If you like trivia, check out my other site, THE HARRIS CHALLENGE, and play every weekday!

Tuesday, December 19, 2000

Andy Kaufman, Over-Indulged Nut

In case you haven’t noticed, the media has pronounced this Andy Kaufman Month. They’re all caught up in the hype of “Man On The Moon,” the movie starring Jim Carrey as Kaufman which opens this week, and the two bios of him which have been published within the last month.

Show business is well-known for its lack of perspective, particularly on stardom. Yet even by its own ridiculous standards, the plaudits for Andy Kaufman are beyond all reason. They include phrases like “changed the face of comedy forever,” “splendidly surreal,” and the used-so-often-it’s-now-completely-deflated “comedy genius.”

Rarely does anyone refer to Andy Kaufman as what he truly was: a nutcase who was over-indulged by Hollywood and the rest of show business. It is precisely that over-indulgence which I find most amazing.

Don’t get me wrong. I thought some of what he did was amusing. I smiled at the Mighty Mouse bit. I smirked at the Foreign-Man-Becomes-Elvis impersonation. They were not hysterical nor the most ground-breaking comedy I’ve ever seen. But if you listen to the praise being heaped on Kaufman now, you’d think that he was the most fantastic entertainer to ever live. He wasn’t that, but he was certainly among the most coddled and spoiled.

Selective memory is an amazing thing. The cast of “Taxi,” on which he played Latka Gravas, unanimously hated him. Yet they all appear in the movie and have recently been quoted saying wondrous things about him. One of the producers marvels at how, in the show’s first season and with no previous sitcom experience, Andy never forgot his lines. What the producer seems to have forgotten is that in the first dozen shows or so, Latka spoke in his own gibberish language that Kaufman had made up! He could have said anything and it would have fit, and no one would have known if he flubbed a line.

What Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Marilu Henner, and Judd Hirsch aren’t saying now is that, when they were doing “Taxi,” he drove them crazy by showing up late to the set or not showing up at all and getting special treatment from the producers. Kaufman was treated like the star of the show, even though it really revolved around Hirsch’s character. Still, the producers coddled him. At one point, Jeff Conaway became so upset with the way he abused his privileges and was never punished, that he got fed up and went after Kaufman with his fists. Naturally, Conaway was perceived to be the bad guy, because Andy could do no wrong.

The producers even agreed to a contract clause which guaranteed that Kaufman’s obnoxious alter-ego, lounge singer Tony Clifton, be featured in a couple of “Taxi” episodes -- a professional arrangement that ended in an on-stage fight culminating with his physical removal from the studio. What other performer would be allowed to continue that kind of nonsense?

In the later seasons, they indulged him even more by allowing Latka to develop a schizoid personality that turned him into other people. Talk about typecasting. These were at the time universally considered to be the lamest episodes the show ever produced. But now, with myopic hindsight, there’s nothing but praise for them.

Kaufman is considered “ground-breaking” because he thought it was more entertaining to go onstage at a comedy club and not be funny. You can see dozens of people doing that regularly at open mike nights across the country. But because he somehow had been knighted as Comedy’s Golden Boy, it was different?

What is entertaining about a guy getting onstage, announcing that he has a growth on the back of his neck, and then letting the audience come up and touch it? The audience, who would have licked his boots if he had asked them, came up one by one and played along. When they were all done, he said thank you and left the stage. You think I’m making that up? Kaufman did that as his entire act on a televised special, and was hailed for it with comments like, “Only Andy Kaufman would have the guts to try something so daring!”. In reality, if any other shlub had done it, he would have been shown the door and never invited back. That’s what I mean by over-indulged.

Here’s another example.

For some reason, Kaufman thought it cool to take a job as a busboy at a Hollywood deli that was frequented by the stars. He did the job just as any busboy would, anonymously. But he couldn’t control his obnoxious side. Bill Zehme tells the story in his book (“Lost In The Funhouse”) of the time Richard Gere was having dinner with a friend in the deli. Kaufman noticed him and, staying in busboy character, went over to see if everything was okay. He did this over and over again with the express purpose of annoying Gere enough to get a response. Gere was irritated, but didn’t want to make a scene. Finally, Kaufman took a pot of coffee to the table and started refilling Gere’s cup, but didn’t stop when it was full. He kept pouring, so that the coffee overflowed onto the table and into Gere’s lap. At that point, Gere exploded with anger, as any normal person would. Kaufman was thrilled to have engendered such a reaction. Here’s where the over-indulging comes in. He was not fired or even castigated for this stunt. It was simply written off as one of Andy’s moments of real-life theater, and Gere was made out to be the humorless one for not going along with the joke. Hello?

There was nothing entertaining about Kaufman’s wrestling theatrics either, least of all his bouts with women -- which, by the way, were merely a ruse on his part to get women to rub up against him. He was doing it purely for the sexual thrill (he would get so excited onstage that more than once he had to be taped down so that his erection wouldn’t be visible on television). It was the kind of misogyny that even the WWF wouldn’t sink to. Yet Kaufman was over-indulged and allowed to do it on television time and time again. Why?

Oh yeah, because he was a genius.

Monday, November 27, 2000

Dodge Ball Is Destroying Our Kids

Sorry, gym teachers, you’ll have to find something else to do on those rainy days when your class is stuck inside. In Cecil County, Maryland, school officials want to ban the game of Dodge Ball.

Why must Dodge Ball go? Because they say schools should be teaching cooperation and teamwork, and Dodge Ball is all about individualism. And they say the game may cause some kids to lose self-esteem if they get hit and knocked out of the game.

This is not the conclusion of gym teachers, but of school administrators and their consultants, like Judith Young, who advises school districts on physical education. She says, “The notion of throwing things at people, pegging people with other objects, is contrary to what we’re teaching elsewhere in school.”

So is tackling, Judy. You want to ban football next?

She also complains that kids will lose self-esteem if they’re eliminated early in the game, and we can’t have that. Amazing that a woman can consult on physical education without understanding some of the basic concepts of sports. For instance: someone has to win, someone has to lose -- someone will be first, someone will have to be last!

Before you know it, we’ll stop grading kids on how they’re doing academically, because the ones who don’t score high enough might...wait, I’d better stop before I give them any ideas.

What are you going to do about running around the track? Tell the faster kids that they shouldn’t be so speedy because that might make the slower kids feel bad? Does everyone now have to run at the exact same pace?

Actually, that would have helped me in junior high, when I cared so little about running around an oval that even the fat kids would lap me. But my disinterest had nothing to do with losing self-esteem on the track. It had everything to do with puberty, and not wanting to have to take a shower in the gym locker room at the same time my body was undergoing those transformations. Believe me, I trained long and hard to learn just the pace I could run without breaking a sweat. No sweat, no shower.

Cecil County is not the only school system making changes like this. Dodge Ball and Kickball -- even Basketball! -- are being replaced around the country by smaller games or individual exercise regimens. How an individual exercise regimen fits into the teamwork concept, I have no idea.

Next, they’ll eliminate your basic game of tag. There’s probably some psychology to show that being “it” for too long a period can destroy a kid’s self-esteem. Hide and seek has to go, too. It’s a documented fact that both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were certified “seekers,” and you know what happened to them.

Other changes to be made under the new Esteem-Enhancing Sports Rules:

Baseball: Three strikes and you’re still in.
Volleyball: No hitting the ball where the other team isn’t.
Basketball: The vertically-challenged won’t feel left out with a lower net.
Hockey: The goalie has been eliminated as a wasteful obstacle.
Bowling: Keep going, you’ll get all the pins down eventually.
Soccer: All players may use their hands at any time.
Tennis: You may hit the ball no matter how many times it has bounced.
Track & Field: Time and distance no longer affect your score. We just want a good effort.

What Judy and her pals don’t understand is the one thing that makes Dodge Ball fun. The idea is NOT to go after the fat kid, the slow kid, the geeky kid, etc. Any true Dodge Ball player knows that the best part is going after your best friend. If you can throw that big rubber ball at your closest pal and hit them hard enough to leave a bright red mark on their thigh, your day is made!

Of course, if they catch it and wing it back at you, then you could be the one spending the rest of the game sitting down, drawing patterns in your reddened flesh with your fingertip. But you always know there will be another chance in another game on another day.

Unless you live in Cecil County, Maryland, that is.

Friday, November 17, 2000

James Ulmer, Hollywood Hot List

On my show today, James Ulmer, Hollywood journalist and creator of The Ulmer Scale, told incredible insider stories about celebrities, how they're treated, and how they're rated by the industry. You won't believe some of the stories, like the ones about how the crew of a movie got even with Sharon Stone, the time Kirstie Alley demanded a wet-nurse for her possum, and how Demi Moore wants so many perks she's nicknamed "Gimme Moore."

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, November 13, 2000

Modernizing The Electoral Process

All this hoopla over the presidential vote recount has focused on the people, with complaints like, “How come Floridians can fill out 10 bingo cards at once, but they can’t punch holes in a simple butterfly ballot?”

The problem doesn’t lie so much in the people. It’s in the system. Here we are in the year 2000, the most technologically advanced civilization in history, and the punch card is the way we still have to vote?

As always, I’m here with a solution. Stay with me on this, because I’m going to suggest we make a leap forward and use a little-known device called “The Computer.”

In a world where you can order an entire custom dining room set online and have it delivered to your house two days later, shouldn’t we have moved the how-we-vote bar a little bit higher?

Simplifying the process involves changing two things.

First, we shouldn’t have to all gather at the same polling place in our own community to cast our votes. You should be able to vote at any public election kiosk anywhere in your state. That way you don’t have to rush home from work or a business trip to try to beat the closing time (cuts down on absentee ballots, too!).

How will the machine know where you live and what district your vote counts in? In many states (e.g. Missouri), our driver’s license has a metallic strip on the back -- just like on credit cards -- but it seems to serve no purpose. Under my plan, you swipe your license in the kiosk reader, and it instantly knows where you live and what you should vote on. Vote anywhere, anytime, and it all gets applied to the proper precinct.

This has the wonderful side effect of completely screwing up the exit polls, although they seem to have done that themselves very nicely.

It should also cut down on waiting time at the polling places. We live in a microwave world where we want everything faster (I have seen a guy stand in front of the microwave complaining that it was taking a full minute to heat up his cup of coffee!), so we have to design a way to speed up the voting process. No one should have to spend a half-hour in line just to vote. We have better things to do with our time, like spending all night camped outside Toys R Us waiting for the new Sony PlayStation 2 to go on sale in the morning!

The other half of the upgrade involves replacing the punch card ballot with a computer touch screen. For each elective office, you simply touch the screen where your candidate’s name is. Then you push the “next” option, and it keeps taking you through all the categories of aspiring office holders, propositions, bond issues, etc. When you complete the last item, the screen shows a summary of who and what you have voted for and asks, “Is this correct?” If you push Yes, your vote is tabulated and you’re on your way. If not, try again. There’s no muss, no fuss, no wasted paper (can you recycle electoral punch cards?).

Best of all, there is absolutely no chad.

I didn’t know until this week that “chad” is the name for the paper speck that you punch out of the card. Part of the controversy over the Florida ballots being counted by hand is that the election judges have to consider what happens when the hole is punched, but the chad is still attached by a corner or two. They use phrases like “hanging chad,” “dimpled chad,” and “swinging chad."

The word “chad” hasn’t been mentioned in this many news reports since Rob Lowe's brother was arrested in the same week that Madeline Albright’s plane refueled in a small African nation near Libya.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about my revolutionary electoral scheme:

Q: We can’t trust computers. What if some teenage hacker changes the software and Bill Gates becomes President?
A: We now live in a world where you can go to Sri Lanka and access your US bank account at an ATM over a secure line and withdraw money in an instant! I think we can develop a secure system for your vote. Incidentally, those machines that now count the punch cards ARE computers.

Q: Doesn’t that leave the door open to corruption? How do we know the vote count is true?
A: The experience of the last week should be proof enough that we probably never knew that, in any election.

Q: What if the results are so close someone demands a recount?
A: Each kiosk retains its own statistics internally as well as feeding them down the secure network, backing itself up after each ballot is completed. It also makes anonymous bids on Mark McGwire's rookie card on E-Bay in the background.

Q: How do we pay for all this technology? Do we just buy the equipment from DiscountKiosks.com?
A: Corporations pay huge fees for the naming rights to every stadium and arena in the country. The biggies would gladly pick up the costs if their logo could appear on the screen between voters. On the days when we’re not having an election, you would use the same kiosks to order tickets to your favorite major motion picture!

Q: Come on, Paul. Elections are supposed to be about the people’s choice, not some cheap sponsorship opportunity for some company.
A: You’re right. The only proper place for commercial messages is on The Paul Harris Show and the banner ads on HarrisOnline.com. Sorry about the blatant plugs, but I’m still laughing about that whole "people’s choice" remark. Good one!

Q: If people are having trouble with punch cards, how the hell are they going to figure out your touch-screen deal?
A: I’m not suggesting you have to do something complex like program your VCR in order to vote. All you have to do is apply pressure with your finger to a screen. Just like you do now when a contestant on “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” uses up all their lifelines on the $200 question. Besides, we’ll always have a certain percentage of the population -- let’s say it’s 10% -- who can’t figure out how to vote correctly, no matter what method we use. So why not upgrade it for the other 90% of us? For the one out of ten who have trouble with both punch cards and touch screens, let them go to a simple voice vote. At noon on election day, they open their windows and scream their candidate’s name. Loudest response wins.

Q: What about people who, for whatever reason, can’t open their windows? Doesn’t your system discriminate against the infirm, not to mention people who work in high-rise office buildings?
A: I’ll let my Executive Election Assistant answer that one. Chad?

Monday, October 30, 2000

The Pig Flies First Class

My favorite story of the week is the 300-pound pig that flew first class from Philadelphia to Seattle.

Note that when I say “300-pound pig,” I’m not talking about a large human being. I’m talking about a porcine being. A pig. A hog. The other white meat.

How did it get into first class of US Airways flight 107 on October 17th? The airline let two women bring the porker along as a “companion pet.”

You’ve heard of seeing-eye dogs, who can go anywhere with their human master to help them negotiate their way through life. Well, this is a "therapeutic-companion pig." The women claimed that they had a note from a doctor that required them to fly with the animal. No word on whether they made the reservation for the pig under the name Kevin Bacon.

Now, picture this. It took four people to wheel the pig into the airport, through security -- I don’t know whether the pig walked through the metal detector or had to be scanned on the conveyor belt to determine that it wasn’t concealing a weapon -- to the gate, and onto the plane. How would you like to be in line behind that?

“We’ll now begin our pre-boarding process, for anyone traveling with small children or huge farm animals.”

The flight attendants, as you’d expect, freaked when they saw this thing entering the plane’s doorway. They objected to having it onboard (“this is not kosher!”), but someone in the airline’s legal department cleared the pig for takeoff. Please, be sure your tray table is up and your tail is locked in the curly-Q position.

The pig was placed on the floor of the first row of first class (it was not in a cage or carrier) and was so big it stuck out into the aisle, a little too large to fit in the overhead compartment or beneath the seat.

Amazingly, very few passengers complained, which should tell you all you need to know about the state of air travel in America today. Once you’ve sat squeezed in the middle seat in coach next to some double-wide in a muu-muu with bad breath, the thought of an actual hog on the floor of first class isn’t all that bad.

The porker slept through the whole flight, just like a pig in a blanket, if you’ll pardon the expression. But when the plane landed, the bump woke Porky up. It started squealing and running up the aisle, at one point even trying to get into the cockpit (“okay buddy, turn this plane around right now, this is a sty-jack!”), before wedging itself into the food galley. This was a clear violation of FAA regulations, as this occurred while the plane was taxiing and before the two-bell signal had sounded, signifying it was safe for the pig to go berserk.

Finally, the two women who had brought the pig on board managed to lure it out of the plane -- I’m guessing a trail of Purina Pig Chow -- and into the jetway, where it completed the perfect travel experience by dropping a huge load of you-know-what.

As for US Airways, they don’t have much to say about the whole incident, other than, “We can confirm that the pig traveled, and we can confirm that it will never happen again.”

So, what will the ladies do for a travel companion on their return flight? I understand they now have a doctor’s note giving them permission to fly with a couple of honey-baked hams on their laps.

Wednesday, September 27, 2000

Pick-Up Lines

In my single days -- a lot of years ago -- I was never one of those guys who could pick up women in a bar. I never had a good opening line and was amazed at some of the men who could do it so smoothly while it always felt so awkward to me.

Whenever I tried anything approaching one of these lines, I got the same chilly reaction that Slobodan Milosevic gave his pollsters this week when the Yugoslavian election results came in.

On my show today, I was talking about this and wondering what kind of pickup lines my listeners could remember. I was also curious about whether any particular lines had been effective for the guys, and how women in the audience had responded to them.

Note that I didn’t ask what pickup lines the women used. That’s because, for most single guys, anything a woman says can be considered a pickup line. She may say nothing more than a simple hello, but the man’s ears somehow process it as a come-on.

That’s a scientific fact -- verify it with any man you know – that has something to do with the structure of the male inner ear. She says: “Would you like fries with that?” He hears: “Won’t you please help me cure my terrible loneliness and longing for close physical contact?”

In reading these pickup lines, you may be as amazed as I was at how brash some of the guys have been. I can’t imagine saying most of these. Even more, I can’t believe that they have actually worked. Yet many men claim success with even the lamest lines below. On the other hand, most of the women I spoke to said that they would have to be pretty drunk to respond to these lines in any kind of positive way. Of course, that may just be the point.

Anyway, here’s the list, broken out into categories of ascending boldness...

Insulin Alert!
“We must have met sometime before, because I have seen those eyes before.”
“Where did you put them? Your wings. Because you look like an angel.”
“Where did you park your cloud?”
“Your father must be a thief, because he stole the stars and put them in your eyes.”
“You’re so sweet you’re giving me a toothache.”
“If I had eleven roses and you, I’d have a dozen.”
“Are we near the airport or is that just my heart taking off?”

Third-Party Toss-Off
“My friend wants to know if you think I’m cute.”

Attempts At Wit
“You must wash your clothes in Windex, because I can see myself in your pants.”
“Are your legs tired? Because you’ve been running through my thoughts all night.”
“Is that a run in your hose, or is it my stairway to heaven?”
“Are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only ten I see!”
“Do you know CPR? Because you take my breath away.”
“If I could rearrange the alphabet, I would put U and I together.”

For Use Only By Men Under 30
“Your daddy must be a drug dealer, because you’re dope.”
“Is your dad a terrorist? Because you’re the bomb!”
“Are you a parking ticket? Because you have fine written all over you.”
“Is that a keg in your pants? Cause I’d just love to tap that booty.”

First Used By A Caveman
“If I told you that you had a nice body, would you hold it against me?”
“Is it hot in here or is it just you?”
“Hi, I’m new in town. Can I have directions to your house?”
“When does your centerfold come out?”
“I seem to have lost my number. Can I have yours?”

What If She’s Lactose Intolerant?
“I’m like milk. I’ll do your body good.”
“You’re so fine, I want to pour milk all over you and make you part of my complete breakfast.”

Guaranteed Face-Slappers
“I may not be Fred Flintstone, but I sure can make your bed rock.”
“Hey, that dress looks nice. Can I talk you out of it?”
“That dress looks good on you, but I’d look better.”
“Are those pants from outer space? Cause that butt is out of this world.”
“I like your hair that way. But I’d really like to see what it looks like on my pillow.”
“I’d like to buy you breakfast tomorrow. Should I call you, or just nudge you?”
“My mother always said that I had hands that belonged on a girl. Can I put them on you?”

Too Crude To Use Except At Last Call
“Can I tickle your belly button -- from the inside?”
“You have 206 bones in your body. Would you like one more?”
“You look like you have a little Mexican in you, and if you don’t, would you like to?”
“That outfit would look great in a crumpled heap on my bedroom floor tomorrow morning.”

Again, don’t blame me for any of these. I have never used them, and never would. I’d be scared to death of the response. Or that she might think I’m Craig Kilborn.

I’m not alone in my rejection anxiety. One guy told me he tried quoting an early Woody Allen movie to a woman in a bar, asking “Would you like to take me home and hurt me?” She didn’t waste any time. She kicked him in the shins right then and there.

A woman told me that a guy sat down next to her and introduced himself as “Bond. James Bond.” Without missing a beat, she replied, “Lost. Get Lost.”

Several ladies also asked me to pass along a tip to the guys. If you recognize that her name is the same as some famous song lyric, you should not start reciting that song to her. No matter how clever you think you are, you are not the first guy to try to impress her by singing “Oh Susanna,” “Help Me Rhonda,” “Michelle My Belle,” or, fer chrissakes, “The I Love Lucy Theme.”

What kind of approach would women truly welcome? Picture the scene in “Top Gun,” where Kelly McGillis is at the bar and Tom Cruise (with help from Anthony Edwards) strolls up with a microphone and serenades her with “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.”

Caveat to guys: this overt tactic is considered a winner by women entirely due to the fact that Tom Cruise was doing it. It would not have the same appeal if you look more like George Wendt.

Sunday, September 24, 2000

Olympic Swimming Is All Wet

The Olympic Motto: “Citius, Altius, Fortius.” It means Fastest, Highest, Strongest.

Now add Lamius. The Lamest.

Last week, two swimmers from Equatorial Guinea were allowed to participate in two events in the Olympic pool in Sydney, even though they didn’t come close to meeting the qualifying standards. The group that governs swimming worldwide claims that it is “part of an effort to popularize swimming in non-traditional nations.”

Is swimming unpopular in Equatorial Guinea? No, but on the west coast of Africa, most of the swimming is done in the ocean. Pools are almost non-existent. There are only two, in hotels, and neither is longer than 20 meters.

So, when Eric Moussambani and Paula Barila took part in the heats for the 50 meter freestyle events, they nearly drowned. They finished about as far behind the next-slowest competitors as your average public access cable show does in the ratings behind "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire." For this, they received standing ovations from the crowd, and became instant celebrities.

Here’s the problem. The Olympics are supposed to be about competition between the world’s best athletes. You have to qualify, you have to meet certain standards, you have to be able to dive off the starting block without doing a belly flop. This isn’t Spring Break, where anyone can get into the pool and impress the crowd with a Giant Cannonball.

The four competitive swimming strokes are freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly – there’s no Olympic event called The 50 Meter Dog Paddle.

Don’t confuse this with that famous footage of the last guy into the stadium after an Olympic marathon several years ago. He straggled in, weary and bloody, long after the others had completed the race, and the crowd rose to its feet as he rounded the track towards the finish line. That was about bravery, about a man who had worked to become one of the top twenty or so distance runners in the world, who had simply been overcome by the event and the circumstances. He deserved every bit of admiration from the crowd, which realized the enormity of the effort they were watching.

Eric The Eel and Paula The Porpoise, as they’ve been dubbed by the media which started the clock on their fifteen minutes of fame this week, are not athletes. They are seemingly nice people who were plucked out of obscurity to represent their country at The Olympics. You can’t blame them. Compared to your average day in Equatorial Guinea, I’m sure a trip to Sydney and a moment on the world stage was beyond their wildest dreams.

But there are a lot of people who dream of getting to The Olympics. What about all those true athletes who sacrificed for their whole lives, working and struggling and spending hundreds of hours practicing in the water, hoping to some day be good enough to go for the gold? What do you say to them? That they may have been close to meeting the qualifying standards, but because they are from a “traditional” swimming nation, they’re out of luck, while these rookies – Paula has only been swimming for two months! – get a free pass?

I’m sure the NHL would like to expand its fan base to Saudi Arabia, but you won’t see the Blues pulling their goalie, Roman Turec, and replacing him with Sheik Abdul Mohammed. The Cardinals won’t be pinch-hitting for Jim Edmonds with Alexei Barshovsky of Minsk, just so Major League Baseball can pump up interest in their game in Russia.

One of the members of the group that came up with this brilliant deal was quoted last week as saying “It epitomized the feeling of the Olympics. They’re trying to do their best.” But The Olympics are not just about people trying their best. It’s supposed to be about those who are the best. If you want to have a contest between people who just learned how to swim, do it at a picnic, along with the sack race and the water balloon catch.

The powers-that-be in the swimming world should be called for a false start here. They jumped out of the blocks way too early. To increase interest among the people of Equatorial Guinea, they should have started at the beginning. First, get a full-length pool somewhere in the country. Second, send over some coaches who can teach their swimmers the basics of, oh, say, treading water. Third, invite some of their swimmers to observe, rather than take part in, the Olympics. Then, if there’s genuine desire, they can go back home and begin training in the hopes that they’d be good enough to qualify for the 2004 Olympics.

In the meantime, Olympic swimming events shouldn’t have a lifeguard who has to remind the competitors not to hang on the ropes.

Now, Eric and Paula, please get out of the pool. It’s time for Adult Swim.

Wednesday, August 16, 2000

Stop Messing With Perfection

There comes a point when a legend should be left alone. When attempts to add to it, modify it, or update it serve more of a counterproductive purpose. Two such attempts in recent days have caught my eye. In each case, I wish they would just knock it off.

One is Paul McCartney’s announcement that he has produced a “new” Beatles song, using outtakes from original Fab Four sessions in the sixties. It even reportedly contains John Lennon’s voice and some spare-parts guitar work. The song is called “Free Now,” a collaboration with a Welsh band called Super Furry Animals. I thought Paul was against animal cruelty -- doesn’t this qualify?

The problem is the same as when Paul, Ringo, and George released “Free As A Bird,” the song that electronically reunited them with John a few years ago. Face it, the song sucked. So did the follow-up, “Real Love.” Even diehard Beatles fans (count me among them) were disappointed, seeing through the charade as a cheap attempt to draw more money out of us. All they did, and all this new recording will do, is diminish the Beatles legend.

That's not Paul's job. It's Yoko's.

The same should be said to the people at Nabisco, who refuse to stop their attempts to make The Perfect Cookie -- the Oreo -- even better. In a snack division that must now be headed by Verne Troyer, Nabisco has just released Mini-Oreos.

I’m an Oreo afficionado. Been eating them my whole life. When I was a kid, my father did the food shopping one week and, upon returning home, announced triumphantly that instead of Oreos, he had bought Hydrox, which was the same cookie but 30% cheaper! My brother and I had to sit him down to explain that the two cookies were far from the same. He might just as well have saved another 50% and bought the generic store brand, because we wouldn’t have eaten that crappy cookie, either.

It isn’t enough for Nabisco that Oreos have been the best-selling cookie in the world since they were introduced 88 years ago. In the last couple of decades, they have tried to improve upon perfection. It can’t be done, but that hasn’t stopped their efforts.

First, they created Double Stuf, for people whose doctors thought they weren’t getting enough lard in their diet.

Then, remember the Giant Oreo? It was bigger than a hockey puck and contained more shortening than a wooden palette full of Crisco cans at your local Sam’s Club. There wasn’t enough milk in the world to wash it down. It is a scientific fact that no human ever finished a Giant Oreo on their own. They either shared it with someone or, in a misguided attempt to eat the whole thing, were admitted to a medical facility with a sugar shock emergency. That’s why you don’t see the Giant Oreo around anymore -- size does matter!

Next, they pushed the cookie technology envelope with fudge-dipped Oreos. The verdict: too much fudge diluting the true Oreo taste. That problem was exacerbated with their next attempt, taking those fudge-dipped Oreos and re-dipping them in white chocolate. Even confirmed chocoholics avoided them. This was roughly the equivalent of draining eleven glucose IV’s through your veins at the same time.

Once they had played around with the outside, they went back to the inside. If Double Stuf had too much cream, they could go the other way, too. Thus the Reduced Fat Oreo. Yeah, right, it's a diet cookie -- you could see America’s extra pounds dropping right off! They were about as tasty as tofu jerky.

Next, Nabisco added food color to the filling to give us special Oreos for every season: blue for springtime, orange at Halloween, red for Christmas, etc. (the gefilte-fish-flavored Oreos for Passover never got off the drawing board). They even did one that created blue swirls when you dunked your Oreo in your milk.

Is there no downtime in the create-a-new Oreo division at Nabisco? Apparently not, for this week, they debuted Mini-Oreos -- quarter-sized cookies that come in an 8-ounce bag. Why? Here’s Archie Mack, business director for the Oreo brand: “We’re really trying to capture the hand-to-mouth, on-the-go snacking market.”

"Hand-to-mouth"? That’s to combat a marketing study that showed a vast group of customers who were trying to eat them toe-to-ear. "On-the-go”? What was more on-the-go than the original Oreo? Was it of such an unwieldy size that it couldn’t be consumed in the car? Of course not.

What’s next? My spies in the Nabisco boardroom hear that they’re developing Micro-Oreos, where a whole package fits on the head of a pin! After that, they’ll debut Oreo Shots, a liquid version of the cookie that comes with a milk sidecar! Best of all is the Oreo Inhaler, because why should your mouth have all the fun?

As Paul McCartney once wrote -- in a song that never needs updating -- Let It Be!

Wednesday, August 09, 2000

Gene Kranz, NASA Flight Director

Gene Kranz was the longtime Flight Director at NASA Mission Control from the first Americans in space through men on the moon, and more. He's written about his career in "Failure Is Not An Option: Mission Control from Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond."

Gene was on my show today to explain how the real-life controllers compared with their movie counterparts in "Apollo 13" (he was portrayed by Ed Harris), what went through his head when Apollo 11 first landed on the moon, and the story behind Alan Shepherd's lunar golf shot.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Friday, July 28, 2000

Not With My Eyeball You Don't

I have one major phobia, and it has to do with a body part. No, not that one, thanks for asking. You’d think that if there were one body part I’d be particularly sensitive about, considering the fact that I talk for a living, it would be my throat or mouth, but it’s not.

It’s my eyes.

I can’t put anything close to my eyeball except for my own eyelid. If I get a piece of dust or something in my eye, I’m out of action for several minutes while I go into a mild panic until it’s out of there. If my eyesight ever goes south, I’ll wear glasses forever because I could never put a contact lens in. I can’t even watch other people put them in. I have to look away and grimace.

That’s why I am not jumping with excitement at the announcement this week of the latest affront to eyeball safety.

At the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, they are testing a new device called EyeTicket. No, not E-Ticket, the electronic ticketing system that was supposed to cut down on paperwork but instead made you paranoid that your reservation didn’t exist because you didn’t have printed proof.

This is EyeTicket, another system by which you don’t need a paper ticket. You also don’t need to show the airline counter clerk a photo ID or anything else tangible to prove who you are and where you’re going. All you need is your eyeball.

With this new system, you put your face up to a device which then scans your eyeball. Because eyeballs are even more unique identifiers than fingerprints, the computer instantly knows who you are and can recall your reservation more easily and quickly.

Naturally, the manufacturer claims it’s absolutely safe to use. But just off the top of my head, I can think of three good reasons why I (and my eyeballs) won’t be going anywhere near this EyeTicket gadget.

1) Anyone who has seen the movies “Never Say Never Again” (the one where Sean Connery returned as Bond) or “Demolition Man” (the Stallone-Snipes-Bullock one that’s so bad it’s campy-funny), knows that these eye-scan systems can be easily subverted by some sicko who rips your eyeball out of your head, sticks it on a pencil point, and – whammo! – your identity is stolen. Granted, your identity is of little use to you anymore because you’re lying somewhere bleeding to death out of your empty eye socket, but that’s not the point.

2) These eye-scanners will no doubt be operated by the same high-tech-savvy geniuses who now control the x-ray and metal detectors at the airport security checkpoint. I have less confidence in them than I do in the kid operating the french fry vat at Hardee’s. After all, when he hears a beeping sound, he doesn’t take you into the back room for a full body cavity strip search, just because you forgot that the sunglasses in your shirt pocket have metal rims.

3) Most importantly, I have this incredible eye phobia.

Several years ago, I woke up one day with a weird throbbing just under my right eye. It was as if I could feel my heartbeat in some tiny capillary just beneath the surface of my lower eyelid. Rubbing it didn’t help; nothing did.

I whined to my wife about it on and off throughout the day until she finally ordered me to go to an eye doctor the next morning. Notice I didn’t say “my eye doctor.” The only time I ever had my eyes checked was as a kid in elementary school (you remember, it was the same day as the finger-next-to-the-ear audiology test) and as an adult at the motor vehicle department at license renewal time.

Fortunately, right around the corner from where I worked was the office of an eye doctor whose sign I had seen, so I knew his name. I called him and he said that he had heard of this happening to many people who weren’t getting enough sleep, and it was the body’s way of sending up a warning flare. I asked him what I could do about it and he told me to come in first thing the next morning. I agreed, but told him that I was sure I’d get absolutely no sleep that night just worrying about it.

Trust me when I tell you it is nearly impossible to sleep when you can feel your heart pounding in your eye socket. And if you do drift off to sleep, even for just a few minutes, you will have nothing but weird dreams about exploding eyeballs, which do a pretty good job of waking you right back up again, this time in a cold sweat.

When I got to his office, I was far from rested, which only increased my anxiety. That was exacerbated when I went into the exam room and the doctor sat me down in front of a machine that looked like some ten year old’s erector set version of The Iron Giant’s colon, assembled inside out without so much as a glance at the instructions.

The doctor told me to sit calmly while he brought this monstrosity closer to get a good look at my still-throbbing eye. As soon as the device got within an inch of my eyeball, I flinched out of the way involuntarily. Apologizing, I tried again. Same thing. One more time? Sorry, not gonna happen.

Finally, he called the nurse in. I assumed her job was to assist in strapping me into the machine. Instead, she asked if I would tilt my head back so she could take a look at my eye. Being a male human, I immediately interpreted this as flirting. So, to impress her, I did as she requested.

That’s when I felt the burning sensation. While I had suavely leaned my head back into her hands, the evil doctor had swooped in and squirted some eyedrops in my eye. As he said, “That should do it,” the nurse released my head. Or, she may have let go out of surprise, because at that moment I let out a yowl that woke up several dogs in nearby counties.

Regardless, I wasn’t happy. He asked if I could still feel the throbbing, and I replied that all I could feel was his napalm burning my cornea to a cinder.

He explained that the effect of the drops would wear off in about an hour and then I should be fine. I left the office, cursing him each time I blindly bumped into every doorway. To my surprise, an hour later, the burning sensation did in fact wear off and the throbbing was gone.

Sure, I was grateful. But I swore two things that day: I would never return to his opthamological torture chamber except under extreme sedation, and I would always carry a printed airline ticket, so that no minimum-wage-earning airport rent-a-cop could ever incinerate my iris.

I’d rather stand in line and throb, if you don’t mind.

Sunday, July 09, 2000

Making Reality TV Relatable

Last year, the success of "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?" bred copycat shows like "Greed," "Twenty-One," and "Winning Lines." Only "Millionaire" still thrives.

This year, reality TV is all the rage. “Survivor.” “Big Brother.” “The Real World.” The networks are falling over themselves trying to create similar shows for the fall, though the vast majority of them will likely fail, too.

The problem is that none of these shows is about reality -- they're about voyeurism. They're not really real, nor are they really relatable. That’s why, with the help of my radio show listeners, I have created the ultimate relatable reality show.

It’s called “Family Life.”

Here’s the premise. We lock five families in a house together for an indefinite period and see which one lasts the longest (we were going to call it “The Five Families,” but didn’t want viewers to mistake it for yet another mafia miniseries).

Winning won’t be simple. The entire family has to stay or leave together. No single member can quit or win on their own. Last family out as a complete unit wins.

Like “Big Brother,” there will be no -- or very little -- contact with the outside world. The family members will be forced into interpersonal communication, all day, everyday.

That will be especially hardest on the teenagers, of course. They won’t be permitted to speak with their friends in the outside world, because there won’t be any phones. And no online chats, either. The teens will actually have to talk with their own families, which will be total torture for them. To ease the pain, they can watch an hour of television each night, but no MTV and no wrestling – only the Discovery Channel or some opera on PBS.

Now we have to develop some things to drive the adults a little nuts.

We’ll start with at least two infants under one year old, preferably screamers, but there will be no pacifiers allowed. There will also be no disposable diapers permitted. Just cloth diapers, which must be washed and re-washed after each wearing.

Remember, we want to create a little more tension than simply watching squabbling siblings being separated.

How about letting the pre-teens have a slumber party? Not bad. The squeals late into the night should keep everyone up.

How about letting one teen each week have a date with a boy/girlfriend from the outside – but only if the boy/girlfriend has several tattoos and at least two body piercings, preferably including a nose ring or tongue stud. Now we’re talking!

What about food? Since there’s no contact with the outside world, that means no pizza delivery or anything else brought in. Every meal will have to be prepared in the house, AND everyone in the house must agree to eat the same thing, or they get nothing at that meal! Oooh, that’s good. Forget about barbecued rats on “Survivor,” wait till some family alliance decides on liver and onions for dinner!

One of the kids will enter the house with a cold, which can then rotate through every other human in the house. On top of that, another kid, right at kindergarten age, will have lice in their hair.

You want pets? The relatable reality of “Family Life” will include a puppy that’s not yet house broken and a kitten that scratches every piece of furniture in sight. At least one of the adults will be allergic to animal hair, but can’t get the dog and cat to stop jumping on the bed and lying on the pillow.

Still sound too comfortable and easy to stay in there? What else can we do to increase the tension and force the families out?

The house will only have one bathroom!! Twenty or so people of all ages sharing one toilet, one sink, and one shower oughta guarantee some conflict.

We’re going to throw in two more humans, purely as protagonists.

First will be someone’s mother-in-law. She won’t be the go-along-to-get-along-with-everyone type. She’ll be full of criticism, not just for her immediate family members, but for every person in the house. She doesn’t like the way they dress, the food they cook, or their opinions on anything.

The other wildcard will be some weird guy who sleeps on a futon in the basement when he’s not playing songs on his guitar about how women just don’t understand how important he is in their lives. He may or may not be related to one of the families. Maybe he’s the mother-in-law’s other son who has been in and out of rehab. Regardless, he rarely showers and often walks around nude. He complains constantly about the cruel corporate world that prevents him from becoming a millionaire because it insists on having strict rules about going to work on time everyday, which is why he hasn’t held a job for ten years.

Now we need a host for our TV show. Someone who has the qualifications to oversee this conglomeration of families while simultaneously criticizing the parenting skills of all of the participants. A person who can compare the wildly underachieving kids in the house to their own fabulously underappreciated kids. A host who will point out every time one of the fathers dares to take notice of a woman who is not his wife -- but places blame equally on the man, the woman, and the media. There is only one person perfect for this job.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you “Family Life," with your host, Kathie Lee Gifford!!

Oops. There go all five families out of the house at the same time.

Wednesday, June 28, 2000

Talk Is Cheap, Gas Is Not

The headline in the paper said, “Leaders agree to suspend gas tax.”

The legislature of Illinois, at the behest of Governor George Ryan, is proposing suspending the state sales tax on gasoline for six months, starting as soon as this weekend. Sounds pretty good, right? Gas prices seem higher than ever, and every one of us likes to spend a little less.

Are Americans truly outraged at the price of gasoline? I’m not just talking about bitching and moaning every once in awhile. I mean real outrage that motivates action.

I don’t see a massive drop in sales of those gas-guzzling SUVs. I don’t see anyone urging investment in alternative energy sources. I don’t see the roads suddenly emptier because of more car pooling, mass transit, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not doing any of those things and turning into Ed Begley, either. But I’m also not whining about the price of gas.

The fact is that we Americans love our cars. We love driving, we love driving fast, we love driving fast in big vehicles that scream, “Get out of my way! I have to get to Starbucks to spend four dollars on a cup of coffee!”

Sure, four bucks for a mocha grande latte, but two bucks for a gallon of unleaded? Must be a bunch of criminals running this operation! Or maybe OPEC is simply operating under the same system of supply-and-demand as every other capitalist organization.

So, back to the suspended sales tax idea. Unfortunately, you’re dealing with politicians here, so more than a bit of cynicism is called for.

The “leaders” want us to see that headline and say, “Hurray for our leaders! They really do care about us, and they’re proving it by helping us escape from the tyranny of high gas prices! They love us and we love them! We want to hug them! Let us kiss their babies for a change! We must make contributions to their campaign coffers and shower them with affection! Leaders rule!!!”

Ahem. Reality check, please.

The tax would only be suspended for six months. Guess what’s happening between now and then? There’s a little thing called an election, and guess who wants your vote so desperately that they’re willing to say or do anything to get your vote? The political “pander” light is shining more brightly right now than the neon “hot” sign at Krispy Kreme. Then, a few weeks after the election, when the incumbents are safely returned to their office, the sales tax is quietly returned to the pumps.

You ask, “What’s the difference, as long as they’re saving us money? It must be a pretty substantial amount if they are spending so much valuable legislative time discussing it and proposing it and considering it and voting on it.” Okay, let’s investigate just how much money we’re talking about here.

A nickel. Five cents a gallon. That’s the current gasoline sales tax in Illinois.

Let’s do a little bit of arithmetic (this always makes politicians angry, because they don’t want you to actually figure out the numbers behind this, and you’ll see why in a moment).

Assume for our purposes that the average car has a 15 gallon gas tank, and that the owner has to fill it up once a week. I know that there are people who use more than that for business or on summer vacation, but just go with me here.

So, 15 gallons a week with a savings of 5 cents per gallon means you’ll save 75 cents each week. If the tax is suspended for six months, let’s round that out to 25 weeks. At 75 cents a week, you will have saved $18.75 at the end of those 25 weeks. If you drive a little more, make it $20. More than that? Okay, let’s go up to $30.

Thirty dollars? Over six months? Is that enough of a savings to have you jumping up and down in support of the “leaders” who made this miracle possible?

But wait. If the state isn’t collecting that nickel a gallon, that means that tax revenue is going to be down, and how much can that be? The Governor says it would only cost the state about $180,000,000!

Much of that huge chunk of change would normally be used to repair roads and bridges, which are in need of major maintenance all across Illinois, just as in the rest of America. Oh, good thinking! This is the typical modern approach to problems. Give people a feel-good quick-fix rather than working towards a real, long-term solution.

A hundred eighty million dollars -- just so you can get thirty bucks back? Well, no, not really. That money is actually being used to guarantee that our “leaders” get to keep their jobs, and they’re hoping that we’ll be suckers enough to fall into their pandering pit. Let’s hear it for our leaders!

I have a better idea. How about this headline: “Americans agree to suspend leaders!” Six months should just about do it.

Sunday, June 18, 2000

Happy Father's Day

Father’s Day. A day to be proud to be a father, and to remember our own Dads. And to realize that, contrary to what we always believed would happen, there’s a part of us that is turning into a part of him.

Every man who has kids has gone through this. One day, you’re the son, hearing your father saying, “As long as you live in my house, you’ll live by my rules.” The next day you’re grown up with a kid of your own, and you suddenly hear that same voice saying that same phrase – only now it’s in your house, and it’s coming out of your head! You realize that, horror of horrors, you’re channeling your own father!

I asked the listeners of my show to contribute some of their favorite Dad Sayings. It’s amazing how universal they are.

“Don’t make me turn this car around!” Great threat, Dad. We’re 200 miles from home and I’m sure my brother and I will be peaceful and cooperative all the way back. Alternate version: “Don’t make me stop this car,” which is the title of a memoir by Al Roker of NBC’s “Today Show.” Yeah, go ahead, Dad, pull over and stop the car. That will get us there faster.

“This is not a restaurant, you’ll eat what’s on the table.” Lots of these sayings have to do with food, because dinner table battles are not generation-proof. Nowhere in America has any kid ever eaten brussels sprouts warm, but millions of us have sat there after everything else was cleared away, looking at those ugly orbs of yuck that we either had to swallow or look at for the rest of our lives. Alternate version: “You don’t have to like it, you just have to eat it.”

“Don’t leave food on your plate. There are children starving in China (or India, or the third world nation of your choice).” Dad, can you explain to me again how my eating this liver will help them? Logically, shouldn’t I purposely leave some leftovers, which you and Mom can box up and send overseas through some United Nations program? We could use those same boxes they give us at the Chinese restaurant, where I noticed that you didn’t finish everything on your plate!

“Just think of the broccoli as little trees.” I love broccoli now, as an adult, and can’t understand why my daughter won’t try it, even though it was always a fight to get me to eat it as a kid. My Dad actually used this tree analogy on me, and to this day I don’t get it. What made him think that I was ever in the mood to chomp down on a tiny tree to begin with? Climb a tree, plant a tree, chop down a tree, carve my initials into a tree -- these I was interested in, but not eating one. What’s for dinner tomorrow night, bonsai bushes?

Also from the world of botany, “Money doesn’t grow on trees, you know.” Of course not, Dad. It grows on broccoli!

“This family is not a democracy.” We knew this all too well. When something of vital importance came up, there was only one vote that mattered, and it was Mom’s. Which explains why Dad was always saying, “What did your mother say? If it’s all right with Mom, then it’s all right with me.” Usual kid response, delivered in overly dramatic whine as if the world will end if you don’t get what you want: “But Dad, I really want it!” Usual parental reply: “Well, people in hell want ice water.” Go ahead, think up a rebuttal for that one.

“Life is not fair.” A lesson that Dad learned all too well through his many years toiling away in the workplace. This may have been the most important concept ever passed on from one generation of workers to the next.

“This is going to hurt me a lot more than it’s going to hurt you.” Dad as disciplinarian. Afterwards, the big difference between us was that he was able to sit down comfortably.

“You’ll understand why I’m doing this when you grow up and have kids of your own.” One listener says her father told her that she might not understand all of his jokes while she was a little girl, but when she grew up to be 65 years old, she’d get them all. She grew up expecting that, on her 65th birthday, she’d wake up laughing hysterically as all those jokes finally made sense to her. That is, until I pointed out that her father probably was a long way from 65 himself when he told her that.

“Don’t stand in front of the television – you’re not made of glass, you know!” Alternate version: “You make a better door than a window.”

“Close that door! We’re not paying to air condition the outside!” Dads have a great temperature sense, and it wasn’t confined to the front door, either. “Close the refrigerator door! You’ll attract penguins!” I always loved that one.

“If (your friend) jumped off the (highest local structure), would you jump, too?” This one has faded in recent years as that whole bungee-jumping fad got popular.

Here’s a really philosophical one that I hadn’t heard until a listener told me that her father used to say it to her: “You can lose your car, you can lose your house, you can lose your freedom, but you can never lose your education. And with your education, you can get it all back.” I’m going to try to remember that one so I can say it to my daughter, over and over again.

If you don’t understand any of this, you will someday when you’re a parent. In the meantime, go ask your mother.

Happy Father’s Day!

Wednesday, June 14, 2000

Al Roker

The "Today Show" weatherman was on my show today to talk about his book,"Don't Make Me Stop This Car: Adventures In Fatherhood." He told stories about being at the hospital when his daughter was born, torturing his younger brother with the Hitchcock classic "Psycho" on television, and more.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Monday, June 05, 2000

Some Pictures Aren't Worth 1,000 Words

I had a humiliating photographic experience the other day. I needed to get a new publicity photo taken, and was sent to Suzy Gorman, arguably the town's top photographer, who has a studio in a loft at the top of a warehouse building downtown.

It looks like every photographer’s facility you have ever seen in a movie. Lots of open space, with music pulsating and a motif that screamed funky-but-chic. Exactly what you’d picture a cool, hip, bigtime photographer’s place to look like. This is not my world at all. It’s the kind of place where people know about fashion and read Vogue.

When I arrived, Suzy's assistant told me it would be just a couple of minutes while she finished a session with another guy. So I sat and watched while she photographed – and I mean this in the most heterosexual way possible – the best-looking man I have ever seen in my life.

Picture this. He’s an African American guy who, as soon as you see him, you think, “If this guy isn’t a male model, then Pamela Anderson is all natural.” It turns out he is a model. He’s wearing a casual white shirt and easygoing white pants, and the photog puts him in various positions for different pictures. Every time he poses and looks at the camera, it’s perfect.

I hate this kind of guy. This guy, in his life, has never taken a bad picture. This guy, even before he shaved his head, never had a hair out of place in a photo. This guy has never had those red dots in his eyes in any picture. This guy’s a ten, and I’m not even on the same scale he is.

This guy was so good looking and so perfect, I said to Suzy’s assistant, “I have to follow this?” She replied, “Well, he’s a model, after all.” I know that, but I still have to be the next subject she photographs! In the world of pictures, I’m the before shot, and this guy is the incredibly-long-time-after shot in a plastic surgeon’s ad.

Couldn’t I come back on bald, middle-aged, fat guy day? At least then, I’d have a chance of looking good! It felt like Suzy looked at me after working with this perfect specimen and realized she now had a real project on her hands.

I showed her a couple of shirts and jackets I had brought, and she chose the ones that appeared mildly acceptable, and then she began applying makeup to my face. Every time I have to have this done – at a photo shoot, or a TV appearance – I always think, “I don’t know how women put up with this day in and day out.”

Especially that eye makeup. I’m squeamish about anything near my eyes. I can’t even watch someone put a contact lens in. And here Suzy is doing something with my eyelashes and it’s really close to my eyeball and I can’t help but look because she won’t let me close my eyes and I’m freaking out like Woody Harrelson at a free hemp farm.

That’s when I explained to her that this was pointless, that she was never going to get me to look like the model she had just been photographing. Suzy didn’t even pause one beat before responding, “Oh, I know!”

Eventually, she finished with (or became fed up with the attempt at) preparing me and we got down to the actual photography. Now, I only needed one good shot, and that will be my new publicity photo. I’m not working up a portfolio. I’m not trying to be the new underwear model for Dillard’s.

Mr. Gorgeous Guy passed the one-good-shot mark at precisely the second picture. Me, I required seventy frames of film exposed over a one hour period. There’s a reason I make my living with my voice and not with my face.

As we finished and I sighed in relief -- so did Suzy, although she didn’t think I noticed -- I saw the next guy who was waiting to have his session. I nodded at him, and he nodded silently back to me.

I knew what he was thinking: “Thank goodness I get to follow that guy!”

Saturday, June 03, 2000

Hollywood's Hype Machine

Over the last several years, the coverage of the entertainment business has itself become a huge business. The byproduct of all that coverage is the need to fill more hours with newer stories and fresher faces. The problem is that, in doing so, the expiration date on "freshness" is coming so much faster than it used to.

A friend of mine in Los Angeles just told me a story about a guy from Wisconsin who was visiting Hollywood and talking to some people about movies. One of the Hollywood folks was excited about something involving Vince Vaughn. The guy from Wisconsin, who thought he was pretty knowledgeable about movies, asked, "Who is Vince Vaughn?" All of the Hollywooders were shocked at his ignorance.
Well, the fact of the matter is that Vaughn is a guy who has done some nice acting in a couple of movies, but he's far from a star by most of America's definition. He was in the terrific "Swingers" (an indie movie that wasn't a big hit), and "Lost World: Jurassic Park 2" (but calling that a Vince Vaughn movie is like calling "Godzilla" a Matthew Broderick movie). Along the way, he may also have had a couple of stories in Entertainment Weekly or People or some special attention in a trade paper or two. But the majority of Americans would still ask, "Who?"

Yet the Hollywood hype machine assumes that you know who Vaughn is, because they spend every waking minute thinking about this sort of thing. You, on the other hand, have an actual life, meaning the list of Things You Know goes a long way down before it gets to "Who's the new actor/hunk?"

Here's another example.

Get ready for a big splash of publicity for Kate Beckinsale. All together now: "Who is Kate Beckinsale?". It just so happens that, because I have so much free time, I've seen two new movies that she's in. She was in the barely-seen indie flick "Shooting Fish" (it came and went in about a week -- a shame) and is now in the more widely-released "The Last Days Of Disco." I can see why Hollywood would embrace and promote her. She's beautiful, she's perky, she's a good actress, and she could easily play Courtney Cox's younger sister. I understand she's also in a couple of other movies due out this year. But how did an unknown get lead roles in so many movies so quickly?

My friend tells me it works like this: she was acting in one movie and, when the dailies were shown to some studio people, they noticed that she was cute and good. Since Hollywood is desperate to discover and exploit the Next Hot Thing, her agent used that early buzz to get her a part in another movie even before the first one was finished. Then she worked a few weeks on yet another project, and insiders spread the word to other insiders that they liked her, so she got a fourth movie. All of this before her first movie had even been released! Now, it looks like she's white-hot, because she's done these four movies in a year, so Premiere magazine does a story on her in their June issue.

It's at this point that everyone in Hollywood already knows about Kate Beckinsale, and assumes you do, too. Just in case, they book her on a few talk shows, let Mary Hart follow her to the hairdresser, and plant a story in USA Today about her (though not in Larry King's column...she's not from Brooklyn and never met his wife). Maybe they get her to do Five Questions with Craig Kilborn.

Kilborn, by the way, fits right into this saga. A year ago, he was an ESPN anchor, then he got hired to do Comedy Central's "Daily Show," and next year he'll take over Tom Snyder's "Late Late Show" on CBS-TV. The hype machine can't believe you don't know who he is. Didn't you get the memo about Kilborn? Geez, he's even older news than Vince Vaughn!

There are so many media outlets paying attention to this sort of stuff nowadays that you'd think "fame" would last longer than the proverbial fifteen minutes. Instead, the machine just gets hungrier and hungrier, like Dom DeLuise with a tapeworm, and a lot of its food simply gets swallowed whole. Those fifteen minutes now run concurrently on 30 different channels, and it's the same thirty-second clip on all of them! And look out if someone in the business dies (see Phil Hartman). Then your clip gets bumped and you sit around waiting for a call from The Food Network.

Anyway, Hollywood's hype schedule dictates that you'll know all about Kate by Labor Day. Even if you don't, they're already working on the next person to chew up and spit out. The wheels of their publicity machine turn faster than the conveyor belt in Lucy's chocolate factory.

A-ha! A media reference you're familiar with! See how long it takes to sink in?

Monday, May 15, 2000

Moms March To A Different Drummer

Whatever you thought of the cause behind the Million Mom March -- and believe me, I love hearing Rosie O'Donnell's shrill shriek as much as the next guy -- you have to admit it was different from most other marches and rallies we’ve seen for a long time.

What made it different was that it was organized by, and attended by, all those Moms. Not only did that make it biologically different from, say, the Million Man March, but the planning aspect of the attendees was different, too.

This was probably the first mass protest in history at which the children who attended with their parent (or parents) actually had snacks prepared ahead of time. That’s the sort of thing a Mom thinks of, but a Dad never does.

When a Dad is taking a kid to any event, his entire pre-departure checklist consists of three items:
1) can we leave already?
2) is the kid wearing clothes (weather-appropriate is an optional point)?
3) can we leave already??

A Dad knows that wherever they’re going, they’ll be able to find a bathroom (or at an outdoor event, there are probably trees within walking distance in case of bladder emergencies). Dad is also confident that he’ll be able to find some sort of food-like substance to keep the kid’s energy up. So the kid’s balanced diet on event day consists of a combination of salt, sugar, and various carbohydrates -- a nice salty pretzel, some ice cream novelty, and if they’re lucky, a funnel cake -- all purchased from whatever vendor they can find at the event.

When Mom’s in charge, the on-the-go menu is a little different. For starters, there are always carrot sticks. It’s amazing that any kid in America ever develops eye problems, considering how many carrot pieces they have to consume in the average week. Then there are other ziplock bags filled with apple pieces, crunchy Cheetos, and those tiny raisin boxes. And here are a bunch of those wet-wipes to both clean your hands and keep you cool in the heat of the day.

Moms think of this stuff. Dads don’t. Let me give you some recent anecdotal evidence from my own life.

Last month, I took my daughter for a bike ride to her schoolyard. On the way, we bumped into the mother of one of her friends, who asked where we were going. We told her and invited her to bring her kids along. She said she had to do a couple of things, but might bring them over in a little while. So my daughter and I continued to the school, where we rode around and played on the playground for a half-hour or so before her friends showed up.

Now, I thought I had done a good job of planning ahead, because I had brought a bottle of water along for the ride. Hey, I could see it was a warm, sunny day, and we’d need to stay refreshed after the ride. Okay, it was my wife’s idea -- she had insisted before we left the house.

Still, I was put to shame when the friend’s Mom showed up carrying a plastic bag full of snack supplies. In the bag there were individual bottles of juicy juice, or some similar product, for each kid. She also had brought along several fruit roll-ups. What a perfect kid food! She even had a couple of giant cups of ice water for her and for me. Now that’s a parent who put some thought into it before leaving the house. Obviously a Mom.

The Moms at The March were no doubt similarly prepared. I’d also bet that they brought along plenty of sunscreen lotion, which was applied to their kids’ skin liberally (if you’ll pardon the pun).

There’s one thing we know for sure that was different about this maternal gathering. With all those Moms in attendance, if The March ever got off course, they’d simply stop and ask for directions. Not likely to have happened during the Million Man March.

Somewhere along the route, they probably ran into a Dad who was wandering aimlessly yet refused to admit that he was lost. And starving, too. Spare a carrot stick, lady?

Monday, April 24, 2000

Elian Doesn't Live Here Anymore

In Miami on Saturday, the law enforcement community had its most exciting morning since the last Krispy Kreme grand opening, executing their three minute drill to pull off The Elian Grab (or whatever the latest cable news graphic calls it).

When the feds burst into the house, they found Elian being held by the fisherman (every family should keep an ace angler around for just such an occasion). He was trying to hide the boy in the closet. The closet. So, in addition to the fear of federal agents storming through the house, Elian had to deal with a bunch of hangers sticking him in the back of the neck. Great. But let’s move on to a more important point.

Hello, Dr. Obvious! Hiding in the closet when the cops come into the house is about as useless as keeping your extra cash in your sock drawer or putting your wallet in your sneaker at the beach. You’re dealing with pros here, so that’s the first place they look! This was the most foreshadowed closet extraction since that next door neighbor in “American Beauty.”

Naturally, The Grab set off a slew of demonstrations all over Miami -- and even in Union City, New Jersey, where several people lay themselves down in the road at the entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel.

I’d never make a good protester. It’s not that there aren’t things that I’m willing to raise my voice in opposition to (as any listener of my show knows). It’s just that I never got the memo that explains the logic behind the modern methods of airing grievances.

I don’t get the connection between anger at the federal government and blocking a Greyhound bus twelve hundred miles away. I could see the outrage if the bus company changed its slogan to “Leave the driving to Fidel.” Otherwise, what’s the point? All you’ve done is reset the road rage meter for a bunch of already angry commuters.

The drive to work in Miami, meanwhile, was a little easier today. That’s because tens of thousands of Cuban-Americans held a work strike. They didn't necessarily stay home, but they didn't go to their jobs.

Many of the Cuban immigrants own their own businesses, but kept their doors closed. Pardon my naivete, but if you close your own business, who are you hurting but yourself? “If the people I’m opposed to don’t change their minds, then I may never open the store again. Then I won’t have any income. Then I’ll go bankrupt. That will teach Janet Reno a lesson she’ll not soon forget!”

On the baseball field, four Cuban-American members of the Florida Marlins protested by refusing to play tonight. The way attendance has been at Marlins home games, the team would be better off if these guys put on street clothes and sat in the stands -- that would double their average crowd (on some nights, it was not unusual for there to be more people outside the Gonzalez house than at Protest, ahem, Pro Player Stadium). But how does their not playing send a message to the Justice Department?

It’s the same logic, I suppose, that drives the street protests. This is where I’d feel terribly left out, because I don’t have any extra tires to burn. If someone were to start a bonfire in the middle of my street, I wouldn’t have a single tire to roll down the street and toss in the flames to join in the demonstration. Sure, it sounds like hours of family fun, but I don’t even know what kind of tire burns best. Does it have to be a radial? Do those new run-flat tires make cool colors when they burn? Is it politically incorrect to only use whitewalls? If it’s a cold-weather protest, should my sacrificial tire have studs?

In every protest march, there must be a hearty round of slogan shouting, and the crowd outside the Gonzalez home for the last five months kept the tradition alive. For those of you who don’t speak Spanish, I can report that the English translation of their chant was roughly, “Hell, no, we won’t go!”

What’s the problem with that? It’s stale. We haven’t had a good new protest chant for about two generations. Anthropologists will verify that “Hell, no, we won’t go” was first shouted in the same era that brought us “let’s light our lighters until the band comes back on for an encore.”

The other ancient and overused protest chant is “What do we want? (insert phrase for your cause here) When do we want it? Now!” This chant works much better with a crowd under 40. Once over that age, the marchers’ answer to “What do we want?” usually is “A bathroom!”

My point is, protestors need new slogans -- as long as they’re not just for the sake of being current and trendy. We don’t need an angry mob chanting “Drop the chalupa!” or, even worse, “Whasssuppp?”

Wednesday, April 05, 2000

Come To Your Census

Let me tell you about my newest close personal friend, Ken Prewitt. Kenny and I have been corresponding by mail for a few weeks now.

Kenny is the director of the Bureau of the Census. He started our pen pal relationship when he dropped me a note to alert me that very soon he’d be sending me a list of questions that he’d like me to answer. I was busy that week, so I didn’t have a chance to get back to him telling him how much I was looking forward to revealing myself to him.

Nevertheless, seven days later I got a packet with Ken’s return address on it, and wow, am I excited -- even if he does insist on calling me by my showbiz name, “Resident.” I’m sitting down right now to put pen to paper to answer Kenny’s questions, and I’m a little surprised that they’re so personal.

I know that the Constitution mandates that every decade there be a count of how many of us there are in America and where we live. But I just checked my home version of the Constitution, and nowhere in there does it say that I have to report how many toilets I have. What makes that information vital to the operation of the republic? What, do they think I snuck in one of those Canadian models that really gives a good solid flush while they weren’t looking? Do I count the one that keeps overflowing ever since my daughter tried to flush an entire roll of Cottonelle, and the one that mysteriously refills its own tank every few nights, scaring the hell out of the guinea pigs?

Let’s move on to more of this important info Kenny needs. He wants to know what time I leave for work and how long it takes me to get there. I suppose that’s so the burglary division of the bureau knows what the best time is to begin the break-in procedure at my place. It can be so difficult burglarizing a whole neighborhood, so you really have to coordinate the chronology carefully.

The government argues that they need all this data so they can plan for things like highway expansion in heavily traveled areas. Now, they’ve been asking these kinds of questions on the census for many decades. Have you ever seen them widen the roads before the crush of cars got bad? Of course not. If they were really concerned with that, they would just ask some local leaders and developers in each area to keep an eye on suburban sprawl and then strategize accordingly. But this census info isn’t collated and analyzed for four to five years, by which time the information is so outdated that it’s useless to any urban planner. And as soon as they release the results, they go right back to work coming up with the questions for the next census!

Don’t get me wrong. I have no problem telling them how many people live here -- let’s see, there’s me, my wife, my daughter, my adopted Cuban son Elian, and my ex-wife Darva -- and our ages, genders, marital status (I put down “fluid” for Darva) and favorite flavors of frozen custard.

I don’t even recoil at the race question, although I bet Johnnie Cochran doesn’t answer that one.

Speaking of race, whatever happened to “Caucasian”? The majestic history of the people of the great nation of Caucasia has been tossed aside for some reason, replaced only in the racial designation box by “White.” Meanwhile, the next option is what looks to be a field entry, “Black/African-American/Negro.” Then there are several other choices, including “American Indian,” “Alaska Native,” and “Chamorro,” which is only to be marked by that dog in the Taco Bell commercials.

I notice there’s no space to write in the correct answer: “human.”

It doesn’t say anywhere on the form what happens if you don’t fill it out and send it back, but the reality is that the government has hired a half-million people – that’s 500,000 people who want to work but don’t have the skills to get a job making fries at McDonald’s -- who will simultaneously knock on your door and ring your bell until you spew forth the information they want. If you still won’t answer, they can fine you $100. And if that’s not bad enough, they also keep asking, “Is that your final answer?” until you run into the street admitting that you’re not Guamanian and you don’t live with the McCaughey septuplets.

Here’s where it gets curious, though. If you answer the questions falsely, you can be fined up to $500. But, if they know your answer is false, that means they already know the correct answer. So then why did they have to ask you in the first place? Because they want to catch you in rhetorical hell -- like when the state trooper pulls you over and asks, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Forget it, you’re screwed.

Today there was a report that the national census return rate is only 49%, again begging the question, “How do they know?” If they already know how many of us there are, what’s with all the paperwork?

It’s all about paperwork and redundancy and bureaucracy and redundancy.

“Has this person ever served on active duty in the US Armed Forces?” Gee, I’m pretty sure that information is already available in a tiny unmarked federal building -- The Pentagon! Why not put someone in a car at the census bureau and have them drive over to Arlington to get that information on a zip disk?

While they’re at it, what’s with the questions about income? Don’t we already provide that info to the government on another set of forms at this time of year? Okay, stop number two for the car is the IRS building to pick up some more data. C’mon, boys and girls, you can share, can’t you?

Stop number three is going to be the Labor Department, which can provide some answers to the next set of queries, which asks whether each of us worked last week, when we last worked, when we last vacationed, what brand of sunscreen we used, whether we consider watching spring break on MTV to be a vacation or just a soft-core thrill, and would we like some information on a lovely beachfront time share in Key West.

“Do you have a telephone?” Yes, but I only use it to accept calls at dinnertime from telemarketers, many of whom already have the information you’re making me provide to you -- I wonder where they got it?

“Do you have a kitchen?” Yes, but in college I illegally used a hot plate in my dorm room and I hope you won’t hold that against me. Then again, if college violations were punishable retroactively, we’d all be sharing a cell with Robert Downey Jr., wouldn’t we?

“Do you know where the first aid kit is? Because that looks like a nasty paper cut.”

Okay, done. Now, I’ll send this off to my personal pal, Kenny Prewitt. I’m sure he’ll be glad to hear from me. But I bet I don’t hear from him again for about ten years.

Thursday, March 30, 2000

Gene Simmons

Gene Simmons of Kiss was on my show today, talking about the band's farewell tour, which endorsement deals he would never sell out for, and what they said to the record company executive who told them to forget the makeup if they wanted to be famous.

Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!

Tuesday, March 14, 2000

Pork, The Other White Fuel!

Bio-tech Bulletin!! First, they cloned a sheep. Then, a monkey. Now, finally, they have gotten around to cloning a pig. Woo-hoo!

The scientists say they are working toward the day when pig parts -- heart valves, livers, kidneys -- can be transplanted into humans. Apparently, while you and I weren’t looking, we somehow became sow-compatible.

This little piggie went to market, this little piggie went to the operating room. No longer will you have to buy that bacon, bring it home, cook it up, and eat it. Soon, you’ll have it growing inside you!

I know, you’re as excited by this accomplishment as I am. But have you considered the ethical questions this scientific breakthrough raises? Think about this: if you’re a Muslim or an Orthodox Jew, and you’re not allowed to eat pork, are you allowed to have it implanted in your body? I’m no biblical scholar, but there’s a question that’d keep Solomon up a couple of nights.

You can’t stop progress, so I say let’s embrace and encourage it. Keep these scientists working 24/7 around those bunsen burners until they develop a ham sandwich that can make itself!

We’ve been a nation of hogs for a long time, and we’ve been very effective at spreading our piggishness around the world. Just last week, the Worldwatch Institute released a report that claims that there are now as many overweight people in the world, 1.1 billion, as there are underfed people. For every Calista Flockhart, there’s now one Camryn Manheim. Ironically, they made the announcement on Fat Tuesday.

This makes a confusing message for parents. As children ourselves, we were always told, “Finish everything on your plate, because somewhere in India, there’s a starving child who needs that food.” No, it never made any sense. Mom wasn’t going to send your old deli leftovers to the untouchables in New Delhi. But what are we supposed to tell our kids now? “Don’t finish everything on your plate, because somewhere in India, there’s a fat kid who doesn’t need that food.”

We’re not going to stop being pigs, either, because we’re Americans and we want it all! We want to eat a magic powder that helps us lose weight, but we don’t want to do a minute of exercise or change our diet. We want to use credit cards, but we don’t want to incur debt. We want to ogle Jennifer Lopez, but we don’t want to make Puffy Combs mad.

Sidebar: Jennifer has admitted that she kept her skimpy scarf dress in place at the Grammy Awards though the use of some strategically placed toupee tape. Which explains why later that night, she found William Shatner stuck to her nipple.

We want it all! We don’t care how high gas prices go, we’re not giving up our SUVs and we’re not going to slow down just to get better mileage. The right to drive fast in a big vehicle is in the Constitution, isn’t it?

That’s why this proposed Gas Out next month has no chance of success. It doesn’t matter how many e-mail pals you forward that message to -- and please stop sending it to me, I’ve received it over a hundred times this week alone! -- even if everyone who gets it doesn’t purchase gas for those three days, it won’t have any impact on the price. They’ll have to fill up either right before or right afterwards, instead.

The price of gasoline will only stop its upward spiral when the OPEC Sheiks have raised enough money for their big Harem-Aid benefit later this spring. Evidently, they’re running low on “I Dream Of Jeannie” outfits for the various Mrs. Sheiks.

There is one group of Americans who seem a bit peeved about the cost of fuel. There was a picture in the paper today of a convoy of 150 truckers who are driving from California to Washington, DC, where they’ll meet up with a couple thousand fellow truckers on Thursday to protest rising fuel prices.

This makes perfect sense. How better to show how upset they are about all the extra money they have to spend than to log a few thousand extra miles, using up hundreds of gallons of fuel along the way? That’s like protesting higher meat prices by staging a pork-chop eating contest!

Oops, that’s no longer a valid analogy. Now that we can clone pigs, we can have an unlimited supply of pork-chops. If only our intrepid scientists could develop an internal combustion engine that runs on hog meat.

Pork, the other white fuel!

Kids, be sure to clean your plate. Somewhere in Saudi Arabia, there’s a kid who needs that oil.

Monday, March 06, 2000

Olympic Ballroom Dancing

I was flicking around the television remote the other night when I went past the PBS station and saw that they were airing yet another of their ballroom dancing competitions. Although I only paused for two seconds, it was long enough to hear the announcer report that ballroom dancing has been accepted as an exhibition sport by the International Olympic Committee.

Ballroom dancing as an Olympic sport? I don’t think so. It makes about as much sense as Larry King giving Rick Rockwell marriage advice.

I'm no expert on athletic endeavors, but I'm fairly sure that if it involves participants in formalwear, it's not a sport. The Olympic motto is "Swifter, Higher, Stronger." It isn't "Honey, can you help me with this cummerbund?"

On my show the next day I asked my listeners, “If ballroom dancing is in the Olympics, what else should be on the roster?” They came up with a pretty good list.

First, the beer sports, naturally. The sorts of events where training must involve a six-pack-a-day. Darts. Fishing. Horseshoes. Limbo. These are the ones you can play while holding a cup/can/bottle of beer and never risk spilling a drop.

Then, there are the camp sports. Where outside of camp have you ever seen anyone play Tetherball? You don’t hear anyone quitting work for the day and heading for the gym for a good game of Tetherball. I’m fairly certain it's illegal outside of licensed summer camp facilities due to the danger inherent in that rope getting wrapped too high up the pole.

While we’re there, add Ultimate Frisbee to the list, along with its sunny day park-pal, Hacky Sack. I’m sure that somewhere in the world there’s a Full Contact Hacky Sack competition of some kind, but it doesn’t sound Olympic to me.

Wiffle Ball. Stick Ball. Stoop Ball, for you urban dwellers. Dodge Ball -- the sport where only your very best friend would dare leave a huge red mark on your leg after throwing that gym ball at you with all their might.

Trampoline!! Studies have shown that there has never been a human being who didn’t enjoy the trampoline. But you never get a chance once you’re out of school, do you? I'll give away a million dollar idea here: a health club with trampolines in the floor -- not raised like the old ones, where you need spotters around the sides, but flush with the floor (they have them at kiddie play-gyms). Who wouldn’t love to spend some time just bouncing up and down, trying to work up the nerve to attempt that twist-your-legs-around-and-land-on-your-tush move in front of other adults?

You say the Trampoline doesn’t deserve Olympic status? Remember that they already have an event called Rhythmic Gymnastics, the rules of which require several 13-year-old girls with no actual bone structure to roll around on a mat twirling a stick with ribbon on the end. Then they toss it in the air, do a quadruple somersault, and catch the stick again. If that’s a sport, so is being a drum major.

Table top games come next. Paper football! The one where the triangle hangs over the edge for a touchdown, followed by the extra point attempt through your friend’s finger-goalposts, which inevitably ends up going in someone’s eye, thus ending the game. It can also be played as penny football, for you rich kids who can’t handle the origami involved in folding paper into a triangle.

Tiddlywinks. Marbles. Jacks. Washers. Thumb Wrestling, a game that doesn’t get boring until well into the second minute.

Jigsaw puzzles. Mancala. Chinese Checkers. Pop-A-Matic Trouble. Yahtzee!!

Pool (controversy: which game do they play, 9-Ball or Stripes & Solids?). Ping pong -- please, don’t call it table tennis -- which we haven’t seen televised since the US team went to China many years ago in a desperate attempt to create a historic moment that could later be replicated as a scene in “Forrest Gump.”

Back outside now for Hopscotch. Jumping Rope. Double Dutch. Hide And Seek. Kick The Can. Yo-Yo, with expert analysis by Tommy Smothers.

Bocce Ball. Shuffleboard (an Olympic sport for seniors only). Miniature Golf -- let’s see those Romanians take a shot at some American windmills!

Bring on the mutant sports. Truck pulls. Dwarf tossing. Bungee jumping. Bull fighting.

Rock, Paper, Scissors! Who can forget the scandal when the Bulgarian team faked the scissors and brought out the rock instead, just as the buzzer sounded? Do you believe in miracles?!?

And don’t forget the sport most feared by adults all over the world. The one that would cause spectators to exit at top speed from poolside at the Olympic swimming venue. Yes, I’m talking about Marco Polo, Olympic-style.

Lest you think any of these suggestions are too outrageous to be considered by Juan Antonio Samaranch and his Council Of Easily Bribed Officials at the International Olympic Committee, keep in mind two simple facts: 1) the Winter Games already have Curling, a sport that consists entirely of a bunch of people sweeping up the ice around one of those bombs Boris Badenov was always throwing at Rocky & Bullwinkle; and 2) they are seriously considering adding the card game Bridge to the roster of Olympic sports.

Sadly, I’m not making that up.

Okay, that’s enough. I have to get back to working with my daughter, who I hope to have ready to play in the 2008 Summer Olympics. Look for her as captain of the US Crazy Eights team.

Monday, February 28, 2000

Allison Janney

The actress who plays White House Chief of Staff (and former press secretary) C.J. Cregg on "The West Wing" told me today Martin Sheen is totally taken with pretending to be The President. Janney also played the flower lady in "Big Night," and she explained what it was like to work on a movie which revolved around fantastic food -- it's not the gastronomic thrill it appears to be!