Benny Jay: Mr. Breslin

March 21st, 2017

Back in the late `70s, I got a gig out of college as a copy boy for the Daily News, an afternoon paper that went out of business years ago.

I was the office go-fer, running errands all over the loop.

I didn’t mind. I loved being out of the office. I was moving to a soundtrack that only I could hear.

One day, they sent me to WFMT, the classical music radio station. As I stepped into the office to pick something up, I saw Jimmy Breslin, sitting in the lobby.

That’s Mr. Jimmy Breslin, one of the greatest newspaper columnists–ever!

Of course, I’d recognized him. I’d read most of his books. The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Can’t Anybody Here Play This Game. How the Good Guys Finally Won.

Hell, I’d been reading him for half of my life. He wrote about losers and wise guys and the little people no one paid attention to. The story behind the story–that sort of thing.

I worshipped the man. He was on that list of people–with Paul Newman and Wilt Chamberlain–I wanted to be.

And there he was, sitting in the WFMT lobby.

Wait, there’s more…

jimmybreslinJimmy Breslin–1928-2017…

 

The door to the inner office opens and out walks Studs Terkel!

Yes, the Studs Terkel, speaking of guys I worshipped.

I’m like–holy shit! It’s Jimmy Breslin and Studs Terkel!

The only missing member of my Holy Trinity of writers was Mike Royko–the greatest of them all. And they probably caught up with Mike later on at some bar.

“Jimmy,” says Studs.

“Studs,” says Jimmy.

And they hugged and retreated to the backroom to do whatever they were going to do. Probaby taping one of Studs’ radio shows.

I should have said something like–Fellas, it’s Benny Jay. What about me?

It all happened so fast–I was too awestruck to do anything but gape.

Sad to say–Jimmy Breslin died the other day. He was 89.

The only other time I saw Breslin was a few years ago outside the federal courthouse. He was in town to cover the Blagojevich trial. Somehow the Blago team had recruited him, like he was their personal chronicler.

By then he was over 80. Well past his prime. He’d been slowed by brain surgery. Some of the local scribes made fun of him–like he was Willie Mays stumbling around in center field at the end of a great career.

But I’d like to think of Jimmy Breslin in his glory days–the guy who pretty much invented column writing as we know it.

The great ones never grow old in the minds of their fans.

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Benny Jay: Get Out

March 16th, 2017

It’s been a long time since I loved a movie as much as Get Out.

At least two months. Or however long it’s been since I saw Elle.

You know, maybe I love movies a little too much.

Get Out is a wonderful movie in so many ways. It’s funny. And scary. It’s provocative. And deep. Yet it’s so fun to watch. The writer/director, Jordan Peele, makes so many important points in such and effortless way, it’s like he’s saying: What’s the big deal, it’s only a movie.

This is the movie about the white woman who takes her black lover home to meet her parents.  You probably saw it already. But if you haven’t–don’t delay.

Obviously, Peele loves movies. He’s only 38-year-old, but it seems like he’s watched and re-watched every kind of movie ever made.

He’s like Quentin Tarantino. He doesn’t just love movies–he absorbs them.

jordanpeeledirectingJordan Peele–director…

 

Here are just a few of the genres Peele has worked in to Get Out

Horror flicks (think Halloween)…

Blaxploitation (take your pick)…

Psycho date flicks (Play Misty for Me)…

Black buddy comedies (Friday)…

Suburban dystopia (The Stepford Wives)…

He’s got a scene straight out of Wes Anderson. And that scene with the deer antlers? Straight up Tarantino.

On top of all that, Get Out has one of the best endings ever. Plus, the last ten or so minutes had people yelling at the screen.

Yes, this is one of those movies that makes you want to yell out advice to the lead character. Like he can hear you.

They don’t make nearly enough of those kinds of movies anymore.

Watching Get Out made me think I was at the Howard Theater–circa 1975.

Here are a few lines I heard shouted out when I saw Get Out

“Drive over the bitch!”

“Shoot the muthafucka!”

“Don’t do it, man!”

“Fuck Trump!”

Okay, no one yelled that last one. But the movie was so good I forgot all about our president for at least two hours.

It’s worth seeing just for that.

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Randolph Street: The One And Only Mr. King

March 15th, 2017

2bbdKing

B.B. King–Cook County Jail

 

These photos are from September 10, 1970. A great album, B.B. King Live in Cook County Jail, was recorded at this show. Rolling Stone magazine named it one of the top 500 all-time albums. I was just starting out as photographer. I had one camera and one 50mm lens.

 

9bbKing

 

 

4bbKing

 

 

7bbKing

 

 

10bbKing

 

 

All photos © Jon Randolph

jonrandolph.com

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Benny Jay: NU Tourney Bound

March 14th, 2017

For the last few weeks, as Northwestern made its historic run toward March Madness, my basketball-loving buddies and I plotted to go wherever the journey took us.

Most likely–Milwaukee, only 90 miles away.

At least, I thought the first round would be Milwaukee.

I thought that because a certain NU alum that I’ll call Kevin told me it would be Milwaukee.

Kevin conveyed that information in a text. So, now that I think about it, he may actually have been saying he hoped it would be Milwaukee. Much different than saying it was actually in Milwaukee.

Sometimes interpreting Kevin’s test message is like trying to read between the lines of a tweet by Trump.

Anyway, when I got the word from Kevin, I texted Uduak, another NU alum.

There and then we planned a road trip. Him driving. Me riding shotgun and playing the music. I’d bring my Earth Wind & Fire collection. You haven’t lived until you’ve heard Uduak singing Reasons.

Then Uduak pointed out the game might actually be in Indianapolis.

by Hilarivan

I planned to bring That’s The Way of the World for the ride…

 

I drove to Indianapolis once in my life. 1985. Drove there to see the NBA all star game. Michael Jordan–then a rookie–was playing. I dragged my poor wife. Kevin also came. On the way home, we ran into a blizzard. I vowed never to drive to Indianapolis again.

But the thought of seeing NU make its first-ever trip to the tourney was so exciting that I agreed to drive to Indy with Uduak. I could bring other CDs, like the Stylistics. Wait till you hear Uduak sing Betcha By Golly Wow.

Fast forward to selection Sunday. I get a call from Sridhar–another NU alum.

“Did you hear the announcement?”

“No. Is it Milwaukee?”

“Ugh, no…”

“Indianapolis?”

“Ugh, no…”

“Where then?”

“Salt Lake City.”

Long pause.

“You mean, Utah?”

“Ugh, yeah…”

“Is this a joke?”

“No.”

“You mean, Northwestern finally makes the big dance and they send us to fuckin’ Utah!”

Later that night my wife asks…

“So are you and Uduak making the road trip?”

“To Utah!”

“I was just asking…”

My entire collection of Earth Wind & Fire, the Stylistics and the Delfonics couldn’t get me to Nebraska–much less Salt Lake City.

Oh, well. Let’s hope it’s not another 80 years before the Wildcats get back to March Madness.

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Benny Jay: Carlito’s Way

March 9th, 2017

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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Benny Jay: Howlin’ Ray’s Chicken!

March 7th, 2017

It’s been said that I’d fly across the country for a good piece of fried chicken.

And so it is that I’m in Los Angeles, standing in a long, winding line in an outdoor mall in Chinatown, waiting to order lunch at Howlin’ Ray’s. Which is supposed to make some of the best fried chicken in the world.

Okay, so technically, I’m in L.A to visit my daughters, not eat chicken. But coming to Ray’s is the first thing I do after I wake up the day after we arrive. That’s love, folks.

I’m standing with my man, Brian. He’s telling me the chicken’s so good, he comes here all the time.

Not that I don’t believe everything Brian says. But he is a lifelong Green Bay Packers fan, so you have to take his judgment with a grain of salt.

“The chicken comes in several categories,” he explains. “Mild or medium. Hot and extra hot…”

“I’ll take the hottest,” I say.

“That’s howlin’…”

“Gimme the howlin’…”

“Dude, trust me–you don’t want the howlin’.”

“Son, don’t chickensplain to me. I was eating chicken before you were born.”

“I’m just sayin’–the howlin’ is hot.”

“Man, I’m not afraid of hot. I’ve had every kind of hot–Thai, Mexican and Chinese. You can’t make it too hot for me.”

On and on we go, until almost two hours pass, and we find ourselves before the cashier, taking our order.

howlinraychickenI love that Howlin’ Ray’s chicken…

 

By then Brian’s scared me into a compromise. I’ll get the hot chicken sandwich. And I’ll try one howlin’ chicken wing.

I explain this to the cashier.

“So you’re getting the howlin’,” he says.

“But only for one wing.”

“I understand–have you ever had the howlin’?”

“C’mon, man–how hot can it be?”

“Sir, whatever you do–don’t pick up the chicken and touch your eye…”

“Huh?

“Make sure you wash your hands before you touch your face after eating the howlin’.”

Now he’s got me a little nervous. I never had food come with a warning.

We sit at a picnic table in the mall. And I take a bite of my sandwich. Oh, man, what can I say? It’s so tasty. So juicy. So tender. It’s got this delightful peppery flavor that dances on my tongue.

Immediately, I text all my chicken-loving friends–and there’s lots of us out there: You gotta go to Howlin’ Rays!

I’m thinking of scheduling a field trip for my bowling team.

After finishing my sandwich, I turn to that howlin’ hot chicken wing.

“You ready?” asks Brian.

“Bring it on,” I say.

I take a bite.

It’s not so hot. So I take another bite.

“I told you, man,” I say. “They can’t make it too hot for me.”

And then–wham! It’s like the peppers have joined forces to attack my nervous system.

Tears flow. Snot runs. “Oh, man–gimme water!”

“Take some honey,” says my wife. “You need something sweet.”

Alas, I’ve met my spicy match. Two bites is all I can take.

“I told you,” says Brian.

What can I say? Every now and then, even a Packer fan is right.

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Benny Jay: Potty Mouth

March 2nd, 2017

Flaked on the couch, reading Dave Barry’s Big Trouble, when I hear my daughter talking on the phone.

Her voice is sing-songy and high. Innocent. Like she’s laughing as she talks. She says: “Oh, my God….”

Instantly, I know. She’s talking to some parent for whom she baby sits. And that means she’s doing the Eddie Haskell.

Eddie’s the character from Leave it to Beaver who’d talk one way to Beaver’s mom–“hello, Mrs. Cleaver. You’re looking lovely today.”

And another way as soon as she’s out of the room. “Fuck you, Beaver, bitch.”

Well, they didn’t get to say things like that on TV back in the day. But you get the idea.

The thing is–we all got a little Eddie Haskell in us. We live in Eddie Haskell Nation!

People got two ways of talking. One way to family, friends and other trusted loved ones.

And another way to just about everyone else.

The great Eddie Haskell….

 

Black people have been talking about this for years–the “white English” you use around whites as opposed to the “black English” you use around blacks. Matter of fact John W. Fountain just wrote about this the other day. Good column, too.

White people have their version of the same thing. I know this because I’ve lived among the white people my whole life. Someone had to do it.

You’d be stunned how many white people–white women, included–drop the f-bomb.

Yet, to hear them talk in public, you’d think they’re announcers on NPR. Not that NPR announcers don’t drop the f-bomb from time to time.

I, myself, recently went through a phase where I constantly told people: “Take out the Tampon and man it up!”

Don’t blame me–it’s Mayor Rahm’s fault.

I read in the paper that during his White House days he told some aide: “Take your fucking Tampon out.”

I loved that line so much I started using it day and night. As far as I’m concerned it’s Rahm’s greatest contribution to civilization. I still can’t believe he denies saying it.

Guess our potty-mouth little mayor’s got some Eddie Haskell in him…

Good book, Dave….

One time I was having this great off-the-record chat with this big-time public official and–oops–out flew the line.

I think I said: “Girl, take out the Tampon and man it up.”

Soon as I said it, I thought–oh, shit, I fucked up.

“I’m sorry,” I told her. “I didn’t mean to be offensive….”

She cut me off faster than a switch blade to say–and I quote: “Fuck you, bitch. My dick’s bigger than your dick.”

I just about died laughing. I’ve been saying it ever since. Like I said–we live in Eddie Haskell Nation.

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