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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Benny Jay: Miles Eye

January 24th, 2019

For the last few hours, I’ve been in Miles Davis frame of mind, having finally seen Miles Ahead.

That’s the biopic starring Don Cheadle as Miles Davis.

Though it’s really not a biopic so much as a private eye flick in which Miles Davis is the leading character.

It reminds me of a Coen Brother movie filled with sleazy slicksters, trying to con each other. This includes a gangster played by Michael Stuhlberg, who’s great in just about any role he plays.

The plot caught me by surprise because I was expecting to see a biopic along the lines of the ones they made about Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, and Johnny Cash.

But Cheadle–who also co-wrote and directed the movie–obviously said: Let’s take this in a different direction and see where we wind up.

What we get is better than a biopic–in my opinion.

And I am the writer of this blog, so, really, my opinion is the only one that matters.

It’s also a buddy flick cause Cheadle adds Ewan McGregor to the cast. He plays Dave–a British writer for Rolling Stone–who’s Miles’ charming but dimwitted friend.

milesdavisandmcregorMiles & his trusty sidekick…

 

Dave spends a lot his time looking dazed after getting slugged in the face. That may not sound funny. But McGregor plays it for laughs.

Cheadle told reporters he had added McGregor’s character to the movie cause it wouldn’t have been financed without a white guy in a major role.

It’s good to know that white guys are good for something.

The plot’s about as convoluted as the one in The Big Lebowski. Basically, Cheadle and McGregor race around New York City, getting stoned and trying to retrieve a tape of Miles’ music that Stuhlberg’s character stole.

Every now and then, Cheadle seems to remember that, oh, yeah, this is a biopic. So he adds some scenes regarding Miles’ marriage to Frances Taylor.

That’s the woman Miles bullied into giving up her successful dancing career–she was in West Side Story–so she could sit around an apartment being his wife.

That has to be the dumbest decision Frances Taylor ever made.

francestaylordavis

Miles loved Frances so much, he put her on a record cover…

 

Frances is played by Emayatzy Corinealdi–who is beautiful! I’d like to see Emayatzy make a movie about Frances Taylor. Maybe she can solve some crimes, too.

Back to Miles Ahead

The movie also shows Miles making great music with people like John Coltrane, Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock.

All in all, I haven’t loved a movie so much in years.

I hope Cheadle makes more Miles movies with McGregor at his side.

If Kinky Friedman can be a private eye, why not Miles Davis?

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Letter From Milo: Good Advice

January 13th, 2019

As I mentioned in a few earlier posts, money is tight and jobs are hard to find. Like many others I’ve been looking around for something to supplement my income. I was reading the newspaper the other day when I came across the answer to my economic woes. I saw that the newspaper was packed with advice columns. After reading several of the columns I realized that giving people advice is an easy way to make money. After all, if people like Ann Landers and Dan Savage can do it, why can’t I? I mean, shit, it looks easy enough. So, I decided to set myself up as an advice columnist and just wait for the money to come rolling in. Here’s my first column.

Dear Milo:
I am 15 years old and a sophomore in high school. I’ve always had a great relationship with my mom and dad. I thought they were cool. They always told me that I could talk to them about anything and there would be no consequences. Well, the other day we had one of our regular heart-to-heart talks. They asked me if I ever thought about smoking weed. I told them the truth and said yes, I smoked weed a few times a week. Suddenly, they went all ballistic on me, screaming, yelling and calling me all sorts of names. Then they took away my cell phone and grounded me for three months. I don’t know if I can ever trust them again. What can I do?


Milo says:

How can you be so fucking stupid! You must be the dumbest little shit in your class, and maybe the entire high school. What on earth possessed you to tell your parents the truth. Never, ever, tell your parents the truth – about anything! I don’t even know why I’m wasting my time on a dumbass kid like you. I suspect you’re a nerdy little bastard who spends all of his time in his room, watching porn on the internet and jacking off. What you need to do is get out of the house and hang around a pool room or the race track. Maybe you’ll wise up and learn a few things.

Dear Milo:
There’s a guy in my neighborhood who’s making my life miserable. He’s the worst sort of bully and for some reason he’s made me his prime target. Every time he sees me he abuses me. I mean he literally beats me up. I’m always covered in bruises. It’s gotten so bad that I’m afraid to leave the house. Please help me. What can I do to get this guy off my back?

Milo Says:
Oh, man, I hate assholes like that. Here’s a surefire way to get him to leave you alone. It’s always worked for me. Get yourself a gun and shoot the cocksucker. Make sure you kill him. If you just wound him he might recover and come after you. He sounds like a vindictive brute.

Dear Milo:
I married a beautiful woman. She’s got the face of a supermodel and the body of a centerfold. We’ve been married for a little more than a year and some serious problems have come up in our relationship. You see, my wife is sexually insatiable. She’s a wild woman in bed and, to be brutally honest, I can’t keep up with her. There’s nothing she won’t try and she’s getting kinkier all the time. Recently she started bringing sex toys to bed and then she started talking about threesomes and making nasty home videos. But last night was the worst. She told me that I no longer satisfied her and that she wanted an open marriage. She wants to be free to make love to any man or woman who strikes her fancy. Milo, I can’t stand the thought of my gorgeous wife in bed with someone else. I’m at my wits end. Please help me.


Milo says:

You’ve found yourself in a very delicate situation, my friend. Fortunately, you’ve come to the right man for help. I just happen to have quite a bit of experience with marriage counseling. In fact, I’ve got a diploma from the Triple A Marriage Counseling & Bail Bondsman School in Gary, Indiana. As I said, this situation has to be handled very carefully. In order to help you, I’ll have to schedule several private counseling sessions with your wife. My Michigan Avenue office is closed for the summer, due to costly and extensive renovations, which I’m paying for out of my own pocket. While the construction is in progress I’ve rented temporary office space in the Diplomat Motel on North Lincoln Avenue. If you can have your wife meet me there this Thursday at two o’clock, we can begin the process of saving your marriage and restoring peace and tranquility to your home. Don’t forget, Thursday, two o’clock at the Diplomat Motel.

Note From The Eds:
Due to the staggering number of complaints, bomb threats and police queries we are receiving concerning Milo’s advice column, we are suspending the column indefinitely. We wish to sincerely apologize for the offensive nature of Milo’s comments. We do not in any way condone criminal activity, juvenile delinquency or marital infidelity. On the advice of our attorneys, the firm of Leopold and Loeb

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Benny Jay: Every Now And Then…

January 3rd, 2019

About five or six years ago, I hosted a radio show with my old friend, Devin Thompson, who happens to be one of Chicago’s finest singers.

Basically, we spent our time arguing about this or that. In addition to being a fine singer, Devin’s a hard-headed debater who will cling to a position long after it’s obvious that he’s wrong.

To cite just one example, Devin argued that Mick Jagger was a good dancer. I know–absurd, right? I don’t even think Mick Jagger would make that claim.

But I’m not here to write about all the times Devin was wrong. No, I’m here to concede that on one point he was right.

It has to do with Prince’s guitar-playing abilities. I took the position that Prince, while good, was nothing special. And Devin asserted that Prince was one of the greatest–if not the greatest–guitar players of all time. That ignited something like the following exchange…

Me: I can name five guitarists better than Prince…

Devin: Name `em…

Me: Santana…

Devin: Santana’s not better than Prince…

Me: Yes, he is…

Devin: No, he’s not…

And so on. Okay, so it’s not Lincoln v. Douglas.

devinthompsonEvery now and then Mr. Thompson is right…

 

Well, I just watched a film of a concert Prince gave at the Alladin Theater in Las Vegas back in 2002, and, folks I have to admit–Devin was right.

Prince was an amazing guitarist! It’s not just technique, but range. At times he’s like Jimmy Page. And then in the next instance, it’s like he morphed into Wes Montgomery. And he played with an effortless nonchalance–tossing the guitar back to a roadie in between songs as if to say, no big deal.

By chance, Devin called the other day and I had no choice but to do the right thing.

“Devin,” I said. “I have a confession to make…”

“Yes…”

“You were right and I was wrong…”

“About what?”

“Prince…”

“I tried to tell you…”

“Yeah, well, you were right…”

“I can’t say I was ahead of my time. More like you were behind the times.”

Have you ever noticed that hard-headed people are not exactly the most gracious of winners?

Just to save a little face, I added: “But you’re still wrong about Mick Jagger.”

“I never said he was a great dancer. I said he had a thing.”

“Now you’re re-writing history. You sound like Trump.”

That momentarily silenced him. After he regained his composure, he broke some good news.

He’s recording a CD with Severn Records that includes original songs and covers and it will be out next year. I’ll be first in line to buy it, cause the man’s a great singer, hard-headed or not.

Congratulations, Devin. Now, here’s some advice. When you make a video, don’t invite Jagger to be a dancer. Cause, as everyone knows–Mick Jagger can’t dance.

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Letter From Milo: Bonnie’s Tale

December 31st, 2018

Mickey came home from Vietnam in February of 1970, just a few days short of his 21st birthday. He had been an infantryman, a rifle-toting grunt who had slogged through mountains and swamps, bombed out rice paddies and impenetrable jungles. He had seen and done things that no person should ever see or do. Some of the memories would never leave him.

Back home, Mickey was at loose ends. He didn’t know what to do. He was lost and confused. His old friends, high school buddies, seemed like childish strangers to him. He wasn’t sleeping well and was eating poorly. Even his mother’s cooking, which he had always relished, was tasteless to him.

Mickey spent most of his time in his car, driving aimlessly, listening to the radio and smoking lots of marijuana. Sometimes he’d pick up a six-pack or a pint of whiskey and drive out to the beach, where he’d find an isolated spot near the shore of Lake Michigan, park his car, and watch the waves roll in and out for hours at a time. The sound of waves lapping at the shoreline soothed him and often he would fall asleep, lulled by the rhythmic play of the waters.

Mickey knew there was something wrong with him but he couldn’t quite put his finger on the problem. The term Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder hadn’t been coined yet. If he had known about PTSD he might have tried to get some help, although Mickey was by nature a self-contained type and probably wouldn’t have asked for help even if he knew he needed it.

After being home for a few months, the time had come for Mickey to make a decision. He could either get a job in one of the local factories or do something else. He opted for something else. He decided to take advantage of the GI Bill and go to college for a year or so, just to clear his head. Maybe he would get a new perspective on things. Maybe his demons wouldn’t follow him to southern Indiana. Maybe he could outrun his past. Maybe.

His first months at college were not much different from the life he had been living in his hometown. Mickey wandered around in a daze, keeping his head down, unable to reach out to people, unwilling to expose himself more than absolutely necessary. He attended classes sporadically, spent time drinking alone in the local taverns and smoked pot to take his mind off of, well, who knows what. He may as well have been a ghost, his presence unnoticed except for those whose senses were attuned to the high and lonesome end of misery spectrum.

And then Mickey met Bonnie.

She was a beautiful, long-legged art student, a farm girl from southern Indiana. She saw something in Mickey that he thought had been lost and gone forever. She saw a spark of intelligence, a glimmer of humanity that he thought no longer existed. For some reason she decided that he was someone worthwhile, someone she wanted to know better.

Bonnie took Mickey under her lovely wing. They became friends, then lovers. She had a kind and generous nature and, more than that, she seemed to have an intuitive sense of how to deal with Mickey’s damaged psyche. When he went into one of his funks, she knew how to lift his spirits. When he woke up in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat and gasping for breath, she soothed him with hugs and kisses and gentle words until he was able to fall asleep again. She was comfortable with his silences and listened patiently when he felt like talking. Although Mickey didn’t realize it at the time, Bonnie was exactly what he needed at that point in his life.

When Bonnie brought Mickey into her life she also introduced him to her world. As an art student, Bonnie’s social circle included other artists – actors, writers, dancers and musicians. Mickey, who was used to the rough world of soldiers and working men, found himself enjoying the company of his witty and creative new friends. They made him laugh and think and look at the world differently. He was changing.

Slowly, Mickey began to come out of his shell. He felt healthy again. He was sleeping better, too, his dreams less vivid and frightening. He took pleasure in good conversation, good music and even began enjoying some of his classes, although it must be said that Mickey had a low opinion of organized education. He no longer had a sense of dread when he woke up in the morning. He had the odd but welcome sensation that he was becoming a human being again, reconnecting to the person he once was and seeing intimations of the person he might become.

Mickey understood that none of this would have been possible without Bonnie. She had literally saved his sanity and, possibly, his life. She had lifted the darkness from his soul and replaced it with dawning hope. Mickey knew that he could never explain to Bonnie what she had done for him. He could not find words that adequately expressed what she meant to him. In fact, he doubted that the proper words of thanks existed in the English language. The only thing he knew for certain was that without her he might have remained a ghost, a blue-collar Flying Dutchman, doomed to spend eternity wandering. He would never forget what she had done for him.

All stories have a beginning and, sadly, an end. When she finished school, Bonnie decided to move to New York City to pursue her artistic dreams. Mickey’s future lay elsewhere. They went their separate ways, but Mickey always kept Bonnie in his heart, safely tucked away in a place where a person’s most precious treasures are kept. He thought of her often, wondering where she was and what she was doing. Always, when he thought of her, he wished her peace, love and happiness. There was nobody more deserving.

And there was absolutely no doubt in Mickey’s mind that when Bonnie thought of him, she wished him the same.

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Benny Jay: Singing Christmas

December 27th, 2018

As the clock ticks toward midnight, we’re sitting at the bowling alley bar, talking about this, that and the other thing, when, out of nowhere, Cap declares…

“Benny, did you know that all the great Christmas songs are written by Jews?”

Hmm. This requires consideration–I just don’t want to agree to anything. So, in my mind I run through all the great Christmas songs written by Jews.

Let’s see, there’s White Christmas, Silver Bells, The Christmas Song, I’ll Be Home for Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Christmas, Baby Please Come Home.

Which, while sung by Darlene Love (not Jewish), was written by Ellie Greenwich (very much Jewish).

Proving that great things occur, when blacks and Jews come together.

But all the great Christmas songs?

“I don’t know, Cap–all is a mighty big word.”

“Name one great Christmas song that’s not,” Cap says.

“That’s easy,” I say. “This Christmas.”

This Christmas?” says Cap.

“Donny Hathaway wrote it.”

“I know who wrote This Christmas…”

“Donny’s not Jewish.”

“Yeah, but This Christmas isn’t one of the greatest Christmas songs ever.”

“Are you kidding me? It’s in the top five. No doubt about it!”

To prove my point, I start to sing it. Though I’m not sure what good that does–as I can’t sign worth a damn.

“Fireside’s burning bright and we’re caroling through the night…”

Which may or may not be the words–as I remember lyrics about as well as I sing them.

Clearly trying to cut me off, Cap says: “I know how the muthafuckin’ song goes…”

jamesbrownchristmas

Nothing says Christmas like James Brown!

Too late–by now Norm’s joined in.

“Cause this Christmas will be…”

For the record, Norm’s got a better voice than I do–but not by much.

“A very special Christmas for you me…”

Believe it or not–we’re almost harmonizing.

Finally, Cap concedes that, yes, it’s a great song.

“Then there’s Stevie Wonder’s Christmas song,” I say.

“What Stevie Wonder Christmas song?” asks Cap.

“I can’t remember its name–it’s the one in the Apple commercial.”

“Fuck that, Benny! Even Stevie Wonder will tell you that ain’t no White Christmas.”

“How about I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus?” I say.

“Oh, I like that song,” says Norm.

“Don’t start singing it,” says Cap.

Too late. We’re right back at it.

“I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus…”

“Benny,” says Cap. “The way you sing–it’s a good thing you’re a writer.”

Alas, all great debates must come to an end. And so we stagger home.

Fast forward to the next day, and I’m driving in my car when on the radio comes James Brown singing Santa Clause, Go Straight to the Ghetto.

It takes all the self control I can muster to keep from pulling over to call Cap there and then. Cause Santa Claus, Go Straight to the Ghetto is most definitely one the greatest Christmas songs–ever!

And I’m pretty sure James Brown’s not Jewish.

Though his manager was.

Like I said–great things occur, when blacks and Jews

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Benny Jay: Long Flight

December 20th, 2018

I’d forgotten how dreadful flying can be until one day last week, when I caught an early morning flight from Chicago to L.A.

The plane had the typical layout–two rows of three seats, separated by an aisle. And it was packed. Maybe one empty seat in the back–but that’s it.

Obviously, at some point, when I wasn’t paying attention, the guys in charge of such things cut the seat size so they could fit more beef in less space and make even more money.

To make matters worse, I’m sitting next to a beefy dude, whose body’s too big to fit into his seat and so it spills over into mine.

As the plane takes off, our arms and legs are touching. We’re practically cheek to cheek.

But I can’t get mad at the guy cause there’s nowhere for his arms and legs to go.

If he moves too far to his left, he’d be touching the woman who has the window seat. And that wouldn’t be cool.

For most of the flight, the dude looks miserable. He’s got his head down and his eyes closed. As if he’s trying to sleep. Or if he’s practicing some mind-over-matter mental technique in which his mind leaves his body and goes somewhere else.

Preferably far away from this plane.

<a href=”http://www.thethirdcity.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/louisckfatguyairplane.png”><img class=”aligncenter size-medium wp-image-55016″ src=”http://www.thethirdcity.org/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/louisckfatguyairplane-300×168.png” alt=”louisckfatguyairplane” width=”300″ height=”168″ /></a>
<strong><em> It was sort of like that airplane scene from the Louis C. K. show…</em></strong>

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Somewhere over the Rockies, I smell something foul. Sort of rancid. Like meat gone bad.

I wonder: Did I step in dog shit?

The smell dissipates. Then it returns.

I look at the dude on my left. His eyes remain closed. I swear–he’s praying.

I look at the guy across the aisle. He’s looking at me as if to say: Do you smell what I smell?

Then it hits me.

It’s my beefy friend–the dude’s got gas.

There’s no good time or place to be ripping farts. But it’s especially awkward when you’re cheek to cheek with some stranger on a crowded plane.

And so as we cross Nevada into California, my friend keeps silently releasing his noxious odors.

It’s fucking hell.

Mercifully, we land. And I scramble off that plane just as fast as I can–never even looking back.

Here’s the good news…

On my return flight, it’s so crowded there’s only one empty seat.

But guess who it’s next to?

That’s right–me!

Ah, yes, sweet justice.

Every once in awhile, the kid gets a break.

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