Friday, January 29, 2010

The Greatest Documentary I've Seen

I saw a movie last night and it’s sticking with me like warm chewing gum. As hard as I’ve tried to put this documentary out of my mind, I can’t do it. It may sound corny and melodramatic, but I’m crying as I’m writing this. My keyboard is damp and my mind is racing, trying to tell people about this amazing, troubling, surprising and yet hopeful film.

It’s called Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father (2008, 1 hr. 33 minutes and available on DVD). This is the kind of story I can’t describe too much without giving away a bunch of important information. So let's put it this way—it starts out as a certain type of documentary, but then changes completely and offers a totally different message by the end.

Aided by a tremendous amount of home videos, filmmaker Kurt Kuenne began profiling his best friend, Andrew Bagby, when they were kids growing up in San Jose, Calif. Bagby, who became a successful doctor, was murdered in a western Pennsylvania parking lot in November, 2001. The main suspect, his estranged girlfriend, fled to her hometown in Canada and then subsequently gave birth to Bagby's son. This sets up one of the most incredible series of scenes in the film, when Andrew's distraught parents want to see their grandson, they’re forced to "make nice" with their own son's virtually certain killer, out on bail. And this is just the beginning. What happens next is even more shocking and very haunting.

I love great documentaries, like A Thin Blue Line, The Great Happiness Space, The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill and so many more. But this is by far the greatest doc I’ve ever seen. One of the things that makes it so special is that Kuenne lived in the film. He’s not just an observer, because the late Andrew Bagby was his best friend. The editing is unparalleled and Kuenne’s narration throughout is poignant and right to the point. He could have really pulled a ton of heart strings in this film, but he refrains most of the time, so that we get the story rather than just tribute to his murdered friend.

I’ve never enjoyed watching horror films. Some people enjoy getting the crap scared out of them, but not me. But this movie is a real-life horror film. And the horror in this documentary is scarier than anything some freak from Elm Street can send chills down your spine. It’s 100 times more horrific than every Friday the 13th sequel combined. Because it’s real—and that gives it more impact than a drooling vampire or a werewolf that looks like a walking carpet my dog scooted all over.

This is all I want to say about Dear Zachary: A Letter to a Son About His Father. If this article persuades you to see this film (even one person) I’ll be satisfied and consider this mission accomplished. Everyone should see this movie for a wide range of reasons. To know Andrew and Zachary for less than an hour and a half makes seeing this film worthwhile if for just that reason alone.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Out of Control Squirrels

Homeless thugs have taken over the Haight and now the squirrels have captured their turf in Lafayette Park in San Francisco. This particular squirrel (they call him 'Nutz") is sneaky--he acts like you want to pick him up and then he lifts your wallet and runs up your credit cards. I knew it was him because he charged up a bunch of things like roasted nuts and big woolly socks from Sports Basement. Damn! I'll never learn!

Monday, January 18, 2010

The 1949 U.S. Goodwill Baseball Tour of Japan

“The 1949 U.S. Goodwill Baseball Tour of Japan” is currently a display at the Society of California Pioneers museum at 300 4th Street (at Folsom) in San Francisco. It runs through the Spring. Call (415) 957-1849 for more information. If you’re a fan of baseball history, this is a must-see, featuring more than 250 items from this historical tour.

I enjoy studying the long history of baseball in San Francisco. Next month, the City By the Bay will celebrate 150 years of baseball in the Bay Area.

Lefty O’Doul was a fascinating guy. He’s the second-greatest player from the area, old-timers say. (Joe D. is obviously #1). O’Doul loved Japan and spearheaded the 1949 U.S. Goodwill Baseball Tour of Japan in 1949. Even though we dropped the big bomb on their country, the Japanese were enthralled by American baseball and welcomed our San Francisco Seals players with open arms.

The 1949 U.S. Goodwill Baseball Tour of Japan was one of the first peacetime cultural exchanges of the post-war era between the two nations. It was the 1940’s equivalent of the famed “ping-pong” diplomacy practiced by the U.S. and mainland China in the 1970’s. The Tour captured the imagination of the Japanese public with a fervor unmatched by any other pre-war or post-war Baseball Tour of Japan. The publicity surrounding this Tour dwarfed all others – scores of graphic posters, hand colored and printed baseball cards, commemorative jewelry, kimonos, umbrellas, uniforms and tour jackets were produced and presented to each player upon arriving in Yokohama on October 12th. At tour’s end, each player was presented with a personalized fabric covered album containing large, high quality black and white photos of the players’ arrival, receptions, parades, team photos, and game action shots.

Upon the personal request of General Douglas MacArthur, the Tour was organized by Lefty O’Doul, a man beloved by Japanese baseball fans, who had toured Japan with various U.S. All-Star Teams as early as 1931. By 1949, O’Doul was manager of the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League. In that era, the P.C.L. was not the Triple A minor league team that we know today, but a league containing many major league caliber players who preferred to play west of the Mississippi for more money than major league teams had offered them. It was only fitting that O’Doul bring the Seals to play the Japanese All-Star teams, for over the course of the eleven game Tour, they drew more than half a million spectators to the games played at Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka.

In the span of a month, O’Doul and the Seals had managed to restore some of the nation’s morale, break the post-war tension in Japanese-American relations, and lay a new foundation for friendship between the two countries. Emperor Hirohito was so grateful that he invited the Seals to the Imperial Palace to personally thank them for all they had done. General MacArthur was even more effusive in his praise, fervently claiming of O’Doul’s 1949 Tour, “This is the greatest piece of diplomacy ever.”

Compliments of Tim Evans,
Exhibitions & Education Coordinator

Friday, January 15, 2010

Get On the Golden Gate Express

All aboard The Golden Gate Express for a San Francisco experience like no other! Golden Gate Park’s Conservatory of Flowers in Golden Gate Park brings back its enormously popular garden railway exhibition this winter with many new features and surprises created by local garden railroad aficionados and artists from SF Recycling & Disposal, Inc.’s Artist in Residence program. It’s a celebration of the city of San Francisco as a model train, cable car, streetcar and more wend their way through a lush landscape of dwarf plants and zip past mini versions of the city’s landmark buildings created entirely from recycled materials. New this year also are some only-in-San Francisco special effects including the sounds of the city and
the twice-daily arrival of the fog.

The Golden Gate Express will be on display until April 18, 2010. We saw it today and it’s amazing. The creativity displayed in the types of recycled materials they used; the various sound effects, including fog twice per day; and the way it flowed so well together to make it a work of art like nothing I’ve ever seen.

This year’s display has a plethora of new things to see – one that features a G-gauge train modeled after an historic San Francisco locomotive looping through the cityscape, a cable car ascending a San Francisco hill, a streetcar and miniature cars zooming across the Golden Gate Bridge. This year’s all-new, dynamic design is being created by the members of the Bay Area Garden Railway Society (BAGRS). With over 300 members that have created more than 1000 layouts in backyards around the Bay Area since 1988, BAGRS is the largest club of its kind in the world with more outdoor railroads than anywhere else.

Many of the club’s members came to last year’s exhibit, designed by model train enthusiast and Professor of Landscape Architecture at UC Berkeley Chip Sullivan, and were highly enthusiastic about continuing the exhibit as an annual event. Chief among those was BAGRS past President and the author of the definitive book How to Design and Build Your Garden Railroad, Jack Verducci of San Mateo. “This is a chance for us to share our passion and create something lots of people can see,” he says. “Most of our railroads are at our homes and not so accessible. At the Conservatory, we’ll be able to bring this great family hobby to everyone and hopefully get them excited about trying it themselves.”

Verducci promises a lay out with lots of fun features including bridges, tunnels, California specific landscaping and even a change in the weather. At 11:15 AM and 4:15 PM each day, San Francisco’s famous fog will roll in under the Golden Gate and envelop the mini city in mystery. In addition to the new layout, several new miniature San Francisco landmarks join the eleven buildings that were fabricated last year. Debuting this year will be San Francisco’s City Hall, the Palace of Fine Arts, the Castro Theater, the Painted Ladies, Lotta’s Fountain, the California
Academy of Science’s Living Roof, AT&T Park and historic Firehouse #37 built in Potrero Hill in 1917. The new landmarks, like last year’s Conservatory of Flowers, Japanese Tea Garden pagoda, Golden Gate Bridge, Mission Dolores, Chinatown Gate, Transamerica Pyramid, Ferry Building, Coit Tower, Ghirardelli Square, Bently Reserve and Merchant Exchange Building, will be made entirely of recycled and repurposed materials, reflecting present day San Francisco’s cutting edge commitment to sustainability and the Conservatory’s own environmental mission.

Special thanks to the media contact at the Conservatory, Nina Sazevich.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

What Do You Get When You Take Human Growth Hormone Supplements?

Mark McGwire has been in the spotlight lately. The other day on the MLB Channel, Bob Costas asked the former Bash Brother if he ever took human growth hormone supplements and M.M responded by emphatically saying "No!" If you are trying to get bigger and stronger, you need to work out. That is the bottom line. Many people think they can take some type of supplement, and all of a sudden, they'll look like Arnold or Jose Canseco, and that's not the way it works. To be honest, I don't even know the facts. I have never taken anything like this and I would never touch it, but before ANYONE takes any type of human growth hormone products, check them out very thoroughly....always!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Summer of Love Is Dead!

San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury district used to be a great place to visit, with all of the funky cafes, the head shops, the amazing music stores and a great laid-back vibe, but now it’s turn into a battleground where homeless drunks, stoners, small-time pot dealers and an entire armada of world’s lost children have taken over the area by acting like aggressive bullies and fighting the cops, who are losing the war and don’t really seem to care.

One of our friends was recently assaulted by a gang of homeless stoners in the Haight. He was walking down the street, avoiding eye contact with anyone, when three thugs decided to block him from passing on the sidewalk.

“Hey, there’s a toll here,” one of the slimier miscreants actually spoke.

“Yeah, it’s five bucks each,” another chimed in.

“Yeah, you can afford it,” the Curly of the trio added his two cents.

Like most of us, my friend changed his route and walked out into oncoming traffic to avoid more thuggery.

“We’ll kill you next time we see you around here, asshole,” they said in unison, which makes me think they rehearse regularly.

Luckily, my buddy got out of there in one piece, but he did promise himself to never return to the Haight. (Note: Tourism must be booming!)

This was not the only Haighter story I had heard, so I decided to witness the carnage myself. As a writer, I feel as though I should see things with my own eyes whenever I can. So, I went to the Haight and drove around for awhile, making sure to stay in my vehicle to observe in safety, like going to one of those Wild Animal Parks.

And the animals I observed were no less intimidating, ugly and menacing as described. The thugs are perfectly named--they block off all of the sidewalks they can by sitting and allowing no one to walk past. People are forced to walk through traffic and risk getting hit by cars if they hope to pass. And heaven forbid if you try to walk through the mob.

During the half hour I witnessed this phenomena, not one person confronted the sidewalk sitters. People as a rule don’t want hassles and the average Joe or Jo on the street will take his or her chance getting hit by a car as compared to confronting angry-looking, physically intimidating people who have outnumbered them. This unruly mob doesn’t have guns, but their arsenal, consisting of verbal threats, pit bulls, flying spit and even throwing fists if necessary, is apparently effective.

The Haight has turned into Bartertown, the apocalyptic village featured in the film Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I kept expecting to see a fight breaking out between Max (Mel Gibson) and Aunty Entity (Tina Turner) at any time from amongst the dusty minions lining the streets of the Haight.

So, now everyone knows the problem exists. The local media’s all over it. But, those same thugs are sitting there right now, doing the same thing to every passerby they can. Will someone have to die before something gets done? Will it then become a national story so that the city and the cops will suddenly have to spin it their way and pass the blame to anyone and everyone else?
Probably. And that’s the saddest part of this entire tale. Most of time things don’t get done until they have to get done. People only learn things the hard way and this will be another example of that. Count on it.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

My 2009 NFL Playoff & Super Bowl Picks

Many sportswriters and/or prognosticators are skittish when they make their NFL postseason selections, but I'm ready to give you mine right now!

This year's playoffs features more parity than in any recent seasons. Will Wild Card teams like Green Bay and the Jets go deep in the brackets? Or will the leading teams (New Orleans & Indy) reach the Promised Land called the Super Bowl? Get your fantasy playoff rosters and your score squares ready, because here I go:

First Round:

Jets vs. Bengals: The Jets are hot and their defense is tough! Jets win!

Ravens vs. Pats: Baltimore is better and improving, but Brady and Moss will prevail. Pats!

Eagles vs. Cowboys: Dallas is ready and primed to make a run & Philly is slumping. Boyz!

Pack vs. Cards: Green Bay is playing a hot hand and Arizona has big holes on defense. Cheese!

Second Round:

Jets vs. Colts: The NY magic ends here. Manning and Addai will make everything right. Colts!

Pats vs. Chargers: San Diego will outscore New England and Belichick will whine. Chargers!

Cowboys vs. Vikings: This could be close, but Dallas will prevail with DEFENSE. Cowboys!

Pack vs. Saints: New Orleans is real, but the Pack is Back. Packers!

Championship Round:

Chargers vs. Colts: Decided by a field goal. (Final score: S.D.: 27-23) Chargers to the Bowl!

Green Bay vs. Cowboys: Decided by a TD. (Final score: 'Boyz: 31-24) Dallas Back on the Grassy Knoll!

Super Bowl:

Chargers vs. Cowboys: San Diego is better and deeper overall. It will be close until the 4th quarter when two crucial turnovers bury the Boyz. (Final: Chargers 30 Cowboys 20. Super Bowl MVP: Phil Rivers)

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

TV Furniture Has Come A Long Way!

Back in the day, tv stands really didn't exist. If you put your black and white television on a desk or the kitchen counter, that was your T.V. stand. Now, they're over 200 different choices when it come to T.V. stands. You can go high-tech, old school, super quality or discount tier, because the designs, inventory and craftsmanship is off the hook. Enjoy your new T.V. with a great T.V. stand--you'll make the entire viewing experience that much more special.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Invisalign: Make it a New Years Resolution You Keep

How are you doing with your 2010 resolutions? It's now January 5th, which means that 88% of all the resolutions in this country have already been broken. Weight loss, quit smoking and finding Bin Laden to bring him to justice-- these are probably the most popular resolutions in the U.S. In England, all they want is better tea in 2010. They're a more simple bunch. Another resolution that should be easier to stick to, involves doing Orange NJ invisalign. If your teeth are all crooked and they look bad, take a long, serious look at invisalign. Get it done because you'll get it done! Get a smile makeover and you'll build your self-confidence and feel better 100%!

Monday, January 04, 2010

Inside the Scoop on Outer Banks

They ask me to write about the beautiful vacation spot called Outer Banks. Outer Banks vacation homes are supposedly amazing, for laidback activities including watersports, horseback riding, chillin' & thrillin' and just having a blast, Outer Banks has a legacy for fun in the sun. Many uncool celebrities (like G.W. and Tom "Spaceman" Cruise) go there and take up useless space. But, other very cool celebs like Jim Breuer (SNL) and Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters-pictured) hit the scene at Outer Banks and make it a potentially great spot for a vacation.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

Graduate to The Next Level

We're a while from graduation plans, but if you're moving onto the next level of life in May/June 2010, get onboard with the plans and buy yourself some high-quality, very attractive and timely photo graduation invitations. A nice photo graduation invite will make you look good as you graduate to REAL LIFE. You worked hard studying, drinking beer, brown-nosing your teachers and parents, and just generally slid through school. Celebrate! Work your relatives for large cash graduation gifts and figure out how you can get the most $$ in your life without working hard or getting caught!

Fat Comics Die Young!

I was a bad fat comedian. Now I'm a slightly chubby former comic. But, I'm ALIVE! When I lose the final 40 pounds I need to shed, I'll be ecstatic. When I look back at the way I lived for 40-plus years, it's amazing I'm not just as dead as Belushi, Candy, Kinnison or Fatty Arbuckle. Those guys never really had a chance to take advantage of the top weight loss pills on the market today. Like my doctor said to me, "You don't see a lot of obese people in their 70's & 80's." Think about it!