Welcome to WeeklyWilson.com, where author/film critic Connie (Corcoran) Wilson avoids totally losing her marbles in semi-retirement by writing about film (see the Chicago Film Festival reviews and SXSW), politics and books----her own books and those of other people. You'll also find her diverging frequently to share humorous (or not-so-humorous) anecdotes and concerns. Try it! You'll like it!

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New Reviews of “Laughing through Life” from Virtual Blog Tour

"Laughing through Life" Reviews

“A Life Sustained” (Courtney)

Review appeared Saturday, December 10, 2011

“The thirty-one essays that make up Laughing through Life (Quad City Press, 2011) by Connie Corcoran Wilson represent a broad selection by this prolific writer, a collection of “hits,” if you will.  TOpics range from anecdotes of everyday life to notable bits from the local news to coverage of the 2004 and 2008 Presidential elections. They span a large chunk of time—at least 25 years.  A fellow Midwestern woman, Wilson writes with honesty, an eye for detail, and without pulling any punches.  She seems to always be searching for the kernel of levity in all interactions and stumbles upon some poignant life lessons along the way.  My personal favorite detailed a conversation between the author and her cell phone company regarding her daughter’s phone usage: we all should be so bold.  Corcoran’s observations are wry, and we might take a lesson from her willingness to say exactly what is on her mind.”

From “Read More Books” blog:

“An amusing book to read written by Connie Corcoran Wilson.  I have to say that I really enjoy Connie’s sense of humor.  She has written some interestingly funny essays and put them together in this book.  There were several laugh-out-loud moments while I was reading the book that I can honestly say that, even as I am now thinking of them while I am writing this, I am still smiling…Connie has certainly experienced many interesting events, such as covering the 2004 and 2008 Presidential campaigns with press passes, which she shares in the book.  I did find much of it to be quite humorous. I didn’t really expect to laugh as much as I did at the end of the book.  Coincidentally, I am not speaking solely on the chapter which is entitled “The End.”  Her conversational piece with the Verizon Guy was wonderfully amusing but, for me, the final laughing began with the ‘R.I.P. Gerard’ and continued all the way to ‘The End!’ I want to say ‘Thank you’ to Teddy Rose for putting this book in my hands.  I agreed to read it and review it here, which I am very happy to have done.”

“Coldplay”, Sept. 23, IHeartRadio, MGM Grand, Las Vegas

Here’s a link to the finale of the “Coldplay” set during the September 23 IHeartRadio show in Las Vegas.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OJKL3ilk810

An Interview with Actor John C. Reilly at the 47th Chicago International Film Festival

John C. Reilly

A conversation with actor John C. Reilly is like talking to an old friend. He comes across onscreen in films like “Cyrus” as such a good-hearted, ordinary, normal guy onscreen. After the conversation with Reilly, (which took place on Wednesday, October 12, 2011),  the Chicago-born-and-bred DePaul graduate who grew up in the Marquette Park area of Chicago, the impression is that he is  just as down-to-earth and nice off-screen as he is onscreen.

When asked what reminds him of Chicago, Reilly says his first impression from way-back-when is the color green, in the schools and neighborhood of his youth. The Marquette Park area was a rough neighborhood (“The old Chicago lumbering into the future”) where the interiors and exteriors of the Irish/Polish neighborhood under “Daley I” were always green in various shades. Reilly said, “Market Park was the only place that physically attacked the Reverend Martin Luther King, before he was assassinated. ..Market Park and Johannesburg had to be two of the most prejudiced places on the planet at that time.”

Reilly, born May 24, 1965, did not grow up a child of great privilege. His Irish father ran an industrial supply linen company and Reilly was one of six children born to his Lithuanian mother. He made his screen debut in Brian DePalma’s “Casualties of War” in 1989 and met his wife, Alison Dickey, an independent film producer whom he married in 1992, on that film. Thanks to the various Chicago programs provided for youth by the city of Chicago, he was able to participate in drama and improv classes beginning at age 8. Music was almost always involved. His later role in the musical “Chicago” would stem from those early experiences and Reilly was even Grammy-nominated for the song “Walk Hard,” which he wrote and performed in the comedy satire “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story.” In 2002, Reilly, a veteran of 50 films, was in 3 of the films nominated as Best Picture. He was also nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in the musical “Chicago.”

With John C. Reilly at the Chicago Film Festival.

At DePaul, early in his dramatic training, Reilly was cast as the male lead in “The Way of the World,” a Restoration-era comedy by William Congreve. He soon decided, “This is boring. Being the leading man is not all it’s cracked up to be.” His discovery that character actor parts were more interesting “informed a lot of my later parts.”

Asked about whether he felt he was “a spokesman for your generation,” Reilly said, “I never felt like a spokesman of my generation.  I try to portray people who have layers of meaning that you can peel back and expose.”

Q:  What was the most fun you ever had on a movie set?

A:  “’Boogie Nights’ (1997) was the most fun. “The 1997 film where Reilly wrote and performed “Feel the Heat” and portrayed Reed Rothchild predates his partnership in comedies with Will Ferrell. (Of Ferrell, Reilly said, “Will’s America’s Sweetheart…what can I say?” He added that the two have an almost brotherly rapport and are trying to find the time to make a sequel to “Stepbrothers.”

In commenting on “Boogie Nights,” Reilly noted that large chunks of that Paul Thomas Anderson film were improvised. “Paul Anderson and I made 3 great movies together (“Hard Eight” in 1997; “Boogie Nights” in 1997; and “Magnolia” in 1999). “Paul Thomas Anderson has what a great director needs, which is (1) a great photographic eye (2) the ability to be good at motivating groups of people and (3) the ability to be really enthusiastic about the project.”

Actor John C. Reilly at the Chicago 47th International Film Festival.

When asked what actors or actresses he most wanted to work with, Reilly said that he has already worked with some of the best, including Meryl Streep and his current co-star, Tilda Swinton (“We Have to Talk About Kevin”).  He suggested that he is more likely to select film projects based on directors with whom he wants to work, citing Terry Gilliam and the Coen Brothers as some on his “would like to work with” list.

Reilly also mentioned that he was recently asked to appear in “Carnage,” which is based on the French play “God of Carnage” that recently ran in Chicago.  (The play is a dark comedy about 2 couples who meet to discuss the schoolyard fight that caused one boy to hit the other boy and knock his tooth out.)“I tried not to wet my pants when Roman Polanski called and asked me to do a movie,” said the humble Reilly.

Reilly said, “When I’m reading a script, I ask, is this how people talk?”(in helping him make a decision about whether to do a part.) “All a character can really control is the part he plays.  Film is so much a director’s medium.  You have to really focus on your part.  I’m looking for stuff that’s different from what I’ve done before.  You have to be careful what parts you choose. If you aren’t, you might find that you’ve created a big crappy snowball at the end of your life…An actor needs to try his best, show up every day with his best intentions. “

Asked whether there are any movies he is less fond of, Reilly noted, “I’ve seen them all.  I’ve returned to the scene of the crime.  You don’t put 6 months in and then don’t go see it.  You can learn from even the ones you’re disappointed in. “Refusing to name any less-than-stellar roles, Reilly said, “It’s a miracle when one of them works.  I’m not gonna’ kick a dog that’s down.”

Q:  “How do you receive scripts now?”

After noting that the usual agent-to-actor filter applies, he joked, “They come by carrier pigeon now. If they are too heavy for the carrier pigeon to carry, then I don’t do it.”

Reilly is in an intense new independent film directed by Lynne Ramsay entitled “We Have to Talk About Kevin.” Ramsay, a 1995 graduate of the UK’s Film and Television School, had not done a film for 7 years.  Reilly was interested in doing a film with Ramsay, the female British-born director of “Ratcatcher” and “Morvern Callar”), and sought her out. He found that Ramsay, as a director, knew exactly what she was wanted on set and would often call it a wrap after the first take

John C. Reilly’s advice to other would-be actors?  “Be there.  Be present.  Listen and be enthusiastic.  Notice what is going on between ‘Action’ and ‘Cut.’”

 

Colin Quinn in “Long Story Short” in Chicago at the Broadway Playhouse

Chicago, IL, August 25, 2011  Colin Quinn, who spent 5 seasons as a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” has brought his one-man show “Long Story Short” to Chicago from the Helen Hayes Theater on Broadway and the Bleecker Street Theatre (Off-Broadway), where his one-man show played on August 25, 2011 at the Broadway Playhouse near Water Tower Place. The material involves a history of the world not unlike the one-man show Eddie Izzard used to perform (only not as funny) and is billed as “directed by Jerry Seinfeld,” a plot which has to help ticket sales. (There’s not a lot of Seinfeld-ian moments that show Jerry’s golden touch.) And, as noted by a different New York reviewer, Quinn, although a seasoned performer, seemed a bit uneasy on stage and did not interact well (or at all) with his audience.

Quinn always had a somewhat sarcastic personality on “SNL.” I don’t remember him doing much physical humor.  His overview of the world, purporting to show how “the world has changed, but humankind has not” was improved by lighting designer Howell Binkley and production stage manager Daniel J. Kells, (among others.)

In other words, rather than come out onstage and stand there alone with a microphone, no props, and do jokes as most stand-up comics must, Quinn has chosen to perform amongst some prodigious props:  a set that consists of an elaborate set of gold steps and pillars and a plasma screen that shows images of various countries and cities throughout history, which the comic then attempts to smoothly craft into a comedy routine. Covering all of history in 75 minutes can’t be easy. At the end of 75 minutes, I felt as though the reason the audience (which was on its feet) got no encore is that Quinn had no more material to share. And what about the material he did share?

Quinn had a few worthwhile one-liners, most of them courtesy of the Greeks. “An unexamined life is not worth living,” is followed up by “An examined life is not that interesting, either.” Timely comments about the stock market and the Greeks invention of theater follow. [To hear Quinn tell it, the Greeks only invented theater so that they could diss their neighbors with impunity; then their kids got hooked on it (television analogy)], which was followed by another classic rip-off: “I know now that I know nothing.” (Sophocles). [There’s no joke there, but that’s fairly representative of much of the show.

Yes, there are some funny throwaway one-liners and nobody knows how tough it is to write 75 minutes of onstage (or offstage) funny better than me (“Laughing through Life” is my latest book-length attempt at humor, and there’s an earlier book as well). So I’ll give him credit for making a good attempt, but I just kept thinking of Eddie Izzard’s brilliant HBO Special and, frankly, Eddie Izzard’s brilliant show is a hard act to follow by a less-talented mere mortal, who seems to be just  a regular guy who likes to crack wise a lot and is not wearing  attention-getting women’s clothing while delivering his set.

Quinn, a Catholic by birth, referenced going to Confession in a dark booth and likened it to “telling your secrets to a man who might have a poster of Justin Bieber on his wall.” He suggested that, given the Catholic Church’s recent troubles with pedophile priests, “They could lose the kneeling for a couple of years until things calm down.” At this point, Quinn was actually kneeling onstage. This foray into physical humor was atypical. Quinn isn’t really the kind of guy like the late great Richard Pryor or the current Dane Cook who does much physical humor. When he does, it seems rather forced and unnatural. It’s not his forte, and it showed, as when he referenced people who scratch themselves or poke you while you’re talking to them.

During the 75-minute act (no intermission), which began promptly at 7:30 p.m. and ended just as promptly at 9:00 p.m., with no encore, Quinn pretty much hit all of the past and present hot-spots in the world: Greek, Rome, Spain, England, Ireland, Israel (“Shalom means hello and good-bye because the Jews, wherever they go, get chased out immediately.” Made me wonder about Hawaiians, and “Aloha,” which also has that distinction). Holland, the Mayans, the Aztecs, Russia (“experts at perfecting depression”), Sudan, Canada (“Nobody wants to live there. There’s something about Canada that creeps people out. It’s like it’s 8 inches to the left. Even their national anthem is dismissive: “Oh, Canada.”)…Most of the world comes in for some comic jabs.

With lines (re the Australians) like “God bless those alcoholics…There are 6 planets closer to us than Australia is right now” and comparisons of the world today to a bar at 3:30 in the morning (“Iraq is in the parking lot.  He says he has a gun.  He’s talking shit!”) and ripping off those oh-so-hilarious Greeks time and time again (“We are what we repeatedly do,” Aristotle), Quinn has woven a Cliff’s Notes, or, in this case, a Quinn’s Notes version of history that has its moments.

Just not enough of them.

Checker Cab Limo Making Cross Country Trip

Checker Limo in Chicago.

An uncle and nephew duo driving a Checker cab limo (25 feet, 8 doors) from California to New York visited me in Chicago, where I turned over the “keys to the condo” to the pair, so that they could enjoy Chicago Saturday, Sunday, Monday, leaving on Tuesday for Kalamazoo, Michigan, where the yellow vehicles used to be made.

George, 62, said that this particular car had been built in something like 1959 and that the vehicles were used as cabs in Alaska, where he first saw them. He was smitten with the idea of purchasing one and finally found one at an old car dealer’s in California, where the duo flew to retrieve the massive automobile and begin making a cross-country trek. I think I got into the act, somehow, because I had made the “Ghostly Tales of Route 66” trip along Route 66.

Patrick, me, and a Checker Limo.

At any rate, it was great fun meeting and greeting George and Patrick and their huge and hard-to-park car. It wasn’t too difficult figuring out where to put George and Patrick, but the car was an entirely different matter!

The Kalamazoo, Michigan paper did a story on the pair, since the cars used to be built there. I called the Chicago “Tribune” but they were underwhelmed with the story and photo op. Not me, though. I haven’t had this much excitement since I did the Oscar Mayer WeinerMobile story!

Two nice new friends who, I hope, had a great time in the Windy City.

Checker Limo Makes Cross-Country Trip

Obama Visits Atkinson, Illinois

The locals watch Obama on television from the Wyffels' Seed Factory in Atkinson, Illinois on Wednesday, August 17, 2011.

I took off for Atkinson, Illinois at 10:30 a.m. President Obama was to visit this village of 1100 people at 11:30 a.m. After 2 presidential campaigns, where the time of arrival is usually off by at least a half hour (His 3:30 stop in Alpha, for instance, did not occur until 5:00 p.m.) I was pretty sure that I’d beat the President to the flag-draped town 8 miles east of Geneseo.

I drove past Geneseo on Interstate 80, an approximate 30 to 40 minute drive, in the Grasshopper (my 2005 green Prius) and, at each overpass, I noticed police with police and highway patrol cars above me. At each turnaround there was a large orange piece of heavy duty equipment that would prevent anyone from doing a “turnaround”—even if turnarounds were not specifically prohibited by signage.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011.

So, picture me humming “dum de dum dum” (although I was actually listening to the late, great Amy Winehouse sing “no, no, no” to the idea of going to rehab. )Up came the exit for Atkinson (pop. 1100) and I exited. I made the turn onto the overpass to the left only to have a highway patrolman frantically wave at me to “go back.”

Initially, I began back-pedaling like a kid stung by a wasp, but then I thought, “Wait a minute. How am I going to get into Atkinson if this is the exit and this guy won’t let me use the road?”  (At that point, I had not yet thought of back roads.) I put the Grasshopper into Drive and slowly and cautiously inched forward to ask the nice highway patrolman where he suggested I should go. he didn’t say, “To hell,” but he might as well have, given the level of hysteria he projected.

“You’re on the entrance ramp!” he screamed, quite unnecessarily. “You’re just ahead of the motorcade!”

This was exactly as I had hoped would be the case: me waiting for a brief time, rather than spending my whole morning standing around in the hot sun waiting for a large black bus to breeze by me. One man I spoke to later said he had been outside since 8:00 a.m.

New Atkinson Fire Department

Federal stimulus money helped underwrite the construction of the village's new fire station, currently under construction.

I finally backed up and took the ramp heading east towards Chicago, not quite sure what my next move should be.  As I was speeding along on Interstate 80 to the east, I saw one of the turn-arounds that had, for some inexplicable reason, not been barricaded by large orange trucks. Despite signs suggesting that I not make a turn-around, I was headed in the wrong direction and getting nowhere fast, so I chanced it. Now I was, at least, heading back toward the overpass I was not being allowed to use to enter Atkinson. Since the first Smokey (yes, they were wearing those peaked hats) had been quite set against allowing me access to the delights of the village of Atkinson, I needed to figure out how I was going to access the town. I didn’t expect to be among the 300 people crowded into the Wyffel’s Seed Facility: those seats went fast and people got in line as early as 2:00 a.m. and still got shut out. I just planned to wander around in town and see what the mood of the populace was.
Would there be demonstrators, for or against the president’s visit? Would there be unpleasantness of the sort I had recently been subjected to, where a know-nothing graduate of Jefferson High School (in Independence, Iowa), a Bible-thumping seller of reverse mortgage programs who was “so proud” to be in the industry had called me both “stupid” and “godless” because I was not down with the Republican presidential candidates. I could envision some of these reverse mortgage engineers (think Fred Thompson), driving trucks with gun racks, getting in my face (or someone else’s face who had actually managed to gain admission to the tiny town) and being unpleasant. This was what I hoped to find out: just how unpleasant or pleasant would the populace be? What would the mood be “on the ground.”

I began heading back towards the overpass. It occurred to me that, since the first Smokey the Bear policeman had told me that the motorcade was right behind me, I could perhaps get a snapshot of the motorcade on its way across that very ramp, heading into town (something I was not having much luck doing.)

I drove as slowly as I could drive while on an Interstate and, about a mile from the overpass, while braking sharply, 2 cameras 2 maps, 2 notebooks and my purse all fell off the passenger’s side seat and fell to the floor. Turning on my signal, I pulled over to the shoulder of I-80 to pick up my camera equipment, et. al. By the time my head came up from under the dashboard, I was greeted by the sight of yet another Smokey the Bear look-alike burning rubber while accelerating his highway patrol car in reverse, heading towards the Grasshopper at warp speed.

This conversation took place with the highway patrolman guy, who was as impressed with his lot in life as anyone I’ve met.

“MA’AM! WE CAN’T HAVE THIS!”

“I know. My cheap Canon fell on top of my expensive Nikon!” (me)

(Smokey) “NO! I MEAN WE CAN’T HAVE YOU HERE!”

(Me) “But I AM here. I’m just waiting till the motorcade goes by so I can get into town.”

(Smokey) “WE CAN’T HAVE THAT! MOVE ALONG!”

(Me) “Can I just pop out and take a picture of the overpass as the motorcade drives into town?”

(Smokey) Dumfounded. Incredulous look.

So, I once again drove down Interstate 80, this time driving back to the west, towards Geneseo.  Since I was still laboring under the misconception that Obama had spent the night at the Blackhawk Hotel in downtown Davenport and, therefore, would be coming from the west, I briefly considered staying in the parking lot of the convenience store at the intersection and taking a photo from that vantage point.

Then I remembered that there was a back road to access Geneseo. I reasoned there must be a back highway to access Atkinson and I plugged in the Atkinson Town Hall as my destination of choice. Sure enough, Highway 6 would take me to Atkinson, and I began following the nice lady’s voice to drive town the flag-lined road and roam the small village.

As I drove aimlessly about in Atkinson, I was struck by the small-town look and feel of the boulevard-like main street, which, I noticed, had a corner tap that was open for business.  I parked my car and strolled in to order a Diet Coke and test the waters.

There was a bar stool open at the bar, next to a couple, Mr. and Mrs. VanOpdorp, who lived in Atkinson for years but now live in Rock Island.

“My grandfather came through here on the train when he arrived from Holland. He got off the train at this very bar, which has been open since the 1800’s, and had his first beer in America and he just decided to stay.” So, if he had bought his first beer in New Mexico, Mr. VanOpdorp might have been living in a much warmer climate.

Without asking anyone’s political designation, I asked Mr. and Mrs. VanOpDorp and others seated near me in the bar who they liked in the 2012 presidential race.   “Do you think the Republicans will nominate Romney to run against Obama?” I asked, as the two plasma TV sets behind the bar showed President Obama’s remarks, live, on KWQC Channel 6.

“Naaah. The Republicans don’t have a dog in the fight, so far,” said Mr. VanOpdorp.

“You don’t think the Republicans have any good candidates?”

“Naaah.” Mr. VanOpdorp and his wife both shook their heads no.

“What about Governor Perry of Texas?”

“Naaah.”

Apparently, the crowd inside the Corner Tap in Atkinson was either firmly Democratic or simply disinterested in the outcome of the election, but everyone in the bar was very interested in what President Barack had to say this day. All were listening intently and respectfully.

Later, on the streets of Atkinson, fathers held their young children on their shoulders to catch a glimpse of the President of the United States as he drove out of town in his big black bus, waving to all of us standing on the sidewalks waiting to catch a glimpse of him.

“Laughing through Life” Nearly Ready for Kindle Launch

I copied the column below from the archives of www.blogforiowa.com. It will appear within a new Kindle offering that will go up very soon on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. The title of the book is Laughing through Life, and it chronicles funny stories from my first years as a young wife, mother and teacher, on through the following of the presidential candidates in 2004 and 2008 and up to the present. When it appears for sale, I’ll be sure to let you know. For now, enjoy this “sneak preview” of one of the offerings within it. (And if you want to see the original picture of Al Franken and me, check the archives of www.blogforIowa.com.

Keynote Speaker – Al Franken

AND YOU ARE THERE!

Or

”A Mush Mute, a Big Hat and a Plum”

 

Just a few comments about the October 16th Jefferson/Jackson (2004) annual Democratic dinner at Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium in Des Moines.

1)    The acoustics at Veterans’ Memorial Auditorium suck.

2)    Because the acoustics suck, the large TV screens have captioning. The captioning must be done by a machine. This can lead to much merriment. Especially if you have made it your goal, after at least three hours of waiting, to obtain and consume a minimum of three glasses of white zinfandel prior to Al Franken’s appearance.




3)    “Ed is the Governor of Pencil.” I think the machine MEANT to say that Ed is or was the Governor of Pennsylvania.

4)    The word “Dear” is listed as “Deer.”

5)    The machine cannot make up its mind whether the choir of Gospel Singers is from the Maple or Elm Street Missionary Baptist Church Choir. At this point, the machine is introducing various tree types. Things are very confused.

6)    We are asked to join hands with the person next to us. The person next to me, on my right, is Thomas Fischermann, Economic Correspondent for the German weekly “Die Zeit.” I tell Tom that holding hands in this fashion in America means that we are now legally married. Tom tells me that he knows this isn’t true, as he was raised Catholic. I admit that I lied (which is more than I can say for George W. Bush). Tom turns out to be a delightful seat-mate for the dinner, which we are not eating.

7)    At one point, after the droning of fully two dozen would-be Democratic candidates, none of whom any of us knows, Tom says he might have to go back to his hotel room and watch Al (Franken) on TV. (He doesn’t.) He is disappointed that Sharon Stone isn’t going to appear (aren’t we all?) I ask Tom whether he thinks Vanessa Kerry is wearing nylons. He is too much of a gentleman to comment. Oh, those European men. Especially those who had English teachers from Wisconsin.

8)    After about 2 hours of the droning and bellowing (the sound system is REALLY bad), I say that it is going to be my goal to drink three glasses of white zinfandel before Franken takes the stage. I am actually doubting that Franken will EVER take the stage. This turns out to be a really bad plan. Why? I have taken my college roommate as photographer-in-residence, and, when I put my camera and the wine glasses (small plastic cups at $5 a pop) on the floor, she accidentally kicks a glass of white zinfandel over my camera and it completely soaks it. Thomas rescues the camera from the ever-widening pool of wine. The strap is soaked and the lens is “cloudy.” I do not get one single usable picture from my trusty Canon after the unfortunate wine incident, henceforth known as “Zinfandel-gate.” As I did manage to secure two glasses of zinfandel prior to Zinfandel-gate, I don’t care. Later, I will rue the day. Or night.

9)    To my extreme left is “Jane,” correspondent for “People” magazine. She is covering the candidate’s children for a story. Jane is very nice. She is dressed in black. She would like some food. We do not get any food. We would not get anything to drink, either, if I hadn’t made the infamous “Zinfandel-gate” run. (*Kids: Take note! Do NOT try this at home!)

10)    Other errors on the sub-title machine that amuse me:  “Fill” for a candidate whose first name is “Phil.” “He is a man of grass.” (This may actually be accurate; we don’t know. Perhaps he meant that “W” is an *ss? Or a man of *ss? Very confusing. Don’t know; can’t tell you.)

11)    When someone says, “The future of this country is at stake. The future of the world is at stake,” Thomas leans over and says, “The sky is falling.” I laugh. Perhaps I should write this down? Again, don’t know; can’t tell you.

12)    More machine sub-title errors: for “pirate suit,” (which is connected to Al Franken’s remarks about George W. Bush wearing a ridiculous flight suit with a huge cod-piece on his now-infamous “Mission Accomplished” battleship appearance). The machine spells out: “pie rat.” Perhaps this machine is smarter than anyone realizes.

13)    Other errors that I cannot explain, from the sub-titling machine: “sash and acute” (?) “A mush mute, a big hat and a plum.”

14)    I enjoyed Al Franken’s remark that, after 9/11, the country was very united. “My college roommate even got out an old T-shirt to wear that touted America. Of course, it took him four hours to white-out ‘sucks.’”

15)    What have I learned from this experience? Never trust sub-titling machines. Always trust the German correspondent for “Die Zeit.” He is very knowledgable, very handsome, and we chat at great length about the Diebolt voting machines and the potential for voter fraud in the upcoming election. Please give Thomas a raise; I think he likes Vanessa Kerry, and he will need it to win her heart.

16)    Never try to drink three glasses of white zinfandel while simultaneously shooting film and taking notes. But it’s ok to laugh. A lot.

Cancun, Sunday, April 10: First Full Day

Ava enjoys the pool at the Royal Sands in Cancun, Mexico, on April 10, 2011.

We’re here in Cancun, our first full day.

The pools and beaches are much less crowded than normal during “spring break” but this could be because “spring break” is over. Or, it could be that people are not traveling to Mexico, due to all the bad publicity. Or it could be because they’ve jacked the price(s) up on things like a massage (formerly $75, now, for three of us $297. (Yikes!). I got him to throw in a pass to the exercise/spa/hot tub room ($50 for the week) and one of our party is responsible for 1/3 of that amount. So, if you deduct the $50, I guess the expense (which is a birthday gift to daughter-in-law Jessica) is the same as last year’s amount, but everything seems more expensive.

Stacey and Scott poolside in Cancun at the Royal Sands on April 10, 2011.

We have two units in play: one is our “normal” 1st floor digs, with the 23-year-old daughter (Stacey) and her friend Emmie Futrell in residence in the second bedroom with its own bathroom. I love my 2-year-old granddaughters, but it is nice that the people in this unit actually sleep slightly later.

Two-year-old Elise Wilson enjoys the water in the baby pool at the Royal Sands.

Today was the “Welcome Party,” which means free drinks (rum and cokes). I am so over the hoopla of throwing water balloons at one another and refuse to take part, as I have done for the past 10 years or so. The daughter and her father gamely took part, but the winner…believe it or not…was Elise, age 2, who somehow ended up with the only intact water balloon and “won” a bag from the establishment, which is handy for taking things to the beach. I thought ahead and had the spouse pack the “Chicago” bag I bought at the airport last year on our way here. It makes a perfect beach bag, and he said it wasn’t too difficult to get in on the bottom of his luggage.

Just off the lobby, this is the view from the Royal Sands.

The trip here was uneventful. We even had an empty seat between us in the set of 3 on American Airlines, which is unusual. Is this, too, a sign of the economic times?

 

There was a woman sitting in my aisle seat when we first reached our row, and she seemed very put out to be asked to take her own seat, which turned out to be in the middle. She spent most of her time prior to take-off sulking and turned on her laptop computer and began watching some cartoon or movie that featured dogs barking loudly. Since she had not brought headphones, it appeared that I would have to listen to her dog cartoon for the entire trip, but I was intent on ignoring her obvious pique at being asked to sit in her own assigned seat.

Heaven, thy name is Cancun's beach.

At that point, she summoned the stewardess and began some long involved tale about her husband’s pulled hamstring muscle and how he HAD to be sitting on an aisle. This was odd, because he was never seated on the aisle. He was seated against the exterior of the plane and SHE was seated on the aisle, the seat that was mine, which she really did not want to give up.

April 10, 2011 in Cancun, Mexico (Royal Sands Resort).

The stewardess kindly offered them places behind us so that her husband could have an aisle seat…, which was obviously not the issue, despite the woman’s clever oh-so-sweet explanations to the stewardess.

After their first move, next thing I heard was that they were moving AGAIN.

The first part of the trip was extremely bumpy. Even the stewardesses were told not to get out of their seats. There were storm systems and they buffeted us until we cleared Memphis, which did not seem like that long a time. One small child on the right side of the plane (age approximately 3) knew and shouted only 1 word for the entire trip. “NO!” There was a baby approximately six months old in that aisle, as well. The baby cried upon take-off, but was pretty well behaved, overall.

We arrived at our “home away from home” fairly early (noon) and learned that the shuttle prices from the airport have escalated from $12 per person to $16 per person. You must walk through the airport and outside near the front entrance of the airport to book a shuttle at the information desk. You must not be led astray by the many Time Share sales people standing there ready to pull you aside and book you into a Time Share “pitch.” As owners of 2 time-shares since 1995 or so, with a history of visiting for 3 years before buying (Fiesta Americana Condessa for 2 years and 1 year renting at the Royal Mayan), we know the drill.

 

This year, our time-share, the Royal Sands, has improved many things. The stove and microwave in our kitchen are new. All villas have wireless. New 32” flat screens have been installed in 3 places inside the units (2 bedrooms and the living room area).

We visited the store within the resort immediately and bought the basics. The “basics” this year cost $300 U.S. dollars. This seemed high, but we were expecting all 10 other members of the family fest to arrive at our unit and expect snacks and drinks. It’s always nice to be warmly greeted with hospitality.  We will be here for 2 weeks, so we will definitely use the eggs, bread, margarine, pop, etc.

After the purchase of the groceries, the husband said, “If I have even one beer, I think I’ll fall asleep.” We had to get up at 5 a.m. in order to make our 8 a.m. flight.

As soon as the groceries (pushed to our first floor unit in borrowed grocery carts) were put away, my husband announced that he wanted to go sit outside by the pool. He had already unpacked his clothes. I had not, so I stayed in the room and unpacked my suitcase. At some point, I decided to just lie down for a few minutes.
An hour later when my daughter and her friend arrived from Nashville, I heard discussions about whether to wake me up. I immediately joined the group.

Soon, the 2 family groups with the young children arrived and now the party is in full swing. More on the rest of the week (today is Sunday), as it progresses.

One bit of good news: “Ricardo” (i.e., Richard), the one continuing presence in our close to 20 years of visiting Cancun, has returned to the Royal Resorts fold and we will see him for either lunch or breakfast on Thursday. Today was the Welcome Party. Tomorrow is the traditional Taco Party.

We spent the night watching “The Celebrity Apprentice” on TV from a Florida station. Gary Busey is obviously nuts. Very entertaining, but obviously a liability for the Men’s Team. Mark McGrath was very articulate and got kicked off. I think Donald Trump is doing all this “I’m running for President stuff” to get publicity for his show, among other pursuits.

 

Viva, Cancun!

Toyota Tundra Tears A New One in Prius, Tank-side

Terrible Toyota Tundra

I decided to post this account of my car accident of March 31, 2011, to warn other drivers who might not want to have their small car crushed by a giant silver behemoth of a truck, simply because they are driving up Kennedy Drive, on their way to Best Buy to purchase 3 flash drives. Not in any particular rush. Just 12 blocks or so away from home.

For those who live in the Illinois Quad Cities, I want to warn you of this “most dangerous” intersection…(or one of the most dangerous)…in the city. I mean, of course, 30th Avenue and Kennedy Drive, right where the Walgreen store sits. I was driving south toward the Jewel store on Kennedy Drive. I came to the intersection mentioned above and noticed that there were several cars in the left turn lane (which would be a turn to head your car toward Silvis, something I did every morning for 17 and ½ years, so I know that turn well).

I was paying attention. I was only driving 30 mph. You have to pay attention in the East Moline to Moline area, or you will be picked up for speeding. I try to always run radar. The border between Moline/East Moline on 30th Avenue as you drive towards Wilson Junior High School is particularly problematical.

There is a hill on 30th Avenue, or perhaps it is more accurate to call it a dip. As your car heads towards Moline (from East Moline) the speed limit drops from 35 mph in East Moline to 30 mph in Moline, with almost no marking. And this happens at the bottom of a hill. So, the police thoughtfully park their vehicles on a side street, wait for you to reach the bottom of the hill and (probably) move above 30 mph, so that they can give you a ticket for speeding.

At the bottom of said hill you are usually  “fair game” to be picked up for speeding, since you may have inadvertently picked up speed as you coasted down the hill (it’s called gravity), and you are entering Moline’s 5 miles per hour slower speed limit, although you have not changed roads or directions. If this seems unfair to you, join the club. In order to be in strict compliance with the change in driving speed between Moline and East Moline, you’ll have to be applying your brake as you coast down the hill. Otherwise, you’ll be facing the music in court. Be aware. Be wary. You could try defying gravity, but I doubt if you’ll have much luck with this approach.

But I was not ON 30th Avenue this day.

I was merely diving slowly (I only go 30 mph now everywhere to avoid speed traps like the one on 30th Avenue mentioned above) up Kennedy Drive towards the Jewel store in Kennedy Square (and on past it to Best Buy out near Southpark Mall.)

As I approached the red light at the intersection of 30th Avenue and Kennedy Drive, heading towards Kennedy Square (i.e., southbound) I stayed on the right side next to the right curb, since it was apparent that the left-turning cars would hold up traffic that merely wanted to go straight down Kennedy. Here comes the rub.
When you go THROUGH the intersection, still heading south towards Kennedy Square, the two-lane road often has cars parked along the right side curb. Not always, but often. This day, I considered myself lucky. No cars parked on the right. Clear sailing in the “right” lane, (which is not really a lane, but will ultimately narrow so that you will have to “merge” into the left lane.)

As I cleared the intersection, I noticed in my rear view mirror that a very large silver truck was tailgating me. The driver was practically in my back seat. He seemed to be going very fast, to me (remember: I’m the one who only drives 30 mph for the reasons mentioned above), but he may simply have been going 35 mph, the speed limit in East Moline (but NOT in Moline).

I glanced in my rear view mirror and commented, to myself, that I was glad I could continue to hug the right hand side curb and didn’t have to “merge” right away, because the person driving the truck was apparently in a much bigger hurry than me and very territorial about being first with a bullet. He was obviously an “Alpha Male” type who must remain in front of all other drivers at all times. Fine by me, I thought. You just go ahead and zip right on past me! I’ll just stay over here on the right, hugging this curb, until you take your giant silver whomper-stomper of a vehicle and head on down the road. Picture me saying, “Dum, dum, de dum”at that point. I also knew this intersection was a “ bad” one because my mother-in-law once had a car accident there when picking up my daughter from her piano lesson, so, no fool I, I would just hug that curb and let old Mr. Silverback or Silver Truck have the whole road for his giant ugly vehicle. No hurry on MY part to “merge.”
Unfortunately, just as I consciously willed this ill-mannered tailgating creep to zoom on down Kennedy Drive and leave me there, a curb-hugger, he hit me.

I heard a grinding, scraping, crushing sound, and my car shuddered violently. It nearly went out of control.  If this idiot pushed me into the oncoming northbound traffic (i.e., the cars coming from Kennedy Square and heading north up Kennedy Drive), I would be hit broadside. I was fighting to control the car and thinking, “This mouth-breathing Neanderthal just HIT me!”

I searched the right-hand side of the road, frantically looking for a place I could pull over and get my car (and me) out of harm’s way. Luckily, the vacant lot and not-very-heavily traveled gravel road at 35th Avenue and 2nd Street was immediately ahead on my right. I actually had the presence of mind to signal for a right turn before pulling over and stopping my car. I had already made a note of the license plate of the Silver Toyota truck, as I wondered if he would stop at all, since he had just rear-ended a small car driving ahead of him in traffic, a car he should not have been that close to in the first place.

Mr. Neanderthal jumped down from his silver truck and was waving his arms and screaming. Why was he screaming? Beats the hell out of me! HE had just creamed my vehicle, knocking it so violently that I almost was pushed into the ongoing traffic lane, and now HE was yelling at ME. What’s wrong with this picture?

I glanced quickly at the back wheel well area of my green Prius (“the grasshopper”) and saw that parts of it were sticking out at 90 degree angles from the rest of my car. (Ooooo. That can’t be good, I thought.) One thought I had was this, “I wonder if I can drive this car after he hit me and crushed the wheel well area? It might be that the piece that is totally turn off my vehicle will puncture the tire or something.” I said nothing to the wildly gesticulating elderly male driver so out-of-control in front of me. He had obviously hit me. It was too late for him to UN-hit me, so now we simply must deal with the consequences in an adult manner. Or so I thought. That only works if both of you are capable of behaving in an adult manner. I have learned recently that many MANY adults are arrested at a maturity level of a twelve-year-old. In fact, when I visited the State Farm insurance agency, the young girl helping me file the claim said, after she heard how awful the elderly drive had been, “Yeah. The old ones are worse than the younger kids, usually.” Food for thought. Cranky old person? A stereotype, but one this guy certainly fit. And, keep in mind…THIS guy’s vehicle was not hurt AT ALL. The policeman wrote down ZERO dollars damage to his truck, so why was HE screaming at ME? Seems rather immature and unfriendly and, also, potentially designed to distract attention from the very real fact that he had just rear-ended the vehicle of a woman who was even older than he was old, but was still capable of trying to act like a civilized human being, which, I have learned, to my chagrin, many Control Freak types are not. Get in their way and they freak out.

Mr. Neanderthal was now berating me. (Seems odd, but there you have it….) He was being totally uncivil. I immediately gave him my name. I asked him what his name was.

“I’m not giving you my name, you smart ass.”

Well, this was going well, wasn’t it?  I ask the man who has just ruined my car…(and damn near caused me serious bodily injury) for his NAME at the scene of an accident he has caused and he refuses to give it to me!

I tried a different tack. “I think we should exchange insurance information.” I went to my car to get mine out of the glove box.

Mr. Neanderthal says, “I ain’t giving you no insurance information. I’ll only give it to the po-lice.” (He pronounced police as 2 syllables.)

Since I frequently am in Chicago, a second home, and the Chicago police do NOT want to be bothered by people who are merely randomly running their vehicles into one another UNLESS one of them is hurt (neither of us was, fortunately), I mentioned this fact. “I’m not sure the police want to be called, unless there is personal injury, and we’re both okay.”

Wow! Wrong thing to say! And, I admit, more the way it works in the Big City than in East Moline, Illinois.
”You shut up, you smart ass.”

I think Mr. Neanderthal then also called me a liar or some other uncomplimentary thing for having shared this bit of Big City information about police responses to accidents in big cities which, admittedly, may not apply in what my friend D.J. refers to as “Poopyville.” (D.J. means no harm, and, himself lives in Las Vegas, so people who live in glass houses shouldn’t put down wholesome communities that are in the middle of nowhere, but D.J.said it, not me.)

Since I have endured quite a bit of verbal abuse online recently, which would include the Tea Party members who didn’t like the piece I did praising Eisenhower (go figure) and the ex-collaborator who has been trolling some really questionable sites and lying his ass off to the point that legal action will be taken, and now Mr. Neanderthal, who was being a complete jerk. Mr. Neanderthal didn’t need to admit guilt, but it would have been nice to have heard him say something human or compassionate like, “Gee, this is too bad.”

But no. Mr. Neanderthal, whose large silver truck had NO damage [but did have a number of colorful paint chips on his undented bumper] (makes you wonder how many other cars he has hit with his large ramming speed vehicle?) was going to simply verbally abuse me, waving his arms about and acting like a total child and complete jerk. In fact, I think there are even some rules about HAVING to give your name, if asked, at the scene of an accident, which someone closer to his size should remind him about. But this idiot wasn’t going to provide his name when politely asked.

At no time did I verbally abuse this person or call him names, or accuse him at that time of what he had done (i.e., ram into me while following too closely and driving too fast) but, hey! I could have said, “Look, you jerk! Look at the damage you just did to my vehicle! What-the-hell were you thinking, driving up behind me that fast?” But I did not say any of these things to the rude, unpleasant, 64-year-old creep who rear-ended me and then acted put out at ME! I knew he was working on some story that would make this (somehow) be MY fault. He was the type. I could just hear him now. And I could also imagine that, if I made any effort to speak with him further, Mr. Neanderthal might actually become violent.
True, it was only 3:30 in the afternoon. But I was a woman, driving alone, and an old fart with gray hair was waving his hands in the air in a threatening manner. Perhaps it was time to retreat to my vehicle and call for back up. Which I did.
Back up, in this instance, meant my retired husband, napping at home.

I got in my dented Prius, locked the doors, got out my phone, and dialed my husband, who was approximately 13 blocks away, asleep. He, in turn, called the police. I gave the spouse directions to my location just up the street and, within 5 minutes, the cavalry rode to the rescue.

For one thing, I needed someone with some mechanical aptitude to take a look at my wheel well and tell me if I could drive away from this fender bender.

For another, I might need someone to clock Fart Man if he took a swing at me.

For a third, men don’t really like to listen to “the little woman” and it would be far better if I had a man present, backing me up and telling this guy to shut up. I have known this since the days I spearheaded (some would say master-minded, but, with all the collective bargaining rights in the entire state of Wisconsin going under, perhaps masterminding something that only lasts for 31 years isn’t anything to brag about) collective bargaining rights in Silvis, Illinois. That would be the SEA efforts to gain collective bargaining rights. I insisted that a man stand up with me then, as Co-chairman of our teachers’ group, and I definitely wanted one here with me now.

By now, the police had arrived, which means one officer who seemed to be about 30 years old. Fart Man, the old Neanderthal who would not provide his name or insurance information but felt like a Big Man threatening a 5’ 2” woman whose car he had just ruined while driving like a maniac. Naturally, Mr. Neanderthal insisted on telling HIS story first. I ambled over near where he was bending the cop’s ear, because I just knew Neanderthal Man was giving a creative version of how innocent he was. [HE didn’t drive right up my rear end, practically into my back seat. HE wasn’t going fast. HE wasn’t tailgating. He was totally blameless, of course, and I should be hanged as a witch at sunrise.]

This seems to be quite the refrain of late. I had considered taking out an ad offering to be the “scapegoat” for all the world’s problems, (for a fee, of course.)  Mr. Policeman didn’t want me to listen in on the old fart’s version. He instructed me to go sit in my vehicle, which I did without protest, joining my husband there. He had found my insurance papers for me in my glove box when I became rattled at the prospect of imminent injury from Neanderthal man and fled to hide within my vehicle.

Now the young policeman (who actually said, after taking my statement that he wished we had met under different circumstances) took my statement (and it took him a really long time to write everything up, indicating that there was zero damage to Mr. Neanderthal’s vehicle, but $1,500 to mine.)

We have now taken my poor Grasshopper to the Toyota dealership and filled out claims forms with State Farm and I will be without a vehicle for some period of time while parts are ordered and repairs are made. I am grateful that I was not hurt. I am grateful, also, that Mr. Neanderthal was not hurt… although I wish he would try, for once in his selfish life, to put himself in someone else’s shoes and realize that tailgating someone and hogging the road (I would have had to merge, eventually, but HE was not going to let some little Libtard car push his big ol’ honkin’ Toyota Tundra around. HE was going to be Numero Uno in line and, if you don’t like it, well, I’ll just gun my vehicle and run right over you!) And I wasn’t even at the point of needing to “merge.” God only knows what he might have done if I HAD tried to merge, with him in the left lane. I’m glad I never tried to do so while his silver truck was on the loose.

That, my friends, was my Thursday afternoon (March 31), one day after my wedding anniversary (over 40, so alert the media). It was not the anniversary present I had most desired.

I hope Mr. Neanderthal learns to be civil, polite and courteous and also reads up on the rules about how you MUST give your name at the scene of an accident, something that he flatly refused to do. As for the “let’s call the cops” thing: I needed the cops more than he did, since he had obviously done this sort of thing before (judging from the variety of paint colors displayed on his undented bumper) and he seemed to be a very unpleasant, impolite, poorly raised creep. I’m not going to give you his name. He knows who he is. If there’s any justice an even BIGGER vehicle will tailgate him and cream his car some day, and maybe, if he’s as mouthy and unpleasant as he was to me, cream him, as well.
Whatever happened to the days when, if you rear-ended somebody who was driving ahead of you, it was an automatic ticket. That’s what it should have been, for this guy. But instead, he’s still out there, tailgating unsuspecting small vehicles and probably shouting “ramming speed!” as he hits them. And, of course, telling HIS fantastical story to the police FIRST, because God forbid anyone but Mr. Neanderthal is allowed to go first.
Doesn’t he remember the Beatitude that said, “The first shall be last?” Keep that in mind while speeding up Kennedy Drive in East Moline, Illinois, hoping to be able to, at some point, merge into traffic without having to fight your way in.

Casey Abrams “Saved” by Judges on American Idol

Casey Abrams

Fox, Thursday, March 24, 2011, 8 PM (ET) “American Idol” had one of its most dramatic nights ever when front-runner Casey Abrams received the lowest number of votes and was in danger of elimination from the show. (Surely a “WTF?” moment.) The judges stepped in to use their one “save” of the season to retain the young Joe Cocker-like musician.

Casey and Stefano were the last two standing after the other low vote getters were trotted out, one-by-one, and then rescued, one-by-one.  Stefano, Thia and Casey ended up in the bottom three. The first two: not too surprising. But the shocker was Casey’s low ranking.

No less an authority than “Entertainment” magazine (March 18, 2011) selected Casey Abrams as the ultimate winner of the whole competition, saying, “Underneath that goofy facial hair and dazed demeanor, this 20-year-old California dude (born in Wilmette, IL) boasts some serious musical chops.”  The author of this “Entertainment” handicapping at 3 to 1, Rob Brunner, added, “And he can really sing.” (I now feel better about my +18 out of 24 showing for the Oscars, and I’m glad I haven’t made any rash predictions for “American Idol’s” tenth season…yet.)  Brunner predicted, on page 48 of the March 18, 2011 “Entertainment” in an article entitled “We Pick the Winner:” “Not I-starred-in-a-school-production-of-Carousel-last-year-sing, but actually inhabit a song, infuse it with personality and emotion and a little humor.” My daughter, a Music Business graduate, only watches the show for Casey. (She had better start voting, methinks!)

Casey was interesting from the outset, showing up with a melodica during auditions so he would have perfect pitch when he began singing. On this night, to save his life in the competition, Casey began singing “I Don’t Need No Doctor” in his characteristic funky growl.  The 3 judges began waving their arms in the air after approximately 3 bars, telling Casey to stop.

“We know who you are,” said Steven Tyler, declaring that Casey’s elimination was just plain wrong. Which it was. Here’s a performer with true talent, a distinctive style, musical ability out the wazoo and America’s vast unwashed apparently tone-deaf masses kick him off?

What’s wrong with this picture! (Answer: Everything.)

Casey looked like he might pass out after the judges used their one “save” of the season to keep the bearded mop-head on the team. I assume tonight’s failure to reduce the group of eleven to ten means that 2 people will be eliminated next week. In my opinion, losing Stefano, Haley or Thia would be far less damaging to the show’s integrity than losing arguably the most talented and fearless singer in the group. He has come out and sung songs as difficult as Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and then, on Wednesday night’s show, hit the high notes on Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” What show was the rest of America watching? You had Stefano singing with little or no emotional connection to his song and Thia actually bobbling the words a bit, and then a truly great performer stalks the stage and…what….? You voted for “the cute one”? Yikes!

After he was “saved,” there was a dramatic encounter with Casey hugging his parents and overcome with emotion at the judges’ using their one-and-only save so early in the season. He could be heard saying, “I can’t breathe.” I feared he would pass out.

The rest of the show preceding Casey’s near-elimination consisted of Ryan Seacrest announcing that 30 million viewers had voted, Sugarland and Jennifer Hudson performing, Marc Antony assisting the contestants with the use of an in-ear headphone so that they can better hear themselves when they perform.  Another high point was the appearance of Stevie Wonder to play “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” and wish Steven Tyler a happy 63rd birthday.  Hulk Hogan also put in an appearance, (which seemed to thrill James Durbin more than anyone.)

Jennifer Lopez offered the startled audience and the overcome-with-emotion Casey this advice as the emotional show ended on a dramatic note:  “Let people feel your soul.  You deserve to be here.”

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