Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Recommended Reading

Gene Lyons on things people believe long after they've been disproven. Nothing will ever convince my friend Roger there weren't Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and that cutting taxes for the rich doesn't increase revenues for all.

• Posted at 11:35 PM · LINK

Farewell, Faithful Anna's!

I usually go to Ken Levine's blog to read something very funny. The other day, I found something sad there: This piece about how one of his favorite restaurants has closed. Anna's over on Pico in West Los Angeles was one of my favorites, as well — for the general friendliness, the comfortable atmosphere and the fine cuisine. I especially liked a dish called Cannelloni Napoletana that was altogether delightful...a mixture of cheese and meat with some barely-detectable spinach, all rolled in a large homemade, crepe-like egg noodle and doused with their fine meat sauce. I'm going to miss it and I'm also going to miss their waiters. Anna's was staffed by seasoned professionals who worked there for decades — not teens or outta-work actors temping while awaiting a permanent career.

Actually, this is the second time I've lost a favorite Italian restaurant at that location. Anna's opened in 1969 in the same building that had previously housed the best place I ever found to eat pasta...an establishment called Zito's. To this day, when I go to a new Italian eatery, it's with the silent hope that it will have a meat sauce like the dark, rich one that Mama Zito used to whip up in her kitchen there. It was quite unlike any I've found since.

A dinner at Zito's was a special treat when I was a kid but it was even better when we did take out. That was because I'd get at least two meals, if not three, for the price of one. Mrs. Zito ran the kitchen. Mr. Zito ran everything else. They both knew our family as regulars and extended a fine, generous offer to us. When we went in for a "to go" order, we'd take in one of my mother's big pots with a lid on it. Allegedly, Mrs. Zito would put in one portion of her spaghetti and meat sauce...but it was usually more like two-and-a-half orders. There'd be enough pasta for two good-sized meals plus enough extra sauce that if my mother cooked a package of Buitoni spaghetti at home, Mrs. Zito's overage could cover that, too. So for about five bucks, I got three full dinners of the best food I ever had in my life.

There was something magical about the food there. The daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Zito was in my high school class and I briefly considered trying to woo her. I didn't have any romantic interest in Joanne Zito and she had none whatsoever in me. Still, I briefly considered trying to marry her so I could learn the family recipes and then file for divorce. It would have been worth it.

In June of '69, Joanne and I both graduated from University High in West Los Angeles. Following the ceremony, we — my parents, my Aunt Dot and my Uncle Nathan and I — were all going to go out and celebrate. I suggested Zito's, which was close by and which we all loved. Aunt Dot, for one of those odd Aunt Dot reasons, insisted we all go way, way downtown to Little Joe's, a celebrated downtown Italian restaurant where none of us had ever eaten. I argued that since it was my graduation day, we ought to go where I wanted. My father suggested that we work out some sort of compromise between what I wanted and what Aunt Dot wanted...and then we did what she wanted. My father, like you can't tell, was a Democrat.

"You can go to Zito's anytime," Aunt Dot said, which didn't strike me as a good reason. As it turned out, she was wrong about that. I couldn't go to Zito's anytime. It closed a month or so later. A couple named Anna and Mario took the building over and opened Anna's. It was difficult to forget Zito's and judge its successor on its own merits but eventually, I decided that if I measured every Italian restaurant against Zito's, I'd never enjoy pasta again. Anna's wasn't Zito's but it was a darn good place to eat...and successful. Just a few years later, they leased or maybe bought the store next to them, knocked out a wall and doubled their seating capacity.

It was shortly after that that two employees — Tony and Andy — bought out Anna and Mario, kept the name and improved the food even further. Before long, a third room was added and there were nights there, back when the restaurant business was thriving, when they could have used a fourth or fifth. There was also an Anna's out in the Valley for a few years — at the corner of Sepulveda and Ventura, as I recall.

Recently, Tony and Andy got one of those offers one can't refuse...a huge sum of cash to vacate the premises. Anna's closed forever last week and a new, apparently non-Italian restaurant will soon be inhabiting that space on Pico. I didn't hear about it until I read Ken's blog...too late to rush there and have a final Cannelloni Napoletana, though that's not what I'm going to miss most. I'm going to miss the chummy ambiance, the dependability of the place and that great feeling of familiarity. Oh, yeah — and the ghosts of Zito's.

• Posted at 10:45 PM · LINK

Recommended Reading

Fred Kaplan writes about those recently-uncovered Russian spies in our midst and compares them to Boris & Natasha and Spy Vs. Spy. I once showed Fred around a comic book convention and it's good to see he learned something.

• Posted at 3:00 PM · LINK

Joe Messerli, R.I.P.

The prolific illustrator and comic book artist Joe Messerli passed away last Wednesday at the age of 79. Complications relating to cancer are given as the cause.

Joe Messerli was successful in several artistic careers. Born in Kingston, Texas, he started out as an assistant to the local cartoonist Charlie Plumb on the syndicated Ella Cinders newspaper strip. Later, Joe was one of many who ghosted the Napoleon & Uncle Elby and still later, he inked and lettered the Flintstones and Yogi Bear strips. (Most of the online obits for Joe today feature a sample from a Sunday Flintstones strip...but I'm pretty sure that's not his work. That one was lettered and inked by Lee Hooper.)

Joe worked extensively for Western Publishing on their comic books and activity books in the sixties and seventies on most of their licensed titles but especially on Daffy Duck, Pink Panther and Woody Woodpecker. I wrote a lot of those so I got to know him a little. He struck me as a hard worker, very devoted to his drawing and deeply respectful of his fellow artists. At the time, a number of veteran "funny animal" artists were dying off and Joe was uncomfortable that he was inheriting key assignments for that reason. He learned so much, he told me, from inking the pencil art of some of those guys so it was rough to take over their end of the job.

He also had a very successful career in graphic arts and TV illustration. He worked for years at NBC and did many pieces of advertising and on-screen graphics for their shows, including the "More to Come" art pieces that you saw on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, going in and out of commercials. His most famous creation though was not for NBC. It was the famous logo for the TV series, The Twilight Zone...

Messerli's career also included work as an inker on the Dennis the Menace comic books published by Fawcett and an artist on Marvel's kids' line of the eighties. In his last e-mail to me a few years ago, he said he'd been working on merchandise art for Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck. I gather he was rarely, if ever, without work and he seems to have made those who employed him very happy.

• Posted at 10:25 AM · LINK

Today's Video Link

If you're grateful for today's treasure, thank Huffington Post columnist Bob Elisberg. He's the one who told me about it.

One of those hard-to-see (i.e., not currently available on home video) movies is Where's Charley?, the 1952 film version of the Broadway show of the same name. In the film, Ray Bolger reprised his acclaimed performance from the stage version...and most folks are interested in this number, which is the show's big hit, "Once in Love With Amy." On stage, the song ran much, much longer. During tryouts, Bolger started expanding it...and he would basically stop the plot and break character to chat with the audience and lead them in a sing-along each night. It became a famous theatrical moment and a lot of folks went to see the show just to see that twenty minutes or so.

The film version, clocking in at around seven, obviously does not replicate that experience but it's all we've got. It's still kinda delightful...

• Posted at 9:53 AM · LINK

iPhone Problem

Maybe somebody here will have an idea about this...

I have an iPhone. I use it in my car via a Motorola HF850 Bluetooth "hands free" connection for two things...as a phone and to play music via its iPod functions. The phone part has always worked fine and still does. But a few days ago, the music/iPod part ceased to function the same way. I can make phone calls and hear the audio through my car's speaker system. But when I play music, the music no longer comes through the car's speakers. Both functions work fine on the iPhone when it is not connected to the car.

It feels like I'm trapped in one of those technology jurisdictional disputes. If I call the guy who installed all this for me in my car, he's going to tell me the Bluetooth is working fine with the phone so the problem must be in my iPhone. But I just know that if I take the iPhone into the Apple Store, they're going to tell me the problem must be with my car installation...and anyway, I can't replicate the problem in the Apple Store. It only occurs in my car.

An Internet source yields no info on why, though the phone plays its audio through my car speakers, the music part of the same device will not. Last week, my iPhone upgraded itself to the new 4.0 software but the problem did not pop up until a few days later. It all worked fine for a time after the upgrade so it doesn't seem to be related to that.


• Posted at 2:07 AM · LINK

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