Greasy Spoons – Crif Dog, NYC. Bacon wrapped hot dogs!

I seriously thought about renaming this blog “Movies, Beer and Hot Dogs” (especially since moviesbeerandhotdogs.com is available) but changed my mind. After all, sometimes I write about hamburgers, or music. But this time it’s about hot dogs. If they’re good enough for Christopher Walken, they’re good enough for me:


Walken In L.A.

This week, The Onion picks up another popular syndicated column: Christopher Walken’s “Walken in L.A.” For the last two years, Mr. Walken has provided his readers with consistently insightful commentary into the entertainment industry. His column already appears regularly in Variety and Rolling Stone, as well as in dozens of smaller newspapers and magazines. We’re proud to welcome this celebrated actor and columnist to our pages.

Do you enjoy eating hot dogs? I hope you won’t be put off by my frankness when I tell you that I absolutely love them. In fact, I enjoy no food item more than a freshly-boiled hot dog. Now, I’ve done a lot of movies, and it’s true that I’ve worked with quite a few celebrities who did not share this opinion. I’m sorry to say that these people have always angered me.

There are two types of people in this world: those who eat hot dogs whenever it is possible to do so, and those who opt to do other things with their free time. Who do the latter think they are kidding? What pastime could be more rewarding than the consumption of hot dogs? I haven’t yet found one, and I don’t expect to in my lifetime. Unlike other foods, hot dogs can be eaten at any time, in any place, and it is not necessary to cook them. Now, I ask you: Why not eat hot dogs? They are delicious.

I carry a bag of hot dogs with me wherever I go. I eat them from the bag whenever I get the urge, regardless of the circumstances. When I make a movie, my hot dogs are my co-stars. If, in the middle of a scene, I decide I want to consume a hot dog, I do so. I waste the director’s time and thousands of dollars in film stock, but in the end, it is all worth it, because I enjoy eating hot dogs more than I enjoy acting. This bothers some people. I was supposed to portray Batman, but when Tim Burton learned of my hot dog cravings, he asked Michael Keaton to wear the cape. To this day, I am peeved about this.

When we filmed The Dead Zone, I ate over 800 hot dogs a day. It was necessary. My character needed to come across as intense as possible, and I found the inspiration for that intensity in my intense love for hot dogs. The director, David Cronenberg, said that he would never work with me again. I kept eating hot dogs when the cameras were rolling, and that seemed to bother him. I say fuck him. He doesn’t even like hot dogs.

I would like to end by emphasizing once again that I really like to eat hot dogs. If any of you people disagree, I loathe you. I despise you. Not only that, but I also despise all your loved ones. I want to see them torn to pieces by wild dogs. If I ever meet you in person, I’ll smash your brains in with a fucking bat. Then we’ll see who doesn’t like hot dogs.

Next week: My thoughts on Woody Allen, hot dog hater and shitty director.

-Shamelessly reprinted from The Onion

Crif Dogs – wrapped in bacon, and yes slathered in strange toppings.

When you walk down St. Mark’s Place, many eateries cry out for attention. They seem to have taken over most of the used record shops, though some still remain. There are the requisite Indian and Japanese places, there’s a place that sells only Hummus, there’s a replica of the old 50’s Automat called BAMN, all done in pink… and next door is Crif Dog, calling to you with a giant wiener poking out with “Eat Me” written on it in mustard script.

The lewd signage

If you venture down into the basement you’ll be greeted with a disco ball and a big menu, a few classic arcade games including a sit-down Ms. Pac-Man/Galaga, a bar with stools and a few small tables. There’s also a glowing pink door to the left that is a trendy secret nightclub of some sort, so don’t go in there to pee. The wait wasn’t too long, and the drunks were orderly; there’s a note tacked to the menu that says “There’s an Asshole Button for a reason! Be nice to your servers!” I guess some of the New Yorkers are jealous about Chicago’s infamous Wiener’s Circle where the curses fly to and fro. I’ve been there too, and while I can enjoy a Chicago dog with the pickle and other toppings, on the poppy seed bun, the crisp fried dogs at Crif’s are much more to my taste.

Notice the Stoner packs. Know your customer!

I demanded that we go to Crif Dog after Katie mentioned that they make hot dogs wrapped in bacon. Now I’d heard of such a thing, but never experienced it. She also mentioned toppings like sour cream and avocado, or pineapple. Say what you want about California pizza, but I’ve always liked Hawaiian pizza with pineapple and Canadian bacon (though pineapple-pepperoni works better, in my opinion, or pineapple-ham and hot yellow banana peppers). So this was a must-visit. We went to Mara’s Homemade for dinner that night, and sampled Abita’s excellent seasonal brew, Strawberry Harvest Lager, over a bucket of crawfish boil. Then wandered to the Continental, for $10 for any 5 shots, and after a few hours there it was time for drunk food. That’s where Crif Dog comes in handy.

Drunk food requires grease to kick your liver into gear and a spongy carb material to soak up alcohol and keep it in your stomach, to give the liver a fighting chance. A hot dog, ensconced in bacon and fried crisp in oil, enrobed in a gummy bun and slathered in all and sundry toppings, is the top gun in the drunk food arsenal. Some prefer a pizza burger. Up north they have their poutine, or gravy cheese fries as we’d call them here in the States; Disco Fries in Jersey diners. Over the pond it’s a chip butty or a bacon chip butty, a sandwich made of bacon, fries, and butter. Now those concoctions will certainly do the job, but in New York City there is no food more ubiquitous than the hot dog. On Bourbon Street you have your Lucky Dog vendors, but in the city the blue and gold Sabrett’s umbrella is the beacon that will lead you to salvation. But if you’re near St. Mark’s and Avenue A, Crif Dog is the only way to go.

Sadly I think they no longer serve beer. Or at least PBR. Die, hipster!

Despite the fancy names on the menu, they make a fine down-home dog with few pretentions. I was impressed by the Spicy Redneck, a bacon dog with chili sauce, jalapenos, and cole slaw. It wasn’t very spicy, but it tasted very good. I much preferred the Tsunami, which is a bacon dog with teriyaki sauce, pineapple, and a few green onions. Both of these overwhelmed the hotdog and bacon flavors, so in later visits I might try a plain ol’ bacon dog, and I’m told their burgers are worth a try too. Firecracker had a Philly Tube Steak- cheese and onions, and the Chihuahua, with sour cream and avocado. They also make a Good Morning, with bacon, cheese and egg, but I didn’t want to push my luck.

They’re a great find and make some fine hot dogs, but the Redneck was very light on the chili and spices. For $4.50 you can spare a little more chili, right? Well, at least the “Knuckle Sandwiches are still free.” It’s not a bargain, but it’s a unique hot dog experience and $20 for a filling meal for two isn’t that bad in NYC; you might dirty water dogs at Gray’s Papaya a lot cheaper, but you’ll be going back for more if you only get their 2-dogs and a Papaya drink special.

Laughingstock State: Mayor’s Missing Cat Reverse 911 call

People make fun of New Jersey for a lot of reasons- the tolls, the fact that we call ourselves the Garden State when most visitors see the Blade Runner-esque refineries around Newark Airport, and the game of “guess that smell” when driving along the Turnpike. Maybe it’s our Gay American ex-Governor who disgraced us by trying to put a foreign national boy toy in the position of Homeland Security, if he’d assume another position first; or our current Governor, the billionaire buffoon who won’t wear a seat belt, and would rather shut down state parks than cut entitlements.

But there are many good reasons to mock this corrupt, bizarre Babylon, and you won’t find them in Weird NJ magazine.

For example, across the river from where I grew up is the town of North Arlington. The Mayor, one Peter Massa, decided to use the town’s Reverse 911 Alert system for that greatest of all emergencies, a missing cat.

NORTH ARLINGTON, N.J. — While Pennsylvanians are getting automated calls urging them to support Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, citizens of North Arlington, N.J., are receiving similar “robocalls” urging voters to help find a lost cat named “Max.”

It’s not just any kitty. It’s the 20-pound Maine coon belonging to Mayor Peter Massa and his wife, Val.

The calls were set up by Borough Administrator Terence Wall.

The mayor tells The Record of Bergen County he paid about $10 for AUDIOListen to send the message to each of the 8,500 registered voters in the community Wednesday.

The Massas are also offering a $500 reward for anyone who finds the 14-year-old cat.

Imagine getting that call on the phone. “Citizens, this is your mayor speaking. Can you please help find my kitty?” The best part is that they found the cat in his house, less than a day later.

(04-17) 17:39 PDT NORTH ARLINGTON, N.J. (AP) —

Mayor Peter Massa put out a citywide cat call when his Maine Coon disappeared. Massa had an automatic call sent to 8,500 voters on Wednesday asking for help finding Max.

Turns out he didn’t have to look that far. Massa’s wife, Val, says 14-year-old Max was found inside a wall of their house Thursday morning. He had been missing since Tuesday.

Val Massa says she doesn’t know how the 20-pound cat got in the 5-inch hole under the stairs. Max was dehydrated and hungry, but otherwise fine.

The Massas had also offered a $500 reward.

I wonder if he paid another $10 to tell everyone they found the cat in their house. “Hello citizens of North Arlington. We have, um, found our snoogums. He was in the house. Thank you for your support. Remember, if you lose your cat… well, tough shit.”

I grew up across the river from North Arlington. It’s a little podunk town between Lyndhurst and Kearney, probably most famous for having sinkholes swallow entire homes, because it’s built on top of an abandoned copper mine from the 1700’s. It’s a nice enough place, and is home to the most parklike section of the Meadowlands, a marsh bird sanctuary known as DeKorte Park.

Hopefully the mayor will keep a better eye on his cat. It’s not like Maine Coons are tiny and quiet. I rescued one once. Sortof. I was going to my friend Peter “Bloodsport” Dell’Orto’s house for a quiet night of the Dungeons and the Dragons back in high school, when a big-ass cat pads up to me in their driveway. He was very friendly and tried to follow me in. A week later he had the run of the house with their other cats and dog, Rebel the Great Dane-German Shepherd mix, an enormous lovable doofus a la Marmaduke. They named him Fester, as in Uncle Fester, not because he had festering sores. He did have a few thousand fleas, however. He lived a long happy life as an enormous, friendly yet scary-looking cat or pygmy tiger. He was kind of cat whose paws hurt when he sat on your lap. But he wasn’t roly-poly. I can imagine him crawling into a wall, but he’d probably have gnawed his way out and pooped a huge white sheet-rock turd in the litterbox.

That being said, I’m glad Reverse-911 is being used to save lives and protect New Jerseyans, at least the kind who poop in a box.

Laughingstock State: Mayor’s Missing Cat Reverse 911 call

People make fun of New Jersey for a lot of reasons- the tolls, the fact that we call ourselves the Garden State when most visitors see the Blade Runner-esque refineries around Newark Airport, and the game of “guess that smell” when driving along the Turnpike. Maybe it’s our Gay American ex-Governor who disgraced us by trying to put a foreign national boy toy in the position of Homeland Security, if he’d assume another position first; or our current Governor, the billionaire buffoon who won’t wear a seat belt, and would rather shut down state parks than cut entitlements.

But there are many good reasons to mock this corrupt, bizarre Babylon, and you won’t find them in Weird NJ magazine.

For example, across the river from where I grew up is the town of North Arlington. The Mayor, one Peter Massa, decided to use the town’s Reverse 911 Alert system for that greatest of all emergencies, a missing cat.

NORTH ARLINGTON, N.J. — While Pennsylvanians are getting automated calls urging them to support Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, citizens of North Arlington, N.J., are receiving similar “robocalls” urging voters to help find a lost cat named “Max.”

It’s not just any kitty. It’s the 20-pound Maine coon belonging to Mayor Peter Massa and his wife, Val.

The calls were set up by Borough Administrator Terence Wall.

The mayor tells The Record of Bergen County he paid about $10 for AUDIOListen to send the message to each of the 8,500 registered voters in the community Wednesday.

The Massas are also offering a $500 reward for anyone who finds the 14-year-old cat.

Imagine getting that call on the phone. “Citizens, this is your mayor speaking. Can you please help find my kitty?” The best part is that they found the cat in his house, less than a day later.

(04-17) 17:39 PDT NORTH ARLINGTON, N.J. (AP) —

Mayor Peter Massa put out a citywide cat call when his Maine Coon disappeared. Massa had an automatic call sent to 8,500 voters on Wednesday asking for help finding Max.

Turns out he didn’t have to look that far. Massa’s wife, Val, says 14-year-old Max was found inside a wall of their house Thursday morning. He had been missing since Tuesday.

Val Massa says she doesn’t know how the 20-pound cat got in the 5-inch hole under the stairs. Max was dehydrated and hungry, but otherwise fine.

The Massas had also offered a $500 reward.

I wonder if he paid another $10 to tell everyone they found the cat in their house. “Hello citizens of North Arlington. We have, um, found our snoogums. He was in the house. Thank you for your support. Remember, if you lose your cat… well, tough shit.”

I grew up across the river from North Arlington. It’s a little podunk town between Lyndhurst and Kearney, probably most famous for having sinkholes swallow entire homes, because it’s built on top of an abandoned copper mine from the 1700’s. It’s a nice enough place, and is home to the most parklike section of the Meadowlands, a marsh bird sanctuary known as DeKorte Park.

Hopefully the mayor will keep a better eye on his cat. It’s not like Maine Coons are tiny and quiet. I rescued one once. Sortof. I was going to my friend Peter “Bloodsport” Dell’Orto’s house for a quiet night of the Dungeons and the Dragons back in high school, when a big-ass cat pads up to me in their driveway. He was very friendly and tried to follow me in. A week later he had the run of the house with their other cats and dog, Rebel the Great Dane-German Shepherd mix, an enormous lovable doofus a la Marmaduke. They named him Fester, as in Uncle Fester, not because he had festering sores. He did have a few thousand fleas, however. He lived a long happy life as an enormous, friendly yet scary-looking cat or pygmy tiger. He was kind of cat whose paws hurt when he sat on your lap. But he wasn’t roly-poly. I can imagine him crawling into a wall, but he’d probably have gnawed his way out and pooped a huge white sheet-rock turd in the litterbox.

That being said, I’m glad Reverse-911 is being used to save lives and protect New Jerseyans, at least the kind who poop in a box.

Warren Zevon – the Werewolf of Rock

Warren Zevon has always been one of my favorite singer-songwriters. He calls himself a folk singer, but he rocks out here and there. Most famous for “Werewolves of London” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” he’s been writing songs for a long time. In fact he had one in Midnight Cowboy, sung by someone else. He was thought of as a 70’s wild man and a has-been rockstar, when he was really more of a folk singer who had a few big hits. He’s been called “folk noir,” but he really follows the murder ballad tradition that goes beyond American folk roots. Sort of a Jelly Roll Morton or a Leadbelly in L.A.

My friend Peter the English teacher/bare-knuckled brawler in Japan introduced me to Warren Zevon back in ’87 or so. Trading vinyl, and performing the horror of horrors, home taping, when we couldn’t find the records at Mickey Music or Giovine’s. How could we resist songs like “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner?”
I have all of his albums, even Wanted Dead or Alive, which sounds more like something from the Easy Rider soundtrack than his more famous stuff. The Rhino records retrospective I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a good start, but you might as well just pick up Excitable Boy and his self-titled 70’s debut if you want a taste of his music. For a live set, like “Learning to Flinch,” which is acoustic but still full of raucous energy. His first live album, Stand in the Fire was recently re-issued, and is a great set, but I liked his later years better. I don’t think he’s had a bad album, really. Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School is an 80’s classic, with “Play it All Night Long,” and Sentimental Hygiene is another favorite, with “Boom Boom Mancini,” and “The Factory.” Warren even did a concept album called Transverse City about a dystopian future, a lot of which you can see coming true. It’s an underrated album and I’ll give it a full review someday when I start my concept album column, as soon as I find a stupid enough name for it.
I saw Warren play at First Avenue in Minneapolis in the late 90’s. It’s one of the most memorable concerts I’ve been too. It’s a small, comfy venue and he played acoustic for 2 hours, playing all our favorite tunes, and as always, personalizing “Werewolves” for our city. At that time “The Indifference of Heaven” and “Splendid Isolation” were two of my favorites, and he played both.
That was before he got mesothelioma. Yep, that asbestos disease you hear about mostly on local access cable from lawyers. He was given 3 months to live, but held on for over a year and managed to release more albums with some great songs on them. Most notably “Keep Me in your Heart for a While” off of The Wind. It’s a very touching song, and helped me get by after the death of my grandmother. Warren had a unique voice, and while he’s best known for a howl, he has a heartfelt touch with a tender or sad ballad. “Desperadoes Under the Eaves” and “The French Inhaler” are certainly evidence of that.
He created a dark and dirty world, peppered with heartfelt moments and hilarity, in his songwriting. I grew up there in my adolescence, and in the 80’s it was easy to dream of living in a world full of mercenaries, envoys, werewolves and lounge lizards. For a long time my internet handle was “Mr. Bad Example” after his album of the same name; I still think it’s one of his best. That’s where “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” comes from, a song that sort of had a movie made about it. It certainly could have been written by Warren, with Critical Bill the gun nut, Andy Garcia knowing he’s dead, and Christopher Walken as a paraplegic mob boss, in one of his more memorable roles. He covered for Paul Schaffer on the Letterman show; he was friends with Miami’s pen-wielding crusader, Carl Hiaasen, and they co-wrote some songs together.

The latest release is Preludes, rare and unreleased recordings. It’s really for big fans and completists. The best part is the second disc, which has a long interview interspersed with some solo acoustic tracks. It was nice to listen to a long and casual interview with Warren. His stage persona was a bit unhinged, so it’s good to see the man behind it talk about life and music.

The first disc of unreleased tracks is little spotty, because so much has already been released. I really enjoy “Steady Rain,” for one. It’s a sad and touching ballad. There’s an alternate take of “Werewolves of London” which echoes and sound effects that’s fun and creepy, but the mix is so different that it’s strange listening to it, when you know the original by heart. “Tule’s Blues” is another nice ballad that shows off his piano work.

The 2 CD set comes with a booklet with short writings by his son Jordan Zevon, Jackson Browne, and others who worked with Warren. The one thing it lacks is a lyric sheet for the new songs, or much info on where the alternate takes come from. His son Jordan found many of the songs on reels in storage with no notes, but maybe there’s more over on the Warren Zevon website. Some of them have lyrical changes, like an early cut of “Carmelita,” one of my favorites, about a smack-addicted songwriter yearning for his girl. But here, instead of pawning his Smith-Corona, he’s pawning a Smith & Wesson. I always felt a sort of Hemingway/Burroughs vibe when it was about pawning a typewriter, about a man so lost in his addictions that he pawns his writing instrument.

There’s a truncated version of “Studebaker” that Jordan sang on the tribute CD that came out a year or so back. It’s nice that he finished the song for his father. He does a great job with it, it’s the highlight of the tribute album if you ask me. It’s called Enjoy Every Sandwich, which is what Warren said when someone asked what he was going to do, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now there’s a sentiment I can agree with.

Crystal Zevon has also written a book about him, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon. I haven’t read it yet, but as you can imagine, I’ll review it here when I have.

Warren Zevon – the Werewolf of Rock

Warren Zevon has always been one of my favorite singer-songwriters. He calls himself a folk singer, but he rocks out here and there. Most famous for “Werewolves of London” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” he’s been writing songs for a long time. In fact he had one in Midnight Cowboy, sung by someone else. He was thought of as a 70’s wild man and a has-been rockstar, when he was really more of a folk singer who had a few big hits. He’s been called “folk noir,” but he really follows the murder ballad tradition that goes beyond American folk roots. Sort of a Jelly Roll Morton or a Leadbelly in L.A.

My friend Peter the English teacher/bare-knuckled brawler in Japan introduced me to Warren Zevon back in ’87 or so. Trading vinyl, and performing the horror of horrors, home taping, when we couldn’t find the records at Mickey Music or Giovine’s. How could we resist songs like “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner?”
I have all of his albums, even Wanted Dead or Alive, which sounds more like something from the Easy Rider soundtrack than his more famous stuff. The Rhino records retrospective I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead is a good start, but you might as well just pick up Excitable Boy and his self-titled 70’s debut if you want a taste of his music. For a live set, like “Learning to Flinch,” which is acoustic but still full of raucous energy. His first live album, Stand in the Fire was recently re-issued, and is a great set, but I liked his later years better. I don’t think he’s had a bad album, really. Bad Luck Streak in Dancing School is an 80’s classic, with “Play it All Night Long,” and Sentimental Hygiene is another favorite, with “Boom Boom Mancini,” and “The Factory.” Warren even did a concept album called Transverse City about a dystopian future, a lot of which you can see coming true. It’s an underrated album and I’ll give it a full review someday when I start my concept album column, as soon as I find a stupid enough name for it.
I saw Warren play at First Avenue in Minneapolis in the late 90’s. It’s one of the most memorable concerts I’ve been too. It’s a small, comfy venue and he played acoustic for 2 hours, playing all our favorite tunes, and as always, personalizing “Werewolves” for our city. At that time “The Indifference of Heaven” and “Splendid Isolation” were two of my favorites, and he played both.
That was before he got mesothelioma. Yep, that asbestos disease you hear about mostly on local access cable from lawyers. He was given 3 months to live, but held on for over a year and managed to release more albums with some great songs on them. Most notably “Keep Me in your Heart for a While” off of The Wind. It’s a very touching song, and helped me get by after the death of my grandmother. Warren had a unique voice, and while he’s best known for a howl, he has a heartfelt touch with a tender or sad ballad. “Desperadoes Under the Eaves” and “The French Inhaler” are certainly evidence of that.
He created a dark and dirty world, peppered with heartfelt moments and hilarity, in his songwriting. I grew up there in my adolescence, and in the 80’s it was easy to dream of living in a world full of mercenaries, envoys, werewolves and lounge lizards. For a long time my internet handle was “Mr. Bad Example” after his album of the same name; I still think it’s one of his best. That’s where “Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead” comes from, a song that sort of had a movie made about it. It certainly could have been written by Warren, with Critical Bill the gun nut, Andy Garcia knowing he’s dead, and Christopher Walken as a paraplegic mob boss, in one of his more memorable roles. He covered for Paul Schaffer on the Letterman show; he was friends with Miami’s pen-wielding crusader, Carl Hiaasen, and they co-wrote some songs together.

The latest release is Preludes, rare and unreleased recordings. It’s really for big fans and completists. The best part is the second disc, which has a long interview interspersed with some solo acoustic tracks. It was nice to listen to a long and casual interview with Warren. His stage persona was a bit unhinged, so it’s good to see the man behind it talk about life and music.

The first disc of unreleased tracks is little spotty, because so much has already been released. I really enjoy “Steady Rain,” for one. It’s a sad and touching ballad. There’s an alternate take of “Werewolves of London” which echoes and sound effects that’s fun and creepy, but the mix is so different that it’s strange listening to it, when you know the original by heart. “Tule’s Blues” is another nice ballad that shows off his piano work.

The 2 CD set comes with a booklet with short writings by his son Jordan Zevon, Jackson Browne, and others who worked with Warren. The one thing it lacks is a lyric sheet for the new songs, or much info on where the alternate takes come from. His son Jordan found many of the songs on reels in storage with no notes, but maybe there’s more over on the Warren Zevon website. Some of them have lyrical changes, like an early cut of “Carmelita,” one of my favorites, about a smack-addicted songwriter yearning for his girl. But here, instead of pawning his Smith-Corona, he’s pawning a Smith & Wesson. I always felt a sort of Hemingway/Burroughs vibe when it was about pawning a typewriter, about a man so lost in his addictions that he pawns his writing instrument.

There’s a truncated version of “Studebaker” that Jordan sang on the tribute CD that came out a year or so back. It’s nice that he finished the song for his father. He does a great job with it, it’s the highlight of the tribute album if you ask me. It’s called Enjoy Every Sandwich, which is what Warren said when someone asked what he was going to do, after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. Now there’s a sentiment I can agree with.

Crystal Zevon has also written a book about him, I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead: The Dirty Life and Times of Warren Zevon. I haven’t read it yet, but as you can imagine, I’ll review it here when I have.

80’s Trash of the Week – Weird Science

Okay, this one’s not obscure at all and just happened to be on cable in HD, so I decided to watch it again. For some reason it only gets one star in the cable guide. It’s definitely worth 2, maybe not 3 but Ebert thought otherwise. Even if you watch it for Kelly LeBrock, whose lips should have a tag-team deathmatch with Angelia Jolie’s, or for the excellent soundtrack with Oingo Boingo, once you get past the tedious beginning.

A high-yield note in Anthony Michael Hall’s spank bank.

Seriously, before Kelly LeBrock shows up, the movie is almost painful. Anthony Michael Hall (Gary) and Ilan Mitchell-Smith (Wyatt), two guys whose careers fizzled after their braces came off, are the school nerds. Robert Downey Jr with his frightening hair and his nondescript douchebag pal are their tormentors. The story begins with our nerds drooling over the girls’ gym class, then getting pantsed in front of them- the iconic nightmare of being in class in your tighty whities realized. By the end of the film they recover from this humiliation, drive Porsches and Ferraris, befriend bluesmen and fight off biker hordes.

The nerds’ nemeses.

All thanks to Kelly LeBrock. She was a young model who got into movies when she married a producer. At least that saves you from the indignity of the casting couch. Not endowed with much range, she parlayed her slinky bod and sardonic attitude into a small but memorable Hollywood career. From there she hooked up with elbow-destroyer Steven Seagal, and they both got fat and had a few kids. I wish more Hollywood people would do that. It takes pressure off us normal folks.

A bra on your head and a martini. The good life.

Anyway, the boys get bored one night when The Bride of Frankenstein is on, and Gary gets the idea to build a girl using Wyatt’s home computer, a Memotech MTX. This leads to an amusing and embarrassing montage of computer graphics involving 3-D boobie models, Playboy pages, downloading Einstein’s brain from a government mainframe, and security involving a rent-a-cop at the other end typing “Access Denied.” It’s not meant to be serious, like say the infamous Jurassic Park stuff, so you have to give it a pass. It looks a lot better than Lawnmower Man, for Gibson’s sake. As the world goes haywire when a freak lightning storm sends Wyatt’s computer into overload, they sit with bras on their heads with a Barbie doll connected to it with alligator clips.

Even hot in b/w.
Thankfully “Lisa,” named after the short-lived Apple machine, is not the bimbo you’d expect. She takes control from the second she blasts out of the closet, taking a shower with them to show them who’s boss. “That triangle has the strength of 40 horses,” my great-grandmother supposedly used to say (Unfortunately she looked nothing like Kelly LeBrock). She then drags them to a Blues club in a pink Cadillac, which is one of my favorite scenes from the movie. Stealing a cue from Animal House, as soon as the honky cracker peckerwood ofays walk in, the music abruptly halts and they are under the simmering glare of angry n-n-negroes.
If you bend over, I’ll shove the bottle up yo’ ass!

Thankfully the blues club folks make Gary lighten up with some hooch, and Anthony Michael Hall shows his comic chops by trying to fit in with them. “This chick wit da big titties kicked me right in my nuts in fronna the whole class!” Now, them’s the blues, my young Caucasian friend. When they drag Gary home, we are introduced to the film’s other saving grace– Bill Paxton as Chet the assoholic older brother. His performance is truly inspired, but wouldn’t be perfected until he was Hudson in Aliens. We must remember that he was also the genius who directed Fish Heads. His varied career also includes a revolting garbageman in The Dark Backward, the slimy car salesman in True Lies, and more serious work like Frailty and A Simple Plan. So don’t write off Chet, butthead.

Sir Chet, the Duke of Douche

As Lisa continues her quest to make the guys grow some balls and stop being doormats for the jocks, she takes them to the mall. Almost immediately, they get humiliated once again by Robert Downey. He’s actually pretty funny in this. The film rides on LeBrock (just as I’d like to, even if I have to beat up Steven Seagal first) and the douchery of Bill Paxton’s excellent Chet character, with a dash of Robert Downey Jr.’s idiocy. Downey dumps slurpees on the poor fellows, but then leaves a drool trail following Lisa out to her car. She tells him she’s with Gary… but to come to his party that night.

Turned into human tampons by Robert Downey Jr.

The party is the major set piece of the movie and the most memorable part. Everyone in the area shows up, even the douche duo, who want to trade their girlfriends for Lisa. The boys hide in the bathroom from the scary g-g-girls, who seem to like them, but think they’re in love with Lisa. Instead of trading, the guys try to create another Lisa with the computer. This of course gives us another freakshow as wild stuff starts happening all over the house, such as pianos flying out windows, following by naked pianesses (a female pianist –ed.), people in photos dancing, kitchens turning blue, dogs barking on the ceiling, and other tomfoolery. They even put bras on their heads again, but they forget to hook up the Barbie doll. Oops. It creates a nuclear warhead instead, and a layer of semiotic subtext involving fear of nuclear war and a Freudian meat missile in the bedroom.

The lengths young men will go for punani.

This pisses off Lisa, not because she might have competition, but because her boys don’t have the balls to tell their tormentors to take a flying fuck at a rolling donut. So she pulls out all the stops and summons a bunch of classic 80’s villains to contend with. First we get a Terminator-alike biker, who also resembles the “Metal Health” guy from that Quiet Riot album,

Wez from the Road Warrior, played by the same actor in the same make-up,
then Michael Berryman from The Hills Have Eyes,
and Wez’s girlfriend who looks like the chick from Bow Wow Wow.

They romp through the house and tell everyone about the boobie hats the boys like to wear. But then Wez crosses the line, by manhandling some of the girls. Thankfully, Gary has a water pistol to scare off the baddies with. Once you show them you have balls, these subhuman monsters are surprisingly tame. Probably the scene I remember most fondly is when the metalface guy says “Call me…. we’ll do lunch.”

Assisted Living at Affordable Prices

John Hughes not only has a touch for humor, having earned his chops at National Lampoon, but also knows how to pace his movies well. After the party we still have Chet to contend with. When he comes home from the wholesome activity of duck hunting, he finds the house in a shambles and demands retribution on Wyatt. Thankfully Lisa comes to the final rescue, robbing Wyatt of the chance of finding his balls. Instead they take the girls home while she turns Chet into a living, oozing frog scrotum.

Doc, I have this burning sensation…

From then on it’s a repeat of the end of Risky Business, without the eye-to-eye between father and son. It’s a lot of fun as a fantasy, but tries too hard. “Float an air biscuit?” Really, Mr. Hughes. This is no Sixteen Candles or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, but it’s still a classic of sorts. It owes a lot to Oingo Boingo’s excellent title song, and the performances I’ve already gushed over. While it’s not heavily quotable, it has iconic, memorable characters and a kickass soundtrack to make up for it.

Quotability Rating: Low
Cheese Factor: Medium-Well
Could it be made today? No fucking way.
Gratuitous Boobs: The piano lady’s boobs are quite nice, yet fleeting.
High Points: Oingo Boingo, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Paxton, Robert Downey Jr.
Low Points: Slow start, Robert Downey Jr.’s hair.

I leave you with the ultimate Weird Science collectible, the desktop Chet.

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.