Monthly Archives: April 2008

Andrew Vachss – Warrior, Author, Lawyer


I just finished Terminal, Andrew Vachss‘s latest novel in his long-running Burke series, and it’s a nice solid entry. I’m a longtime fan of the books and a supporter of the man and his mission, and given that his books support his practice as a child guardian in the New York state courts, and much goes to the PROTECT PAC, it’s a great cause. The great cause, according to Vachss. His history with “child welfare,” as we call it, is a long one. His career began tracing STDs for the government. Back then when they treated you, they’d ask for a list of partners, and send social workers to track the spread, so it could be stopped.

The trail often led to people who had sex with children, even babies. Usually their own, or a girlfriend’s. That began a life-long fight, which recently culminated in getting the incest loophole closed- which recently succeeded in many states. The loophole is that if you sexually abuse your own child instead of a neighbors, most states treat it like a family problem instead of a crime, and the scumbag usually does little if any time. To keep “the family” together, as if such a relationship should be called “family.”

From there he served in the relief effort in Biafra – the Darfur of the 60′s- and worked in juvenile detention centers, which are still a breeding ground for violent crime. He wrote a book called The Lifestyle-Violent Juvenile about his findings about what sort of rehabilitation worked, but you don’t reach people with a textbook. Vachss can explain it better than I can.

“There’s a very specific formula for creating a monster,” Vachss says. “It starts with chronic, unrelenting abuse. There’s got to be societal notification and then passing on. The child eventually believes that what’s being done is societally sanctioned. And after a while, empathy — which we have to learn, we’re not born with it — cracks and dies. He feels only his own pain. There’s your predatory sociopath.” That’s why Vachss posed for a recent publicity photo cradling his pit bull puppy. “You know what pit bulls are capable of, right?” he asks, referring to the animal’s notorious killer reputation. “But they’re also capable of being the most wonderful, sweet pets in the world, depending on how you raise them. That’s all our children.”

“Unleashing the Criminal Mind”, San Francisco Examiner, July 12, 1990.

Mr. Vachss and Honey the pit bull

So, when you pick up a thriller by Andrew Vachss, you’re not getting a potboiler like the rest of the best sellers. Burke is a hardened criminal who came up through the juvenile detention system and luckily made a family of his own on the way, one of bonds stronger than blood or DNA. In the beginning he was known for rescuing abused children and enacting revenge, but he always found a way to turn a profit out of it. His crew were hijackers sometimes, but mostly the stories were about the “long con,” of how to get between a rich scumbag and his money, and put him in the grave if necessary. The story began with Flood, his breakthrough first novel, but I think the best are the next six that followed: Strega, Blue Belle, Hard Candy, Blossom, Sacrifice, and Down in the Zero. I started with the last in that run, and still think that’s one of the best crime novels out there. Afterwards his novels got more of a thriller vibe, taking the basics from Hard Candy- a story about taking down a child trafficker- and repeating them with different villains, with different motives. My favorite is Strega, in which the mob is peripherally involved. The story has New York Italian authenticity without glorifying “La Mala Vita” at all.

Vachss does take on new and different subjects in the world of exploitation and predation, breaking the news before the media latches onto it. Unfortunately this sometimes makes things a little preachy, but the latest novel is thankfully devoid of that. The whole concept of Burke was meant as a Trojan horse, to get people talking and doing something about human-on-human predation. One of Vachss’s big successes was creating international pressure to get Thailand to crack down on sex tourism, partly due to his Batman novel and comic, The Ultimate Evil, which brought a lot of attention to the Don’t Buy Thai! campaign. He’s used comic book artists often to illustrate his work and get the message to comic book readers as well.

Andrew Vachss; the eyepatch isn’t fashion, it’s the result of a chain in a childhood fight.

In Terminal, he’s approached by an ex-con with cancer who has every con’s dream, “that one big job.” This one isn’t fantasy land; it involves a dope peddler who knows the dirty secret of three rich boys, that they raped and murdered a girl when they were teens. While it’s certainly a revenge fantasy against dirtbags from rich families who get away with murder or rape (not that we know any New England families like that) the book also delves into the reality of prison race gangs and why groups like the Latin Kings, Aryan Brotherhood, Bloods and others exist. Burke is a New Yorker, and Vachss never passes up an opportunity to criticize the City’s current regime.

There’s not a lot of action this time; at least until the end. Part of what makes Burke & crew so gripping is that they use their brains more than bullets. No criminal lasts this long with guns blazing all the time. The earlier novels still had the paranoid Burke with his levels of secrecy, but he was still a little hot-headed; now he’s an older man who’s lost many friends and family. He’s calm, collected, patient and ruthless, but still human, albeit a damaged one. Vachss may give us an anti-hero in Burke, but he’s no Ripley or the kind of sociopath that appeals to our darker side. Unless that dark side is vengeance against those who thrive on exploiting others.

I enjoyed the novel. Like Richard Stark’s Parker series (probably best known through the movie Payback) they are essentially heist stories; we get the setup, and much of the story is planning how to rip off the dirtbag and avenge their victims, though that part is usually unspoken. The one weakness with Terminal and many of his later novels is that the third act and denouement is often short and laconic; there’s always a good payoff, but sometimes you don’t want the story to end. Burke and his family- Max the Silent, the mute martial artist, Mama and her Chinatown criminal empire, the Prof, the Mole, Michelle and Terry, and relative newcomers like Clarence and Gateman- are hard to leave. He imbues them with a humanity, and even though you can tell its his words coming out of their mouths sometimes, once you’re familiar with them the 17 novels may not be enough to keep you satisfied. You’re always waiting for the next one.

He’s written other novels, some noir like The Getaway Man, and my favorite, Shella, which is from the POV of a sociopath trying to save the one woman he can connect to. Two Trains Running was a foray into James Ellroy-style political corruption, which I haven’t read yet.
I met Mr. Vachss (pronounced like tax) back in ’99 or so in Madison, Wisconsin during a book tour. It was a 5 hour drive from Minneapolis, but it was an honor meeting him. I’d written him earlier that year, after my petition to keep a child murderer in prison succeeded.

click letter for readable version

The killer was now wheelchair-bound and wanted early release, after abducting a child from a church social, raping and killing her. Thankfully the parole board did the right thing, a rare occurrence for Minnesota, the bleeding heart state. When you have a violent offender like that, you don’t depend on ankle monitors and sex offender registries to keep him from his victims.

There are individuals who are so toxic that their presence threatens us all. They self-identify by their conduct. And we cannot protect ourselves from monsters by calling them by another name.
If prison cannot rehabilitate, it can at least incapacitate. If we cannot transform sexual predators, we certainly can contain them. — Andrew Vachss, How to Handle Sexual Predators.

Unfortunately it is a lot easier to make headway with “Protect the Children” legislation than meaningful change that would staunch the flow of these predators into society. As a society based on Puritanism, we want our prisoners punished. There’s even an idiot out in Arizona who makes them wear pink panties. We joke about prison rape, and expect it to happen as part of the punishment. This applies in juvenile prison as well, even by the guards. Spare the rod and spoil the child, after all. If we don’t rehabilitate them at a young age, we’re creating our own monsters and will be reaping what we sow for generations to come.

It doesn’t help that the Roman Catholic Church, of which I was formerly a parishioner, was until recently sitting on cases until the statute of limitations ran out (signed off by the current Pope, no less). Bill Maher put it well- if Joey Ratz was the CEO of a group of day care centers instead of a religious leader, he’d be visiting the U.S. under extradition, for a life term.

Join PROTECT and make a difference. These issues aren’t even on the politicians’ radar. The NRA and AARP know how to get politicians to listen, and PROTECT has started off strong. They deserve your support.

Comments Off

Filed under Books

Andrew Vachss – Warrior, Author, Lawyer


I just finished Terminal, Andrew Vachss‘s latest novel in his long-running Burke series, and it’s a nice solid entry. I’m a longtime fan of the books and a supporter of the man and his mission, and given that his books support his practice as a child guardian in the New York state courts, and much goes to the PROTECT PAC, it’s a great cause. The great cause, according to Vachss. His history with “child welfare,” as we call it, is a long one. His career began tracing STDs for the government. Back then when they treated you, they’d ask for a list of partners, and send social workers to track the spread, so it could be stopped.

The trail often led to people who had sex with children, even babies. Usually their own, or a girlfriend’s. That began a life-long fight, which recently culminated in getting the incest loophole closed- which recently succeeded in many states. The loophole is that if you sexually abuse your own child instead of a neighbors, most states treat it like a family problem instead of a crime, and the scumbag usually does little if any time. To keep “the family” together, as if such a relationship should be called “family.”

From there he served in the relief effort in Biafra – the Darfur of the 60′s- and worked in juvenile detention centers, which are still a breeding ground for violent crime. He wrote a book called The Lifestyle-Violent Juvenile about his findings about what sort of rehabilitation worked, but you don’t reach people with a textbook. Vachss can explain it better than I can.

“There’s a very specific formula for creating a monster,” Vachss says. “It starts with chronic, unrelenting abuse. There’s got to be societal notification and then passing on. The child eventually believes that what’s being done is societally sanctioned. And after a while, empathy — which we have to learn, we’re not born with it — cracks and dies. He feels only his own pain. There’s your predatory sociopath.” That’s why Vachss posed for a recent publicity photo cradling his pit bull puppy. “You know what pit bulls are capable of, right?” he asks, referring to the animal’s notorious killer reputation. “But they’re also capable of being the most wonderful, sweet pets in the world, depending on how you raise them. That’s all our children.”

“Unleashing the Criminal Mind”, San Francisco Examiner, July 12, 1990.

Mr. Vachss and Honey the pit bull

So, when you pick up a thriller by Andrew Vachss, you’re not getting a potboiler like the rest of the best sellers. Burke is a hardened criminal who came up through the juvenile detention system and luckily made a family of his own on the way, one of bonds stronger than blood or DNA. In the beginning he was known for rescuing abused children and enacting revenge, but he always found a way to turn a profit out of it. His crew were hijackers sometimes, but mostly the stories were about the “long con,” of how to get between a rich scumbag and his money, and put him in the grave if necessary. The story began with Flood, his breakthrough first novel, but I think the best are the next six that followed: Strega, Blue Belle, Hard Candy, Blossom, Sacrifice, and Down in the Zero. I started with the last in that run, and still think that’s one of the best crime novels out there. Afterwards his novels got more of a thriller vibe, taking the basics from Hard Candy- a story about taking down a child trafficker- and repeating them with different villains, with different motives. My favorite is Strega, in which the mob is peripherally involved. The story has New York Italian authenticity without glorifying “La Mala Vita” at all.

Vachss does take on new and different subjects in the world of exploitation and predation, breaking the news before the media latches onto it. Unfortunately this sometimes makes things a little preachy, but the latest novel is thankfully devoid of that. The whole concept of Burke was meant as a Trojan horse, to get people talking and doing something about human-on-human predation. One of Vachss’s big successes was creating international pressure to get Thailand to crack down on sex tourism, partly due to his Batman novel and comic, The Ultimate Evil, which brought a lot of attention to the Don’t Buy Thai! campaign. He’s used comic book artists often to illustrate his work and get the message to comic book readers as well.

Andrew Vachss; the eyepatch isn’t fashion, it’s the result of a chain in a childhood fight.

In Terminal, he’s approached by an ex-con with cancer who has every con’s dream, “that one big job.” This one isn’t fantasy land; it involves a dope peddler who knows the dirty secret of three rich boys, that they raped and murdered a girl when they were teens. While it’s certainly a revenge fantasy against dirtbags from rich families who get away with murder or rape (not that we know any New England families like that) the book also delves into the reality of prison race gangs and why groups like the Latin Kings, Aryan Brotherhood, Bloods and others exist. Burke is a New Yorker, and Vachss never passes up an opportunity to criticize the City’s current regime.

There’s not a lot of action this time; at least until the end. Part of what makes Burke & crew so gripping is that they use their brains more than bullets. No criminal lasts this long with guns blazing all the time. The earlier novels still had the paranoid Burke with his levels of secrecy, but he was still a little hot-headed; now he’s an older man who’s lost many friends and family. He’s calm, collected, patient and ruthless, but still human, albeit a damaged one. Vachss may give us an anti-hero in Burke, but he’s no Ripley or the kind of sociopath that appeals to our darker side. Unless that dark side is vengeance against those who thrive on exploiting others.

I enjoyed the novel. Like Richard Stark’s Parker series (probably best known through the movie Payback) they are essentially heist stories; we get the setup, and much of the story is planning how to rip off the dirtbag and avenge their victims, though that part is usually unspoken. The one weakness with Terminal and many of his later novels is that the third act and denouement is often short and laconic; there’s always a good payoff, but sometimes you don’t want the story to end. Burke and his family- Max the Silent, the mute martial artist, Mama and her Chinatown criminal empire, the Prof, the Mole, Michelle and Terry, and relative newcomers like Clarence and Gateman- are hard to leave. He imbues them with a humanity, and even though you can tell its his words coming out of their mouths sometimes, once you’re familiar with them the 17 novels may not be enough to keep you satisfied. You’re always waiting for the next one.

He’s written other novels, some noir like The Getaway Man, and my favorite, Shella, which is from the POV of a sociopath trying to save the one woman he can connect to. Two Trains Running was a foray into James Ellroy-style political corruption, which I haven’t read yet.
I met Mr. Vachss (pronounced like tax) back in ’99 or so in Madison, Wisconsin during a book tour. It was a 5 hour drive from Minneapolis, but it was an honor meeting him. I’d written him earlier that year, after my petition to keep a child murderer in prison succeeded.

click letter for readable version

The killer was now wheelchair-bound and wanted early release, after abducting a child from a church social, raping and killing her. Thankfully the parole board did the right thing, a rare occurrence for Minnesota, the bleeding heart state. When you have a violent offender like that, you don’t depend on ankle monitors and sex offender registries to keep him from his victims.

There are individuals who are so toxic that their presence threatens us all. They self-identify by their conduct. And we cannot protect ourselves from monsters by calling them by another name.
If prison cannot rehabilitate, it can at least incapacitate. If we cannot transform sexual predators, we certainly can contain them. — Andrew Vachss, How to Handle Sexual Predators.

Unfortunately it is a lot easier to make headway with “Protect the Children” legislation than meaningful change that would staunch the flow of these predators into society. As a society based on Puritanism, we want our prisoners punished. There’s even an idiot out in Arizona who makes them wear pink panties. We joke about prison rape, and expect it to happen as part of the punishment. This applies in juvenile prison as well, even by the guards. Spare the rod and spoil the child, after all. If we don’t rehabilitate them at a young age, we’re creating our own monsters and will be reaping what we sow for generations to come.

It doesn’t help that the Roman Catholic Church, of which I was formerly a parishioner, was until recently sitting on cases until the statute of limitations ran out (signed off by the current Pope, no less). Bill Maher put it well- if Joey Ratz was the CEO of a group of day care centers instead of a religious leader, he’d be visiting the U.S. under extradition, for a life term.

Join PROTECT and make a difference. These issues aren’t even on the politicians’ radar. The NRA and AARP know how to get politicians to listen, and PROTECT has started off strong. They deserve your support.

Comments Off

Filed under Books

The Marilyn Monroe Sex Tape


No, I don’t have it. I don’t have $1.5 million to see my favorite tragic starlet swallow Presidential pork sword. Besides, if it really exists, how long before you see it on youtube?

The story is, a Marilyn fanatic bought it from the son of a dead FBI informant, who passed it to J. Edgar Hoover’s Feds. Ol’ Edgar hated the Kennedys and wanted to have something on them, so why not footage of the best known Presidential conquest? It all smacks of urban legend, and the newsbreaker also has a documentary coming out, Marilyn Monroe: Murder on Fifth Helena Drive. If you listen to Keya Morgan’s interviews he says this is the tape Joe DiMaggio tried to buy it back in the day for $25,000. He was rebuffed. Now that’s a lot of scratch for the 50′s, but you’d think he’d bid higher and get the thing.

A New York businessman bought the tape, and claims he is keeping it from the public to protect the poor girl’s image. Now, I’m a fan of Monroe and find her story tragic, but do you really think a 15 minute tape of her blowing a guy is going to besmirch her already tarnished rep? On the other hand, it’s the ultimate sleazy trophy for a rich, powerful Marilyn Monroe fan.

From CBS:
Declassified FBI documents dated three years after Monroe’s 1962 death say the film was a “French-type” movie that depicted Monroe in “unnatural acts with an unknown male.”

According to the story, the tape was known to the FBI and Hoover had people who knew what JFK and RFK’s dongs looked like try to identify them. The shots are only from neck down, and apparently the lucky fellow is wearing a suit. Unnatural acts? Thankfully we’ve come a long way from the 50′s.

It’s been decried as a hoax because of the difficulty of filming back then. Before Super-8 and all. But then again, people in Marilyn’s circle would have had access to pro equipment, and she certainly attracted the kind of powerful man who’d want a trophy of this sort. Then again, who wouldn’t? A friend of mine knows someone who knocked boots with Lacey Underall from Caddyshack. He’s a true American hero whenever that classic shows on cable. So I guess that made the mystery man a king every time a skirt blew up on a subway grate, or someone sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”

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The Marilyn Monroe Sex Tape


No, I don’t have it. I don’t have $1.5 million to see my favorite tragic starlet swallow Presidential pork sword. Besides, if it really exists, how long before you see it on youtube?

The story is, a Marilyn fanatic bought it from the son of a dead FBI informant, who passed it to J. Edgar Hoover’s Feds. Ol’ Edgar hated the Kennedys and wanted to have something on them, so why not footage of the best known Presidential conquest? It all smacks of urban legend, and the newsbreaker also has a documentary coming out, Marilyn Monroe: Murder on Fifth Helena Drive. If you listen to Keya Morgan’s interviews he says this is the tape Joe DiMaggio tried to buy it back in the day for $25,000. He was rebuffed. Now that’s a lot of scratch for the 50′s, but you’d think he’d bid higher and get the thing.

A New York businessman bought the tape, and claims he is keeping it from the public to protect the poor girl’s image. Now, I’m a fan of Monroe and find her story tragic, but do you really think a 15 minute tape of her blowing a guy is going to besmirch her already tarnished rep? On the other hand, it’s the ultimate sleazy trophy for a rich, powerful Marilyn Monroe fan.

From CBS:
Declassified FBI documents dated three years after Monroe’s 1962 death say the film was a “French-type” movie that depicted Monroe in “unnatural acts with an unknown male.”

According to the story, the tape was known to the FBI and Hoover had people who knew what JFK and RFK’s dongs looked like try to identify them. The shots are only from neck down, and apparently the lucky fellow is wearing a suit. Unnatural acts? Thankfully we’ve come a long way from the 50′s.

It’s been decried as a hoax because of the difficulty of filming back then. Before Super-8 and all. But then again, people in Marilyn’s circle would have had access to pro equipment, and she certainly attracted the kind of powerful man who’d want a trophy of this sort. Then again, who wouldn’t? A friend of mine knows someone who knocked boots with Lacey Underall from Caddyshack. He’s a true American hero whenever that classic shows on cable. So I guess that made the mystery man a king every time a skirt blew up on a subway grate, or someone sang “Happy Birthday, Mr. President.”

4 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

From New Orleans to Constantinople on the S.S. Leviathan

This album came out in 1975 but it’s new to me- it was released on CD back in 2005, but was still hard to get. I called the Louisiana Music Factory, a great source of all musica Louisianica, but they didn’t have it. So I sent George Schmidt an email. He’s the singer and bandleader of The New Leviathan Oriental Fox-Trot Orchestra, who I met a few months back when I was in New Orleans for work.

He’s very friendly fellow, full of stories and even bursts into a song now and then. When I told him they were out of the album, magically a week or so later I get an email from the store saying that they have it in stock. Lovely how things work out. I bought a copy and through the magic of the internet it arrived at my door.

I’ve spoken about them before, but they are a revival band that plays vintage music from the turn of the 20th century to the 30′s. The style of music that gives them their name, “oriental fox-trots,” are a style of music from when America was beginning to get interesting in the cultures of the Middle and Far East. Many of the songs are about Middle Eastern maidens such as “Leena from Palesteena,” “Rebecca came back from Mecca,” and my favorite “Egyptian Ella,” about a dancing girl who got too chubby to swing it in the states, so she dances for the sheiks now. It captures an innocent and naive era when foreign lands were full of adventure and romance, and not a bunch of people angry at having bombs dropped on them.

click to read the bit about “traveling round the world”

There are many instrumentals in the genre as well, that would fit in an Indiana Jones type movie when they’re sneaking through the treasure room seeking the Three-Eyed Statue of Mongallah or something. NLOFTO (as the orchestra will be called for ease of typing) also does ragtime and other genres from the time, and have a lot of fun with it- their name is also a gag on a real ship’s orchestra, and they often pretend in concert that they’re playing on that ship. Or a submarine, as in the case of the excellent live album Burning Sands, where they supposedly played for the troops in Iraq by sneaking in with a sub and playing the music for them.

They’re probably best known for their next album, Old King Tut, but this old album from ’75 showcases a lot of their best. It gives a real feel for what they’re like. A newcomer would probably be best off getting Burning Sands or Favorites, which collects from different albums, but you can’t go wrong with this. If you think old music is boring, their live tunes with George Schmidt’s ribald humor will cure you of that. Maybe you heard “Egyptian Ella” on Carnivàle before HBO canceled that great show; it wasn’t their version, but that’s kind of music they often play. Perfect for dancin’ the cooch.

I’ve been listening to this one a lot, and from the opener “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None o’ this Jelly Roll” to “Poppy Time in Old Japan” and classics like “Rebecca Came Back from Mecca,” there’s not a dull song on it. If you’re looking for something yet new, and definitely different, swing on over to the Lousiana Music Factory and pick it up. You can listen to some of the music there, too.

Unfortunately there’s a dearth of their music on the ‘net, including youtube. They’re playing in Princeton in May, and I’m hoping to sneak down there- I think it’s an alumni affair, though.

1 Comment

Filed under Music

From New Orleans to Constantinople on the S.S. Leviathan

This album came out in 1975 but it’s new to me- it was released on CD back in 2005, but was still hard to get. I called the Louisiana Music Factory, a great source of all musica Louisianica, but they didn’t have it. So I sent George Schmidt an email. He’s the singer and bandleader of The New Leviathan Oriental Fox-Trot Orchestra, who I met a few months back when I was in New Orleans for work.

He’s very friendly fellow, full of stories and even bursts into a song now and then. When I told him they were out of the album, magically a week or so later I get an email from the store saying that they have it in stock. Lovely how things work out. I bought a copy and through the magic of the internet it arrived at my door.

I’ve spoken about them before, but they are a revival band that plays vintage music from the turn of the 20th century to the 30′s. The style of music that gives them their name, “oriental fox-trots,” are a style of music from when America was beginning to get interesting in the cultures of the Middle and Far East. Many of the songs are about Middle Eastern maidens such as “Leena from Palesteena,” “Rebecca came back from Mecca,” and my favorite “Egyptian Ella,” about a dancing girl who got too chubby to swing it in the states, so she dances for the sheiks now. It captures an innocent and naive era when foreign lands were full of adventure and romance, and not a bunch of people angry at having bombs dropped on them.

click to read the bit about “traveling round the world”

There are many instrumentals in the genre as well, that would fit in an Indiana Jones type movie when they’re sneaking through the treasure room seeking the Three-Eyed Statue of Mongallah or something. NLOFTO (as the orchestra will be called for ease of typing) also does ragtime and other genres from the time, and have a lot of fun with it- their name is also a gag on a real ship’s orchestra, and they often pretend in concert that they’re playing on that ship. Or a submarine, as in the case of the excellent live album Burning Sands, where they supposedly played for the troops in Iraq by sneaking in with a sub and playing the music for them.

They’re probably best known for their next album, Old King Tut, but this old album from ’75 showcases a lot of their best. It gives a real feel for what they’re like. A newcomer would probably be best off getting Burning Sands or Favorites, which collects from different albums, but you can’t go wrong with this. If you think old music is boring, their live tunes with George Schmidt’s ribald humor will cure you of that. Maybe you heard “Egyptian Ella” on Carnivàle before HBO canceled that great show; it wasn’t their version, but that’s kind of music they often play. Perfect for dancin’ the cooch.

I’ve been listening to this one a lot, and from the opener “I Ain’t Gonna Give Nobody None o’ this Jelly Roll” to “Poppy Time in Old Japan” and classics like “Rebecca Came Back from Mecca,” there’s not a dull song on it. If you’re looking for something yet new, and definitely different, swing on over to the Lousiana Music Factory and pick it up. You can listen to some of the music there, too.

Unfortunately there’s a dearth of their music on the ‘net, including youtube. They’re playing in Princeton in May, and I’m hoping to sneak down there- I think it’s an alumni affair, though.

1 Comment

Filed under Music

The Chicken Chronicles

What the hell kind of name is that for a movie, you’re saying. I said the same, and looked it up on IMDb. It’s a coming of age tale with Steve Guttenberg, as a poor widdle rich kid working at a fried chicken shop run by Phil Silvers. That there link has all of Phil’s clips from the film, but whoever posted it disabled embedding, so there you go. Those are the best parts of the film, mostly.

Famous grump Phil Silvers livens things up.

The movie itself isn’t bad, despite the presence of Steve Guttenberg, whose career in my eyes spiked around the time of Short Circuit and Police Academy, and reached its nadir a few years later among many Police Academy sequels. There are some who disagree, like the brave folks over at The Steve Guttenberg Project, who plan on watching all of his films. While I may wade into some movie trash willingly, that is a bit further than I want to go.

Fried Chicken Tomfoolery

The Chicken Chronicles was Guttenberg’s first starring role, and one of Phil Silvers’s last. It’s the best work of neither, but they certainly balloon the movie up from its mediocre roots. Based on a book by Paul Diamond, it depicts the senior year of David Kessler, in rough and tumble neighborhood of Beverly Hills. He lives with his distant parents, who only speak to him over intercom- it’s a tepid running joke that we never see their faces. He wants to be a journalist, and the story begins with him trying to get his masterwork “Springtime in Vietnam” into the school paper before graduation. Set in 1969, the war is constantly in the background on TV, and the threat of the draft looms over his head if he doesn’t graduate, or get into college.

I’m not sure how many Beverly Hills kids made it to the front lines of Vietnam, but I had a hard time worrying that he’d be in any danger worse than sticking his dick in the fryer at Chicken on the Run while he’s goofing around there with his buddy Mark. They commit the usual 70′s shenanigans at work- smoking pot, playing basketball with chicken parts, listening to their boss wax pornographic about what he imagines a customer’s tits look like.

It’s a hard knock life, for us…

It’s amusing getting to hear Phil Silvers talk dirty when you’re only used to seeing him on his TV show and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Mark, played by Branscombe Richmond, is good in his role as well; he has a part in the upcoming Jud Apatow project Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The problem with the movie is the plot, really; it’s nothing new, and it’s been done better. Steve is desperately trying to get laid with a cheerleader who keeps making excuses; the place isn’t right, you left your socks on, and telling him at the last second that he needs a rubber. That sends him on a scramble around town, chased by dogs and neighbors, but it’s not as funny or exciting as it should be. He finds out that she’s on the pill anyway and is just pulling his chain, and he ends up going after a more down to earth girl who shoots pool and doesn’t act like a stuck-up twat.

Pranking the jerky schoolteacher

The film seems like an experimental effort at the teen film that would be perfected in coming years, with Animal House, Meatballs, and Caddyshack. They’d discover the formula of dirty jokes, physical comedy, and a dash of boobs here and there. The Chicken Chronicles teases us like David’s cheerleader girlfriend; there’s a lot of talk about breasts- hell, Phil Silvers even claims he can tell good breasts from a woman’s voice on the phone- but the closest it gets to titillating the audience is a nonsensical party scene where a girl runs by a pool in bra and panties.

A bra and panty scene does not a gratuitous boob make.

There’s a bit of fun when David’s horny little brother sneaks into that party and gets drunk, and ends up in the hospital. This gives the cheerleader her comeuppance, and gives Phil Silvers a chance to dress as a cowboy and have some fun. In the end, the movie is a decent piece of 70′s nostalgia but is much too tame to be very memorable. If it wasn’t for Phil Silvers, it would be pretty forgettable.

Arizona Phil the chicken rancher.
If you absolutely adore Steve Guttenberg, it may be worth your while. He shows his modicum of charm here, and when he finally does get laid (what would a film like this be if he remained a virgin?) the reward is a funny ending.

Hi, Mom!

It’s not bad, but movies like American Graffiti and Cooley High showed us it could be done better. Maybe you need an ensemble cast, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High. If that whole movie had been Spicoli, it wouldn’t have been the classic it is. Here, Guttenberg plays the doormat “Ratner” type character for much of the film, and it’s not enough to keep our attention. It’s also disturbing how in the 70′s it was okay for a pervy old man to talk about how hot a 13 year old girl is, but at least he’s describing her to a 15 year old boy… or is that somehow worse?

The chicken man is a bit of a chickenhawk…
If you need a bit of 70′s-era amusement, you could do a lot worse. Like Corvette Summer, perhaps.

See y’all later!

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Filed under Strange and Sweet 70s Cinema

The Chicken Chronicles

What the hell kind of name is that for a movie, you’re saying. I said the same, and looked it up on IMDb. It’s a coming of age tale with Steve Guttenberg, as a poor widdle rich kid working at a fried chicken shop run by Phil Silvers. That there link has all of Phil’s clips from the film, but whoever posted it disabled embedding, so there you go. Those are the best parts of the film, mostly.

Famous grump Phil Silvers livens things up.

The movie itself isn’t bad, despite the presence of Steve Guttenberg, whose career in my eyes spiked around the time of Short Circuit and Police Academy, and reached its nadir a few years later among many Police Academy sequels. There are some who disagree, like the brave folks over at The Steve Guttenberg Project, who plan on watching all of his films. While I may wade into some movie trash willingly, that is a bit further than I want to go.

Fried Chicken Tomfoolery

The Chicken Chronicles was Guttenberg’s first starring role, and one of Phil Silvers’s last. It’s the best work of neither, but they certainly balloon the movie up from its mediocre roots. Based on a book by Paul Diamond, it depicts the senior year of David Kessler, in rough and tumble neighborhood of Beverly Hills. He lives with his distant parents, who only speak to him over intercom- it’s a tepid running joke that we never see their faces. He wants to be a journalist, and the story begins with him trying to get his masterwork “Springtime in Vietnam” into the school paper before graduation. Set in 1969, the war is constantly in the background on TV, and the threat of the draft looms over his head if he doesn’t graduate, or get into college.

I’m not sure how many Beverly Hills kids made it to the front lines of Vietnam, but I had a hard time worrying that he’d be in any danger worse than sticking his dick in the fryer at Chicken on the Run while he’s goofing around there with his buddy Mark. They commit the usual 70′s shenanigans at work- smoking pot, playing basketball with chicken parts, listening to their boss wax pornographic about what he imagines a customer’s tits look like.

It’s a hard knock life, for us…

It’s amusing getting to hear Phil Silvers talk dirty when you’re only used to seeing him on his TV show and It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. Mark, played by Branscombe Richmond, is good in his role as well; he has a part in the upcoming Jud Apatow project Forgetting Sarah Marshall. The problem with the movie is the plot, really; it’s nothing new, and it’s been done better. Steve is desperately trying to get laid with a cheerleader who keeps making excuses; the place isn’t right, you left your socks on, and telling him at the last second that he needs a rubber. That sends him on a scramble around town, chased by dogs and neighbors, but it’s not as funny or exciting as it should be. He finds out that she’s on the pill anyway and is just pulling his chain, and he ends up going after a more down to earth girl who shoots pool and doesn’t act like a stuck-up twat.

Pranking the jerky schoolteacher

The film seems like an experimental effort at the teen film that would be perfected in coming years, with Animal House, Meatballs, and Caddyshack. They’d discover the formula of dirty jokes, physical comedy, and a dash of boobs here and there. The Chicken Chronicles teases us like David’s cheerleader girlfriend; there’s a lot of talk about breasts- hell, Phil Silvers even claims he can tell good breasts from a woman’s voice on the phone- but the closest it gets to titillating the audience is a nonsensical party scene where a girl runs by a pool in bra and panties.

A bra and panty scene does not a gratuitous boob make.

There’s a bit of fun when David’s horny little brother sneaks into that party and gets drunk, and ends up in the hospital. This gives the cheerleader her comeuppance, and gives Phil Silvers a chance to dress as a cowboy and have some fun. In the end, the movie is a decent piece of 70′s nostalgia but is much too tame to be very memorable. If it wasn’t for Phil Silvers, it would be pretty forgettable.

Arizona Phil the chicken rancher.
If you absolutely adore Steve Guttenberg, it may be worth your while. He shows his modicum of charm here, and when he finally does get laid (what would a film like this be if he remained a virgin?) the reward is a funny ending.

Hi, Mom!

It’s not bad, but movies like American Graffiti and Cooley High showed us it could be done better. Maybe you need an ensemble cast, like Fast Times at Ridgemont High. If that whole movie had been Spicoli, it wouldn’t have been the classic it is. Here, Guttenberg plays the doormat “Ratner” type character for much of the film, and it’s not enough to keep our attention. It’s also disturbing how in the 70′s it was okay for a pervy old man to talk about how hot a 13 year old girl is, but at least he’s describing her to a 15 year old boy… or is that somehow worse?

The chicken man is a bit of a chickenhawk…
If you need a bit of 70′s-era amusement, you could do a lot worse. Like Corvette Summer, perhaps.

See y’all later!

Comments Off

Filed under Movies, Strange and Sweet 70s Cinema

Greasy Spoons – The Bee Line of Bloomingdale


Also known as the Busy Bee Lunch, this little caboose of a lunch truck has tantalized me on the way to the High Point Brewing company on many a visit. We visited them a few times, and I must say they make a fine chili dog. Enough so that I’d tell you about it. In the shadow of Federal Hill and along the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike in Bloomingdale is the terminus of the “Bee Line,” as the lunch truck is called.

One chili, one works (chili and onions, apparently)

They have some picnic tables under the familiar Sabrett’s hot dog stand umbrellas, and ample parking for eating in your car when the weather isn’t worth enjoying. When the weather is nice, the bubbling creek nearby helps drown out the traffic, and downstream you might see some trout fishermen wading into the water. There’s a thin park along the stream if you want to walk off your lunch.

The menu

They mainly serve good old dirty water dogs, with the usual toppings, but they also serve Italian style; we haven’t tried those yet to see if they fry the dogs or just use the boiled ones. They claim to have the best chili sauce as they all do, and theirs is certainly in the running. It’s got a lot of meat in it, and has a nice smoky flavor. It doesn’t get drowned out by the tomato flavor, and it’s good and chunky like real chili instead of the liquid a lot of places make. They use good old fashioned cheese sauce for the cheese, and raw tangy onions are a nice pairing with their chili.

The scenic view

I’m not sure it’s worth a special trip, but it’s a nice place to stop for a bite if you’re going to hike Federal Hill, home of the infamous Iron Door, or stop by the Ramstein brewery over at 22 Park Place in Butler, for their monthly open house. I’ve talked about them often, what I consider the best micro brew on the East coast for their wheat beers. They have an open house every second Saturday of the month, and sometimes serve food- this time they had roast pork and beef, delicious cured ham, spaetzle and veggies, good German fare to go with their Bavarian-style wheat beers. On the days they don’t serve food, the Bee Line is the place to go. A nice gummy hot dog bun is the perfect sponge to prepare the stomach for beer tasting, and the chili dogs they sling into them make you crave a cold one to wash it down with.

Here’s the spot on Google Maps.

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Filed under Beer, Food, Greasy Spoons

Greasy Spoons – The Bee Line of Bloomingdale


Also known as the Busy Bee Lunch, this little caboose of a lunch truck has tantalized me on the way to the High Point Brewing company on many a visit. We visited them a few times, and I must say they make a fine chili dog. Enough so that I’d tell you about it. In the shadow of Federal Hill and along the Paterson-Hamburg Turnpike in Bloomingdale is the terminus of the “Bee Line,” as the lunch truck is called.

One chili, one works (chili and onions, apparently)

They have some picnic tables under the familiar Sabrett’s hot dog stand umbrellas, and ample parking for eating in your car when the weather isn’t worth enjoying. When the weather is nice, the bubbling creek nearby helps drown out the traffic, and downstream you might see some trout fishermen wading into the water. There’s a thin park along the stream if you want to walk off your lunch.

The menu

They mainly serve good old dirty water dogs, with the usual toppings, but they also serve Italian style; we haven’t tried those yet to see if they fry the dogs or just use the boiled ones. They claim to have the best chili sauce as they all do, and theirs is certainly in the running. It’s got a lot of meat in it, and has a nice smoky flavor. It doesn’t get drowned out by the tomato flavor, and it’s good and chunky like real chili instead of the liquid a lot of places make. They use good old fashioned cheese sauce for the cheese, and raw tangy onions are a nice pairing with their chili.

The scenic view

I’m not sure it’s worth a special trip, but it’s a nice place to stop for a bite if you’re going to hike Federal Hill, home of the infamous Iron Door, or stop by the Ramstein brewery over at 22 Park Place in Butler, for their monthly open house. I’ve talked about them often, what I consider the best micro brew on the East coast for their wheat beers. They have an open house every second Saturday of the month, and sometimes serve food- this time they had roast pork and beef, delicious cured ham, spaetzle and veggies, good German fare to go with their Bavarian-style wheat beers. On the days they don’t serve food, the Bee Line is the place to go. A nice gummy hot dog bun is the perfect sponge to prepare the stomach for beer tasting, and the chili dogs they sling into them make you crave a cold one to wash it down with.

Here’s the spot on Google Maps.

3 Comments

Filed under Beer, Food, Greasy Spoons