Benny Jay: Acing The Test

July 22nd, 2020

Clearly, the Lincoln Project commercials are getting to Comrade Trump—especially the one that depicts him as a doddering old fool who can barely walk down a ramp or lift a glass of water to his mouth.

I know it’s ageist. But even MAGA—and I know there are a few Trump lovers out there—realize he’s got it coming. What with all the nasty things he’s said about everyone from Rosie O’Donnell to Joe Biden.

Anyway, Trump got so shaken by that “What’s wrong with Trump?” commercial that he felt compelled to go on Sean Hannity’s show and announce he had passed a cognitive test. No, not just passed—but “aced.”

Here’s his exact quote: “I actually took one when I—very recently, when I—when I was—the radical left were saying, is he all there? I was all there, because I got—I aced it. I aced the test.”

C’mon, MAGA, admit it—your guy’s gone around the bend.

Thing is, it got me thinking. Could I “ace” that test?

So, I downloaded it. It was pretty routine. Stuff like—what day is it? What month? What year? I’m like—damn, Trump, you’re bragging about acing this?

I told my wife about it, and she wanted in. I asked her the day, the month, the year. She’s getting cocky, like, this is too easy. So, I figured let’s have some fun, and I left the grid.

I said: “I’ll give you a line and you tell me what comes next. Ready?”


“People say I’m the life of the party.”


“That’s on the test?” she asked.

“Wrong answer, I said.

“OK, OK, ’cause I tell a joke or two.”

“Correct. Now, ‘Ooh, I need your love, babe.’”

“Guess you know it’s true.”

“Correct. Final question—who were Chicago’s last three mayors?”

“Lightfoot, Rahm, and Daley.”

“You win—you’re officially less demented than Trump!”

Which now that I think about it—isn’t really saying that much.

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Benny Jay: Night Stand Fibs

July 14th, 2020

Every Sunday I turn to the New York Times Book Review to read a column dedicated to how pathetic I am.

Well, that’s not its exact purpose.

It’s called “By the Book—writers on literature and the literary life.”

It features interviews with celebrities who run through the books they’ve read and the ones they’re reading. The subtitle might as well be—these guys are smart and I’m not.

For example, this week’s guest celebrity was Steve Inskeep, who hosts a show on NPR that requires him to be on the air at 5 in the morning and still has the time and energy to read, like, a zillion books.

When asked “what books are on you your nightstand?” he responds (OK, get ready) . . .

The Anarchy, William Dalrymple’s history of the East India Company. Hill Women, Cassie Chambers’ memoir of growing up in Eastern Kentucky, where my wife and I went to college.

“My Hero Academia, a Japanese graphic novel that our oldest daughter assigned me to read.

“Dreams of El Dorado, H. W. Brands’ history of the United States’ settlement of the West.

“Members Only, Sameer Pandya’s new novel about the only person of color in an exclusive club.

“The Governance of China, Xi Jinping’s tome on his political views. And These Truths, Jill Lepore’s history of the United States.”

Wait, he’s not done!

“My nightstand also has Anna Karenina.”

Damn, man—that’s not a nightstand, Inskeep, it’s an aircraft carrier!

Plus, he still has time to “devour historical fiction—Robert Harris, Alan Furst, and M.J. Carter” and read novels “with nuanced female as well as male characters” by “Elif Shafak and Lauren Groff.”

In contrast, it takes me about a week to finish a John Grisham novel. Like I said—pathetic.

On the other hand, they could be kind of—oh, how to put this?—embroidering things just to look good. Anything’s possible in the age of Trump, where stretching the truth has apparently become a way of life.

Even for the good guys.

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Benny Jay: Bitchin’

July 10th, 2020

As the old guy in an universe of the young, I’m always hearing expressions I’ve never heard before. And so it was the other day, when my wife approached me as I was reading the newspaper…

“I think Ziggy made a mistake,” she said.

Ziggy’s her 30-something-year old guitar teacher.


“He sent me a text that says `bitchin’.”


“Yes, bitchin’…”

“That’s it?”

“Yep–that’s it.”

I put down the newspaper. Obviously, this required my full attention.

“What was the context?” I asked.

“I texted to see when we were having our guitar lesson. And he texted back–`is 1:45 good for you?’ I wrote yes. And he wrote–`bitchin’.'”


“He must have meant to send this text to someone else,” she concluded.

Well, there’s precedence for this.


“The secret to staying young is to lie about your age”–Lucille Ball. Word.

Years ago, when our daughters were teenagers, my wife wrote one of them a text, bitching about something our daughter had done.

But she accidentally sent that text to Susan, a friend.

Susan texted back: “I think you may have sent this to the wrong person.”

Then she launched into an obscenity-laced rant about her own teenage kids.

But back to bitchin’…

I said: “Bitchin’ must be something millennials say to one another a lot. Though we wouldn’t know that cause we haven’t been millennials in a long time. Actually, we’ve never been millennials. Either way–I’ll look it up in the Urban Dictionary.”

The Urban Dictionary is a website I discovered years ago when I was at the bowling alley talking about this, that and the other thing with my 30-something-year-old pal, J Dub.

I said: “These politicians are all crooked.”

And J Dub said: “Word.”

“What?” I asked. As though the problem was I didn’t hear what he said.

“Word,” he repeated.

“Oh, yeah, man,” I said. As though I knew what he was talking about.

When I got home, I went straight to Urban Dictionary, where I discovered that for years word didn’t just mean word, but “to speak the truth.”

How come no one tells me these things?

Anyway, I looked up bitchin’ and I found that it’s top definition is “good, fuckin’ great, awesome.”

Needless to say my wife and I have been saying bitchin’ to one another ever since.

It’s sort of like a linguistic version of a face lift. Anything to stay young. Word.

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Benny Jay: The Great Mr. Washington

July 1st, 2020

And the winner is . . .

Hold on! Let me explain the contest.

So, we were talking on my podcast about this, that, and the other thing and producer Dennis—aka, Dr. D—asked who was on my Mt. Rushmore of four all-time great Chicago politicians.

As a listener pointed out, Mt. Rushmore is a problematic monument, given that it’s sculpted by a follower of the KKK on land stolen from the Lakota Sioux. Still, I gave my response…

Harold Washington, Karen Lewis, Leon Despres, and Ralph Metcalfe.

I think we all know know the first two. But just in case…

First Black man to be elected Mayor of Chicago and the crusading former president of the Chicago Teachers Union.

For younger people…

Despres was the proudly independent alderman from Hyde Park, and Metcalfe was the south-side congressman who had the guts to defy Mayor Richard J. Daley on issues of police brutality—back in the ’70s.

As you can tell, I’m drawn to champions for the underdog who aren’t afraid to fight The Machine. The Machine being a symbol of all that’s wrong with a town that steals from the poor to feed the rich and then beats the crap out of people who protest. You know, that Machine.

With that we were off, asking listeners to weigh in with their top four all-time great political figures in Chicago. And the clear winner was . . . Mayor Washington!

The man died over 30 years ago, but his popularity and esteem seem to grow by the day—even with people who weren’t born when he was alive.

I realize, of course, most of my listeners (like me) inhabit a universe I call Lefty Land. So be it.

As far as I’m concerned, the powers that be in Chicago should take everything currently named for George Washington and rename it for Harold Washington.

Congratulations, Mr. Mayor—I wish you were still here among us to come on the show and claim your prize.

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Benny Jay: Murakami’s Monkey

June 23rd, 2020

For the last few days, I’ve been pondering the mysteries of Murakami’s monkey.

That is—Confessions of a Shinagawa Monkey by Haruki Murakami, the great Japanese writer. The story ran in the June 8 issue of the New Yorker.

It’s always a pleasure to read a new short story by Murakami—it’s like finding a new song by Bob Dylan. I know something’s going on but I’m not sure what it is. The meaning is deep within—if there’s any meaning at all.

In this story, the narrator reminisces about meeting an elderly monkey at an inn in a hot-springs resort. Not just any monkey, but a talking monkey.

Right there is a signal that from here on out, you must suspend all disbelief—as the last I heard, there’s no such thing as a talking monkey.

The monkey tells a compelling tale about being adopted by a professor of physics, who not only taught him how to speak but introduced him to the works of Bruckner and Richard Strauss.

Eventually, the monkey returns to the world of monkeys, where he realizes he doesn’t fit into any world, as he’s not a human and not quite a monkey.

I can relate. Though I’ve lived in Chicago for almost 40 years, I will never understand why Chicagoans feel compelled to instinctively react to any brushback by hurling a curse or throwing a punch or, worse, shooting a gun. As though simply walking away from a fight is not in the playbook.

Anyway, the story takes a twist within the twist that’s straight out of The Twilight Zone. It may be even more unbelievable than a talking monkey.

It’s such a pleasure to let my mind wander through the mysteries of Murakami—a welcome break from the madness of our times.

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Benny Jay: Prince’s Light

June 19th, 2020

For the better part of the last few days, I’ve been watching dozens and dozens of Prince videos on my computer.

It’s like if I watch enough videos, he’ll come back to life.

Though we know that’s not going to happen.

There are so many classics.

Like the one where he’s on stage with Michael Jackson and James Brown.

I’m like–Prince, nooo, don’t grab that street lamp thing…

Or the one where he’s on stage at the George Harrison tribute, playing lead on While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

He slays that solo!

Or his Super Bowl show, in the pouring rain, where he pays tribute to Jimi Hendrix with a brief, bluesy version of All Along The Watchtower.

Let’s face it–Jimi Hendrix was Prince before Prince was Prince.

And my absolute favorite–at least for the moment–where he’s alone on stage for a sound check at a big stadium in Japan and he starts playing Summertime.

Man, George Gershwin himself never played it so well.

princeandapolloniaPrince & Apollonia…

There’s also the tributes that others have made to Prince. Seems like everyone’s singing Purple Rain–Bruce Springsteen, Adam Levine.

I’ve been singing it a lot myself these days.

I’ve got the last images of the movie constantly running through my brain.

There’s Prince on stage singing the song. And there’s Morris Day in the crowd singing along, cause he knows Prince really got the best of him in their competition.

And Billy, the club owner, also singing along.

As is Apollonia.

And Wendy & Lisa on guitars. No man ever had so many women in his band. Prince was way ahead of his time.

People in the crowd are waving their arms back and forth.

From there, I flash to other scenes from the movie, while the song’s playing in the background of my brain…

Prince making love to Apollonia in a barn. I think it’s a barn. Where did they find a barn in Minneapolis?

And Prince rushing into his house to keep his dad from beating up his mom.

And Prince racing across the bridge on his motorcycle.

The bridge they lit up in purple after he died.

Yeah, man, I can’t get enough of Prince these days.

Wish I could bring him back…

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Benny Jay: The Hindi Host

June 10th, 2020

It’s a typical pandemic Saturday night.

My wife and I settle in to watch a Netflix disc of The Host.

I’ll pause to let you stop laughing. Everyone laughs when they hear I still get Netflix discs by mail. Especially millennials. Not sure what they think is funnier: that I still use the mail or that I still watch movies on discs.

In reality, Netflix by mail is the best way to get older, under-the-radar flicks like The Host—Bong Joon-ho’s 2006 darkly funny sci-fi flick about this giant fish-monster that emerges from the Han River in Seoul to snatch and stash people in a dungeon beneath a bridge.

Good stuff!

The only problem is the movie’s dubbed.


What a monster!


Apparently, Netflix thinks Americans are too dimwitted to read subtitles. It’s like watching Godzilla—the words we hear don’t resemble the ones we see coming out of the mouths of the people speaking them.

Still, the movie builds to a compelling climax, where this brave, little girl is trying to climb over the sleeping fish-monster to escape the dungeon, when . . . the screen freezes!

That’s right—there’s a flaw in the disc at the most important part of the movie.

I can hear millennials everywhere, saying: Told you so.

Desperate to learn what happens to that little girl, I search the Internet for alternative viewings, finding only a YouTube link to The Host dubbed in Hindi.

Yes, Hindi. A language I do not speak.

No matter—we watch the final ten minutes or so on my wife’s cell phone. Again, in Hindi.

I won’t tell you what happens, but I will say this: in any language, on any sized screen, The Host is a hoot to watch on a pandemic Saturday night.

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