CASTING CALL

Imagine this. You’re strolling through the Manhattan theater district sightseeing and hoping to spot a celebrity when suddenly a stage door flies open and a man with a desperate look in his eyes rushes out, grabs your arm and shouts, “Are you an actor?” What would you reply?

This actually happened to my son Steven. He told me he said to the desperate man, “No, sorry, I’m not an actor.” I was appalled when he told me this. Steven hires actors and directs them in TV commercials. That should have been close enough.

“You could have ended up with a leading lady in your arms,” I scolded. “Or maybe been one of the Twelve Angry Men, and don’t forget, you’re a true Jersey Boy.” Steven explained he was just out for a quick lunch on a busy day and it wouldn’t have been fair if he didn’t hurry back to work.

Whenever I’m in Manhattan now, I make it a point to stroll through the theater district, but so far, after nine or ten strolls, not one desperate director who’s one actor short of a complete cast, has run out and grabbed my arm.

If that ever happens I’m going to reply, “Why yes, I am an actor. I once starred in an off-off Broadway play” and hope he’s so desperate he won’t press for details and I’d be on the Broadway stage for one memorable afternoon and hopefully retire without serious injury.

My acting career began about 80 years ago when I had the title role in “The Big Bad Wolf” staged by our 4th grade troupe. My dying scene in Act 3 was quite moving according to one critic who happened to be my mother.

Perhaps I wasn’t that much of a hit because the following year in our musical about health foods I was cast as spinach. I had no lines and was barely visible beneath the green crepe paper.

I’ll probably never be put in the path of a desperate Broadway director. What might happen is I’ll walk through the theater district and into Restaurant Row where a panicky maitre’d will run out and shout, “Are you a dishwasher?” Actually I’ve had quite a lot of professional experience as a dishwasher. I wonder what the pay scale is now.

MOVING MOVIES

Some Hollywood films can cause difficulties for the impressionable. We all like movies that are inspirational, exciting, funny or even sad as long as they end happily, but for normal people the effects don’t last much beyond the exit lobby. Unfortunately, a lot of us are not completely normal.

I noticed a long time ago while leaving a John Wayne movie I tilted to the right a little as I walked out and I spoke haltingly for a day or two and in a deeper voice.

“Good Will Hunting” reminded me I was once a math-challenged engineer. It got me to bone up on long division and fractions, but before I got to improve my algebra I went to see “The Karate Kid” and went off on another tack and seriously bruised my right hand trying to chop through a one-inch board. It would have been worse if I hadn’t started with balsa wood.

I had to laugh at the panic created by the movie “Jaws”. I thought it was a silly overreaction. I’m not that impressionable. I didn’t cut back on my frequent trips to the Jersey Shore and just took the simple precaution of avoiding the beach and staying on the boardwalk. There have been no verified shark attacks on boardwalks. I checked on that.

Disease movies were once the rage. Most people treated them as interesting science fiction about whole populations in danger of fatal infection. It was different with me. A few minutes into the film I would begin to experience the symptoms the actors were displaying. It didn’t matter if it was a made-up disease created by a screenwriter. There was the Dustin Hoffman movie “Outbreak” about a fictitious airborne virus with a 100 percent fatality rate. As I sat nervously chewing my Milk Duds I could feel my temperature rising and my inner organs beginning to liquefy . I was losing patience as “Doctor” Dustin was losing patients. (“Cure them for crying out loud. I”m feeling lousy!”) I went home, took an aspirin and two Tums and was completely saved . I never watch that movie on TV, afraid I might have a relapse.

The movie that had the most effect on me was “Field of Dreams”. I swallowed it whole, especially the mysterious message, “If you build it, they will come.” I didn’t have room for a baseball field in my backyard so I built a bocce court just to see what would happen. Sure enough, in a few days, eight old Italian men showed up and began to play bocce ball from dawn to dusk. I didn’t know if they were phantoms of legendary bocce ball players from the past or not. (What do I know about legendary bocce ball players? ) Eventually my neighbors complained about the loud arguments in Italian and I had to call the police. The phantoms (or whoever) were cited for disturbing the peace and I took down the court. There were several empty Chianti bottles out there. Do phantoms drink wine?


SOME PUNCH LINES

The art of pugilism was much more popular in the old days. Now with judo, karate, kung fu and taekwando, it’s lost its punch. Prize fighting is okay, but it’s full of rules and regulations and the referee gets in the way too much. If you want to see a real fist fight these days you have to go to a hockey game.

Hollywood still gives us the phony movie brawls which are quite misleading when it comes to showing the consequences of a slug fest. We kids cheered for Hopalong Cassidy as he duked it out with a half dozen bad hombres in the Last Chance Saloon. We’d shout encouragement and warnings and throw phantom punches during the melee where chairs, bottles and spittoons were weapons of choice. In the background were the shrieking dance hall girls and the piano player who continued his set while ducking an occasional airborne beer glass.

There might have been a couple of knockouts in the choreographed fights but, miraculously, no wounds, fractures or lost teeth. All combatants exited briskly through the debris rubbing their chins and brushing off the barroom sawdust. Hopalong never even lost his ten gallon hat.

There are websites now that give pointers on what to do if you’re faced with the possibility of a real fist fight, but there is so much information on how to survive, I hope if I’m ever confronted by an aggressor he’ll give me a few minutes for review.

I like Rule One best. We’re advised to try to avoid the fight altogether by talking our way out of it or dashing to the nearest exit. If that doesn’t work and we’re being overwhelmed by an oversized attacker, we’re told it’s okay to fight dirty or call in a few friends for help. I can manage the dirty fighting, but making a cellphone call while I’m being slugged sounds too difficult.

I’ve never been inspired to have a colorful pugilistic career. I’m afraid the colors would be black and blue with a dash of red.

THE WEIGHT OF THE WORLD

The starting date for most diets is “tomorrow”. For the more stringent programs that require a severely diminished calorie intake and vigorous exercise, the typical starting date is “one of these days”.

In spite of this procrastination, we Americans pour $72 billion each year into the cash registers of weight-loss enterprises because 7 out of 10 of us are overweight or obese. We are keeping a lot of weight-loss employees well fed.

Have you become one of us, the portly 70 percent? You might be if the print- out on your digital scale reads “One at a time please” or if people see you taking up most of the elevator space and say, “Never mind. We’ll catch the next one.” Do ferryboat captains insist that you sit amidships?

State-by-state statistics are revealing. Mississippi is the heaviest state with 67 percent of its adults overweight or obese. Colorado ranks the leanest with 55 percent in that category and New Jersey is in between those two with 60 percent and is slimmer than 41 other states. Colorado’s ranking should have a foot note. I would think that high up in the Rockies, gravity has less pull. That’s why I always weigh myself in the attic.

This corpulence epidemic is global. Weight-loss businesses around the world are counting on a $279 billion take early in the next decade, something like a 65 percent improvement in their bottom lines based on a continued enlargement of our bottom lines.

Has every branch of the scientific community studied this trend? Could the increasing weight of the earth’s inhabitants eventually alter it’s tilt and its orbit and thereby its climate? Perhaps we don’t have to drastically reduce carbon emissions. Maybe we can solve the problem of global warming by outlawing supreme pizzas and multi-tiered hamburgers and granting tax cuts to the salad industry.

THE HIGH COST OF BEING THERE

I’d like to go to a football game at Met Life Stadium, but unfortunately, the ticket prices for Giants games are giant-sized. I can understand if you build a $1.6 billion stadium and have a team salary cap of around $190 million, it can be quite worrisome, but we fans have our own mortgages and some of our salaries, although not officially capped, are quite stagnant and not protected by contracts even if we get on the injured list.

Back in 1926 sports enthusiast Tim Mara bought the Giants franchise for $500. Some fans now pay that much or more to sit up front at a single game. From what I can decipher on ticket-sellers’ websites, if you want a season ticket for Giants home games you’ll first have to buy a Personal Seat License which can cost thousands. That makes you eligible to pay for the actual season seat which can cost more thousands for up-front-sitters.

Watching a game on TV just isn’t the same. Sitting on a comfortable couch with an unobstructed view through multiple cameras with close ups and slo mo replays and with expert explanations of every play isn’t nearly as enjoyable as being there, squeezed between two raucous fellow fans and suffering through the same cold rain or sleet as our beloved team. Besides, even though you’re one of 82,500 fans there’s an outside chance a player or coach will hear your shouted instructions or warnings and will take heed. At home, my wife has no idea why I’m yelling “SCREEN PLAY!” or “THEY’RE GOING TO BLITZ!”

I thought it would be good if I could get on the team. I’d get in free and make a few dollars besides. So I contacted a Giants scout and told him of my extensive gridiron experience playing left tackle on my high school team and how I was a third string Hudson County All Star in 1947. The scout said I sounded like a hot prospect but I should have called sooner. “How much sooner?” I asked and he replied “1948.”

I protested that I was still quite spry and many’s the time I’d seen a Giants wide receiver drop a pass and I’d shouted quite truthfully, “I would have caught that!”

“I don’t doubt you can still catch an occasional pass,” the scout said, “but you must realize one second later you’d be hit by an angry 250-pound corner back and you’d probably cough up the ball as well as your lunch and your dentures.”

“Okay, forget about putting me on the team. I guess you still have water boys. Any openings?”

“Water boys? Are you kidding? These players are millionaires. We have Perrier boys now although some linemen prefer an iced honeydew mint tea. If you’d like to try out for libations carrier, have your agent contact our front office.”

“My agent?”

UNEASY (BUS) RIDER

In my late teenage years I was a long distance walker and sometimes a hitchhiker, but mostly a bus rider. I can remember waiting anxiously for the Number 22 on a wintry night and thinking, “Maybe I should become a bus driver when I get old enough. They don’t ever have to wait on snow-capped corners shivering like this. They’re comfortably seated in their overheated vehicles cruising along without a care in the world. Oh rats! Here he comes now, just when I lit my last cigarette, and at 20 cents a pack!”

My bus cruising career began around 1939 when a little kid could travel long distances for a nickel with the driver and passengers keeping a watchful eye on him and reminding him of his stop. Twenty cents would cover a round trip and a movie in the next county. Four deposit bottles would cover that. With only twenty cents you had to avoid the theater’s candy counter. If you caved and spent your last nickel for a Baby Ruth or Milk Duds that could mean a five-mile hike to get home. Bus drivers were not moved by the sad stories of stranded kids, especially with chocolate smeared faces.

In the 1940’s a bus ride to New York City from Bergen County cost about 40 cents and a Times Square movie ticket cost 75 cents which was big money then but you had to consider the live stage show after the movie might be headlined by Frank Sinatra or the Tommy Dorsey band with backup comedians and jugglers.

Some days three or four of us guys would be standing on the corner without enough cash for a Times Square trip but, just for the fun of it, we’d flag the New York bus and when the driver opened the door, we’d ask, “Are you going to New York?”

When he growled “Yeah,” we would break into song. “Give our regards to Broadway. Remember us to Herald Square. Tell all the boys on 42nd Street that we will……” They always slammed the door at that point and we never got to finish our serenade.

Once around 1962 when bus fares had increased but kids under six still rode free, I had to make a short trip with three of my children. I said to Steven, the oldest, “If the bus driver asks how old you are, say five.”

“But I’m six,” he protested, proud he’d reached that milestone.

“Well, don’t say you’re five unless he asks.”

As we boarded Steven promptly announced, “I’m five,” which would probably have been okay, but then four-year old Janis shouted, “I’m five” and Carolyn who was pushing three also told the driver she was five. “And how old are you, Sir?” the driver asked with a smirk. Our return trip was by taxi.


BULLY FOR YOU!

Many of us have had to suffer the rude treatment of bullies. The common misconception is that these ruffians are only active in our school systems and playgrounds, but young bullies, if they don’t reform, grow up to be old bullies like gang members or linebackers.

However, our first encounters with these intimidating louts occur in our youth when it would be useful to learn some defensive tactics. An upperclassman was making a habit of pushing me around in grammar school. I finally went to my father for help and he gave me the standard advice about avoiding the hooligan as much as possible and otherwise trying to appear unafraid when confronted. “But, Dad,” I said, “sometimes he corners me in the hallway when there’s no one around and starts roughing me up!”

“I guess in an extreme case like that you’ll have to take action like I did once in school, Son. Punch the villain in the nose smartly. It will become his complete focus for about ten seconds while he gets over the pain and checks for bleeding.”

“Then what, Dad?”

“Son, I’ve just given you ten seconds for a getaway. By the time he’s thinking about you again you should be out of sight or just outside the principal’s office.”

As an undersized tackle on my high school football team I was usually just casually pushed aside by opposing linemen, but one hulking brute decided to pummel me on every play. I played a mean trick and gave him a terrible scare near the end of the fourth quarter. He thought he’d killed me. He was quite upset.

Years later my little son came to me with a neighborhood bully problem. “He’s always calling me names and pushing me around, Dad, and he’s too big for me to fight back.”

“Okay, I’ll have a talk with the boy’s father,” I said. “Which family is this?”

“The McThrashers, Dad. You know, the father is the professional wrestler, Slammer McThrasher.”

“Really? You know, Son, you’re going to have to learn to get along with a lot of different people in this world. Perhaps young McThrasher will respond to a kind word, a little flattery or a dollar bill.”