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Wednesday, April 18, 2007


The very definition of "class act." My favorite game show is To Tell The Truth, especially the Garry Moore-hosted era, with its psychedelic sets and groovy "ba ba ba pa" theme song. I collect episodes from this run, and when I watch them I am a contented man.

Kitty Carlisle was the show's "society gal," equivalent to the role Arlene Francis assumed on What's My Line. I admit I thought both of them were snooty broads when I was a kid, preferring cards like Orson Bean or even daffy personalities like Peggy Cass.

In recent years, turning to the old shows for comfort in a world I don't recognize no more, I immediately appreciated Kitty and Arlene for the considerable grace they brought to the unjustly scorned game show genre. They fast became my favorite panelists. From this vantage I marvel still at the sight of middle-aged people, known from the worlds of NY society, publishing and theater, holding forth as regulars on a mass-entertainment program. Such a thing is unknown now, apart from a few talk show hosts like Regis.

But then, the world Kitty shared with the likes of George Gershwin and Moss Hart is forgotten, by and large. There are numerous reasons why works like Porgy and Bess or You Can't Take it With You are no longer much more than cultural museum pieces, but in my youth they were still part of the everyday, even though they were both decades old by then. You'd see them on TV frequently, and not on specialist channels (there were none). You'd hear the songs all the time. Well, I'm not gonna mourn "my culture" again all night, it's nothing. Anyway, my kids won't miss out on it: their favorite screen personalities are silent genius Charley Bowers, Jerry Lewis, Our Gang, and the Beatles.

And they'll develop the patience for To Tell the Truth, I reckon, or suffer through my screenings anyway. Tributes to Ms. Carlisle Hart will appear in days to come, and I sure hope the degraded vestiges of the once-great Game Show Network will run a TTTT marathon. That show was the least of her accomplishments (I mean, GIGGING at the age of 95!!!), but it was great great stuff.
A toast to Kitty, then, and goodbye.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


YOUNG MIKE MURPHY... a few years before the attachment "Sport." A callow 7th grade student given to mischief and maladaption. Mind you, the worst of my infractions would not have registered in school these days, where the most important thing is to make sure everyone passes and nobody's self-esteem is damaged. The process results in complete adult idiots with high opinions of themselves. This was the year that I got expelled from the school I'd attended since first grade. The handsome snap you see here is part of a bigger picture, which is of course part of the smaller, "BIGGER PICTURE," which is one of those things to which time has been somewhat unkind. Like, dig:

THE RAVAGES OF TIME. Here, as in the great film "Decasia" we see what unexpected environmental factors can do to those few delicate treasures we are able to wrest from god's slavering maw. Through the distortions of time and travail we try to glimpse a little of that which was once so commonplace and familiar to us we never dreamed we'd leave it behind and long for contact with it.

Well tough shit, sez the cosmos, be glad you are permitted even the sweet agony of this wrecked souvenir. Yearn away, yearnling. Boo-Hah!

But see, I insist on something more complete... satisfying... and my life is dedicated to this permanent, doomed quest to beat the fix. To have and to keep what's rightfully mine despite the Inexorable Ugly. I say "Fie!" I demand a recount and an accounting. I demand the director's cut with all sorts of interactive extras. So we pan the pan and scorn the scan; we zoom out to the full letterbox panoply of memories sullen and sublime. BEHOLD!

CLASS 7-1 of Holy Name of Jesus School, Brooklyn. You youngsters may think this was a long long time ago, but you have no motherfucking IDEA how long ago it really was. Centuries. Many lifetimes. And I HATED it. And now I'm nostalgic for it, because then I thought things would be better once I grew up out of it all. Well, in many ways they are, and in many ways they are not. But to youth, the years look like a new package of coffee filters... there are so many of 'em, they will surely never run out! Then one day you find yourself forced to improvise one out of a paper towel, 'cause they are suddenly all gone. And it's a big drippy mess and doesn't really work and so you decide to get some more and you go to the store and as you cross the parking lot you get hit by a truck delivering Maxwell House to the supermarket and you fucking die and as you die you groan "Yeah. Figures." Ironic, dontcha think? I'll introduce you to a few of the cast of characters in this picture.

McNally. The scumbag wimpass of a whoreson prick who tormented and exiled me. I'd had this piece of shit in 4th grade, and it was a contentious and disagreeable relationship indeed. My older brothers knew him as "Mooney" - a local laughingstock who all their hoody peers would razz and bait mercilessly, so he took out his frustrations on the likes of me. One of my gladdest last days of school was the end of 4th grade, but that glee turned grim when somehow he got assigned to teach 7th grade just as I entered that stage of my education. He fixed me with that myopic stare on the first day of class, snarling with the pathetic, patented "bare the lower teeth" intimidation expression that had guaranteed him so many ass-whuppings from his own age group and so much disrespect from mine. You should have seen this milquetoast cuntwipe handing out wolf tickets, slapping against his palm a stack of rulers rubber-banded together as cudgel and scepter, as he strode back and forth in front of the class, with that ruff-tuff creampuff underbite, like a chihuahua auditioning for the part of Cujo.

He instantly made it clear that he still had it in for me. Now, in Catholic school back then, corporal punishment was a given, so rest assured my ass tasted the wrath of that ruler-bundle on many occasions, after I'd done something like talking out of turn, skipping homework or shooting a spitball at someone. This regular abuse was not enough though, and I swear to you, I fuckin' KNEW from the first day of 7th that Mooney was gonna find a way to crucify me ...and goddamn if the little twerp didn't ultimately do so. Here is my Javert, my man from Porlock, the turd in my puchbowl, hellhound on my trail and headache in my stomach. It is the aggressively mediocre who will drive you to rack and ruin, students, and here was a humdinger of an aggressive mediocretin. One of many to come, alas.
But how 'bout those classmates? A few follow...
CAMPISI. There he is; there is Campisi.
CHARLIE POWERS, the "star" of the class. He appeared in TV commercials and catalogs. Notably, he appeared on the box art for some toy... I forget, but I think it was a race car set or something. To think that folks probably spend big eBay bucks for this toy "mint in box" and there's Charlie Powers, still representing the thrill of toyland wishes fulfilled. I'd tell you he was a prick just for a punchline, but I honestly don't recall that he was. Just an envied "insider." One of many to come, alas. Around this time I had my own brush with the toy biz; I sent Mattel a sketch for a toy I designed and got no reply. About a year later the fucking thing hit the market. My Mom was irate, but we hadn't kept a record of my submission with which to sue. I bought the toy, happy to just have it to play with. Somewhere in all this is the full, sorry story of my adult life.

GALLAGHER. No relation to the comedian, though one of us nearly smashed the other's melon during a knock-down, drag out street battle concerning a movie camera he'd loaned me. I had given him some of my 8mm Chaplin films as collateral, and we wound up in a Mexican standoff, each refusing to return the other's property, after some utterly inconsequential conflict unrelated to the cinematic arts. We'd been good buddies up 'til then, and though accords were ultimately reached, things were never the same. They never are. I STILL HAVE THE CAMERA. A wind-up number, plain 8, not super 8. Got one of those shortly thereafter and Gallagher's went permanently idle. He and I discussed a trade-off after things cooled, but it seemed moot by then. We'd gone from cinema to ..I dunno... yo-yos by then.

BELCASTRO. One day I was held after school for some typical infraction. As the students single-filed out of the class, I was told to sit and wait for Mooney's return after he'd led the others downstairs and through the schoolyard to dismissal. Anxiety mounted... resentment. Thoughts of Steve McQueen's character "Hilts" from The Great Escape. Thoughts of Cool Hand Luke. This drip is gonna make me sit here while he contorts his weasel face into his idea of tough-guy, with those lower teeth protruding like a piranha's. "Nope..." I thought "not gonna brook this shit today; I'm outta here." Made a beeline out the classroom's back door... as the other guys gasped, I bolted down the staircase. Mayhem ensued. They all scurried down after me like colts on jimson weed, Mooney shouting imprecations and vile threats. As I broke into the open air of the schoolyard, heart pounding and head reeling with thoughts of "now what?" and "what am I fuckin' doing?" I heard Mooney's directive to Belcastro: "Stop him!" Suddenly I was tackled: the air left my lungs, my face hit the concrete and there was Belcastro on top of me, whinging "I'm sorry, Murf, I'm sorry!" He kept on bleating -- as the wretched McNally dragged me back inside -- how, if he hadn't stopped me, Mooney would have expelled me for sure. I knew he was a good egg and probably meant well, but Christ, was I pissed. Fuck you, Belcastro. This was my penultimate offense. Parents were called in... much gravitas... "next time he's going to be out." Soon enough, next time came and out I went. I remember well the day of my expulsion. Mooney's satisfied smirk, the leaden feeling in my gut, dragging myself alone down the endless hallway. Dead kid walking. Eventually I wound up at St. Michael's school in Sunset Park. It was never home to me, and this was one personally catastrophic rupture, to be sure. One of many to come, alas.

Now here's a cluster of mugs, some fond, some forgotten and some There's McLoughlin (top left), a real cut-up. The first day our new religion teacher, Mr Curtin turned up and introduced himself, McLoughlin raised his hand with a question. Mr. Curtin interrupted his spiel and acknowledged the kid... "Yes... um... (checking the roster then looking up, smiling) ...Paul?" McLoughlin stood. "Say, Mr Curtin... how's Mrs Curtin and all the little drapes?" Haw! I dug the shit out of that kid. Next to him is Robert Muir, whose family happened to have a summer home in Ronkonkoma, just a few blocks from ours. For this reason we tried to like each other a little for a while. Never took. We bored each other, I reckon. Next kid, I forget. Then there's Alan Windsor (bottom left). A very dry wit on this kid. One day, after I'd been expelled from Holy Name and already at St Michael's for a few months, I cut school and took a long bus ride to the old neighborhood for a forlorn stroll. One of many to come, alas. As my old chums sat in 7-1 upstairs, I roamed about the schoolyard like Breezy in that "Learn that poem" Our Gang comedy and chanced upon some chalk graffitti, recognizable as Alan Windsor's hand, on the red brick wall. "A tribute to Murf, who made it out of this place" (I paraphrase). Windsor obviously shared some of my taste in mythos, but anyway, I was deeply flattered and moved. Next to him is Bischof, a nice kid, one of the "brains" of the class. And bottom right: Artie Lee. Oh the stories I could tell you. Lived across the street. Sometime pal, sometime nemesis. Artie fucking Lee.

Michael Woodworth. Lived on Sherman Street. Huck to my Tom. I dearly love this guy, whom I have not seen in many many years. I have his current phone number and never seem to be able to call. Did once, got a machine, hung up. I'll tell you about Woody, but not tonight. Woody, I'll call you sometime, but probably not tonight.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Just look here to see an example of how riled people can become over the "right" and "wrong" words to use. Not that this is an especially gripping example; it's the banality of it I'm enjoying.

That, and the phrase "Kate has an awesome turdcutter" ...this one has me laughing out loud, as I've never heard the term before. Is it a real slang term?
Google says so: "Results 1 - 10 of about 4,860 for turdcutter."
4,860!!!! At least one of them's a band, of course! And I'm proud to contribute to the big "turdcutter push to 5,000" through this very entry.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity. (Yeats)