Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Day in the Life

I called on the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) today to renew a driver’s license. Based on both past experiences and the bureaucracy’s somewhat notorious reputation, I understandably was not looking forward to the adventure. Where I call home afforded me a variety of choices as to where to complete this task. I could have ventured up to the DMV in Yonkers, just past the New York City line, and closer to my hometown Bronx’s alternative on Fordham Road, which I could have also accessed via a twenty-minute bus ride—give or take a few minutes.

I journeyed instead into Manhattan, calling upon the License Express on 30th Street near Fifth Avenue. So, even if it took me a little more time—via a subway ride and a several block walk—it was a wise move on my part. Who ever heard of getting one’s business sorted out in a DMV office in under a half hour? The times are a-changin’ and this is an instance of changin’ for the better.

In my travels this morning en route to the DMV, I encountered an elderly man—a face, really, that somehow got into mine for a split second. Our eyes met. “I know that guy,” I said to myself. “Sure, that’s Joe Franklin…I think…a New York City radio institution.” To verify my sighting, I Googled him as soon as I got home and, happily, discovered he’s still among the living at the ripe old age of eighty-eight.

On my subway ride home—with just about everyone in the car preoccupied with his or her iPhone—a religious zealot touted the importance of reading the Bible and preparing for eternal life in either Heaven or Hell. He phonetically spelled out the word Bible, too—B-I-B-L-E—so that there would be no misunderstanding. He, though, wasn’t asking for any money and just wanted to save subway straphangers’ souls. A little while later, somebody who was asking for spare change materialized. He said he’d just gotten out of Riker’s Island, a well-known jail complex in these parts, and was valiantly trying to get his new life in order, starting with getting his clothes cleaned. I would have given him something, but it was too difficult for me to access the change in my pocket while seated uncomfortably and scrunched beside a heavyset fellow with both an umbrella and halitosis. This troubled young man came up empty, which made me feel kind of bad because maybe he was telling the truth. My unsolicited advice to him in future subway appearances is to work with some sort of money receptacle, because handing over cash and coins to the actual hands of those with a hand out, as it were, is an extra and unnecessary hurdle to maximizing the bottom line.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Forty-One Years Ago

Forty-one years ago today, October 10, 1973, the New York Mets defeated Cincinnati's "Big Red Machine" in the National League playoffs at Shea Stadium. My beloved Mets were the underdogs to put it mildly—and the team that sent Pete Rose and company home for the winter. What I wouldn’t give to relive that day in, of course, my eleven-year-old body taking directives from my eleven-year-old psyche. The passion of youth made that day oh-so-special with my boyhood idol, Tom Seaver, on the mound and getting the win, and “Ya Gotta Believe” Tug McGraw coming in the ninth inning to douse the fire and record the save.

Sitting in the living room and watching the game on my family’s sole black-and-white TV, I won’t soon forget legendary Mets’ announcer Lindsey Nelson’s call of the game’s final out, and how he animatedly repeated three times: “The New York Mets have won the pennant…The New York Mets have won the pennant…The New York Mets have won the pennant.” He then described the “wild scene at Shea Stadium” as fans stormed onto the field in what was an era—to say the least—of lax crowd control. The wild bunch ripped the field to shreds and frightened Mets’ and Reds’ players alike, who hurried as fast as they could off the field. Fortunately, stadium groundskeepers had a full week to get it back in shape for the World Series.

With the convoluted and uber-expensive television rights that define today’s professional sports, it’s worth noting that the playoff games were carried in New York by the Mets’ local station, WOR-TV, Channel 9, as well as the network, NBC. Such a generous arrangement would be unthinkable in this day and age. I was thus able to listen to Lindsey Nelson, Bob Murphy, and Ralph Kiner do the play-by-play for the entire series. The Mets televised a lot of games on free TV back then. Lindsey, Bob, and Ralph became family. It was right and proper then that I got to hear Lindsey Nelson—family—put the icing on the cake of an improbable pennant in an October to remember. Baseball like it was once upon a time...and life like it really ought to be.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

When Life Gives You Lemons...Watch Hogan's Heroes

Through the years when feeling blue, I’ve been wont to hark back to—yes, drum roll, please—simpler times. From my perspective at least, many of the television programs I enjoyed as a youth serve as a very welcome pick-me-up in the here and now. In need of a lift recently, I opted to put Hogan’s Heroes in my Netflix queue. I soon after discovered that every episode—seasons one through six—was on YouTube (for the time being at least).

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been plowing through the series with glee. While Hogan’s Heroes is steeped in some controversy, it nonetheless holds up extremely well in my opinion. Werner Klemperer as the ineffectual, vainglorious Colonel Wilhelm Klink and John Banner as the endearing but bumbling Sergeant Schultz never grow old from where I sit.

Originally, I watched the show—for the most part—after it exited the prime-time stage in 1971. It went into syndication right away and played on, as I remember, local station Channel 5 every night at 7:30. In the colder climes when we were under house arrest, watching these shows over and over—be it The Munsters, The Andy Griffith Show, I Love Lucy, Gilligan’s Island, or Batman—was therapeutic They were comforting back then when the stresses of growing up reared their ugly heads. There was just nothing quite like sitting in front of television set and watching the familiar antics of Herman, Barney, Lucy, Gilligan, and Chief O’Hara.

TV Guide included Hogan’s Heroes on its list of the worst television shows of all-time. This selection was contemporary PC at work, with the show taking a hit forty years after it went off the air for making light of a time and a place that wasn’t very funny—World War II and a German POW camp. Nazi characters appeared regularly, too, on the sitcom, and constant references to their beloved leader were made. However, Colonel Robert Hogan and his trusted subordinates always thwarted them.

Hogan’s Heroes was good satire. During the war itself the Nazis were regularly mocked in comedy fare, including in Three Stooges’ shorts. Make the most heinous folks on the world stage appear foolish and asinine—why not? It’s a healing route that says we are somehow all in this together. We’re going to laugh at the insanity. Robert Clary, who played diminutive Corporal Louie LeBeau, survived a concentration camp and has a tattoo on his arm as a lifelong reminder of the experience. John Banner escaped from his native Austria but lost many family members in the Holocaust. Werner Klemperer and Leon Askin, who played General Burkhalter, likewise fled persecution. If these men were willing to assume prominent roles on Hogan’s Heroes, surely the judge and jury of TV Guide could find it in their hearts to cut the show some slack and give it its due as a timeless classic.