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….”


“My wife doesn’t like the clutter….”


“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.

Letter From Milo: Street Fight

July 23rd, 2018

I haven’t lived in Gary, Indiana since the late 1960’s, but the town still has a grip on my imagination. There was a time, in my early teens, when I thought it was the greatest place on earth. It was a crude, tough, smelly, violent town, open 24 hours a day to accommodate the shiftworkers at the local mills and foundries. A person, if so inclined, could find a meal, a drink, a card game, a joint, uppers or downers, or a piece of ass any time of the day or night.

Both my parents worked odd hours so parental supervision was close to non-existent. I had the run of the streets and I took full advantage of my freedom. I wandered around at all hours of the day and night, going places and seeing things that no 13- or 14-year-old should go or see. My favorite part of town was the tavern district, a wild and woolly neighborhood where anything went. It was a decadent, noisy, chaotic neon wonderland of saloons, greasy spoons, poolrooms, private gambling clubs, whorehouses, pawnshops, and of course, a bail bondsman.

There was even a clothing store I’ll call Tom Smith’s. It sold the cheapest, ugliest clothes imaginable. The only reason the store was succesful was that it would give anyone credit. Any unemployed mope with a bad credit history could walk into the place, agree to pay 225 percent interest compounded daily and walk out wearing a purple shark skin Nehru jacket, pointy-toed patent leather shoes with Cuban heels, and a stingy-brim hat with a jaunty feather in the band. The only reason I mention the store is because of its garish neon sign. In my opinion it displayed one of the great advertising slogans. It read, Tom Smith’s Fashions, Rome, London, Paris, Gary.

As I mentioned, Gary was a tough town. Steelworkers took pride in working hard, playing hard, and fighting hard. In fact, the best street fighters attained the status of local heroes. Their exploits passed down for generations (a Gary generation lasted about five years). Great street fights were recounted endlessly, dissected, and analyzed the way Big Mike and Benny Jay can break down a Cubs game.

Pete would have had him if Don didn’t kick him in the nuts.”

“Well, that’s part of it. No rules in a street fight.”

“That’s not the point. Don just got lucky. Pete was kicking his ass.”

“Final score is all that matters.”

“If they fought 10 times Pete would win nine of them.”

“Unless he got kicked in the nuts.”

“You’re full of shit.”

“You are.”

“Well, fuck you.”

“Fuck you, too.”

“You wanna go outside?”

“Anytime, punk.”

Every tough town idolized its street fighters. In his wonderful book Manchild in the Promised Land, the great Claude Brown devoted pages to rhapsodizing about Harlem’s storied street fighters. My friends and I would spend hours talking about our local heros – who was tougher, who could kick whose ass, was size more important than speed, how important was getting in the first punch. Street fights were our epics, our Trojan Wars and Waterloos. In our minds, the combatants were idealized and adored, blue collar Achilles and Hectors, who worked at U.S. Steel and drove Chevys instead of chariots.

When I was a kid I could count on seeing a good street fight once or twice a week. But times have changed. I haven’t seen a street fight in years. Men don’t settle their differences with fists anymore. Nowadays they’re more like to settle their disputes with Glocks or assault rifles.

It’s a different, more dangerous world. I remember when it all changed for me, back in the early 1970’s. I didn’t personally witness this incident but I got the story from several occasionally reliable people who claim to have seen it.

Crazy Ray Volk and Skinny Johnson had a beef. They were both infatuated with a go-go dancer who worked in a bar that Skinny Johnson managed on U.S. 20 in Gary. It was a love triangle played out on a very mean stage. The dancer led both men on, apparently enjoying the attention. The two men, however, weren’t satisfied with sharing the dancer’s, ah, charms. Each wanted her for himself. The they had several confrontations, exchanging insults and the direst threats.

One evening Crazy Ray showed up at the bar with a pistol. Skinny Johnson saw Crazy Ray coming at him and dove behind the bar where, coincidentally, he also had a pistol. Crazy Ray began firing at Skinny Johnson. He must have been drunk because he was fewer than 10 feet away and missed all six shots, firing until the pistol was empty. When he realized that Crazy Ray’s pistol was empty, Skinny Johnson stood up and fired twice, hitting Crazy Ray in the chest with both shots. Skinny must have been sober because it was a fine piece of shooting

As Crazy Ray lay dying he uttered a few last words. Legend has it he said, “Damn, I wish I would have brought my other gun with me.” RIP Crazy Ray.

If there’s a lesson to be learned here it’s that street fighters can lose a fight and live to battle another day. Losers of gunfights are generally one and done.

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Letter From Milo: Wild Thing

October 9th, 2017

Dickie Kaiser’s father owned a 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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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.


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.


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.


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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