Sunday, April 30, 2017

The National Mob Museum - Las Vegas

It was back in the middle 70's, coincidentally only a few days before my first appearance on "SOAP", when I flew with a very prestigious group to perform in Pennsylvania at a banquet honoring this man.  It was a weekend I will never forget.  I drop a name or two just because, well, they were there too. 
I was told by my manager at the time, who also handeled Andy Griffith and Frankie Avalon, that this was a banquet of "made men".  The manager told me to "shut up, keep my eyes open and don't ask any questions." We were honoring a man named, Russell Bufalino. So when I visited the National Mob Museum I wondered if they would have any information about Russ, so I went looking for his name.  I found it along with his picture. It reminded me of that interesting week-end in Pennsylvania. There are so many stories that came from that show weekend but one is shorter than the others. I feel the need to write about it.

The banquet was over and Andy Griffith and I stood in line to say thank you to the Honoree. Russ could not have been a nicer person.  He graciously invited Andy and I out for a night cap at a little pizza place at the edge of town.  It seems out of the group of performers doing the show that night, Andy and I were the only ones who had never met or worked for Russ.  
It was almost a scene out of a 1930's movie as we enjoyed a beer or two with "the guys". They loved the show, loved Andy, and if I was with him, I must be okay too.  They would give us big bear hugs and call us friendly names in Italian.  Once in a while the uncomfortable outline of a hand gun would press itself into my side as I was getting one of those hugs.  
It became obvious there was a pecking order in this group. The closer a person sat to Russell the higher up in the pecking order he was, with the exception of a few guys who were obviously drivers and body guards.  After a time Russell said he wanted to call it a night.  Andy and I got up thinking he party was over and Russell said, "No, No.  You guys don't have to leave. Stay. Enjoy." He turned to a big man who was one of the driver/bodyguards and said, "Stay with them and take them anywhere they want to go." It was more of an order than a request.  From that moment on this big guy was never more that an arms length away from us but never said a word.  
After a few more beers, Andy and I decided it was time to go back to the hotel.  The driver showed us to a standard black Limo parked in front of the "joint".  He  said,  "Gentlemen, where too."  Andy and I became two little kids.  Andy thickened his North Carolina accent and delivered the line as if it was straight out of Andy of Mayberry, "Well, let's see... I know this nice little place at 5th and 55th street in Manhattan, how about that, Jaaay".  I just giggled. We starting comparing notes on what we had experienced during the evening like we were the country mice in the big city, laughing and rolling our eyes.  
I'm not sure when we realized that the trip back to the Hotel seemed to be taking much longer than it should.  We were not seeing anything along the road  but Pennsylvanian country side.  There wasn't a city light to be seen for miles.   I think it crossed my mind that perhaps we had not done that good of a show and we were being taken out to a "special place" never to return.  Andy finally said to the driver, "Where is it that we are going?"  
The driver said "Fifth and fifty-fifth in Manhattan."  We both realized that the driver had taken Russell's admonition of  "take them anyplace they want to go" seriously.  We were off to New York City.  Andy finally said, "No I was just kidding we need to go back to the hotel."  Without a word the driver made a U turn on the highway and we headed back into town.  Had we not noticed, we would have been to New York around dawn.
We had chosen the wrong time and the wrong person to joke with. 
With my fascination for the "Mob" I would occationally see Russell's name came up.   I could not resolve the idea that the nice man who had been so gracious to me and Andy would also be so ruthless.  Russell is gone now.  I never saw him after that, but I will never forget him.  Some day when we are sitting around having a drink I will tell you the more juicy stories of that weekend. 
As you were, 


Wednesday, April 19, 2017

If you knew Sushi... like I know Sushi.....

 The drawing muse has come to visit for the last few days and this is the result. I titled it "Sushi". The meaning has a cautionary tale. "Becareful what you wish for."  Most of the time we go through life never realizing that we bait our own hook, which means we are mostly responsible for what we get.  I think a wiser philosopher than I said it better, "What you sow you reap." Duck hunters don't use a moose call to catch ducks.  The call you put out is the answer you will get back. But that has little to do with the rest of this blog.

Although I have not lived in Texas for the last 40 plus years, it is hard not to think of a thick juicy steak and baked potato as my favorited dinner.  However, an evening out for Sushi may be giving that traditional dinner some competition to my dining desires. This is quite a pivot for me, although I do miss going to Sushi the way it used to be.
I was introduced to Sushi by Ted Wass and Billy Crystal.  It was when we were doing SOAP on the ABC lot in Hollywood for a half season.  One day Ted and Billy decided to go to lunch "off Campus" and invited me to go along.  I did not know they planned to make a lunch of raw fish until we got to a small out of the way Sushi Bar 10 minutes from the studio.  It was located in Chinatown and at that time one of the few Sushi bars in the city.  It was only after my second time there that I was able to find my way back.  It was traditional in every way.  There was low hanging cloths on the door way, and traditional Japanese music playing.  The Sushi Chefs were all decked out in traditional white with scarves rolled and tied around their foreheads.  They were welding sharp knives with Ninja precision.   A very calm and inviting place that was like no other restaurant I had ever been too. There were no tables only the long bar with personalized wooden sake cups on wall shelves. As we walked in the entire staff yelled something in Japanese.  Since we were the only "non-Asian's" there I thought they were yelling at us to leave.  There were no menus just a glass counter in front of us with various kinds of raw fish.   I remember thinking it looked like a butcher shop more than a restaurant.  
Billy and Ted began to utter a different language to the chef. They ordered things like Magura,  Neghihama, Yellow Tail and sea ell.  When I found out that one of those items was tuna, I decided to give it a try.  I didn't jump off into the deep end, Ted, however, ordered Sea Urchin with a quail egg.  It looked like something that was ready to be prepared not yet ready to eat, but Teddy gulped it down.  After I got past the idea that a "hot" lunch was out of the question I settled in.  Every thing I ordered, most of the time not knowing what it really was, tasted great. It was a new adventure and an unrealized turn in my eating habits.  
Back then there were so few Sushi places that it became an event to have a Sushi dinner.  To introduce Sandi to my new passion we had to drive over to Hollywood, there were no Sushi places I knew of in the Valley.  But, before long Sushi places starting springing up like Starbucks.  It was not long before  LA had a glut of Sushi bars. We didn't have to travel to Hollywood any longer to get our fix.  TerraSushi opened on Ventura boulevard not far from the Radford CBS lot and it became the "in" place for the young Turks of Hollywood to hang.  If you wanted to see celebrities and be seen by those looking for celebrities TerraSushi became the place to be.  We used to joke that to get a good table or preferred place at the bar you needed to be wearing a satin production jacket from a hit show. Satin production jackets were also the rage at the time and I will admit to wearing my SOAP jacket there more than a few times.  In those evenings of just hanging out with friends, I learned that a fine compliment to any Sushi is Kirin beer and hot sake.  I salivate now just thinking of that combination. 
It was at a Sushi bar in New York during that time that I had an unforgettable "fan" experience.  I was in town doing some promo for ABC and had gone out to Sushi on Columbus Ave. with a friend.  
As we were ordering our second round a very nice asian woman came up to me.  In very broken English she explained she was a reporter/writer from Japan.  She knew that I was a "television man" and wondered if I would have time to do an interview with her.  In anticipation of just such an occurrence the publicist at ABC had given me a dozen of her business cards.  She told me that if someone wanted to set up an interview, give the person her card and they would set up something at a convenient time.  Being a good network employee, I said, "Sure we can do an interview" and I reached for one of the cards.  Before I could say, "Give ABC a call and they will set something up..." The woman retrieved a small tape recorder and a very large professional microphone from her bag and said, "Good... we do it now?"  It was a rhetorical question, she immediately launched into it tuning on the recorder, clearing her throat and checking the level. It went exactly like this:
She held the mic to her face and started speaking in Japanese.  It was very lyrical in sound but the only thing I understood was my name.  She sprinkled it into the monologue occasionally saying, Mr. Jay Johnson San.  After what seemed like a long time she paused looked me in th eye and said very seriously, "Mr. Johnson San..... what you eating?"  In all my years of being interviewed it was the first time and perhaps the only time that question had been asked.  I said, "I am eating Tuna sushi."  
She seemed delighted at that response and moved the microphone back to her face and said, "Ahhhhh, Mr. Johnson San, yadda yadda, yadda, Tuna Sushi.... yadda yadda." This Japanese monologue went on for some time until once again she paused, looked at me and said, "Mr. Johnson San..... what you order next?"  
I hadn't really decided until that moment but I boldly went out on a limb and said, "I think next I will have California Roll." 
Same reaction..... "Ahhhhhh,   Mr. Johnson San, yadda yadda yadda, California Roll.... yadda yadda yadda."  The yadda's continued in the same manner as I had become accustomed to.  Once again she paused getting ready to ask me another question.  I was prepared with all the answers about my career on SOAP, our new season, what happened at the end of last season, and what it was like to be on a show like SOAP.  So, she looked at me with all seriousness, took in a deep breath as if this is the question she had been waiting to ask.  It was a little slower and more deliberate in the delivery, she paused a longer time between my name and the question.  
"Mr. Johnson San...... what you order after that?"  
Now I am set on improv mode. One of the great things about eating at a Sushi bar ordering a selection at a time and waiting until you are ready for the next taste.  I was not sure at all what I would order after the California Roll, but I usually ended my Sushi dinners at the time with Sea Ell Sushi.  As if I was considering the question longer than the first two I finally said, "I guess I will have my favorite dessert, Sea Ell."  
"Ahhh.... Mr. Johnson San, yadda yadda, Sea Ell yadda yadda yadda.  She giggled as she yaddaed some more.  Finally it was back to me as she said, 
"Mr. Johnson San......... thank you very much."  
The interview was over. The mic and the recorder went back into the bag, she bowed and returned to her table.  Noting more needed to be said.  I have spent years reliving that interview wondering what was really said.  I decided she was probably a food critic rather than an entertainment writer but I will never know.  To date it is still one of the strangest interviews I have ever done.  
As you were,

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Left Coast Easter

This is Bruce. He sits guard on the brick column by the pool.  He scares evil spirits away from coming near our orange tree.  He seems to be very effective except in the case of squirrels. I have seen those furry tailed rats standing on Bruce's head to get the advantage on a particular orange.    I think it was my oldest son who named the gargoyle Bruce when he was young, my son, not Bruce. This gargoyle has been around a long time and has refused to state his actual age. He is the old friend, always looking out, always guarding my back.
Today Bruce is my secretary, my receptionist and my collaborator.  I have moved the main office of Jaysons Imagination, Inc. out doors today.  It's one of those perfect California days, Spring has sprung.  From the few rain showers everything brown has turned green.  Unfortunately my collaborator does not seem to be inspired at the moment and has assumed his "thinking" position.  I totally understand because the perfumed air, the gentle breeze and song of the wind chimes makes it impossible to think clearly enough to write. At my desk the smell is of orange blossoms.  If you walk around the neighborhood you find the orange blossom scent mixed with some sort of jazmine.  It is a distinctively California Spring smell unlike any other place except perhaps Hawaii.   
So Easter is this weekend.  Funny that Easter always lands on a Sunday.  Unfortunately no little kids to hide eggs for and no old people to attend a sunrise ceremony with this year.  We will have a brunch for the extended California family but no Easter egg hunts.  
I remember one Easter when the boys were 8 and 5 years old and their Asbury Grandparents were here to celebrate with them.  My mother-in-Law, Grammy, found some plastic Easter eggs at the store and meticulously spend the night before Easter Sunday stuffing dozen's of them with candies and small change.  She placed them carefully around the dwarf peach tree in the back yard..  
The next day after Church the boys were very excited to start their egg hunting.  We gave them their baskets and set them to the task.  Grammy was particularly interested in their hunt and "steered" them to the peach tree.
Excitedly the boys ran to the tree and gathered the plastic eggs.  My oldest son quickly opened the first egg, and to everyone's surprise it was empty.  His little brother did the same thing and his plastic Easter Egg was empty as well.  We watched as they progressively got more excited that the next egg would not be empty only to be disappointed by more empty eggs.
Grammy was totally baffled. We all watched her prepare the plastic eggs but we were not seeing the results.  Grammy wondered if squirrels had eaten the candy.  I was not sure that was the reason.  First squirrels don't eat chocolate and I was certain they would not cover their theft by re-assembling the egg halves.  
The boys were filled with such hope for the next egg they opened to be anything but empty.  They seemed so very disappointed when there was, once again, nothing inside.  It was a panic for grandparents and new parents who wanted Easter to be a perfect memory for the kids. Grammy replaced all the candy in every egg that was opened and empty.   The grown ups were all baffled.
I am not sure exactly how we solved the mystery, perhaps it was the five year old who cracked.  Turns out, that while the "grown ups" were getting ready for the big hunt, the boys covertly invaded the backyard.  They took all the candy and coins out of the plastic eggs, reassembled them and placed them back in their spot.  The whole disappointment and bewilderment at the missing candy, was only a completely realized scam.  They were able to get double the candy treats with this ploy.  
I realized then that the apples do not fall from the tree.  I was secretly proud of the guys for coming up with that plan on their own.  However it was a harbinger of things to come as they later approached puberty.  Knowing what they were capable of as kids helped me stay only half a step behind them as they grew up.
Easter is a time to renew, recommit and remember that the future is beautifully unfolding after a long gloomy winter.  I understand the symbolism that has been co-opted by the Christian Religion to renew faith and love.  I have no trouble in seeing how both the secular and the religious come together in one celebration of renewal and rebirth at Easter.  Enjoy every aspect of this season.
As you were,

Friday, April 07, 2017

My Day in Court

 California statute requires one day or one trial every 12 months as far as jury duty goes. So on Sunday night I call in to see if I am needed... No... Yea.. Monday I make the same evening call... Not needed on Tuesday. I repeat this process the next two nights. Thursday I call in.... I am told to report at 7:45 am on Friday. Damn. One more day and I would have served my time without leaving my phone.
So Friday... frikin' FRIDAY at 8:00 am, in the jury assembly room at the Van Nuys Superior Court building in Van Nuys, we unfortunate participants, have jury duty orientation. This consists of a video telling me what a wonderful service I am about to perform for the State of California.  I am not swayed.
At the end of the video, a nice young Woman comes to a podium with a  wireless microphone.  She repeats this same speech every morning, 5 days a week as a career. It is a pleasant "reading" but the freshness of the script has run its course. She will say the words, "Any questions" every few seconds for the rest of the orientation. 
She starts repeating most of the information we just had to sit through.  I am thinking that if we have to be reminded of what we just heard moments before, maybe we do not have the brain capacity to serve on a jury.  None the less we listen to her "sort of".  I see several people texting covertly, and one old man continues to glance at his LA Times, or he was nodding off it was hard to tell.  
The nice woman gets to the part about "postponements and excuses not to serve". I was not listening very closely. None of this section applies to me, because if I could come up with an excuse that worked I wouldn't be sitting here this time of the morning. 
The woman says, "If you are over 70 and have a medical condition, you must state the condition on line 7 of the form...".  At that moment some man  in the middle of the room almost shrieks, "Wow. Unbelievable"
This stops the process in its tracks.  The lady turns to the man as if she had not understood the questions.  
He says, "Possum"
She repeats, "Possum"
Now the jury room of the Van Nuys Superior court house is located on the ground floor with plenty of windows. It is not a bad view of old trees and official buildings. It is not however, a place that seems to inspire creativity.  I guess I would call it an institutional environment.  It is easy to get distracted by the people walking on the sidewalk through the trees. No one is just enjoying the stroll. Everyone on this property has some legal reason to be there.  As I watched people make their way past the window I played a game in my mind.  The game is called "Lawyer, Planiff, Defendant".  As quickly as the people passed by was all the time I had to cast them (the movie in my head) as a lawyer, planiff or defendant in some Superior Court drama to come. 
I am sure that is exactly what the man was doing when he said, "Possum." For indeed now everyone in the jury room is looking at a very large possum peering into our window.  As an indicator of the boredom factor people began to act like they had never seen an animal off -leash and ungroomed.
No one is listening to the jury Woman, everyone is giggling at a possum like it was a giraffe giving birth.  In fact the jury woman herself has moved closer to the window to see the possum. She is able to continue repeating the speech while clearly expressing more interest in the possum. Just as everyone in the room had taken their seats convinced the possum show was over, the jury woman says, "I think that is security trying to get the possum."
Indeed the cops had shown up to arrest the possum. Perhaps for trespassing, I suppose. Or maybe for being out after possum curfew.  Whatever the charge it became difficult to subdue the possum. The possum refused to obey verbal commands, and was already down on the ground.  I am sure their Smith and Wesson handcuffs do not ratchet down to possum size.  
Before too long the possum decided to take it on the lam and took off to parts unknown. It was back to the boredom of civic duty.
Soon we were called to various courts and the process began.  Since we were admonished not to talk about the case, and we were not allowed to take any photos, you'll have to take my word for all of this.  However, I can tell you with complete candor that the Possum was the highlight of my day in court.
As you were,

Monday, April 03, 2017

The Swarms of Spring

The Orange Beetle - genis -Trumperius Irritateus 
With Spring comes an infestation of a rare and destructive beetle. The Trumperius Irritateus Beetle is swarming the country and seems out of anyone's control. Like killer bees the Trumperius Irritateus is an experiment gone bad, a genetically engineered bug was released to do a specific job.  The DNA of two bugs was mixed to creat a more aggressive insect breed. The Trumperius is a cross between a New York cock roach (Slimis Bagus) and a Russian louse (Putinus Dic). 
In an attempt to stem the pestilence of the common DC stink bug (Politicus Ignoramus), the Trumperius was introduced to the insect hives of Washington hoping create a new line of beetles.  Unfortunately too much of the Russian louse was reproduced in the hybrid. The engineered insect had more problems than the breeders thought.  Rather than mixing well with its new environment  the Trumperius was angry and provocative to other bugs, ineffective at leadership, and very destructive to the environment.  The Trumperius surrounds itself with other cockroaches and shows  affection for all kinds of Russian louses. Most alarming, however, the Trumperius Beetle has spread up and down the east coast.  Rather than staying in one spot it has established nests from New York to Florida.  
The Trumperius is irritating in actions and expressions.  It attempts to dominate females of all kinds but prefers to stay close to it's own off spring, especially the oldest female Irritateus.  It seems to disdain all other non-native species except itself.  The species is obsessively self aware  puffing up its orange antenna in an opulent manner for attention. The Trumperius is know by its "Tweeting" sounds often trying to imitate fox howls or the shrieks of the alternative white jackal. The tweets are loudest in the early morning hours and annoy most every other species on the planet.  
Exterminators disagree about how best to rid the country of this infestation. It would appear that the mutant bug is immune to most normal forms of elimination. It is not known how much damage the Trumperius will do before it can be neutralized.  In fact there is not a consensus on who should be in charge of the beetle problem. The governmental agency which looks after the environment has been eliminated by the current administration. However, everyone agrees that it will cost a lot of money, time and resistance to keep this infestation from spreading.  

As you were,