Tuesday, October 4, 2016

I Was Traumatized At A McDonald's In 1974

Like many tail-end baby boomers, McDonald's was a part of my childhood.  Starting in the late 1960's, my mother would take me to the McDonald's at Coney Island Avenue and Avenue U in Brooklyn once or twice a month.  That was frequent enough to satisfy my Johnson/Nixon-era fast-food cravings but infrequent enough so that it was something fun and exciting to look forward to.  I would always order a Big Mac, fries and a Coke or a shake (alas, the Quarter Pounder wouldn't be introduced nationwide for another few years). And after I finished, I'd go back to the counter and order a Filet-O-Fish as a digestif.  I doubt that I could eat that much today (not that I would even want to).
By the time I was 12 or 13, I was going to McDonald's on my own. The McDonald's on Kings Highway and East 16th Street (near the B/Q subway stop) was a regular lunch destination for me and my friends in junior high school.  In 1974, when I was in 8th grade, McDonald's began a promotion: Every time you bought a Big Mac, you were given a game card.  When you pulled off the perforated strip (this was before scratch-off technology was invented), it revealed one of the seven ingredients that made up the Big Mac: Two all-beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, and a sesame seed bun.

(For some reason, McDonald's did not make a game card for the eighth Big Mac ingredient, ammonium hydroxide, which was added to their beef to create the concoction known as "pink slime".)
This is great, I thought.  By trading the cards with my friends, I'll get so many free Big Macs that I won't have to pay for one until 1980. But of course, there was a catch.  Like all games of this nature, one of the ingredient cards was severely short printed.  In this case, the culprit was special sauce.  After a few weeks, my friends and I had amassed a cache of two all-beef patties, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions and sesame seed buns.  But there was nary a special sauce to be found.  We heard occasional rumors of special sauce cards popping up in Canarsie or Bay Ridge, but those were never confirmed.

(There was a similar promotion around this time by Good Humor. When you finished eating an ice cream, the newly-uncovered upper portion of the stick would reveal one of the letters of GOOD HUMOR. When you had all the sticks to spell out the full name, you could redeem them for a free ice cream.  Since you needed three O's, that letter was triple-printed, but one of the letters–I think it was the U–was short-printed.  After weeks–perhaps even months–of U-less frustration, I appealed to Benny, the long-time Good Humor vendor for my neighborhood.  He must have taken pity on me because the next time I saw him, he clandestinely slipped me a U stick which he had in his pocket.  Benny was great.  He had a Good Humor cart, rather than a truck, which he pushed up and down the streets of Brooklyn for 8 or 10 hours a day.  I like to imagine that he joined Good Humor right out of the army in 1945 and had kept the same route for decades, but of course I didn't really know anything about him.  I do know that he must have had the strongest legs in Brooklyn, as sometimes a street's incline made his task seem almost Sisyphean.  [The photo below isn't actually Benny, but that's the exact style of push-cart he used.])
But my frustration with my inability to procure a special sauce card couldn't be solved with an appeal to a McDonald's employee.  For one thing, I didn't know any of the McDonald's workers.  And even if I did–and even if they had access to a secret supply of special sauce cards–I doubt any of them would have cared enough to give me one. I resigned myself to growing old without ever getting any free Big Macs.  And all my dreams of the great things I was planning to buy with the money I'd be saving on Big Macs–like a G.I. Joe with Kung Fu grip–were fading fast.

But then one day...it just happened.  I pulled off the perforated strip, and there it was.  Special sauce.  I was elated.  Ecstatic. Euphoric.  It may not have been on par with Charlie Bucket getting a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, but at the time it sure felt that way.

I was so excited that while still at the counter, I yelled to my friends who were seated about 15 feet away, "HEY GUYS!! I GOT A SPECIAL SAUCE CARD!!"  But even before they could react, an older high school kid who had been loitering nearby walked over, grabbed my wrist with what felt like a Kung Fu grip, snatched the special sauce card out of my hand, and casually strolled out of the building.  I was devastated.  Heartbroken.  Inconsolable.  I don't remember if my friends laughed, but they probably did.  I would have laughed if I had seen it happen to one of them.

After "the incident," I couldn't bring myself to go back to McDonald's for quite a while.  I spent some time eating at Burger King, but it really wasn't the same.  A Whopper was okay, but it was no Big Mac. I mean, who puts mayo on a burger?  I know their jingle said, "Have it your way" and "Special orders don't upset us," but still...mayo? Really?  (Burger King's jingle was pretty catchy, but I made up my own words.  Instead of "Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce/Special orders don't upset us," I used to sing "Hold the pickle, hold the lettuce/I have a tomato fetish.")  

In retrospect, eating alone at Burger King made me feel like George Costanza (in the Seinfeld episode "The Pool Guy") eating at Reggie's–the bizarro diner–after Susan became friends with Elaine and he couldn't go back to Monk's–the gang's regular diner–because his worlds had collided.

Eventually, I began eating at McDonald's again, but when I entered high school, there wasn't a McDonald's close enough to get to and back from in the 45-minute lunch period.  So instead we went out for pizza or ate in the school cafeteria ("Tuna, turkey or spiced ham?" was the cafeteria lady's mantra.  Scream it loudly and shrilly a couple of dozen times and you'll have some idea what a lunch period in my high school was like.).  By the time I got to college, McDonald's had lost most of its allure.  One of the guys who lived in my dorm freshman year worked in the town's local McDonald's (having worked at a McDonald's in his home town, he fancied himself as something of a burger expert), and sometimes he would bring back food when his shift was over at midnight.  One night, the food he brought back made everyone sick, so that pretty much put the kibosh on any desire I had for a Big Mac or Filet-O-Fish.  I haven't eaten at a McDonald's in years, but whenever I pass one, I always go in and grab a fistful of napkins (rather than take them one-by-one from the bottom of the dispenser, I like to open the dispenser and grab a four-inch stack).  Their napkins are pretty good–they still use large trifold napkins long after places like Starbucks and Whole Foods switched to smaller bifold napkins.  But recently, a few of the McDonald's near me removed their napkin dispensers from the plastics-and-paper area, requiring customers (and non-customers) to go to the counter and request them.  So I guess they showed me. 

These days, when I get a craving for fast food (which is about twice a year), I go to Wendy's.  I first ate at a Wendy's in suburban Ohio in 1982, while driving cross-country with a couple of friends.  I was impressed with the cleanliness, the pleasant service, and especially the taste of the food.  Their burgers were much better than those at McDonald's or Burger King.  I made a mental note to never eat at those places again, and to instead go only to Wendy's.  Well, New York City isn't suburban Ohio, so you can blow a big kiss goodbye to the cleanliness and pleasant service.  But the food is still better than McDonald's or Burger King.  And they still use trifold napkins, which are available in bulk right in the dining area, with no need to go to the counter and beg for napkins like Oliver Twist asking for more food.

Wendy's also had a memorable commercial, but instead of a catchy jingle, they had a clever tag line.

The closest Wendy's to me is on East 14th Street between University Place and Fifth Avenue, and there's always an interesting mix of people there.  Depending on the time of day, you might find after-work business people in suits, skateboard punks and runaways from nearby Union Square, families of foreign tourists looking for a cheap meal, drug addicts nodding off into their Frostys, and, of course, homeless people.  I try not to eat too much red meat, so I skip the burgers and order a spicy chicken sandwich (no sauce), fries (no salt) and a Diet Coke (no ice).  But even Wendy's smallest size soda is way too much liquid for me, so I take it with me when I leave and try to finish it on the way home, although I never can.  They should really have an extra-small size of soda.

And whenever the Wendy's server hands me my food, I instinctively look around to see if there's anyone loitering nearby who looks like they might want to grab something out of my hand.  In fast food restaurants, old habits die hard.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Lester Holt Is Just Brian Williams Without The Narcissism

Ever since Brian Williams lied his way out of his job as NBC Nightly News weekday anchor 17 months ago, people have been lavishing praise on his replacement, Lester Holt.  Lester is a professional.  He's a serious news reporter.  He's a real journalist, they say.  Many people, including myself, hoped that Lester was the Moses who would finally lead NBC News out of the Brian Williams desert and return the organization to its former place of prominence and journalistic respectability, as exemplified by the legendary journalist/anchors Tom Brokaw and John Chancellor.  Maybe Lester would take the news seriously.  Maybe he would break with recent tradition and devote the entire broadcast to real news.  Maybe he would stop padding Nightly News with idiotic drivel.  Maybe...maybe...maybe...
Nah.  The truth is that in the 17 months since Lester Holt began anchoring Nightly News, nothing has changed.  The only difference between Nightly News under Brian and Nightly News under Lester is that Lester reports fewer Springsteen stories and doesn't waste our time reporting the death of every Medal of Honor recipient like Brian did (it should be noted that Brian was a board member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation, a private organization that solicits donations for the Medal of Honor Society.  So every time Brian reported on a Medal of Honor recipient, he was promoting an organization on whose board he served.  He was essentially fundraising with no disclosure). 

Before taking over for Brian, Lester Holt was an adequate weekend anchor in an undemanding and low-pressure environment.  He flew under the radar.  But unfortunately, under the spotlight of five-day-a-week scrutiny, Lester has shown that he's just Brian Williams without the rampant egotistical narcissism.  It's not breaking news to report that Brian Williams had the biggest ego on TV (bigger, even, than Brian's fellow NBC host Donald Trump).  Whenever possible (and as anchor, it was usually possible), Brian began news stories with phrases such as "If you're like me..." or "For those of us..." (the latter phrase was always followed by a self-congratulatory statement like "...who love dogs...," "...are Supreme Court buffs...," "...who played high school football" or "...who are die-hard New York Giants fans...").  Lester opts for the more humble "So many" (as in "...the credit cards so many use..." or "...the cars so many drive...").  Humility aside, Lester is just the latest snake oil salesman to stand in front of the NBC cameras at 6:30 PM Monday through Friday (holidays excluded) and use his carnival barker's bag of tricks to keep people tuned in to his broadcast.  Unlike Brian, Lester doesn't make Nightly News about himself.  But like Brian, Lester's Nightly News isn't really about news, either.  Lester's primary job isn't to report important events–it's to maximize ratings so the NBC News sales department can charge the highest possible ad rates for Nightly News commercials (and also so that the NBC prime time lineup can have the best possible lead-in).  And like his predecessor, Lester does not allow ethics to stand in the way of ratings.  He will say practically anything to keep viewers watching.  He frequently uses phrases like "late word," "late details" and "late developments" to describe stories that had already been reported by other news organizations 12 or more hours before Nightly News came on the air.  He regularly uses decidedly non-news terms like "shocking," "stunning," "amazing," "incredible," "breathtaking," "chilling," "spectacular," "astounding," "remarkable," "heartwarming," "inspiring" and "jaw-dropping" to titillate viewers and hard-sell the news–or, more specifically, the twaddle that he passes off as news.  By the way, those are the same words regularly used by Mario Lopez, the host of "Extra," the show that follows NBC Nightly News in many markets and the show from which Nightly News has become virtually indistinguishable.  Maybe NBC should just merge the two shows and call the new program "NBC Nightly News Extra With Lester and Mario."  Just think of how much fun that  show would be.
When the Nightly News producers or the NBC corporate weasels need someone to plug NBC's news or entertainment shows (like "The Today Show," "The Tonight Show," "Meet the Press," "Saturday Night Live" or "Little Big Shots"), Lester's their guy.  When they need someone to promote NBC/Universal movies (like "Jurassic World," "Race" or "Unbroken"), Lester's their guy.  When they need someone to shill for NBC Sports (witness the amount of time Nightly News devotes to "news reports" on NBC sporting events like horse racing or NASCAR), Lester's their guy (and just wait until Lester begins devoting half of Nightly News to hyper-aggressively plugging the Olympics).  When they need someone to read a sham news story to promote a product made by a regular NBC sponsor (like McDonald's, Bayer or Nabisco), Lester's their guy (before Lester, of course, Brian was their guy).  Lester will look directly into the camera and make his sales pitch without any visible trace of embarrassment.  And another thing he will do is look directly into the camera and lie to the viewers. 

Lester always begins Nightly News with a 45-to-50 second intro in which he teases the 5 or 6 stories that are most likely to excite viewers and keep them from changing the channel.  It's no different than when a drama series begins with teases of that night's sauciest moments (without actually giving anything away), an age-old TV ploy (previously used for radio dramas and movie serials) designed to keep asses in the seats.  But what Lester doesn't tell us is often as important as what he does tell us.  On the June 23, 2016 Nightly News, this was the third story Lester teased at the top of the broadcast: "Movie theater hostage crisis!  A masked gunman holding dozens!  Chaos and panic!  Fears of another mass attack as police storm the cinema!" 
At minute 15, before the broadcast's first commercial break, Lester teased the story again: "Still ahead tonight–panic inside a movie theater when a gunman storms inside and takes hostages!  Police on the move rushing to the scene!" 
After the commercial break–18 minutes after Lester first teased the story–he finally tells us one important fact that he had heretofore omitted: The movie theater hostage crisis was in Germany
So are we to believe that Lester simply forgot to mention this salient bit of information 18 minutes earlier?  That in the rush to impart all the important news of the day, it had just slipped his mind?  Of course not.  In collaboration with his producers, Lester intentionally withheld the location of the story–as he has done many times before–as a tactic to stimulate the viewers' interest and keep them tuned in under false pretenses.  It's a well-known fact in the U.S. news business that viewers are far more interested in domestic news than in foreign news.  News from foreign countries (especially those with strange-sounding names) is a turn-off.  Even news from our neighboring countries of Mexico and Canada often causes people to zone out and lose interest.  Lest Lester supporters (not to be confused with Leicester supporters)...
...think that this was an isolated incident, here are some other instances when his teases intentionally omitted the foreign location of stories so as to fool the viewers into thinking they were in the U.S.:

On the August 18, 2015 broadcast, Lester teased a story about a bombing: "Manhunt for a bomber!  Authorities say this is the killer caught on camera as a new explosion rocks a major tourist city and a mystery deepens!"  However, Lester waited five minutes before telling us that the bombing was in Bangkok.  (It goes without saying that Lester's use of the word "authorities" was meant to imply "U.S. authorities.")
During the March 16, 2016 Nightly News intro, Lester teased a story about a prison escape this way: "A shocking escape caught on camera!  A helicopter hijacked at gunpoint–flying over a prison as inmates grab hold and hang on for their lives!  Guards helpless to stop them!"  It wasn't for another 12 minutes that correspondent Blake McCoy finally revealed that the prison break had happened outside of Montreal, Canada.
On May 4, 2016, Lester's intro included a tease for a story about a wildfire: "Towering inferno!  Frantic evacuations as a massive wildfire explodes out of control torching entire neighborhoods!  Even the emergency operations center staff forced to flee!"  Seventeen minutes later, Lester finally told us that the fire was in Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada.
The following night, Lester also teased the fire story without mentioning Canada: "The monster inferno exploding–now bigger than New York City!  Tonight we go behind the fire lines!  An astonishing scope of devastation!"  I guess Lester should be commended–this time it took him only four minutes to finally reveal that the fire was in Canada.  (Of course, mentioning New York City was clearly meant to imply by association that the fire was in the U.S.)
And again the next night: "Running for their lives!  The monster inferno caught on camera devouring a home minutes after a family escapes and watches everything they have burn!"  This time, Lester regressed a bit–he didn't mention that the fire was in Canada until six minutes into the broadcast.
On the June 30, 2016 broadcast, Lester teased a story at minute 15 about a house tumbling off a rain-eroded cliff and crashing into the houses below: "Over the edge! Shocking destruction triggered by heavy rains all caught on camera!"  It wasn't until eight minutes later that Lester finally admitted that this happened in Nagasaki, Japan.
During the April 2, 2015 Nightly News intro, Lester teased this story: "Campus massacre!  At least 147 killed, scores injured as terrorists unleash a horrifying attack!"  Eventually–five minutes later–Lester got around to telling us that the attack had actually happened in Kenya.  Thanks, Lester.
(It should be noted that the accompanying video clips for these teases are always carefully edited to avoid showing any images that would indicate that the action was happening outside the U.S.)

So Lester and his producers found a loophole, a crafty way to keep people tuned in and boost ratings: Don't tell the viewers that the story being teased happened outside the U.S.  Which is the same thing as tricking them into thinking it happened inside the U.S.  Which, by any standard, is lying.  But Lester doesn't care.  If bamboozling the viewers will keep them from changing the channel and give him bigger ratings, he's all for it.  Yes, Lester Holt is a professional.  He's a serious news reporter.  He's a real journalist.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Brush With Celebrity–The Day I Met "Grandpa" Al Lewis

In 1988, I was working at a Boston-area department store (FYI–it was more like a Target than a Nordstrom).  One day our store manager informed us that we would be hosting an in-store signing by Al Lewis, who had been appearing on TV shows since the early 1950's but was best known for having played Grandpa on The Munsters in the mid-1960's (and in subsequent sequels and remakes).

Lewis had lent his name to a series of videos called Grampa's Silly Scaries, Grampa's Monster Movies and Grampa's Sci-Fi Hits which were collections of cartoons and live-action sci-fi and monster movie clips from the 1930's to the 1960's that featured introductions and commentary from Lewis.  (I assume that the videos' producers called him "Grampa" rather than "Grandpa" to avoid tempting a lawsuit from the producers of The Munsters.)  Lewis's agreement with Amvest Video, the company that produced the videos, apparently required him to promote the videos with personal appearances in malls and stores like the one I worked in.  We didn't get many "celebrities" (even D-listers like Al Lewis) in my store, and since I had enjoyed The Munsters as a kid I thought it would be kind of cool to get his autograph.  I wasn't interested in buying any of the videos, but his promotional people provided photocopied pictures that Lewis was willing to sign. 

On the day of Lewis's appearance I waited for the crowd to thin out (not that there was much of a crowd to begin with) and got on line to get an autograph.  When I was about third or fourth in line, I noticed that there was a kid who seemed to be about 9 or 10 years old at the front of the line.  When one of the promotional people motioned for the kid to step forward to get Lewis's autograph, he bounded up to the signing table and, in the hope of getting a personalized signature, eagerly proclaimed, "Hi Grandpa!  My name is Billy!"  Without looking up, Lewis responded, "What the hell do I care what your goddam name is," and quickly scrawled his autograph on Billy's paper before turning his attention to the next item that was presented for him to sign.  Devastated, poor Billy slunk away from the table, his chin aquiver.  Needless to say, when it was my turn to get Lewis's autograph, I didn't dare say a word until I had the signed paper in my hand, after which I only muttered a sotto voce, "Thanks, Grandpa."

To this day, whenever I stumble upon a rerun of The Munsters, I can't help thinking back to the time when poor little Billy was traumatized by "Grandpa" Al Lewis.

(Above: One of my most prized possessions–my autographed picture of Al Lewis.)

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why I Didn't Like Fleetwood Mac In The Summer Of '77

   In the summer of 1977, I went on a teen tour across Europe, a follow-up to my successful 1976 teen tour of the U.S.  For those not familiar with teen tours in the '70's, it was a group of several dozen teenagers guided across Europe (or some other continent) by a woefully inadequate number of adult chaperones (three, in our case), while the tour operators huddled in their New York offices and prayed that no one died.  My memory of all the specific cities we visited is a bit hazy, although I recall being in London, Paris, Rome, Munich, Vienna, Bern, Amsterdam and Madrid.  (I would consult my photos for verification except that I don't have any.  During a reunion with some of my tour-mates the following year, I asked a friend of mine to hold my photos in her bag during dinner and I forgot to get them back before we said goodbye.  I haven't seen her since.)
   While we did a good part of our traveling by plane that summer, we also spent a lot of time on a chartered bus driven by a German guy named Hans (although most of the girls on the tour called him "Hands" because he was always trying to grope their titten und arschen).  Our bus was equipped with a cassette deck and a decent sound system, but because we weren't told about this amenity in advance, we only had 4 tapes among the 3 dozen-or-so teens on the tour.  These were the pre-Walkman days when people didn't routinely travel with cassettes because a high-tech portable cassette player looked like this:

   Our music choices that summer were limited to the Beatles' 1962-1966 and 1967-1970 (affectionately known as the "Red" and "Blue" albums) and Fleetwood Mac's 1975 eponymous album and its follow-up, Rumours.  (I can't recall whose tapes they were, but I'm guessing that one person brought the Beatles tapes and another person brought the Fleetwood Mac tapes, because if four people had randomly brought those four tapes it would have been a really weird coincidence.  Or maybe one person brought all four tapes.  It was 39 years ago.  I really don't remember.)  On the bus there were two distinct camps: Those (including myself) who always wanted to hear the Beatles, and those who always wanted to hear Fleetwood Mac.  (There was a smaller contingent of 4 or 5 girls from Florida who were obsessed with Bad Company, but unfortunately for them we didn't have any Bad Company tapes.)  As soon as we took our seats for the start of a bus trip, the shouts would begin: "Beatles Red!" "Beatles Blue!" "Fleetwood Mac Rumours!" "Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac!"  (No one ever shouted out "Fleetwood Mac eponymous!")  Over the course of the summer, I would guess that we probably heard each album about the same number of times, but at the time, it seemed like Fleetwood Mac was always playing and that the Beatles were hardly ever playing.
   Prior to the summer of '77, I sort of liked Fleetwood Mac.  I wasn't a huge fan, but I certainly didn't dislike them, like some of my friends who dismissed them as "that California easy-listening faux-rock shit."  It would, of course, have been impossible to listen to pop/rock radio in the mid-to-late '70's without hearing a healthy dose of their songs (at the time, my radio station of choice was New York's WPLJ-FM) and I was certainly not immune to the catchy charms of "Monday Morning," "Second Hand News," "Over My Head," "Don't Stop" or any of Stevie Nicks's shawl-encrusted songs about lost love, witches or past lives.  I have a vague recollection of seeing them do a filmed concert performance (later called a "music video") of "Rhiannon" on "The Midnight Special" in 1976.  That may have been the first time I saw Fleetwood Mac perform, as opposed to just hearing the radio versions of their songs.  I don't exactly remember what I thought of that 1976 performance at the time, but now it's nothing short of amazing.  I only wish that the editor had included more shots of Stevie dancing during the instrumental break, because the close-up of Christine's hands playing piano isn't particularly stimulating.  (I'd also like to go back in time 40+ years and tell Stevie that "Love can be unkind" would be a good rhyme for "Dreams unwind," but I think the song turned out pretty good without my help.)

   During that teen tour summer, however, I grew to resent the Fleetwood Mac supporters and, by extension, the band itself.  I saw my pro-Mac tour-mates as obstacles whose main goal was to rock-block me from hearing those 54 exquisite Beatles songs over and over and over.  And then over again.  (Ironically, though, one of the rituals among my friends and I that summer was to form a circle with our arms around each other and sway back and forth while shout-singing "The Chain."  At the time, I thought that we could have just as easily picked "A Day in the Life" or "Let It Be" as our group song, but in retrospect there was something about the droning melody and lyrical simplicity of "The Chain" that readily lent itself to teen rituals like dancing around in a circle or slaughtering farm animals.)
   While I didn't exactly hate the band or their songs, I opposed them in the way one might root against a college sports rival.  You always want your team to win, and that summer, my team only had a .500 record.  I carried my Fleetwood Macrimony through my college years and into the mid-'80's, but sometime around 1987–the year Lindsey left the band–my distaste for them faded and I once again found myself able to appreciate and enjoy their songs (the two events were completely unrelated–I'm certain that Lindsey didn't leave Fleetwood Mac because the band was back in my good graces).
   In fact, when Fleetwood Mac reunited for the The Dance in 1997, I became mildly obsessed with them.  I used to study that concert video like the Zapruder film, looking to discern subtle meaning from the body language and looks exchanged between Lindsey and Stevie, especially on "Landslide."  (I also found Mick fascinating, with his glaring eyes and intense facial expressions, but Christine and John not so much.  They seemed remote and disinterested–not only in each other, but in the songs, as well.)  A woman who lived in my building at the time was similarly obsessed with The Dance, and we used to watch the video together in her living room while mimicking Lindsey and Stevie's mannerisms and stage moves  (I usually got to be Lindsey).  At the end of "Landslide," we would even exchange the "Thank you Lindsey"/"Thank you Stevie" closing salutations–just like the real Lindsey and Stevie!  (Watching that video today makes me nostalgic not just for that time in my life, but for that time–and earlier times–in Lindsey and Stevie's lives.)  My friend and I thought our Lindsey/Stevie moves were pretty slick, but in hindsight, we were probably like a couple of out-of-shape exercisers who thought they were doing a good job keeping up with "The 20 Minute Workout." 
(Although I must admit that I still think I did a pretty good job of swinging my imaginary guitar neck from one side of the mic stand to the other, like Lindsey did [at 5:04] during "Silver Springs."  I owned that move.)
   Decades removed from my anti-Mac bias of the late '70's and '80's, I have now come to realize that Lindsey (with his strummy-picky-plucky playing style) is one of the great guitarists of his era and "Go Your Own Way" is one of the great songs of the 1970's, although for 25 years I was mis-hearing the song's lyrics.  Whereas Lindsey was singing "Loving you/Isn't the right thing to do" and "You can go your own way/Go your own way," I had thought he was singing "Loving you/Is the right thing to do" and "You can go your own way/Don't go away" which would have made it one of those passive-aggressive "go/don't go" songs, instead of the straightforward end-of-a-relationship song that it is.  I'm grateful for the lyrics sites on the internet that finally allowed me to learn the actual words to that song and others.  (For example, it was nice to find out what Mick was singing on "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Gimme Shelter."  And for years I thought that the "Honky Tonk Women" line "I laid a divorcee in New York City" was "I later did four straight in New York City.")  But keep in mind that not all lyrics sites get the lyrics–or titles–right:

The version of "Go Your Own Way" from The Dance is my favorite live version of the song, not only because of Lindsey's exuberant guitar playing and enthusiastic stage-roaming, but also because of Mick's incredible drumming (with a percussive assist from Lindsey at the end).

   I don't own any Fleetwood Mac studio albums, I've never seen them in concert, and the radio station I currently listen to rarely plays them, but  it seems that they're destined to enter my life–for better or worse–every 20 years.  So now I'm curious what they have planned for 2017.  Maybe a Rumours fortieth anniversary tour.  If that happens, perhaps I'll get in touch with some of my old tour-mates and arrange a reunion with them at one of those concerts.  And maybe then I'll finally get my photos back.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Some Thoughts On Brian Williams' Successor At NBC Nightly News

Now that Brian Williams has been exposed as a self-aggrandizing liar and has become the laughingstock of the internet (and has decided to take a leave of absence as detailed in this memo: http://press.nbcnews.com/2015/02/07/a-personal-note-from-brian-williams/), the NBC powers-that-be are, of course, huddled in their caves desperately reading the tea leaves and trying to figure out a way to salvage the shining jewel of their news empire.  At for-profit network news organizations, ratings are just as important as they are in the entertainment divisions because they determine ad rates and affect lead-ins to prime-time programming.  And even though Brian's crown is now badly tarnished, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Nightly News's ratings have gone up in the days since Brian's lie was exposed.  People love seeing a pompous news-ebrity knocked off his haughty pedestal by a phantom RPG and I'm sure that many viewers have recently tuned in to Nightly News in the hope that they can catch Brian telling another lie, or perhaps get the chance to see him fall on his sword on live TV.  Nightly News is now the season's hottest reality show.  But the long-term effect of Brian's plunge from grace will ultimately be measured in dollars.  If Nightly News cedes its top spot in the all-important Nielsen ratings, NBC News President Deborah Turness and Chairperson Pat Fili-Krushel won't hesitate to David Gregory Brian's ass (assuming he returns from his leave of absence).  Even if Nightly News maintains its slim ratings lead over David Muir's ABC World News, the question remains as to whether Nightly News can continue with a damaged anchor who is trending on Twitter for all the wrong reasons.  If Turness and Fili-Krushel do decide to make a change, I can think of a few worthy candidates--and some less-worthy ones, as well.  (Like many people, I would love to see Tom Brokaw back in the Nightly News anchor chair, but considering his age and recent health problems, that seems unlikely.)

Brian Williams reporting on "Stolen Valor" on the 2/22/12 NBC Nightly News...

...and in a later photo.

Lester Holt: Holt has over 30 years' experience as a reporter and anchor, including 14 years as a local news anchor in Chicago.  For the past seven years, he has anchored the Nightly News weekend edition and ably filled in back in 2013 when Brian needed shoulder surgery from constantly patting himself on the back.  Despite my occasional criticism of Holt, he is a skilled and smooth anchor who I believe has earned the right to move into the weekday anchor chair should that spot open up.  He has a good sense of humor, although, unlike Brian Williams, he is not desperate to appear funny and does not report gratuitous news stories for the sole purpose of leading up to a punch line.  Holt is concise where Brian is verbose, and understated where Brian is grandiose.  His affability seems genuine, rather than part of a calculated persona to be donned every night before airtime.  Ironically, Holt is an accomplished pilot and musician, two things that Brian desperately dreams of being.  Holt's main drawback is that he may not be thought of as a strong enough personality (meaning ratings-grabber) to be the public face of NBC News.

Ted Koppel: As a well-respected and veteran news anchor, Koppel would instantly return prestige and credibility to the NBC Nightly News anchor chair (which I would argue has been missing for a lot longer than three days).  Koppel has recently worked as a special correspondent for Nightly News and "Rock Center" (also known as "Brian's Folly"), so he has an association with NBC News.  Despite some accusations that as Nightline anchor he was a mouthpiece for the U.S. government, there's no doubt that Koppel would bring some much-needed gravitas to Nightly News.  However, even if Koppel was interested in the job, it seems unlikely that he could stomach the constant litany of idiotic stories that he would be required to read about dogs, celebrities, viral YouTube videos and Allison Williams' latest NBC role.  The main drawback to hiring Koppel is that at age 74, he is less likely to attract and maintain the all-important 25-to-54-year-old ratings demo that is so important to news broadcasts.

Charles Gibson: In my opinion, Gibson was the best network news anchor in the post-Rather/Jennings/Brokaw era.  He was the last of the hardy journalist-anchors who once dominated evening newscasts.  When Gibson signed off for the last time as ABC World News anchor in late 2009 after a 3½-year stint, it occurred to me that I knew nothing about him.  I didn't know if he preferred dogs or cats or ferrets.  I didn't know what his favorite football team was, or if he even liked football.  I didn't know anything about his family.  I didn't know if he drank beer, wine or scotch.  I didn't know anything about his favorite charities.  Because I shouldn't.  There's no need for viewers to have that information.  Of course, Brian Williams shares that information (and more) on a nightly basis.  He constantly self-references in a desperate effort to make himself seem appealing to viewers by presenting a faux working-class, blue-collar, regular-guy image.  A guy you'd love to have a (domestic) beer with.  "If you're a Giants fan like me...," "For those of us who love dogs...," "As a hockey fan...," "For those of us who drive...," "The huge ATM fees banks get from all of us..." and "All of us who pay taxes..." are among the expressions Brian uses to insinuate himself into news stories and come off as an average Joe.  You would never catch Charles Gibson using a cheap trick like that.  But like Koppel, Gibson's age (71) would not make him a good draw for the coveted younger viewers.

Gwen Ifill: Ifill spent five years with NBC News in the 1990's, but she has been with PBS since 1999.  As an African American woman, Ifill would certainly bring a much-needed perspective to the anchor chair, but a PBS anchor moving to a network presents problems for both parties.  Network executives may conclude that a PBS anchor would be perceived as too elitist and liberal for their viewers, while a PBS anchor may not want to read the type of pointless drivel that passes for news on the networks.

Here are a few longshot candidates:

Donald Trump: With no experience as a news anchor, Trump may seem like an unlikely choice.  But what could be more natural than replacing the biggest ego at NBC with the second-biggest ego?  It would be an easy transition for Nightly News viewers, who are already accustomed to having their news delivered by a self-promoting narcissist.  It should also be noted that Trump's "Celebrity Apprentice" regularly had better prime-time ratings than Brian's "Rock Center".

Ann Curry:  Curry was unceremoniously dumped as a "Today Show" anchor in 2012 and recently left NBC to form her own production company.  But America loves a comeback.  Or at least, in this case, might be willing to tolerate one.  Curry's main drawback is that she isn't a very good news anchor.  She talks too fast, slurs her words, mispronounces names and combines words to form new words (she once transformed "Obama Administration" into "Obaministration").  But this may not be an insurmountable problem since network news anchors rarely say anything of importance, anyway.  And Curry has perfected the look of fake concern that is so vitally important to news anchors who pretend to care about the people they exploit.

Jon Stewart:  Since Stewart was recently offered the moderator's job on "Meet the Press", it's no secret that NBC covets Stewart's talent.  And Stewart (for the next two years, anyway) is actually part of the much-desired 25-to-54-year-old Nielsen demographic.  A 2009 Time magazine poll listed Stewart as the nation's most trusted newsperson--ahead of even Brian Williams, who had not yet been widely exposed as a liar.  Tapping Stewart to anchor Nightly News could create an interesting situation--Brian could then lobby for the open anchor spot at "The Daily Show" since he believes that he is the funniest person in America.

Michael Douglas:  Douglas is already familiar to Nightly News viewers as the voice that introduces Brian most nights, so he would be a natural choice to replace Brian.  As an added bonus, Douglas could report news stories in the voices of the characters he has played on television and in the movies.  He could report financial news as Gordon Gekko, crime and law enforcement news as Inspector Steve Keller, adventure stories as Jack Colton, music news as Liberace and political news as President Andrew Shepherd.  And if he's feeling ironic, he could hire Brian to introduce him each night.

The million-dollar question (Brian's monthly salary) is: Can Brian Williams hang on?  At this point, no one can say.  Brian's strategy in dealing with public relations problems (such as the self-enriching agendas of NBC News's military consultants or the doctoring of George Zimmerman's 911 tapes) has always been to ignore them and wait until they blow over.  But that may not be possible as long as #BrianWilliamsMisremembers continues to trend on twitter.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Brian Williams Is A Serial Panderer On NBC Nightly News

On 12/1/14, Brian Williams ended NBC Nightly News with a very important news story.  It was a story about Farmersonly.com--a dating site for farmers.  Here's how Brian introduced the story:

"Finally tonight--how many Americans this Thanksgiving paused right before digging into stuffing to think about where the wheat came from to make the bread to make the stuffing?  Well, the answer is: A farm in America where someone cares about that crop.  Someone turns in at night before dark and gets up the next morning before sunrise to care for that crop--and that's during a good year.  Farming life isn't for everyone and cultivating a meaningful relationship can be tough.  That is where a new website comes in as we hear tonight from bona fide Midwesterner Harry Smith."

Anyone who's watched Nightly News more than a handful of times knows that Brian is a serial panderer.  A fawning, obsequious toady who will ingratiate himself with any demographic that can boost his Nielsen ratings.  On this night, farmers got the nod.  Some of his other favorite targets for pandering include sports fans (especially fans of so-called blue-collar sports like football, hockey and NASCAR), car owners (most often American cars like Chevys, Chryslers and especially the Ford F-150 pickup) and Rust Belt or Midwestern cities (the "good people" or "hardy souls" of Detroit, Buffalo, Chicago and Minnesota are frequently singled out for praise).  Brian loves to pander, but, of course, being Brian, he does so in a narcissistic, self-referential way.  He'll extol your sports team, car or city while craftily painting himself as a clock-punchin', jeans-wearin', beer-drinkin' good ol' boy--albeit one whose annual salary has been estimated at $13 million per year.  He loves to burnish his faux-working-class image by using phrases like, "For those of us who love football...," "For all of us who've ever loved a Mustang" and "Those of who enjoy riding up high [in a Chevy Suburban]."  Yes, Brian is just like you--the middle-American, sports-loving, working-class viewer he's pandering to.  In fact, you and Brian have something else in common--you both love watching Brian every night on the TV news.

Here's what Brian said on the 7/9/13 Nightly News after a map on the previous day's broadcast omitted New Hampshire:

"And this calls for a reminder of great things about New Hampshire: It's got the best motto--'Live Free Or Die'--and it is the home of the first-in-the-nation primary.  Its entire elected delegation is women--Governor, two U.S. Senators and members of Congress.  And while they are all serious people, New Hampshire has also given us Seth Meyers and Sarah Silverman.  And the inventor of Tupperware is from there and paper towels were invented in New Hampshire.  So to the great people of the great state of New Hampshire--from the peaks of the White Mountains to the shores of Lake Winnipesaukee--please accept our apology."  It should be noted that Brian pronounced "Lake Winnipesaukee" with a fake New England accent, because his superior ego just can't resist the urge to mock the people he's pandering to.

Brian probably doesn't have many Canadian viewers, but that didn't prevent him from saying this on the 7/1/14 Nightly News:

"If you've been unable to reach a Canadian friend today, that's because it's Canada Day, celebrated throughout the land by our neighbors to the north in a number of ways--including beverage consumption.  In the hands down best video of the day, which we have put on our website tonight, two brothers from Canada--one of them a national hero--celebrate their nation in song.  Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and his brother Dave composed and recorded a song called 'In Canada'--as you might have gathered.  And it will make you happy because it's as sweet as maple syrup and they embrace their own wholesomeness and corniness and their own unabashed love of country."

And here's how Brian began Nightly News on 11/19/14:

"Good evening.  The people of Buffalo, New York don't scare easily.  President McKinley was assassinated there in 1901 and they moved on.  They have loved their Buffalo Bills from the good years through the bad years and now that they're good again.  They have given the world not only Tim Russert, but also Wolf Blitzer.  And while Buffalo is a tough town, they may have finally met their match.  A relentless snow storm has dropped nearly six feet of snow coming right in off the lake with upwards of two more feet on the way.  Daily life has simply come to a halt for many across a big area and the storm has already cost several lives.  It is officially a state of emergency tonight across a whole region."

Now, if Brian Williams hasn't heaped a proverbial ton of praise on the place where you live, don't feel bad.  It doesn't mean that you're not hardy, tough or nice.  It doesn't mean that you scare easily.  It doesn't mean that you don't live in a great (or iconic) American city or that you and your neighbors aren't good people.  It doesn't mean that you don't love football or Chevys.  It just means that Brian hasn't yet gotten around to pandering to your particular town, city or state.  But he will.  Sooner or later.  Remember Brian's motto:  So many places to pander to, so little time.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Brian Williams Reports Breaking News on NBC Nightly News

Here are two breaking news stories that Brian Williams reported on the Nov. 5, 2014 edition of NBC Nightly News:

Story #1:  "The first newly-restored victim of that awful sinkhole in the Corvette museum is all fixed up and now on public display.  It's an '09 ZR1--a rocket ship they call the Blue Devil.  It was the least damaged of all the cars and required six weeks of work to replace the damaged parts."

(I should point out that it is insensitive and inappropriate, to say the least, for Brian Williams to refer to a Corvette as a "rocket ship" a mere five days after a Virgin Galactic test pilot died in the crash of an actual rocket ship.)

Story #2:  "A giant has been sacrificed in Pennsylvania so that it may entertain millions here in New York.  A couple in Bloomsburg, PA [sic] donated the 85-foot Norway Spruce and after a three-hour drive, they'll set it up in our backyard here at 30 Rock and they will light it up on December 3."

It should be noted that on this night, Brian Williams did not report any news from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, China, Ukraine, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone, Liberia or Guinea.  In fact, he did not report any news at all from South America, Europe, Eastern (or Southeastern) Asia or Africa.  He did, however, introduce a brief 84-second story about violent clashes in Israel.  This is notable because it is the first foreign news story that had been reported on NBC Nightly News in eight days.  Meanwhile, here are some of the other important news stories that Brian and Lester Holt reported in that time:

➜Crash test dummies are being made larger to represent the increasing girth of the American public. (24 secs)
➜LeBron James played his first game of the season in his second stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers. (14 secs)
➜A Washington University study revealed that scratching an itch can cause a person to want to scratch it even more. (18 secs)
➜John Spinello, who created the board game "Operation", is himself in need of an operation.  Some of his friends who are toy executives and inventors have contributed money to help him pay for the surgery. (2:16)
➜As part of their annual Halloween show, the hosts of The Today Show dressed up as Saturday Night Live characters. (38 secs)
➜Millions of Americans are buying Halloween costumes for their dogs, including correspondent Janet Shamlian, who dressed her yellow lab Bella as a bumblebee. (1:50)
➜Babe Ruth's first Yankee contract is going up for auction. (27 secs)
➜NBC sponsor Walmart is implementing major price rollbacks for the holiday season. (1:52)
➜In Alexandria, VA, there is an exercise gym for dogs. (2:10)
➜We saw a preview of Nik Wallenda's tightrope walk between two Chicago buildings.  (NBC News's Peacock Productions is producing the Wallenda special for The Discovery Channel.) (3:10)
➜This was followed, a day later, by a recap of Wallenda's tightrope walk. (16 secs)
➜Tom Cruise did a daring stunt (clinging to the exterior of a flying plane) for "Mission Impossible 5". (24 secs)
➜Two NASCAR drivers got into a brawl following a race at Texas Motor Speedway. (29 secs)
➜A girl with terminal brain cancer played in a college basketball game and scored several baskets. (2:13)
➜A baby hippo was born in the L.A. Zoo. (31 secs)
➜A Minnesota car dealership gave a job to a 17-year-old mentally challenged young man who loves cars. (2:12)

Altogether, these stories took up 19:24 of news time, which is the length of an entire NBC Nightly News broadcast (when commercials and promotional material are filtered out).  So Nightly News may have gone eight days without reporting any foreign news stories, but at least we got to see dogs working out in a gym and Kathie Lee & Hoda dressed as Wayne & Garth.