Benny Jay: Old Dogs

June 16th, 2019

Sometime in the middle of last month, my dog Nicky lost her mind.

She developed an aversion to late-night walks. As in–she won’t do them anymore.

Every night, it’s the same old thing…

“C’mon, Nicky,” I say in that cheery sing-song voice we use for little kids and dogs. Like–this is gonna be so much fun!

But instead of walking down the front steps, she digs in her heals. Gives me the look that says: “No way, man.”

If I drop the leash, she whirls and heads back to the door–tail between her legs, as if to say:  “Hurry up and let me back in!”

It baffles me–there’s no obvious explanation. This is a dog who used to love late-night walks. She’s been my companion for thousands of them over the years.

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Nicky, the dog–I ain’t walkin’ anymore!

I’ve heard all sorts of explanations for her behavior.

It’s the thunder storms…

Or the firecrackers…

Or her eyes are going bad and she can’t see in the dark…

(The vet offered up that one.)

I’ve received many suggestions. Like this one from my father…

“Take her to the doggie analyst and have her lie on the couch and tell the doctor about her dreams.”

As you can see, my father’s sort of fond of Freud.

The vet suggested we give her a treat as a reward for leaving the front steps. And not just any old doggie biscuit, but something special–like a piece of hot dog or chicken.

This makes sense. Hell, I’d do just about anything for a good piece of fried chicken.

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Paging Dr. Freud!

But my wife gives the dog the treat and Nicky still resists.

“You don’t understand,” my wife tells Nicky. “I’m not giving you this piece of hot dog for the sake of giving it to you. You have to earn it. It’s a reward for going for the walk.”

“Oh, I understand perfectly,” Nicky tells my wife. “I’ll take the hot dog and you do the walking!”

Well, the dog doesn’t actually say that. She just let just know.

To be clear–Nicky’s an eager beaver when it comes to daytime walks. Tail wagging. Gonna run, run right down the street.

But at night–no way, Jack!

One night, a neighbor stops to watch me drag Nicky up the block. “Let’s face it,” the neighbor says, “your dog’s getting old.”

Makes as much sense as anything. With dogs as humans, getting old’s a bitch.

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Benny Jay: A Million Books

April 21st, 2019

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.

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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: Strummer

April 4th, 2019

Years ago, I wandered into the office of a publicist named Eric, looking for info about property taxes.

At the time, Eric labored for the Cook County Assessor. So reporters turned to him when they had questions about property taxes. Which was pretty funny since Eric cared as much about property taxes as I cared about, oh, microbiology.

Hey, man, a gig’s a gig.

Anyway, I was going on and on–as I’m apt to do–about the connections between TIFs and the Homeowners Exemption, when Eric changed the subject. No doubt to keep from dozing off.

“Do you like Joe Strummer?” he asked.

“Drummer?”

“No, Strummer–from The Clash.”

“Never heard of him.”

“You never heard of Joe Strummer? He’s a fuckin’ genius!”

There and then Eric started quoting iconic lines by Joe Strummer, including this one…

“He who fucks nuns will later join the church.”

Now, that grabbed my attention. You don’t generally get the words “fuck” and “nuns” in the same lyric.

Soon Eric was singing the full verse.

‘N’ every gimmick hungry yob digging gold from rock ‘n’ roll
Grabs the mike to tell us he’ll die before he’s sold
But I believe in this and it’s been tested by research
He who fucks nuns will later join the church…

JoeStrummermural

We’ve come a long way from Joe Strummer…

I’m not sure what impressed me the most: the lyric or Eric’s ability to quote it by heart.

“It’s from Death or Glory,” he said.

Silence.

“From London Calling…”

More silence.

“You’ve heard of London Calling–right?”

I shrugged.

“Dude, you gotta be kidding me–you never heard of London Calling?”

“I kinda spent the `70s listening to pop music on a transistor radio I kept by my bed,” I confessed.

“What kind of `70s music do you like?” he asked.

“Any list must include the Bee Gees,” I said.

“You’re kidding, right?” he said.

Saturday Night Fever is one of the greatest pop records–ever!”

“Oh, shit, next you’ll be telling me you like the Carpenters.”

“How did you know?”

“I was making a joke.”

“No list of `70s songs is complete without Superstar.”

“Dude, you can’t admit this shit–it’s embarrassing.”

“Why? Karen Carpenter is a great singer.”

“Don’t tell me you like Barry Manilow.”

“Of course. `She sits there so refined, and drinks her self half-blind’. Great lyric!”

And so on…

We’ve been having one variation or another of that debate ever since. Probably be having it in our dotage at the Happy Trails Nursing Home. It sure beats talking about property taxes.

Anyway, imagine my surprise when I recently saw Eric making a Facebook “playlist of seventies songs I’m embarrassed to say I like.”

Before it was over, Eric had confessed to liking Baby Come Back, Do Ya Think I’m Sexy and Fly, Robin, Fly.

And he’s bitching about Barry Manilow?

Welcome to the church, Eric. I had a feeling you were

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Benny Jay: Rapper Man

March 27th, 2019

I’m on the phone, talking to Kitty — my friend, the publicist.  And she tells me one of her clients is Rhymefest, the rapper.

Moreover, Rhymefest and Kanye West are up for a Grammy for New Slaves, a song they co-wrote.

Then she says: “You probably haven’t heard of it.”

You know, like I don’t know shit about hip hop!

“What do you mean, I haven’t heard it!” I tell her.

The thing is — people are always assuming I don’t know shit about hip hop.

That’s cause I’m old. Plus, I already admitted I only learned about Jay-Z in 2009, years after he had already become an international superstar.

That’s when I happened to hear 99 Problems on the juke box at the bowling alley and asked my teammates: “Hey, man, who is this guy?

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If I ever got in trouble in NYC, I’m calling Murray Richman!

That night I went home and read all about Jay-Z on the internet.  I was particularly impressed by his connection to Murray “Don’t Worry” Richman, the criminal defense lawyer he hired to beat the rap for knifing a guy at a disco in New York City.

I believe that’s the shrewdest decision Jay-Z ever made. Hiring Murray Richman, that is. Not knifing the dude at the disco.

Anyway, I tell Kitty: “I know that song. My daughter taught it to me. It goes like this.”

And there and then I start rapping — live and on the phone!

“Uh-uh-uh, what up?  Uh, I’m tryna, what up?”

Which, I realize, pretty much sounds like my imitation of every hip hop song I ever heard, including 99 Problems.

“It ends with him saying where’s the mall?” I say. “That’s my favorite part — about the mall.”

“Wow,” says Kitty, who’s clearly impressed.

rhymefest

Rhymefest!

After we hang up, I start to think. Was I singing the right song to Kitty? So I go to the internet and start looking things up and — oh, no! I screwed the whole thing up!

I was singing Vanity Slaves by Kendrick Lamar. Which is a really excellent song about how people are trapped by their lust for fame and fortune. That’s the one that ends with Lamar asking where’s the mall. Like he’s a vanity slave, too. Get it?

God, I love that song.

Unfortunately, New Slaves is a different song. Which I’m sure I’ll also love, once I get to know it.

In other words, I got it all fucked up — again!

Please don’t tell Kitty. My reputation will be ruined.

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Randolph Street: I Love These Pictures!

March 17th, 2019

 

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Artist at work…

 

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Alone together…

 

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Boys just wanna have fun…

 

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I love this picture!

 

All photos © Jon Randolph

jonrandolph.com

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Benny Jay: Mr. P

March 12th, 2019

This all started about seven years ago, when, by chance, I read a Janet Maslin review of The Turnaround, a novel by George Pelecanos.

I’d never heard of Pelecanos. But according to Maslin, The Turnaround was “a hard-hitting urban parable” about six teenage boys who get caught up in “an ugly race baiting incident from 1972.”

That sounded like something I had to read, so I bought the book and it was, like–holy shit, where have you been Pelecanos! I mean, it was like he wrote this book just for me.

It was page after page of nailbiting action with realistic dialogue and gritty Washington, D.C. settings. Also, pithy asides and observations about blacks and whites and movies and cars and music, especially music. Also, sex. Hey, man, I like a good sex scene as much as anyone else.

After that, I was hooked on Pelecanos. I read the books he’d already written–King Suckerman, Right as Rain, Hard Revolution, etc. Then I started reading the new ones he was churning out like What It Was and The Cut and The Way Home.

I think Hard Revolution–set during the riots of `68–is my all-time favorite. Though, now that I think about it, King Suckerman‘s pretty freaking good.

Anyway, one day not long ago I was chatting with Josh, my old high school pal who now lives in Washington, D.C.

And he asked if I could recommend a book for Ben, his teenage son.

georgepelandben

George meets Ben…

 

“What’s he into?” I asked.

“Rap. Skateboarding. Washington, D.C…”

“You might want to try the novels of George Pelecanos.”

“Who?”

So I launched into my refrain about how a book by Pelecanos has it all–Washington, race, music, action, sex. You name it!

To Josh’s everlasting credit, he went out and bought several Pelecanos novels for his son.

And now, guess what? Josh and Ben are hooked on Pelecanos. They’ve read a bunch of his books. If this keeps up, Pelecanos’s gonna have to cut me in on some of the royalties.

Anyway, that’s where the story stood until a few days ago when I got a packet in the mail from Josh. In it was a copy of Martini Shot, Pelecanos’ latest book.

Turns out that Josh and Ben attended a reading Pelecanos gave at a local book store in D.C.

And, dig this, they got him to inscribe the book they bought for me.

“To Benny Jay–I love The Third City. George Pelecanos.”

Okay, he didn’t really mention TTC. Maybe next time.

Thank you, Josh. That’s one of the nicest things one old friend can do for another.

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Benny Jay: Noam

February 13th, 2019

For the last few days, I’ve been watching clips of Noam Chomsky on youtube–an odd obsession I get into at least once a year.

Chomsky’s the 80-something-year-old genius, who probably knows more about everything than anyone else in the world.

He’s an unapologetic leftist, unafraid to criticize U.S. foreign and domestic policies and, as such, is reviled by many people to the right of Bernie Sanders.

As smart as he is, he’s not pedantic or arrogant or condescending. He has a way of flawlessly explaining the most complex of ideas in a way that makes you feel smart, even if you’re not exactly sure what he’s getting at.

He also speaks in soft-spoken, generally unemotional monotone that can put you in a trance.

As you can tell, I’m a big fan, even if I disagree with what I think he’s saying. My guess is that many people would find him unimaginably boring.

Or exasperating, especially if he’s pointing out the inconsistencies of the assumptions that underline the way they look at the world.

William F. Buckley once got so frustrated with Chomsky that he threatened to punch him in the nose. This was back in the 1960s when they were debating U.S. foreign policy.

Chomsky never even raised his voice.

My current burst of Chomsky watching began with a documentary called Is the Man Who Is Tall Happy?

Basically a long interview with Chomsky on the subject of linguistics, it’s made by Michel Gondry, who speaks English with a heavy French accent. So it’s sort of like listening to Chomsky being interviewed by Inspector Clouseau.

Though I should point out that Gondry’s English is a hell of a lot better that my French.

noamchomskyandmichelNoam & Michel…

 

Sometimes it’s hard to understand what Gondry is saying and other times it’s hard to comprehend what Chomsky’s getting at. Think of it as watching a 90-minute conversation between two men who are hard to understand.

I liked it so much that I watched it twice.

The title comes from the linguistic puzzle having to do with the sentence: “The man who is happy is tall.”

As Chomsky notes, if you switch “is” to the front of the sentence, a declaration becomes a question. And we get: “Is the man who is tall happy?”

But the “is” that gets switched is the “is” that’s farthest from the start of the sentence. In that regard, it’s an illogical choice since it would seem more logical to move the “is” that’s closer to the start of the sentence. In which case, the sentence would be: “Is the man who happy is tall?”

Which is gibberish. Somehow our minds were genetically coded to figure out that it makes more sense to do the illogical thing.

I’m exhausted from having explained that. Just think–Chomsky explains things like this all the time.

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