Tuesday, March 30, 2010

My Trip to Pariiis and the French Riviera - Part Two

[Note: If you missed Part One of this posting, click here to access it.]

Before expounding further on the financial gouging and other annoyances of a trip to France, I’d like to point out that there are some very friendly, hospitable and generous French people. The generalities mentioned herein are drawn from a single trip. To throw in some standard product disclaimer language, individual results may vary; past results are not a guarantee of future performance and consult your doctor before taking any medication.

Case in point: my friends Mary and Jean Marc met me for lunch in Pariiis. Jean Marc was born and raised in France and Mary, my friend from law school, married him and lived for 13 years in France. I was in their wedding party many years ago. You couldn’t meet two nicer people. They picked me up at my hotel (with no meter running!) and brought me to the restaurant where President Obama had brunch with some friends on his first official visit to Pariiis. It was excellent. They also presented me with a welcoming bag filled with savory French delicacies and a bottle of great wine.

And, on top of all this, they provided an abbreviated tour of the city in their car (we both had places to be.) So, in short, yes Virginia, there is a nice Frenchman. Many actually – although most reside outside of Pariiis. But writing about the nice ones is not nearly as much fun as posting a diatribe, so let’s get back to that…

Travel Advisory: If you’d like to order a drink at a Pariiisian restaurant, you’ll need to call your accountant first to make sure you can afford it. Once you see the cost of a single drink, you’ll need another drink to calm your nerves. A rum (or “rhum” as they misspell it) and Coke comes with two separate components to the bill…how charming!  First, they gouge you $16 for the rhum (I think they even charge you two Euro for the extra “h” in the spelling.) Then there’s a separate $10 fleecing for the Coke.  Not bad, $26 for a drink at a regular restaurant (we’re not talking gentleman’s club here; male readers know how pricey that can get…)  And it really burns me that the Coke is an American beverage.  I can see the Frogs gouging us for a rhum and Perrier, at least Perrier is a French product.

Hailing a cab on a city street? Next to impossible; buy a lottery ticket instead. Going to the Louvre? Get ready to stand in a long, slow line to pay about $18 U.S. Once inside, you may be lucky enough, as I was, to have some personal interaction with the staff. A museum guard yelled at me for talking too loudly in the crowded and noisy room leading into the Mona Lisa. He didn’t (or wouldn’t) use English of course, but rather pointed animatedly at a brochure which contained a depiction of people talking too loudly. One of them, coincidentally, looked like me.

The people who speak the best English in France, I find, are the ones who are charged with taking your money.

I’ll spare you the rest of the Pariiis complaints. It is, however, undeniably a beautiful city with many interesting and enriching sights and you could easily spend weeks exploring it and still not have the full picture. Of course, you’d also be bankrupt by then.

By the way, I spell Pariiis with three “I’s” because I believe that you need to be prepared to experience the three “I’s” when you go to France. Despite all of its beauty and grandeur, you’ll be Inconvenienced, Ignored and Insulted. If you’re lucky, that will be the worst of it.

From Pariiis, I took a train (the TGV fast train) down to Cannes on the Riviera. Stupidly, I paid for a “first class” ticket thru the internet, which included a meal for an additional US $47. I got a ham sandwich for that $47. Only if that were the worst rip-off of the trip, I’d be happy.

While I consider myself fairly intelligent in the United States, I found that most of the choices that I made in France were stupid and costly.

My hotel in Cannes was splendid, an elegant place called the Majestic Barriere. It’s right across the street from the beach and half a block from one of the main sites of the Cannes Film Festival. George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and The LG Report have all stayed at this hotel at various times. There are photos of three of the four hanging in the hotel. The fourth has his name written in Sharpie inside a dresser drawer to prove he was there. Guess which is which.

Unfortunately, the pool at the Majestic Barriere was being renovated, so my main option for relaxing in the sun was the hotel’s private beach. It only cost $50 (US) per day per person to use this private beach. I thought that included oil drilling rights, but it didn’t. Once again, France was sticking it in my Majestic Derriere.

Upon checking into the hotel I asked the concierge about renting a car for 24 hours. He pulled out a book labeled “Elite Rental Car,” and I knew instantly that I would be taken for a ride in more ways than one by Elite.

The English-speaking (and money-accepting) concierge quoted me a price of $400 US for a one-day rental of a Cooper mini. To be clear, that's one day, not one week.  Being the smart American that I am, I made up an excuse for needing to get back to him later while I pondered my options. The next morning, I hoofed it back into town to find the Hertz location that I had seen on the way in from the train station.  Being an American company, I hoped that Hertz would take care of an amigo from the good ole US of A without such a rip-off price.

After getting lost and wandering around Cannes for an hour, I finally found the Hertz office and approached the French woman at the counter (I was hoping that they had imported their employees from New Jersey, but no such luck.) She coldly informed me that if they had a car available for the day that I wanted – and there was no guarantee – it would cost $560.  Again, for the DAY, not a week.


It was back to the concierge and the Cooper Mini for $400 a day.  It seemed like a bargain-basement price. Yipee!

One of my shirts needed laundering before I could wear it for the fifth time on this trip (just kidding, only fourth.) I checked the laundry list in the closet (I noticed Ricky Martin in there, come to think of it…) and was by this time only semi-aghast to see that it cost $18 US to get a shirt washed and ironed in the hotel. Back home in Manhattan it costs $2. Who’dda thunk that Manhattan would have such low prices?

Again, being the smart American that I am, I hid the shirt in a plastic bag (I didn’t want to appear to be a cheap-ass while carrying it thru the plush lobby in search of less expensive laundering) and marched into town to find the Laundromat that I had seen while wandering a day earlier.  Eventually I found it, after getting lost for another hour.  I was downright steamed to learn that this establishment charged $16 per shirt - and without delivery.   Off I went back to the hotel, tail between my legs, to take advantage of an $18 shirt washing.  I was being taken to the cleaners again.

There was no winning in this country, not for me anyway.

One night I went into one of the local casinos to sample the gambling scene.  In casinos in Vegas and Atlantic City and almost everywhere else in the States, they ply you with free drinks for as long as you’re gambling.  Here, it was $14 US per drink while you lost your laundered-for-$18 shirt.

A club sandwich beachside was $27 US.  One night I went into Monte Carlo for dinner.  The restaurant, which you know wasn't cheap, so I won’t bother to say it, added a 19% “service charge” onto the final bill and in very large lettering stated that “This 19% service charge DOES NOT include any tip whatsoever.” Normally, the “service charge” in Europe serves as the tip, as you probably know.

I'm going to stop here. This posting may sound bitter and angry.  If that’s the vibe you picked up, congratulations, because it is! You are an astute reader.

France is a beautiful and cultured nation with many splendid attractions.  It’s well worth a trip if you haven’t been.  But, in my opinion, if it were populated by warm and friendly people from, say, the American Midwest, it would be even better.   But that's just me.

Brats and brie anyone?

Friday, March 26, 2010

My Trip to Pariiis and the French Riviera

Oui, I know that Paris is normally spelled with one “i;” there’s a reason that I used three in the title. We’ll get to that later.  Have some patience mon frère.

Last June, I spent two days in Pariiis and five more on the French Riviera (Cannes mostly.)

I took a fair number of pictures, which works out well because I expect to be banned for life from re-entering the country when the French Tourism Authority reads this.  Although, my guess is that they don’t lower themselves to reading English-language blogs. Yes, technically, this is written in the English language.

Let me get this out first: France is a beautiful country with many magnificent attractions.

Everything in France is really terrific, except for the fact that most of the locals exude a constant stream of low-grade rudeness, especially in Pariis. 

And the entire economic engine of France is designed to screw visitors financially at every turn.  For tourists, Paris is the City of Light….Wallets.

The good news is that if you fly Air France, you can breathe for free on the plane. Folks, that’s about it for the good news.
Let’s talk about Air France for a minute.

I noticed some consistent patterns of behavior during my three flights on that esteemed airline, so, being an American swine, I'll generalize by saying that these are true of all Air France flights.  If you’re still reading at this point, I’m guessing that you’re not a strict logician and will accept my flimsy premise, oui? (By the way, I know that the word “oui” reminds you of the magazines that you used to dig out of the 7-11 dumpster as a kid…)

Air France offers two meal choices. The first will be something like filet mignon with Lyonnais potatoes and freshly-picked asparagus.

The other selection will be a peanut butter and celery sandwich accompanied by Tater Tots. The clear difference in the desirability of the two selections is apparently unknowable to the Air France culinary management.  Without fail, the plane will run out of the more attractive option within the first three rows.  I sat in row 44 on each flight.  Peanut butter and celery does not taste any better when prepared by a French chef.  The first three rows of the plane are apparently reserved for government dignitaries and Air France management.

Another charming fact about Air France involves how the French pilots make announcements.  Being considerate hosts, they tell you everything in both French and English. The French language version always comes first, and takes about five minutes.  It's characterized by a lot of enthusiasm, inflection and joviality.  Maybe the pilot will even provide the crowd with an all-out laugh or two.  Then, after the English speaking passengers have suffered through this five-minute Party-On-The-Public-Address-System, they get the translation in their own tongue: “Please fasten your seat belts. Thank you.”

The translation takes all of 2.2 seconds.

I was left wondering what secret escape hatch or hidden parachute the pilot didn’t bother telling the English-speaking pigs about. That was probably the part where he chuckled.  My guess as to the translation: “The Americans will be stuck on this plane as it spirals downwards in a smoky ball while we French will slide out the secret escape hatches with our Louis Vuitton parachutes.”

OK, so let’s get down to the nitty gritty:  Why do I feel that the French are rip-off artists? How did they gouge me during my visit? Well, let’s see, do you have six hours or so? No? Ok, then I’ll try to make it concise. And I won’t even charge you. After all, we’re not in France.

Here's a start: when you have your concierge call you a cab at a hotel in Pariiis, the meter starts running from wherever the cab is when it receives the call.  Yes, that's true.

Supposedly, the cab dispatcher calls the closet cab to your hotel, but I don’t see how anyone could
verify that.  My first cab called in this manner came down from Normandy. The second one came from Portugal.  Each time, the fare on the meter, before I even stepped into the cab, was the equivalent of the average Frenchman’s retirement fund.  I don’t know for sure, but I wouldn’t be surprised if French lawyers start charging you from the time that they begin law school.

I’m not bitter, of course.

[The LG Report editorial staff has determined that this installment of our vitriolic expose of French rip-offs is long enough; the next installment will come soon, like a Pariiis taxi.  If this makes you unhappy (or happy), please post a comment.  The LG Report welcomes comments, so feel free to fire one off.  In English, not French.  Thanks and merci.]

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

March Sadness

The Madness of March is supposed to bring joy to fans of NCAA hoops,
But, not so much if your team out of the tournament early poops.

What the F happened to a squad that I thought had the stamp of Final Four?
Instead, early and unceremoniously they were shown the freakin' door.

Now, fans nationwide are dumping on the highly-touted Big East,
"See...they lost early, on their ranks the other teams did feast."

Notre Dame, Louisville, Georgetown and Marquette,
If you wagered on their first tourney game, you'd have lost your bet.

With my beloved NovaCats out of the fray, I'm distraught, so just tighten the noose,
All I can do is sit, zombie-like, in front of my TV and yell the unthinkable: Go 'Cuse!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

My Old Man and the Sea - Part Two

Loyal Readers: when we last left you, the Near-Death Journey was about to begin.  If you missed Part One of "My Old Man and the Sea," you can access it by clicking here.  The story picks up from there, but with a slight detour first.

Last week, I had dinner with my Aunt Rita at my cousin Maria's house in South Jersey.  Years ago, Aunt Rita (and my Uncle Leo) had retired to Andros Island, my father's (and Uncle Leo's) boyhood home in Greece.  Aunt Rita recently came across some old photographs for sale in a store on the island.  One depicted my father's grandfather's sailing vessel in their hometown harbor.  It's the large one in the center.  I'd say it qualifies as a ship, rather than a mere "boat."  We know that this picture was taken sometime before 1937 -- the year that a bell tower was erected on the large church above the town.  

It struck me as more than a coincidence that Aunt Rita gave me a copy of this photo while I was in the middle of writing "My Old Man and the Sea - Part Two," so I felt impelled to include it.  This picture further drives home, to me, the long line of nautical excellence from which my father sprang.  It's just that he sprang a bit too far!  Ok, maybe a lot too far.

Back to the meat of the story.  I know you've been waiting.  Grab some popcorn.

Unfortunately, some 35 years later, not every detail is crystal clear, but the main points are.  Like a soldier recounting a horrific battle, I think I've subconsciously chosen to repress some aspects of the ordeal.

The NDJ ("Near-Death Journey") was originally slated to be merely a joy ride.  We were going to motor a short way out into the Atlantic, cruise around, then come back.  No fishing was involved and, certainly, no near-death experiences were on the menu.

Truman Capote once said that there were only two emotions on an airplane: boredom or terror.  That was often true for me when at sea on my father's boats.  Well, come to think of it, throw "aggravation" in there too, for good measure.

We had a large group for the NDJ, possibly even exceeding the boat's recommended capacity.  But, of course, my father never paid attention to such technicalities as the boat's "capacity."  American rules of boating safety didn't apply to my dad; he was raised on the sea and knew it all.  Or so he thought.

I don't remember the entire passenger list, but I know that my sister was on board, along with a number of our friends.  Lee, Greg ("Eggman"), Domenic and Gina were definitely there.  Also, most likely Brian, Marisa and, maybe, John.

We started out from a dock on the Jersey Shore's Shark River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean between the towns of Avon and Belmar.

The day started out sunny and warm, but things grew ominous quickly.  In hindsight, I think I saw vultures perching in the trees overhead as we boarded.

And, shortly thereafter, an albatross dropped an animal skull onto the deck, causing it to explode like a delicate Christmas ornament.

Actually, I'm not sure if either of those things occurred, but, hey, it was possible.

My father was the captain, as always.  He wore a traditional Greek fisherman's hat, black.  However, as we all know, attire alone doesn't create ability.  Rosie O'Donnell probably owns lingerie.

We had one crew member -- me.  I did whatever my father told me, except in the rare instance when I could talk him out of some obviously foolish maneuver.  And if I knew that something was foolish, then it must've been REALLY foolish.  But this almost never happened.  My father was not in the business of listening to my advice.  Or anybody else's, for that matter.

"Boy! Boy! Lift the anchor!"

The anchor was puny and really served no purpose; ordering me to lift it was more for show than anything.

"Boy! Boy! Push off from the dock!"

A mate on a ship is customarily referred to as "boy" by the captain.  This wasn't, however, why my father called me "Boy!"  My dad used "Boy!" whether on high seas or dry land, it made no difference.  He knew my real name -- it was also his father's, so it would've been hard for him to forget -- but he used it only when I angered him, which is to say fairly often. 

English was my father's second language (he pronounced "depot" as "dee - pot," which would always send us into howls) and "Boy!" served his purpose well as a non-native speaker.  It was short, descriptive and easy to pronounce.  And, luckily for him, we only had one boy in the house.  This moniker was also useful because it could be discerned through a mouthful of food, or heard clearly when yelled from three rooms away (I was also a Human Remote Control for the TV in those days, often coming from another floor to change the channel for my lounging father.)  However, in what remains to me one of life's great mysteries, my sister was never "Girl!"  She was always just "Maria."  

"Boy! Boy! Fill the fish holding tank with water!"

This order was superfluous since we very rarely caught any fish worth keeping.  From time to time, my father would show up at home with what he'd call a "fish finder."  Usually, he bought these on the back steps of his diner from a guy who claimed it "fell off a truck."  Maybe that's why none of them worked -- they had broken when they hit the pavement.  To me, these devices looked like reconfigured 8-track players.  When they'd prove useless, my father would eventually toss them into the Atlantic.  Perhaps they hit some sea life on their way down, finally fulfilling their roles as "fish finders."

In case you couldn't guess, my father wasn't eco-conscious, and throwing malfunctioning electronics into the ocean didn't strike him as a bad thing to do.

We eventually pushed off and headed out towards the open sea on the foreboding afternoon of the NDJ.   We started out fairly slowly -- there was a low speed limit to prevent people from creating large wakes in the inlet -- and picked up a bit of momentum as we went.

As we got closer to the bridge that straddled the mouth of Shark River Inlet and the edge of the Atlantic, the fun started.  The sea was punching and slapping our vessel from below.  We jerked from side to side at severe angles.  I heard the theme song from "Gilligan's Island" begin to play just as I looked to my right and saw a boat from "The Deadliest Catch" hightailing it back to port.  And that show wouldn't even be created for more than 25 years.  That's how I knew this was bad.

Before I proceed, I'd like to make something perfectly clear. This is a fact that was lost on my fellow passengers back in the summer of 1975.

What set me apart from my friends, far apart, was that I knew, intimately, the limited extent of my father's skills as a sailor.  Everyone else, besides my sister, assumed that my dad knew what he was doing, since he owned a boat and had grown up on a Greek island.  

I'd equate the situation to dining out with someone from Napa Valley.  Your natural inclination is to allow them to choose the wine.  After all, they're from Napa Valley, America's Wine Country.  But I have news for you: There are plenty of people in Napa Valley who don't know jackshit about wine.

Back to the boat.

We kept grinding our way along the Shark River, with the open Atlantic about 600 yards away. The chop was even more punishing now; our boat was riding the back of an angry, aquatic rodeo bull.  We were a toy in the bathtub of a wildly splashing child.  I felt certain that if the boat could speak, it would've been yelling out in pain.

You get the picture: IT WAS FREAKIN' ROUGH!

As the boat fell into another watery hole and jerked powerfully to the left, a portable radio flew from its perch and conked Gina on the head.  Nothing was tied down on our boat.  Safety precautions?  My father had no time or inclination.

Gina laughed, unconcerned with the possibility of internal bleeding on her brain that could lead to sudden death.  Was she insane?  Had she been knocked silly in an instant?  I dwelled on this thought for a short bit, until more pressing matters of personal safety recaptured my attention. 

"What's wrong with you people, don't you realize that we're in mortal danger!" I screamed in my mind.  Looking around, everyone else seemed to be smiling and enjoying themselves.  This, I thought, is how people must've appeared on the Titanic, moments before meeting Mr. Iceberg. And I'm not talking lettuce.

This picture originated in my mind's eye.  That's me, standing up in the lifeboat on the left, trying to warn the others.  Nobody is listening. 

Another wave delivered a powerful punch to the stern...or bow...I always mix them up.  It yanked us dramatically to the left.  Everyone grabbed something to steady themselves. We were rocking and rolling and we still hadn't made it past the mouth of the river into the angry Atlantic.  The ocean was like a customer who had been on hold with Verizon, as I was the other day, for 20 minutes (I knew I could work my anger at Verizon into this somehow.)

By this point, it was clear to me that a watery grave was only seconds away.  I tried to decide who would get my 1972 Oakland A's autographed baseball.  The most likely recipients were on board and, I was sure, would suffer the same fate as me.  I wondered if my mother would know to bury me with it.  If I were smart, I would have left instructions before going to sea with my father.

I looked over at Lee. He was chewing some licorice and smiling. Greg, too, sported a smile.  He was enjoying the sites.  Domenic also appeared unconcerned. 
WHAT WAS WRONG WITH THESE PEOPLE?!  They were nuts!  They were oblivious to the fact that we were steaming right into Death's swinging scythe!

Just as we motored under the Ocean Avenue Bridge, maneuvering between the imposing jagged boulders lining each side of the inlet's mouth, the Atlantic ratcheted up its fury to the next level.  Our toothpick-hulled vessel heaved sharply from left to right, each time bringing the sea water almost up to the rail.  Ah, what the hell, at this point let's just say the seawater was pouring in over the rail. 

By now, everyone on board, save for my father, who managed to maintain his position in the captain's chair, was bouncing around on deck like ballet dancers on LSD.  Yet, incredibly, they all seemed calm, the entire lot of them.  Some even laughed.  It was left to me to be terrified on behalf of everyone.


But I knew it would be to no avail; they were all enjoying themselves, blissfully unaware of our crisis. Only I knew the true gravity of what we faced.  I felt like William Shatner in the episode of "The Twilight Zone" where only he could see the gremlin on the plane's wing.  Nobody believed him, but it was there.

At this point, giving in to my hysterical screaming, my father finally said "Gee gee Christ, it's bad out here. Maybe we should turn around."

"YES! YES POP! YES, LET'S GO BACK! NOW!," I yelled, piercing every other distraction with my terrified voice.  I was only 13, and felt I was owed more years out of life.

Inexplicably, everyone else gave the appearance of being calm and controlled.  These people, who I thought I had known well up until that day, were complete strangers.

And, worse yet, they had no appreciation of the fact that I was saving their lives!

I don't know how he did it, but somehow my father managed to turn the boat around in a very tight space, between hull-puncturing rocks, and get us back to the dock safely.  I didn't literally kiss the ground when we returned, but I certainly did in my mind.  The only thing preventing an actual lip-lock with Mother Earth was the thimbleful of dignity that I hadn't surrendered at sea.  Needless to say, my friends razzed me for a long time for what they felt was my over-reaction to the NDJ. 

Only if they knew the truth: that gremlin was out there...


The NDJ in 1975 wasn't my father's last boating adventure; oh no, far from it.  He continued to own boats, both in the States and, later, when he moved back to Greece in semi-retirement.  Despite his long familial lineage of seafaring excellence, and all his own years of boating, my father never really became a great sailor.  At least not in my opinion.  But being on the water was something that he loved with unbridled enthusiasm.

I learned many lessons from my father over the years, perhaps none more valuable than the one he taught me by example:  If you love doing something, even if you're not the World's Best, keep at it for as long as it gives you pleasure.  This principle applies, no doubt, as much to my writing as it did to his boating.

I leave you with a photo of my dad in semi-retirement back in Greece, circa 1994.  He's on the last boat he ever owned, which was, I believe, the smallest and most modest of all.  Nonetheless, it gave him great joy to fish off this little craft in the Aegean waters surrounding the island of his birth.  So, my words of advice: whatever it is you do to make your heart sing, keep on doing it.  The world could use more people like my pop.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Happy St. Patrick's Day

"Oh, wait, LG, didn't you promise us that you'd put up part two of 'My Old Man and the Sea' by today at the latest?" 

Yes, I did.

I'm a liar. Sorry.

I've been working on the conclusion to "My Old Man and the Sea," and it's possibly the greatest thing ever written in the history of mankind (at least I think so), but I've been distracted by such pressing matters as St. Patrick's Day and all those damn NCAA Tournament preview shows on ESPN.  If you missed the first part, click here  to catch up....

Go Villanova Wildcats!

So, I'm sorry to say, it's not here just yet. Tomorrow, I'm pretty sure.  They don't pay me enough at this bleeping blog to get everything done on time.  Sorry, that's life.

But, in the meantime, I have some pix and a brief story to share with you. 

Ten years ago, three individuals in the insurance industry decided to shave their heads on St. Patrick's Day to raise money for childhood cancer research.  They called it "St. Baldrick's" since they were going bald, as many kids do when they receive chemotherapy.  The goal was to raise $17,000 because St. Patrick's Day is on March 17th.  The three men had their heads shaved at Jim Brady's bar in Manhattan's financial district.  The final tally came to $80,000.  Not bad.

Since then, the event has grown astronomically.  Astronomically.  Three years ago, LG participated as a shavee.  His three-man team collected $18,000.  St. Baldrick's has now raised over $80 million (yes, $80 million) since its inception and is held in about 15 countries.  Again, not bad. 

A doctor from Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) spoke at Jim Brady's today.  He said that in the next five years, more progress will be made in the fight against childhood cancer than in the previous 80 years.  Obviously, that's very encouraging news.  The survival rate for childhood cancer 20 years ago was 17% and now it's 78%.  Real progress is being made. 

For more information on this great charity (which is the largest fundraising event for childhood cancer research in the world), click here.    

Earlier today, I was at Jim Brady's to watch the head shaving and to raise a glass for good ole St. Patrick.  Unfortunately, that had the dual effect of delaying the conclusion of "My Old Man and the Sea."  I'm sure you understand.  Here are some pictures from earlier today:

That's Mike on the far left.  He's evil.  And then there's Lainie, Annie, Nancy (partially obscured) and Karen.  They had imbibed a few drinks by this point, in case you couldn't guess.  Karen, on the far right, had just eaten a lemon. 

This is Sandy (also known as "Wackie") and Lisa.  That amber colored liquid in the glass in the background is ginger ale.  Really.

Armen, on the right, has been known to complain that he's never appeared on LG's blog.  Armen has asymmetrical eyebrows.  Mike, on the right (no, that's not an escapee from the Central Park Zoo, but we don't blame you for thinking so...) is trying to help Armen out by aligning his eyebrows in a more aesthetically pleasing manner.  It isn't working.  These guys were both supposed to be working at this hour.

Mike, on the right, had his brain removed (it was only minor surgery) and has been left with an empty stare.  You can't see this in a single still photo, but Annie, on the left, is batting out "Help me get away from this gorilla" with her eyelids.   That pin on Mike's lapel is his company's logo.  Yes, geeky.  But he's hoping it will help preserve his job.  He needs every advantage that he can get, believe me.

So that's it kidz, another St. Paddy's Day in New York City.  Tune in again tomorrow for the exciting conclusion of "My Old Man and the Sea."  But not too early.  Thanks!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Miscellaneous Pix

Dear LG Report Reader,

No, we haven't forgotten that you're awaiting the gripping conclusion of "My Old Man and the Sea," it's just taking a bit longer than originally anticipated.  It's difficult to complete a story when continually breaking into a cold sweat and vomiting.  We're now on our third keyboard.  It should, however, be up by Tuesday night.  Wednesday at the latest.  Honest.  If it's not worth the wait, we'll refund everyone's subscription fees...

In the meantime, we're cleaning out the Blackberry photo file, alway an enjoyable exercise.

This is Chloe.  She lives in Houston.  She's licking her lips at the prospect of winning a bag of treats in The LG Report's Cutest Dog Contest.  Unfortunately, LG forgot to include Chloe's photo in the contest.  It was submitted on time, but wound up languishing in e-mail limbo, somewhere between inheritance notices from Nigeria and "Send This Back to Me if You Love Me" chain e-mails.  So Chloe was inadvertently omitted.  We'll send her something nice with our Nigerian inheritance.  But only if she writes back within 24 hours and says she loves us.  She is a cutie though...


This is Landon.  He was at Luigi's second birthday party last week. Luigi is LG's godson. Landon was enjoying his cake, even though half of it was still on his lips waiting to be eaten.  He obviously is a good saver for a rainy day, and will most likely grow up to be very prosperous.  Look for him to become the CEO of Hotwheels some day.  Or Hostess.   


Are you familiar with national food critic and television host Guy Fieri ("Diners, Dives and Drive-Ins," among other shows?)  We'll this is not him, although there is a strong resemblance.  This is my cousin Larry. That visor he's wearing?  It has fake hair built in; $5.00 at Walgreen's.  Get yourself one now before you really need it.

Yes, this is what it has come to on The LG Report.     

This is my friend Linda from Connecticut and her friend Consuelo from Madrid.  Conseulo, who composes chamber music and teaches in her home country, came to the states recently to see one of her pieces performed at Carnegie Deli Hall.  Since you're not a big chamber music fan (don't lie), I can make up any name I want for her piece and you won't know the difference.  It was called "NASCAR, Chicken Wings and My Baroque-n Heart."  It brought the house down.

Linda just released a CD on which she sings and plays instruments.  Yes, for real.  It's called "Karma" and it's very good.  Linda's music calls to mind Joni Mitchell, among others.  You can listen to Karma - and buy it if you'd like - by clicking here to visit her website.  I don't have the chamber music website, just ask a NASCAR fan for it.  Each CD comes with a 40-ouncer Bud.

This is the Epiphany CYO basketball team (in dark blue.)  They are the Manhattan 2010 CYO Champions in the sixth-grade division.  Yesterday, they played for the CYO Championship of the entire New York Archdiocese, which includes Staten Island, The Bronx and Westchester.  We're proud to announce that the team... is still the Manhattan 2010 CYO champs.  Their opponents in the archdiocese championship game were bigger and more physically developed.  The LG Report became suspicious when many of the other team's members had to go outside at the half to move their cars to the alternate side of the street.  Whenever my team loses, you can be sure that the other team cheated.  

This is Geo at the Epiphany game.  His son Henry is one of the team's stars.  Geo is so old that any picture taken of him automatically comes out in black and white.  The woman on the left had no connection to the game, she was merely another Geo groupie.

This is my cousin's son, Christopher.  He got into the act with the fake-hair visor the other day.  I'll be teaching him tons of tricks better than this one when he gets older.  But one day he'll look back on this photo and realize that this is where it all started. 

Internet surveys show that people are more likely to return to a blog when they associate it with thoughts of immature foolishness and fun.  Even without this photo, we think that we have that base covered.  Adios until next time....

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Cutest Dog Contest 2010 - We Have a Winner!

The LG Report would like to thank all of the comely canines who entered this year's LG Report Cutest Dog Contest, and, of course, their "parents." 

In our book, all the entrants are winners.  You'd be hard pressed to find a collection of 14 cuter pooches than we had in this contest.  More than 80 people cast ballots from every corner of the US and a number of foreign countries including England, China, Canada, Russia and Barkistan.

Ok, so there is no "Barkistan," you got me there.  But if it did exist, the nation would be run by dogs.  It would be a Canine-istocracy.  The president would be Bark Obama and the vice president would be Joe "No" Bitin'.  We're not sure who the Secretary of The Fence would be, but he'd keep the borders safe from intruders, like squirrels and cats.  Nobody would want the job of Postmaster General, however, because everyone in the country would be chasing her around all day.  The most popular TV show would be "Bones" [You thought we were going to say "Lassie" didn't you?  Admit it, or there will be no snausage tonight...] 

How far can we go with these bad puns and ridiculous analogies?  Too far already you say? Check.  We were barking up the wrong tree.


The Third Place Prize goes to a very learned pooch from Boston, none other than........Doc!  Here's a photo of Doc, also known as "Docky," just minutes after he heard the news:

Doc had to be called out of surgery to be told of his great accomplishment.  "I'm so excited that I'm going to go to Disneyland and hump something!" was all that he could say.  

Doc will be receiving a nice bag of treats in the mail which, no doubt, he'll share with his brother Herbie, who also garnered many votes.  Congrats Docky!

The Second Place Prize goes to a former politician from Upstate New York, the incomparable Lilly!  Here's a photo of Lilly celebrating in some leaves after being told of her impressive showing:

Lilly is reportedly thinking of throwing her collar into the ring for the upcoming New York gubernatorial race, but she refused to comment on the rumor for this posting.

"Right now, I'm just looking forward to settling back with my bag of treats."  Congrats Lilly!

Now for the moment we've all been awaiting, the crowning of The LG Report's 2010 Cutest Dog Contest Champion.  Drumstick roll please....

It was a close contest...decided by less than 2% of the vote...and the winner is:  Skipper!

Here we see Skipper enjoying her new status as The Cutest Dog with one of her favorite stuffed toys.  That's the champion's medal around her neck.  Skipper, who is 13 and 1/2 years old (that's 94 and 1/2 years old in dog's years, we'll save you the math.) 

There was, however, a minor incident at the awards ceremony.  While Skipper was on stage accepting her award and giving her acceptance speech, a rival dog jumped in to claim that another canine deserved the prize.  The intruder was, of course, Kanye Westie.

So that wraps it up folks, thanks again to all the participants and voters.  You're all winners in our book.  Bags of treats will be in the mail shortly to prize winners. 

Be sure to check back later this week for the conclusion of the gripping, near-death story "My Old Man and the Sea."  And thanks again for reading The LG Report, we appreciate it!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

My Old Man and the Sea

There have been two times in my life when I felt that I was about to die.

The second was on September 11, 2001 in lower Manhattan.

The first occurred in mid-summer 1975 on my father's boat.

That's the one I'm writing about here. But before I get to that, allow me to provide some background...

Regular readers of The LG Report may remember the story of my father and the Magic Tubes. It can be found here in case you missed it.

My dad was born and raised in Greece, a sea-faring country. It ranks 10th among the world's nations in miles of coastline, and third in the number of registered merchant ships, behind only Japan and Germany.

There are roughly 1,400 islands in Greece, 227 of which are inhabited. My father grew up on one of those, Andros.  It's visible on this map, off the coast of the mainland, due east of Athens. The ratio of people-to-boats on Andros, like most of the Greek islands, is not too far from 1-to-1. And those who don't own boats generally know a lot of people who do.

But here's the rub: my dad, unlike his father and grandfather before him -- and many other relatives -- was not a skilled mariner. Not in the least. Unfortunately, this self-knowledge eluded him. Like the monster fish that we never caught, it was always just beyond his grasp.

"A man is never lost at sea."

-Ernest Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea, 1952

Ernest Hemingway did not know my father.

This is a childhood picture of my dad.  It was taken in the early 1940s.  He's the one standing.  Every fisherman knows that you're not supposed to stand up in a small boat. My dad was oblivious to the rules of the sea from the start.

My father's natural talents in the nautical arts were the equivalent of Wilt Chamberlain's ability as a jockey. Actually, that's not a good analogy since Wilt, as far as I know, had the good sense to avoid racing on the backs of a thoroughbreds. Plus, he didn't come from a family of jockeys. My dad would've been the Kennedy who couldn't get elected, or the Osmond who couldn't sing. You get the point...

Just so you don't get the wrong idea, however, I should make it clear that my father was very talented in the Art of Running a Diner.  Here's a photo of him (on the right) at work as a young man:

He was in his element at the diner, no doubt.  He knew what he was doing, and was one of the best in the business.  On the sea, however, it was a different story.

Much to my dismay, my father acquired a series of "fixer upper" boats during his lifetime. The first was a small and seemingly harmless craft, but as my dad's diner business grew, its successors increased in size and capacity -- capacity to induce vomiting, that is.  Even when on dry land.

These larger status symbols merely proved a Law of the Universe that came to me intuitively at a young age:

Larger Boats = Larger Headaches

The possibility that More Boat = More Fun never entered my mind. And for good reason.

Sometime around the spring of 1974, my father came to own his largest vessel ever, a 35-foot wooden powerboat with twin inboard engines. I'm not sure if he bought it outright or won it in a poker game – a distinct possibility -- but either way, it was ours.

I couldn't find a picture of the actual boat, but here's a reasonable facsimile:

This baby was the fanciest in my father’s lineage of nautical jalopies. One of the most famous and reliable brands in boating is Chris-Craft.  My father’s boats seemed to have been manufactured by a competitor: Clunker-Craft. But, God bless him, he never lost his enthusiasm for this hobby no matter how challenging it became.

Our new vessel featured a cabin with a head (that's a bathroom for you landlubbers), a separate sink for cleaning fish, and two short, cushioned benches which my father referred to as "sleeping bunks." This perplexed me, because the only human I could see being comfortable on one of them would've been Tattoo from "Fantasy Island." Nonetheless, that didn't prevent my father from telling people that the boat could sleep two.

Maybe Tattoo had a brother who I didn't know about?

For a reason unclear to me, this boat never had an official name. Some fitting monikers would've been:

S.S. Deathtrap;

The Money Guzzler;

ShitLoad Of Work;

Weekend Destroyer;

Destined for the Bottom; or

Rickety Floating Crate.

Take your pick, all have a certain charm and appropriateness. I'll just refer to it as the "S.S. Deathtrap" for now.

The S.S. Deathtrap needed more work than Joan River's face.  There was scraping, sanding, painting, cleaning and....well, just reciting the list causes me to perspire. War veterans have flashbacks to the smell of napalm; mine come as paint thinner.  The S.S. Personal Vietnam would have been another good name.

In case you couldn't figure this out, the boat had approximately the same number of safety devices as the car in "The Beverley Hillbillies." 

Actually, the car wins by virtue of Jethro's rope seatbelt, since the S.S. Deathtrap had nothing.  No, wait, that’s not true. It did boast four rancid life preservers that my father transferred from boat-to-boat as he upgraded his rides. The smell of these bright orange vests would curl your nose hairs.  It probably wasn’t true, but I suspected that they floated only because they were injected with cow farts.

By the way, the part of that sentence that I don’t think is true was that they floated. They were definitely injected with cow farts.

If a shipwreck didn’t kill passengers, I was sure that prolonged exposure to that smell would’ve done the job.

There was always something wrong with the two motors on the S.S. Deathtrap.  ALWAYS. I don't think I realized, until years later, that you could actually start a boat without having to open the engine hold and use all sorts of sprays, lubricants, gels, incantations and voodoo dances to get the thing going. And, of course, a number of strategically aimed Fonzie-like whacks with a hammer.  We always had at least one TV at home with a wire-hanger antennae in those days.  These engines were fraught with the marine equivalent of wire-hanger antennas.

My father was constantly sending me into the auto parts store (while he waited in the car) to get a spray to start the boat.  I can't remember the name, but you streamed it into the carburetor to help the engines turn over.  If you mistakenly sprayed it into an open flame, the can would explode in your hand like a grenade.  The good news in this entire story is that such a catastrophe, surprisingly, never happened.  Let us rejoice in the simple pleasures!

This spray actually worked on most occasions.  I still find it hard to believe.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: This story became too long for a single post. The conclusion will appear late next week, after the winners of the Cutest Dog Contest are announced (which occurs on Tuesday, March 9th).  We're sorry for the inconvenience (yes, it's a cheap trick) but we have to keep you checking back somehow.  And, as always, thanks for reading The LG Report!]

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Reminder: Deadline for Voting is this Friday, March 5th at 5pm!

The LG Report wants to remind everyone that the deadline for voting in the Cutest Dog Contest is 5pm this Friday.

At present, it seems like a few dog owners have called upon a wide network of friends to cast ballots in favor of their dogs.  That's fair, but let's hope that we also have a large number of impartial voters weighing in.

As you may remember, a bag of delectable dog treats awaits the first-, second- and third-place finishers.  And we're talking really tasty morsels.  Unfortunately, these delicacies have attracted an unsavory element to the contest -- creatures who have no business entering.  Our LG Report security force caught TWO HUMANS posing as canines in order to try to win these scrumptious prizes.

First, we nabbed Dannie as he tried to pass himself off as an Australian Cattle Dog:

Nice try Dannie but everyone knows that Australian Cattle Dogs (that's a real breed by the way, look it up if you don't believe us...) only drink Sheaf Stout (a real Australian beer), not, as one might expect, Foster's. Very clever disguise  however. 

Next, our security team apprehended Geo posing as a ferocious German Shepherd:

It's common knowledge, however, that German Shepherds don't wear eyeglasses -- they have pretty good eyesight.  And, last we checked, German Shepherds don't have three rows of teeth.  Nice try though, Geo.  Grrrrr....

So there we have it: two imposters, both smoked out by the top-notch LG Report security squad.

Please don't let these phonies deter you from voting, there are some very cute canines worthy of your ballot, just scroll down to check 'em out.  And it's all above-board, each vote is meticulously counted.

Thanks again for reading the blog and for voting.

Now would somebody please get Geo a squeaky toy....