Monthly Archives: December 2011

Journey and Jefferson Starship were right: San Francisco rules. And Rob Schneider’s career completely eludes me

Spent the last 2 1/2 days in (well, OK, near) one of my favorite American cities, San Francisco. And the city that Journey sang about in “Lights” and Starship dedicated “We Built This City” too was again fabulous to me.

Some quickie thoughts on this awesome place:
— People were unfailingly friendly here. To the man who gave up his seat on the bus to my girlfriend, to the woman who told us a quicker route to get where we were going, I was very impressed by the politeness of the locals.
— Had been here a few times but never visited Golden Gate Park. What a gem of a place. Walked through the National AIDS Memorial Grove, which was very moving, and there’s beautiful greenery and a Japanese Tea Garden and all kinds of fun stuff to see there.
— Tried to get to the Golden Gate Bridge to see a sunset, but the traffic was so awful that our bus never made it before it got dark. Annoying, but at least I’ve seen the bridge before.
— Went to City Lights Bookstore, the famous landmark where a bunch of the Beat poets got their start. Such a wonderful place. I hope it stays in business forever.
— You literally cannot go wrong eating at any Italian restaurant in North Beach. I feel like we could’ve thrown a dart and had a great meal.
— Finally, saw this sign at a restaurant in San Francisco’s Ferry building: “Tasty Salted Pig Parts.”

There isn’t enough money in the world to get my mother to eat there. Even I was sorta turned off.

**So after dinner Thursday night we were watching a few minutes of TV and I saw a promo for a new Rob Schneider sitcom on CBS. And I just laughed out loud, before blurting out “Seriously, why is Rob Schneider still getting jobs in TV and movies?”
I mean, I defy you to find a worse actor, or a more unfunny comedian, who continues to be employed regularly. Have the CBS people who green-lighted this show ever seen the “Deuce Bigelow” series? What about anything Schneider has done since leaving “Saturday Night Live?” The only good thing I’ve ever seen him in was as the radio announcer in the loved-only-by-me movie from the 1990s, “Necessary Roughness.”

And yet, despite being unfunny, despite having pretty much no redeeming qualities as an actor and comedian, Schneider continues to be given opportunities. I’m sure there are comedians sitting at home right now, who are 15 times funnier, just fuming that this guy is getting another break, while they aren’t.

Sigh. I just don’t get Hollywood execs sometimes. “Dirty Sexy Money” got cancelled, but Rob Schneider gets green-lit?

A great year in pictures spread. The best Secret Santa. And a Joe Poz elegy on hometowns.

One of my favorite things about late December is all those “end of the year” lists.

I’m a sucker for Top 10 lists, top 20 lists, any list you want to show me, I’ll probably read it. (I think it’s a boy thing, this listing business).

Anyway, the folks at the great site “The Big Picture” have put together their photos of the year, and it’s beyond fabulous. Here’s a link to Part I, but all three parts are worth checking out (the photo above is of a lava lake in the Congo.)

**I know Christmas was over a few days ago, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t share with you a beautiful little story I saw on “CBS Sunday Morning” last week. It’s about an anonymous man in Reading, Pa., and the beautiful things he does around the holidays: He walks up to random strangers and gives them $100. Their reactions are priceless, as is the quick story of one man in particular whose life may have been changed by the gesture.

In the words of Andy Dufrane from “The Shawshank Redemption,” hope is a good thing.

**Finally, I haven’t linked to a great Joe Posnanski piece on a while, partially because he’s been busy researching a Joe Paterno book he’s writing (and right in the middle of his book research some little scandal broke out at Penn State, you may have heard of it).

But I really enjoyed this piece he wrote recently, about the small town of Hazleton, Pa., and Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon’s desire to make the place special again by healing some divisive ethnic wounds.

California dreamin’ on a winter’s day. The Rangers are kicking some serious butt. And the Christmas carolers you don’t want to hear.

The blogging may be a little lighter than usual for the next week or so, my dear readers.

After going almost non-stop to grad school for the past six months, I’m taking a little vacation. My lady and I are headed from N.Y. to California for a week with friends, their babies who we haven’t met, and a hopefully gorgeous drive from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

I love Northern California so much; we’re going to be stopping in Monterey, a place I’ve been to twice and think is about as pretty as it gets. Maybe take a vineyard tour; always wanted to do one of those. Maybe do some things in San Francisco first; one of the world’s great cities, in my opinion. Such great food, great people, and OK, so it drops 40 degrees at night. Not the worst thing in the world.

Anyways, will probably post a few times but not every day like normal. Somehow, I feel you’ll survive.

**One of the great parts of moving back to NY last summer is I’m getting to fully enjoy the incredible season my New York Rangers are having. Seriously, my boys are playing phenomenal hockey right now. They beat the hated Islanders again Monday night (that never gets old) and as of this writing have the most points of any team in the East.

Getting to see a lot of the games, I have to say that this Rangers team is extremely likeable. They’ve got some young kids who are really coming along, like John Mitchell and Carl Hagelin, vets like Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan are playing up to their potential, and King Henrik is in net.

They’ve had streaks like this in past seasons, but they’re 35 games into the year; this is no streak. Definitely starting to get excited for playoff time…

**Finally, this is what happens when some people decide to go caroling in the middle of the night, waking people up. I don’t blame these homeowners at all; I’d kick ’em out too. Pretty funny, though…

A Merry Christmakah to all. Rest in Peace, Jets 2011 season. And Detroit finally gets some football joy.

A very Merry Christmas to all my readers who celebrate the holiday, and a continued Happy Hanukkah to all my fellow Members of the Tribe out there. I’m having a terrific holiday so far; two days in a row of delicious home-cooked latkes (by the way, my new favorite thing ever is this: I just learned through a friend about a Jewish singles meeting event that takes place regularly. What’s it called? Vodkas and Latkes.), great times with family and friends, and a few gifts too!

My favorite gift so far was this great contraption above: It’s a Rechargeable Wine Opener from The Sharper Image, and it takes all the difficulty out of opening a bottle of wine (for people like me, believe me, it’s difficult!). This baby is electric, recharges itself, and takes like three seconds to open up that Merlot.

Now I’m not exactly Paul Giamatti from Sideways but anything that makes life a little easier, I’m all in favor of.

I hope your gifts make your life easier this holiday season, too.

**And now, for a little football game played Saturday afternoon, that was hyped beyond belief here in New York.

The 2011 Jets season died on Saturday. It was a slow death, coming on for months, and there were about 77,000 mourners at the funeral at MetLife Stadium Saturday.

The cause of death was familiar to those who’d watched the dying breaths of the patient: Erratic quarterback play, terrible playcalling, a porous offensive line, a lack of a pass rush, and tackling that would make 9-year-old Pop Warner players be embarrassed.

The New York Giants didn’t so much as beat the Jets as they simply sat and let the boys in green and white set themselves on fire. Oh, the Giants made a few nice plays here and here, sure. But mostly, it was the inept, punchless, pathetic, forever-maddening Jets that took the knife to their own collective chest.

I’ll be in California next week when the deceased plays again, one final game against the Miami Dolphins. Sure, the Jets are still mathematically alive, but really, they’re dead.

And I’m OK with it. I don’t want them to make the playoffs now, because that might mask what a disaster this season has been. I want Rex Ryan to shut up. I want Santonio Holmes to grow up. And mostly, I want their season to be over so I can stop suffering while watching them.

Some other quick-hit NFL thoughts for your Christmas:
— Very happy for the Lions fans who finally get to celebrate having a playoff team, after 12 years without one. They’ve got a great thing going there in Detroit with Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
— Impressive performance from the suddenly un-dead Bills against the Denver Tebows.
— Cincinnati’s Jerome Simpson may have made the leap of the year; check him out on YouTube.

Jon Bon Jovi: A celebrity who gets it. A 59-year-old woman with an incredible hockey shot. And “West Wing” Leo and Bartlet joy

Jon Bon Jovi has always struck me as one of those celebrities who “gets it.” He went from being basically a big-haired rock star in the 1980s who could’ve easily floated into oblivion in the 1990s, to a legitmate mega-watt rock star who is still going strong with his band 25 years after “Living on a Prayer” rocked my 11-year-old world in 1986. (Man I feel old now after typing that sentence.) He has done a ton of commendable charity work, and really tries to give back to the community he grew up in in New Jersey.

I was thinking of him this week because of a ridiculous Twitter rumor someone started that he had died, and in the course of checking it out I came across this story from a few months ago.  In Red Bank, N.J., Bon Jovi opened up a soul food restaurant with a different twist: Customers could come in and dine, and then would pay what they felt the meal was worth. If they gave $20, great. If they gave $40, even better.

The other twist was this: If you had no money to pay, you could work off your meal either in the kitchen, or doing some other work in the community.

Here was Jon Bon Jovi’s quote when the place opened in late October: “What this restaurant is truly meant to do is empower. “You don’t come in here with a sense of entitlement. You come in here and volunteer because we need your help.”

A terrific idea, and another sign that Jon Bon Jovi is one of the good guys.

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**This is maybe the most remarkable athletic feat I’ve seen this year.

A 59-year-old woman in upstate New York named Brenda Hewlett was chosen for one of those goofy between-period contests at a minor league hockey game. Brenda, who had never played hockey in her life, had to, without any warmup, shoot a puck from the opposite blue line all the way into the other net, and through a tiny hole and into the net. If Brenda did that, she’d win a brand new truck.

The promotion occurred at a Federal Hockey League game between the Akwesane Warriors and 1,000 Island Privateers (I bet they make a great salad dressing! Ha, I’m here all week, try the veal) in Massena.

Take a look at what happened. Miracles do happen around Christmas every year.

**And finally, two feel-good moments from my favorite TV show ever, “The West Wing.” The first one is here, after Leo has to admit publicly he had a painkiller addiction several years ago. Here Bartlet is talking to the Cabinet member who has to stay out of the building during the State of the Union, lest someone blow up the Capitol.

This second one was from the episode when Leo was testifying before Congress about Bartlet’s MS. Two fabulous actors, one fabulous scene I love every time I see it.

HBO’s 24/7 continues to be awesome. The worst “calling in sick” excuse ever. And the best Ping-Pong shots of the year

So Wednesday night was Episode 2 of HBO’s incredibly fabulous series “24/7, Flyers vs. Rangers,” which HBO did last year as well but with different NHL teams.
Basically, it’s a four-episode documentary series chronicling the daily life of the two hockey teams chosen to play in the annual Winter Classic outdoor game on Jan. 2. Last season it was the Capitals and Penguins, and HBO’s 24/7 look at them was such a massive hit with fans and in the ratings that they decided to do it again this year.

As a Rangers fan, of course, I was especially pumped to see the behind the scenes stuff. As a former hockey writer (though I only covered minor league teams), I can tell you that hockey players are some of the funniest, strangest athletes I’ve ever been around, and what many of them lack in intelligence they make up for in personality.

Two episodes in, and 24/7 has been great. We’ve seen Rangers coach John Tortorella swearing at his team one minute, then tenderly discussing his friendship with a 10-year-old Rangers fan who has cerebral palsy. We got to see an in-depth look at how a team deals with a player’s concussion, with the Flyers’ Claude Giroux.
The behind the scenes stuff is truly fabulous, and in last night’s episode we got more of the zaniness of Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (see his thoughts on the Universe above at :30 of the clip), some great on-ice audio during a fight involving the Rangers’ Mike Rupp, and of course some super slow-motion hockey highlights that HBO does so well.

I totally wish this could be a series HBO does for a whole season. If you haven’t seen it yet, the 24/7 episodes are all on HBO on demand. Check it out even if you’re not a hockey fan; I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

**I have to give this guy points for creativity. A Brookville, Pa. factory worker named Scott Bennett needed an excuse to skip out on work recently. So he placed a fake obituary about his mother in the local newspaper, and showed it to his bosses.

Sadly, the ruse was up when it was discovered by the employer that his mother was still alive, when the employer called the funeral home listed to ask how to send flowers. Shockingly, the funeral home had no idea what he was talking about.

Bennett has been charged with disorderly conduct, because being a schmuck and a terrible son aren’t things you can be arrested for in Pennsylvania.

Ah, Scott. Hope that unemployment check covers your shame.

**Because I feel confident I’m the only blog today writing about both Ping-Pong and hockey, I give you these four minutes of coolness. The top 10 Ping-Pong shots of the year, though frankly given that none of them involved banking a shot off the basement hot water heater, I think my best shots from childhood are better.

The new website that lets you announce your good luck in bed immediately. A sportswriting legend may be a child molester. And could North Koreans really be all that sad?

This is one of those “I cannot believe this guy actually thought this was a good idea” kinds of stories.

There’s a new iPhone app out there called “I Just Made Love.” What it allows men to do (and really, only men would do this) is to immediately tell the world that they just had sex, with whom, and where the coitus took place. Users can also tag whether it was indoors or outdoors (always key information), what position the love was made in, and, my favorite part, whether protection was used or not.

As disgusting as this sounds already, wait till you hear this: It’s already been downloaded and used more than 200,000 times.

Ladies, if your boyfriend or husband uses this thing, I think it’s legal grounds for breakup or divorce in all 50 states. Well, maybe not Nevada. Everything seems to be different in Vegas.

**From a silly story to a horrifying one. Bill Conlin is a sportswriting legend, a man who for four decades was the most influential and powerful voice in Philadelphia.

A big, blustering blowhard of a man, Conlin made few friends thanks to his gruff manner but was a sensational, blistering writer. I loved reading him when I was at school in Delaware and got the Philly papers regularly.

Well, I’ll never think of Conlin again after Tuesday, when it was revealed that he may be just another Jerry Sandusky. Four people, three men and one woman, have come forward and said Conlin sexually molested them when they were children. It’s a despicable tale that sadly has become awfully familiar in the sports world in the last few months.

The horrifying details are here. I so admire the courage of the victims coming forward, but again I am disgusted that, according to this story, so many grownups knew about this abuse and didn’t go to the police.

**Finally, I want to weigh in on these videos, like the one above, of North Koreans bawling, weeping, and basically crying their eyes out over the death of Kim Jong-Il over last weekend. I’ve seen lots of debate online about whether these people were really, truly broken up, or if they were acting so as to curry favor with Il’s son, Kim Jong-Un.

People have wondered how starving North Koreans could really be that broken up about the death of an evil dictator who denied them food. Others thought that maybe the North Koreans are brainwashed.

Me? I say if those people are all acting, get them to Hollywood. Because that is some damn impressive fake crying. I mean really, Academy Award-worthy stuff. It’s like they had a competition and said “OK, who can sound the most upset?”

I’m Jewish and I love Christmas lights on houses. An awesome senior citizen flash mob. And the greatest soccer own-goal ever.

My name is Michael, I’m Jewish, and I love looking at Christmas lights on people’s houses.

Whew. There, I said it. I’ve carried that around for far too long. OK, not really. But as a kid I always felt a little guilty about loving the lavish displays on people’s roofs, front yards, and windows. It wasn’t my holiday, after all, and so I felt a little strange about really admiring homes that were celebrating a holiday that I never did.

But just about every year of my adult life, wherever I’ve been living, I’ve taken a day or two this time of year to drive around and see the lights. Whether it was a house in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. that had the most garishly-decorated blow-up Santa I’ve ever seen (seriously, this thing could’ve been a cocktail waitress at Caesars in Vegas, it was so done up), or the greatest display ever on the property of a motel in Daytona Beach, Fla. (seriously, you have to see this thing in person; this photo gives you a tiny slice of its awesomeness), the holiday lights always make me happy.

It’s my first holiday season living in N.Y. in a decade, and I’m living in a brand-new neighborhood I know nothing about, so I really didn’t know what I’d find when my girlfriend and I went searching last Saturday night. Happily, I found plenty of houses decorated to the nines, including the house pictured above.

I know the holiday season is way too commercialized and it’s disgusting what Black Friday has become and all that. But seeing holiday lights every December always fills me with joy and contentment. It’s one of life’s simple pleasures, isn’t it?

**I love this so much. The above video was shot in a Target store in Lawrence, Kansas recently. It may be the world’s first-ever senior citizen flash mob, and it’s awesome. (If you don’t know what a flash mob is, it’s when a group of people appear to spontaneously start doing a choreographed dance in a public place).

I smiled the whole time I watched this, especially in the beginning when someone doing the filming asked “Is this thing on?”

**Finally, maybe the greatest accidental “own goal” in soccer ever. This was in Hong Kong, and the dude who makes the amazing kick is actually a defender, I think trying to kick the ball out of bounds and out of harm’s way. Still, even though it was into the wrong net, a pretty amazing goal:

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“Carnage” totally worth your time at the movies. Who’s a bigger fraud, the Jets or the Giants? And a 4-year-old’s reaction to “Empire Strikes Back.”

I have a general rule in life that I never see the movie adaptation of a book I’ve read and liked.

Because nine times out of 10 when I’ve done that in the past, the movie has stunk, and I end up getting mad because it’s not as good as the book, and the movie’s terribleness almost ruins the memory of how good the book was. Happened to me with “The Firm,” happened with “Presumed Innocent,” and many others before I passed my self-rule.

But until Friday I don’t think I’d ever seen the movie of a play I’d loved. But then I saw the new flick “Carnage,” starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, John C. Reilly, and Christoph Waltz. And it was superb. Brilliant. Phenomenal. Almost the equal of the Broadway play it’s based on “God of Carnage,” that I saw a few years ago with James Gandolfini and Jeff Daniels.

The very simple plot is this: Two 11-year-old schoolboys get into a fight on the playground, with one knocking two of the other boy’s teeth out with a stick. The parents of both boys then get together to discuss what should be done about it.
That’s it. That’s the whole movie. Four people in an apartment, talking. But it’s so much more than that. The writing is cracklingly good, with Foster and Waltz both giving amazing performances as well. The emotions that each of the quartet goes through, and as well drawn as each character is, is truly something special to behold.

It’s funny, it’s dark, and it’s pretty entertaining for a movie that’s set all in one place. Reilly has the best one-liners, and Winslet is her usual fabulous self, but all four are terrific. Go see it when it’s playing near you (supposed to get nationwide release in early January).

**Since I moved back to NY I always enjoy listening to WFAN on Mondays to see which team’s fans, the Jets or the Giants, are the most bitter and miserable. It’s rare that they both play equally awful on the same week, but yep, the Jets and Giants tried to outdo each other in the “pathetic” category Sunday.

My Jets were horrendous. Down 21-0 before you could even say “Mark Gastineau,” they self-destructed on defense, offense, everywhere. Santonio Holmes cost ’em at least seven points, then acted like a 4-year-old moron with his idiotic TD celebration when he finally did catch the ball.

Mark Sanchez wasn’t good, the defense was non-existent, and it’s remarkable how many blowout losses my boys have had this year; the coaching preparation has been highly lacking. I don’t think this team deserves to make the playoffs, but I have a funny feeling the green and white will get in, again.

Fortunately for NY football fans, the Jets and Giants play each other this Saturday, so somebody’s fans will have a Merry Christmas.

I sure as hell hope it’s me.

Couple other quick-hit NFL thoughts today:
 0-13 Indy finally wins. 13-0 Green Bay loses to a Kansas City team that stinks. Two more reasons I never gamble on the NFL.
— I gotta start watching Detroit Lions games every week. They always play thrilling, down-to-the wire finishes. Man that Calvin Johnson is phenomenal.
— It’s gotta suck to be a Buffalo Bills fan. Seven straight losses, after a 5-2 start.
— Finally, here’s hoping Tebow-mania dies down a little this week. Funny what happens when he plays a really good team.

**Finally, this is just superb. A father filmed his 4-year-old son watching “The Empire Strikes Back” for the first time, right at the part where Vader gives his “Luke, I am your father” speech. Kid’s face is priceless:

Operation Gratitude a wonderful holiday tradition. Kissing to win a car. The insane Bill Romanowski. And the USF student who fought all odds to graduate

I love stories like this so much, so let’s start off Good News Friday with it.

A California woman named Carolyn Blashek wanted to do something after 9/11 to help American troops stationed overseas. At age 46, she tried to enlist in the Marine Corps, before they politely told her she was a wee bit too old for them.

So she decided to do something else: create a care-package business to send the comforts of home to the troops. What started as a small operation inside her house has turned into an enormously successful and huge enterprise, with hundreds of volunteers spending a few days a year in December packing thousands of packages.

Toothbrushes, magazines, candy, everything a soldier might be missing (well, not everything: Girlfriends and wives can’t fit inside cardboard boxes).

Balshek’s company is called Operation Gratitude, and it truly brings a smile to your heart to see one person’s idea now doing so much good.
Check out the video above, and I guarantee your Friday will be just a little brighter.

**Both of these videos cracked me up, for different reasons. First, Belgian tennis star Kim Clijsters was playing an exhibition in her home country recently with her friend Yanina Wickmeyer. Midway through the match, Clijsters told the crowd that the first person to come on the court and kiss Yanina would win a car.

And so this happened (above) … I am surprised only three guys decided to try it!

**Next, here’s Bill Romanowski, former NFL player and diagnosed lunatic, with a hilarious rant after the Raiders lost to Green Bay last Sunday. Anytime you wanna stop taking those steroids Bill, just let us know…

**Finally, a beautiful story from the great newspaper writer Michael Kruse, about a man who overcame a crippling disease to graduate from the University of South Florida this month. It’s a short, beautiful tale about how much one person can overcome.

Elegant writing about a sweet soul named Chris Lehman. Enjoy, and remember how powerful the human spirit can be.