Tuesday, April 29, 2008

And print it

As my fellow crossword puzzle aficionados know, "Elia" was the nickname of a British poet named Lamb. One afternoon in April 1983, though, another Elia wasn't exactly lamblike.

Today marks the 25th anniversary of former Cubs manager Lee Elia's now-legendary clubhouse tirade following a tough loss. He blew his stack after the slow-starting North Siders blew another game, ripping the boo-bird fans in an extended rant that set new standards for profanity and candor.

Elia's back in town this week to mark the silver anniversary of his impromptu State of Wrigleyville Address, a milestone the Chicago media have covered at length. E.g., Sun-Times coverage is here and the Tribune's special commemorative package (!) is here, including some nifty spadework from FOBB&B Teddy Greenstein.

As for the source material itself, a transcript and audio are here (link via Moop).

A final note to the 15 percent of Chicagoans now reading this: get a job.

Faraway, so close!

As long as we're recommending good books...

Tonight at 6pm at the Second City e.t.c., 1608 N. Wells St., Chicago, a panel of comedy veterans gathers to remember the late Del Close, in support of Kim "Howard" Johnson's new biography The Funniest One in the Room: The Lives and Legends of Del Close. Admission is free.

Del was a mad genius who trained several generations of comedy stars at Second City and ImprovOlympic (now the iO Theatre). His innovative approach to the art of long-form improvisation continues to influence countless performers around the world.

My Flavorpill preview is here.

Monday, April 28, 2008

A good read

It's not just for the poker table. In this age of Guitar Hero and Scrabulous, there's still no substitute for losing yourself in a great book for a few hours and being transported.

With their first-round pick in this weekend's NFL draft, the Chicago Bears took a left tackle. Several other teams also snapped up left tackles in the first few minutes of the draft, including with the overall #1 draft choice. All these precious top picks spent on the left tackle position reminded me of a book I recently devoured, Michael Lewis' The Blind Side.

Lewis has repeatedly hit the bestseller list by explaining broad trends through illustrative, compelling individual stories. In Liar's Poker, his own adventures working for the legendary trader Lew Ranieri at Salomon Brothers typified 1980s Wall Street; in Moneyball, Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane personified an analytical new approach to the evaluation of baseball talent; and in The New New Thing, Netscape founder Jim Clark exemplified Silicon Valley's eternal quest for the next hot item.

The Blind Side is the latest example of Lewis' brand of explanatory nonfiction. It traces the evolution of football from the brutish style of old-school coaches like Bill Parcells to the cerebral precision passing game pioneered by the late Bill Walsh. Under Walsh's "West Coast offense" of short, quick passes, the system was the star (though it also made stars of its players, transforming the previously undistinguished Joe Montana into a Hall of Famer).

The key to stopping Walsh's speed passing game was getting to the quarterback, and pass-rushing terrors like Lawrence Taylor soon emerged. Taylor was such a devastating force that he could win an entire game by himself, not to mention end a quarterback's career in one play, as he did to Joe Theismann.

Thus in turn did the need evolve for an anti-Lawrence Taylor, a pass-rush nullifier to protect a quarterback's "blind side" (the left side of the scrimmage line for a right-handed QB); essentially, quarterback insurance. This is the job of the outermost offensive lineman, the left tackle.

As Lewis explains it, while point scorers like quarterbacks and wide receivers get all the attention, it's the left tackle toiling in obscurity who enables an offense to run in the first place. His productivity is measured in the non-statistic of "non-sacks."

An elite left tackle is an extremely rare 300-pound athletic freak with the speed of a track star and the balance of a ballerina. While he may rarely get recognized in public, his role is so crucial that he is probably his team's highest-paid player.

Lewis' story of football's evolution culminates in the remarkable example of Michael Oher, whose unlikely tale would get laughed out of every pitch room in Hollywood. He's just your everyday Memphis ghetto kid, one of thirteen children born to a crack-addicted mother, his father murdered.

With no one to care for him, Oher spent his formative years bouncing around foster homes and dodging truant officers, repeating first and second grade en route to eleven schools in nine years. He gets rescued from this life of neglect at age sixteen, taken in by a rich white family and provided with a chance at a life.

As you've probably guessed by now, the massive, athletic Oher eventually plays a little football. He is moved to left tackle in his senior season and soon becomes one of the top prep football recruits in the country, with a legion of big-time college coaches vying to land him.

Meanwhile, his moving personal journey, as he finally receives in adolescence the basic building blocks so many of us take for granted from early childhood (a loving family, a safe home, proper food, his own bed, parental guidance, literacy), places his nascent football stardom in its proper context.

Get yourself a copy of The Blind Side. You'll love it.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Devil with the green eyes

As long as it's all about the New Yorker lately up in this piece, here's a passing thought.

A recent NYer article about the tumultuous friendship between New Wave film directors François Truffaut and Jean-Luc Godard quotes a letter in which Truffaut calls Godard "both jealous and envious."

I'm no syntactician, but I've always used the words jealous and envious interchangeably, thinking them to mean the same thing. Not so, as the late Truffaut apparently knew.

Envy is pain or resentment caused by someone else's having something one lacks; jealousy is the fear of losing a prized possession, particularly a loved one, to someone else. Psychology Today more fully articulates the difference here; the fallible yet useful Wikipedia points out that envy typically involves two people, while jealousy typically involves three people.

On second thought, I haven't exactly used the words interchangeably. We're all familiar with, e.g., the stereotypical jealous husband, and don't consider his haunted fear of loss to be envy.

What I have done, like many or even most people, is to say "jealous" when I mean "envious." Few of us use the word envious in casual conversation. We say "jealous" instead, rightly or wrongly considering envious to be one definition of the word jealous. Never having felt either emotion, of course, I wouldn't know from personal experience.

Next week, the curveball vs. the slider.

Friday, April 25, 2008

The great beyond

Hearing my plaintive cries of woe, New Yorker cartoonist Lee Lorenz has kindly given this blog a gag panel shout-out:

(Linen store? What linen store?)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Heaven is a playground

The coolest pickup basketball game in Chicago isn't happening at the East Bank Club or the Multiplex, but on a nondescript asphalt court in the shadow of a dilapidated church on a hardscrabble West Side block of Diversey Avenue.

There, a who's who of corporate and cultural leaders has been gathering to rub shoulders, test their hoop skills and raise some money for the impoverished neighborhood where they play.

In one recent game, writer Claire Zulkey showed off some ambidextrous dribbling and a nifty crossover move to the hole; sketch comedians Inda Craig-Galván and Kevin Douglas dropped by; all-business Chicago White Sox assistant GM Rick Hahn coolly ran an offense; floppy-haired standup comedian Kumail Nanjiani worked through a crowd; insurance heir Pat Ryan Jr. mixed it up under the boards; a tall young MBA from AT&T who'd played college basketball dunked authoritatively; Justin Kaufmann of Schadenfreude scrappily grabbed a rebound; and the Chicago Tribune's Eric Zorn used his height to shoot over a smaller defender. Courtside, Dan Wilhelm of the NYC-based nonprofit Vera Institute of Justice quizzed Jam Theatricals' Steve Traxler about real estate investments.

As news of the impromptu game has spread, more big shots have been quietly, urgently angling for an invitation. Media coverage has grown; a CLTV crew was filming the above players. For now, though, it's still the casual, organic phenomenon it was when it started.

Considering that I had nothing to do with putting it together, you might find it odd that pretty much everyone in this game has crossed paths with yours truly at some point in their lives, and you'd be right.

There's a good reason for that, the same reason you and I will never play in this game: it doesn't actually exist. It all took place in a mind-blowingly realistic dream I just woke up from in a start a few minutes ago. I wish it had been real, because I'd love to get in.

I sometimes have vivid, detailed dreams like this and immediately forget them upon awakening. This time I thought I'd not only reduce it to writing but share it with you, my literally tens of readers.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Just asking

I drove by a Chicago Sky banner in the West Loop the other day, which reminded me of something that's been bothering me since the WNBA announced its expansion to Chicago. I didn't have a blog then, so I'm mentioning it now.

As the WNBA has rolled out new teams, it's cross-promoted them with existing NBA teams in various cities. One way of doing this has been to name the women's team something related to the name of the local men's team.

Hence the Houston Comets (Rockets), Detroit Shock (Pistons), Washington Mystics (Wizards), Minnesota Lynx (Timberwolves), Sacramento Monarchs (Kings), San Antonio Silver Stars (Spurs), Phoenix Mercury (Suns), etc.

So following this pattern, shouldn't our local franchise have been named the Chicago Cows?

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

You cannot be serious

Speaking of the New Yorker, they've done it again.

My entry to this recent iteration of the magazine's Cartoon Caption Contest:

"The first step is to determine whether your wife is a witch."

The three entries chosen as finalists:
  • "Get naked, jump in, and make this marriage work!"
  • "We call it shark-tank therapy."
  • "And if you'll agree to drop the divorce proceedings and reconcile I'll throw in a pair of lobsters."
Naturally I lack perspective, but from where I sit, they blew it again. Like any reasonable person, I don't mind not getting the call if the finalists are at least as solid as my entry. In this case, just like last time (mine here, finalists here), I don't see it.

My election outrage doesn't approach that which I felt over, say, the 2000 U.S. presidential vote, but still. Bob Mankoff, are you listening?

Considering how much naches (Yiddish for "corn chips") I've gotten from the New Yorker in ten happy years as a subscriber, it's hard to get too upset over such a small thing—it barely graduates to blogworthiness, but hey, something's gotta fill all this white space—so rather than criticize a magazine I love so much, I'll just distill my thoughts down to the following: ?!

Emdashes editor Emily Gordon points out that there's a hipper alternative to the New Yorker's caption contest, namely author and blogger Daniel Radosh's Anti-Caption Contest (past weeks' are here).

Indeed, although Radosh's enumerated criteria for a good anti-caption include the possibility that it "is not just not funny but aggressively unfunny," the fact is that many of the Radosh anti-captions are not only funny, but funnier than those in the New Yorker. They're also decidedly more entertaining, given a blog's greater latitude to achieve a surprising outrageousness.

Still, although the feisty Radosh may be ahead of the stately New Yorker (founded Feb. 1925) on the hipness front, winning or even finalisting the NYer C.C.C. would be a thrill. (The Grammys have been stilted and irrelevant for decades but most musicians would like to win one, and the New Yorker is neither stilted nor irrelevant. As Kellogg's says about their corn flakes, it's the original and best.)

And so I soldier on, despite the various obstacles to my winning: I'm usually several weeks behind in my New Yorker reading, so I only see the current contest when I intermittently remember to visit the magazine's website; even when I do, I sometimes draw a blank on the gag-writing front; and on the rare occasion that I come up with something pretty good, so far at least, it doesn't make it out of the slush pile.

But someday. Someday!

Think you're funny? Enter the latest contest here.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Thought of the day

It would be easier to keep up with the New Yorker if they didn't insist upon sending it so often.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Haiku Week, Day 5

Fiona Apple's
Beatles cover video:
Lennon would approve

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Haiku Week, Day 4

Ken Griffey Jr.
Just homered at Wrigley Field
600th clout soon

Apatow strikes again

The great Judd Apatow's Hollywood comedy mill has cranked out another winner in the raunchy/sweet/truthful tradition of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up and Superbad.

I saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall at a preview screening, where the capacity audience roared throughout. It's bursting with funny lines and sight gags, some in lead actor Jason Segel's original script, others improvised by the likes of iO/Second City alums Jack McBrayer and Liz Cackowski and Apatow stablemates Paul Rudd and Jonah Hill.

British standup comedian Russell Brand shines as a priapic rock star; Mila Kunis and Kristen Bell are well cast and radiant as, respectively, a laid-back Hawaii hotel hostess and the titular devastating ex-girlfriend. The movie loses a little steam in the final act, but by then you've already gotten your money's worth.

The "world's first romantic disaster comedy," Forgetting Sarah Marshall opens tomorrow. Check it out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Haiku Week, Day 3

'XRT, take note:
Too many commercials at
One o'clock a.m.

Double take

Recent headline:
Cops kill cougar on North Side [Chi Trib]

Expected subhead:
Divorcee, 43, slain while leaving John Barleycorn with DePaul Sig Ep, 19

Actual subhead:
Neighborhood stunned as animal cornered, shot in back alley

Elsewhere, this.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Haiku Week, Day 2

Edens construction
Doesn't vex us Metra nerds
We fortunate few

A sort of homecoming

Don't worry if you missed Schadenfreude's sold-out show last night at the Steppenwolf Theatre; you've got six more chances to catch their act. 

The proven champs of the Chicago comedy scene celebrate their tenth anniversary with the 2008 Rent Party Tour, playing a different neighborhood bar (and a different neighborhood) for the next six Saturday nights.  Special guest comedians vary by show; tour sponsor Pabst Blue Ribbon reflects Schadenfreude's workmanlike approach. 

It all starts this Saturday evening in Bucktown at the Gallery Cabaret, with guest performers including the excellent two-man joke machine Team Submarine. 9 p.m. $10. Free food.  What better way to unwind after a first-night seder?

Tour info is here; my Flavorpill preview is here.

To get you in the mood, here's a little something Schadenfreude threw together with their friends Kanye West and Chris Martin (note my nonviolent drive-by cameo at the 0:44 mark).

Monday, April 14, 2008

Haiku Week, Day 1

Election cycle
Dragging on for eighteen months
Enough already

Friday, April 11, 2008

Linguistics corner

"Buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo Buffalo buffalo."

That's a grammatically correct sentence. It may sound crazy, but it's true.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


McDonalds is introducing "Smart Choice" meals. Presumably these involve eating somewhere else.

Ben Bass will be appearing tonight through Sunday at the Chuckle Hut on Route 18 in Hackensack, New Jersey. Two drink minimum.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Song charts

There is a general consensus as to where it's at, quantified in this helpful chart.

The debate still rages over whether and to what degree these examples are ironic.

If I had to choose, I'd take this chart over their music.

[Flickr "song charts", via Kate James; more are here]

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Lest we forget...

...here's another nugget of baseball goodness. If you haven't seen this yet, thank me later.

One of the most dramatic sequences in World Series history, complete with Vin Scully's play-by-play call, as seen through the prism of RBI Baseball for the Nintendo Entertainment System:

For some reason, the embedded version is too narrow; note that it's Boston 5, New York 3 as the action starts. Or click on the screen image to watch it at YouTube.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Play ball

As thoughts turn to the greensward, we celebrate the return of the grand old game with these diamond gems:

Teaching baseball to a 2-year-old [Mark Bazer]
The latest column by a local wit.

For more Mark, catch his Interview Show tonight with rapper Rhymefest, filmmaker Steve Delahoyde, author Marcus Sakey and standup comedian Jena Friedman. The Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia Ave., Chicago. Doors 6 p.m., show 6:30 p.m. $5.

Haruki Murakami previews the 2008 Chicago Cubs [Emdashes]
Not actually by Murakami, but possibly by Fukudome.

Steve Lyons would like to see your breasts, please [Deadspin]
Then again, who wouldn't?

Thursday, April 3, 2008

I'm writing a Springsteen song

It's about a regular working-class guy who struggles against an uncertain future. He lives for today out on the rough streets with a hint of desperation. But he's also sensitive, yearning for something more and singing earnestly to his girl.

I haven't finished it yet, but that's the general idea.

My hero

...or is that Hiro?

16-Year-Old Crowned Pen-Spinning King

Student Wins Japan's First Pen-Spinning Championship
[F'ed Gaijin]

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Pranks for the memories

Yesterday in this space, I bade farewell to the blogging world. Seventeen minutes later, someone posted a comment outing my goodbye as an April Fool's Day hoax.

For the record, whether my sayonara post was in fact a mere April Fool's Day prank, or was a sincere goodbye announcement that I reconsidered after receiving hundreds of impassioned pleas for reconsideration, I will leave for you to decide. But for the purposes of today's post, let's call it a prank.

I find it remarkable that this blog's collected readership, which some have referred to as "the Beyond," reacts so quickly to a new post. That's both flattering and somewhat weird. (Whether or not the Beyond posts commentary, it does come around.)

In truth, the speedy reaction time is less a function of the size of the readership, or the gradual increase in that size, than of the increasingly common use of tools like news readers, iGoogle, RSS feeds and the like to keep up with websites of choice.

Still, it's amazing how effectively this particular thought-delivery system operates. Picking up a phone and sending an email remain far from redundant means of expressing oneself, but they're no longer completely necessary either.

I'm also a little disappointed that the prank was so easily unwound; was it that implausible? I take solace in the fact that the guy who saw through it, the Carl Bernstein of spring solstice silliness, is one of the smartest people I have ever met. In fact, my valedictory was invalidated by a valedictorian.

On the April Fool's Day front, after a long worldwide history of goofing around, many continue to carry on the tradition. Countless April 1 stunts took place yesterday in workplaces, schools and elsewhere, but because many weren't widely reported, they're mostly a word-of-mouth phenomenon. Some pranks found a wider audience due to their media or online contexts.

Howard Stern, for example, has pulled off some memorable hoaxes such as the fake cancellation of his radio show, announced live throughout the "debut" of Stern's happy-talk lite-FM "replacements" (actually actors in on the gag). Coming at the height of Stern's battles with the FCC and the Clear Channel media conglomerate, it was plausible enough to convince many listeners who didn't realize it was the first of April.

This year's version involved Stern's personal stylist, right-hand-man and hanger-on, Ralph Cirella, whose prickly personality, opinionated phone calls into the show, seat on Howard's private plane and lack of a discernible job make him a controversial figure on the Stern scene. He's the one they love to hate.

Howard announced that his staff had installed an ISDN line and live microphone in Cirella's home so that Ralph could chime into the show whenever he wanted, without even getting out of bed. The revelation prompted widespread outrage among callers and crew alike; a few cast members were heard to grumble that they wouldn't mind having that arrangement for themselves.

Ralph's frequent interjections, sounding as clear as if he were in the studio, represented many listeners' worst nightmare. After a few hours, though, Stern himself got so sick of Cirella's nonstop participation that he made the big reveal, announcing that the whole arrangement was a prank. Cirella was in fact speaking from the next room, where he had been secreted.

Among big American companies, Google has recently led the way in 4/1 frivolity. This year, for example, they came up with an ambitious effort, albeit one preposterous enough to be seen through by anyone with a calendar. If you're not using their Gmail email service (and why not, exactly?), you may have missed that crew's creative prank. Google's Blogger software team also got into the act with a cute trifle.

In past years, Google has cranked out some quality pranks; here a good summary. Note how the sheer volume of their hoaxery seems to be geometrically increasing. Perhaps this reflects the company's growth, or Wikipedia's tendency to overemphasize the recent, but if the list is in fact evidence of pranking run amok, then the stockholder in me wonders whether the Googlers are getting so into April Fool's Day that they're not even doing actual work anymore. Has 20 percent time become 100?

April Fool's was fun, as it is every year. But now it's April 2nd, and here you are reading my ridiculous blog. Perhaps the joke is on you.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Enough is enough

After six months banging away at this blog, I've had my fill of it. This will be my last post.

I started Ben Bass and Beyond because I wanted to see if I could come up with fresh, original thoughts every few days, covering a range of subjects. Ideally these would be thought-provoking, touching or funny in some measure, but of course that judgment is in the mind of the reader.

Thanks to everyone who read it, some every day and many others once in a while. We're up to daily and weekly traffic totals well beyond what I might reasonably have expected, and I really appreciate it. Thank you for posting your comments, for your supportive emails, for giving my writing a chance. Your feedback and friendship have made it all worth it.

I'll still be writing for Flavorpill and freelancing elsewhere around town, and I'll keep you posted on those efforts. Until then, see you around!