Darlene Love Means It’s Christmas

I realized I was acting like those people who’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show a few dozens times and now talk back to the on-screen dialog.

darlene-love-christmas.jpgIt is said Jews have written the best Christmas songs. This is what we talk about while going to the movies and having Chinese food on Christmas Day. There’s White Christmas and The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire) and Christmas (Baby Please Come Home). The latter has the distinction of also being the finest Christmas song from a convicted murderer–Phil Spector.

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home) was performed tonight on the Letterman show by Darlene Love. She’s been doing it on his last show before Christmas as long as I remember and I look forward to it every year. I’m not alone.

For late night TV this is a big budget production. Along with Paul Shaffer and the band there was a nine voice chorus, six string players plus a few brass pieces and other instruments I surely missed.

Darlene’s still got it. She belts the song. She hits the notes while staying mainly on key. She wears a skirt short enough to shame women a third her age and gets away with it.

Darlene is always on last. That makes her appearance late enough that I’d never watched it with company until tonight. I had to drop off something at my friend Rick’s house and we watched from his basement.

What a scam! The man works from a studio in his basement. Sorry–jealousy getting the best of me.

Rick is an announcer. You have heard him a million times. He sounds like God.

I always wanted to be an announcer, but wasn’t born with the equipment. I told him tonight he is my Mickey Mantle.

Darlene finally came. I waited a year for this. I was excited. Rick, not so much.

As the song began I told him what was coming next. I realized I was acting like those people who’ve seen Rocky Horror Picture Show a few dozens times and now talk back to the on-screen dialog.

It made no difference. Darlene was magical. The song is hers alone.

I left Rick’s a few minutes after Darlene’s exit. I watched her again a few times on the DVR at home.

This is obsessive behavior right? It’s the way I know it’s really Christmas.

Helping With Hosting

His is not the first hosting plan I’ve seen a friend have that wouldn’t pass a comparative shopping check.

I spent some time at my friend Rick’s house. I’m going to help him rebuild some websites. I guess it’s not as easy as I thought.

As I see it the problem is most people only know what they don’t want because they have no way to quantify what they do want. All the concepts that developers think of are transparent and so missing from the thought process of the end user.

See–and you thought I didn’t learn anything today.

As it turns out Rick’s current web presence is with a company that’s…. ummm… stingy? He has 1.5 Gb of space. He’s using 1.6 Gb! For 25% the cost I found a place that will give him nearly one hundred times the storage.

That’s not unusual. His is not the first hosting plan I’ve seen a friend have that wouldn’t pass a comparative shopping check.

Most small business websites use such a small percentage of their purchased hosting plan, it’s nearly criminal.

Partying At Bar

When you’re in a situation like this you often just grab a slice that looks good without knowing exactly what it is. That’s how I tried my first mashed potato pizza.

PIC-0023_1.jpgHelaine and I went to a birthday party for our friends Sue and Dennis. They are both ‘sort of’ fifty, so it was a twofer. Actually, it was a ‘threefer’ because another friend, Rick, turned sixty today.

We’ll allow fifty, but Helaine and I have decided we’re much too young to have a friend who’s sixty. Rick–you need to fix this right now.

PIC-0022_1.jpgThe party was at Bar a New Haven restaurant/bar best known for its pizza… and very long lines to get in. In fact I have gone a few times, but never gotten to eat! The wait has always been too long.

The party was held in the back room. I’m pretty sure it was once a stable. It’s been converted perfectly into a party space with small bandstand, nice sized bar, a few private alcoves and lofted deejay booth.

PIC-0021_1.jpgWe had appetizers, drinks and pizza. When you’re in a situation like this you often just grab a slice that looks good without knowing exactly what it is. That’s how I tried my first mashed potato pizza. Pretty good, but I’ll reserve final judgment until I try again.

The music, food and company were all good. Helaine and I weren’t the people getting older and we didn’t have to wait in line! What’s not to like?

Blogger’s note: “Clicky” was left home. This is from the cellphone camera–proof positive that shouldn’t be your first choice for photos.

It’s Poker Night

I’m heading to my friend Rick’s house right after work. We’re playing poker. I’ve got a card table in the back of Helaine’s SUV… just in case there’s too big a crowd for Rick’s table alone!

Though Rick doesn’t work at the TV station most of the players do work here. Midnight is the shank of our day.

I like playing live with friends. It’s how I learned (expensively) to play. We’ll be much more limited tonight, playing low limit tournaments so no one can get hurt.

I’m curious how awake everyone will be when 2 or 3 AM rolls around.

Don LaFontaine–The Deepest Throated Guy Is Dead

Aside from being the preeminent voice in the movie trailer industry…Don has also been the voice of Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, CBS, NBC ABC, Fox and UPN, in addition to TNT, TBS and the Cartoon Network.

Just got this from my friend Rick:

Voiceover Master Don LaFontaine died Monday afternoon 9/1/08 at 2:10 at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles at the age of 68. Don’s agent, Vanessa Gilbert, tells Entertainment Tonight that he passed away following complications from Pneumothorax, the presence of air or gas in the pleural cavity, the result of a collapsed lung. The official cause of death has not yet been released.

Over the past 25 years, LaFontaine cemented his position as the “King of Voice-overs.” Aside from being the preeminent voice in the movie trailer industry…Don has also been the voice of Entertainment Tonight and The Insider, CBS, NBC ABC, Fox and UPN, in addition to TNT, TBS and the Cartoon Network. By conservative estimates, he has voiced hundreds of thousands of television and radio spots, including commercials for Chevrolet, Pontiac, Ford, Budweiser, McDonalds, Coke, and many other corporate sponsors. He recently parodied himself on a series of national television commercials for Geico. At last count, he has worked on nearly 5000 films, including appearances as the in-show announcer for the Screen Actors Guild and Academy Awards. Based on contracts signed, he has the distinction of being perhaps the single busiest actor in the history of SAG.

Don was an active supporter of AFTRA & SAG, giving of his time, opening his home, lending his experience & stature to the AFTRA Promo Announcers Caucus, as well as generously giving his advice & help to his fellow voice-over artists, in addition to the many causes & friends he helped over the years.

Don is survived by his wife Singer/Actress Nita Whitaker, and three children, Christine, Skye and Elyse.

Don was the deep throated guy on the GEICO commercials and the voice of nearly everything.

An earlier email from Don himself was ominous, because the condition that killed him was probably brought on by a medical error.

This required an exploratory surgery called a Media Stenoscopy, which was performed At Cedars Sinai Hospital in late November of ’07. The biopsy ultimately proved negative for any tumor, but there was a spot on the lung that still needed to be checked. Unfortunately, sometime during the operation, one of my lungs was nicked, and I developed Pneumothorax, which basically means that the lung collapsed, releasing all the air into my upper body, causing a condition called Subcutaneous Emphysema –

Which blew me up like a balloon from the ribs up to my eyebrows

The Perfect Sunday

“It will do 140,” I said, hopefully being honest with a figure I dimly remember. “Faster than I want to go.” Much faster than I’ve ever gone.

Not a lot of you are reading this today (Sunday). I understand why. We’re on our eighth or ninth consecutive day of exceptional weather. This can’t last, nor would we want it to. For now… wow!

I went and visited my friend Rick this afternoon. On my way back, as I got settled in the car he asked, “How many horsepower?”

My car is 9 years old, but it still looks good.

“It will do 140,” I said, hopefully being honest with a figure I dimly remember&#185. “Faster than I want to go.” Much faster than I’ve ever gone.

I pushed the switch in the center console forward. Inside, a red bulb lit and the switch began to glow. Servos started whirring in the door panels and trunk.

The windows rolled down, got to their stop position and whirred a little more just to make sure they were set. Then, a metal cover behind the seats flipped up and the roof began to fold itself and slide into the trunk.

Within seconds, it was done. My car had become a convertible with no outward sign a roof has ever been there.

It’s only a few miles from Rick’s house to here. Today, I wish it was farther. The weather was perfect.

I was prepared to turn on the heater (and the heat in the seats), but instead actually kept the windows down and let the breeze blow through the car.

On a day like today, this time of the year, there’s no place nicer than Connecticut. I wish it could be this way all the time. I’ll take what I can get.

&#185 – It is actually 143 mph.

Poker Night In Hamden

I had ‘the guys’ over for poker last night. When I was a bachelor, having the guys over was no big deal. Now, Helaine goes into entertainment mode. For her, it becomes a lot closer to work.

The game was set to begin at 7:00 PM, but Rick, Dennis and Kevin came by at 6:00. Kevin was going to bake pizzas!

I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone come to your house to bake, but it was very cool. The oven was heated to 500&#176 and a flat pizza stone was thrown in. For the next 45 minutes we waited while the stone soaked in the warmth.

The pizzas themselves were amazing. The crusts were thin and very light. This wasn’t like pizzeria pizza at all.

Whatever Kevin was doing, Helaine had been doing for days. We had a large table’s full of buffet type food, including Helaine’s layered Mexican dip (Stef claims this dip was her main reason for being home this weekend), shrimp and stuffed bread.

Later on came the desserts, featuring amazing butter cookies, chocolate chip squares, little chocolate covered cheesecake cups and almond poppy seed cake – all homemade.

My diet was out the window!

Did I mention we played cards?

The players had varying skill levels. Rick has played in the World Series of Poker. Others had only played one or two times. Because of that, we structured the night as two very low buy-in tournaments. No matter what the outcome, no one could get financially hurt.

I was concerned, because we had 12 scheduled to come. That’s more than a full table, but less that two. Rick said not to worry because someone always cancels at the last minute – and so they did!

It was a great night, though I did terribly.

In the first tournament I was out in the middle of the pack. Card starved is the term.

In the second, I went out on one of the first hands. I flopped “Broadway,” – a straight the the Ace. That’s is a nearly unbeatable flop. Matt, unfortunately, hit a full house on the turn, Queens over Jacks. Nearly is a big word when placed next to unbeatable.

He’s never getting invited back.

Outer Island

Once a year Outer Island, the southernmost of the Thimble Islands, is open to the public. The Thimbles are a chain of small islands and rocks sprinkled just south of Stony Creek in Branford, CT. Outer Island itself is part of the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge.

The morning started gray and very foggy, but this was a rain or shine event! I popped a Bonine for seasickness and headed out with my friend Rick, his wife and daughter and two of their friends.

You get to Outer Island via water taxi. The boat leaves from Branford’s Town Dock and stops at other islands along the way, dropping off and picking up residents and visitors.

Outer Island is about 5 acres of rock laid down as the last ice age retreated. It was originally a private island, owned by a couple. In fact, the main house and a smaller building are still there. It’s now owned by the Fish and Wildlife Service of the Department of the Interior.

I’m sure most people will disagree, but in many ways, I wish it was still private. There is an experience to be had living on that island that will never be felt again.

Please understand, I’m not diminishing the research and scientific work being done there now. And I certainly wouldn’t be able to afford this island life I’m talking about. But someone should have the opportunity to drink in the solitude and beauty that can be found in so few places.

We toured the island, led by two professors from local universities. The island’s location and rocky terrain gives it some unusual characteristics – especially in the tidal pools carved into the rock. And then there are the rock crabs, a recently introduced species that’s muscled out some of the shoreline’s former residents.

Outer Island is the kind of place you don’t get to see too often… though you should if you get the chance.

Oh… one more thing. The Bonine has kept me loopy all day! I drove to dinner with Helaine and Stef, but it quickly became obvious I wasn’t ready to drive. Most of the side effects the package says can happen, have happened. Hopefully, I’ll sober up on Sunday.


A Dose Of Humility

Tonight was the night for “Off the Wall,” the photographic charity event for the Arts Council. I’d seen the setup Thursday when there was a photographers preview.

Immediately, I felt outclassed by photographers with greater skills than mine. Maybe it’s just a case of familiarity breeding contempt, but my pictures looked like snapshots versus the real artwork hung at the 70 Audubon Street Gallery.

OK, not everything the others did was Ansel Adams worthy either. There were strange photos and inappropriate photos. There were photos that would keep you from falling asleep at night.

One artist submitted three photos of naked people, lying on their backs. The shots were taken with a wide angle lens, giving the bodies an otherwordly shape. Visualize – naked people on their backs. It wasn’t pretty&#175.

A few of the photographers shot dolls, but in a very surrealistic way. Really creepy!

Considering most of the photos were taken on color digital cameras, there was a large number of black and white or sepia photos. It seemed overdone. I’m saying that even though one of mine was B&W!

The “Off the Wall” concept has 165 tickets distributed and 165 photos from 55 shooters on the wall. The tickets are drawn at random. When yours is called, you take a photo off the wall.

Please Lord, not 165th. Actually, with three photos on exhibit, I was praying not to be 163, 164 and 165!

Over 120 sweaty bodies squeezed into the gallery. On this warm August evening, whatever air conditioning power the room possessed had long since given up its fight. It was stuffy and still.

Up front, the emcee began to call numbers. As the ticket holders called out whichever photo they wanted, I started ticking off the corresponding boxes on a gridded piece of paper.

Through the first dozen or so, no one called any of my choices to take off the wall… and I’d selected a dozen. More importantly, no one took any of the photos I’d shot!

Number 45, my ticket number, was called in the second dozen. The rules give you 20 seconds to choose. I was ready.

Stef had asked about a beautiful zebra photo, taken (as we later found out) in Kenya. It was still available and so we snatched photo 48B taken by Charles Kingsley.

Nice shot Charles. Congratulations. It will be on the wall of a dorm room with a full semester’s worth of clothes on the floor (or so I assume).

More and more tickets were called, but my photos continued to sit on the wall. Each photographer started with three photos hanging. Some already had all three picked.

On a short wall, where it once sat with the works of four other photographers, my contribution was starting to get lonely. The wall was getting bare the way a man goes bald – gradually.

Eighty four photos were gone before any of mine got chosen. It went to someone named Bitsie who said it was her first choice. My second shot went to the very next ticket holder as pick 86.

My moody, black and white, Atlantic City Boardwalk photo – the one my friends Dennis and Rick thought would go right away, was still on the wall as Helaine and I walked out. We told each other we wanted to watch the Phillies game on ESPN, but we really didn’t want to see that photo sit, uncalled.

As we walked to the car, I began to tell Helaine what I’d do differently to go sooner next year, but she’d have none of it. “Don’t change you style,” was what she said. Whether I follow her advice or not, she’s obviously right.

Am I disappointed I went so late in the process? You bet. but, this is my first time in any kind of exhibition. I was glad to just be there.

OK – I would have been happier going in the first dozen. Who am I kidding?

&#175 – My friend Josh sent an email to say: BTW: the distorted photos of naked people were created with a large pinhole camera and printed with platinum process — very unusual. I agree way too much easy digital, and predictable imagery, which might be why I appreciated the pinhole nudes more than you.

Don’t Get My Hopes Up

One of the reasons I hadn’t bought a satellite radio yet had to do with the conflict between Major League Baseball on XM and NFL on Sirius (and, of course, my friend Rick on Sirius).

With the proposal of a merger, that seemed to no longer be a concern. After all, as Mel Karmazin said in Congressional testimony prices would not be raised and that listeners would benefit enormously by getting the best programming from both companies.

Wow – win, win!

This morning, in a count-your-fingers moment, the deal didn’t look as sweet. Here’s what the NY Times had to say, quoting FCC Chairman Kevin Martin:

But in separate conversations with two people after Mr. Karmazin

Poker Night With The Boys

With Helaine gone, and me alone, it was the perfect night to have some friends over to play poker. They were scheduled to arrive at 7:00pm. I had six here by 6:45pm.

First, it’s nice to entertain. When I lived in Philadelphia as a bachelor, I did everything humanly possible to keep friends from my place. I’m a little more prepared now. Helaine may be away, but her influence is here.

This was an eclectic group of ten. There were Jeff, Matt and Erik from work, Tim and Steve who went to high school with Erik, Woody, Rick, Dennis and Ashley who drove in from Boston.

Ashley actually writes about poker for a few magazines. In a good and just world, he won’t write about my bad play… or bad hosting. If there are points to be made from what he experienced, he’ll make them gently.

There was beer and soda and snacks and lots of good conversation. At its essence, poker at home is really about conversation. Card playing is secondary.

Atlantic City Observations

I was going to continue my trip report on Atlantic City, but too much time has passed and I don’t have notes. There are some observations I still want to make.

Atlantic City is not Las Vegas. With the exception of Borgata&#185, where we stayed, all the hotels looked shabby and worn. Most were decorated in a style that implied glitz thirty years ago, but no longer does.

Donald Trump’s name is held high over a number of the hotels. I doubt he’d want us to judge him by these facilities.

Most of the hotels in AC, if they stood in Las Vegas, would be scheduled for demolition!

We had a few really excellent meals. I’ve already written about Wolfgang Puck’s place (excellent pizza, half filled bowl of chowder), but we also grazed at the Borgata buffet for breakfast, Old Homstead (excellent steakhouse) and The Metropolitan, Borgata’s equivalent of a Vegas coffee shop.

At the Old Homestead, I ordered the house special – the first time I’ve ever ordered a steak I couldn’t finish!

Beautiful restaurants were very pricey. There’s no way around that.

If you’ve read the blog any length of time, you probably know I don’t drink anything alcoholic (except Bailey’s, which is spiked chocolate milk. I’ll have a Bailey’s once or twice a year). My traveling companions, Rick and Dennis, were ordering “Gray Goose Martini, dirty” at every opportunity.

Finally, I asked to take a sip – the curiosity was killing me. It was very tasty, pleasantly briny and surprisingly without the alcohol burn I expected.

I’m already up to my eyeballs in vices. We’ll keep your resume on file.

Rick and Dennis had the hotel reservation before I came on board and the room only had two beds… so Rick brought a blow-up mattress. Perfect. In fact, on the second day, the maid actually made that bed along with the two others.

You see all sorts of characters when you’re playing poker. Character is the correct characterization. Many try and take on a distinct persona by their dress and manner. Poker is, after all, a game of psyching out one’s opponent.

I sat next to a guy at one table who wore very shiny gold jewelery. It was overly shiny, if that’s possible. Imagine the kind of ‘star filters’ they put on the cameras at QVC and HSN to make everything glitter, but in real life.

On his left wrist he wore a gold Rolex, diamond encrusted. The second hand swept around the face smoothly. Fake! Real Rolex’s tick each second individually. I understood more of him than he could ever know.

In poker, it’s called a tell.

There are lots of young people in their twenties playing cards. I’m not sure that’s a good thing. When you’re in your twenties, how much discretionary income do you have? They’re not all winning.

There’s no doubt poker’s popularity is still on the rise. Borgata has a huge room. Other casinos have enlarged their poker areas too.

We came with a list (compiled by Dennis) of potential poker tournaments to play. There’s no shortage of those either.

As always seems the case, the weather was awful. It was either raining, or threatening to rain. I can’t remember the last time I saw Atlantic City framed against a blue sky. Maybe next time.

&#185 – I had referred to this hotel as The Borgata, but their own signage says, “Welcome to Borgata.” They should know.

Like A Lost Day

All day long I’ve told myself today’s the day to Remember the Maine (trip). It’s not going to happen tonight.

I am suffering from a malaise which has been named ‘car lag’ by my friend Rick.

During the trip to Maine, I tried to shift my schedule to my friend Bob’s. That was especially important since I had the car and he had a few appointments. He could have gone by himself, but that would have slowed down the day, benefiting neither of us.

Getting up wasn’t the problem. The real weakness in my life is being able to force myself to bed. So, day-by-day, I got more fatigued… until today, I feel like I’ve just gotten off a horrendous bender&#185.

I took a three hour nap this afternoon, but I’m still really dragging and might finish the night out in bed, TV on, computer on… but still in bed where decisions are seldom required.

As is always the case, I have underestimated the time necessary to get my pictures ready for the Internet. There are around 1,000 of them, though far fewer will make their way online.

I’ll include one sample, so you can see I was actually there. Click the link, as the thumbnail just doesn’t do it justice.

&#185 – Nice imagery, but totally a guess. Strange as it seems in this day and age, I’ve never been drunk.

Rick At The World Series

Dinner break and my friend Rick is still playing at the World Series of Poker. That’s great, though probably not as great as it sounds. It’s like judging a meal at the moment the water’s brought to the table.

Tonight’s play will go past 3:00AM PDT! Even then, it only winnows the tournament down to a field of about 3,200. The top-800 or so will win something, though the purses rise in such a manner that everyone at the final table will become a poker millionaire.

I sent Rick a few text messages, hoping to get him fired up. “This phone doesn’t do that, Dawg,” he said.

Damn – another techno challenged friend.

We were both surprised at how many ‘named’ players we knew. There really are A-Rods and Curt Schillings in the poker world. Rick hasn’t played with any yet, but he will if he moves along.

Right now his table is made up of the same nine he started with. No one’s busted, though fortunes have gone up and down.

Rick’s in the downs.