Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I Couldn't Have Curbed My Enthusiasm for the Stare-down of the Century (Make That Centuries)

As re-reported yesterday by Mental Floss, two grandsons of John Tyler, 10th President of the United States (1841-1845), are, amazingly, living. Tyler, who became president upon William Henry Harrison’s death one month into his term, was born in 1790. It seems impossible that a man born so far back in American history that, as a boy, he likely wore a tricorn hat and colonial breeches every day of the year rather than only on Halloween could have grandchildren who aren’t themselves long dead. Of course, neither of these grandchildren ever knew President Tyler, who died in 1862, but the fact that three generations of the Tyler family currently span 224 years is mind-boggling.

Tyler, a more randy president than even John F. Kennedy or Bill Clinton, fathered 15 children by two wives. Lyon Gardiner Tyler, his fourth son by his second wife, was born in 1853, when Tyler was 63 years old. (Tyler later begat two more sons, finally zipping up at age 70.)

Lyon Gardiner Tyler, who eventually became President of the College of William and Mary, inherited his father’s aversion to birth control, siring three children with each of his two wives, the latter three conceived when he was in his seventies. Both Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr. (born 1925), and Harrison Tyler (born 1928) are still with us, making them living links to an inconceivably remote past.

Mental Floss first broke this incredible story in January 2012—which is a damn shame because it would have fit wonderfully into a Season 2 subplot of Curb Your Enthusiasm, filmed in 2001.

In Episode 15, “The Thong,” Larry David, at the request of Rob Reiner, reluctantly agrees to be the prize in a lunch auction to benefit Groat’s syndrome (which—let’s be clear—has nothing to do with former Pittsburgh Pirate Dick Groat). Larry eventually sits down to lunch with a man named John Tyler (played by Tom McGowan), who paid $4,000 for the honor of sharing a meal with Larry. This John Tyler not only is no relation to the president, but is completely dismissive of sharing his name. Determined to provide John Tyler with an entertaining and affable experience, Larry, grasping for conversational ideas, even serenades his lunch guest with a Marilyn Monroe–esque Happy birthday, Mr. President John Tyler

Now, Tom McGowan played the increasingly annoyed Ordinary John Tyler admirably, and the scene conjures a lot of laughs. However, it might have worked even better had McGowan’s role instead been played by one of John Tyler’s two surviving grandsons (who, at the time of filming, were only in their mid-seventies). Of course, it would have been pointless to have Lyon Gardiner Tyler, Jr., or Harrison Tyler play an unrelated man who happens to possess the name “John Tyler.” But had one of the grandsons played himself, upon Larry’s discovery of his lineage, there’s no way that Larry—a keen student of history both in the show and in real life—would ever have believed that the grandson of an antebellum president could still be alive—thus yielding the absolutely ultimate Larry David stare-down as he tries to determine whether the man sitting across from him is telling the truth about being the grandson of the long-deceased President Tyler.

A Larry David stare-down a century and a half in the making—that would have been pretty…pretty…pretty…pretty good.

(Images of Larry David and Tom McGowan copyright HBO.) 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Sochi's a Little Roachy: The IOC's Black Sea Blunder

The 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games hasn’t yet begun—and already it’s an international fiasco bathed in the agony of defeat. Despite more than $50 billion spent in preparation for the world spotlight, myriad accounts of shockingly unprepared hotels and facilities are being tweeted out of the Russian city. But should we really be shocked by this? Russia—either under Soviet control or whatever grade of “free” government presently exists—has always possessed a toothpick-sculpture infrastructure overseen by cold, out-of-touch codgers who have never given a damn about their people’s quality of life.

Complaints and cries for help regarding no running water, stray dogs walking through hotels, hotel rooms not even finished construction, lack of heating, no Internet access, nonfunctioning elevators, and a multitude of other modern-age nightmares are racing out of Sochi.  

Stacy St. Clair tweeted the photo above of the horrifying state of tap water in her hotel. Guests were warned, “Do not use on your face because it contains something very dangerous.”

Whether it’s doorknobs that fall off upon touch, uncovered manholes, or, according to Greg Wyshynski, trash bins left in bathroom stalls with instructions posted to dispose of used toilet paper in them rather than flush it down the toilet, Russia clearly remains somewhere between a second- and third-world nation.

And all of this on top of the intended state discrimination against gay athletes...

Frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if the Russkies failed to manufacture enough medals and eventually will just give each medal-winner a bottle of vodka. Hell, I’m betting the Opening Ceremony will be delayed because Vladimir Putin is using the Olympic torch to restart the Kremlin’s pilot light...

It’s no understatement to say that the International Olympic Committee miscalculated gravely in granting Sochi the 2014 Games. The IOC would have done far better to select Xochitl (pronounced So-cheet), the fine Mexican restaurant on 2nd Street in Old City Philadelphia. Xochitl has an excellent cuisine and bar, commodes that can handle toilet paper, and even though looking into a glass of Philadelphia tap water might as well be peering into the eyepiece of a microscope, at least Xochitl’s doesn’t make you wonder if Howard Hughes has taken up residence in the kitchen…

And I don’t even want to think what culinary horrors with which those poor unfortunates are being tortured in Sochi—especially when they can be enjoying a succulent spicy brisket taco and a blood orange margarita by candlelight.

Okay, a restaurant self-described as “cozy” might be a little more cramped than a city of 350,000, but having patronized Xochitl on several occasions, I can tell you firsthand that its wait staff are likely far more cordial than, and their service far superior to, anything those unlucky guests currently are enduring in Russia’s largest resort town. In fact, considering all the negative press emanating from Russia over the last few days, Sochi isn’t so much a resort town as a last-resort town.

Once again, the world has erred by not first consulting me…

(Photo of Xochitl sign copyright Michael T. Regan.)