Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Movie Madness

                Except for Libertarian views on certain social issues, I’m a lefty when it comes to politics. Think Bill Maher. So I’m supposed to play the gun control card when it comes to this horrific scene at the movie theater in Colorado, but I’m not doing that because I’m looking at the joker in the deck.   I don’t blame the NRA, I blame Hollywood. I don’t blame Charlton Heston, I blame Heath Ledger.

                 There are a handful of movies of which I recognize their brilliance and power, that I never care to see again. Off top of my head The Deer Hunter and Raging Bull come to mind, although after thirty years I’ve seen The Deer Hunting again, now able to face that scene in the jungle hut without my initial horror.

                But foremost on that list is The Dark Knight. Although I saw it in the middle of the day when prices are cheaper and crowds smaller I can remember no specifics of Heath Ledger’s amazing performance because I’ve blocked it from my mind. What I remember is that he portrayed pure evil in a way not approached before in my experience. He embodied and indeed it seemed became pure evil in a way that disturbed me to watch, and which I knew I never wanted to see again.

               I believe it killed those people in Colorado, and I believe it killed Heath Ledger.

              While I think our allowing assault weapons in the hands of citizens is insane, I don’t think a ban would have stopped this man in Colorado from committing mass murder. And while I’m more troubled by background checks—should the fact that a citizen who has sought psychological help prevent him protecting himself from the crazies who haven’t? – no such law would have prevented this nutcase from arming himself. He had no “red flags”.

            He  amassed this arsenal  over a period of months in preparation for a movie premier he knew was coming, and calling himself “ The Joker” portrayed in the flesh what he had seen on the screen.  When the smoke clears I’m sure we’ll find he’s watched The Dark Knight more than once. My weak mind saw that I shouldn’t revisit that place. His weak mind was sucked into the dark side.

             Hollywood certainly has the right to make that film. The First Amendment, as it should, guarantees it, but just because you have a right to say something does not exonerate you from its effect on your listeners.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


             For almost a year now, I’ve been attending a Spanish speaking Baptist Church.

               This may come a surprise to you given some of my writing on religious subjects and churchgoers, but two things are important to note:

 1) I’m learning to speak and understand Spanish and I get lots of practice there, and

 2) I know this Baptist thing. I can talk that talk even in Spanish.

     Also the music there is excellent. In addition to the church thing, I frequent Hispanic markets and restaurants. My secretaria is of Mexican descent.

    This heavy dose of interaction with Latinos brings with it two observations:

       The first should be obvious to my American readers (Norte Americanos). These are really hard working, law abiding citizens. They do the work the rest of us have gotten too fat and lazy to do, and are glad to get the work.(But they do get fatter after being here, what with all that motorized transportation and fast food.)

         I use the word citizen loosely. Most are not, unlike the Irish, Italians, East Europeans and eventually Africans who came before, permitted citizenship. The vast majority of our laws that they break are a result of their being denied the rights and privileges the rest of us obtained by being clever enough to be born here: driving a car, going to school, working.

       My second observation is that they are much better parents than other Norte Americanos of similar economic status and education. Ever see a Latino yelling at their children in a grocery store?

    Ok, I said two, but one more. With the prior waves of emigration that built this country, the second generation lost the ability to speak the tongue of their parent’s motherland.  Children of South and Central American immigrants not only speak fluent English, but Spanish as well. The niños translate for me in mi iglesia.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

I Ham the Walrus

      You'll need:
One 6-7 lb. semi-cooked ham, or smaller or bigger,          A bay leaf
the butt portion 

                                                                      Jalapeno hot sauce

1 lb. fresh asparagus                                                     12 oz. colorful
                                                                                   egg noodles
4 cans chicken broth                                                     One pack
                                                                                   split peas

1 can vegetable broth                                                    4 eggs

1 bottle dry white wine                                                  Half and half

Onions                                                                        One Marie
                                                                                    pie shell

A carrot                                                                      One pkg. Kroger
                                                                                   creamed spinich

One stalk celery                                                           Swiss cheese

1 banana pepper                                                           Parmesan

8 oz. mushrooms                                                           14 oz can
                                                                                      ripe olives


Olive oil                                                                      

Flour                                                                         Serves 3 meals
                                                                                 to 6 people

Fresh herbs (thyme, parsley)                                        or 4 Lost Boys
                                                                                      at 3 am

                  First bake a ham.

     Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Take your ham, the cheapest one you could find, wash it  and remove that little round plastic circle sticking in the big end. (What’s that about anyway?)

     You’re going to cook this ham on a rack over a baking pan sufficiently large to hold two cans of chicken broth. Go ahead and put the pan of broth in while the oven is preheating then put in the rack with the ham on it when you hit 325.

    A 6 or 7 pound ham will take about two hours. Turn it over after an hour; you may need to add more liquid at this point. It’s done when a meat thermometer inserted in its thickest point reaches 140. Turn the oven off and take the ham out to cool. I can’t emphasize this enough. Stop cooking it when it’s done.

    At this point you should be proud of yourself. As you peel off a piece of the outer brown part and eat it you’re saying wow! this is good, and wondering what the hell am I going to do with all this ham?

                   Step two:     I Ham the Eggman

     Once your ham has cooled enough to stop dripping succulent juice into the broth, put the ham on a cutting board and pour the broth in a saucepan. Deglaze the broth pan by boiling a half cup of dry white wine in it a few seconds. Add wine to broth. Now take a pound of fresh asparagus and break each spear where it wants to break. Take the tender tops and steam them for five minutes then plunge them in cold water. Preheat the oven 375. While this is happening, sauté two tbs. of finely chopped onion until tender. Next take one Marie Callender deep dish pie shell (or else make your own. The other brands all have sugar added). And make some slits in the bottom and every two inches around the sides. Cook in preheated oven for five minutes.

     While this is happening, heat the pan of broth along with the tough ends of the asparagus and the  juice from the can of olives to a boil then reduce to simmer for 20 minutes or so. Or 15 or 30. This isn’t rocket science. Crack 4 large eggs into a blender. Add enough half-and-half to make 2 cups of egg and cream mixture and a few drops of hot sauce and blend until smooth.

      In your half-baked pie shell, put some of your asparagus cut into one-inch pieces, not more than a layer. Put the rest in a baggie and refrigerate. Add the sautéed onion and about ¾ cup of chopped ham followed by a half cup of grated of Swiss cheese. Pour in the egg mixture. This should fill the pie shell. (We made those slits so the pastry wouldn’t puff up. If it does anyway, poke it back down. We need the room).

   Bake in the preheated oven for around 45 min.  Pie is done when firm to touch in center. Again, stop cooking it when it’s done .

            Step three: Goo Goo Goo Goo Goo, Goo Goo Goo Goo Goo, Goo Goo Goo Goo Goo,   Goo Jube

      Pie’s still cooking. Finely chop one small onion, half of a large banana pepper, mince three cloves garlic, and cut mushrooms in wedges.  Sauté in 3 tbs. butter and 3 tbs. of olive oil (you know the drill,) until tender, adding the mushroms and garlic only when onions and pepper are almost tender. Take a tablespoon–sized soup spoon, heap it with a much plain flour as will stay on it and add to pan. You need 3 of these. You’re going to be stirring constantly for a while now. Add more oil if necessary to saturate all the flour.

        I hope you’ve got a timer on that pie.

     Now take the ham-broth-wine mixture, discard the asparagus and add a few tablespoons to the pan, stirring until you achieve uniform consistency. Repeat this process until all the liquid is gone. DO NOT just dump a bunch in while you still have a thick paste unless you want lumpy gravy.

      Remove from heat add a handful of parmesan cheese, not the powder, the refrigerated shred. Stir until melted.

      Prepare colored egg noodle spirals per package directions.  While this is happening, microwave until fully thawed one packed of Kroger creamed spinach, or else make your own. Bird’s Eye and such don’t use real half and half.

     Stir the creamed spinach, along with half the olives each cut in half, into your sauce mixture. Add a few drops Jalapeno hot sauce. Don’t go crazy with this. You can always add more.

    Now you need another cup of chopped ham.  Pull the sections of the ham apart and cut/scrape off all the fat. Do not feed this fat to your 120 lb. Lab no matter how much interest he shows in the fat removal process. He doesn’t need it. He can lick the cutting board when you’re through. Feed the fat to cats. They love it. (Unless your cat is Black Tuesday, who won’t eat anything that doesn’t have a picture of a cat on the label).

     Drain noodles when done. Mix ham, noodles and sauce. Let sit for at least a half hour before eating. Oh, and you’re probably going to need a stock pot to mix all this in.

                Step Four:   English Rain

    Wash one package of split peas. Chop one onion, one carrot, one celery stalk, and the other half of your banana pepper. Mince 3 cloves garlic.

  This is a lot of chopping. Maybe your son will drop out of  graduate school about now and he’ll do some of this chopping for you.

    Mix 2 cans chicken broth, one can vegetable broth, one cup white wine and enough water to make 8 cups total liquid. Put this in a saucepan and add peas and chopped vegetables along with the bone from your ham and a bouquet garni.

     Bring to a boil and reduce to simmer for a long time. Hours. Until the peas turn to mush. You’ll have to stir occasionally and probably add more water.

     Remove bone and cool for dog. Add a cup of chopped ham. Remember the asparagus you put in the baggie? You didn’t get up in the middle of the night and eat it in a pool of ranch dressing did you? No? Good. Chop it up and put it in the soup.

    You now have quiche for breakfast, soup and ham sandwiches for lunch and the piece the resistance, the Goo Jube, for dinner. The cats had a feast and the dog got a bone.

    And yes you still have ham left. Either freeze it or prepare to eat ham sandwiches for weeks.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More on favorite films

      When listing my favorite films, those I watch over and  over, I forgot one: Who Framed Roger Rabbit?
      The only singing is done by toons, but that Jessica Rabbit can really belt out a torch song, (not Kathleen Turner doing the singing I recently learned, ) and it's just as funny to me as it was 15 viewings ago.
      In fact it contains what I nominate for the funniest line ever in a movie, up there with, "Can't swim?  Hell, the fall will kill us." It goes something like this.
     "Delores , can the rabbit stay here a coupla hours?"
      "I don't know Eddie.  He's not gonna do anything crazy is he?"
     And I now have a new film on the list, the first since Mama Mia. I first watched Pirate Radio one day this summer, then watched it eight more times in the next two weeks (HBO).
    It has a splendid cast headed by Phillip Seymore Hoffman, (my pick, you may recall, as the best male performer in cinema today,) but Kenneth Brannaugh should have won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his protrayal of a tight-assed British bureaucrat.
     But what really makes the movie is the best sound track ever. All the songs are ones played on the radio in 1967, arguably the best year ever for rock and roll, and they're almost continuously playing.
     Also it has a just-keeps-getting-bigger lump in the throat ending worthy of It's A Wonderful Life.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


        (I had intended to get all literary with this piece and introduce it with a quote which, until I tried to find it, I was sure is from Robert Pean Warren in All The King’s Men, which I’ve read at least three times.  Anyway it’s essentially that drinking in excess is the only way that will do a man any good. [The author said “man” I’m sure.] if anybody can point me to the exact quote I'd appreciate it.)
        We recently learned that Amy Winehouse died from alcohol poisoning.  According to the coroner’s report, she had no other drugs in her system, but had a blood alcohol level of .40, the over the limit line for driving both here and in the U.K. being .08.  According to reports, a period of abstinence was followed by the discovery of her body surrounded by empty vodka bottles.
         A friend of mine in the mid 1970's went with her roommate to the roommate’s home in Tennessee.  There they went to visit some of the roommate’s friends.  At the house they visited there was a guy named Moe.  I don’t recall whether Moe did what he did on a dare or from pure exhibitionism, but I think it's safe to assume that Moe was already intoxicated when he opened the fifth of Jack Daniels, turned it up and downed the entire bottle.
      Shortly thereafter Moe passed out and was the subject of ridicule until someone realized he wasn't breathing.
           The punchline of this sad story is that Moe was no mo.
            I found some humor in Ms. Winehouse's demise as well.  It's in the British gift for wry understatement.  Her official cause of death was labeled "misadventure."
      Yes, consuming a gallon of vodka at one sitting is certainly an adventure gone awry.

Eye Of The Beholder

   You know everyone doesn't love Raymond.  Me for one.  He and his show might be very funny but I'll never know, because I can't stand the way Ray Ramano looks.  Everybody has actors who are like that for them.

    Another for me is Billy Crystal, but unlike Raymond, I'll watch some things with Billy Crystal because of the quality of the whole.  And if I dont have to look at him, I think he's great, as in his narration of some of the Ken Burns baseball series.

     I used to feel that way about the guy from Home Improvement, which I never watched, but he's won me over--largely with his part in the fantasic film Galaxy Quest-- and I'm now OK with how he looks.  I wouldn't want my daughter to marry him and produce grandkids with his weird face genes, but I don't have to change the channel when he comes on anymore.

      This is purely personal preference.  Jack Palance and Don Ameche were weird looking, and I don't think this is a minority opinion, but somebody must have found their looks appealing or they wouldn't have got those leading men roles.  ( You'd have to pay me to watch City Slickers, which has both Billy Crystal and Jack Palance. )

       Some people feel this way about entertainers I like. Jerry Seinfield, OK, I can see that, but I know people who don't like to look at Meryl Streep.  She doesn't have a classic movie star face,  but I think she's beautiful.

       I have a friend who doesn't like to look at Cameron Diaz, and her eyes are a little weird, but he also doesn't like the looks of Uma Thurman.  Can't see how anybody could think that.

       There's only one female who comes to mind that I feel that way about, Kerri Russell. I wanted to watch that show she broke out in, Felicity, because the story line appealed to me, but I couldn't get past my distaste with her looks.

        The most outstanding example of this in my life involves a TV commercial.  At my house we always mute the commercials, but there was one for which my friends and I had to kill the visual as well.

        Said commercial came on during  Braves games a few years back.  I guess it was for some exercise program, because its spokesman was a large bare-chested man with a buldging torso on which sat a tiny head.  His image was so repulsive it was as if we were vampires and he  was a crucifix. Shouts of "Agh! Agh! Man tits!" were heard as we tried to find the remote with our hands over our eyes.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The Lost Boys and the Last Days off Wiffleball

     Boys come to my house in the middle of the night. I call them boys. They're in their mid-twenties. They were boys when I met them, and boys they remain.
      They come in my bedroom at 2:00 A.M. exhorting Da to get up and play with them. Sometimes I do when I don't need to be up early. They consume everything consumable that they don't have to cook. When they leave it's as if a swarm of locusts has passed through, empty husks strewn everywhere.

       But to understand about the lost boys and why I call them such, you first need to know about.
                      THE LAST DAYS OF WIFFLEBALL:
                                      A LOVE STORY
         We played wiffleball at least once a week for three or four years. We started as soon as it was warm enough and continued until it was too cold. It was never too hot and it took a lot of rain to stop us.
        The players were me, my son and from three to twenty boys in their early twenties, occasionally a female or two.
       Some of them had spent a lot of time at my house; most I had known since they were little; all were and are my friends. I could bore you to tears explaining our game and its elaborate rules-- how to turn a double play, (Base runners were all imaginary. There was diving by intrepid defenders, but no base running in our game.) how the cedar tree in left center (the green monster) came into play, but suffice it to say that we kept meticulous statistics and published them weekly on the interweb.
         And we lived from one wiffleball day to the next.
         People regularly drove from Athens and Atlanta to play our game. I remember Daniel Lanford saying more than once that wiffleball was the only thing he looked forward to. He usually followed by saying how this showed that he had no life, but I knew at the time he meant he loved us and there was no place he'd rather be.
           We all felt that way.
           Until the very end, almost all the boys who played this game had grown up together, gone to school together, played rec ball together, climbed the water tower together. The last summer of wiffleball the game had grown by word of mouth to include boys some of us had never met, so many that no one got to play that much.
         We all thought, the original wiffleball "core" that is, that the next year we'd politely rid ourselves of the new kids and resume our old game. That was two years ago. There's been no game since. What happened was that most of them got jobs, went off to graduate school, got wives or demanding girlfriends that weren't of our circle, in short, grew up.
          We didn't realize then that that last summer was the end of childhood, that that summer was the last time this circle of friends would be together. Oh, a lot of them will still get together at Christmas holidays, but it will never be the same as the summers of wiffleball, more like a class reunion.
          They all grew up except the few who were left behind, the lost boys who raid my refrigerator in the night. They roam the Newton County night looking for what has been lost, and although I stay home and go to bed on time, I’m not blind to the fact that I’m also one of the lost and left behind.