GEORGE SHOULDA SAID THIS

Why does Donald Trump get so much kid glove treatment? Why handle with care someone who handles with care no one beyond a few Darth Vaders he thinks can do him some good?

I’m talking to you, George Stephanopoulos.

Yeah, yeah, you and your ABC News crew spent all that time with Trump taping a “special” that chewed up an hour Sunday night. But it was a tossup who was more annoying, Trump, in his familiar role as a fabricating provocateur, or you, the smiley face who, with few exceptions, let him get away with it.

This was a perfect TV symbiosis: ABC getting to puff its chest and tout the glory of its morning anchor earning extended face time with the president. And Trump happily pocketing ABC’s gift: an hour of free PR to help kick off his official re-election bid.

It was largely theater, choreographed and staged, with everyone hitting his mark. Ivanka just happened to be in the Oval Office chatting with her father about education? “Great job,” he told her. “You really doing a great job.” Oh, and did he mention she was doing a great job?

It was absurd to expect the Trumpians to sail through this gig and be oblivious to the lights, cameras and other razzmatazz that comes with a big TV shoot. Cinema verité is a huge challenge under any conditions and even when the subjects are less seasoned actors than this crowd. My favorite “candid”—how many takes?—captured Trump and Melania ascending the tall White House staircase dramatically, robotically, and most importantly, hand in hand. Oh, those two kids, so in love. Cut, print.

Stephanopoulos did show some devil’s advocacy on occasion, and there was, of course, his much-reported give-and-take with Trump about whether the President should let someone know if he’s contacted by a serial killer or terrorist or anyone else the FBI might want to know about. But that highlight was eclipsed by the timidity of George in the face of Trump’s intense bloviation.

George likely feared pushing back too hard might cost him accessibility, that Trump might abort in anger at any time, stop the limo and kick him and the camera out. Not likely, though, with so much at stake for the President.

Could we realistically expect GS to be informed and agile enough to swiftly process Trump’s monologues and rebut his lies and erroneous claims? Easy for me; I’ve had days to think it through.

George had weeks to prepare, and if he wasn’t ready for every scenario, every bizarre and outrageous thing Trump threw at him, he’s in the wrong business.

Let’s start with something minor.

When Trump called George “a little wise guy” to his face, he shoulda cut him off. Shoulda asked why he calls people names. Shoulda asked how he’d respond if someone called him Dopey Donnie or Tubby Donnie. Or any of the other applicable “D” words, notably Dishonest, Dufus, Diseased. Or just plain Fatso or Dummy; both work, crudity for a crude man.

I say drive a stake right through his fragility, his insecurity.

Too banal? Wouldn’t respect The Office? As if he hasn’t already left his shitprints all over the place.

The hour was freckled with weightier shouldas. Here are just a few:

–Trump insisted repeatedly that the Mueller Report found “no collusion” between Russia and him or his campaign. George rebutted that, but ineffectively. George shoulda said: If you or your staff can find where it says that in the Mueller Report, we will let you read that passage to the camera right here.

–George asked if a President can obstruct justice? After hesitating, Trump replied: “A President can run the country, and that’s what happened, George. I run the country, and I run it well.” George shoulda said: That didn’t answer the question. Can a President obstruct justice?

–George asked why Trump refused to be interviewed under oath by Robert Mueller’s team. Trump replied: “Because…they were looking to get us for lies…or slight misstatements.” George shoulda said: If you weren’t going to lie or make misstatements, what was there to fear?

–George asked Trump to explain his resistance to outing his tax returns and other financial records. Trump replied: “It’s not up to me, it’s up to the lawyers, it’s up to everyone else.” George shoulda said: Quote the statute that forbids you, the President, from releasing your own financial data?

–George asked about nuclear disarmament talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump said: “He promised he wouldn’t be testing.” George shoulda said: Isn’t it naïve of you to expect him to admit it?

On and on it went, with Trump, of course recycling his stock anti-media rants, this time, by George, courtesy of ABC News.

Advertisements

RESTING IN PEACE

Obits can be such a hoot.

I made the protagonist of my mystery novel, “Up Yours!,” a celebrated writer of death notices for The Los Angeles Times, so famously superb at his craft that he was titled the Charles Dickens of obits. But nothing I wrote on his behalf matched some actual obits in The Times.

I know this because my wife, Carol, is a serial reader of obits, devouring them daily, from top to bottom, every line, then reading between the lines. Not celebrity obits whipped up by newspapers, just the pay-to-publish ones that allow a friend or loved one to say just about anything short of advocating violence or overthrow of the government.

This is no morbid obsession on her part, but clearly she is fascinated (read: hooked). How enlightening to share breakfast with one’s personal obit guide. Someone who highlights, in yellow, passages in death notices she finds moving or mysterious or funny or written in ways that raise more questions than they answer. Like this one:

HELEN FAY BERNSTEIN

They’ll never get it.

Was Helen misunderstood? Too hip for the room? And who are “they?” What will they never get? Have they tried to get it? Do even they know they haven’t gotten it?

Another send-off bids adieu to a swinger who “loved and left four women who still care for him.” There was full disclosure: their names were listed ahead of other survivors.

On another list there had been someone named Bill, but a lot of good it did him, as his brother noted bitterly:

He was callously disregarded for a well-deserved heart transplant from an arrogant heart transplant team. Bill did not fit their perfect profile as an ideal “image. Bill wasn’t famous, rich, didn’t publish, compose or produce or build a wing, but Bill didn’t need to die. Bill was ‘sentenced.

On a lighter note, there was the life of the party who “entertained” people with impressions of Winston Churchill, Maurice Chevalier and Frank Sinatra. But did he fare better than Helen? Did they get it?

Also, there was the “great dessert lover.” Every dessert we eat, said his obit, “will be in memory of Chuck.”

Also, good old Marvin, whose “profane and often offensive sense of humor” made him “anything but boring.”

Also, the adventurer who at age 75 spent two weeks in a tent in Antarctica.

Also,righteous” Clara—I’d have titled her heroic—who during World War II saved the life of Frederic by hiding him with others in a farmhouse outside of Berlin. After the war, she married him.

Also, Thomas, who was 101 when he died, but “noted toward the end he really felt like 103.”

And man, oh man, there was card slick Irving, who played blackjack so well “he was banned from all the casinos in London.”

And the long-haul trucker who was always joined in his cab by Uncle Bernie. Wouldn’t think of hitting the road without Uncle Bernie. Uncle Bernie had to be at his side at all times, riding shotgun. Uncle Bernie was a Doberman.

Hands down my favorite obit, though—earning a standing ovation—was printed just last week, its eulogy of Lyn ending this way:

Donations in her memory are to be directed to anyone fighting against Trump.

“RENT” RANT—LIVE!

Rosenbeast here, at my desk, in front of my computer, fingers on keyboard, eyes on screen, shooing off cats while writing this…

LIVE!

You’re transfixed, all tingly, on the edge of your seat, I know, because what you’re reading is…

LIVE!

What you see here is unedited, unrehearsed, uninformed, unfiltered, unbridled, unburdened by logic or critical thought. But c’mon, more importantly, it’s reality, real life in real time. No safety net or five-second delays. You’re reading it just as I’m writing it. Yes, there are misspelled words and typos. Yes, I’ve made sum clumsy mistukes.  As clumsy as Donald Trump wolfing down a Big Mac with chopsticks. Wait, that’s not only hideously unfunny, but maybe a mixed metaphor. Too late, can’t fix. There’s nothing I can do about it, nuthing. That’$ the trade-off for the excitement—the electrifying, pulsating, heart-stopping, pee pee-in-your-pants thrill of…

LIVE!

You’re right. This blog is already overlong, overcooked, overwritten, my point pounded in with a sledgehammer when a strategic tap-tap would be more efficient and persuasive. You think I don’t know that? I’d change it, shorten it, tighten it, lighten it, but I can’t because—get ready, here we go again—it’s…

LIVE!

******

The above is a whimsical metaphor for the perils of TV’s ubiquitous liveness, a large part of which—goosed non-stop by the Internet—is instant news. No safeguards as it roars around blind curves. It’s the ultimate gamble, Russian roulette. And don’t forget deception.

When TV goes live it’s often a sham, a fraud, a trick, a gimmick.

Hyperbole alert!

Live cameras are can be peerless when covering breaking big news, from massive shootouts, volatile street dust-ups and calamitous natural disasters to devastating wildfires when instant information can save lives. And oh, yes, sports events.

Largely, though, live TV is a stunt, a device to seduce and sucker viewers by projecting false immediacy—so edgy, raw, so now—in a mirage of excitement. On Wednesday, MSNBC flashed a graphic advertising Rachel Maddow’s coming “live” interview with Presidential hopeful Kamala Harris, as if “live” added value. It doesn’t, it didn’t.

Take, also, the long tradition of local news reporters delivering irrelevant live stand-ups in the field—often hours, if not days after a story has occurred (Behind me is the house where three days ago a body was found…)? Oh, brother.

But I’m heading somewhere else with this.

To Fox, which Sunday will air Jonathan Larson’s stirring Tony/Grammy/Pulitzer-winning stage musical “Rent.” Naturally…

Live.

Live only in the east, that is. Underprivileged viewers in other time zones will see it on dull, humdrum, unexciting, dusty, musty old videotape. Oh, nohhhhh. Which means, I suppose, their experience will be diminished. (yes, that’s sarcasm).

“Rent” loosely reimagines Puccini’s “La Boheme,” moving its struggling young artists to the East Village of New York City (actually an L.A. soundstage) in 1989. I’m a fan of “Rent.” Saw it on stage and watched the under-appreciated 2005 movie version that, despite a slew of slams, ranks as one filmdom’s better stage musical-to-screen adaptations.

I hope Fox’s “Rent” is wonderful. But if it is, live cameras won’t deserve any of the credit.

Why is Fox shooting it live, adding risk instead of value?  As it did with its productions of “Grease and” “Rocky Horror Show?” As did NBC with its own string of stage-to-TV musicals that were telecast live?

It’s all about labeling. Just as Roman numerals gave the super bowl its early heft, and someone got the bright idea that “pre-owned” looked classier than “used,” TV’s marketing mavens know “live” is a gimmick that sells.  Whatever the product, news or theater.

 

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIE

a beloved holiday story…

Trump-Pinoccio-nose

FADE IN:

ARLINGTON MEMORIAL BRIDGE OVER THE POTOMAC RIVER—NIGHT

A hulking figure in a dark overcoat is crossing the bridge, slogging along aimlessly, gaze lowered. It’s snowing hard but he’s oblivious. He stops to stare down at the water dotted with floating ice, desperate, trying to decide whether to act. He leans over, glances furtively around, hunches himself as if about to jump, then hesitates, unsure.

“Donald!”

The figure in the overcoat turns to see, not ten feet away, a tiny man with a pointy goatee and glowing eyes beneath a top hat.

“Who are you?” asks Donald.

“I’m Seymour, your guardian angel.”

“Sent from above?”

“No, sent from below.”

“By the Big Guy himself?”

“Almost. By Lucifer, his chief of staff. I’m a dark angel. That is, a dark angel Second Class. Coming here to encourage you is how I can earn my horns.”

Donald groans. “I’m such a failure.”

“Nonsense. Get hold of yourself, man. Your obscene presidency is everything the Big Guy could ever want, corroding U.S. government institutions and striking at the very heart of democracy. You’ve told thousands of lies in just two years, not including your delusions, flip flops and contradictions. On top of that, you repeat the lies of others again and again. All of us below are awed. What you’ve achieved is disgusting!”

“Not entirely. The Washington Post fact checker claims five per cent of my statements are true.”

“That many? Well, get over it. Nobody’s perfect.”

“I’m perfect.”

“That’s the stuff. Another stunning whopper.  Keep it up. Your assertions about the great things you’ve done are extraordinary bullshit, lifting our spirits after eight years of Obama.”

“You know he wasn’t born in this country—he’s a Muslim. I saw Muslims on TV celebrating in New Jersey after 9/11.”

“Yes, yes, that’s the spirit. Let’s hear more.”

“I didn’t want to go into Iraq. We have the greatest economy in history. We pay most of the cost of NATO. The fake news media are America’s greatest enemy. The New York Times covered the election so badly they were forced to apologize. I signed more bills than any other president in my first six months in office. The families of shooting victims are in my thoughts and prayers. Everybody wants to be my chief of staff. Kim jong-un is a beautiful person and North Korea is denuclearizing. Seven million illegal votes caused me to lose the popular vote.”

“You originally said five million; seven is even better.”

“I never said five million.”

“Another fabulous lie. Keep going.”

“My inaugural crowd was the biggest ever. Obamacare covers very few people. Obama had my wires tapped. We’re the highest taxed nation in the world.  Mueller is on a witch hunt with conflicts of interest and a staff of angry Democrats.”

“And my personal favorites, your lies about Russia?”

“Russia is a ruse. I have nothing to do with Russia. Democrats colluded with Russia during the election.”

“Your deceit warms me. The Big Guy has a request. As a personal favor, please repeat that crap he loves, about your deals and your intelligence. I’ll record it on my phone.”

“I make the best deals and I’m the smartest person.”

“Such a hoot. And the imaginary border wall?”

“We’ve started building our wall. I’m so proud of it. Mexico will pay for it.”

“So incredibly dishonest. You’ve made reality irrelevant.”

“I try.” Donald shakes his head. “But five percent truth!  Where did I go wrong? Sometimes I wish I’d never been born.”

“Seriously? Have a look at what that would be like.”

“What are you showing me, Seymour? Why it’s the Oval Office. And who is that woman in a pants suit behind the desk? It’s…it’s…”

“Yes, Hillary Clinton.”

“Lock her up! Lock her up!”

“There’s no one to say that, Donald, because you were never born.”

“And that woman with her…isn’t that?”

“Yes, the vice president, Elizabeth Warren.”

“Pocahontas!”

“But you aren’t around to call her that.  And does this next site look familiar?”

“It’s Fifth Avenue, between 56th and 57th. Where is the Trump Tower?”

“There are no Trump Towers—anywhere—because there’s no Trump. Instead, the building before you is the Stormy Daniels Home for Retired Porn Stars.”

“Oh nohhhh. And what’s this you’re showing me next?”

“A newsroom. Observe closely the woman on her computer.”

“It’s Melania.”

“She’s fashion editor at The New York Times. Took the job because you weren’t there to feed her lies about the paper.”

“What are you saying, Seymour?”

“Despair not, Donald. Can’t you see, your entire life is a wonderful lie? That’s why the Big Guy wants you below, with him.”

“And you’re here to encourage me?”

“Yes. JUMP!”

WHEN A WORD WALKS OUT

Just killed a word.

Put a gun against its head,

Pulled my trigger, now it’s dead.

Apologies for messing with Freddie Mercury’s Bohemian Rhapsody, and anyway, that’s not what happened.  The break-up came without my knowledge or approval. I killed nothing.

The truth: I lost a word today; don’t know how or why, or if this separation is final. I was taken aback; no foreshadowing. To borrow a line from the Dick Tracy comics I read as a boy: What the—?

If you saw my missing word, you’d think, What’s the big deal? But it means a lot to me, and I like having it around. I’d hoped to plant it—right about here—to give my writing some class. So already, I’m smarting from the loss, hoping I can locate it after a few more paragraphs or at least before I finish.

It’s my favorite word, you see, one I fling at my students to remind them they’re in college. It’s multisyllabic, I recall, and somewhat swanky, yet not pretentious or a gaudy word that would make you think I’m showing off. But using it makes me feel smart—and think that I sound smart.

I’m suffering now that my favorite word has fled like a lover tiptoeing out in the night, leaving no note, just a void and an impression in the pillow.

Oh, my favorite word, where have you gone?

Jewish Guilt rides me relentlessly over this, warning that if I don’t change my ways additional valued words will haul ass and walk out.

It’s your fault. A word doesn’t just vanish without a…well…a word. There has to be a reason. You must have done something to piss it off. You bozo, you must have misspelled it or used it in an ungrammatical sentence or as a verb when… quite clearly it’s a noun!

Aha, a clue. I now recall my missing word is a noun. Now we’re getting somewhere. And I do remember the word is about coming together, a union of some kind. Also, there’s a suffix, an osis. Psychosis? Fibrosis? Now I’m really lost.

And another thing...

That nag Jewish Guilt again.

What are you doing announcing this word is your favorite in the first place?  What if your other words get wind? Egos bruise easily. There could be a mass exodus.

Right. I do have other favored words. What if they, too, vanish? Yikes! is one I use often.

Some would say too often.

Yes, all right, but I can’t resist. I’d be severely constrained without Yikes! An exclamation point but no word?

And talk about overkill, there’s your repeated reliance on Thornton Wilder’s Our Town as a metaphor. My God, man, throw in another play once in a while, if only to show you’re not totally illiterate.

So here I am, already well past the midpoint of this blog, and still no missing word, though I’ve showed I still care, allotting it this space          just in case it shows up.

This is so frustrating. It’s one thing to lose a word the way we forget names. My recurring fear is going blank on names I should remember at some soiree and trying to finesse it (well, my friend, long time no see) while knowing they know I have no clue. I’ve been losing names for decades, however, so no big deal.

But losing a word is scarier with geezerhood galloping toward you like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Losing a word could be the first step; you know what I’m saying? Jewish Guilt may be on to something. Will other words soon abandon me like rats on a sinking ship. Will I soon be reduced to communicating like a broken-nosed gorilla in a gangster movie? Or as tersely as one of the cemetery dead in Our Town?

A friend assured me that losing a word is not necessarily calamitous. Gone for a day or two, even a week, not to worry, he said, “as long as you ultimately remember it.”

Yes, that’s the ticket. So I’ve been laser-focusing on ultimate recovery, trying out numerous word fusions and coming-together phrases to jumpstart my memory, poring over synonyms and this and that osis as fast as my fingers can Google, while also hitting Webster’s and my thesaurus.

And yes, it’s coming…it’s coming…the veil lifting. At last I have it. The elusive word is back—to   stay, I hope. And just in time to crash my last sentence.

Yikes! Close call.

Jewish Guilt take a bow. Stormy, bickering adversaries in every way, we set aside our differences and collaborate when mutually beneficial. You might say, together we form a perfect symbiosis.

 

BLOOD, SWEAT AND FIBS

I’m no big fan of Academy Awards telecasts (or any awards shows, for that matter). And when I see the Red Carpet—arrrgh—I fantasize vacuuming up these fawning media greeters as they pitch empty gab and flattery to preening celebrities rolling in like bottles on an assembly line.

I generally pop in and out, paying close attention to the telecast only if I’ve seen most of the nominated films, as I have this year. The best of the mostly-elite crowd is the mysterious and intriguing “Phantom Thread” with remarkable Daniel Day-Lewis. Don’t argue, my decision stands.

The worst—a minority view—is “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” despite Oscar-nominated Frances McDormand’s transcendence as the ferociously grieving mother of a teenage girl whose unsolved murder is a festering open sore. Her protests scream out from the billboards.

Hear, hear if McDormand wins. But how did director/writer Martin McDonagh merit an Oscar nod for a script that buckles under the tonnage of its numerous improbabilities and faulty logic?

On the positive side, “Lady Bird” is very nice; some others, too. And despite its gratuitously violent ending, “The Shape of Water” with memorable Sally Hawkins is another of my favorites, along with the tenderly romantic “Call Me by Your Name.”  In fact the latter’s Timothe’e Chalamet joins Day-Lewis on my lead actor pedestal.

The buzz meter, though, is tilting toward Gary Goldman in “Darkest Hour.” Now look, Oldman is a fine actor, and I wouldn’t fret terribly if he’s rewarded for screendom’s umpteenth take on Winston Churchill’s World War II years. He’s very good.

The bummer is screenwriter Anthony McCarten’s intermittent fantasizing.  it’s a real hoot, for example, seeing Churchill disappear from 10 Downing Street on a whim and fast-waddle to the London underground to query train-riding commoners about war strategy. Oh, those unbowed gritty Brits. Their defiant counsel: buck up.

The problem: this lengthy sequence is fiction. An accomplished historian, Churchill himself would have found it preposterous.

Nor does the guy who wrote it claim it’s true. “It probably did not happen,” McCarten acknowledged to The Wrap. “But something like it might well have.”

Hey, close enough, so put it in.

If this underground town hall had existed, moreover, Churchill might well have quoted these commoners in a speech to his entire Cabinet. But he didn’t, because they didn’t exist. Yet the non-existent speech, with its non-existent quotes, are in the movie, too, along with other fictions that stray well beyond acceptable dramatic license.

Look around. What we need least these days, in movies or TV or elsewhere, is misinformation. We get an abundance of fakery from the Internet and the Tweeting Twit in the Oval Office, to say nothing of his echo-chambering acolytes who will do anything to please him. More than ever, this is no time for filmmakers to twist the history they portray. Do we have to paint it on a billboard?

Time to buck up.

A GROUP BEFORE ITS TIME

“This is not the time to jump to some conclusion”—Paul Ryan, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, responding to calls for stricter gun laws after 17 people were murdered at a South Florida high school.

Though essential to protecting our democracy, activism is time consuming.

I’ve told you about my affiliation with Making Acronyms Great Again (MAGA) and its decision that TWIT most suited Donald Trump. Now comes this.

As Delayer in Chief (DIC), it was my duty recently to chair the bi-annual meeting of the influential special interest group This Is Not the Time (TINT).

The meeting had been put off again and again, hard core members refusing to attend in the belief that to meet was premature. As one of them insisted, “This is never the time.”

TINT’s moderate wing argued that this strict interpretation of our mandate was carrying things too far, and I agreed. “Now look,” I said in a text defining the conundrum before us, “as your DIC, I appreciate that having a meeting exposes TINT to the risk of achieving something, but never meeting exposes us to the danger of irrelevance.

Following a rigorous back and forth, the other side was won over, agreeing to participate in a meeting when I arranged a compromise, promising that items of substance would be deferred and forgotten.

The meeting turned out to be pivotal.

Adhering to principle, the first item on the agenda was shelved by acclamation. The next item of business could not be addressed because it was unidentified. The agenda committee felt assigning it a name or category would serve no purpose because it never would be taken up.

Next came a discussion of our closely watched Person of the Year award, with the name of the winner to be inscribed on a trophy. “DIC’s prerogative,” I said, “my choice is Paul Ryan for advocating creative solutions to gun violence in schools, starting with arming teachers and having them wear bandoliers of ammunition.”

The applause was thundering.

“Objection, objection!” someone shouted when it died down. “We all agree this is an honor the speaker deserves. But the bigger honor—celebrating his zealous devotion to postponement even more acutely—would be to not honor him.”

“Exactly,” someone added. “Because this is not the time to honor him.”

“Hear, hear,” a chorus shouted in unison.

I added my endorsement. “And actually, there is no trophy because I felt there would be time to pick up one at a later date.”

Noting that we’d attained our goal of pointlessness, I was about to gavel the proceeding to a close when someone stood and shouted, “Item from the floor, item from the floor.”

This was highly unusual, and fraught with peril.  The longer we remained in session, the greater the risk of inadvertently doing something worthwhile. But in the spirit of democracy, I decided to allow it.

“All right, go on.”

“I challenge our existence.”

“On what basis?”

“On the basis that in meeting to form TINT—by that very act—the founders violated their underlying premise, in effect annulling what they were founding.  In other words, this was not the time to form a group whose predicate for existence was ‘this is not the time.’ Hence, there is no TINT.”

I objected. “I take your point, but as DIC I refuse to preside over the dissolution of this group.”

“There’s nothing to dissolve,” someone interjected, “if we don’t exist.”

He had me there. “I guess there’s nothing left for us to do but go home,” I said sadly. “But I implore you to keep faith and not waver from our credo even as Americans are gunned down in schools and elsewhere:

Timeliness is no virtue.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

.