I think I just celebrated the Fourth of July

Not Robert Downey

Not Robert Downey

PBS has, for the past 35 years, broadcast “A Capitol Fourth” on the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol every July 4th. It’s a live broadcast, but it has to be rehearsed. So I sat on the lawn for two hours in the rain today and waited for the dress rehearsal.

The host was Bradley Whitford (Josh Lyman to fans of “The West Wing”). The thousands of us who were there didn’t come to see him. This is what we were told to expect:

Meghan Linsey, Alabama and Hunter Hayes will join Barry Manilow, Nicole Scherzinger and an eclectic list of performers to celebrate Independence Day at the 35th annual A Capitol Fourth special, airing live on PBS, Saturday, July 4th, at 8:00 p.m. ET.
Other performers will include Bradley Whitford, KC and the Sunshine Band, Lang Lang, Ronan Tynan, Robert Davi, Jack Everly and several military bands and choral groups.

Now out of all of those people, I had heard of Manilow and KC. Manilow sang a modified version of “America the Beautiful.” And when he was done, for some reason, he sang it again. From the top. Like it was the start of the show again. And I’m thinking, Did I just hit a time warp?

That’s why it’s a dress rehearsal. I don’t know what went wrong, but I thought the first version was better than the second.

By the time Manilow came on, it had stopped raining. Then we had the National Anthem, by Nicole Scherzinger, whom I had never heard of, though someone in the crowd yelled “Pussycat Dolls.” Which still didn’t matter, because I would know any of their songs either.

It was around the time KC was on stage singing “Shake Your Booty,” when I started wondering if I was going to last the whole show. Not because of the weather, but because I realized this was the third time I’d seen KC and the Sunshine Band perform, which isn’t something you admit to people. I saw him back in the ’90s, when he was doing a live gig at the dock of the World Financial Center in New York. It was next to work and it was free. Then I saw him at halftime at the NBA All-Star Game in Philadelphia in 2002 when he and a bunch of Philly’s famous, like Hall and Oates, did the half time show. And I saw him today. I guess that means I never actually paid to see him, since I didn’t know he was going to be at the all star game. And in the course of more than 20 years, I can confirm that it was the same set every time.

While I’m at the dress rehearsal, today, I’m also thinking, why is Whitford talking about fireworks? That’s tomorrow.

And I’m thinking, I thought they were saying Robert Downey, not Robert Davi. And why is he singing “New York, New York” when we’re in D.C., D.C.?

And were the Pussycat Dolls famous for singing show tunes, since this one is doing an excerpt from “Carousel”?

And why is this country singer I’ve never heard of singing “Freeway of Love.” And why is this pianist I’ve never heard of leaving out passages of “Rhapsody in Blue.”

But I lasted for pretty much the whole show, but didn’t wait for Alabama, because I don’t know anything sung by Alabama?

Anyway, as I walked out, after Ronan Tynan (another mystery name to me) sang “God Bless America,” I heard fireworks. And I walked across the street from the Capitol and saw explosions over Nationals Park in the distance.

So I’ve seen the Fourth of July’s national concert. And to be honest, I enjoyed what I saw. I’ve seen fireworks. Now, what’s left to do for the actual holiday tomorrow?

Maybe I’ll watch the show on TV, since that’s what it was made for. Probably not.


And they’re off …

About 170,000 friends and I were at this year’s Kentucky Derby. Here’s our view from the first turn of the big race:


Let’s just say my horse wasn’t the one that won. Though I did win the previous race, I left the track with less money than I walked in with. My son, on the other hand, made more than he betted. My guidance as a parent leaves much to be desired.

Which brings me to my next point:


It’s been 45 years since Dr. Hunter S. Thompson Esq. penned these immortal words, and although Churchill Downs is far more diverse and affluent than it was in 1970, the mood remains the same. Very tanned and very drunk people, each mellowed by at least a half dozen Mint Juleps, are gathered in a glorious scrum of gambling and elaborate hats. … and not just on the women:


I was with a group from out of town, who went through the wrong entrance of the Downs, finding themselves in the middle of the infield, a general admission haven of bloated besuited frat boys and short-skirted soro sisters whose first order of the day was to get as ingloriously inebriated as humanly possible to the point where you couldn’t tell which member of an embracing duo was holding the other up. A Douchebag Bonnaroo, if you will. Fortunately, the visitors made their way to our box seats, where we enjoyed a higher class of bourbon, broads and betting.

The lines were Soviet-era Moscow long at the hundreds of gambling booths. Even though it was, at times, an hour between races, people committed the most unforgivable of racetrack sins. I suffered from hordes of people delaying the line for the ninth race by scanning their smartphones and making wagers for their unattending friends for the 11th race. The howls from the back of “Make your bet, already!” never phased them. Even worse, I stood behind a sauced middle-aged couple who had been throwing dollars at the gods of gambling all day and knew that some of their betting slips contained winners, but they didn’t remember which ones, so they handed a stack of paper (I’m guessing at least 30 different bets) to the guy in the booth who proceeded to run each one through the scanner to figure out which ones had the payouts. End result, $151 in winnings. Oh, and I didn’t get to bet on that race. But the time I got to the booth, I had to figure out who I would bet on in the subsequent race, only to find that one of my horses, the favorite, was scratched.

Right now, it’s 4 in the morning and I’m ready to crash. So, after all that, would I attend a Derby again?

Hell, yeah! Where else are you going to enjoy a fashion show like this?


A Valentine’s Day message from Japan

Sounds like someone in Tokyo hasn’t had a date in a while (via the Washington Post):

On Saturday, a group whose full name literally translates as the Revolutionary Alliance of Men whom Women Find Unattractive, plans to march in Tokyo’s busy Shibuya district against the cynical evils of the romantic holiday. They will wield bullhorns and banners, and shout slogans against the “passion-based capitalism” that fuels the holiday in Japan and elsewhere, according to the Tokyo Reporter.

“The blood-soaked conspiracy of Valentine’s Day, driven by the oppressive chocolate capitalists, has arrived once again,” declared the group, known by its Japanese acronym Kakuhido, on its Web site.

Now, I’ve got to worry about chocolate capitalists? (Damn you, Godiva!)

Happy Valentine’s Day, I guess?

The Christmas Song

And the version by the guy who wrote it:

I remember reading a letter to the New York Times, where a guy said he was somewhere in New York City while a bunch of carolers were flittering around and they started singing “The Christmas Song.” Some old guy came up to them and asked if he could join in, and they said “sure.”. The older people in the crowd immediately recognized the guy as Mel Torme. The carolers, who were young, had no idea who it was. So he sings in that distinctive Mel Torme voice and then goes on his way. The letter writer walked up to one of the carolers and asked if he knew that the guy they were singing with was the guy who wrote the song. The caroler said no, but offered that he had a decent voice.