Drooling on the Pillow

Friday, April 07, 2006

This Story Has Legs. No Story, Actually, But Great Legs 

James Lileks on Katie Couric taking on the Big Desk at CBS: "If you spot me a whoop, I could probably muster a de-do . . ."

She's hard working and smart, that's to the good. She's an idiot and a chipmunk, that's to the bad. The only important aspect is that she makes CBS News exactly what it deserves to be, in fact, what it aspires to be: a functioning irrelevancy.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

When I Smell a Cigar, I Think of the St. Moritz 

As a young actor I did my share of waiting tables. You have to. The money's good, the hours are flexible and the labor pool is constantly churning.

Unfortunately, I wasn't very good at it. I wasn't a nightmare waiter. I didn't add unauthorized fluids to low tippers' coffee and I never (deliberately) humiliated anyone in front of their wives. (Both of these I've seen done numerous times. Just saying.) As long as things stayed fairly calm I was pleasant and nervously efficient. But you make your money when things get crazy and when three tables walked into my section at once, everything would go white. I just never learned to organize my brain to keep more than two or three balls in the air at once. Consequently, I never lasted too long anywhere.

That left two ways to make money: temping, which I hated, and desk clerking in hotels, which I loved.

I worked the midnight desk at a number of mid-town hotels, but my first job was my favorite -- midnight to eight at the St. Moritz on Central Park South.

The St. Moritz (now the Ritz-Carlton) was the "bargain" hotel on the street, but it was a very expensive street and we got quite a few of your scruffier celebrities. It wasn't a hard job. Check a few people in, check a few people out, call the engineers for minor problems, wake up the superintendent for major problems, sell a few souvenirs, set up the desk for the day shift, hand out keys and mail. I ran a switchboard that was very much like the one to the right, but everything that I had to do could be done in a couple hours. The rest of the time I listened to the brand new country station in New York, I studied my lines if I was in a show, I wrote, I read, I shot the shit with whoever wandered in off the street. I'd help myself to a Macanudo from the cigar vault every once in awhile. Pretty sweet. I was one of the first people in the world to read the New York papers and it was there that I saw on the front page of the Times that the girl from high school who took me all the way for the first time in the back seat of a Rambler had grown up to be a terrorist who had bombed the Bank of America. Who knew? The last I saw her she was heading off to Bennington.

All security matters were handled by the house dick, an ex-NYPD detective named Ruby. By which I mean that Ruby had understandings with the local entrepreneurs and girls could only go upstairs with his approval. He would sit in the coffee shop across the lobby and if a young woman came in saying she was here to see Mr. So-and-so, he would either fold his paper and slap his thigh or he wouldn't. How I dealt with disappointed applicants was up to me, but it was Ruby's responsibility to see to it that the St. Moritz didn't turn into the 9th Avenue Holiday Inn while not unreasonably inconveniencing the clientele.

The other two people working those hours were the night auditor and the cashier, a damp young man who kept showing me his wedding ring. I can't remember the night auditor's name, but he was a concentration camp survivor, very old, but funny, waspish. Not very forthcoming, though. If you asked him any question at all not directly related to work his answer was always the same: "My name is Rabbit. I know nothing."

Harry Helmsley lived upstairs and I gave him his mail every morning. Never saw Leona, though. Sam Levine, the original Nathan Detroit, lived there and would roll in around two most mornings and sit in the coffee shop with Ruby smoking cigars. They were sometimes joined by Erroll Garner, a regular.

Probably the most dramatic night was when I checked in Diana Ross and her husband, some guy named Silberstein who was a music producer, I think, in one suite and John Cassavetes with his whole posse in an adjoining suite. Things got pretty merry up there and I started getting complaints and had to call up several times to ask them to keep it down. Then Mr. Helmsley called down and I had to get more insistent. The next thing I know there's a very drunken Cassevetes downstairs waiving a cigar in my face and trying to climb over the desk at me. He's being held back by Peter Falk who eventually drags him back across the lobby to the elevator. Things apparently quiet down upstairs and half an hour later Falk calls down to apologize to me. I thought that was pretty nice. Years later The Goddess did a show with him and her opinion is that he's a very nice guy, but every bit as strange and wiley as he appeared in Columbo.

I left to do a show in Kentucky, came back for a couple months, but when I left to do another show in North Carolina they told me I wouldn't have a job when I got back. I wasn't too worried. There's never a shortage of hotels in New York and they're all open all night.

Next: Autocolonoscopy 

Do it yourself Lasik eye surgery.


Don't blink.

From Warren Bell at NRO.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Warm Chin, Cold Heart 

Mr. Garth Trevethan, desert dweller, libertarian, notes the prevalence of vandykes on right-wing talk show hosts.

If he only knew.

Boyle's Thirty Acres 

I enjoyed Cinderella Man a lot and didn't expect it to do much when Gong Season rolled around as 1) they only throw Ron Howard an award once a decade and Beautiful Mind was just five years ago, and 2) its about a principled and courageous man of unshakable red-state values. So 1947. So Capra.

The only thing that disappointed me was the lack of local color. So much of the story took place in my stomping grounds, but, except for the dock scenes and the New York scenes it all seemed like Generic Low-density Urban. The words said Jersey, but the backgrounds said Canada.

That's okay. I've been reading the book, by Jeremy Schaap and it has tons of local color, characters and facts about the North Jersey fight game in the '20s and '30s. The book was put together after the movie and there's a little bit of a slapped-together quality to the prose, but the character sketches are colorful and the scene setting is quite vibrant.

Among the many Chill Town references that were entirely new to me was a wooden sports arena that was built by Tex Rickard specifically for the Dempsey-Carpentier fight in 1921. It was called Boyle's Thirty Acres and was at the present site of the Hudson County Schools of Technology and the Montgomery Gardens Housing Project, just down the hill from the old Jersey City Medical Center which is metastasizing into condos. I pass it every day.

It was built to hold more than 91,000 and was jammed for the fight. The gate was an unheard of $1,789,238, which, in 1921, was more than enough to keep The Goddess in shoes.

Braddock fought twice at Boyle's Thirty Acres before it was torn down in 1927.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Big Meshugener 

HBO seems to have a hook with my name on it, because eventually I almost always become addicted to every series they put out. I imagine such will be the case with Big Love, their new show about polygamy, staring Bill Paxton, even though I found the premier resistible and haven't seen it since.

You can't be fully conscious in 2006 and pretend to be shocked or offended by the subject matter, but I do confess to being a little creeped out by it.

Three wives! Or in the case of the picture above, five or six! It always gets a little fuzzy there with the mid-adolescent females. For Lizard-Sluggo it's an easy call. Stax o'chix. All good. Fortunately, I stopped listening to Lizard-Sluggo some time ago and the issue becomes a bit more nuanced.

First of all, there's The Goddess. They don't call her that just because of her benevolence and wisdom. There's a wrathful element there, too. Vengeance is mine, she always says. She's a jealous Goddess and right there you can forget about all of us sitting around playing Boggle and drinking cocoa. Not without blood on the wall, we don't.

Then there's me. Women have always been to me what VCR manuals and Ikea instructions are to the wife: fiendishly complicated, pointlessly obscure, and missing a part or two. Getting married is simply the mature way of saying 'Okay, I give up, I'll never get it.' Getting married again while the first one is still breathing and watching 'The View' is like saying 'Okay, I give up, I'll never get not getting it.' It's doubling down on fives.

Getting married the second time (sequentially) saved my life and I'm happy for anyone to know it. I'm as happily married as a shnook can be. I never understand players who win a jackpot and then go double or nothing.

More intelligent commentary may be obtained from Jonathan Rauch at Reason OnLine, who discusses the structural downsides to polygamy, even for libertarians.


Volpone in Winter 

The Old Fox can't count, but he can write. Visit the latest Carnival of the New Jersey Bloggers at his place.

Hector and Maria 

Jim, at Parkway Rest Stop, makes the borders issue simple enough for an intellectual to get it. His piece, with the language cleaned up a little, would make a devastating TV commercial for any group with the rugalahs to take it on.

Fairness is what he's talking about: fairness to taxpayers and fairness to those who have waited and sacrificed to immigrate the right way.

Let's Play 162! 

No, that's not me, third from the left. Uncanny, though.

I'm always grousing about baseball, true fan that I am, the drugs, the money, the Dammit to Hell rule. Always going on about the chunks baseball has taken out of my heart and the holes it has left in the walls of every place I've ever lived.

Here's the thing, though. I've been a Pirate fan since, well, since about when the above picture was taken and now that they are beginning what I'm quite sure will be their fourteenth consecutive losing season, I still feel a buzz this morning.
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