Friday, April 10, 2009
Thoughts on Bill O'Reilly and Squeaky the Chicago Mouse
By Roger Ebert / April 7, 2009
To: Bill O'Reilly
From: Roger Ebert
Dear Bill: Thanks for including the Chicago Sun-Times on your exclusive list of newspapers on your "Hall of Shame." To be in an O'Reilly Hall of Fame would be a cruel blow to any newspaper. It would place us in the favor of a man who turns red and starts screaming when anyone disagrees with him. My grade-school teacher, wise Sister Nathan, would have called in your parents and recommended counseling with Father Hogben.
Yes, the Sun-Times is liberal, having recently endorsed our first Democrat for President since LBJ. We were founded by Marshall Field one week before Pearl Harbor to provide a liberal voice in Chicago to counter the Tribune, which opposed an American war against Hitler. I'm sure you would have sided with the Trib at the time.
I understand you believe one of the Sun-Times misdemeanors was dropping your syndicated column. My editor informs me that "very few" readers complained about the disappearance of your column, adding, "many more complained about Nancy." I know I did. That was the famous Ernie Bushmiller comic strip in which Sluggo explained that "wow" was "mom" spelled upside-down.
Your column ran in our paper while it was owned by the right-wing polemicists Conrad Black (Baron Black of Coldharbour) and David Radler. We dropped it to save a little money after they looted the paper of millions. Now you call for an advertising boycott. It is unusual to observe a journalist cheering for a newspaper to fail. At present the Sun-Times has no bank debt, but labors under the weight of millions of dollars in tax penalties incurred by Lord Black, who is serving an eight-year stretch for mail fraud and obstruction of justice. We also had to pay for his legal expenses.
There is a major difference between Conrad Black and you: Lord Black is a much better writer and thinker, and authored a respected biography about Roosevelt, who we were founded to defend. That newspapers continue to run your column is a mystery to me, since it is composed of knee-jerk frothings and ravings. If I were an editor searching for a conservative, I wouldn't choose a mad dog. My recommendation: The admirable Charles Krauthammer.
Bill, I am concerned that you have been losing touch with reality recently. Did you really say you are more powerful than any politician?
That reminds me of the famous story about Squeaky the Chicago Mouse. It seems that Squeaky was floating on his back along the Chicago River one day. Approaching the Michigan Avenue lift bridge, he called out: Raise the bridge! I have an erection!
It's time for the Republicans to regroup and focus their opposition on the issues. Please. I'm tired of watching Glenn Beck cry.
When I slowly approached the Smog Test Area I tried hard not to acknowledge the graveyard of crippled cars with missing engines, naked front ends where the bumpers usually covered, or sans windshield glass. I swear I heard a Chevy Nova say "don't look at me! I'm hideous!"
But I like these small, "mom & pop" places. The mechanic who performed the test was thorough. And the good news is I passed. But how about a little decorative renovation on the outside? And would it hurt to get a tv in the waiting room?
Thursday, April 9, 2009
There was a time when MTV original shows like The Real World was innovative. 5 strangers from different, sometimes conflicting, backgrounds share living quarters with cameras rolling and mikes attached 24/7. The sociological ramifications of this televised experiment could have revolutionized television as a healing, educational medium while at the same time providing entertainment for people of all ages. The Youth could relate. The Old could understand the Youth. Success could have spawned copycat cable and network shows that held a mirror to the viewing public and addressed issues that usually went ignored. Think of the recent elections and the spark of dialogue stemming from the vote to overturn the ban on gay marriage, or the first African-American President and its affect on race relations? Sadly it seemed MTV was strong on the idea, but weak on the execution. The Real World, which is in its 21st season, has grown stale and the lame attempts to generate more viewers, though ratings for the show did go up 18% from previous season’s first episode, seemed to finish rather sluggishly, even with a cast that featured a trans-gender young woman and an Iraq War Veteran. Even the latest installment of the uber-adrenaline The Inferno II, Real World/Road Rules Challenge follows the same pattern of focusing on the same petty squabbles instead of the overall scope of competing on foreign soil and learning. It seems the group of familiar “reality stars,” some of whom are approaching 40 now, just don’t get it in terms of life’s lessons. Either that or producers of these shows believe that the audience loves drama and will artificially create one for ratings. Perhaps the producers are right. But after so many years, the formula becomes unbearably repetitive. Yes, C.J. is an asshole, and he has problems which leads him into fights and getting kicked out of the show. Here’s a question, why continually invite him back? Because people love train wrecks. It’s not his fault. The Producers of these types of shows love to exploit the insecurities and problems of their cast. There is nothing juicier than a Narcissist with a drinking problem or a tragic past. That’s great TV. But it’s also a step backwards from the educational aspect of what the Real World was supposed to be about. Think of Pedro Zamora from the San Francisco Cast from 1994.
Here’s an idea. The “M” in “MTV” stands for Music. How about playing music videos from fresh, unsigned artists? That’s pretty innovative. Layoff the faux-reality shows like “The Hills” and “The City” with its ridiculous disclaimer at the start of every episode proclaiming that what was captured so pristinely on video was indeed real. Not even the most ardent follower of these shows believes in its authenticity. Really, like they totally don’t, OMG!
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
The following Saturday morning my wife drove me to La Merced Intermediate’s baseball field. We parked and I sat watching my new teammates warm up by playing catch.
“Nervous?” My wife asked.
“A little. How can you tell?”
“You smoked four cigarettes since leaving the house. And we live less than a mile away.”
I gathered my courage and exited the Tercel masking my nerves. After I stubbed out my last Marlboro, I casually strolled to a portly, dark-skinned man in sweats with pot marks on his cheeks and bags under his round eyes.
“Coach Ramos I presume?”
“You have to be Jaime,” he said with an open expression of disgust. “Alright, go take the position you want.”
I immediately scampered out to the pitcher’s mound where I stood next to a pudgy, short Lefty with thick glasses. Ramos lifted the ball up, ready to smack a groundball to Rene, the third baseman, when he caught the site of me and the Lefty whom I would later find out to be Dominic.
“You can’t be serious, Jaime.”
“I was a pitcher back in my day.”
I could hear snickering from the infield and outfield as Dominic looked up at me through the wire-framed Coke bottles.
“Fine. Whatever,” Ramos said before slapping a soft grounder.
After about an hour of infield drills we moved to batting practice. Coach Ramos asked if I would pitch to the kids. I said of course knowing that I would need the practice seeing as I didn’t have much pitching competition and I would no doubt be the opening day starter.
The first batter dug into the dirt, a muscular catcher named Sal. I whizzed a two-seamer past him, belt high. Sal backed away from the imaginary box and dropped the bat with a whine.
“Gonzalez! What was that?”
“A fastball I believe, Coach,” I said.
“Slow it down. This is little league, not the majors.”
“Major leagues? I wish,” I scoffed. I went into my wind up but stopped half way.
“You really think that was a Major League fastball, Coach?”
“Just throw the ball. Remember, it’s only batting practice. Keep it slow.”
I let up on the heat and my teammates go in some pretty good licks. That was until an overly confident lanky beanpole named Jason crowded the plate. I knew what I had to do.
Brush back, chin high. The pitch knocked Mister All-Star down on his butt.
“He was crowding the plate! I have to establish my territory, I really had no choice, Coach.”
Ramos marched over and grabbed the ball from my hand. After a few seconds he calmed himself down by controlling his breathing and rubbing his temples.
“It’s your turn to bat,” he said with a tired sigh.
I turned and headed to the cage but stopped halfway.
“You really think my fastball was Major League level?”
Ramos closed his eyes and forced a smile.
“I don’t see a bat in your hands.”
I threw my glove at him and sprinted to the batting cage, grabbing a black Easton from a pile of aluminum bats. I stood from the left side and waited with my bat waving over my head. Ramos threw a fat pitch over the plate. I socked it over the right field fence and it dropped into the running waters of the river which I later dubbed “Gonzalez Cove.” Pitch number 2 yielded the same result but this time I dropped the Easton and watched it soar majestically into my cove. Ramos waited as I slowly picked up the black beauty. This time I dug in from the right side. I was more of a contact hitter from the right and I proved by smacking another Ramos offering right at Rene who ducked.
“Come on, Rene!” I yelled. “How can you miss a line drive? What, did you get a bad hop or something?”
By now Ramos’ anger reached a boiling point and he concluded the practice. My teammates and I took a knee and listened to our esteemed coach.
“Tomorrow is our first game against the Angels,” he said.
“They ain’t nothin’ skip,” I injected trying to fire up the troops.
“Remember what we worked on today and play hard and play smart…”
“And just win, goddamn it! Win! Win! Win! No prisoners!”
“Dominic, you’re starting,” Coach said.
“YEAH! DOMINIC! Wait…what?”
“See you at nine tomorrow morning guys. Good job.”
As my team disbursed I approached Coach Ramos.
“Hey Coach, I don’t mean any disrespect, but why Dominic? Why not me?”
“You’ll get your chance.”
Ramos walked away to pick up the equipment. I headed toward the street from the field disappointed that I didn’t get the nod for opening day. I stood on the sidewalk under the shade of the tree waiting for my wife when Dominic walked by with his mother.
“Hey Jaime, maybe you’ll start the second game. Oh, by the way, this is my mom.”
Dominic’s mom was a knockout. She was a blonde dye job with fake boobs and tight stomach. She had long polished fingernails and loads of make-up. She spoke with soft authority.
“You play on my son’s team?”
“I’m returning from retirement,” I said proudly.
She frowned and shook her head before escorting her son to a black BMW.
“Whoa,” I said to myself. “Dominic’s mom is like a total MILF.”
(NEXT WEEK: GAME 1. Jaime in relief)
Friday, March 27, 2009
My first step was to contact the league reps at Grant Rea Park in Montebello, my hometown where I had played for 6 years. I set up a meeting with a Luis Castillo who heads up the Pony League. I drove out to the park and met with Mr. Castillo, a youthful-looking man in a long-sleeved Jersey and Dodgers baseball cap. We sat on the bleachers that overlooked the baseball diamond. Sprinklers watered the outfield and infield and a gardener snipped the rim around the pitcher’s mound.
“Where’s your son?” Mr. Castillo asked looking around for a glimpse of the phantom boy.
“I don’t have one,” I said.
Luis blinked in rapid succession out of confusion and smiled.
“So who is the person interested in joining our league?”
“Me,” I said confidently.
“You? Is this a joke? I don’t get it.”
“It’s really simple, Mister Castillo. I’m coming out of retirement to play in the Pony League.”
“Mister Gonzalez, you can’t be serious. I mean with all due respect you’re…how old are you?”
“Thirty eight and a half. But don’t worry I’m getting in shape in time for the season.”
“It’s not that,” he said. “It’s just that this is a league for boys or girls thirteen and fourteen years of age.”
“Yeah. I know. I figured this was the most challenging league. All the lower leagues seem too easy.”
Luis stroked the beard of his goatee in frustration. Deep in the stubborn wiring of my brain I knew the naysayers would try to talk me out of my dream but I was determined to not let anyone spoil my goal.
“Look, Mister Gonzalez, I don’t think you understand what I’m trying to get at. The Pony League is only open to kids who are thirteen and fourteen. You can’t play here because you’re too old.”
Aha! I thought. Checkmate. I was prepared for this response. I recoiled my words and they sprang out like a skinny French dude from Cirque du Soleil.
“Sir, that’s ageism. Just so you know I had contacted a lawyer prior to our meeting and I have secured his services in case you pulled that age crap on me. And I can assure you my lawyer knows Gloria Allred.”
“Fine! I don’t want any problems. We’ll put your name in the drawing and a coach will contact you Saturday morning. Alright?”
Success! Not even the disgusted expression on Castillo’s face could dampen my victorious spirit. I drove back home after the meeting with a feeling of euphoria, similar to the restless anticipation I felt as a kid when Winter finally ended and the sun heralded the coming of the new baseball season.
Saturday morning arrived and at nine forty seven as I stuffed the last of my egg, cheese, sausage and ham burrito into my mouth the phone rang. I leapt seemingly from the kitchen to the living room and lifted the receiver before the second ring.
“Hello,” I mumbled. I quickly swallowed the burrito. I knew I would pay for that later with nighttime heartburn.
“Can I speak to Jaime?”
“I’m Jaime. What’s up?”
The voice on the other end of the line paused.
“Yup, that’s me. Who is this?”
“This is Coach Ramos. Wait, you’re not one of those kids that develops really early are you? I mean you sound like an adult.”
“I am an adult.”
Another long pause followed.
“Oh, are you interested in being a coach or something?” Ramos asked.
“No. I’m a player. Ask Luis Castillo.”
“Ah, you’re that guy. Weird. Anyway, I’m Coach Ramos. You’re on the Giants now. Appropriately enough. Report to the La Merced Intermediate School’s baseball field next Saturday at nine o’ clock for our first practice. Alright, champ?”
“Sure thing, Coach Ramos. I’ll be there bright and early.”
“Man, this is weird,” he said in a sigh before he hung up.
Wow, I thought, my first baseball team in 24 years. I was ready. I had started the prep work months prior by hitting the batting cages almost daily, lifting weights and walking half mile. I was pumped. That night I placed my Nike spiked shoes on the floor by my gray practice baseball pants and Jersey which hung on the bedroom doorknob. The rest of the week went by slowly and I tossed and turned every night waiting for Saturday morning and it finally arrived.
(NEXT WEEK: The first practice and team meeting)
Thursday, March 26, 2009
I found a rabbit in my garage. I had no idea how he got in there or where he came from, that was the least of my concern. What do I do with him? My wife and daughter and I own a parakeet. That’s expensive enough, especially with the unavailability of parakeet seeds (see previous blog) and the cost of keeping it alive in general is too much. But a rabbit living with us? Forget about it. It’d be like a relative with expensive taste moving in permanently. Instead of meat and potatoes they’d want shrimp cocktails and crunchy peanut butter instead of the creamy kind. NO WAY!
I asked a neighbor if the cute bunny was hers. I was cognizant of throwing in words like “cute” and “cuddly” and “adorable” to describe the filthy beast in hopes that my neighbor would take it. She said it wasn’t hers nor was she interested in keeping it as a pet. “Fascist” I spat as I took the fluffy bunny back into my garage.”Why don’t you take him over the lake?” She said, momentarily forgiving my outburst for the bunny’s sake. She informed me that there was a lake a few blocks from our gated community by a school where a colony of unwanted rabbits thrived without human interference. My mind immediately went into panic mode. What if these creatures decide to band together and attack humans for neglecting them? Eh, I can’t picture rabbits possessing any bitter feelings. I looked into the pink eyes of Mr. Buggles, by this point I named the homeless thing, and stroked the white fur. “Well,” I thought. “At least he’ll be with his own kind.”So off I jettisoned to the lake. I parked the car and took Mr. Buggles, whom I placed in a box, out and looked for the entrance around the high wire fence. The lake looked unkept and probably contaminated with a medley of pesticides and chemicals. I didn’t see any bunny colony with bunny homes and a thriving bunny community with their own laws. Instead I saw patches of crap floating in dark waters. I finally found the opening, right under a sign that read “NO DUMPING OF ANIMALS. ESPECIALLY RABBITS"
Great. Now what do I do? I can’t let Mr. Buggles out in the school yard, the children will eat him alive. Salvation came in the form of the Fire Station across the street. So I dodged traffic and approached the front door to the small, quaint building. I rang the doorbell and within seconds two Firefighters stood before me. They looked at the box and dread overcame their face. “Hey guys, I’ve got a situation here…” The older one, I’m assuming he was the captain, looked at me and shook his head. “We don’t do bunnies. Maybe around Easter time. Why don’t you throw him into the lake? I heard there’s a thriving colony of bunnies in there?” He closed the door. Not even a sorry. I wish someone had photos or video footage of this thriving colony because I don’t see it.
So now what do I do? The choice became clear. I should have done this from the start. I drove over to the animal shelter. On the way I looked at the reflection of Mr. Buggles' box in my rearview mirror. It was still. “It’ll be fine Mr. Buggles. You’ll find a home real soon, I promise. You’re really cute, and well behaved. This is the best thing for both of us, really.” I parked the car and carried him to this older gentlemen stationed inside a room with the top half of the door opened and the lower half closed. He asked a few questions and later took the box and placed it on a shelf like a piece of unwanted furniture. I said a silent goodbye to Mr. Buggles and fondly recalled our adventure together. Such a waste, I thought. Maybe the economy tanking is a good thing. Maybe people need to start appreciating what they already have instead of wasting on things they can’t afford. I’m pretty certain Mr. Buggles did find a nice home where they don’t eat rabbits. I hope.