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Here's the deal. I can be "opinionated". If you like what you see, please come back from time to time. If you don't like what you see, you can come back too.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

WNY keeps an infamous inmate

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad Mark Chapman isn’t leaving Western New York.  It’s not like I’m friends with the guy.  It's not like I visit him regularly in prison.  I’ve never even met him, which is probably a good thing since if I did I would tell him he deserves to spend the rest of his life behind bars until he dies a miserable, painful death at which point not only will he go to hell, he’ll go to the special place in hell.
But despite all that, I’m glad he’s staying here.
When I heard that Chapman had been transferred out of Attica Prison after 31 years, my first thought was that he was being shipped downstate somewhere….just like they did with Attica’s other most notorious inmate, Son of Sam killer David Berkowitz.  But then when I heard that Chapman was merely being shipped to another WNY prison, the Wende Correctional Facility in Alden, I was relieved.
Why, you might ask?
Why, if I feel such a strong sense of loathing for the man who killed John Lennon, do I want him to remain here in our area.
I like to write about him.
And as long as he’s in a local prison, I can use the excuse that it’s a local story.
Let’s face it, for a lot of people under a certain age, Chapman is no big deal.  Sure, everyone knows the Beatles….and everyone knows what John Lennon meant to the music world and the world in general…..but if you weren’t around when he was murdered, or you were too young to be affected by it…..Chapman is just a guy who killed a famous guy.
But if you were old enough back in December 1980, Lennon’s murder was a generational moment.  You remember where you were when you heard the news.  You remember how stunned you were when you heard the news.   For millions of Americans, it was during Monday Night Football.  Howard Cosell, of all people, broke the news.
For many people, it was the day the music died.  
When celebrities die…especially when it’s unexpected….it hits us emotionally.  We react like we’ve lost a member of our family.
It happened when Michael Jackson died.  It happened a few months ago when Whitney Houston died.  For music fans of a certain age, it was Kurt Cobain’s suicide. 
John Lennon’s murder changed the world.
Chapman was sentenced to 20 years to life.    Since 2000, every two years he’s had a parole hearing.  Every time, he was denied.  He’s up for parole again this year.  And I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that once again the answer will be no.  Which it should be.
Chapman didn’t get the death penalty, because he couldn’t in New York State.  But he deserves to die in prison.  This is one of those cases where a life sentence needs to be a life sentence.
Yeah, I know what you’re going to say.  Look at me, valuing one life over another, saying John Lennon’s murder was worse than others because he was a celebrity.  No, it was worse because he was John Lennon.  He wasn’t just a Beatle.  He was one of the most influential people of the 20th Century.
We don’t know why Chapman was transferred out of Attica.  By all accounts, he was a model prisoner there.  He was even allowed conjugal visits with his wife.  I’m sure she wrote a lovely letter to the Parole Board in 2010 asking for his release.  Yoko Ono also wrote a letter last time around….just like she did every previous time….urging them to keep Chapman behind bars.   She’ll probably do it again this year.
And since Chapman is staying here in WNY….I can write something then too if I want.  Which I probably will.  As you can tell, I feel pretty strongly about it.
So thank you, state prison officials, for keeping him here.   And giving me an excuse to keep writing about him.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The day I met Dick Clark

How many people do you know who were on a game show?  If you know me, the answer is one.  I was on the $25,000 Pyramid.  Which is the first thing I thought of this afternoon when I heard that Dick Clark had died.  Which might make me the only person whose first thought wasn’t New Year’s Eve or American Bandstand.
I’m sure you want to know what it was like….being on an actual game show, and meeting a legend like Dick Clark.  So I’ll tell you.  Even if you don’t want to know.  I just like telling the story.  Sometimes I just tell it to strangers.
It was January of 1986.  I lived in Philly at the time, and was going to California for my cousin Ava’s wedding in Los Angeles, and to visit my sister, who had just moved to Orange County.  I decided I wanted to try to be on a game show.  And not just any one….I wanted to be on Pyramid.  I loved the show….I used to watch it all the time.  Plus, you could win some serious cash.
I wrote to the show, and got an audition.  Then a second one two days later.  At which point they told me I’d be on the show “sometime in the next year”.   But then they called me the next day and asked me if I could come to the studio the day after that.
Which brings me to the actual game show experience.
I was one of 10 contestants….and since they rarely need more than six for a week’s worth of shows (which they tape in one day) I knew there was no guarantee that I’d actually get on the show.
They put us in the green room….which really was green.  We played some practice games, and they kept telling us that if we got onto the show, be sure to smile.  Don’t be nervous, even if we were either going to win lots of money or humiliate ourselves in front of millions of people.
They kept us all together at all times…no chance for us to cheat.  If one person had to go to the bathroom, the whole group went.
Finally, they took us into the studio and onto the stage.  They showed us the desks and the monitors and told us how everything would work….while the audience watched us in envy.
Then they put us in a roped-off section in the front row.  Then the returning champion from the previous show was brought up to the stage.  Then they picked one of us.  But not me, they chose a woman named Cheryl.
Next thing you know, there’s Dick Clark on stage.  He comes out before the taping to talk to the contestants, make sure he’s pronouncing their names correctly, and ask them a few questions.
Then, it was show time.  The open, featuring a montage of people celebrating their wins.  The familiar music.  Then the celebrities came out.  Now if you remember Pyramid, they had great celebrities.  Vicky Lawrence!   Patty Duke!  Betty White!  Soupy Sales!  Not to mention the crown prince of game show celebrities….Nipsey Russell!   But not this week.  Not my week.  We had the B-list.  Constance McCashin from Knots Landing and Henry Polic II from Webster.  But I didn’t care who the celebrities were as long as I actually made it onto the show.
So they played Monday’s game.  And Cheryl, the new player, gets to the pyramid and wins $10,000.  So she becomes the returning champion, and the previous champ is sent away with her winnings and her consolation prizes.  Rice-a-Roni, Lee Press-on-Nails, things like that.
She leaves and the rest of us go back to the green room so the celebrities can change their clothes and everything can be set up for Tuesday.  Which was an hour after Monday.
So they take us back into the studio and put us back in the roped-off area and put Cheryl up on stage, and come back down and look at the rest of us…..and they say “Bruce, are you ready?”
Holy cow!  I’m on the show!  I’m a game show contestant!
They take me up on stage and get me situated at the challenger’s desk, which fortunately is covered with felt because my palms were starting to get really clammy.
And then “he” came out.
Dick Clark.
Standing just a few feet away from me.
And when you saw him in person, he looked just like he did on TV.  And he was nice, too.
He welcomed me to the show, confirmed the pronunciation of my name, and started to read my bio.  Then he got excited.  Because I was from Philly….which is of course where Bandstand started.   Then it got really cool.  He saw that I worked in television.  He asked me which station.  I told him Channel 6.  Then he got really excited.  Because that’s the station where Bandstand started.  Now he’s asking me about all the longtime studio engineers at the station….many of whom still worked there.  He remembered all their names.  It was amazing.  He was having a ball.
So then he leaves the stage and next thing you know, they’re playing the open and I’m hearing the music and my stomach is in my throat and I’m more nervous than I’ve ever been in my life.
The celebrities come out, and we start playing the game.  I’m with Constance, Cheryl is with Henry.  Round one.  I get seven out of seven.  So does Cheryl.  Round two.  Same thing.  Round three.  Same thing again.  So it’s a 21-21 tie, which means not only does the winner go to the winner’s circle, they win a $5,000 bonus.  Unfortunately, Cheryl won it.  Fortunately, she didn’t do well in the winner’s circle.
They take a commercial break, we switch celebrities, and we play the second half.  Once again, a perfect round one.  But then…I finally catch a break.  She misses one.  If I get all seven in round three, I go to the winner’s circle.  The category: music makers.  People.  The hardest category on that show.  I still remember some of my clues.  “The singer with the really big chest”.   (Dolly Parton)  “He plays the piano, has lots of teeth”.  (Liberace)  Now I’m on the seventh name, and I say “He writes the songs that make the whole world sing”.  Henry says Barry Manilow.  Dick Clark says “You got it!” and the music plays and the audience cheers and I’m heading to the winner’s circle.
During the commercial break, Dick gives me his famous back rub….and now we’re ready to go.
The first item flips over, Henry starts giving clues, and I have no idea what the hell he’s talking about.  The first thing he says is “The Golden Door”.  Which was a famous spa in California.  The category was vacation resorts.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, I guessed it….but by then I thought I was dead.  However….we caught fire.  We zipped through the next four items.  He’d give one clue and I’d guess it right away.
Now we’re on the last one.  Get it right and win 10 grand.  He says “coupons”.  I say “things you clip”.  He says “savings stamps”.  I say “things you redeem”.  He says “Yes!!!!” and jumps up….and the music plays and the audience cheers and I jump up and we hug and we jump up and down and we hug again and we jump up and down some more and Dick Clark shakes my hand and I’ve just won $10,000!
The only downside was my sister couldn't get the day off from work to be there.  So you know how when someone wins, and their relatives and friends rush up from the stage to celebrate with them?  It was just me, Henry, and Dick.
So they say goodbye to Cheryl and the rest of us go to the green room for lunch (they always eat lunch between Tuesday and Wednesday) and I can barely take a bite because I’m on cloud nine.
And then we go back to the studio for Wednesday’s show and I’m the returning champion.  And the new player gets seven out of seven in the first round, and I get a whopping three out of seven.  That’s right, three.  Remember the “humiliate yourself in front of millions of people” thing I mentioned earlier?  Yep, that was me.  But then she collapses and I catch fire and we go to a tiebreaker and I win the tiebreaker and suddenly I’m in the winner’s circle despite a three-point round.  Dick tells America that I’m an inspiration to everyone who fails.  Which is what I did in the winner’s circle.  I won a couple hundred dollars and in the second half my opponent wins and she goes to the winner’s circle and she wins $10,000… they say goodbye to me and send me off with my money and my consolation prizes.  A year’s worth of Shake & Bake, Little Debbie snack cakes, and Bayer Aspirin.   No Rice-a-Roni for me.  But at least I didn’t get the press-on-nails.
So that was the day I met Dick Clark.  Who seemed really nice.  Just like he seemed on TV.  And with everything we hear about celebrities, it’s nice to be able to say that.
So for now….Dick Clark, so long.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Maid of the Mouse?

I’ve been very interested in the news out of Niagara Falls this week concerning the Maid of the Mist.  The latest is that there’s a new deal on the Canadian side.  Starting in 2014, a new company will run the boat ride at the base of the falls.  And in true Niagara Falls fashion, the deal on the Canadian side leaves the American side in limbo…..and could leave the American side up a creek (or a river, in this case).
I’m sure they’ll work something out…..can you imagine no Maid of the Mist on the American side?  However, we are talking about Niagara Falls, so anything is possible.
But that’s not the reason for this post.  When I heard the news, it reminded me that two years ago there was an interesting rumor making the rounds….that Disney was trying to get the Canadian boat lease.  At first, I thought that would be awful for the American side….but then it hit me.  Disney could be the solution for Niagara Falls, NY.  So I posted this commentary on Skunkpost.  And you know what?  Buried in the sarcasm is a pretty good idea.  Are you listening, Niagara Falls? 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Happy Presidents Day, Grover Cleveland!

I was driving down Transit Road this afternoon and when I passed Grover’s, it was mobbed.  Which makes sense.  After all, it's Presidents Day…and what better way to honor the only president who came from Buffalo than with burgers and beer.  In a bar named after him.  Where he probably did his share of drinking when it was his hunting lodge.
So let’s talk about Grover Cleveland.   In just three years he went from mayor of Buffalo to governor of New York to president of the United States.
He’s not considered a bad president.  But not considered a particularly good one either.  Most surveys have him pretty much middle of the pack.  But there are some interesting things about him.
I know, you’re expecting me to write about the sex scandal.  And I won’t ignore it….after all, he was elected president despite the fact that he had fathered an illegitimate child.  Then there was the child bride thing….while president, the 49-year-old Cleveland married the 21-year-old daughter of his late friend.  (when Bill Clinton was president, everyone talked about how he idolized JFK….clearly Cleveland was his role model)
But there’s more to Grover Cleveland than his hormones.
For one thing, he was the kind of guy who got things done.  Before he was mayor of Buffalo, he was Erie County Sheriff.  Back then, the sheriff was responsible for carrying out executions or paying a deputy $10 to do it.  So Cleveland did it himself.  Twice.  Hangings, both times.  Imagine if Rick Perry could say he did that….think of the applause he’d have gotten in those debates.
Then there’s Cleveland’s reputation as a reformer.  When he became mayor, Buffalo’s government had a reputation for corruption.  (who says history doesn’t repeat itself?)  But Cleveland cleaned things up.  And as his reputation grew, they took notice in Albany.  Which led to his election as governor.  Which led to reforms in state government.  Which led to the presidential election of 1884.  Which he won.
Which led to reforms in Washington.  Even though Cleveland was a Democrat, he kept Republicans in their jobs if he thought they were doing those jobs well.  He was actually an anti-patronage politician.
But in 1888, he lost his bid for re-election.  Even though he won.  Huh?  Let me explain.  Cleveland actually won the popular vote against Benjamin Harrison, but narrow victories in several key states gave Harrison enough Electoral College votes.  (So not only was he the 19th century version of Bill Clinton, he was Al Gore without the hanging chad)
But when he left the White House, Cleveland said “I’ll be back”.   Okay, before you think Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator, he didn’t really say that.  But the First Lady actually told a staff member to keep the furniture the way it was, because they’d be back in four years. 
And they were.  Making Cleveland the only president ever to serve two non-consecutive terms.   But his second term wasn’t as effective as his first.  He also made many enemies in his own party, so he wasn’t nominated as the Democratic candidate in 1896.  The Republican candidate won that year’s election.  His name was William McKinley.  Who…as we all know….came to Buffalo for the Pan American Exposition in 2001.  And we know how that turned out.
Which is actually another interesting tidbit.  The former mayor of Buffalo, replaced as president by the man who would be assassinated in Buffalo.
One last tidbit…..when Cleveland died in 1908, his last words were “I have tried so hard to do right”.  When it comes to last words, those are pretty good.
So happy Presidents Day, Grover Cleveland.  Buffalo’s gift to the White House.  You’re welcome, America.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Money talks, so Wallenda walks

I don’t know about you, but I’m glad that Canada has come to its senses. Not all of Canada, mind you….it’s not like the entire country has gotten together and decided to apologize to the world for Celine Dion.
No, just the Niagara Parks Commission, which has come down from its high horse concerning Nik Wallenda’s high wire act.
They finally wised up and agreed to let Wallenda walk from the U.S. to Canada on an 1,800-foot tightrope high above Niagara Falls and the Niagara Gorge.
Originally, they said no after New York State had given its approval. And think about that one…when’s the last time folks on the American side of the Falls made the right decision?
So once all the details are worked out, a final agreement will be signed and sometime this summer, Wallenda will join the Great Blondin and all the other daredevils who have challenged the Falls.
What led to the change of heart? What do you think? Money, of course. They realized what a goldmine this is.
And that’s what it’s all about.
When the Parks Commission said no to Wallenda last year, they cited safety concerns….but also said the daredevil act just didn’t fit their “mandate, priorities, and long-term goals”. They said those goals were to “promote the Falls as a world-class, natural attraction with unmatched scenery and beauty”.
In other words, everything that Niagara Falls Ontario ISN’T! What’s the image of the city? Schlock. Pure Schlock. If there’s a cheesy, sleazy tourist trap it’s on Clifton Hall. It’s the Jersey Shore, only less classy.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Look, we’re talking about tourism. For years now, Niagara Falls Ontario has made every right decision and Niagara Falls New York has made every wrong one. There’s a reason the Canadian side is jammed with people all summer long and the American side is a ghost town.
Last week when the Parks Commission did its about-face, its chairperson admitted they changed their minds after reviewing not just Walenda’s safety proposal, but also his economic one. Millions of dollars spent by tourists, pumped into the local economy. Priceless publicity.  Wouldn't it be nice if some of those dollars ended up on the American side?
Think about it….we’re months away from Wallenda’s walk. Months of news coverage. Months of feature stories on networks, websites, in newspapers and magazines. And think of the hype when it gets closer.
It’s going to be interesting to see what date they set for the walk. Personally, I think it should be June 30th. That’s the anniversary of the Great Blondin’s first tightrope walk at the Falls. (here’s a link to my story about him and some of the other Falls daredevils)
And actually, speaking of money, June does make more sense than July or August. Those are the peak tourist season months, so anything that would get more people to come here in June would make sense.
But whatever the date, at least it’s going to happen. At least Canada came to its senses.
Now if we can just do something about Celine.

Monday, February 13, 2012

The crash of Flight 3407

Has it really been three years?
Three years ago last night, Flight 3407 crashed in Clarence.  50 lives were lost, thousands of lives were changed forever.
If you're like most Western New Yorkers, you didn't watch the 11:00 news that night, so you first heard about it three years ago this morning.
Two years ago, on the first anniversary of the crash, I did this video for Skunkpost.  It may be the only serious thing I ever wrote for the site.  I think it holds up pretty well.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Thank you, Giants!

I can’t believe I’m saying this…..for the second time in four years.
Thank you, Giants!
Thank you for making the worst week of the year for Bills fans end on a happy note.
Wouldn’t it have been awful if the Patriots had won?  The team we hate, led by the coach we despise and the quarterback we loathe, winning the big game.  Again.  For the fourth time.  Matching the number of times we lost.
How sad is it that we actually have to root for the Giants.  The team that won the one Super Bowl we actually had a chance of winning.  Before the cosmic forces lined up against us, and began the process of turning Bills fans from hopeful to hopeless.
That’s why I hate Super Bowl week so much.  Whatever sports network we watch, whatever sports website we’re on, we can’t avoid the memories.
How many times did we see Wide Right?  Leon Lett?  Thurman Thomas’ fumble?  Thurman Thomas’ helmet?  Jimmy Johnson’s hair being mussed up?  And the list goes on.  It’s a week-long trip down the memory lane of hell.
I know what you’re thinking.  Now that all those years have passed, the fact that the Bills made it to four straight Super Bowls is recognized as a real accomplishment.  That team is more respected now than it was when it was getting its butt kicked in the big game.  No other team will ever get there four years in a row.  Even if that means no other team will ever lose four in a row.  Okay, I’ll give you that….those Bills teams do get some respect.  But they’re also featured in every ESPN & NFL Network special about the 10 worst Super Bowls.  And the 10 worst Super Bowl quarterback performances.  And the 10 biggest Super Bowl goats.  And so on.  And so on.  God, I hate Super Bowl week.
Every once in a while, it throws us a bone.  After all, it’s also when we find out who’s going into the Hall of Fame.  So we were able to celebrate Marv.  And Jim.  And Thurman.  And Bruce.  And Joe D.  Even Ralph.
But this year….once again….another reason to hate Super Bowl week.  Our hopes for Andre Reed joining his teammates in Canton were dashed again.  The only good news is that Bill Parcells didn’t get in.  Wouldn’t that have rubbed salt in it?  At least the committee spared us that.
And this year….as if looking back on all our Super Bowl nightmares wasn’t enough….we had our Brady bashing.  Come on, did the Golden Boy really have to slam Buffalo hotels on the biggest sports stage of the year?
I know, downtown Buffalo is no Manhattan.  Or even Cleveland.  But Tom Brady’s little slam became the hotel shot heard round the world.  Bills fans were outraged.  Our civic pride was hurt.
But wait a minute.
You know those cosmic forces?  The ones that have kicked us in the teeth so many times?  Remember how they shifted when the Bills played the Patriots back in September?  And snapped that 15-game losing streak to New England?  Remember the four interceptions Brady threw?  Remember how the Bills took advantage of the kinds of breaks that usually go the Patriots’ way?
Maybe….just maybe…..the cosmic forces are beginning to abandon Brady.  Think about this….his whole playoff legacy began with “the tuck rule”.  Last night, Tuck ruled.  When Justin Tuck’s pressure led to the safety on Brady’s first play, that had cosmic forces written all over it.  Okay….I still hate Super Bowl week.  And I will until the Bills are back in the big game.  If that ever happens again.   And if they ever actually win.
But at least this year, our week from hell had a happy ending.  So a big thank you to the New York Giants.  And a bigger one to the cosmic forces.