger — like it was written by a repo man from Jersey named Rocco.

Here’s the thing about me and newspapers — I subscribe to three of them. That’s right.  Three papers come to my house every day of the year.

While I’m at it — a special shout out to the Alvarez family who delivers them.  Without them, I don’t know what I’d do.

You might say I represent the last of the Mohicans with this newspaper subscription thing.

Certainly, anyone with any sense would have canceled his or her subscription long ago.

In fact, I happen to know that the captains of the newspaper industry got together one day about ten years ago for a conference at a hotel in Reno to plan the future of their business….

The boys in The New York Times subscription department….

 

“Here’s what we’re gonna do,” the big captain said. “We’re gonna give the shit away.”

“But, boss, how we gonna make any money if we give the shit away?”

“We’ll fire the fuckin’ reporters.”

“Good idea, boss….”

“Plus, there’s some guy named Benny Jay in Chicago who’s dumb enough to pay.”

Based on my informal survey, I’m one of the only people even in the newspaper industry who still subscribes to a daily newspaper.

I’m talking about reporters for the Tribune and Sun-Times. Don’t worry, cheapskates, I’ll keep your names anonymous.

You should hear the bullshit they come up with when I ask why they don’t subscribe….

“I want a paper-free world….”

Or….

“My wife doesn’t like the clutter….”

Or….

“Only a dumb fuck would pay for something you can get for free on the Internet….”

Speaking of me….

Not sure why I continue to pay for something I could get for free. Probably my stubborn attempt to single-handedly keep this dying industry alive.

Sort of like me and video stores. And book stores. And movie theaters.

Sigh — now I’m really depressed.

You’d think the newspapers publishers would reward me for my years of loyalty. You know — give me a T-shirt or a coffee cup or something.

Instead, I get the above-mentioned email from The New York Times….

When I called, I didn’t even get an operator….

 

Oh, yeah, back to that story….

I call the 1-800 number. Get a recorded message. Basically tells me: “There’s no one here to help you, so don’t bother us, bitch!”

Well, that’s what it basically says.

Bottom line — there’s no available operators so it hangs up on me.

Not making that part up. The fucking computerized message hangs up on me!

So let’s summarize how The New York Times treats the loyal little dumbfuck who help keeps their business alive.

They send me an email telling me my service will be canceled if I don’t call an 1-800 number. Then they hang up on me when I call.

Yeah, well — serves me right for subscribing.

Wait, this just in….

Get another email from The New York Times. Says to disregard the first email — it was a mistake.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say the whole thing was a scam cooked up by the boys in circulation to see how many suckers would pay twice for a paper that they could get for free on the Internet.

Hmm, not a bad idea. We might want to try it at the Third City….

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Benny Jay: Not Dead Yet

April 15th, 2009

We’re about half way through game one at bowling, when Cap breaks the news: Harry Kalas, the longtime announcer for the Philadelphia Phillies, died this morning.

“Just dropped over,” says Cap. “Heart attack….”

“Damn,” says Norm. “I didn’t hear that….”

Mark Fidrych, too,” I say. “You know, The Bird.”

“Heart attack?” says Norm.

“Naw — crushed by a truck,” I say. “He was fixing a truck and it fell on him….”

“A truck fell on him? Damn,” says Norm. “I was just a shorty, but I remember Fidrych. I loved The Bird — he be talkin’ to the ball and shit….”

We’re silent. “Marilyn Chambers also died,” I say. “But, man, you probably don’t remember her. She’s a little ahead of your time.”

Norm flashes his annoyed-with-me look. “C’mon, Benny. Don’t get it twisted. I know Marilyn Chambers — `Behind the Green Doors.'”

“Damn, Norm,” I say. “You know your porn.”

What follows is a one-or-two minute discussion of great porn movies of the `70s. I got to give Norm credit — he knows his stuff. I make a mental note to send him Milo‘s opus on fake tits.

All this talk of death gets me kinda gloomy — I’m bowling lousy. Can’t pick up my spares. Feeling old and tired. Checking my pulse rate. Worried. Don’t get enough sleep. Too much running around. Gotta take it easy.

But Young Ralph‘s got the answer. He leads the team to the bar and buys us shots of whiskey. He lines them up — five shot glasses in a row. The whole team looks at me. They know — when it comes to drinking, I’m the world’s biggest wuss.

“C’mon, Benny,” says Young Ralph. “Try it.”

“Oh, all right,” I say. They cheer. And the five of us — me, J-Dub, Norm, Cap and Young Ralph — click glasses and knock `em back. Or they knock `em back. I take a sip — almost gag.

“That’s not how you drink it,” says Young Ralph. “You gotta knock it back.”

So what the hell. When in Rome, and all that stuff. I take a gulp and knock it back. It burns like hot oil running down my throat. But, damn — it’s got a kick that fires me up. I come back to the alley, braying like a beast.

“Now you know why all these mutha fuckas drink,” Cap tells me.

I roll a strike. I pick up a spare — finally. I start singing to the Led Zepplin Young Ralph’s playing on the juke box: “Dazed and Confused” and “A Whole Lotta Love.” He ups the ante, switching to Hendrix: “Foxy Lady,” “All Along the Watchtower, ” “Voodoo Chile.” Me and Ralph are jamming on air guitar. “Check it out,” I tell him. “I’m playing with me left hand — just like Jimi.”

The tamale man comes in — a chubby little dude who sells homemade tamales out of a lunch box. Norm and he have a special relationship. Norm talks to him in a babble of English mixed with every Spanish word Norm knows, most of them curse words. The dude seems to love it.

He sells a few tamales and turns to leave. Norm catches him before he’s out the door. “Why you leave-oh without saying by-oh,” he bellows.

J Dub and I are cracking up. “I guess you call that Spanglish,” says J Dub.

“There’s nothing Span about it,” I say. “Just English with a funny accent.”

He laughs. I laugh. We’re all laughing. Our team gets hot and wins the last two games. Feeling good, feeling strong. No more talk about gloom and doom. What’s that song Dylan sings about those not busy being born are busy dying? Forget that, we ain’t dying — we’re living. Fifty-something years old, but my life’s just getting started.

It’s amazing what one little shot of whiskey can do for you.

Benny Jay: Argentina Bound

November 17th, 2013

One day last week I stagger off an airplane at 7 in the morning and walk into — of all places — Ezeiza Airport in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

I’m groggy from having gone all night without sleep, amazed that I hadn’t freaked out after spending seven hours in an airplane, and paranoid about the uniformed officer in the customs booth, who’s suspiciously eyeing my passport.

I hadn’t left the U.S.A. in many years — since Gerald Ford was president — so this is all kind of new to me.

The customs man takes one look at me and concludes that I’m an American who speaks no Spanish. Not sure what it is about my appearance – perhaps it’s the Chicago Bulls hat.

“Why are you here?” he asks.

“To visit my daughter.”

“What is your daughter doing here?”

“She’s a college student — studying Spanish.”

“And how long will you be here?’

“Eight days.”

“Where will you be staying?”

“Buenos Aires.”

“Take off your hat.”

A strange request. Perhaps he’s a Miami Heat fan.

bennyargentina

How did they know I was American?

 

He makes me stand before a camera and he snaps my pictures. He takes my thumb imprint. I’m starting to sweat. I’ve never been good with authority. I feel like Ben Affleck in Argo, trying to sneak prisoners out of Iran.

One false move and it’s off to the dungeon!

Good news. He sends me through with a curt nod.

I stagger out into the terminal and that’s when it hits me…

I’m in land where everybody’s speaking in Spanish.

I’m pretty sure I knew this would be the case. But I didn’t comprehend the full implications until now. I guess I thought it would be like a foreign-language film – you know, with subtitles.

Word of warning to anyone out there thinking of traveling to Argentina – there are no subtitles!

I haven’t felt so overwhelming stupid since high school chemistry. It’s like the whole world’s having a conversation but I don’t know what they’re saying.

Suddenly, I’m afraid to speak — can’t even muster the courage to say, “No hablo español.” Cause I know that I’d butcher the language with my wretched pronunciation, and everyone will say…

“Ha, ha, ha — another dumb muthafucka from America!”

Only in Spanish.

At the airport to greet us is Mario, the cab driver daughter arranged to drive us to the big city.

He greets me with an explosion of Spanish to which I say – “bueno.”

That means good.

boygeorge

Boy George is huge in Argentina!

 

I figure I can’t go wrong with bueno.  Though in this case, for all I know, I’ve agreed to pay Mario $10,000 pesos for the ride.

Mario’s got the car radio tuned to an 80’s station that’s playing Boy George – Karma Chameleon, to be exact.

I like this song, though it’s funny to think I had to come all the way to Argentina to hear it.

It’s followed by a song by a female singer who sounds a lot like Madonna. I don’t know what possesses me, but I feel compelled to raise the matter with Mario.

Thus, my first full sentence in Argentina is….

“Hey, Mario – is this Madonna?”

Uh-oh. Turns out Mario speaks English only marginally better than I speak Spanish. What results is a burst of animated Spanish that erupts like a volcano.

buenosbuildings

A lot of the buildings look like this….

 

I have absolutely no idea what Mario’s saying. He’s wildly gesturing with his right hand and looking at me through the rear view mirror. I seem to have unwittingly struck a nerve.

I recall a controversy from the `90s when Madonna was cast to play Eva Peron in the movie version of Evita. Perhaps Mario’s one of the many Argentines who felt that casting was desecration.

If so, I’ve only been in this country for 30 minutes and I’ve already ignited a diplomatic firestorm.

I decide to remain quiet. Instead, I look out the window as we drive along a grandiose boulevard lined with looming old buildings that look as though they’re imported from Spain.

We wind up at the apartment where will live for the next eight days.

Mario helps me carry our suitcases to the sidewalk.

“Bueno,” I say.

He hugs me and says something in Spanish.

To which I say, “bueno.”

What the hell – I’m on a roll!

Then I add – “my brother.”

I’m not sure what compels me to say “my brother.” But it’s what my buddies on my bowling team say to each other. I figure Mario would fit in well with the boys on my bowling team.

To my amazement, he gives me another hug.

I make a mental note to say “my brother” to every Argentine I meet — even the women.

In any event, if the cab ride in from the airport is an audition, I have passed.

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Letter From Milo: Dickie Kaiser

May 21st, 2012

Dickie Kaiser was a wild Indiana boy. His father owned a rough and tumble, workingman’s tavern on 5th Avenue in Gary, near the main entrance to the U.S. Steel plant. Dickie grew up among rowdy, hard-drinking, and often violent steelworkers. Juke box music was the soundtrack of his young life.

Dickie and I were high school classmates and friends. As teenagers, we enjoyed some of the same low-life pleasures – hanging out in pool rooms, drinking cheap beer, trying to get lucky with the local girls, and smoking reefer when the Serrano brothers had some available.

We were classic bad influences, the kind of guys that parents warned their children to stay away from. As a result of these well-intentioned parental advisories, Dickie and I never lacked for company.

Dickie was always up for a good time. Everybody liked him. He was a lot of fun, but sometimes, when he was drinking, he would get mean. He’d start arguments with people for no reason and sometimes those disagreements turned into brawls.

Dickie was scrawny, about 140 pounds, and not very tough. But he had a big mouth and it regularly got him into trouble. Fortunately for him, some of the boys in our crowd were genuine tough guys. They saved Dickie from taking a lot of beatings. They liked and protected him. Dickie may have started the fights, but the big boys finished them.

After graduating high school, Dickie enrolled in a college. He lasted about two months. Shortly after dropping out, he got drafted into the United States Army and sent to Vietnam, where, I believe, he served as a mechanic or a truck driver.

A year in a war zone didn’t do much to improve Dickie’s temperament. If anything, his time in Vietnam made him even feistier, and he was drinking more than ever.

He tried college again, on the G.I. Bill, enrolling in Indiana State University, where I happened to be studying. Again, he only lasted a couple of months. Despite a few unpleasant incidents, it was fun having my old friend around.

I was in a fog most of my college years and don’t remember much of Dickie’s short stay, but I do recall that he once asked me to call him Rick, instead of Dickie. Apparently, the name Dickie wasn’t dignified enough.

I said, “Sure, Dickie, whatever you want.”

He went to work in his father’s tavern for a while, but argumentative bartenders are bad for business and the old man fired him. Dickie wasted a few years knocking around the country, spending time in Florida, the West Coast, and then back in Indiana. The last I heard, he had relocated to one of the southwestern states.

In the mid-1970s, I had settled in Chicago, sharing a coach house on Burling, just south of Armitage, with my dear friends Bruce Diksas and Wayne Gray. One afternoon, about two o’clock, I was awakened by a phone call from my sister.

“I’ve got some bad news. It’s about Dickie Kaiser.”

“Ah, shit. What did that crazy fucker do now?”

“He’s in a hospital in Phoenix. He got beat up in a bar. I heard his skull was fractured in several places. If he lives he’ll have serious brain damage.”

I made a few phone calls, trying to find out what had happened. The story, as I heard it, was that Dickie had gotten into an argument over a game of pool in a seedy bar in Phoenix. The argument quickly escalated into a fight and Dickie was nearly beaten to death with a pool cue. He had 11 fractures in his skull, which meant that some brutal bastard smashed Dickie’s head 11 times with the cue stick.

Dickie survived, but he would be hospitalized for the rest of his life. Fortunately, he was a veteran, so his medical costs were covered. When he was well enough to travel, his family had him transported to Hines V.A. Hospital, just outside of Chicago, where he would be closer to his loved ones.

When I heard that Dickie was at Hines V.A., I decided to visit him. I had told Bruce Diksas about Dickie’s misfortune and Bruce said he wanted to come along. Bruce and I were both Vietnam vets, living somewhat ragged and uncertain lives, and figured that while we were visiting Dickie we’d check out the hospital’s emergency room facilities, just in case.

I was shocked when I saw Dickie. He was slack-jawed, drooling, and pacing the hallway like a zombie. His head was misshapen, as if his skull had been squeezed in a vise. His hospital gown was stained and he smelled of piss. It was one of the saddest sights I had ever seen.

I was even more surprised when Dickie recognized me. As soon as he saw me he became animated, rushed up to me and grabbed my hand. “Tell my brother to come and get me real quick,” he said. “I got hurt in Vietnam. Tell my brother to come and get me real quick.”

“Sure, Dickie, no problem. I’ll tell him.”

When I introduced Bruce, Dickie recoiled, fearfully, at Bruce’s offer of a handshake. Then he turned to me again. “Tell my brother to come and get me real quick. I got hurt in Vietnam. Tell my brother to come and get me real quick.”

Bruce and I left the hospital pretty quickly. We didn’t have much to say on the drive back to Chicago. Finally, when we got close to the City, Bruce said, “Man, Dickie is in real bad shape. What was he like before this shit happened?”

I shrugged. “He was always a bit of a fuckup, but he was my friend. We grew up together. He and his brother, Danny, once put up 35 bucks to bail me out of jail on a disorderly conduct charge. He didn’t deserve to end up like this.”

“Nobody does.”

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Big Mike: The Nude Avenger

May 29th, 2011

The Bloomington area got the crap kicked out of it twice last week by severe thunderstorms and tornadoes. Hell, even the Sam’s Club lost its roof.

If the force of the Walton clan can’t stem the rage of nature, nothing can.

Outside Sam’s Club After The Wednesday Storm (photo from the Indy Star)

Space

The storms reminded me of a terrifying night in August some three decades ago.

My pal Sophia and I were sharing a second floor flat above a bar at Racine and Armitage. At the time, that specific neighborhood was considered to be on the edge of civilization. In fact, most Lincoln Parkers of the era would have though it far off the edge of the Earth.

Now, of course, a nearby condominium is worth its weight in gold (or, more accurately, fool’s gold in the aftermath of the real estate bubble bursting.) For all I know, the building we lived in may itself be one of the most expensive and desirable around.

My Old Apartment, Now

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We had wrap-around windows in the living room that afforded us spectacular views of the downtown skyline. At sunset, the entire place was bathed in yellow-gold rays. For us — Sophia was an art student and I was trying to figure out which creative field I wanted to be frustrated in — the apartment was a palace, albeit a strange one.

There were holes in the plaster walls along the stairwell. The little kids who lived upstairs used to climb down the fire escape and reach into Sophia’s bedroom to steal her knickknacks until she got smart and started locking her window. And the roaches! Jesus Holy Christ!

One night I brought home some food from the nearby pizza joint. I’d just gotten paid and so I decided to treat us to dinner. I stashed the package in the oven while I washed up and changed my clothes. When we were ready to eat, I pulled open the oven door and was treated to the sight of a regiment of roaches covering the wrapped bag of food like a protective shell.

Sophia shrieked. I shrieked. I’ll confess here that, given my financial situation at the time, it took me a good ten minutes before I finally decided to do the right thing and throw the food out.

My Heart Still Bleeds

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So, it’s a Friday night in late summer, 1980. The songs we were listening to included “Turning Japanese,” by the Vapors and “Boys Keep Swinging,” by David Bowie. (BTW: Going back over the Billboard Hot 100 chart for that year, I was amazed at how awful the big hits of the day were. I mean, really — the Captain and Tenille? “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)”? Styx? Air Supply? How did we survive as a nation?)

Anyway, it had been hot and humid for weeks, natch, but things seemed to be changing. Fierce winds had started blowing after sundown. We were in for the kind of dramatic thunder and lightning show that accompanies a real break in the summer weather.

I was seeing a fun little art student named Annie at the time. Annie didn’t shave her legs, which I found wildly exotic and arousing at the time. I was 24, she was 20. We did all the things that couples of that age do — which means we did one thing.

That one thing was either incorporated into all our other activities or was occupying our minds as we went about our day to day business. For instance, one early morning after dancing at O’Banion’s until it closed, we walked to Question Mark Point on the lake, next to North Avenue Beach. It was foggy as the sun was coming up, so foggy that we couldn’t even see the shore. So we figured if any early morning joggers happened to be passing by, they wouldn’t see us either. Naturally, we did that one thing right then and there.

Question Mark Point At North Avenue Beach

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Of course, it helped that we were both doing blotter acid at the time. Annie turned Day-Glo orange and then sort of pastel purple midway into the proceedings.

And so it was on that August Friday night. We’d come back to my place from dancing all night, sopping with sweat, hydrated with countless vodka tonics, and still as energized as a pair of Boston Terriers on espresso. This time we indulged in a more, shall we say, herbal mood alterer.

We went about our business, shattering land speed records and shaking the building to its foundations. Exhausted, we collapsed into something that should be described more as unconsciousness than sleep.

“Jesus Christ, Did We Do That?”

Space

At some point in my slumber, I heard from somewhere like six light years away my back screen door slam. The back door was right next to my bedroom. The sound lifted my consciousness only slightly enough to make me aware of the wind, which by this point had grown even stronger.

My second thought at that moment was, “Man, that’s some kind of storm heading in.”

(My first thought had been, “Um, what?” followed by uncontrollable drooling.)

I knew I had to get up to close the back door so rain wouldn’t blow in. But for a delicious moment I held out hope that the storm would suddenly, miraculously, just stop.

Then I heard the screen door slam again.

Annie stirred. “What’s that?” she asked.

“Nothing. Just the door. There’s a storm.”

Annie peered through slitted eyelids out the window. “What storm?” she said. “It’s clear out.”

“Oh no,” I said. “There’s a storm.”

“You better shut the back door,” she concluded.

This Reminds Me Of My Old Back Door

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Great, I thought, now I have to get up and do it. So I padded, unsteadily, out of the room and stood looking at the back door.

The screen door indeed was opening and closing with the whim of the wind. I stepped toward it to latch it when I saw my telescope laying on its side on the back porch.

That wouldn’t have been so odd had it not been for the fact that I kept my telescope in the living room, clear on the other end of the house.

“Wow!” I said. “What a storm!”

I heard Annie’s small voice come from the bedroom. “What?” she said.

“I said there’s a huge storm. It’s blowing stuff out of the apartment!”

“Shut the door.”

“What a Storm!”

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I figured that the wind must be blowing from the direction of the living room and it might be toppling everything Sophia and I owned onto the floor. So I tiptoed to the front of the place to shut the living room windows first.

But when I passed the dining room, I noticed my stereo wasn’t on its stand. “Jesus Christ, this is a real storm!” I whispered.

When I got to the living room, I saw that the TV was not on it’s stand either.

By now, it was becoming somewhat clear to my foggy brain that there was more going on here than weather. What, I didn’t know.

I knocked lightly on Sophia’s bedroom door. I heard a muffled, “Hmm, huh, what?”

“Sophia,” I stage whispered, “something funny is going on out here.”

“What?”

“I don’t know. I think somebody might be in….”

At that moment I froze. I was looking straight through the entire apartment toward the back door. Simultaneously, Annie stepped out of my bedroom and a young man, about 16 or 17 years old, stepped in through the screen door.

They stared at each other for what seemed a half hour. Annie, I should mention, was stark naked.

The young man reacted first. Maybe it was the sight of Annie’s unshaven legs, I don’t know. A lot of guys don’t go for that. Whatever. He gasped audibly, as if he’d been punched in the stomach.

For her part, Annie simply leaped back into the bedroom and slammed the door.

Now I reacted. “Hey, you fucker!” I screamed, “Whaddya doin’ in here?”

Which, when you think about it, is a silly thing to say. Did I really expect him to answer?

No matter, he turned his gaze toward me standing with my hands on my hips, some twenty yards away at the other end of the house, the ghostly yellow glow from the street lights bathing me.

Did I mention I was stark naked, too?

The young man’s eyes grew to the size of saucers.

“Hey!” I screamed again. (Now that I think about it, I did just what a watchdog would do. Isn’t that what barking is? Just a continuous stream of Heys?)

“Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey! Hey…!”

Space

The young man stood there frozen.

I moved first. I began running toward him. Running with all my appendages flapping and flopping in their unfettered glory.

Swear to god, it looked like the guy gulped.

He spun on his heels and dashed down the back stairs with me in hot pursuit.

I jumped over my upended telescope and flew down the stairs two at a time. At the bottom of the stairs, I saw my stereo and and Sophia’s TV. Obviously, he’d stashed them there as he shuttled up and down the stairs for more swag.

I stepped on some sharp pebbles and tiny shards of glass. I began howling and hopping like a madman.

The kid stopped and stared at me. He had a sort of amused look on his face, as if to say, “I know you ain’t gonna be comin’ after me no more, sucker!”

He was right. But I could still bark. I called him every name in the book, the least objectionable being “dirty motherfucker.” This scene went on for what seemed minutes — he standing there, almost daring me to come after him, and me, bare as a newborn, shouting obscenities at him.

I heard the sounds of windows being raised. I looked up to see an audience of my neighbors leaning on their window sills watching my performance.

“You Hear That Guy Yelling? I’ll Go Look.”

Space

The only thing I could think to do was yell out, “Call the police!”

As I climbed my back stairs to the second floor, I wondered if it might have been a tad injudicious for me, stark naked, to yell to my neighbors to call the cops. Then again, I thought as I reached my back door, it might have been the smartest thing to do.

I pulled on some pants and went back down to retrieve the stereo and the TV. The cops eventually came and filled out a report.

For the next couple of weeks, as I’d run into each of my neighbors for the first time after the incident, they greeted me with big smiles. No one mentioned seeing me in the raw even though I’m sure they were dying to.

You know, it never did storm the rest of that night. The thunder and lightning didn’t start until the next morning. It was a Saturday. I listened to my stereo while it rained. Sophia watched cartoons on her TV.

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