Not long ago, my old friends–Ron and Harolyn–invited me to their house for a Fourth of July extravaganza, featuring wine, women and song!
In no particular order.
What a time it was.
Great people. Lovely house. Delicious food. Then Ron broke the news…
It was more than any old party. His son, Houston, was going to take the opportunity to propose to his girlfriend, Chanel.
Furthermore, I would actually have a role in this proposal.
Yes, yes. I would be one of the 15 people, holding separate placards featuring a different letter. At that crucial moment when Houston dropped to his knee, we’d raise our cards so they’d spell: Will you marry me?
At this point, I’d like to give a shout out to Asia–one of Houston’s sisters–who was the brains of this operation.
Way to go, Asia!
Now back to the story.
In this production, I was the letter M.
As such, I was to stand next to Gaylon, who was E.
Thus, together, Gaylon and I would spell ME.
As you can see, we were two especially important cogs in this operation.
From the get go, I was a little worried that I’d get things reverse and stand on Gaylon’s wrong side.
So we’d wind up saying: Will you marry em?
Which would be very confusing to one and all.
As part of the plan, Houston and Chanel went for a walk.
While they were going, we card holders assembled on the deck.
Oh, lord, what a nerve-wracking moment. But Gaylon–cool as a cucumber–saw me through it.
“Remember,” she said. “Stay on my right.”
“Got it,” I said.
“Which side are you staying on?”
And so it came together…
Houston and Chanel strolled up to the house.
When they reached the driveway, he dropped to his knee and, at that instant, all 15 of us raised our cards…
“Will you marry me?”
There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Chanel said yes.
After the proposal, several guests sereneded the couple with songs of love.
I’d like to give a special shout out to the super siblings–Kaci and McKennen Campbell–who brought down the house with a couple of songs.
I got so swept up in the moment that I was set to do my rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s Wild Thing.
Then I thought better of it.
I’ll save it for the wedding.
Congratulations Chanel & Houston!
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A lot of people may not know this about me–on account of the fact that I’m so modest and everything–but I’m an excellent Spades player.
But, as good as I may be, for the longest time I’ve had a string of bad luck in games teaming me and my pal, Ron, against my wife and our dear friend, Pippi.
I’m not sure how I can be so good at Spades and still lose year after year to these ladies.
I have a theory. And, please, whatever you do, don’t tell Ron. But–it’s all Ron’s fault.
Anyway, our kids grew up together and for the better part of the `90s and `00s, we’d get together to listen to music and play Spades.
And year after year Ron and I suffered the humiliation of getting whooped by the two Ps–Pippi & Pam!
And let me tell you–these girls really rubbed it in!
Especially that Pippi…
First of all, she adds sound effects to her game. So she’s not content to just lay down a killer card.
Oh, no, when she plays a killer she goes–”Bammmmm!”
Then she bursts into song.
That’s another thing you should know. In addition to playing cards, Pippi’s a great singer.
If I’m lucky, she’ll take requests and sing Lovely Day.
Trust me–there are few things in life nicer than Pippi singing Lovely Day. Even if she’s whooping my ass at Spades, while she’s singing it.
Well, everyone got together for a monster reunion the other day.
And I let Pippi and my wife know that this time I wasn’t playing.
“Ladies,” I announced. “I’ll be giving you a lesson in how to play Spades. So take notes.”
I guess you can tell who won the big game…
Ron couldn’t play cause he was doing the dishes.
So I brought in a ringer–Stephen from Joliet.
I figured a guy from Joliet should know how to play cards. I’m not sure why I figured this–but I did.
For awhile, we were doing great.
In fact, I won a hand by making a masterful play in the final round.
“You can read all about that move in chapter four of my book,” I told Pippi. “The Game of Spades, My Way by Benny Jay.”
“Ha, ha, ha,” Pippi said.
Then I took a break to let a guy I’ll call Douglas sit in for me.
I had great confidence in him cause he talked even more trash than I did.
But, man, I left that room for one minute and, when I returned, what did I hear?
Pippi singing Patti Labelle–as in…
“Love and need and want you, babe…”
“We got set,” said Douglas.
Stephen was disgusted. “I’m through with you busters,” he declared. “I’m going back to Joliet!”
Meanwhile, Pippi and my wife were going on and on about how “sistahs know how to play the game.” And “I hope you were taking notes, Benny Jay.”
And then Gaylon–who wasn’t even playing–chipped in from the sidelines.
“What was the name of that book, Benny?”
Oh, brother. You know how these women stick together.
Okay, P&P. Enjoy your little victory. But be warned. I got a secret weapon.
For the next big game–I’m bringing back Ron!
Hey, stop laughing.
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For the last few days, I’ve been singing the great Beatles song, I Will.
It’s been on my mind cause it’s the song they play at the climactic moment of Good Ol’ Freda, a documentary by Ryan White, that I recently saw.
It tells the tale of Freda Kelly, the teenager from Liverpool, who, at the age of 16, got the greatest job in the world–secretary to The Beatles.
Watching that movie brought back many memories.
Like, for instance–I used to a Beatle.
Yes, this is true. You know, in a round about way.
Back in the `60s, my older sister and her friends organized a pretend-Beatles group.
No one played any instruments. They’d put on a Beatles record and sing along–like they were the real Paul, George, John and Ringo.
I got to play along because there were only three of them and they needed a fourth to fill out the band.
Apparently, the dog wouldn’t do.
Of course, they made it clear to me that I was only in the band because that they had to take me. As such, I didn’t get a say in selecting which Beatle I was going to be.
I had to be whichever Beatle was left over after they made their selections.
I tell ya’–life ain’t easy for a boy named Benny.
The left over Beatle happened to be John. And so from that day on, John has been my favorite Beatle.
It’s funny how time has a way of changing our perspectives.
Eventually, my sister came to the realization that John was the smartest, funniest and most talented of the bunch.
And so she had to confront the fact that I–her baby brother–had made the wisest selection as to which Beatle he wanted to be.
Even though the selection really wasn’t mine to make.
By the way, she chose to be Ringo. A fact I tease her about to this very day.
And here’s the kicker…
My sister knows way more about the Beatles than I do. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that my sister knows more Beatles trivia than anyone alive.
With the possible exception of Freda Kelly, of course.
But when push came to shove, she was Ringo and I was John.
As much as we all love Ringo, it’s obvious to one and all that John Lennon is one of the few people in the history of rock n’ roll who actually gets better as the years move on.
Anyway, check out Good Ol’ Freda.
I’m sure it will bring back memories of your own.
For the last few days, I’ve been on pins and needles as I fear my beloved Bulls will lose the great Jimmy Butler to free agency.
Probably to the Lakers. Or, if recent rumors can be believed, the Sixers.
Noooo! Not those bums.
Jimmy Butler is the starting guard for Bulls.
Last year he offered to sign a four-year deal with the Bulls for $48 million.
That prompted me to bellow at Bulls management: “Take that deal!”
Not that anyone in Bulls management ever listens to me. Even when I bellow. But that’s besides the point.
Instead, the Bulls insisted he sign for $44 million.
Prompting me to say: “What the fuck are you doing–trying to lose?”
In the hopes that if I swore someone with the Bulls might pay attention.
Alas, no deal was signed and now Jimmy’s a free agent. Meaning he might not return to the Bulls.
One reason I’m so disheartened is that Jimmy Butler’s really good. Without him, the Bulls have no chance of winning a championship.
Another reason is that he went to college with Ryan, one of my oldest daughter’s best friends.
As such, he remains my only sliver of hope for getting a free ticket to a Bulls game.
Not that I have any reason to believe that I’ll get a free ticket through the Ryan/Jimmy connection. As I haven’t received a free ticket in the four seasons Jimmy’s been on the team.
For that matter, I don’t believe Ryan has received a free ticket either.
My guess is that the Bulls will win the championship before Ryan or I get a free ticket from Jimmy.
There’s also the possibility that Ryan might not give me a ticket in the unlikely event that Jimmy gives some to her.
After all, I’m not the only one in Ryan’s life who loves the Bulls. There’s someone I’ll call Nora. And another named Anika. And Ana–can’t forget her.
I’m suddenly realizing I may be at the end of a long line of people for Ryan’s non-existent tickets.
Still, a man can hope.
Hold it! Breaking news! Stop the presses! This just in!
Jimmy re-signed with the Bulls for $95 million.
Hey, Jimmy–don’t forget those tickets!
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They opened a new staging of Bad Jews, so, of course, I had to drive to Skokie to see it.
Bad Jews, as I have mentioned before, is the exceedingly dark comedy by Joshua Harmon about three Jews and a gentile who gather in a claustrophobic studio apartment in New York City and behave exceedingly badly to one another.
As the title suggests.
Actually, only two characters–Daphna and Liam–are bad. The other two–Melody and Jonah–spend most of their time ducking for cover.
I’m still not sure how anyone who’s not Jewish would want to see it. Even among Jews the verdict seems to be split.
There are Jews who think the play should be shunned because it puts the tribe in a bad light.
And there are those who–for whatever demented reasons–can’t get enough.
At Friday’s show, I happened to run into two old friends–Beth & Tony–who represent both points of view in one family!
Tony’s seen the play and loves it.
Beth hasn’t seen it and is not sure she wants to.
The play ran for several months at the Wit Theater in Chicago and now they’re bringing it to Skokie, perhaps because it has a relatively large number of Jewish residents.
Or, as Beth puts it: “If the mountain won’t come to Muhammad…”
The girl’s got jokes!
The show’s as nasty as ever.
Bravo to the cast: Cory Kahane, Laura Lapidus, Ian Paul Custer and Erica Bittner.
Also, a bow to Jeremy Wechsler, the director.
We’re not worthy…
The play has three monumentally brutal riffs–one by Liam and two by Daphna–where the characters go on extended solos of nastiness.
To give you just a taste, consider this diatribe from Liam about Daphna’s propensity for bragging about her Israeli boyfriend…
“This guy who is so Jewish and so great and he wants to marry her and she’s going to make aliyah and live in Jerusalem shoving shofars in her hideous unused vagina until the whatever arrives and it’s like, I bet this guy fucked her once, and when he was drunk, by accident, and woke up the next morning and it was like, uhhh, MISTAKE, but she woke up and thought, BOYFRIEND!”
Or this riff, where Daphna goes right back at him…
“I can only imagine the topics you [and Melody] must cover in your daily conversation, subjects like, how cute she looks on the bunny hill, or, how cute she looks in her Talbots secretary outfits, or really what it all comes down to: how nice it is to fuck an ethnic-free bush!”
Well, like I said–it’s not for everyone.
In the parking lot after the show, I ran into Beth & Tony.
“It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be,” said Beth.
Wow! That’s like four stars from Roger Ebert.
See the play and decide for yourself…
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For the last few days, I’ve been reading One Man Against the World, Tim Weiner’s recently published biography of Richard Nixon.
Great book. I urge everyone to read it.
For younger readers, Richard Milhous Nixon’s the deranged & drunken insomniac that the American voters saw fit to elect as their president–twice.
And I thought Chicago voters were twisted.
I could go on and on about the evils of Nixon, but let me just say this…
In addition to relentlessly bombing Vietnam, while needlessly dispatching thousands of American soldiers to die in a war he could have ended soon after getting elected…
You know, aside from that…
He was a big-time ass kisser.
For proof, let’s go back in time to 1972, when Nixon flew to China to meet with Mao Tse-tung and Zhou En-lai–leaders of the largest Communist nation on the planet.
Their meeting was a great historical irony because Nixon was a notorious red baiter, who clawed his way to the top by vowing to be tough on Commies.
But when he got his chance to sit with Mao, perhaps the most brutal Communist tyrant of all–well, just call him Eddie Haskell.
Here’s the transcript, as provided by Weiner…
Please, Mr. Chairman, let me kiss your ass…
Nixon: I have read the Chairman’s poems and speeches, and I knew he was a professional philosopher.
Mao: Ha, ha, ha.
Nixon: The Chairman’s writings moved a nation and have changed the world.
Mao: I haven’t been able to change it.
Nixon: Please, Mr. Chairman–let me blow you.
Okay, he didn’t say that–but just about.
Read this book!
After sucking up to Mao, Nixon goes on this tangent about the secret sex life of Henry Kissinger, his chief foreign policy advisor.
Nixon: Henry’s the only man in captivity who could go to Beijing and no one knew it, except possibly a couple of pretty girls.
Mao: So your girls are very often made use of?
Nixon: It would get me into great trouble if I used girls as a cover.
Zhou: Especially during elections.
Everyone: Ha, ha, ho, ho, ho–hee, hee!!!
After the meeting, Nixon returned to the hotel, got shit faced and ordered more bombing of Vietnam.
What a nutcase.
And you elected him, America!
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For most of my life, I’ve been pretty much unaware of Mumford & Sons.
And then one day…
I bike to the field at Montrose just east of Lake Shore Drive.
That’s where I got to run up and down the little hill and pretend I’m a great athlete like Walter Payton.
But on this day, I find the hill encircled with a cyclone fence. As workers construct a big stage.
“What’s going on?” I ask a security guard.
“It’s a Mumford & Sons concert,” he says. “Next week, they’ll be performing here.”
And that’s how I learned Mumford & Sons had invaded my little corner of the world.
Hey, man–thanks for telling me, everybody.
I dash home to break the news to my wife.
“Oh, I heard about that,” she says.
As always, I’m the last to know.
“It was on NPR.”
Then I ask…
“Is Mumford & Sons the one that has the song that goes, `Oh, oh, oh, oh…?’”
“I have no idea what song you’re singing,” she says.
“You know–`oh, oh, oh, oh…`”
As if I repeat those words long enough she will understand.
Here’s the thing–it works!
“No, that’s the song by Coldplay,” she says.
That’s what 30 years of marriage will do to a woman.
After that I’m obsessed. I’m giving everyone I know concert updates. Like…
“They’re having valet service for bike riders…”
“Yes, they don’t want cars…”
“Apparently, Mumford & Sons are really into bikes.”
Even Toews was there…
I try to explain my obsession in existential terms that could be universally understood…
“You see, my world’s so small. Imagine a little triangle. There’s my house. Trader Joe’s. My beloved hill in the park. And now the outside world has invaded my little triangle!”
And people say, “I see…”
But what they’re really saying is: “Get me away from this fucking lunatic!”
It’s a little like the Blackhawks thing–only in reverse.
In that case, everyone wanted to talk to me about how great it was that the Blackhawks won the championship. And I didn’t give a shit!
What goes around comes around…
On the day of the concert, a bunch of us drive to Chinatown to eat dinner at Yan Bang Cai–the world’s greatest Sichuan restaurant.
Speaking of things I can’t stop talking about.
My wife drives home cause I may have had a few glasses of wine.
Hey, I live dangerously, baby.
I’m giving her navigational tips having to do with the concert.
“Look out for the bike riders,” I tell her.
“There’s gonna be hordes of bike riders overtaking the streets…”
She manages to get us home without seeing one Mumford & Son bike rider.
The woman’s a genius, my wife.
The next day I open my paper and what do I see?
Jonathan Toews–star of the Blackhawks–at the Mumford & Sons concert!
There’s no escape.
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