Benny Jay: Eight Years Ago…

January 19th, 2017

I’m watching the inauguration with my wife.

The TV’s on NBC. Brian Williams is talking to Tom Brokaw. The camera shows Craig Robinson, Michelle Obama’s brother in law. Williams says:

“There’s Reggie Love.”

“It’s not Reggie Love,” I say.

“One of President Obama’s top aides…”

“Stop calling him Reggie Love — it’s not Reggie Love…”

“Shh,” says my wife, “I can’t hear…”

Williams is going on and on about how Reggie Love is always by President Obama’s side….

“He’s not Reggie Love! He doesn’t even look like Reggie Love…”

“Don’t be negative,” says my wife. “I won’t watch the inauguration with you, if you’re negative…”

I,  Barack Hussein Obama…

 

They show former vice president Dan Quayle. “God, I can’t stand that guy,” I say. “Let me at least be negative about him. Even you can’t say anything positive about him…”

My wife mixes her oatmeal.

They show Walter Mondale. “God, I love Mondale,” I say. “Fritz Mondale. He should have beat Reagan. This country’s full of idiots…”

The former presidents come in. “Look, there’s Jimmy Carter,” I say. “I love Jimmy Carter. Don’t say nothing bad about Jimmy Carter. This is Carter country!”

My wife eats her oatmeal.

“And there’s Bill Clinton — what a guy. Look, he’s hugging old man Bush. He’s always hugging Bush — like he really loves him. Classic Clinton, sucking up to Republicans. Look, Hillary’s hugging Barbara. Like they like each other. You know they can’t stand each other…”

Old man Bush, leaning on a cane, limps his way to the podium. From the aisle, Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. leans forward to shake Bush’s hand.

“How the hell did he get there?” I say.

“Who?” says my wife.

“Junior. He’s on the aisle — best seat in the house. Every time someone famous walks down the aisle the whole world sees him. How did he pull that off?”

Big Billy left the chicks at home….

 

The announcer announces William Jefferson Clinton. “Oh, now he’s William Jefferson Clinton,” I say. “He’ll always be Slick Willie to me…”

“Shh…”

“Look, Clinton won’t hug Gore. He hugs Bush, but only a handshake for Gore…”

“Be positive…”

The camera shows George W. Bush. And Brian Williams — or maybe it’s Tom Brokaw — says “the outgoing president very fervently believes history will redeem him…”

“Yeah, right,” I say. “If they burn all the records…”

“What a difference eight years makes,” Brokaw or Williams goes on. “Of course, we could not see tragedy coming — 9/11.”

“No one could see it!” I bellow. “They only had a report that said Bin Laden’s gonna attack us! They couldn’t see it cause they were sleeping!”

“Shhh,” says my wife.

“Show Obama,” I say. “Look, there he is.” I stand up and start clapping. “Yeah, that’s my president — him and Carter. All the rest of them suck…”

We watch Chief Justice Roberts swear in Obama. Roberts screws it up and mixes up the order of the oath.

“Probably did it on purpose,” I say. “Typical Republican. You watch, Clinton’s probably gonna French kiss his ass…”

We watch Obama’s speech. I’m not sure what to think. I barely hear the words. I still can’t believe this country elected a black guy president. It’s like a dream.

The Bushes head for a helicopter that will take them to the airport where they’ll catch a plane for Texas.

The Bidens and the Obamas stand on the capitol steps and wave as the helicopter takes off.

“Good bye — good riddance,” says my wife.

I look at her, smile and say: “Be positive…”

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Benny Jay: Charlie Meyerson & The Cubs

January 17th, 2017

Paging through Facebook, I see the following message from Charlie Meyerson, one of Chicago’s finest radio newsmen…

“Am I a bad person because I give not a whit what happened yesterday between Obama and the Cubs?”

Short answer: Yes!

Long answer: Hell, yes!!

Even longer answer, as one of Charlie’s FB friends put it: Curmudgeon.

Actually, that’s shorter than the long answer, but it’s got more syllables.

Okay, Charlie, I will now explain why you should care about yesterday’s White House reception honoring the World Champion Cubs…

For starters, I can’t watch the ceremony without breaking into tears of horror and joy because 1.) Obama’s leaving the White House; 2.) Trump’s coming in; 3.) 20 million people will lose their health insurance, if Trump follows through on his vow to abolish Obamacare and 4.) there’s absolutely nothing I can do about 1, 2 and/or 3.

In the category of joy, ugh…

Jose Cardenal was there! He was my favorite Cubs in the `70s. Turns out he was Michelle Obama’s favorite, too.

For years there was an autographed picture of Jose hanging in Gulliver’s, the venerable pizza restaurant on Howard Street. I’m not sure how it got there, though I suspect a waitress was involved.

I can’t think of Jose without remembering many wonderful dinners at Gulliver’s. I believe everybody loves Gulliver’s–even curmudgeons.

barackobamahonorscubs

Please don’t go, President Obama…

 

Also, Mike Royko–Chicago’s greatest newspaper columnist–wrote several funny columns about Cardenal. I’ll now quote from one…

“In case you missed it, here is the first report we have received from the Cubs training base. Jose Cardenal says there is a cricket in his room that keeps chirping every night. It is keeping him awake. He would like to kill the thing, but he can’t find it. Ah, the wonderful Cubs and the incomparable Jose.

“Other teams begin spring training with talk of pennants, the World Series, and rookie phenoms who can throw with blazing fury, hit the ball beyond the horizon, and run with the speed of an Old Town mugger. But we have a sleepy outfielder stalking an elusive cricket.”

While we’re quoting Royko, how about this one from 1976: “A short man with a thick neck just walked in and handed me an envelope and said:`Dis is fum Mr. Sinatra.'”

That’s from “Mr. Sinatra Sends a Letter”. It’s about the time Royko wrote a column that upset Frank Sinatra–someone you definitely don’t want to piss off.

I realize this has nothing to do with Obama, Charlie Meyerson or yesterday’s reception. But it’s one of my favorite columns, so WTF.

You know, I think Obama should hold a White House ceremony honoring Royko. Kup, too. Anything to keep Trump from taking over.

Well, Charlie, I don’t know if any of this is convincing. But I predict that when Trump holds his first White House reception–to honor someone like the Grand Imperial Wizard of the KKK–you’ll miss the days of Obama and the Cubs.

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Benny Jay: Layla

January 12th, 2017

I’m sitting in my car, waiting for my wife to get off from work, when Layla comes on the radio.

Immediately, I start playing air guitar.

I can’t help myself. It’s like I’m programmed. As soon as I hear that hard-charging opening guitar blast by Eric Clapton and Duane Allman, man, I just gotta join in.

And I know the song so well–having heard it at least 10,000 times in my life–that I got it down lick for fucking lick.

Pretty soon, I’m singing along: “Layla, got me on my knees, Layla…”

I’m really going to town, too, as, out of the corner of my eye, I see this dude on the sidewalks, who seems to be heading my way.

I pay him no mind cause–it’s like, Eric & Duane really need my help on this song.

But then–the dude enters my car!

I kid you not. He opens the back door and sits behind the passenger’s seat, like he knows me.

That’s right–there’s this strange man sitting in the back of my car!

ericclaptonduaneallmanI was playing along with Eric & Duane…

 

It hits me on two levels. One, who the fuck is this strange dude sitting in the back of my car? And, two–uh-oh, whoever he is, he just caught me playing air guitar to Layla, which is pretty embarrassing.

I try to play it off, like I’m not really playing air guitar so much as stretching my arms, as I turn down the radio.

“Meyer?” he says.

“Meyer?” I ask.

“You’re not Meyer?”

“No.”

“You’re not a Lyft driver?

“No.”

I don’t know who’s more embarrassed–he, for getting in the wrong car. Or me, for getting caught playing air guitar.

“Oh, my god, I thought you were my Lyft driver,” he says.

“No problem…”

“This is the exact same kind of car he’s driving…”

“Hey, man, it all good…”

He gets out and walks away in a hurry, like he wants to immediately put the whole thing behind him.

I look around. The sidewalk’s empty–no one’s coming.

What the heck? I crank up the radio volume and go back to playing air guitar–lick for fucking lick.

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Benny Jay: Hurricane On My Mind

January 10th, 2017

I’m at the Wishbone, a restaurant on the north side, for Carol’s big birthday. Number 70, in fact.

The joint’s packed. I’m standing at the bar, nursing a glass of red wine and following the Bulls on my cell. They’re going at it, basket-for-basket, in an overtime thriller against the Raptors.

When I hear the raw, unmistakably angry sounds of Neil Young, pounding on his guitar.

I look up from my phone. On the stage in the distance stands a man before the mike, acoustic guitar in hand. I can barely see his head above the crowd. I know it’s not Neil Young. I think his name is Steve.

He’s playing Like a Hurricane, a Neil Young song from the mid-70s. And he’s hitting it hard. I’m thinking–damn, I love that song. So it might as well be Neil Young.

That was three days ago. And I’ve been singing Hurricane ever since. I can’t get it out of mind. Any old random snatch of conversation will set me off.

The checkout lady at the CVS says: “Stay warm.”

And I say: “Once I thought I saw you in a crowded hazy bar…”

Which is Hurricane’s opening line.

neilyoungonguitar

Play it, Neil…

 

Or the teller at the bank will say: “Have a nice day.” And I’ll respond…

“You are like a hurricane–there’s calm in your eye…”

Which is the chorus.

And sometimes I’ll just tell someone, apropos to nothing…

“I am just a dreamer, but you are just a dream…”

Which is a really great line from the song, though I’m not sure what it means.

And sometimes I’ll be walking the dog and I’ll just go…

“Dare, dare, dare, dare, dare, dare, dare, do, dare, do dare, do, dare…”

Which is a phonetic recreation of Neil Young’s guitar solo–more or less.

It’s not so bad having Hurricane running through my brain. It could be worse. One time I had Candy Man going through my mind for days. I love Sammy Davis Jr., but that was rough.

Not sure why some songs park in my brain and others don’t. But I’m cool with Neil Young. He’s right up there with John Lennon. One of those rockers who gets better with the years.

Hold it, guitar solo coming on.

“Dare, dare, dare, dare…”

Like I said–it could be worse.

 

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Benny Jay: Nixon’s War

January 8th, 2017

For the last few days, I’ve had Richard Nixon on my mind.

It happens from time to time. My obsession with that madman never really disappears–it’s more like an ember that bursts to flames with the touch of a match.

This time the match was Robin, my editor at the Reader. When word broke of the latest twist in the Nixon saga, Robin called to say: “You gotta write about this.”

And since Robin’s wish is generally my command, I said, “Right away, chief!”

Robin had read the New York Times story about a recently discovered memo written by H.R. Haldeman, Nixon’s aide.

The memo recounted a phone conversation Haldeman had with Nixon in November, 1968, when “RN,” as they called him, was running for president against Hubert Humphrey.

For all the details, read my Reader story.

The skinny is that Haldeman’s email provides the smoking gun that proves Nixon lied, lied, lied–if he were Pinocchio, his nose would stretch all the way to China–when he insisted he didn’t try to sabotage the peace talks in Paris intended to end the Vietnam War.

miloinvietnamYoung Milo in Vietnam…

 

Thanks to Haldeman’s memo we now know that Nixon was up to his eyeballs in the covert machinations to derail the talks and keep President Lyndon Johnson from achieving the truce that might help Humphrey win the election.

I’m not sure the peace talks would have ended the war. But by messing with them, Nixon helped guaranteed they wouldn’t. I call that treason. Hell, they killed the Rosenbergs for less.

For a serviceman’s point of view, I turned to Milo, my blogging partner, an Army infantryman in Vietnam.

“Benny, I believe Tricky Dick was unscrupulous enough to risk countless lives to win the presidency. But back then, I didn’t know shit. Nobody knows shit when they’re in the military. We’re up early, tromping through the swamps. What the fuck do we know?

“When that election was going on, I was in Fort Polk. What a shit hole that was. It was in Leesville, Louisiana–nothing but taverns, whore houses and pawnshops. We called it Sleazeville.”

In November 1968, just after Nixon defeated Humphrey, Milo got sent to Vietnam.

“We didn’t really follow politics when were were in Vietnam. The only thing we knew is that the Paris peace talks were going on. We thought–`they’re holding peace talks? We should be home in a month or two.’ We figured–`how hard can this be? Make a deal and get us the fuck out of here!’

“But of course, Benny, back then I was just this dumbass from Gary, Indiana–not the famous and wealthy blogger I am today. I was as young and stupid as they come. That’s why I was in Vietnam in the first place.”

Milo served in Vietnam for “14 months and seven days.” Obviously, he was counting down every hellish minute.

It was a shitty war waged by dishonorable presidents. No wonder so many rich and clouted people–like young Donnie Trump–did everything they could to stay out of it.

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Benny Jay: Hell Or High Water Redux

January 5th, 2017

To help the Academy decide which flicks deserve an Oscar, we’re reprinting some of our great movie reviews of the past year. No need to thank us, Hollywood…

 

As The Third City’s movie critic, I finally got around to seeing Hell or High Water, the modern-day western.

The movie opened weeks ago, which means it will leave the theaters any day now. I was planning to watch it way back when. But I went on vacation. I watched a few Cubs games. I took a nap. Shit, man, I stay busy.

So just in case you’ve been holding off on seeing it until reading my review, my bad. On the bright side, you can always catch it at the Red Box.

Good flick, by the way. Reminds me of Lonely Are the Brave. That’s a modern-day western from the early 1960s. So it’s really not that modern anymore.

In both movies, you have outlaws taking to the hills to escape a posse led by a crusty old sherrif.

In Lonely, the outlaw’s played by Kirk Douglas. In Hell, the outlaws are played by Ben Foster and Chris Pine.

Just goes to show you–Kirk Douglas was so great, it takes two actors to replace him.

The crusty old sheriff in Hell or High Water is Jeff Bridges, who delivers a bunch of wisecracks about his partner–played by Gil Birmingham–for being “half Indian and half Mexican.”

So it’s not exactly politically correct.

jeffbridgeshellorhighAs always, Jeff Bridges was great…

In Lonely, the sheriff was played by Walter Matthau, who was less than 40 when he made the movie. Obviously, Walter was like a crusty, old man even when he was young.

This all reminds me of the time Matthau was a young acting student in New York. He was standing in the rain, waiting for a bus, when up pulled a limo carrying Tony Curtis, who’d attended acting school with Matthau.

Tony rolled down the window and called out…

“Hey, Walter, I fucked Yvonne De Carlo.”

With that, the limo sped off.

Upon reflection, I realize that anecdote has nothing to do with anything. So let’s just move on.

Hell or High Water has an interesting take on concealed-weapon laws. Put it this way–they don’t quite work the way the NRA says.

I guess that compensates for Jeff Bridges’ political incorrectness.

My main complaint about the movie is that Foster and Pine tend to mumble. I guess the director thought this would add verisimilitude to their characters.

When I mentioned the mumbling to Milo, my partner in this blogging empire, he said: “Benny, I didn’t have any trouble hearing things.”

“It’s that goddamn titianium they installed in your skull,” I replied.

“You have a point–I’m receiving signals, Benny.”

Well, like I said–good flick. Imagine how much better it would have been had I heard the whole thing.

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Benny Jay: Milo’s Coat

January 3rd, 2017

As hard as this is to believe, when I met Milo–my partner in this vast blogging empire–we were vibrant, dashing and young.

That was 1981. And now? Well, let me set the stage…

He’s at my house for a party. He hands me his coat.

“Don’t worry, Milo,” I tell him. “I’ll stash this where it’s easy to find when you leave.”

I place the coat in my office.

A few minutes later, Milo comes up to me. “Benny, where’s my coat?  I wanna go out for a smoke.”

I retrieve his coat. Fast forward a few hours–Milo and the lovely Mrs. Milo are ready to head home.

“Benny,” he says, “where’s my coat?”

“I don’t know…”

“What do you mean you don’t know?”

“I gave it to you when you went out for your smoke–remember?”

“You did?” He gives me a suspicious look. You know, like I sold his coat on Maxwell Street.

We go to my office. No coat.

We go to one bedroom, then another, then the hallway, then the vestibule. No coat.

We repeat the process–office, bedrooms, hallway, vestibule. Still, no coat.

paulnewmanredfordMe `n Milo back in the day…

 

By now, I’ve spent 15 minutes looking for Milo’s coat. I’m starting to worry–did I forget where I put it? Am I as batty as Milo?

We’re standing in a bedroom, filled with younger people, who are talking among themselves.

“Do you remember I gave you the coat when you went for a smoke?” I ask.

“But didn’t I give it back to you?”

“I can’t remember.”

One of the women in the room turns to us, as though she’s seeing us for the first time.

“What are you looking for?” she asks.

“My coat,” says Milo.

“What’s it look like?”

“It’s suede.”

She points to a suede coat hanging over a chair. “Is that it?”

“Yes, it is,” exclaims Milo.

“Milo,” I say. “Are you fucking senile? We looked in this room a hundred times.”

“Benny, I have titanium in my skull. What’s your excuse?”

I open my mouth to fire off a brilliant retort. But I can’t think of any.

The young woman smiles as if to say, what a bunch of worthless, old fucks.

Happy New Year, Milo, my old friend. We may be slipping, but we’re still in the game.

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