Crazy Eddie & Jimmy the Greek

Crazy Eddie died last weekend – not the star of the TV commercials I loved as a kid, but Eddie Antar, the founder of the chain of Brooklyn-based electronics stores his iconic commercials advertised. His Times obituary headline identified him as “Retailer and Felon,” which seems like a gratuitous kick in the nuts of a dead man, even if he did used to fly to Israel with bundles of cash that should have belonged to his shareholders taped to his body.

I never set foot in one of his stores. I grew up far in the suburbs after all. I am not, however, the only person with a childish fondness for him. On those infrequent days when I wear my Crazy Eddie tee shirt, strangers stop me and say they love it.


“He’s practically giving it all away!”

Eddie Antar was 68 when he died, a descendant of the famously insular Syrian Jewish community of Gravesend, Brookln. Did Eddie have to die to make room for the Syrian ceasefire, which was announced that very day, to become possible? No, that would be crazy.

But when we mourn his passing we mourn the loss of a regional-sized TV market and consumer identity. His homespun commercials remind us of a time before practically all brands were national, before “Charlie Bit My Finger.” People of regions outside New York have their own fabled marketers and, often, children’s TV shows, such as Minnesota’s Axel and His Dogthat they love. Living on the cusp of the Philly-New York markets, I was, if anything, even more fond of Philly retailers such as Ideal, whose jingle my wife and I still sing around the house.

Crazy Eddie was special though. And his legal demise years later made him even more so. There was truth in advertising in Crazy Eddie. I feel a wee bit sorry for whomever he defrauded, but, y’know, he did tell you he was crazy!

Thinking about that fact yesterday, I was reminded of another great TV personality who flamed out around the same time: Jimmy the Greek. Yesterday was the beginning of American football season (and the anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, and Eid, but what can I say about that?).


Jimmy the Greek.

I hate American football, and have hardly watched it at all since Jimmy the Greek was still a fixture of football commentary. I always found it sad that The Greek got fired for making racial comments, alleging that African-Americans are better athletes because slave owners specifically bred them to be stronger. Never mind that it’s racist bunk. Can you really fault an odds-maker for thinking in ethnic categories, when he goes by the name “Jimmy the Greek”?

I discovered an ESPN documentary, surprisingly viewed less than 10,000 times on Youtube, about Jimmy the Greek’s life. Born Dimetrios Georgios Synodinos in Steubenville, Ohio, he would have turned 98 on Friday. (What a weekend!) He was neighbors with Dean Martin as a kid, and his uncle shot both his mother and his aunt, and then himself, in a murder-suicide. Three of his five children died from cystic fibrosis, but his public service announcements about the disease have been scrubbed from public memory too.

He popularized sports gambling, for which he’s hopefully suffering some torments in hell. But he was a real personality, from a time when personality was rewarded, a time that receded a lot further in the past this week.

Kill the Guy With the Ball

If you’re reading this within a few hours of its being posted, then you’re not watching the Superbowl.

Or maybe you are: As much as I say I dislike my smartphone, I’m known to whip it out and imdb the cast while I’m watching TV, and then one thing leads to another…and as a rule I only watch films or TV shows that are more exciting than American football.

I’m not a fan, suffice it to say, and haven’t been since I played one year on the freshman squad, when I was 14. I may have been the only football player in New Jersey with a Moody Blues tee shirt. The hardest hit I took was a helmet-to-helmet collision with my own teammate that probably looked like something out of Scooby Doo. I still remember that ringing feeling I got in my ears whenever I’m walking past a bar on a Sunday in fall, and I hear the guys shouting inside.

I thought hard about that ringing feeling this morning, when I got up and streamed the Frontline documentary League of Denial, from October 2013, about head injuries in the NFL:

These are well-paid gladiators who spend all day knocking each other on their asses, unless they’re one of the fleet-footed, slimmer guys: He gets chased by eleven bigger ones.  Three out of ten of them, the NFL now admits, are going to come down with serious brain damage. Do you think the athletes themselves didn’t read that report, and have some strong feelings about it?

I can’t help suspecting that the head injury issue helps to fuel the passion and indignation I get wind of, about all the other NFL scandals of recent years. The guy who beat his wife unconscious. The one who murdered his girlfriend’s friend. The doping. The murder-suicide. The racial disparity in how the league enforces its code of conduct. You’re dealing with an $8 Billion-a-year institution that’s somewhere above the Mafia but below the National Cockfighters League in its moral standing. Any time some wrong comes up associated with it, the burden of proof is now on the institution.

Obviously, to its fans football it still has all kinds of lovely associations: friends, tradition, beer, bratwurst, Sundays, autumn itself. To me it’s like fashion week. I recognize the talent when I see it, but it seems like a colossal waste of human endeavor. It’s always easier to boycott something you didn’t like anyway, so I completely get the majority of my people who are watching the game right now, but I’ve had it with football.

Karl Lagerfeld or Vera Wang?

Karl Lagerfeld or Vera Wang?

Before I ever put on shoulder pads, we’d sometimes play “kill the guy with the ball” in the yard. An American football (Nerf or real pigskin) was tossed in the air, and whoever caught it would run away from everyone else, who would try to tackle the eponymous “guy with the ball.” Each round ended in a pile-on, and the next one started when the “guy with the ball” would stand and throw it in the air. Only when I started venturing out of my neighborhood did I realize this “game” was more commonly known by the charming name “smear the queer.”

Were we bored kids or idiot savants? We seemed to get the essence of the game.

Football Highlights Reel

There was a time when I watched every single Philadelphia Eagles game in a season, but I have zero nostalgia for those Sunday afternoons I spent neglecting my algebra homework. In fact, my favorite football game ever was the Huxley College comeback against Darwin in 1932:

That’s Horse Feathers  (screenplay by Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby, S. J. Perelman, and Will B. Johnstone). Silly as it is, professional American football is almost as nonsensical, with a rulebook about when players are and aren’t allowed to move, about when specific kinds of contact are off limits, and  a whole body of what can only be called case law that, obviously to everyone, is designed to make the dramatic moments look and feel spectacular on the highlights reel. Play gets stopped and technicalities discussed more often than at an amateur robotics convention.

The only rule you need explained to you to watch a soccer (actual “football” to you overseas) match is the offsides rule. Baseball, “my sport” which is also full of odd geometry and scoring, has a few obscure rules such as the balk or the infield fly rule, but they rarely come into play.

I know lots of intelligent and soulful people who’ll be watching the Superbowl today. I’ll catch up with you guys next week.