Saturday, January 07, 2017

Old Times on the Mississippi

“And I remember Ferguson, Missouri still more pleasantly, for the summer sunsets. I have never seen any on either side of the ocean that equaled them.”

Substitute the town of Ferguson for Muscatine, Iowa (less than three hours apart by car), and you have the words of Samuel Clemens in his book Life on the Mississippi in 1883, under his more famous pen name “Mark Twain.”

All Aboard
In the summer of 1994, my plan was to spend the three months between my freshman and sophomore years of college working at Busch Stadium. I had recently gotten a first taste of living alone when my roommate at Iowa State pledged with the Phi Kappas (or whatever) and left to live in the fraternity's campus castle following spring break. This was the life, I thought. All that was missing were several dozen Cardinals baseball games so off I went to pursue the glamorous life of a stadium concessionaire.

I attended the stadium job fair in May, after finals had been completed in Ames. I discovered that a job was mine if I only wanted it, and I determined also that an usher's job, where you can actually watch the game, is far superior to a concessionaire’s job, where you have to bust your tail. But by this time, Major League Baseball’s regular season marathon was already seven weeks in, and I was also going to have to close up shop early, since school started back in the third week of August. By my account, that left what amounted to less than 25 home dates at which I could actually work-- plus a lot of down time during those days and weeks when the team was on the road. That particular summer also held the threat of a baseball players’ strike, against an absurd threat by the league owners to impose a salary cap upon them. The strike that would ultimately come to pass on August 12th and lead to the cancellation of the World Series. Therefore, my dream of working for the Cardinals as a stadium employee-- a long-time back-up plan to playing center field for the club-- was aborted, yet I still had the bug to spend the summer in St. Louis.

A Pilot's Memory
During that May trip to the city, with el Papa's help, I secured a hard-to-find three-month apartment lease. Hard to find is the three months, but we came to it finally near a college campus, that of the University of Missouri-St. Louis. I found employment alternative to the ballpark during that same two-day visit-- not bad results, I’d say, for a man with no college degree. I would go to work instead for eleven weeks with Frosty Treats, Incorporated, as one of their ice cream truck drivers. You know the kind of truck I mean, the ones that have the ringing bell and the brightly-colored photo menu plastered onto the passenger side of the truck, along with a couple drawings of clowns. It was a van, actually. If you live in Des Moines, Iowa, as I have for twenty years, you may not know about these trucks as they have been prohibited in our city and its suburbs for decades-- considered a nuisance, I suppose.

I was all set to go-- a jay-oh-bee and an unfurnished apartment. I could work any and every day on one of the trucks if I wanted to, and since money would surely be tight, I vowed I would only take a day off, whether it be weekday or weekend, if I was going to a Cardinals game. I filled my apartment with the 13-inch television and the VCR from my dorm room, along with a card table, two folding chairs, and an air mattress. That was it. There was a bedroom, but it only served as a passageway to the bathroom. I think I used the bedroom space only for a week at the most-- to stretch out a poster. The building was located in Ferguson, Missouri, a town you now know as the home of Michael Brown’s family and the birthplace of the Black Lives Matter movement, and it was a great little town. Still is. I visited last summer, and I venture to say that, despite perceptions, I found it nicer now than I did 23 years ago. It was a great building, too, that still stands. It's right next to the tracks of the Wabash Railroad, a refurbished brick hotel building built in the 1890s. 1994 was the centennial birthday of the town of Ferguson, and my building was February in the centennial calendar. None of this is whitewash.

I become a Jack-of-all-trades
I drove my Cardinal red Pontiac Fiero to work every day, only a mile or so to Frosty Treats' regional headquarters. It was a small building that stood surrounded by a fleet of about 25 to 30 white vans, all stored safely inside a tall, barbed-wired fence. The freezers, which accounted for about two-thirds of the space inside each van, would need to be plugged in each night because they would be without power from the time you disconnected to hit the road at eleven o'clock in the morning until sunset. As drivers, we were obviously cautioned to keep the door of the freezer unit closed for as much of the day as possible, but there wasn't even air conditioning in the vehicle so you couldn't avoid the fact that the unsold frosty treats might be a tad soft by the time the evening hours rolled in.

St. Louis can be hot and unpleasant, as you know. It is the city, and the Mississippi the river, about which Mark Twain's contemporary, Charles Dickens, once wrote:

The banks low, the trees dwarfish, the marshes swarming with frogs, the wretched cabins few and far apart, their inmates hollow-cheeked and pale, the weather very hot, mosquitoes penetrating into every crack and crevice... mud and slime on everything; nothing pleasant in its aspect... No man ever admits the unhealthiness of the place he dwells in (unless he is going away from it), and I shall therefore, I have no doubt, be at issue with the residents of St. Louis in questioning the perfect salubrity of its climate, and in hinting that I think it must rather dispose to fever in the summer and autumnal seasons.

Those words were written just after the English author's visit to the Mississippi River Valley in 1870, more than a decade before either Life on the Mississippi or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would go into publication. Perhaps the appeal of the area demands a certain sense of humor Dickens didn't possess.

Old French Settlements
I was assigned my own area of the metro in which to ply my wares to the good people. It was an unincorporated area of North County that adjoined the town of Black Jack. A year ago, I watched a documentary film online about this unincorporated area, which also abutted the Great River. The film was called Spanish Lake. Residents there filed a lamentable lawsuit in the 1970s against new public housing construction that was going up shortly after the closing of St. Louis' rather-infamous Pruitt-Igoe housing projects. The area became the focal point of some hard racial feelings during the '70s that continue today. I didn’t particularly notice any of this in 1994. Everybody loved the ice cream man, and he loved them.

A Universal Grasp
A paper map of the city was my guide. It was glued to a big clipboard that was given to me to help me navigate my way through the streets. I would begin each day in what was the south part of the map, and business would not be brisk. The neighborhoods were more depressed in that part of my route, certainly, but they were solidly working class. More so, it was that parents were out working during the afternoon. I encountered really just kids until after about 5:30 in the evening. Most of them were gathered in groups out on the street. All summer long, I heard their refrain: “Can you hook me up? Can you hook me up?” They didn’t have any dough, lots of them. The more aggressive of them would jump on the back bumper of the van. Hopefully, I would have remembered to lock the back door. I found I had to give away a certain amount of product each day as good will offering. The 25 cent cherry pops were the go-to for that. They were the cheapest item on the menu. And that reminds me, I remember we also had the 75 cent Bomb Pop, that was the old red, white, and blue popsicle I was told was an American classic, though I had never heard of it. There was the Strawberry Shortcake drumstick-- vanilla ice cream, strawberry filling, and a shortcake crumb coating, and the one that was like the Shortcake, except it was chocolate instead of strawberry. I forget what it was called. These items can all be found, then and now, inside those little waist-high freezers at your local gas and go. The premium item in my freezer was the Choco Taco—two dollars strong! Chocolate fudge, ice cream, and peanuts inside a waffle cone that was shaped, yes, like a Mexican tortilla. But that was cost-prohibitive, and nobody that I encountered until after five carried enough cash to buy a Choco Taco. (I just looked it up online. It has double in price in a quarter century, and it is still the priciest item on the menu.) I would run clean out of some items on a good day, but Choco Tacos were always still available for purchase after dinner, probably a little soft inside the wrapper.

At night, the cash flow would come alive. By dinnertime, I would be rolling into the tony suburban neighborhoods to the north, mom and dad were home, and they wanted dessert. Here comes the whole family, and every member of the clan gets a treat! Even the infants! Cha-ching! Speaking of-- in case you were wondering-- I think I’m keeping about 17 percent of my total sales at this time, something like that. I recall that I would take home on average of 70 to 80 dollars a day, the only day over 100 coming during 4th of July weekend. More experienced drivers had more lucrative routes than I did. Their evenings were likely similar, but they had office parks where you could score big dollars during the afternoon if you timed your arrival to employee break times. I didn't mind though. I was in it for the kids, right?

Just as on the TV show Taxi”-- one of my favorites, as you know-- we had a dispatcher back at the garage that was seated inside a window (but no metal cage and no Danny DeVito). It was a cash-only business and we would turn in our envelopes at the end of each day, then mill about until they had figured everybody's payout for the day. I do remember waiting for my pay one night when a colleague informed us that, on TV, OJ Simpson had a gun to his head and was engaged in a slow-speed chase with police down the Los Angeles Expressway. We chewed on that one as we acted out our Taxi-like, tragicomic Beckett scene in the garage.

Loaded to Win
Okay, now back to the ice cream van, and about that bell. It didn’t have a bell, actually. Instead, it had a loud speaker and a sound system that had a switch and four musical settings. This was the sound system that got ice cream trucks banned in Des Moines. One of the musical settings actually was a bell. It kept up a “ding dong, ding dong” noise that couldn't be endured by any of the drivers for more than 10 seconds. A second setting also could not be tolerated-- for the tune was “Pop Goes the Weasel.” So right away the first day I'm down to two options-- “The Entertainer,” by Mr. Scott Joplin (Hello again, St. Louis!) and the other one I can’t even remember. The sound system was, shall we say, unpopular. One man came out of his home during a steamy afternoon, told me he worked nights, slept days, and then he physically threatened me. I tried to keep the music to a minimum, but there is no ice cream truck without the sound system. The art of it is to drive down a street (ideally a cul-de-sac), blaring the music, average rate of driving speed, then turn slowly around, and go slower still back up the street. Give the people time to grab their pocketbooks. I do distinctly recall an incident of magic one evening-- turning a corner onto a street where the music could already have been heard for two blocks, then seeing in the far-off distance, the shadowy figure of a small boy jumping up and down next to his parents as the van came into his view. I saw only his jumping shadow at first, but there was pure joy on this child’s face as I drove closer. I don't think my arrival was ever greeted so warmly, before or since.

Almost every day I drove happily that summer. What's not to like about work such as this? The dress code permitted me to dress each day in t-shirt and shorts, and I always wore my Cardinals cap as a lid. That accessory would start conversations that I wished to have with people about the local nine. And I was a chatty one. Customers would ask me where I was from and what my story was-- both the kids and the adults would do this. And when you bother to talk to people, you find that you have friends you didn’t know you knew. I met my high school government teacher’s brother. I met another Iowan, a lady who used to work at the Blue Bunny ice cream factory over in Le Mars. At summer’s end, a little girl named Jasmine, who was sweet on me, gave me a computer-printed greeting card she'd made, using cutting-edge 1994 printing technology, to create a likeness of an ice cream cone. Inside, the card expressed how much she would soon be missing me when I returned to university. Likewise, a little boy gave me a going-away card, but the artwork was poor.

Pilots and Captains
Even more memorable to me today was the circle of co-workers I spent time with-- and then immediately lost all connection with in those pre-Facebook days. My trainer had a first-class mullet and also wore a Cardinals cap every day. He was probably my best acquaintance-- think Otto the bus driver on The Simpsons, but a much brighter bulb. I think he liked me because he liked the idea of a young man going on an adventure to do what he did year-round. I spent an evening at his house with him and his lovely family, and another driver joined later. I recall chatting with both of them at one point about my all-time favorite TV show WKRP in Cincinnati, and the other driver relayed that he loved the episode where Johnny Fever thought he was being pursued by the phone cops (Editor’s note: the episode was “An Explosive Affair, Part 2," originally aired 1981). What I remember best about the conversation with this other guy was his tobacco laugh and the fact that he had come to the house straight from county lockup on a charge of domestic violence.

Another Frosty Treats co-worker drove his van every day with his 10-year old son in tow. What a goofy little kid. He was the "what does this do? what does that do?" sort. One day he told he liked my little car, the Pontiac Fiero, but if it was him, he declared, he would have bought American. Another driver yet was a fantastic guy who was a French exchange student about my age. This fact was, of course, as surreal as it sounds. This company of less than 30 drivers actually had an exchange student on roster. I truly think his name was Pierre, but I may be stereotyping with my memory. I was invited one evening to go out with him and his friends, all French exchange students also. We gathered and drank alcohol (underage, in my case) in one of the high-rise apartments downtown-- FYI, the one next to the Days Inn on 4th Street. (You can see it plainly from the observation room at the top of the Arch.) Just like me, Pierre’s friends had no furniture. We sat on the floor that night and drank beers and I enjoyed some of their conversation in French. We ended the evening by going arm-and-arm and singing La Marseillaise. That part I just made up.

I didn't known then what I wanted to do with my professional life, what would satisfy my passions, but it came to me many years after the Summer of Ice Cream. I loved the shows WKRP and, later, Newsradio, and really internalized them, to the point that I made my career in radio for just short of a decade. What I always wanted though, I decided, and what was represented by these great TV shows I enjoyed, was to be part of a great workplace ensemble, and I’ve had that now with three different employers, the first of which being Frosty Treats, Incorporated. This garage was like Taxi. There were only a couple of ladies, older ones like the extras, no Marilu Henners. The French guy, being foreign, would be Latka, I guess. Some of us wanted to be actors, or boxers (the ones I didn't know, probably), others were probably like Reverend Jim, and would have trouble finding work anywhere else, some of us wanted to be stadium ushers. I’ve never seen any of these people again, with one possible exception. A couple years ago, I believe I saw the boss, the man whose name and phone number I kept in my wallet throughout the '90s, when I still thought I needed to list Frosty Treats on job resumes. He was with a group of friends sitting several rows in front of me at a night game in the upper deck of a new Busch Stadium. He was a big man, and several beers along, clearly enjoying himself. Not entirely sure of myself, I didn’t think it necessary to go say hello after two decades of time had passed.

From Roses to Snow
I made it to a record 15 ballgames during that summer living in the city-- though I would later tie that record through sheer hustle in 2000, commuting from Des Moines. At one juncture during that memorable year of '94, I went to four games in two days, thanks to back-to-back doubleheaders in a series against Atlanta. My wages, paid out in cash each one of those days, turned out to be enough to cover my lease and all expenses for the summer, with enough left over for an electronic sound receiver, a five-disc compact disc changer, and two speakers- all of which can still be found in my current living room. They are a living memory.

Home Again
It dawned on me just the other day that my ice cream truck piloting venture is an equivalent to Samuel Clemens’ brief career piloting steamboats in the 1850s. For both of us, this youthful escapade would inform the rest of our lives. He made his way down the river from Hannibal, Missouri, and I came from Iowa. As he wrote in Life on the Mississippi, a river pilot was required to “get up a warm personal acquaintanceship with every old snag and one-limbed cottonwood and every obscure wood pile that ornaments the banks of this river for twelve hundred miles; and more than that, must… actually know where these things are in the dark.” And as I explained, my work required me to give away a lot of cherry popsicles. His work in the field came to an end with the outbreak of the Civil War, during which he made out for Nevada Territory, and ultimately, to his first important writing assignment. My work ended with a return to the classroom. Clemens derived his alias from his experience-- in river boating, the phrase ‘mark twain’ stands in for the water depth measure of two fathoms, or twelve feet-- the level of depth considered safe for piloting. I have my new pen name narrowed down to “Strawberry Shortcake” and “Choco Taco,” leaning toward the latter.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Our Russian hysteria

Happy New Year. Let’s get a couple things out of the way first.

The Russians, even if reports from anonymous CIA officials are true, did not hack our election. They hacked emails-- ones of a non-government entity (the DNC) incidentally that revealed wrong-doing that we shouldn't be distracted from. The trail of media misinformation on this speaks to how easy it is for intelligence officials to find eager trumpeters from America’s Fourth Estate.

Second, there is still no evidence that the Russians were behind the DNC leaks. President Obama could basically declassify anything he wanted to in justification for his punitive action against the Russian diplomatic community this week, and he has not. Evidence, incidentally, is not even the same thing as proof. The 13-page report issued by the Obama administration on Thursday that MSNBC, CNN, and Huffington Post present as evidence against Vladimir Putin’s government is only a list of details describing the phishing techniques used by the alleged attackers. No evidence of a link to the DNC case exists anywhere in the report. This report is, effectively, a tactic that serves the current president’s political need to take punitive action against Russia before he leaves office. One would look weak as hell to accuse a foreign government of such treacherous crimes, but then not do anything about it. A serious accusation demands serious consequences. It’s also a political tactic that suggests there have been other political tactics.

Julian Assange still says that the source of the emails WikiLeaks published-- his source-- was someone from within the U.S. intelligence community, and what motive would Assange have to jeopardize his perfect track record of accuracy and sourcing, and destroy the entire credibility of his enterprise? Do intel officials engage in such ploys of misdirection? Not only is the answer to that question yes, but they also have gone so far as inventing conspiracy theories with the aim of discrediting their critics as “crazy conspiracy theorists.” I’m telling you, there is nothing you can put past these fuckers. During the height of the Cold War, some of them conspired successfully to kill President John Kennedy and stage a coup of the American White House. Another group, with some overlap, broke into DNC headquarters in 1972. They have, time and time again, engaged in actions, direct and indirect, that were designed to spur regime changes in other countries as well. This includes many nations in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, almost every country throughout Latin America and the continent of Africa, at one time or another. They conspired successfully to have Nelson Mandela, a man they perceived as a terrorist threat, arrested in the 1960s. They armed both the Taliban and Osama bin Laden in the 1980s. They arrogantly and clumsily created a fiction that became a breach that would be filled by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq, Libya, and Syria, toppling, through our military, the only semi-secular governments in the region.

And please know that our intelligence community wanted war with Russia over Crimea, where our military backs a group of Ukrainian neo-Nazis fighting for separatism from Putin’s control. While we should be teamed with Russia in the cause against terrorism, America's Democratic Party is, instead, a willing participant to the cause of re-starting the Cold War. As such, Clinton’s unexpected electoral defeat was a crushing defeat for that cause of escalation. Had she won a majority of electors on November 8th, we would be already looking at a massive build-up of U.S. military forces along the Ukrainian/Russian border.

The tip-off that this Russia angle has been trumped up is that the Clinton-supporting media has given almost no focus instead to the area of electoral malfeasance where there is not just smoke, but actual flames-- the failure to count votes from African-American-dominant precincts in Michigan and Ohio. Jill Stein has practically been begging for media attention to this voter suppression, but to no meaningful avail.

Perhaps releasing actual evidence of Russia's alleged electronic tampering would require the disclosure of the CIA’s similar covert actions at untoward influence aimed at other autonomous governments. Isn’t that we can now safely surmise happened at the time of the assassination of President Kennedy? If Castro had a hand in the death, and I’m actually in the camp that believes it was CIA and mafia operatives that were anti-Castro, what other motive would there be to suppress from the American people the act of Castro’s involvement than that declassifying documents would lead to the facts of our own failed attempts on the life of the Cuban leader? In other words, the CIA covers up because he got to us before we got to him.

This anti-Trump panic on the left has got to end. It is an immediate imperative for the operatives of the Democratic Party, those that conspired against the reforms of the Sanders campaign, and are still acting-- from the Oval Office on down-- to prevent Keith Ellison and a new band of reformers from gaining control of their broken party, to wake the fuck up, and stop the madness while the public relations damage is only moderate. You. Lost. You did it to yourself. You cheated. You disenfranchised your own base, you assumed that it would stay a secret because who was going to report on it-- the Washington Post? (Haha) And your misconduct and hubris were exposed for all to see.

As a growing majority of Americans look upon the Clinton cultists, they see, chiefly now, the absence of accountability. If they're on the right, they see hypocrites and sore losers, desperate to hang on to power. On the left, they see hypocrites and scoundrels, desperate to hang on to power. Working men and women see the leadership of a once-major political party still ignoring them. The detrimental effects of continuing to blame their loss on anybody but themselves, and to avoid taking a good long look at their own mismanagement and perverted values, are nearly incalculable.

As he continues to be belittled and have his legitimacy questioned, Trump will score electoral points with any even marginal success-- and he will have his share of successes because he has, sometimes in spite of himself, managed to blow up the rotted core of both major political parties. We saw this with Obama as well. He galloped to an easy re-election in 2012 thanks in large part to the illogical attacks he was forced to endure. When will these party hacks-- on both sides-- learn their lesson about the whole of the American people? We each have our favorites, but we don’t want to believe that the president is illegitimate. That’s why the birther crap backfired so badly. And this is how the Republican wing of the Democratic Party will die-- not with a new openness towards reform, but drowning in their denials.

Here’s a better explanation of the Democrats’ historic defeat last month. A great big group of passionate Bernie Sanders activists, mostly 20- and 30-somethings, the type that Clinton should have been salivating to have attending her events, tried to stake their place within the party’s power structure and simultaneously serve as messengers to the DNC from the collective pulse of the people of the United States. They attempted an explanation to the Clinton monarchists that she should oppose the horrendous trade deal, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), that even her Republican opponent very publicly and correctly opposed. Hillary told audiences that she opposed it also, but Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who stands as close to the Clintons as any politico not surnamed Wasserman-Schultz, went around telling every person with a microphone that the candidate was only publicly posturing and that she really would support the deal after Election Day. When McAuliffe’s supposition was exposed as fact by WikiLeaks, Hillary went as wobbly as she did that day she got hustled into a shuttle van on the streets of Manhattan.

They also told Hillary to get her tail to North Dakota and stand up against the Bakken Pipeline. She didn't go because she wasn't against it. The Clinton team didn’t listen to the impassioned shouts for radical change in the party's neo-liberal policies on imperialism and militarization, or to ix-nay the saber-rattling in Syria, or to come clean on her illegal attempts to shield her work emails from FOIA requests. They avoided rural voters as if they were infected with the Zika virus. The campaign staff did hardly anything at all to woo, let alone inspire, these Sanders loyalists. In one particularly dark episode, entertainer Sarah Silverman, acting as campaign surrogate, chastised and infantilized these activists in front of a convention television audience of millions. In retrospect, that was one of the moments it should have been apparent this shit was not going to end well.

We were in line for a Bernie Revolution, and instead they gave us a Trump Revolution. Clinton’s bank money was used to push people out of the way. Her SuperPAC brazenly and illegally coordinated with her campaign. WikiLeaks already revealed years ago that, as Secretary of State, Clinton employed diplomats as spies at the United Nations, spying even on the leaders of our allied countries-- do remember that this week when you read about Russian diplomats acting as secret agents in the U.S. That, combined with her electronic attempts to shield from public view her actions at the State Department, should have disqualified her as a candidate before the convention even commenced. It’s hard to know which offense is the worst-- the malfeasance, the attempts by her and her allies to shield it from us, or how badly they are at doing that.


Wanna have a retroactive laugh? Read this Ruth Marcus article in the Washington Post from eleven months ago. "It's far from clear," to Marcus that Americans "are prepared to embark on (a revolution)." What a massive misreading of tea leaves. Apparently, all that's left to do a year later is to blame it all on Vladimir Putin.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Carrie Fisher 1956-2016

 
To say that the first Star Wars trilogy was an obsession in my youth is a tremendous understatement. The action figures were nearly the only toys my brother and I had. And that fact alone would make me a Carrie Fisher fan-- what a talented, funny, gorgeous woman she was.

But in her most famous role, George Lucas' mythical universe acted as a sort of sexless universe. In my opinion, Carrie was much more of a magnetic physical presence in the years that followed. While Star Wars dominated a certain period of my life, Nora Ephron's When Harry Met Sally laid its own particular legacy on me-- in respect to romantic relationships-- when it came out in the year of my 14th birthday. Carrie had the best friend role to Meg Ryan's title character, but she created a sexy, indelible character, paired opposite the equally marvelous actor Bruno Kirby. All of a sudden, Princess Leia was grown, and she was funny. And she could cut you off at the knees. "Marie Fisher" kept a Rolodex of men she might potentially date, and you'll recall the reveal in the film that she only dog-ears the cards of men that have gotten married. Has there, before or since, been a better "best friend' in a romantic comedy than Carrie Fisher in that movie? I thought it was a colossal failure of Hollywood the last few years that nobody ever thought to pair Carrie again with her Star Wars co-star Harrison Ford in the supporting role of parents, or the like, in another romantic comedy. People would have gone crazy for that.

"Marie" was the role I always imagined to be closest to the real Carrie, the sarcastic wit that survived the high-profile celebrity breakup of her parents, attended Beverly Hills High School and didn't bother to graduate, inspired the Paul Simon song "Hearts and Bones," guested so memorably on 30 Rock and lent her voice to Family Guy, authored the hilarious, best-selling autobiographies/semi-autobiographies "Postcards from the Edge" and "Wishful Drinking," and wrote in the latter that she wished to die "drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra." I eventually came to believe that Princess Leia was obligated to renounce the monarchy system of Alderaan if she wished to become a true rebel hero, but I loved Carrie Fisher. She was a true rebel hero.

Gilbert's gift

 
Award season arrives and I’m busy trying to stay culturally-relevant. Though I have not written at all about it, I've watched every episode of 29 different TV shows this year. With films, I wait for the DVD format in nearly every instance (Loving was a recent exception), but I inevitably make it through the extensive list of movies I want to see, and then work again at seeking out the lost classics.

My obsession of late is the Gilbert Gottfried podcast, a once-or-twice-a-week internet release that serves the dual purpose of entertaining me and leading me back into a labyrinth of forgotten showbiz magic and near-magic-- the likes of Boris Karloff, Larry Storch, and Cesar Romero’s orange slices.

Gilbert's program is a charming portrait of a man and a moment, but that moment is long past. Co-hosted by comic writer Frank Santopadre, it is a show decidedly out of the present, a celebration of the arcane and obscure in entertainment history. I dare say that Gilbert is the new, true champion of the young medium. The more celebrated podcast belongs to fellow comic Marc Maron. That program’s attempt at urbanity and its lesser obsession with Danny Thomas’ rumored sexual/scatological kinks (relative to that of the Gilbert show) certainly helped elevate it to its position as Slate’s “greatest podcast of all time” two years ago, and also to attract a current President of the United States to sit for an hour-long interview, but compared to Gilbert, Maron, to me, often seems ill-prepared for his interviews (and I could also do mostly without the pre-interview monologues on each episode).

To hear Maron recently express his unknowing surprise to Alan Alda that Alda’s father was a celebrated actor in his own right-- Gilbert would never err in such a way, enlightened a theory of mine that, during all those years Maron was wasting his free time high on coke during his stand-up career, Gilbert’s hours away from the stage were better spent in front of the TV in countless hotel rooms.

Gilbert’s show is also refreshingly free of self-promotion. To listen to Maron’s podcast is to get a constant reminder from the host of how badly the comic's career needed this break to have come along when it did, but with Gilbert, the whole thing just seems like gravy. He seems singularly interested in resurrecting the profiles of long-forgotten heroes, and he’s performing the additional service of getting many of these elderly entertainers-- Joe Franklin, Marty Allen, Dick Van Dyke, Larry Storch, Ken Berry, Julie Newmar, James Karen, Pat Cooper, Barbara Feldon, and Orson Bean, to name just a small number of many, to get their stories told before they go.

Gilbert Gottfried, that perplexing and controversial comic personality that was famously fired by each one of the entities-- Saturday Night Live, Donald Trump, and Aflac insurance, has finally found the perfect outlet for his talents-- some of which I didn’t even know he possessed. I think “Gilbert” is well on his way now to becoming one of those mononymous personalities, along the lines of Madonna or Beyonce.

Monday, December 19, 2016

The new leadoff hitter

 
It needs to be acknowledged in this space that the Cardinals have signed a five-year contract with a star African-American player. Except for a single-year with Jason Heyward in 2015, Dexter Fowler will be the team’s first “core” black player since 1999. The Cardinals have not had an African-American All-Star since 1997. (They had one every year from 1982 to 1997-- owing largely to Ozzie Smith, but eight others were All-Stars at least once during that stretch.)

The importance of this development has been written about now at ESPN and the Post-Dispatch, and it’s been discussed here. On the large-trafficked sites (how I refer to the others), the topic always touches off reader comments from Cardinals fans along the lines of Why does this matter? The Cardinals’ job is to get the best players, period. Thanks for bringing race into this for no reason, you liberal scum. What a blessing it must be to live in that color-blind world-- a privilege of whiteness, if you will. These comment threads have also, often, included accusations that a certain player of color-- Heyward, as an example, is “not a Cardinals-type player.” Those opinions are never elaborated on so I will only infer at their basis.

Let’s look at it only from a business standpoint then-- since the suggested tack is what’s best for the Cardinals. St. Louis is a majority-black city. Among MLB cities, this is true of only four others-- Detroit, Baltimore, Atlanta, and Cleveland. With the departure of the Rams to Los Angeles earlier this year, the city was left with only two professional athletes that were African-American-- Cardinals’ outfielder Tommy Pham, whose father is black and his mother Vietnamese, and Ryan Reaves, a bruising right-winger for the NHL’s Blues from Winnipeg, Manitoba, the son of a former Canadian League football player from Arizona. (For a time in 2016, the Cardinals also employed veteran pitcher Jerome Williams.) This reality accentuated the culture gap that exists, but shouldn’t, between the team and the city. It may not seem, outwardly, like a problem until you have Ferguson protestors gathered outside the stadium targeting the highest-profile event in the city, as we had in 2015, and you have videos going viral of white Cardinals fans arguing with them on the street and tossing racial epithets. These fans are claiming an ownership of the team which they should not wholly possess, but the Cardinals organization is in the defenseless position of appearing to be almost entirely white in the backdrop of this scene. The same thing happened outside Rams games that year, but inside the dome, you had the contrasting image of five Rams pass catchers, all African-American, coming out of the tunnel with their hands in the air, taking the field in solidarity with the protestors-- an action unsanctioned by the team, I would add, but the uniform represents.

St. Louis is a city that has volatile race relations, a city that has endured more than its share of incidents involving police profiling, corruption, and violence, suburbs and neighborhoods scarred by housing covenants and historic inequities. Interstate 64 serves as a de facto dividing line between an overwhelmingly-black majority population in North County, and a large-majority white population to the south. Area municipalities, like Ferguson, are currently being targeted by the Department of Justice because of accusations of targeting of black motorists with fines reportedly designed to fill city coffers.

White and black populations too often seem to look upon the other through a veil of suspicion. But the Cardinals should be-- and were, during the era of the brewery ownership, a bridge. The intense stare of Bob Gibson from the pitcher’s mound out across nine different World Series games during the mid-1960s is an iconic visual in the annals of sports history. Before colored sets arrived and displayed bright red of his uniform, America saw the blackness of his skin through his heroic exploits. His teammates, Curt Flood, Bill White, and Lou Brock, were heroes for the entire city (as their white and Hispanic teammates were also). African-American-style baseball reached its apex in St. Louis and in the U.S. in the 1980s with fleet and daring teams that included Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, George Hendrick, Vince Coleman, Lonnie Smith, and Terry Pendleton. (Forgive the fact that I’ve listed these names before in similar posts, but it excites me to write them.)

I applaud the Cardinals’ ownership for recognizing a dissonance. A year ago, they failed in their efforts to re-sign Heyward, and to sign pitching ace David Price, but they made substantial offers to both players-- offers that, if accepted, would have been record-setting financial deals for the franchise. There’s a code that’s being spoken this winter, in a way. Chair Bill DeWitt III and GM John Mozeliak say they want “excitement” added to next year’s team, and African-American consumers, as well as whites, know how that translates-- it's the opposite of complacency. The entire sport, in recent years, has de-emphasized the attributes that African-Americans have traditionally brought to the game. Base stealing, basic catching and throwing, and enthusiasm took a back seat to power, plodding, and the unwritten rules of “tradition,” yet simultaneously, we have continued to deal with a double-standard in which blacks that succeed in the sport always have their success attributed to genetic gifts, while their white counterparts are considered harder workers. The patron saint of white “scrappiness” in St. Louis, and possibly the entire sport, is David Eckstein, but I have watched damn near every Cardinal game for 20 years, and I don’t know what separated his level of effort from many others that are of color. I’ve never seen anybody work as hard on the field-- Eckstein included-- as either Tony Womack or Kolten Wong, but neither of those players ever acquired that label. Dexter Fowler manifests all of it-- his personality, his enthusiasm, his hustle, his intelligence. I’m thrilled that he took this assignment that also requires an understanding and appreciation of social issues.

Only 8% of MLB players are African-American, as of our most recent opening day. That’s down from a peak of 27% in 1975, down to almost the level it was during the era that immediately followed integration, but the number has held steady since 2012. The signing of Fowler means that the Cardinals immediately look more like the city of St. Louis. The Cardinals have always been a regional team in a small city, but now with a world championship team only hours away in Chicago-- and can you believe this fact? The Cubs are the first World Championship team in the Cardinals division since the 1987 Mets-- a bandwagon packed with jumpers throughout the central part of the country may have just landed on Chicago’s North Side. It's time for the Cardinals to reinforce the appeal to their base-- the city residents. I go to the games. My wife is of African descent. She looks for black players. So do I. At Busch Stadium, you don’t even see black faces on the “cheer” squad. There have been precious few fans of color in the seats too. The only group of attendees that looks like the city is the concession workers-- and it’s been almost 65 years since the team integrated in the dugout. Fowler’s presence cannot hurt. He tweeted a photo of his daughter (whose mother, Fowler’s wife, is Middle Eastern), wearing that bright red Cardinals hat and expressing her excitement for the family’s new destination (after the Champion Cubs made their unappreciative feelings for her daddy obviously known). That’s the same red hat you see African-Americans wearing all over the city.

It has a national importance when you are representing this particular city, one that is often maligned as decayed and dangerous. On BET’s reality series Nellyville, set in St. Louis, a member of Cornell “Nelly” Haynes’ family is always dressed in St. Louis Cardinals fan gear. On OWN’s Welcome to Sweetie Pie's," a reality show about a growing chain of soul food restaurants based in St. Louis, the cap is ubiquitous among the employees. When Michael Brown’s father is seen speaking to the news media, he is inevitably wearing a Cardinals hat. Like these others, he’s not telling the world that he loves baseball. He’s telling us where he’s from, and who his people are. Some MLB teams display the team name on their cap. The Orioles of Baltimore display the bird of their moniker, the Angels of Los Angeles show the “A” with the halo, the Athletics of Oakland give us a yellow “A,” and the less said about the Cleveland Indians the better, but the Cardinals have never displayed a red bird on their cap. It’s always been the enmeshed letters STL, and now on the field, they’ve got a rainbow roster that holds deeper colors-- talent that is white (Adam Wainwright, Stephen Piscotty, Trevor Rosenthal, Matt Carpenter, Lance Lynn), African-American (Fowler), Dominican (Carlos Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Reyes), Cuban (Almedys Diaz), Puerto Rican (Yadier Molina), Venezuelan (Miguel Socolovich), Panamanian (Edmundo Sosa), South Korean (Seung Hwan Oh), African-American and Vietnamese (Pham), and Pacific Islander and Chinese (Wong).

Ozzie Smith called Dexter Fowler on the phone upon the announcement of the signing last week. “Not rocket science” is how Ozzie described to ESPN the supposition that more African-American players will lead to more African-American fans. Baseball has got to double-down on their push to get more. In recent years, the economic resources for player development have decisively moved to the Caribbean. The city of St. Louis produced the baseball talent of Ryan Howard, but he is now old enough to be moving into retirement. Football and basketball have ciphered off more young talent in the city than any other factor. Ezekiel Elliott, the man who will easily be named the NFL Rookie of the Year, and can make a case as league MVP as well, is a product of St. Louis’ John Burroughs High School. But football has not been kind to its players, as has been well publicized. Pursue a career in football, and the money you make has a good chance of going to waste on a life of crippling headaches and early dementia. The NFL doesn’t seem to think much of St. Louis, either. You say you aren't 6 feet, 7 inches tall? Then consider baseball and its guaranteed contracts, long tenures, a lifetime of robust physical and mental health-- as athletes should expect for their effort, and no archaic rules that force up-and-coming talent to develop their talent for free on the “plantation” of collegiate exploitation. There are going to be great-looking ladies surrounding every sport, but in baseball, some of them might even be on your team. Well, not currently, but that FOX series Pitch is so damn realistic that it wouldn’t surprise me.

Ozzie didn’t go so far as to say, but the manager also needs to let Fowler be himself. Spontaneous celebrations need to be permitted, even encouraged, and they have been neither in the Cardinals clubhouse for a long time. The Cardinals have a core group in place, but Fowler instantly becomes part of it, and needs to be. It’s justified by the dollars he’ll be getting, the role he will have manning center field and batting lead-off, but also because of where he comes from and what he represents-- not just his race, but his track record. Forget where he got it and the hype surrounding it, he’s got a ring, and now five years removed from their most-recent championship, that’s something only three other current Cardinals can boast. Make no mistake, Dexter Fowler is going to be filling a very big hole.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

People's History of the Moeller Television Festival (15th year)

Per custom, here are some of the written comments submitted on index cards during the Moeller Television Festival. They are anonymous, sic'd, and without context.

We should have had cucumber soup on our menu.

Special thanks to Jamie- who came all the way from Chicago.

The Newhart Show is known as "Hombre to Hombre" in Spanish speaking countries. Probably.

I thought the fight would be about JoAnna's 80s sweaters.

I think we have just experienced an anti-climax.

I used to enjoy Tom Poston on the Steve Allen Show. Signed, Groucho

I just now learned that Larry Sanders and Garry Shandling are different people.

I never realized Darryl was so foxy.

I enjoyed the origin story of E.B. Farnum from Deadwood.

Stephanie remains my model for womanhood to this day.

Newhart Season 7 (of 8) out on DVD this Tuesday, December 13th.

We forgot to get jalapenos for the tacos- sorry gang

We should add a lard fight to next year's festival.

Did everyone remember to turn off their cell phones and pagers?

Ophelia talked in her sleep last night, said "No, don't eat that."

I enjoyed creator Larry Gelbart's work writing on the Sid Caesar "your show of shows" - Signed, Groucho

Whatever happened with the war?

Thank goodness the whole series turned out to be a dream.

Filmed in B/W= Serious MASH, Klinger in a dress= Funny MASH. I miss funny MASH

I always enjoyed Pierce's impression of me. Signed, Groucho

I remember when the controversy when this episode aired. Viewers were upset that the CBS censors let Radar say "Latrine" on television.

I liked Harry Morgan's work on Dragnet. Signed, Groucho

I feel like they took some of this from Duck Soup. Signed, Groucho

Rob liked the colleagues/college joke.

We do considerable drinking for sitting at home. We do not enough drinking for being at the TransAmerica Holiday Party.

There was a foreshadow of Buster's seal attack on the newscast in the background of one scene.

I only write a bunch of comments when I'm bored.

I forgot how much I love this show.

I don't know any of these people. Signed, Groucho

I don't find the police brutality jokes funny. Why can't Arrested Development take itself more serious like MASH?

Silly Michael! There's always money in the banana stand.

Maebe just portrayed Alexander Hamilton on Drunk History.

#Analrapist

I would give this show 6 stars- Good pick Alex. Signed Groucho

This show reminds me of the 70s show Soap, but with more disfunction

William McCready has 70s hair... 1870s hair

First TV Festival Field Trip- let's go down to the real CR Gazette offices

Did everyone see Radar in the Cherry Sisters audience?

Only festival episode ever scheduled before it aired.

Do you know Steve Dahl, Jamie? Are you Steve Dahl?

The White Sox haven't had that big of a crowd at a game since. Go Cubs. Signed, Groucho who roots for the Northsiders

The Moellers in the room are all sportin' tv tshirts. This feels official :)

The real Steve Dahl looks more like Patton Oswalt than Colin Hanks

The Cherry Sisters had to walk 50 miles to watch their episode of Drunk History on TV.

Jamie works at WLUP and Steve Dahl works in the building too-- That's why he picked this episode. Signed, Groucho

Funny story about Bob Odenkirk. I work in marketing and our ad agency pitched us an idea with Bob because some of them had worked with him before. It was to be based on his Better Call Saul character, so I supported it. Once it was agreed upon the idea the suits decided to keep the idea, but not use Bob Odenkirk because he was too expensive. LOL

Is there something creepy about Bob Odenkirk toasting "to teenagers"?

I wake up every morning to "You Should be Dancing" by the Bee Gees. It's invigorating.

Everyone should watch Jenny Slate's video "Marcel the Shell."

I saw the Cherry Sisters at the Hammerstein Theater. Absolutely terrible. Signed, Groucho

Chico fucked three of the five Cherry Sisters. Signed, Groucho

When she said "brushing the pig or whatever" it was more Iowa-bashing.

My next halloween costume will be "New York Hot Dog Man"

I wonder what the judge decided about the libel... They totally left us hanging.

Letterman used to use a Groucho line when he had civilian guests: "I'd love to keep talking with you all day, but now it's time to play our game."

Weird. I almost brought my ventriloquist dummy of talent agent Nicky Steward.

I'm more of a '56 DeSoto kind of guy.

White people. Nuff said.

Can you make juice out of rice like you can corn?

Go see your local DeSoto dealer and tell 'em Groucho sent you. Signed, Groucho

His theme song that plays is "Lydia the Tattooed Lady."

Regarding the audience's 1950's haircuts-- those are haircuts you could set your watch by!

Nicky finally got Groucho a youthful audience. Here we are enjoying him in 2016!

Great pick Groucho, but that DeSoto product placement is a little obvious.

I'm glad no one talked through the commercials.

Ever wonder where people like those contestants are now, or when they died? What would their families think that we're sitting here in Iowa watching it 60 years later?

Did Groucho ever utter the cigar line?

When buying a car, I always tell the salesman my height, and ask for a car that's "lower than I am."

After watching this, I have fully forgiven myself for being a dork in 1990.

An amazing special to get all those stars together to honor Lola Folana's last year in show business.

Everyone should hear Katya Moeller play "Summertime" on the violin.

"Mr. Bojangles" was a song originally written and performed by country artist Jerry Jeff Walker. For more info on Jerry Jeff, consult your public library.

Does sniffing a sharpie get you high? I was flying so high when Goldie Hawn was singing "True Colors."

I never knew Tony Danza was a triple threat. Actor, boxer, and dancer. Well, 2 out of 3 ain't bad.

Richard Pryor would have been able to read the teleprompter if he was wearing Ella Fitzgerald's glasses.

What brand VCR and VHS tape was used in the Moeller household? This tape quality is quite good for nearly 27 years old!

You need a TV Festival gift shop so I can buy a coffee mug that says "I made it thru Goldie Hawn's performance."

I would watch a 3 hour special honoring Gregory Peck, Dean Martin and Ella Fitzgerald's ginormous eyeglasses.

Dead celebrity count on this special: Dead 11, Still Living 17.  

I know all these people. Signed, Groucho

It's hard to watch Whitney Houston and not wonder, "How high do you think she is?"

Whitney Houston looks like she's wearing a snuggie.

My vote for funniest performer of all time is a tie between Bob Hope and Bob Hope's cue card guy.

I keep getting the urge to clap.

The Sammy Davis appearance on Archie Bunker was aired at TV Fest 6.

Imagine how great Sammy Davis would have looked in skinny jeans.

Royce weighs more than Sammy did here.

I feel like Stevie Wonder was attempting one last save of Sammy.

Sammy inspired so many in so many ways. For some his dancing, for some his singing, his quick draw, for me it's this pinkie ring that will never again leave my finger.

Bill Cosby needed those glasses to make sure he was getting the dosage right backstage.

Anybody need me to sign a slip to get class credit?

Martin Freeman now. There are a surprising number of Fargo actors today. Including Aaron's t-shirt.

Ricky Gervais would be kicked out of tv festival for talking.

Stephen Merchant stalking photo

No photo

It's unbelievable how many American series took this "unseen documentarian" concept. Modern Family is still doing it.

This was so short.

All in the Family is also based on a British show, Til Death Do Us Part, but in the British version, Meathead is called Fish&Chips

Was this how the show ended? They never got out of the freezer?

Culturally-significant

Archie's chair is in the Smithsonian.

Archie just got nominated as the president's chief of staff.

Many of the elements are in the film- the female officer, the black witness, the lawyer with possible dementia, and the tape recorder.

Ophelia blues story

Open your eyes. Now you'll find your color blind Racial

The student who says he's Dutch is John Lithgow's son

French Stewart has disappeared.

Pizza upstairs

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Donald Trump eats borscht and he likes it!

Man, you gotta watch these guys all the time. For a second, I thought the security state was going to let Hillary Clinton lose the election, but they still have a life. We now have “anonymous” sources from within the CIA stating what that agency purportedly believes to a friendly mouthpiece, the Washington Post. Without any accompanying evidence, this source, whose name and political allegiance we know not, alleges that the Russian Federation was not only behind the hack of the DNC and John Podesta emails, but that he or she knows that the motive of such was to have Donald Trump elected president.

Based on that Post article, which appeared on Friday, a group of ten electors in the Electoral College now want to see official intelligence before they cast their committed votes to Donald Trump in a week. In their open letter, the electors cited Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Papers, preventing a “desire in foreign powers to gain an improper ascendant in our councils.” Great choice! Hamilton is hotter right now than the Gilmore Girls revival! Hillary Clinton has also interrupted her physical and metaphorical walk in the woods to re-engage the electoral process. Her campaign manager, Podesta, whose hacked emails revealed that he believes Africans, Muslims, and “Gypsies” are “never-do-wells” that drain Western society, says he supports the electors’ efforts to seek more information. Julian Assange, whose hacktivists released the DNC and Podesta emails, claims that his source came from within the U.S. intelligence community.

Mike Morell, the former chief of the CIA and a man who endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in the New York Times earlier this year, yesterday equated the prospect of a foreign government tampering with the U.S. election to the “political equivalent of 9/11.” While reminding everyone that still no evidence has been presented to us that Russia has indeed tampered with our election, Morell’s comparison is undeniably true in theory. He didn’t technically call it another 9/11, either, which would be a little tacky. He said it was the political equivalent of 9/11, and yes, probably. On a related note, the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series is the St. Louis Cardinals equivalent of 9/11.

Donald Trump is not playing nice with the surveillance state. He responded to this Washington Post ad placement by saying he won’t take intelligence briefings and he doesn’t need them. Yes, exactly. Of course, he does need them, but I’m perversely glad that somebody in our Oval Office, or destined for it, has seen it important to remind our shadow government that they serve for the good of the people. I hope this isn’t one of those Kerry Washington Scandal deals where the president tries to rein in the B613 super spy agency and, in retaliation, the president’s teenage son winds up getting whacked by the man that will eventually become the gay lover of the president’s chief of staff, a whack ordered by the father of the president's mistress. But there are parallels.

Russia’s meddling in our election (again, no evidence of this) is especially tragic because the United States has never put its hands on the election of any other country. Well, there was the CIA-manned assassination of Chile’s democratically-elected Socialist president Salvador Allende in 1973. To name some of a few more, there were several assassination attempts on the life of democratically-elected Hugo Chavez in Venezuela during the Bush II regime, and possibly hundreds of attempts on the life of Fidel Castro between 1959 and last month. Even under Senator Hillary Clinton and Clinton's state department, we had attempts to rig elections in the region claimed by the Palestinian Authority, and an attempted coup in Honduras. The CIA has even been involved in influencing domestic politics. It's been illegally spying on citizens since 1959, on student radicals, anti-war activists, civil rights leaders, and of course a group of agents famously broke into the Watergate Hotel to steal Democratic Party campaign documents in 1972.

Democrats should be focusing their attention on why such a low percentage of working Americans supported their candidate at the ballot a month ago, but instead, they’ve latched onto this story. All of the people screaming in November for an explanation from FBI director James Comey on why he was re-opening an investigation into Clinton’s email scandal just before Election Day should now certainly fall in line behind a new drive to have President Obama declassify this hard evidence that supposedly links Russia and Vladimir Putin to the Clinton leaks-- and that also reveals the motivation. I’m an American that doesn’t trust organizations that keep secrets professionally and systematically, and I’m tired of this inference that I’m a Trump supporter and/or a Soviet agent if I say I want to see proof. And while Obama is opening items to the sunlight, a little reminder to him that it’s December 12th of his eighth and final year in office and we’re still waiting on pardons for Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. If we don’t get that evidence soon of the Kremlin’s tampering in our election, a patriot in the same vein of Manning or Snowden is liable to leak it instead.

Monday, December 12, 2016

MTF XV-- The Program

Moeller TV Festival 15 came off hitch-less on Saturday. Here's the annual publication of the greetings from the festival program....


I've written sixteen of these festival greetings. No wonder I've been staring at a white screen all afternoon. I turn on the television—maybe the world's truest source of spiritual and creative inspiration—for ideas, and it's nothing but news, cooking shows, a few animated kids’ programs, dull movies, and duller sitcoms that have never made the cut at a Moeller Television Festival. 

I've been procrastinating so much, doing everything but write this. I raked some leaves today and folded laundry. I've written all my comment box cards for the next five festivals. I washed dishes. I wrote a murder-mystery movie script about a television festival held at the White House, where the murderer hides the knife in a comment box and flees from the Lincoln Bedroom through a trapdoor into the secret Taft Pantry (he weighed 400 pounds, folks). I couldn't come up with an ending, not knowing which member of the president's transition team to make not the murderer. I checked emails, then Facebook. You know those political articles that your friends share? I was so bored I even read some of them—even those pretentious "open letters" that people write and then, oddly, publish. 

I called Christopher (or Chris, as I knew him when we were growing up—I found out he was Christopher when we got our diplomas), but he didn't answer. Couldn't even leave him a message. He told me last week his answering machine chewed up the cassette tape. Have you ever Googled "writing TV Festival greetings"? Besides providing links to copycat festivals in Edinburgh and Monte Carlo, there's nothing. I even called some of my ex-students from when I taught a community college television festival class, hoping for maybe some “the student is now the teacher” inspiration, but that didn't get anywhere. Turns out that a few of my former students had enlisted in the army and were busy this time of year fighting the war on Christmas. And you know how young people are these days. Half the kids told me they don't even watch TV anymore, favoring gaming instead, and the other half had gotten pretty good jobs, mostly as professional protestors. 

So I won't even write an introduction, just a few words instead from the heart. I hope you enjoy this year's festival, all the food and drink, the cramped quarters, and the lap-sitting. The Sammy Davis Jr. thing is really cool and unique, and the All in the Family and M*A*S*H episodes are knockouts. Welcome, and know we love you now and for all time. 

Aaron Moeller 


---

To this day, Katie Holmes won’t return my calls. 

Over a period of several months, about nine years ago, she and I were quite close. Katie and Tom would come over to the house and the four of us would play gin rummy nearly until our fingers bled. We would pop some popcorn, and for background entertainment, Tom would bring along a DVD of Breakfast at Tiffany’s. The card playing action would pause every time Mickey Rooney came on the screen during that picture. Tom would just laugh himself sick over Rooney’s character “Mr. Yunioshi,” a hilarious depiction of what Asian men were like in the 1960s. Tom would jump up and down on Anne’s slip covers and offer his own characterization of Yunioshi, and before any playing could resume, the rest of us were expected to coax him “back to being Tom” with our laughter and our applause. 

Then came the nasty break-up of our little couples club. Anne is one of the Latter-Day Saints, as you know from the emails, and we had the Cruises stop over with their little Suri so that we could baptize the girl into the faith. I guess it’s easier to baptize non-Mormons during their life, rather than after. Posthumously baptizing the Holocaust victims, for example, was a logistical nightmare for the church, even with numbers tattooed on their arms. “Better to give with warm hands than with cold,” Anne says. 

A small complication arose,however. Anne didn’t think it important to tell Tom and Katie about our sectarian motivation prior to their arrival. Tom has no sooner stepped into the foyer when he sees the prayer pajamas and he comes completely unglued, nearly stepping out of his lifts in a grasp for my jugular. I’m like, “Ease up, Goose. Just think of it as a kind of supplemental insurance policy on her immortality.” (I don’t know if you know anything about Scientology, but the closest thing I can think to compare it to is 4-H.) Now there is literally steam coming out of Tom’s ears. Am I using that word right? “Literally?” It’s literally coming out of his ears. They dart for the door and peel out of the driveway and back down Mulholland just as Will and Jada are arriving, confused to the gills, naturally. 

Fast forward to 2013. The Cruise/Holmeses have divorced, the cleaning crew at Gold Base is all atwitter about some new tenderfoot on Tom’s arm, Katie is back under the sway of Rome, Suri is an Operating Thetan on the fourth level—the entire universe being slowly revealed to her, and I’m getting E-meter-audited as if I was carrying Xenu’s love child. I make tax-exempt contributions up the butt, yet they just won’t cut me a break—and I’m not even a member of the church. Meanwhile, I haven’t landed a legitimate part in all in this time, except for my one-week appearance, and early elimination, from the reality competition series Undercover Congressman. On principle, I refuse to audition for roles—that’s an exercise in debasement I left behind in the ‘90s—but I also refuse to be industry-blackballed by a two-faced midget that, after all this time, still refuses to come out of the closet… as a Trump/Pence voter. That’s why I’ve decided to write the book (from which these passages are excerpted), and to do the exclusive television interview with Wendy Williams during one of her “Hot Topics” segments. 

Anne and I have since divorced as well. I now find myself talking to a psychiatrist three days out of the week, and during the other four, sitting in auditing sessions where I’m renouncing psychotherapy as a barbaric affront to the Galactic Confederacy. Xenu help me if either of these advisers ever finds out about the other. 

Jesus Christ, 15 years of this shit, 

Chris Moeller