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Friday, March 9, 2012

Not the winner!

I learned this week that I did not win first prize in the big short story contest I entered. Does that make me a loser? I don’t think so since I managed to actually enter and follow the rules by submitting a story that was under 1500 words and has a beginning and a end.  You can judge for yourself and let me know in the comment section.

The Gloved One 

At a time when the size of a woman’s hand still mattered, she stood behind the glove counter sorting kid from cotton.  The soft delicacy and undulating shapes of the long silk evening gloves were enchanting; the scent of leathers and suedes for daytime, intoxicating. Each pair was individually priced with tiny handwritten paper tags hanging by silk threads to hand stitched labels on the inside of the right hand glove. She was well suited to the tasks of quietly stacking and sorting her lovely merchandise behind the polish of the shimmering glass counter. It was as close to beauty as she might touch every day.

Ruth was a tiny woman barely four feet 9 inches tall; her delicate frame overpowered by the too large features on her face. Her thinning head of faded brown hair, which she put into the hands of the beauty salon on the 12th floor every Friday, was always in place, softly permed.  She was proud of her position; of the job she took a bus to everyday from her little apartment on a less than fashionable block in East Orange, New Jersey into the bustling commercial center of Newark.  Her world was encased in a 14-story building that filled an entire city block.  The store had its own telephone exchange, a completely new idea in it’s time, which shoppers could use to order sporting goods, inquire about exotic merchandise imported from all over the world, or request services from the dry cleaner, pharmacist, watch and jewelry repair center, or even the butcher in the fancy meat department. 

Men still wore hats, women as well. Nylon stockings and petticoats, girdles and long line brassieres were sold in the undergarment department discretely tucked in the back of the third floor woman’s department.  Fashion in the late 1940’s was, then as now, heavily influenced by the glamour of Hollywood.  But this was also the ready-to-wear age. There was no time for sewing. Post-war women were leading busy lives, some had jobs and required practical and simpler clothes for daytime.  Women were even wearing trousers. Glamour was reserved for the evening.

Back in the day 
But on the polished marble main floor where chill winds were masked by the double set of doors and there was a smell of damp wool and fur, Ruth would watch the flurry of active lives, once removed. The hustle and bustle of the crowds provided great opportunities for a people watcher. The two banks of manned brass elevators near the glove counter might provide the way to a rendezvous in one of the dimly lit small private dining rooms that surrounded the oak paneled main banquet halls on the 5th floor. Or it might take visitors to the sixth floor where all kinds of beautiful music, that tiny Ruth could barely hear, came from.  For beautiful music filled the air on every floor, piped in from the orchestra, broadcasting live daily from 6th floor center court. It provided a soft popular or classical soundtrack to the shopper’s experience. The original idea was to create an actual broadcast in the store to help sell radios, but the station became so popular that it was eventually sold to a major conglomerate and even continued to operate as an independent AM radio station well after the Korean War had ended.  On a large raised platform there was a magnificent grand piano draped with a brocade cloth for protection, surrounded by seats for an ever changing group of musicians under the direction of that month’s guest conductor or band leader.  Shoppers could relax in chintz-cushioned sofas during the afternoon concerts and sip tea served from silver service on carts that noiselessly rolled down the deep red Aubusson rugs pushed by white-gloved waiters.

It was a comfortable place to be a spinster.  By 32, Ruth was no longer considered marriageable material. Her dreams were dashed when her family rejected Harry, the shy waiter from the popular Tavern restaurant as not good enough for her.  She had liked the way he had kept their baskets filled with fresh rolls and brought the snappy blue and silver seltzer bottles right to the table, as soon as they sat down. When The Tavern had first opened in 1929, you could have a five-course lunch for sixty-five cents or dinner for a dollar. On Thanksgiving in 1944, the restaurant was closed to the public, serving free dinners to all the servicemen and women from the neighborhood.  The press had reported that almost 3000 dinners were served that evening.  Like her beloved store, The Tavern was a neighborhood fixture, a symbol of its time. 

The years passed quickly. Ruth stood behind that counter for over 35 where she continued to daydream about her day off, Sunday, when she could take herself to the movies and see and hear magic. Ruth was profoundly hard of hearing and had been since birth.  She wore a large beige hearing aid in her left ear with a strand of wires connected to a receiving device, which was usually clipped on to her bra strap or the neckline of her dress.  It was rather unsightly and she fiddled with it incessantly. The other adults in her family often joked that she needed to turn it up, since she always seemed to miss when someone asked her a question or her agreement on a particular matter.  But at the movies, she never missed a single word. 

This was her one great joy, the Hollywood that was peddled in fan magazines like “Confidential: It tells the Facts and Names the Names” and “Modern Screen” and “Silver Screen”--  glimpses into the sordid and steamy side of Hollywood that cost twenty-five cents apiece at the local newsstand.  Designed with garish covers of color-tinted black and white photographs of stars like Elizabeth Taylor, Debbie Reynolds, Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, and Rock Hudson and flimsy black and white interior pages printed with ink that came off on your fingers; they represented the beginning of the end of the stranglehold studios had over the press. Ruth’s younger brother Milton teased her about it and nicknamed her Hollywood so her adored young nieces called her Aunt Hollywood. 

The headlines on the covers of these magazines screamed things like, Exclusive: Why Liberace’s song should be Mad about the Boy or Liz will adopt a Negro Baby.  No other news outlet carried these stories. There were the original celebrities for celebrities sake -- the glamorous Gabor Sisters; Magda, Zsa Zsa, and Eva who collectively were married at least 19 times.  The charming British actor, George Saunders had even married two of them.  It couldn’t get any better than that! These slick publications were chock full of the scandals and sexploits of Hollywood’s hottest stars.  For a single middle-aged woman, like Aunt Hollywood, living such a cosseted life, what better daydream fodder than the magic that was post-war Hollywood, where courage was always rewarded, criminals were always punished and all the lovers lived happily ever after.

Aunt Hollywood shared her devotion and secretly, her lurid reading material with her oldest niece Joan, taking her several times a year to New York City, to the opulent and most wonderful Radio City Music Hall.  They saw the stage show and then a movie, frequently starring Doris Day.  Even then, a 10-year-old Joan knew these were just awful -- but going into New York City with her aunt and the glamour of seeing something in that magnificent movie palace was seductive. The theatre itself with its resplendent art deco architecture, massive golden chandeliers and aroma of freshly popped popcorn, was the best part.  Ruth always thoroughly briefed Joan on the bus ride into the city, recounting the latest scandal as reported by her tabloids, all written to keep movie fans returning to the plush seats in the “Now Air-Conditioned” theatres for more.  

So from Pillow Talk, and Please don’t Eat the Daisies and Lover Come Back, all starring the perky, annoying, Doris Day -- to adored Hayley Mills as the pixie Pollyanna, Ruth treated her niece to her magical world.  But it wasn’t all silliness.  When Aunt Hollywood took Joan to see A Dog of Flanders, a lovely film about a poor orphaned boy with aspirations to be an artist like his idol Peter Paul Rubens; little Joan wept inconsolably and had to leave the theatre. She sat on the great staircase in the lobby sobbing, while poor Aunt Hollywood, unsettled and unaccustomed to the frailty of little girls and their silent dreams, tried gently to console her. Grasping hands, their eyes locking; they pledged never to speak to anyone else of this moment when the images of the silver screen could provoke such a deeply felt emotional response. In this, they were united, a pair.  The little girl and her tiny maiden aunt had bonded; the gloves passed on to another generation. 

Saturday, March 3, 2012

He went that a way

Upon the occasion of my first obituary

He went that a way

He was a complex man, more scoundrel than saint. He died this week at the ripened age of 84, stubborn as ever, hanging on for days longer than expected as I sat by the phone, posted inanities on Facebook for distraction and corresponded with siblings (real and by marriage) in the long distance death watch of our father.

His passing was long expected. He suffered from Parkinson’s for the last 10 years and rode around his little town in Oregon on his Hoveround© when he was able. I know little of that time and it’s just as well. He long had another family with who, on his second try, seemed to eventually fair much better.

For a man with a talent for both procreation and amassing women with children, he was probably most disappointed that none of his brood was an athlete as he was. Awarded a full scholarship as a baseball player his senior year in High School, he spent two years at the University of Richmond before he was drafted at 18 in the last gasps of World War II. He spent a year as a private, marching around Paris highlighted by attending a John Wayne Western where the sub-title read “Whoa Chevaux!”  (En Français - this rhymes!)

He returned to his studies, finished his business degree and met and married my mother. They started their family, moved to the Jewish suburbs from their Jewish neighborhoods in Newark and finally divorced after 21 years of wrestling in bitter wedlock.

A compact man just 5’9”, he was drafted by the farm leagues and played a couple of seasons in Baltimore. He was an athlete first and foremost and loved playing paddleball more than anything else -- including working -- and so he did. I’m sure that’s how he sold insurance -- when he did.

My father was not what one would call a great Daddy. He was an immaculate and well-groomed man and I think he was uncomfortable with the sticky fingers of children. He was always competitive. He didn’t just win at Monopoly, he relished in slaughtering us.

He shared his passions as he could, dragging his crew of then three plus my mother to every Revolutionary or Civil War battlefield within an 8 hour driving radius of our home. I remember car fights and Jamestown. 

He was never much of a financial success. He knew more about spending money than earning it. Once when the electric bill had not, yet again, been paid, and my mother had taken to bed in protest, we ate Chicken Delight© by candlelight. The side of cranberry sauce came in these little clear plastic rectangular packs, much like the jelly and jam assortments at your local diner today. He was impatient opening his and when he did, he was splattered in face. We held our collective breaths anticipating his rage. His temper was legendary -- only mollified by blinding headaches later in life. But instead he burst out laughing at himself and it became for me, a joyful memory.

What does one say about a man who moved to California to follow his Hollywood dreams and amassed Barco loungers as a professional game show contestant (but a winner nonetheless!); who actually won over $5000 on Jeopardy?  When I was 28 or so, visiting the sales department of the company I worked for, I saw him in a television commercial as a butcher. I never knew how or where he might pop up in my life as a source of laughter or pain.

Our nuclear family is long fractured. Such is the gift of divorce -- the gift that keeps on giving. As the eldest of a clan that at one point numbered eleven children, mine was frequently the inappropriate disclosure. Thanks for those guys.   

My brother and sisters established their own relationship with him, that’s not mine to tell but none rushed to his bedside or attended his funeral.  I had not spoken with him in over a dozen years after the final crossed-the-line disappointment. My instincts were to protect myself and new child, away from the toxins in which my father chose to swim.

When he and his wife moved to Oregon from Southern California, as his illness became more debilitating, he was in his way giving me the gift of not having to tend to or care for him in his final years. Oregon provides most generously for death with dignity. He was never a burden, as they say.

So this, my friends, is a formal closing of a long chapter in my life that was already mostly shut. The finality of it has brought with it a flood of memories and feelings and the ability to articulate what was and will forever be, the first man I loved.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

From the Left

On Writing...
The Funky Chelsea
I was very friendly at one time with a couple who lived at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City. He was a writer of sorts producing scripts and speeches for a variety of corporate clients for live and video taped events. He had a then to me, curious habit of walking every morning to a favorite expresso bar ( this was pre-Starbucks) and spending several hours writing and sipping several cuppas. I didn't understand this behavior at all, but I was not at the time, doing much writing myself. I hired writers when I needed one. 

Now I am writing; daily and for several hours whenever possible and I have a greater understanding of both the process and practice. For example, right now I'm sitting in the cafeteria in the massive hospital complex that is St. Barnabus in Livingston, New Jersey. My mother is resting in recovery having gone through a serious and discomforting procedure. She's fine for the moment. I am relieved. 

But here I sit, surrounded by a sea of chattering humanity many of whom are health care professionals. You can pick them out by their white labs coats or sea foam green scrubs. It's lunchtime. No one person captures my interest for very long. We take no particular notice of one another. Conversations around me are peppered with words like social workers, track meet, my desk, ultrasound, social media and Aruba. They are bits of conversations you might hear in any large nice American cafeteria but for the sea of green and white which helps distinguish the nature of this place -- that and the number of hip pockets with stethoscopes.

There is, I have discovered over time, a kind of comfort I experience when writing in a room like this, a room filled with others going about their lives. While my rich inner monologue continues at full speed ahead and my writing continues unabated, the focus required to do this, in spite of the fuss around me, keeps me company.  I think I understand why my friend did his writing in an expresso bar. Writing is a solitary experience but has the advantage of being more transportable than other artistic habits. 

Sam I Am  -- Not.
I am reminded of a Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham. Sam I Am eventually discovers he can eat them anywhere with anything. I can write that in a car, stuck in tar, in a bar. Well, you get the idea. I entertain myself and may be a curious sight, smiling and making faces, squinting as I sit here with my ever present black and white composition book open to the wrong side of the page as I fill them back to front to ease the flow and pressure of writing long and left handed. I’ve always had to compensate in some way for being a lefty. The world is counter designed to our needs. (I loved Ned Flanders’s Lefties Emporium on The Simpsons.) Perhaps that’s why lefties lead shorter lives; we always have to swim against the tide.

I’ve just noticed how much it has quieted down here since I started writing this entry.  The noon lunchtime rush has thinned out considerably.  I suppose I should get to eat myself but I’m not really hungry. My hand is tired though. I’ve put in a couple of good hours exercising my craft since I arrived here early this morning. It’s been a brilliant distraction from worry.

I have been in the company of others without having to tend to anyone’s needs. I’ve been writing about all kinds of things, which always lift my spirits, and moves me forward, including this little epiphany. For this all to brief moment, all is well.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Watching the Defectives

 In many, if not most households across this great land of ours, family evenings are frequently spent in front of the television hurling support or insults towards favorite and despised sport teams and players. In our home, the sport of politics is our addiction and our teams generally lean left -- but it would be delusional and presumptive to say our team is Team Truth since that is in the eye of the beholders and there are at least six in our household at any given time, not including the animals. Each has its opinions and own ideas which makes for lively and infuriating debates at dinner time, sometimes with ourselves. The title of this blog does not necessarily refer to the illustrious Republican field this season, however fitting that might be, but might also be used to describe we, the impassioned viewers of the bloody sport we call politics. So, what makes us so addicted to this Battle Royale in which real victory is never decisive in spite of there being a winner?  

I lay the blame for this addiction squarely upon our matrilineal lines. Both my mother and mother in law are members of the Fretful Democrats, a distinction earned by both age and temperament.  I’m not suggesting that either possess the prescience of Cassandra, as learned as that might sound; but that both like Ms. C, believe our nation’s actions are all going to take us to hell in very near future.  I’ve come to understand that part of this belief stems not so much a deep understanding of how the world operates per se, but rather from a deep discomfort with a world that changes – a natural occurrence which both toddlers and the elderly find disconcerting to adjust to. Just when you think you get the lay of the land, some dagblasted new fangled War or Conflict or Social Crisis comes along to shake us to our very core. We need to prepare them with transition time!  And so, in politics just like in many professional sports, we have the Preseason.  Let’s face it, this election year has been filled with lots of  interesting players, many of whom have already been sent back into the locker room to collect their gear. I miss them and I don’t. They’re like the pregame show, sometimes entertaining but really adding nothing to the great confrontation about to take place on the actual playing field. 

Last evening, we three gathered round the flat screen and watched the rather tepid Republican debate armed with the universal team mascot, the laptop. Mine was fixed on the Twitter feed following the snarky and inane and occasionally insightful. My son was engaged in an on-line battle in cyberspace since only he possesses the ability of the young to occupy two mental platforms simultaneously. My husband was following the news feeds on the more legitimate sites and reading informative technical stuff. I was the only one laughing.

With the invention of Twitter and particular hashtag feeds, I was able to flit between and betwixt my regular crew of malcontents and miscreants, the #NHdebate feed and the #GOPdebate feed. If you watched the debate or have read any post-debate analysis, you know by now that the field was occupied with a more courtly and polite crew of players then has been seen in past confrontations. You know that there were lots of artfully played dodges and defensives moves.  And you know that the anticipated victor easily won.  You may even know that along the way were some wacky and clearly unanticipated plays.

Please allow me to share a few of my personal Twitter highlights with a bit of context, which you may have missed.

Tweet of the evening:
Huntsman makes a quip in Chinese. Mitt should answer in French. And Ron Paul in Klingon.
Paul Begala
Columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast
Context: Mitt attacked Huntsman for working for Obama to further the Democratic agenda on trade while the Chinese are stealing intellectual property. Huntsman quips back that Mitt is naïve and says something in Chinese no one understands.

Running a close second:
I’m bored now. I think I’ll have a drink as well as a joint. GOP Debates are a gateway drug.
Random funny guy coming from Burbank.
Context: About 30 minutes into the debate with nothing on the economy, jobs or healthcare touched upon.  It just made me laugh.

From my regular crew:
Why is a thrice married adulterer lecturing on the sanctity of marriage? Gingrich is the biggest hypocrite on this.
JoyVBehar -- Comedienne
Context: In a protracted dialogue with all candidates about gay marriage (They’re all against it but some believe a civil union is ok – no surprise.)

Perry never met a country he didn’t want to re-invade. He’s still pissed about the Alamo.
Context: In response to Perry’s unsolicited remark that he would go back into Iran and George Stephanopolis has a Barbara Walters/Herman Cain reaction – as in What?? 

When Gingrich talks about “moving to a 21st Century model”, Callista better watch her back.
Andy Borowitz -- Comedian
Context: Newt pontificates, Andy responds.

From the Mainstream media:
Gingrich tackles Ron Paul’s ‘chicken hawk charge’: ‘That’s part of his charge.” Then Paul stands by the charge.
Context: The best and most vivid moment of the debate when discussing the role of the president as Commander in Chief and whether actually having served in the armed forces is important.  Gingrich on the defensive about his deferment and Paul shoots back that he may be against war but that he served when he was called to serve and he was also married at the time with two children. Gotcha Newt!

What a game I watched! 

You can follow me on Twitter as popculturediva2 where I retweet and tweet when the mood strikes.

Sunday, December 18, 2011


Tucked away in the corner of the business section of a recent edition of The Los Angeles Times was a small piece attributed to Reuters entitled “FCC to erase 83 outdated media rules.” The article contained the following: “Among the rules being eliminated are Fairness Doctrine Regulations that were intended to promote honest, balanced discussion on controversial issues, when introduced in 1945.” 

The rationale for its elimination is the proliferation of both Broadcast and Cablecast channels, which have provided the diversity of viewpoints that the FCC sought to ensure.  Clearly FOX News and MSNBC are great examples of this spectrum. It is both comforting and disconcerting that the polarized spectrum of our political debate is manifest in each, without overt public disclosure. Neither outlet is “fair and balanced”, in spite of claims made to be otherwise.

Television news was not without its bias and opinions from the early days of broadcast news. Growing up in the 60’s in Suburban New Jersey I can still remember the station managers of the local network affiliates (NBC, ABC and CBS at the time) doing editorials and rebuttals as part of the daily programming mix -- each time with the disclaimer that the opinion expressed did not necessarily reflect the opinion of the employees and management of the station.  I’m not even sure that I truly understood the full content or context but these singular opinion makers were my heroes in those days. I was always interested in hearing what they had to say.  We had no “critical” or editorial reading in school and no newspaper delivered to our home with any consistency or with parents suggesting I might actually read one.

Most memorable of these broadcasters was one Kenneth H. McQueen, manager of the ABC (Channel 7) station in the New York Market.  (The network outlets in the New York, Chicago and Los Angeles markets were O&O’s, or owned and operated by the corporate entities since these were and still are the largest markets or the ones with the most Television Households vs. affiliated stations in smaller markets.)

Mr. McQueen appeared on the screen one evening wearing a big red fireman’s helmet and I recall he spoke about something related to the New York City Fireman’s union demands and how they should be supported.  I’m sure I barely understood the context but his beautiful diction and impassioned language made a lasting impression. 

Fast forward many years and I had to occasion to meet and work with Mr. McQueen on his inevitable descent down the corporate ladder, a victim of alcohol abuse and age. He was still the handsome articulate man I remembered from my childhood and I told him so. He was, after all, the station manager during the tenure of my greatest news hero of all times, the unrepentant and incontrovertible Roger Grimsby.

If there had never been a Roger Grimsby, there would never have been a Chevy Chase doing the news on Saturday Night Live and certainly no John Stewart. Grimsby begot Chevy who begot John.

I started watching Grimsby in 1970 when he was paired with the charming Bill Beutel. WABC Eyewitness News was my go-to news spot for the next 15 years.  Every evening he began the show with “ Good Evening, I’m Roger Grimsby, here now the news” and ended with, "Hoping your news is good news, I'm Roger Grimsby."  In between, his broadcasts were frequently filled with wisecracks delivered with a deadpan delivery, later mimicked by Chevy Chase on SNL, and he had an on-air running feud with Howard Cosell, Jerry “Geraldo” Rivera and Gossip queen Rona Barrett.

He once segued from a report on a garbage strike to a Rona Barrett gossip report: "Speaking of garbage, here's Rona with the latest . .

Another time, after a series of scandals had been reported in Newark politics he quipped, ” If Diogenes were to visit Newark these days, he’d put out his lamp.”

Introducing Howard Cosell for a sports report one night, Mr. Grimsby said, "And now let's go to the president of the Howard Cosell Fan Club."  Howard had a huge ego and after days of snide comments exchanged on camera, Cosell launched into a nasal diatribe and over the top attack on Grimsby. When he finally finished, the camera cut to Roger is sitting there, eyes closed and snoring, pretending to be asleep.

His quips were legendary but he was sensitive. He was the ONLY American news anchor in1977 to visit and report on South Africa's racial and political strife, following the tumultuous summer of 1976.  In "Adoption: Who Are My Parents?" Grimsby, himself an adoptee, focused on the search of adoptees for their real parents. Both shows earned him Emmys.

Roger Grimsby made several movies including Woody Allen's Bananas, Ghostbusters, The Exterminator and Nothing But Trouble. He also had a bit part in the move The China Syndrome.

My personal favorite Grimsby tale - After a studio wide-shot caught his colleague Mara Wolynski using an extended middle finger as she finished an argument with someone off-screen, Grimsby, with a straight face, looked into the camera and quipped, "Well . . . as Mara Wolynski would say -- 'We're number one.'"

And indeed they were. Eyewitness News changed the personality of News forever and Roger will always be numero Uno with me.

ABC fired Grimsby on April 16, 1986 after 18 years on the air in the largest television market in the country, most as the leading evening news show. No one has come close since.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Top 2nd Grade Chef!

My Traditional Turkey 

I have written before about food and cooking in several Suburban Familiar blogs. I have included the general attitude toward cooking in my childhood home where Peg Bracken’s “I Hate to Cookbook” had a place of honor. Our vegetables and crescent rolls came from a can.  My mother baked something called Hot Tuna Cups, which was absolutely disgusting, in spite of spawning an excellent rock band just a few years later. We occasionally had those horrific TV dinners -- sparking sibling battles because no one wanted the Salisbury Steak version, even after they added the coveted Apple Brown Betty desert. Friday nights we had Chinese food or pizza delivered but in her defense, my mother did squeeze fresh orange juice for all of us every morning, believing it possessed amazing restorative powers. 

In spite of such inauspicious beginnings, I love to cook and I am a terrific cook but I wasn’t always one. (I still feel I need to apologize to my brother and his friend Steve for almost poisoning them in the early 70s with an inedible meal from my first Wok.) But I practiced over the years and my evening audience is usually thrilled with the results. My repertoire now encompasses a gluten-free twist on favorites, no small accomplishment in my humble opinion.

Looking for something to do with all that leftover
Halloween candy?

There is, at least in my household, no holiday, which revolves around food more than Thanksgiving.  I make a great turkey but I am always open to getting tips and ideas from others. So it is in this spirit that I present the following Thanksgiving recipes, carefully transcribed from a festive bulletin board I happened upon, outside a second grade classroom. Only the names of these 8 year olds have been changed to protect the innocent.

On the making of Turkey:

First, shoot a turkey. Next burn off the feathers and take out all the insides. After that put it in the oven for 6 hours at high.  Last, take it out of the oven and eat it. Enjoy!     --Andy

First, buy a Turkey at Whole Foods. Put it in the oven for 7 hours at 60°F. Then let it dry for 3 hours. Finally, get it out of the oven and enjoy it.              --Julie

First, buy a Turkey at Kings. Then, cook it for 2 hours at 250°. After that check to see if it’s the right temperature. Take the turkey out of the oven. Last, eat the turkey.    --Eva

First, you get your Turkey. Then you put it in the oven for 6 hours. Next, you shoot some seasoning into the Turkey. Then you eat it.        --Mack

Another Traditional Interpretation 

Are the side dishes your thing?

Cranberry/Raspberry/Strawberry Sauce
First get jelly and cranberry juice and mix it together. Next put a teaspoon of sugar and add cranberries, strawberries and raspberries and mix it together. Then, put it in the refrigerator for 5 minutes. Then, enjoy!         --Brie

Sweet Potatoes and Marshmallows
First, get sweet potatoes. Then cook it in the oven for 4 hours at 120° F.  Last, put marshmallows on it and enjoy!    --Jack

Mashed Potatoes
First, get some potatoes at the supermarket. Next, take the potatoes and cut them into little cubes. Then add milk and mash!                --Leif

So no matter how much cooking you do or don’t do this Thanksgiving, remember writing clear directions for your recipes is an important part of the celebration. 

And to all of you, dear readers, a very Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Crafts of Creation


For the many of us who have worked in the communications arena in the last 40 years, we all witnessed the dramatic diminishing of the soiled-hands processes of creation.  There was something greatly satisfying about manipulating type, one letter at a time, in the curtained chamber of a machine called a typositor. You would look through a viewfinder at a kind of filmstrip that floated over exposable paper. You would then line up the right character in the right place, adjusting the knobs to move the letters closer or further apart, or adjust the slant of the italic, or raise or lower the bottom of the letter – all measured by eye – press a button, expose the image, and out came a strip of the most elegant and crisp version of a particular font you could possibly imagine. Such were the headlines I created back in the day. It was a painfully slow process, akin to chiseling type on a tombstone, yet remarkably fulfilling.

Once you had your headline, you would move on to the body type, which was created in a much more boring mechanical manner.  Then it was time to prep your boards used for printing. All those words needed to be put in their place.  For that, we used rubber cement. You might end your day covered with gobs of it, using it to make scars on your arms and the back of your hands. It was a nursery school finger painting moment. Whee!

Whether you were compiling a fancy brochure or completing the layout for a quick flyer or an Ad for a local paper, the skills and tools required were the same. There were days when you mistakenly sliced off letters or burned yourself using the new fangled wax machines that quickly replaced the very inefficient but endlessly entertaining rubber cement.

And then there was a time I turned a middle-aged man into a zombie with my heavy-handed efforts with black and white retouching paints. It was all in learning curve of mastering your craft.

As my career blossomed, I spent less and less time doing hands-on work and became a supervisor of these efforts, which expanded to include video production. I now had more to do with the ideas behind the production than the actual physical creation. But having the actual hands on experience enabled me to speak to and direct the designers, artists and video crews with a real understanding of the processes and their limitations.

In this supervisory capacity some years later, in a be-careful-what-you-reap episode, I quickly learned the importance of providing these kinds of services within a large corporation. I had been on the job for less than 14 days; working in a converted strip mall along Florida’s Hwy 90 in Clearwater Beach, Florida. With a minimum of orientation and a maximum of responsibility thrust upon my young executive shoulders, I had, as one part of my charge, the supervision of a small in-house graphics department which provided services to a wide variety of corporate marketing and communications needs.  The staff consisted of a typesetter, 3 paste-up artists and an Art Director. The typesetter was from Chicago, over 60, and really funny and the rest of the crew was local and barely out of high school. The company had not yet commenced its national rollout, was not yet known coast to coast -- exploding in one year from gross revenues of $10 million to $780 million in the next.  I know it sounds ridiculous, but I was there. It was madness.

The company broadcast or cablecast 24 hours a day of live programming to homes across Florida and a few cable systems in adjoining states in the south.  We had just started broadcasting in the New York market. (For more chuckles on how that all worked out and then some, check out :
from July 2010
from August 2010)

We sold “schlocky” merchandise to those who called in to a massive sales room, housed in another building along Route 90. Those who called in and were lucky and somewhat articulate, were selected to speak directly to the “Show Hosts”, providing an endless supply of banter or “testimonials” about the merchandize and this new fangled experience of shopping via television while the camera remained fixed on the item for sale.


Part of the pitch frequently included showing Ads from catalogs, displaying much higher prices than we were charging for the same item.  Part of what the in-house graphics department did -- was actually create these catalog pages. I didn’t know this yet. But one day, when I walked into the studio, the art crew was in stitches. Our offices were filled with television sets so we could all watch the programming wherever we went, usually with the audio off.  I think it was part of some kind of mad indoctrination thing, that and the pale green shag carpeting was enough to make you insane. Anyway, the camera was fixed on a “catalog” page for an item -- I cannot recall what it was --that had just been comped up by one of the sloppier paste-up artists and apparently the type was not adhering to the board. My little art crew was yelling and laughing, “Stop the close-up! You can see the cut marks! Oh no, the type is lifting off the board!“ It was only then that I began to understand what they were talking about.

I called my boss, the Senior VP of Marketing. He returned my call several hours later suggesting I mention this to our new in-house legal counsel who suggested I come over to his office, which was housed in yet another and much fancier office in a much much larger converted strip mall further south along Highway 90.  I drove over in my convertible, music blaring, top down. I spent the bulk of my free time that year growing a tan while I drove from department to department. The corporate campus was still two years away.   As I explained to Mr. In-house Counsel how we were creating “sales collateral” for the show, his face kept getting redder and redder. He was brand new to the company as well. I explained that up until that day, my third week with the company, I didn’t know that we were producing this material, that we were, in effect, actually defrauding the viewers.

That was the last time we created this kind of material for the shows. No one in the Art Department had any sense that what they were doing might be wrong—or if they did, chose not to say anything about it. In the long run, the company didn’t need to do these Ads. There was enough money and endless credit in those days for anyone who wanted to buy something they saw being hawked, to just pick up the phone and call us. And they did. Creation can be crafty.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Hello again, It's me.

Fantasy advice I needed

There is without doubt, a sweet pleasure in seeing long lost faces from an idyllic childhood after many years. We were a tribe of little children united by our geography and similar socio-economic conditions. Like any other tribe in history, our connection was temporary. The ebb and flow of our shared educational experiences brought us together and apart in the intervening years. We grew up in the woody suburbs in New Jersey at a time when most of our Moms could stay at home and we played outside with our neighborhood friends till the sun began to set; a rite of passage that has come and gone in this post 9/11 world. But for one too brief night in an overdressed hotel, we were transported back to those beginnings; the occasion, our 40th High School reunion.

Some were faces I had not looked at in over fifty years, never even expected to see again. Some evoked poignant memories long forgotten.  While those moments may be fleeting, they are the touchstones that chisel and define us in our journey.

I could write about the memory of singing “I’m ‘Enry the Eighth I am” on the blacktop with my classmates or sharing a fascination with those handsome men from U.N.C.L.E.. I could write about learning the truth of the birds and the bees with my playmates Linda and Jayne from a new girl on the block seeking our friendship, from whom we were then collectively forbidden to play with. I could relive with witnesses that moment in Mrs. Berg’s fifth grade class when we learned our beloved President Kennedy had been shot and we saw that our teachers could cry. There were the field trips to Becker’s Farm, the air raid drills where we hid under our desks to avoid deadly nuclear fallout, the brightly colored S.R.A. leveled readers or the gender defining assembly when all the girls and their mothers watched “Growing Up and Liking It”, a salute to menstruation and none of the boys were invited. But there was barely time to say hello again, how are you?

We were some of the last representatives of the Baby Boomer generation at a time before political correctness had constrained the structure of public education. There was no dyslexia, no ADD, no processing issues. There were only kids who were dumb -- evidenced by our trading in our grammar school meritocracy for an academically stratified Junior High School with three other tribes from neighboring schools. It’s hard to imagine what was in the minds of those educators who thought chopping all of us up and labeling us 7-1 (the brightest) to 7- 10 (the least) was somehow beneficial to all the learners. This first demarcation into haves and have nots was based solely on what our teachers thought our potential and destinies were to be.  Those relegated to 7-10 became the dropouts and the bullies. How else might one defuse the humiliation they must have felt being placed in the “dumbest” class?  We all knew what the numbers meant. We had spent hours in classrooms with these children. Awkward!

Thankfully, in high school the tracking was somewhat mitigated by our after school interests. The competition for grades or scholarship had nothing to do with these experiences. It was here that we might find like-minded friends. As the Art Editor of our High School Newspaper and Yearbook, as well as a very active member of the Drama club, the friendships forged from these efforts were ones that I carried forward. It was the in the spirit of collaboration, of teamwork – whether on the field or not – that a person’s true mettle might be measured. It is no surprise that those are the people I most wanted to see at this event or continued to see or had already reconnected with somewhere down the line as our lives went off in all kinds of different directions.  There were too few of you there on Saturday night, but we will talk again soon.

A classmate remarked at the reunion that it was like Facebook LIVE! And I think for many it was just that. Facebook took away some of the surprise as well as some of the need to reconnect.  We came armed with information about one another already.  What was really left to talk about? I was “friended” by close to 30 of my former schoolmates before I even walked into the stuffy hotel.

Nonetheless, seeing all these faces again, in one small space was sweet for they are the keepers of your early memories. Reliving moments with first loves, first play dates and sleepovers is a special treasure while we still have the health and good spirits to do so. Nothing is funnier than laughing about our crazy neighbors (We had so many!), kooky siblings, and wacko parents with people who experienced them as you did. This is a time to share those we lost in the intervening years as well. There is no small comfort in this.

My advice? Should you choose to attend your own 40th reunion, come with an open heart and mind. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Stay in touch with those who touched your heart and reminded you of those sweetest times. Don’t bother with those who hurt you or offended you. Life’s too short. Then go home and hug your family. And remember, your kids will probably be laughing at you at their own reunion. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Occupy THIS!

"Democracy doesn't come from the top. It comes from the bottom. Democracy is not what governments do. It's what people do."  ~ Howard Zinn

I'm old enough to feel a deja vu
Having successfully reached what is euphemistically called middle age provides one with a wider berth and a broader and hopefully more informed perspective on the world.  So I watch the OWS sit-ins with both anxiety and hope for our collective futures. I’m a parent and that comes with the territory. I know enough about the history of the world to reflect that all great changes in any society began as a disorganized, rather disjointed effort to refocus values and sensibilities. I also know that real change takes time, often decades, to infuse itself into a culture, of the mindset, and that it is never an easy path.  The media has provided us with a group of political pundits, who take great pleasure in devaluing and minimizing the OWS group by pointing out its lack of leadership, its convoluted message, and general disorganization.  But it is these very factors that give me pause, that make me take this committed collection of malcontents seriously.  

I also know that except in times of crisis, like the Great Depression or a world war, government leaders are paradoxically too responsible for things as they are, too invested in the status quo, to actually take on the responsibility for making changes in the “system”, however inequitable or malfunctioning they may be.  It takes the unrest of the educated but under utilized, under employed, and under valued masses – the people – to demand change.  To those in control, those for whom equilibrium is essential, that is discomforting and frightening.  In that group I would include all of the following: Politicians, Economists, University Presidents, Power Brokers, and Bankers. 

I love Political Graffiti!  

I wonder if they understand that history is not destiny -- as much as they would like it to be. Certainly our war efforts have made money, just like it did in World War II, only this time not for the American worker. Privatizing the efforts directed profits only to those companies able to participate. History doesn’t ever tell us where we’re going, only where we have been.

I’ve thought a great deal about the responsibility that historians take on. Imagine the daunting responsibility for interpreting the past through the lens of the present!  How does history and our definitions of progress, peace, growth, and development, change through time?  Just consider how Christopher Columbus is treated in schools today versus forty years ago. Today he is presented as the person who is responsible for the genocide of millions of Native Americans. In my time, he was treated like a hero. Is that a form of Progress?

Consider first the notion of “Peace” as a worldwide concept. John Lennon’s “Give Peace a chance” kind of Peace. When I was in grammar school, we had drills where we hid under our desks in anticipation of some imagined worldwide nuclear attack from our red counter super-power, Russia.  How many of our neighbors built bomb shelters in their suburban backyards? Today’s public school students, who have actually died in their local schools at the hands of classmates, conduct mandatory lockdown exercises every month. A real threat may be sitting in the next desk. What does Peace mean to this generation? What did Peace mean to my generation?

I might have defined Peace as military alliances between nations under threat from mutual enemies. It was -- Us versus Them. But is that definition of Peace still relevant in a world filled with millions of more literate and diverse populations living within single nation-states? Are our borders going to remain even relevant when technology links us all in an instant? Will our distinct cultures provide a better demarcation of on which side of any political question we may fall? Should we allow ourselves to be reduced to our differences?  

More fundamentally, isn’t it less expensive to live in a peace filled world than in a world at war, and shouldn’t that be the goal of our leaders whose vision must transcend the needs of the few for the needs of all?

Even kids know this. Since I frequently have the opportunity to work with teenagers, I asked a random collection of 14 to 17 year olds how they would define Peace and Progress. Here’s a sampling:

Romi age 16 –“I believe peace is economic and societal stability. I believe progress is expansion and a fairer but looser system that protects workers from the decisions of big banks but also allows those who are driven to make a profit from their ideas and talents.  Progress also allows those less fortunate into the market and to have a larger hand in the economy.”

Ellen age 15-  Peace is…  “When there is no war because war costs money. Progress is when new aspects of technology and business are created.  This allows the world to move forward and grown into a new version of society.”

Dan age 16 – “Peace is no involvement in wars inside or with foreign nations. Progress means competition in inventive technological and practical developments. Keeping checks and balances in commerce and avoiding monopolies.”

Greg age 14 – “There is no war, no draft and all militarys (sic) home. This is an obtainable progress. The government has achieved the goals they set forth. Progress is a state in which the economy prospers and commerce increases. A state in which money and assets are generally equally spread out and most are content.”

Those participating in OWS protests across the nation and the world are, I predict, only the first wave in what will be a long hard road to a new future in which Free Trade becomes Fair Trade and in which education stresses collaborations and critical thinking to build a better tomorrow for everyone.  Our youth already understand this. For everyone that leaves the site of a protest, I predict that they will be replaced.

In 1792 the brilliant Thomas Paine said, “My country is the world and my religion is to do good.” 

The time will come when leaders will emerge, when the message will be heard, and real changes will happen, because that is what history is. And it starts now.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

I drive me crazy

Classic 80's Graphics was SO cheesy!

I’ve been hearing about America’s love affair with the automobile for years and I must admit, there are moments when I see a car that makes me want one of them. But honestly, automobiles have been one of three things in my life: The shortest distance between two points, something else that I don’t understand how it operates, and a place to listen loudly to music that I’m the only one in my nuclear cluster likes.  I’m not sure that’s what the American automobile industry wants me to take away from their efforts, but it is what it is.

Thank you Johnny, my Speed Racer!

I learned to drive after most people my age.  I was always a late bloomer and it wasn’t until I graduated college that I actually got around to getting my license and learning how to drive.  I have to thank my younger brother for this. My first car was a slightly used little red Toyota Celica with a stick shift. I had no idea how to use the stick but my then 14-year-old brother apparently did and he became my driver’s ed teacher. We drove around for hours until I mastered the technique. I still remember being in the middle of an intersection somewhere in Livingston and being unable to get the car into gear. My brother was in the passenger seat screaming at me and I was laughing so hard, I was crying. I could not for the life of me, get it into gear. Once I mastered the technique though, I loved driving a stick and the control I had. 

Later on in life I bought a white on white Volkswagen Cabriolet convertible, also a stick. I loved it. It was the perfect beach car for those years I lived in Clearwater Beach. I still owned in when I moved back to New York City in 1989 and would put the top down and blast the heat in the middle of the winter driving down 5th Avenue with the top down and the music up. Wheee!

The Hoff and K.I.T.T. -- still cheesy! 
What I recall most about the horror of car ownership, and it continues to this day, is the headache of registration, licensing and license renewal at the Motor Vehicle offices. When my husband and I left Manhattan to come to the burbs about 14 years ago, we had to get New Jersey licenses. That meant taking the written test again. 

DeLorean made it cheesy, not Doc Brown.

Now that my son has reached the age of permit, another series of visits was required to get all the forms and tests completed. On a recently Saturday morning I was back at Wayne, our closest MV office, to pick up the red tags that we needed to affix to our license plates to indicate there was a “student driver” at the wheel.  The fact that an in-person visit is required to do this, rather than an online order process ($4 per car) just shows how backwards and user unfriendly this system is. The offices open at 8 a.m. so I was in their parking lot by 7:20, anticipating only a small crowd.  I’ve seen that line wrapped twice around the building and it’s not a pretty sight.  As the hour drew near a jovial face appeared at the door with a pencil tucked behind her ear. With an efficiency that would be envied by any branch of the military, she had this motley collection of now about 50 coffee-starved souls, sorted and assigned to various positions flanking the front door. Then she announced, “ I’m sorry, we have no pens in the building. If you have one with you, fine. Otherwise I would recommend that you go to your cars now and retrieve one.” 

Who you gonna call? 

Standing behind me (I was placed in the first position by the door since my request required no paperwork! Oh, happy day!) , was a well-groomed young man who turned to me and said in thick Germanic accent, “I thought this vas a first world nation!” 

“No,” I replied with shame. “You’re in New Jersey, the most densely populated state in the country and our Governor has apparently reduced the pen budget.”

“Aha!” he replied. “I have a driver’s license for Hong Kong, for Europe and even one for parts of Africa but I have never seen anything like this.”

“Welcome to the new poorer America my friend. It will drive you crazy.” 

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

It's Reunion time!

Coming to your future. 
In about three weeks time I will be joining a group of people I haven't seen, for the most part, for more than twenty years and in many cases, more than forty years. Yes, it's High School Reunion time again. I have decidedly mixed feelings about attending. What distinguishes this meet-up, besides my growing older and wider, is the playing field is somewhat more leveled by our respective ages. While we refer to ourselves and are referred to as solidly middle-aged, reaching two years shy of sixty seems a bit further along on life's journey than midpoint.

There will be those attending who have aged well. There will be those attending who have, with surgical assistance, maintained a more youthful countenance and there will be those who, suffering from a combination of ill health, genetics, plumb bad luck and questionable lifestyle choices, have crept closer to the decrepitude that comes with old age.

Dressed for Dinner.
Lest you think I'm being cynical, I can assure you, old age is not for sissies. I see examples of about once a week when I visit my mother in her nursing home. I try to time my visits around meal times. I do this for a variety of reasons. First, because it provides my son and I with an opportunity to engage others in conversation with her and we are then not bombarded with or limited to her repetitive repertoire of complaints and intimate ailment inventory. Each meal there serves as a kind of reunion of sorts. Names and faces that may have been forgotten are recalled, though they very well might have last met less than 24 hours earlier.

Some residents dress for dinner, some scream for it and some silently wait for their meals draped in their lobster bib-like accessory, mandatory dress code for both lunch and dinner. Her tablemates are an eclectic assortment of aged and infirm, joining us on their own steam supported by metal walkers or rolling in on their self-propelled four wheel carriages.

Most have trouble hearing and I wonder if after all those hours I spent at rock concerts, driving with blasting car stereos and now listening to my iPod, will have an early deteriorating effect on this most fragile sense.

In some ways it might be better. The hate speech and vitriol that fills and fuels what passes as News today frequently feels toxic. Perhaps in not being able to hear it, I might finally reach that Nivanian state of bliss, aka ignorance.

Poor little Dobby
When my mother first arrived at her new home, my son and I joined her at her first dinner. All meals are served in a spacious dining room and seating is assigned. As I stood behind her, at the next table a wizened woman who resembled Dobby, the house elf from Harry Potter, peered up at me from her power wheelchair.

"Hey", she cackled, " You're new here. Why are you here?"
"This is my mother"I explained. "She just arrived today."
"Really? Why did you bring her here of all places? This place is awful. The food is disgusting. It's a hellhole!"
"Yes, yes it is. How did you find this place?"
"I just googled hellhole."
"Aha hah hah."

Those hard of hearing residents in the vicinity could hear well enough to "get" my response and appreciate it. It was comforting to learn that while our hearing may fade away, a sense of humor appears to be eternal. I do hope we all bring it to the reunion.