Benny Jay: Mama’s Boy

May 13th, 2018

In honor of my mom, who died in January, I repost this oldie…

 

On Saturday, I accompany my mom to her local Jewel grocery store.

She’s a revered figure in this store–sort of like its very own Beyonce.

Which makes my dad Jay Z. So I’m not sure how far this analogy goes.

The point is…

It seems my mom can’t enter the Produce section without someone–a clerk, a shelf stocker, a fellow customer–stopping her to say hello.

Apparently, she’s reached that 80-something-year-old phase of life where everyone’s really happy to see she’s still got the zip to make it up and down the aisles.

One of the people who stops for a chat is Rubin, another 80-something-year-old from the neighborhood.

He’s telling me about his grown children–“it’s the Jewish Daily Double, one’s a doctor, the other’s a lawyer.”

When I realize my mother’s vanished from my sight.

How do you lose your 80-something year-old mother in the grocery store?

beyoncegrocery

Imagine Beyoncé in a grocery store…

 

I beg Rubin for forgiveness and head off in search of my missing mom.

Has she lost her marbles? Is she wandering the aisles in a daze?

I walk from end of the store to the other, peering down the aisles looking for my mom and her two-wheel cart.

I’m nearing the drug counter–whose pharmacists are practically my mom’s best friends–when from over the loudspeaker like a voice summoning me to the Gods, comes the following message…

“Would Benny please come to the aisle three checkout counter. Your mother’s looking for you!”

At the aisle three checkout counter, the cashier, baggage girl and several customers await my arrival with baited expectation. As if they were wondering–who can this Benny possibly be?

And there I am–older than Beyoncé and Jay Z put together.

Well, not quite. But you get the idea…

“When my big mama calls–I come a running!” I exclaim to one and all. “I know you’d do the same for yours.”

No matter how old you get, you’re still your mama’s little boy…

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Benny Jay: Mr. Greaves

May 10th, 2018

A few months back, I read an obituary about William Greaves, a filmaker who died at the age of 87.

Of all his movies, the one that caught my eye was Ali, the Fighter. As the title suggests, it’s a documentary about the great Muhammad Ali.

Naturally, I had to order it up on Netflix.

What a treasure. If there are any fight fans out there, I urge you to watch it.

The film’s as much a tribute to Joe Frazier–Ali’s greatest fight foe–as it is to Ali.

This goes back to the early 1970s, right after Ali had been banned from boxing for refusing to be inducted into the Army.

He was trying to win back his heavyweight title, which Frazier had “won,” during the time Ali had been in boxing exile. So to speak.

williamgreaves

William Greaves with Steve Buscemi…

 

On March 8, 1971, they met at Madison Square Garden–two undefeated heavyweight champs–for what was billed as the Fight of the Century.

In the first half of the documentary, we see a lot of Ali, hilariously talking shit about Frazier.

Who just isn’t witty enough to keep up.

But once we get to the fight–which takes up about 45 minutes–well, let’s just say Joe Frazier puts on a world-class athletic performance.

I mean, the man was relentless–from the opening bell to the closing–15 rounds later.

Trying to use his longer reach, Ali launched one booming blow after another. And still, Frazier advanced.

He hit Ali again and again and again with brutal blows to the chest, neck and head.

How Ali sustained this beating–much less, went on to fight for another ten years–I’ll never know.

joefrazierali

It was a brutal fight…

 

Greaves not only captures the violence of the fight, but draws back at crucial moments to show the audience. Mostly white people, including all sorts of celebrities: Frank Sinatra, Burt Lancaster, Woody Allen, etc.

So the film’s also about rich white people watching two black guys beat the living shit out of each other.

You might call it a parable about, oh–everything.

At the climatic moment in the final round, Frazier stunned Ali with a vicious left hook. Knocked him to the ground. Give Ali credit for getting up to finish the fight.

For the record, Frazier won this bout. But Ali won their next two.

The power of Frazier’s left hook stayed with me long after the movie had ended. I was still thinking about it a day or two later when I bumped into my neighbor, Sam the firefighter.

One of the wisest men I know.

Of course, I told Sam all about the fight. And how horrible it is that Ali and Frazier pretty much had their brains beaten out.

And Sam said–look on the bright side. Those epic bouts gave Ali a platform to crusade against war and racism.

I guess he took what he got and made the best of it. Just like Joe Frazier and William Greave

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Benny Jay: Shopping Man

May 3rd, 2018

I’m not sure when this happened, but I’ve reached the phase of life where I enjoy going to the grocery store. Trader Joe’s, in particular.

I think it may have something to do with aging. Apparently, I’ve gotten so old that going to Joe’s seems like an exciting thing to do.

Also, it may have something to do with my growing love of red wine.

They sell lots of red wine at Trader Joe’s. In fact, they often have an employee offering free samples.

You can get yourself a nice, little afternoon buzz on the free wine samples at Trader Joe’s.

Perhaps going to Trader Joe’s is for me what that bell was to Pavlov’s dog. If you recall, Pavlov–the great Russian scientist–would ring a bell just before he fed his dogs. Over time, he conditioned the dogs to associate the ringing of the bell with the serving of a food.

Soon the mere sound of the bell caused Pavlov’s dogs to salivate.

I’m not saying I salivate at the prospect of going to Trader Joe’s. Actually, I’m not sure what I was saying. I was just looking for an excuse to show off my vast knowledge of science.

IMG_1458Nothing like a good bottle of red wine!

 

By the way, Trader Joe’s can be treacherous to visit. My research shows that some of the world’s worst pedestrians are pushing carts in the aisles of Trader Joe’s.

They just sort of wander around in a drunken daze–maybe they’ve had one too many wine samples.

You never know which way they’ll abruptly turn. Or whether they’ll suddenly stop. I’ve had more than one rear ender in the aisles of Trader Joe’s.

Another bonus of going to Trader Joe’s is that my wife’s business is on the way to the store. So I have an excuse to stop in to say hi. Generally, we have the following conversation…

Me: I’m going to Trader Joe’s to get wine and coffee–what else do we need?

My wife: Lettuce.

Oh, no–the dreaded produce section! My research shows that more accidents occur in produce than any other section of Trader Joe’s.

That’s cause people are spending way too much time fondling, feeling and smelling the products.

It’s much safer in the cereal section.

One day I stopped by my wife’s business, but she’d stepped out. Leah, a co-worker, was there.

“Oh, well,” I said. “I wanted to ask what we need at Trader Joe’s.”

“Coffee and wine,” said Leah.

Really, what else is there?

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Benny Jay: Special Number

April 29th, 2018

This bit’s from the August 21st show. If you want to hear it, click right here

We’re calling this—just like Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus Monday. And here’s why…

So I’m on vacation last year and I run into this dude I’ll call Joey.

Dennis as Joey: What’s up, Benny Boy.

Great guy. Funny. Smart. Loves sports. Plus, he’s got an inside connection to Bears tickets.

Dennis: I can get you on the ground floor for the full VIP treatment.

Damien as me: Really.

Dennis as Joey: Anything—for a bigtime player like you, Benny Jay? Consider it a done deal.

Immediately, I rush to tell my wife.

Damien as me: Joey’s gonna get me on the sidelines for a Bear’s game.

Laura, singing: I just don’t wanna be lonely…

Oh, yeah, I rushed in as my wife was playing her guitar and singing I Just Don’t Want to be Lonely by the Main Ingredient, one of the greatest songs of the `70s…

Laura: I wanna be loved and needed…

Anyway, she puts don’t the guitar long enough to hear me gush…

batmanandrobinphoneHello, special line…

 

 

Damien as me: He says all I gotta do is call him up and it’s a done deal.

Laura: Oh, that’s nice, Benny.

Damien as me: Me—on the field. Just like Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus.

Actually Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus haven’t played for the Bears since the `70s. But you get the idea. Anyway, back to Joey.

Dennis as Joey: Benny, let me tell you how the world works.

Damien as me: Okay.

Dennis as Joey: There’s the outside phone numbers. Which everyone has. When you call that number, you get a receptionist who takes a message. Dig?

Damien as me: Yeah…

Dennis as Joey: And then there’s the bat cave number.

Damien as me: The bat cave number?

Dennis as Joey: Yeah, man. When you call, the man answers.

Damen as me: Wow—the man!

With that he slips me his business card. Fast forward to just before the big Bears Packers game. I take out Joey’s card and call the bat cave number. Conversation goes like this…

Damien as me: Hey, Joey—it’s Benny.

Dennis as Joey: Who?

Damien: You know—the guy from vacation.

I can practically see his brain scrambling to figure out who I am and then—bam. He remembers.

Dennis as Joey: The dude in the Bulls hat?

Damien as me: That’s me.

Dennis as Joey: How did you get this number?

Damien as me: You gave it to me.

Dennis as Joey: I did?

Damien as me: The bat cave—remember?

Dennis as Joey: Oh, yeah.

Damien as me: So about those Bears tickets…

Dennis as Joey: Listen, man, I’m really busy now. Let me get back to you.

Anyway, that’s the last I heard from him. Until last week on vacation.

Damien as me: Hey, Joey, remember me?

Dennis as Joey: Man, how can I forget a bigtime player like Benny Jay?

Damien as me: So about those Bears tickets?

He slips me a card.

Dennis as Joey: Just call the ol’ Bat cave number—for the VIP treatment.

This is the year, folks. I’ll be hanging on the sidelines, just like Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus.

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Benny Jay: Late To The Party

April 23rd, 2018

I admit I was late to the James Gandolfini bandwagon.

The great actor was dead for at least several weeks before I jumped aboard. As I’d never watched The Sopranos when it was the rage of the nation.

This was the summer of 2013, when my wife and I saw Enough Said–one of the last movies he made.

Great romantic comedy, by the way. It’s got a lot to say about the rivalries women have with each other.

Written and directed by Nicole Holofcener, who’s become one of my favorite directors.

Anyway, Gandolfini’s character commanded my attention. And I said to my wife…

“We should probably out The Sopranos. At least rent a disc from Netflix — just to see what all the talk’s about.”

“Why not,” said my wife.

“We’ll only watch one disc,” I said.

Well, one turned into two and then three and so on and so forth until that show consumed my home movie watching life.

Eventually, over six months had passed and I’d watched every episode.

But even then I wasn’t through with Gandolfini. To really appreciate his work, I realized I had to see his movies. So I organized my own James Gandolfini Film Festival–right in my own living room!

jamesgandolfinisdrop

Gandolfini was great in The Drop…

 

I watched three Gandolfini movies in a row: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone, Romance & Cigarettes and Cinema Verite.

It was sort of disappointing. Wonderstone really wasn’t a Gandolfini movie at all. More like a lame Steve Carrell comedy in which Gandolfini had a bit part.

And Romance & Cigarettes was this truly bizarre musical featuring actors who can’t sing. Like Mr. Gandolfini.

Cinema Verite was OK, but nothing to write home about. All in all, the Gandolfini film festival was sort of a bust. Good thing I was the only one who watched it.

Of course, that didn’t stop me from rushing out to see The Drop, just as soon as it opened.

That’s apparently the last Gandolfini movie to come out. But I thought that’s what they said about Enough Said. So, you never know.

I got to the theater early and watched as one guy after another walked in, dragging his wife or girlfriend. That’s when I realized there are lots of guys my age who have this thing for Gandolfini.

Not sure why. Maybe its cause hes’s a schlumpy-looking guy who still gets the chicks.

By the way, The Drop was sensational.

I plan to watch it again–when it comes to the Red Box.

And so my James Gandolfini Film Festival continues.

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Benny Jay: Bike Man

April 19th, 2018

When I ride my bike, I have a habit of furiously waving cars through the intersection, as though I’m saying–“You go first, but hurry up!”

This happened the other day at the intersection of Elmwood and Oakton in Evanston, as a car waited for me to cross before making a left turn.

“No,” I said. “You go. Hurry up. I don’t have all day.”

When I got home I discovered that the driver (whose face I couldn’t see) was, of all people, Cap, one of my best friends in the world.

“I’m always looking for an old guy on his bike with a funny looking white helmet,” he told me. “Then I saw you.”

Okay, let’s get a few things straight…

Number one, my helmet’s not funny looking. Okay, maybe it’s a little funny looking. But once upon a time I thought it was cool. Obviously, styles have changed.

paulnew

When I look into the mirror, this is what I see…

 

Number two–I’m not old. Okay, maybe a little. But who’s Cap to talk? He’s only three years younger.

The real problem is when I look into the mirror, I see a young Paul Newman looking back. Everyone else sees Rodney Dangerfield.

In Cap’s case, when he looks into the mirror, he sees a young Denzel Washington. Everyone else sees Redd Foxx.

I was thinking about this while walking to the grocery store with a granny cart. Years ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead with a granny cart. Obviously, those grocery bags are heavier than they used to be.

I was trying to look cool as I rolled that granny cart down the sidewalk. But even Denzel and Paul Newman would have a hard time looking cool with a granny cart.

To make matters worse, I had a senior citizen moment in the store, forgetting where I’d put my granny cart. I was following some other guy who was pushing a granny cart. I was about to say–“excuse me, sir, but you may have the wrong granny cart”–when I realized I’d left mine by the cheese counter.

Anyway, just to show there are no hard feelings about Cap calling me old, I want you to know we’re going to see The Magnificent Seven–the remake, in which Denzel plays the Yul Brynner character.

Don’t worry, Cap–I promise to leave the bike helmet and granny cart at home.

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Benny Jay: I Love Broadway

April 17th, 2018

This bit’s from the July 17th show. If you want to hear it, click right here

 

We’re calling this all is stage door Johnny Monday and here’s why…

So my wife and I are in New York City a couple of years ago and she says…

Laura as wife: Let see a Broadway show!

And I say….

Dennis as me: Yes!

Something you don’t know about me. I love Broadway shows. On the outside I may be a mild mannered talk show host. But on the inside, I wanna be—Ethel Merman!!

Laura, singing: There’s no business like show business there’s no business I know…

Anyway, we wind up seeing Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. Hilarious show. It’s got a great cast, including Sigourney Weaver and David Hyde Pierce. My wife and I like it so much we decide to join the 50 or so people hanging around the stage doors waiting for the stars to emerge from the dressing rooms. That’s right—we’re stage door Johnnies. First out is Shalita Grant, who plays the maid. Great young actress. Remember that name.

Dennis as me: Hey, Shalita, good job!

She smiles and says…

Laura: Thanks.

Then I think–good job? I gotta come up with something wittier than that. Next is Billy Magnussen who plays the hunky young actor. My wife says…

Laura as my wife: He’s even better looking in person than he is on stage.

You know, hanging around a stage door will turn any woman into a snarling cougar. Then, out comes Kristine Nielsen, who’s this absolutely, positively sensational comic actress. Right up there with Carol Burnett. I’m trying to tell her how much I love her performance. But I can’t get the words out. So I wind up burbling.

Dennis as me: Ugh, uhm, ugh, habbida habbida habbida your sensational.

She smiles as if to say…

Laura: The crazies are out tonight.

Then comes Sigourney! Like, you know, we’re on a first name basis. And I say the first thing that pops into my brain.

Dennis as me: Oh, my god, Sigouney–I loved you in Ghostbusters.

Oh, my god, how lame.

All that’s left is David Hyde Pierce, who used to play Niles, in the sitcom Frasier. By now I’m chatting with Patricia, who turns out to be a teacher from Chicago in town to visit Unique, a college friend, who lives in Brooklyn. Did you get all of that? Well, you’d better—cause it’s on the test. And Patricia says.

Laura as Patricia: I love Frazier.

Dennis as me: Uh-huh.

Laura: I used to watch it with my dad.

Dennis: Really?

Laura: And my favorite character was Niles.

Dennis: Yeah.

Laura: And now all I want is a picture with David Hyde Pierce. Is that too much to ask?

At that moment, out steps David Hyde pierce.

Dennis as me: Gut check time, Patricia.

Give her credit. Man, she stepped out of the crowd. Went up to Pierce as Unique moved in with her cell-phone. And — snap!

In an instant, Pierce has disappeared into the night. But Patricia got her picture.

Dennis as me: Great picture, Patricia.

Laura as Patricia: I love David Hyde Pierce.

Just another perfect night for state door Johnnies.

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