Benny Jay: Not To Be Quoted

October 30th, 2019

I’m talking to a friend of a friend, who works for the state, about public education, when she says….

“Don’t quote me.”

I’m like — are you for real?

I point out to her that we’re in a noisy bar and it’s after midnight. We’re drinking a beer. I have no pencil, pen or paper anywhere near me. I’m not secretly taping our conversation. I can barely remember her name, much less what she’s saying.

“I couldn’t quote you, even if I wanted to — and I don’t want to!”

Then she says something like — well, you are a reporter.

You know, like reporters feel an irresistible urge to quote every Tom, Dick or Harry they meet.

Like if you’re having a beer with a surgeon. At some point he or she’ll just have an irresistible urge to take out your appendix.

She explains that years ago she had a bad experience when some reporter misquoted her.

Now it’s getting worse. Not only does she suspect I’ll quote her without her permission. But I’ll misquote her in the process.

Actually, in my dozens of years of quoting people, I’ve discovered that the biggest problem is not when you misquote them as when you accurately quote them. In short, when they say something incredibly stupid or powerfully truthful that it comes back to bite them in the ass.

Then they claim — “You misquoted me!”

Or, like Mayor Richard J. Daley’s press secretary once said: “Write what the mayor means, not what he says.”

Or something like that. I’m probably misquoting him.

Some people are so worried about being quoted that they refuse to say anything unless it’s off the record. My dear friend, Thor, even has off-the-record conversations with his wife.

Sample exchange….

Mrs. Thor: How was your day, dear?

Thor: Ah, it was okay. But that’s on background only.

In some cases, I can understand why people don’t want to be quoted. Especially teachers in Chicago, who are afraid that they’ll get summarily fired if they say something that offends the boss.

Not only that, but they worry that in the age of the cyberspace, their quotes will live forever. Thus hampering their chances to get future jobs.

In which case, I’m totally screwed just from all the stupid shit I’ve written on this blog.

It’s even worse for Milo, who will forever have the title “pussy magnet” linked to his name thanks to a post he wrote on that topic. Though it might come in handy, if he wants a second career as a gigolo.

But don’t tell Milo I said that. It’s strictly off the record.

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Benny Jay: Brooklyn Kids

October 22nd, 2019

For some time now, I’ve been obsessed with three Baby Boomer Jews from Brooklyn–Carole King, Bernie Sanders and David Geffen.

They’re roughly the same age. They grew up in the same areas. And they worked their way from the bottom to the top.

King’s one of the most prolific singer/song writers of the `60s and `70s. She wrote such classics as Natural Woman and Up on the Roof.

Actually, she wrote the music to these songs. Her ex-husband, Gerry Goffin–another Baby Boomer from Brooklyn–wrote the lyrics. So you might say I’m obsessed with four Jews from Brooklyn.

King was born in 1942. Her father’s a fire fighter–her mother a teacher. She graduated from James Madison, a public high school.

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Carole King & Gerry Goffin…

A teenage bride, she and Goffin wrote their earliest hits while living in her mother’s Brooklyn apartment. Humble roots, indeed.

Bernie Sanders–now battling Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination–was born in 1941.  He also graduated from Madison high school. For all I know, he and King hung out in the cafeteria.

His father was a Polish immigrant. The family never had much money–a source of anxiety and tension.  Obviously, Bernie wasn’t motivated by a drive for wealth. Since the early 1960s, he’s been on the front lines of civil rights, anti-war and other Good Fights for social justice.

I became aware of his existence in the `80s, when he was this radical mayor of Burlington, Vermont doing unthinkably radical things. Like inviting Noam Chomsky to Burlington to lecture on the evils of American foreign policy.

Something you’ll undoubtedly hear Republicans talking about, should Bernie win the nomination.

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Bernie, the high school grad…

Born in 1943, Geffen’s the “baby” of the bunch. He’s from the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn. He graduated from New Utrecht, another public high school. His mother ran a clothing store in Brooklyn called Chic Corsets.

Great name. Obviously, he learned a thing or two about marketing from his mom.

I remember reading about him in Rolling Stone back in the `70s as he was clawing his way to the top of the music industry.

He’s managed and produced tons of rock stars and he also made big money movie in the movies.

He’s by far the richest of the bunch. In fact, Lincoln Center will rename its performance hall for him–in exchange for a $100 million contribution.

It used to named Avery Fisher–in exchange for the $10.5 million Fisher contributed in 1973.

Apparently, $10.5 million doesn’t buy what it used to.

Childhood photo of David Geffen, Coney Island, NY. Photo courtesy of PBSDavid Geffen–on the Coney Island boardwalk…

I wonder what was it about Brooklyn in the `50s that produced three such smart, ambitious and driven people? A topic for another day.

I also wonder which of the three will have the longest-lasting legacy. Hmm…

I suppose you’ll think of Geffen whenever you walk by Lincoln Center. Unless some future tycoon talks them into renaming it.

I figure Carole King’s songs will be sung as long as there’s life on earth. A pretty long time–I hope.

As for Bernie–here’s hoping the fight for justice never goes out of fashion.

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Benny Jay: Code Source

September 26th, 2019

As part of my mission to keep you up to date with all the hot new movies, I go see Source Code.

That’s the flick where Jake Gyllenhaal plays this Air Force pilot who gets blown up in Afghanistan and stays alive because this demented scientist hooks him up to some sort of thingamijigga that enables him to go back in time and keep people from dying.

Hold on, my wife’s calling from downstairs….

What’s that?

You mean, the movie’s not new?

Been out for over a month? Oops, sorry about that.

Oh, well — it’s just as well cause to tell you the truth it’s a real complicated movie and I didn’t really know what was going on in it anyway.

The biggest problem is that I’ve been distracted by the Bears. As you might know, they’re at the start of a highly anticipated season. middle of a playoff run. I’m pretty much too much time worrying about their kicker’s right knee.

I didn’t know what was going on in this movie….

Space

Anyway, as you can imagine, it’s really hard to follow a movie — especially a complicated one — when you’re thinking about something else.

Plus, Source Code is one of those movies where you know what’s happening can’t really be happening so you just sort of have to go along with it just the same.

In this case, the bit about keeping the dead guy alive by hooking him to a machine so he can go back in time to save other people from dying — you know, that sort of shit just doesn’t happen every day.

I don’t mind having to suspend disbelief in the cause of watching a good flick. But I don’t want to suspend so much disbelief that I have trouble looking at myself come the morning.

Limitless was like that, by the way. That’s the one where Bradley Cooper plays this writer who takes this little red pill. Or maybe it was a blue pill.  Come to think of it, the pill’s color was of no significance to the movie.

The thing about the pill is that it made Cooper’s brain get bigger.

Bradley Cooper As Eddie Mora

Space

Well, not bigger so much as better. Like he could use more of it. The premise of the movie is that at any given time we’re only using twenty percent of our brain but if we take this pill — which may or may not be red — we can use more of it.

And so once he gets to use all of his brain he goes from being a drunken writer — with a sink filled with dirty dishes — to an investment banker with no dirty dishes in his sink.

See, right there, I have trouble. I liked Cooper better as a drunken writer, with or without the dirty dishes. Not that I have anything against investment bankers.

At a key moment Cooper’s about to get killed by some bad guys. The problem is that the pills he had taken had worn off and so he’s back to only having twenty percent of his brain. But he saves himself by drinking the blood of a bad guy who had also taken the pill.

Are you following all of this?

And the pill spreads to him through the bad guy’s blood, so he’s able to kill the bad guy’s buddies, who are a bunch of big husky guys with cheesy Russian accents.

Then he winds up running for senator. Oh, like that’s better than being a drunken writer.

Wait a minute — I just gave away the whole movie.

Shit! I hate when that happens.

Whatever you do — don’t read what I just wrote! Oh, wait, you already did.

You know,  it’s hard to write about movies when all you’re thinking about is the the kicker’s knee.

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Benny Jay: Erickyma

September 13th, 2019

When we were kids, we didn’t really know the parents of our friends.

It’s more like they were these formidable figures, looming in the background–like the adults in Peanuts.

So it was with Arthur Erickson, a man I never called anything but Mr. Erickson.

He was the father of David Erickson, one of my best junior high friends. A kid we usually called Erickyma.

Can’t remember why we called him that, though I’m sure we thought it was really clever at the time.

As I remember, Mr. Erickson was a quiet and lanky. A sample–and rare–conversation between the two of us probably went like this…

Mr. Erickson: Hello, Benny.

Benny: Ugh, hi…

As you can see, witty repartee with parents wasn’t really my thing.

The Ericksons lived on the second floor of a two-flat near the lake. We called it “Erickson’s crib.” I spent many afternoons hanging there.

Mr. Erickson was the display manager at Marshall Field’s department store. So obviously he was very artistic.

You could tell he was artistic just by looking at his house. It was very neat and orderly and filled with his paintings, sculpture and drawings.

One day while snooping around–as kids will do–I came upon a book of pictures of naked people.

It may have been the first time I’ve ever seen such a thing. In a book, anyway.

Naked boys playing leapfrog. Naked men running. Naked women walking up stairs. All kinds of naked people doing all kinds of different things–while naked.

I don’t think I can emphasize the naked part of this enough.

The photos were by Eadweard Muybridge, who was probably every bit as weird as his name suggests.

I’ve since learned that Muybridge was a seminal photographer of the 19th century, who’s had a profound influences on many artists, including, obviously, Mr. Erickson.

But back then all I knew is–dang, this shit is weird. Though that didn’t stop me from sneaking a look at that book every chance I had. But don’t tell Erickson.

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Arthur Erickson’s memorial program…

Mr. Erickson died last month–complications from a stroke. He was 89-years-old.

By the end of his life, he’d moved out of that nice two-flat by the lake and was living in an assisted living place.

Two weeks ago, they had a memorial service for him.

In their eulogies, David and his sister, Janet, briefly told the story of a man I hardly knew. For instance…

He graduated from Sullivan High School. Home of the Tigers. Which is appropriate, since Mr. Erickson loved animals of all sorts, especially big cats. He loved painting them, too.

In the `40s, he got drafted and sent off to Europe.

When he returned from the war, he met Marian Miller, a woman I came to know as Mrs. Erickson.

Sample conversation between me and Mrs. Erickson–oh, you can imagine how that went.

For their honeymoon, Mr. & Mrs. Erickson crossed the country. Visited the Grand Canyon, drove up the coast of California to San Francisco.

They were living the Bohemian life of two artists in Chicago. Then came the kids and that two-flat by the lake.

He was, they said, a bit of a mystic.

“He loved dogs,” Janet said. “He said you could look into a dog’s eyes and see the eyes of god. Not the god of racism and war. But the god you can see in the eyes of a dog.”

I wish I knew him when I was old to appreciate who he was.

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Benny Jay: Nobel Bob

June 30th, 2019

I was walking through Greenwich Village on a gorgeous October morning, when I got the word that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize in literature.

What a coincidence.

Greenwich Village is where a young Bobby Zimmerman came to when he got the hell out of Minnesota all those years ago.

To get in the spirit of the moment, I stood in the middle of Washington Square Park, closed my eyes, and chanted a few lines from Talkin’ New York, one of Dylan’s earliest songs.

I swung on to my old guitar
Grabbed hold of a subway car
And after a rocking, reeling, rolling ride
I landed up on the downtown side
Greenwich Village…

I was hoping to magically transport myself back in time to 1961, so, when I’d open my eyes, I’d see young Bobby D sitting by the fountain, playing his guitar…

Alas, it didn’t work. When I opened my eyes, it was still very much October 13, 2016. And there was no Bob Dylan, young or old, anywhere in sight.

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Bob Dylan in Washington Square Park…

Unable to talk to Dylan, I did the next best thing. I sat on a park bench and called Milo, my partner in this blogging empire.

“Milo,” I said. “If you were to create a Mount Rushmore of cultural icons from our generation, you’d start with Dylan and Muhammad Ali. Right?”

“Right.”

“Then who?”

“Elvis.”

“Good choice. Now, you need one more–cause Mt. Rushmore has four.”

He gave it some thought, then said: “Nixon.”

“Nixon?” I exclaimed.

“Well, he was influential.”

“But he was a maniacal, drunken insomniac who bombed the shit out of smaller countries.”

“Benny, you make a good point.”

Folks, just between you and me, Milo hasn’t been the same since the titanium.

Eventually, we agreed that no such Mt. Rushmore would be complete without Jimi Hendrix.

Think about that–this must be an awfully great country to have produced Muhammad Ali, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan within a span of about ten years.

On the other hand, it produced Donald Trump.

Well, no country’s perfect.

Congratulations, Mr. D.

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Benny Jay: Old Dogs

June 16th, 2019

Sometime in the middle of last month, my dog Nicky lost her mind.

She developed an aversion to late-night walks. As in–she won’t do them anymore.

Every night, it’s the same old thing…

“C’mon, Nicky,” I say in that cheery sing-song voice we use for little kids and dogs. Like–this is gonna be so much fun!

But instead of walking down the front steps, she digs in her heals. Gives me the look that says: “No way, man.”

If I drop the leash, she whirls and heads back to the door–tail between her legs, as if to say:  “Hurry up and let me back in!”

It baffles me–there’s no obvious explanation. This is a dog who used to love late-night walks. She’s been my companion for thousands of them over the years.

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Nicky, the dog–I ain’t walkin’ anymore!

I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for her behavior.

It’s the thunder storms…

Or the firecrackers…

Or her eyes are going bad and she can’t see in the dark…

(The vet offered up that one.)

I’ve received many suggestions. Like this one from my father…

“Take her to the doggie analyst and have her lie on the couch and tell the doctor about her dreams.”

As you can see, my father’s sort of fond of Freud.

The vet suggested we give her a treat as a reward for leaving the front steps. And not just any old doggie biscuit, but something special–like a piece of hot dog or chicken.

This makes sense. Hell, I’d do just about anything for a good piece of fried chicken.

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Paging Dr. Freud!

But my wife gives the dog the treat and Nicky still resists.

“You don’t understand,” my wife tells Nicky. “I’m not giving you this piece of hot dog for the sake of giving it to you. You have to earn it. It’s a reward for going for the walk.”

“Oh, I understand perfectly,” Nicky tells my wife. “I’ll take the hot dog and you do the walking!”

Well, the dog doesn’t actually say that. She just let just know.

To be clear–Nicky’s an eager beaver when it comes to daytime walks. Tail wagging. Gonna run, run right down the street.

But at night–no way, Jack!

One night, a neighbor stops to watch me drag Nicky up the block. “Let’s face it,” the neighbor says, “your dog’s getting old.”

Makes as much sense as anything. With dogs as humans, getting old’s a bitch.

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Benny Jay: A Million Books

April 21st, 2019

I’d been unsuccessfully searching for the novel, Carlito’s Way, for several weeks, and then I walked into this book store in Los Angeles and found it staring me in the face.

God is good!

Not just any book store, by the way. The Last Book Store, one of the greatest book stores in America.

They have thousands of books–new and used–subdivided by genre. It was up in the second floor where they keep the paperback mysteries that I stumbled upon Carlito’s Way.

Up there it’s like a scene out of Harry Potter. They keep the books arranged in shelves that curve along a windy path. It’s like entering a portal to a secret world of books.

I’d recently read about Carlito’s Way in a New York Times article about Edwin Torres, the former New York City judge who wrote it back in 1975.

I remembered the movie with Al Pacino. But I didn’t know it was based on a book. Something about that article intrigued me. I looked for that book in libraries, book stores, used book stores. No dice.

And now I stumble on it–when I wasn’t even looking for it.

I took it off the shelf and cracked it open to give it the first sentence test.

thelastbookstore

This is where I found Carlito’s Way

“Sooner or later, a thug will tell his tale. We all want to go on record. So let’s hear it for all the hoods. The Jews out of Brownsville. The Blacks on Lenox Avenue. The Italians from Mulberry Street. Like that. Meanwhile, the Puerto Ricans been gettin’ jammed since the forties and ain’t nobody said nothin’. We been laid, relayed, and waylaid and nobody wants to hear about it. Well, I’m gonna lay it on you one time, for the record.”

That’s it–I was hooked. Bought the book there and then and have been talking about it ever since.

I may be a little envious of Torres. Okay, a lot envious. I’ve been writing my whole life, but I’ve never came up with the strings of lean, edgy and melodic sentences he just rolls out of his brain like it’s an assembly plant. Some guys got it and some guys don’t.

It doesn’t have much of a plot. Just Carlito telling the story of how he rose from Spanish Harlem in the ’50s and `60s to become a big-time thug in New York City. And then his fall.

And to think I randomly discovered this great book by happening on some article in The New York Times.

There’s a million great books out there. I don’t even know most of the titles. Sometimes my greatest regret is knowing I won’t have time to read them all.

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