Monday, November 29, 2010

A Tangled Web

When an 11-year old boy wants something he doesn’t usually take no for an answer.
I know.
I still act like one.
During the eight days my 11-year old son was in New York with his two sisters and my wife, he must’ve asked me 25 times to take him to see the Broadway play Spiderman.
I tried explaining to him that in the three plus months I had been in Manhattan, I had not heard one word about the play.
No buzz whatsoever.
I assumed that meant the play was a real dud.
Well I was right.
What I didn’t realize is that the play hadn’t opened up yet.
Apparently, its been trying to debut for a couple of years, but a whole slew of production problems has pushed back the official opening until six weeks from now.
Not knowing this, last Friday I finally gave in and took my son to the box office to see if they had any tickets available.
That’s when we found out the play hadn’t opened yet.
That’s also when we found out the first presentation from start to finish in front of a live audience was on Sunday night.
Sunday night.
As in the day after Saturday night, the night my wife and kids were flying home.
How do you think that went over with the 11-year old boy?
Well as my luck would have it, I was staying two days longer than my family, spending the weekend with my friend Mark.
Mark and I went to high school and college together and he was in town for the Thanksgiving holiday.
In his spare time he is a film critic in Los Angeles.
Maybe I should’ve called him for the real 411 on Spiderman.
Turns out he knew it all.
He knew the play was directed by Julie Taymor, who also directed the mega Broadway hit, The Lion King.
He knew the music and lyrics were written by Bono and The Edge from U2.
He knew this is the most expensive play in Broadway history, with a $65 million tab.
So far.
And it will cost another million, per week, when/if it ever really opens.
This show has so many issues, it could be a Dr. Phil episode.
Crew issues.  Cast issues.  Technical issues.  Money issues.
So when I asked if Mark wanted to see the first ever public production of this disaster waiting to happen, he answered without saying a word.
What I didn’t realize is how hard it would be to get tickets.
Apparently people like watching train wrecks.
Lotsa people.
Who knew?
When we got to the sold out Foxwoods Theatre, we were ushered into a “cancellation line”.
That meant, if people cancel, we get to buy their tickets.
So we waited.   And waited.   And waited.
Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker walked right past us, into the theater.
As did Sean Hayes.
As did what felt like a million other people I didn’t recognize.
The Foxwoods Theater is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest on Broadway.
It seats 1,900 or so people.
And we saw all of them.
But somehow after waiting for two hours, we finally got the call to the box office window.
All they had left were single Orchestra tickets, but we grabbed them faster than we could say...
Because we got the tickets so late, we were forced to watch the opening number from the lobby.
But we got to our seats right after that.
As a film critic, Mark is REALLY into storytelling and scripts and themes and all of that nonsense.
As the 1992 ADD Man of the Year, I like lights.
And smoke.  And sound effects.  And action.
And action there was.
Some of it was even planned.
There were a bunch of scenes where the characters were flying all over the place.
And that was amazing.
Is it bad that part of me was thinking how cool it would be if I could say I was there when the rope snapped and Spidey landed on Sarah Jessica?
Yeah, that would be bad.
There was an amazing scene where Spiderman and the Green Goblin were swinging right above me during a fight scene.
Definitely the scene of the night, for me.
This show was half Broadway.
Half Cirque du Soleil.
Half MTV.
Three halves make a whole, right?
The sets were borderline incredible.
The music was good, sometimes better than that.
The costumes were amazing.
The crowd was really into it.
It was everything you want in a Broadway show.
Everything PLUS a train wreck.
Free of charge.
Before Mark and I made it in, the announcer told the crowd that since this was a “preview”, they might need to stop the show if there were any technical problems.
And people were very sympathetic.
The first time they stopped it.
And the second.  And the third.  And the fourth.
And that was just the first act.

Then came a 15-minute intermission that lasted 40 minutes.
Patience meet wearing thin.
That was followed by a second act that was so disjointed you would’ve thought the show had arthritis.
The good news is they only stopped the show one time after the break.
The bad news is I wish they would’ve taken that time to explain what the hell the story was all about.
When it comes to anything involving a script, I am usually the best audience ever.
I don’t figure out anything until the end.
Did you know that girl in The Crying Game was really a guy?
I didn’t.
Did you know that Paul Bettany is not a real person?
Well HE is, but his character in A Beautiful Mind is not.
Did you know that James Earl Jones has a son named Mark Hamill?
I could go on all day.
The bottom line is it really doesn’t take a whole lot for me to get roped into a storyline.
Unfortunately there wasn’t a whole lot of rope there.
This story was so weak, Tobey Maguire could bench press it.
I haven’t been this confused since the first time I was handed a Rubik’s Cube.
Or the last time.
There was so little meat on the bones of this play, they could’ve called it Veganman.
Ok, I’ll leave the real critiquing to Mark.
But even with all of the problems, it was worth every penny just to be there.
There was no other place I would rather be.   
But let me tell you, $65 million doesn’t buy what it used to.
Come on Spidey people, you’ve got six weeks to save the world.
And save your show.
11-year olds around my galaxy are counting on you.

Carolina On My Mind

I have so many great memories of Thanksgiving.
That’s probably because they all involve a giant plate of food and Pecan Pie, the greatest pie of all-time.
For today’s edition of “Let’s look back at life in the 80’s”, we head back to 1989.
For Thanksgiving that year, a couple of my fraternity brothers and I headed east to the Carolinas.
We were there to visit a pair of our brothers who were spending a year at school on the east coast.
Our trip started in Raleigh-Durham at North Carolina State to see our buddy Lou.
For the big feast that year we had exactly nobody to cook for us and no places to go.
So we had to find one.
And find one we did.
But it wasn’t easy.
Pretty much every place we tried was loaded with all the fixins, but out of tables.
Enter Shoney’s.
The southern version of Denny’s.
$10 later we were full.
Including the pie.
From there it was onto Columbia to see brother Tad at The University of South Carolina.
The 227-mile drive from one Carolina to the other took about three-and-half hours.
Of course, I don’t remember that, but that’s what the internet just told me.
Howard Stern hadn’t invented satellite radio yet, so we had to rely on actual conversation to help the miles pass.
I also brought a USA Today newspaper with me.
After memorizing EVERY box score, two or three times, I finally transitioned to the news section.
When I got there, I’m sure I read a bunch of stories about your typical news stuff.
But there was one story that caught my attention.
Dateline:  Siler City, North Carolina.
In the story it said that Francis Bavier had just been admitted to a Siler City hospital.
My friends were more puzzled than sad with why I was bringing that news to their attention.
“Do you know who that is?,” I said.
Of course, the answer was no.
So I informed them that Francis Bavier was Aunt Bee.
Not my Aunt Bee, but OUR Aunt Bee.
From the Andy Griffith Show.
Now none of us knew Mrs. Bavier, but we all knew... and loved Beatrice Taylor -- better known as Aunt Bee.
As if it was on cue, within moments of reading the article, we just happened to see a sign on the highway.
Come on, what’s the chance of that?
A moment later, we saw a sign for a hospital.
How many hospitals could there possibly be in Siler City, North Carolina?
Well, we now know the answer is one.
Two, if you count the animal hospital.
I quickly convinced my friends that it was our civic duty to go visit Aunt Bee and give her our best wishes.
So we followed the “H” signs until we got to the “H”ospital.
When we got there, we headed up to front desk.
That’s where I informed the receptionist that we were there to visit “Aunt Bee.”
The lady working there thought we were crazy.
And we probably were.
But it’s the thought that counts, right?
Well, within a few minutes, probably seconds, she pointed us to the room where Aunt Bee was resting.
I can still feel my heart pounding today as it was then while we made the walk to the room. 
I know we meant well, but I really wasn’t sure what we were going to say or quite honestly how we would be received.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), we will never know.
When we got to the room, there was a guard standing outside.
He informed us that Mrs. Bavier wasn’t taking any visitors.
I’m sure I asked again, but the result was the same.
If I remember correctly, we waited a few minutes, asked the guard to give her our best wishes and then we headed back to the car.
She died about two weeks later.
I later learned that Mrs. Bavier avoided fans and interviews “like the plague”.
So it’s probably better we stopped where we did.
The rest of the trip was great, but 21 years later, it’s our 30-minute detour to Siler City that we still remember most.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

6th Avenue Freeze Out

The clock is ticking on my time left in New York City.
And ticking quickly.
I have spent the last few weeks searching for a way to remain on this coast, but the fact is, it’s not going to happen.
I have finally swallowed that truth.
Along with my last bites of New York pizza, pretzels, chestnuts and anything else I can eat off the street.
I was fortunate to have my family spend the Thanksgiving holiday with me in the big city as I tied up the final pieces.
They left yesterday.   
I leave shortly.
During their stay here, we did things that people do in New York on Thanksgiving.
We went to Radio City Music Hall to see the annual Christmas show with the Rockettes.
My wife and daughter woke up at 3:30 in the morning to go shopping on Black Friday.
And we got a front and center seat for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Ok, it wasn’t front and it certainly wasn’t center.
But we were there.
We met up with some good friends who had come in from LA to enjoy November in New York.
Along with the other cattle, we got up bright and early on the morning of turkey day, bundled up and went in search of the perfect vantage point.
Once we realized perfection wasn’t possible, we settled in on the corner of 39th Street and 6th Avenue.
Without going all mapquest on you, let’s just say the parade started about three miles to the north.
So by the time the action got to us, many of the “celebrities” were waved out.
But the kids didn’t seem to care.
And isn’t that was this was all about.
We somehow nestled them a spot at the front of the street so they could get an up close and personal look at all the circus clowns dressed as pedophiles.

Or was it the other way around?
Great family fun.
I’m not sure if there was a rhyme or a reason to which floats stopped where, but we seemed to be the popular resting point for the balloons.
We got some real intimate time with the Kool Aid float.
The Energizer Bunny spun in front of us for what felt like forever.
That damn thing just keeps going and going.
We also had a great view when the Buzz Lightyear float flew by.
I never realized that Buzz has a plastic bag over his head.

What a great role model for the kids.
We didn't get as much time with the big stars.
Gladys Knight, sans Pips, drove right past our street.
As did Kanye West.
And Jessica Simpson.
We did get a good look at Joan Rivers.

It’s a good thing it didn’t get any colder or her face might’ve cracked.
But all joking aside, we really had a great time.
The commentary by the people on our street was better than anything the broadcast might’ve offered.
My favorite part was definitely the people watching.
Like when the lady standing next to me, with literally hundreds of people surrounding her, lit a fresh cigarette for us all to smell.
Or the guy who wiggled and jiggled his way to the front of the street so he could record his own personal version of the parade.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got hundreds of unedited and unwatched hours of video of MY kids singing and dancing and playing sports.
What in the world is he going to do with a shaky version of The Food Network float?

There was just a little touch of pushing, with no shoving, but some people clearly wanted to get closer to the action than we did.
I was touched in ways that usually only happens on 9th Avenue.
I guess there was something for everyone.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Luck of the Irish

I am a diehard fan of the Notre Dame football team.
And why wouldn’t I be.
Notre Dame is one of the largest Catholic universities in the country.
I grew up in a house with an Orthodox Jewish father and an Italian-Catholic mother.
Who converted to Judaism.
It makes perfect sense to me.
Ok, here’s the rest of the story.
As an nine-year old boy living in San Francisco, I was always the first one up every Sunday morning.
Of course I was.
Especially since Sunday was my only day to sleep in, between going to all-day Hebrew school during the week and kicking and screaming my way to synagogue on Saturday.
So like the good book says, Sunday was my day to rest -- in front of the television.
Since I was the first one up, I was always the first one to turn on the TV.
Now for those of you 30 and older, you might remember a day where the TV had less than 100 channels on it.
Well back in 1976, we had only three channels, maybe four.
And in those dark ages, we had to walk up to the TV and actually “turn” the channel if we wanted to turn the channel.
Imagine the therapy kids today would go through today if that was still the case.
Every Sunday morning during that fall, I would get up and my TV options were pretty simple:  
  •   church show, church show, church show or...
...Notre Dame Replay.
Believe it or not, Lindsey Nelson beat Oral Roberts.
Every time.
Now by many accounts, Notre Dame Football is a religion.
But for me it was just a really good option so I didn’t have to watch one of the church shows.
No matter the reason, I quickly took a huge liking to the team.
And why not.
That year we went 9-3.
We.... ha.
The next year some guy named Montana led us to the National Championship.
Well, over the years my passion for Notre Dame football has grown.
At times, to an obsession.
And unfortunately for my 11-year old son, I have passed along this obsession to him.
Like a disease.
Lets just say the last few years it has not been fun being a Notre Dame fan.
But that’s what being a fan is all about.
And that’s why I spent WAY too much money taking my son to the Notre Dame-Army game at Yankee Stadium last Saturday night.
Come on, six months worth of car payments or two tickets to THE 50TH MEETING OF NOTRE DAME AND ARMY.
Ok, it wasn’t quite six months, but....
It has become somewhat of a family tradition for me to surprise the kids when I am doing something special for them... and me.
And that was the same for the game on Saturday.
I’m big on surprises.
I told my son that I couldn’t get tickets for the game.
Instead we were going to a Notre Dame bar right next to the stadium to watch the game on TV.
He seemed fine with that.
So we got decked out in our Notre Dame gear, boarded the #4 train and headed uptown.
When we arrived at the stadium, my son pulled out his phone and started taking pictures of the outside of the shrine.
He got a great shot of the Gate 6 sign.
After a few kodak moments, I said it was time to head to the bar to get a good seat.
I told him we needed tickets to get in.
So I handed him his.
It took him all of a milli-second to realize that the ticket was not for a bar, but it was actually for the game.
Hug #1 = ten car payments.
Hug #7 = everything in the world.
Eventually I had to stop the hugs so we didn’t miss the game, although I could’ve remained there all night.
We got into the stadium early enough so we could walk around the stadium.
And visit Monument Park in center field.
And talk about the history of the Yankees.
And grab plenty of food with no nutritional value.
And catch up on life.
And sing the national anthem.
And high 5... a lot.
Oh and there was a game too.
Notre Dame-27, Army-3.
Not that it mattered.

I was the real winner on Saturday night.