Thursday, October 20, 2016

Stream Along with Me

As a boy growing up in the always-fascinating 1970s, I wasn’t especially fond of fall. From my youthful perspective, autumns in New York typically represented abrupt and unpleasant endings of pleasant summers and—most critical of all—the beginnings of agonizingly long school years. However, there were a handful of silver linings in those past autumnal clouds, like the three networks’ spanking new prime-time TV schedules. Brand new episodes of familiar and favorite shows—like Kojak and Sanford and Son—plus a fair share of debut programs to sample, made fall evenings the highlight of increasingly dark days. Back then, sitting in front of the boob tube was a welcome elixir for the autumn blues.

Well, that was then and this is now. The three networks—CBS, NBC, and ABC—still promote their fall prime-time schedules in the months of September and October. But the competition is stiffer than ever before. There are cable channels aplenty to tune into and countless other visual distractions to occupy one's time. When I mull over this extended, hysterical, and most bizarre of election years—this latest autumn in New York for me—I can’t help but hark back to the good old days. Or, I should say, the good old nights. When I was a fourth grader in St. John’s grammar school, 1971-72, Friday evenings were a special time. Weekends were in the offing and the ABC prime-time lineup on that most appreciated of weekdays was quite something: The Brady Bunch, The Partridge Family, Room 222, The Odd Couple, and Love, American Style. I recall watching these shows one after another, missing Love, American Style occasionally because it was at once past my bedtime and rather adult-themed. Fast forward to the seventh grade, 1974-75, and CBS’s mind-boggling Saturday night offering: All in the Family, The Jeffersons, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show, and The Carol Burnett Show.

For sure, it was a less insane time because of the prime-time bounty. I gave some serious thought recently to this singular time of year—to fall. The leaves turn a kaleidoscope of  colors and fall, which means—for me at least—a lot of sweeping and bagging. But I’m old-fashioned. Nowadays, excruciatingly loud leaf blowers are the rage—they should be outlawed—and compound the insanity that is seemingly everywhere. For some strange reason in this fallback of mine, I remembered looking forward to, and eventually watching, a couple of brand new sitcoms on the 1970s fall network schedules: The Montefuscos,with the always-impressive Joe Sirola—who is happily still among the living—and The Dumplings, with the always-large James Coco, who is not. The former series ran for nine episodes in 1975, and the latter, for ten episodes in 1976. I suspect I watched them all.

Consider, though, how times have changed. We’ve got a whole lot more to choose from on television and via other venues. But less is sometimes better, I believe, even if The Montefuscos and The Dumplings weren’t exactly laugh riots. When cable TV first came my way, I took advantage of the additional choices and watched nascent political debate shows like Crossfire with Tom Braden debating Pat Buchanan. And then along came FOX, MSNBC, and more and more contentious blather night after night after night. Too many people have gotten hopelessly hooked on the daily vitriol, and it's definitely taken its toll.

Happily, I've weaned myself off of all that but, unhappily, can’t fall back—like in those days gone by—on the prime-time lineups of the networks. Netflix streaming has been my savior in these stressed times. Stream along with me, I say, and watch Poirot, Inspector George Gently, and Foyle’s War. Let the talking heads talk to the wall for a day or two or three, Sing a happy song. You’ll feel better. You’ll be less angry, too, with lower blood pressure. Remember that Mary Richards could turn the world on with her smile. And neither Bill O’Reilly nor Chris Matthews can do that.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

The Orange Man, Pretty in Pollution, and the Surreal Life

As a boy growing up in the extraordinarily colorful 1970s, I didn’t give much thought to what my adult life would be like. In fact, I didn’t give it any thought. And that, I think, was a good thing. Kids should concentrate on being kids because—poof—childhood will be a memory soon enough. Youthful exuberance fades fast and time accelerates as the years multiply.

But here I am—forty years later—in the surreal life. The Orange Man is running for president and in a heaping helping of hot water courtesy of some Cro-Magnon "locker room talk" he engaged in when he was a mere lad of fifty-nine. There’s a big debate tonight between him and his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and God only knows what the Orange Man will be packing. No surprise here: The anti-social media is atwitter with the usual suspects sounding off from both sides of political divide and—in the vast majority of instances—beating a dead horse. The world was a whole lot quieter in the 1970s. Everyone had opinions, of course, but they weren’t blasted out to the wider world—unfiltered—from anywhere and everywhere with a mere tap or click.

Permit me now to change colors from orange to green. While I was walking through nearby Van Cortlandt Park recently, I visited the shores of its fabled lake. I had previously read a news story in the local paper that reported how the lake was in the alarming grip of an algae bloom. The cause: a pollution source as yet determined. I was somewhat taken aback by the visual of Van Cortlandt Lake wearin’ o’ the green. Algae had indeed turned considerable parts of the lake’s surface a bright light green with a pot of gold no doubt in the vicinity. Strangely, the scene reminded me of my youth when Ma made us pudding for dessert. Sometimes she prepared the instant kind, which was tasty enough, but not nearly as satisfying as the cooked variety. Cooked pudding required some serious stirring over a stove jet and developed a skin—a delicious skin—as it cooled in the refrigerator. Although I never consumed a green version, the lake nonetheless resembled cooked pudding to me.

Really, the lake looked most beguiling in its hues of light green—Pretty in Pollution. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if some virtual genius generates a meme utilizing its present incarnation as rock-solid proof that pollution isn’t a problem worth fretting over. After all, it looks mighty cool in its Van Cortlandt Lake masquerade.

Lastly, on the eve of Columbus Day here in New York, I take some small solace that I haven’t yet spotted a “Wanted for Murder” poster on Facebook. Yada…yada…yada. Can’t we just enjoy a holiday, attend the parades, and go autumn leaf watching somewhere? The Orange Man, I believe, has sidetracked the most rabid of the rabid anti-Columbus crowd. And for that, I suppose, he is owed a debt of gratitude. Then again, I wouldn’t mind if this Monday in October was renamed Acorns Fall on Your Head Day. Who could oppose such a non-controversial and oh-so fitting day of remembrance in this life so surreal?

(Photos two and three from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

The Brisk Iced Tea Redemption

Several days ago I called on a nearby pizzeria located under the El—the quintessence of gritty ambiance in the Bronx. I ordered a slice with a sausage topping and a bottle of Brisk Iced Tea, something I had done on previous occasions without a hitch. But on this day, I encountered a major snafu in earshot of the Number 1 train coming and going from its first and last stop at W242nd Street. As I plopped down at a table with my fine fare and liquid refreshment, I reached first for the latter to twist off its top. But it just wouldn't cooperate with me. I concluded my hands were a bit sweaty—and the likely fly in the ointment—so I endeavored to get the cursed thing off with the aid of a napkin and then my shirt. Good fortune didn’t shine my way.

I momentarily considered taking the bottle up to the counter and asking a member of the staff to open it for me. However, my pride got the best of me. The slice of pizza wasn’t overly hot, so I opted to consume it without my iced-tea chaser. I surmised that afterwards I could take the bottle with me—across Broadway—into Van Cortlandt Park and go the extra mile there. In some secluded spot—if required—I could make unsightly faces and embarrassing grunts to tap into that elusive iced tea.

While I had unsuccessfully utilized my shirt—in Operation Twist and Shout—in the confines of the pizza parlor, I would do so once more in the great outdoors, but with a little more sweat and toil in this second round. Lady luck was missing in action—again! I had to concede the Brisk Iced Tea bottle had gotten the best of me. And a half-mile from home with multiple errands still to run, it was decision time. I chose not to carry this dastardly bottle around with me. I was thus compelled to toss in a park garbage pail twenty fluid ounces of iced tea—the very size that gave former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg sleepless nights. I didn’t like the idea of throwing away—in this throwaway society of ours—an unopened bottle that cost me $1.75. All things being equal, I would have preferred taking it home with me and employing the nuclear option therein—a nutcracker, wrench, or hedge clipper.

Nevertheless, I was bound and determined to wipe that day of infamy away—with all its inherent bad memories—by retracing my steps and actions. And the sooner the better! So yesterday, I returned to the scene of the crime against my psyche and ordered a another slice of pizza with sausage and bottle of Brisk Iced Tea. I was extremely anxious because, I knew, there would be no third act in this drama. I was handed the bottle before my warming pizza came out of the oven. I opened it at the counter this go-round with the intention of asking for help if—God forbid—bad fortune befell me again.

Lo and behold the iced tea bottle opened for me with incredible ease and I experienced a New Age moment. You know: If at first you don’t succeed—try, try again. I was only left to wonder if anything like that ever happened to Joel Osteen or one of his peers in the God business. For the Brisk Iced Tea Bottle Redemption, I think, is sermon material indeed.

(Photos from the personal collection of Nicholas Nigro)