Monday, October 30, 2023

Old Dads offers Bill Burr’s podcast in movie form

There aren’t too many people who I could listen to for about 90 minutes each week just ramble about sports, life, self help, comedy tours, and whatever else strikes him. But I do that with Bill Burr’s Monday Morning Podcast, which airs Mondays (about an hour) and Thursdays (about a half hour, "he's just checking in on us"), and is an absolute hoot.

Burr has had minor acting roles in Breaking Bad, Outer Banks, The King of Staten Island, and plenty more, but he’s largely a stand-up comedian. But now Netflix has given him his star vehicle, a comedy he wrote and stars in called Old Dads

Fans of the podcast will recognize the themes. He and two of his fifty-ish buddies (played hilariously by Bobby Cannavale and Bokeem Woodbine) get wake-up calls that their respective anger, being scared of the wife, and failing to commit are personal traits that have to end. It takes a Hangover-like trip to a casino and strip club outside L.A. (they had originally set off for Vegas but it was too far for the old achy guys) to finally help the fellas make sense of the way they should be living their lives. The Uber ride back with driver Bruce Dern may or may not help too.

Old Dads has an Adam Sandler vibe to it, but it is also thoroughly Burr. If you don’t know this guy, you should check out his comedy. To me, he’s the best there is right now. 

4 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 29, 2023

RIP Matthew Perry

Matthew Perry has sadly joined the list of celebrities with varying levels of depression who passed away in tubs, including Jim Morrison, Bobby Darin, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Whitney Houston.

Perry detailed his struggles with mental health in his recent memoir, Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing. He had battled with alcohol and prescription drugs and claimed he was basically high throughout the Friends days.

Believe it or not, I’ve never been a big Friends fan, although I did enjoy watching several episodes in Thailand, where the show is wildly popular.

Perry, before moving to Los Angeles at 15, was from Ottawa, Canada, and became almost Beatles-famous as Chandler Bing in the 1990s.

Some of his other career highlights included the play he wrote and starred in called The End of Longing and Go On, a one-season TV show in which he played a sports talk radio host. But I probably know him most from frequent appearances in late-night talk shows, where he was often a pretty entertaining interviewee.

And much like me, Perry was obsessed with playing tennis.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

The Club is Open in Baltimore for book and record shopping

One of my favorite neighborhoods in Baltimore is Hampden, a quirky little hipster haven just a few miles up Interstate 83 north of downtown and the Inner Harbor.

I got to stroll around today and take in the main streets (36th and Falls) a little more than I previously had in the past. One reason I’ve been here is to see the famed “Hampden Christmas Lights.”

But with the unseasonably warm late-October weather, today felt like I got to see more of what the neighborhood is even more famous for - at least in my book - the feel of a John Waters movie. 

The boutiques, graffiti art, great skatepark, ice cream and coffee shops, and bars and restaurants all give the feel of what shaped Waters, who grew up here and still spends time here, in his brilliantly offbeat filmmaking.

One thing I loved is Atomic Books, right next to a really good record store (great selection, but records are sooo expensive these days) called Celebrated Summer Records.

Back to the book store, not only was my second favorite band Guided by Voices’ music playing in Atomic, but they had the legendary “The Club is Open” neon sign hanging above the cafe in the back. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that sign anywhere besides GBV concerts.

They have an immaculate collection of music books, graphic novels, and a lot of discounted damaged pop-culture books.

Highly recommended stop if you’re seeking records and books.

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Pop Culture Presidents: #2 John Adams

The second U.S. president, John Adams, was abrasive and not temperamentally suited for the role, but his intellect and statecraft somehow made him the perfect person to be elected in 1797. 

He had served as George Washington’s vice president for two terms, so he knew the ropes, and his foreign-affairs knowledge, at a time of great threat from other countries, was essential.


Adams and his wife Abigail were married for 54 years and had six kids. Unlike most of his contemporary Founding Fathers, Adams really had no pecadillos known to history. So, moving on to ... 


It appears that John Adams drank something with alcohol at every breakfast. According to Iron Horse Brewery's awesome blog

"President Adams may have been the most beer crazy prezzi of the lot. Some report that he started every morning with a hard cider, others say that he woke up to a beer for breakfast. Reportedly his favorite style of beer was a porter but he also enjoyed rum and Madeira. Historians have even recovered letters written by Adams to his wife describing in detail what kinds of alcohol he wanted, how much and at what prices."

Rock 'n' Roll

  • The pure emotion of Adams is what made him a real rocker. He was insecure, volatile, suspicious, filled with rage, funny, witty, loving, and compassionate, which must have made for frequent rollercoaster rides for those around him after Adams had had too much to drink (like, by mid-morning, for example).
  • His wife, Abigail, was rock n’ roll, demanding her husband not forget to “remember the ladies” in making laws for the new country.
  • At the end of his first term, his friend and Vice President Thomas Jefferson barely beat him in the election and Adams left the still-unfinished White House without even attending the inauguration. This would represent the end of federalism and the beginning of democracy.
  • One of his legacies showed that leading the country essentially from a position of independence (he wasn't a member of the Democratic-Republican Party and he was outcast from his own Federalist Party) would never go over well in the U.S.


  • As a fellow Federalist with Washington and Alexander Hamilton, members of his party constantly undermined him and went straight to those other two guys with their needs.
  • Adams signed a treaty to help end costly pirate attacks of U.S. merchant ships and created the Navy.
  • He created the 11th Amendment to prohibit lawsuits against states filed by citizens of other states or countries.
  • With Jefferson’s help, he established the Library of Congress, initially filled mostly with law books.
  • He signed the dangerous Federalist Alien and Sedition Acts that allowed the president to deport foreigners and suppress critical speech.
  • Congress’s first meetings in Washington DC occurred under his watch, even though the city wasn’t yet finished being built.
  • On the last day of his presidency, Adams created a system of federal judges, filled with his fellow Federalists, a group that is about to wane out of power with Adams’ exit from office.

Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Best Magazine Reads: Rediscovering one of my surprise pre-teen favorite rockers Bryan Adams

Supposedly not a cool confession to make, but when I was a pre-teen, the top of the music heap for me was Michael Jackson, Hall and Oates, and a bunch of MTV bands. OK, that’s not totally uncool, but also right up there at the very pinnacle sat, wait for it, Canada’s one and only Bryan Adams.

Now, I don’t much know what’s happened with the guy since 1985. But I’ll still put his run of four albums from 1980 to 1984 - Bryan Adams, You Want It You Got It, Cuts Like a Knife, and Reckless - up against just about anything from that era. Pure power pop goodness mixed in with a handful of spotless ballads.

I’ve heard I should check out 1987’s Into the Fire as well. But by then, the ship had sailed on to the college rock of The Jam, The Replacements, and R.E.M. and then to a late-high-school hair metal phase with Ratt, Guns N’ Roses, and Ozzy. But looking back at the broad spectrum of rock, Adams was wildly talented and, kind of like R.E.M., his really amazing stuff was overlooked because of later major stardom that actually was arguably far less inspired.

Classic Rock Magazine recently had a cover feature on Adams (and he guest edited the issue) that gave me the chance to listen back on these old favorites and to learn some interesting things:

  • He’s 63, a super nice regular guy, and has been a vegan for 34 years - maybe longer than veganism has been a thing!
  • He’s also a professional photographer with exhibits, books, and record covers.
  • Growing up, his father worked in peacekeeping for the UN, so Bryan moved around a lot, living in Israel, Austria, and Portugal, and spending time in the UK. His father often played opera and military band music very loud. But he also let Bryan get albums from his Columbia Record Club membership and the boy would pick the ones with “the hairiest bastards on the front cover,” already being drawn to the visuals. This helped him first get into Creedence Clearwater Revival and Janis Joplin.
  • Once getting more settled in Vancouver, at 15, he started writing songs and even soon had a song called "Wastin’ Time" that Bachman-Turner Overdrive used. It also appears on Adams’ debut and is more rocking’ than BTO’s also good version.
  • Even with 1993's Cuts Like a Knife, he was living in poverty because he had signed a really bad record deal with a low royalty rate. He says he didn’t care much about the money thing, but it was nice to finally be able to pay some bills after 1984’s Reckless, with its six top-15 hits and 12 million slbums sold in the U.S.
  • He went to see Tina Turner in 1982 and wrote a song to try to give to her backstage called “Lock Up Your Sons Cuz Tina’s in Town” that he called terrible. But he wrote another song later, “It’s Only Love,” that she fell in love with and insisted on singing it with him.
  • The magic of “Summer of ‘69,” Adams says is that, like most of his songs, “it’s simple, and simple is hard,” but the point is for everyone to be able to sing along to songs together.
  • In the 1990s, things got crazy and he worked with everyone from Mutt Lange to Sting to Rod Stewart. He’s duetted with Taylor Swift, Jennifer Lopez, and Billy Joel. He was the first Western artist to perform in Nepal.
Give Adams a chance. You might just like him.

Monday, October 23, 2023

RIP Dwight Twilley

I'm a huge fan of the power-pop genre. Give me Big Star, The Raspberries, The Cars, Fountains of Wayne, The Replacements, Cheap Trick, Badfinger, The Who, The Records, The Jam, and a whole slew of others to listen to just about any time night or day and I'll be happy.

One artist in the genre who mostly passed me by was Dwight Twilley, who has passed away due to injuries suffered in a car crash. 

I already had his 1984 hit "Girls," which reached #16 in the U.S., in my music library. It notably featured prominent backing vocals by labelmate Tom Petty, a long-time friend. But I had nothing else. However, this morning I woke up and listened to a great podcast I've recently discovered, Rockin' the Suburbs, which just released its latest episode, a tribute to Twilley. The show features hosts and various guests and they all got me listening to the next layer down of his catalog.

1975's "I'm on Fire" also reached #16 in the U.S. This hit was somewhat of a surprise, and, with very little promotion, the song came and went pretty quickly in the minds of radio listeners. "Why You Wanna Break My Heart" is a shoulda-been-classic 1980s ballad as well, although it did achieve some minimal fame when it was covered by Tia Carrere for the Wayne's World soundtrack. "That I Remember," "You Were So Warm," and "Three Persons" are already some other Twilley tunes that I'm coming around to and have serious Alex Chilton/Big Star vibes. Which is saying something.

Twilley, a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, always had troubles getting his career off the ground during the major-label era. But once that ended and he was able to start releasing his huge catalog of music with more flexibility, he was able to at least get that collection out to the public. And in the future, I imagine there will be many others like me who start to discover some of Twilley's power pop. 

Sunday, October 22, 2023

Nancy Pelosi’s daughter shows that discussing our political differences is key for a more empathetic future

My main hard-news media sources are The Week Magazine (which is great because it tells all perspectives - right and left), The New York Times, and The Washington Post. To me, these seem like the most balanced and most well-funded in order to do the most in-depth and investigative journalism. 

I can’t go so far as to listen to the entertainment/ratings-driven news at the likes of FOX, Breitbart, Newsmax, or any number of other “outlets” that will tell subgroups of radical conservatives the kinds of conspiratorial misinformation they somehow want to hear. But that doesn’t mean I don’t want to hear what's being propagated in those worlds. It’s interesting, even if it is fanciful and devisive.

That’s why a minute or two of The Righting is my answer each day. It’s a website (I get it as an email newsletter) that sums up what the far-right Trumper press is talking about. That press, in short, is obsessed with thinking Biden is the anti-Christ, DeSantis will stomp out the woke that is destroying this country, and how anything that's not white and male is a clear and present danger.

The Righting also alerted me to an interesting-sounding documentary that was just released on HBO MAX, created by famed lefty politician Nancy Pelosi’s daughter Alexandra Pelosi. 

The Insurrectionist Next Door ran the risk of being a preachy takedown of the idiocy of the people who attacked the U.S Capitol on January 6, 2021. But it is instead a thoughtful and entertaining glimpse into the worlds of several Insurrectionists who each had at least loose reasoning for being there that day, and somehow it doesn’t ever feel like Pelosi is in danger around these characters, even sitting down to “break bread” - or, rather, eat cake - with a Tesla-driving Trumper who says he wants to do his part to keep the world from being destroyed. 

The documentary is definitely no glimpse into the minds of geniuses, but it does serve as a painful reminder how dreadful the mental-health crisis has become in the United States.

I found it hard to take my eyes off any of the character studies, which each lasting about 10 minutes, as Pelosi tries to understand what led them to D.C. that fateful day and also hears their backstories and what makes them tick. 

The documentary is only about 80 minutes and kicks off with a Florida muscleman (pictured) who dreamed of becoming a pro wrestler but filled the hole in his life from that failed attempt by becoming a diehard Donald Trump fanboy.

That profile is mesmerizing as is the one about a very misguided young woman (pictured at the top) from outside St. Louis who follows her uncle to D.C. only to get caught up and then later kills someone as she drives drunk down the wrong way on a highway. 

There’s the gay diehard Trump fan who plans to run for office once his sentence ends, the parkour enthusiast who just apparently went along blindly with his sister to D.C., the emotional redneck who says he’s not racist but just had to align himself with the Aryan Brotherhood to survive in prison, the family-man rapper with "Proud Boys" tattooed across his forehead, and a few other notable deplorables.

This was one of the best documentaries I’ve watched in a while. And it’s interesting to go back and see the January 6th-ers and how they are faring nearly three years later. Some have some regrets about that day, but overall, their futures do not look bright.

5 out of 5 stars

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Banana liqueur is more essential than you probably think it is

As my amateur mixology journey continues apace, I started noticing a lot of fancy cocktails associated with bananas. Now, I know what many of you are thinking. "I have bananas in my alcohol when I'm lounging in the Caribbean with a frozen pina colada in hand." Fair enough, that's a great time for banana-themed drinks. However ...

I love eating bananas, but one of my biggest pet peeves has always been when the peels are sitting around. Left in a car, or even just on the counter? Ugh. Disgusting. Oddly enough, an overripe, mushy banana works ok as a drink garnish, since you want it to rest on the rim and an overripe banana may just fall off the side. That said, putting the overripe or mushy or a banana chip in any of these drinks that I'm about to share with you is a-ok! I like to think of mixology as a science, but a bit of an art as well.

Now, you can get the cheap bottles of banana liqueur, like De Kuyper. But if you splurge a little for the Tempus Fugit Creme de Banana Liqueuer (pictured), you may find it so delicious that you'll just want it straight on the rocks.

That said, there's nothing like a great cocktail, and a bottle of banana liqueur, I'm now convinced, is a must-have for any respectable home bar. I have yet to try many of these drinks, but I've done my research and curated them here, and I'm pretty sure all of them have great promise. The two I can absolutely vouch for, that I have made, are: 

Nathalia, which is a bit sweet but, be careful, it's strong:

  • 2 parts cognac
  • .75 parts yellow chartreuse (see my two yellow chartreuse blogs
  • .75 parts banana liqueur
  • 1 dash of angostura bitters
  • Garnish with orange zest

Banana Old Fashioned is just like it sounds - a really tasty classic Old Fashioned with just a hint of banana. Surprisingly classy:

  • 2 parts bourbon
  • .75 parts banana liqueur
  • 6 dashes of Abbott's bitters (Campari is a fine substitute)
  • Garnish with a dried banana chip
Now for the ones on my list to still try.

Banana Bliss:

  • 1 part cognac
  • .5 parts banana liqueur
  • .33 parts sherry (dry vermouth is a good substitute for sherry)
  • 4 dashes of Abbott's bitters (sub again can be Campari)
  • Garnish with a banana chip or slice

Banana Alexander:

  • 1.5 parts cognac
  • 1 part banana liqueur
  • 5 or 6 parts half and half
  • Garnish with nutmeg

Banana Boulevardier

  • 1 part bourbon
  • 1 part sweet vermouth
  • .5 parts Campari
  • .5 parts banana liqueur
  • Garnish with orange and banana

Banana Caipirinha 

  • Cut half a lime and drop it to the bottom of a glass under ice
  • Muddle a barspoon of sugar and a third a banana
  • 2 parts cachaca
  • .5 parts banana liqueur

Frozen Banana Daiquiri 

  • 2 parts gold rum
  • 1 part banana liqueur
  • .5 parts lime juice
  • 1 banana, with the center cut garnished on the rim of a hurricane glass

Banana Daiquiri Shaken

  • 1.67 parts rum
  • .75 parts banana liqueur
  • .5 parts lime juice
  • .33 parts water
  • 4 drops of daiquiri bitters (I think this is something I actually need to invest in; as far as I know Bob's Bitters is the only brand)
  • Garnish with a banana on the rim

Banana Split

  • 1.5 parts cognac
  • .75 parts banana liqueur
  • 2 dashes of vanilla bitters (all these bitters can start to get pricey, so I'm going to try a teeny bit of vanilla extract as a substitute when I make this one)
  • 2 dashes of chocolate bitters
  • .75 parts banana tea (I don't know what this is, but I'm intrigued)
  • .17 parts half and half (in other words, just a little!)
  • Garnish with chocolate powder and banana on rim
Now the next time you're thinking about that frozen pina colada, remember what I've shared with you here. And some bartenders may be able to help you out!

Friday, October 20, 2023

Carrie Fischer grew up amidst Star Wars between her parents

Carrie Fischer, almost always referred to as Princess Leia of Star Wars, wrote several books before her tragic death at age 60 back in 2016. I may get to writing about Postcards from the Edge, The Princess Diarist, and Shockaholic sometime down the road, but here is what I learned about someone I’ve always been fascinated with from her 2008 memoir Wishful Drinking (which was incidentally turned into a Broadway show and is also streaming as a documentary on Max).

  • Her parents were 1950s tabloid superstars Eddie Fischer and Debbie Reynolds, and Carrie grew up as a true product of Hollywood. “As a child, I thought that Father Knows Best was real and my life was fake.” It didn’t take long, though, before Fischer left Reynolds and married Elizabeth Taylor and then Connie Stevens. And then Miss Louisiana. And then Betty Lin. 
  • Reynolds starred in Singin’ in the Rain at age 19 and Carrie starred in Star Wars at age 19.
  • Her best-selling Postcards from the Edge was turned into a hit movie with Shirley MacLean and Meryl Streep basically playing Debbie and Carrie.
  • Fischer once dated Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd. And when he was asked about that courtship, he responded that it happened “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” She thinks that comment is why he lost his bid for the presidency.
  • She tells the story of how her gay Republican friend Greg died while sleeping over at her house, in her bed, from an OxyContin overdose. She says she liked her friend because he had great stories, including ones about his former office mate George W. Bush, who he said had a talent for farting on command and would often come in right when Greg was about to have meetings to fart and run off. 
  • It struck Fischer that she married Paul Simon, a short Jewish singer, just like how her mom married Eddie Fischer, a short Jewish singer. She had a passionate relationship with Simon until the big words they used with each other turned into mean words and they divorced.
  • Carrie loved her mom, but she writes that Debbie could be eccentric, such as when she nagged and nagged about how her husband - Debbie’s husband, that is! - should have a baby with Carrie. Debbie also, one Christmas, bought her mother and Carrie vibrators.
  • The second half of the book - which I’ll return to at a later date - promises to turn more to Sat Wars-related matters. Carrie wrote that her friends made fun of her for starring in a movie that sounded like it was about her parents. Star Wars.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

The Bear - Season 2 makes the case for history's "best fictional TV show about a restaurant"

I waited a little while to watch The Bear - Season 2 after its release. I wanted to anticipate and savor my enjoyment of the show.

There probably is no arguing that this is the best-ever fictional TV show about running a restaurant. The only thing that I can think of that comes close is It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, but that's about a bar and is hardly "run" by the owners. Alice? Nope.

Back in the first season, we met Carmy Berzatto (Jeremy Allen White), who returned from his wildly successful chef career to take over the operation of his Chicago family's restaurant called The Beef after his brother Michael committed suicide. Those episodes were more about Carmy's struggles re-acclimating to where he grew up and our unique view into the kitchen to witness him teaching a bunch of restaurant workers how to make food magic.

Season 2 keeps some of the kitchen battlefield moments, but now we get a chance (often among a great soundtrack including the likes of Wilco, R.E.M., The Breeders, Taylor Swift, and much more) to learn more about Carmy's team. They work to secure funding to turn The Beef, a fairly run-of-the-mill sandwich eatery, into The Bear, an elite dining experience with high ambitions.

In the lead up to opening night, Carmy struggles to keep his eye on the prize when he succumbs to an actual non-restaurant-related relationship with old acquaintance played by Molly Gordon. But it doesn't seem like he can keep that together.

Meanwhile, the best episodes of the season focus on other players. 

Carmy's second-in-command Sydney, played by an award-worthy Ayo Edebiri, goes on a quest across Chicago to taste other potentially great foods and see if this restaurant direction she's taking her life is a big mistake in a world of daily restaurant failures and economic downturn.

Pastry chef Marcus, played by Lionel Boyce, goes to Copenhagen to apprentice in some of Carmy's former footsteps. 

And Richie (Ebon Moss-Bachrach) transforms, through an apprenticeship he is temporarily sent to across town, from a divorced loser to an exacting and essential component of The Bear's hope to succeed.

In the conversation for best TV episode ever is the Christmas family dinner one, when Carmy's mother Donna, played by a very-high-intensity Jamie Lee Curtis, in maybe her best perfomrance of many great ones, cooks, drinks, wallows, and crashes. But not without inspiring Carmy through food.

The character development and the acting had me fully invested after Season 1, but now the creators have upped it another level. Season 3 can't happen soon enough.

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

T.C. Boyle's short stories are a great entry point to his prolific and powerful body of literary work

As someone who’s always kept an eye on the activities of the University of Iowa’s Iowa Writer’s Workshop program - and I almost attended grad school there because of its reputation, although I got into the slightly-less-prestigious journalism school - I think T.C Boyle is one of the program’s brightest stars. (With an opening sentence like that, no wonder they accepted me for journalism and not writing!)

Boyle famously had terrible grades but still got in based on the short story he submitted in the application process. He is known for having an eclectic, sometimes experimental, and sometimes satirical style and frequently writes about big issues like climate change, immigration, and the American experience, but always in non-preachy ways through the lenses of interesting characters. 

I really enjoyed the two novels I’ve read of Boyle's: Drop City about communal hippies in California and Alaska and Outside Looking In about a fictionalized version of Timothy Leary and the dawn of LSD invention and use. Other novels on my "to read" list include Talk to Me, The Tortilla Curtain, The Road to Wellville, and The Women. But for now, I wanted to start sampling his latest and also two of his most revered short stories - a modest project because he is a prolific short-story writer.

"The Overcoat II" (1982): This is a brilliant retelling of Nikolia Gogol's "The Overcoat," originally set in the 19th century and updated by Boyle to the 1980s Soviet Union. It's an absolute classic and tells the tale of Akaky, a factory worker who holds fast to the strict Soviet laws of labor, toiling in a cramped apartment, working slavishly at a factory, waiting in long lines for rations, and freezing night and day in his tattered Soviet-made overcoat. After getting ruthlessly mocked and derided at work for following Soviet rule, he one day decides to buy an expensive new coat and is then invited by a co-worker to a lavish party. He surprisingly enjoys the evening greatly, but then his coat is stolen from him as he walks home afterwards. He files a police report and they are soon able to locate the coat. But there is a problem when they discover the coat is labelled as "made in Hong Kong." The police inspector grills him for several hours about how he got it and then keeps it in police custody. Akaky is let go and walks home with no coat, only to get a cold that soon kills him. At the end of the story, the police inspector gets Akaky's overcoat out of the closet and wears it down the street, "proud and triumphant," with many people mistaking him for a top-level Soviet leaderr. 5 out of 5 stars 

“Birnam Wood” (2012): Keith and Anita live in a small chicken shack of a place, barely scraping by on his sometimes substitute-teacher job and her sometimes hostessing one. It’s a sad existence but they are relatively happy as a couple. Soon enough they are getting evicted, but then Keith’s best friend says he’s found a place they can housesit for the winter. It’s a swanky apartment in a huge mansion on a private lake called Birnam Wood. They are grateful to have heat, electricity, and a nice place, but as Keith talks to a stranger one night, he gives the impression that he and Nora aren’t a couple. The stranger thinks Nora is beautiful and shows up at their place. Keith leaves after Nora doesn’t turn away the stranger and he goes and spies on a couple through their window across the lake. A strong depiction of consumerism being far from the only thing people need to be happy. 4.5 out of 5 stars

“The End is Only a Beginning” (2023) is his most recent short story, appearing in the August 14 issue of The New Yorker. A depressed writer is going to Paris but his wife has to stay home to take care of her dying mother. He drinks heavily with a couple of women there and one has a cough. Upon his return, some kind of coronavirus has started to be widely identified and his wife, after a few days of coughing, is admitted into the hospital. She is quarantined and soon dies. He self-isolates, but he ends up being fine. While not a lot happens in this story, it is suspenseful and we are far enough away from the darkest days of COVID-19 that it makes the story pretty powerful and sad. 4 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 16, 2023

Happy 100th to Disney, and remembering its heyday of war propaganda

As the Disney company celebrates its 100th birthday on the same day as I celebrate my own (my birthday, that is; not my 100th), I was thinking back a little on how many great films this company has made. 

While I'm no diehard fan, I have a major fondness for its earliest works like Snow White, Pinocchio, Dumbo, and Bambi. After this flurry of impressive and massive hits, along with a few other features, between 1937 and 1942, it's curious that there was a break in Disney's filmography until 1946's controversial Song of the South.

That's because, during World War II, Disney shifted from major motion-picture entertainment to producing propaganda as its contribution to the war effort. "Der Fuehrer's Face" in 1943 had the look and feel of any other Looney Tunes-type cartoon short, featuring Donald Duck living under Nazi rule before realizing the endless Nazi feel-good tactics under very harsh rule in the name of national patriotism is actually a terrifying nightmare. He wakes up to thankfully find himself in his trusty American-flag pajamas.

It's pretty funny stuff and possibly the highlight of Disney's 1940s war activism.

Other really interesting Disney shorts from the time include "Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi," from 1943, which uses Disney cartoon magic to describe what was going on in world events and how German families and their very young children were put under Hitler's sway. "Reason and Emotion" is another one worth watching from 1943. Disney also spent these years creating instructional films for the military on basic combat training and other topics.

RIP Suzanne Somers

In my tweens, one of my very favorite things was ABC's Tuesday-night lineup. I watched Happy Days at 7 Central, Laverne and Shirley at 7:30, Three's Company at 8, sometimes I took a break during Too Close for Comfort at 8:30, then my mom and I finished the evening with Hart to Hart.

Arguably the highlight each week would be the nutball situations Jack, Janet, and blonde-haired Chrissy Snow would get into at or near their Santa Monica, California apartment. Suzanne Somers, who played Chrissy, died Sunday at 77 of breast cancer in Palm Springs.

Really oddly, I got a Regal Beagle (the restaurant/bar frequented in the show) t-shirt from my brother-in-law and sister-in-law just hours before getting a breaking-news alert about her passing. She died a day before her birthday (she and I shared a birthday, October 16).

Somers ditzy persona was mesmerizing and hilarious, but in truth she was a powerhouse, getting fired from the show for demanding the same pay as John Ritter (she was getting $30,000 per episode and he was receiving $150,000) and later becoming a successful business leader, especially with the ThighMaster excercise product that she seemed to endlessly be hawking in TV infomercials.

I'll always fondly remmber her many so-dumb-they're-hilarious lines, like ""Eat your salad before it gets cold" and, when the landlord Mr. Roper showed up the shampoo the trio's rug, she asked, "Why? Does it have dandruff?"

Saturday, October 14, 2023

Taylor Swift has perfected recording, and now maybe concert films too

There really is no concert-at-the-movies experience as good as Taylor Swift:The Eras Tour. We just saw it in IMAX and about the only music film I can think that could compare is The Beatles Get Back, which we were all relegated to watching on our TVs during the pandemic.

Zooming from the clouds down into SoFi Stadium in Los Angeles and into the elaborate arena where the crowd is going nuts, it kicks off in major exhilarating style and never lets up for three hours. Taylor runs through various “eras” of her career, rather than the usual tour for the latest album.

The sets for each era - really for each second of the film - are simply astounding as is the camera work, spotting Taylor from every angle imaginable and yet somehow never getting in her way.

Even more amazing may be the fact that Taylor herself (and her many exceptional backing dancers and musicians) seems less tired at the end than probably 99 percent of her audience. The Swift era will be far from swift; it is here to stay.

5 out of 5 stars

Friday, October 13, 2023

Great Magazine Reads: Lost may have been a huge hit on TV but it sounds like it was truly lost behind the scenes

Malcolm David Kelley as Walt
and Harold Perrineau as Michael 
If you've never watched Lost and don't want to go down that 121-episode rabbit hole, the least you can do is watch the pilot episode, which supposedly cost $13 million alone and was directed by the show's co-creator J.J. Abrams. I think it's still the best first episode of any show I've ever seen, and there are many other great parts of the series, even if it dovetails at the end into complete nonsense.

Now, horrendous details have arrived that probably had something to do with the unevenness of the show's latter half. Entertainment writer Maureen Ryan's new book, BURN IT DOWN: Power, Complicity, and a Call for Change in Hollywood, has been released and it details how unhappy some of the writers and cast were during their time with the show.

In an excerpt from the June 2023 issue of Vanity Fair, "it’s clear that the landmark series played right into Hollywood’s most long-standing patterns, in which auteurs wield enormous power with very little oversight." Here are some of the most interesting details from the article:

  • "Part of it was [executive producer Carlton Cuse and co-creator Damon Lindelof] really didn’t like their characters of color."
  • "The cast ended up in a series of compensation tiers and ... the highest tier was occupied solely by white actors."
  • Actor Harold Perrineau says it became pretty clear early on "'that I was the Black guy. Daniel [Dae Kim] was the Asian guy. And then you had Jack and Kate and Sawyer,' all of whom got a good deal of screen time, as did Terry O’Quinn’s Locke."
  • In season 2, Perrineau talked to Cuse about the lack of depth for his character and that he was unhappy that it was written to seem he didn't care much about Walt, his son who has been kidnapped. After season 2, Perrineau's character did not return.
  • One writer intererviewed says, "I can only describe [the atmosphere on set largely led by Cuse] as hazing. It was very much middle school and relentlessly cruel. And I’ve never heard that much racist commentary in one room in my career." Some of the stereotyping statements one writer heard included jokes about Asian's eye shapes, Blacks being thieves, anti-Semitism, sexism against women, and one Asian American writer who people simply called "Korean," as if that were the writer's name. "There was so much shit, and so much racist shit, and then laughter. It was ugly."
  • Actor Michelle Rodriguez got arrested for drunk driving and "instead of having empathy or sympathy for her situation, [the showrunners] were just like, 'Well, we’ll just get rid of her.'"

Ryan interviews Lindelof and Cuse at the end of the magazine article and they both deny all the accusations or that they set the tone for a very unhealthy set.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Great Magazine Reads: The Pretenders in the running for the coolest ever

Honeymoon-Scott, Chambers, Hynde, Farndon (l-r)
I've always considered Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders one of the very most cool rockers - one of those people you would love to have at your dinner party. She pretty much remains the only original member of the band but she's still making pretty vital music, and she is one of those bucket-list artists I still need to see live someday.

Testament to her cool? Have anyone with a sense about rock music listen to "Message of Love" and "Tattooed Love Boys" and tell me The Pretenders are not as cool as it gets. Those James Honeymoon-Scott guitar licks are to die for and Hyde's vocal mannerisms ... there are no words.

I recently started reading Record Collector Magazine. Previously I didn't know it even existed, but an interview with Hynde quickly convinced me this monthly will be added to my regular rotation of magazine reading. (Try it and most other magazines on the Libby app, which is connected to your local library and is the best deal in town for mag lovers.) Here are some great tidbits from the interview:
  • When she was 17, Hynde drove with a friend from home in Akron (why are there so many great rockers from Ohio?) to Pittsburgh to see The Kinks in concert. She bumped into Ray Davies outside of the club and they caught each others' eye. Chrissie claims Ray would probably not remember that moment. Nevertheless, she wound up having a daughter with Davies in 1983.
  • After Hynde started The Pretenders, bassist Pete Farndon and lead guitarist James Honeyman-Scott drummer both died from drug use. Drummer Martin Chambers stayed on for many years, but now Chrissie says, "It's not like I've retired Martin, but I'm a bit nervous about him on the road, because he's had some health issues."
  • The reporter asks her why she feels guilty for the deaths of her bandmates and she says, "Well, I didn't discourage the drug-taking, and I was part of it. So, you know, not that I was their mother, and we went on the road, and it was very hardcore."
  • Back On the Chain Gang was the first song Hynde and Chambers recorded after Jimmy and Pete died, which definitely adds levity to an already-great jam.
  • Like her friend Sir Paul McCartney, Hynde says, "I can't read music; I still go by the dots on the guitar. I don't even know most of the chord names. I'm not a great player, I just do my little thing and figure it out, but as far as the counting and everything, if someone says, 'You've missed a beat there,' in the early days, I would say, 'Well, that's how it goes, so just memorize it.'"
  • Way back, she left Akron and adopted London as her hometown, which is probably part of the reason she seems so exotic to those of us back in the U.S.A. When she first moved there, she got a job in Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's famed boutique Truth Loves To Go Naked, which later became Sex, and was ground central for the Sex Pistols. She pretty quickly go fired.
  • The article notes that "the guitar all the way through Woman [by John Lennon] – it's just like Brass In Pocket. And John wrote it in Bermuda just a few months after Brass In Pocket had topped the chart." Hynde says "that's amazing" and says, "John, he is still my favourite singer of all time."
  • The interviewer asks, "The 1981 tour was a catalogue of atrocity. You were all drinking a lot and you got yourself arrested in Memphis – what for, exactly?" She responds, "I picked up this guy on the road who I'd known from Ohio. He showed up in Orlando, and he had a Corvette Stingray, and he was fun, so I brought him on the road for a while. We were in a bar called Friday's in Memphis [as featured on the back cover of Big Star's Radio City]. Everyone was in there – all the band and crew. I had to go to the loo and there was a long queue to the ladies’ room, so I went in the men's room, and this guy I was with, Scotty, he really had a go at me. He was trouble, and he was like, 'What are you doing, going in the men's room?' and I was saying, 'What's your problem?' Anyway, we ended up in a back room at Fridays, having an argument, and one of the waiters or managers came up to us and said, 'You have to move from this section, we're closing it.' And because I was loaded, I really took exception to this, and I said, 'Fuck you' – I wasn't going to leave. So, I ended up being stood on by a security guy while they called the police, who put me in the back of this police car with handcuffs on. I somehow slid my hands out of the cuffs and rolled the window down and said, 'Excuse me, constable, I believe these are yours.' So then that kicked off, and next thing you know, they're putting me in leg shackles and handcuffs behind my back. And again, because I was loaded, I kicked all the windows out of the police car. So, I had to spend the night in jail."
  • She had her second daughter with Jim "Don't You Forget About Me" Kerr of Simple Minds in 1985.
  • The Pretenders covered "Angel Of The Morning," which had previously been a huge hit for Juice Newton and which ended up on the Friends soundtrack. She didn't know anything about the show and it's eventual massic cultural impact, and she even traveled to L.A. to perform the song in the background at a coffee shop in an episode.
Finally, here are my favorite songs by The Pretenders:
Honorable mention: Creep (the band's live version of the Radiohead song is pretty, of course, cool)
11. 2,000 Miles (one of the great underrated holiday tunes)
10. Show Me
9. Mystery Achievement
8. Stop Your Sobbing
7. Kid
6. Back On the Chain Gang
5. Talk of the Town
4. Precious
3. Brass in Pocket
2. Message of Love
1. Tattooed Love Boys

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Break Point serves the masses a view of the draining pro tennis tour

I love playing tennis and watching pro tennis, so it goes to follow that I would think Break Point - Season 1 on Netflix would be great. And it is pretty great, but I think people who don't follow tennis will find it even more eye opening. I already understand that life on the tour is pounding and often lonely, and matches take superhuman strength. I play two or three times a week and I would never win a game against a male or female player in the top 100. Neither would you. (Take it from Serena Williams' former coach Patrick Mouratoglou.) The gulf between amateur and pro in tennis is about as big as it gets.

Nick Kyrgios gets a helping hand
All that said, it is really cool getting to know the featured batch of players a little more. Nick Kyrgios offers the high point of the season, with episode 1 almost exclusively featuring his run at the January 2022 Australian Open. He receives loving support from his girlfriend, not an easy task for someone whose mental game has been the only thing to hold him back from being among the greats. You probably love or hate him, but I thought the show did a good job of helping his image by seeing things from his perspective, having fought a long battle upwards from being a little overweight boy growing up in Australia.

During the same tournament, Matteo Berretini and Ajla Tomljanovic are dating and working to help each other advance as far as possible. Their relationship eventually doesn't survive the stresses of the tour, but Tomljanovic has an exciting 2022, highlighted in the show by when she knocks off Serena Williams late in the season at the US Open. Berretini can't take advantage of the absence of tennis legend Novak Djokovic from the Australian Open because of vaccination issues, and ends up fading over the course of the season.

In episode 3, California's Taylor Fritz wins Indian Wells (the fifth biggest tournament in tennis) and secures a hold on the claim as the top U.S. player out of an exciting group gaining prominence. He is a California kid with a lot of power and a lot of promise. Maryland's Frances Tiafoe (he trains at one of my regular haunts) becomes another lovable character over the course of the season, as a crowd exciter and a victor over Rafael Nadal in the 2022 US Open.

Other highlights: Spain's Paula Badosa offers a glimpse into how mentally draining pro tennis can be, and Ons Jabeur shows how her status as arguably Africa's greatest player ever and definitely Tunisia's finest unfolds.

The show could have definitely benefited from more of the game's true greats Nadal, Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, and Daniil Medvedev. But that is a minor complaint because the characters featured are indeed worthy characters.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Monday, October 9, 2023

Kiernan Shipka is Totally Killer in new Halloween movie

The people who cast the actors for Mad Men all those years ago really knew what they were doing. Exhibit A is Kiernan Shipka, who played Don and Betty’s little girl. She was great as a neglected soul in that TV show and she returns to really hold her own in a new star-making vehicle on Amazon Prime called Totally Killer.

Arriving in time for the Halloween season, the movie is more funny than it is scary, but it still offers a few jumps as a cross between Back to the Future, Scream, and Halloween, even including a reference to the revered Michael Myers.

Shipka plays Jamie, the 17-year-old daughter of a woman (played by Julie Bowen of Modern Family) who survived the 1987 triple murder of her best friends by the Sweet Sixteen Killer, who wears a mask inspired by 1980s stars like Kiefer Sutherland, Rob Lowe, and Dolph Lundgren. 

One of Jamie’s friends creates a machine that Jamie uses to go back in time to - hopefully - change the course of the murders. The plot goes a little off track at times, but it’s funny and entertaining and maybe the plot doesn’t much matter in a tale like this. Totally Killer definitely makes for a solid entry into the October entertainmentplex.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, October 8, 2023

Planning a trip to Guatemala with volcano hikes, forest ziplines, and plenty more

Guatemala is not a place that many people in the U.S. consider as a tourist destination. But I’m excited about my family’s upcoming trip there. Why Guatemala? More like, why not Guatemala?

As I start my research on the Central American country, some of the most basic things to know include:

  • It’s the home of the Mayan civilization, and this culture is still very much alive today
  • The country’s name translates to “land of the trees” or “land of plentiful forests”
  • Guatemala is the birthplace of chocolate, and other inventions there include the McDonald’s Happy Meal, instant coffee, and the CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA online security codes
  • It gained independence from the Spanish empire 202 years ago and, since then, has gone through “two revolutions, several dictatorships, a US-backed intervention, a long civil war, many military coups, and 22 earthquakes”
  • Brave New World Author Aldous Huxley proclaimed Lake Atitlan the most beautiful lake in the world
  • Besides Mexico, Guatemala has the largest population of all the Central American countries, at about 16 million and growing pretty rapidly.
Ok, now that we have the basics down, what is it we want to do while we visit Guatemala? Here is what I’ve learned so far, with great help from The New York Times’ article 36 Hours in Antigua, Guatemala. As you can see on the map, Antigua (population 41,000, is a Unesco World Heritage site with striking 17th- and 18th-century ruins right in the center of town) is about an hour’s drive from Guatemala City, as long as traffic is not bad. This site highly recommends pre-booking a $20 ride with GuateGo.
  • Let’s start the day at the Refuge Coffee Bar, or we can get a fuller breakfast at El Portón
  • Later we can have lunch at “ Saberíco, an organic Guatemalan restaurant in a blooming garden with painted wood tables, ivy-accented stone walls and chirping blue parakeets”
  • We can hit Antigua Canopy Tours, where we can zipline back and forth over the forest atop the hills of Antigua. “Start in the treetops, then graduate to the towering heights of the canyon, hurtling hundreds of feet through the air, and enjoying the speed and spectacular views ($50 for one tour, $75 for both)”
  • Then we should tour the Finca Filadelfia coffee plantation ($18)
  • When we want to go shopping, we can head to Nim Po’t, “a sprawling emporium of artisanal Guatemalan products”
  • For happy hour, we can head to “the rooftop at Café Sky, which offers a great vantage point in this low-rise town”
  • Lake Amatitlán
    But what I might be looking the most forward to is the hike that will be strenuous but still doable for the whole family. The Times notes that “the 
    volcanoes that surround Antigua give the town much of its character … the Pacaya volcano has a 8,373-foot peak. The orange glow of lava rewards the long hike, as do the marshmallows that the guides bring out of their packs to roast in the geothermal heat. The views of Lake Amatitlán below are wonderful, even shrouded in fog. The more challenging climb, however, is the twin-peaked Acatenango volcano, which at over 13,000 feet goes through four distinct ecosystems, and overlooks a simmering sister volcano called Fuego, which spews lava on a regular basis. The trip to Pacaya takes seven hours, all told, and the Acatenango excursion takes 12. Many travel agencies in Antigua can arrange guided treks up the volcanoes, starting around 100 quetzales”
  • Possible choices of hotels to look into in Antigua include Hotel Casa Santo Domingo and El Convento Boutique Hotel.

Saturday, October 7, 2023

Great Magazine Reads: Remembering School of Rock 20 years later

The perfect storm for a great comedy, in my book, mixes how touching a film is, hilarity, and a great soundtrack. That’s probably why School of Rock landed at #16 on my top 60 funniest movies ever list.

Rolling Stone has a great oral history of the film in its latest issue, celebrating a look back at the 2003 classic, which was clearly Jack Black’s crowning achievement. Here are some of my favorite insights from the article:
  • Director Richard Linklater’s film made about $20 million, which was the record for music-themed comedies at the time. It’s aged very well and has been a huge net good for society as real schools of rock have proliferated since then.
  • The screenplay was written by one Mike White, who not only co-starred in School but also went on to create the must-watch TV show The White Lotus. Black says of White, “He just made me laugh so much. I was always fascinated by his strange magic.”
  • Linklater, already a hot commodity from Slackers and Dazed and Confused, didn’t want to direct the movie because he thought it was cheesy, unrealistic (all that noise in a classroom?), and formulaic, but “Black, Linklater, and White all met up at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles to discuss the script.” It turned out that Linklater and White didn’t get along, so that was another hurdle at the start.
  • Linklater, as he famously does, picked a cast of kids that were not necessarily even child actors, but he did want ones who could sing and play instruments.
  • At first, Black was nervous about working with kids. He says, “In retrospect, it seems ridiculous because I’m such an immature idiot that it was a perfect match to be with a bunch of kids. We had a blast — horsing around and making jokes and making fart noises in between takes.”
  • Linklater had to fire one kid a week into shooting because he was complaining of not having a big enough part, but there was no room for egos when the rock was needing to be delivered!
  • Sonic Youth’s Jim O’Rourke was brought in to be the music consultant and started the kids off working on simple songs, like Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane.”
  • “The character of Summer was not a great singer, but [the actor] was. O’Rourke had to teach her how to mangle an off-key ‘Memories’ from Cats.”
  • Linklater had tried to get the rights for a Led Zeppelin song for Dazed but was unsuccessful. This time, he had Black and the kids make a video pleading for them to be able to use “Immigrant Song” and it actually got the band’s attention and worked!
  • Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, the Osbournes, and the Jackass guys inspired some of the kids to put Jack in their Cokes at the film’s L.A. premiere.
  • The kids still have a group text called Schnayblay.
  • Kevin Clark, who played Freddy the drummer, died in 2021 when a driver hit him while he was riding his bike. “In his last few years, he had been teaching at a School of Rock.”
  • Black now says, “… That character with the love of rock and not really fitting in the world of rock … it does mirror my experience with the entertainment industry. It felt like the planets aligned and I got to do the movie that I was born to do.”
Business Insider also has a good roundup of what the kids have been up to since School of Rock.

Friday, October 6, 2023

RIP Dick Butkus

Dick Butkus, who died at 80 in Malibu this week, was exactly the kind of player that got me interested in NFL football when I was around 6 or 7 years old. We had the home-team St. Louis Cardinals and my older brother was into the Dallas Cowboys, but nothing about those teams made me tick. I eventually saw the Pittsburgh Steelers, with Jack Lambert's teeth knocked out, Swann and Stallworth acrobatically and elegantly catching Terry Bradshaw's textbook-beautiful tosses, and their intimidating black-and-gold uniforms.

If I would have been born a little earlier, I think something about the villanous Butkus could have just as easily turned me into a lifelong Chicago Bears fan. That never happened, but I've seen his highlight reels, and Butkus was every bit as iconically violent as Lambert, and Mean Joe Greene, and many other Steelers I could name. He was clearly a real football lover's football player.

And while it's easy and totally fair to say violence of Butkus's sort leads to awful brain injuries and ruined lives, its also fair to say that football is a form of choreographed war and if someone wants to play it, who is to say they can't?

I love the way USA Today started its obit for Butkus. It says it all:

Dick Butkus was brutal. He was fierce. He was mean. He would punch you in the face and when he played, punching someone in the face was illegal, but barely. He'd run you down, past the out of bounds line, and push you into the bench and wait for you to do something about it. You wouldn't. You'd be too scared. Dick Butkus was an enforcer in an age when enforcers ruled the Earth. This isn't to say he wasn't a superb athlete. He was.

Thursday, October 5, 2023

Braulio is a chamomile and spearmint amaro that makes cocktails comforting

I was listening to one of my favorite podcasts and it was an episode about one of my favorite digestives.

Stuff You Should Know is always an informative and entertaining show, and this episode from back in March was all about the Italian bitter digestive amaro, which can be prepared in countless ways. 

It inspired me to finally crack open that fancy bottle of Braulio Amaro that I've had in my cabinet for a while. Braulio is considered by Italians to be a "comforting" drink with notes of chamomile and spearmint. It can go into a lot of configurations, such as replacing Campari in recipes or being added into a Boulevardier or a Negroni for a bit of a twist on the classics.

Here are some Braulio cocktail recipes I plan to work with:

Long Look Back is essentially a way to have a Manhattan without the sweet vermouth.

  • 1 part rye whiskey (bourbon works as a backup)
  • .75 parts Braulio
  • .75 parts Japanese whisky
  • .5 parts demerara syrup (simple syrup works as a backup)
  • 3 dashes Angostura bitters
  • garnish with an orange peel
And for that Boulevardier twist, it can be called Palpable Apathy or simply a Braulio Boulevardier.

  • 1 part sweet vermouth
  • 1 part Braulio
  • 1 part rye
  • 1 dash of lemon bitters
  • Garnish with a lemon twist

Wednesday, October 4, 2023

The Last Train to Key West provides a thrilling fictionalized look at the worst hurricane in U.S. history

Labor Day was a bad weekend in the Florida Keys in 1935. A Category 5 hurricane that is still considered the strongest hurricane in U.S. history killed more than 400 people, including a lot of World War I vets living there in cheap camps while they built a highway extension and a rail line.

Author Chanel Cleeton took what has faded as an historical footnote and built a compelling romance-action work of historical fiction in 2020's The Last Train to Key West.

Cleeton, a Cuban-American, has a handful of similar novels that tend to explore themes of family, love, travel, identity - usually around the Cuban-American experience - and often with military and international subplots.

In "Key West," blonde Helen Berner is in a dead-end abusive marriage in the titular town back in 1935, when the region had been hit hard by the Depression. Newlyweds Mirta and Anthony enter the diner where she works, fresh off the boat from Cuba and planning to travel to New York. Meanwhile, 23-year-old Elizabeth Preston is on her way the other direction, from New York to the Keys. The paths of these characters - and several others - meet up just as the hurricane begins and any escape routes from the Keys are quickly closing.

Murder, estrangement and deceit, rescues, mass casualties, the mob, the FBI, the military, and of course races against the hurricane make this a very breezy summer beach read, with heaping helpings of suspense, a decent amount of substance, and pretty well fleshed-out characters. There are a lot of twists, and the historical setting helps make it interesting since it made me feel like I was learning something rather than just having a semi-trashy good time. 

I don't know that I'll read any of Cleeton's other novels, but Reese Witherspoon was definitely onto something when she included this one in her book club.

4.5 out of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 3, 2023

RIP Russ Francis

I haven't cared a lick about the New England Patriots throughout the Tom Brady era, or even before that during the Drew Bledsoe one. It could be that I've always held a bit of a grudge for the team's design decision to forego the classic red uniforms with the ball-snapping patriot on the helmet for their hideous blue and silver look with some misguided futuristic-looking patriot on the helmet.

Regardless, I rememeber fondly looking forward as a little kid to the rare times the team would appear on Monday Night Football or another TV game of the week. Those uniforms seemed to enhance the abilities of already-great stars like quarterback Steve Grogan, running back Sam "The Bam" Cunningham, and arguably the greatest tight end during the era he played (1975-1988), Russ Francis.

Francis died in a plane crash this week in Lake Placid, New York at age 70. Growing up in Hawaii, Francis set a national record in high school in the javelin. Once settling on football as his primary sport, he became known as one of the first tight ends to be used as a primary receiver, helping change the way tight ends were used in the NFL.

After his years with the Pats, he went on to play for the San Francisco 49ers, winning one Super Bowl, then owning several businesses and even becoming a professional wrestler with the American Wrestling Association and National Wrestling Alliance.

And along with those TV games, I probably still have about 15 of this card. Something always to remind me of Russ.