Benny Jay: Hold `em…

January 9th, 2020

I’m sitting at the bowling alley bar, mindlessly watching Portland play the Clippers, an NBA basketball game I care nothing about, when…

I’m approached by Benji, another bowler in the league.

“I have this app,” he explains. “I can place a bet on any game anywhere…”

“Okay…”

“You wanna bet the over/under on the halftime score?”

“How does that work?”

“Right now they’re saying both teams will score 112 in the first half…”

“You mean, their combined scores?

“Right. So, if you take the over, anything over 112 and you win…”

“So, if they score 113?”

“You win.”

“Hmm.”

“C’mon, just bet ten dollars.”

I think about it. On the one hand, I’m not much for gambling. On the other hand–what the fuck.

“I’m in,” I say.

And just like that everything changes. I feel a rush of adrenaline–like ten dollars never seemed so important.

kennyrogersthegamblerAs Kenny Rogers says…

“Hey, Benny,” a guy calls from across the bar. “Come have a drink.”

“Can’t talk,” I call out. “I got a fiduciary interest in the outcome of this game.”

A collective wow rises from the bar. It’s probably the first time fiduciary has ever been uttered in a bowling alley.

Let me tell you, it’s way different rooting for teams to score rather than win. For one thing, you don’t give a shit about defense. For another, you find yourself saying things you never imagined I’d say. Like.

“Dunk that fuckin’ ball, shithead.”

Yes, you swear more when there’s money on the line.

The shithead in question is Mason Plumlee, a big galoot from Duke.

Generally, I have an aversion for Dukies. But I find myself cheering for Plumlee like he’s a long lost son.

Ryan, another bowler, sits next to me. “Who ya got?” he asks.

“The over.”

Just saying that makes me feel like I’m Jimmy the Greek.

“What’s the over?”

“113.”

“Relax,” he says. “It’s in the bag.”

“You’re jinxin’ me, man…”

Sure enough–suddenly neither team can score.

With 1:20 left in the half, Plumlee hits a jumper to make it 58-54. Just one point to go. But…

Luc Mbah Moute–a really hard name to spell, by the way–shoots and misses. Then he shoots and misses again.

I pound the bar. I pull my hair. Several guys have gathered to watch my agony. Looks like I’m the evening entertainment.

Plumlee feeds a pass to Maurice Harkness who goes in for a layup and…

60-54. 114–one over 113. Fuckin aye, man. I’m rich!!!

Benji slips me a ten.

Immediately, I break into Kenny Rogers’s The Gambler. “You gotta know when to hold `em…”

Been singing it ever since.

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Benny Jay: Not To Be Quoted

December 22nd, 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 screwed just from all the stupid shit I’ve written on this blog. Good thing I’m too old to worry about it.

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Benny Jay: Vince The Citizen

December 4th, 2019

For the past few days I’ve been up way past midnight reading Citizen Vince, a novel by Jess Walter.

Great book. I urge everyone to read it.

It tells the story of Vince Camden, a small-time hood from New York City, who winds up with a new identity in the federal witness protection program, working at a donut shop in Spokane, Washington.

One day a mobster from his past comes into his life and the plot takes off from there.

But the thing that makes the book so special — what distinguishes it from all the other tough-guy novels I routinely read — is its recurring riff on politics.

It takes place on the eve of the 1980 presidential election — Jimmy Carter v. Ronald Reagan.

Obsessed with the race, largely because he’s determined to vote for the first in his life, Vince struggles with an existential question: Does my vote matter, if I’m one of 200 or so million people casting one?

Wish I had an answer to that one.

jimmycarter

I voted for Jimmy Carter….

Or as Walter writes: “Here is Vince Camden, overwhelmed by his own significance and by the weight of so many choices, undone by this miracle of being and by all these strands connected in the thread of some simple thought: Which of these stupid fucks are you supposed to vote for?

Oh, Vince — I can relate.

He’s like a pilgrim, searching for enlightenment, asking people who they’re voting for and why?

He gets some interesting responses, like this one from Tic, his colleague at the donut shop….

“I don’t vote, Mr. Vince. That’s what they want — register your ass. So when the shit comes down, they just go to their master list and bang! First thing next morning, you got a fuckin’ hominig device in your teeth.”

Okay, Tic.

He has a classic exchange with a woman named Shirley Stafford, who’s going door-to-door for John Anderson’s third party campaign.

barrycommoner

But I should have voted for third-party candidate Barry Commoner….

“`Anderson’s at what, ten percent, four days before the election? I just don’t get why you’re still out here, doing this.'”

“`John Anderson has a chance to poll the highest percentage of any third-party candidate since….'”

“`But he can’t win.'”

“She shifts uncomfortably and slides her lips over the big teeth. `Well, no. But John Anderson believes….'”

“`Look, I’m not talking about that guy. I’m talking about you. Why go door-to-door trying to drum up support for some guy with no chance?'”

Unfortunately, Shirley has no immediate answer. But later she returns, having thought about his question, to tell Vince….

“`I know you’re right; this time we won’t win. But if we can get ten percent, maybe the next outsider will get twenty. And maybe one day twenty years from now, we’ll have more than those two corporate choices.'”

Alas, it’s been over 30 years since that election and we’re pretty much stuck on the same old “two corporate choices.”

Next election, though — maybe then.

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Benny Jay: The Topper

November 20th, 2019

I’m sitting in my car, waiting for my wife to come out of the store, when I see her approach this guy in the parking lot.

I think: Who can that be?

I look closer. Oh, no — it’s Larry!

Haven’t seen him in years. When I met him way back when, he wasn’t such a bad guy. But then he made it big in advertising, and he turned into the world’s biggest name dropper.

We’re talking about an A-one topper. No matter what you say, he always has to top it.

For instance, if I say, I went to the Cubs game, he’ll say: “Did I tell you I had Sammy Sosa’s front row seats?”

If I say, I saw the Bulls play. He’ll say: “Did I tell you I met Michael Jordan?”

If I say, I really liked Woody Allen’s latest movie, he’ll say: “Did I tell you I just had lunch with Woody Allen?”

Only he won’t call him Woody Allen. He’ll call him Woody — like they’re best friends.

Anyway, here he comes. I think about running out the door, but it’s too late. Did I tell you I’m good friends with Barack?

I smile. We shake hands. I say, “Hey, Larry.”

I think: How long before he drops a name and which name will he drop?

He says: “How ya’ doin’, man?”

I run through some possibilities: Derrick Rose, Bono, Sean Penn….

“Did I tell you, I worked on the Obama campaign?” he says.

Wow! Forget basketball players, rock stars or actors. He’s going straight to the top.

“We hooked up through David….”

As in Axelrod, Obama’s chief political strategist….

Thanks to my other good friend — David Axelrod….

“David and I go back at least twenty years — we’re really good friends….”

I’m sure he was at your bris….

“David called me up and said, `Larry, I want you to work on the presidential campaign….”

Of course, cause they never would have won without you….

“But Barack and I go back to his senate campaign….”

Right. I think Obama mentioned you in one of his books.

“In fact, this is a really funny story that you’ll like….”

I’m sure it’s not funny and I won’t like it….

“So after the election, David calls me to Washington to work on this shoot. I’m sitting in this room, got my feet up on the table and I’m talking to my sister on my cell phone. It’s top security, you can’t get into the room without going through all this Secret Service. Geithner walks by. Rahm walks by. Then Barack walks by. He sees me sitting there and he waves….”

“Wow,” I say. “Great story….”

“But, wait there’s more….”

My lucky day!

“He comes back and he walks into the room. And Barack says: “Hey, Larry, how ya’ doin’?”

You’re right. Great story! I’m so glad you took the time to share it with me.

My wife gets into the car.

“But wait there’s more,” says Larry.

“Sorry, but I got a dentist appointment.”

“But it’s Sunday….”

“Emergency treatment.”

“Oh, well — see you around….”

Not if I see you first….

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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.

carolekingandgoffin

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.

berniesandershighschool

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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