Entries from December 2003 ↓

Thanks for the Memories

Some of my favorite celebrities left us this year and I just wanted to take a moment to remember them.

Bob Hope – Perhaps the last real show business legend.

Buddy Ebsen – In the 1960s there was no funnier show than The Beverly Hillbillies.

Barry White.jpgBarry White – A soul singer the likes of which we may never see again.

Robert Stack – TVs Eliot Ness on The Untouchables. He and I shared a birth date.

Nina Simone – A great singer who didnt compromise her principles.

Lynne Thigpen – A gifted yet underrated performer on stage and screen.

Nell Carter – Tremendous energy in a tiny package.

Richard Crenna – Another unsung character actor who spanned radio, film and television.

Gene Anthony Ray – Gone too soon.

Art Carney – The real reason why we laughed at The Honeymooners.

Fred Berry – TVs Rerun he was a reflection of ourselves for many Black teenagers.

Althea Gibson – A civil rights pioneer through her tennis victories at Wimbledon.

Larry Doby – Baseballs second Black player, and one of the games best.

Dave DeBusshere – Member of the NY Knicks NBA Champion teams of 1970 and 73.

Donald OConnor – In a stable full of great MGM dancers, he was the perfect second banana.

George Plimpton – Brilliant writer who invented participatory journalism.

John Ritter – Television icon from the 70s right up to today.

Bobby Bonds – A baseball star in his own right, also Barrys dad.

Fred Rogers.jpgFred Rogers – Mr. Rogers Neighborhood helped raise a generation.

Herb Brooks – Coach of the victorious 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team.

Gregory Hines – Show business triple threat since childhood, he kept tap dancing alive.

2003: A Look Back

On the whole 2003 wasn’t a bad year for me.

Despite some troublesome job-related news in December, I was gainfully employed, able to address and even eliminate some long-term debts and save more for a retirement. I can say I enjoy a good reputation at work among both co-workers and clients and while I’m not always challenged by it, feel I have been able to grow the position through innovation and creativity.

I am particularly pleased about my health this year. A doctor’s exam back in April caused me to address a weight problem. For a guy who is under 6 feet, (I won’t say how far under), I was up to 200 lbs and that was eye-opening. I joined a gym in May and to my own surprise have actually enjoyed the experience. I’ve lost weight, gained strength and flexibility and feel great.

Speaking of things athletic, the hands down sports highlight of the year was watching my alma mater, Syracuse University, win the 2003 Men’s NCAA Basketball Championship. All those years of watching some other school win finally came to an end. MY ALMA MATER is the National Champion! And I have all the hats, t-shirts and other merchandise to prove it.

I went back to school this year, for a work-related continuing education class. I did things I never did in all the years from K-12 and four years of college: I paid attention, did my homework on time, read the assigned chapters and worked for a high grade. And it paid off in an A. Geez, if I’d done this earlier in life, I might have made something of myself.

I got out and saw a lot of live stage entertainment this year and that fact alone was a pleasant accomplishment. I plan to continue the trend and in fact have tickets to a play January 2. Some of the more memorable shows I saw were Booty Candy, an Off-Off Broadway production by playwright/director Robert O’Hara that was cutting edge funny; Take Me Out, the Tony Award-winning play about a gay baseball player that with its nude shower scenes, was happily enjoyed from sixth row center; The Play What I Wrote, a British import that while not critically acclaimed, was just plain silly and fun. I saw it the week Bush sent troops into Iraq and it was the perfect stress reliever. Fucking A at The Public Theater, was easily the best show I saw this year. Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks created an intelligent and provocative fable that starred S. Epatha Merkerson and Mos Def. Finally, the Garth Fagan Dance company performed 11 shows in November and were simply a delight to watch. I was so impressed I sent them a check.

I did some voiceover work earlier in the year, but that was the only job. After 16 years, my acting career now seems to be officially over, and I’m ok with that. To do it the way I would like would require me to go back to full-time status, and that is too financially uncertain at this point in my life. I do however keep my union cards current, so if anyone ever asks and I can fit it in, I’m ready.

In 2003 I took to the streets to protest that stupid fucking unnecessary war Bush got us into. It was gratifying to see so many of my fellow New Yorkers publicly objecting to this nonsense that has created more of a terrorist threat than alleviated it. As the city most affected by 9/11 we were not fooled by his motives. I suspect many of us will take to the streets in 2004 when the GOP holds their convention here. I know I’ll be there.

I didn’t travel as much as I would have liked this year. My late summer vacation was spent here in the city. Part of me just doesn’t like all the airline security hassles, another part just had no place I wanted to go.

Back in my hometown this year marked the passing of some neighbors. One of my childhood friends lost his father, and our next door neighbor passesd just a few weeks ago. That news is met with some sadness, as they were both part of that whole village it takes to raise a child. A further reminder of how time flies.

Oh, did I mention I started a blog?

In a few days I’ll share my 2004 To Do list. Happy New Year!

Football’s Second Season

The National Football League regular season ended this past weekend in exciting fashion as playoff berths and even division titles were decided in the last game. The first round of playoff matchups are set for this weekend and for the 20 teams that didn’t make the post season, coaching changes are already underway.

In the AFC, the Cinderella Cincinnati Bengals had a playoff spot within their grasp. They had to first beat their cross-state rivals the Cleveland Browns to win the AFC North and earn their first trip to the post season in 13 years. They still needed help from the Pittsburgh Steelers in defeating the Baltimore Ravens. None of that happened however, so first year coach Marvin Lewis’ team had to settle for an 8-8 finish and a trip home, all in all a vast improvement over their two wins the previous season.

Jamal Lewis.jpgWith the division title wrapped up even before their game against the Steelers Sunday night, the Ravens set out to get running back Jamal Lewis the NFL single season rushing title. Held by former Rams running back Eric Dickerson 19 years ago, Lewis fell 39 yards short thanks to a determined Steeler defense, to finish with 2,066 yards for the season and second place in the record books.

The NFC picture saw two teams with nothing to play for but pride affecting the playoff chances of their competitors. The perennial bottom feeding Arizona Cardinals staged a miraculous last second drive to score a game winning touchdown and beat Minnesota 18-17, knocking them out of the playoffs and putting the Green Bay Packers in.

Detroit went out like Lions, beating the St. Louis Rams 30-20 and squashing the Rams chances of gaining the homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. That distinction now goes to Philadelphia, who easily dispatched Washington 31-7.

Head coaches are falling faster than snowflakes. Arizona, Chicago and Buffalo have fired their’s as predicted. To some surprise, Redskin coach Steve Spurrier has walked away from $15 million to get out of his contract a year early. The successful college coach was just not working out in the NFL, so Washington will now look for their sixth coach since 1999 when Daniel Snyder bought the team. If they could only fire owners, that team might have a chance. The New York Jets asked defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell to leave and take his assistants with him.

Here are the NFL division winners and wild card teams by conference, followed by the matchups for this weekend’s games. My predictions are in bold.

American Football Conference

East
*yz-New England14-2-0

North
y-Baltimore10-6-0

South
y-Indianapolis12-4-0
x-Tennessee 12-4-0

West
yz-Kansas City 13-3-0
x-Denver 10-6-0

National Football Conference

East
*yz-Philadelphia 12-4-0
x-Dallas 10-6-0

North
y-Green Bay 10-6-0

South
y-Carolina 11-5-0

West
yz-St. Louis 12-4-0
x-Seattle 10-6-0

x-clinched playoff berth
y-clinched division title
z-clinched first-round bye
*-clinched homefield advantage

NFL Wild Card matchups

Saturday, 4:30 pm ET on ABC
(AFC) Tennessee Titans (12-4) vs Baltimore Ravens (10-6)

Saturday, 8:00 pm ET on ABC
(NFC) Dallas Cowboys (10-6) vs Carolina Panthers (11-5)

Sunday, 1:00 pm ET on FOX
(NFC) Seattle Seahawks (10-6) vs Green Bay Packers (10-6)

Sunday, 4:30 pm ET on CBS
(AFC) Denver Broncos (10-6) vs Indianapolis Colts (12-4)

Super Bowl XXXVIII will be on Sunday, February 1, 2004 in Houston, TX.

Champagne 101

Champagne was first created by a 17th century monk by the name of Dom Perignon. Upon tasting it for the first time, he reportedly exclaimed, “Oh, come quickly, I am drinking stars!” To keep his invention from exploding (he was only mildly successful in this endeavor), Perignon used wine bottles that were thicker than the norm, and tied the corks down with string.

* This heady beverage is actually a sparkling blend of red and white wines. True champagne comes only from the Champagne region of northeast France, where the usual grape combination is Chardonnay with either pinot noir or pinot blanc. Champagne-lookalikes from Italy are called spumante, while German versions are called Sekt, and those from such places as the U.S. are simply called sparkling wines.

* These bubbly concoctions range in color from the palest gold to a rich apricot blush.

* Champagnes range in flavor from yeasty to toasty, and from dry to sweet. The label will tell you the level of sweetness.

* Brut: extremely dry (less than 1.5% sugar) Extra sec or extra dry: dry (1.2-2.0% sugar) Sec: slightly sweet (1.7-3.5% sugar) Demi-sec: sweet (3.3-5.0% sugar); dessert wine Doux: very sweet (over 5.0% sugar); dessert wine

* The best champagnes not only come from premium grapes, but they’re also made by a complex traditional method called methode champenoise, in which the wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle.

* This New Year’s favorite should never be stored more than a couple of hours in the refrigerator, as excess chill will dull both the flavor and the bouquet. (This goes for other white wines as well.) Instead, store it in a cool, dry place.

* Champagne (and other sparkling wines) should be served chilled, so refrigerate it two hours before serving. If necessary, you can speed-chill it in about 20 minutes by completely submerging the bottle in a bucket filled with a 50/50 split of ice and water.

* How to open: 1. Remove the foil. 2. Untwist the wire cage around the cork. 3. Hold the bottle at a 45-degree angle, pointed away from any other people in the room. 4. Keeping your fingers over the cork, gently rotate the bottle (but not the cork) with your other hand. 5. When you feel the cork begin to loosen and move up, ease it gently from the bottle with your thumb. When properly done, you’ll hear a soft “poof,” not a loud “pop.” Champagne should always be served in slender flutes, which allow far fewer bubbles to escape than wide-mouth glasses do. Make sure the flutes are free of soap film and dust, both of which can destroy the bubbles.

* The best way to maintain the effervescence of leftover champagne is to use an inexpensive metal champagne stopper (available in wine stores and gourmet specialty shops). In lieu of that, drop a stainless-steel needle or pin into the bottle, then fasten a balloon over the top with a rubber band. The first method will keep the beverage bubbly for about two days.

* Did you know: Has your champagne lost its sparkle? Revive it by dropping a raisin into the bottle.

* One 3.5 ounce glass of the bubbly will cost you about 70 calories. You’ll also be imbibing 1.0 gram of protein and 5.0 milligrams of sodium — but no fiber, fat, or cholesterol.

How to choose, store, open — and cook with — the bubbly stuff
By Su Reid

Lucky in Love

Las Vegas, Nevada, the other city that never sleeps, was built on hopes and dreams. A gambling mecca set in the middle of nowhere, it draws millions of tourists to the steamy desert with hopes of striking it rich on one roll of the dice, a winning hand at 21, or a spin of the roulette wheel.

More often than not however it is the place of lost dreams. No shortage of those same tourists leave with a lighter wallet than when they arrived. Fortunes are lost, marriages destroyed, gambling addictions worsened. The odds are always in favor of the house and yet they still come.

The grim reality of Las Vegas is the backdrop for a new romantic comedy-drama The Cooler, in which the main characters all seem to have come to terms with the bad hand they’ve been dealt, yet also appear resistant to efforts to change their luck.

Baldwin and Macy.jpgVeteran character actor William H. Macy plays Bernie Lootz, an habitual loser at life itself so down on his luck he has been employed by a casino to share his bad karma with any winning patrons. He’s a “cooler” who by his mere presence can turn a hot hand ice cold.

He got the job because he owes money to Shelly (Alec Baldwin) the mobbed-up manager of an aging casino that is barely profitable. While the glitzy corporate-owned casino-hotels on the strip are all catering to families and tourists less interested in gambling, the Golden Shangri La is a dinosaur and everyone but Shelly seems to know it.

When Bernie is just days away from paying off his debt and blowing town, Natalie (Maria Bello), a cocktail waitress and fellow survivor, comes into his life and turns it inside out. Unlucky in love and gambling, to his complete surprise Bernie has someone who actually finds him charming. (Go figure a movie about a loser named Bernie!) Suddenly his life has meaning and purpose. His cat comes back, his plants start growing again and his suits fit a little better.

But Bernie’s good luck is bad luck for Shelly, because the cooler no longer has a chilling effect on the gamblers. And because Shelly is now getting pressure to make major changes from a new college-educated VP (Ron Livingston), Shelly passes his discomfort downward by attempting to break up the relationship.

This is the kind of quirky little picture in which Macy really shines. Previous turns as the lovable loser in Fargo and Boogie Nights no doubt helped shape writer-director Wayne Kramer’s casting decision. His hang dog baggy faced expression just always makes him believable in these types of roles.

The acting throughout this picture is exemplary and often rises above the material they have to work with. Baldwin’s casino boss is a character we have seen before but his portrayal is framed by the changing market pressures he’s confronted with. Paul Sorvino has a small, yet poignant role as an aging lounge singer and NSync’s Joey Fatone is amusing as his up-and-coming replacement.

The sense that everyone in this town is trapped in one way or another seems to permeate the movie. They all came wanting to make it then somehow got stuck there just scraping by. It is a bittersweet story with a conclusion that is two parts improbable and one part formulaic, but in the end fitting.