by Greg Eno
Tonight we’re having hot dogs. This is a good thing.
My mom used to call it tube steak. Funny.
I love a good hot dog now and again. There’s so much you can do with one.
Before I married my bride, we took a trip to Chicago for a long weekend. That’s when I rediscovered my love for the Chicago Style Hot Dog.
Wendy’s sold the specialty dogs in the summer of 1988, and I scarfed them up often. I was mesmerized by the combination of celery salt, mustard, pickled hot pepper, dill pickle relish and tomato that was globbed onto the tube steak, which was nestled in a poppy seed, thick bun.
Then the Wendy’s promotion ended and it wasn’t until our 1991 trip to the Windy City that I found a place that sold them. Chicago Style Dogs weren’t plentiful on Metro Detroit menus, I came to find out. You know—-our love affair with the Coney Dog and all.
The place in Chicago was called Madison Avenue Dogs, and they used their acronym to name their Chicago Style Dogs.
MAD dogs were a hit with us. Plus I loved the atmosphere in that place.
MAD was connected to a Thai Restaurant, and by the looks of things, Thais ran the hot dog joint, too.
You’d place your order—-they offered many types of dogs but MAD dogs were by far their specialty—-and the order taker would yell out, “TWO MAD!”, “THREE MAD,” etc., depending on how many you wanted.
My wife and I have dabbled with making our own MAD dogs at home. It’s still a work in progress.
The Chicago Style Hot Dog
But I can go for any type of hot dog—-boiled, grilled, what have you. I like the hot dog because it’s one of those foods that turns into your own personal canvas. The hot dog is similar to the pizza in that regard, or a trip to the salad bar. Almost anything goes.
Diced onions, chopped up hot pepper, relish, mustard, you name it. Except for ketchup.
I don’t do ketchup on hot dogs. My wife does, unashamedly. I just can’t get into the flavor combo.
At old Tiger Stadium, the hot dog vendors carried with them two containers of mustard and none of ketchup. Someone once told me that was because the sugar in ketchup attracts flying insects.
Maybe it’s just that mustard is the only proper condiment for a hot dog.
In the TV show “King of Queens,” Kevin James’ Doug Heffernan ate a hot dog with mayonnaise on it in one episode. His friend Deacon called him out on it.
"Who puts mayonnaise on a hot dog?" Deacon asks incredulously.
"I do," Doug responds. "And one day, so will everyone."
As far as I’m concerned, other than ketchup and mayo, you can put anything on a hot dog.
Our local Home Depot gloriously serves hot dogs for a couple bucks a pop. It’s difficult to walk by the stand on your way in or out of the store and not stop for a quick tube steak.
But when we have the time and the ingredients, there’s nothing like once again dabbling with the celery salt, peppers, tomatoes, mustard et al.
Isn’t that MAD?
by Greg Eno
The distinctly debonair, razor-thin, legendary British actor was in the middle of his scripted bit of monologue when suddenly the crowd was in an uproar.
It was 1974, in the middle of an American craze that inexplicably had caught on ever-so-briefly, as so many other American crazes seem to do—-inexplicably.
This particular craze was called “streaking,” or running naked through a very public place. The nation’s ballparks and football stadiums, to name just a couple venues, were being overrun by those sans clothing, making their mad dashes.
And now the Academy Awards show was being interrupted by a streaker. He was male, even if just barely.
David Niven, startled by the sudden burst of hoots and howls from the audience, turned and looked to see what the commotion was all about. A streaker was moving behind him, across the stage, flashing the “peace” sign with his fingers.
Straying off script, Niven commented with spot-on—as they say in his country—comedic timing.
With typical British cool among chaos, Niven quipped, “Well, ladies and gentlemen, that was almost bound to happen… But isn’t it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings?”
The Academy Awards—better known as The Oscars—are on this Sunday. Niven’s streaker incident was hardly the first time that the Awards were used to showcase one’s, ahem, views. Nor would it be the last.
Actors have used their acceptance speeches to push political agendas. Marlon Brando sent a supposed Native American (it’s been widely suspected that she was merely another actor, ironically) to refuse to accept his Best Actor Award for “Godfather”, purportedly in protest of the country’s treatment of American Indians.
George C. Scott declined his Best Actor Oscar for “Patton” because he didn’t like the political machinations of the Awards themselves. So he stayed home and watched a hockey game. True story.
Woody Allen made news by deliberately declining to attend the Oscars when “Annie Hall” was up for Best Picture, so he could keep a weekly clarinet-playing date in a New York club.
Those are just a few examples.
Others have put their foot in their mouths accidentally in acceptance of their awards, blurting out curse words or other untoward, awkward things.
And who can forget Sally Field’s, “You LIKE me! You really LIKE me!”?
Personally, I enjoy watching the Oscars, but mainly to pick them apart. I guess I’m masochistic that way.
I hope to be entertained and laugh along the way, however. With Ellen DeGeneres hosting this year, the odds of that happening are good.
I also look forward to the montage of those in the film industry who we lost since the last Oscars. Invariably there’s someone about who my wife and I will look at each other and say, “(Fill in the blank) DIED? I didn’t know that!”
Even the montage has angered me in the past. The omission of Farrah Fawcett several years ago still rankles me.
Yes, the ceremony is notorious for running long and some of the speeches are boring and still others will make you squirm a little, but there are also some kick-ass ones as well.
Watching the Oscars is probably like sitting in the kitchen and eating ice cream right out of the carton, but it only comes once a year, so view with impunity.
Now…if they could only move it to Saturday night. The damn thing goes past midnight and people have to work the next day, don’t you know!
Oh, and here’s the famous Niven clip.
by Greg Eno
There’s a certain delicate symmetry when a person’s birth city and death city are the same.
Harold Ramis has such a line on his biography.
Born: November 21, 1944; Chicago, IL.
Died: February 24, 2014; Chicago, IL.
Ramis, the comedic actor/director who passed away Monday from a rare and painful vascular disease, was as Chicago as wind, deep dish pizza and crooked elections. If you cracked him open you’d have found a Cubs cap and a megaphone.
Ramis was always smirking. He had that twinkle in his eye, as if he knew something you didn’t. When it came to movie making and laugh making, he did.
Ramis was one of the leaders of a band of merry men and women who yukked it up at the original Second City improvisational theater group in Chicago, starting in the late-1960s. He was hardly alone when it came to finding fame later, but his imprint on American filmmaking puts him near the head of the class.
Ramis’s first role on the big screen saw him smirking all the way through 1981’s “Stripes,” the comedy he co-wrote and starred in with Bill Murray, directed by Ivan Reitman. Three years later, Ramis again took to the typewriter—-this time with co-star Dan Aykroyd—-and wrote “Ghostbusters.”
As the years went on, Ramis found more fortune staying behind the scenes, writing killer dialogue, physical comedy and directing the same.
Ramis’s body of work as a writer and/or director reads like so many film critics’ Top 25 lists of comedy vehicles.
"Caddyshack"; "National Lampoon’s Vacation”; “Groundhog Day”; “Analyze This”; “Analyze That”; “Meatballs”; “Stripes”; “Ghostbusters”; “The Office” (TV); “National Lampoon’s Animal House.”
That’s some serious comedy, right there. Iconic stuff.
And, of course, there was the transformation of Second City’s magic of improv from stage to small screen, when Ramis was a lead writer in the 1970s and ’80s on “SCTV,” produced out of Canada, when Toronto joined Chicago as a major contributor of raw talent that would go on to bigger and better things.
You’ve heard of John Candy, right?
Ramis spun his work off “SCTV” and made his foray into film, and we laughed and laughed.
Harold Ramis: 1944-2014
In the “I am not making this up” department, Ramis once worked in a mental institution in St. Louis for seven months.
"(The experience) prepared me well for when I went out towork with actors,” Ramis once said. “People laugh when I say that, but it was actually very good training. And not just with actors; it was good training for just living in the world. It’s knowing how to deal with people who might be reacting in a way that’s connected to anxiety or grief or fear or rage. As a director, you’re dealing with that constantly with actors.”
Sadly, the man who brought us to tears of laughter and split our sides so often, had a painful and debilitating end as he battled his rare vascular disease.
Vasculitis develops when the body’s immune system turns on its network of veins and arteries. Blood vessels become inflamed, restricting the flow of blood or cutting it off entirely, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Ramis was first diagnosed a few years ago.
Coming from someone who should know, having worn both hats, Harold Ramis once gave his analysis of the roles of writer and director.
"I always claim that the writer has done 90 percent of the director’s work."
However you choose to slice it, there’s no number crunching needed with this: Harold Ramis made people laugh.
Today, Chicago is a little less windy, the deep dish pizza a little colder. Even the Cubs are worse off.
by Greg Eno
A few weeks ago, hurried and on my lunch break, I stepped into the Barnes and Noble bookstore in downtown Royal Oak. My goal was simple: purchase a newspaper.
Every Friday I cash my paycheck in Royal Oak and then take in lunch somewhere in town. But I’m one of these people who can’t eat alone if I don’t have something to read. Hence the newspaper.
My usual provider, the gas station by the bank, was out of papers, so I remembered B&N.
The bank took longer than usual, so the sands in the hourglass were dwindling. But hey, it’s only a newspaper, right?
The newspapers at B&N are located behind the cashier’s counter. They’re not self-serve.
So first I had to wait for a cashier, which knocked off precious seconds from my meal time. But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst part came when I voiced my request.
"Detroit News," please, I said to the college-aged cashier.
He retrieved it. I had my dollar ready, eager to pay, leave, and look for sustenance to jam down my throat.
He needed to scan the newspaper, and that took a few tries before it beeped.
"Are you a Rewards member?" he asked.
No, I am not, I told him, as I jabbed the dollar toward him.
"E-mail please?" he asked.
My jaw dropped.
"For a newspaper?"
He gave me a sheepish look. “I just want to see if you’re in the system.”
Again, I said, “For a newspaper?” although with much more irritation in my voice.
By this time I sort of tossed the dollar toward him. But he still clutched my newspaper, holding it hostage.
He could see that I was not a happy camper—-my annoyance was hardly subtle—-and he looked at his co-worker, as if unsure of what to do with a man who just wanted to buy a newspaper and who wasn’t a Rewards member and who didn’t want to provide his e-mail address in order to purchase said newspaper.
I had had enough.
"I’m in a hurry. Can I just please have my newspaper?" I said.
Finally he relinquished it.
Now, this entire exchange obviously took less time than it did for you to read about it, but when you’re in a hurry and all you want to do is buy a newspaper for one dollar and you can’t do it without being asked about memberships and e-mails, your stomach grumbling, each second translates to ten times its length.
Thankfully, my normal newspaper provider (gas station) hasn’t run out of papers since. And if they do, I’ll be damned if I wander into B&N to purchase one. I’ll do without, or try to find a box dispenser.
I love the gas station, by the way. I grab a paper, give the attendant a dollar, and walk away. If there is someone ahead of me in line who is buying cigarettes or lottery tickets (don’t get me started), I just put the dollar on the counter, wave my newspaper so it is seen, then walk away. The attendant has my back.
At the gas station they don’t need to scan the paper. At the gas station they don’t ask me any questions. All they do is take my dollar and tell me to have a nice day. I love the gas station.
But this inconvenience, such as displayed at B&N, is happening all over. The ability to make simple purchases without being asked to present membership cards or provide phone numbers and e-mail addresses is slipping away from us. K-mart asks if you want a paper receipt or one e-mailed to you—-even if all you’re buying is a gallon of milk. And the answer you give can’t be verbal—-it has to be registered on their debit card thingy.
But hey, this is progress, right?
What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie? Before you answer, you should know: when I was seven years old, Woody Allen took me by the hand and led me into a dim, closet-like attic on the second floor of our house. He told me to lay on my stomach and play with my brother’s electric train set. Then he sexually assaulted me. He talked to me while he did it, whispering that I was a good girl, that this was our secret, promising that we’d go to Paris and I’d be a star in his movies. I remember staring at that toy train, focusing on it as it traveled in its circle around the attic. To this day, I find it difficult to look at toy trains.
For as long as I could remember, my father had been doing things to me that I didn’t like. I didn’t like how often he would take me away from my mom, siblings and friends to be alone with him. I didn’t like it when he would stick his thumb in my mouth. I didn’t like it when I had to get in bed with him under the sheets when he was in his underwear. I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me. These things happened so often, so routinely, so skillfully hidden from a mother that would have protected me had she known, that I thought it was normal. I thought this was how fathers doted on their daughters. But what he did to me in the attic felt different. I couldn’t keep the secret anymore.
When I asked my mother if her dad did to her what Woody Allen did to me, I honestly did not know the answer. I also didn’t know the firestorm it would trigger. I didn’t know that my father would use his sexual relationship with my sister to cover up the abuse he inflicted on me. I didn’t know that he would accuse my mother of planting the abuse in my head and call her a liar for defending me. I didn’t know that I would be made to recount my story over and over again, to doctor after doctor, pushed to see if I’d admit I was lying as part of a legal battle I couldn’t possibly understand. At one point, my mother sat me down and told me that I wouldn’t be in trouble if I was lying – that I could take it all back. I couldn’t. It was all true. But sexual abuse claims against the powerful stall more easily. There were experts willing attack my credibility. There were doctors willing to gaslight an abused child.
After a custody hearing denied my father visitation rights, my mother declined to pursue criminal charges, despite findings of probable cause by the State of Connecticut – due to, in the words of the prosecutor, the fragility of the “child victim.” Woody Allen was never convicted of any crime. That he got away with what he did to me haunted me as I grew up. I was stricken with guilt that I had allowed him to be near other little girls. I was terrified of being touched by men. I developed an eating disorder. I began cutting myself. That torment was made worse by Hollywood. All but a precious few (my heroes) turned a blind eye. Most found it easier to accept the ambiguity, to say, “who can say what happened,” to pretend that nothing was wrong. Actors praised him at awards shows. Networks put him on TV. Critics put him in magazines. Each time I saw my abuser’s face – on a poster, on a t-shirt, on television – I could only hide my panic until I found a place to be alone and fall apart.
Last week, Woody Allen was nominated for his latest Oscar. But this time, I refuse to fall apart. For so long, Woody Allen’s acceptance silenced me. It felt like a personal rebuke, like the awards and accolades were a way to tell me to shut up and go away. But the survivors of sexual abuse who have reached out to me – to support me and to share their fears of coming forward, of being called a liar, of being told their memories aren’t their memories – have given me a reason to not be silent, if only so others know that they don’t have to be silent either.
Today, I consider myself lucky. I am happily married. I have the support of my amazing brothers and sisters. I have a mother who found within herself a well of fortitude that saved us from the chaos a predator brought into our home.
But others are still scared, vulnerable, and struggling for the courage to tell the truth. The message that Hollywood sends matters for them.
What if it had been your child, Cate Blanchett? Louis CK? Alec Baldwin? What if it had been you, Emma Stone? Or you, Scarlett Johansson? You knew me when I was a little girl, Diane Keaton. Have you forgotten me?
Woody Allen is a living testament to the way our society fails the survivors of sexual assault and abuse.
So imagine your seven-year-old daughter being led into an attic by Woody Allen. Imagine she spends a lifetime stricken with nausea at the mention of his name. Imagine a world that celebrates her tormenter.
Are you imagining that? Now, what’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?”
by Greg Eno
Television was pretty much an extension of the theater when Sid Caesar first started showing up in the living rooms of America in the late-1940s.
The performances were shown to audiences much like you would see something live on stage—-few if any close-ups, archaic blocking, everything horizontal. Not that you couldn’t deliver the goods shooting that way—-just look at any “Honeymooners” episode.
But it was the work ethic that also translated from theater to early television. The shows may have been in front of cameras, but the players performed like it was Broadway—-live and often.
Sid Caesar is gone. The year, just 43 days old, has already been unkind. We’ve lost legendary animator Arthur Rankin, Philip Seymour Hoffman and, on Monday, Shirley Temple Black.
Caesar was 91 when he slipped away today in California after a short illness.
Caesar lit it up every week, for 90 minutes no less, in “Your Show of Shows,” which was basically television’s first foray into sketch comedy.
Every Saturday night, from 9:00-10:30, Caesar, Imogene Coca, Carl Reiner and Howard Morris—-plus several regular guest stars, put on what was essentially was a live variety show—-39 weeks a year.
It was, truthfully, the original "Saturday Night Live."
"YSOS" won a couple of Emmy Awards along the way, but its lasting imprint has nothing to do with hardware. The early-1950s was a great time to be on television if you had any bit of pioneer in you and cared to blaze some trails. And Caesar and his band of merry men (and women) did plenty of blazing in the four years that "YSOS" was on the air.
Writing for Sid Caesar was as important as performing with him. If you wanted a career in TV as a writer, you wanted to write for Caesar. He was television’s doorman for aspiring writers.
Reiner called upon his years of writing and performing on “YSOS” as inspiration for “The Dick Van Dyke Show,” which set many scenes in the writing office of Buddy Sorrell, Sally Rogers and Rob Petrie, who wrote for the bombastic, hard-to-please TV star Alan Brady (Reiner).
Sid Caesar was widely known in the 1950s as the best comedian in the world—-TV, radio, movies, you name it. He had the rubber face, the gangly body and the New York-soaked voice that always went well with comedy.
It was Caesar and fellow comic Ernie Kovacs who looked at television as a block of clay with which to play, like children in a sandbox. Maybe the better analogy is pigs in slop, for the comedy of Caesar and Kovacs was hardly spic and span—-in terms of props, physicality and creativity.
In “YSOS,” Caesar and Coca could be anyone from a squabbling married couple to an artist and his muse to two bums on the street. Always, they were scenery chewers but most importantly, always they were funny.
“Television had its share of comedy geniuses,” Los Angeles Times television critic Howard Rosenberg wrote in 1994. “Yet arguably none has been as uniquely gifted and inventive as Caesar. Watching him perform, you just know light bulbs are popping continuously in his brain.”
Caesar wasn’t as prolific on the big screen, though he did do memorable turns in films such as “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” and Mel Brooks’ “History of the World: Part I.”
But movies weren’t Caesar’s milieu. He was a performer who needed the rush of going in front of a live audience, being beamed live into people’s homes, eschewing multiple takes, cue cards and TelePrompTers, which weren’t even around when Caesar came on the scene—-not that he would have used them anyway.
It truly was the Golden Age of Television in Sid Caesar’s day. , , Reiner and Kovacs were lock step with Caesar when it came to comedy—-all pioneers in their own way and all making their mark in this new medium that supplanted radio as the family’s watering hole of entertainment.
Caesar’s shtick included his famous “double talk” bits, in which he’d shamelessly combine languages, dialects and jargon with hilarious results. Thankfully, functions as our own personal Museum of Broadcasting History, so we can fire up a Caesar sketch 24/7.
There’s great irony in one of Sid Caesar’s quotes, coming as it did from a pioneering genius such as himself.
"The guy who invented the first wheel was an idiot," he once said. "The guy who invented the other three, he was a genius."
That makes for some laughs, but Caesar invented the first wheel of sketch comedy. There was nothing idiotic about that.
by Greg Eno
In today’s world, an entertainer who peaks at the age of 10 has a good chance of being on the police blotter before he or she is able to legally vote.