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Saturday, January 13, 2024


The esteemed Popeyes Chicken and Biscuits on 5th Avenue in Brooklyn's sunset Park. My fast food chicken joint of choice for the past couple of years.

Today I had a craving for my first lunch at the Chinese-run Popeyes in Sunset Park, so I hauled my ass down there via the B63 MTA bus. As I enjoyed my meal, I looked around the eatery's interior, as I always do, and today I saw two times of interest. First was this sign on the wall.

 What incident prompted the need for this placard?

And then, as I readied to leave, I noticed this on the floor beneath the table where I had enjoyed my lunch. 


Please pardon my ignorance, but is that a crack pipe?

Saturday, January 06, 2024


To give you an idea of what I as being programmed with during my formative years, at age 5 my mother gave me not the Pufnstuf soundtrack, but a knockoff cover album by a Christian group. The content is no different from that on the original soundtrack, and some filler material is added to pad out the run time, but there's nothing in the original that would be considered offensive or blasphemous, so why re-record it? My guess is that they did it so they could tone down the more agressive/psychedelic sounds of the relatively far more heavy-sounding musicianship on the original. This album is an example of white people white-a-tizing their own music, and the result is as bland as skim milk diluted with tap water.

When I pointed out that this was not the real Pufnstuf album but rather a "fake," my mother dug her heels in and insisted "It's better for you." After enduring it one time too many, I managed to trade my copy for the real thing. The older sister of a neighborhood playmate collected bad albums and needed a copy, so she traded me for the real one. The real one has Mama Cass's "Different," which was an early anthem for me. Anyway, this album displays all the worst elements found in children's records, and it preserved, track-by-track, on YouTube. I had not heard it since early 1972, and it was just as weak as I remembered.

Friday, January 05, 2024


Upon arriving home from treatment — over two hours after I was released — the day's mail contained this unexpected show of love from my niece Indira, Indi for short, and it made my entire week. She lives in Australia, so I only get to see her face-to-face once every few years, and she is growing into a teenager who inherited her New Yorker mother's sweetness and beauty. She's terrific and I wish I could see her (and her brothers and mother) more often. That said, this letter was a tonic, and I will cherish it forever. 



Friday, December 29, 2023


Once again I cannot sleep, a state brought about by general anxiety over my nearly 91-year-old mother's dwindling health and the endlessness of kidney failure/dialysis and by the fact that insomnia is just one of the many possible side-effects of the illness. I tried using Melatonin tonight but it did not work, so I lay awake staring at the ceiling, alone in my head with my thoughts. I finally gave up trying to sleep and instead sought a long, boring movie to hopefully lull me to sleep. I chose CLEOPATRA (1963), the legendary ultra-expensive Liz Taylor epic whose box office failure nearly bankrupted 20th Century Fox. 

I saw CLEOPATRA in bits and pieces during my adolescence, when it used to run divided into parts over five days on The 4:30 Movie in the '70's, but I had never watched it from start to finish, and without commercials. Seeing it while under the thumb of insomnia as I have several hours to go until I must get out of bed, dress, and await pickup for dialysis affords me a new and interesting perspective on it. Yes, it's ridiculously bloated at over four hours, but it's not as dull nor as camp as its infamy suggests or as I remembered it being. It's lavish to the point where the budget practically pours off of the screen, and that extravagance makes it a festival of eye candy. Sure, the dialogue is often stilted, but that was, and frankly still is, par for the course with Hollywood historical epics, and at least it has a huge cast of top-shelf actors to deliver it. With that taken into consideration, I don't buy Liz Taylor as the very Ptolemaic Cleopatra from a visual standpoint (translation: she does not work as an inbred ethnic Greek; way too white), but she wears the gorgeous costumes quite fetchingly and delivers the queen's unflappable arrogance as easy as breathing. (Perhaps expressing more than a little of her own personality.) 

Anyway, I do not find CLEOPATRA to be anywhere near as bad as contemporary reviews and most opinions of it popularly espouse. It's simply the last huge Hollywood epic of the classic era, bigger than most, but also no worse than many. If you ask me, its only real crime was being an exorbitant flop, and critics and the audience always love to dog pile on a loser when it's down. For me the bottom line is that it's saving my sanity during my latest bout of inability to sleep, and for that I am most grateful to it. 

That said, it's back to ancient times with Liz and Dick...

Thursday, December 28, 2023




While making today’s breakfast, I watched a YouTube article where a mother who’s a bit older than me watches classic TV shows with her 30-something son and they discuss them from the perspective of seeing them during original air versus watching them from the perspective of someone born well after the fact. Today’s subject for examination was THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E, which was easily the biggest ’60’s super-spy item this side of 007 at the time, and definitely the most popular of the wave of Bond imitators that flooded the airwaves during that era (though most of the other Bond wannabes crashed and burned quickly, even U.N.C.L.E.’s terrible spinoff, THE GIRL FROM U.N.C.L.E, starring a young Stephanie Powers). (It should also be noted that the only other spy shows of the ’60’s that did as well in the ratings were THE AVENGERS, an imprt that was picked up by ABC, and IT TAKES A THIEF, which was terrific but for some reason is all but forgotten today.)

So, inspired by the discussion of U.N.C.L.E. and my clear memories of it — I had dodgy bootlegs of it via the Union Square Nazi maybe a decade ago, so its fresh in my mind —  thinking of snagging the boxed set of Season 2 of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. (hands down the best that series had to offer) but it was only available as individual seasons on Region 2.  I personally have no problem with foreign discs, as I have an all-regions player, but I like to own as much as possible on Region 1 so I can lend to my friends. 

Anyway, I remembered that the only way the show was available on home video in the States was as either a handful of VHS tapes that cherry-picked two episodes per tape (I had a couple of them during my VHS phase) or as a fancy complete series set that came in a metal briefcase. The latter was great for completists, but what most don't recall about THE MAN FROM U..N.C.L.E. is that though it lasted for four seasons (and a terrible reunion TV movie fifteen years later) and had two memorable protagonists, the overall series simply wasn't that good. 

The first season was decent, as it was American TV's first attempt at aping the James Bond formula (the series debuted after the release of FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE and just a few months before GOLDFINGER, with the latter being where the '60's super-spy mania was ignited), but the show was still little more than an obvious Bond knockoff with the sex and violence toned down for primetime viewing. Season 2 saw the show moving to color, which truly brought it to life, but the showrunners also made the series' tongue-in-cheek aspects more overt, but that was okay because it worked. For my money, Season 2 is all that the casual viewer with an interest in '60's spy pop culture needs to bother with.

Then, halfway through Season 2, BATMAN premiered and instantly became a pop culture phenomenon that ushered in “camp” as the new big thing. Without any real understanding of what camp actually is, network honchos scrambled to create shows with what they thought was a camp sensibility, and also tried to shoehorn it into already existing series, much to the detriment of the existing shows in question. That’s why LOST IN SPACE became so aggressively idiotic during its second and third years (though that idiocy arguably made that show more fun and memorable), and why THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. went full-tilt comedy for Season 3. Those of us who have clear memories of U.N.C.L.E. will tell you in no uncertain terms that Season 3 was ruinous for the show, as its plot veered directly into the outright ridiculous, absurd, and silly, with the emphasis on making everything look as intentionally cheap and bad as possible. Look up “The My Friend the Gorilla Affair” as my go-to example of the absolute nadir of the series. Just appalling in every possible way. There is nothing that fails harder than unfunny comedy, and by that yardstick Season 3 was a massive and embarrassing failure. In one season they managed to undo all of the progress and quality of the previous seasons offerings. And it should be noted that the BATMAN-inspired camp wave was a fad that lasted maybe a year, and ddamned near every American TV series that jumped on the camp bandwagon was dead by the end of a season, or less, and pretty much all of them except for BATMAN, LOST IN SPACE, and U.N.C.L.E. are forgotten today. (Though MY MOTHER THE CAR deservedly lives in infamy.) And super-popular though it was, even BATMAN was dead at the end of its third year, largely because its novelty was over. (The show would have been given a fourth season on NBC, provided that all of the sets like the Batcave and such could still be used, but ABC had all of the sets torn down when they got the cancellation notice.)

Realizing the shift to camp was a terrible idea, the U.N.C.L.E. showrunners again changed gears for Season 4, returning the program to its more grounded roots and even giving it a bit more of a darker adult edge, but by that point the damage was done and it was only a matter of time before cancellation. It was the end of the 1960’s and the spy boom was petering out anyway, so the plug was pulled on U.N.C.L.E. halfway through its final season.

U.N.C.L.E. was fondly remembered for the next 30+ years, enshrined mostly by those who were kids when it first aired and who were too young for the more adult thrills of the Bond franchise, though it surprisingly did not turn up much in sydication in the major U.S. markets. (It mostly aired in regions like the Midwest, for some reason.) But then the home video boom happened and lavish DVD sets of classic TV shows became a thing. It took a while but THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. eventually saw relase in a fancy metal briefcase that collected the entire series rather than putting it out in individual season sets. That edition was released at around a hundred bucks, and despite my avid interest in ’60’s spy pop culture, I had no interest in owning the whole series, and certainly not for a hundred bucks. Apparently the general audience shared my sentiment, thus leading the briefcase set to tank to such a degree that it was seen as lack of interest in the property, so no further relases of the series were forthcoming, not even as individual seasons. 

I like having “comfort programming” close at hand, and the closest I could get for THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. is a set of the theatrical films spliced together from episodes of the series for release in Europe, where they spiced things up for the movie audience by adding levels of sex and violence that would never have been allowed in the original TV versions. 

Those films sometimes showed up on American TV as filler for afternoon and weekend movie showcases on local TV stations, and that was how I first saw THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., as it never ran in syndication on the East Coast in my youth. I saw ONE SPY TOO MANY (1966), which was the show’s only 2-part story, “The Alexander the Greater Affair," one afternoon on Channel 9 when I was around 11 or 12, and found it a lot of fun, so from then on I kept my eyes open for more. Little did I realize that the much ballyhooed actual series would turn out to mostly be another item that was bigged-up the nostalgia of now-grown children.

And the failed briefcase set now starts at over $200 when encountered on eBay and other collector’s resources. Absolutely NOT worth it.

Monday, December 25, 2023


What a difference three solid hours of sleep makes!

I am quite refreshed and in a good mood, so I just accepted Tracey's offer to join her family for Christmas dinner. My attendance was contingent upon how I felt after today's dialysis, and thanks to treatment occurring two hours early (my session started at 8am, so I was back here before noon), thus granting me early dismissal and some decent time to nap upon getting home, I was able to enjoy more hours of rest than I would have if I had gotten home at my usual 3-ish or later.

I was still feeling the malaise of my time observing my mother's decline for a week when I started my day, so I was gearing up for spending Christmas night alone, with a humble feast of bangers and mash with some of my favorite country sausages from the schmancy artisanal butcher shop in place of traditional British bangers — I enjoy proper bangers, but the country sausages are a whole other level — but that would only have served to allow my brain to ruminate on my mom's situation.

That is NOT what I need to be doing today.

Christmas Day is for spending time with friends and loved ones, and Tracey and I have been the tightest of family since we met 18 years ago, so much so that I had a major hand in helping raise her daughter, my niece Aurora, from age two or three, so I am quite entrenched. And Tracey struck relationship gold with Matt, her second husband, as he treats her like the living, breathing treasure that she is, plus he's amazing with the very-much-a-teenager Aurora. They are only a little over a mile away, and it gives me comfort to know that the door to this artsy nuclear family is always open to Uncle Bunche. And the icing on the cake is the presence of a huge, sloppy Great Dane who barks at me at first — he's doing his job, so good on him — but once that reminder of his guardian presence is made, he's all up on me, leaning into me for pets and scratches in his favorite spots.

In short, what could have been a miserable Yule will instead be one of welcoming and nurture. No judgement. No infantilization. No dysfunction. For the first time in quite a while, I feel happy.

Sunday, December 24, 2023


Christmas Eve at the dollhouse. Things were not exactly merry, as this could very well be my mother's final Christmas. We shall see...

Finally back at home in Brooklyn, and return to the Vault of Buncheness has seldom felt as good. I'll unwind while enjoying the schmancy Reuben sammich I picked up from the artisanal butcher shop — no hyperbole, it is simply one of the five most delicious and perfect sandwiches that I have ever been blessed with — and wallow in the nurturing comfort that is my own bed, covered with comforters that are just the right size, weight, and textures.

But back to my general reality.

It's a sucky Christmas Eve, as such things go, because leaving Mildred alone in the dollhouse does not make me feel good. When I left she was hunkered into her favorite chair in the living room, and when I made to exit I kissed her cheek and said a heartfelt "I love you." She said "I love you" back to me, but her voice was barely audible, and it looked like she was trying not to cry. And having unavoidably observed her behavior for the past seven days, I would bet good money that after I left she just sat there, all alone, staring off into the middle distance for hours.

Upon waking this morning, mom did her best to deny that I was leaving in a few short hours, repeatedly telling me that she had no idea that I was leaving on Christmas Eve, and also claiming that she did not know I had to go in for dialysis on Christmas Day, all stated as indignantly as possible. I don't know how much of that was "chemo brain" or what, but once she processed that I was not going to stay she fell back on her tried and true "I'm a helpless little old lady" schtick that was a dead-on repeat of the way her own mother acted during her infamous time of staying with us during the summer of 1988. I was happy to help, but my mother is a world-class liar and gaslighter who will do and say anything in order to get what she wants and garner attention, something she has done consistently for the past 46 years, so I have no idea how much of her actions today were legit or just more play-acting. Whatever the case, I butched up and weathered the remaining hours with grace and did my best to exit with class, kindness, and compassion.

Look at the above Christmas pic of Mildred and myself (photo kindly taken by Tom Petrone, whom my mother has openly noted as her "second son" for over forty years). You'll note that neither of us looks particularly festive. Both of us are doing our best to weather our respective illnesses while acknowledging that our conditions and their treatments are kicking our asses, and this year neither of us wanted anything for Christmas, so there were no presents. 

Well, not exactly. 

My spending a week at the dollhouse and enduring my mother was my big gift to her — she has openly stated that she knows she's an irritating pain in the ass — along with stocking her fridge and pantry with an insane (in retrospect) amount of nearly every food, snack, and dessert that I could think of that she would enjoy, which I just realized was my repeating of of some of her programming, specifically that "food is how you show love" Unfortunately her cancer and the side-effects of chemo leave her with little appetite for an actual well-balanced meal, so I ended up wasting a LOT of money, but at least I tried. I was determined to get her to eat solid meals, but the only one she could fully manage on a daily basis was a breakfast of one of my famous fluffy scrambled eggs, with grilled buttered toast and quality thick-cut bacon. (She has a toaster that she never uses, opting instead to grill her toast in a toaster oven that she refuses to learn to use properly, thus dragging out the toasting time.) Her usual go-to when cooking for herself is a boring fried egg, flipped over twice and fried to the consistency of rubber, her preference since childhood not because it's particularly enjoyable but because it's quick and easy to make, as her life's mantra is "now, Now, NOW!!!" My scrambled eggs are whipped with a long-tined fork for a few minutes in a deep bowl, thus folding as much air into the eggs as possible. The whipped eggs than get slowly cooked in a small sauce pan in which I have allowed but to melt but only barely sizzle, stirring slowly and carefully the whole time. Once cooked to the desired level of soft-but-done, the eggs are plated, and they are invariably a light and fluffy delight. My mother loves them, and one of my few pleasures while in the house during my stay was seeing the look of utter foodgasm on her face as she consumed her egg between bites of thick-cut smoky bacon. When I make breakfasts is about the only time when my every movement is not observed and criticized, and I treasure those moments of peace.

Before I left I noted how much food was left over, and the amount is considerable. Even when at her healthiest I doubt Mildred could have polished off everything put before her over the course of the past week, but at least I tried. She barely pecked at homemade dishes like the delicious sausage marinara reduction that I made, among others, plus assorted takeout when she did not want something homemade, though she did express great enjoyment at the vat of chicken and dumplings that I stewed. She pecked off of that for several days, loving every minute of it. It was actually just a slow-simmered stewed whole chicken, cooked in chicken stock with a couple of Knorr bouillon cubes, a large minced onion, some black pepper, and a bag of hearty, wide noodles that are cooked in the pot with the chicken from shortly before the chicken gets tender. Keep on low heat and stir occasionally so nothing sticks to the bottom of the pot. When the chicken has cooked enough to be separated from the bone with a spoon, pour in a bottle or two of Heinz home style Chicken gravy and blend it into the mix. The noodles will be ludicrously soft — this is NOT a meal for those who enjoy their pasta al dente — and very much infused with the flavors of everything surrounding them, and what you end up with is a dish almost indistinguishable from certain types of old school southern chicken and dumplings, only you don't have to go to the trouble of making dumplings by hand and doing the science tricks necessary for making them turn out just right. It's easy to make and my mom absolutely fucking LOVES the stuff, so that's all that matters.

Sorry to ramble, but this is the first time in a week that my thoughts have had room to breathe. It's good to have my train of thought back.

Friday, December 22, 2023


A friend just posted a page from the 1973 Sears Wishbook, the go-to source for satisfying all children's toy avarice during the annual winter holidays, and that image kicked the Wayback Machine in my skuul into high-gear, returning me to my earliest years in Westport.

 Sears Wishbook G.I. Joe spread (1972)
My parents' disaster of a marriage first began to display visible signs of collapse around 1971, and they were at full-blown war by the time we moved from San Francisco to Connecticut in June of 1972. They thought seven-year-old me did not notice their open vitriol toward each other (it was as plain as the noses on their faces), but just in case they buried me with toys every Christmas. My dad was an IBM exec, so he could afford lavish amounts of presents, and the Christmases of 1972 and 1973 found me awakening to all of those years' new GI Joe stuff, even the top-shelf vehicles and bases, and two or three Adventure Team Joes to be deployed when my older ones inevitably fell apart from play. 
Sears Wishbook G.I. Joe spread (1973)

I was grateful for all of it, because play was my way of disconnecting from the vicious, dysfunctional hellhole that was our home. Those miserable years are what sparked my love of toys, an interest that persists a half-century later, though now I display toys instead of playing with them. Nonetheless, they still grant me comfort.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

ADIEU, ARCHER (2009-2023)

Couldn't sleep — yeah, I know, a real shock — so I passed time by watching "Into the Cold," the series finale for ARCHER. 

It's hard to believe that the show lasted for fourteen years, which I watched religiously, and its characters have become as familiar and comfortable as the cast of THE SIMPSONS, only in a setting that deftly lampooned the world of James Bond and the plethora of super-spy entertainment/culture that's been with us since the boom of such in the 1960's and that still persists. It was a satisfying ending and I will be sad to see it go, but if I'm being honest I have to say they should have called it a day when Sterling went into a coma that lasted for several seasons, thus shaking up the spy format with season-long lampoons of various genres that were all creations of Archer's comatose mind. None of that was bad, but it just didn't bear the same focused flavor as what preceded those seasons. It also should have bowed out gracefully when Mallory Archer died, as Lana simply did not possess the same gravitas as a boss, nor the hilariously complex comedic dynamic that was woven from what's basically the dysfunctional relationship between a 007 stand-in and his capable-but-alcoholic mother. Nonetheless, I stuck with it and was rewarded with a dependable source of laughs, so it was a painless decline.

So, I will be wistful about the lack of further ARCHER going forward, but what's left behind is largely timeless and can be enjoyed for as long as home video keeps it available. My hard copy collection of super-spy stuff is considerable, and you had better believe that ARCHER has its place in my DVD library. That said, I salute all who worked on the series. You guys knew your subject and lampooned it with love. "PHRASING!!!"

Tuesday, December 19, 2023


                                     Mom's 2023 Christmas tree. A sad marker of the inevitable.

I'm currently staying at my mother's house in Westport, Connecticut for a week, getting dialysis in Fairfield while mom continues to dwindle from the double-whammy of aged decrepitude (she'll be 91 if she makes it to the end of next month) and cancer in both lungs, plus the debilitating chemotherapy that goes with the latter. She's off at chemo at the moment, so I have a few hours to myself.

While mom is off at chemo, I am looking over the house where I came of age, and it just feels like a sad and foreign place. If truth be told, while this is the residence where I came of age, it holds no sentimental attachment for me, as I could not wait to get out of here upon graduating from high school. When mom inevitably gets escorted to Valhalla, I will return here to settle her estate and se the house properly disposed of, but that will likely be my final appearance in Westport for any considerable length of time.

The sight of mom's tiny Christmas tree adds a note of wistfulness, as Christmas was always a big deal for her, and the thought that this very well could be her final Christmas absolutely guts me. Christmas hold no sacred meaning for me as, unlike my mother, religion holds no meaning for me, and I outgrew the fairytale of Santa Claus by the time I was nine, So I will be glad to be done with it. That said, this is a far cry from the lavish annual yuletide tree that mom would prop up and decorate. This year we both agreed that neither of us need anything, so no gifts, and the tree was always for her, so though it's meager, it serves the purpose of making mom happy. so that's all that matters.

Anyway, it's like a dollhouse gene-spliced with a mausoleum in here, and I am well past the limits of my tolerance for its ultra-pristine and cutesy atmosphere and I'm only two days into my stay of seven days. I pine for the noise and day-to-day madness of NYC and for the comfort of my own bed and pile of comforters whose texture does not rankle my dermatitis-irritated skin. I miss my autonomy, as every time I come here since leaving for NY in 1990, my every movement and word is judged and criticicized after being focused upon and analyzed with an unnerving laser-focus. I value the quiet environment of my humble Park Slope studio apartment, and the freedom to simply leave a room for a moment and not have that action questioned or complained about. Though it kicks her ass, her chemo session allows me a few hours free of my mother's obsessive/oppressive presence, and I am glad of it. I will take care of her when she returns and make sure she eats and rests, as she will be quite debilitated, but know that being stuck in this psychological/emotional torture garden that I fled nearly thirty-four years ago eats at my very being.

I love you, mom, and I will do my best to make your remaining time comfortable, but Sunday afternoon and me setting foot onto the Manhattan-bound Metro North train cannot happen soon enough.