The Abe Vigoda Phenomenon

Posted in The sacred box on May 24th, 2005 by bill


This week, I’ve been watching the first season of “Barney Miller” on DVD. Although a bit dated at times, it features excellent work from the underrated Gregory Sierra, the late Jack Soo, and of course the great Abe Vigoda. The weird thing is that half of Abe’s bits on the show are about how he’s so old and has one foot in the grave.

This was 30 years ago.

And yet, according to—which posts hourly updates—Abe Vigoda lives on. His IMDB page even has a credit in 2005; he appeared on “The Third Annual TV Land Awards.”

Now, I have no problem with this. I do not wish death upon Abe Vigoda, by any means. I just think it’s weird. What is Abe taking to keep himself alive? Is he a vampire, or some other sort of undead? I hate to think of Abe having to suck the blood of younger, less talented actors to stay alive. Wait a minute…I must now go and write that screenplay…I’m going to call it Feeding Abe Vigoda. It will show Abe being cast in an “O.C.”-style primetime soap with a bunch of twentysomethings, who one by one begin to mysteriously disappear. Look for it in theaters in 2007.

In the meantime, here are a few Abe Vigoda factoids:

• For a period in the 80s, Abe was widely believed to be dead. And I mean more so than now; a poorly fact-checked People article had referred to him as “the late Abe Vigoda.” Apparently this led to a rising demand in show business for “Abe Vigoda-type” actors, while Abe himself became ironically underemployed.

• Abe was considered for the part of the monster in Young Frankenstein. It’s hard to imagine anyone topping Peter Boyle’s performance, but still, I’d like to have seen Abe’s version of “Puttin’ on the Ritz.”

• According to, Abe is straight. Just in case you were wondering.

• According to the ad on Google, eBay is offering “Great deals on Abe Vigoda.” Word to the wise: Make sure it’s the genuine item before closing the deal.

The Buddha on the road

Posted in A few words from Lao Tzu (or someone like him) on May 21st, 2005 by bill

Lao Tzu (or someone like him) once said: “If you see the Buddha on the road, kill him.”

I puzzled over this for a long time. It’s pretty counterintuitive—”Wait, we like the Buddha. Why should we kill him just because he’s on the road?” But as the years have gone by, I think I’ve gotten a decent handle on what he was talking about.

When you’re traveling, life seems so much easier. Well, unless things are going horribly wrong on the road; but when you’re moving along nicely your problems seem distant, everything seems possible, and every once in a while you get the feeling that maybe, just maybe, you finally have this whole life thing figured out.

Which is a nice feeling. But then, eventually, you come home again, and there are all those problems, right where you left them. Things that seemed like solutions when you were on the road rarely pan out. Or is it just me? I’d be curious to hear what other people think.

Anyway, I think now that Lao Tzu (or someone like him) was cautioning us against looking for answers outside ourselves: in a distant locale, or in some self-help book, or in something you found on the Internet. You can get useful clues that way, but the real answers are found inside, i.e. at home.

At least that’s what I’m thinking right now, here, today.

A true story

Posted in Whatever Else on May 19th, 2005 by bill

So I was at my dad’s place. It was somewhat late at night. Struck with the urge to relieve my bowels, I looked around for some reading material and noticed America: The Book, with Jon Stewart on the cover, on the coffee table.

Upon seating myself, I flipped the book open at random to page 103 and read:

“Now that you have read the first five chapters and assimilated every word into the fiber of your being—or have randomly opened to this page while taking a dump—you are ready to learn about campaigns and elections.”

A chill ran down my spine. It seemed important at the time.

Half Moon

Posted in Picture du jour on May 19th, 2005 by bill

This is a picture of a perfect half moon. Why it turned out like this, I have no idea.


A horse

Posted in Picture du jour on May 18th, 2005 by bill


Faith, South Dakota

Posted in Picture du jour on May 17th, 2005 by bill


It’s Eno’s world; the rest of us just live in it

Posted in Somebody's birthday on May 15th, 2005 by bill

Brian Eno (full name: Brian Peter George St. John le Baptiste de la Salle Eno) turns 58 today. This should probably be a national holiday. No, wait, a world holiday.

Those of us of a certain bent feel about Eno much as Catholics feel about the Pope. Why do we love Eno so much?

  • He has a cool name. Try saying it. “Eno.” Doesn’t it sound cool?
  • He was a founding member of Roxy Music; during this period, David Bowie says, he was “an alarmingly glamorous young man.”
  • He produced the following albums, among others: Talking Heads’ More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light; Devo’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo; Bowie’s Low, “Heroes,” and Lodger1; Ultravox’s Ultravox; and a bunch of albums by U2 (but we forgive him for that).
  • Between 1974 and 1977 he recorded four experimental pop albums—Here Come the Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), Another Green World, and Before and After Science—that remain crucial discoveries for every hipster egghead college kid.
  • He invented ambient music.
  • With David Byrne, he recorded My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, using African rhythms and found sound to create one of the all-time stoner masterpieces.
  • He uses a set of cards called “Oblique Strategies” to help generate ideas.
  • Did I mention that he has a cool name?

So if you own any Eno, I recommend pulling it out and listening to it today. If you don’t, I recommend you get some immediately.


(1) Those of you who are saying “Actually, technically, Tony Visconti was the producer of those albums”: Ding ding ding! You are correct. I’m leaving them on the list anyway.

And speaking of baseball…

Posted in Somebody's birthday on May 14th, 2005 by bill

…the aptly named Yogi Berra turned 80 this week.

Yogi is one of our greatest living zen masters. He may not be aware that he is a zen master, but that just proves how totally zen he is.

He originally gained renown as a baseball player, but his greatest achievements have been in the field of the zen koan. A koan is a saying, riddle, or parable that disorients the logical mind, allowing us freedom of thought and giving us a glimpse of the ineffable.

Here are just a few of the mind-bending things that have passed Yogi’s lips over the years:

“You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you’re going, because you might not get there.”

“If you don’t know where you are going, you will wind up somewhere else.”

Q: “Yogi, what time is it?”
A: “Do you mean now?”

“If you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

This last one contains more wisdom than the collected works of Dr. Phil put together.

For more Yogi quotes:

Instant Karma

Posted in Whatever Else on May 13th, 2005 by bill

As seen on ESPN this morning:

1) The White Sox’s Jose Uribe loses his grip on the bat and it flies into the stands.
2) To make up for endangering the fan’s life, Uribe lets him keep the bat.
3) Two pitches later, using his new bat, Uribe hits a homer.


A Caffeine Confession

Posted in Whatever Else on May 12th, 2005 by bill

I am officially opposed to Starbucks. I’ve always been very clear about that. Like all right-thinking Bay Areans, I drink Peet’s and view Starbucks patrons with a certain amount of disdain.

Everything changes, though, when I travel into areas without a reliable source of heavy caffeine. This week, for instance, I have been driving with my dad through Iowa and the Dakotas. The first morning, the coffee at the Super 8 was so weak that my system wouldn’t even acknowledge it. Every cell in my body craved a fix for the rest of the day, and I am ashamed to admit that every time we passed through a decent-sized town, my eyes reflexively started scanning for the green circle logo. In vain, as it turned out.

Yesterday was a lucky day: We improbably found an independent coffee boutique in a random northern Iowa town. And this morning’s cup of Kona from the “Get’n’Go” was surprisingly both tasty and potent. But that didn’t stop a big, goofy grin from involuntarily spreading across my face as we rolled into Bismarck, North Dakota this afternoon and found a Starbucks conveniently located about a hundred yards from the hotel. As a matter of fact, I am drinking a triple grande mocha right now.

I hate myself.