Archive for March, 2008

No, It’s Not O-Tay!

Monday, March 31st, 2008


For their own reasons, people seem to love ‘riches-to-rags’ stories more than those that go from ‘rags-to-riches’. Remember Buckwheat – the Black child on the ‘Our Gang’ comedies? In the series, he was almost as popular as Spanky and Alfalfa and was famous for his phrase, “O-tay!” What became of him?

Many little rascals grew up to be big rascals. Trouble seemed to plague the players from strange deaths to suicides – even to murder. Carl Switzer, who played Alfalfa, was shot to death over a $50 debt – he was 31. As a matter of fact, he was shot once before but survived. Strange? How many people can say they were shot on two different occasions?

But what happened to William Thomas, the young actor who played Buckwheat and then took a dive into oblivion? The respected investigative reporting show, 20/20 of ABC, decided to find out. In October, 1990, the show claimed it had tracked down Buckwheat to Tempe, Arizona where, sadly, he worked as a grocery bagger. In the televised interview. ‘Buckwheat’ told his sad tale and many viewers felt sorry for him. It was a great ‘riches-to-rags’ story except for one thing: the real Buckwheat, William Thomas, died over 10-years before the 20/20 show. His impostor, Bill English, pretended to be Buckwheat for over 30-years! Uh, oh.

Within a week, a red-faced ABC admitted its mistake, fired the producer of the piece – and was sued by the child star’s son.

William Thomas wouldn’t have liked any of this. He was a quiet, modest man, who worked for many years in Hollywood as a film lab technician. And he never could understand the nostalgia that was making famous, once again, the ‘Our Gang’ series which made him a fleeting star.

Nonetheless, in 1980, Mr. Thomas graciously accepted an invitation to a ‘Nostalgia TV’ convention. He doubted many people would even remember ‘Our Gang’ – much less what he considered his minor contribution. He was wrong. Even before his introduction was finished, the audience burst into a spontaneous, loud and long, standing ovation which moved him to tears.

It was Buckwheat’s last shining moment. Just three months later, Mr. William Thomas dropped dead of a heart attack. He was 49.


A Tax on Stupid People

Thursday, March 27th, 2008


Like me. And you – if you play New York State Lottery Games – or any Lotteries bigger than church bingo. The games have been called “voluntary taxes paid by people who are too dumb to understand odds”. Well I understand odds. My rationale is much more sophisticated than that. I pay a dollar or two to dream of winning and you can’t win if you don’t play. Pretty smart, huh? Naw, not so smart. Actually it’s pretty dumb when you know the odds – which you can find on the NYLottery website.

See the pretty ticket above? It costs a dollar. And $500.00 a week for Life is a pretty good prize, right? So here come the official NYS odds for this dream. We’ll start on the smaller prizes first – get ready to WIN!

The odds against winning $1 are 8.77 to 1. For you non-bettors, that means on average, you’d have to buy about NINE tickets to scratch off a dollar winner. But, as the brighter ones in the group have already figured out, you don’t really “win” a dollar because that’s how much you paid for the ticket. So, OK – to win a dollar, you’ve really got to win $2 on the ticket. Odds against a two dollar ticket? About 47 to 1. WHAT? That’s right, Skippy; to actually win a dollar, on average, you’d have to scratch off 47-tickets.

It gets better, right? Right, this is New York State. To win $10, you’ll have to scratch 200 tickets. $100? Get ready to buy 50- thousand, 400-tickets. That’s a lot of buying and scratching for a hundred bucks. And the Grand Prize? $500 a week for Life? Get your coin out and start scratching. Better make it a few coins, you’ll need to scratch 7,938,000 tickets.

Don’t tell anyone though. It kind of ruins the game if you know it would take almost three entire lifetimes to scratch off enough tickets to win $500 a week for the rest of your life. Plus, about $8-million dollars.


Bumper Spaghetti Crop Expected

Monday, March 24th, 2008


It will be April Fool’s Day on the first of next month and things are looking bleak. Does anyone (besides me) have fun anymore? When was the last time you had a good belly laugh? Look, I know the country’s going to hell in a BUSH-ell basket, your kids are going to college on your dime and majoring in “Disappointing Mom & Dad”, Elvis is dead and you’re not feeling all that well yourself – but for crissakes, LIGHTEN UP. Your life today is not a dress rehearsal; this is it! Aren’t you supposed to have a little fun here – did you forget how?

Years ago, even the British were having more fun than US. On April 1,1957, the BBC reported a bumper crop of Spaghetti because of a mild winter and better control of the feared ‘pasta weevil’. They even showed footage of peasants happily picking ripe spaghetti from the trees.

The network was shocked at the response. Thousands of Brits jammed its phone lines asking how they could grow their own “Spaghetti Trees”! “Keeping a stiff upper lip” (in other words, not laughing at the dimwits) the BBC diplomatically delivered this answer:

“Place a sprig of spaghetti in a tin of tomato sauce and hope for the best.”

Could anyone be this naive 50-years later? Don’t even get me going on Iraq………….


Gaetano & Serafina – 1911.

Saturday, March 22nd, 2008


My Grandparents getting married in 1911. After this photograph was taken, they returned to the set of “The Godfather.” Note the white gloves on the Groom and his Best Man. This was an old family tradition: NO FINGERPRINTS.

(AN ENCORE ENTRY – By Request.)


Just Read the Damn Label

Thursday, March 20th, 2008


In America, everything you eat or drink out of a container must have a nutrition label in accordance with strict US FDA guidelines. Normally that’s a good thing. If your kids like some sort of “frosted” cereal, the label will probably tell you the flakes are over 50% sugar – or fructose sweetener or corn syrup – or something like that.

Actually, if you’re the frugal sort, you could buy a pound of no-name, corn flakes on the cheap, then dump a 1/2 pound of sugar on them, shake it up, and serve. If you do an impersonation of Tony the Tiger (or whichever cartoon shill is now hawking this crap on TV) you’ll enhance your kid’s cereal-eating experience. This usually works for kids under two – after that you’ll probably have to spring for the real thing.

Anyway, one problem with arbitrary rules is there aren’t any logical exceptions. What’s good for the flake must also be good for the water.


Yes, water. Each bottle of fancy water must have a nutrition label on it. From Poland Springs to Evian (‘which is naive spelled backwards – you knew that, right?) they have to be labeled so consumers can make healthy choices. Not surprisingly, they all look pretty much alike:

Calories? Uh, 0 – it’s water.
Carbohydrates? Yup, 0% – it’s water.
Fat? Right again. 0% – and you know why.

I wonder what would happen if a big, bottled-water company like Perrier said, “OK – enough of this foolishness. All were putting under ‘Nutritional Information’ is: 100% water.” Would the FDA go after them? With our tax dollars?

I don’t know why I get annoyed at stuff like this. I just have a problem with stupid rules that don’t make sense- especially from the government. It could be a genetic thing.


John McSame?

Wednesday, March 19th, 2008


The Republicans have to be kidding! The country is barreling downhill towards economic meltdown – the stupid war continues to murder people after 5 years (yeh, surge THIS, Bush!) – and the U.S. is now hated by more people worldwide than ever before. Most young people don’t expect to see Social Security benefits even though some try to pay for them with maxed-out credit cards, W. is as popular as Idi Amin at an Aryan Brotherhood meeting, and you’d better not get sick over $4/gallon gas prices because there’s no national Health Insurance to take care of you.

Hey Bozo, here’s a good idea: run for President and promise to continue the same Bush policies that put us here in the first place. But there’s a problem – you gotta pick your own foreign country to level because there’s not much left of Iraq. Hmmm. I know – Italy! We know IT has weapons of mass consumption – pizza, pasta, cannoli’s – it’s no wonder our friggin’ kids are so fat. We’ll call the new war: Operation Garlic. What’s that you say? We don’t have a good reason to start a war with Italy?

Jesus, John – if you’re looking for good reasons to start wars, maybe you’re not Bush enough to run this country (into the ground).


Proud To Be Persian

Monday, March 17th, 2008


Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Even if Cats did take pride in their respective breeds, they wouldn’t be dumb enough to advertise it. I can’t imagine anyone taking pride in something they didn’t accomplish themselves. Where your ancestors came from is just an accident of birth and has nothing to do with you. Proud to be Irish, Italian, Puerto Rican, or even American – just doesn’t make sense to me.

I have a friend – let’s call him “Gary” – who loves St. Patrick’s Day because he’s Irish. Now this is a man who’s accomplished a great deal in life. He has a wonderful group of great friends because he  is a great friend to all of us. He should be proud of that. He took special care of an aging parent and made many sacrifices along the way. He should be very proud of that. He worked hard all his life and rose to be the leader of his group with many responsibilities. And he should be proud of that too. He has a beautiful home and land on which he continually makes improvements. Great things in which to take pride!

Gary is a man who’s very smart but felt he wasn’t up to speed on his English or his computer skills. So he’s been learning ‘A-Word-A -Day’’ for years and now knows more about computers than he really needs to know. He’s fond of history and reads about it. Again, he should be quite proud of all this. My list could go on but the point is clear: Gary is someone who has accomplished a great deal in life – I can’t think of another person who has achieved more – and he probably does take a certain amount of pride in all of this – but it seems he takes more pride in being IRISH. How annoying!

Oh well, I guess it would be REAL hard to put this man’s REAL accomplishments on a damn bumper sticker.


Did Castro Kill Kennedy?

Saturday, March 15th, 2008


He certainly had enough reasons to. When John Kennedy was President, there were at least SIX attempts on Castro’s life. From shootings to poisonings and even an exploding cigar (thought up by the CIA) the U.S. tried everything to kill Fidel. Of course, this was all secret at the time – even from then Vice-President Lyndon Johnson. When Johnson took over and found out about it, he bellowed, “They (the Kennedys) were running a goddamn ‘Murder Inc.’ down there!”

Around noon in Havana on November 22, 1963, Castro was having lunch with a well-known French journalist. Midway through the meal, one of the dictator’s aids rushed in and whispered something in his ear. The journalist later reported Castro “turned white” and said, “Jesus! They killed Kennedy and now they’ll blame us and invade!” He immediately left for his office.

Castro had good reason to be paranoid. He was only 90-miles away from the world’s largest, nuclear superpower which was trying its best to get rid of him. Cuba could have been obliterated in less than 20-minutes. Would the young Communist be dumb enough to give us a reason for doing that? Hardly. Castro was a lot of things – but he wasn’t stupid.

Years later, yet another ‘60’s plot against Castro was discovered. The good folks at the CIA – who probably watched too many James Bond movies – were going to ‘emasculate’ Fidel in front of the Cuban people. Their chemists came up with some bizarre powder that was supposed to make his beard fall out!

This strange scheme may actually have come closest to killing the dictator. When he learned about it, aids said Castro almost “died laughing”.


Forever Young

Friday, March 14th, 2008


Sometimes I like to look at vintage erotica. Of course the pictures really aren’t erotic, the photography isn’t very good, and the poses are silly by today’s standards. But they’re still fascinating to me.

Who were these women? Obviously they’re all dead now – unless they lived to be older than a hundred. But imagine how scandalous and shameful these pictures were at the turn of the century – even in Europe. Were the women prostitutes? Unwed mothers in need  of money? Drug addicts?

The most compelling parts of the images are the womens’ faces. Rarely do they look into the camera. Are they hiding from us their most vulnerable features – their eyes?

I hope many years after they posed, when they lived in old lady bodies, they had a chance to again see themselves in these pictures. By that time, the shame would be gone and they knew they would also die soon. And they would leave to this world forever – a beautiful image of themselves.

I hope that made them smile.


God Doesn’t Make Mistakes

Friday, March 14th, 2008


The only time I went to strip clubs was when I was in my early 20’s. At one mob-run joint downtown, I became friends with a dancer named Emily. Emily loved for me to come in so she could talk. “Franco, you always see the best in me. After talking to you, I feel better about myself.” Emily had a sad story – but one thing tore at my heart: she was ashamed of being a stripper – and scared her two young daughters would find out one day.

I worked at an ad agency at the time and knew another agency that needed a receptionist. My friends owned it and would be pleased to interview Emily regardless of where she worked before. If she was good with people, could work the phones, and was a friend
of mine, she just about had the job.

Emily was thrilled about the interview and told all the other dancers about her new opportunity. She even bought a business suit so she could make a good first impression. She was so excited! The owners of the club didn’t mind because they had a lot of dancers; they wished her luck. It seemed Emily’s life had changed and she was finally catching a break.

A few days before the interview, an old mob guy (later shot to death in the local crime wars) gestured for me to come down to his end of the bar. He signaled the bartender to bring me a drink. When I was seated at his side and the drink was served, he turned to me and smiled. I knew not to speak until he did.

“Franco, you’ve got a beautiful heart – but you’re kinda dumb in some things. Ya know, God doesn’t make mistakes. All the people in this world are right where they’re supposed to be. Emily is never going to become anything more than she is right now. Ya see, people are like water – they rise or they sink to their own level. And that’s just the way it is.”

“Now I know your not going to believe me – but someday in the future, think back to what I’m saying and learn something. Capesh, paison? (do you understand, my friend?)”

The big day of the interview finally came. Emily never showed up. No calls. No excuses. No explanations.

I always thought it a sign of respect that not one of “the boys” ever mentioned the incident to me again.