I’m writing this at four in the morning.
I’m up at four cause I can’t sleep.
I can’t sleep cause I just saw The Gift, which may be the scariest movie I’ve seen since Candyman.
I tend to stay away from scary movies on account of the fact that I’m a scaredy cat, who doesn’t like to be up at four o’clock in the morning.
In The Gift, Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall play Simon and Robyn, a happily married pair of yuppies, who move into this spacious house in the hills of Los Angeles.
Then they started getting visits from Gordo, this creepy dude who went to high school with Simon.
I don’t want to give too much away, but some really weird shit starts to happen after Gordo shows up.
Like the dog temporarily disappears.
It’s a big, lovable St. Bernard called Mr. Bojangles. As in the song.
The scene where Mr. Bojangles returns gave me a jolt that caused me to jump out of my seat and grab my wife’s arm.
I did a lot of that during the movie. Especially in the shower scene.
Oh, man, everyone in the audience jumped out of their seats with that scene. Though, as far as I could tell, only I grabbed my wife’s arm.
After Mr. Bojangles returns, Robyn looks him in the eyes and says, “Where have you been?”
And Mr. Bojangles keeps looking at her with his big, round, horror-filled eyes, like he can’t answer her question cause what he saw was too evil to describe.
As opposed to he can’t answer her question cause dogs can’t talk.
There’s this other scene where Robyn’s walking down the corridor of her house at night. And it’s a really long corridor and a very dark night. And I’m like–don’t walk down that corridor, Robyn!
But she doesn’t listen to me.
They never do.
I had a similar experience the other night, by the way.
It was after midnight and I was reading The Poet, the Michael Connelly novel about a serial killer who prowls on homicide detectives.
You’ve got to be a really badass serial killer to go after homicide detectives.
I had to go to the basement to switch the laundry.
As I started down the long, winding stairs, I thought…
Don’t do it, Benny. Don’t descend into the darkness.
Needless to say, I emerged in one piece.
What happens to the characters in The Gift, I won’t tell you.
See it yourself.
Good luck sleeping.
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For the most part, Milo–my partner in this glorious, Third City blogging empire–has been a sedentary creature who rarely strays from home.
In fact, as boring as his life has been, I must confess mine is even duller.
Just think of where we’ve lived.
Milo’s lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Gary, Indiana; and Terre Haute, Indiana.
He did have a not-brief-enough-stay in Vietnam. He survived by consuming heaping helpings of marijuana and Jimi Hendrix.
Which, come to think of it, sounds like what he did last weekend.
Similarly, I’ve lived in Providence, Rhode Island; Evanston, Illinois, and Appleton, Wisconsin.
Not exactly Paris, Rome and London.
Two years ago, I ventured out of the country for a two-week visit to Argentina. As you recall, I entertained the locals with my attempts to order various meals in Spanish.
This is all my long way of saying that Milo stunned me the other day when he announced that he and his wife–the lovely Mrs. Milo–were taking a road trip to Duluth, Minnesota, of all places.
“You can’t go,” I told him.
“Cause I’ll be going out of town that same week and who will run the mighty TTC empire?”
“Fuck it, Benny, we’ll just shut the fucker down!”
Think of it. The two guys who never go anywhere leaving town–at the same time!
The good news is that we survived, though not without a few bruises.
Immediately upon his return, Milo called to complain about his aching back.
Apparently, he messed it up with all the driving he’d done.
“I used to drive day and night and never feel a thing,” he said. “Now my fuckin’ back is killing me.”
When I was done listening to him bitch about his back, I started in about my energy–of which I had none.
Apparently, I’d lost it on some beach in northern Michigan.
Sad to say, Milo and I have reached that advanced stage of life when even our vacations are hard work.
All in all, it’s good to be back home.
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Editor’s Note: No Blaise couldn’t make it to work today, so we’re running one of her greatest hits…
This summer I’m working at a day camp, and spending a massive amount of time with children.
This Monday marked the beginning of Week Six at camp and Day One of the Maccabi Games.
The Maccabi Games are pretty much the child’s version of the Olympics, with colors rather than countries competing. Orange, green, gray, purple, yellow, white, blue, and — most importantly — red, go up against each other in different events.
I’m writing this blog Monday night, so I’ve only been able to record the first day of the games. Which were pretty hilarious.
Teams were announced on Friday, which gave everyone the whole weekend to plan their outfits and come fully decked out in colors on Monday.
Alas, my group of second grade girls still showed up in whatever color they felt like wearing that morning. Which, for all but one girl, wasn’t red.
Thank goodness — just a few minutes later we covered them in face paint, duct tape, glitter, and anything else that would stick to them.
When I told a little red team boy he shouldn’t put duct tape on his bare skin because it would hurt when he had to pull it off he replied simply, “I’m tough.”
That’s how we roll in Red!
After each team covered themselves head-to-toe in team colors, there was the first counselor competition. Yes, we counselors also have to compete in random challenges, like “Face the Cookie” where one counselor from each team has to try and wiggle one cookie from his/her forehead to his/her mouth without moving his/her head.
We could have used him on our cookie-eating team!
If that sounds nearly impossible, that’s cause it is. Well, except for one counselor who managed to manipulate five cookies down his face and into his pie hole.
Then there was the T-shirt relay. Each team stood in height order and passed an official Maccabi Games T-shirt down the line until every kid on every team had one. Whichever team did this the fastest won. I’m guessing the camp director’s motivation for creating this game was a desire to quickly pass out those T-shirts.
Lunch break. Yay – everyone wins!
After lunch my team took on the dreaded Yellow Team in a riveting game of “Everybody’s It.” The title is literal. Everyone runs around trying to tag everyone else on the other team. One of the red team players asked the all-important question, “What’s the point?”
When that clusterfuck concluded, we took on the White Team in the highly civilized game of “Stuck in the Mud.” That’s where two people from each team are “it” and once you’re tagged you have to stand frozen with your legs apart until someone comes and crawls under you, setting you free to re-enter the rat race.
I was in charge of waving the Red-team flag, which is apparently a lot harder than it sounds. At least, another counselor informed me that the flag wasn’t a Goddamn sparkler, and that I had to do a better job.
Well, excuse me!
Once time was up in that game, a team won by having the least amount of people still “stuck”. The officials counted those still trapped by telling all the kids who hadn’t been tagged to sit down. Of course, my team sat down whether or not they were still “stuck”. We won both rounds.
All the teams then gathered for a song/cheer competition as well as one last counselor competition. Rather than sliding cookies into their mouths, this time counselors had to stack five apples and have them stay stacked for five seconds.
Again, one counselor did actually figure out how to do this. But, it wasn’t me….
The cheer competition is exactly what it sounds like. Each team tries to come up with the most creative way to continuously shout their team color.
Taio Cruz — Red Team for Life!
The song competition consisted of teams rewriting popular songs to make them about their colors.
Red: Dynamite-Taio Cruz
Blue: Party in the USA-Miley Cyrus
Orange: Baby-Justin Bieber
Gray: Tonight’s Gonna Be a Good Night-Black Eyed Peas
Green: California Girls-Katy Perry
White: Play That Funky Music-Wild Cherry
Purple: Dynamite-Taio Cruz (We had the idea first!)
Yellow: Party in the USA-Miley Cyrus
And that was just day one.
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About ten minutes before dinner, I’m sitting in the living room, reading a magazine, when I suddenly need to know. I chuck the magazine and head for the stairs, careful not to make a sound. But my wife– her sixth sense tracking my every move — knows something’s up.
“Where are you going?” she calls out from the kitchen.
“We’re eating soon — don’t disappear….”
Her last few words cut off as I sneak into my work room and close the door. I walk to the desk and turn on my computer.
It’s my wife.
I think she’s bluffing. I think there’s at least another five minutes before the food’s ready to be served. Enough time to feed the beast.
I click to Sam Smith. He’s this ancient writer — even older than I am, if that’s possible — who writes a blog about the Bulls. Think about it — that’s all he does. Follows the Bulls all year long! Some guys have all the luck.
He’s got a new entry — a few thousand words on the summertime NBA Rookie League. My eyes gleam with expectation — oh, yeah, come to papa!
I know this is sick. I know this is a disease. I know I need psychological assistance. The regular season’s been over for months — anyone with a brain has moved on. But, me? I gotta know: What did James Johnson do in last night’s Rookie League game?
I follow the prompts to a box score.
The NBA Rookie League is rag-tag series of meaningless exhibitions played by scrubs and wanna bes in empty gyms in Vegas. They don’t even wear real uniforms. It looks like something out of the local YMCA. And James Johnson is a rookie forward from Wake Forest University. I don’t follow college basketball so I’d never even heard of him until the Bulls took him in the draft. Now I need to know more about him — more, more, more, more….
I scan the box score. Johnson: 16 points, 8 rebounds, ten fouls.
Ten fouls! What the hell is that all about? How can you have ten fouls? You’re kicked out of the game after six.
I go back to Sam Smith. I race through his column unsuccessfully looking for an explanation. I scurry to another website. Miraculously, I find a sentence that explains that players get ten fouls in the NBA Rookie League.
Okay, fair enough. But how many points did he score before his sixth foul? That’s key. That tells me how points he would have scored had this been a real game.
I go back to Smith, hoping to find an explanation of when Johnson scored his points.
It’s my younger daughter. My wife got her in the act.
I scan the column — nothing! I silently curse — damn, Smith, you call this reporting?
“Your food’s on the table!”
“Here I come!”
I turn off the computer, bound down the stairs and hustle into the kitchen to find a steaming plate of pasta at my place.
“How come you always disappear right before dinner?” my wife asks.
“Uhm, good,” I say, ignoring the question.
“What were you doing up there anyway?”
“Ugh, nothing,” I say.
That’s for sure….
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I published my second indie e-book, a novel called “Wassermann Gardens,” a few weeks ago, and nobody seems to give a shit.
The book did not appear on any best seller lists. The paparazzi aren’t hounding me. I haven’t heard from any film producers. None of the talk shows invited me to make an appearance.
Needless to say, I’m hugely disappointed. Where’s the fame? Where’s the glory? Where are the money and the chicks?
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. Indie e-books don’t sell nearly as well as traditionally published books.
I tried to go the traditional route with my first book, a novel about a young gambler, which I titled “Schoolboy,” by trying to find a literary agent to represent my interests. I made contact with an agent in New York who said he might be able to sell it if I made a few “minor” changes.
“What kind of changes?”
“First, the story’s too long. You need to cut about 20,000 words.”
“Are you shitting me? That’s a fifth of the book.”
“Second, I think you should consider using a pen name.”
“Change my name? Why in the fuck would I do something like that?”
“Your name’s too hard to pronounce. It won’t fit on a marquee.”
“Well, that’s not going to happen.”
I spent some time trying to find another agent, but found the process demeaning, beneath my dignity, and gave it up after a few months. Taking the advice of a friend, I published “Schoolboy” independently, as a digital book. It’s available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and 30 other sites.
About a year ago, I was contacted by the owner of a small-time Los Angeles publishing company, which served mainly as an outlet for his own writing. The publisher, who I’ll call Jerry, was a fan of my blogs at The Third City. He asked if I had any full-length manuscripts that he could consider for publication.
I sent Jerry a copy of “Wassermann Gardens,” which I had recently completed. He called me a couple of days later, raving about the book.
“Oh, man,” he exclaimed, “this is a great story. It’s got everything, natural disasters, violence, madness, disease, young men in desperate circumstances, a bloody escape attempt. It would make a wonderful movie. I’ve got some contacts at the studios. I’ll see what I can do. I’m thinking Shia Labeouf in the lead role.”
“Ah, Jerry, let’s concentrate on the book. We can worry about the movie later.”
“Sure, sure, no problem. I’ll start the editing process…”
“The editing process?”
“Yeah, it needs to be edited. I’ll send the first few chapters in a week.”
When the edited pages arrived, I noticed that Jerry had added a sentence to the opening chapter. The scene is about two men finding a suicide victim. The sentence Jerry added had one of the men asking, “Did he shit his pants?”
I immediately called Jerry. “Why did you put in that line about the guy shitting his pants?” I asked.
“I thought it added a little color to the story.”
“Jerry,” I said, patiently, “every man shits his pants when he dies. People that have seen a lot of death, like the soldiers in the story, know this from experience and would never ask such a thing. It is, in fact, a ridiculous question.”
“I don’t mind you doing an edit, for grammar or punctuation, but please don’t add anything to the writing. I don’t want or need a co-writer.”
“Sure, no problem.”
I couldn’t believe it. When the next edited chapters came in the mail, Jerry had, once again, added some of his own writing. And the sentences he inserted into the manuscript just didn’t work. They didn’t make sense. I figured he didn’t understand the story or else his writer’s ego made him want to leave his own fingerprints on the novel. Either way, it was unacceptable.
When I called him I said, “Jerry, you’re a hard-headed fucker. I asked you not to add any of your own writing to the story, but you did it anyway.”
“I’m just trying to make it a better book.”
“You’re making it worse. Publish it as is, word for word, or I’m out.”
“But I always edit the writers I publish.”
“Well, then, we’ve both wasted a lot of time. Goodbye.”
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Walking through Lake View one lovely Saturday night, I see a big crowd streaming into Wrigley Field.
“Cubs aren’t in town,” I tell my wife. “Must be a concert.”
I walk up the traffic guard. “Who’s playing tonight?”
“Jason Aldean,” she says.
“Who?” I say.
“Some country singer.”
I walk back to t my wife. “Who’s playing?” she asks.
“Some country singer named Jason….”
I stop. I’ve forgotten his name. I just heard it and I already forgot it. Damn!
It’s an affliction I’ve been dealing with lately. My short term memory’s for shit.
It could be the first stage of senility. Or it could be that as I grow older I’ve become more selective about what I choose to remember.
Like — I realize there’s only a finite amount of space. And I’m using a lot of it for Tony Snell, Erik Murphy, Andrew Goudelock and other guys from the Bulls’ summer league team.
On the other side of the street, I see a guy in a cowboy hat and cowboy boots, getting out of a car.
That’s the guy!
“I’ll ask that dude,” I say. “He’s got to know — he’s wearing a cowboy hat.”
So I cross the street and I say: “Excuse me, sir, but who’s playing at Wrigley?”
“Jason Aldean,” he says.
But in the ten or so seconds it takes me to cross the street back to my wife, I forget the name. Shit!!!!
“How could you have already forgotten it?” says my wife. “That guy just told it to you.”
“Okay — what’s his first name?” I ask.
“I don’t know,” she says.
“Well, you just heard it from me.”
She says nothing cause — what can we say?
We reach our restaurant and eat dinner. On the way home, we pass three 20-something-year-olds.
“Excuse me,” I ask. “But who’s playing at Wrigley tonight?”
“Jason Aldean,” one says.
Andrew Goudelock — in college!
I say the name to myself: “Jason Aldean. Jason Aldean. Jason Aldean.”
At home, I look him up on the internet. The dude’s huge. Has zillions of fans. I watch his videos. I sorta learn one his songs. Something about tattooing the town.
Fast forward to the next day….
I’m in a truck stop in Ohio. Out of nowhere I think about Jason A….
Only I can’t remember his last name. Shit!!!
I go to the lady behind the counter.
“Excuse me, ma’am,” I say. “But I’m trying to remember the name of this country singer. His first name’s Jason and his last name is….”
“Aldean,” she says.
“Aldean. It’s Jason Aldean.”
“Yes, that it! Thanks.”
I text the name in a message that I send to myself. By writing it down, I seal it in my brain. Right up there with Erik Murphy, Tony Snell and Andrew Goudelock.
So in the unlikely even that anyone asks, I’ll be able to say — “His name’s Jason Aldean.”
I’m too young to be going senile.
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Many years ago, when I was a wee lad, my sneaker of choice was Converse–Chuck Taylor All Stars, to be exact.
Man, I loved that sneaker with a passion that bordered on ecstasy.
It was probably cause Chet Walker, Wilt Chamberlain, Norm Van Lier and so many of my basketball idols were wearing them.
A fact my father used against me when I begged him–please, dad, please, buy me some All Stars!
“You’re paying for the advertising,” he’d tell me.
Like a 12-year-old kid in Evanston would give a shit about that.
It didn’t help that the other kids were wearing them–a fact my father also used against me.
“If Erickson and Ross jumped into the lake, would you?”
Erickson & Ross being two pivotal friends of my youth.
At some point, I talked my mom into buying them for me on the sly. And from then on, I’d buy a new pair just as soon as the old one wore out.
Black high tops were my favorite, though I sometimes went with the low tops, just for a change of pace.
Then one day in my late 20s, I noticed my arches were aching. And I realized I’d reached that point of maturation where I was too old for All Stars. My feet needed more support.
It’s been well over 30 years since I stopped wearing All Stars, as I’ve advanced to that stage of life otherwise known as–how the hell did I get so fuckin’ old!
But my love for All Stars is a little like my love for `70s soul music and movies–it grows stronger with the years.
I take special delight to see they’ve caught on with hipster men and women, who don’t know the first thing about Wilt the Stilt, Chet the Jet or Stormin’ Norman Van Lier.
This is all a preamble to saying that I read that Converse is coming out with an All Stars for Geezers.
They don’t call it that, but the shoe’s selling point is that it has more support.
Apparently, the CEO reached the too-old for Converse state of existence. So for him–they make a new brand.
As always, it pays to be the boss.
I’m torn as to whether I’ll buy a pair.
I still think the All Star is the world’s coolest sneaker.
But I don’t want to one of those old guys who looks weird trying to be young.
So I put it to my older daughter and her friends. “Is it okay for me to wear All Stars?”
“Hell, yes!” they thundered.
God bless those girls for giving me the exact answer that I wanted to hear.
So I may buy a pair. Black high tops, of course. Just like back in the day.