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Sunday, December 18, 2011

FAIR AIR PLAY

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section of a recent edition of The Los Angeles Times was a small piece attributed to Reuters entitled “FCC to erase 83 outdated media rules.”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

COLD TYPE AS CLIPART


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!

OUR GORGEOUS ABCs 
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.

EARLY SHOP AT HOME PROTOTYPE



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!"
"Really?"
"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.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

iCarol


iCEO Jobs and his iPhone

This week we all lost too early, a brilliant and brusque visionary, Steve Jobs. Others have who knew him have written beautifully of his contributions and human foibles. I’m not going to do that. I am just going to point out his affect on me and that’s why this is iCarol.

What I’ve been thinking about is names; mine in particular and others in general. Consumer products with names like the iPhone, the Pentium Chip (see this week’s New Yorker magazine to learn more about how this name came to be.), and Kleenex exist throughout their lifetimes with occasional modifications, marketed as improvements and iterations, but we don’t get that chance. I am and was Carol. Not Carol, new and improved or Carol One or lowcal Carol.

I think that’s a huge missed opportunity for humankind. All the other Carol’s that I meet are at least 50 years old. It’s the name of an old person. It didn’t age well. I resent that. I didn’t even get to have a vote on my name. No focus groups were held to determine whether Carol was the right brand name for me. If we are being told today, we are our brand, I don’t want to be saddled with a name that puts me in a doddering package.

And clearly, I am not the same as I was 50 years ago even if my name was the right name at the time. I want a new and fresh name, something that captures who I am right now, that has aged well.

Cousin Ice Cream Cone
I experiment with this notion when I work with young children. My married name is Cohn, as in Ice Cream Cone.  It is not the two syllable Cohen or Co-hen. Just the short and sweet cone so I tell the little ones that my name is Mrs. Ice Cream Cone. I do this for both practical and educationally sound reasons. Practical because it’s likely they will remember my name and educationally sound because research shows that happy learners actually learn more and that success breeds success. Part of what makes learners happy is being successful. In this environment, Mrs. Ice Cream Cone clearly works for me but I’m not sure it’s right anywhere else.

Uncle Traffic Cohn
When I was pregnant with my son, we did get lots of helpful and not so helpful ideas for names from friends and acquaintances. In no particular order or preference these included: Gengis Cohn, Shaka Cohn, Traffic Cohn, Kubla Cohn, Ice Cream Cohn, Safety Cohn, Waffle Cohn, Soft serve Cohn, Pine Cohn, and Snow Cohn. Our favorite came from a friend of my brother’s who suggested Jimmy Crack Cohn. While entertaining, we rejected them all and went with Miles which appears to be working just fine and seems like a good fit.

So for those of you who know me only as an adult or know me best from childhood or those adolescent years, please don’t think of me as a Carol. Suggestions and recommendations for an updated, better name are being collected right now and I welcome your input.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Help! My 16 year old is calling from a Mexican Prison


Visions of Terror 

I’m sure all of you at some point have received an email from a diplomat or wealthy foreigner in Nigeria who is asking for a mere $300 to help them move millions of dollars from his homeland.  He graciously offers a percentage of this as a reward for helping him in a letter typed in all caps with gross spelling and grammatical errors. 

Here’s the latest twist in our too connected world and it happened to us just this week. My In-laws live in Southern California. We live in New Jersey.  My In-laws are independent and both over 85, God bless them.

Imagine my mother-in-law’s surprise when the phone rang in the middle of the day and it was a young man who said, “Hello Grandma?  It’s Miles (my son’s name). I’m in Cancun.”

My mother-in-law has had the good fortune of traveling just about everywhere in the world and launched into a chat about her visiting Cancun before the fancy hotels were built and how interesting the ruins of Tulum are and not to miss them.

Then this young man, my supposed son, said, “Listen Grandma, I’ve got a problem. I went to Mexico with a friend of mine who won a free 4 day trip to Cancun and took me with him.”

“How terrific!”

“Well the thing is, his cousin picked us up at the airport but we were stopped by the police as we were leaving and his cousin had a little bag of pot that the police found. I didn’t have any drugs and I only get one phone call and I don’t want to call my parents and upset them. “

“Oh my.”

At this point another person spoke, identifying himself as someone from the consulate office (really, in Cancun?) and assuring my In-Laws that Miles was not in any serious legal trouble, but he needed to post bail so he could leave the country. They were told that they could wire $3400 from their local Western Union, which they knew was in a Rite Aid drug store very close to them. Yes, the callers knew this ahead of time.

“Miles” now got back on the phone with my Mother-in-law and begged her to please not tell his parents.

The Walk of Shame
My mother-in-law assured him that she “crossed her heart, she would never tell them and noted that “Miles” sounded different.

“That’s because he’s been crying M’am” the other voice on the line said. He then instructed her to wire the money to the Western Union office in Mexico City.

“Why Mexico City if you’re in Cancun?” she asked.

The gentleman told her that Miles' lawyer, a Mr. Goldberg, had his main offices in Mexico City but if she had any further questions, to please call him and gave her a phone number. He added that since “Miles” had no drugs he could get out but they shouldn’t say anything about drugs when they send the money to Mexico because it could be put on his record

She then went to my father-in-law and recounted the whole tale. My father-in-law picked up the phone and called the number she had been given.  This gentleman answered the phone and when my father-in-law asked if this was a scam was told,
“No sir, it certainly is not.”

So, my very addled in-laws drove to their bank, took out $4000 in cash (anticipating fees and incidentals their dear grandchild might need) and drove to their local Rite Aid per  instructed.  Unfortunately, there was no parking available so they drove down the block as bit to their local Trader Joes. This lot charged for parking but if you got your ticket stamped at Trader Joes, parking is free. So naturally my mother-in-law went into Trader Joes and bought a bottle of wine to get her ticket stamped. I should mention that they are both Depression babies and watch what they spend very carefully.

They were naturally very upset about the whole and had a conversation about whether they should call us or not. They didn’t want to tell my husband that his son is in trouble--  since my Mother in law swore to “Miles” they would take this to their grave -- but they decided to call and check to see if Miles was out of the country without revealing why. 

While she was in the store, my father-in-law called my husband.

“Ric, Hi! It’s Dad. I’m just calling to make sure you got the package I sent last week.”

“Oh, hi Dad, how are you? Yes we did, thanks. ”

“So how is everybody doing?”

“Everyone is fine. We’re excited about coming to visit you in two weeks. Carol is out grocery shopping and Miles is at his friend Richie’s house.”

“Really? He’s not in Mexico?”

“What are you talking about Dad?”

A gentle villian 
And then the cat was out of the bag.  So if my father in law hadn’t made the call or my husband not happen to be home, some guys in Mexico would be $4000 richer.

When my son heard the story he called his grandparents and thanked them for helping fake Miles out.

“Hey,  if you were willing to send fake Miles $4000. Would you like to send it real Miles?”

Ha! Only if you’re calling from a Mexican prison kid.





Saturday, July 16, 2011

That which is Sublime.


I have great respect for language.  I worship at the altars of great writers who craft each sentence as part of an assemblage --- which when we step back, takes our breath away. How do they know which words belong?  It is my intention when writing my little blog, to respect my readers and give them something worth reading both in thought and deed.  Whatever the subject, I try to provide my readers with honest and comfortably digestible copy.  I’ve written about the power of music, the joys of theatre, the engagement of movies, becoming a Mother, honoring friends, celebrating artists and even the weather. I’ll write about almost anything that strikes my fancy in the moment.  Writing a blog is like exercising. It keeps my skills sharp for the big projects.  But I’m not kidding myself. These little vignettes are not great literature. I’d like to produce great literature someday and I’m working on that, slowly.

JMW Turner's Snowstorm at Sea
When I was in college, I took a class entitled “The Philosophy of Painting”.  It was an introduction to the philosophies of Aesthetics. My professor, whose name I cannot recall, was a rather round Danish fellow who obsessively paced the floor and never made eye contact with any of his students.  I have a vivid memory of his pastel scarves, long blonde hair, fierce blue eyes and rather sweaty forehead. He spoke with flourishes and passion while his ten students raised their eyebrows. He was absolutely bonkers and Ludwig Wittgenstein was required reading.  If you are unfamiliar with Ludwig, I would certainly understand. While he is considered one of the great philosophers of this century, most of us don’t have the time or inclination to include Philosophy in our Must Dos.  But I include him in this blog because what he said provides a framework for talking about The Tree of Life, the actual subject of this blog.

Here are three of his gems:
 1. A picture is a fact.
How can we deny that which we see?  Wittgenstein talks about vision as a personal experience. He famously asked, if I see (the color) Red and you see Red, how can we ever be sure we are seeing the same color?  Does my vision of Red look the same as your vision of Red?  Is the actual color relevant?

JMW Turner's Sunset
2. What can be shown cannot be said.
One might consider this a more profound consideration of a picture being worth a 1000 words. Wittgenstein considers that what we see is unconstrained by the limitations of language, that there is a distinct visual vocabulary.

3. The limits of my language means the limits of my world.
This is my personal favorite because it helps me to recognize the limitations of a single culture as constrained by its vocabulary. If a particular phenomenon does not occur within a culture, does it even require a name or if there is something that has a profound impact or presence in a culture, is just one name for it enough? One example, Greenland has 38 words for snow.

Sean says little
So here’s my dilemma – I don’t want to diminish the experience of The Tree of Life by reducing it to words.  I cannot possess the vocabulary to do it justice. As I sat in the theatre I so wanted to capture my experience of seeing with my words, to be in the moment, to be present.  It’s not often that a word like beatitude or transcendent are experiential or even appropriate. Yet there they were on the screen in front of me. There is Commerce and there is Art and the difference was never so apparent to me as it was    witnessing this film, a haunting and melancholy and largely narrative-free depiction of the selective nature of memory, of the profundity of loss, of the complexities of love, of the scars of disappointment, and the miracle that is creation. Yes, I’m talking about a movie.

It’s not a film for everyone. It’s two and a half hours long and will not make for a great social exchange at its conclusion. I would never call it a date movie. It speaks to each viewer intimately. It is more like standing in front of a Van Gogh or JMW Turner or walking into a Cathedral or witnessing the landscape of Yosemite and your breath is taken away and you want to hold on to that feeling in silent solitude.

Brad the Dad  -- unlimited by words 
They are those few moments in life when what we witness fills us with a sense of wonderment, and demonstrates the presence of a higher being or power, an intelligence which surpasses our expectations of understanding. We bask in that profundity and recognize genius.

There are very limited moments when we can take the marvelous word sublime off of its special mantel and apply it. The Tree of Life is one of those moments. It is that which is sublime.



Philosophy is a battle against the bewitchment of our intelligence by means of language.   – Ludwig Wittgenstein


Friday, July 8, 2011

On the FRINGE!


I am frequently drawn to crazy and if you are a Facebook friend of mine, it should come as no surprise to you that I am slavishly devoted to FRINGE, a science fiction television series created by J.J.Abrams (creator of LOST), Alex Kurtzman (co-writer of the most recent and wonderful STAR TREK and upcoming COWBOYS AND ALIENS) and Robert Orci (writer and producer of television standouts, Alias and Xena:Warrior Princess).
                                                                                                                With these three extraordinary talents combining forces behind the scenes to create FRINGE, the results are an intelligent, clever, engaging, original show with strong female characters in a genre usually dominated by male heroes.  It has been described as a combination X Files, Twilight Zone and Altered States but what FRINGE possesses that those three did not, is a campy awareness of itself and a broad sense of humor. As earnest and sincere as these scientists and investigators of the "Fringe Division" are; charged with the task of saving our world, the writers relieve the tension with juvenile jokes and character self-parody.


Consider this exchange between mad scientist Dr. Walter Bishop and his son Peter:

Peter Bishop: You brought your own sweetener?
Dr. Walter Bishop: Don't be ridiculous. My medication.
Peter Bishop: You're not on any medication, Walter.
Dr. Walter Bishop: Of course I am. I've been making it myself in the lab.
Peter Bishop: Oh, I wish you were joking.

Dr. Walter Bishop, brilliant madness
Or this with a young child:

Dr. Bishop: When the Victoria, the last surviving ship, return to its harbor of departure after the first circumnavigation of the earth, only 18 of the original 237 men were on board.
Small Child: What happened to them?
Dr. Bishop: They all died, young lady. Horrible and most likely painful deaths. You see, when you open new doors, there is a price to pay. Now imagine... tonight, you look under your bed, and, lo and behold, you find a monster! And you're immediately eaten. Now, if you hadn't looked for the monster, you wouldn't have found it and you'd still be happy in your beds, instead of being slowly digested in the stomach sack of the creature. But, with any luck, your sister or your brothers might have heard your screams, and your endeavor will serve as a valuable lesson to them.


Noble Actor
The characters and their counterparts in the other world that coexists with ours are wonderfully complex and nuanced -- none more so than Australian actor John Noble.  You may recall John from The Lord of the Rings trilogy as King Denethor. Perhaps you were a fan of 24, when he portrayed Russian Consul Anatoly Markov. In FRINGE, John gets the juiciest, wackiest roles (Each actor has a doppelganger in an alternate world.)  on television, that of Harvard educated mad-scientist Dr. Walter Bishop and his other world counterpart who is the Secretary of Defense and billionaire owner of Massive Dynamic. Dr. Bishop is a brilliant mad scientist who with his partner, William Bell (portrayed by Leonard Nimoy!) did a bit of ethically questionable experiments for the U.S. Government.  This included testing a drug called Cortexiphan on a group of children; including the fair Olivia, the beautiful blonde leader of this Fringe battalion.

The Fair and Strong Olivia 
When Walter’s son Peter was a little boy, he died of a terminal illness, leading the fine doctor to travel to this parallel universe to steal Peter's double. Each actor portrays himself in our world and the alternative world where the Statue of Liberty is made of Brass and the Twin Towers still stand, except for singular Peter.

Walter Bishop spent 17 years in Saint Claire's, a mental institution, following a lab accident that resulted in manslaughter charges while his partner (Leonard Nimoy!) in this world betrayed him and built Massive Dynamic. Dr. Bishop was released into the custody of his son Peter to solve a series of unexplained phenomena, called Patterns, which were taking place around the world. His memory is sketchy because his brain is missing parts that he supposedly asked William Bell to remove and he has a pet cow in his lab.

William Bell, as portrayed by wry Nimoy, is as muted and understated as he should be. The bromance between the two, in spite of his betrayal, makes for great silliness.

William Bell - Spock
As I consider these two having much too much fun together I have to consider how well prepared they both were for these parts. In the case of John Noble, he already went off the deep end in Rings and devolved from a stern tyrant to madman much like the duality of his characters in Fringe.

With Leonard Nimoy as William Bell, I have to ask myself if his portrayal of Spock has added some gravitas to his scripted brilliance in FRINGE.

The big questions is does an actor benefit from his previous roles and the perception they created with his viewers? Is there a legacy in an actor’s series of fictionalized characters that provides a certain gravitas to his subsequent performances in ?

If you want to sample Fringe, I might suggest you try the episode:
Lysergic Acid Diethylamide
(It’s available online at "http://www.fox.com/fringe/" for your viewing pleasure.)
It will delight and surprise you.


I will close with one of my favorite Walterisms:
“We're all mutants. What's more remarkable is how many of us appear to be normal.”