Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Tongue Repressor (Bachelor 12 Round of 3)

For the sleuthers. This closeup from the last episode of the show is being studied by Kristy Katzmann.

Chris Harrison and Matt Grant are sitting in the airport as Matt waits to go through security for his flight to Barbados. Chris hands Matt his three fantasy suite invites, shakes the Bachelor’s hand and offers him a bit of advice,“Good luck there big guy. You know the last Bachelor went three for three and he didn’t give a ring to any of them. After getting to spend the night with them, he turned around and told the final two that he was just too sincere to give anyone a ring.”

“Brilliant. How many of the ladies did this guy kiss before that?”

“Uh, Matt….this guy wasn’t a very good Bachelor. After telling Ellen Degeneres that he wasn’t even having coffee with any woman until he got his head straight, he was spotted with his former girlfriend in Las Vegas.”

“Does Ellen use her tongue when she kisses?”

“Don’t know….I don’t think I’m Ellen’s type and I doubt that you’re her type either….By the way, we’re you supposed to be the classy Bachelor, the one who wanted to marry before your father died?”

“Bollocks….I forgot about that part.”

“We need you to bring the romance back to the show. You do a good job of it with one Amanda, Chelsea, or Shayne and in a few months you could be swapping spit with Marla Maples too or some other ex-wife of Donald Trump.”

“Brilliant, will they exchange tongues with me at movie premieres? Maybe the Donald will let me be the Brit on the Apprentice? I just love Hollywood, California. Don’t you Chris? This place is so brilliant.”

“I suppose you think Shayne Lamas is brilliant too?”

“Exactly, I’m looking forward to exploring her serious side this week. Btw thanks to the show for editing out that bit where I asked her mum to pass the collagen please at the dinner table.”

“Good luck there Matt. Btw You might want to rehearse the fantasy suite speech a little. You know it’s not that easy to proposition three different women in three nights.”

“No worries Chris. I’ve got that one worked out. I’ll have to fargoe your little rehearsal.”

“Okay, well see you at the Women Tell All maybe. You know that’s my big moment every season. My wife still laughs about my skywriting ad lib with Hillary Reisinger last season.”

Matt shakes hands, gets in line for security, and runs into Chikezie from American Idol. After Matt makes it clear that he doesn’t know Simon Cowell and admits that he maybe misjudged Marshana Ritchie, he’s allowed to board the plane.

Sometimes I’m glad we don’t have a large screen HDTV. When Chelsea Wanstrath was um dressing down for the fantasy part of her date with Matt Grant, I could have sworn that she had “Matt” written in glitter on the back of her panties. At least the camera didn’t do a close up. Instead they just showed her putting on a slinky black nightgown and removing her underwear before returning to the awaiting horny guy with British accent. I say so much for plausible deniability on that fantasy date. Naturally Chelsea got her rose, the trip to England,an offer to pose for a major men’s magazine, and a phone call from a former governor of New York.

In the meantime, I’m not sure what Chris Harrison would have made of that bit where it appeared that Matt was going to get it on with a sea turtle just because Chelsea wasn’t being worshipful enough during the daytime part of their date. How does anyone reconcile not wanting to hold hands with putting some guy’s name on your underwear and doing whatever seemed to follow? Also Chelsea was the one saying that the bit with the other women made her shut down that day, but did Matt say or do anything at all to change her mind that um spectacularly?

After Shayne Lamas convinced the Bachelor that she could talk about politics and stuff by telling him, “Yes, I can talk about politics and stuff like that,” Fleiss et. al. don’t seem to be leaving a whole lot of doubt about how this one ends. He even gives Shayne the villa and relegates the other two ladies to suites at the Hilton, probably paid for with frequent flyer miles.

Btw, one of the odd things about the show is that they seem perfectly comfortable implying that some young woman who barely knows the Bachelor had sex with the guy the night before he dumps her for two other women he just spent the night with (it’s all about romance after all), but if anything remotely controversial comes up they either edit it or act like it doesn’t exist. It would have been fascinating in any number of ways for Shayne to have expounded for a minute or two about the 2008 Presidential election.

They could have talked about Hillary’s shoes, Obama’s pastor’s tanning machine, or John McCain’s plan to stay in Iraq for another hundred years with no way to pay for it. Shayne could have talked about the price of gas, political activism in Hollywood, or even the writer’s strike and it might have been genuinely interesting. Instead, we were treated to a Hollywood kissing lesson during which Matt got to pretend to be Brad Pitt, a star who hasn’t interested Shayne since she was sixteen. Apparently, the key to on screen kissing is not to use your tongue, though Matt has trouble taking direction. Can we say too much information there?

In the meantime, Matt says “I’m falling in love with Shayne” half a dozen times and Shayne confesses that she’s falling in love with Matt. We also get Matt laughing uproariously at Shayne’s “Do they have palm trees in London and I’ve been blonde since I’ve been 12.” That saucy little minx…she’s just so clever and deep.

I was rooting for Amanda to slug Matt after she didn’t get her rose or at least to hire an impostor to do it for her. Way back when, I remember how Alex Michel more or less promised Trista Rehn that he’d pick her if…. and then Trista ordered the cameras out of the bedroom. Amanda didn’t exactly give the most articulate speech, but it did seem to be to the effect that she wasn’t going to “open up” unless she felt safe. After 12 seasons of the Bachelor, I’ve figured out that when you get to the fantasy suite episode “open up” really means “put out”. Again Matt doesn’t say much and the kissing that ensues certainly implied a bunch then naturally he dumps her what twelve hours later? Why don’t they just call this show the Hound Dog? So Amanda does, “I haven’t felt this way about many guys, but I have special feelings for you.” Matt responds by saying, “Yes yes, let’s go there.” Two weeks from now, he’s going to insist that the only woman he ever wanted on the show was Shayne Lamas (or maybe Chelsea Wanstrath, but if they went back to Las Vegas you could get great odds for that one). The producers will then be telling you how romantic this whole journey was as Matt does the bended knee routine. How stupid are we supposed to be? The Fantasy Date episode is the world’s greatest Bachelor party without any actual wedding to deal with. You just say you’ve fallen in love and then months later you start turning up at parties with Miss Iran and Marla Maples. You never actually have to marry anyone.

And how stupid are the women? Do you really want to marry some guy who does it on national tv with three different women in three nights? Yeah, I know the participants always deny it afterwards and insist that they did nothing more than talk in some closet about the differences between rugby and soccer. I’m sure that’s true once in a while. I tend to believe that Sadie really did escape the Fantasy Suite with Lorenzo with her honor intact, but that’s probably because she fell asleep from being around the guy for more than a few minutes away from tv cameras. It’s also not the way they edit the cutaways from the fantasy suite. Nine times out of ten, it’s like that train tunnel scene in North by Northwest followed by an Enzyte commercial.

I do have one small problem though: I love watching these episodes. It really does take a sinister reality tv genius to sandwich this male fantasy between meeting everyone’s mom and dad where the Bachelor swears, “I’d never dream of hurting your daughter oh shotgun bearing father,” or as the ever eloquent Matt put it, “I’d never screw with her emotions,” and an episode culminating with the Bachelor offering a ring and saying “You’re the only one I love on this show at least until the cameras stop rolling.”

My only small suggestion is that they maybe add a segment to the “Women Tell All” called “Room Service Tells All.” Can you imagine the ratings? In the meantime, I am looking forward to the reality show sequel to this installment where Matt moves in with the Lamas family in preparation for the wedding. Maybe they can get Chris Knight (My Fair Brady) to make a guest appearance as Peter Brady, though meeting a real celebrity like that might get Matt too excited and he’ll start trying to make out with Marcia or something.

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Thursday, April 24, 2008

Carly Smithson's Fun Ends (Idol 7 round of 6)

Since I’m like this big time Idol blogger, I’m sometimes privy to information that the rest of you pathetic fan-types don’t hear about. You know, I’ve heard about some woman in New York who obsessed over Michael Johns so badly she started doing odd things with Photoshop. There’s another one in Texas who still talks about Sanjaya and Taylor Hicks. No wonder the producers don’t let just anyone in on this stuff.

Oh Geez….can I start over here? I kind of forgot what I was going to say. It’s not like I have the memory of one of T.S. Elliot’s cats. Btw, has any mentor ever been tougher on an Idol competitor than Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber was with Jason Castro? I would say if they ever do a remake of Wizard of Oz though, Jason would be a shoo in for the cowardly lion. They wouldn’t even have to spend money on a CGI enhanced mane. And am I the only one who thinks that David Archuleta is trying out for a touring production of Aladdin? Do you think Brooke White got enough mileage out of flubbing the opening for a second time on the show?

So where was I? I was so darn good in rehearsals for this post. Sir Andrew himself had me stare into his eyes as I wrote the thing and he told me how good it was. I have to say Andrew Lloyd Webber might have been on of the best mentors the show’s ever had. He told the show’s pet teenager to open his eyes when he performs, he was honest with Jason Castro, he actually did get Carly Smithson to relax (imo it helped but she still got voted off), and he managed to do it all with a measure of grace and charm. Simon could learn from this guy.

I was also very impressed with the fact that Ryan finally kissed Simon. I know it was one of those very ambiguous displays of affection and devotion, more or less like the shirt hanging in the closet in Brokeback Mountain, but I suspect the two have copied the moment onto DVD to cherish forever. You know that scene in Age of Innocence where Daniel Day Lewis touches Michelle Pfeiffer’s gloved hand and they both go all fluttery? That was the exact look on Simon’s face when he realized what had happened.

Okay, what did I find out? Now that some of the more talented singers have been voted off after arguably strong performances, a lot of viewers have been wondering what the show is up to. Of course, the producers official line is that “America Votes” we just subtly and not so subtly try to manipulate the way you vote. Anyway, Syesha Mercado and Carly Smithson both sang quite well according to the judges and by most measures. Brooke White and Jason Castro both seemed to be almost embarrassed to be on the show on Wednesday night because they were so rough on Tuesday. What’s going on? I mean if it’s not about the singing what’s the point of the show?

This morning, I got an invite to a special trade show attended by all of America’s major retailers. We’re talking Walmart, Target, the Home Shopping Network, and the Pentagon. While the rest of the world is concerned about the cost of fuel and food staples like rice and wheat, they’re busy trying to sell us items we can’t really use though at amazingly low prices. Anyway, the talk of the convention was this season’s new American Idol products. With the crash of the CD market and the failure of the media spinoff scheme from last year (who can forget Justin loves Kelly or Puck and Pickler), Nigel et. al. have jumped into the ultimate Idol venture, American Idol housewares.

Naturally the talk of the show was the David Archuleta blender. It looks like your basic household blender and to be honest that’s all it is, but it has a life-sized full length photo of a smiling David Archuleta on the box and glued to the glass. Anyway, whatever you throw into the David Archuleta blender whether it’s John Lennon, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Dolly Parton, or Mariah Carey, 90 seconds later you pour out a rich, creamy, pop ballad. It doesn’t have an especially distinctive taste, but it’s inoffensive, wholesome, sweet, more or less vanilla with a noticeable but barely detectable Latin flavor. Adults might find it a little boring, but for some reason teenage girls absolutely love the smoothies it makes. They just see the Archuleta Blender and they immediately start squealing with delight and hugging the thing. A special safety circuit prevents their hands and faces from getting caught in the high speed blades.

It is a bit strange that no matter what you put into the mix, it always comes out sounding the same. To be honest, it doesn’t always work. One time someone as a joke poured in some live Beatles and the Archuleta Blender sputtered a little, but the teenage girls and Paula only loved the product all the more for that because that made it “human”. Basically, if you’re selling something that vibrates to young females, the more human it is every now and then the better it sells. The product does come with one other warning. For some reason, it makes a lousy father’s day gift. Still, it should have you just licking your lips in anticipation.

Another motorized product that seemed to be drawing a surprisingly strong level of interest was the Jason Castro portable back massage unit. A handsome looking cushion covered in a soft fur-like material, the Castro massage makes relaxation in your home so easy and painless that a few minutes in the “on” position and you’ll be singing “Hallelujah” to yourself. With one of these, you could be on national tv for the biggest moment of your life and you might have to stifle a gigantic yawn. It’s battery powered so the Jason Castro back massage unit has its limits. For example, don’t let your Cats anywhere near it or they may tear it apart. Again young females seem to like the product and have been known to buy more than one at a time. In its category which is unique and totally itself, the Castro battery-powered back massage cushion should do surprisingly well. It’s so effective sometimes, people will insist that you look stoned or at least a little breathless.

Again it’s kind of a niche thing, but the Brooke White stain removing appliance is managing to stay on the shelves. You take something old and faded maybe on the simple side and you run the Brooke White stain remover over it and it’s supposed to make it shiny and now. Well, it does work with old Carly Simon and Carole King records. We’ve also heard that someone with a Pat Benatar CD got surprisingly good results once. Even if it doesn’t make it shiny and new, the Brooke White stain remover will always make it look authentic and sincere which apparently for a surprising number of people is good enough. Also if it doesn’t work the first time, you just start over.

There does appear to be some odd chemical in the Brooke White stain remover. First, never try it on DVD’s of R rated movies. There are some reports that it also shouldn’t be exposed to sunlight. The product has a pale finish and if you so much as say “Here Comes the Sun”, it starts whooing and spinning around uncontrollably. Other than that, it’s rather amazingly durable. It even has a special microchip which says “Thankyou” and pouts cutely even when you say bad things about the product. This product is guaranteed to outlast even better built and designed competitors.

Due to their rather surprising popular acceptance in recent years, the retailers group had high hopes for the Carly Smithson tattoo-maker. Several years ago, the same technology was used for the Carly Hennessy line of label makers but a marketing problem stalled the product roll out. In any case, this baby boasts an industrial strength inking mechanism. Initial sales were very strong. The Smithson tattoo-maker did a very good job with images of the queen a logo that said “Come Together”, and even one that said “Shadow of Your Smile”. For whatever reason, it had some problems with a simple image of a Blackbird and the company nearly had to issue a recall. Other issues with a Total Eclipse only worsened the problem (customers were complaining about a load screaming sound from the unit). They called in Andrew Lloyd Webber to straighten out the manufacturing issue and to his credit, he managed to fix the problem (he’s like the Jesus Christ of this industry) and also marketed it as “fun” rather than as a household appliance (there was one customer who’d used the thing so much he looked like a Klingon. Some people swore that he'd married the product). Unfortunately, it was a bit too late to save it and sales continued to fall anyway. Even offering a free t-shirt to the first 500 phone orders couldn't save it. It wouldn’t shock us if the Carly Smithson Tatoo-Maker reappeared in some other form in a few years.

After the retailers finally rejected a line of silver lame toy horses and socks known as the Kristie Lee Cook collection and an ultra-tiny set of sushi knives set to be called Sushi At Every Miele (A David Hernandez line of Boy's dance outfits also never quite got off the ground. Same thing with the Amanda Overmyer authentic scream chamber), they rather hesitantly decided to market the Syesha Mercado high stool. One of the biggest selling points of the product was the amazing indestructibility of the Syesha Mercado stool. Normally with previous models of stools, a guest would sit on the thing one week and be gone either the same night or at least by the next Wednesday. Anyway, the Syesha Mercado school looks attractive, it’s made from an extremely high volume plastic used to produce high decibel speaker diaphragms. The manufacturers were very optimistic about the Syesha stool early because they exposed it to extreme cold then tapped on it and it still had many of the qualities of Poly Arethathane, a legendary product.

The Syesha Mercado stool was marketed with a young woman who smiles a lot, says thank you to everything, and always manages to reappear on the shelves to the amazement of those who consider the product too Yesterday. I Believe that for whatever reason there are people who Will Always Love this Stool and that the Syesha Mercado might be in the stores longer than anyone imagined.

Perhaps the strangest product of all in this year’s American Idol housewares line is a set of David Cook CD’s. Apparently you stick them in a CD player and surprisingly good music comes out.

Not only does it make Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson sound quite different and even fresh, but amazingly it can do songs from Phantom of the Opera more or less straight. It’s a bizarre marketing idea I know, but I think it's the only AI product left that has a chance to stay in stores for a while.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Shayne Lamas Show (Bachelor 12 Round of 4)

I dreamt that I was the Bachelor last night, at least I’m pretty sure it was a dream. First I found myself in a bar in Los Angeles where this zombie came out and claimed to be Shayne’s father. This guy’s been dead so long that his face had to be sewn back together only they did it so tight that the only thing on his face that moved was his mouth. They’ve had divorced parents on the home visit before. Tara Huckabee’s dad got his own segment, but her mom didn’t get any screen time at all. Bettina’s mom, dad, and stepmom were all in the same house to disapprove of Brad Womack (does that visit look a bit different in retrospect now or what?) Tessa Horst also had her mom together with dad at his DC home even though they're divorced. This time though it’s the Shayne show and they decide to give her two home visits. Either that or there was some sort of restraining order in effect. I guess the other possibility was that ABC decided not to show America Shayne’s nineteen year old stepmother, Mrs. Lorenzo Lamas number six or seven. So zombie dad met us in a bar/restaurant.

Right off the bat, I’m disappointed. I was hoping that he’d make his entrance on a motorcycle with a shotgun strapped to his back a la Renegade. Instead, Zombie Dad dusted off an old scene from Falconcrest and accused his own daughter of only being on the Bachelor for exposure and stardom.

Shayne then defended herself by saying,”No, I wouldn’t have stayed on this show this long if I weren’t really into Matt.”

“Hey, my name’s not Matt” I think to myself and what’s more that really wasn’t very persuasive.

I then realized that I wasn’t asleep at all. This really was the Bachelor, because Matt says, “Well, I had my doubts, but now that you say that I’m absolutely convinced.”

What the hell?

Next Zombie Dad looks at the young couple and says, “Okay, well I’m convinced too, best of luck to the two of you.”

First, if I ever need a loan I’m going to go to Matt’s bank. Do you have any collateral? No. Do you have an income stream? No. So, how do we know that you want this ten million dollars so you can hang out all week watch reality tv and blog about it for the rest of your life? Well, because I’m really serious about doing this. Okay, good enough for me, I believe you.

I jump ahead in the tivo of my mind to a couple images of Noelle in the white sweater after the horseback ride. I look at Shayne. I go, “What the hell? This guy is seriously seriously some kind of idiot.”

Zombie Dad asks Matt to spend some alone time with him. He then starts off by telling Matt that he’s been a really lousy Dad. Matt gives him this “No, Sir….I would never have guessed that. After all we said “Hi” and thirty seconds later you were telling me that you were worried that your beloved daughter was a phony who was just toying with my feelings to get national tv time. Zombie Dad then says, “That’s why it’s really important that you don’t hurt her, I’ve already *(*#@$ her life up enough for any fifty men.

Matt and Shayne leave to visit her mom’s house. The camera lingers on Zombie Lorenzo and he’s talking to the producers, “You guys are paying me scale for that scene right, even zombies have bills to pay and I'm still paying alimony to three of my wives?”

We then learn that Shayne bought a house for her mother, but never hear anything more about how that happened. Shayne’s younger sister looks exactly like Shayne so they make her wear a sparkly headband to keep the viewer from getting too confused. Shayne’s zombie mom, Michelle Smith, is even more terrifying than Shayne’s dad. Imagine a female impersonator version of Connie Stevens. Where Zombie Dad’s face is sewn a bit too tight, Shayne’s mom looks like she made ten or twenty too many visits to Doctor 90210. That said, Shayne’s mom seems quite nice so I feel guilty about what I just wrote, but not so guilty that I don’t leave it in.

In honor of Matt’s visit, Shayne’s mom makes roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. I’m not sure it’s quite as good as the roast beef and Yorkshire pudding they would have had at Robin Canfield’s house where they also have a tea maker instead of a coffee maker, but they seem to have a good time anyway. At one point, Matt looks at the Yorkshire pudding then looks at Shayne’s mom, then looks down at the Yorshire pudding, then we see these little tiny dogs who seem to be trying to warn Matt about dating a woman with parents who happen to be undead. Matt ignores them and Shayne’s mom drags him into the only room in the house that doesn’t have any leopard skin prints in it.

She then shows some dance/gymnastics video of Shayne as a little girl where the viewers learn that Shayne is actually a brunette. Shayne’s mom talks about how determined and special her daughter is then pronounces Matt and Shayne a beautiful-looking couple.

Shayne and Matt kiss passionately and both say what a great home visit that was.

We then get about three minutes each of home visits to Colorado. Chelsea’s visit is entirely in Bachelorese. They talk about opening up, connections, whether Chelsea’s in to Matt. Chelsea’s dad tells her that she needs to open up if she’s serious about this. Matt tells Chelsea’s dad that he was attracted to Chelsea immediately after he found out that she’s double-jointed and really athletic. They have this lingering kiss when Matt has to leave and Matt mumbles something to the family about starting to fall in love with Chelsea. I’m pretty sure that I’m not going to remember anything about this home visit in two weeks. At the end of the show, they show Matt and Chelsea pretending to be cowboy and dance hall girl for a photographer and that scene has way more energy than the home visit. About the only other notable moment is a bit where you see Chelsea’s arm linked in Matt’s instead of holding his hand on the way to mom and dad’s house.

Okay, I’m a guy and I’ve watched most seasons of the Bachelor and some of every installment. Noelle Drake is probably one of the three or four most physically attractive women they’ve had on the show. She also comes off as remarkably sane and gentle. Her family rides horses, throws horseshoes, and Dad admits that he married his best friend and considers that the best thing he ever did. Matt responds by telling Noelle’s sisters that he’s falling in love with many different women right now. They kiss at the end and we’re supposed to think that Noelle is starting to open up some, but the kiss is a little reserved compared to Shayne and Chelsea’s farewell embraces. Once again, you can read Matt’s intentions by the way he kisses. If there were no Mrs. Chancelucky and I were younger, I’d go propose to Noelle if she weren’t out of my league. Of course, Mrs. Chancelucky is out of my league anyway. Matt Grant really would rather see Shayne Lamas kissing strange guys on screen, have weekly separate dinners with Zombie mom and dad, etc. than….In any case, Noelle’s mom also wins the this is what your wife is going to look like in twenty five years test. Maybe they don’t have that test in England.

Amanda Rantuccio decides to hire a pair of actors to punk Matt on her home visit, though this time there’s no Ashton Kutcher. Ashton couldn’t make it because he was too shocked by Matt’s dumping Noelle in favor of Shayne. Though Ashton wouldn’t have known that at the time, so it must have been some other reason like Ashton not understanding why the Bachelors always dump all the women who are older than they are. Amanda’s fake dad is sort of a Paul Giamatti knockoff and fake mom looks like someone who didn’t quite make it into the troupe at Second City. It’s really sort of a funny idea, but my problem is that Amanda paid money for these two.

Years ago, I was at a party with a woman who started telling us about a prank she played on a very vain male friend of hers from India. She had someone tell him that a famous Indian director was in town, had seen him around town, and wanted to cast him in one of his movies. He was supposed to meet them at a coffee house in Berkeley and the prank part was she was going to see just how long this guy would wait for the director to show up for the meeting. He waited a couple hours which meant that she waited a couple hours watching the friend wait. The joke was funny in its way, but everyone at the party was kind of looking at the woman and thinking “Wow, that’s way too much energy to put into a practical joke. This woman has a serious crush on this guy and we’re not sure it’s reciprocal.”

The basic idea was that mom starts making a pass at Matt and fake dad catches them. Unfortunately, Matt doesn’t appear to pick up on the fact that it’s a joke until Amanda has to tell him. He says “What a great prank, the best ever….” But I notice that he doesn’t use his trademark “Brilliant” to describe the experience. He also doesn’t seem to laugh. Amanda’s real family appears and they look less like Amanda than the fake parents did. They have dinner, but we never get to hear them say anything.

I applaud Amanda for doing something different and memorable on the home visit, but her odds on the show just fell off the table. This is my guess. I’m not sure that Matt is all that keen on being with a woman who might be more clever than he is.

At the rose ceremony, Matt dumps Noelle and she turns around and instead of crying and insisting that Matt made a mistake, etc. as eight million others have done on this show, she says “You know, I agree we got a late start and I have to say that was my doing. I didn’t open up until late in the process. Best of luck, Matt.”

If this were a real movie, Matt would be about to do the final rose with whichever two ladies remain. He’d realize the error of his ways, jump on the only conveyance available, a horse, and ride to Colorado. Zombie mom and Dad would be nearby and try to stop him by ripping their heads off and making like the characters in Death Becomes You, but Shayne would then get her big moment when she stops them to say,

“Mom, Dad, I love you and I was falling in love with Matt, but I’m not in love with Matt, just ask Dakota. He needs to find true love and be with someone with parents who aren’t undead. Matt, you go get her. I’m going to be just fine here with my two thousand shoes, three hundred handbags, and an unlimited account with the best cosmetic surgeon in Southern California.”

Noelle is home with her family acting grandmotherly and talking to her agent. Matt comes galloping up on the horse in front of the entire family sweeps her up onto the back of his horse, the two ride off into the sunset, he takes the rose out of his teeth, Chris Harrison then suddenly appears out of the blue and there’s an altar set against a mountain backdrop. Trista and Ryan are there for the ceremony and Trista announces to Bachelor America that she’s having another baby. They show forty seven minutes of Trista and Ryan highlights, Matt proposes, Noelle accepts, and the Bachelor franchise is saved.

Unfortunately, none of that’s going to happen. According to Bachelor forensics the thumb that goes with the ring is pretty certainly …..and I’m pretty sure that there’s almost no way they can make these last two episodes interesting in any way unless Dakota goes in Shayne’s place for the fantasy date and Matt doesn’t notice until it’s too late, Chelsea shows Matt how weird it is to hold hands with someone who’s fully double-jointed, and Amanda starts screaming at Matt when he offers her the Fantasy Suite card, has a breakdown, then says “See I was just kidding” wasn’t that hilarious?

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

My Father's Paradox (fiction revision)


story published in Eclectica

National Defense University on the Iraq War

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Thursday, April 17, 2008

Hamburger not Filet (Idol 7 round of 7)

I went to lunch yesterday and such is the power of suggestion that for the first time in several months I found myself ordering a hamburger. The waitress was very friendly and seemed very intent on making sure she got the order right. so we had a conversation about whether or not cheese, onions, pickles, lettuce, jalapenos, etc. had any role to play in the hamburger I wanted. Anyway, she brought whatever we had agreed on and you know dawg, it was alright, just alright, if you know what I mean.

I started to think about the best hamburgers I could remember and something occurred to me. Over the years, I’ve had hamburgers done all sorts of ways. No matter what you put on it though, the thing that makes it memorably good is the taste or quality of the meat and the bun. If the burger part of the burger isn’t good, it doesn’t matter what you do to it.

I imagine that Simon Cowell doesn’t understand this because he’s English. For years the most successful hamburger place in England was called “Wimpy’s”. Equally strange, Brooke White was singing about a “Hero” which is a totally different thing from a hamburger. Hero’s are served cold, the bread is torpedo-shaped, and they contain a variety of cold cuts.

Anyway, I have nothing against hamburgers that consist of a bun and a meat patty and no I’m not going to talk about Brooke White's or anyone else’s buns. That said, my take is that she should have gone to her sister’s wedding. The whole crew should have gone to Brooke White’s sister’s wedding. The thing was in Utah which is like an hour’s flight from LA. It's not Kathmandu. I know that Brooke White is apparently Mormon as is David Archuleta (both have now gotten way more votes than Mitt Romney), but I’m certain that her sister wasn’t being married into one of those polygamous sects though I did wonder why they didn’t show any pictures from the wedding.

It would have been great fun to see the various remaining idols really be wedding singers. I could have seen Randy, Paula, and Simon at the head table, making toasts, criticizing the food, and I imagine Paula would have fit right in as someone’s strange aunt who has a bit too much champagne at the reception. “Sweetheart, you look so beautiful….You make such an authentic bride.”

I’m just saying that would have made much better television than Mariah Carey and the seven dwarf singers. I’m just going to put it out there, this season’s been really dull. Part of the problem is that the designated star for this year has been “Bashful” Archuleta.

Has he ever said anything remotely interesting? We learn that Mariah Carey tells virtually everyone to try to take a risk and sing in their way way upper register. (I think she was sitting backstage laughing….going “I am Mariah of the five octave range, I can sing pitches that only dogs can hear, let’s see them try to be me”) Naturally she tells David to go there and he does for about two seconds followed by this year’s teenage girl shriek track. Right, I was just begging for this season to break out Donnie Osmond for the Twenty First Century.

David does sing better than Donnie and although I haven’t seen him dance a lot he probably also does that better than Marie. He’s never fainted while talking to the judges either. He just happens to pick yet another generically inspirational song When You Believe from Disney’s Prince of Egypt. I thought Prince was from Minneapolis.

There’s no question that he can sing songs like this perfectly well, but the judges act like they’ve just discovered Stevie Wonder at some talent show in Detroit in 1962. Doesn’t the Disney channel have like three hundred teenage singers who more or less do this and even sing the same material? Is Fox planning to launch its own Disney channel to replace its news network (If so, I'll vote for David like five million times)? Or maybe they’re going to do a spinoff called Junior Idols? I think this kid would be terrific for something like that.

The next dwarf singer is Lassy. She talks for a few mintues about how much she loved the dear departed Michael Johns not because of his talent as a singer, but because he had all these funny jokes about how he did a better job marrying to get his green card than she did. He found a babe while she found an extra from Star Trek the Next Generation from that episode about the Klingon tattoo parlor. Mariah is nice to her, but you can sort of see it in her face. “No way you’re going to be me. Irish girl”.

Carly does her bit on “Without You”. I’ve now seen her sing ten times. What I notice is that throughout the performance I always think “What a great powerful voice” and at the end I ask myself “Do I want to hear ninety more seconds of this woman sing?” My answer is “Maybe not”. There’s an old trick where you tell someone to squeeze really hard on something to keep you from pulling it away from them. Of course, that just makes it easier. You hold on better by just relaxing and letting your body take over what your conscious mind can’t really manage very well. If she’d just stop making a fist with her voice the music would actually flow. ….

Screamy turns up to sing a Mariah song that I think even Mariah Carey doesn’t remember singing. She sings fine, but like David Archuleta there’s a kind of blankness to Syesha Mercado's personality both musically and personally that well bugs the *(#$* out of me. With Syesha, there’s all this vibration and energy on the outside and this kind of eerie deadness inside. I keep going back to the audition round where she trotted out her father the former addict. It was like “Here America root for me,” and not let my singing give you a window into what I’ve survived. Instead, we get a wall, the sound of a crying baby with no actual baby.

Sparkly jinxes herself by ditching the sequins. It’s been fascinating to see Kristy Lee Cook go from openly bad to genuinely pretty good mid competition. She does “Forever” passably well and as the judges point out she does it by cunningly staying within her boundaries. Would anyone have given her a chance to make it to seventh? I’m sorry to hear the guy won’t sell her horse back. Boy, does that damnation with faint praise trick with the judges work with Idol voters. She does get to say that she giave Mariah goose bumps. I’m not sure she would have if Mariah had actually had clothes on and wasn't now sixty percent saline and silicone, but we won’t go there.

Rocky shows up to do yet another alternative take on an unlikely song. This time it’s Always Be My Baby. They give him the interesting lighting. He sort of does that dynamic bit with the screaming at the right time, the judges all call him an “artist”. Paula tells him that she can see his song on some movie soundtrack right now, the dream of every alternative rock and roller is of course to be the background music for some Ben Stiller movie. Personally, I’m a little tired of it, but I’m glad someone else has a chance this year and yeah I do remember some of David Cook’s performances. I don’t have an Endless Love for them and David Cook’s Not my Guy, but I wouldn’t be mad at him if he won.

I also liked the tears. I really can believe David Cook as a guy who got to sing in a bar only because he was also the bartender who really is overwhelmed to be here yet he's still not pandering to the judges.

Goofy really doesn’t have a way to do Mariah Carey so he does "I Don’t Wanna Cry" as a folk song. Randy called it a luau. I mostly remember Jason Castro singing the same lyric over and over and never exactly paying much attention to dynamics. Paula insists that he’s original or his own thing instead of say “Authentic”. I actually decide to go to bed before they do the recaps after this night of let's do a Mariah Carey night where everyone studiously avoids sounding like Mariah Carey.

It was nice to see Elliot Yamin again. In some ways, he’s sort of old school Idol, someone America kept on the show for their own reasons. The “miss you mom” thing was touching because none of this year’s idols have managed to emotionally connect this year the way Elliot could.

I just have this funny feeling that if anyone asks me what I remember about season 7, it’ll be something as weird as it being the year of the Ryan. Clearly, he’s had much more free rein to inject his “personality” onto the show. While I’ve always thought he’s really good in the role, the emcee is supposed to be the sideshow at best. I shouldn’t be thinking that Ryan’s been the most exuberant and spontaneous character in a season where were supposed to be noticing and rooting for the singers themselves.
If Ryan's been the pickle or the mustard this season, where's the beef?

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Reality Stars vs. Movie Stars (Bachelor 12 round of 6)

While much has been made of Shayne Lamas being an actress, there are actually two actresses on the show and both happen to be in the final four. Noelle Drake is officially listed as a “photographer” from Colorado, but she’s already been featured on several non-reality series including an episode of House. In past seasons young women who appeared on the show and who turned out to be actresses were accused of having ulterior motives for being a bachelorette. For Matt Grant though, being an actress is right up there with packing hundreds of dollars of makeup along just in case you need to touch up between falls on the snowboarding run.

It’s fascinating to me that Shayne Lamas and Noelle Drake appear to evoke two different conceptions of actress. Shayne appears to be very much out of the Cristina Applegate school. Sitcom or Soap Opera perfect, cute, bubbly, not a lot of dramatic range. I could see her playing someone’s annoying sister or a not too dependable best friend. She’s blonde, perky, fussy about clothes and makeup.

This is impression only, but I was struck on Noelle Drake’s one on one ice skating date by the way she evoked the old movie star notion of actress. She came across as a tv presence who could really be made to look both glamourous and mysterious. I mean old school actress is something like Elizabeth Taylor’s turn in a Place in the Sun or say Ava Gardner in Mogambo. Their appeal was sort of luminous and layered.

Ironically, Shayne Lamas’s blood line includes two women from the old school. Her grandmother Arlene Dahl even dated JFK at one point (very different from dating Bill Clinton). Her step-Grandmother Esther Williams was the Million Dollar Mermaid. Yeah, I know there’s now the story about how Esther Williams fell out of love with Jeff Chandler because it turned out that he was a cross dresser, but that’s old time Hollywood. In the words of Gloria Swanson’s character in Sunset Boulevard, “I’m still big, it’s the movies that got small.”

Anyway, the footage from Noelle Drake’s time with Matt was very reminiscent of the romances in the old movies. They share a moment of shared hardship that reflects their character, facial reconstruction. Somehwere near the end, Noelle reveals to the Bachelor that she’s only brought one other young man home and this part isn’t a game.

So what do I make of Matt Grant being so smitten with Shayne and the cutesie snuggly always lying down conversations vs. the more smoldering appeal of Noelle? Is this guy nuts? Maybe the short answer is that he’s English. They like Benny Hill. The screencappers are pretty much insisting that Noelle is the next one out, but if this one did blossom it would be a terrific story arc. (very much an old time Hollywood plotline. the real movie star shows up unexpectedly)

I am still mystified as to why they’re showing so much chemistry between Matt and Amanda Rantuccio but also so little footage. When she drags him away for private time in the pool at Sun Valley, she has her legs intertwined in his, her eyes sort of dance, as she teases him about her parents living in a double wide trailer and stewing up opossum. The guy seems to be big on having a sense of humor. Chelsea has it. Amanda has it (apparently so do Amanda’s mom and dad). Robin Canfield and Marshana Ritchie definitely didn’t have senses of humor (at least based on the edit). Shayne might be a humor match for Matt, but it seems like the stuff that should be funny is also real. As in, yes it’s hilarious that she has multiple suitcases of shoes, does the spray tanner, and brings a parka full of makeup on the ski date, but she also really is doing all that stuff. Just a word of warning from someone who’s been there (to be clear I’m not referring to Mrs. Chancelucky), all that kooky quirky stuff might be fun for a while but it changes in a hurry once you start living with it.

Both my wife and daughter are down on this season of the Bachelor, so much so that they refused to watch last night. In my daughter’s words, “This season is boring.”

My wife just found the whole Marshana vs. the world confrontation distasteful though not boring. I personally thought Marshana’s story arc was pretty fascinating. I thought she was hilarious in that ski run at the end. The self-designed costumes were awesomely awful. After being a genie and an East Indian princess, last night she appeared to settle for being the lost member of the Supremes then tripped on her way out. My big complaint isn’t what happened with Marshana, it’s more that we tv viewers got so little insight into why she is who she is.

First she wasn’t Miss New York (Miss America or Miss Universe), she was Miss New York Earth. Miss Earth promotes environmental awareness. Second I did want to know some about how Marshana grew up. Okay, I’ll go there. Did she grow up ghetto? Is she some middle class kid who went to a boarding school who is putting on being Brooklyn?
What the hell was she like in her regular life? I didn’t think the match would work, but I really wanted to see that home visit. I do think if she were Jenny from the Block, some of the misunderstandings and her struggles with feeling left out become way more sympathetic. Of course, she could well have been yet another actress placed in the house to stir things up. That said, I still have to say that her endzone dance when Noelle got the private date instead of Robin was pretty weird regardless of socio-economic factors.
Still, I never had a clue as to why she wanted Matt so badly. She really did say, I did all this stuff that he likes and I hated every moment of it….Shouldn’t that have been a clue?

Did he lead Robin Canfield on? I tend to think the best way to read Matt Grant is by the way he kisses. Last week, Holly Durst got the peck. Same thing with Robin. In any case, he’s offering plenty of opportunities to read his feelings via those kisses. My take is that it was all the one on one timeus interruptus. Guys just hate that.
From a tv standpoint, it was a great exit particularly the choice to do it in French after working so hard pre-rose to establish how down with being British she was. Everyone knows that the British would prefer not to speak French and of course Robin would know that. Anyway, imagine for a minute that you’re really dating someone like Robin. Every time she has a doubt about what’s going on emotionally, she steps right up and asks about it. I’ve never known any guy who really wanted that. Look, sometimes when it comes to relationships men just like to slide a bit. They don’t want to play “What’s this mean, what did that mean? So….tell me where things stand now…”

Did she get that she wasn’t trying to date Doctor Phil?

Honestly, I haven’t figured out the Chelsea thing. It’s fine that she’s not into public displays of affection, but you’re telling me that this guy would be comfortable with that?
Btw, if you don’t like holding hands, why would you ask the guy to arm wrestle the moment you met him? I do love Chelsea’s whole swaggery walk and I did sort of like the way she confronted Marshana though I’m not sure about doing it in front of the other ladies and three national tv cameras. It did seem that someone did need to be real about the fact that Marshana seemed to be suffering in every activity. I thought walking away was a good choice too. I am, however, not so sure about writing up her own fantasy suite card for Matt.

Some of the sleuthers are insisting that if it’s not Shayne, then Chelsea’s the winner. I dunno, that’s almost the reverse from what I’d want to see in the name of really good reality tv (Noelle and Amanda are way more interesting), but then I’m not Matt. Chelsea does deserve points for hugging Marshana after the rose rejection thing.

I do disagree with my daughter about this installment being boring. I think from 9 on down, Matt showed pretty good judgment in weeding out the psychos. In fact, the eliminations have been so obvious the last two weeks it hasn’t felt like he’s actually having to “pick” anyone. I assume that changes in the next two weeks.

Obviously, I’m not a Shayne fan, but I certainly understand the attraction and she’s getting her moments. For one, she was the one who tried to calm Marshana down. Amanda may have wisely stayed out of it, but Shayne actually seems emotionally constructive and courageous with the other ladies. Anyway, she projects shallow yet there are signs of depth and substance that come through (we’re talking in tv terms here).

The attraction with the other three does in fact seem both very real and very distinct in each case. There are even signs that Matt’s tried to talk to the ladies and that it even matters (unlike Brad or Andy). Anyway, the choice is actually kind of interesting. He likes Chelsea’s physicality and Amanda’s humor certainly comes across. The whole “You are dangerous” (shades of that homo-erotic thing between Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer in Top Gun) with Noelle actually played pretty well. Chelsea and Noelle also seem to be playing the “keep something in reserve” bit a la Tessa Horst. Then there’s this whole “You’re so exotic” to me thing going on with Shayne.

They haven’t built the relationships much with the other three ladies, but if some actual feelings/sparks make it on camera in the last three episodes with them (that is what makes the show work with viewers, it just can’t necessarily be made to happen) then it gets pretty interesting. It would also help if Matt actually opened up a bit. So far about all I know is that he likes to make a joke now and then and says “Brilliant” a lot. If he has any real feelings, fears, quirks of his own the producers need to get them across soon. Otherwise, this has all just been a product placement for Shayne Lamas’s acting career.

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Sunday, April 13, 2008

Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq (March 2008)

Over the last two years, I’ve followed a Department of Defense report made regularly to Congress known as “Measuring Stability and Security in Iraq”. The most recent version is March 2008 and the report amounts to the Pentagon’s attempt to put the best objective face it can on the war to justify continued funding. In the meantime, it often appears that no one in Congress or the administration actually reads these reports all that carefully. While the administration has made much of the alleged progress of the “surge” citing “dramatic” percentage improvements in the reduction in violence, these can often be a bit misleading when taken out of context. For one thing, if you look carefully at the many graphs in the report all of this alleged improvement in the “security” sector has brought things back to where they were in January of 2006.

Think of it as one of those diet reality shows. Sometimes the competitors are about two hundred and fifty pounds overweight. They go on the show and after drastic and expensive lifestyle changes, the person is now only a hundred and fifty pounds overweight. That’s certainly progress, but the individual still isn’t healthy and he/she is still pretty far from being sleek looking.

Imagine also if no one mentions anymore that the same person started on the show at a hundred and fifty pounds back in 2003. Has it been worth it? Would you advise another ninety thousand dollars in diet interventions when five years later your hundred and fifty pound five foot three inch woman is now 250 pounds?

Okay, maybe the show shouldn’t have put her on that Mallomar diet in the summer of 2006? Also telling her to throw away all the exercise equipment that hadn’t worked in the past wasn’t such a good idea. You can maybe blame it on that horrible neighbor who keeps sabotaging her by slipping into her kitchen with gallons of ice cream. In the meantime, you made her get rid of that mean old husband who used to beat her. That was certainly a good thing.

So what if you told everyone that she was going to be cover model for the next Sports Illustrated swimwear edition? Two hundred and fifty is certainly a lot better than 450 isn’t it? If we kick her off the show now, who knows what’ll happen. She might wind up being 500 pounds in a year and pretty soon all the women in her neighborhood will be 500 pounds. You can’t abandon her now. For the last five years, you’ve been such a big help. There is that minor habit that she consumes an entire chocolate cake every night which has never changed in five years on the show (In Iraq, it’s called the hydrocarbon agreement as in how to share the oil revenues among the different groups that make up Iraq. The report tells us that there’s been no progress). Other than that though, there’s been all this great progress at least since compared to when she got to 450 pounds on the show.

Here are some real measures. Seven months after the surge, Iraqi oil production has flatlined. No section of the country outside the Green Zone has electricity twenty four hours a day. In fact, the average in Baghdad is still nine. Fresh water supplies are more or less the same as they were seven months ago. The official unemployment rate is still eighteen percent and in many areas of the country it’s still fifty percent. The Iraqi government is bizarrely enough still only capable of spending less than fifty percent of the money it allocates for various projects across the country (the report says it’s a problem with corruption). In the meantime, Iraq, the second biggest oil reserve in the world, is importing diesel fuel from Kuwait to get it’s power lines and oil pipelines operational.

Here’s the good news though. In the last six months the average Iraqi’s perception that the country is getting safer has improved by two hundred and fifty percent. Sounds pretty spectacular doesn’t it? In the summer of 2007, eight percent of Iraqis said that the country was “calm”. Today that figure is all the way up to twenty six percent. Even more impressive, nationwide polls indicated that seventy four percent of Iraqis have at least some confidence in the Iraqi army. Imagine that, just one out of four Iraqis has no confidence whatsoever in the supposedly improving Iraqi army. Should I mention that after that poll, the Iraqi army fired 1,300 soldiers and policemen for refusing to fight against the Mahdi army last month?
In the meantime, the report and General Petraeus have been very big on the 92,000 strong sons of Iraq, former Sunni insurgents in many cases who've decided to help with the security situation. The report doesn't mention that there remain real concerns about which side these guys will be on in six months.

You want something even weirder, Iraqi confidence in the ability of multi-national forces (as in us) to protect them has decreased by 18% in the last six months (page 36). Somehow, the media and our politicians haven’t mentioned that one. The report’s been public for more than a month btw.

One of the measures that I’ve followed for two years is the number of provinces in which the Government of Iraq has taken the “lead” for security. It’s better. Of the eighteen provinces, it’s up to nine. I just need to make a small point. Eighty six percent of the violence has always been in four provinces. None of the four have transitioned. The bulk of the surge effort was dedicated to Baghdad where the idea was to take pressure off the Iraqi parliament. Dark green is good on the DOD’s chart on page 29. Baghdad and the three other provinces remain bright yellow. In the same section, the DOD discusses the progress made by Iraqi forces in Basrah. Guess where they fired the bulk of those 1,300 Iraqi security forces who refused to follow orders? Not too surprising, one of the major factors in the reduction in violence cited in the report was a truce with Al Sadr. Doesn’t it make you wonder how some of these charts are going to look 2 months from now? The US military just had more deaths in Iraq than any week in 2008.

How is the Iraqi army doing? The good news is that we’ve now trained 425,000 Iraqis to serve in their security forces. Measuring Stability likes this number, it’s sort of their version of the sign they used to have outside McDonald’s. Interestingly, two years later there’s still not talk of how that translates into any kind of US troop withdrawal. No one has dared to say that the Iraqi army is ready to stand on its own in any parts of the country where the violence has been extreme. Here’s one measure. The Iraqi military will get its first helicopters in 2009. Mmmm….who mans and supplies the helicopters used over there in the meantime? Back to our Diet Show competitor. She’s done a lot of stuff in the last couple years, but honestly can anyone project how she’ll do once she’s off the show and doesn’t have the network’s resources to help her in her quest? The Pentagon is pointedly refusing to answer that question. The simple answer is that Iraqi forces do not have the lead in any of the four provinces where most of the violence has been nor is there any indication that they will have the lead any time in the near future. In fact, the surge was necessary to make it possible for the 130,000 US forces who were already there to get things back to the way they were in 2006. Let me put this as plainly as I can, the war wasn’t going all that well in January of 2006. No one then was talking about letting the Iraqis take over again or that we’d be able to get out with all our goals accomplished.

Let’s be real for a bit here. The Department of Defense itself, the same people General Petraeus works for, isn’t saying that the surge has gotten us any closer to America’s original objective in Iraq. For the cynical among us gas was a dollar sixty a gallon back then. Iran and Syria seem even more dangerous. Saudi Arabia doesn’t appear any less likely to be overwhelmed by Wahabi influences already in the country. Iraq is nominally now a democracy, but it’s not even remotely stable. The people insisting that the surge has helped to reduce the violence are comparing the figures to the summer of 2007 when our diet show contestant ballooned to 450 pounds after starting the show at 150. Where we once worried about her tyrant of a husband, Al Qaeda of Iraq has moved in with her instead. We’re now afraid that she’ll be seven hundred pounds in a month and that shes’s going to marry this Al Qaeda guy and sign her house and all her oil stocks over to him.

Let’s keep her on tv for another ten years and spend another million dollars or so on diet solutions for her. Look how successful we were in getting her back to two hundred and fifty pounds. Who cares that we put her on the show to be a runway model? Who even remembers that. Now we’re just trying to save the woman’s life. Did I mention that the woman spent so much time on the show that she lost her job and the bank foreclosed on her house in the meantime? Oh year, she lost her health insurance too.

It all makes perfect sense to me. Don’t you see how great these diet shows are for average Americans?


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Saturday, April 12, 2008

Bill Clinton is in the Gym

Two weeks ago, I found myself standing within a hundred feet of Bill Clinton. We'd gone out to North Carolina to see High Point, the college my daughter had chosen to attend this fall. Her coach called while we were driving up from Georgia to let us know that Bill would be making a campaign appearance for Hillary at the school's student center the next morning. My wife and daughter are Hillary fans. They were excited. I was excited too.

I've only seen two presidents in person before. I had seen Richard Nixon in the midst of Watergate when he was in Houston, but I was two full balconies away. I'd also attended the second Clinton inauguration in 1997, but I was half a couple blocks away on Capitol square.

That evening, the president of my daughter's college was greeting folk at the student center, one of his habits. After introductions where he showed off a knack for remembering names and details about his students, I mentioned that he must be very excited to have a former President speak at the school. He informed me that they'd had Steve Forbes just last week, Rudy Giuliani was the commencement speaker last May, and Clarence Thomas was coming out to speak in another few weeks. I winced. It was apparent that he's not a fan of the Clintons. Who else would equate Steve Forbes to an appearance by Bill Clinton other than a hardcore Republican or maybe a libertarian? What was our daughter getting into at this place? Moments later, the college president explained that he believes in letting his students have contact with a range of speakers and ideas. When approached about the campaign stop, his only condition was that the students of the college be admitted free. That made me feel better, though he didn't exactly come up with a long list of progressive speakers he’d invited there. Clinton almost didn't count because the campaign had approached the school rather than vice versa. The next day the college president got several e-mails from donors threatening to stop giving simply because Bill Clinton was allowed on campus.

The student center there puts most resorts to shame. It has one of the nicest swimming pools I've seen, a hot tub, basketball courts, a running track, Starbucks, Subway, leather easy chairs, and two floors of state of the art exercise equipment including elliptical trainers with attached television screens. Oh yeah, it also houses the campus bookstore which is slightly bigger than the Starbucks but smaller than the exercise equipment area. One of the school’s guiding philosophies is “treat the students well” and they’ll treat others well after they graduate.

The next morning we made a point of getting to the student center forty five minutes before the doors opened so we could make sure we could get in. While the line was long, it wasn't an overflow crowd. Bill Clinton drew about two thirds capacity for a gym that the fire marshal designated for fifteen hundred people. Bill was fifteen minutes late. He was making 7 stops in North Carolina in one day. I expected his speech to be about ten to fifteen minutes. He spoke for more than an hour.

The guy's hair is now very white. There was a hospital gurney with an oxygen tank at the ready just behind the podium, but there were no overt signs of security. He talked for a bit about North Carolina basketball then jumped into his four reasons people should vote for Hillary after a joke or two. It wound up being about twelve reasons to vote for Hillary.

There's no doubt that Bill Clinton has a gift for connecting to people. He largely talks policy and throws out numbers and names with remarkable facility even though he didn't appear to be using notes of any kind. One of the impressive things about the in person Clinton is that he knows how to make things easy to relate to. He'll stop at just the right moment in talking about the cost of extracting energy from the ground and drop in something like “that means you'd be doing the equivalent of taking forty thousand cars off the road if we could do this”. He went on about “green collar” workers who would turn cleaning up the environment and warding off global warming into a NAFTA proof industry that would have to keep jobs at home. He talked about the mortgage crisis and talked about Hillary's proposal as a way to bail out families not banks.

He managed not to mention that his administration was behind NAFTA and the deregulation of the banking industry. In fact, this was the fascinating thing to me. The former President came off as one of Hillary's biggest assets and also one of her biggest liabilities. Notably, the entourage of Democratic endorsers he brought along on the stop were minor North Carolina political figures. There was a former attorney general, a county commissioner, a former assistant secretary of something or other. There was, however no John or Elizabeth Edwards for instance or Jim Hunt.

Hillary and Bill clearly share a passion for policy. Listening to either of them. You hear a command of detail, nuance, and execution that other politicians rarely manage. In particular, Bill does it in a way that makes his conclusions feel strangely inevitable and universally appealing, e.g. If we add 5,000 policemen and firemen to America, that's better for everyone. He's very good at making the concerns of government basic and seemingly straightforward. He even managed to make Iraq sound strangely uncontroversial “Yes, we need to get out, but we have to get out responsibly.”

He then went on to describe Hillary’s quite detailed exit strategy along with her plan to forgive student loans for college graduates who go into the helping professions.

My wife was thrilled. The crowd was politely enthusiastic. They listened, applauded at the right times, but they didn't get visibly charged up. Volunteers circulated the audience trying to coax more students to commit to the campaign and I didn't see anyone pick up a pencil. Of course, this is a school that invited Rudy Giuliani to do commencement. Bill drew about six hundred people that morning, Hillary drew a thousand a few miles away, and Obama drew two thousand.

Bill Clinton is not the candidate this time around. Hillary is. Still this felt like part of the way people should make up their minds about a President. It makes a difference to see someone directly (in person if possible), listen to them for an hour without commentators, edits, or sound bytes. While positions matter, the ability to articulate them and present them effectively probably matters just as much.

The strange business of Obama’s “bitter” comments, Hillary’s “Bosnia” visit, and even McCain’s recent inability to tell the difference between Sunnis and Shiites has turned running for the presidency into a game of “gotcha”. In thousands of words spoken in public, you say something the wrong way once and that’s supposed to be fatal, yet what you have to say the other 99% of the time somehow doesn’t matter according to the headlines. It’s simply no way to pick a leader.

I don’t know that I’ll ever have a chance to see a president up close again. It felt like I had an opportunity to make up my own mind about Bill Clinton and to a certain extent Hillary. I actually voted for the guy twice during the nineties. Oddly, I’ve voted in dozens of elections and not had this sort of opportunity before. There’s something wrong with that. Yes, I’ve been lazy in many instances, but I’ve spent more time buying and shopping for cars than I have shopped and test-driven (maybe wrong word with Bill) a presidential candidate. That’s not good.


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Friday, April 11, 2008

Dashboard Jesus Idol (Idol 7 round of 8)

Did they really have this year’s Idols sing Shout for the Lord twice this week? Last night, they were all dressed in white with Syesha Mercado in shorts for some still obscure reason. The effect was more or less like they were wearing leftover wardrobe from Warren Beatty and Julie Christie’s Heaven Can Wait. You would think that someone over at Idol central might have told the producers that large parts of Africa aren’t Christian. In fact, large numbers of Americans aren’t Christian. There’s even a rumor somewhere that not all Idol watchers are Christian. I wouldn’t say that an opening line like “My Jesus, my saviour…” is necessarily offensive, but given the context it implied that Jesus has some sort of religious monopoly on charitable acts.
I had to check the channel to see if the satellite dish hadn’t shifted to the 700 Club instead of Fox.

Whlle I’m at it, I do understand that focuses on Africa, but they do have poverty in Asia and South and Central America. That said, I think Idol Gives Back 2 did fix some of the problems with last year’s exstarveaganza. Last year’s multi-site marathon was heavy on Idol promoting itself, repeated mention of corporate sponsors who bear some guilt in the current state of Africa, and constant talk of the exact amount of money being raised for the various worthy causes. (the recession might have made them a bit lower key about the this year’s money totals) It felt like the whole notion of raising awareness about the plight of children in poverty in both Africa and America fell by the wayside. The ultimate was probably when they actually had a fake elimination at the end of the telethon, then said “just kidding”, thus more or less equating getting voted off Idol with having your entire family die from malaria.

This year, they brought all the performances to the Kodak theater, spent more of the time on the narrated film clips (not all of which worked) but overall it came across as more sincere. This is not to say that it all worked. I imagine that Mariah Carey’s ultra sonic wanderings were very hard on any number of dogs. Robin Williams dusted off his proto-Borat Moscow on Hudson character without somehow bothering to update the material to include the fall of the Soviet Union. I have no idea why Miley Cyrus got to sing two songs. Even though she wears more clothes, her writhing music numbers, her limited voice, and that failed exchange with Billy Crystal (guy did not look good), I got this uneasy feeling that she’s going to have a hard time avoiding whatever happened to Britney, Lyndsay, and the Olsons. There really ought to be a rule that celebrity families are limited to one reality show. Dad Billy Ray did Dancing with the Stars last year, Miley should have to stay off Idol for at least three years. We can be thankful though that it wasn’t the Bachelor.

Miley Cyrus did help me understand why Idol probably sees so many dollar signs with David Archeleta. He sings better and is as “cute”, though I sometimes wonder if they should just proclaim him Mini-American Idol to go with last year’s Plus-Sized Seventeen year old Idol, Jordin Sparks who just wasn’t all that convincing singing her romantic duet with Chris Brown. Also, it wasn’t that Fergie sounded bad, but it felt oddly disrespectful that they let her jump into the middle of Anne Wilson’s time onstage just so they could have a skinnier woman in skintight clothing doing handstands to distract from the fact that Heart’s gotten a bit bigger since back when they were Almost Famous. Why did they dress Bradd Pitt as Bruce Willis? Is Bruce trying to talk Brad and Angelina into adopting Ashton Kutcher?

On the good end. Annie Lennox (guess she and Bono are Idol Gives Back regulars now) really was moving in her film segment and that paired well with her musical performance. Real emotion and singing can be pretty darn effective, something the Idols should have figured out for Songs of Inspiration week. Carrie Underwood sounded good doing George Michael. I liked Forest Whittaker’s film clip and it was nice to see Gordon Brown send mosquito nets to Africa instead of whatever Tony Blair might have done as George Bush’s pet prime minister.

There was also something subtly subversive about the American portions of this year’s Idol Gives Back. Simon mentioned that fifty million Americans don’t have health insurance. The show also openly acknowledged that we haven’t gotten very far in rebuilding post-Katrina New Orleans in the same month when much of America seems more committed to rebuilding Iraq than looking after the poor in our own country. The show didn’t say anything, but the two segments had their own kind of eloquence. Do we seriously think we’ll fix either problem just with telethons? Small point, but consider the fact that a month of Iraq would pay for a mosquito net for every person in Africa or that all the money raised for Idol Cares pays for maybe a couple weeks in the Green Zone. I think it also reminded the Idol audience that real children and families were involved with both.

Last year, there was an odd segment towards the end with the President and the First Lady (mostly because they seemed so stiff together). This year, they let all three remaining candidates do their bit. Obama revealed that his kids are big fans. McCain tried to crack partisan jokes (kind of iffy taste given the ecumenical context of Idol Gives Back but this is the guy who once called Chelsea Clinton ugly because he thought it would get him a laugh with donors) Hillary Clinton reminded America that she has experience working with these very causes (give her credit for staying on message).
My guess is that it was a trial balloon for some dramatic revision to the November election. Instead of voting the old-fashioned way, my guess is they’re going to have the remaining two candidates sing three songs then post 888 numbers. It’s faster and America apparently has more confidence in the results. Sadly, America also follows it a bit more closely.

Anyway, after three nights and four and half plus hours of Idol, it’s kind of hard for me to remember the singing competition part. My problem with the Idols doing songs of inspiration is that the most inspirational singing I’ve seen comes with passion and a measure of courage. The most inspirational music makes some sort of stand which is why I usually think of Paul Robeson as the real American Idol. How do you do that in the politically denatured realm of American Idol? I’m not sure you really can. In the meantime, did any of the Idols consider dedicating their song to someone or some cause? Maybe the show wouldn’t let them.

Randy and Simon beat up on Michael Johns for singing Dream On instead of being truly inspirational, but they really could have made the same criticism of all the idols. Whatever they chose, all of them were really singing about “being nice” more than making any kind of statement that would move anyone else to feel or do anything.
I wasn’t expecting Michael Johns to get voted off though. As he did his sing off, my wife was kind enough to remind me that she’ll miss looking at him. You’d think if nothing else that would translate into votes. I mean good god, Constantine stayed on the show longer as that year’s version of a male sex symbol on a show where most of the voters are female. There’s the other small matter that Michael Johns also really could sing, but sadly he got caught in the year of the “song choice”. That meant that the judges could care less about voice and look and would gush instead about Jason Castro singing Over the Rainbow with a ukelele.

Kristie Lee Cook’s been compared by a lot of people to Carmen Rasmussen, but I’m thinking Jasmine Trias. She was actually pretty good with the Martina Mcbride song, but shse’s now outlasted Michael Johns and is threatening to go to the couches one more time than Carly Smithson. What were the odds of that? I’d say they were about the same as Jasmine Trias beating both Jennifer Hudson and Latoya London. In the meantime, the cameraman seems to be obsessed with her in the group sings. I did notice that she’s stopped that weird eye-widening thing she was doing mid song.

Jason Castro spent six hundred dollars on that ukelele? Who was he inspiring? Judy Garland fans. I’d mentioned the Tiny Tim resemblance early in the season. I really liked the fact that he didn’t back off of it, though he probably has no idea who Tiny Tim is.
Also impressive, the judges made no mention whatsoever of Katharine Mcphee.

David Cook. I thought the Miami Vice look was just odd and actually they all dressed like that for the group sing the next night. He’s actually done very well in the talks with the judges. He lets the tv audience know that he’s not going to let the judges get to him and I think the voters like that.

David Archuleta: wow, who knew? The guy can sing a generically inspiring ballad. Well he did play the piano this time.

Syesha Mercado: I’m kind of at a loss. Much of the time she sings fine, but it’s like she chooses her songs from a recipe for Instant Diva, just add Whitney and sing. She’s also getting close to a tie with Kristie Lee for trips to the bottom three.

Carly Smithson: Simon might be right about “angry”. The camera just doesn’t seem to like her. She’s a bit like the Idol equivalent of Hillary Clinton. No one works harder. No one seems to have better chops for the job, but something about her on tv makes you want to resist.

Brooke White: Okay, say she won. Would they sell her CD’s at Starbucks? I actually love the whole Laura Nyro Carole King thing. Tori Amos and Norah Jones both found ways to expand that vibe. I’m just not sure that Brooke White can expand it nor is she the musician that Tori Amos is. I realize that Carole King/Carly Simon is on the more angst free end of that tradition as is Brooke White, but I’m not convinced that she has any place to go with it. Fwiw, Carole King and Carly Simon never found a place to go with it? Their careers would be exactly the same if they both stopped working in the late seventies. I know this is just Idol, but can you imagine Brooke White evolving into anything like Joni Mitchell?

Okay, my wife’s telling me that if I’m going to blog the show for three years, I’d better give something to Idol gives back. I probably should or she’ll start thinking about Michael Johns having all this free time all of a sudden.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Taking Things in Stride (Bachelor 12 Round of 9)

I’m getting the feeling that Matt Grant is starting to figure things out. During the tennis date, he compliments Ashley Williss on her strokes and her capacity to “take things in stride”. She does her weird pirouette of giddy triumph about her tennis game then looks at him blankly. Matt chalks it up to being a possible Anglicism. I know I’m older than Ashlee Williss, but most Americans who made it past ninth grade know a phrase like “take things in stride.” Matt sits her down and he talks about how attracted he is to her when she’s singing, but the talking is a bit of a problem. Like Duh!

Ashlee doesn’t exactly dispel the doubts. They wind up kissing for a bit and the camera cuts to the other Bachelorettes sneaking peaks, gossiping, and telling one another how much they hate Robin Canfield.

Ashlee gets a second run with Matt during the cocktail party and this time he asks her, “What if you come to London and your music career just doesn’t take off?”

She gives him another blank look then shrugs and says “We can work it out, you can just follow me to other places.”

Matt does well to hide his horror at Ashlee’s how shall we say it “one note” approach to romance. After all, he does have a job and a career of his own tied to wealthy English people. I don’t think he came on the Bachelor to turn himself into a male groupie. Throughout their encounters Ashlee keeps making up new lyrics for songs and half-heartedly singing them. She even tries one after Matt doesn’t give her a rose in the end. Actually there’s a whole movie about this called Music and Lyrics with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore. I’d say that Ashlee sings about as well as Drew. No, I haven’t checked but my guess is that her run on the show didn’t help her sales on Itunes much.

Basically most of last night wasn’t so much about Matt breaking romantic ground with any of the ladies with the possible exception of Amanda Rantuccio, it was more about his recognizing that some of his choices just wouldn’t work out. My guess is that Kelly somehow managed to confuse being in the round of twelve on the show with her twelve step program. Yes, her pulling open her blouse to show Matt her two best reasons for staying on the show was entertaining in its way, but no Bachelor with half a brain would keep the woman on the show. Well Kim on Charlie’s season made it all the way to the final four, but she just took her clothes off a lot, she didn’t appear to be drunk. My guess is that when Matt asked Kelly to give him some reason to give her a rose, she figured “Might as well do something that gets me some minutes on the ladies show all show”.

I think a lot of people were surprised that Marshana Ritchie got a rose over Holly Durst, but imo it had little to nothing to do with Marshana’s considerable kitchen utensil throwing charm (I imagine he didn’t know about it) and prowess as a neo-Indian fashion goddess. Matt is lying next to Holly and he says “Ask me a difficult question. I love difficult questions.”

Holly doesn’t have one. He also mentions that he has a boring side where he follows financial markets and worries about whether Britain should adopt the Euro. Instead of chiming in with talk about the Dalai Lama, the American boycott of the 1980 Olympics, and the history of relations between China and Britain, Holly says “That’s okay, I have a boring side too I like to sit around and watch movies.”

This is an Anglicism. Matt doesn’t really think the financial markets are boring, he wanted Holly to show him that she’s interested in the “serious” world as well. Geez, all she needs to do is watch some movie with Helen Mirren or James Cromwell. I kind of liked the Girl in the Café with Bill Nighy and Kelly Mcdonald.

Matt probably went, “Hey wait a minute. What do we do when we’re not talking about children’s stories or Justin Guarini? This one doesn’t even sing.”

I definitely wanted a glimpse of Holly’s tanning machine being carried out of the house. Actually, I wanted to see Shayne Lamas wrestling the Bachelor bellboys to keep the machine in the house. I did instead get to see Shayne Lamas assume the role of defender of Bachelorette honor with Robin Canfield.

After Robin exploits her unconscious British qualities by saying things like “Pass the jam please,” and mentioning that her parents have tea maker instead of a coffee maker in their home, she drags the Bachelor away for yet more one on one time to discuss marmite, crumpets, and her cousin Boy George. Matt appears oblivious to the possibility that Robin has upset the other ladies. Still, he does not give her a rose.

After Robin’s return, Shayne pulls her aside to tell her you have to respect the other ladies need for National TV time in front of the camera. We all want our share. Robin begins to cry and in Bachelor math this makes up for Shayne being a whiny, shallow, emotional mess for those other three or four extended segments. In case, this wasn’t quite enough to redeem her, Shayne does handstands and backsprings for Matt while he’s supposed to be watching the other ladies play tennis (mmm….nice that she took her own advice). While no one’s thinking Beijing Olympics, the camera does show Matt enjoying the way Shayne’s wrong-sized tennis skirt falls over her ears.

I’m pretty sure that Marshana Ritchie’s gotten further than any black woman or man on the history of the show. She’s also the first one to have “won” one of those two on one dates. I didn’t get the whole meltdown thing. They do all know that this is a reality tv show? Was she auditioning for something? She hears the news that she has the two on one date and Holly who has already kissed Matt is her competition. She states her worries, has a tantrum, then starts throwing kitchen utensils to the floor in front of the other ladies. Maybe the show is taking on a drug company with a mood enhancing product as a sponsor? She does actually kiss Matt, so that makes her the Bachelor version of Diahann Carroll. In the same year that Obama might be president, it’s now officially okay for a rich English guy to kiss a crazy black woman.

Okay, if you happen to watch the show for actual romance you have to wonder why they cut Amanda Rantuccio’s Fonzi date with Matt so short? She actually does banter with him over dinner. Even though they don’t discuss the relationship between Britain and her former colonies in Africa or say the Irish problem, there was a sense that Amanda actually could maintain a conversation with the guy. Btw. No, I didn’t think she looked like the slut from Grease at all. I guess she didn’t make like Sandy either. Matt begs her to take a rose. They cuddle on the ferris wheel. More tellingly, after more or less bravely informing him that he’s a terrible dancer, they show this great outtake at the end of the show of Amanda giving him back her rose (with Chelsea) because he’s such an awful dancer. You want the possibility of romance? This actually looked like it. So why are they cutting this so short in favor of an extended audition for Shayne Lamas for some prime time soap opera? Honestly, I’m puzzled.


Noelle Drake: She seemed surprised to get a rose after she didn’t have much to say when he asked her to argue for one. I guess he figured that was a better response than opening up her shirt.

Chelsea Wanstrath: Matt seemed quite taken with her during the tennis date, but they never exactly have conversations. btw, how many Bachelor contestants have been pharmaceutical representatives?

Chris Harrison: He’s not getting much to do this season and where’s the guitar player this season for the romantic clenches?

It’s been very hard to get a fix on this season. It’s not quite a farce. If there is a romance with Shayne Lamas, they’re not showing it in a way that makes you root for it to happen. If it’s someone else, we just haven’t seen them a lot. Robin and Marshana can’t stay too much longer, they’ve established too many negatives especially with the previews of Marshana going off even more next week. Do we even have story lines with Chelsea and Noelle yet?
Excuse me, I feel a hiccough coming on if I don't take this in stride.

Yikes, Andy Baldwin appears to be involved with Marla Maples in a sort of reality show mixed-marriage. I'd love to know what Tessa Horst thinks of this. There was some talk about Andy, behind the scenes, being very interested in being a celebrity. Wonder if they'll bring this up on the next Bachelor Where are They Now?

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Sunday, April 06, 2008

Chinese Buffets James Brown and Raw Oysters

I think it was ten days ago that we wound up at a place called Rhinehart’s in Augusta, Georgia. Everything there is served on paper plates. Every surface is covered with graffiti, the waitresses happily hand magic markers to the customers. The tables are picnic benches. You get the idea. It’s supposed to be like eating in someone’s not too well maintained beach shack or possibly one of the sets from the movie Trainspotting though without the Scottish heroin addicts. The menu is shrimp, oysters, burgers, hot wings, and fried fish. My wife had actually asked the motel if there was a place to get a salad for dinner and this was their idea of a salad place. The south is different, I guess.

Actually, the food turned out to be quite good. I had some local fish called “Ponga” in lime-buttter-garlic over some sort of flavored rice. My wife praised the hot wings and the oysters were really good. Middle of the meal, our son and daughter in law started writing their names onto the table. They then headed to one of the walls and started writing there as well. At that point, my wife insisted on getting with the spirit. She tried to get me to scrawl something on the wall, but I didn’t want to give away the fact that I secretly leave the house at night and tag all the freeway overpasses within thirty miles of us. Believe it or not, there are types of restaurants you can’t find anywhere in California.

We went straight from there to two hours at the super Walmart where the son and daughter in law grocery-shopped and other items their heart out. First evening of our vacation and I felt like we were living out an episode of King of the Hill. Everyone else in my office seems to go on cruises where their state room has its own balcony.

After spending the next morning with our son, we stopped for lunch with my parents’ best friends from when my father was stationed at then Camp Gordon in 1951. I’d mentioned in an earlier post that my parents had so much fun as part of the small Chinese community there that they even contemplated staying in Georgia. I make the phone call. Yes, she does remember who I am and midway through the phone call I learn that her husband died almost ten years ago, something about which my mother knew nothing.
At nine the next morning (we had four hours sleep in forty eight), we get a phone call at the motel. She wants to invite us to lunch with her son (he’s sixty) and his family.

My parents’ friend looks remarkably good for eighty two. She swims in the morning, all of her family lives within an hour and thirty minute drive (five kids, ten grandchildren, and one of the two great grandchildren is at the table). She remembers names and our explanation of why we’re in Georgia well. The only awkward moment is when she volunteers that her daughter in law’s mother had nineteen children and lived to the age of 80. After forty years, it appeared that she’s had a tendency to identify that as first fact about daughter in law. Well, who’s going to forget that someone else had eighteen brothers and sisters.

I try to ferret out some stories about my parents from the pre-paleothic bits of my family history. There’ not a lot. She tells me that they used to play canasta regularly as couples, have dinners, and that they went to Savannah together once (I’ve still never been to Savannah). I do find out that my parents’ first apartment together consisted of a couple rooms above a grocery store that probably no longer exists. One thing I’ve learned about both Augusta and Fort Gordon is that there’s very little there that appears to have existed fifty years ago. Even Rhinehart’s is a more or less new building made to look beaten up.

My parents’ newspaper delivery boy was Chinese, my mother came to the door and he offered to immediately introduce them to all the other Chinese in Augusta. It turned out that my mother had a high school friend from San Francisco who had married a man from Georgia. That was the first place he just happened to bring her and it was “Oh my god, what are you doing here?”

They met the couple who became their best friends there a bit later. The friend says that she mostly remembers that my father loved to laugh and that he always wanted people to have a good time. It was painful to hear. While my dad did indeed love to laugh, I don’t remember his being all that care free once he returned to California. At two points during the lunch, I found myself saying “My god, my mother was twenty years old when she came to this totally strange place to be with my dad. Meeting the paper boy and finding friends must have been a gigantic moment in their lives.”

Between trips to the Chinese buffet (they’re everywhere) line, she mentions that they had a couple opportunities to move to California and never did it. They’re glad they never did. Life treated them well and their kids were all able to build lives within a hundred miles. Four of them stayed in Augusta. I guess when my parents didn’t stay it turned out to be a huge decision.

Apparently Augusta maintains a very active Chinese community group that still has regular get togethers and has stayed intact since the 1950’s. They also exist in California, but I know in my own life it was obvious to me that they were for the older generation and for the recent immigrants. I don’t think many members of my generation maintained much involvement. The other event in Augusta took place in 1970. There was a large race riot there after the Jackson State campus shootings. The most famous thing about the riots is that James Brown, a native of Augusta, came to the city to give a concert to plead for peace. A decade earlier, Ray Charles refused to perform in a segregated concert in Augusta. A bit less remembered is that a number of the Chinese in the area owned grocery stores in the poorer neighborhoods of the city. Their shops got looted and many of them left the city after the riots. A generation later, it’s Korean grocers.

I should mention the other strange bit. After they left Augusta, my parents probably saw their Georgia friends a total of four times. I visited once in 1974 when my friend Paul and I drove cross country one summer in a Mazda RX4 that got 14-16 miles to a gallon. Their kids were into ZZ Top and there was a drum set in one of the boy’s bedrooms. We went to play basketball in the Chinese community center. In 1970, they came west and my parents took them to Lake Tahoe. They decided to take them to one of the shows there and the only tickets they could get were for Tom Jones. My parents were horrified. It turned out that my Dad’s friend was a huge Tom Jones fan and loved it. My parents never again saw Tom Jones on their own. Dad said that it was like watching a male stripper. Bottom line, my father who always laughed here never made it back to Augusta, Georgia.

My mother did return in the late eighties when she drove with my stepfather their in their motor home. They stayed in the motor home while visiting then drove their friends to Savannah.

This lunch was the first contact between our families in close to twenty years. I had no idea. I’m amazed and in some way thrilled to know that somehow a bond has survived across generations. It probably helped that my daughter is named for my father. I guess that was my reason for calling in the first place. My daughter’s never met large parts of my father’s family and my father died several years before I met my wife. I wanted her to make some sense of her name.

I don’t know if my parent’s friend was just reluctant to talk in much detail about my father or if that’s just the way she wants to remember him, but it made me feel good that my daughter heard about a Grandfather who knew how to enjoy life rather than getting rolled under it. As I make it through middle age, I often fear that I worry too much about the latter. I guess it’s okay to write funny things on the walls at strange restaurants every now and then.


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