Friday, August 29, 2008

Assassination Is A Young Man's Game

I recently stumbled across the fact that most Presidential assassins and would-be assassins were under the age of 35 at the time they committed their crimes. Today we take a look at a few of them.


Abraham Lincoln
John Wilkes Booth was 26 when he assassinated Lincoln in Ford's Theatre during a performance of Our American Cousin. Totally tasteless Lincoln joke: "Other than that, how'd you like the play Mrs. Lincoln?"

James Garfield
Charles Guiteau was 39 when he assassinated Garfield (I said most were under 35 - not all). James Garfield Fun Fact: he was the only sitting member of the House of Representatives to be elected President. He also served the second shortest term of any President (six months and fifteen days).

William McKinkley
Leon Frank Czolgosz was 28 when he assassinated McKinley at the 1901 Pan-American Exhibition in Buffalo, NY. One more reason to root for the Giants. Teddy Roosevelt was McKinley's VP and succeeded him to the Oval Office (remember this - you'll need it later).

John F. Kennedy
Lee Harvey Oswald was 24 when he assassinated JFK (or didn't assassinate JFK, depending on your belief in conspiracy theories). I'm not sure how old the gunman on the grassy knoll was.

Would-Be Assassins

Theodore Roosevelt
John F. Schrank, a 36 year old saloon keeper, shot and hit Teddy in 1912. The former president, who'd left office in 1909, was seeking a third term as the candidate for the Bull Moose Party. He was campaigning in Milwaukee, WI, when Schrank, who claimed that the ghost of William McKinley came to him in a dream and told him to avenge his death, shot him in the chest. The bullet lodged in his chest but first passed through the steel eyeglass case and folded up speech TR had in the pocket of his jacket. Since he wasn't coughing up blood, Teddy decided he wasn't seriously injured and went on to deliver his 90 minute speech before seeking medical attention. Doctors decided it would be too dangerous to remove the bullet, which had lodged in his chest muscle, and TR carried it in him for the rest of his life. Bully!

Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Giuseppe Zangara was 33 years old when he attempted to assassinate FDR as the President-elect was delivering a speech in Miami Florida in 1933. He managed to fire six shots, hitting six different people before he was wrestled to the ground. FDR was not hit. As the wikipedia entry describes the incident; "being only five feet tall, Zangara was unable to see over other people and had to stand on a wobbly, folding, metal chair, peering over the hat of Lilian Cross, a doctor's wife, to get a clear aim at his target." Sounds like security was a might lax.

Harry S Truman
A 1950 assassination attempt by two Puerto Rican nationalists, Griselio Torresola (25) and Oscar Collazo (36) was foiled in a dramatic shoot-out with White House policemen and Secret Service Agents. Torresola was killed during the battle. Collazo survived and was sentenced to death, but Give Em' Hell Harry commuted his sentence to life in prison. Harry Truman Fun Fact: "S" was his full middle name; his parents chose it in an attempt to please his grandfathers Anderson Shippe Truman and Solomon Young.

Gerald Ford
Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme, a follower of Charles Manson, was 26 when she made an attempt on Ford's life. A Secret Service agent managed to insert the webbing of his thumb beneath the hammer of her Colt 45, preventing it from firing. Later analysis revealed that the gun was loaded incorrectly and would not have fired anyway (insert your own joke about women drivers and women assassins). Ford was the subject of another failed assassination attempt seventeen days later. And you think you're having a bad month!

Ronald Reagan
John Hinckley Jr. was 25 when he fired at Ronnie in a bizarre attempt to impress actress Jodie Foster. Reagan suffered a punctured lung but recovered. Two quotes from Ronnie on that day have entered into political lore. When First Lady Nancy arrived at the ER he greeted her with "Honey, I forgot to duck." As he was about to undergo surgery he said to his doctors "Please tell me you're all Republicans". In a bizarre coincidence, Hinckley's older brother Scott, and Neil Bush, the son of then-Vice President George Bush, had a dinner engagement scheduled for the next day. I imagine the conversation would have been rather awkward.

So what does this show? It's obvious; the younger you are the harder time you have dealing with anger management issues.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Infinite Monkeys

There is a famous mathematical concept known as the Infinite Monkey Theorem which states that an infinite number of monkeys sitting in front of an infinite number of typewriters and hitting keys at random for an infinite number of years will almost surely type a given text (the one most often cited is the Complete Works of Shakespeare). This blog has nothing to do with that per se, but I will come back to it (trust me). Being the Political Junkie that I am, and since the Presidential Campaign Season is in full swing, I thought I'd write some politically oriented entries. I always try to insert a dollop of Pop Cultury Goodness into every blog, and these will be no different.

I am an independent by disposition and have voted for the Republican candidate for president as often as I have the Democrat (3 each). This might be because I'm a pragmatist by nature and lack the ability to see things in black and white. It irks me when someone blames "conservatives" or "liberals" for things they don't like; I'm not a fan of labels. I honestly believe we are (or should be) Americans first. I cast my very first ballot for Ronnie Reagan (those of us who were around back then referred to him as Ronnie) and was in fact a card carrying member of the Republican Party in the 80's (literally - I recently came across my old RNC Membership Card). I currently hold no political party affiliation but have leaned towards the Democrats in recent elections (which doesn't make me left-leaning).

Let's talk about George W. Bush (aka "Bush 43" aka "W" aka "George II" aka "Dubbaya"). I voted for his Dad in 1988 (but not in 1992). I did not vote for Jr. in either 2000 or 2004. My feelings for W can be summed up thusly: if an infinite number of monkeys sat in an infinite number of Oval Offices and flung an infinite amount of monkey poo at the Constitution of the United States, they could not desecrate that noble document as much as one George W. Bush has done in the mere seven and one half years he has been in office through the metaphysical ass-wiping he has given it (see, I told you I'd get back to the Monkeys). In other words (for those of you who couldn't follow the byzantine structure of the previous sentence), the Bush Administration has used the Constitution of the United States, the foundation of our democracy and system of laws and government, as toilet paper.

I could go on for days about how much I dislike what George W. Bush and friends have done to this country, but I won't waste the key strokes. This doesn't mean I hate all Republicans - it means I dislike those associated with the Bush Administration's policies. I don't fully believe the Democrats who say John McCain will be an extension of Bush. For one thing, McCain is a much better man than W will ever be (better = honest and honorable among other things). He was in fact, a victim of Karl Rove's smear campaign during the 2000 Primaries when he ran against Bush for the Republican nomination for President. This doesn't mean I'm going to vote for McCain; I disagree with his position on a number of issues (but if he does get elected at least he'll bring back a sense of integrity that has been lacking in the White House since the Supreme Court anointed W president back in 2000). I also don't believe the Republicans who say Barack Obama is an elitist who hates America and spends his days hanging out with terrorists. It's all just the usual campaign rhetoric and should be taken with a grain of salt.

Now on to a lighter note - here's a cheery little campaign ad for JFK from 1960. Do you think anyone actually voted for him based on this commercial? Maybe not, but it sure is catchy.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

It Was Thirteen Years Ago Today...

13 years ago today She Who Must Be Obeyed and I were married in a lovely outdoor ceremony on a bluff overlooking the Hudson River. 13 years and one day ago today I was preparing for the big event. Said preparation involved drinking large amounts of alcohol and bidding farewell to my bachelorhood. At one point I recall drunkenly performing "Get Me To The Church On Time" for no one in particular. In honor of the occasion, I present the wonderful British entertainer Stanley Holloway performing his version (which is probably better than mine was) from 1964's My Fair Lady:

I wore a morning coat and striped trousers (or should it be mourning coat? - just kidding; that was the requisite "married guy bashing marriage" joke) very similar to the one Stanley sports in the video. I didn't wear a top hat since the last American male who looked good in a top hat (other than Mandrake the Magician) was Fred Astaire. Speaking of Fred, here he is performing "Top Hat, White Tie and Tails" from 1935's Top Hat (I know it's off the subject, but I couldn't resist - blame it on ADD):

Getting back to the wedding, our song was "All I Ask Of You", the beautiful duet from Broadway's Phantom Of The Opera (on our second date, one cold, wet February afternoon, we attended a performance at the Majestic Theatre on W. 44th Street). Here are Michael Crawford (Broadway's original Phantom) and Dale Kristien performing the song in 1998:

In closing, a special message to My Sweetie, courtesy of Fred, Barney and the gang:

Thursday, August 21, 2008


Smoking, drinking and womanizing; all in a day's work for the men of the Sterling-Cooper Ad Agency

Don Drapper has what every man longs for: he's handsome, smart and successful with a beautiful wife, two adorable children and nice home in the suburbs (not to mention an attractive mistress). Men look up to him and woman adore him. Rival agencies woo him with gifts and his bosses ply him with bonuses to make sure he's happy. He's living the American Dream circa 1960. Coolly confident, he knows his place in the world; when a member of the beat movement, pointing out the evils of advertising, confronts him with the question "How do you sleep at night?" Don responds "On a bed made of money".

Mad Men, now in it's second season on AMC is a stylish period drama set in the world of Madison Avenue Advertising in the early 1960's. It is clever and smart and highly addictive. It was the critics' darling in it's initial 13 episode run last year and the second season, which began in July, maintains the same high standards.

Here is a clip of the first three minutes of the pilot episode. Take a look and then we'll talk about it...

The style and tone of the show is set from the very beginning and it is clear that this is a different time. Viewed through a cloud of cigarette smoke, the sounds of happy hour revelry in the background, Don Drapper (portrayed by movie star-handsome Jon Hamm) sits alone, scribbling ideas on a napkin. In his first scene we see Don as a man apart; alone in a crowd. He has secrets and he plays them very close to his grey flannel vest; secrets he doesn't share with his wife, mistress or closest friends. Secrets which are slowly revealed throughout Mad Men's first season.

The world of Mad Men is a world where children play "spaceman" with plastic bags and frolic unfettered in moving cars; where racism and sexism are blantant; where the majority of women are secretaries or teachers or housewives and the neighborhood divorcee is the object of pity and gossip. It's a world where a well stocked bar is maintained in every office and a three martini lunch is de rigueur; alcohol is the fuel that energizes the world of Mad Men.

And it's a world where people smoke - on trains, in the office, in theaters and in bars and restaurants. Doctors smoke while examining patients and women smoke while pregnant. It's a world both fascinatingly different and uncomfortably familiar and it's one you'll want to visit again and again.

Sunday, August 17, 2008


Actually, I'm going camping with the family for a few days; braving the wilds of Pennsylvania. Either way, unless I can steal the wireless internet of a friendly bear, I'll be incommunicado until the end of the week.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The King

Elvis Presley died on this date in 1977. He was 42. Volumes have been written about the lifestyle that lead to his unnecessary and untimely death; enough to fill libraries. Today a celebration of his music.

From 1956 - 21 year old Elvis performing Heartbreak Hotel:

Next, performing a medley of his hits in a clip from his 1968 Comeback Special:

The final clip is his performance of Burning Love from his Aloha From Hawaii Special in 1973:

Thursday, August 14, 2008

"...and You're Mary Tyler Moore"

Yesterday's blog reminded me of Weezer's 1994 hit Buddy Holly. The video for the song, directed by Spike Jonze, features the band performing at Arnold's Drive-In, the popular hangout from Happy Days. It seamlessly incorporates clips of the Happy Days gang dancing and watching the band play. Everyone is there including the Fonz, Ralph, Potsie, Richie, Joanie, Howard, Marion and even Arnold. Al Molinaro who played Al (as well as Murray the Cop on the Odd Couple) actually makes a cameo appearance introducing the band before the start of the song.

Before we get to the video, some random facts shamelessly lifted from the Wikipedia entry:

The single was released on what would have been Buddy Holly's 58th birthday.

The song reached No. 2 on Billboard's Modern Rock Tracks Chart and No. 12 on the UK Singles Chart.

The original lyrics were Oo-wee-oo you look just like Ginger Rogers/Oh, oh, I move just like Fred Astaire,

In 1994, Rolling Stone ranked "Buddy Holly" #497 on its list of The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time.

The video won four awards at the 1995 MTV Video Music Awards, including Breakthrough Video and Best Alternative Video

The video was so popular that it was included on the Microsoft Windows 95 CD-ROM when the operating system was first released.

And now the video - unfortunately in this clip, Al Molinaro's cameo which surrounded the actual song is missing:

To further enhance your Weezer experience, I present the lyrics. Play the video again and sing along this time...

What's with these homies dissin' my girl?
Why do they gotta front?
What did we ever do to these guys
That made them so violent?

Woo-hoo, but you know I'm yours.
Woo-hoo, and I know you're mine.
Woo-hoo, and that's for all of time.

Oo-wee-oo, I look just like Buddy Holly.
Oh-Oh, and you're Mary Tyler Moore.
I don't care what they say about us anyway.
I don't care 'bout that.

Don't you ever fear, I'm always near. I know that you need help.
Your tongue is twisted, your eyes are slit.
You need a guardian.

Woo-hoo, and you know I'm yours.
Woo-hoo, and I know you're mine.
Woo-hoo, and that's for all of time.

Oo-wee-oo, I look just like Buddy Holly.
Oh-Oh, and you're Mary Tyler Moore.
I don't care what they say about us anyway.
I don't care 'bout that.I don't care 'bout that.

Bang! Bang! Knock on the door, another big bang, get down on the floor.
Oh No! What do we do?
Don't look now but I lost my shoe.
I can't run and I can't kick.
What's a matter babe, are you feelin' sick?
What's a matter, what's a matter, what's a matter you?
What's a matter babe, are you feelin' blue?

And that's for all of time
And that's for all of time

Oo-wee-oo, I look just like Buddy Holly.
Oh-Oh, and you're Mary Tyler Moore.
I don't care what they say about us anyway.
I don't care 'bout that.I don't care 'bout that.
I don't care 'bout that.I don't care 'bout that.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Sometimes I Scare Myself

Insomnia has it's benefits (I'm too tired to name any, but I'm sure they exist), but sometimes my sleep-deprived brain comes up with some pretty bizarre ideas. For example:

If I Were a Famous Musician, I'd Stick With A Tour Bus

February 3, 2009 marks the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson, Ritchie Valens and Buddy Holly (see photo at left). There have been celebrity air fatalities going all the way back to Icarus but it seems that musicians have especially bad luck when it comes to air travel. Off the top of my head I can name Glenn Miller, Patsy Cline, Otis Redding, Jim Croce, most of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Rick Nelson, Kyu Sakamoto (Japanese singer famous for his 1963 hit Sukiyaki), John Denver, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Aaliyah

This is an impressive list spanning a wide range of musical genres but "The Day The Music Died" as Don McLean so poetically put it, is the Trifecta of plane related musician deaths, claiming the lives of not one, but three famous performers. The crash has been immortalized in song (American Pie, Three Stars), film (The Buddy Holly Story and LaBamba) and on the stage (Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story appeared on both Broadway and the West End). The Big Bopper will get his due in the forthcoming film "The Day The Music Died" which according to the website ( is based on "the second hand memories" of his son and tells his "untold story". The movie is scheduled to open on February 3, 2009, but the website doesn't appear to have been updated in a while.

Whenever I fly, an evil miniature version of myself appears on my shoulder and starts whispering "LaBamba" in my ear. He usually shuts up after a few seconds which is just long enough to remind me of my own mortality. I suppose it could be worse - he could sing Holly's "That'll Be The Day."

I'll close with a clip of Buddy Holly performing Peggy Sue (tragically there is not a lot of footage of Buddy performing live - this performance is from his late 50's appearance on the The Arthur Murray Party variety show)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

RIP Isaac Hayes

Whether you know him as the singer/songwriter of the Theme from Shaft, or as the voice behind Chef on South Park, or for his many accomplishments as an arranger, record producer, composer or actor, Isaac Hayes deserves a place in the Pop Culture Hall of Fame. He died on August 10 at the age of 65. I won't spend time here detailing his life; a simple Internet search will give you an idea of the breathe and depth of his accomplishments. Today, I'd like to let the man's work speak for itself.

First, from 1969, his soulful arrangement of the Burt Bacharach classic, Walk On By:

Next, from 1995, performing Papa Was A Rolling Stone with Soul II Soul :

Finally, a live version of the Theme from Shaft performed at Brooklyn's Prospect Park on June 12 of this year:

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Musical Misogyny Hall of Fame

Wives and Lovers

Today we look at one of my all time favorite candidates for anthem of the Male Chauvinist Movement (you didn't know there was on did you?). Wives and Lovers was written by the ultimate 60's pop music writing team of Burt Bacharach and Hal David. Originally the theme to a 1963 movie of the same name, the song developed a life of it's own while the movie sank into cinema oblivion.

I could describe what the song is about, but wouldn't you rather hear it for yourself? I thought so. Click on the link below to hear Jack Jones sing his 1964 Grammy Award winning version. You may remember Jack as the voice behind the theme song to The Love Boat (Love, exciting and new...) Unfortunately, you won't get to see Jack sing the song - its basically a recording accompanied by some groovy graphics.

Here are the lyrics with some thoughts from yours truly...

Hey, little girl,
Comb your hair, fix your make-up.
Soon he will open the door.

The opening line sets the tone of the song; referring to a married woman as "little girl" is only slightly patronizing, isn't it?

Don't think because
There's a ring on your finger,
You needn't try any more

That's right - just because you've nabbed a hubby, don't lounge around the house eating bon bons all day. Here's a true story - my wife lost her wedding ring a few years into our marriage. I bought her a replacement for Christmas but I haven't noticed that one lately. Hmmm, I think she may have stopped trying...

For wives should always be lovers, too.
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.
I'm warning you.

What exactly is he warning her about? Well that's answered in the next verse (don't believe me? See for yourself...)

Day after day,
There are girls at the office,
And men will always be men.
Don't send him off
With your hair still in curlers.
You may not see him again.

I worked in Manhattan for over a decade and knew many office girls. Only one actually admitted to having had an affair with a married man (Hi Amy!)

I'm not sure how valid an excuse "Men will always be men" is. Maybe I'll try it on my wife sometime. "Well you see honey, I had an affair with Amy the office girl, but it's really not my fault - you know - men will always be men". On second thought, maybe I won't try it.

By the way - do women still use curlers?

For wives should always be lovers, too.
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you.
He's almost here.

When I get home from work the only thing that runs to me is my golden retriever Casey. He doesn't so much as run to my arms as jump up and knock me over

Hey, little girl
Better wear something pretty,
something you'd wear to go to the city.
And dim all the lights,
Pour the wine, start the music.
Time to get ready for love.

Here's another line I'd like to try on my wife: I'll call her on my cell phone and say "I'm almost home honey 'time to get ready for love!'" Ah if it were only that simple; after 13 years of marriage and with a 10 year old son, getting ready for love involves planning on the scale of the Allied Invasion of Normandy.

Whether this song is truly misogynistic or just a relic of a bygone era, it is a catchy little tune that's been recorded by a number of performers over the years including Dionne Warwick, Julie London and Ella Fitzgerald. The song is less patronizing when sung by a woman, but just as anachronistic in it's theme. Nevertheless, I admit that it has a home in my iPod. I swear its there because I like the tune and not because it represents some deep seated longing on my part (really!)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

When I Grow Up Part 1

I recently had a conversation with a college student working in my office for the summer. I asked her what her major was and she sheepishly answered that she didn't know. I jokingly replied "that's OK, I still don't know what I want to be when I grow up." The truth is, I do know what I want to be when I grow up but the job of being F. Scott Fitzgerald has already been filled. Writing the Great American Novel notwithstanding, I admit to a certain envy of those people who know what course they want their lives to take and are able to steer a straight line to it.

I have a friend named Matt (I'm lying, that's not his real name) who is a biologist (a herpetologist to be exact - herpetology, as I'm sure you know, is the study of reptiles and amphibians). He's a professor at a major college here in the Northeast, has traveled around the world, written extensively and even appeared on Animal Planet. He has literally realized his life's ambition. From the time I met him when we were both in Jr. High School he knew this is what he wanted to do. In 7th grade shop, one of the assignments was to create our own business card. This was back in the day, kids. We're talking old school - setting up blocks of type in a printing press etc. Instead of a simple card bearing his name, address and phone number like the rest of us, Matt's card read "Matt Alquist - Biologist".

Unlike Matt I never really had a clear idea of what I wanted to be growing up; I came about it through trial and error. Like most kids I was influenced by the world around me. As a pre-adolescent I loved the old Universal Monster Movies (which I watched every Saturday night on Creature Features). One of my favorite monsters was The Mummy. Naturally, I wanted to be an Archaeologist. Not that I wanted to run into the re-animated corpses of ancient Egyptians, mind you. It just seemed really exciting traipsing all over the desert, discovering long forgotten tombs and entering lost worlds. This was at least a decade before anyone had ever heard of Indiana Jones so I guess I was ahead of the curve. I read all sorts of books on Ancient Egypt (because of course, to 10 year old Michael if you're going to be an archaeologist, Egypt is the place to do it). In preparation for my career as the next Howard Carter, I even wrapped up my GI Joes in masking tape and buried them in my backyard creating my own mini Tomb of Kings right there on suburban Long Island.

I'm not sure when, but Archaeology as a future vocation gave way to Astronomy. This probably coincided with my switch from Monster Movies to 1950's Science Fiction. I had dreams of friendly aliens contacting me to impart the wisdom of their highly advanced civilization. Being an astronomer also seemed more practical; all I had to do was look up in the sky - something I could do with very little effort (as opposed to schlepping half way around the world with a shovel and pith helmet).

My future aspirations were not always grounded in reality; at one point I seriously considered being a crime fighting Magician like Anthony Blake, the character played by Bill Bixby in the short lived series The Magician. I pictured myself using magic tricks to help people in trouble, foil bad guys and solve crimes by day, while at night I was the toast of Las Vegas; performing feats of legerdemain and dating Ann-Margret (what can I say - I had a very active imagination).

It was sometime during high school when I first realized I wanted to be a writer. Even then I went through phases as to exactly what type of writer. My literary aspirations included writing mysteries like my then-favorites Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen (somewhere around here there's a stack of poorly written and easily solved who-dun-its), writing scripts for make believe radio shows (this was about 25 years after the Golden Age of Radio, but that was a minor consideration to teenage Michael) and being a famous newspaper columnist. I realized I lacked the imagination to be even a mediocre mystery writer and the radio writing didn't pan out, but I did have some moderate success in the field of journalism; in addition to a weekly column in my hometown newspaper, The Mineola American, I was editor-in-chief of my High School Newspaper. I didn't realize it at the time, but these would represent the pinnacle of my career in journalism (sometime during my years at NYU I figured out that the New York Times wasn't going to offer me my own column upon graduation and I'd probably have to earn it by proving myself as a reporter. It was at this point I switched my major to Public Relations). Still, vague and indecisive though the details may have been, I had finally realized what I wanted to be when I grew up - a writer.

Of course, knowing what you want to be and actually being it are two entirely different things. The career path my life has taken in the intervening years can be described as convoluted at best. It included a brief stint in Public Relations and more than a decade trapped in Retail Hell (where I held a variety of jobs including writing Systems and Procedures, creating and starring in training videos, and Regional Management). The details will have to wait for another entry, however; I've spent enough time at the 'puter for one night...