Friday, January 29, 2016

"A Big Laugh From An Unexpected Direction"

No Chinese person has ever made me laugh.

That’s not racism.  It is simply a fact.

As racists like to say.

(For Broadway show-level exculpation, See:  The song from the musical Avenue Q, entitled “Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist… Sometimes.”) 

How big is my sampling in this experiment?

Not big.  I’ve had a Chinese accountant for thirty-five years, and although he is beyond competent in his line of endeavor, I have never considered him a reliable font of comedical merriment.  Although that could have less to do with his ethnic derivation than his being an accountant.   (He opined, slamming two categories of humanity in a single sentence.)

However… he went on, trying gamely to dig himself out of a hole… there is a single, reverberating exception to this overarching observation.

One of the all-time biggest laughs I have ever experienced came via the auspices of an elderly gentleman of Chinese extraction.  And I am not just saying that to regain a foothold in decent society.  The gentleman really cracked me up.

Here’s the situation.

I am dining alone at a Chinese restaurant in Miami Beach, Florida, where I have gone on vacation, specifically because I was too lazy to go somewhere where they spoke a different language.    

Now that’s lazy.

Having completed my meal, which as I recall was very good, I give the “high sign” to my waiter, a solemn-demeanored, Chinese septuagenarian, indicating that I am ready to receive the check.

Shortly thereafter, the waiter arrives at my table, setting a small plastic tray containing the check and a cellophane-wrapped fortune cookie down in front of me. 

I unwrap the fortune cookie and I examine the message scrolled up inside it.  It says,

“You will soon enjoy a financial windfall.”

To which I immediately replied,

“Great!  I don’t have to pay the bill!”

Removing the tray, which now included my credit card, the venerable waiter shot back,

“Not now.  Soon!”

I toppled instantly out of my chair.  And if I didn’t, I should have.

Because his reaction was fast and it was excruciatingly funny.

I was reminded of that episode of unexpected hilarity when Dr. M, after dining with a friend at a local Chinese eatery, reported that she had received the exact same message in her fortune cookie.

I felt nostalgic, but also somewhat confused.

I somewhere knew that the messages in fortune cookies are regularly recycled.

The reprise of this one, however, left me wondering how many waiters responded to their “Wise Apple” dinner patrons in a not dissimilar fashion.

I had come to believe that my Miami Chinese waiter experience had been unique.

But now that seemed considerably less than a certainty.

Who knows?  Maybe a lot of Chinese people are funny and are just patiently awaiting their moment.  Its arrival producing a Vesuvial reaction:

Uncontrollable laughter…

Mixed with indescribable surprise.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

"Sibling Rivalry"

Dr. M is a whiz at completing the crossword puzzles in the newspaper.  She sits quietly until they’re done, working defiantly in pen. 

Once in a while, Dr. M solicits my help, invariably with sports-related concerns beyond her knowledge, interest and experience.  At these moments, she breaks a twenty-minute silence, calling out,

Red Wings Hall of Famer, 'Terrible' Ted…."


"Seventies Yankees closer, 'Sparky'…"


I hit the mark almost every time, though I am less successful with bowling.  These emproudening triumphs harkened me back to when I was unbeatable at completing the TV Guide crossword puzzle.  For me, it was easy.

Married comedy duo Ozzie and…blank.”

“The Dick Van…blank…Show”

“Perennial Saturday morning western The…blank…Ranger.”

I tore through those puzzles like a Mensa candidate.  It was fun to feeling really smart.  All In The…blank?  Come on.  Give me a hard one.  (I know.  They’re for imbeciles.  But still.)

For those of you scoring at home, here’s where today’s story originated.

Last weekend, working the New York Times Sunday crossword puzzle, Dr. M found herself stymied by a biblical question, and she turned to me for assistance, because I went to Hebrew School fifty-seven years ago, and got Alephs (“A’s”) in everything.

“Who led the Israelites after Moses?  Was it Aaron?”

“No, it was Joshua.”

Which I believe is the right answer.  At least it filled the available number of boxes. 

Because my mind works in a circuitous manner – which delights me if not the population in general – that biblical crossword question got me wondering about the man the answer to that question wasn’t. 

By which I mean Aaron, Moses’s comparatively also-ran older brother.

I wondered,

How exactly did Aaron feel about not leading the Israelites after Moses?

And what were his thoughts about brother Moses in general?

These wonderings reminded me of a sketch I had written (and performed) on the radio years ago back in Canada.  That sketch also featured a less celebrated other sibling.  (Note:  I myself was a less celebrated other sibling at the time.  Where do my ideas come from?  Something exactly like that.)

The lead character in my sketch was an aspiring but struggling thespian of yesteryear named…

Edward B. Robinson.

Edward B. Robinson’s brother was movie icon Edward G. Robinson.  Though both of them were actors, Edward G. Robinson’s career had skyrocketed, while Edward B. Robinson languished in obscurity.  An eventuality baffling in the extreme to the perplexed Edward B.

“What’s the difference between us?” he’d complain.  “Nothing.  Some people think I am actually better looking.  Meaning, I suppose, that I look less like a Semitic frog.” 

The only distinction he could ascertain between them was that Edward G. Robinson had this signature sound he spat out when delivering his lines.  Playing gangsters and hardcases, he’d bark threateningly, “Now listen here, mnyah!” 

I can do that,” proclaimed Edward B.  And he’d plant his feet and, in an incongruously high-pitched voice go, “‘Now listen here, mnah.” 

“You see?  It’s exactly the same thing.”

Distraught by the inexplicable disparity in their success levels, Edward B. Robinson was determined to take action.  Availing himself of his connections, he formed an organization comprised of the less recognized brothers and sisters of the biggest names in show business.  Together they would create the “S.O.S Club”, “S.O.S” standing for “Siblings of the Stars.”

The response was overwhelming.  Harboring similar grievances, the overlooked relatives could not wait to join up. 

There was pop singer Hank Sinatra.  Hoofer Ned Astaire.  Jazz great Stella Fitzgerald.  Sexy Carolyn Monroe.  Bing Crosby’s less celebrated brother Bob – Bob Crosby, that’s one of my better ones – Wait!  He actually existed.

From the animal contingent, there was Ron Tin Tin, Rin’s brother, who had been banished from the set for angrily pacing behind the cameras mumbling, “I taught him that!”, throwing the canine performer off his game.  RIN:  “I can’t work this way!” 

Another charter member – composer Henry’s brother Richie Mancini whose lilting “Moon Lagoon” was close but not exactly what they were looking for.

The “S.O.S-ers” got together and devised a strategy.  They would band together and put on a show, demonstrating that they were just as talented as their highly regarded brothers and sisters. 

Eschewing half measures, they booked the hallowed Hollywood Bowl for their massive extravaganza, the great Phil Toscanini conducting the orchestra.

With a packed house in front of them, the Siblings of the Stars went out and performed for over four solid hours.

And they were terrible.
Biblical Postscript:  Old Testament scholars tell of an earlier episode in which Aaron spotted a burning bush.  Being the “Good Boy” he was, rather than an inspired messianic firebrand, Aaron picked up a watering can and put it out.
The preceding was dedicated to Billy Carter, Roger Clinton, Mamie Schumer and Frank Stallone.  And only one of those is made up. 

And Ronald Trump.  Sorry, I had one left.  And where else was I going to use it?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Past Imperfect"

Although living happily and successfully in the United States – working regularly, starting a family, throwing away my galoshes – it took me twenty-five years for me to finally decide to become an American citizen. 

(Full Disclosure:  I had actually decided to apply for my American citizenship after eighteen years, but I showed up for my “Citizenship Test” on the wrong day, and I was so embarrassed, it took me seven years before I went back.)

Why did it take me so long to replace my Canadian affiliation with an American one (although I could still retain my Canadian passport)? 

Because, in many ways, characteristically,

I believed Canada was better. 

(Beginning with “no slavery”, although Canadians cannot assume moral superiority in that regard because of at least one reason:  No cotton.)

Here’s what was behind my reluctance to switch allegiances:

What, typically, is a Canadian? 

A Canadian is decent, deferential, fair-minded and morally upright without making a fuss about it, because “morally upright” is simply the right way to behave.

Why should I be in rush to switch teams, abandoning a contender for a squad ranking demonstrably lower in the standings?

Although we superficially appear to be, we are not the same people.  There’s this story, said to have taken place at the Toronto Blue Jays home ballpark.  As is traditional in these matters, the home crowd was loudly heckling an opposing team’s player.  Upset by this treatment, the visiting player turned angrily to the crowd, bellowing,

“Shut the fuck up!”

Dutifully chastened,

The Canadians did.

(Try that in New York or Philadelphia.)

Call it pride, call it prejudice, but I had this ingrained belief.  In ways that truly mattered to me, Canadians were the superior nationality.

And then – I don’t know when, but I am sure it was down here because I never heard anything about it in Canada – somebody, clearly tired of my braggadocious bloviations, informed me about…

“None is too many.”

Are you familiar with that pronouncement?  Neither was I.  But apparently, during the Jewish refugee crisis surrounding World War II, the Canadian head of immigration – with the seeming concurrence of then Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King – in response to the question of how many Jewish refugees should be allowed into the country, asserted,

“None is too many.”

A book by the same name (co-authored by historians Irving Abella and Harold Troper) reports that during the Nazi era, the Canadian government did less than other Western countries to help Jewish refugees between 1933 and 1948.

Hardly a “high water” mark in Canadian humanitarianism.

Okay, so be it.  For shame, but so be it.  Overall, however - Hey, those were my people!  Okay, sorry.  I’m back now – I still believed that, from an idealistical standpoint, Canada still rated considerably higher than its noisy neighbor to the South.  I mean, at least we didn’t force our Japanese citizens into internment camps.

As it turns out, we did. 

Which I also did not know about.

Until I listened to this “Book-on-CD” recently entitled Requiem, by Frances Itani. 

According to Wikipedia, during the duration of the war, without a trial or any charges against them, twenty-seven thousand Japanese-Canadians were systematically evacuated from their homes – which were subsequently looted and sold off, along with, in the case of this story, their fishing boats – and billeted in makeshift camps far away from the coastline.  After the war ended, until a vociferous outcry curtailed the policy, the displaced Canadians were also forbidden to come back.


And after that, hm.

Upon further consideration, as they say…

Is it possible the two countries are not as different as I thought?

Somewhere along the line, I got wind of this ennobling contrast:

As the pioneers moved west, the American cavalry was assigned to protect the settlers from the Indians.  While in Canada during that same period, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were assigned to protect the Indians from the settlers.

I am now wondering,

Is that one wrong too?

I hope not.

Because to be honest with you,

I am running out of distinctions.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

"Rooting Interest"

People watch sports for various reasons.  (Or they don’t watch them for one:  “I don’t like sports.”   Which would make for a negative, one-sentence entry here, were I not blessed with the alternate perspective.  Whew.)

Sports fans enjoy the excitement.  The unpredictability of the outcome – sports being the original and still top ranking “Reality Show”.  Other enthusiasts come to sports for the betting, though there’s the chance those are less sports fans than gambling addicts.  Most of us are enthralled by the opportunity to watch best-in-their-field athletes excelling gloriously at “crunch time.”

For me, you can check off all of those boxes, except for the betting.  I once bet ten bucks on a Buffalo Braves basketball game.  (You can tell it was awhile ago.  The Braves abandoned Buffalo in 1978.)  I won, and never bet on anything again, wishing to be one of those rare gamblers who got out batting a thousand.  I wonder if I’d have stayed in if I’d have lost.  Nah.  But I would be grumbling about it forever.

“They told me it was a sure thing!

Still – after a hundred and seventy-four words, and I apologize for the slow start – I have not mentioned the most important reason I watch sports, which is,

I get a genuine rush out of being a fan.

That explains my diminished enthusiasm for football.  (Besides the brain damage.)  My (adopted) home city does not have team.  (Note However:  I was a passionate fan of the Argonauts.  Look ‘em up.  They play football.)

These thoughts rush to mind because tonight, I will be attending a hockey game at the Staples Center.  (which is marketing "Spitting Distance" from Scotch Tape Arena.)

More significantly, the local hockey team, the L.A. Kings, will be taking on…

My beloved and lifetime owners of my heart…

The Toronto Maple Leafs!

Generally, though not every season, the Leafs are scheduled to play the Kings in Los Angeles.  And when their do, my good and generous friend Allan always invites me to the game.

I have been following the Leafs since early childhood, first on radio, and later, on TV.  (As I have previously mentioned, the CD I wake up to every morning is the original theme song to Hockey Night In Canada.  As my friend Paul says, “We love baseball.  But hockey is in our blood.”)

When I was a kid – and I first chrnonicled this phenomenon in my Toronto newspaper column back in the 60’s – I noticed that when the Leafs were in the playoffs – which they were all the time but are now hardly ever – during “Sudden Death” overtime – where the next goal wins the game – it seemed like every time I left the room, the Leafs almost immediately scored.  Not literally every time.  But more often than one might statistically expect.

This anomaly triggered a serious dilemma for me.  I could leave the room and they’d win.  But I would never be present when they did it.  The decision was simple.  During virtually every Maple Leaf triumph, I was in the hall, in the kitchen or in the bathroom.

My attachment gets even more visceral than that.  (If you can handle it.  The following is not for the squeamish.)

As a teenager, my friend Arny and I had procured two coveted tickets to a Wednesday night contest between the Leafs and their perennial rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.  The Leafs won 2-0 that night, and when we left Maple Leaf Gardens heading for the subway, I was so emotionally jacked up by the experience I ducked into an alley and threw up.

That’s me and the Maple Leafs.  (Or it could just have been a bad hotdog.)

The Kings currently rank first in their division.  The Leafs sit second to last in theirs, so the chances of their winning tonight are unlikely.  That’s why I’m writing an “anticipation” story rather than risk an anti-climactic denouement. 

Reality can deny me the desired outcome.  But happily looking forward to the game –

That’s mine.

And with that I say…

Go, Leafs, Go!

And if it means my absenting myself from the arena so that a “Sudden Death” victory can be achieved…


You do not even have to ask.