IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

Going, Going, Gone

Here’s the next Yankee legend.

D.J. LeMahieu had just tied the score in the 8th inning doing what he does better than anyone in baseball—stroking an opposite-field base hit—when Aaron Judge strode to the plate. Judge, the 6’7″ 280-pound right-fielder, the “Supernatural,” had already hit a home run earlier. It had been his fifth in as many games.

Red Sox pitcher Matt Barnes got behind in the count, put a “cement-mixer” out over the plate, and Judge smoked a no-doubter 460 feet into the left-center bleachers. Judge now has six home runs in eight games for the 7-1 Yankees. A-Rod actually said as it left the park, “Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, LeBron James, Aaron Judge!”

Not quite yet. But he has the potential. At $8.5 million this season, he may be the best deal in all of baseball. He may earn as much as $35 million next season.

By the way, the wonderful thing about watching a Yankee home game this season is that it really doesn’t look much different to the home viewer, behind the plate, in terms of the number of fans.

Missing, Missing, Gone*

*The judges will also accept “OF Goes AWOL” and “Bat’s All, Folks!”

New York Mets outfielder Yoenis “A Cespedes For The Rest Of Us” Cespedes simply did not show up for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Braves. Then it was announced that he’d decided to opt out the remainder of the 2020 season for “Covid-19 related reasons” or “Would you risk your health to play for the Mets?”

Is this the beginning of a trend?

Rule No. 7

In which we remind you that every baseball game affords the viewer/attendee the opportunity to witness something that’s never happened before

A few wild nuggets from baseball’s first 10 days:

–After three games not a single team had a 3-0 record. That had not happened since 1954.

–Through this many games—admittedly a small sample size—the average number of strikeouts per game has been 18. That’s the most in baseball history. Also, runs are up (as are home runs). Baseball is more and more a pitcher-batter showcase. Fielders have never been so extraneous.

–Detroit Tiger rookie reliever Tyler Alexander whiffed nine straight Cincinnati Reds yesterday. That ties an American League record, held by former Tiger tosser Doug Fister. Only former New York Met Tom Seaver, a.k.a. “Tom Terrific,” who once struck out 10 batters in a row, has compiled a longer list of consecutive K victims in one game (10).

By the way, Alexander’s streak ended when he plunked Red batter Mike Moustakas on a 1-2 pitch. Ouch.

–The Tigers lost the game and the other game they played the Reds in the twin bill. Both games only went 7 innings. That’s the first twin bill in which both games lasted only 7 innings since 1912.

–Something we mused about watching the final two innings of the Red Sox-Yankees game last night: Umpires must be the only ones who are happy about the current situation. They get to call an entire game each day without hearing, “You suck!”

No One Is Clean Here

If you have not read the Pac-12 football players’ letter of demands that was published in The Players Tribune over the weekend, here it is. They make a few good points and they also make some points that had me summoning the wisdom of Rebecca DeMornay in Risky Business

“Go to school, Joel. Go learn something.”

A few of the demands make plenty of sense to us and in fact are things we’ve advocated in print for years, such as…

Six-year athletic scholarships to foster undergraduate and graduate degree completion.”

And…

End performance/academic bonuses.”

On the other hand, demands such as this one…

“Larry Scott, administrators, and coaches to voluntarily and drastically reduce excessive pay” are rather naive. If you demand that they do this, it isn’t quite voluntary, is it?

Here’s what rankles us most: In a story titled #WeAreUnited, The Players Tribune never bothered to address how many of the more than 1,000 Pac-12 scholarship football players signed off on this list of grievances/demands. It was almost enough to compel me to jump back on Twitter.

And here’s the other thing: when the founders of this nation penned a similar letter to King George in 1776, they individually signed off on it. By doing so, these men literally put their lives at risk for having committed treason. Not a single player’s name appears at the bottom of this letter. Not one.

No one is blameless here. The players properly address that college football has become a gridiron industrial complex in which they are the infantry and everyone else (the institutions, the outside contractors) are getting rich. The schools are at fault for basically Joel Goodson’ing it: turning their homes into a whorehouse for the weekend and then being upset when Guido the Killer Pimp conspires with the workers to take their cut.

But the players are also somewhat to blame. First, for not signing their names to this. Second, because let’s face it: high school players do not sign scholarships in order to become pro athletes or to earn business degrees. Those are ancillary reasons, yes, but let’s be honest about this: the young man signing that football scholarship almost wholly identifies himself as an elite football player.

This is his identity. This is what provides him self-esteem. To be offered the chance to continue in this identity for four more years, where potential glory and babes await, well, that’s likely the best offer he has. The chance to not have to re-make his identity, at least for another four or five years, that’s a seductive offer for most anyone, much less an 18 year-old.

So let’s quit with the “We’re being exploited” crap. No one forced you to sign that scholarship. No one is forcing you to stay. Just because the owners of the company are profiting disproportionately as compared to you, well, welcome to the working week. They are also offering you something no one else can, and they know that you want that. You could never just start up a minor league of football and replicate the tradition, the aura of college football. It would take decades and even then it wouldn’t approach it.

So if you’re really serious about making changes, sign your names. And sit out if your demands are not met. Be willing to walk away and be known as “that big dude in my sociology class.” Otherwise, to me, it’s an empty gesture.

Okay, Ozark

(The final scene from Season 2)

I wouldn’t say I hate-watched the first two seasons of Ozark, but I often felt as I watched like penning a letter to Vince Gilligan and thanking him… and telling him that he made Breaking Bad look much easier to pull off than it is.

Much of the first two seasons of Ozark was bad Breaking Bad, from the fact that everyone gets away with murder (I realize the sheriff is compromised, but is there any way everyone gets away with murders even the most vapid dancer at Lickety Splitz could solve?) to the fact that too many people die too conveniently to all the redneck shenanigans that never seem to lead anywhere.

But I stuck around and now I’ve devoured the first three episodes of Season 3. The show has taken a quantum leap. The primary reason: the game of cat-and-mouse, of Spy vs. Spy, taking place between Marty and Wendy Byrde. They are no longer Byrdes of a feather, and this has ratcheted up the tension.

I was a little tired of Jacob Snell and the show runners obviously deduced that Darlene was the stronger character. The producers lost Rip Torn (DNP, Death) but felt as if they needed to toss another fly into the ointment so they produced Wendy’s troubled but charming brother, who only happens to be built like a pro athlete and soon will be partnering (one way or another) with the show’s best character, Ruth.

Season 3 has already had some magnificent scenes, from Ruth’s roofdeck run-in with Frank Cosgrove, Jr. to the “Time For Me To Fly” montage at the end of Episode 3. We loved when the dentist told Wendy that Branson isn’t just “country,” that they’d seen Molly Hatchet open up for .38 Special. You have to understand that Ozark’s executive producer and lead writer is Chris Mundy, a former senior writer at Rolling Stone (we met him at a party once, 23 years ago; we were already a fan of his writing then). That line was totally him.

So Ozark has pulled out of its tailspin. And Laura Linney has become even more mercenary and complicit than Skyler White ever was. In fact, she’s sort of become the show’s villainess. Also, I’m not sorry to see less of Charles Wilkes. Never bought that dude as that character.

Looking forward to the rest of Season 3. Where Marty Byrde will be “Riding The Storm Out.”

THE VIG

by John Walters

The following is a recent announcement I posted for my class at Arizona State. Since we are a sports class, I felt that we needed a team name so earlier in the course I dubbed us the Hippos. Hence the hippo reference.

Random Hippo: “This course isn’t completely awful, but I really wish Professor Walters would drop some practical knowledge on us. Something we’ll actually use in life.”

Alrighty then. Let’s talk about the vigorish, or as it is better known among gamblers, “the vig.”

Now, a fair number of you are laughing at this. You’re saying, “Everyone knows what the vig is, Professor Walters.” And yet I’m willing to wager (versus those of you who know what a vig is), that a greater number of you have no idea what the vig is.

The vig, as every gambler knows, is the house’s 10%.

This is how actual sports gambling works. If you bet $100 on a game and win, you win $100 (thus, you get your $100 stake back plus $100 more). However, if you bet $100 on a game and lose, you lose $110. That 10% is why sports gambling, on a long-term basis, is a sucker’s bet.

If you win 50% of the action (i.e., the games you wager on), you will be down 10% of the total amount that you have wagered. That assumes you wager the same amount on every bet, which almost no one does, but we’ll get to that later.

The vig is the reason that bookies are by and large wealthier than gamblers. The vig is why reformed gamblers become bookies. They realize being a bookie is the only sure bet.

Vigorish, by the way, is a Yiddish slang word that means “gains, or winnings.”

If you’re simply playing the Squares game at a Super Bowl party or making a friendly bet because you’re from Buffalo and your pal is from Boston and the Bills are playing the Pats, that’s all fine. No worries.

Sports books, however, or gambling sites, prey on people like many of you, though. Here’s our factors that make you such easy prey:

1) They know that a lot of sports fans are incredibly passionate about the games and not a few of them think they know more than the average Joe about sports (most addicted gamblers have higher IQs).

2) The appeal of easy money is extremely seductive.

3) Betting (and someone who bets is a “bettor,” not a “better”) literally creates a chemical rush. The anxiety is its own high and bettors will tell you that just plain cheering for your favorite team will not approach the feeling you have when you have money on the game. That rush is addictive, just like alcohol or painkillers, etc.

4) Finally, the spread.

Let’s talk about the spread. If the Chiefs are hosting the Lions and the only issue is who will win, most of us are going to be smart enough to bet on the Chiefs. And we will win. But that is not how sports gambling works. Either you bet the spread or the money line (we wont’ worry about the money line here). The spread is a given number of points that the bookies decide a favorite must win by.

Thus, for our Lions at Chiefs game, let’s say the spread is minus-18 for the Chiefs. This means that the Chiefs must win by 19 points for your bet on the Chiefs to pay off. You can bet on the Lions and if they lose 34-17 you win.

This is what is very important for you to understand about bookies: they don’t care who wins. All they care about is that just as much money is bet on the Lions as is bet on the Chiefs. The spread is how that happens. Vegas attempts to calibrate at what point the spread must be for just as much money to be bet on the Lions covering the spread (losing by less than 18) as the Chiefs (winning by more than 18).

Why is that? Because of the vigorish! If $5 million is bet on the Lions and $5 million is wagered on the Chiefs, the bookie winds up making a $500,000 profit. Why? Because he paid out $5 million in winnings but he made $5,500,000 off the losers (their bets + 10%).

I’m friends with Chris Fallica (oooh, look at Prof Walters with the name drop), better-known as Bear to you ESPN college football fans. Last season, for my weekly college football column for The Athletic, I asked Bear to track his weekly “Bear’s Picks” over the course of the entire season. Understand, Bear makes very good money as ESPN’s college football betting guru, that he peers at stats and other information all week long before making his three weekly picks.

At season’s end, if I remember correctly, Bear had won 51% of his games. In order simply to break even as a gambler (again, assuming you bet the same amount on every game, which no one does), you’d need to win 52.5% of your bets.

The bookies know. The vig is what makes them rich. Not being able to decide which team will win. They always want equal amounts of money bet on either team (and if too much money is bet on one team, they’ll adjust the spread for those who have not yet made bets).

Finally, many of you have been to Las Vegas. Or Reno. You’ve seen a roulette table. You’ve wondered, what if I just kept putting my chips on Red or Black, on Even or Odd. Surely I’ve got a 50% chance here to win, no?

No. Those two green numbers at the top of the roulette table (0 and 00) change the odds from 50/50 to 47.5/47.5/5.

And that 5% might not mean much for one roll of the roulette wheel. But over the course of a year, and millions of rolls in any single casino, that is why casinos look like they do and your 2004 Mazda looks like it does.

The house always wins. Long-term. The odds are in their favor.

Have fun betting on sports, or in Vegas. Just remember that it’s a diversion, not an occupation.

HAVE YOU SEEN THIS WOMAN?

MISSING: Blog Commenter

NAME (or alias): Susie B.

Identifying traits: Prone to polemics about Republicans, Sweet Pea, the University of Maryland, paywalls and growing up in the 1940s. Owns a drawer-ful of Amazon stock and anxiously looks forward to the day it will reach “hundred-bagger” status. Likely unarmed, but still dangerous. If spotted, do not approach. Contact authorities.

CARY GRANT GOOD EVE

by John Walters

Wednesdays in July are TCM’s “Feel Good Films” night, hosted by Ben Mankiewicz, when the premium cable TV channel unleashes its best (if not epic) material. Tonight is the final of five July Wednesdays in 2020, and there’s no holding back (all times Eastern):

6:30 p.m.

Viva Las Vegas (1968) with Elvis Presley and Ann-Margret: What’s it about? Who cares? Elvis sings and Ann dances. What else do you want?

8 p.m.

The Thin Man (1934), with William Powell and Myrna Loy: The original wise-cracking, crime-solving, martini-guzzling couple. A film that launched a genre, and still no one has done it better than these two.

9:45 p.m.

Guys and Dolls (1955) with Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando: Sinatra wanted Brando’s role of Sky Masterson (originated on Broadway by Robert Alda, Alan’s pop) and was unhappy about finishing second the entire production. Still, one of the better musicals.

12:30 a.m.

The Lady Eve (1941) with Barbara Stanwyck and Henry Fonda. Stanwyck was Hollywood’s original smart dame and as for Fonda’s gullible bachelor, this is a role that his best friend, Jimmy Stewart, could have played in his sleep. A comedy about a gold digger who gets her comeuppance and comes back for more.

2:15 am.

Arsenic and Old Lace (1944) with Cary Grant and Priscilla Lane. A black comedy about a young married comedy, a body underneath the window seat, and a bizarre set of in-laws.

4:15 a.m.

Some Like It Hot (1959) with Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe. This may be the perfect comic film. The plot never drags and it’s sublime from the opening moments in wintry Chicago to the final scene in a getaway motor boat. Tony Curtis plays three characters, essentially, and is credible as each. Deserved the Oscar for this.


STICK TO SPORTS

by Wendell Barnhouse

Stick to sports.
To Your Veteran Scribe’s recollection, that phrase made its debut around the time of Colin Kaepernick’s protest of police violence against blacks. The NFL quarterback’ssilent and peaceful method was to kneel during the National Anthem. It was a strategy suggested by U.S. military veteran Nate Boyer.


This story made national news headlines and created a problem for sports journalists and those who work in sports media (those professions are not synonymous). Writing about the Kaepernick controversy required mixing The Real World into the fantasy world of grown men playing a game. There was no Switzerland on this issue. Every story leaned one way or the other, even if it was a 51-49% split.

The Kaepernick controversy also came during The Time of Trump (“Get that son of a bitch off the field”) There would be no rational discussions, no thoughtful debates. The Twitter Rage Machine was at full power.

Kaepernick (and his Black Panther afro) was“disrespecting the flag, the National Anthem, our troops, our Constitution, our American
Way of Life.” Or, Kaepernick was “taking a stance for what he believes, expressing his First Amendment rights, pointing out that blacks are far more likely to experience police violence and death.”

Journalists who wrote or talked about Kaepernick got the “stick to sports” advice, which usually included a series of fck yous.

The idea of sports being walled off from The Real World, placed in its own box, has never been more stupid than during the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been a century since the United States faced this type of crisis and unless you’ve been assigned to the International Space Station, you’re aware that the response of the Trump administration has been a complete and abject failure.

Not only has there been a failure of leadership, but too many citizens have treated the “inconvenience” of sheltering in place (for a few weeks) or wearing a protective mask (for a few minutes) as an infringement on their rights and freedoms. Discovering a vaccine for COVID-19 tops the medical research list. Curing stupidity would be No. 2.
(Spoiler alert: It doesn’t have a cure.)

Ever since mid-March when the pandemic interrupted the wide, wide world of sports, those who write about sports and those who are fans have been jonesing for the return of athletic competition. With the all-American sport of football just over a month away, the jonesing has turned to desperation. (The sweet irony is that the college football
season is in doubt because of states in the football-mad South being helmed by Republican governors who re-opened their states too early to please Herr Trump.)

Your Veteran Scribe spent about 45 years writing about sports. I stuck to sports. Now, I’m sick of sports. Major-League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are at the re-starting gate and no doubt the NFL will move forward, come infection or high water. Fine. Whatever. Those are professional athletes represented by unions in leagues where there is enough money to test, test, test (and never mind there are regular folks who wait a week to 10 days to find out their test results).

For many, the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament remains surreal. In mid-March, the idea that the plague would still be plaguing and endanger the 2020 college football season was also … surreal. Reality sucks when you’re dealing with a disease that gives no f*cks about your sports calendar.

The so-called Power Five conferences (think of them the same way as the five Mafia families before Giuliani) are desperate to play games in the fall. They need the money (especially after losing the March Madness cash) from their television deals. No games mean no revenue.

The problem is COVID-19 cases have been rising instead of falling. The idea of having hundreds of thousands of college students on campus in a month is an invitation to further curving and not flattening the curve. It also would be bad optics to have college football players on campus and practicing without students also roaming the quad, the dorms and fraternity/sorority row.

Two conferences – the Big Ten and the Pac-12 – have announced they’ll play onlyleague games. And that illustrates the problem; college football is run by the conferences with no cohesive leadership for the sport. Other conferences are delaying any similar draconian measures as they whistle past the COVID-19 graveyard.

An alternative that has been floated is to play the 2020 college football season in the spring of 2021. Real spring football. That would be one way for the conferences to still access the TV revenue. That solution appears half-baked because of certain flaws.

The NFL Draft is in April. There’s a good chance that college players who are potential first-round picks would skip a spring season. In March, college football would be in direct conflict with March Madness, the
NCAA’s signature showcase. CBS is one of the networks that televise the
tournament, but it also carries Southeastern Conference football games.
 Would spring football be a full 12-game schedule? Would there be a playoff? A full slate of bowl games?

 The NCAA’s musty philosophy that it is a bastion of amateur sport would be
eviscerated. If 2021 eventually brings a return to normalcy, there would be
college football in the fall. Meaning players would be expected to play 20 to 24 games in a nine- to 10-month span – all because dear ol’ State U. needs to make payroll.

The University Interscholastic League, which oversees high school sports in Texas, this week announced its plan for football. The two biggest classifications will delay the start of the season until late September; the four smaller classes can start play as if nothing
unusual is happening. The theory is that those schools are in smaller, rural areas where COVID-19 is less of a danger. If that plan is carried out, the two biggest classification would have playoffs extending into January with the possibility of playoff games on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Friday Night Lights must not be dimmed.

That can be argued is a cynical view from an old curmudgeon. The argument is “You only get to be a high school senior once. … These kids have worked hard. … They shouldn’t lose the chance to play their sport. … What about the cheerleaders, band members, dance teams?”

Should there be empathy if there is no high school football in Texas (or other states)? Certainly. But I’d rather there be empathy for the 152,000 deaths (as of this writing). I’drather parents and educators explain the harsh reality that sh*t happens, life is hard and you have to deal with its twists and turns.

Those who have died from the disease would sure as hell be happy to be alive this fall and “suffer” without football.

Stick to sports? Right now, I’m sick of sports.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

What Exactly Makes Him Honorable?

William Barr testified in front of a Congressional subcommittee yesterday and why watch because he’s a very smart lawyer and an extremely wicked man who’s not about to be candid about anything?

That said, this invective-launch from Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) was precisely the wrong way to go about it. Instead of preaching, which is what she did, be Socratic. Ask short questions that demand short answers until Barr paints himself into a corner. Of course, he’s a shrewd guy and will probably anticipate the maneuver, but simply coming out of Round 1 and firing all your punches before he’s even had a chance to speak, well, that’s not the way to approach this, is it?

The Wisdom Of Minchin

We’ve posted Tim Minchin videos before and we’ll continue to do so because we love everything about him. The entire staff here at MH are Aussiephiles (from Olivia Newton-John to Crocodile Dundee to Darren Bennett to Nicole Kidman, no other continent puts out more quality humans per capita).

We’ll condense this speech for the lazy and or harried:

–On fame and wealth: “It’s not only lonley at the top but populated by unnecessary chairs.”

–Tim’s three tips for aspiring artists (and people): 1) Get good, get really good at what you do, 2) Be authentic and 3) and the most important, Be kind.*

*If nothing else stick around to that part of the speech where Tim speaks about the importance of being kind, which leads us to our next item

There’s Both An “I’ and “Me” In America, Sadly

In a Tuesday Op-Ed for The New York Times, Paul Krugman made a wonderful point about the Cult of Trump that is so obvious that many of us missed it. That is, Trumpism and Trump GOP’ism isn’t about conservatism or patriotism or the Bill Of Rights or even capitalism. It’s much more basic than that.

What Trumpism is about, and what its supporters advocate, is selfishness. Taking care of themselves above all else. Krugman doesn’t even bring this into his column, but is there any better way to translate “America First?”

It’s the principle of the thing,” Krugman writes in “The Cult of Selfishness Is Killing America.” “Many on the right are enraged at any suggestion that their actions should take other people’s welfare into account.”

Like wearing a mask. Or protecting the environment. Or not being permitted to own a greater arsenal of weapons than any Scandinavian nation’s military. Or not pointing guns at people who are marching past your house. Or obeying the rule of law when it’s your friend or accomplice who’s in jail.

The Cult of Trump is all about selfishness. And that selfishness exists because they either 1) have all they need and don’t want to have to think about anyone else (the Trump rich) or 2) they are poor and Trump has persuaded them that it’s someone else’s fault (China, Mexicans, you name it).

I hope most Americans are not selfish. But far too many are. And Trump let them know they had a right to be proud of it. I’d rather take Tim Minchin’s advice: be kind.

By the way, have you noticed how the president is quick to blame others if a situation falls into his lap that was not directly of his doing (e.g., China, the virus) but how he never acknowledges that most everything he has achieved in life (his fortune, his admission to Penn) was not of his doing? So if he is the beneficiary of fate, that’s never humbly acknowledged. But if fate derails him, all he does is whine.

And yet there are people who admire him. People who would not permit this behavior from their five year-old.

The Walking Deadspin

Deadspin is returning. Well, Deadspin still exists, but the people who were the meat-and-bones of the site, who all defected a year ago after editor Barry Petchesky was fired for basically not sticking to sports, are back with a site called DefectorMedia.

It launches in September and will have a subscription price of $8 per month. Most of the old gang are back. The problem, as we see it, is that Deadspin does not currently have a signature voice the way Will Leitch once was or what Drew Magary became. That would help them land subscriptions. We wish them luck.

Cotton Mouth

Middle-aged American white men. I mean, really, they’re the worst.

By now you’ve heard that Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton referred to slavery as “a necessary evil” (and, according to Bill O’Reilly, they were well-fed, so don’t forget that) and I mean, really, are you mansplaining slavery in the year 2020? Holy cats!

Cotton’s entire polemic began when he and other GOP senators felt threatened at the idea of The New York Times’ 1619 Project being taught in schools (paging the Scopes Monkey Trial on line 1). It’s funny how upset southern Republicans get over things such as facts and science, is it not?

What Cotton doesn’t understand, nor do his followers, is that by saying that slavery was a “necessary evil” he’s saying that the America we have today (and ain’t she grand, folks!) would not be as fruitful and formidable as it supposedly is (and definitely is for rich white folk such as Cotton and his boosters) without the free labor of blacks. And that’s true. But by saying that he’s implying that, hey, it was worth it.

It’s like one of those Westerns where the hero rides the horse to rescue the damsel and in so doing the horse literally dies of exhaustion, but we’re supposed to not mind because the damsel (whom we hear was a cheap floozy with a room up stairs at Jasper’s Saloon and Boarding House, if you know what we mean and you do) was saved. But you know what? No one bothered to ask the horse how he felt.

Except that here the horse isn’t a horse. It’s a fellow human being.

Hold up, hold up,” Trevor Noah said on Monday’s episode of The Daily Show. “So Senator Cotton thinks this curriculum is racially divisive? You know what’s really racially divisive? Slavery.”

Yup. But men such as Cotton don’t want to say that. Because the moment they admit that slavery was flat-out wrong, that it was one half of a ‘necessary evil,’ they’re worried that the next word they’ll hear is ‘reparations.’ And that’s one thing they want to deal with even less than the 1619 Project.

Trevor Noah makes one more excellent point in his video. Cotton is saying that this country could not have become what it was without slavery. Which is exactly what the 1619 Project is saying. So if they agree, what is Cotton so, excuse me, uppity about?

Could it be that in his version, Cotton thinks this mean that no one should be blamed? No one, you know, like white people? Because the ends justified the means?

ALMOST ANYTHING GOES

by John Walters

What follows is a reasonable facsimile of my daily class announcement from yesterday…

During the summers of 1975 and 1976, years that I refer to as “Peak Boyhood,” there was a show that aired on ABC titled Almost Anything Goes. Back then there were only three networks and they only baked enough fresh new television shows to run two complete cycles from September through May. Then summer would come along and they’d dump garbage programming ideas at us because no one was inside on summer nights anyway because no one had computers or smartphones, after all, so you stayed outside catching lightning bugs or pretending to not hear your mom calling you to come inside.

Anyway… Almost Anything Goes. From IMDB: “This show almost defies description. Each week, three teams (each representing a particular USA town, and consisting solely of members from the town) compete for money and prizes. The competitions vary from week to week, and include bizarre obstacle courses, pie throwing contests, swing relays, and other humorous, crazy contests.”

The host was Charlie Jones and the field reporter was an energetic young guy by the name of… Regis Philbin. I seem to recall competitors getting soaked a lot, or falling,  and that none of these events were anywhere near something you’d see in the Olympics. The events would best be described as—and this term was TV gold in the 1970s— “wacky.”

(Almost Anything Goes jumped the shark—a term that itself originated in the 1970s—when it replaced regular folk with celebrities and subbed out “Almost” for “All-Star”)

So I was think about Almost Anything Goes yesterday and about growing up in the wackiest decade of the 20th century and it hit me: “Almost Anything Goes” would be a most apt slogan for the Seventies.

In the 1970s, almost anything went.

KISS. The Pet Rock. The Gong Show. The Chicago White Sox wore shorts. The center for the Oakland Raiders, Jim Otto, wore “00” as his number. Evel Knievel jumped things on his motorcycle, occasionally not breaking bones. There was a hit song titled “Kung Fu Fighting” that was all about kung fu fighting. The Houston Astros uniforms were lit…literally, or so it looked.

(The Astros wore these in public)

Almost anything goes.

Nobody wore seat belts. Or bicycle helmets. The term “play-date” did not exist: your mom kicked you out of the house and told you not to come home until supper time. Your school bus driver would blast the radio so he or she didn’t have to listen to the tortured cries for help of first-graders and you’d be subjected to Sweet’s “Fox On The Run.”

(Sweet. Legends.)

Almost anything goes.

Streaking. People would just run around naked in public and that was a thing. Cliff diving from Acapulco: televised. The Battle of the Network Stars, in which celebs from the three major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) would compete in Olympic-style events from the campus of Pepperdine and Howard Cosell commentated with gravitas.

Or how about The Superstars, in which some of the most famous athletes from the NFL, NBA, MLB, Olympics and other sports would compete against one another in everything from swimming to tug-of-war. Could you imagine agents allowing their clients to do that today?

Almost anything goes.

O.J. Simpson hosted Saturday Night Live (and he was funny). A cult classic film, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, induced moviegoers to attend repeat screenings and do weird things such as throwing toast at the screen. Renee Richards was a male doctor and then she was a female tennis player and then your dad fumbled for an explanation when you asked him how that could be (poor guy; he’d tuned in to Wimbledon to watch Chris Evert and this was what he got).

The  President of the United States was heard on tape giving the go-ahead for criminal activity. But he had to resign. Remember, almost anything goes.

By the way, the 1970s were a lot of things but they were nothing like anything you ever saw in That ’70s Show.

Demolition derbies. David Bowie. Disco Demolition Night. Freddie Mercury. Mark Fidrych. Match Game. Al Hrabosky, “The Mad Hungarian.” The ABA and its red, white and blue basketball. Tear-away football jerseys. CBS gave a mime duo, Shields and Yarnell, its own variety show. Think about that.

Almost anything goes.

But maybe my most favorite thing from the 1970s, at least in terms of sports, was the high-dive challenge, a staple of Saturday afternoons on ABC’s “Wide World of Sports.” This footage is from 1983 because I couldn’t find anything from the 1970s, but it began in the early Seventies.

I mean, just look at this. They’re interviewing him moments before he dives (or, omit the “v”), and then they show his wife and baby, and he might be seconds away from becoming flotsam. He’s calmly discussing his form when he should be screaming, “SOMEONE GET ME DOWN FROM HERE I’M ABOUT TO DIE OH GOD NO OH NO!”

Humans beings did this. And other humans televised it. And still others watched it on TV. And nobody cared.

The 1970s. Almost Anything Goes. What a time to be alive.

Caveman Shark Tank

by John Walters

This idea came to me out of the blue yesterday. What if you did a comedy sketch where Shark Tank took place in the Neanderthal era? The twist would be that all of the Sharks would still have the same personalities and (mostly) smug and condescending demeanors.

The first person to enter the Shark Tank would be Grog from Pangea, who brings with him a new invention: fire. Grog does a demonstration of fire but then Kevin O’Leary asks if he has a patent. “Oooggg, what is patent?” Grog asks. And then O’Leary dismisses Grog with “If you don’t have a patent on this, what’s to stop anyone with two sticks and a little will power from taking your market share?”

The Sharks laugh Grog off the stage.

Up next in the Shark Tank is a young man, Vonk, also from Pangea, who has brought with him an invention of his own: wheel. What does it do?, wonders Robert Herjavec. “It rolls,” says Vonk. “Can you monetize it?” asks Barbara Corcoran. Vonk twists his head sideways, picks nose, eats booger. Finally, Mark Cuban weighs in. “Vonk, you think you’re a transportation company but you’re really a technology company,” says Cuban. “You don’t even understand what sector you’re in. And for that reason, I’m out.”

The last hopeful entrepreneurs to enter the Tank are Mooga and Shooga, sisters from the plains of Pangea. “What have you got for us today?” Lori Greiner asks. Mooga and Shooga unveil “Cupcakes in a Jar.” “We eat cupcake but we put in glass jar,” says Mooga. “And then you return jar after eat, and we re-use, which is good for environment.”

“I don’t know much about cupcakes or environment,” says Herjavec, “but I like this glass jar idea.” He quickly fronts Mooga and Shooga 200 gold pieces for 45% stake in their company and 7% royalties.

Who has John Mulaney’s phone number? Can we get this on the air, please?

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

Gone With the wiN.D.

Notre Dame alumnus Regis Philbin, 88, passes away at the age of 88. When I shared the news of his death with my college buddies via text, one of them (Andre) wrote, “Jeopardy will never be the same.”

Reege loved the Irish… and donated millions to his alma mater. He also took plenty of ribbing from David Letterman, and always with good humor. Simply a good egg, he was.

Also leaving us this weekend: Olivia de Havilland, movie legend, at the age of 104. de Haviland starred in two film classics from the 1930s, Robin Hood and Gone With The Wind.

Miss Cheesecake

This was sent from our good friend Moose. Perhaps you’ve seen it before. The payoff is tremendous, but what we most love here is Bob Costas’ delivery. It’s seamless. He’s not reading off a teleprompter. He never verbally stumbles, not once. And when he segues from telling the story into mimicking Jack Buck, well, that’s just restaurant-quality raconteurism right there.

Now that I think of it, have I just invented an entire industry? Racon-tourism? Where you are accompanied on vacation by a first-class storyteller. Not to be confused with raccoon-tourism, which is self-explanatory.

Busk Tour

We’re always up for a good-looking, red-headed Irish lad who can hit the high notes on the greatest pop song ever to spring forth from Norway (notice we did not say Scandinavia as we did not want to alienate our legion of ABBA fans). This is Martin McDonnell, straight outta Dublin, not unlike Glen Hansard in Once.

150K In 150 Days

According to Worldometers.info, the U.S.A. is going to pass the 150,000 dead mark per Covid-19. And, if you trace back to the first known domestic Covid-19 fatality date, February 29, today is the 150th day of the pandemic. So I’m not the greatest at long division, but it seems that would work out a rate of 1,000 coronavirus deaths per day domestically since this all began.

No, I don’t have an answer.

Adios and Sayonara

This one really hurts.
Over the weekend I learned that La Caridad, my go-to take-out restaurant for the past quarter-century, has closed.

There was nothing fancy about this Cuban-and-Chinese restaurant on the corner of W. 78th and Broadway. It was simply the closest restaurant to my apartment that also happened to have amazingly delicious food that was ready at a moment’s notice, whether you were dining in or out.

I literally visited hundreds of times. My standard order was egg drop soup followed by red beans and white rice. Either that or the soupy rice with chicken. Your meal would be brought to your table before you had a chance to repeat your order.

La Caridad was small and cramped, with nearly floor-to-ceiling windows. To dine there was to be inside a fish bowl as pedestrian traffic on Broadway ambled by. It also had the requisite “stars who ate here” photos near the cash register.

Have you ever seen the film Blue Jasmine? The Woody Allen film? I remember seeing it and thinking that the lady in the canary-yellow dress who plays Alec Baldwin’s mistress was the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen. At least that day. The character, who has no lines in the movie, is played by Kathy Tong.

So one wintry afternoon after a late-night writing jag, not unlike this one, I pull on a bad pair of sweats, a ratty shirt, and I drag my unshaven and bleary-eyed self over to La Caridad. I look bad, even for me. But I don’t care. That’s the beauty of La Caridad. It’s like walking into your own kitchen.

(Just your typical La Caridad patron)

So I plop myself down at a table, make the standard lunch request, and look across at the next table. There’s Kathy Tong, sitting all by herself, enjoying lunch. I don’t know what I might’ve done if I hadn’t looked like ass that day. Probably nothing. But it’s a sweet memory.

We’ll all miss you, La Caridad. If Chirping Chicken ever closes (76th and Amsterdam), there’ll be no reason to remain on the Upper West Side.

IT’S ALL HAPPENING!

by John Walters

Lights! Camera! Baseball!

Will this experiment work? I have to admit, watching Brett Gardner flashing a bunt and then pulling the bat back made it feel as if summer is officially here. And yet, if the Yankees at Nationals incited this little buzz within, then what will the Rockies at Padres feel like?

At least the Dodgers understand how to make something look more real—it is Hollywood, after all. The cardboard fan cut-outs and the piped in noise were as fake as the decolletage on one of the Landers sisters, but it did add to the atmosphere.

Fauci Flattens The Curve

Buster Olney referred to it as “a socially distant first pitch.” The first pitch of what will likely be the weirdest season in Major League history was thrown by a 79 year-old epidemiologist who may be the leader in the clubhouse for Time’s Man of the Year. Dr. Anthony Fauci’s first pitch was outside but then again, you try tossing with a mask.

Cognitive Dissonance

One of my oldest and closest friends, who is now a psychologist at Johns Hopkins, sent me a copy of the test our president took. The one he keeps bragging about. Here’s what we can safely say: The president is not suffering from late-stage dementia, assuming that he is telling the truth about his test results, and why would we even assume that?

But if he is, well, congratulations, “Person Woman Man Camera TV.” You at least know what a camel is, how to read a zip code and repeat it back backwards. If this is what constitutes a “very stable genius” nowadays, lord help us.

By the way, and shame on me, too, but have you noticed how Trump managed to push the “Who Took Your SAT?” story off the headlines by bragging about his cognitive dissonance test? You have to hand it to Kellyanne Conway: she really knows how to change the conversation.

Cary Nation


For no particular reason, other than we watched His Girl Friday two nights ago (of course, TCM), we want to remind you that when you look up Movie Star, there should be a picture of Cary Grant.

I don’t know if there’s ever been anyone more handsome in Hollywood (Errol Flynn? Brad Pitt? Clark Gable?) but there are men in his class. There have probably been what you’d call better actors (Al Pacino, Philip Seymour-Hoffman, Spencer Tracy, Humphrey Bogart, Jimmy Stewart).

But I can’t name any actor who combines panache, charm, good looks and style the way Grant did. One of my favorite traits of Grant’s is that, sure, he knew how handsome he was, but he never wanted to play the straight leading man. He wanted to have fun. He had a wonderfully mischievous sense of humor and it showed in his best pictures.

Holiday. Bringing Up Baby. The Philadelphia Story. His Girl Friday. Arsenic and Old Lace. An Affair To Remember. In none is he that serious, brooding leading man. He’s playing for laughs. Even in his Hitchcock thrillers, such as To Catch A Thief and North By Northwest, Grant’s sense of humor permeates the script.

You can be a gifted actor and play most roles, but my contention is that you can’t play comedy if you’re not naturally funny (“Tragedy is easy, comedy is hard”). Grant must have been quite the character off-camera as well.

Look at the above scene from His Girl Friday (1940). Grant is playing this as if he were Groucho Marx in the opening scene from A Night At The Opera. It’s slapstick stuff and you almost forget that he’s the world’s best-looking man in a suit as he insults his ex-wife’s fiance (played by Ralph Bellamy) by pretending to mistake the old fella for him.

There’s a scene later in the film where Grant’s character is asked to give a physical description of the man whom Hildy (Rosalind Russell) is appointed to marry. “You know that actor Ralph Bellamy?” Grant’s Walter Burns says. “He looks like him.”

Don’t know if that was an ad-lib, but it was funny.

Rule No. 1

Gravity wins yet again. This time it was at the Dragon’s Tail in Glacier National Park (we should institute Rule No. 68, “Do not hike anywhere that has the word ‘Dragon’ in its name.”).

Josh Yarrow, 20, was attempting to retrieve a backpack when he slipped and fell shortly before 8 p.m. on Tuesday evening. At least he wasn’t taking a selfie (one wonders, will this at last inspire Susie B. to comment or have we lost her forever?).