Benny Jay: MAGAVILLE, USA

August 25th, 2021

It was the last day of a weeklong vacation, and I was feeling really groovy hanging around a lake in MAGA land.

Yes, way up north in Michigan. It seemed like there were big ol’ Trump flags—“take back America in 2024”—everywhere I looked.

But I was cool and calm. Taking a break from politics. Wasn’t talking Trump or Biden, even if asked.

You might say I was going undercover—a lefty hiding out in MAGAVILLE. Except it’s really hard going undercover in MAGAVILLE when you’re the only one wearing a mask at the grocery store. And all the conversation stops when you walk in. Like you’re the stranger walking through the swinging doors of a saloon, and the piano player stops playing, and the conversation ends, and all the other cowboys slowly look you over as they quietly reach for their guns.

Not that anyone pulled out a gun on me.

Anyway, we were sitting at a table on a patio, overlooking a lovely lake, with Billie, an old friend. And she saw Dunkin, an acquaintance. And she said: damn, I gotta at least say hello.

And I said: look out, he’s really conservative.

And she said: don’t worry, I won’t talk politics.

And I watched her walk over to Dunkin. And she smiled really sweet and said hello. And he said: I haven’t seen you in years, what are you up to?

And she said: I got a job as a tenants-rights lawyer. 

And he said: well, I hope you’re not going to be one of those lawyers who represents deadbeats who don’t pay their bills.

And just like that—bam—my groovy vibe ended. And I returned to the reality that you can’t escape, no matter how hard you try. As I came face-to-face with the inescapable realization that no matter how nice you try to be, no matter how inoffensive, no matter how hard you try not to talk politics or raise challenging topics . . .

MAGA will always feel free to be a jag.

And it hit me. Liberals are always bending over backwards to be nice, and MAGA doesn’t care.

MAGA will say whatever offensive remark pops into their brains. And if you complain, they’ll call you a snowflake. And scoff about political correctness. And accuse you of trying to cancel their culture. As they turn themselves into victims.

Like Alan Dershowitz crying like a baby because Larry David said something nasty to him about  Trump when they recently ran into each other at a country store in Martha’s Vineyard.

Which is so ironic, because MAGA is supposed to be against self victimization. And, hey, Dershowitz, if you don’t like being criticized for representing Trump, don’t represent him. You’ve either got the courage of your convictions or you don’t . . .

By the way, I didn’t actually hear the conversation between Billie and Dunkin. She relayed it to us when she returned to our table.

“What did you tell him when he said that thing about representing deadbeats?” I asked.

“I told him I hoped he woke up tomorrow as a disabled Black woman who’s unemployed, dead broke, and a few months behind on her rent,” she said.

“You did?”

“No. I didn’t. But I was thinking it.”

Like I said—liberals always try to be nice.

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Benny Jay: Summer In The City

August 1st, 2021

Finally got around to seeing Summer of Soul—Questlove’s documentary about the Harlem Cultural Festival that took place in the summer of ’69.

Great flick. Loved it in so many ways—the music, the clothes, the crowd, the stage announcer. But the part that resonated most with me was this quirky tangential riff about men on the moon.

Smack dab in the middle of the festival—on July 20, to be exact—man walked on the moon. Neil Armstrong at first. Followed by Buzz Aldrin.

(For ten trivia points, what was the name of the third astronaut who stayed on the spaceship? Don’t look it up.)

Back in ’69, everyone was going ga-ga about that moonwalk—most of them can tell you exactly where they were when Neil Armstrong walked down that ladder.

And yet, I must confess, little old 13-year-old me just didn’t give a damn. Then, as now, I was a bleeding-heart sort. As I saw it, the whole moon-shot thing was a waste of money. Not when we had poverty to end.

And one wonderful thing about Summer of Soul is they interview a whole bunch of people who agree with me. I’m not alone!

(Here’s a hint about that third astronaut: He’s got the same name as an Irish revolutionary, who was played by Liam Neeson in the movie. Don’t look that up either. Man, you guys are always cheating with those cell phones.)

Where was I? Oh, yes, out of touch with my generation . . .

I didn’t even like Woodstock, which also took place in the summer of ’69. Not that I was there. I was definitely not what you would consider rock festival-going material. I was a middle-class kid from Evanston. I’m not thinking about sleeping in a muddy field with a bunch of strangers.

In the summer of ’69, I was much more into baseball. Passionately following the Cubs, who of course, blew a 13-game lead in August and lost to the New York Mets.

As a Cubs fan I’m supposed to hate the ’69 Mets. But as disappointed as I was by the Cubs’ collapse, I didn’t hold it against the Mets. Not their fault Cubs manager Leo Durocher didn’t know how to handle a pitching staff.

Plus, I liked a lot of the Mets players. Like Tommie Agee, who used to play for the White Sox. Don’t get me talking about that trade.

(OK, one more clue about the third astronaut: He has the same last name as the guy who sings “In the Air Tonight.” No phones!)

Back to Woodstock. I think you’ll agree that the artists who performed at the Harlem Cultural Festival (Nina Simone, the Staple Singers, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Mann—to name a few) were way better than the ones who played at Woodstock.

Except Santana. And Hendrix. And Sha Na Na. Always had a soft spot for Sha Na Na. And Sly, who also played at the Harlem festival. You know, maybe Woodstock wasn’t so bad after all.

But a man on the moon? Put it this way—the song’s great, but the actual thing was a waste of money. Just like I’d have told you back in the summer of ’69, if you were around to ask.

Oh, yes—Michael Collins. Aren’t you glad you didn’t look it up?

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Benny Jay: Pandemic Policy

June 19th, 2021

Had one of those Ann Landers moments the other night, when I desperately needed someone to give me instantaneous advice to help me figure out an uncomfortable moment of uncertainty. I’ll set the scene. . .

We’re having a lovely night with old friends, watching basketball and eating pizza. At the end, one guy, heading for the door, turns to me and says, “Great seeing you.” Then he sticks out his hand as if to shake.

There and then I had a decision to make. Do I take the shake—or do I pass?

Confession time. . .

One of my favorite parts of the pandemic—not that there was a lot of competition—was that it temporarily halted the ritual of shaking hands..

More confessions. . . 

I never liked the ritual of shaking hands. It’s because, oh, one last confession. . . 

I’m a bit of a germaphobe. A guy sticks out his hand and I wonder, Where has it been, and has he washed it since it’s been there?

It’s like that classic scene in Jackie Brown, the great Pam Grier movie. Where Max Cherry, the Robert Forster character, exits the bathroom to find Ordell Robbie, the Samuel L. Jackson character, sitting in his office.

Here’s how it reads in Quentin Tarantino’s script:

The bathroom door in Max’s office. We hear a toilet flush behind it. The door opens, and Max Cherry emerges, zipping up his pants, with a TV Guide in his hand. He looks up and stops dead. Ordell’s sitting oh-so-comfortably in the chair in front of Max’s desk.

Ordell: Unh. . . unh. . . unh. . . I didn’t hear you wash your hands.


I know I shouldn’t be associating with the psychopath in the movie, but in that scene, I knew exactly where Ordell was coming from. Even though he was, as I said, very much a psychopath.

Another example. . . 

Years ago. I’m walking Nicky, my dog. And we’re passing this babysitter and a five-year-old girl. And the girl’s got her finger in her nose. I mean—way up her nose.

And as Nicky and I approach, the kid takes her finger out of her nose and heads straight for my dog.

And the babysitter says something like, ”Oh, so sweet, can she pet your dog?”

Oh, folks, what to do? I didn’t want to be the mean old guy in the neighborhood. But I didn’t want that stuff from that girl’s nose on Nicky’s head.

So I told a little fib. I said, “Ugh, my dog’s not really that good with little kids.” And then I just hustled down the street.

Anyway, so what did I do when my friend extended his hand? I shook it. That’s what I did.

But then I dashed to the nearest sink to wash it. Next time, I’m going with the fist bump. Might as well take something good from the pandemic.

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Benny Jay: Ann Landers Moment

June 15th, 2021

Had one of those Ann Landers moments the other night, when I desperately needed someone to give me instantaneous advice to help me figure out an uncomfortable moment of uncertainty. I’ll set the scene. . .

We’re having a lovely night with old friends, watching basketball and eating pizza. At the end, one guy, heading for the door, turns to me and says, “Great seeing you.” Then he sticks out his hand as if to shake.

There and then I had a decision to make. Do I take the shake—or do I pass?

Confession time. . .One of my favorite parts of the pandemic—not that there was a lot of competition—was that it temporarily halted the ritual of shaking hands..

More confessions. . . 

I never liked the ritual of shaking hands. It’s because, oh, one last confession. . . 


I’m a bit of a germaphobe. A guy sticks out his hand and I wonder, Where has it been, and has he washed it since it’s been there?

It’s like that classic scene in Jackie Brown, the great Pam Grier movie. Where Max Cherry, the Robert Forster character, exits the bathroom to find Ordell Robbie, the Samuel L. Jackson character, sitting in his office.


Here’s how it reads in Quentin Tarantino’s script:

The bathroom door in Max’s office. We hear a toilet flush behind it. The door opens, and Max Cherry emerges, zipping up his pants, with a TV Guide in his hand. He looks up and stops dead. Ordell’s sitting oh-so-comfortably in the chair in front of Max’s desk.

Ordell: Unh. . . unh. . . unh. . . I didn’t hear you wash your hands.



I know I shouldn’t be associating with the psychopath in the movie, but in that scene, I knew exactly where Ordell was coming from. Even though he was, as I said, very much a psychopath.

Another example. . . 

Years ago. I’m walking Nicky, my dog. And we’re passing this babysitter and a five-year-old girl. And the girl’s got her finger in her nose. I mean—way up her nose.


And as Nicky and I approach, the kid takes her finger out of her nose and heads straight for my dog.

And the babysitter says something like, ”Oh, so sweet, can she pet your dog?”

Oh, folks, what to do? I didn’t want to be the mean old guy in the neighborhood. But I didn’t want that stuff from that girl’s nose on Nicky’s head.

So I told a little fib. I said, “Ugh, my dog’s not really that good with little kids.” And then I just hustled down the street.

Anyway, so what did I do when my friend extended his hand? I shook it. That’s what I did.

But then I dashed to the nearest sink to wash it. Next time, I’m going with the fist bump. Might as well take something good from the pandemic.

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Benny Jay: Best Records of 1971

June 8th, 2021

First things first . . .

All credit goes to Mick Dumke, my former partner in crime here at the Reader. For as long as I can remember, Mick’s been telling me that 1971 was the greatest year for records—at least in the past century.

He fancies 1971 in part, I think, because that’s his birth year. Who knows—perhaps his birth had something to do with that great music. It’s one theory anyway.

Also, for as long as I can remember, Mick’s been saying we should do a show dedicated to the music of 1971, either on my podcast or on the Hideout stage.

And so, as I saw that everyone else was doing documentaries and writing stories about the music of ’71, I said—let’s get it on. (A great song from 1973. Which, by the way, may even be greater music-wise than 1971. Just throwing that out there for future debate.)

So we put together our lists. True to form, I was impulsive in my approach, rattling off the first albums that came to my mind.

In contrast, Mick was more scholarly. He made his list. Then he edited it. Then he edited it again. For all I know, he’s still editing it, even though we dropped our show this weekend.

My top three are Aretha Franklin’s Live at Fillmore West, the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East, and Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On.

Mick’s top three are the Rolling Stones’ Sticky FingersLed Zeppelin IV, and What’s Going On. To hear our full rundown, check out the show.

I had so much fun doing the show that I couldn’t stop after it was over. And I’ve been asking random people for their lists. And the top threes keep rolling in.

My oldest daughter: What’s Going On, Aretha Franklin’s Live at Fillmore West, and Carole King’s Tapestry.

And Courtney, my oldest daughter’s friend: Aretha’s “Spanish Harlem,” Bill Withers’s “Grandma’s Hands,” and Aretha’s “Rock Steady.” (Obviously, Courtney went with favorite singles, not albums, but it’s all good.)

And Dave, a millennial DJ: Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire de Melody Nelson, Curtis Mayfield’s Roots, and What’s Going On.

And Stacy Davis Gates: Aretha’s Live at Fillmore West, the Isley Brothers’ Givin’ It Back, and What’s Going On.

And so on and so forth.

Curiously, no one mentioned Carpenters by the Carpenters, which made my extended list.

C’mon, everybody—”Hangin’ around, nothing to do but frown . . .

Man, I got a lot of grief for including the Carpenters. Rumor has it that Tim Tuten threatened to ban me from the Hideout for unspeakable acts of uncoolness.

Speaking of which, here are Tim Tuten’s top three: Sticky Fingers, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, and What’s Going On.

As you can see, the common denominator in these lists is What’s Going On. I’ve asked at least two dozen people for their list. And everyone includes Marvin’s masterpiece.

Here’s the funny thing. For all the people who say they love What’s Going On, not enough people are practicing its central theme.

You know—the part about “War is not the answer / For only love can conquer hate.”

I don’t want to get all grim. But every day brings more horrific news of shootings, bombings, beatings, rocket firings, fistfights, knifings, terror, random violence, and so on.

Any time we want to start living Marvin’s message as well as listening to it, it’s all right with me.

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Benny Jay: We Are The Champions!

May 25th, 2021

I want to apologize up front for the quality of this post. It may be a little disjointed. You see, I’m drunk.

First time I wrote anything while being drunk. So, it will be interesting to see how this works out.

Generally, I’m not the get-drunk type. More like the nurse-a-beer-all-night type. But this was a special occasion.

The reason I’m drunk is because tonight was the last night of the men’s Monday Night Bowling League at Timber Lanes,  and my team—Trouble—won the championship!

Yes, we’re named Trouble. And, yes, there’s no time for losers cause we are the champions. Of the world!

Or, at least, the Monday night bowling part of it.

First time Trouble’s ever won the championship. Actually, when a couple of our guys were on a different team they won a championship back in 2001. But I wasn’t on that team. Back then I was on Fioretti’s Five. Which is way more information about my bowling team than any of you requested.

We won the championship by beating Bob’s team—the Hawaiians. (More on Bob later.) After we won, people in the bowling alley started buying us shots.

I must have had three or four shots—honestly, who can remember?—of Dr. J. That’s not the real name. The real name is Crown Royal. But it features Dr. J in the commercials. So we call it Dr. J. It’s a basketball thing.

Scottie, the bartender, has been working at Timber Lanes for so long, he’ll say: “Hey, Benny J, want a Dr. J?”

It’s like Friends, where everybody knows your name. Oops, that was Cheers. Not Friends. I would not have made that mistake had I not consumed so many Dr. Js.

You know, winning the bowling championship is not unlike winning the Oscars. So I feel I should give a little acceptance speech. Here goes. . .

I’d like to thank my beloved teammates—Timmy, Tony with a T, Norm, and Cap. We did it, boys. We’re the champions!

Also, I want to thank Katie and Tim T. at the Hideout for sponsoring our team.

And, finally, I’d like to thank Bob.

That pretty much ends my speech. Oh, wait, I want to thank my wife. I don’t want to be like Ben Affleck at the Oscars when he didn’t thank Jennifer Garner.

I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking—why are you thanking Bob?

The answer is that Bob has an amazing talent for adding up numbers. He’s like a human calculator.

We thought our season was over after we lost our first game against Cobra Kai (yes, they’re named Cobra Kai). But Bob checked the score and discovered a mistake in the math. Instead of losing by seven pins, we wound up winning by four.

From there we went on to win two more games and eventually the championship. Meaning that for the first time in my life, I sorta know what Michael Jordan feels like. Heavy emphasis on sorta.

When I thanked Bob for his contribution to our championship, he said: “Anyone ever tell you, you got a great face for podcasting?”

As you can see, Bob’s not the most gracious of losers.

No time for losers cause we are the champions—of the world. . .

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Benny Jay: Mare of Easttown

May 17th, 2021

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a step or two or three behind the times when it came to water-cooler conversations about the hottest shows on TV.

I didn’t start watching The Sopranos until at least seven years after it had been off the air.

Similarly, with The Wire—it had been off for five years before I saw my first episode.

I made up for lost time with enthusiasm, starting conversations with: “Oh, my God—Omar!”And people would go: “Oh, my God—that’s so 2003.”

So, imagine my excitement when I got it together to watch Mare of Easttown—the hot new show about a detective in small-town Pennsylvania—at precisely the same time as everyone else in the universe. As in—right now!

Finally, part of the national conversation.

Only with the pandemic still kicking, there’s no water cooler to hang around having a conversation. The closest I’ve got are the four guys on my bowling team. And none of them have seen the show.


So, I’ll have to share my random thoughts about Mare of Easttown with you, oh, beloved readers. Please, indulge me. Random thought number one. . .

No offense to Kate Winslet. She’s doing a great job as Mare, the hard-luck detective trying to solve a murder. But at the risk of sounding like Donald Trump—you mean to tell me they couldn’t find an actress from Pennsylvania to play that role?

This thing about casting British actors—like Kate Winslet—to play Americans has been grinding my gears for a while. At least since I watched Nicole Kidman play the mother in The Undoing—a show I didn’t get around to watching until about a year after everyone else.


Okay, so Kidman’s actually from Australia. But you get my point.

And don’t get me started on Daniel Kaluuya, the British actor who won the Oscar for his role in Judas and the Black Messiah.

He did a great job. But, c’mon, there are at least five actors from Chicago who could have been cast to play Fred Hampton.

And Idris Elba—another Brit—as a guy from Philadelphia in Concrete Cowboy? He spent that whole movie fighting to keep his British accent from coming through. What—was Will Smith busy? He really is from Philadelphia, you know. Went to Overbrook High School—just like three of my aunts.


Where was I? Oh, yes, thoughts on Mare of Easttown. . . 

Random thought number two. You know, it’s sure taking Kate Winslet a long time to solve this crime. At the risk of sounding like an old Baby Boomer—man, Columbo would have figured this thing out in one episode.

As you can see, I’m out of touch when it comes to water-cooler conversations. By the way, Angourie Rice, the young actor who plays Siobhan—Kate Winslet’s daughter? She’s from Australia.

Like I said—don’t get me started. . .

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