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Last Call at the Bada Bing

Miss me? It has been brought to my attention over the last few weeks, through a combination of message board queries, e-mails and phone calls, that I had not written a column in a while. It certainly was hard to slip anything by this kind of eagle-eyed readership.

There were, of course, reasons for my Internet idleness. Several, in fact. Chief among them was that I had gotten rather busy. Over the last several years, I had expanded a great amount of effort into attempting not to expend a great amount of effort. I find that not being very busy suits me.

However, I found that it became necessary, in order to continue to afford Tech football tickets and other things, to attempt to augment my entirely-too-meager income. I have spent a good chunk of the spring trying to do just that, with varying degrees of success. Time spent out actually doing something constructive is time not spent at my computer.

There was also the little matter of said computer refusing to function. It took about a week for the ace repair persons at the Computer Barn of Hacks to determine that my mother board had bitten the dust. Promises that it would be good as new in three days eventually caused me to determine that the Computer Barn of Hacks determined time through some strange method alien to me, as by my calculations it took over two weeks. And, when it finally was returned, I was informed that some how or another replacing a mother board involved wiping out my Outlook address book, which happened to include my mailing list, the one that had not been backed up in about a year. So, if you are not reading this, send me another e-mail….hmmm, or something.

There was another reason for this extended interlude between columns, perhaps the chief one. For the first time in years, I did not seem to have anything to say. A couple of times I did plant myself in front of keyboard and monitor with the idea of putting words to screen, but could not come up with anything to write about. Rather than send out some drivel, a quality far below what my loyal readers had come to expect……hmmm, or something like that, I decided that the best course of action was to write nothing at all. Let’s see: being busy, a dead computer and writer’s block; these seem sufficient reasons to not write anything for a while, or at least the best I can come up with.

This long drought came to an end last Sunday night as I watched the final episode of ‘The Sopranos.’ I was a fan from the start, or at least from the time an early episode ended with Mikey Palmice whacking Brendan Filone as Chris’ buddy lounged in a bathtub. That certainly taught him to mess with Uncle Junior.

Hooked, I then paid very close attention to the fictional lives of Tony and his two families. An avid fan, I, like a lot of other people, could relate to Tony’s problems, at least those not related to running an organized crime empire and clipping people, although there was a certain Walter Mitty fascination in that. Who wouldn’t like to be a mob boss?

Tony’s strained relationships with his mother and son hit very close to home, mirroring the often difficult dealings I had and have with my own. The season-ending fight between Tony and Carmella that resulted in their separation hit perhaps too close to home. I know of at least one ex-wife who would not be bought off with $600 large and a promise to keep girlfriends out of the house.

It was around the time that Tony and Carmella separated when I began to lose touch with the show. Some interest was lost, mostly resulting from what I perceived to be a loss of quality. It no longer seemed to be as good as it had been. This happens to all shows. It seems to become impossible to keep coming up with compelling story lines year after year [don’t I know it!]. The creators of ‘My Name Is Earl’ didn’t seem to have enough ideas to fill even two seasons. Those of ‘Deadwood’ had a terrific idea but no notion of how to execute it, as the excruciatingly-slow pacing of it caused me to lose interest and quit watching long before HBO mercifully pulled the plug. I continued to keep up with the major plot lines of The Sopranos, but no longer was a regular viewer.

The last show, however, was the last show. It had to be seen and was, a couple of times now. The great tease for the finale was that resolution would be provided for Tony and his families unless it was not. Whether that actually happened has become the topic of much discussion. What I consider series creator David Chase’s deviously marvelous way of abruptly stopping as Journey belted out ‘don’t stop’ was not universally popular. Message boards devoted to the show indicated that sports’ ones do not have a monopoly on loons.

Some seem chagrined, somehow cheated, that there was not an epic massacre of Tony and everybody in close proximity. It’s not too often you hear and read people lamenting the lack of violence on television. Some posters felt cheated, claiming they were owed some sort of definitive conclusion, much like some sports message boards loons claim an MNC as a birthright. Chase’s ‘create your own ending’ ending did not seem to go over well. I like to imagine Chase sitting at a computer reading those messages and laughing, as I have done from time to time when being blistered on them.

Chase allowed viewers to determine the fate of Tony. Mine is that nothing happened, things simply going on and on. I was rooting hard for Tony during those tense final minutes. Tony might have been a murderous psychopath, but he was a likeable murderous psychopath. I wished him no harm.

Actually, I wished none of them any harm. As Chase paid final homage to the ‘Godfather,’ having Meadow demonstrate what happens when youth are no longer taught to parallel park in these shopping mall times, I very much hoped that she would not pay the price for Tony’s sins, as did the daughter of Michael Corleone. When the guy in the jacket who looked suspiciously like the FBI agent now shadowing Tony headed to the john, I did not want him finding a gun behind the toilet tank, instead just taking a whiz. My ending was not a shooting causing lights out for Tony and/or his nuclear family. Sometimes a dinner is just a dinner.

The various endings that had been forecast were touched on during the series finale. The ending of the previous episode had shown Tony having gone to the mattress, looking for all the world like a guy about to lose his war with Phil Leotardo. That didn’t happen. Instead, Tony rallied himself and proceeded to methodically and rather easily whack Phil. This had been Tony’s story from the start.

Throughout the series, Tony had been an upwardly-mobile gangster. When ‘The Sopranos’ began, Tony was a capo to boss Jackie Aprille. By the end of the first season, Tony had taken over North Jersey by clipping Uncle Junior’s crew. As the show progressed, Tony remained on an upward trajectory professionally even as his personal life remained a mess. He obtained a higher and higher standing until he finally bumped up against the New York Five Family of Carmine. Tony then out-lived both Carmine and Johnny Sack, then whacked Phil. Tony was poised to take over a New York family with the implicit approval of the other four. He was not the kind of guy who would simply be taken out in an ice cream parlor.

There was speculation that Tony would turn state’s evidence and enter witness protection. I considered that the least plausible scenario, as that would require him to bound totally out of character. Tony prized loyalty above all else, both to himself and to that thing of his. In a show dripping with violence-induced blood, about the only time Tony ever killed was for somebody moving against him, or chatting with the FBI [Ralphie might be an exception, but he was a royal pain in the butt and deserved to be beaten to death and have his severed head buried on the farm of Tony’s uncle]. For Tony to suddenly embrace the feds seemed impossible.

There was the claim that Paulie Walnuts would turn rat and either whack Tony himself or give him to Phil. Not a chance. Paulie was a born follower. He was the last man standing at the end, or, as it were, sitting in front of Satriale’s, living to serve his liege. Aside from being too dumb to hatch any traitorous plots, Paulie was accompany man and Tony was the boss.

We were led to believe that Carlo had turned rat and was singing to the FBI, which would result in Tony’s indictment. Maybe. There was also the little matter of Agent Harris. He had attempted to rig the pool the FBI seemed to be running on the winner of the Tony-Phil, allowing Tony to RUTS his rival. This would seem to make Agent Harris an accessory to murder; if Tony went down, so would Agent Harris. Better to whack Carlo and let it slide.

I prefer to believe that nothing happen at the last supper. Things went on as they had. I also prefer to remember ‘The Sopranos’ as it was the first few years, one of the truly great television shows, maybe the greatest. It was a show that depicted lives that were indeed criminal and violent, but nobody’s perfect.

It contained great humor, always a plus in my book. There was the hilarity that came from Livia’s wake and the funny brawl that resulted from Christopher’s intervention. It was chock full of funny lines, among them Tony’s explanation for the war with Uncle Junior: “Cunnilingus and psychiatry has brought us to this.” There was my personal favorite, uttered by Gigi at Johnny Sack’s housewarming as the crew discussed the property taxes on Johnny’s McMansion: “You have to pay those.” Even the last nod to the show’s graphic violence, the whacking of Phil Leotardo, contained black humor as it was determined that perhaps Phil’s widow would opt for a closed casket. Above all, ‘The Sopranos’ was great television. I shall miss it.

Hopefully those who have missed my columns won’t have to wait almost as long as the time between seasons of ‘The Sopranos’ for my next one. There finally has been another one, enjoyed I’m sure by those who did not watch the show.

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