Thursday, March 24, 2011


It’s called "unscripted television" now—a quasi-admission by reality show producers that not everything you are seeing is quite real. After all, we don’t ordinarily live our lives with cameras and cameramen—in eyeshot and earshot—recording our every move and every emotion.

Once upon a time we were supposed to accept the basic premise of reality shows that human beings behave naturally when being filmed—spontaneously, even in the most intimate of moments. But apparently, it doesn’t really matter to the viewing public whether it’s truly real, or real in some ambiguous definition of the word, because it's still entertaining.

Albeit in the virtual ether, Facebook shares common ground with unscripted television. There is a mother lode of revelations, support, good humor, bad humor, as well as unhealthy doses of vitriol, too, on people’s personal “walls.” Facebook is real, unreal, and surreal all rolled into one Internet soap opera. By its very nature, this kind of social interaction is akin to having the cameras rolling. Yes, occasionally good old-fashioned reality and total candor shines through. In the instance that I am about to recount, the man’s honesty is absolutely breathtaking.

It seems that a thirty-something fellow, who’s evidently held some responsible adult jobs in his life, had encountered a few financial difficulties in recent years. So, it was with unrestrained joy that he reported to his Facebook family that his financial woes were a thing of the past—the Heavenly Father having intervened on his behalf. He informed one and all he had won a considerable sum from Publishers Clearinghouse.

I never knew of any real person who actually won one of their prizes. These are the people who show up at your door with a bunch of balloons and a colossal-sized check made out to you. Now, had this poor chap posted a photo of the PCH entourage on his doorstep, I may have been more inclined to believe in his good fortune. But within his description of the blessed event—difficult enough to swallow—there were a couple of particulars that didn’t exactly pass the smell test.

Sure enough, a mere day later, he announced on Facebook that his unexpected but very welcome windfall was not to be. He deposited the $26,500 check he received in the mail, he said, only to be asked to wire a $3,000 processing fee to the scam artists before they would permit it to clear. On numerous fronts, this almost-victim of a big-time hoax came across as not too smart. New Jersey-born guys are supposed to be more savvy than that. Seriously, his Facebook info listed his occupation as "financial adviser." He wasn’t an old lady living alone on a fixed income, or some uneducated man trying to make ends meet and support his family. He had a college degree and offered investment advice.

What would you do if you received an unsolicited $26,500 check in the mail? I suspect you’d be skeptical and probably recycle it without further ado. Our guy called a phone number to verify its authenticity. He alerted the world via Facebook about his sudden good fortune without doing a right and proper investigation. Personally, I wouldn’t reveal a financial matter of any kind and under any circumstances on a social networking site. I'd imagine, too, this revelation won't help his future business prospects. Reality…unscripted…yuk!

Friday, March 11, 2011

RIP Greg Goossen

As part of my morning ritual and Internet roundup, I visit various news sites, faithfully read several bookmarked blogs, and call upon a cyber portal devoted to the New York Mets and their illustrious history. Dubbed Centerfield Maz and choreographed by its indefatigable owner, the Zelig of Met fans—check it out and you’ll see what I mean—the website is teeming with memories, as well as a mother lode of “Whatever Became Of?” info and trivia on past players from the well known to the obscure; the stars to the scrubs.

As a devout former Met fan, who considers contemporary professional baseball outright sacrilege, I’d just assume remember the game from a more innocent time. I'd prefer recalling the pure joys of following my team before the onset of steroids and mega-million dollar salaries, which sometimes stretch farther than the eye can see. I cherished America's pastime before the sport became just another appendage to today’s tacky celebrity culture. You know, where the likes of A-Rod’s not particularly interesting off-the-field antics compete with Lady Gaga for ink in the newspapers and its virtual equivalent.

A couple of weeks ago, Centerfield Maz featured former Mets' player Greg Goossen—a catching prospect who subsequently got drafted by the Seattle Pilots, a 1969 American league expansion team that not only moved to Milwaukee a year later, but was forever immortalized in Jim Bouton’s then very controversial inside-the-clubhouse baseball book Ball Four. (Forty years ago, Bouton was actually vilified within the fraternity for violating baseball's equivalent of omerta.)

Anyway, while reading the Goossen account, with a recent picture of him staring back at me the whole time, I couldn’t help but notice how completely unrecognizable he appeared in contrast with his youthful baseball card photos. In his sixties now, he had a distinctively tough-looking and world-weary mug. His rough-hewn but nonetheless noble countenance told me that Goossen had suffered more than a few hard knocks along life's highways and byways.

The final thoughts of Centerfield Maz profiles frequently disclose what ex-players have been up to in their post-career lives. Apparently, Greg Goossen toiled at many jobs and in many professions after baseball. But while his life may have traversed a rocky road, it was off-the-beaten path and quite interesting. Goossen was actor Gene Hackman’s stand-in for many years. He worked too as both a private detective and boxing trainer. But the saddest of all parting shots in Centerfield Maz profiles are sometimes death notices. RIP Greg Goossen, who passed away of a sudden heart attack at the not-so-old age of sixty-five on February 26th.  He, I’d hazard a guess, was more every man than Oprah is every woman.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Delivery Boy

Yesterday, I performed unusual courier duties for a close relation of mine. And I wasn’t entrusted with delivering any old package to any old place. No, this was something special—an invaluable fluid coveted by a certain medical institution. To be more specific, I delivered a urine sample to Memorial Sloan-Kettering cancer hospital on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Life so often drops us in circumstances that not too long ago would have seemed preposterous.

Beginning my journey in the Northwest Bronx, I rode the Number 1 train to Columbus Circle, exited—with the urine safely ensconced in a Trader Joe's shopping bag—and then walked eastward on 59th Street along the periphery of Central Park, which was lined with a fleet of hansom cabs operated by rather non-handsome drivers—a dodgy looking crew if you ask me. I felt bad for the poor horses, which I always do when I spy these noble beasts navigating the mean streets of New York.

Despite having only one biological leg at my disposal, I nevertheless opted to walk across town rather than hop on a bus or a hail a cab. It was a sunny, breezy, and pretty crisp early March morning, but my trusty C-Leg—a computerized knee that nobly attempts to mimic my gait—was definitely up to the task. When I received this state-of-the-art knee, replacing a mechanical one, I asked my prosthetist, “So this leg stops your falls?” He answered, “No…let’s just say that it slows them.” Essentially, with any luck, my new knee would furnish me with the necessary seconds to right myself before I went down for the count. And I can say this much: I’ve had a few close calls that—were I wearing my prior knee—would have landed me on the pavement. But then again, I take many, many more chances with this remarkably stable and trusty friend that I slip on every morning. I walked long distances before—when I was physically whole—and I walk long distances now. I guess there are some things that never change.

In fact, Part A of this New York adventure was such a success that I decided—after turning over the urine sample—to retrace my steps on foot again, but with a slight route change this go-around. I followed the M66 cross-town bus route, which put me on a heavily traveled cross street through Central Park. The sidewalk was a filthy mess and the traffic whizzed by me at high speeds, spewing harsh fumes in my direction. And as a pedestrian crossing in the heart of New York City, it was pretty desolate. I had erred in my return-trip choice of routes, but my C-Leg and I nonetheless overcame the considerable cracks and crevices in the concrete, as well as occasional patches of wet leaves and mud along the way, without a hitch.

At West 66th Street and Broadway, Lincoln Center, where I landed and would catch the subway home, I couldn’t help but recall how I shopped for many years at a multi-storied Tower Records and a Barnes & Noble superstore across the street, which are gone now—casualties of both the times and the passage of time. It seems though that while nothing lasts forever, spanking new and unpredictable adventures await us all.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pizza Wars

These are taxing economic times for sure. It should therefore come as no surprise to you that business competition gets mighty ugly on occasion, with one and all fighting tooth and nail for shares of a finite pie. And the pie on our plate right now is a pizza pie. I would like to elucidate on the particulars of the most important news story—bar none—in what has been a very busy news week.

Pizza Owner Number One, you see—the perpetrator in this strange but true account—was, for all intents and purposes, caught red-handed in the act of placing live mice in a nearby competitor's establishment. It was his hope the mice would be fruitful, multiply, and eventually sound the death knell of Pizza Owner Number Two.

It seems, however, that said perpetrator was hopelessly inept in executing Operation Mouse Mayhem. Reports say he entered the competition’s shop sporting a brown paper bag and made a beeline for the bathroom. But when he emerged several minutes later without the bag, Pizza Owner Number Two, who didn’t know who he was, nonetheless sensed perversion afoot. In a twist of fate that proved the undoing of Pizza Owner Number One, there just happened to be two off-duty policemen in the dining room at the time, who were informed of what just transpired and promptly investigated what would soon become—officially—a crime scene. The cops found live mice scurrying about, and also telling footprints on the toilet seat. It seems the perpetrator stood on it in hopes of placing the mice above some ceiling tiles.

Pizza Owner Number One, the hapless perpetrator, was subsequently apprehended in the environs of yet another pizza joint, Pizza Owner Number Three, again not too far away. Mice were also present. He straightaway confessed to his crimes, but claimed his competitors were trying to run him out of business with the very same lethal weapons, and that turnabout was fair play.

So, just what exactly can be gleaned from these Pizza Wars or, if you prefer, Mouse Tales? Yes, there are lots of pizza places around and we eat an awful lot of the stuff. But also that competition for the Almighty Dollar goes bizarrely awry on occasion. Had only Pizza Owner Number One contented himself to posting bogus reviews of his rivals on Internet reviewing sites—which I'm certain countless entrepreneurs do in this age of anonymous libel—he’d be better off. He's not only facing misdemeanor charges of harassment, criminal mischief, and disorderly conduct, but animal cruelty as well. And heaven knows what could have been unleashed had the mice not been discovered and been left to their own devices in a food and restaurant setting.

There is a shred of hope for the perpetrator in these Pizza Wars, which have all the ingredients of a reality show in the making. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Pizza Owner Number One, Pizza Owner Number Two, and Pizza Owner Number Three are all living the surreal life under the same roof in the not-too-distant future, working out their differences with, of course, the cameras rolling.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Where Less Is Better

I was genuinely disheartened by the untimely death of TV pitchman Billy Mays a couple of years ago. For quite a while he was a part of my life in some perverse sort of way. I enjoyed his over-the-top, boardwalk approach to peddling products—everything from laundry soap to super-powerful silly putty to stick-on wall hooks. I must concede that I always stopped what I was doing and watched a Billy Mays' advertisement, even one I had seen countless times and for which I had no particular commercial interest. Billy Mays' moments were anxiety busters, I guess, taking my mind off my troubles for a split-second in time. It was always about the man’s incomparable style, not the particular product he was pitching.

Ah, but once upon a time Billy Mays was merely a commercial spokesperson and familiar face and recognizable voice to millions. We knew little about the man beyond his TV ad persona. In fact, we only knew his name because it was part of his shtick. He always proclaimed, "Hi, Billy Mays here..." before any and all of his pitches. But that was the long and short of our knowledge of the guy, and we weren't much interested in learning anything more, either. We didn't care whether or not Mays was a Republican or a Democrat, or whether he was a meat and potatoes guy or a vegan.

But as the World Wide Web grew wider and wider, and cable television expanded its ever-metastasizing waistline, personalities like Billy Mays could no longer remain contained and personally anonymous. So, no surprise here: Billy got a reality show of his own, which I dutifully watched. He seemed of decent enough character considering his less than savory line of work, but the bloom was definitely off the rose.

Seeing Billy Mays as merely an enthusiastic pitchman thereafter—perhaps overly boisterous on occasion—for a diverse line of merchandise was no longer possible. Having been ushered into the minutia of his television salesman's world shattered for all time what was once a virgin deception. When Billy willingly unmasked himself in this age of celebrity, the bare bones appeals of his commercials could never be watched with the same wide-eyed innocence.

When I first saw a competitor pitchman named Vince plugging a product called ShamWow, I found the ad uncouthly intriguing on some visceral level. But very soon after, I not only learned Vince's full name but a bit more than I really wanted to know about his background. It seemed that ShamWow Vince was a guy named Vince Shlomi with a less than savory history, who subsequently added to his dossier by doing even more repellent things to a certain lady companion. So naturally, I can’t watch a ShamWow commercial today without this information lodged in my brain, and I wouldn't consider purchasing a ShamWow under any circumstances.

Knowing too much about people obviously has its disadvantages. And this doesn’t only apply to big-mouth infomercial talking heads, but actors, businesspersons, spiritual gurus, sports figures, et al. Excessive info cannot help but soil the simple illusion. And simple illusions have their place, particularly now in this—metaphorically speaking—increasingly colder world of ours.