THE DOGGIE AND THE CUP CAKES
So, I’m sitting in the local Publix (supermarket) parking lot chatting on my new smart phone with my friend Elizabeth, when a car pulls into the space facing me, so we’re windshield to windshield, and this gangly, wiggling, white, pink nosed pit bull puppy is hanging out the drivers open window. Now, this is a big pup, maybe six months, and it has now climbed over the driver, into the front seat, and probably thinks it’s getting out of the car to play. With enormous effort, the woman in the driver’s seat throws the puppy into the back seat, and talks strategy with the two (seven or eight year old) young female passengers. The door opens, and the driver, an enormously fat woman in her mid thirties, struggles to exit the car, leaving the wiggling puppy with the two girls. I’ve just about recovered from laughing at the puppy hijinks, when the fat woman returns carrying an enormous tray filled with cup cakes, which she must have ordered in advance from Publix, probably for a birthday party. I’m losing it again, and annoying the hell out of Elizabeth, who’s still on the other end of the phone, and can’t possibly understand why I’m laughing so hard. Sometimes you can see disaster play itself out in slow motion, and this was one of those times. The fat woman, now doing a balancing act with the tray of cup cakes, has gotten the car door open, and is attempting, with great difficulty, to get into the car while still holding the tray. She finally decides on the butt first approach, which seems to work on some level, but it takes her a while, until she finally swings her portly self into the car, and slowly the gigantic tray of cup cakes is lifted across the car, on its way to the passenger seat. With lightning speed, and the panache of a hungry puppy on a mission, the dog flies over the seat back and dives head first into the tray of cupcakes, and momentarily out of view. The fat woman is screaming, the girls are giggling, and very slowly the puppy’s head raises high enough for me to see that its whole face is covered in icing, which it is happily attempting to lick off with a surprisingly long and active tongue. This gleefully chaotic adventure, which is playing itself out right in front of me, ends with the car backing up, and beginning to drive away, with the woman still screaming, the girls laughing, and the puppy still licking his face. I guess this escapade deserves space in my “Parking lots I’ve known” list. Woof!
America’s longest war is finally over. And the debate goes on. Success? Failure? Why did we stay for twenty years? Politicians are interviewed, and they try to score points with voters by saying the right thing. Veterans are interviewed, and seem to have a romanticized view of America’s military occupation of third world countries with unstable governments. I saw two Veteran activists interviewed on MSNBC this morning, claiming, quite shockingly, that America doesn’t deserve its military. Bush, Clinton and Obama kept us there for twenty years. Biden got us out, and America seems bewildered by his decisiveness. Few seem comfortable saying, “Good job Joe”. So I’ll say it. “GOOD JOB JOE”! Considering the sheer size of the evacuation, it went pretty smoothly. Not perfect, but what is? There were fatalities, but very few. The Veterans I see interviewed seem to be cringing at the unfortunate reality that the military is no longer needed to police the governments of fractured countries. Was our military ever really needed in Afghanistan? Certainly not for twenty years. So, we’re out. Joe got us out. “GOOD JOB JOE”!
I watched THE AMANDA KNOX DOCUMENTARY on Netflix yesterday. I missed it the first time around. The obvious conclusion one reaches is that Amanda Knox and her Italian boyfriend each spent four years in prison because:
1…The Italian police were incompetent and corrupt to an incomprehensible degree.
2…The Prosecutor turns out to be a pompous and pedantic male chauvinist, whose world view seems based on 17th Century values. He freely admits this in interviews, quite sure that the whole world can’t help but agree with him. He claimed that he noticed Amanda and her boyfriend hugging and kissing each other the day after the murder, and revealed that this behavior could only be exhibited by the real murderers. He admits to liking detective stories, and has obviously built an entire career on fiction, like his case against Amanda.
3…The world’s press couldn’t seem to help themselves, pouncing, without an iota of integrity, on a questionable investigation, and labeling Amanda Knox as a frantic member of a satanic sex cult. Creating their own nick names, like “Foxy Knoxy”, which adorned the world’s headlines. A journalistic feeding frenzy. You can find it on Netflix, and it’s worth a watch. Look, I don’t know what really happened. I wasn’t there. And neither do you. But this documentary is successful in persuading the viewer that Amanda Knox was the victim of countless centuries of gender malevolence.
There was once an American flag that said that. But those were the good old days when men were men, and women were pregnant, kitchen-bound and obedient. And if you wanted a negro, you could buy one. There was greatness in the land back then. I’ve lost patience and tolerance for those, whose refusal to get vaccinated endangers their friends, neighbors, and even family members. Many will say that mandating vaccine is in violation of their constitutional rights. Rights to what, I wonder? Polling has shown that most of the states experiencing spikes in covid have republican governors, and a republican majority in their legislatures. They listened to Trump’s “Miracle” speeches and believed every word. Evidently, they still do. And so they are contracting covid in numbers far greater than states who have followed science, and reason. Most scientists will tell you that covid is here to stay, and that it will adapt to out attempts to prevent it. That vaccinations for this pandemic will become annual events, like flu shots. It’s a new world. And this new world will be populated by fewer numbers of racists, white supremacists and evangelicals, whose refusal of science will diminish their demographics. Like a cleansing of the species. Like the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse.
MY TEN FAVORITE WORKS OF NON FICTION
(About half way through writing this, I became aware that these books are all about war and politics)
Douglas Southall Freeman….. ROBERT E. LEE….. And his equally extraordinary three volume work – LEE’S LIEUTENANTS: A STUDY IN COMMAND……..MANASSAS TO MALVERNE HILL, CEDAR MOUNTAIN TO CHANCELLORSVILLE, and GETTYSBURG TO APPOMATTOX. Just about the entire Civil War from The Army of Northern Virginia’s point of view. This is a magnificent series of volumes, and you’ll be a better human being having read them.
Neil Sheehan…..A BRIGHT SHINING LIE…..The one volume that explains America’s involvement in Vietnam so much better than all the rest. Sheehan covered Vietnam as a war correspondent and wrote with a rare intimacy of the characters on both sides.
Winston Churchill…..THE SECOND WORLD WAR…..Of the thousands of books written about the war, Churchill’s perspective is unique, as is his ability as a writer.
William Shirer…..THE RISE AND FALL OF THE THIRD REICH…..The Germans are notorious record keepers, and their massive chronicle of Nazi Germany’s birth, its criminal war machine, and its ultimate end were captured by the Allies before they could be destroyed. Shirer had unique access to the mountains of material, and his thousand page volume is probably the most complete record of a major nation’s rise and fall ever compiled.
Bruce Catton…..THE ARMY OF THE POTOMAC…..This is a three volume work:
MR. LINCOLN’S ARMY, GLORY ROAD and A STILLNESS AT APPOMATTOX. Lincoln’s problem was that his Generals did not want to fight their West Point schoolmates, who were now commanding the Confederate Army. Catton’s chronicle is an intimate and perceptive look at the Civil War from the Union’s point of view.
Norman Mailer…..MIAMI AND THE SEIGE OF CHICAGO…..1968 and the Republican and Democratic national conventions. The republican love-fest in Miami, and the conflagration that took place in Chicago. How did it happen? Who was to blame? Mailer’s book is exhausting and deeply satisfying. He was born to write this chronicle. I’ve read it three times, learning something new each time. Mailer’s talent as a story teller is unique.
David Halberstam…..THE BEST AND THE BRIGHTEST…..The brilliant men who involved America in Vietnam, and kept her there. Robert McNamara, McGeorge Bundy, Dean Rusk, George Ball, William Westmorland, and Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. How is it possible? The handwriting was on the wall, and it was ignored. Halberstam’s book is a revelation.
Robert Caro…..THE YEARS OF LYNDON JOHNSON/THE PATH TO POWER…..This is the first volume of three about LBJ, and probably the most intimate chronicle of Johnson’s life and career, from the Texas hill country to the Halls of Congress. A unique look at a fascinating man.
Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward…..ALL THE PRESIDENT’S MEN…..Two young newspaper reporters who brought down a Presidency. It’s been too many years since I read this. Time to read it again. We all know the story, but how many of us have read the book. Why did Nixon do it? It made no sense. The senior writers on the Washington Post all wanted a piece of this, once the story developed, but Bradley stuck with “The Boys”. A fabulous story.
James McPherson……THE BATTLE CRY OF FREEDOM….. If the three volume sets, listed above by Freeman and Catton, seem like too exhausting a chore, and you were looking for a single volume that explains the Civil War, from the perspective of both sides, McPherson’s chronicle fully integrates political, social, and military events that crowded the two decades, from the outbreak of the war in Mexico to the ending of another at Appomattox. A solid piece of Nineteenth century history.
© 2020 Shaun Costello
IS WGCUFM THE WORST RADIO STATION IN AMERICA?
The question needs to be asked.
Remember, every week is pledge week on WGCUFM,
the home of RADIO UNINTERRUPTED.
“We interrupt your regularly scheduled programing
to inform you the we are not interrupting your regularly
I wonder who thought that one up?
Imagine my dismay when, after having been a lifetime listener to, and supporter of National Public Radio in New York City, Minneapolis and Cleveland, I wind up in Southwest Florida, a victim of the local NPR affiliate, WGCUFM. The station’s inability to fund raise drastically interferes with its responsibility to deliver NPR programming to its listeners. In fairness, their ability to maintain their signal has improved. Over the last ten years, the amount of “DEAD AIR” on 90.1FM has been startling. I remember calling the station a few years ago, after three days without signal. After asking what was going on, the woman who answered the phone told me, “Radio is a very complicated technology”. I wondered if she grew up in the Everglades. The station is owned by Florida Gulf Coast University, whose staff seems oblivious to failings of its radio station. I exchanged emails a few times with the President of the school, in an attempt to make him aware of the mismanagement of WGCU. He was oblivious to the station’s performance, and questioned my criticism. I wondered if he ever listened to it. Similarly, I swapped a few emails with the station’s General Manager, who steadfastly remained in a state of denial over the station’s performance. Years ago, I subscribed to satellite radio, in order to listen to NPR programming without the tiresome interference of this NPR affiliate. But I don’t have satellite radio in my car. While driving, I remain a victim of WGCUFM.
© 2020 Shaun Costello
A LETTER TO JOY REID AFTER SERENA’S HISSY FIT
by Shaun Costello
Here is a letter I wrote to MSNBC’s Joy Reid, after the finals of the US Open last year:
First, let me say that I have been a fan of your journalism, and of your show, for quite a while. But I’m not certain that I can comfortably watch you any longer, and I will tell you why. Your show on Sunday, September 9th, I found to be deeply disturbing. The discussion with your panel of the incident that occurred during the playing of the women’s final at the US Open, I found to be biased beyond measure. I have been an active tennis player, and tennis fan since adolescence. I have watched the US Open since it was called the US Nationals, and was played at Forest Hills. Down through the years, I have been witness to some of the historic temper tantrums inflicted on the tennis community by the likes of Lew Hoad, Dennis Ralston, Sid Schwartz, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and many others. Their behavior was an aberration to the sport.
I have also watched the extraordinary evolution of the Williams sisters, from gangly kids to exceptional players. Serena however, unlike Venus, developed into an arrogant and nasty player. She publicly stated that the only way she could lose was if she was not playing well. That another player might outplay her was impossible. Down through the years she has verbally and physically bullied other players, and berated officials.
This brings us to the unfortunate events that took place at this year’s women’s final. Naomi Tanaka had taken the first set 6-2. It was obvious that she had Serena’s number. So, Serena, unable to outplay her opponent, decided to have a hissy fit instead. When the chair gave her a warning for a coaching violation, she went ballistic. Between sets, and into the second set, she was relentlessly verbally abusive to the chair. When she smashed her racquet, destroying it, the one point penalty was automatic. This seemed to infuriate Serena to a new level of chair abuse. When the tournament chairman walked onto the court, in an attempt to restore order, Serena’s threats and accusations seemed even more intense. All the while, 20 year old Naomi Tanaka, on the verge of her first major title, stood on the base line crying, as the crowd booed the umpire, and eventually poor Naomi. When the umpire felt that Serena had gone way too far in her verbal abuse of him, she was given a one game penalty. I thought the call was unfortunate but fair, considering Serena’s behavior. So, once the fireworks settled down, Naomi Tanaka quite easily defeated Serena, who had somehow become a victim of societal unfairness, and had forever tainted Tanaka’s victory with her unwarranted and abusive behavior.
All players are coached from the stands. They rehearse signals with their coaches. This has been going on for decades. Serena’s coach admitted that he was signaling her. It’s a stupid rule, created by effete tennis nabobs. But it IS a rule, and if you blatantly break it you should be given a warning. Serena blatantly broke it. But Serena considers herself above the fray, and has said so many times.
On your September 9th show, I was stunned by the shared consensus between you and your panel, suggesting that Serena Williams was a victim of sexism and racism by the officials at the US Open. No mention was made of her abhorrent behavior. No mention was made of poor Naomi Tanaka, standing on the base line crying, as she was booed by the unruly crowd. Watching your show that day made me feel like I was watching a lynch mob, discussing tactics. Serena, unable to defeat Tanaka on the court, was triumphant in stealing Naomi’s moment, and regaining her rightful place, as the center of everyone’s attention.
Serena Williams is probably the greatest female tennis player of all time. But she is also a bit of a monster.
by Shaun Costello
There are two books that sit on the night table next to my bed, and have sat there for many years. Two books I rely on to enliven my usually lazy intellect, and to remind me of a world outside my own, the sanity and insanity of which, never fails to immeasurably kindle a fire in my day. Both books give me direction, and clarity. They clear things up. The readings can be long or short. Sometimes a chapter. Sometimes a sentence. Occasionally, a subjunctive clause. But I seldom put them down without feeling a bit better than I did before picking them up.
The first is BLUES, by John Hersey. It is a lengthy conversation between two characters, the Stranger and the Fisherman. It takes place on Martha’s Vineyard. The Stranger notices the Fisherman preparing his boat for a day on the water in pursuit of Blue Fish. He speaks up, and asks the Fisherman why he fishes. He admits to never having done so himself, and that he has often wondered why men fish. It is a mystery to him. The Fisherman takes this Stranger in tow. He asks the Stranger if he’d like to come aboard, spend some time on the water, and share the experience. Reluctantly at first, the Stranger boards the boat. What follows is a summer on the waters of the Vinyard, as the Fisherman enlightens the Stranger to the saga of the mighty Blue Fish, and the reflections of poets, from Homer to Elizabeth Bishop, on the emotions and complications of fishing. Each chapter ends with a recipe for cooking the day’s catch, and a poem relevant to the experience. Hersey, in this book, celebrates the seas, their life, and life itself.
The second is Isaac Bashevis Singer – The Collected Stories. Singer wrote in Yiddish. Did you know that? Singer, along with Philip Roth, is my favorite writer of fiction. His stories are invariably filled with tales of the Kabbalah – Magic and Jewish mysticism. From the Shtetls of Nineteenth century Russia, to 1950’s Miami Beach, his tales are both hilarious and terrifying. Elfs, Demons, Dybbuks, Magic, Golems, and the relentless mysteries of the Kabbalah. Singer seems so familiar with Jewish mysticism that I sometimes wonder if he was part Elf, himself.
© 2019 Shaun Costello
THE DEUCE – BACK IN THE DAY
by Shaun Costello
The Times Square subway station, my portal to the neighborhood, was an intense assault on the senses. A sudden, almost overwhelming surge of smells and filth hit you as the train doors slid open to the rush of urine, and cotton candy, and damp humanity, and hot dogs on their revolving spits, and vomit, and baked goods like crumb cakes and bran muffins and pretzels, and the garlicky pungent scent of Gyros slowly rotating, and everything suddenly interrupted by someone chasing a pick-pocket through outstretched hands asking for dimes, and a tidal swarm of the disenfranchised huddled in groups, trying to stay warm. And this entire sensory phantasmagoria was musically scored by the over-modulated sound of Kool and the Gang wailing “Jungle Boogie” from the cheap speakers over the door to the subterranean record store. And then the cold again as you climbed the stairs to the street, and there it was, “The Deuce”.
Forty Second Street between Times Square and Eighth Avenue had pretty much the same chaotic intensity as the subway station, except brighter and colder. The sidewalks were covered with evidence of the previous night’s activities, and silent men with brooms were sweeping out the entrances to the many movie houses that provided a dark haven for degenerates on the prowl, and warm place to sleep for those who had no alternative. When I was a bit younger, Jimmy and I spent many a night with friends from High School in these theaters, where you could see three action pictures for a buck, and where the predominantly black audience threw empty soda cans at the screen to warn the hero that a bad guy was sneaking up behind him. Jimmy, Herb and I would haunt these shabby venues, watching bad prints of older action pictures, and endlessly quoting lines of dialogue from the movies to each other, competing for who could sound more like Lee Marvin or Burt Lancaster. We became the Three Musketeers of 42nd street, playfully window shopping Cheap Men’s Clothing, Army/Navy, Discount Electronics, Peep-O-Rama, Nedicks, GIRLS/GIRLS/GIRLS, Souvlaki/Gyros, Tad’s Steaks, Pinball-Palace, Te-Amo Cigars, Orange Julius, Modell Sporting Goods, Movieland, all the daily offerings of “The Deuce”.
Why I found this degenerate atmosphere to be the soothing, nurturing, cradle of comfort that drew me like a moth to a flame, is difficult to describe, particularly to those who never experienced it, or never needed to. Today’s Forty Second Street is a Disney-driven, squeaky-clean, family-friendly, vanilla canyon of imitative tourist attractions that might just as well be found in Kansas or, better yet, Orlando. But back then, before the bulldozers cleared away the grunge of reality to make room for the plasticine, cellophane wrapped Valhalla that would replace it, “The Deuce” was the Mecca for those restless souls who prowled the canyons of Manhattan’s West Forties looking for the shit.
by Shaun Costello
CONFESSION: A life-long aversion to, and hatred of, Picnics. I know, I know, the conjured image of a meal on a blanket in a meadow has great appeal, but in my experience, the reality of a picnic is disastrous. I have experienced this dreadful reality many times, mostly in New York’s Central Park. I realize that I will draw the wrath of picnic aficionados everywhere, but, in my view, the awful truth must be told.
The Fantasy: A wicker picnic basket filled to the brim with ripe cheeses, fresh fruit, French bread, and white wine; set down upon a plaid picnic blanket, in a sunny meadow, on a lovely Spring afternoon.
The Reality: No one owns a wicker picnic basket. They exist only in movies or books or Williams Sonoma catalogs. So you leave the market with paper bags filled with the necessary ingredients for the task at hand – the aforementioned cheese/fruit/bread/wine. You have not yet discovered that you have forgotten much-needed utensils like a cheese knife, plastic cups for the wine, and napkins – who remembers napkins during an epicurean adventure? And off you go, in search of exactly the right piece of pastoral paradise in which to experience this celebration of grassy gastronomica.
The walk is a little longer than you anticipated, carrying a bit more than you thought you might need, so a few stops become necessary to rearrange the baggage. You didn’t really have a plaid picnic blanket (does anyone?) and your down comforter didn’t seem appropriate, so you bring a sheet. The loss of a romantic element perhaps, but it would have to do. Now to find exactly the right spot. The park is a bit more crowded than you anticipated. Kids on bikes. Frisbee enthusiasts. Packs of dogs chasing tails. Screaming babies; it wasn’t like this in the movie I saw, and far from being a modern-day version of Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Isle of Le Grande Jatte.
Wait, there’s a lovely spot under that elm tree. Upon arrival, we find a freshly deposited pile of dog poop exactly where we wanted to spread our blanket. Exhausted, we settle for not quite what we had hoped for, but hey, it’s outdoors, regardless of the noise coming from that not-too-distant boom box.
The sheet is spread upon the grass. We double over one side to hide that stain we forgot was there. We sit down on the sheet and begin to open the paper bag containing the ingredients for our al fresco fantasy. As we empty the bag, we are surprised by the amount of plastic packaging in which our meal is contained.
As the food is arranged on paper plates, a small mountain of plastic rises to a surprising height. It is now time to discover the forgotten cheese knife, plastic cups, and napkins; and Oh Shit, I forgot the corkscrew. We can always drink from the bottle, provided there is some way of opening it. I scan the horizon. There must be a neighboring pickicker who was smart enough to pack the right tools. I see a family on a nearby blanket, and there’s an open bottle of wine – an answered prayer.
I explain my plight to Mr. and Mrs. Corkscrew. I feign embarrassment, and grovel a bit. Mr. Corkscrew is unsympathetic. “How do I know you’ll bring it back?”, he asks. I point to my girlfriend, just fifty feet away, sitting on our sheet next to an unopened bottle of wine. Mrs. Corkscrew speaks up. “Ask him for a deposit, Morty”. A deposit? Morty Corkscrew agrees. “Yeah, twenty bucks and it’s yours. Temporarily that is, until you return it. Then you get your twenty back”. I hand him the twenty, and Morty Corkscrew hands me the implement. Commerce.
The transaction and task completed, and now back in possession of my twenty bucks, I thank Morty and Mrs. Corkscrew, and return to my girlfriend who is sitting on her sheet, to begin our gastronomic adventure.
The French bread is now a bit stale, but it seems to go well with the Brie cheese, which is spread on the bread with our fingers, having forgotten a cheese knife. Fingers that, after a bit of licking, are wiped on our sheet, since we have also forgotten napkins. Invariably, while making a descriptive hand gesture, one of us knocks over the wine bottle, creating a puddle in the middle of our sheet. While attempting to deal with the spilled wine, I notice that the mound of Brie cheese on the paper plate next to me is now covered with ants. For some reason my mind drifted off to a childhood fable of civilizations where people ate ants, and other insects. The growling sound in my rear brought me back to the present. I turned to come face to face with a large, mangy looking mongrel of a dog, who had been involved in tail chasing, until he decided to come over to our little slice of paradise to express his sudden and intense dislike of me and everything I stood for. He bared his teeth, in a low frequency growl, necessitating my stillness and silence. Then suddenly, he leaped forward snapping up our French bread, and took off across the field, his mouth carrying half a loaf.
Breadless and wineless, with sticky fingers and the tarnished reality of a fantasy undone, we pack up what’s left, and head home. On the way, we dump our picnic ingredients, and a fair amount of plastic into the nearest trash can. And, in an act of surrender for attempting a foolish fantasy, we dump the wine-soaked sheet as well.
I do not hesitate for a moment to proudly admit that my favorite meals have been consumed while sitting at a table, far from the mercy of Morty and Mrs. Corkscrew, and bread-thieving dogs.
THE GODFATHER THROUGH A DIFFERENT LENS
by Shaun Costello
In a recent trip to my local library, I came across a crisp, new paperback edition of The Godfather. I have seen the movies (I and II) an embarrassing number of times, but read the book just once, in 1969 when it was first published. So I took it home, curious to know if it still packed the original wallop that made it a blockbuster best seller. The opening pages contained two introductory pieces. The first was headlined A NOTE FROM ANTHONY PUZO, SON OF MARIO PUZO, and it was in caps, as I have written it here. It was two pages of unreadable gibberish, intended, I suppose, to give this volume some kind of familial, folksy varnish, an idea probably hatched in the eager mind of an underpaid, over-confident wannabe in a cubicle at Penguin Random House, where ideas like this one flourish until they flounder of their own mistaken value.
Next came an Introduction by Robert J. Thompson, who turns out to be (I’ll insert this verbatim) The Founding Director of the Center for Study of Popular Television at Syracuse University, where he is also the Trustee Professor of Media and Popular Culture at the S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications.
Well, that’s a dizzying title indeed. I wonder how it fits on his business card. It seems that this worthy academic has published five volumes, all about television, and is now busy finishing his sixth, a history of the medium. The introduction, entitled Introduction, was eleven pages of hyperbolic hipster speak, the pages numbered, as intros so often are, in Roman Numerals. Eleven glib and wittily urbane pages seemingly designed to place Mr. Thompson somewhere between being the lost Corleone son that Puzo left out of the book, and someone you might bump into para-gliding at Club Med, wearing an ill-fitting speedo. And certainly, someone to avoid, should you find yourself behind him on line at Starbucks.
Publishers mystify me. Can there be a book, other than Mein Kampf or The Bible, that has reaped higher revenues for its imprint, down through the years, than The Godfather? I’m guessing not. Yet, at a new projects meeting, in the conference room at Penguin Random House, as ideas were suggested around the table, some young literary Turk spoke up and said, “Maybe it’s time for another go-round with The Godfather”, which was probably received, in equal measure, with the appropriate grunts and moans. To which our young hero responded, “No wait, it might work. Provided we package it correctly. Let’s get someone who knew the author well, maybe a Puzo family member, to write a short introductory piece. And then a project narrative by a media writer. God knows, there’s no shortage of them. We include them as ‘extras’, like a director’s commentary track on a DVD. Packaging. That’s the ticket”.
Ideas like this are not necessarily suicidal, provided somebody rides heard over them, supervising quality control over who is chosen to write the ‘extras’, and what is written. But, more often than not, corporate auto pilot takes over, and important details are ignored. Hey, it’s The Godfather. They’re going to buy it no matter what. So, an intern was tasked with going through all those dust covered rolodexes in the storage room to come up with a willing Puzo family member. This process yielded Anthony Puzo, the author’s son, who gladly agreed to write a few pages about the pain his father went through in struggling to create his masterpiece. And a quick Google search revealed an unlimited number of media writers, with Robert J. Thompson’s name up there at the top of the list. An academic with a title a big as the Ritz. Thompson quickly agreed to deliver eleven pages on The Godfather’s impact on Pop culture over the 48 years of its existence. Hey, the guy’s a Trustee Professor. Whatever he writes will be just fine. Even if it’s eleven pages of self-indulgent clap trap, constructed to portray Thompson’s awareness of the impact of the Godfather on pop culture, rather than the impact itself, and as a result, exuding the coolness this academic feels is his due.
The packaging aside, let’s get to the book itself. It still works. It’s a well-constructed story, with colorful, memorable characters, a brisk pace, and a satisfying conclusion. The only real fault I could find with it is Puzo’s prose. While his descriptive narrative is fine, the dialogue is sometimes awkward and forced. Also, the male-female relationships seem a product of the era (the 1940’s), and the characters (depression era Italian Americans). That said, many of the conversations between the sexes are cringe-worthy. The addition of Francis Ford Coppola, as co-writer for the movie screen plays vastly improved the dialogue, and cleaned up much of the book’s murky areas.
This brings us to a question I have asked myself many times over the years. Could Mario Puzo have written The Godfather, had not Peter Maas written The Valachi Papers? Although published in 1968, Maas wrote most of his book between 1963 and 1965. Valachi’s startling revelations about organized crime in America, before Senator John McClellan’s Senate Subcommittee in 1963, proved to be an embarrassment to J. Edgar Hoover, who had insisted for over thirty years, that the Mafia did not exist in America. Between 1963 and 1965, because of his friendship with then Attorney General Robert Kennedy, Peter Maas was given unlimited access to interview Joe Valachi in his prison cell. These extensive interviews would eventually yield Maas’s book, The Valachi Papers. But Hoover was dead set against the publication of a book, the contents of which would make him out to be a fool. After Kennedy left office, in 1965, Hoover put pressure on Lyndon Johnson to lean on Kennedy’s replacement at Attorney General, Nicholas Katzenbach, to prevent the publication of Maas’s book.
For over two years, Maas negotiated with Washington to get some version of his manuscript published. He finally succeeded in getting approval to publish a heavily censored version, and The Valachi papers was finally published in June of 1968. Much of Valachi’s elaborate testimony before Congress in 1963, was revealed and expanded in Maas’s book, and America became aware of the details surrounding the enormous criminal enterprise that J. Edgar Hoover had repeatedly insisted was non-existent.
The details, and the history of La Cosa Nostra both shocked and fascinated the world. Joe (Joe Cargo – shortened to Joe Cago) Valachi was born in 1904, in East Harlem to an impoverished Italian American family. He ran with a gang of thieves, committing small burglaries until finally being inducted, in a formal ceremony, into The Genovese crime family. The book revealed his involvement in The Castellammarese War in the early 1930’s. This war pitted the two most powerful crime bosses of that era against each other. Joe (The Boss) Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano would battle for supremacy in New York’s criminal underworld. These were two old time gangsters, called by the younger soldiers “Mustache Petes”. They would compete in deadly combat for the title of Capo di tutti capi (Boss of all bosses). After the death of both gangsters, an organization was formed by this criminal society’s rising star, Charles Lucky Luciano, who would consolidate New York’s criminal gangs into the Five New York Families, overseen by an organization known as The Commission, that would resolve disputes between the Families peacefully. This organization would become known, among its members as La Cosa Nostra or This Thing of Ours. Details were revealed in Maas’s book, like the oath of Omerta, or silence, adhered to by members under penalty of death. The sacred ceremony of admission to La Cosa Nostra. The structure of the society, imitating the hierarchical fundamentals of the Roman Legions. Details about the characters, the language, and the structure of this criminal society were now public knowledge, due to Valachi’s testimony, and Maas’s book.
A year later, in March of 1969, The Godfather was published to rave reviews, and quickly became the best selling novel in the history of publishing. And what was contained on the pages of The Godfather? The oath of Omerta, The Five Families. The Commission, the language of this criminal society; all originally revealed a year earlier in The Valachi Papers. Could this be coincidence?
I knew Peter Maas pretty well when I lived in The Hamptons. Many of us played tennis on Peter’s har-tru court, at his house in Bridgehampton. So, one day I asked him. Did Mario Puzo ever call him up to thank him? He took the high road, which was typical of Peter. He told me that he knew Mario, and liked him. The Valachi Papers, while not yielding the fortune Puzo had made with The Godfather, had also been a best seller, making Maas quite a bit of money. He was sanguine.
My conclusion, from all that is written above, is that The Godfather could never have been the iconic literary conflagration it became, without the publication of The Valachi Papers, a year earlier. Peter Maas had supplied Mario Puzo with the historical events, the characterizations, the language, the structure of La Cosa Nostra, and the every-day experience of ‘life in the mob’, without which, The Godfather could never have been written.
© 2018 Shaun Costello
THREE GREAT LOVE SONGS FROM WORLD WAR TWO
Separation is the common theme – listened to by wives and sweethearts on the home front, and by husband and lovers, overseas in distant lands fighting in the war. A horrific, yet romantic time, and these three songs must have helped and hurt in equal measure. And they’re lovely indeed. I remember these three vividly because my mother used to sing them around the house, and play them on the record player when I was a small child.
YOU’LL NEVER KNOW…1943
Music by Harry Warren and Lyrics by Mack Gordon
The hit recording was by British songbird Vera Lynn.
I’LL BE SEEING YOU…1944
Music by Sammy Fain and Lyrics by Irving Kahal
Originally written in 1938, but made famous in the 1944 movie I’LL BE SEEING YOU, which made it a big hit, and one of WWII’s great love songs.
IT’S BEEN A LONG, LONG TIME…1945
Music by Jule Styne and Lyrics by Sammy Cahn
The hit recording was by Harry James and vocalist Kitty Kallen
© 2018 Shaun Costello
A TARNISHED SHARD
by Shaun Costello
America used to have allies in this world: England, Canada, France, the NATO Alliance, and the rest. We went through WWII together. We were united as common democracies. Now America has turned its back on our long-time friends, and has reached out to our new pals – the Gangster dictatorships: Putin’s Russia, Dudirty’s Philippines, and North Korea. We no longer have any trade partners. Trump disbanded the TPP, giving all of Asia to China. We are in a Tariff war with our former closest allies, Canada, the EU, the UK, and Mexico. We, a nation of immigrants, have closed our borders to those seeking asylum from violence and political turmoil. America has made a mockery of its constitution. Trump has done exactly what he promised his hateful, racist followers, during his campaign. He has destroyed the structure and integrity of the American government. The occupant of the White House is no longer the leader of the free world. He is, instead, an opportunistic, self-serving, self-promoting greed monger, hell bent on filling his pockets with every penny he can pilfer from America’s coffers. And his poll numbers are going up. America likes him. America’s once-shining star is a tarnished shard of the nation that gave hope to so many.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Not any more!
GREEDY FACEBOOK TAKES ON NEW ROLE – AMERICA’S MORAL COMPASS
By Shaun Costello
Facebook, sometimes known as the AMERICAN BOTS AND TROLLS SOCIETY, in an attempt to reverse the world-wide perception that its rabid greed for advertising revenues, and lack of interest in who exactly does that advertising, was directly responsible for putting Donald Trump in the White House, is taking on a new role as America’s moral compass. Yes folks, there’s a new Sheriff in town, and his name is Mark Zuckerberg, and he’s the Imperial Wizard of Facebook’s Morality Police.
Facebook’s membership will now he held to a whole new set of codified regulations that will determine what can be said, and what can not, on the pages of this vaunted internet venue. So, Facebook’s subscribers will be punished, as compensation for the internet cash cow’s greed and irresponsibility.
On May 25th, someone shared an article on Facebook about the dubious behavior of a State Representative in New Hampshire. (Link Below)
It seems that, in an attempt to prevent the moral hazards of public nudity, the politician stated that, if a woman were to expose her breast in public to nurse an infant, he had the right to grab the breast in question. I was outraged by the brazen insensitivity and sanctimonious presumptions in the politician’s statement. So, beneath it, in the comments section, I wrote, “Men are such assholes”. A few hours later, I was notified that I was to be blocked from posting on Facebook for a period of three days, for breaking Facebook’s new code of regulations. I was stunned. In an attempt to appeal what I considered to be an outrage, I clicked on a few boxes until I found myself offered a venue to explain my outrage. Into that box, I typed the following:
“The comment that I made in response to a New Hampshire State Representative, who stated openly that if any woman in his state bared her breast to feed an infant in public, he had the right to grab it. I responded, “Men are such assholes”. Was the New Hampshire Representative blocked for making this horrific remark? Of course not. It’s bad enough that Facebook helped put Trump in the White House, but now Facebook takes on the sanctimonious role of The Morality Police. And by the way, I stand by my comment”.
When I clicked send, a notice appeared that said, “We could not process your request. Please try again later”. I tried ten additional times and got the same notice each time. This tells me, of course, that the appeal function, falsely offered by Facebook, is intentionally defective; to create the illusion of fairness, while blocking one’s ability to effectively protest.
So, Facebook’s advertising juggernaut, which has conspired to give the world President Donald J. Trump, marches full speed ahead, with multi-billionaire Mark Zuckerberg, a knight in shining armor at its head, sowing the newly embraced seeds of morality, as it reaps its fortunes, unregulated by a cowardly Congress, tacitly approving a State Representative’s threats to grab the breast of any woman who has the temerity to nurse her child in public; while simultaneously punishing its membership for calling him an asshole.
© 2018 Shaun Costello
THE LAST PAGES OF A GREAT BOOK COME ALL TOO QUICKLY.
by Shaun Costello
There has always been that moment for me, when, enthralled by the prose of a wonderful novel, I suddenly become aware that I have almost reached the end. It’s a sad reckoning. I begin to read more slowly. I take bathroom breaks more often. Anything to put off the inevitable. This happened to me earlier today, when reading the last pages of John Le Carre’s latest novel, A LEGACY OF SPIES. It’s his 24th, and because of his advanced age, possibly his last book. I have read his 23 other spy stories at least twice each – some favorites as many as four or five times. I realize that I am a hopeless case. In this last book Le Carre revisits two
earlier novels, THE SPY WHO CAME IN FROM THE COLD, and TINKER TAILOR SOLDIER SPY; linking them both together to tidy up some loose ends. An aging, retired, white haired Peter Guillam is called for by the inquisitors at Whitehall. The British Secret Service is being haunted by ghosts from its past, and the once-young Peter Guillam will be hauled over the coals. The death of Circus agent Alec Leamus, many years before, is now in question. Leamus had a son who is now looking to be compensated for the murder of his father. Was The Circus at fault? Is Guillam responsible? Whitehall has opened the files and found incriminating evidence against Guillam. Whitehall is looking for a fall guy.
For incurable Le Carre addicts like yours truly, the fun now begins. Familiar characters from the past delightfully cascade through the story. George Smiley is still alive but his whereabouts are unknown. The ill-fated Alec Leamus, Connie Sachs, Control, Control’s man Mendel, arch traitor Bill Haydon, Jim Prideaux, Oliver Lacon, Toby Esterhase, Roy Bland, Millie McCraig, Hans-Dieter Mundt, all deliciously brought back to life.
In The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, Circus agents are disappearing, networks are being rolled up, and Alec Leamus is murdered climbing the Berlin Wall. There’s a rotten apple in the Circus, somewhere near the top. We find out, many books later, in Tinker Tailor, that Bill Haydon, very high up indeed, is the soviet mole, buried many years earlier in the Circus, and feeding information to Karla at Moscow Center. But why was Alec Leamus really in Berlin? What was his mission? Who was running him? Control? Smiley? What was Guillam’s involvement? And at the center was the notorious Hans-Dieter Mundt, the head of the Stasi, East Germany’s Secret police – then being run by George Smiley as a double agent.
Le Carre, regardless of his age, has not missed a beat, tying two of his best-loved books into a modern mystery, populated by an ensemble of his best-loved and familiar characters. And his prose remains intact, as sharp and flowing as ever. To his fans, A LEGACY OF SPIES seems a fitting conclusion, if that is what it is, to decades of delicious novels. The book seems, in its structure, to be bidding us adieu. I can only hope that the author has second thoughts, and the idea for one more book up his literary sleeve.
© 2018 Shaun Costello
YOU DON’T NEED STATUES AND FLAG WAVING TO BE A GOOD CITIZEN – GROW UP AMERICA.
by Shaun Costello
Yesterday, October 30th, in an interview on Fox News, White House Chief of Staff, General John Kelly defended Confederate General Robert E. Lee, and referred to him as an honorable man. He also had some odd comments about the cause of the Civil War. In today’s news he was roundly criticized. In my opinion, he meant well, but misspoke, and the criticism of his statements is grossly exaggerated.
Anyone who has spent any time reading nineteenth century history, and more specifically, about the American Civil War, would come to the conclusion that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. But at issue here is erecting and maintaining statues of Confederate soldiers. Most of these were erected, not directly after the Civil War, to honor the brave and the fallen, but instead, in the early twentieth century, symbolic of Jim Crow America, in an effort to remind African Americans that the Grey Army of the past lives on in the sheets and hoods of the Ku Klux Klan.
And that the uppity Negro better not get too uppity, lest the Klan is comin’ to getcha. The Confederacy declared war on the United States, creating a conflagration that yielded half a million dead. It was America’s darkest moment. The ongoing glorification of the Confederacy is based more in racial hatred, than in honoring the Army in Grey. Instead, read Douglas Southall Freeman’s extraordinary biography – ROBERT E. LEE. And his equally extraordinary three volume work – LEE’S LIEUTENANTS: A STUDY IN COMMAND……..MANASSAS TO MALVERNE HILL, CEDAR MOUNTAIN TO CHANCELLORSVILLE, and GETTYSBURG TO APPOMATTOX. Just about the entire Civil War from The Army of Northern Virginia’s point of view. This is a magnificent series of volumes, and you’ll be a better human being having read them. You don’t need statues and flag waving to be a good citizen. Grow up, America.
I REMEMBER NOTHING
AND OTHER REFLECTIONS
by Nora Ephron
About a year ago I found myself developing a surprising appreciation of Nora Ephon. Like many New Yorkers who lived through the Seventies, I read her tasty pieces in Esquire, when she was probably America’s most entertaining essayist. As the decades passed, I read her, saw her movies (both written and directed) and enjoyed most of it. Then, about a year ago, Sleepless in Seattle turned up on HBO Streaming, so I watched.
About a half hour in, I clicked on pause. I was not prepared for what I saw. It was perfectly constructed. I started watching again, and the whole movie was as perfect as the first half hour. This level of story structure is rare these days, and you’d have to go back to Hitchcock to match it. Somehow when I saw it in a theater when it was first released, the quality of the construction went right by me. Maybe it was the popcorn.
I started revisiting her films and books. Some were great. Most were good. Nothing was terrible. I have to admit here that I was developing a serious crush on a dead person. I began to grieve at not having known her, and envying those who did. Her son, Jacob Bernstein (Jacob, out of Nora, by Carl) made a documentary about his late mom called EVERYTHING IS COPY.
I’ve watched it several times, and the more I discovered about her, the more I grieved at never having known her. She was brilliant, and challenging, and terrifying. Had I been invited to one of her famous dinner parties, and when tested, crapped out as dull, it would have been like the death of a thousand cuts. But, if I got a laugh out of her it might have been orgasmic.
Much of the text in Jacob Bernstein’s documentary is from the pages of the book titled at the top of this page, read by Ephron’s friends. She was dying of leukemia when she wrote and directed Julie and Julia, her last film. As I watched her son’s chronicle, and read I Remember Nothing, I began to realize that Julie and Julia was not about those two women at all – It was about Nora Ephron. It was about Nora’s relationship with her sister Delia. It was about a perfect marriage, not necessarily about Paul and Julia Child, but, after two failures, about the perfect marriage Nora found with writer Nick Pillegi. It was about everything Nora Ephron loved, and knew she would soon lose.
The above titled book ends with two chapters; What I won’t Miss, and What I Will Miss. Although very few knew of her illness, and claimed that they were shocked by her death, I find it surprising that they missed the clearly stated clues. In writing I Remember Nothing, Norah Ephron was saying goodbye.
© 2017 Shaun Costello
(I recently came across a letter I wrote to Laura Helen Marks, in response to some questions Helen asked about two films of mine, and about my old friend Jamie Gillis. She was doing research for her book:
PORNING THE VICTORIANS: Erotic Adaptations and Gothic Desire
I found the letter interesting, particularly my insights on Jamie, so I am posting it here on my Blog.)
A letter to Laura Helen Marks
I should preface any remarks by reminding you that, in the case of Dracula Exotica, I am not the author. Ken Schwartz, who I had known for several years, wrote the screenplay, lifting the story from the screenplay of “Love at First Bite”, which had done surprisingly good box office six months earlier. Schwartz vehemently denied any connection, even claimed he had never seen “Love at First Bite”, but the similarity was too extreme to be coincidental.
I am attaching a link to my Blog, that describes the production of Passions of Carol. Please feel free to lift any quotes that you might find useful.
In the case of Dracula Exotica, although I was not the author, I did make story changes and adapted the screenplay to my own sensibilities, as I saw fit. I read Bram Stoker’s Dracula when I was in High School, and it remained food for thought forever after.
I think I’ve seen most of the motion pictures adapted from Stoker’s novel, but most of them lost their way, the screen writers having no clue as to what Stoker was up to. The silent “Nosferatu” is probably the closest to the original. The whole vampire myth is dear to my heart.
Do I believe that Romanian bats bite tourists who then spread a plague of blood-lust throughout the civilized world, that only the crucifix, symbolizing the ultimate sacrifice that saved humanity from the fires of eternal agony, could put an end to? No, of course not. Do I believe that humanity, reduced to a state of pure passion, is capable of anything? Yep!
I worked on a documentary for Broadway producer David Merrick in Haiti in the 1980’s. I witnessed Voodoo rituals up in the hills. I met zombies. They do exist. Although, not in the common, fictionalized form. The local medicine man, or Ngana, gains power, and income, through terrorizing the indigenous proletariat. And what medicine man, or wizard, has not been, first and foremost, an alchemist. The Ngana administers a drug to his victim, that slows the heartbeat to almost nothing, and proclaims him dead.
Because the temporarily deceased is barely breathing, the oxygen in his coffin is sufficient to sustain him for three days, after which he is exhumed. And, to the horror of the locals, he has come back to life. Ngana takes life. Ngana gives life. Long live Ngana, who gladly accepts donations of chickens and goats, not to mention cash, from the terrified believers, to prevent their following in the zombie’s footsteps. Control through terror. The big lie. Hey, it worked for Hitler.
Although the zombie is still alive, after his subterranean adventure, the lack of oxygen in the coffin invariably causes brain damage, and that far away look that reminds the locals to give generously when the Ngana passes the collection basket.
Zombies are about fear and superstitious belief, but Vampires are much more complicated, and like their Haitian cousins, also exist in superstitious belief. A myth, believed in passionately enough however, can become real, particularly if wrapped in the tendrils of sexuality. The Vampire is a very sexy boy. He is irresistible. He is the apocalyptic bite me/fuck me.
And the welcome antidote to repressive, inhibited, Victorian sexual mores. The ruined maiden’s lament, “What could I do? He bit me. I was in his power. He willed me to do his bidding. I was helpless to resist his foul demands.” So, the girl got laid and it wasn’t her fault. A violation of her carotid artery, followed by an eternity of sexual conflagration and moldy coffins. Unless, of course, there’s the intervention of a stake, or a silver bullet.
Dracula is all about the sacrifice of virginity to the forces of evil, on the alter of responsibility. The two drops of blood on the wedding sheets. The two incisor-driven puncture wounds on the virginal neck. “It’s not my fault. He bit me”. If this isn’t porn fodder then I’ll have sex with Ron Jeremy in the venue of your choice. Please don’t hold me to that.
Passions of Carol is another story altogether. But playing with Vicorian mores by layering them into blatantly sexual realities becomes contrapuntally delicious. This was my first screenplay, and while writing it, I realized that the closer I stuck to the original, the funnier and more satisfying the movie would be. Sexually repressed Victorian England is the fertile crescent of sexual deviance. (See the movie “The Ruling Class” – the world’s first S&M Musical, starring Peter O’Toole)
The last question – Yes it was my idea. Somehow including the inability to ejaculate to the many inconveniences (blood drinking, infanticide, late hours, dirty finger nails, etc.) suffered by the living dead seemed only fitting.
Read the attached and quote at will. I hope this helps.
The second letter:
First of all, you are not bugging me in the slightest, Laura. I support what you’re doing, and I’m happy to give you any information that might be helpful. OK, you’ve read the piece on Drac, and you’re probably aware that Jamie and I were close friends for many years, sharing many a late night adventure, prowling Manhattan’s dark canyons, looking for, and often finding, the shit. You’re familiar with the films I made back then, and you should be aware that I seldom made a film without Jamie. He was reliable, attractive, and on film sets, where most of your time was spent waiting for all of the elements to be in sync, allowing you to get a shot off, Jamie was fun to have around. He kept the cast and crew amused with funny songs and stories, and the females in the cast found him seductive and passionate to work with.
That said, what was Jamie’s attraction? He was a good looking guy, but looks alone don’t seduce, except in the extremely shallow. He had a substantial penis that needed little encouragement to stiffen, but penis size alone, even if it’s always hard, is not the answer. He was intelligent, engaging, and curious about everything, which are attractive traits, but intelligence, while the ultimate aphrodisiac, is not the answer either. So, lets put them all together. He was good looking, had a handsome and active member, was passionate and entertaining, and engagingly intelligent – a pretty handsome package. But there was something else, something beyond all these positive elements, something few people understood. Jamie was dangerous.
And it was this danger that lurked somewhere deep in his psyche that, when added to the aforementioned, made women swoon. Although he seldom acted out, the possibility of an eruption of passion, whether caused by anger or frustration, was always present. And that possibility, even in its dormant stage, made him irresistible to women.
If Dracula’s appeal was bite me/fuck me, Jamie’s was scare me/fuck me. Long before I was offered the directing job on Dracula Exotica, I was aware of Jamie’s Vampire-like qualities. It was something we talked about many times.
Something he was aware of, and nurtured. Like Dracula, Jamie Gillis was dangerous. No slam bam thank you Mam, he. A girl who took him home took a risk. And risk is very, very sexy.
I hope this helps,
© 2017 Shaun Costello
THE ASHLEYFICATION OF SMUT
by Shaun Costello
(Below is a link to a Village Voice story that describes how Ashley and April Spicer helped David Simon and George Pelecanos research their new cable TV Series, The Deuce.)
So, rather than researching the era with people who actually lived it, David Simon and George Pelecanos, the producers of the new Cable TV series, The Deuce, chose Ashley and April Spicer, neither of whom were born when all of this happened. Amazing. Now I understand why neither Simon nor Pelecanos responded to my offer to help. Ashley obviously told them not to. I stood up to Ashley’s Nazification, or is it Ashleyfication, of the history of the adult film world of the Sixties and Seventies. Ashley Spicer actually thinks he owns the rights to any people or events that he chronicles from those days. My publicly expressed disdain for Mr. and Mrs. Spicer has gotten me banished from the pages of their web site, a fate I relish. Mr. Spicer is an investment banker with a hobby – the yesteryear of smut. He has used and abused many in his efforts to become the Ayatollah of smut history.
No matter how many people Mr. Spicer interviews, no matter how many pieces of archival material he collects, the fact remains that he wasn’t there. His connection to that era is second hand. He never lived it. He is a revisionist historian on a mission. I am amazed at how easily people can be fooled. The porn people he digs up are flattered by his interest and seduced by his persistence. He demands exclusivity from his discoveries, like a real estate broker with a fresh new listing. He has hoodwinked almost the entire population of an era, with his adorable British accent, and his attentive manner. And when he has milked his victims out of every ounce of information, farmed their memories, sometimes painful, until they have exhausted their use to him, he simply discards them, like yesterday’s news; with the understanding that he now owns the rights to their memories, in perpetuity. Mr. Spicer is a charming con man, who has left a long string of victims in his quest to become the curator of an era that has fascinated him since adolescence. And, I suppose, he has succeeded. When Simon and Pelecanos needed to research the smutified world of The Deuce, who better to call on, then the undisputed Nabobs of Seventies 42nd Street, Ashley and April Spicer. So Mr. Spicer’s dream has been realized. His expertise in sleaze is recognized by those who don’t, unfortunately, know any better. He sits atop his collected mountain of memorabilia like a Pasha with his harem. But the fact remains that all he has collected is hearsay. His encyclopedia of erotica is strictly second hand. He has no direct memory of any person or event he has so painstakingly chronicled. He speaks the words of those who lived them. Those words are not his own. He will never really know the smell of the Times Square subway station in 1971. He was never there.
© 2017 Shaun Costello
Shaun’s “SIRACUSA” Sauce
(Actual Italians marvel at it’s authenticity)
“ONLY THE SPECIAL ONES GET MY SAUCE!”
A long time ago Johnny Bonanno’s grandmother, Anna Maria Bonanno, an immigrant from the town of Siracusa, in Sicily, taught me to make this sauce. Over the years it hasn’t changed much. As much as I’ve tried, I just couldn’t improve it. Mrs. Bonanno insisted that each time I made this sauce, I should give a portion to someone special. She was a wise woman.
This product has been known to cure the following:
MALE PATTERN BALDNESS
CHRONIC NAIL BITING
THE HEARTBREAK OF PSORIASIS
SEXUAL DYSFUNCTION IN LABORATORY ANIMALS
FEAR OF TRUFFLES
Remember, tics and fire ants hate people who eat my sauce.
Four 28 ounce cans of Italian plum tomatoes. There are many brands available. Don’t fall for, “Wow, these California Marzano tomatoes are great.” They’re not. Product of Italy only.
One can Italian tomato paste.
Extra Virgin olive oil.
Six good sized cloves of garlic – minced. You can never have too much garlic.
Fresh basil. The pile of leaves on your cutting board should be about the size of a volleyball. You can never have too much basil. Chop into sensibly sized pieces, but not too small.
One good sized sweet onion – peeled, sliced, and the slices halved.
Freshly ground black pepper.
Kosher sea salt.
Crushed red pepper. More is better than less.
Red or white wine. More is better than less.
Granulated sugar. A small handful.
With the stove burner on medium, sprinkle some olive oil on the bottom of your pot. More is better than less.
Into the heated oil goes first the onion – cook until soft. Then the garlic. Don’t let it burn. (Maybe 45 seconds) Spinkle with sea salt and ground pepper. Now, in goes the tomato paste and a hand full of the chopped basil. Stir vigorously. This becomes the glue. The quality of the glue determines the quality of the sauce. Simmer for a minute or two, until it turns into heavenly red sludge. Now, in go the tomatoes. Crush them as they cook in the pot. I use a potato masher. Crush thoroughly, but not completely. You want some solidity to your sauce. Now, in goes the remainder of the basil. No, it’s not too much. You can never have enough basil. Now, sprinkle with crushed red pepper – you guessed it, more is better than less.
Now we reach a critical moment: In The Godfather, there is a scene in the Corleone kitchen where Clemenza is making sauce for a bunch of family soldiers. Michael gets a phone call from Kay, but refuses to say he loves her within earshot of the boys in the kitchen. Clemenza teases him when he hangs the phone up.
“C’mere kid, learn somethin’. You never know when you might have to cook for twenty guys.” He explains his process to Michael, ending with, “You put in your wine, a little sugar, and that’s my trick.”
In order for your sauce to be successful, it is imperative that you quote Clemenza. As you put in the final two ingredients, you must say out loud, “You put in your wine, a little sugar, and that’s my trick.”
Reduce heat, simmer for two hours, and………………..Siracusa Sauce.
If Mario Perillo were alive, he would describe this sauce as, “Più è meglio di meno.” This roughly translates as ‘More is better than less.’
© 2017 Shaun Costello
SATURDAY KIDDIE MATINEES
By Shaun Costello
When I was a kid, I lived in Valley Stream, a suburban community in Long Island’s Nassau County. On some Saturday’s, the local movie theater would offer Kiddie Matinees. From 10AM until 4PM the theater would provide six hours of uninterrupted movie madness to ecstatic youngsters, who were devouring lethal doses of movie candy, and screaming their brains out.
Parents would simply drop their kids off at 10AM and come back six hours later to pick them up. Very few parents ever accompanied their children inside the theater. It was just us kids, most of us armed with projectile weaponry like rubber bands and paper clips, and bean shooters, ready to turn the inside of that theater into a war zone. Some days the venue would offer an assortment of kid-friendly features, like Martin and Lewis, or Francis the Talking Mule. On other days, the offering might include six hours of theatrical serials, like Flash Gordon, who did battle with Emperor Ming the Merciless, who ruled the plane Mongo with his evil Death Ray, and enslaved its population, which included the Clay People, the Shark People, and Hawk People: all of whom would eventually be freed by Flash and his erudite pal Dr. Zarkoff. In addition to Flash, the theater might offer my all-time favorite – Tim Tyler’s Luck.
Tim, at the helm of his trusty Jungle Cruiser, traversing the jungles of Africa, (which looked oddly like the same location used for Hopalong Cassidy) spent his time searching for his lost father, saving gorillas from heinous hunters, befriending black panthers, rescuing a variety of blonde women from the clutches of evil doers, wrestling with alligators, avoiding the dangers of quick sand, and basically saving the world.
At 4PM a long line of station wagons (we had a Nash Rambler) waited outside the theater, to collect the kids, who were exhausted from six hours of unsupervised screaming, and green from a serious movie candy overdose. Boy, this was fun.
© 2017 Shaun Costello
I was awakened about 3AM by the light. The kitchen lights were on. Had I left them on before going to sleep? I got up to reconnoiter. The office lights were on as well, and the computer. What the fuck? I could never have gone to bed with everything on, but I was too tired to care. I turned everything off and went back to sleep.
Jazzbo begins his morning assault on my blissful unconsciousness at approximately 5AM. He begins with subtle murmurs, and gradually steps up the decibel level and physicality of his attack, until a few minutes before six when, while sitting squarely on my chest, the biting begins. He knows this is effective because it works every morning. I sit up on the edge of the bed and, after a series of head butts on my legs, we settle in to some head scratching, back petting, and tail stroking. OK, I’m up now. I turn on the light, grope for my flip flops, and mosey toward the kitchen, with Jazzbo weaving between my legs at every step.
The routine is always the same. I turn on the lights in the office, then the computer. Next is the kitchen, and making coffee – but wait…..not this morning. Something’s wrong. On the counter, next to the coffee maker is my cup – the one I use every morning. There’s coffee residue on the bottom. It’s been used. The coffee maker is filled with cold coffee. I always wash it after it’s done its work. And Jazzbo’s milk snack bowl is on the counter with some milk still sitting on the bottom. What is happening? Then it dawns on me. The lights at 3AM. At some point in the middle of the night I must have awakened, thinking it was 6AM. It’s just as dark here at six as at three. And I began my morning routine of turning on the lights, the computer, and the coffee maker. I even drank a cup of coffee. And I gave Jazzbo his milk snack. I have no memory whatsoever of doing any of this. Was I sleep walking? Did I have a psychotic episode? Is this early Alzheimers? I have no idea what triggered this event, or any recollection of Jazzbo’s participation. He was probably too freaked out by my sleep walking to join in.
Here’s what normally happens:
After I’ve poured the water into the coffee maker, Jazzbo attacks the empty sink, lapping up what water he can find. This is disgusting, and I tell him so every morning, but he’s a creature of habit, and his sink fun is an integral part of his early routine. Next, I measure some coffee into the machine, and turn it on. Then the geezer pills – five of them. Jazzbo helps by trying to head butt the pill container out of my hands and onto the floor. He’s sometimes successful, sometimes not. Next, the ‘Where is it’ game begins; and Jazzbo, knowing what come next, becomes agitated, and begins pacing back and forth on the counter. I take the container of cat treats out of the cabinet, and head toward the bedroom. Halfway there I begin the shake the little bag and I hear ka thump – ka thump, as Jazzbo descends from the counter to the floor by way of a small table I placed there for his convenience. (After all, he’s twelve) I sit down in a chair and count out four treats. These are given to him individually, accompanied by embarrassing ‘yum yum’ sounds. Then I count out six more, which I place in front of him on the floor.
While Jazzbo’s gobbling up his treats and the coffee maker is finishing its work, I walk to the office to check email. I then click on the New York Times’ web site, and head back to the kitchen for my first cup. Jazzbo’s already sitting on the counter, waiting anxiously for his milk snack. I pour myself a cup, and take the milk container out of the fridge. Jazzbo becomes highly agitated, attempting to knock the container out of my hands. I take his bowl out of the cabinet and pour him some. Then off to the office to read all the news that fits.
This has been our morning routine for many years. But I guess it’s all different now, given that I have obviously lost my mind and become a rabid sleep frolicker. Maybe we have a poltergeist. No, that would be too easy. I’m just nuts now. That must be it. Why did this happen? I’m open to any suggestions. Something must have caused this to happen, but what? Could I be suffering from Trump Anxiety? Maybe I’m not alone. Could America become so Trumpatized that we are turning into a nation of sleep walkers? Maybe, tomorrow morning, after I succumb to Jazzbo’s early morning assault, I will awaken to find that it’s all been a dream. That Hillary had won be a large margin and that all was well and good in the world. Or would that be too easy?
© 2017 Shaun Costello