Benny Jay: Used To Be My Girl

September 14th, 2014

In honor of something or other, The Third City’s reposting this fabulous hit from the past…


Riding my bike into Evanston on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, when a text comes in from my younger daughter, asking: “Who sings the song, Used ta be my Girl?”

Catches me off guard. I know that song. It’s one of my favorites from the `70s. But I can’t remember the singer. And I don’t have a smart phone, so I can’t check the Internet.

So I call Cap, the captain of my bowling team. The man knows more about `70s R & B than any man or woman since the late, great Richard Pegue.

But Cap’s not in.

Now it’s driving me crazy. Who sings that song!!!!

I’m not proud of what happens next.

I decide to ask passing strangers. But in order to avoid wasting time asking people who — from the look of things — would not know the answer, I….

Oh, this is hard to admit….

I engage in racial profiling!

Generational profiling, too.

Oh, please, don’t hold this against me. And don’t tell anyone that I did it!

I pass a 20-something black guy. Right race, wrong age. So I don’t ask him.

I pass a 50-something white guy. Right age, wrong race. Now, if the song were by Led Zeppelin…

Everyone knows The Temptations sang My Girl….


Finally, I get so guilt ridden that I decide to ask the next person I see, regardless of race or age.

“Do you know who sings Used ta Be My Girl?” I ask a 30-something-year-old Asian American woman.

“Sorry,” she says. “I don’t know that song.”

Told ya!

Then I see a person of the perfect demographic! A 50-something-year-old black woman.

“Excuse me,” I say.  “Do you know who sings Used ta Be My Girl?”

“You mean, My Girl?” she asks.

“No, I’m talking about Used ta Be My Girl.”

Then I start singing — right there on the sidewalk just outside the cemetery on Chicago Avenue.

“`Ask me how I know, and I’ll tell you so — she used ta be my girl….’”

I’m really getting into it, snapping my fingers and everything.

“Oh, I know that song,” she says.

Which is a miracle considering how I sing it.

The O’Jays!


“Is it Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes?” I ask. “With Teddy Pendergrass.”

“No, it’s not Teddy,” she says. “I think it’s the Dramatics.”

“No, they sang, In the Rain,” I say.

“Just because they sing In the Rain doesn’t mean they didn’t sing Used ta Be My Girl.”

Excellent point.

“Is it the Stylistics?” she asks.

“No, it’s definitely not the Stylistics,” I say.

“Oh, I just can’t think of it,” she says. “This will bother me all afternoon.”

After she takes off, Cap calls back.

“Who sings, Used ta Be My Girl? I ask.

“That’s easy,” he says. “The O’Jays.”

“Oh, my God — that’s right. The O’Jays!”

“Yeah, man,” says Cap. “I love the O’Jays.”

I hang up and text my daughter: “It’s the O’Jays.”

Like I knew it all the time.

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Benny Jay: Life Itself

September 11th, 2014

Finally got around to seeing Life Itself, and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

This is Steve James’ brilliant documentary about Roger Ebert, which is so good on so many levels that anything I write won’t do it justice.

For starters, it’s a tribute to the final most inspirational years of Roger’s life, when he launched one last, glorious burst of creativity — writing books, articles and posts — even as he’d lost his ability to speak because of cancer.

Plus, it tells the moving story of his late-life marriage to Chaz — and how he adopted her family and they adopted him. Could have made a movie just about that.

There’s also a bittersweet look back at the go-go days of Chicago journalism in the `60s and `70s, when many of Chicago’s finest journalists pretty much drank themselves senseless.

Probably seemed like a good idea back then.

There’s some first-class story telling by such first-class story tellers as William Nack, John McHugh, Roger Simon and Rick Kogan. Especially Kogan. He’s got this one line that they should put on a T-shirt.

“Fuck Pauline Kael.”

Trust me — it makes a lot of sense when he says it.

And, of course, there’s lots about Roger’s caustic, contentious, competitive and ultimately loving partnership with Gene Siskel, whose widow — Marlene Iglitzen — is quite the good story teller herself.


lifeitselfGreat flick, Steve James!


The movie also pays tribute to Ebert’s prodigious writing talents. As Milo, my partner in this blogging empire, likes to say: ”The great ones show it early.”

In Roger’s case, the editorial he wrote at age 21 for his college newspaper about the church bombing in Birmingham was so powerful it made me think he might have squandered his talents reviewing movies.

At this point, I’d like to mention that we, too, had our brush with Roger Ebert. Although, it didn’t make it into the movie.

It happened one day four years ago when I noticed our readership had inexplicably soared with over 13,000 hits in a single day. Nothing like it — ever!

Immediately, I called Milo. We got so excited we talked ourselves into thinking we’d might actually make some money off this baby. And at long last, I’d be able to buy that little red sports car of my dreams.

Alas, after a little digging, I figured out that just about each and every one of those 13,000 new readers came to us via a single tweet from Roger.

Apparently, he’d found his way to Milo’s masterpiece about a stripper named Ineeda Mann, and liked it enough to tweet the link.

I’d like to say that all 13,000 of those Ebert readers have remained followers of The Third City.

But that would be lie. And, as everyone knows – we rarely lie to the American People.

Anyway, I urge everyone to see Life Itself!

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Benny Jay: Late Night Debate

September 9th, 2014

It’s the opening night of bowling and we’re about five hours in.

As always, our minds — soaked with alcohol — turn to important issues.

In this case, Friends.

The old sitcom is playing on the TV above the bar — looks like a rerun from the late 1990s.

And we’re staring at the tube, even though the sound is off.  Proving that there’s nothing drunken men in a bowling alley won’t watch on TV.

I’m watching Courtney Cox talking to Elliot Gould, and I turn to Cap and ask…

“Who’s your favorite character on Friends?”

Which is exactly the sort of thing grown men ask each other in the wee hours after one too many drinks.

Cap pauses to give my question the attention it deserves. Then he says…


I was always a big fan of Chandler…




“Me, too,” I say.

“That fucker’s funny,” says Cap.

“He’s fuckin’ hilarious,” say I.

Energized by our conversation, I turn to Bob, the proprietor of this fine establishment, who’s sitting to my right.

“Hey, Bob,” I say. “Who’s your favorite character on Friends?”

He, too, gives my question some thought. Then he answers…


But some people prefer Rachel Green…



“Oh, yeah,” I say. ”She’s funny…”

“She’s hot…”

“And you’re not….”

“Fuck you,” says Bob.

You know, when Bob and I get going — it’s like dialogue by Oscar Wilde.

That reminds Bob of something. “Did I ever tell you my favorite Richard Pryor joke?” he says.

“Not today,” I say.

He ignores me. “He goes — `that bitch is so fine, I’d suck her father’s dick.’”

“That’s pretty funny,” says Cap.

“Richard Pryor was a fuckin’ genius,” says Bob.

“Did I ever tell you my Joan Rivers joke?” I say. “She goes — my husband and I used to make love for hours. But now it’s over fast. The other we day we made love for ten mintues and then he rolled over and fell asleep. I said, `honey, keep your eyes on the road!’”

I realize I’m the only one laughing.

Well, it sounded great when Joan told it.

We turn our attention back to Friends.

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Benny Jay: Sofoklis Schortsianitis — Superstar!

September 4th, 2014

I’m on the phone talking politics with the great Dan Mihalopoulos, ace political reporter for the Chicago Sun Times.

But somehow the topic turns to basketball, as it usually does with me.

And Dan says…

“Greece versus Argentina in the World Cup is about to start.”

To which I say…

“For ten trivia points, what’s the only country to beat a USA team that was coached by Mike Krzyzewski?”

And to my utter shock, Dan says…

“Greece. 2006 World Cup.”

Wow! You never know who’s a secret b-ball junkie.

“That’s the team with Vassilis Spanoulis,” says Dan.

Double wow! Cause, let’s face it, Vassilis Spanoulis, is not what you would call a household name.

Unwilling to let Dan have the last word on great Greek b-ballers, I say…

“Let’s not forget the big man — Sofoklis Schortsianitis.


Sofoklis was the big man in the middle on that great 2006 Greek team…


By the way, I might mention that Dan’s of Greek extraction. So he has something of an excuse for knowing so much about Greek basketball.

In the contrast, the only thing Greek about me is that I love Greek cooking. So, once again, there’s no excuse for the useless stuff I’ve crammed into my brain.

Anyway, one thing leads to another and we wind up asking that timeless question: Who’s the greatest Greek basketball player of all time?

“Kosta Koufos,” says Dan. “He used to play for the Nuggets.”

“Kurt Rambis,” I say.

“Wow — good choice,” says Dan.

Just between you and me, I only learned that Rambis was Greek after I Googled “Great Greek basketball players.”

Please don’t tell Dan.


Everyone remembers Kurt Rambis…


Then Dan says Rony Seikly.

“Actually, I believe he was born in Lebanon,” I say.

“I believe it was Cyprus,” says Dan.

So I Google Rony Seikly. And guess what?

I’m right!! God, I love when that happens.

“You owe me lunch,” I tell him.

I’m already dreaming of Taramosalata and Mediterranean Baby Octopus, even though, technically, he owes me nothing. Cause we had not officially made a bet.

From there it’s only a quick hop, skip and a jump to one of my favorite topics: Great Jewish basketball players.

A list I generally pad by including everyone and anyone who’s good, whether he’s Jewish or not. Hell, if Dan has a good jump shot, I’d put him on the list.

Anyway, I’m set to hang up, when it hits me.

“Wait — there’s that kid who plays for the Bucks.”

“Oh, yes,” says Dan. “Giannis Antetokounmpo.”

“Yeah, that’s the one. Remember that name.”

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Benny Jay: A Most Wanted Man

September 2nd, 2014

As the film critic for The Third City, I saw A Most Wanted Man, the latest movie to be based on a spy novel by John le Carré.

Here’s the good news. Not only did I like the movie, but I understood it!

I contrast, I didn’t remotely understand in anyway the last movie to be based on a spy novel by le Carré. That would be Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

In a vain attempt to understand what was going on in Tinker Tailor, I saw it twice. I was set to watch it a third time, when my wife counseled me — “It’s okay, just let it go.”

For me, the big obstacle in Tinker Tailor was that the actors spoke in British accents. What with them being Brits and all. So on top of a bewildering plot, I only understood about a third of what they were saying.

Plus, all the actors looked a like. So I had a hard telling anyone apart. All in all, a recipe for disaster.

I’m tempted to credit my understanding of Most Wanted to a regimen of good living that’s revived my aging brain cells.

In fact, if I treated my ability to understand movies the way Mayor Rahm treats the mildest fluctuations in the test scores of Chicago public school students, I’d rate myself an astounding success!

Sorry, didn’t mean to get all political.


Rest in peace, Mr. Hoffman…


But to be accurate, I think the real reason I understood Most Wanted is that the directors used a bunch of American actors who pretended they were Germans by speaking English with a slight — very slight — German accent. So we could all just sort of pretend that everyone’s speaking German.

Good decision, fellas.

The great Philip Seymour Hoffman is brilliant as the chief spy who, among other things, chain smokes cigarettes and walks around with his big belly hanging out, speaking with an accent that’s vaguely similar to Henry Kissinger’s.

After the movie, I pestered my wife to ask me trivia questions about the movie. Just to demonstrate how much I understood it.

I think we can all imagine how annoying that must have been for her.

Anyway, great movie! I urge each and every one of you to run, run, run and see it.

And if by chance you have questions about what is going on, you can always reach me right here at TTC.

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Benny Jay: Labor Day Blues

August 31st, 2014

The first job I ever had was packing ice cream in an ice-cream factory in Evanston, Illinois.

It was in 1971.

I’d stand in the back room of a factory, packing ice cream into 16-ounce containers, which would get sold at the local grocery stores.

There were four other ice-cream packing teenagers in that back room. It wasn’t so bad when Eb — this super old guy — ran the show. He let us listen to the rock `n roll radio stations.

But it was a different story when Dan took over. That old sour puss kept the radio tuned to WGN.  My memory is that it didn’t play anything except Paul Harvey, farm reports and boring phone calls from suburban housewives with screechy voices.

Anyway, they started me off at $1.65 an hour and promised that after three or four months they’d give me a raise.

But when raise time came, the big boss had bad news. The country was fighting a mighty war against inflation. As part of that epic battle, President Richard Nixon had ordered a freeze on wages and price hikes.


Nixon Reacting to News of His Nomination

Blame it on President Nixon


So as much as they wanted to give me that raise — and he really, really wanted to do that — he couldn’t. President’s orders, and everything.

I haven’t liked President Nixon ever since.

As far as I can tell, I was one of the first casualties in President Nixon’s war against inflation.

They ought to erect a statue in my honor.

Happy Labor Day, everybody!


Benny Jay: Mice Science

August 28th, 2014

As the science correspondent for The Third City, I’m now going to write about the latest scientific discovery regarding mice.

I’m not sure why I, of all people, would be covering science. Probably cause I can’t force anyone else around here to do it — you try getting people to write about science at the wages we pay.

For the record, I’m probably not the best guy to write about science, as my science career came to a screeching halt over 40 years ago when I nearly flunked high school chemistry. A psychological trauma I still haven’t recovered from.

In any event, I learned about the mice research from an article in today’s New York Times, headlined: “Using Light Technique, Scientists Find Dimmer Switch for Memories in Mice.”

I would have never read the story, if my wife hadn’t noticed the headline and said: “A ha!  I told you we should dim the lights.”

Something you should know about me and my wife…

For the last several months, we’ve been bickering about how bright to keep the kitchen lights during supper.

My wife likes to dim them, on the grounds that it’s more romantic.

I, on the other hand, like to see what I’m eating. Plus, I occasionally like to sneak read magazines that are on the kitchen table.

But that’s off the record — don’t tell my wife.


You can learn a lot about science from these guys…



Anyway, I read the NYT article only to discover that it has nothing — absolutely nothing — to do with dimming the kitchen lights at dinner.

Instead, what these scientists did is — they zapped the shit out of some male mice they had trapped in a cage.

Then they allowed some female mice to enter the cage. I can only guess what the male and female mouse did in that cage cause the article doesn’t say.

But my guess is that they did a little dance, made a little love and got down tonight. To quote the eminent neurologist, K.C. Casey, of the Sunshine Band.

The scientists then concluded that the good memories of frolicking with female mice eradicated the bad memory of getting shocked.

In other words, sex is good.

Dang, man, I could have told you that — without the mice!

The scientists wrote up their report and published it in Nature,  under the headline: “Bidirectional switch of the valence associated with a hippocampal contextual memory engram.”

This is just a suggestion, but, hey, Nature – you might want to find yourself some snappier headline writers.

Now that I think about it — there’s always the possibility that I got all of this wrong.

After all, I am the guy who nearly flunked high school chemistry.

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