ROMANCING THE THRONE AND ITS ROOM – Garry Armstrong

What’s the most important room in the house for men?

Many would say it’s the living room. It’s got the television and the important remotes to find the “game.”

That’s not true for all guys. One of the first things I look for when visiting is the bathroom. How quickly can it be accessed? This is probably what Wolf Blitzer checks first in his “Situation Room.” Breaking news waits until Wolf is sure the bathroom is near and everything is working.

It’s not for nothing that for men, the bathroom is known as “The Throne Room.” Many of our most important decisions are made in that room as we conduct “business.” We practice speeches, mentally edit stories, and dig into our brains for new ideas.

Time flies by quickly while seated on the throne. As we are making life-altering decisions, seconds, minutes and hours fly by like rogue asteroids in outer space.

As a kid, my Dad would frequently yell, “What the hell are you doing in there? Are you rediscovering America?”

Actually, what Dad said wasn’t so out-of-line. We had one bathroom for five people: mom, dad, and the three boys. The first one in the bathroom ruled the world through the hot water fogged environment. I recall stepping out of the bathroom and fog with my Dad curtly observing, “Well what do we have, the new King of the World?” I’m taking dramatic license, but I’m not that far off, either.

My bachelor pad in Boston’s East End was perfect, for a bachelor. One bathroom. One person. No one yelling at me, no one banging on the door shouting profanities. Top of the World, Ma!

Early in our marriage, Marilyn and I occupied a Beacon Hill apartment. Swanky, right? But we only had one bathroom. I called dibs when we settled in. I was the glamorous TV reporter who had to look perfect before heading to work. Marilyn somehow staved off crises as I primped in front of the foggy mirror.

Fast forward to 2000 and we moved into our present digs. A one family house with 2 and a half baths. I quickly called dibs on the big bathroom as Marilyn shot me a look that could’ve killed.

(Note: If it could have killed with one look, how come I still only get 
to use the room when The Man is finished, huh?)

19 years later, in retirement and the throne room is still a subject of conjecture. It’s still “How long are you gonna be in the bathroom, Garry?”  I scowl. You can’t put a clock on throne room stuff.

The Throne room is about to undergo a facelift. It’s old. It needs help.

We’re not exactly in a financial position to glamorize the bathroom but it’s not pretty we’re looking for. We aren’t getting any younger or sprier and hiking over the tub is tricky for me, scary for Marilyn.

The tub is hazardous for both of us. As senior citizens, we have to be careful about getting in and out without slipping and doing serious damage to our fragile bodies. I’ve already done a tumble and fall into the tub. It wasn’t pretty.

Garry at Manchaug

I was trying to get into my jeans without support. It never was a problem before. Now, I was reminded that I’m an old fart who needs to prop against a wall or sit down while doing something as simple as putting on your pants. I vividly recall my head banging on the tub as I fell. There was nothing to grab. I saw more stars than there are in heaven.

In our “meet and greet” session with a bathroom designer/consultant, we discussed our needs, our very slim budget — and the upgrades we needed. We carefully looked at the ancient toilet, the grimy and faded floor, the additions needed for the tub. It would include hand grips, up-to-date shower fixtures plus a glass door to replace the curtains that reek of mold despite our diligent efforts to keep things clean.

We looked at different models with money the major concern. This is something we needed. Clean, simple, easy to get in and out of.

The sign in our bathroom! It’s from 40-years ago but could have been printed yesterday. Or tomorrow.

After some tense moments to learn whether we could seal the payment deal, we were told “YES.” We could move ahead with plans to give the Throne Room the look and respect it deserves.

Smiles all around.

Garry and designer and owner of Baystate Kitchen and Bath Remodeling

There will be “before and after” pics to share. Meantime, plans for our new look throne room have us smiling – almost as happy as our celebration of the Patriots’ latest Superbowl win.

Hey, maybe Tom Brady may visit us now.


There’s more to this story, but we are still waiting for more pictures. You might say this is the surprise part of the story. Somehow, no matter how bad things get, something good happens. And something good really happened!

SELFIES AND AUTOGRAPHS – Garry Armstrong

Across New England, the Blizzard from hell takes second place to the Patriots’ latest melodramatic postseason victory and relentless march in search of yet another Superbowl championship.

We are literally iced in but that won’t stop die-hard Pats’ fans in their quest for selfies and autographs with their favorite football players. Patriots’ fans, oblivious to the numbing cold are lined up outside numerous venues for a magical second with their heroes. A long second to secure a selfie and an autograph for posterity.

It raises questions about how far people will go for the celebrity snap or signature. What’s the intrinsic value of such possessions?  It varies from financial worth to bragging rights.

Selfies are part of our daily lives now. People documenting the magical and the mundane. There’s a narcissist air to selfies of people wolfing down their favorite food or bathroom mirror closeups to show you’re forever young. If you are compassionate, you will typically post a thumbs-up note of congratulations.

Which invites more such selfies.

But no signature!

That’s a part of our social media lives. The smallest moment gets big attention.

People have always wanted pics or autographs with celebrities. It’s their golden moment! As a kid, I yearned for such mementos with my favorite baseball players or movie stars. I really wanted a photo with Roy Rogers, the king of the Cowboys.

During my working years as a TV News reporter, I met many celebrities, socialized with a few but have very few autographs or pictures. I felt awkward about it.

Even when socializing with the cameras somewhere else, the conversations were relaxed, easy and I thought it would be rude to ask for the pic or autograph. Sometimes the celebs were pleasantly surprised. Robert Mitchum, with a sly grin, asked: “Dude, no pics or autographs?” I smiled, shaking my head and wondering why I just didn’t ask.

Garry with Tip O’Neill – without an autograph

I always thought the legends were more comfortable with my not asking for the snapshot “for my aging aunt who’s a big fan”.  It always sounded so lame and obvious. James Cagney, at his Martha’s Vineyard farm, proudly showed me autographed photos of his early Hollywood friends and peers. He clearly was very proud of the array and talked about his nervousness in approaching William S. Hart, Tom Mix and John Barrymore among other luminaries. I thought it was fine for Cagney because he was a legend. I was just a local TV News reporter.

My biggest regret might be not having asked John Wayne for a picture (1974 – before selfies) even though he was very cordial during our interview. I certainly acted like a fanboy that day, telling everyone – over and over – that John Wayne actually shook my hand.   Eyes rolled in the newsroom as I gushed about meeting “The Duke”.

His shirt says “Living Legend.” AND he gives autographs!

I’ve been retired almost 18 years now and people still stop me for pictures and autographs, usually apologizing for interrupting my grocery shopping. I’m always flattered even surprised, given the length of time I’ve been away from the spotlight. It always “makes my day” when someone says “Hey, I grew up watching you on TV. Would it be okay to take a picture if you don’t mind?” It’s so funny — and the joke is on me, I guess.

Garry getting ready to do his selfie and autograph at Imperial Motors

I was just thinking — who would I love a picture with now?  Most of my heroes are gone. A casual list of “Hey, would you mind if I took a picture with you?” would include Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, Alfred Einstein, Robert Frost (I did an interview but again froze on the picture request), FDR, Eleanor Roosevelt, Vin Scully, Sidney Poitier, and Bette Davis — to name just a few.  Mr. Poitier is still around. I’ve met him once or twice. Maybe he would appreciate this longtime fan.

Garry and Harvey Leonard, famed meteorologist sharing old Dodger baseball memories – Almost as good as an autograph

There are so many “celeb stories” in my memory. I wish I’d had the nerve to ask for that pic.

Selfie?  No, I just looked in the mirror. No, no selfie.

WHEN TO WALK AWAY FROM THE TABLE – Garry Armstrong

The lyrics of Kenny Rodgers’ “The Gambler” are applicable in many places today, from sports to politics and beyond.

In the classic western, “Shane”, the hero has sharp words with greedy land baron, Ryker, about violence and the days of the gunfighter being finished. Ryker implies it’s “over” for gunslingers like Shane.  Shane retorts “Yes, it is. The difference is — I know it.

The closing scene of another classic western,  “The Magnificent Seven,” has the same message. After the heroic gunfighters have driven a horde of bandits away from a poor village, they are thanked by an elder who tells them the farmers are the only victors because they survive to continue normal lives. Will the gunmen be able to ride or walk away from the profession that has given them fame and money?

The Magnificent Seven

As the two surviving gunfighters reluctantly leave the calm of the village, Chris (Yul Brynner) wryly observes. “The old man was right. Only the farmers have won. We lost. We’ll always lose.”

It’s the observation that their way of life is essentially over. They need to find a new way to live if it is possible.  The day of the feared, idolized gunfighter is passing into history before their eyes. It’s a bittersweet ending for our heroes.

As I write, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots are giving the Los Angeles Chargers a nasty whipping in a playoff game that many felt would show cracks in the vaunted Patriots’ success, would show signs that Brady, the esteemed “GOAT” (Greatest of all time) would show age catching up with him.  So far, Brady and the Patriots are winning,  running the table with impressive success.

If victory is sustained, will Tom Brady continue to play until he’s in his mid-40s — or retire while he’s still at the top of his game and is recognized as the greatest quarterback in professional football history? It appears to be a no-brainer for Brady while many of his greatest admirers feel Tom Terrific should walk away he’s still physically intact.

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – JANUARY 13: Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws during the first quarter in the AFC Divisional Playoff Game against the Los Angeles -Chargers at Gillette -Stadium on January 13, 2019, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

When to walk away is a problem faced by many successful people who never want the music, money, or applause to stop.

In politics, it goes beyond the lives of the public official and his family. It impacts countless families represented by the Pol. Power is the elixir that our elected officials are reluctant to yield.

John McCormack with President Ford

I remember afternoons with the legendary John McCormack,  the one time widely respected Speaker of the House. I lunched with McCormack who usually sat alone at one of Boston’s iconic restaurants. “Old Man Mac” as he was affectionately called by friends, would observe people at other tables. Usually younger politicians, their aides, and lobbyists trying to curry favor.

“Mac” would chuckle to himself, wiggling his fingers at the other tables. He’d speak to me in a somewhat hoarse voice. “Son, those fellas don’t get it. It’s not a game. They don’t know what they’re doing and don’t care. They’re ignorant and blissfully happy in their ignorance.”

I’d listen closely as this venerable man schooled me in living history. He said the younger officials were making deals for reelection while ignoring promises made in their previous campaign. He laughed sadly, “You’ll never get the job done unless you listen to the people. It takes years.”

He paused, shook his head and continued, “Just when you get to know what you’re doing, it’s time to walk away.”   I stared at John McCormack. “You must walk away because you’re too old. Your mind argues with your body. But it’s obvious when you shave with toothpaste.”

I repressed a smile but he was laughing. “It’s not funny, really. You’re young, but it’ll happen to you. Trust me.”

I remember sharing the McCormack stories with Tip O’Neill, another widely respected Speaker of the House who shared lunches and stories with me.

Garry with Tip O’Neill

All Politics Are Local was O’Neill’s mantra. He was a man of his word. He nodded in agreement about John McCormack’s advice about knowing when to walk away. Tip O’Neill was keen about helping young politicians who could “carry the ball” when he walked away. He shared stories about colleagues who snored their way through crucial hearings. I’m sure Tip had advice for then young and rising Congressmen like Ed Markey — who we profiled in a shameless rip off of “Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.”

These days, we look at video snippets of veteran pols who walk in lock step with the President.  These are seasoned officials who’ve made countless promises to do the right thing for their constituents. The recent mid-term elections were loud mandates for some of these pols that it’s time to walk away from the table.

Kenny Rogers – The Gambler



It appears some of our leaders prefer to hold their cards. Maybe they should listen to “The Gambler” again.

2020 is coming … and hell’s coming with it.

THE HOLIDAY SEASON – Garry Armstrong

It isn’t depression.  It isn’t anger or melancholia. Maybe, it’s just a case of the “blahs,” the post-Christmas brain drain.

Last Night, Marilyn and I were doing our usual Christmas ritual of watching a classic, old holiday movie. We started with “A Christmas Story” which is always good for laughs. Darren McGavin is a treasure as the embattled but nice Dad. Peter Billingsley’s “Ralphie” captures a little of all of us when we were kids.

We were still smiling as we went to our second feature, “Holiday Inn”. This is the 1942 version (the year many future legends made their début on the world stage): Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire with lots of Irving Berlin classics including “White Christmas” making its début with Crosby, pipe smoke billowing, crooning in familiar style.

There are problems with “Holiday Inn” which we usually ignore but really couldn’t this year. The biggest is the Blackface act with Crosby and cast singing “Abraham” to mark a holiday. I left the room as the scene began and found chores to do until the next scene.

Blackface — which has stirred new controversy — has always troubled me deeply.  This classics movie lover usually fast forwards through similar scenes in beloved films from old Hollywood where racism was a staple and white stars would usually laugh benignly at the characters played by Black actors. The Stephen Fetchit, Amos ‘n Andy factor.

An old friend emailed a few days earlier, expressing her distaste for the “Holiday Inn” scene. It had made an admired film unwatchable for her. The racial controversy took a back seat as we enjoyed the rest of “White Christmas,” it’s creaky plot and great music. But it left us both feeling uneasy.

I had “A Christmas Carol” (The Alistair Sims version) ready for our holiday movie trifecta. Marilyn said she wasn’t in the mood for any more holiday movies after “Holiday Inn.” I usually stand up for old movies but I instantly knew what Marilyn was saying.

The Blackface scene reminded us of much of what’s wrong in our world now.  You can’t escape it by watching another old movie. The melancholia had settled in. We had striven all day to keep our minds off reality and just enjoy Christmas.  We couldn’t maintain the happy glow. I was reminded of Commander-In-Chief Donzo’s insensitive remark to a child about believing in Santa Claus.  All of the bad stuff started to march forward in our brains.

We settled on watching “Midsomer Murders,” a BBC series we’ve grown to love in recent years. That was the temporary Rx to our blahs as the dogs found their second wind and raced outside to bark at the moon, serenade our neighbors, and irritate the bejesus out of me now that I can hear them with my Cochlear implant.

Marilyn and I discussed some upcoming stuff and, clearly, we had lost the thin veneer of holiday cheer. We touched on my overfeeding the dogs which we’ve discussed before and I have ignored.  It endangers the furry kids’ health.  Marilyn’s point is on target even as I used their begging as an excuse to shirk responsibility.  The mood was clearly changing as we tried to engage our attention on “Midsomer Murders”.

The dogs provided some humor with their barkathon, my racing in and out to admonish them with no real success. I focused on Duke who was the main noise culprit. At one point, Duke raced into the crate before I could order him to do so as punishment.  We all laughed at the silliness of the moment. I think some of our good humor was restored as Christmas night drew to a close for us.

It’s still interesting how quickly things can change compared to the yesteryear world of Ralphie and “A Christmas Story”.

CHRISTMAS EVE 2018 – Garry Armstrong

It was a very enjoyable Christmas Eve. A drama free (dee-lish) dinner.

Everyone enjoyed their gifts including the furry kids who hadn’t destroyed their toys as of Christmas morning.

I had a long and delightful phone chat with my family. Two younger Brothers, cousins, and cousin-in-law. I was able to hear everyone clearly (first time!) with my cochlear implant. I think I was a bit giddy because I rambled all over the place, chatting about how the cochlear implant has changed my life.

We shared memories about Christmases past. Lots of laughter as I said goodbye.

Owen brought over a bunch of old ’78’s (Those of a certain age know what I’m talking about).

We listened to vintage performances of Christmas music performed by Bing Crosby, Mahalia Jackson, Gene Autry and Red Foley. Yes, Red Foley. “White Christmas” is still a signature song of the season and it belongs to Harry Lillis “Bing” Crosby.

One of the 78’s contained soundtrack music from the 1942 film, “Holiday Inn” in which Bing Crosby introduced Irving Berlin’s beloved “White Christmas.” Gene Autry’s “Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer” brought back a rush of childhood memories as did a rendition of “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.” I found myself singing along — softly — because I sing off-key.

What a blast! Thanks, Owen.

I, too, wonder about the mince-pie mystery.

What happened to mince-pie? Marilyn and I have been searching in recent weeks for mince-pie, fresh or frozen.  No luck.  No answers.  I just read an online piece about a cache of mince pies discovered in England, stashed in a basement — from World War Two. A Mom’s gift to her Son in the army. The pies are over 70 years old. No mention of how they taste.

This still doesn’t answer our mince-pie mystery. Russian collusion?

Christmas Day is upon us. The house is quiet. The furry kids are searching for their toys. Santa Claus has been very kind to us. Yes, Donzo, there is a Santa Claus.

I suppose he forgot about you.

INTOLERANCE: REEL AND REAL – Garry Armstrong

A friend today posted a review on Facebook about the film, “Schindler’s List” which he had just seen for the first time, 25-years after the acclaimed movie’s release. My friend talked about the film’s haunting power, its narrative about one man’s brave quest to save a number of Holocaust victims from death.

It’s based on a true story and Schindler holds a special place in Israel for his efforts.

Charlottesville rally

Stephen Spielberg said he made the film to honor its hero, Oscar Schindler and remember all the Holocaust victims, those who were saved and the many who weren’t.

The film — with current headlines about neo-Nazi and white-supremacist rallies in the United States and elsewhere — feels more relevant than ever. The recent attacks on Synagogues in Pittsburgh and anti-semitic incidents in Massachusetts — leave people wondering: “Have we forgotten?”

Wounds are raw from last year’s ugly Charlottesville KKK rally that claimed one life and left our President issuing comments about “perpetrators on both sides.”  Antisemitism and racism continue to be headline stories more than 75-years after millions gave their lives in a war that should have ended those injustices.

Obviously not. There have been a few “message” movies that deal with those still festering issues which many insist no longer exist. Dissidents say it’s more “fake news” from the liberal media.  So many ostriches with their heads in the sand.

The other night I revisited the movie “Crossfire” which was released by RKO in 1947, the year before the more acclaimed “Gentlemen’s Agreement” was released. This drew public attention and “surprise” about Antisemitism in post-war America.

“Crossfire” is an excellent, understated film about this virulent subject matter. Its director, Edward Dmytryk (a victim of Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s infamous “Blacklist) used the plot of a small group of GI’s, just mustered out of the war and trying to fit back into society.

Circa 1955: Studio headshot portrait of Canadian-born film director Edward Dmytryk (1908 – 1999). (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

They encounter a friendly civilian at a bar who listens to their complaints about readjustment and offers sympathy where others just tune them out. One of the GI’s — lonely for his wife and exhibiting PTSD symptoms — is befriended by the civilian who invites him home for drinks and quiet conversation.

The other soldiers – uninvited — crowd into the apartment and lap up the booze.  One of them, a very obnoxious vet — sneers at men who avoided combat, who got rich running banks and law practices. He looks at one of his confused pals and yells: “Jews, man! You know those people! They get rich while we fight and die. Jews!”

The civilian referred to as “Sammy,” is tolerant. Veteran actor Sam Levene who played many similar roles is perhaps overly patient with the bigoted GI. This is Robert Ryan in one of his most chilling villain roles.

Robert Ryan

The secondary plot has “Sammy” murdered by one of the GIs. The PTSD soldier is fingered as the suspect but we know better. Robert Young, in a pre “Father Knows Best” role, plays the tough, weary cop who sifts through all the alibis. This is one of Robert Mitchum’s early films. He is excellent as the soft-spoken, no-nonsense veteran who is suspicious of the venomous Ryan character.

Ryan is ultimately outed as he rants about “those people.” He gets what he deserves and is gunned down during a police chase on a rainy New Orleans Street.

The final scene with Young and Mitchum in conversation about Ryan’s demons ends quietly as they go their separate ways, both wondering what World War Two was really all about.

Robert Mitchum

In an early 1970s interview, Robert Mitchum remembered “Crossfire.” He was in Boston shooting “The Friends Of Eddie Coyle,” so I had the good fortune to spend a long afternoon into the evening over drinks with “Mitch.”

In a wide-ranging conversation, Mitchum recalled what it was like working in the 1940s, especially with “The Blacklist” hovering over Hollywood. He said some pals urged him not to do “Crossfire” because it would hurt his career.

“Mitch” grinned at me “You know what that was all about, Don’t ya?”   I nodded.  Mitchum continued, “There were so many hateful bastards —  there were always dissing Negroes (he looked at me and I nodded an ‘okay’) and Jews. They always thought I was with them. I had a few fights and dumped a few jobs because I couldn’t stand the two-faced bastards.”

Robert Mitchum, older portrait

I looked at Mitch and confirmed: “Not much has changed.” He shook his head sadly and ordered another round.

That was almost 50 years ago. No, not much has changed.  Not on the silver screen or in real life.

“BEING THERE” – A MODERN DAY REVIEW – Garry Armstrong

Last night, Marilyn and I watched “Being There.” We hadn’t seen this comedy from 1979 in a long time, probably years. What a difference time has made!

I recall seeing “Being There” when it opened. I enjoyed the farcical Hal Ashby film about a mentally challenged man who somehow influences high and mighty power brokers including our Commander-In-Chief and his aides. It seemed like a Capra-esque flight of fantasy in 1979.  Couldn’t happen in real life. Our political leaders couldn’t be so naïve or vulnerable. We were caught up with Jimmy Carter versus Ronald Reagan. Many laughed at the notion of an actor becoming President.

It wouldn’t happen, we smart folks reasoned with our historical savvy. No way a B-movie actor, revered for his roles as a beloved college football player and pal to a chimp named Bonzo — no way that guy could become the most powerful political figure in the world.  So we smugly thought.

Being There, 1979 poster

Peter Sellers is “Chance.” AKA Chauncey Gardner, a middle-aged gardener. The simple-minded assistant to a wealthy man who dies at the beginning of “Being There.” We don’t know much about Chance except he apparently has the mental capacity of a child. He is a brilliant gardener and likes to watch television. Chance is a sweet-tempered fellow whose world revolves around tending the garden — and watching television. He can’t read or write. He just gardens. And likes to watch …. television.

Chauncey Garden walking through Washington DC

Through a series of farcical plot twists, Chance becomes the house guest of an elderly, dying business tycoon and political king-maker (Melvyn Douglas) and his capricious wife (Shirley MacLaine).  The new benefactors mistake Chance’s observations about gardening as metaphors for Wall Street and fixing what ails our government.

The President (Jack Warden), a close friend of the tycoon, thinks Chance — now accepted as the mysterious Chauncey Gardner — is his benign Henry Kissinger. Chauncey’s garden recipes become talking points for the President’s economic directive.

Peter Sellers & Shirley MacLaine in Being There (1979)

There’s one hilarious scene in the middle of the film where the Black maid who raised Chauncey from infancy — and knows he has “rice pudding between his ears” — rails at her friends and points out that “all you need to become president is to be white.” That was a joke in 1979. Not so funny these days.

In 1979, the movie plot seemed outrageous and outlandish. In those days,  many of us didn’t believe Ronald Reagan could be taken seriously. None of us conceived of him as what we called “a president.” We would have deemed it impossible. I still do.

As “Being There” reaches its conclusion, Melvyn Douglas’ tycoon dies. At the cemetery, as he is laid to rest, the tycoon’s pals and the President’s aides quietly share anxiety about the country’s future. They don’t think the President is strong enough to lead the country out of its economic swamp. There’s a final quiet agreement that only one man can save the country, the man with the savvy garden metaphors, Chauncey Gardner.

Closing scene

The man who would be President is seen wandering through the woods and into a lake, staking his umbrella in the water, perhaps divining a miracle. The end credits roll with outtakes of Peter Sellers laughing his way through many retakes of plays on words.

Marilyn and I laughed as the credits rolled by. Then, we looked at each other. Quietly. Very quietly. Through some bizarre upside-down ill-starred event, during the heart of a perfect political storm, Chauncey Gardner became America’s president after all. Not benign — and definitely not a gardener, yet surely as stupid and illiterate.

A gardener would have been a better choice. At least he could have grown a few roses.