Monday, September 26, 2016

In honor of tonight's debate, some tales of what politicians are really like...

As someone who spent my career as a TV reporter, I had the opportunity (excuse me, cross to bear) to meet and interview local and national politicians. Most made me want to take an immediate Silkwood shower.  But at least they gave me plenty to work with when writing political thrillers. And right now two of my books are in a bundle with some other terrific authors:

Recently another author who reviewed one of my works in progress asked me if one of my characters needed to be so unlikeable. While I never base a character on anyone in particular, throwing together a good composite from my personal experiences often results in a character who makes Lord Voldemort look like a choirboy.

The vast majority of politicians I've encountered are phonies, egomaniacs, rude, and often not terribly bright. All, regardless of party, have the same common denominator. Their number one priority is getting elected.

But I always have a good political character to balance things out. There are a few out there in real life.

So I'll share some of my favorite stories about real politicians as you get the popcorn ready for tonite's debate:

-She's in a better place. Really.
The mother of a candidate I'd been covering passed away, and I thought I would drop by the wake to offer my sympathies to the guy. Upon arriving at the funeral home I found the candidate, along with a few other politicians, talking strategy about the upcoming election. About three feet away from his dead mother's open casket.

-The honey-do Senator.
I was assigned to produce a live shot for Meet The Press with Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, and told to do it from his home. So I arrived at his house and realized we could never get a live shot since there were so many tall trees. I knocked on the door and was greeted by his wife. "Saxby will be right back. I sent him to the grocery store for ice cream." Now in the annals of reporting that would seem to be an incredibly lame excuse to get out of an interview. But thirty seconds later, the Senator pulled in the driveway and unloaded a few bags of groceries from the trunk.

-Well... at least he's honest. 
Me (on the day a man with no political experience announced his candidacy): "What would you do if you're elected?"
Candidate: "I have no idea."
(He won in a landslide. It helps to be rich.)

-Forget Paris.
During a debate, a candidate for the House of Representatives says that unless drastic steps are taken, America will turn into a third world country. Like France.

-Long time no talk.
At the 1988 Democratic convention I was walking down the stairs and Senator Paul Simon of Illinois was walking up. He locks eyes with me, smiles, sticks out his hand and shakes mine. "How are you? You're looking so well! Great to see you again! (I had never met the man.)

-I never had sex with that woman, part deux. 
I cornered a gubernatorial candidate who was rumored to be having an extra-marital affair and asked him about it. He gave me the death stare, said, "I won't even dignify that with a response" and stormed off. The day after he lost the election his wife filed for divorce. 

-World's cutest entourage.
I'm producing a Sunday morning live shot with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. He talks tough during the entire interview. As soon as we wrap up, the door opens and a bunch of little kids run in and grab him yelling, "Grampa! Grampa!" He immediately turned into a regular person. (By the way, he's funny as hell off camera. Who knew?)

-And yes, these people can vote.
During a political forum, a man with wild eyes steps to the microphone and begs the politicians for help, since he feels he is in danger of "being deported to Hawaii."

Wednesday, September 21, 2016


The Goldbergs!

What? You haven't heard of this hilarious show? Well, for some bizarre reason, the powers that be at ABC don't do much to promote its best sitcom.

So I guess I'll have to do it for them.

Tonight marks the fourth season premiere for this very unique show, based on Producer Adam Goldberg's VHS home videos he shot as a child. Normally I don't review anything, but this is one of the few bits of "appointment television" in our home. It's so different, so fresh, and manages to combine hysterical plots with sentimentality, making it the perfect family show.

America needs to discover this show if it hasn't already.

Set in the 1980s (my favorite decade) the show's focal point is smothering mother (or "smother") Beverly Goldberg, played by the brilliant Wendi McLendon-Covey. (You know her from "Bridesmaids.") She makes today's helicopter parent look like a paper airplane by comparison while maintaining a PhD in guilt. But always on the lookout to make sure her kids get a fair shake. She's a lot like the Jewish mothers I knew growing up... always hovering but maintaining strong unconditional love for their children.

But this is not a typical family sitcom as a few things make this show special. Each episode starts out with gut-busting humor, then shifts seamlessly into sentimentality while an appropriate song from the eighties plays in the background. Few shows can be sweet and hilarious at the same time, but The Goldbergs manages to pull it off. You start out laughing your ass off and end up wiping a sentimental tear. (We often have to hit the pause button until we stop laughing.) And just when you think the plots are so outlandish they couldn't possibly have happened, a thirty year old VHS clip pops up to serve as living proof.

Want more proof? Check out the real Beverly Goldberg on Twitter, who occasionally dishes out electronic guilt to her children with the simple phrase that can push any son's buttons. "Call your mother." (Full disclosure: I'm an only child with an Italian Catholic mom. I oughta know.)

The cast is perfect, from Jeff Garlin's get-off-my-lawn father to George Segal's "Pops" to the young actors playing the children. But Wendi McLendon-Covey steals every scene she's in. The writing is sharp and wickedly funny.

Back to the original promotion thing: why this show seems to get no love from the network is beyond me. While I didn't watch the Emmys (if I wanted a political and social lecture from elites I'd go back to college) I did read that the cast wasn't even invited. Neither the show or the cast received nominations, but these days you kinda need some sort of agenda to get love from Hollywood. To be honest, I'm sick of shows that try to push their beliefs on me, and that's one reason The Goldbergs is so different. No agenda, no shots at a certain political party. It's just damn funny.

The Goldbergs premieres tonight. Check it out. But I warn you not to drink any liquids while doing so, because you'll laugh so hard you'll spit them all over the floor.


Monday, September 12, 2016

FREE FICTION: "Cats Playing Poker"

Since my latest novel is about cats, thought I'd share a short story about our furry friends....

By Nic Tatano © copyright 2016

"You cannot be serious," said the photographer's wife, folding her arms across her slender waist. "You really think you're gonna get four cats, our cats, to actually pose for you?"
"We'll make a fortune," said the photographer, unfolding a silver umbrella that almost matched his closely cropped hair and attaching it to a stand. "I'll be an overnight success at fifty. Lots of artists have painted cats playing poker, but no one has ever caught them doing it with a camera."
"There's a reason for that."
"Trust me, it will be the best selling poster ever."
"That's what you said about the print of the llama driving a truck. Nobody got the play on words. Including me. I don’t know how anyone could figure out it sounded like I’m a truck driver."
The photographer cringed at the poster titled Llama Truck Driver. "It seemed like a good idea at the time. But there are a lot more cat people than llama people."
"Wow, what a news flash. Let me call the network." The wife twirled a lock of her shoulder length auburn hair as she circled around the poker table, taking in the scene and shaking her head. Four chairs were evenly spaced around the round mahogany table. Saucers of milk filled the drink slots, while the cutouts designed for chips or money were filled with cat treats, cans of tuna and balls of yarn. Five playing cards sat on the table in front of each chair. The wife shook her head and pointed at the table. "So they're supposed to be betting with this stuff?"
The photographer nodded, standing up and extending his lanky frame to his full six feet. His deep blue eyes beamed with pride. "Yep. Check out the pot." Sitting atop the green felt in the center of the table was a mess composed of some red ribbon, a few cans of high-end cat food, and a catnip mouse sitting atop the pile.
The wife rolled her eyes and headed for the door, her fast heel clicks on the hardwood floor echoing the fact she wanted to get the hell away from this project as fast as possible. "I'm going out. Good luck in hairball hell."
"Youse been listenin' ta this?" asked the golden tabby, cocking one ear toward the poker room.
"I have," said the white Persian, preening her whiskers with one perfectly manicured paw. "I must surmise it's a rather ridiculous idea."
The tortoiseshell nodded. "Our master is nuts.”
"I have no master,” said the Siamese.
"Oh, heeeeere she goes with the attitude again," said the tabby.
The Siamese narrowed her pale blue eyes while her nose went up. "I am a purebred seal point. Note the black socks--"
"So retire and move to Miami Beach!" said the tortoiseshell. Even the Persian snickered.
"So youse wanna mess with his head a little?" asked the tabby.
"I suppose," said the Persian, "it is what we cats are supposed to do."
"What's in it for me?" asked the Siamese, standing up straight. "Is there some benefit to cooperating? Are we simply to pose like dogs? What's next, playing fetch? Drinking out of the toilet?"
"She's got a point," said the tortoiseshell. "The guy already buys knockoff Oreos so he can feed us the expensive stuff. I'm not sure I see the reward if we’re just gonna tick him off."
"Fuhgeddaboudit!" said the tabby, standing up straight, tail high in the air. "I been here two weeks and all youse guys do is sit on your tails all day preening yourselves and playing with the television remote trying to tune in Animal Planet. If a mouse walked by you'd wave at it. You're cats for God's sake! Snap out of it!"
"This from the Brooklyn shelter cat who still eats moths," said the Siamese. The tabby glared at her.
"What the hell," said the tortoiseshell. "We're all spayed and neutered anyway. The most fun we can have is torturing humans. I'm in."
"I'll take it under advisement, but I'll probably participate," said the Persian.
"Whatever," said the Siamese.
The tabby got up and stretched. "Great. I'll do the reconnaissance."
The photographer returned from the kitchen with a cold soda and his square jaw dropped.
Three of the cats were sitting in chairs around the poker table, paws on the edge, as if posing for him.
His pulse kicked up a notch as he set the soda on the floor and put up both hands. "Don’t…move."
Only the Siamese was missing.
I've got to find the other cat. And then I can take the perfect picture.
He gingerly tiptoed out of the room, not wanting to spook the three cats that were already in place.
He called out to the Siamese. "Pandora? Kitty, kitty, kitty. C'mon Pandora." He slowly moved down the hallway, spotting a sun square in one of the bedrooms. That cat was a sun worshiper. He knew she'd be there.
Then he heard the distinctive Siamese howl. "Owwwwwww."
He turned into the bedroom and saw her stretched out on the sun-bathed carpet. "There you are. C'mon, sweetie." He inched closer, knowing this was the one cat that did the exact opposite of what you wanted it to do.
The cat immediately got up and ran to him.
"Damn. What the hell got into you?"
He picked up the Siamese. She leaned her head against his chest, looked up into his soul, and began to purr loudly. He quickly moved down the hallway toward the poker room, his heart pounding as if he were about to discover the Holy Grail.
He headed through the doorway and his smile disappeared.
The other three cats were gone.
The sound of a can opener floated out from the poker room.
"Oh, please," said the Persian, huddled under the coffee table with the tabby and the tortoiseshell. "Like we'd fall for that old ruse."
"Don't make a sound," said the tabby.
The tortoiseshell cocked one ear toward the poker room. "You know what's next. Wait for it..."
The unmistakable rattle of dry food being shaken in a bag.
"Humans are so predictable," said the Persian.
The tabby stood up, sniffed the air and licked his whiskers. "It might be the seafood treats with the catnip in them. Mmmmm."
"Hey," said the tortoiseshell. "He knows you're a sucker for that stuff. Sit down."
"Down. If we're going to sell this, you have to be strong."
"Speaking of which," said the Persian, "Pandora should get an academy award for her performance as a cooperative cat."
"I'm sure it'll make her hack up a furball in a minute," said the tabby.
They heard footsteps heading in their direction.
"Uh-oh," said the tortoiseshell. "I smell shrimp."
"That's not fair," said the tabby.
"C'mon guys," said the photog, holding out a plate of cooked shrimp in front of the cats. "I've got your favorite." All three quickly perked up and followed him as he backed his way to the poker room. "Good kitties. C'mon, just a little more."
He backed into the poker room, turned around and saw the Siamese was gone. She had left a decapitated mouse in the center of the table.
The wife found him sprawled out on the couch, watching a baseball game. Four empty beer bottles littered the coffee table.
"So," she said, putting two grocery bags down on the kitchen counter, "can I see the proofs?"
He looked at her and rolled his eyes. "Don't rub it in."
"Did you even get close?"
"Three out of four at one point. Pandora even came to me when I called her."
"Better take her to the vet."
She opened the fridge and started to unpack. "When will you realize cats can sense when you want them to do something, and then they do the opposite?"
He flipped off the television, got up, and headed for the bedroom. "I thought our cats were different."
"They're cats," said the wife. "They're probably plotting against us right now."
"Ace on the river," said the tabby as he flipped up the final card and turned to the Persian. "Your bet."
"Can of Fancy Feast," she said, pushing the tin toward the center of the table with one paw.
"I'm out," said the tortoiseshell, leaning back in his chair. "Too steep for me."
The Siamese shoved a bag of treats into the pot. "Call."
The tabby ran one paw over his whiskers. "All in." He pushed three cans of cat food, two bags of treats and a catnip mouse into the pot.
"I believe," said the Persian. "I'm out."
The Siamese narrowed her eyes and stared at the tabby.
"You're bluffing," she said.
"One way to find out," said the tabby.
"Call," said the Siamese.
The tabby flipped over his cards. "Full boat, aces over queens."
The Siamese shook her head. "Dammit." She then proceeded to hack up a furball into one of the table's drink pockets.
"We should know better than to play with a cat from Brooklyn," said the Persian.
"Let's call it a night," said the tabby. "They'll be up soon."
"Hey," said the tortoiseshell, "you think he noticed yesterday was April Fool's Day?"
"We are cats," said the tabby. "When it comes to tormenting our humans, every day should be April Fool's Day."
Check out my romantic comedy about cats,  available now:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The "God works in mysterious ways 9/11 story"

My late mother told me this story about a friend of hers and 9/11:

Mom's friend had a son with a very rare health problem. He was born with some sort of fatigue syndrome, always tired. But the kid was brilliant, always top of the class.

His mother always wondered why God had given her son such a challenge, why He had put such a brilliant mind into a body that wasn't normal. It bothered her a great deal. She constantly wanted an answer to the question... why God had done this to her son.

The son had a knack for finances, and got a job in New York's financial world. Luckily he had an understanding employer who realized this was not a Monday-to-Friday, 9-to-5 employee and he could not work two days in a row. So they worked out a deal letting the guy work every other day. He would come to his office in Manhattan on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, using Tuesday and Thursday to rest.

His office was in the World Trade Center.

September 11th, 2001, was a Tuesday.

His fatigue syndrome had saved his life, as he was home resting on that fateful day.

His mother finally got her answer.

Thursday, September 8, 2016


Back in 1966, kids were starved for good science fiction. We were stuck with junk like Lost in Space and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, which used the same monsters since they had the same cheap producer. Outer Limits and Twilight Zone were in reruns.

And then NBC ran a promo for Star Trek, calling it “adult science fiction.”

Which meant every kid had to watch it.

We were instantly hooked after the first episode. The girls were drooling over William Shatner and the boys liked the uniforms on the female crew members. The schoolyard was filled with discussions on the show every Friday morning.

Then the episode “Where no man has gone before” aired, about a guy who developed supernatural powers and took on Captain Kirk. The schoolyard discussion on that one spilled over into the classroom, with the girls passing notes.

Which brings us to Sister Dionysia, one of the best teachers I ever had. A kindly nun who never used a ruler and was always available for extra help. But like all nuns of that era, maintaining discipline was very important to her.

The one thing that ticked her off… passing notes in class. (Yes, kids, there was a method of communication before texting.)

But Sister didn’t make you stay after school if she caught you. The punishment was much worse.

She would confiscate the notes and read them aloud in front of the whole class.

A couple of girls got caught the Friday after the third episode of Star Trek. Sister grabbed the notes.  “Well. Let’s see what’s more important to you girls than history class.” She marched back to the front of the room, and peered through her bi-focals. 

She unfolded the note. 

Now, imagine a 60-year-old nun in an old-fashioned habit reading this: “Captain Kirk is sooooo cute. Sooooo cute!”

The two girls turned beet red.

And then the recap of the episode got to something that crossed the line.

“Gary Mitchell developed supernatural powers--”


Sister’s death stare appeared as she looked up at the class. “Humans do NOT have supernatural powers. Only God has them.”

“But Sister, it’s fiction. It’s just a TV show.”

A wave of the hand. “Doesn’t matter. You kids shouldn’t be watching this stuff. Humans do NOT have supernatural powers.”

(Sadly, the Flying Nun premiered a year later, or we would have had somewhat of an argument.)

After that, we kept our Star Trek discussions confined to the schoolyard. Every once in awhile on a Friday Sister would ask if we’d watched anything interesting on TV, but we saw through that ruse.

Fifty years later, it’s still my favorite TV show. Passing notes evolved into writing, as my first professional fiction sale was a Star Trek short story.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016


(Guest post by Gypsy the Cat)

Dear Diary,

There are days when I enjoy being outside with a cool breeze and the sun on my face. 

These are not those days.

I’m not sure where the term “dog days of August” came from, but I assure you this time of year is no bargain for cats either. You try going outside in a fur coat. At least dogs can tolerate water and go jump in a pool. 

I thought I spotted some light at the end of the tunnel when I saw one of my people use this thing she called a “zipper” to remove her clothes. I have searched everywhere on my body but cannot find this device. Apparently cats are not so equipped. An obvious design flaw.

Then I heard my other person talk about a cold place called “Upstate New York” where he apparently lived before I adopted him. Right now anything cold sounds good to me. But apparently he despises something called “snow” that exists in great quantities there and he never wants to see it again. I have no idea what “snow” is, but if it contains tuna, I’m ready to move there.

Last night while he was petting me he started talking to me, telling me his new book about cats was coming out and that he had mentioned me in something called “the acknowledgments.” Pffft, like this does me a bit of good. Hello, McFly! I can’t read! And it doesn’t make things any cooler!

Anyway, I eagerly await autumn. Right now it’s so humid that I don’t even have to walk to my water bowl to get a drink. I just stick out my tongue and take a sip of air.

Gypsy out.

Thursday, July 28, 2016


Back in 1988 the New York Mets had a great team and it looked like they were headed for another World Series.

1988 was also a Presidential election year, and as a TV reporter working in the Southeast at the time, I was assigned to cover the national conventions of both parties.

Back then I always got together with my New York buddies who were also living in the Southeast whenever the Mets were in Atlanta.

As luck would have it, the Democratic National Convention was held in Atlanta immediately following the weekend the Mets were in town. So I was already there with our crew doing preps for the TV station. (Great that the boss picked up the hotel tab in a place I was going to be anyway.)
In 1988 the Atlanta Braves were truly awful and couldn’t draw flies to their games. But they had a wonderful public relations department that would hand out free media passes just to get people in the ballpark. As long as you promised to spend money at the concession stands, you could get as many tickets as you wanted. Hand the usher five bucks and he’d tell you, “Sit wherever you want.” Which was usually right behind the plate.

As we wrapped up our prep at the old Omni on Saturday afternoon before the convention, I mentioned I was going to the game that evening. Once word got around (it was like the wave, only with gossip) that the Braves handed out complimentary media passes like Halloween candy, it seemed like everyone wanted to go. (Nothing, not even breaking a big story, gets media people more worked up than free stuff.) There were a ton of media people that had descended on Atlanta, most from the networks in New York, so the chance to see a free Mets game was too good to pass up. Plus, Michael Dukakis, the Governor of Massachusetts, was the Democratic nominee, so there were plenty of Mets fans from New England in town as well. Throw in the convention delegates, political consultants and Madison Avenue types from the tri-state area… well, you get the idea.

Since everyone on our crew now wanted to go, I called the public relations office. 
“Hi… could I get a few more passes for tonight’s game?”
“Sure. How many do you need?”
“Uh… would eighteen be too much to ask?”
“No problem. They’ll be at the Will Call window.”

The night before the Braves had drawn 18,000. That night they drew 32,000.

Guess where many of the extra fans came from?

It turned out to be a close, low-scoring game.

Finally, the Mets had a rally going.

And then it started.

A faint chant of “Let’s Go Mets!”

In Atlanta, of all places.

Then the chant got louder. And louder.

The few Braves fans sitting in front of us were thoroughly disgusted, glaring at us as if we were committing sacrilege.

We were close enough to see the faces of the Braves players, who looked shocked.

Then the Mets took the lead.

Big cheer. Not as big as a game at Shea, but impressive considering the venue.

We went home happy as the Mets won.

Eighteen box seats behind home plate: Free
Dinner from the concession stand: Paid for by my boss
Memory of hearing “Let’s Go Mets!” in Atlanta: Priceless

In 1988 the Democrats gave the country Mike Dukakis.
But they also gave a lot of Mets fans a home game in Atlanta.