Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Oaf Factor

For a forty-something guy like me who will be a fifty-something guy before too long, YouTube has been a godsend. Without it, countless memories of my past would be just that—memories—and most of them long forgotten. But now, by merely typing in a few key words, I can unearth a combative and very possibly drunk Norman Mailer on the Dick Cavett Show, a vintage McDonald’s commercial featuring the grisly Willard Scott as the original Ronald McDonald, and the Nanny and the Professor opening TV theme—a mother lode of rather amazing stuff that was, not very long ago, lost to us all. Calling on the Museum of Broadcasting and combing through their massive archives was really all we had at our disposal to possibly unearth a Schaefer beer commercial, or the Cesar Romero, Jack Palance, and Phil Rizzuto appearances on What’s My Line?

But wouldn’t you know it—there’s a downside to such ready access to a seemingly bottomless treasure trove of good stuff from days gone by. Oaf is the word…is the word…is the word. Yes…oaf. The oaf is omnipresent nowadays—in our virtual faces 24/7. The Internet in general, and social networking sites in particular, have empowered him and her as never before. Oafs sound off on Facebook with unrestrained abandon. They comment on YouTube videos, disliking all sorts of things—some in fact that they have little or no knowledge of. They weigh in on news stories big and small. They leave reviews on everything conceivable from movies to restaurants to boxes of cereal.

This diverse breed of oafs is frequently ignorant and often crass. But that’s why they are called oafs, I suppose. They are sometimes preposterously politically correct and ask in all seriousness if the Beverly Hillbillies sitcom's Clampett family was a racist brood because old granny brandished a Confederate flag and thought that Jefferson Davis was still her president. At other times they are downright boorish, moronic, and even a bit scary, believing that President Obama is an Afrikaner and card-carrying commy seeking to transform America into Amerika.

Oafs of all stripes have been furnished bona fide platforms in this Information Age of ours, and we had just better get used to it. There’s no putting this genie back in the bottle. Oafs—young and old—are here to stay.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The Goody's...the Bad...and the Ugly

As a seven- and eight-year-old boy in the old neighborhood, I had the good fortune of patronizing a fast-food joint called Goody’s. Located on Broadway near West 230th Street in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx, Goody’s, from all that I’ve gleaned, was a small hamburger chain in the New York-New Jersey area in the 1960s, which fast fell by the wayside.

My fond memories of this place have very little to do with the quality, or the taste, of their hamburgers and French fries, which no doubt were mouth-watering delicacies to my immature palate. Rather, it was the giveaway—a hamburger flipper’s mesh hat with a Goody's logo on it—that I recall getting along with a meal, and that I wish I still had today to prop up on my curio shelf right alongside a Bohack’s supermarket set of matches. But, alas, both the freebie hat and the Goody’s chain of stores are in the memory dumpster.

When Burger King took over Goody’s location in the early 1970s sometime, their employees were bedecked in snappy uniforms—the womenfolk wore very cool and very big hats—and one and all were trained in customer service. Times have changed. But in all fairness, a Burger King hourly wage bought more than a Burger King supper forty years ago.

Calling on Goody’s, Burger King, or McDonald’s was considered a special treat for most of us, something akin to a day at the amusement park. There were no families that I knew of who fed at the troughs of these fast-food places for their daily fares. We all just sort of knew that fast foods and health foods didn’t jibe, and we didn’t need calorie charts to put us on the straight and narrow. And, really, many of the so-called “fat kids” in my grammar and high schools would be considered positively svelte in this uber-informed day and age of ours. I just don’t get it. We have so much more health info at our fingertips, but yet we just keep getting fatter and fatter, and more cholesterol laden, and blame Burger King and McDonald's for leading us astray.

I realize that the Goody’s era is considered the dark ages vis-à-vis health and wellness—the place could have had a cigarette machine on the premises for heaven's sake. But fast foods just weren’t on our plates three, four, and five times a week in those ignorant times.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Coming Attractions

The better part of this week found me in a hospital setting. The upside, for lack of a better word, is that I wasn’t the patient but a "caregiver" instead. Anyway, without going into too many details, patient and I landed in Memorial Sloan-Kettering’s Urgent Care (triage) wing. This hospital space perpetually brings together a diverse group of cancer patients who are feeling unwell for a variety of reasons, but who are, in most instances, not unwell enough to be Emergency Room caliber.

Having arrived there at around noontime, I didn't leave the premises until ten o'clock at night. (Lucky her: The patient got to stay over a couple of nights to knock out a spot of pneumonia.) It was an extraordinarily long day of uncomfortably sitting around mostly—waiting and wondering, but also observing and listening to the never-ending theater all around us. The place filled up in a New York minute—hey, it’s winter and a bad one at that—and men and women were lined up in the corridor, with some looking more worse for wear than others. Most of the assembled had family or friends at their sides for moral support and physical assistance if needed, but a handful did not. I noticed an elderly woman all alone and seated on chair in the hallway for hours. I took an educated guess that she had both cancer and nobody—an incredibly sad one-two gut punch in life’s waning hours.

I overheard doctors visiting patients and discussing morphine drips and other painkilling options. One man was informed that the drug cocktail given to him wouldn’t rid his pain altogether, but hopefully make his day-to-day existence at least tolerable. I heard another poor fellow feebly cry out, “I don’t want to die.” His doctor reassured him, “We don’t want you to die, either.”

It’s difficult not to reflect on Coming Attractions, and the less than harmonious last legs of life’s journey, while amidst this stark reality snapshot. Really…there just aren’t very many happy endings in store for us. Looking on the bright side, a trip to Urgent Care can be an enlightening experience, too—an eye-opener. (I’ve been there a few times.) While in this milieu, I am always reminded of the endgame, and why it’s absolutely essential to make the most of what's in-between our beginnings and endings.