Monday, June 30, 2008

Loop workers, take note

Gay man? Tween girl? Suburban matron? Just like show tunes?

This evening at the Taste of Chicago, the Broadway In Chicago theatrical series presents "Concert in the Park," a free event showcasing its recent and upcoming musicals.

My Flavorpill preview is here.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Absolutely fabulous

In honor of today's Pride Parade, this Onion classic.

Also this one.

Friday, June 27, 2008

So much younger then

Speaking of established artists when they were just starting out, this week's Friday performance is a trip down memory lane.

Remember Letterman on NBC? Remember when unknown bands making their network TV debuts got to play more than one song, plus a little interview time? Remember when Michael Stipe was an enigmatic anti-frontman? Remember when Letterman was a cocksure up-and-comer himself?

Remember albums?

From October 6, 1983, around the time they were the first booking by a new club called Cabaret Metro (now Metro Chicago), it's R.E.M. on "Late Night with David Letterman."

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Dodged a bullet

The other day I opened the Wall Street Journal and learned that Linens 'n Things had filed for bankruptcy.

Naturally my first reaction was, "Thank God it wasn't us."

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

And speaking of schadenfreude...

My buds in the sketch comedy troupe Schadenfreude headline the Theater on the Lake this week.

Theater on the Lake is an annual tradition here, an urban version of summer stock in which the City of Chicago books a slate of successful plays from the previous year's theatrical season for one week each. Shows get a new life and a new audience, and showgoers get to see live theater at the corner of Fullerton and Lake Shore after a pleasant dinner in Lincoln Park or a walk along the lake.

The theater itself adds to the charm. It's a a drafty old Chicago Park District building right on Lake Michigan that was built decades ago as... I'm guessing here... a barn? An ice-skating warming house? A stable? North Avenue Beach equipment storage?

Whatever it was, it weren't no theater then, and it barely is now. It's a pretty makeshift affair what with the ambient noise of passing Lake Shore Drive traffic, quieter dialogue dying in the high rafters and curtains passing for walls. But it works well enough.

The shoestring budget, casual concession stand and impromptu vibe suffuse the whole enterprise with the old Andy Hardy "let's put on a show" spirit. It's endearing and likeable, and dependent upon community support; going there feels like good citizenship. But it's far from a chore because the shows are solid, proven local hits.

Performing at Theater on the Lake is considered a prestigious gig. To the City's credit, they spread it around to different theater companies, of which there are far more in number than slots available. They also mix it up, combining mainstream crowd-pleasers with quirkier stuff. There's usually one straight-up comedy show in the mix. Last year Second City brought the bits and this year Schadenfreude handles the ha-ha.

It's the latest résumé-builder for a world-beating crew that has played Lollapalooza, sold out the Steppenwolf and Goodman Theaters, headlined the Chicago Improv Festival, toured college campuses around the country, created comedy shows for WTTW-TV and Chicago Public Radio, and written a hot feature film script now making the rounds in Hollywood. (Yes, they pay me a modest stipend every time I rattle off their credits.)

To celebrate their ten years together, Schadenfreude's show this week is a retrospective of early sketches from their now-legendary late-1990s run at the Heartland Studio Theater, back when they were a bunch of funny kids making their bones. After this week they're retiring these scenes from their large repertoire.

Schadenfreude at Theater on the Lake starts tonight and runs through Sunday. Tickets are selling briskly but some remain available from the Theater on the Lake box office at (312) 742-7994. In case you just started reading at this sentence, the show is highly recommended.

To get you in the mood, here's their classic sketch "Crazy Pants," which they translated into Spanish for some reason (apparently boredom with the tiresome exercise of getting big laughs in English). Rechristened "Loco Pantalones," it's still funny:

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Yankee schadenfreude

One of the things I admire about Barack Obama is his general reluctance to "go negative" on the campaign trail. Rising above petty attacks has ennobled him and hastened his rise.

But for all his happy talk about a perfect world there are also the exigencies of the real world, in which you've got to win an election before you can lead. We haven't even hit the national conventions yet and Obama's already sniping at John McCain, suggesting the other day that McCain's Senate vote against levee-maintenance legislation contributed to the Mississippi River flooding.

In fairness, Obama usually just counterpunches, attacking only when he's been attacked. I like this approach. He maintains the moral high ground while showing he's not too effete to defend himself and fight back.

Like Obama I generally avoid going negative, at least in this space. (I'm sure he vents to his wife around the kitchen table but he keeps his cool in public, and although I command an audience at least ten percent smaller than Obama's, this is nonetheless a public forum.) For example, I once posted a harshly critical broadside against a local radio host I don't like. It was gratuitous and jarring and it bothered me the whole time it was posted. I deleted it a few days later.

But Obama's not perfect and neither am I. The other day I ripped Carson Daly, who seems like a perfectly nice if clueless guy, and today I'm breaking out the acid again.

Like most right-thinking baseball fans, I do not like the New York Yankees. Actually, I have no issue with the team itself. What's distasteful is the toxic stew of their arrogant ownership, the loudmouth wing of their fan base, and the wearingly intense New York media crucible in which they play.

So as much as I try to be a good person, it's hard not to enjoy it when the Yankees, who too often get what they want, don't. Who doesn't like to see the rich, spoiled high school beauty queen getting hit with a pie in the face?

The Yankees' best starting pitcher, Chien-Ming Wang, hurt a foot ligament running the bases last week in Houston. Initially expected to miss ten weeks, Wang now might have to miss the rest of the season.

It's the latest disaster for the star-crossed Yankee pitching staff. They get their aces cracked more often than a poker player on a losing streak.

First the Yanks backed up the money truck for Carl Pavano only to watch him sit out for nearly two years with an unending series of injuries. By the end of that debacle, Yankee fans wanted Pavano's head on a spike. Even his teammates, many of whom regularly play hurt, were privately disgusted.

The Bronx Bombers broke open another bank vault to get Randy Johnson, but he didn't last either. Then Yankee hero Roger Clemens decamped for his native Texas. And his valet Andy Pettitte went too!

What hurt just as bad were the pitchers they didn't get. They lost out to Boston in the Daisuke Matsuzaka derby and had to watch their crosstown rival Mets sign two Cy Young Award winners in Pedro Martinez and Johan Santana.

The Yankees are so desperate for pitching that they moved a promising kid, Joba Chamberlain, from their bullpen into their starting rotation. No pressure there with Tony from Passaic calling in to WFAN to critique his every base hit allowed. And now their best pitcher gets hurt in a freak injury.

It's enough to make a guy feel sorry for the Yankees if they weren't, you know, the Yankees.

Co-chairman Hank Steinbrenner has big shoes to fill but already looks like a world-class jerk in the tradition of his old man, a convicted felon with a legendary emperor complex (Latin name: registi helmsleiana).

Hank's insulting treatment last winter left the proud Joe Torre no choice but to walk away from the team. Some gratitude for a guy who had by all accounts done everything asked of him by the Steinbrenner family, not to mention delivered four World Series trophies in his first five years as manager.

Torre was immolated on the altar of Yankee presumption. Not even Connie Mack or Joe McCarthy (or Casey Stengel, who came pretty close) could deliver what the team's current ownership expects and demands: a championship every season.

Back to the present day. Hank Steinbrenner's take on Wang's injury: "The National League needs to join the 21st century. I've got my pitchers running the bases, and one of them gets hurt. That was a rule from the 1800s."

If I may quote Howard Stern's sidekick Artie Lange: "Waahh."

In baseball, pitchers are part of the starting lineup. Therefore they bat and run the bases. Other rules from the 1800s include "three strikes make an out" and "the team with more runs when the game ends is the winner."

The designated hitter rule, meanwhile, dates back to 1973. If Hank Steinbrenner doesn't like it, he should have asked his dad to buy a National League team. Or had his pitchers practice baserunning last March in the Grapefruit League.

Every other American League owner also has pitchers running the bases in various interleague, spring training, All-Star and World Series games. It's part of the sport. And last time I checked pitchers were still professional athletes.

Think Steinbrenner would be whining about the DH rule if Boston Red Sox ace Josh Beckett had torn his ACL sliding into third?

Monday, June 23, 2008


The B-52s' Top 10 single "Love Shack" depicts a raucous Georgia roadhouse where the party never stops and anything goes.

The song opens with flamboyant frontman Fred Schneider declaring, "If you see a faded sign by the side of the road that says fifteen miles to the..." and bandmate Kate Pierson chimes in, "love shack!" But he never finishes his thought.

Fred, it's been almost twenty years. So if you see the faded sign, then what?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Master class

This week's Friday performance comes from the inspired musical pairing of Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, whom I had the pleasure of seeing (read: hearing from the lawn) Wednesday night at a very sold-out Ravinia Festival.

Great concert. Alison Krauss and her regular band, Union Station, have won a legion of fans and a shelf full of Grammys with their tasteful, authoritative bluegrass sound. Her haunting, beautiful voice recalls that of a young Emmylou Harris. Apparently Robert Plant was also in a band.

The Ravinia stage fronts a large open-air pavilion with several thousand seats and a roof but no side walls. The music is also amplified around the rest of the grounds, consisting mostly of a lush, expansive lawn where concertgoers enjoy catered picnic dinners or wine and cheese while listening to the performance as the sun sets. It's pretty much a Led Zeppelin vibe.

Those with lawn tickets can check out the stage from outside the pavilion. Ordinarily you can just walk to the back of the seats and look down at Tony Bennett, Wynton Marsalis or whoever.

But Krauss and Plant, one of the most sought-after tickets of the Ravinia concert season, drew a capacity crowd; even the lawn sold out, a rarity. People were stacked five deep craning their necks to catch a glimpse. It was like the Champs-Elysées at the end of the Tour de France and a good time to be 6'4".

Several people around me held cameras aloft, shooting both video and still pictures. Someone emailed me this photo of the stage:

Ravinia is best known as the summer home of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Krauss and Plant delivered a few classics of their own, including this one:

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

My award-winning friends

Yesterday I wrote about a friend whose fine work as a producer won him a trophy last weekend at a big black-tie New York City awards ceremony.

It turns out that not one but two FOBB&Bs share this distinction. On Friday evening at Lincoln Center, my college buddy Tom Cohen earned a Daytime Emmy Award for Outstanding Game/Audience Participation Show... presented by Oscar the Grouch, no less.

Tom distinguished himself around our campus as a hilarious sketch, improv and standup comedian when not toiling away as my fellow English lit major. Since college he's worked steadily as a writer and producer for a wide range of television shows. (Despite his many accomplishments Tom is a modest, great guy and it was not he but a mutual friend who brought his Emmy win to my attention.)

Tom is an executive producer of "Cash Cab," a highly entertaining Discovery Channel quiz show that takes place in an actual New York taxi crammed full of cameras. Contestants hail a cab, then find to their amazement that they're in a rolling trivia contest that will also take them wherever they want to go. The cabbie, standup comedian Ben Bailey, doubles as the emcee.

The game is a race between each contestant's store of general knowledge and New York City traffic conditions. Players win cash for every correct response to gradually tougher questions, but three wrong answers and they're out on the street with no prize money and a platonic "walk of shame" the rest of the way to their destination. If they can keep it going until the Cash Cab completes the trip, though, they'll disembark with a month's rent and a memorable story to tell.

It's a fun show, the best TV on four wheels. Apparently Emmy voters like it too, as "Cash Cab" beat out such television standards as "Jeopardy!" and "The Price Is Right." Congratulations, Tom.

Boy, my friends are doing well lately, winning these cool awards for the entertaining popular culture they're producing.

I wonder what good old Steve Spielberg is up to these days.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

And speaking of Tony...

Congratulations to FOBB&B Steve Traxler, whose production of August: Osage County won five Tony Awards including Best Play during Sunday's ceremony at Radio City Music Hall.

August: Osage County has taken Broadway by storm, joining Long Day's Journey Into Night and A Streetcar Named Desire in the theatrical pantheon of American family meltdowns.

Steve is one of several heavyweight producers who brought August to the Big Apple from Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre, but it was his vision and clout as much as anyone's that transferred the show to Broadway with the Chicago cast intact.

That's unusual these days. With Broadway shows more expensive to mount than ever, producers have increasingly hedged their bets in recent years by casting movie stars in leading roles and rotating celebrities through casts to help sell tickets.

In his Tony acceptance speech, Pulitzer-winning August playwright Tracy Letts acknowledged the rarity of the wholesale transfer of Steppenwolf's Chicago production:
I want to thank the Tony committee for including our play with the other nominees. You know you are in pretty stout company when Mark Twain doesn’t get a nomination. Particularly Jeffrey Richards, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler, Jerry Frankel. They did an amazing thing – they decided to produce an American play on Broadway with theater actors. I see some of you are theater actors too.
I admire Steve's commitment to producing serious theater on Broadway. He's won Tonys for huge mainstream hits (Monty Python's Spamalot) and all-star revivals (Glengarry Glen Ross), but also produced such ambitious fare this season as August, Tom Stoppard's Rock 'N' Roll, Harold Pinter's The Homecoming and Conor McPherson's The Seafarer, for which Jim Norton won an acting Tony.

Way to go, Steve.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Tony, Tony, Tony

From A.O. Scott's New York Times review of "The Incredible Hulk":
Though the Hulk’s distended muscles are impressively veined — he looks less rubbery, and therefore more credible, than his precursor in “Hulk” — the scale and proportion of his body don’t seem quite right. His head is weirdly small, and his size in relation to other people and objects appears to fluctuate. Also, why is his hair so much darker than Mr. Norton’s?
I get the scale and proportion complaints, but in the context of a transformation from Edward Norton to a green Goliath, we could maybe overlook the hair color?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Artist of the week

This week's virtuoso is the great Robert Smigel, who chipped in the following gems to the American pop culture canon.

The first one's mean but funny; the second, sad but true.

Thursday, June 12, 2008


Clicking the link to that Lee Elia rant the other week, I ran across the banner ad on the right (pun intended).

The live version of the ad, which for technical reasons I cannot seem to reproduce here, lights up with the following copy:

"Sign up to get Ann Coulter's articles delivered by FREE email each week ... CLICK HERE"

Great work, Madison Avenue! My hat's off to whichever Don Draper came up with this one. I haven't been so enticed by an advertisement since "Dip Your Grandparents Into Our Cauldron of Boiling Oil."

Suggestion for follow-up ad: "Pay Us $1000 and We'll Let You Beat Your Own Face Against the Wall."

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Creative names

The diuretic Lasix is so named because it Lasts Six hours.

Statler and Waldorf, the old hecklers in the opera box on "The Muppet Show," are named after hotels. Waldorf's wife is named Astoria.

Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's last name is a combination of his birth name, Villar, and his wife's maiden name, Raigosa.

The sleeping pill Ambien helps people feel well in the morning (A.M. bien).

The ice cream store Baskin-Robbins takes its name from founders Irvine Robbins and Burton Baskin, who flipped a coin to decide whose name would be first. After his retirement from the company, Robbins named his boat "The 32nd Flavor."

The shoe company adidas is named after founder Adolf "Adi" Dassler.

The Taser stun gun takes its name from Tom Swift and His Electric Rifle, one of a popular series of children's books published in the early 20th Century about a MacGyver-like inventor.

In the Midwood section of Brooklyn there are Avenues A through Z with certain exceptions, including Avenue Q. Between Avenue P and Avenue R is Quentin Road, named for the youngest son of President Theodore Roosevelt.

Gatorade takes its name from the University of Florida, where it was developed for the football team.

When the patent on the heartburn drug Prilosec was nearing expiration, its owners reëngineered it and spent $500 million advertising its replacement, Nexium (their "next" drug).

The housewares retailer Bed Bath and Beyond takes its name from the well-known blog Ben Bass and Beyond.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The exciting world of sports

1. Tennis, professional

All credit to Rafael Nadal. The amazing Spaniard celebrated his 22nd birthday with his fourth consecutive French Open victory.

What to marvel at first? That as a teenager he won the first French Open he entered? That after taking the next three he's never lost a match at Roland Garros? That he was born right-handed and has become the best clay-court player of all time as a lefty? That he's only getting better with age?

Nadal lost an average of just five games per match in the first five rounds of this year's French Open only to improve in the final, dismantling the greatest player of all time, Roger Federer, 6-1, 6-3, 6-0. His sledgehammer forehand now generates so much torque that he sometimes has to decelerate by twirling his racket toreador-like above his head. He puts so much topspin on the ball that his opponents are forced to hit their groundstrokes from shoulder height. It's all pretty impressive.

So is Nadal's modesty. His uncle Toni, who began teaching him the game when he was four, has long told him to "stay hungry and stay humble." He's done both, fighting for every point as if his life depends on it, but also staying gracious and grounded.

It's a pleasure to watch the mutual respect in his ongoing rivalry with Federer, as outstanding an ambassador tennis or any other sport has ever had. Federer speaks four languages fluently and exudes class in all of them.

Wimbledon's in a few weeks. Federer's won the last five, but he's been slow to regain his form after a bout with mono and Nadal's playing better than ever. The upstart Serb Novak Djokovic, who won the 2008 Australian Open, isn't going away without a fight. It's going to be good.

2. And speaking of NBC Sports...

Had the pleasure of joining the great Bob Costas for dinner on Thursday night. It was an intimate affair, just me, Bob and 1600 of our closest friends at the annual Lawyers Division dinner of the Jewish Federation of Chicago. (I know, Jews, media, very funny.)

Kudos to the Federation for the creative, satisfying choice of keynote speaker. They're on a roll, having presented Al Gore last year amidst all the Inconvenient Truth/Oscar/Nobel/will he run? hype.

Costas isn't just my favorite broadcaster, he might be my favorite celebrity period. As sportscasters go, he's the perfect storm: intelligent and authoritative, a pro's pro; smooth and stylish; flawless storyteller; clever and quick; good sense of humor; great pipes; knows his stuff cold; asks the tough questions; understands the big issues; explains complex stories clearly; knows the history of the sports; not in love with himself. He's got it all.

His "Later" interview show, the 30 minute chatfest that ran for five years after then-Letterman "Late Night" on NBC, proved his facility goes well beyond sports. He was well-prepared and curious, eliciting great answers and conversation from a wide range of guests. It was as good as interview TV gets.

Costas' decision to quit hosting that show left a void, one all the more glaring now that said timeslot belongs to the brain-dead Carson Daly and his unwatchable show. NBC hired Daly to reach the "TRL" kids and keep their late night lineup skewing young. If that's young, I'll take old. Bring Costas back.

A sportswriter friend of mine who joined me for the dinner scored an exclusive interview with Costas beforehand. Costas asked my pal to consider his entire speech off the record.

This request (from a guy who used to host a show called "On the Record," no less) struck me as somewhat unrealistic. In an age of ubiquitous camera phones and bloggers, you can't give a speech to 1600 well-connected urban professionals with a significant yenta factor and not expect to have your thoughts repeated.

Still, out of respect to both Costas and my friend, who would surely prefer that the choice quotes he collected not be scooped here, I now decline to repeat any of Costas' after-dinner remarks or my buddy's retelling of their interview.

Suffice to say that Costas' speech was predictably articulate and entertaining, chock full of amusing anecdotes and thoughtful observations on the sports world and the upcoming Summer Olympics in Beijing.

3. Horse racing

For the eleventh time since Affirmed won the Triple Crown in 1978, a horse has won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness Stakes, only to fall short in the Belmont Stakes. This weekend it was Big Brown who couldn't close the deal.

After cruising to a victory of at least four lengths in each of his five previous starts, Big Brown was an overwhelming favorite, going off in the Belmont at 3-10 odds (meaning you had to bet $10 on him to win $3).

No other horse had tested him and he seemed even more a shoo-in when the unbeaten Casino Drive was scratched from the Belmont lineup with a bruised hoof on the morning of the race. Big Brown looked so likely to join Seattle Slew as the only undefeated Triple Crown winners that his trainer, Rick Dutrow, guaranteed victory.

But the guarantee wasn't worth the paper it wasn't printed on. Big Brown was bumped early and somehow pulled up lame. Jockey Kent Desormeaux jogged him to the finish line as he became the first Triple Crown aspirant to finish last in the Belmont Stakes. Desormeaux told reporters, "I had no horse."

I'm not a big horse racing enthusiast but like many people I enjoy the historical continuity of the Kentucky Derby, accurately known as the most exciting two minutes in sports, and in years when its winner takes the Preakness, the ensuing quest for the Triple Crown.

For the record, and because I think horse names are the coolest thing about horse racing, here are the eleven horses who have won the first two legs of the Triple Crown over the last thirty years, only to fall short in the Belmont Stakes:

1979: Spectacular Bid
1981: Pleasant Colony
1987: Alysheba (whose dad, Alydar, was Affirmed's archrival throughout his Triple Crown)
1989: Sunday Silence
1997: Silver Charm
1998: Real Quiet
1999: Charismatic
2002: War Emblem
2003: Funny Cide
2004: Smarty Jones (the people's hero, the Seabiscuit of the modern era)
2008: Big Brown

4. Tennis, amateur

Speaking of athletes staggering through injuries, here's my personal version. I assume you tolerate all the other nonsense on this blog in order to be rewarded with occasional updates on my tennis team, right? I'll take your resounding silence as an enthusiastic yes.

So I played doubles as usual this morning for the Waveland men's "B" team in the Chicago citywide league. My partner and I were cruising along against lesser opponents, up a set and a break in our best-of-three-sets match.

Everything was pretty routine until, as I was using my racket to pick up a tennis ball between points, I felt a bad twinge along the ulna of my left (racket) arm. Nothing swelled up or changed colors, so I knew it wasn't broken, but it was definitely sprained. It was hard to grip the racket and it really hurt to make contact with the ball.

It would have been reasonable to stop playing, but that option never entered my mind. It would have been such a waste to forfeit an easy match that we were 80% done walking away with. I knew we were the better duo on the court, I felt a sense of obligation to my team and I was determined to see it through.

I quietly told my doubles partner that I was hurt and he'd have to carry me the rest of the way, then started hitting two-handed forehands like a young Monica Seles (that will be the first and last time I ever compare my game to hers) and also played a few points right-handed.

About all I can do righty is keep the ball in play so a few times, when I had easy winners, I gritted my teeth and clocked it left-handed. Getting one step closer to being done was worth the punishment. I did not want to play a third set.

Happily, our opponents were somewhat error-prone and helped us along. Bereft of my trusty kick serve, I had to serve an entire game by tapping the ball over the net, but our opponents didn't capitalize on my weakness. Either they didn't notice that I could barely hold the racket or they were trying so hard to hit it at my feet that they kept sending it over the baseline.

My partner held up his end of things and we ended up winning three of the five games after my injury to close out a straight-sets victory. I felt like Kirk Gibson in the 1988 World Series.

After the match I iced my wrist for several hours as I watched the Nadal match. It still hurts and this typing isn't helping, not to mention the added strain from all this patting myself on the back, so I'll knock off here.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Friday live

Last week we heard from the Everly Brothers. Today, nostalgia of a more recent sort: a British television appearance by the late, lamented Stone Roses.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Comedy, misc.

1. On stage this week
The 2008 Chicago Improv Festival is underway, running through this weekend. This city is a longtime breeding ground for comedy talent and the Festival has grown into an annual homecoming and celebration of some of our best; you'll recognize many of their faces from movies and TV. The CIF also books buzzed-about coastal troupes who rarely visit the Midwest. Learn more here.

2. On stage this month
Second City e.t.c. presents a comedic double feature as two of its rising stars deliver solo performances Tuesday nights at 8:30pm through July 1. My Flavorpill preview is here.

3. In memoriam
Compass Players and Second City co-founder Paul Sills has died. If his mother, Viola Spolin, was improv's James Naismith, Sills was its Johnny Appleseed, dedicating his life to teaching and developing improvisational theater. Beyond influencing countless performers, he helped to shape an entire art form. The Gray Lady's obituary is here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Indiana Jones and the Decline of the Visionary Filmmaker

When George Lucas released a box set of the first three Indiana Jones movies he quietly renamed the classic Raiders of the Lost Ark, calling it Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. This unusual move did not attract much attention because it occurred on home video.

Lucas also continued to edit the first three Star Wars movies for years after their original releases, retrofitting and rereleasing them to theaters in the 1990s with new visual effects. These more prominent revisions raised a lot of eyebrows.

Speaking on behalf of the many movie fans who were offended by Lucas' retroactive tampering, I hereby announce the revised titles of his three Star Wars prequels:

Star Wars Episode I: A Massive Disappointment

Star Wars Episode II: Another Appalling Piece of Crap
; and

Star Wars Episode III: Better Than The Last Two, But Still, On Balance, Terrible.

The three movies will henceforth be collectively known as the "This Is The Best You Could Do With Sixteen Years and A Billion Dollars?" trilogy.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Inevitable news item

Pounding his fist on the lectern of the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's former congregation, the Trinity United Church of Christ, Rev. Eddie James loudly demanded that the United States immediately adopt a wholly Borat-based domestic agenda, thundering that women should pull plows and live in cages, homosexuals should be required to wear blue hats, Jews should be thrown down wells, beer should be replaced by Kazakh wine made of fermented horse urine, and Americans should pursue only the four traditional leisure pastimes of disco dancing, archery, rape, and table tennis.

Rev. James then enthusiastically endorsed the presidential candidacy of Sen. Barack Obama.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The old horsehide

The Chicago Cubs entered the month of June with the best record in the big leagues. The last time they had the majors' best record as late as June 1st was in 1908, also the last year they won the World Series. Sure, correlation does not imply causation, and it's only June, but there are worse things than having the best record in baseball.

The Cubs are hot, sweeping their entire homestand this week; the seven straight wins improved their record at Wrigley Field to 26-8. They came from behind in all three games this weekend against the Colorado Rockies, most dramatically on Friday when they fell behind 8-0 and 9-1 before grinding out an unlikely 10-9 victory.

They're getting timely hitting from all over their lineup, even the slow-starting Jim Edmonds, who doubled, tripled and drew a bases-loaded walk yesterday. The Cubs continue to score runs in bunches and lead the big leagues in runs scored.

Not to be overlooked amid the Cubs hype is the success of the Chicago White Sox, also in first place despite losing three straight to the surprising Tampa Bay Rays, who own baseball's second-best record. It's rare for the Cubs and Sox to be in first place at the same time, or for that matter at all.

Chicago is already dreaming of a Windy City World Series. The only time this has occurred was 1906; the Sox won it.

The White Sox play in what was expected to be baseball's toughest division, but with the Tigers off to a disappointing start, the division isn't looking so fearsome. Maybe all the good teams are canceling each other out. With Tampa beating everyone and the Red Sox boasting an excellent rotation (and a recent 7-0 homestand of their own), it's the AL East that looks like the place not to be.

Speaking of the cradle of the American League, any right-thinking baseball fan has to love the fact that the Yankees' .500 record has them in fourth place, but it's still early. Over a 162-game schedule, their de facto all-star team usually wins enough games to get them into the playoffs, but if their nemeses in Tampa Bay can keep it up, there are no guarantees.

A lot of people would love to see the Yankees collapse in the last few weeks of September to blow a huge division lead like the Mets did last year. Why are the Yankees the team everyone loves to hate? Let me count the ways.

It's not just that they win a lot of games and a lot of titles. It's George Steinbrenner's long history of buying championships by overpaying free agents, widening the competitive imbalance between large- and small-city teams. It's his and many Yankee fans' spoiled view of their team's prospects, deeming anything short of a World Series title not only a disappointment but a cause for crisis. It's the disproportionate attention the Yankees get from national networks like ESPN and Fox, where their every game score and minor news story are breathlessly reported. It's all offensive and distasteful.

The Yankees' indifferent start and the small-budget Rays' charge to first place, plus the no-hitter that 24-year-old cancer survivor Jon Lester recently threw for their archrival Red Sox, make for good theater. Throw in the first-place Cubs and White Sox and it's a good time to be a baseball fan in Chicago.

In other sports news, my doubles partner Tim Esbrook and I played beautifully yesterday, cruising to a straight-sets win in the opening week of the men's Chicago citywide "B" league. With a last-minute cancellation and no sub available, our Waveland team had to forfeit a court but still won the match 3 courts to 2. Unlike the Cubs we only drew 20,000 spectators, but if we keep playing well, word will surely spread.