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> Back in the U.S.S.R.

We know, it's good that the Iron Curtain fell. Still, though, we find ourselves yearning sometimes for those old Soviet artistic standards. Remember how at the Olympics their skaters would skate, and their skiers would ski, as if their lives depended on it? (Their lives did depend on it -- one goof, and they'd go to the salt mines.) Now, the Russians are going to pot, just like the rest of us. The Great Russian Nutcracker, for one thing, gets nuttier every year. Last week's performance at Shea's was marred by constant cartoonish elephants, bears, you name it. Don't we see enough MTV? Can't we just watch the Arabian coffee dance in peace? And furthermore, what happened to Mother Ginger, every kid's favorite character? We haven't seen her in years. It's enough to make anyone sigh for the '60s. Under Krushchev, this never would have happened.

> Now you see 'em...

... now you don't! Bob Davis, a magician who has performed in his sparkling, cone-headed get-up at the Elmwood Festival of the Arts and other venues, has finally done the ultimate: He made the Beatles disappear. For Hanukkah, Davis bought his musician nephew, Jacob, a video of the historic Ed Sullivan Show episode featuring master magician Fred Kaps, "Riddler" actor and Buffalo fave Frank Gorshin and ... what else? Oh, right, the American debut of a rock group from Liverpool, some band Jacob likes. Davis, who besides being a magician is a terrific jazz pianist, admits to previewing the tape. But he fast-forwarded through the Fab Four. "I haven't gotten around to watching them," he confesses. "I've only seen Fred Kaps. He was great."

> Huge

Buzz took Billy Fuccillo's "huge days of Christmas" a little too much to heart. We now eat apple crisp for breakfast. Someone left us a big bowl of M&M's, and we grab handfuls when we pass. Only a few bouts of cross-country skiing have kept us from turning into a dirigible. But Christmas was worth it, if only because we spent two hours trapped in a pew at St. Paul's Cathedral with "Baby Joe" Mesi. We were there for a concert, which never seemed to end -- but that was OK, because Baby Joe, in person, is one of the handsomest men we've ever seen. His hands, his hair, his suit, everything was more perfect than in pictures. He is a big, dazzling Italian man, strong and silent, the best of his kind. When he got up to read "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus," Buzz nodded in agreement. There really is a Santa Claus. Here's proof.

> The first 'Noel'

Wasn't it fun, the year of the "Merry Christmas" backlash? Buzz e-mailed people "Merry Christmas," and they applauded our bravery. The cards we sent (both of them) said "Merry Christmas," not "Season's Greetings." For days, WBEN-AM's Tom Bauerle explored the subject, tirelessly defending "Merry Christmas" against "Happy Holidays." There were lots of feel-good phone calls: "Now, you're Jewish, Jake, and how do you feel if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas? Are you offended?" "No, Tom, I would never be offended!" Christmas morning in Delaware Park, people smiled conspiratorially as they wished each other -- the novelty! -- "Merry Christmas." Being radical should always be this easy.

> The buzz

Royal Watch: Two Swedish countesses, Contessa Kasha and Contessa Sophia, slipped into town this week to visit family and friends. One of their friends is the pastor of St. Gerard's Church, and they turned up there at the Christmas Vigil Mass.

> QUOTE

"I stayed in New Orleans for Katrina, and all I got was this lousy T-shirt, a new Cadillac and a plasma TV."

-- T-shirt for sale in New Orleans' French Quarter, quoted in the Wall Street Journal