When I was a young kid in the 1960s, I hated most children’s television.
I did love the cartoons and remember my earliest ideologically-driven fight being with one of my four-year-old friends over which cartoon to watch: Popeye the Sailor (my choice) or The Rocky & Bullwinkle Show (his). Captain Kangaroo also was okay, but only because he had a bowl haircut that looked much like my own and had a friend named Mr. Green Jeans. And Bozo’s Circus was great, mostly because it aired from
But Romper Room creeped me out. I could deal with saying the Pledge of Allegiance with a wild-eyed hostess and with the snack-time prayer, but I knew not to trust the Magic Mirror. The hostess would stare through an empty plastic ring and chant like one of Shakespeare’s witches,
Romper, bomper, stomper, boo.
Tell me, tell me, tell me, do.
Magic Mirror, tell me today,
Have all my friends had fun at play?
Then, of course, the hostess would claim to see the children in “Televisionland”: “I can see Billy and Tommy and Debbie and Susan . . . .” In later episodes, the kind of spiraling special effects that used to represent hallucinatory and mesmeric experiences in films would accompany the appearance of the Magic Mirror. I remember feeling relieved when the hostess failed to see “Michael.”
My mother claims that I liked Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood, but it aired only from 1968 when I was already seven, so I’m pretty sure that she either is mistaking me for my younger brother or is the victim of one of those swirly, spirally things you could get sucked into on Romper Room.
I like to believe that I had good taste as a little kid. I still prefer Popeye over Rocky & Bullwinkle, though flying squirrels have risen in my opinion. Bozo now scares me as much as Mr. Rogers, and I only wish I still had enough hair to wear it like Captain Kangaroo.
Have you always suspected that you’re a psychopath? A short questionnaire will tell you all you need to know.
1. Ants are:
(a) Fascinating social insects belonging to the Formicidae family
(b) Capable of carrying six times their own weight but no where to be found when you’re looking for help moving the living room furniture
(c) Tastier than Jiffy Pop when cooked with a magnifying glass
2. Children are:
(a) God’s gift to the world
(b) Funny little things that vomit when spun
(c) Tastier than Jiffy Pop when cooked with a magnifying glass
3. Adults are:
(a) The caretakers of the world
(c) Not nearly as tasty as ants and children
4. Psychopaths are:
(a) Manipulative, shameless, conning trolls
(b) Callous, dangerous, controlling monsters
(c) The best dinner guests
(1) What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
The kid who wanders the hall between class periods and lights a Bic under the butts of classmates who are standing at their lockers. Also, having to explain the scorch marks on my jeans to my mother.
(2) Where would you like to live?
On a mountainside in
(3) What is your idea of earthly happiness?
Long John Donuts from the German bakery on a Sunday morning. Kim Basinger.
(4) What fault do you most indulge?
I’m thirteen, so I try to indulge every fault equally and thoroughly.
(5) Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
This year I’m reading mostly nonfiction, especially the True Case Files of the FBI.
(6) Who are your favorite characters in history?
(7) Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
Ma Barker (as an anti-heroine). Kim Basinger.
(8) Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
See answer to question #5.
(9) Who is your favorite painter?
Picasso. Or Francis Bacon. Or Edvard Munch.
(10) Your favorite musician?
I’m in that sweet middle ground between the Beetles and Black Sabbath.
(11) What quality do you most admire in a man?
(12) What quality do you most admire in a woman?
(13) What is your favorite virtue?
See answer to previous question.
(14) What is your favorite occupation?
(15) Who would you most like to be?
I’m having a hard enough time just being myself to want to be someone else.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word “trust” comes from the Latin for sucker punch. That’s not true, but when someone says the word – as in “Lend me twenty bucks, and I’ll pay you back right away; trust me,” or “Trust me; this won’t hurt” – I prepare for the worst. Except in rare situations, only untrustworthy people say, “Trust me.”
The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet tells Juliet, “There’s no trust, no faith, no honesty in men,” and who can blame her? In my first Joe Kozmarski mystery, The Last Striptease (which I like to think is the kind of mystery a descendent of Shakespeare would write if the bloodline had been thoroughly bastardized), Joe trusts people about as much as the Nurse does. When an old family friend says, “Trust me,” Joe replies, “Not a chance.” And he’s right to say it: the family friend is a crook.
If a salesman says, “Trust me,” buy a different product.
If a politician says, “Trust me,” vote for the opposition.
If a lover says, “Trust me,” check the phone log, and find another bed to sleep in.
Weird then that some of the saddest words are those that express a betrayal of trust: “I no longer trust you; you’ve lost my trust.” These words cut to the heart. They’re ones that no one ever wants to speak or hear.
Trust is a confidence game, a game of faith – blind faith, as all faith ultimately must be – but a life without it would be cynical and empty. So, may we all trust wisely and well, and if others betray our trust, may they suffer Shakespearean indignities: may their heads turn into donkey heads and may their hands never wash clean.
Okay, this is easy:
- A one hundred-ton silver bean lies in the heart of this city.
- One would think that a city with a bean in its heart would be soft, but not this city: Carl Sandburg called this city “the hog butcher for the world.”
- If you described this city as soft around the time that Carl Sandburg called it “the hog butcher for the world,” Al Capone probably would have shot you between the eyes.
- If Al Capone didn’t get you, John Dillinger would.
- Unless Dillinger was at the movies at the Biograph Theater in this city, which is where he was when he got shot to death.
- Dillinger wasn’t watching The Blues Brothers, though the movie is set in this city.
- Nor was he watching When Harry Met Sally (also set in this city) because he didn’t like chick flicks (which he thought were soft), though he might have been convinced to attend a chick flick had it been Valentine’s Day.
- But not if it was the day of the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre, which occurred in a garage in this city.
- This city is a friendlier place that it once was, though it’s still a city of broad shoulders (that’s Sandburg too).
- Now, you’re unlikely to get killed by either Al Capone or John Dillinger, even if you’re hanging out at The Bean.
I admit it: I’m easy to seduce – a not unusual condition for a guy, but who am I to argue with biology?
A cheap date, I’m happy with the chicken mole at Nuevo Léon in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood (you can carry me out the door for less than ten bucks), though I’ll roll over and expose my belly if you treat me to a couple slices of abalone sashimi at Japonica in New York or a plate of vegetarian pork at Heaven’s Dog in San Francisco.
Put Etta James’s “I’d Rather Go Blind” on the stereo when we get home and you’ll see me doing dances I really shouldn’t do. Play it a second time, and I’ll sing along using a fake Brazilian accent.
I don’t mind being plied with alcohol, my chosen brands being Maker’s Mark bourbon and Hornitos tequila – though I’ll drink most cabernets that sell for more than seven bucks a bottle and any beer, whatever the price.
But if you really want to move my soul, try a few lines from Raymond Chandler. Vivian Sternwood in The Big Sleep would be good. Say, “My God, you big handsome brute! I ought to throw a Buick at you!” and I’ll start humming Ravel’s Bolero. Follow it up with, “I loathe masterful men,” and steam will pour from my nose and ears. Or give me some James Cain. Try Cora from The Postman Always Rings Twice: say, “Yes! Yes, Frank, yes!” – substituting “Michael” for “Frank,” please – and I won’t say no.
Eyes, ears, tongue. These are the pathways to my desire – very wide pathways: superhighways, great salt flats.
Oh, but I’m also married – happily – and that makes my condition of easy seducibility both more difficult on the one hand and simpler on the other. On the one hand, my wife has seen me dance and is embarrassed and she’s unimpressed by my Brazilian accent. On the other hand, on every birthday I give her copies of The Big Sleep and The Postman Always Rings Twice, each Valentine’s Day I give her an Etta James CD, and you know where we go to dinner.
When I was growing up in
With the WXRT precedent behind me, I construct the following playlist or soundtrack for my life.
Chet Baker, “Let’s Get Lost”
John Coltrane, “Naima”
“Whatever Lola Wants,” Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, as performed by Ella Fitzgerald
Buddy Johnson, “Since I Fell For You”
“(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” Rolling Stones
“Blue Skies,” Willie Nelson
Celia Cruz, “Guantanamera”
Don Giovanni (Commandatore Scene), Mozart
“Dance This Mess Around,” B-52’s