Category Archives: Matt Christopher Books

In Memoriam: Ed Koch; Cool Old Guy First, NYC Mayor Second

Mayors, and politicians in general, usually possess the stereotype of being buttoned up, polished, careful with their words and actions. They’re not usually schlubby Jews with thick Noo Yawk accents and the kind of appearance that more resembles the Uncle at your Bar Matzvah who drinks too much Kiddush wine, commandeers the microphone and tells hackneyed jokes than the leader of the most influential city in the world. But former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who died early this morning, defied those stereotypes, and many others. Indeed, had you presented a four-year-old me with a photo of our Uncle Morty side-by-side with one of Koch we would have been hard-pressed to tell the difference, and that, perhaps, speaks to his appeal and to his legacy.

There are two real cornerstones that shaped our youth and who we are today: The Mets and the Muppets. And Koch had a history with both of them. Before we every really knew Ed Koch as the outspoken Mayor of New York City, we knew him as a Mets fan, an old guy in a Mets hat who seemed to be of some import but we weren’t really certain what. Our first memory of the late Mayor is probably his brief appearance in the 1986 Mets music video “Let’s Go Mets Go,” popping up next to NYC luminaries such as Robert Klein, Howard Stern, Twisted Sister and Gene Shalit, seeming more like a crazy, die-hard fan than a political heavyweight. But Koch proved you could be both simultaneously, and few reveled in the Mets World Series victory more than Koch. You can accuse some politicians of feigning allegiance to their local teams, especially in times of triumph, but you can’t say that about Koch and the ’86 Mets.

Our other early memory of Koch – and something of a rite of passage for NYC Mayors – was his work with the Muppets, offering a cameo in The Muppets Take Manhattan. Certainly, a Muppet film taking place in the country’s largest city would require an appearance from its leader. But that much, a rote cameo, was somewhat perfunctory. What was special about this particular cameo was that Koch felt right with the Muppets, that his off-kilter brand of governing was somehow complimentary to the bizarre, left-of-center sensibility of the Muppets. They were, in a way, a natural match, with Koch even appearing in “The Great Muppet Look-Alike Contest,” a feature in a 1983 issue of Muppet Magazine, paired up with Gonzo naturally. And he was right at home sparring with Gonzo again in Muppets Take Manhattan. 

Twins.

We’re too young to have really understand Koch’s impact as Mayor of New York City. We think he generally did a good job, but that might be because we like him, because he remained a visible, outspoken presence in NY life. We’re not even familiar with his hosting turn on SNLthe third piece of the triptych that helped define our personality along with Mets and the Muppets. But we know that he was a fan of and a part of two things that we love, that are a part of our very makeup. And he’s also an integral part of another strand of our DNA, New York City. We’ve come to love this city the way that Koch did for so many decades. He was a quintessential New Yorker, a wise-cracking, tough-talking, bald-headed Jew who became Mayor.

Only in New York.

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Filed under Checks & Balances, In Memoriam, Intersection of the venn diagram of things that I love, Local Flavor, Matt Christopher Books

Abby vs. Gabby: On the American Sportswoman

We’ve spent a lot of time over the past week discussing the Summer Olympics and with last night’s Closing Circus Ceremonies in London we could spend a few hundred more words deriding the final festivities – and such chastising would be much deserved – but we think we did enough of that on Twitter.  Instead, we’d like to spend our respective closing ceremony considering the female athlete in the United States, and we’d like to do so, in unorthodox fashion, with the minimum amount of snark.

During these 2012 Olympic Games we couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer dominance of the USA women – from gymnastics to swimming to soccer to beach volleyball to basketball – and how much our females have moved to the forefront of international competition.  Indeed, we heard a fact – perhaps it was from Bob Costas, the Walter Cronkite of the Olympics – that if the United States women comprised a separate country they would place third in the gold medal count.  Third.  Which is a stunning stat, and should motivate the men (with a few exceptions, including Michael Phelps, David Boudia and the men’s basketball team) to extend a hearty thank you and congratulations and maybe even get down on their knees and propose.  But beyond the magnitude of their achievement, the success of the USA women got us thinking about the state of women’s sports in America, how we got here, where it’s going, and, most especially, which female gold medalist do little girls today want to be when they grow up.

More: Abby or Gabby?

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Filed under Across the pond, Makes You Think, Matt Christopher Books, Yasmine Bleeth, You Decide

On the Olympics: Testing Our Medal

We’ve recently returned from a week-long sojourn to a tropical paradise, and thus were unable to commit the 10-12 hours a day we hoped watching the NBC Networks Olympic coverage of events like water polo, handball, indoor volleyball, ping-pong (sorry, table tennis), field hockey and trap shooting.  We were, however, able to catch part of NBC’s prime time telecasts, the carefully cultivated, perfectly orchestrated alchemy of prestigious events of which the Americans just happen to win the majority.  And if you think watching NBC’s tape delay broadcasts here in America is tough, try doing it twenty miles (or was it kilometers?) from Venezuela.

Upset about the admittedly completely unnecessary and pedantic Mary Carillo explains London segments? Fine.  But better than coverage not starting til 9pm EST and then finding the telecast constantly interrupted by an unknown Aruban man in a desolate, sad locker room set, serving as something of a local Bob Costas amid open lockers and prop gym bags.  Even worse is that these interstitials preempted the commercials.  The Olympics is the Super Bowl of commercials.  Normally we’d prefer to fast-forward right through all of them, but if we had our choice of watching a random guy pontificate about Michael Phelps in Papiamento or watching every single McDonald’s commercial, we’d choose the latter.  At least the second option gives us a the chance for a sports celebrity cameo, or a catchy jingle, or, God willing, a new Happy Meal Toy.  Or we could just use that time to visit the bathroom or get a snack, but, instead, while Aruban Bob Costas chats with the small island’s foremost track and field expert, we flip over to Lifetime to see if Forrest Gump is still on, not sure how long this detour from London is going to last (which, we admit, is a very specific experience, so we apologize if this particular situation does not apply to you).

Okay, so we’re exaggerating here.  It really wasn’t that bad.  But neither is watching the main events on tape delay here in the contiguous US of A, despite all the caustic vitriol  spat at NBC over its delayed gratification approach to the games.  What the people who level all the criticism at NBC for withholding the most interesting (to Americans) events til after 8pm (and, really, til 11pm) don’t seem to consider, or put much stock in to, is that most Americans (save for those who are currently employed and spend most of their day watching Razon Ramon documentaries producing high quality journalism and insightful media criticism), aren’t home at 2pm to watch the entirety of the Tween Women’s Uneven Bars final.  That doesn’t mean that NBC couldn’t cling to journalistic integrity, demonstrate a responsibility to delivering unfiltered, untainted Olympics coverage, and air the whole event live.  But then what?  Rebroadcast it again later?  In its entirety?  Or in repeats is it permissible to edit the events down?  And does NBC, even with its seemingly infinite cadre of cable channels, have the airtime to show the same competition twice?  On the other hand, if they air everything in real-time, what does NBC show in prime-time?  Grimm repeats?  Rock Center: Live from Westminster Abbey?  Start the Tonight Show three hours early?  No.  Make no mistake, NBC has not spent billions of dollars securing the rights to the Olympics to present sports in the most comprehensive, informative, honest and fan-friendly way.  They’re in it for the same reason ESPN is (despite what its acronym might imply), to make gobs and boatloads and gobloads of money.  Let’s not forget that.

And let’s not hold that against them.  For NBC, the Olympics is a two-week-long special edition of America’s Got Talent (Phelps, Gabby Douglas, Missy Franklin) and The Biggest Loser (Mckayla Maroney, any country other than the USA).  It’s the marketing push Whitney really needed.  And to suggest that NBC has some responsibility to the American citizen not to present the most popular events in the most melodramatic, heavily-edited, Al Trautwig-hosted, Cinderella-story way is silly, and, really, hypocritical.  Yank all 10pm dramas in favor of Jay Leno, shame on NBC.  Expect NBC not to value Olympic ratings above all else, shame on you.

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Filed under Across the pond, Analysis, Be careful what you wish for, Matt Christopher Books, Must See TV

Burger Prince: Fielder Once Again Wears the Crown; Plus a Requiem for Rock N’ Jock Softball

Last night Prince Fielder became only the second player to win the MLB Home Run Derby twice, equaling the feat achieved by Ken Griffey, Jr (whose success in the event can no doubt be attributed to the freedom to wear his Mariners cap in his preferred backwards position, enlivening him and providing optimal comfort in the batter’s box).  The derby itself, taking place at the Kansas City ballpark that most of  the country just learned is named Kauffman Stadium, was an interminable display that painfully reflected the American ideal of bigger is better, an incessant cacophony of  bombastic, intolerable, verging on nauseating home run calls (the half-life on Chris Berman’s “back, back, back, back….GONE!” is exactly two).  Three hours into it, and there we still were for some reason, watching Prince Fielder and runner-up Jose Bautista tee-off on meatballs lobbed in by AARP-card carrying batting practice pitchers (or, in Robinson Cano’s case, disappointed fathers).  One can only watch baseballs be launched into centerfield fountains so many times before the tweens earnestly but unsuccessfully shagging pop flies quickly become vastly more entertaining.  We freely admit that there was a time when we were once highly engaged in the Home Run Derby.  But now, what we wouldn’t give for Roger McDowell and a cow in right field.

But it wasn’t just our yearning for something more exciting and less vacant that reminded us of MTV’s Rock N’ Jock Softball.  We couldn’t help watch Prince Fielder deposit ball after ball into the right field stands and not remember first seeing him as a young boy accompanying his father Cecil “Big Daddy” Fielder at those true mid-summer classics.  Unfortunately, as Grantland notes in its superb primer on the halcyon days of Rock N’ Jock, video of those games is stunningly difficult to find online.  You can spot Cecil in the starting lineup during the Star Spangled Banner in one of the earlier match-ups, but that’s about it.  Other than that brief appearance, tragically, there’s no video evidence that Cecil was a Salamander or an Aardvark, let alone any footage from those MTV broadcasts that show a young baseball prodigy named Prince, and we’re all losers for it.

However, there is some proof of Prince’s early talent.  However, this phenom ability was found in throwing a baseball, not sending it 440 feet with a Louisville Slugger, as illustrated by this 1992 McDonald’s commercial with Cecil.

Although Prince is on the other side of the ball in this commercial he still comes out on top.  Burger royalty then, baseball royalty now.

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Filed under Count Bleh, Matt Christopher Books, Nostalgia Corner, TV Killed the Music Video Star

Two Things That Make No Sense Together: A Visual Representation

We recently received this email from Major League Baseball promoting a special performance by former American Idol finalist Adam Lambert at the MLB Fan Cave, the corner storefront in Greenwich Village where a bunch of super-fans hole up and watch every MLB game (kinda like The Real World, but instead of Puck picking his nose and  putting his fingers in the peanut butter, there’s a dude who swears that Ryan Braun has an STD).

And this got us thinking: what percentage of Major League Baseball fans are also strident Adam Lambert loyalists?  How many people are both excited about the MLB Fan Cave and Lambert’s #CaveConcert?  So we did a little statistical analysis and graphed our results using a Venn diagram.

There you have it.

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Filed under Count Bleh, Matt Christopher Books, MS Paint, Tyranasaurus Sex, Venn Diesel Diagram

Capital Critters: Experiencing DC Vu on the New York Sports Pages

Last week the New York Yankees headed down to D.C. for an interleague matchup with the Nationals, just a week after the Mets also visited the nation’s capital to take on their division rivals.  Now we’re generally enormous Mets fans, but this year our enthusiasm is even more fervent than usual, with a roster that’s featured thus far an especially young, gritty and fun team, a Mets team we’re proud to watch.  And not only do we watch religiously, we also spend far too much time following Mets beat reporters on Twitter, obsessively checking the Mets blog, and reading articles by local sports columnists.  So with the amount of attention we grant to NY baseball, we couldn’t help but notice some similarities on the city’s back pages when the Mets and Yankees each took a turn against the Nationals.

It’s not out of the ordinary to see two very similar headlines among the city’s big three commuter papers (and sometimes three similar headlines), but those instances usually occur on the same day, when they can point to the rapid speed of overnight journalism as a reason for the doppelgänger.  When you have three hours to turn around a newspaper, and, often, much less time to write and set the back page, it’s not surprising that the Post may print the same or a very similar headline as Newsday (like yesterday, for example) – great journalistic minds think alike – but in the triad above the Newsday super-headline was printed the day after the Daily News‘s “Capital Pains” headline (and after a different but still excruciating Mets loss).  The Post headline, “Capital Gains,” came nearly a week later (after the Yankees handed the Mets three more excruciating losses), so certainly there was plenty of time to see the two prior “Capital” back pages and brainstorm some other DC-related copy.  But, we reckon, in the newspaper world you just can’t turn down a good pun.  And we respect that.

And just because:

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Filed under Local Flavor, Look-Alikes, Matt Christopher Books, MS Paint, Periodically

Groaning Pains: The Time that Mike Seaver Said He Had a Black Friend

Today we continue our look at some of Growing Pains more memorable – or notorious – moments, especially those bits of dialogue or storylines that surprised (or mildly stunned) us when we rewatched the show as an adult.

One of the episodes of Growing Pains that we remember most from our youth, one that stuck with us all throughout childhood and beyond, is Season One’s “Reputation.”  In this episode Mike Seaver* prepares, fully intends, to cheat on his Civil War exam in Mr. Dewitt‘s history class, writing key dates, names and locations on the soles of his largest pair of sneakers.  But a funny thing happened on the way to the test: he actually learned the answers, and when the time came he didn’t need to take a peek at the bottom of his Reeboks.  He absorbed and retained that information, and in much the same way we absorbed and retained this episode.  It was because of this episode that we’ve known for as long as we can recall that Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States, and Andrew Johnson took over after Lincoln was assassinated in 1865.  Yes, we’ve always had an aptitude for history, but we feel entirely comfortable crediting Growing Pains with teaching us about this specific and significant event in US history.  And in addition to the lesson this episode provided, we also vividly recalled Mike Seaver’s stirring, high-pitched, plea of innocence to his parents – “I did not cheat!” and Jason Seaver’s surprising but unwavering belief in his son’s word.  If we didn’t already have a father who loved and trusted us, we would have desperately wanted Jason Seaver to serve that role.  And even though we weren’t in the market for a replacement parent, we never forgot or stopped admiring Jason’s unconditional love.

But despite having such a strong connection to this episode, something did take us quite aback when we years later watched the episode on DVD, Mike’s explanation to Ben about the crib-sheet sneakers.

We’re not sure what’s more hard to believe, that they so casually equated a black guy with the basketball team, or that there would actually be a black student in their white, upper-middle class, Long Island suburban paradise (a neighborhood not unlike the one we grew up in).  We’re racking our brains trying to come up with a single black character on the show, and we’re coming up empty (Apparently Growing Pains was the Girls of its day).  But it is the first reaction – the flippant political incorrectness – that really struck us.  We could envision a line like that a few years later on a more provocative show like Married with Children, but it’s not like Growing Pains was ever considered edgy.  But, then again, the TV landscape has changed, and while you can say, do and show more now, you can also say, do and show less.  As the limits of sex and violence and vulgarity have expanded over the last twenty-five years, you can make the argument that the levels of political correctness and racial sensitivity have conversely, almost paradoxically, expanded in kind.  Appomattox Court House, captain of the Dewey High School basketball team, is a perfect example of this.

*We’ve been talking about the New York Mets a lot lately, so it’s worth noting here that the Seavers were named in honor of Baseball Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, who just this past Sunday was named to the Mets All-Time Team as right-handed starting pitcher.  Also named to the team as the all-time lefty starter was Jerry Koosman, which not coincidentally is the surname of the Seaver’s next-door neighbors.

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Filed under Growing Pains, Local Flavor, Makes You Think, Matt Christopher Books