Touring a Restored B17 Bomber

My stepfather loves aircraft, so when I learned that a fully restored B17 would be landing at Essex airport, we spent the afternoon visiting and touring this living relic.

b17 wingspan

The Aluminum Overcast is one of a dozen remaining B17 bombers. It never flew in World War 2, it was built in 1945 and scrapped for $750 after the war. It was restored later, and is now toured by the Expeditionary Aircraft Association. A tour is ten bucks. A flight… well, that’s $475. A little steep for the both of us, especially since they want a full plane before taking off. They regaled us with a story of a rich woman who paid for a full flight for strangers just so she could go up, but none of us had five grand to spare.

b17 nose art

The B17 isn’t as enormous as you might think; it’s very tight in there, especially getting through the bomb bays. I made it through twice, to the plane crew’s amusement! I’ve got the beer belly but I am a grappler. I’m used to tight squeezes and flexing into contorted shapes, like crabwalking beneath the fuselage to get photos of the ball turret.

B17 squeeze

My friend Peter joined us later, that’s him in the bomb bay. He’s a 30 waist or something. A human javelin. I was more at home manning the sidemounted M2 .50 caliber machine guns. They only had a minute’s worth of ammo, to reduce weight. I easily weigh twice as much as two of the crew members would. These were small, young guys.

tommy b17 me 50 cal

Here’s the rest of the photos, including the dual .50’s on the tail gun pod, and some closeups of the propellers, and the infamous ball turret where if the hydraulic systems were down, the unlucky gunner was unlikely to be able to get out, and became the landing gear.

b17 ball turret

IMG_20140920_131606

IMG_20140920_132311

IMG_20140920_134254

IMG_20140920_133003

Meat Loaf

I went to see Meat Loaf in concert with my friend Peter last night. The Loaf is 64 years old, and still belting out bombastic teen anthems with a voice full of heart and a belly full of steam.

Bat Out Of Hell is an iconic album of the ’70s, channeling teenage lust, angst and rebellion. We wore the grooves off it. The album art turns the act of teenage escape into Lucifer’s fall in Paradise Lost. I wasn’t a fan of the “sequel” with “I’d Do Anything for Love,” but this album and his other early work like “Dead Ringer for Love” still move me. I know a lot of you cringe when someone selects “Paradise by the Dashboard Light” on the jukebox, pinching their quarter until the eagle grins, but the opening guitar riff transports me the the wonder of childhood when days were spent exploring woods and rust-stained concrete factories on the back of a Huffy and nights with albums like this spinning while we sat around a fire pit on the patio, roasting marshmallows on sticks and potatoes in the coals.

Conan: The Musical

Thanks to my friend, my dungeon master, Peter V. Dell’Orto for sharing this link. © 2012 Thomas Pluck

God gave rock ‘n roll to everyone

Many years ago, a friend argued that Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was better than the first movie. Now, other than The Godfather, it’s generally accepted that sequels are never better, but we’ve seen that rule broken many times since. And Bill & Ted did it in 1991, which is especially surprising for an early ’90s movie to beat an ’80s one. Having watched the two movies again, I must concede that the sequel is better than Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
The original film was huge; it affected teen slang, it inspired Wayne’s World, and it catapulted Keanu Reeves’s career- which began memorably with River’s Edge– into super-stardom. If you watch closely, you can see him act in this one; it’s long before he became the great stone face with the great gravelly voice. The first movie is a blast, with the amusing premise that these two Spicoli-esque dolts who can’t play guitar will create a rock band that will spread harmony throughout the world. It all starts when we learn they have to pass History or be expelled, and a trench-coated time traveler played by none other than George Carlin shows up in a phone booth- a cute nod to “Doctor Who”- to tell them he has to help them, so they can save the world. Sure, the time travel is as convoluted as the Terminator (full review) and not as well-planned as Back to the Future, but boy do they have fun with it. By the end of the movie, they’ll be saying “hey, if we go back in time and put the key to the jail in this flowerpot…” and it will magically appear. They end up kidnapping everyone from So-crates to Napoleon to Dr. Sigmund Frood.
It’s all very cartoonish, with their air guitar gestures making music on the soundtrack, but it’s infectious because they are good-hearted doofuses who seriously believe that all we need to do is “Be Excellent to One Another, and Party On.” They aren’t cocky smart-asses like Ferris, too cool for their own good, so we want them to stumble into greatness. And they do. But the sequel manages this same mood and ups the ante with a ridiculous time travel plot where George Carlin’s old gym teacher- Galactic Sit-Up Champion and all-around pismire De Nomolos- creates Evil Robot Bill & Ted’s to kill the originals, ruin the band Wyld Stallyns, and rob Earth of its peaceful, most excellent future.
The robots trick the boys by pretending to be their future selves- which worked in the first picture- and drag them to the desert crag where the “Star Trek” episode where Kirk fights some lizard dude was filmed. I know this because they watch it on TV before it happens, and it’s hilarious when you recognize the same location. Amazingly, the infectious joy and idiocy of Bill & Ted, so perfectly played by Keanu and Alex Winters, doesn’t just hold up for a second film, but even works better. Because they are in fact, dead. And they goof around as ghosts, find out that Hell is exactly like their heavy metal album covers despite their denials, and best of all, the beat Death in a marathon game of Battleship, Clue, and Twister. Because like, they don’t know how to play chess, dude.
William Sadler- one of our best character actors- plays Death and steals every damn scene, even when he’s in the background. Along with Joss Ackland as De Nomolos- he was the bad guy from Lethal Weapon 2 claiming “diplomatic immunity!” after he shoots Riggs- and George Carlin as the restrained Rufus, the small roles really support these goofballs. That, and the writing is just plain clever; hell is truly hellish, and damn funny. You spend eternity trapped in your least favorite moment, which for Ted is having to kiss his warty grandmother, while Bill is pursued by a damn creepy Easter bunny. And Death is even funnier if you’ve seen The Seventh Seal, because here he cheats at Clue! If you went in expecting merely lowbrow humor, air guitar with musical effects, and cries of “bogus!” you get many surprises.

There are so many little touches, like Ben Franklin and Alfred Einstein playing charades in heaven; the boys falling down so deep a hole to hell that they play 20 questions (are you a tank!?) and once again, having strange things be afoot at the Circle K again. Another thing- any time they turn their heads, there’s a little “whip” noise, which gets funnier as the movie goes on. I think what I like most is that like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the movie remembers that people we consider “cool” now, like Spicoli, were not popular in high school, but outcasts. As much as I like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, the more I watch it, the more I side with his sister, and want him to fail. But I’m always on Bill & Ted’s side, no matter how stupid they are, because they hate gym and aren’t cruel to anybody, except maybe the Grim Reaper. They melvin him, after all.
They were wise to never dip into the well a third time, but Mike Myers and Dana Carvey sort of ruined any chances of that with their “Wayne’s World” skits on Saturday Night Live, which were never anything but shallow ripoffs, with Wayne making snide asides. I laughed too, but it always felt like Myer’s reliving high school with wish fulfillment. Bill & Ted don’t believe that they’re great, but Wayne secretly wishes he could save humanity with the power of rock ‘n roll, doesn’t he? Not to slam on them too much, they were amusing enough, and they show how much influence these movies really had. And amazingly enough, if you go back to rewatch them, you’ll find that Bogus Journey has staying power, and the first movie is still fun, but in the end, it was just a launching pad for the great sequel. How often does that happen?

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=plyoto-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=B00094ARHS&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr

Sumo Soup

MMA fighters agree: chankonabe, otherwise known as “sumo wrestler’s soup,” is good eats. We had some after viewing the Art of the Samurai exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC a few weekends back. It’s now moved on. They were exhibiting many swords and sets of armor that had never left Japan before. I got to see a Masamune, a Muramasa, some rare older tachi swords that were not shortened after katana came into style, and some other huge and rare blades including double-edged swords based on Chinese styles. Afterward, Suzanne (shown here with her daughter Nina) suggested we go to Menchanko-Tei in midtown.
It’s a great noodle house that I hadn’t been to in years. They serve ramen and udon, but they also serve the infamous sumo soup- loaded with protein and made without the ubiquitous dashi broth of Japanese soups, because fish ain’t got arms and legs, and a wrestler needs them to win! It is most often made with chicken because they are always on two legs as a sumo wrestler should be. You can order them with slices of beef, chicken or pork. The spicy chige miso menchanko was my choice, with pork slices. It comes with fish balls, tofu and head-on shrimp by default, and the miso broth with bonito flakes is delicious on its own.
Firecracker opted for the Sara-Udon, which came with crispy noodles and lots of veggies. Everything was delicious, and there are vegetarian options depending on the broth you like. We didn’t order their ramen this time, but I’ve had it and it is on par with what I had in Japan. The sumo soup, or as close as you can get in NYC, was excellent. Very filling, intensely flavorful and generally healthy unless you add slabs of their delectable roast pork like I did! Their gyoza (dumplings) made with Berkshire pork are the best I’ve had- not counting soup dumplings. It was the perfect filling meal for a bitter windy winter day.
There are two locations, one on 45th just east of Grand Central Station, and another on 55th. At Grand Central, we stopped at the great little coffee shop Joe’s Art of Coffee, which makes a great cup. They had donuts by the Donut Plant- which were good but didn’t live up to expectations. I don’t eat a lot of sweets, and they all taste similar to me unless they are very rich. The chocolate donut had the flavor of good cocoa, and the apple fritter was better. Maybe they weren’t fresh. I only go out of my way for burgers, hot dogs and the occasional BBQ, so until I’m checking out burgers in the Lower East Side, donuts will have to wait.

http://maps.google.com/maps?oe=utf-8&client=firefox-a&ie=UTF8&q=menchanko-tei&fb=1&gl=us&hq=menchanko-tei&hnear=New+York,+NY&cid=0,0,15664075180434157028&ei=iLVMS-avDYzk8Qap_YWNDg&ved=0CAoQnwIwAA&iwloc=A&ll=40.753336,-73.97416&spn=0.006295,0.006295&output=embed
View Larger Map

Badass du jour: Oliver Reed, in Sitting Target

My only regret is that I didn’t drink every pub dry and sleep with every woman on the planet.” -Oliver Reed
My friend Pita-San wanted to see this movie, Sitting Target, with Oliver Reed and Ian McShane, so I went on the hunt. Turns out it was rated X in Britain when it came out for brutality. They had me at “brutality.” Of course I expected it to be tame now, and in many ways it is- there’s nothing as racy as Lee Marvin throwing a naked man out a window as in the spectacular Point Blank, or as brutal as um, Lee Marvin smashing a pot of hot coffee in a woman’s face, as in The Big Heat (Marvin’s a bad-ass among bad-asses). But it remains a gritty and yes, brutal thriller about a crook who busts out of prison to get revenge on his woman when she shacks up with a well-off acquaintance, instead of waiting for him.
That crook is Harry Lomart, played by Oliver Reed, a bad-ass on and off the screen. Let us have a moment of loudness to remember his passing, at the age of 63, during the filming of Gladiator. He was at lunch, drinking 3 bottles of rum, a half dozen beers, and various shots of whiskey and cognac, and had a heart attack after besting five Royal Navy sailors at arm-wrestling. There are method actors, and there are forces of nature that you are lucky enough to capture on film. Ollie “Mr. England” Reed, so self-proclaimed because he was one of few celebrities to flee Britain’s high taxes in the ’70s, was certainly one of the latter.
Sitting Target begins with Harry getting the bad news from his girl, who’s on the other side of the prison glass, talking to him on the phone. When he learns that she’s been untrue and is leaving him, he bashes through the barrier with one punch and seizes her by the throat. The guards beat him down with their truncheons, and drag him back to his cell. But he’s already been planning a breakout with pal Birdy Williams, played by Ian McShane (you know, Al Swearengen from “Deadwood,” among many other roles). Harry does his time by sticking to a cruel training regimen, working out in his cell. In an age when even hunks had the uni-ab, he’s got the definition of a Greek statue and he’s cold and hard as marble.
He breaks out by hiding during the night roll call, hanging from the ceiling in a feat of physical strength, and swinging down to clobber the guards when they search the cell. They’re the same guys who beat him when he choked his wife, and he gets his revenge. To show how driven he is to pay back his wife’s betrayal, when they finally escape the prison after dealing with guard dogs, search lights, and climbing across guy wires in the dark, Harry has to climb barbed wire with his bare hands. The other guys used rags to protect themselves, but there’s no time. So he does it the hard way.

Tell me he doesn’t look like The Terminator?

Once they are out, they are hot and have to leave the country, but not before Harry finishes his business. They break an unspoken rule of “no guns” in the underworld, and pick up a broomhandle Mauser with a removable stock, that can be fired full auto. This leads to a brutal gunfight with motorcycle cops in the back alleys that is probably what gave the film its X certificate. A cycle bursts into flames, and Douglas Hickox’s direction makes it seem documentarian and all too real. As Harry hunts down his wife and realizes he’s made more enemies with his obsession, double crosses lead to more gunplay and an excellent car chase through a railyard with a Land Rover. It’s a forgotten and memorable piece of ’70s crime, and while it may not be a classic like Get Carter, it’s a fine thriller that stands on its own, and deserves a DVD release.

Artful upside down boobies.

Reed is more famous for starring in Oliver! as Bill Sikes, and the excellent Three Musketeers films of the ’70s, and of course as Proximus in Gladiator. He played many colorful roles in everything from Tommy and The Devils to Vulcan in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. Every once in a while you find an actor who’s as colorful off screen as he is on screen, but Reed is one of the true originals. I look forward to watching more of his roles, but I know they can’t live up to the man.

One day I should like to live in Ireland. I love the Irish, the more I see of other races the more I believe the Irish are the only real people left, and apart from that they have space and clear air in which to wander and think and to feel free.

Elevation Burger redux- the meat’s the thing

Back to Elevation Burger, the organic grass-fed burger joint. It’s a franchise, and I went to the Montclair location again with Peter-san, who just got off the plane from Tokyo. My first review a few weeks ago was a bit critical, but this time around the burger tasted a lot better. Perhaps their cooking process varies. This time it was juicier and the strong flavor of the grass-fed beef sung through the symphony of topping flavors with the voice of an angel.
Peter trains at AFS with me and has had many amateur fights, and a growing boy needs his protein. So after I picked him up from the airport, we went here. He doesn’t feed his body garbage (except perhaps Men’s Toppo and Pocky) so grass-fed organic was the way to go with fast food. This time around I skipped the pickles and hot relish, keeping caramelized onions, Elevation sauce, and little else. This let the meat better speak for itself, and made for a more enjoyable burger. They also seemed a little thicker in the patty this time, and cooked more to medium than well done. It made all the difference. They don’t ask how you want them cooked, but I’d suggest asking for it to be not overcooked. Otherwise it’s like getting a well-done filet mignon.
Peter liked the burger a lot, but we agreed that the fries were nothing special, really. Olive oil is tasty and healthy, but it’s not the best frying medium for potatoes. Five Guys has them beat there. Their shakes are excellent, however, if pricey. We both opted for chocolate shakes with black cherry sauce, and wow, were they good. Thick and rich with chunks of real ice cream, not the extruded soft serve you get at most fast food places. I was impressed. They also have organic cookies, but they don’t look that good- small and mushy. Burger and a shake is the way to go here, you won’t be disappointed.

They also serve the Vertigo Burger, which can have as many as ten patties. My pal Mike Dross has expressed the desire to attempt a 10 Patty Vertigo in November, and I may join him. You’ll read all about it here.