Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Marathons, Magic and Madness

This Friday, feel free to drop in here at NWOW as we will celebrate our 1 year anniversary of the blog with a special 75th column. You can even get it automatically delivered the minute it is posted through rss syndication.. And based on the quickness of some of the comments I know we have some subscribers out there.. Just type in http://feeds.feedburner.com/blogspot/msNl at the rss prompt.

Here are a few entertaining things I have done over the last week… basically 2 movies and an international sporting event that many Americans outside of the New York Metropolitan Area seem to ignore… no it’s not soccer…

THE NY CITY MARATHON - This is the most puzzling sporting event that takes place in the United States. The Marathon is huge all across the world but mostly ignored here in the good ol’ U S of A.. EXCEPT for New York. .. It’s like soccer. .except the marathon is fun to watch..

The NYC Marathon was started in 1970 by Fred Lebow.. arguably one of the most important people in NY City history. He started the race as a few laps around Central Park and turned it into a multi million dollar operation that brings in tons and tons of money to the city’s economy. The race has come a long way since its humble beginnings.. The race goes through all 5 boros and has so many applicants that participants need to enter a lottery to draw a number to run the race.. Some of the elite runners are paid thousands of dollars in appearance fees, plus very generous prize money that comes from very generous corporate sponsors. Incidentally, Lebow whose original name was Fishel Lebowitz was raised in an observant Jewish household and changed the race to the first Sunday in November so it would never conflict with any of the Jewish holidays.

The marathon is now officially called the “ING NY City Marathon”… that’s the company with the nifty commercials (that apparently weren’t shown this year) where a person is sitting on a bench with an ING ad, and approached by a passerby asking “what is that?”… and as they explain what the company does, don’t realize that the passerby is speaking of some bizarre act going on behind the bench. For example one could ask .. “What is that”… and then says.. “Oh, ING yadda yadda yadda…” and then looking behind them says…”Oh that… that’s a homoerotic naked wrestling match between Borat and his giant producer sticking their tuchises in each other’s faces…” The scene did have a gay subtext, right?

My connection to the marathon - many years back I worked for a radio station that was affiliated with NBC Radio. I was able to hook up as a network freelancer covering NJ stories that might have a national interest… One Friday I called the network news desk to ask what kind of coverage would be available on Sunday night about the upcoming week’s marathon and was told.. “Uh we have nobody going.. You wanna go?”….. For the next few years, I was the man at the race. The network was able to hook me up with some press credentials, which involved my obtaining a press book outlining all kinds of interesting race related tidbits, including a tentative schedule of where lead runners would be at any given time during the race.

The race starts in Staten Island at the last exit before the Verrazano Bridge… I would park a few blocks away right near the payphone and make my way to the starting lane.. Keep in mind this was in the early 1990s pre cell phones.. although in ‘94 a friend kindly loaned me her cell phone for Marathon Weekend. You then walk through this enormous field filled with runners prepping for the race. The runners only do 2 things…. leave most of their clothes behind except for their racing outfits,….. and pish. Thanks to technology, their stuff left in Staten Island is now bar coded and retrieved by UPS and delivered to the finish line; other discarded clothing is donated to charity. There were tons of porta johns.. and a huge urinal that looked like a giant water slide! After leaving their clothes and taking care of the pre race pish, the runners would head to the bridge to await the start of the race.

After the race would start, it was a race for me to file my reports and get to the finish line to see the winners. As the runners ran through Hasidic Williamsburg.. (“Hey gib a kick Moishey… the goyishe women’s tuchises are sticking out of their shorts, like the tzitzis from Chaim Yankel… “), I went back to the payphone and filed 2 reports.. 1 of ‘em, about what just happened,… and a 2nd report that would air an hour later as a “live report” that according to the pr info would inform viewers.. “We are now a little more than an hour into the race and the lead runners are now crossing the 59th Street Bridge”… This gave me enough time to get to the finish line and not worry about finding a payphone.

I then jumped in the car and went to Manhattan taking the quickest possible route on Marathon Sunday… I drove through Staten Island back to NJ…. and then took the Turnpike to the Lincoln Tunnel. Once I was out of the Tunnel, I had to zip to the parking garage closest to the entrance to Central Park near Tavern on the Green. This was the only time I would ever park in a garage, but I was in a hurry, plus the network was reimbursing my expenses. The whole time I would be listening to the all news station so I could at least hear what was going on at the Marathon. After parking, it was off to the finish line where I would see my first part of the race…the wild scene at the finish line.

This week, I noticed a lot of runners had their names on their shirts… Usually they have a number. Back then a spotter would jot down the numbers as the runners entered the park and when enough time had elapsed, the PA announcer knew to announce the names of the probable finishers and congratulate them on their incredible feat. There is also a lot of post race puking going on at the Finish Line too. I would find a pay phone and do a report.. usually getting a phone line either at the Park or at the PR headquarters which back then was and still may be at the Jewish Guild for the Blind.. After my report was done.. I would feed some tape over the phone to the news desk and spend some time strolling around watching the foil jacketed finishers and there were masses of them board buses and subways as they went back to their everyday life. Then I would go home and watch ABC’s coverage which I had recorded on my VCR. The race is no longer carried live nationally, but is aired locally on Channel 4, and I have watched it every year except in 2004 when I was in Florida and couldn’t find ANY coverage.

There are some other interesting tidbits about the race.. In the first race in the post-Lebow era, 1994 winner German Silva almost blew it as he was about to enter Central Park, because he got distracted and ran in the wrong direction only to realize his error and get back on the right track. And you have to be 18 to run the race.. That rule was instituted after what I believe was the 1979 race when 9 year old Scott Black ran the race in 4:24... My recollection is so clear because we went to the same K-12 school; he was five grades behind me….. And now he even gets a mention in Wikipedia! And you should make it a point to be in NYC for Marathon weekend.. Just walking around Friday night through the City when all these people from all over the world are in town for the event is always a fun experience, and the people are always so friendly.

While everybody made a big deal about Lance Armstrong’s race last Sunday, and it was amazing how he hit his 3 hour goal… the most incredible performance by any runner was on November 1, 1992 when Fred Lebow ran his first NY City Marathon while suffering from brain cancer. Lebow ran the race with Grete Weitz at his side along with a multitude of other cancer victims in a major fundraising event. It took him 5 hours and 32 minutes, but Lebow finished that race and that was the year at the Guild for the Blind that every member of the press from every country would not leave the press room, listening to constant updates on how Fred was doing. Fred finished the race… and raised a ton of money. To this day a lot of people conduct their runs in conjunction with charity fund raisers… another tribute to one of the most incredible sporting events put together by possibly the most underrated person in New York City history.

Here is a radio report that I filed that day…

MOVIE NUMBER ONE - THE PRESTIGE - As Doug Henning used to say… “Magic… it’s an illusion”. This film directed by Christopher Nolan of Memento fame is definitely going to be considered for quite a few Oscars next year. It is hard to write about this movie without giving too much away since the film has a number of unexpected twists and turns. And I have decided not to include any spoilers in this column so I am very limited to what I can write. Basically, the film takes place in England in the early 1900s and tells the story of 2 magicians who were onetime best buds but end up developing a very very nasty rivalry. One of the magicians creates a trick where he puts 2 doors on opposite ends of a stage and is able to “teleport” himself in order to catch a ball thrown as he walks in one door and instantly walks out of the other door. The other magician figures out a way how to do the trick but becomes incredibly obsessed with how his rival does it. He actually kidnaps his rival’s assistant and offers a deal.. He releases his hostage in exchange for the secret behind the trick. His rival gives him a clue leading to a trip to the good ol’ US of A and introduces us to a very ambitious character who supposedly will spill the beans. You probably wont get it the first time you watch it.. But its always a good idea to pay a visit to IMDB afterwards to help understand it better. But wait till after you see it to go that site since there are so many spoilers there… it might take away from your enjoyment of an incredibly fantastic movie.

MOVIE NUMBER 2 - BORAT - Speaking of illusions… Borat is being pitched as documentary about a man from Kazakstan who travels across the country and meets “real people”. The young whippersnappers know the shtick from the Ali G Show, since Borat is actually Sacha Baron Cohen, an observant Jew just like Fishel Lebowitz. .Older fans will realize Cohen’s Borat shtick as the same stuff Tom Green used to do… and people in their 30s will know that this is all the same ambush interviewing that Stuttering John used to do on the Howard Stern show. IN reality this Candid Camera stuff was started by Allen Funt and Steve Allen back in the 1950s.

Mr. Cohen has done all of his publicity in character and you rarely even see the real Mr. Cohen. A former co worker of mine spent time on an Israel trip with him when they were in college, and didn’t even know he was funny. Cohen is now eliciting comparisons to Andy Kaufman… who also did a lot of appearances “in character” such as Tony Clifton, a man with bushy hair and a thick moustache who it turned out was not only Kaufman in disguise, but sometimes was actually one of Kaufman’s friends playing the same role. It’s cool to see that Kaufman is still inspiring a movie in 2006.

The illusion about the Borat movie is how many of these people he encounters are “real people“. The publicity surrounding the movie makes you think that this is “Coming to America” (this is beautiful - what is it? Velvet?) combined with a reality show. I started to wonder if some of this was staged when Borat was interviewed on an ABC affiliate’s morning show by a newscaster who looks exactly like the actor who played a dirty cop on a previous night’s USA Network rerun of “Law and Order SVU”. There have been press interviews with some of his “victims”… although one could speculate that those “victims” are actually actors in on the hoax and are part Cohen’s Kaufman-esque shtick.. The producer of the ABC affiliate’s news segment claims she was fired for booking Borat on the news show. On the other hand Alan Keyes makes a memorable appearance that just had to be spontaneous! Another terrific scene tales place at a rodeo shows how Borat walks the fine line of butchering the Star Spangled Banner without being offensive! You’ll want to hold on to your seat as you wait to see what happens… Equally brilliant was a scene at an evangelical revival church, although the participants were hilarious in their own right.. And Borat was just icing on the cake! The cool thing is you think you know what is going to happen, but then there is the unexpected twist…. As evidenced by a scene with a bear that looks like it’s a spoof of the shooting cow scene in Napoleon Dynamite; he also does a quick parody of the Blair Witch Project.

The movie is the funniest thing I have seen since Airplane! Borat has one incredibly abusrd encounter as he comes out of the shower in his hotel room and catches his chubby producer pleasuring himself to a picture of a woman Borat is madly in love with. (His encounter with this woman later in the movie is just plain jaw dropping) The two men get into a fight, and then chase each other naked through the hotel where they end up pummeling each other during a session of the Annual Mortgage Broker’s Convention! The fact that Cohen’s face gets so close to this guys naked tuchis… there’s more tuchis shown here than the goyishe wedgie women in Williamsburg - makes you wonder about how far a straight actor will go for his art…

Trophy Wife by the way called it a 4 bladder movie, and these 2 films might be up for some serious awards on Oscar Night.. Assuming the Academy has a sense of humor!

See ya Friday with our special one year anniversary column!!


Neil said...

Funniest since Airplane... will have to check this out, now.

Nate said...

These 2 movies may be the best films I have seen in a long time! However I don't want to write too much about them since a lot of websites have posted spoilers about these movies.

Nonetheless, reread this column after you see "The Prestige" and you will notice that somewhere in the column I snuck in a subtle clue concerning a major plot twist.