I never should have pushed up that hill.
My wife and I were out for a beautiful day on our bikes in Creve Coeur Park. After traversing several miles, we were headed back to our car when we got to a hill that takes the bike trail up and over Creve Coeur Mill Road. It's kinda steep, so she got off and walked her bike, but I pushed my way up to the top.
When I got off to wait for her, I felt a little dizzy, so I sat down and leaned against a concrete barrier that separates the bike path from the Page Avenue Extension. Then I felt really dizzy, so I laid down on some grass next to the wall, sure that the feeling would pass by the time she reached the top. It didn't.
When my wife got to the top, she took one look at me and gasped at the lack of color in my face. As she handed me the water bottle, I told her I was just light-headed, but would be fine soon. After a few minutes, I stood up, took one step, and immediately got back on the ground. I'd had this sensation a couple of years ago when I got overheated playing tennis on a summer morning. It passed after ten minutes and I went on with my day.
By the time I'd been on the ground for ten minutes, several other cyclists had stopped to help (I noticed that none of them were out of breath from the hill!). One man offered water as he stood over me to provide shade. A woman, a cardiac nurse, took my pulse and asked me if I'd ever had a heart attack before. I assured her I'd never had a heart attack and wasn't having one now, since there was no chest pain. I knew it wasn't cardiac -- I was just overheated and dehydrated.
I was still on the ground after 20 minutes and in no mood to leave that horizontal plane, so I told my wife to call 911 for an ambulance. They sent out a crew from Monarch Fire Department House #3 on Olive, which got there in five minutes and parked on the highway on the other side of the concrete wall. They hopped over, checked me out, and decided I'd be better off in the ambulance. So they rolled me onto a board and hoisted me over that four-foot wall (not a small accomplishment considering my size), put me on a gurney, and stuck me in the back of the bus.
An EMT named Brad assessed my situation as he asked what medications I was on, took my blood pressure (a little low), gave me oxygen, and put an IV of Ringer's lactate solution in my arm. He said he wanted to do an EKG and apologized for having to cut my t-shirt off to apply the leads to my chest. Ironically, it was the souvenir shirt I'd bought after climbing Diamond Head in Hawaii with my wife and daughter 11 years ago. Everything look fine on the EKG, and I was starting to feel a lot better in the air-conditioned ambulance. But to be sure, Brad told the driver we were going to Missouri Baptist Medical Center.
My first thought at that point was as if I were a 6-year-old boy: I get to ride in an ambulance with the lights and siren going! My second thought, as a 56-year-old man: I wonder how much this is going to cost!
While the ambulance whisked me down the road, one of the onlookers helped my wife get our bikes back to my car, about a half-mile away. My wife then drove over to meet me at the hospital.
At MoBap, I was put in an emergency room with a nurse named Adrienne, who hooked me up to another EKG, took my blood pressure and other vitals, and asked me for details on what had happened. I told her that I was almost back to normal, but needed to use the bathroom. She said she couldn't allow me to walk, but would bring me a "bedside commode." I hated the sound of that so much I told her I'd hold it in for awhile longer.
After another ten minutes, she had all of my information and figured I was stabilized, so she told me she'd have a doctor come see me soon. I insisted she let me out of the bed to take care of business. She relented, and called for an orderly to bring a wheelchair. When I got out of the bed, I looked back to see that some of the grass and straw from the ground I'd been laying on had stuck to my sweaty clothes and was now in the bed -- along with two crawly bugs. I pointed them out to Adrienne who, as she plucked them away with her hand, said that was nothing compared to the stuff she'd had to deal with in patients' beds before. Two words came into my mind: Bodily Fluids.
The orderly took me to the bathroom and left me alone -- so much so that when I was through, he was nowhere to be found. So I walked back to the room, pushing the wheelchair all the way. By then, my wife had arrived, having stopped to give the front desk our insurance details and other information. I filled her in on everything that had happened and told her I was now fine and ready to leave.
At that point, a technician showed up and said he was ready to take me for a chest x-ray. I politely said, "No, thanks." He stopped in his tracks, smiled, and said, "Okay, I'll just cancel that." I turned to my wife, who we call The Family Ombudswoman (a/k/a The Fixer), and told her, "Get me out of here."
She tracked down Adrienne and had a quick discussion with her, which ended with Adrienne bringing in a form entitled Against Medical Advice. She had filled in the particulars, which she showed me, then turned it over and revealed that under "Possible Consequences of Patient's Departure Against Medical Advice," she had written "Death."
I laughed and told her that she was absolutely going to win that bet, because we're all going to die eventually. Then I signed it, but before I could leave, I mentioned that my Diamond Head t-shirt was in shreds, I couldn't take the hospital gown with me, and no one in the building would want to see me topless. Adrienne got me a blue paper scrub top, which I pulled on, and we headed for the car.
I told my wife I would drive us home, but she gave me a look that said, "Get in the passenger seat and keep quiet!" I did, and for the entire ride, all I could think about was how much I regretted not saying to myself at the bottom of that hill, "I think I can't! I think I can't!"
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
I never should have pushed up that hill.
posted at 11:40 AM
Monday, September 29, 2014
Movie quiz: You're watching an action movie. The hero walks into a room, alone and unarmed, and encounters a half-dozen bad guys, all holding guns, knives, and other weapons. What happens? If you don't know that, by the end of the scene, the bad guys will all be dead and the hero will walk away with nothing more than a flesh wound, then you know nothing about action movies.
In "The Equalizer," Denzel Washington is the hero who dispatches bad guys in exactly that style. And if that's not enough of a movie cliche for you, there's even a scene where he blows something up, complete with a growing fireball, as he walks towards the camera in the foreground.
Don't get me wrong. Denzel is one of our best actors, but this role and these scenes could easily have been played by Bruce Willis, Vin Diesel, or Liam Neeson (another 60-ish actor who has forsaken quality dramatic work for the big payday of stereotypical action hero stories).
The best action movies have great villains, and the Russian crime enforcer played by Martin Csokas in "The Equalizer" is certainly a good one. He's evil, he has scary tattoos all over his torso, and he speaks quietly while creating fear and mayhem. The movie also includes a few minutes of Melissa Leo as Denzel's former boss -- it's hard to argue with any performance of hers. And it's directed by Antoine Fuqua, who did "Training Day" (which Denzel won an Oscar for) and loves to shoot extreme violence in slow-motion so much he does it again in "The Equalizer."
Here's a bit of trivia I didn't know until Tom O'Keefe mentioned it the other day. When the TV version of "The Equalizer" (starring Edward Woodward) aired on CBS in the late 1980s, it was on Wednesday nights at the same time that NBC was airing "St. Elsewhere" -- the show that gave Denzel his first career boost.
I'm sure there will be pressure on Denzel to do "The Equalizer 2." The formula is already in place, the cliches are ready to roll again, and the audience apparently is there, since this one earned $35 million this weekend.
But Denzel is better than that. For proof, see "Flight," "Inside Man," and "The Hurricane."
Cary Elwes, who played Westley in "The Princess Bride," has a book about the making of that movie, "As You Wish." In an interview with Marlow Stern of The Daily Beast, Elwes talked about how much alcohol his co-star, Andre The Giant," could consume:
Stern: You share a hilarious story in the book of Andre getting so wasted following the first script reading that he passed out smack in the middle of the lobby of the hotel, and hotel employees had to surround him with a velvet rope.Read the entire interview here.
Elwes: They decided that there was no shifting him. There’s no shifting a 550-pound, 7-foot-4 giant, so they had a choice: either call the authorities, and they didn’t want that kind of publicity, or wait for him to wake up, which was the wiser decision. It should be pointed out that Andre didn’t drink for the sake of drinking—Andre was in a lot of pain, God bless him. His back was injured from carrying all that weight around, and from having other wrestlers breaking chairs over his back. He was due to have an operation right after the shoot, and his doctor didn’t know what kind of pain medication to give him because of his size, so the only way that he could deal with the pain was to drink alcohol. And it didn’t affect him at all. He didn’t flub a line or miss a day. The guy could handle his liquor, let me tell ya.
Stern: Right. You mention this special drink he made, “The American,” which consisted of 40 ounces of various liquors poured into a pitcher, and he’d drink several of these in a single sitting.
Elwes: Yes. The man was extraordinary. He never even slurred his words or was tipsy! He was absolutely a man who could consume vast amounts of alcohol and not have it affect him at all. I’ve never seen anything like it. I went drinking with him after our first screening in New York, and I was sipping a beer all night—which he thought was very funny. There was no way I was going to compete with that, because I knew he could consume 100 beers in one sitting.
Stern: You describe that night of drinking in the book and apparently the NYPD had assigned a cop to shadow Andre when he went out drinking because he’d accidentally fallen on a patron while tipsy?
Elwes: Yes. Apparently there was one time where he tripped and fell on an unsuspecting patron while waiting for his car, and after that, any time he went out drinking the NYPD would send an undercover cop to follow him around—which, by the way, I always thought was a great gig to get. Andre would just order the cop drinks all night—which the guy happily took, by the way!
Stern: You said in the book that Andre got you to taste “The American.” What did it taste like?
Elwes: I’ve never tasted airplane fuel, but I imagine it’s very close to what that must taste like. It’s very potent indeed, and I remember coughing a lot. But to him, it was like chugging water.
Sunday, September 28, 2014
Last night in primetime, NBC re-ran the seventh episode of the series from the fall of 1975, hosted by Richard Pryor. This was a landmark show, in that it was the first time "SNL" was run on delay (Lorne Michaels told everyone on the staff not to tell Pryor because he'd freak out). Watching it, I was struck by how different "SNL" was then compared to the 40th season it kicked off later last night.
First and foremost was the now-legendary "Word Association" skit with Pryor and Chevy Chase, written by Paul Mooney, which I doubt would get on the air today, because it contained racial epithets (for both whites and blacks), including the n-word. Surprisingly, NBC allowed the sketch to air uncensored last night, and didn't bleep the n-word when Pryor said it at least five other times in his monologues about druggies and alcoholics (two more categories unlikely to be portrayed on a modern "SNL" telecast).
Yes, Pryor did more than one monologue, which wasn't unusual at that point in the show's history when the host was a standup comedian (George Carlin did two extended monologues on the very first SNL show). Today, when someone like Louis CK is the host, he gets one standup opportunity after the cold open and then appears in a few sketches, but doesn't get a solo spotlight again later in the show.
Pryor also appeared in the first-ever Samurai sketch with John Belushi, "Samurai Hotel," written by Tom Schiller, and with Jane Curtin in a "Looks At Books" segment in which he played the author of "White Like Me," who had used shoe polish to change his look while walking and talking like a white guy to see how the other race lived. Five years later, that skit was ripped off for an Eddie Murphy pre-taped segment with the exact same theme.
Later in the episode, Pryor was part of a very funny "Exorcist" parody with Laraine Newman as the possessed little girl, which unfortunately was not included in last night's rerun (they cut the original 90-minutes down to fit a 60-minute slot). Instead, they ran a horrible Muppets sketch (no one associated with the show thought the characters Jim Henson created for "SNL" ever fit with the tone of the rest of the show) and a below-average Albert Brooks film (another regular feature that was dropped after the first season).
No reading off cue cards. For decades, it has seemed that no one on the show could memorize their lines, so they all read everything awkwardly off cue cards, which kills any chemistry between performers in a scene. On the vintage shows, either the cast was much better at card-reading, or they knew their material. And remember, the "SNL" cast in 1975 included only 7 regulars, who had a lot more to do than today's cast, which is more than twice as large.
Dan Aykroyd's mustache. I'd forgotten that throughout the first "SNL" seasons, Aykroyd kept his mustache, regardless of the character or impression he was doing (even his Richard Nixon had a mustache). Today, if you see someone in the cast with facial hair, it's been glued on.
Musical guests. Although his songs weren't included in the rerun, the musical guest that night was much less mainstream than the performers who appear on "SNL" today. Gil Scott-Heron was a soul/jazz singer/songwriter whose songs "Johannesburg" and "We Almost Lost Detroit" had gotten a little bit of play on college and (what were then called) progressive FM stations, but the vast majority of the "SNL" audience would not have heard of him at the time. That wasn't unusual in the first season, when other musical guests included Loudon Wainwright III, Jimmy Cliff, Leon Redbone, and Betty Carter (along with more mainstream singers like Anne Murray, Neil Sedaka, and Abba). Today's musical guests are chosen from the iTunes playlist of your average 14-year-old girl.
The title. The show was not yet known as "Saturday Night Live," but rather "NBC's Saturday Night," because "SNL" was the name of a primetime ABC variety show hosted by Howard Cosell, with a cast that included Bill Murray, Brian Doyle-Murray, and Christopher Guest, billed as the "Primetime Players" (Lorne Michaels then dubbed his cast the "Not-Ready-For-Primetime Players" and eventually Murray, Doyle-Murray, and Guest joined the "SNL" team). When Cosell's show flopped after 18 episodes, NBC picked up the "Live" name and ran with it into what is now its 40th season.
Previously on Harris Online...
- My conversation with Jim Miller, who has updated "Live From New York," his oral history of "SNL," to cover its first 39 seasons (9/13/14).
- My conversations with Tom Davis, one of the original writers on "SNL" (2009).
- My column on Phil Hartman's Lasting Impression (5/28/98).
- My conversation with Tanner Colby about "SNL" adding a black woman to the cast (1/18/14).
Saturday, September 27, 2014
This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Denzel Washington Movies," "The UK Should Be The UQ," and "Multiple Choice Week." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include a supposedly addictive recipe, a rental car full of pot, and a pizza delivered by cops. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Tuesday, September 23, 2014
Another in my occasional series of poker stories...
I can't count the number of times I've sat at a poker table and said, "Now I have seen everything." Each time, I've been wrong. There's always something even odder waiting to appear.
The guy at my table last week is a perfect example. I was in a $5/10 no-limit hold'em game that had been full, but several of the players left around 6:30pm to go to the Cardinals game down the street, and others didn't want to play short-handed, but three of us agreed to continue playing in the hopes that the game would fill up again later. About 45 minutes later, the guy this story is about sat down.
He wore dark sunglasses, had tattoos down both arms, and spoke with only half his mouth -- and he talked a lot, about large swaths of land he owned in Illinois and other topics I couldn't follow. I didn't care, because he kept losing money. My attitude has always been you can say or do whatever you want at the table, as long as you're contributing to a lot of pots.
The guy had apparently been there before, but I'd never played with him. I texted one of the other players to ask if he knew the guy, and this was the reply:
He told us Monday that he just got out of prison for holding someone hostage, but didn't do it. He told us after the cops arrested him he woke up with a gunshot to the head. If he takes his glasses off you'll see his left eye isn't there. Dude is actually crazy. Dunno much else.But that's not all. When he re-bought for the fourth time, he brought out his secret weapon -- a prosthetic head -- which he held in front of him on the table at all times. One of the other players finally asked, "What the deal with the head?" To which the guy answered,
"Oh, I carry it around in my Mercedes, which has dark tinted glass, and sometimes, I'll roll the window down and stick the head out to freak out other drivers. There are really only two months I can use it, September and October, leading up to Halloween. So this is the time of year I keep it with me."That's when I joked, "You give new meaning to heads-up poker." The guy laughed as I thought to myself, "Now I've seen everything," before quickly correcting myself -- because who knows what the hell will happen this week!
Read more of my poker stories here.
Monday, September 22, 2014
Mike Rowe, who hosted "Dirty Jobs" on The Discovery Channel until 2012, recently encountered a boy named Kenny who was having trouble understanding what's real and what's fake on TV reality shows. It started with questions about Discovery's Shark Week, which included fictional movies about megalodon and submarine sharks, which don't exist.
Rowe told Kenny that those were movies made to look like documentaries, but they used actors, not scientists. As Rowe writes on his Facebook page, that only made Kenny more inquisitive:
“So, what about the people on Dirty Jobs? Were they actors too?”Rowe then went on to explain to Kenny how reality shows leave out a lot of stuff and only show you the things they want you to see, because reality can sometimes be boring, which doesn't make good television.
“No, Kenny. Those were not actors. Those were real people.”
“Absolutely,” I said. “We never used actors on Dirty Jobs, and we never made things up. That’s what made it special.”
“But...you’re an actor, right?”
“Me? No. Not really. I’m more like a host.” The father cleared his throat and leaned in to clarify.
“Kenny saw you on “Last Man Standing.” With Tim Allen. He thought you were very good.”
“Oh. Well...that’s different. Once in while I might take an acting gig. But “Last Man Standing” is a scripted show. Dirty Jobs is an unscripted show. The difference is really important.”
“What about commercials? When you talk about Chevy trucks, are you acting or being real?”
“Actually Kenny, those were Ford Trucks. But to answer your question, I was being real.”
“What about those paper towel commercials. Are those people your real parents?
“Of course they are. But look, Kenny, commercials are very different from TV shows.”
“Well, advertisers have to tell the truth. It’s the law. But the actors in the commercials don’t necessarily have to agree with or believe everything they’re told to say. That’s what acting is. You get paid to say someone else’s words in a convincing way.”
“So do you believe every single thing you say in a commercial?”
“Well, yes. As a matter of fact I do. But I didn’t always. When I was just getting started, I said all sorts of things on television that I didn’t really believe.”
“So, how can I tell the difference between people who are acting and people who are lying and people who are telling the truth?”
“That’s a good question, Kenny. Sometimes, it’s hard to know whom to believe."
At the very least, all of this has turned Kenny into a skeptic, not taking television at face value, and questioning whether what he's seeing is real or fake. Good for you, Kenny!
Read Mike Rowe's entire piece on his encounter with Kenny here.
If I told you that Mike Myers had made "Supermensch," you might think it was to superhero movies what his "Austin Powers" films were to the spy genre. But you'd be wrong.
The full title is "Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon," a documentary by Myers about the show business manager who turned Alice Cooper into a star, and guided the careers of artists as varied as Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass, and Anne Murray. When Gordon became interested in cooking, he began working with celebrity chefs like Emeril Lagasse and created the platform from which their careers launched. He started the first independent film company in the US (before even Miramax), called Alive Films, which produced "Kiss Of The Spider Woman" and "Stop Making Sense," among others.
Along the way, Gordon never married and never had kids, though he dated lots of beautiful women (including Sharon Stone), became quite wealthy, and bought a seaside retreat in Maui -- but the "mensch" part of his title comes from the things he's done for others that go above and beyond. Watching the movie, I marveled at the life he's led and the ideas he's executed for his clients.
It's a fun bio of a music and movies insider I (and probably you) had never heard of, with comments on Gordon's life from people who knew him, like Michael Douglas, Sly Stallone, Tom Arnold, and Willie Nelson.
Click to see my full Movies You Might Not Know list.
posted at 3:07 PM
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Friday was "Talk Like A Pirate Day," a silly tradition that's nearly 20 years old, in which people go around saying "Ahoy, matey!" and adding a grunting "Arrrrr!" to every sentence. When I say "people go around," I really mean radio personalities who think they're being clever ever year when they do their talk-like-a-pirate shtick, in which everyone sounds like Captain Hook in a community-theater production of "Peter Pan."
It's time to stop this nonsense, because our image of pirates should have changed by now -- if not by several real-life episodes of, for instance, Somali pirates capturing boats and hostages off the African coast, then by last year's hit movie, "Captain Phillips," based on an actual incident in which pirates took over the Maersk Alabama at gunpoint:
Funny, I didn't hear anyone uttering "arrrr!" in that entire scene.
The other day, a fan at Wrigley Field caught a home run ball, but somehow lost his wedding ring. He looked around and under the seats, but couldn't find it. The TV crew noticed him scrambling around, then somehow got a shot of the ring, which had fallen over the ivy-covered wall and onto the warning track. Between innings, the grounds crew retrieved and returned it to him.
When a link to the story was posted on Fark.com, this is the headline that accompanied it:
Good: Cubs fan catches homerun ball. Bad: Loses wedding ring during celebration. Good: Grounds crew locates ring and returns it. Cubs players said they would have helped look but they have no idea what a ring is.Perfect!
posted at 12:00 AM
Saturday, September 20, 2014
ESPN details the timeline of the Ray Rice case, along with some revelations about how the Ravens tried to cover-up his wife-beating, and the NFL didn't follow through with a real investigation:
The seven-month scandal that is threatening Roger Goodell's future as NFL commissioner began with an unexpected phone call in the early morning hours on a Saturday in February.Read the full ESPN piece here.
Just hours after running back Ray Rice knocked out his then-fiancée with a left hook at the Revel Casino Hotel in Atlantic City, New Jersey, the Baltimore Ravens' director of security, Darren Sanders, reached an Atlantic City police officer by phone. While watching surveillance video -- shot from inside the elevator where Rice's punch knocked his fiancée unconscious -- the officer, who told Sanders he just happened to be a Ravens fan, described in detail to Sanders what he was seeing.
Sanders quickly relayed the damning video's play-by-play to team executives in Baltimore, unknowingly starting a seven-month odyssey that has mushroomed into the biggest crisis confronting a commissioner in the NFL's 94-year history.
The incident involving former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his wife, Janay, has blown up into one of the NFL's biggest crises in its 95-year history.
"Outside the Lines" interviewed more than 20 sources over the past 11 days -- team officials, current and former league officials, NFL Players Association representatives and associates, advisers and friends of Rice -- and found a pattern of misinformation and misdirection employed by the Ravens and the NFL since that February night.
After the Feb. 15 incident in the casino elevator, Ravens executives -- in particular owner Steve Bisciotti, president Dick Cass and general manager Ozzie Newsome -- began extensive public and private campaigns pushing for leniency for Rice on several fronts: from the judicial system in Atlantic County, where Rice faced assault charges, to commissioner Goodell, who ultimately would decide the number of games Rice would be suspended from this fall, to within their own building, where some were arguing immediately after the incident that Rice should be released.
The Ravens also consulted frequently with Rice's Philadelphia defense attorney, Michael J. Diamondstein, who in early April had obtained a copy of the inside-elevator video and told Cass: "It's f---ing horrible." Cass did not request a copy of the video from Diamondstein but instead began urging Rice's legal team to get Rice accepted into a pretrial intervention program after being told some of the program's benefits. Among them: It would keep the inside-elevator video from becoming public.
posted at 12:23 PM
Michael Beschloss recalls the history of poker-playing presidents, including FDR, Harding, Eisenhower, Nixon, and Truman:
Harry Truman was the president most publicly identified with poker, which seemed natural for a product of the Kansas City political machine led by the back-room Democratic boss Tom Pendergast.Read the full Beschloss piece here.
Truman preferred what was described as a “frantic” high-low poker, which he called Vinson, after his favorite partner, Fred Vinson of Kentucky (whom he later named chief justice), playing with poker chips he had ordered specially embossed with the presidential seal. Truman’s famous motto, “The Buck Stops Here,” which was emblazoned on a sign atop his Oval Office desk, was a poker expression.
In March 1946, on the night before the Cold War started in earnest, Truman sat down to poker with Winston Churchill, who was wearing his zippered siren suit. The two men were riding aboard the presidential train, which was rushing across Missouri.
Churchill had played poker for decades. “This man is cagey and is probably an excellent player,” Truman had quietly warned his advisers. “The reputation of American poker is at stake, and I expect every man to do his duty.”
“Boss, this guy’s a pigeon,” scoffed Truman’s roguish aide (and World War I Army pal) Gen. Harry Vaughan, who added, “If you want us to give it our best, we’ll have his underwear.” By the time the game stopped at 2:30 a.m., the former British prime minister had indeed lost about $250.
Friday, September 19, 2014
Tomorrow, the St. Louis Science Center will team up with the Gateway Electric Vehicle Association for an Electric Car Show, with owners and dealers showing off all sorts of electric vehicles, including Nissan Leafs, Chevy Volts, and Teslas. Josh Linn, an electric car owner and educator at the SLSC, joined me on KTRS to talk about the issues relating to the vehicles, from range anxiety to cost to Elon Musk's new battery gigafactory in Nevada.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "Great Scot," "It Happened In September," and "ER Plus 20." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include an armpit on fire, a man with metal balls, and an illegal forward pass. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Wednesday, September 17, 2014
The latest addition to my Movies You Might Not Know list...
Monday, September 15, 2014
Sunday, September 14, 2014
I've been an NFL fan since I was a little kid. When I was 10, I read Jerry Kramer's "Instant Replay," which turned me into a Green Bay Packers fan. That year, I also read George Plimpton's "Paper Lion," which didn't turn me into a Detroit Lions fan.
My father took my brother and me to NY Jets training camp at Hofstra University during the summer a few times. My first NFL game was watching the NY Giants host the Dallas Cowboys from the cheap obstructed-view seats (all we could afford) at the old Yankee Stadium. I worked in Washington during the Redskins' glory days and covered them by taking my morning show to San Diego and later Minneapolis when they won Super Bowls 22 and 26. The year I arrived in St. Louis, Kurt Warner led the Greatest Show On Turf to a Rams Super Bowl victory. Fantastic memories.
I watch NFL games because I love the sport, but in recent years, there's been a bitter taste in my mouth. I have done several radio shows about how the league has screwed its employees by denying a connection between the concussions on the field and the devastating brain injuries that shortened players' lives. I've talked about how NFL cheerleaders are treated like unpaid interns despite the demands the teams put on them for little (or no) salaries. I've talked about Dan Snyder's arrogant resistance to changing the Redskins' racist name.
Then there was this week, with the controversies over Ray Rice, Greg Hardy, and Adrian Peterson. They're all talented football players, and we know that the bigger the star, the easier the treatment. Top-level athletes are coddled from high school through college and into the professional ranks. Many of them breeze through schools without getting a real education, and they get away with all sorts of nasty stuff in everyday life because they're too valuable to keep off the field or court.
These three are but a small sample of the men in the NFL and other professional sports leagues who are a menace to society -- while simultaneously reflective of the epidemic of violence that gets played out in far too many homes across America -- and it's time to change the tradition of looking the other way as long as they throw, catch, and run well.
ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown devoted most of its first hour to the topic this morning, with some good commentary, including a mother's perspective from veteran sportscaster Hannah Storm and an emotional plea from former Viking receiver Cris Carter.
The question shouldn't be, "Will Roger Goodell keep his job?" The question should be, "Can the NFL become a leader in awareness of domestic violence and change its culture?" It already devotes part of its season to promoting breast cancer awareness, with players and officials wearing pink shoes, penalty flags, and towels. What's the right color for domestic violence?
I'm still tuning in to NFL games on TV, but I have a new perspective on what -- and who -- I'm watching. I hope that I'm not alone in this and, as Hannah Storm mentioned, I wonder what's going through the minds of the women who make up some 45% of the league's fan base.
I wonder why a league that's so good at policing the players on the field hasn't figured out how to keep them in line off of it. These aren't action that can be disciplined with a 15-yard penalty. The punishments will have to be a lot tougher for players who can't restrict their violence to those hours when they're playing the game.
Previously on Harris Online...
A few nights ago, movie industry analyst Scott Feinberg (who I follow on Twitter) asked, "Can you think of an Oscar-less actress aged 65 or under with a better body of work than Julianne Moore, who is 53?" The tweet first caught my eye because I read it wrong, leaving out the words "of work," which makes it a completely different question.
But when I re-read it, I started thinking about who might qualify, and I came up with Annette Benning and Sigourney Weaver, with Michelle Pfeiffer a possible third. Then I asked my colleague Colin Jeffery, who added Laura Linney and Joan Allen. I finished by adding the woman who I once hoped would be my first ex-wife, Ellen Barkin.
Can you think of any others who deserve to be on the list?
FYI, Julianne Moore has been Oscar-nominated four times for "The Hours," "Far From Heaven," "Boogie Nights," and "The End Of An Affair." Quick story about the latter. I hosted the St. Louis premiere of that movie when it was released in 1999, but it was so boring I walked out about halfway through (something I'd only done one other time, during Paul McCartney's terrible "Give My Regards To Broad Street" in 1984).
I thought I'd been discreet while leaving, but the next morning, on the air, I got calls from two listeners to whom I had given tickets to the premiere. They both thanked me for walking out, because they'd hated the movie, too, and were sitting there wondering whether they could bolt for the exit. So when I split, they followed -- and told me several other people did, too.
This week, Missouri's GOP-dominated legislature overrode Gov. Jay Nixon's veto of a bill mandating a 72-hour waiting period before a woman can have an abortion. They want her to take some time to think about this very important life decision -- as if she hadn't thought about it before going to the doctor for the first visit. It's yet another attempt to dissuade women from having control over their own bodies.
The compassionate conservatives in Jefferson City did not include an exception for rape and incest. Yes, Ms. Rape Victim, not only is your doctor mandated by law to counsel you on how bad abortion is, but you're then going to have to spend three more days thinking about whether you want to keep the child that was forced upon you by a violent felon. Sure hope your health insurance covers another doctor's office visit, not to mention the cost of the procedure, and the expense of having to travel who-knows-how-many miles across the state to find a place that still performs abortions.
By the way, there's no waiting period to buy a gun in Missouri. You want to shoot someone right now? Here, have a deadly weapon. You want to undo a mistake that will lead to an unwanted child? Sorry, you'll have to come back later this week.
posted at 12:01 AM
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Two hundred years ago today, Francis Scott Key wrote the poem "Defence of Fort M'Henry" [sic], which would later be put to music and renamed "The Star Spangled Banner." It became our national anthem in 1931. If you ever wonder why the USA is constantly going to war, think about how our national song celebrates a military battle, rather than freedom.
In the early 1970s, comedian Albert Brooks thought it was time to let the American people write a new national anthem. Watch the results here.
posted at 3:05 PM
Now, as "SNL" is about to embark on its 40th season, Miller has revised and updated the book with interviews with the people who have worked on the show since then. Both the original and new version are fascinating reads, so I invited Miller to join me on KTRS to discuss:
- how these 12 years were different from the 27 that preceded them;
- what role Lorne Michaels has in the production of "SNL," considering he's now also overseeing "The Tonight Show starring Jimmy Fallon" and "Late Night with Seth Meyers";
- why Conan O'Brien didn't want Lorne involved during his brief stint as "Tonight Show" host;
- why "SNL" depends so much on recurring characters;
- the addition of Michael Che as Weekend Update co-anchor;
- whether Weekend Update has lost its relevance in the era of "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report";
- the impact of Tina Fey and other women on the show's recent history;
- why "SNL" has so many cast members, considering they can't possibly all get airtime.
This week's Harris Challenge -- the most fun you can have with your radio on -- includes trivia categories "TV's Highest Paid Actors," "Guys Who Classic Rocked," and "Not Having A Good Week." Listen and play along, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include flags to wave while crossing the street, another sleepy burglar, and some badly-disposed-of marijuana. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Wednesday, September 10, 2014
In Salon, Katie McDonough asks why NFL commissioner Roger Goodell had to see the video TMZ released yesterday (showing Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his then-fiancee in an elevator) before the team cancelled his contract and the league suspended him indefinitely:
Goodell claimed that what he saw in the video was “extremely graphic” and “sickening,” which is absolutely true. But, as Amy Davidson noted at the New Yorker earlier this week, what did Goodell and the rest of the NFL think it looked like when a football player knocked out a woman?Read McDonough's full piece here.
The release of that footage (without Janay Rice’s consent and at her expense) didn’t change a thing about what the NFL knew. Goodell had a police report that said Rice hit Janay with his hand, “rendering her unconscious.” And a grand jury indicted Rice in March for third degree aggravated assault, which in New Jersey is defined as acting with the intent to cause “bodily injury.” And Goodell admitted that he had seen the footage outside the elevator, which clearly shows Rice dragging Janay’s limp body like a sack of potatoes.
The video of what happened inside that elevator makes it clear that the assault was brutal, but was there any other conclusion that Goodell could have come to? “There are not that many different ways in which two people can get on an elevator, only to have one exit unconscious,” Zerlina Maxwell wrote earlier this week, responding to this same point. The video changes nothing.
The interview [with Norah O'Donnell of '"CBS This Morning"] doesn’t change anything, either. It has long been clear that the NFL is indifferent to violence against women. This incident was just too much of a media headache to ignore, so the NFL acted — belatedly, inadequately, cynically.
Another in my occasional series of poker stories.
Any Texas hold'em player can tell you about the adrenaline rush you get when you look down at your hole cards and see two beautiful aces. Most of the time, you want to get as much money into the pot as possible against a single opponent, because you're at least a 4-1 favorite.
In a game yesterday, Bill had been dealt a pair of aces two of the last three hands, and won big pots with both of them. On the fourth hand, he raised again, but this time I was the one holding AA, so I re-raised. Another player in the hand called my raise, but then Bill raised again. When it came back around to me, I paused for a few seconds, hoping that Bill had a pair of kings this time, then announced I was all-in. The third player folded, but Bill called immediately and proudly turned over yet another pair of aces. Fortunately, we ended up chopping the pot (which consisted of the chips the third player had bet).
It could have been worse. This summer, at the million dollar buy-in One Drop tournament at the World Series of Poker, Conner Drinan had the ace of diamonds and the ace of clubs while Cary Katz had the ace of hearts and the ace of spades, and they got it all-in pre-flop. Unfortunately for Drinan, the board ran out with four hearts which, with Katz's ace in his hand, gave him a flush for the win. That's been called the worst bad beat in history.
My friend Dennis Phillips was similarly eliminated from the 2009 WSOP Main Event in 45th place (the year after he finished 3rd) when he got it all in with ace-king vs. an opponent's ace-king, and the board gave the other guy a flush. Brutal.
Several years ago, I got into the AA vs. AA battle with another player named Jenny, but to avoid the risk of one of us four-flushing, she and I agreed to avoid that possibility by chopping it right then and there. The dealer explained that he had to put out the flop, turn, and river, but Jenny and I simultaneously turned over our cards and mixed them into the muck (the discards from other players), making any further play moot. The dealer said, "Okay, let's chop it up." We each took our bets back, he split the money in the pot from the blinds, and the game proceeded.
Elizabeth Loftus is one of the preeminent experts on memory -- particularly how unreliable eyewitness testimony is. In her talk this summer at the James Randi Educational Foundation's Amazing Meeting, she discussed her research into how we make memory mistakes and how she and her colleagues have been able to create false memories in test subjects...
Tuesday, September 09, 2014
Three different restaurants I dined in this weekend had a salt grinder on the table. One was a fancy glass model, the other two were commercially sold items like the one pictured above.
All of them had me asking the same questions:
- When did adding salt to your food become a two-handed operation?
- What was wrong with the salt granules we were using before?
posted at 12:00 AM
Monday, September 08, 2014
I don't think the people at the Silver Diner in Maryland understand the irony of putting the word authentic in quotes on this table-side jukebox...
I love diners, especially the ones that are open 24 hours, where you can take a bunch of people for a meal and find something for everyone, from burgers and fries and shakes to a hot open turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce to huge salads to pancakes and eggs all day. Today's diners even offer healthier menu choices -- the Silver Diner has a page dedicated to "Flexitarian" items.
But even with the more modern attempts to appeal to consumers, many of them are stuck in the past when it comes to motif. As I traveled this summer, I encountered several diners with throwback interior design from the 1950s and 1960s even though they were all relatively new, built in the last decade or so. They even do it in a restaurant chain called "Cheeburger Cheeburger" (which is unrelated to the Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago, the inspiration for the classic "SNL" Olympia Cafe skit with Belushi, Aykroyd, and Murray).
The whole notion of these coin-operated jukeboxes is terribly anachronistic in 2014. They belong to an era when your music collection wasn't portable, before on-demand audio became as easy to access as reaching into your pocket -- without having to drop a quarter in. In this era of instant personal musical access, who wants to listen to other people's selections through tinny speakers until your song comes around?
By the way, if the Silver Diner's jukebox really was authentic, it would have all of its music coming off vinyl 45rpm records, rather than the digital delivery system it is built on.
posted at 3:54 PM
Media critic David Zurawik of the Baltimore Sun on the Ray Rice story:
TMZ did the job the mainstream sports media failed to do in showing us the ugliness of this incident. And don't talk to me about paying for video. Everybody does it in one form or another today, from the networks to the cable channels to the biggest mainstream web outlets in the world.Read Zurawik's full piece here.
I wonder how all the fine Baltimore fans who gave Rice a standing ovation when he ran on the field at M&T Bank Stadium before an exhibition game against the San Francisco 49ers last month are now feeling about their actions in the wake of this video?
I wonder how all the local hosts on sports radio and newscasters on local TV affiliates who swallowed the Ravens shameless spin all summer and reproduced it on their shows are feeling today. Was it worth it to compromise yourselves this way so as to not have Ravens management glaring at you when you came over to cover the team?
I wonder how Ravens management is feeling today. I wonder if there is anyone in that organization who tried to minimize or bury what Rice did who can now look the women in his or her life in the eye and not feel a need to apologize. And this goes from Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome and John Harbaugh on down. Forget Roger Goodell. He's pathetic. The national media did to him what we didn't do here in Baltimore: Publicly shame him for the joke two-game suspension he levied against Rice. If Goodell has any shame, it's time for him to think about an exit strategy.
Sunday, September 07, 2014
For too long, St. Louis football fans have endured...
- Too many seasons with records under .500.
- Too many seasons of undisciplined players who are called for too many penalties.
- Too many rebuilding seasons with young players who can't deliver the goods.
- Too many years of coaches and offensive coordinators with uninspired play-calling.
- Too many rookies and newbies who can't outrun veteran defenders and get open, forcing too many quarterbacks to check down to too many receivers in too many short patterns.
- Too few attempts to push the ball downfield.
- Too many injuries to starting quarterbacks, replaced by an unending stream of not-ready-for-the-NFL rookies and bounced-around-the-league-for-too-long journeymen.
- Too many games with Dick Stockton calling the action. Let's just say Stockton is no Al Michaels and Kirk Morrison (the latest in a long line of too many Fox rookie analysts in the booth) is no Cris Collinsworth.
- Too many years since we were spoiled by The Greatest Show On Turf 15 years ago...and for the last decade, too many Rams teams that have struggled to even achieve mediocrity.
We're not going to spend public dollars to build the Rams a new stadium or fix up their current home in the dome -- and we know that billionaire owner Stan Kroenke won't put his own hard-inherited money to fix up a venue where attendance is going to keep dropping because the product consistently sucks.
So, LA, you can have the Rams back.
You're the nation's second-largest market, and you're supposedly hungry for an NFL franchise that will bring out huge crowds, create corporate synergy opportunities, and draw big TV ratings. Go ahead and build them a new stadium and try to create a new fan base. But when the new LA Rams set records for fumbles lost, interceptions thrown, penalties against, and players with season-ending injuries, don't come crying to us.
We have been there and done that for the last decade.
posted at 11:15 PM
Friday, September 05, 2014
David Pogue of Yahoo Tech joined me on KTRS to talk about how hackers got those nude photos of female celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence, Rhianna, Kate Upton, and Kirsten Dunst from their supposedly secure iCloud accounts. He explained that this wasn't a problem with Apple's security, but a problem with the security questions connected to their passwords, which diligent hackers were able to figure out and exploit.
David also explained how you can make your own online accounts -- not just iCloud users -- more secure, although there's very little chance that a hacker wants your data (if they wouldn't care about you with your clothes on, odds are unlikely they're looking for photos of you with your clothes off).
Then we discussed what to expect next week when Apple announces its new iPhone 6, from the look of the phone to the features that may be part of the iOS8 operating system inside (which will also work for 4s and 5 series iPhones). I also asked David about Apple getting involved with digital payment systems (using your phone like a credit card) and wearable devices like an iWatch.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Attorney Josh Schindler represents students in the unaccredited school district of Normandy, Missouri, who want to attend schools in other districts, which is permitted under state law. Although thousands of them were allowed to transfer last year, the districts (and the state) fought back this summer and Josh was forced to take them to court.
One by one, the receiving districts (Pattonville, Parkway, Ladue, Hazelwood, and many others) have agreed to accept the Normandy transfer students again -- but the Francis Howell School District continues to put a fight, and Josh has had to return to ask a judge again and again to force the district to take these kids, who only want a better education than they can get in Normandy. What's remarkable about the district's stonewalling is that 430 students transferred and attended classes there last year, but now they're being told they're no longer welcome.
On my KTRS show, Josh explained the status of the case and why he's vowed not to stop until the last kid is admitted to a better school. I asked him how he responds to people in Francis Howell -- a predominantly white district -- who don't want these black kids in their schools, what the impact of those transfer students has been on standardized test scores in the receiving districts, and what he's heard from educators and the students' families.
Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
My latest batch of Knuckleheads In The News® stories include two neighbors dropping trou, a sock-less attorney, and a drunken park ranger. Listen, then click here to subscribe to these podcasts via iTunes!
Tuesday, September 02, 2014
While in Chicago this weekend, my wife and I went to Second City to take in its latest show, "Depraved New World." I've been there several times and am always entertained by the fast-paced blackout sketches that make up the 90-minute performance. They don't all hit the bulls-eye, but the percentages are pretty high.
Many people may go to Second City expecting to see a completely improvised show a la "Whose Line Is It Anyway?" That's not what they do on their main stage. The show is more than 95% scripted and it's not until the second act that they ask for audience suggestions and then wing it within a structured setup. Those tend to be the weakest sketches of the evening because, while instant comedy can be quite good, comedy that has been written, honed, and rehearsed is almost always better.
A decade ago, we were there on a night when some scouts from "Saturday Night Live" were in the audience. I don't know if anyone in that cast eventually made it to the show, but I'm sure all of them had stars in their eyes, since Second City has been a launching pad for so many "SNL" stars. The only performer whose name I can remember from a Second City show is Ryan Stiles, who was part of the troupe we saw at the World's Fair in Vancouver in the spring of 1986. He was clearly the standout and we noted his name as someone destined for stardom.
Perhaps one of the performers we saw on Saturday will follow in his footsteps (and those of dozens of other Second City alumni). They were Chelsea Devantez, John Hartman, Emily Walker, John Sabine, Niccole Thurman, and Daniel Strauss. The former three had a role in writing as well as performing the show, while the latter three were understudies (brought up from one of the Second City touring companies to fill in this weekend), but you couldn't tell, as they were all funny and talented.
Our Chicago weekend also included live music at a couple of blues clubs and a performance on Navy Pier by the acrobats of Cirque Shanghai Warriors who, unlike Cirque du Soleil, don't bog things down with storylines -- they just do remarkable things with their bodies -- and they don't charge inflated prices. We got a pair of tickets for a total price of $43. For that money, you can't even stand in line for a Cirque du Soleil show in Vegas.
We also took an architecture tour of downtown on a boat cruising the Chicago River. Our tour guide was an enthusiastic young guy named Victor who studied architecture and seems obsessed by it. He talked virtually non-stop for the 75-minute ride but was never boring as he described the buildings, the history, and the open lots that will soon have new skyscrapers on them. He also won our approval by openly showing contempt for the building with the name "Trump" garishly staring down at us.
No visit to Chicago would be complete without some great deep-dish pizza at Gino's East, an institution that always has a line out the door. This being Labor Day weekend, with lots of tourists in town plus locals enjoying a last shot at summer before schools open in Chicago, the place was packed. In fact, at lunchtime, we had tried to get into another famous deep-dish place, Giordano's, but the crowd was too big to even consider waiting around. So we made up for it with dinner at Gino's East, where the wait was only about 20 minutes.
Having been there before, we knew that once we sat down and ordered, we'd have to wait another 45 minutes for our pizza because they bake them from scratch. Meanwhile, we had one of their house salads with a house dressing, and had to remind each other not to fill up on salad (!) because we knew what was coming.
When the pizza arrived, that first bite reminded us why we'd been patient. Like the comedy at Second City, this deep-dish came from a recipe well-rehearsed and honed over a long time.
In a Miami Herald profile, James Randi discusses how he helped Johnny Carson show up Uri Geller when the latter was booked on the show to do one of his mentalist tricks:
Tonight Show host Johnny Carson, an amateur magician himself, called Randi for advice about an upcoming Geller appearance on the show.Here's how it looked that night on NBC...
Geller had been wowing audiences with the same experiment that had won over the Stanford scientists, a variation of the shell game that street hustlers use to con rubes out of their money. Geller would be presented with a tray bearing 10 small aluminum film canisters. Nine were empty; the 10th contained a steel ball. Geller’s challenge was to pick the one containing the ball, which he was able to do with near 100 percent accuracy.
“Glue the containers to the tray so they can’t move,” Randi advised Carson. “And his powers will mysteriously fail.” Sure enough, Geller couldn’t pick a container, even when Carson paused the show’s taping for 20 minutes. “I don’t feel strong tonight,” he complained before finally giving up.
“I had already seen film of Geller doing this trick,” Randi recalled. “Every time he was offered the tray, he tilted it slightly, this way and that way. I was sure he was watching for tiny movements of the canisters that would tell him which one had the ball inside.”
Their wrangling, legal and otherwise, continues to this day. It is anything but friendly. A television crew once accidentally caught footage of a chance encounter of the two men in which Randi refused to shake Geller’s hand. (“Do you really suppose Churchill and Hitler would shake hands?” Randi once retorted when asked about the incident.)
Randi, however, thinks their quarrel may be nearly over. Noting that Geller in recent interviews has begun referring to himself as a “mystifier” rather than a psychic, Randi believes Geller may be on the verge of confessing that his paranormal powers were just a long, profitable hoax.
“He wants to come out and say, ‘I fooled everybody.’ Or, at least, everybody but me,” Randi said. “But he can’t do that. Universities and governments all over the world have spent millions of dollars investigating the Geller Effect, as he calls it. He’d be sued out the gazoo if he said he was faking it. Now I think he’s trying to ease the transition with this word ‘mystifier,’ so people won’t be so mad at him when he finally admits that none of it was true.”
Read the full piece on Randi here.
Monday, September 01, 2014
My brother, Seth, wrote a piece about Labor Day in which he asks why, if the US has emerged from the recession, the economic mood of the country remains so bad:
It's not that Americans believe the economy isn't working; they know it isn't working for them. Their families are not getting ahead. Their lives are not improving -- at least not from an economic standpoint.Read Seth's full piece here.
Working Americans understand the economic facts of their lives, and they do not like what they see.
Americans believe firmly in fairness. Most Americans expect to work hard and be rewarded for their work. In today's economy, they know that's not happening.
Some cynics have tried to blame the unfairness in our economy on immigrants, big government (read, President Barack Obama) and even "social decline" (meaning same-sex marriage, among other issues).
But even casual news watchers know that large corporations are earning record profits while wages remain stagnant. Wall Street indexes reach record levels, but workers' pensions are increasingly inadequate to support a dignified retirement.
Some companies abandon the United States in search of even lower taxes and less regulation. Congress acts as though American democracy is irreparably broken. The Supreme Court, on the same day this summer, recognized a corporation's right to religious liberty, but denied that home health care workers are "full" employees of the state government that pays them, with the same right to organize as other state workers.
Working Americans can see that institutions -- public and private -- are failing them.