I seem to be writing a lot about meat here lately. Jerry's Nugget, a casino in Las Vegas, has a new eating challenge — a meal consisting of a dinner salad (with croutons), a baked potato, an ear of corn, a slice of garlic toast, a 48 ounce piece of prime rib and a banana split. If you can eat all this in under 45 minutes, you win a t-shirt and you don't have to pay the price of the meal, which is $41.89 plus tax and gratuity. Given the size of my gastric-bypassed stomach, I could maybe handle the baked potato and about 8 ounces of meat…and even as separate dining experiences, I couldn't eat the salad or banana split at all. Lettuce doesn't agree with me and I've developed an aversion to sweets.
So I won't be taking this challenge but I'm kind of intrigued to read the rules (PDF). And if I were to be a competitor, I would have a lot of questions…
- Does finishing one's salad mean not even a drop of salad dressing must remain? For that matter, could the "choice of dressing" be "none?"
- I assume one does not have to eat the corn cob but must one consume the potato skin? If not, how do they deal with the fact that no matter how much you eat of a baked potato, there's always a little more potato you can scrape out of the jacket?
- The size of the slice of garlic toast is apparently up to the restaurant. What's to stop them from making it the size of a Chevrolet? For that matter, they could put twenty heads of lettuce in a tub, say "Here's your dinner salad," and then when the person couldn't even finish that, hand them the check for $41.89 and say, "Too bad!"
- Can one specify the "doneness" of one's prime rib? A 48 ounce cut is so thick, it's probably not going to be consistent in that regard. What if portions of it are too well-done or rare for the diner's taste? (In a restaurant once, I was served a normal-sized piece of prime rib so overcooked, the Tasmanian Devil couldn't have chewed two bites, let alone swallowed.)
- Do you have to eat the fatty parts of the prime rib? The gristle? Even at Lawry's, which makes that cut o' beef better than just about anyone, I always leave a few of the less edible pieces. Would that disqualify me here?
- And then we have this banana split of no specified size. Since it's served if and when the person finishes everything else, it would be easy to make it too large to be eaten in the time remaining.
- Oh — and what if the food is just plain lousy? I guarantee you, I could cook a 48 ounce piece of prime rib so poorly no one would or could finish it if you gave them a week. But they'd still be on the hook for the $41.89.
I'm sure Jerry's Nugget wouldn't cheat at this any more than they'd rig their slot machines. Then again, the casino is struggling to rebuild after having declared bankruptcy in August of 2012. There's an old joke about the player in Las Vegas who loses a couple thousand bucks at the tables and then goes to the buffet and tries to make it up by devouring that much prime rib. This could be the reverse of that joke; where the casino tries to get out of bankruptcy by forcing people to eat more prime rib than they can handle.
I like food that can be kept in the refrigerator for weeks and then when you suddenly realize you want to make dinner at home, it can be prepared in under twenty minutes. I look for that kind of meal and a few years ago, I found a great one which I told you about here — Jennie-O brand Turkey Pot Roast. They come fully-cooked and one of 'em microwaves up in twelve minutes, tastes good, resembles real cooking…and saves my life at that moment when I dearly need a sudden supper.
For a time, I had trouble finding stores that sold them but happily, the Ralphs chain began stocking them so I always have two or three in the fridge. (One caution if you try them: Check the expiration dates and subtract two weeks. If it says to use by May 14, use it by May 1. I've had to toss out a few that I prepared closer to the expiration date…and the Ralphs Markets I go to sometimes keep them on sale longer than they should. But they're great if you adhere to the two week rule.)
If I know for certain I'll be dining home the next night or two, I occasionally make a Bill Bailey's Corned Beef in my crockpot. Very simple: Take it out of the wrapper, put it in, cover it with water and cook 10 hours on "low." Even I can do that and I usually do it overnight. I start it at Midnight and then at 10 AM the next morn, I take it out, slice off the fat, let it cool an hour or two, then slice. They're a bit saltier than I'd like but still quite good. They also have the advantage of making your house smell like a real good delicatessen. If I could get Jackie Mason to drop by when I cook one and also hire some waiters who don't give a crap, I'd be indistinguishable from the Carnegie. Oh, yeah. I'd have to overcharge, too.
The trouble with making one of these, of course, is that I can't decide at 6 PM to make one and be eating corned beef by 6:20. That was why I was guardedly thrilled one day in Costco when I spotted the Bill Bailey's fully-cooked, heat-in-your-microwave version. I raced home with it and didn't make it that night because, of course, I also bought a Costco rotisserie chicken while I was there. But a few nights later, I prepared my microwave corned beef.
How was it? On a scale of ten — ten denoting fine corned beef made fresh at a great deli — I'd peg the ones I make in my slow-cooker at a 9 and the microwave version at an 8. Given the convenience, that's more than a passing grade for me. They also carve much neater than the corned beefs I cook overnight so I might give them a half-a-point for that.
So from all this, you'd expect that my refrigerator would at this moment be filled with Bill Bailey's Fully-Cooked Irish Brand Corned Beef Brisket. Yeah, you'd think that, wouldn't you? Well, it would be if I could find them again.
A few days later, I was near a different Costco so I went in and they didn't have them. They had what I now call the "Cook-it-yourself, Pal" version but not the microwave kind. Not long after that, I went back to the same Costco where I bought the first one…and they now only had the "Cook-it-yourself, Pal" kind. I asked the Costco person who is in charge of product information and got a "We don't know if we're going to be getting the other kind again and if so, when."
Naturally, I then phoned the Bill Bailey's company and asked to speak to their Customer Service Department. The person who answered the phone seemed a little unsure if they even had a Customer Service Department but after I explained that I wanted to know where to purchase their product, she put me through to someone who was supposed to know this. It was a woman who told me they're only available at Costco. Nowhere else. Well, not the two Costcos nearest to me, they aren't.
I'm going to keep hunting. I went through this with the Turkey Pot Roasts and eventually, they turned up in other stores. In the meantime, if a Costco near you carries them, you might want to give it a try. Don't bother writing to tell me you found them at your local Costco unless it's near Los Angeles. I'm not going to drive 50 miles for one of these. They're good but not that good.
We often plug Frank Ferrante, who tours the land with his one-man-and-a-pianist-show, An Evening With Groucho. This weekend, he's in Iowa. The following weekend, he'll be in Vermont and then New York. May 8 and 9, he's in Minnesota and then May 15, he's at the Raue Center for the Arts in Crystal Lake, Illinois.
Anyone here going to the Crystal Lake engagement? The reason I ask is that a reader of this site, Jim Shackett, bought tickets for it and now can't go because he has to go to a family member's wedding. Personally, I wouldn't stay in the same family with someone who'd schedule their wedding in competition with a Frank Ferrante performance but some people have no respect for greatness. Anyway, Jim has real good seats and he's willing to sell them for what he paid, which I suppose is what you'd pay but you probably wouldn't get seats this good. If you're interested, drop me an e-mail. I'll forward it to Jim and then I have nothing more to do with this transaction. It's between you and him.
And if you want to know where Frank will be and when, here's a link to his schedule through June. It's a great show.
And that's it for this year's WonderCon, where I had a WonderFul time doing panels, seeing old friends, meeting readers of this here blog and generally enjoying myself for three days. Rumors said the con hit record attendance but except for a few peak hours on Saturday, it didn't feel overpopulated to me. Then again, I'm large enough that I can usually get where I want to go without too many people getting in my way.
I hosted six panels, appeared on two others, made a live appearance on Mo Kelly's live-from-WonderCon KFI radio program, dined with friends, signed a lot of copies of Groo and Rocky & Bullwinkle and occasionally got a lick of sleep.
It seemed like there were more costumed folks than ever before and a higher percentage than usual had painted all their flesh some bizarre color.
Favorite part of the con? I was a panelist who didn't say much on IDW's panel highlighting their kids' comics like My Little Pony and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. There were adults there who love those comics but we also had a high density of kids…and their love of those comics and those characters was great to see. It reminded me of someone I used to know. I believe it was me.
Least favorite part of the con? That's the part coming up known as The Drive Home. I may delay it 'til late tonight…though come to think of it, how crowded could the freeway be as Disneyland lets out for Easter Weekend? I'm thinking of finishing a script that's due and maybe sleeping for a few days before I attempt it.
Earlier today, I posted a message correcting some reporting on a comic news website that reported on a panel I did yesterday. I thought I was being polite and non-inflammatory but a couple of people at the con today mentioned it to me and they thought I was angry about it. I wasn't…so I made a mental note to log in here and rewrite it and temper it.
Then before I could get to that, I ran into the gent who'd written the piece. He obviously had not read or known of my correction and he was so nice about other things that I felt like a heel scolding him about it. So I've taken down my piece. The matters were trivial and I was wrong to make a fuss about them. My apologies to the reporter. He's a good guy and I was just clumsy with my wording.
Home movies of Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy. With cameo appearances by Jimmy Finlayson (sans mustache) and Charley Chase (with mustache)…
I did a panel Friday morning at WonderCon with my longtime partner Sergio Aragonés. Wanna know what was said on it? It got written up for the L.A. Times website. Yes, it's true that the long-awaited Groo Vs. Conan mini-series has been completed and is coming out. Yes, it's true that Sergio says the first issue will be out in time for Comic-Con. Yes, it's true that no one's told me that and I'm not sure. Yes, it's true that we will soon launch a 12-issue limited series called Groo: Friends and Foes, which since it will be one issue per month, will put Groo back to monthly appearances again. Neither of us knows when that'll be scheduled but we've started work on #3.
And yes, it's true that Sergio has rejected the whole idea, often suggested, of doing a live-action Groo movie. He said he was afraid it would wind up looking like that Flintstones movie. When the audience cheered that — and cheer they did — I guess the reporter didn't hear the Señor add that he did want to do a film but in animation. Some major studios have expressed, as they say in Hollywood, interest. (Do I believe it's going to happen? My policy is that I don't believe any movie is a reality until Leonard Maltin reviews it.)
Paul Paron writes…
I've been a Road Warrior since 1979. The Denny's Rule also holds true for motels when traveling.
You pass tons on the interstate and when you finally decide to stop, there is nothing. Nothing, I tells ya, and you stop at something you finally locate. Not your best choice, not your happiest, the place may smell of unfamiliar food scents or have an abundance of non-running vehicles in the parking lot, but you really need a place to stay.
In the morning…somewhat refreshed, you begin your travel again. I can promise you that the next exit will have no less than three suitable motels, if not more.
I really believe this — and it also holds true for fuel. I drive a diesel pick up truck. Pass a truck stop, pass a truck stop, pass a truck stop, really low on fuel, stop at what ever has diesel at the next exit — it's forty or fifty cents higher than the going rate, and guess what you see at the next exit? Discount fuel, we'll give it to you for free, and wash your truck too if you'd like.
I'd say God hates travelers, but then I'd lose my standing as an agnostic.
Maddening, I know. Hey, here's an app I'd like to have on my smartphone and if no one makes this, someone should. It would be called something like, "What's Near Me That's Open Now and Isn't Closing in Fifteen Minutes Or Less?" You could set it for restaurants, pharmacies, etc., and it would show you lists of such places and if they close, when they close. Several times now, I've used one of those search apps to find someplace nearby to dine and it shows me places that close in three minutes. Ideally, you could set the kind of business you're seeking and the minimum amount of time before it closes.
Better still, how about if my GPS had an "On the Way" feature? It knows the route I'm taking. How about if I can set it to show me all the Five Guys burger joints that are either on that route or not far off it? I can use the GPS to search for "Five Guys" but it will just show me that this one is four miles away and that one is nine. Sometimes, that means the nine-mile one is one I'll be passing in ten minutes, whereas to go to the four-mile one would take me in utterly the wrong direction.
And I'm still hoping for the one that will allow me to search for restaurants that don't serve cole slaw. That would be a true benefit to all mankind.
Good morning from beautiful, overcast Anaheim. Last night, my GPS told me to turn right at a certain street to get to my hotel but my instincts told me no. To which of these should I have listened? I erred, did as the GPS commanded and found myself on a one-way street that led only to the gate where I would use my Disneyland Employee Parking Pass to gain entrance. Since I have no Disneyland Employee Parking Pass and there was no way to turn around, I was in a heap o' trouble. I violated enough traffic rules that I expected someone to slap me in Disney Jail — or force me to take a job wearing a Pocahontas suit — but I made it out alive. I think Disney has a secret deal with the GPS company to trap unsuspecting drivers into going to work there.
On the way down, I passed dozens of Denny's Restaurants. I stopped at none of them but I was reminded of something I devised years ago that I call The Denny's Rule. It goes a little something like this…
Let's say you're driving someplace late at night and you're desperate to find someplace on the way to stop and eat before you get to that final someplace. You pass Denny's after Denny's, all of them open.
If you do not stop at one, you will never find a better place to eat.
If you do stop at one and dine and then get back in your car and proceed on, within the next half-mile, you will find a better place that's open.
That's The Denny's Rule. Learn it. Know it. Live by it.
I was not desperate for chow last night so I did not stop at Denny's and am therefore alive and well to update my blog, then go off for a fine day of WonderConning. Hope to see some of you this evening. They tell me I'll be sittiing, those rare moments I sit, at Table AA-152. If you're on the premises, come on by. If I'm not there, my pal Scott Shaw! will be and if you have kids, he'll draw you a neat picture of a Flintstone or a Simpson or someone else. Back soon.
This story occurred in 1978. I was the Head Writer — I think that was my title — on a Saturday AM TV show and on this program, I'd learned the best way to get the scripts done was to not go in to work.
When I went into work, first of all, I couldn't sit around in my pajamas, unshaven and unshowered, satiating my occasional need for food by walking six yards, making a quick sandwich and taking it back to my desk to eat as I worked. When I went into the studio, I had to shave and shower and get dressed and then drive all the way out to the studio in the valley, which was 45 minutes each way — longer if traffic was bad and traffic was always bad. I had to greet people and make small talk and get dragged into meetings to discuss various aspects of the show and then someone would always say, "Hey, we have things to talk about…let's do it over lunch." Lunch was two hours right there.
I couldn't get anything written if I went to the studio. At home, I could get plenty done so I tried to go in no more than once a week. Twice was sometimes necessary.
A new writer had come on staff and he'd just handed in his first script. I thought it was very good so I fixed a few spelling mistakes and had the Production Assistant copy it and distribute copies to everyone who needed copies. The next day, I planned to not go in so I worked all day and into the evening and didn't stop there. Writing seemed to be flowing out of me at a good clip so I stayed up until around dawn, pounding away on my state-of-the-art (then) typewriter. You can work that late when you don't have to go into an office the next morning.
Or at least I didn't think I did when I went to bed close to 6 AM. At 10 AM, the telephone rousted me with one of those sharp rings that makes you just know something is serious. It was. It was the show's producer calling — a nice, bright lady who was in a state of Utter Panic. I was only about one-third awake as I asked her, "What's wrong?"
"It's this new writer's first script," she said. "I just got it and it's a disaster. An unmitigated disaster. Mark, we have a Major Crisis here."
I told her I thought it was fine. She told me it was not fine. It was a Major Crisis. In fact, it was now two Major Crises. Major Crisis #1 was that the new writer had written this unmitigated disaster. Major Crisis #2 was that the Head Writer did not see it as an unmitigated disaster. Suddenly, I was like a doctor who hadn't noticed that the patient was bleeding from all orifices. "You have to get out here right away," she said. "We have to talk about this."
I said, "I was planning on coming in tomorrow. Can't we discuss it then? This script isn't scheduled to go into production for another week or two. If there's anything wrong with it, we have plenty of time to fix it!"
The panic in her voice grew. "Mark," she said, "I feel the whole show slipping away. We need to fix this now."
I got the message. She was worried they'd not only hired the wrong new writer but the wrong Head One as well. "Okay," I said. "Keep your wrists closed. I'll be there as soon as I can." I had to. After all, it was a Major Crisis.
So I shaved and I showered and I got dressed and I got in my car and I drove to the studio which was way the hell out in the middle of nowhere and I walked into her office and I said, "Okay, I'm here. What's wrong with the script?"
She picked it up and said, "It takes forever to get started. It's dead time. Everyone's just standing around talking."
The writer had started the script with a joke — a good joke, I thought — then commenced introducing the plot around the middle of page two. I took the script from her, crossed out three lines on Page 1 and three more on Page 2 and handed it back to her. She read it over and said, "Oh, that's fine. The story gets started quicker now."
I said, "What else bothers you about it?"
She said, "That's it. I haven't read past the middle of Page 2 yet."
Evanier's Rule of Thumb: Any Major Crisis you can solve in under a minute was never a Major Crisis. It wasn't even a Minor Crisis.
A Major Crisis would be…well, let me give you an example of a Major Crisis. The script we're talking about here was for a Saturday morning series produced by Sid and Marty Krofft Productions. The particular episode revived some characters who had appeared on their 1973-1974 Saturday morn show, Sigmund and the Sea Monsters.
In '74, I was working a lot for Western Publishing, makers of Gold Key Comics. One day, I was up meeting with my editor and as I started to leave, I heard the receptionist remind him that Marty Krofft was coming by for an appointment in half an hour. I had not met either Krofft then but I'd admired the output of their operation. I mentioned to the receptionist that I might hang around the office until he got there so I could introduce myself — or better still, be introduced. I just wanted to tell him how much I liked what they did. Western was then doing a few comics and activity books based on H.R. Pufnstuf and other Krofft properties and Marty was coming by to discuss future publishing plans.
I went back to chat with Bernie Zuber, who basically constituted the entire Production Department at Western's offices on Hollywood Boulevard. Bernie was staring out the window at a huge fire — billows of ebony smoke filling the air — about a mile off. We guesstimated it was somewhere around Santa Monica Boulevard and La Brea.
And as we were guessing, the receptionist came and found me to say, "If you're still waiting for Marty Krofft, his office just called and he won't be in. That fire you're looking at…that's Goldwyn Studios. The Kroffts are taping a show there."
Goldwyn Studios was an old, venerated facility smack-dab in the middle of Hollywood. Mary Pickford and Douglas Fairbanks owned the place when it had a different name. Wuthering Heights was filmed there. So was Some Like It Hot. So was Guys and Dolls. So was West Side Story. So were hundreds of other memorable films and TV shows.
The fire had started on the set of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters. Something electrical had sparked near something combustible and within the hour, three of the studio's five soundstages were gone, along with an office building.
That's a Major Crisis.
And that's how I didn't meet Marty Krofft that day. Four years later when I went to work for him, I did and found much to admire about him and his brother, one being Crisis Management. Or maybe I should say "crisis management" with non-capitalized letters because no problem that occurred when I was there rose anywhere near that level. But there were problems. Freightloads of problems. Most of the projects I worked on for them were variety shows and producing a variety show is basically an exercise in dealing with one problem after another after another after another. Sid and Marty and the kind of people they already employed proved to be real good at coping with problems…solving most, working around those that couldn't be solved. The producer lady who had the moment of panic I described above was pretty good at it, too. Just not all the time.
I hope some of that rubbed off on me but I did get a lesson the day she dragged me out to the Valley because one script got off to a slow start. The lesson — and I'm sure you knew this but I can be real dumb at times — is that the first thing you have to do to solve a problem is to accurately and unemotionally gauge its size and scope. Big Problems require Big Solutions. Little Problems need Little Solutions.
If you try to solve a Big Problem with a Little Solution, it won't work. The problem is bigger than the solution. If you try to solve a Little Problem with a Big Solution…well, that might work but it's likely to create other problems because you have Too Much Solution. It's like if you tried to kill a cockroach in your kitchen by rolling in a Sherman Tank. You might crush the cockroach but you might also crush your stove, your refrigerator, your cleaning lady, your box of Rice Chex, your tuna-noodle casserole, etc.
One day, early in my days with Sid 'n' Marty, Sid got to talking about the fire. It was in no way his or the company's fault but he felt bad about the headaches it had caused everyone — two people were injured, one seriously — and how many tenants of that office building had lost treasured personal items. But then he got to recalling the funny aspects of that afternoon — like Rip Taylor in the grotesque make-up he wore on the show, carrying Billy Barty in his Sigmund costume to safety. There were also all the technicians and crew members and puppeteers and little people fleeing out onto Santa Monica Boulevard to escape the flames. That he could laugh about it now, just four years later, and smile at how everyone had helped everyone else was a very good sign.
On that first show I did for them, a Fire Marshal came on the stage to make certain our sets were non-flammable, which they were. He had been around for the Sigmund experience, before and after the fire, and he told me he was amazed how well the Kroffts and their entire staff handled matters, valuing people over property…and then, with all of their sets and most of their costumes lost, bouncing back and finishing production on the series so that no air dates were missed. "I've worked a lot of fires," he said. "And the first thing you learn is that the panic often does more damage than the fire."
That's a good thing to remember…and you can minimize that panic if you don't treat the minor crises of life like major ones. Of course, that means being able to tell the difference.
This is a clip from a 1977 HBO special, back when most of what that network offered was stand-up comedians. This was because HBO wasn't signatory to the Writers Guild so they couldn't hire good comedy writers. Stand-ups, however, could do their acts.
This is Ed Bluestone, a wry comic I always liked. He had been a writer for National Lampoon, where he contributed some great articles and was credited with the idea for the "If you don't buy this magazine, we'll shoot this dog" cover, one of the most famous in the history of magazines. He became a stand-up, appeared on a lot of shows, then disappeared. I have no idea what became of him and gathering from the response the last time I mentioned him on this blog, neither does anyone else.
But I always found him to be very funny with quotable lines that have since found their way into the acts of others. Here he is, introduced by David Steinberg. If you look fast at the end, you'll catch a glimpse of a very young Jay Leno, who I think had been in show business for about the length of Bluestone's performance…
I am informed that The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (or as it may be called, The Late Show starring Stephen Colbert) will not be in any way affiliated with Dave Letterman's Worldwide Pants company. Furthermore, in a recent round of budget-cutting negotiations, Letterman's firm gave up half-ownership in The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson. CBS now owns the other half.
Also, someone read what I posted earlier and then posted on a forum, "Mark Evanier predicts Craig Ferguson will lose his 12:35 show!" No, Mark did not predict that. He suggested it's probably under discussion. Personally, I hope they leave the guy there. I think he's the best late night host currently on the air.