Sunday, October 31, 2010

An Open Letter to Trick-or-Treaters

I love Halloween.
I am happy to decorate the yard, dress up, turn on the spooky sounds, and hand out candy to all the little trick-or-treaters.
I used to go trick-or-treating when I was a child; my son will one day trick-or-treat.
I consider it my duty to continue this tradition, give back where once I took, and help to perpetuate a holiday of demons and monsters.

I scorn those houses who send their children out to collect candy from the neighbors while their own porch lights remain dark year after year.

I reserve the right to refuse candy to the following:
Those who are old enough to drive themselves to a store to purchase candy or to hold a paying job with which to buy candy- you do not need to stop at our house.
Those not in costume- you are not trick-or-treating; you are soliciting.  Please adhere to the No Soliciting sign on the front door.
Those who proceed to walk up to my stoop with an infant sleeping in a stroller while they hold out a plastic pumpkin telling me the candy collected is for the toothless baby- you will get a bottle of formula.

Thank You, and Happy Haunting.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Insane Courage

This year, women in the United States celebrate 90 years of voting in national elections.
This means that approximately 2.5 million current citizens were born at a time when women were not allowed to vote. 
One of the foremost leaders in the suffrage fight was Alice Paul, who died in 1977. 
The vast majority of those currently eligible to vote were alive during her lifetime.

Passage of the 19th amendment was not an easy feat to achieve.  It took hundreds of brave women almost 100 years of fighting, writing, speaking, marching, and protesting to accomplish the goal that would benefit future generations.
They were beaten, had things thrown at them, and insulted repeatedly.
More than 200 women were unconstitutionally imprisoned.  Many of those sent to Occoquan workhouse in Virginia were violently mistreated and abused.  They participated in hunger strikes, and Paul was sent to a mental ward and force fed raw eggs through a tube violently shoved down her throat until she vomited.
Theirs was the ultimate underdog story, and it was not until the protests created significant pressure and negative publicity during wartime that the president began to support the cause.
Ninety years out, we have not yet held the right as long as it took to win it. 
Yet, today, fewer than half of the eligible women in this country are registered to vote.
Of those registered, less than half actually vote.

So, for any who cheer when the underdog gains a victory (you know who you are if you ever shouted along with William Wallace at the end of Braveheart), spend a few minutes honoring what many spent a lifetime fighting for- even if it’s just to say Hell Yeah to a group of gals who had the guts to buck the establishment and stand up to the men who spent generations holding them down.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Fright Appetite

As I walked through the grocery store today, I noticed to my delight the old familiar faces (although in newly designed boxes) of Boo Berry and Franken Berry cereals joining Count Chocula on the shelf. 
These characters, once staples of my youth, are now relegated to an annual one month Halloween novelty display.
And just like that, I longed for those days when Elvira's Movie Macabre filled my Friday nights and monsters were a welcomed addition around the breakfast table.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Happy Birthday, John Lennon

John Lennon would have turned 70 today, and I like to believe he still would have been a valid member of the music community.  For me, that is who John is.
I fell in love with the Beatles before I was old enough to remember.  And, having always been a fan of words, John was my favorite.
I recall fighting with my best friend in grade school over who was better John or Paul (even though The Beatles had broken up long before we were born, and John was killed before we were school age), and convincing grade school administrators and teachers to participate in the world-wide simultaneous playing of “Imagine” for John’s 50th birthday.
I remember my visits to Central Park to laud his birth and commemorate his death when I lived in NYC.
It always caught me slightly off-guard how the mood differed on those two days- regardless of weather or exactly who was there.  Oct. 9 was always filled with laughter and merriment, and Dec. 8th was always significantly more somber.
Sure, birth is to celebrate and death is to mourn, for most people.  But surely, to remember the life of someone who was grievously taken too soon has to evoke some thoughts of that death, or at least what could have been.  And to memorialize a death, one has to reflect upon the amazing life that made the death consequential.  Either way, one exists within the other.

I traveled to Liverpool to visit the places John knew, to walk in the footsteps of the greats who have gone before me.

To me, John was the most extraordinary voice in rock-n-roll.  His lyrics are raw and honest.
I also respect his social activism, and shudder when I think of how he failed to show the same compassion, love, and peace in his personal relationships.
There are many stories of him being physically and verbally abusive throughout his life.  His lack of respect for his family and friends was often evident; however, his concern for society was, at times, overwhelming.  And that seems to be the only Lennon that his fans remember.  Those same fans seem to spread that image as the whole Lennon, and I’ve often wondered if it is a disservice to see a real person so one-dimensionally.  However, perhaps sometimes a myth that inspires good is better than the truth that disappoints.  Or maybe the beauty of his truth lies in the little boy who was abandoned by his parents, so instead of embracing individuals chose embraced the world as a whole.

Regardless, I like to think of John as one of the most exceptional contributors to music the world has ever known.  What he has created will live on long past the rest of us.

Through his music, he has brought generations together.
I worked at the concert that opened the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame.  I had a minor position that did not allow me many perks, but my co-workers and I would take turns watching the show, from a vantage point better than first row, while the others covered the workload.  Between acts, large screens displayed clips of 10 years of Rock Hall inaugurations to a packed stadium who paid no attention at all.  The performer would walk off stage to cheers, and as soon as the video began, the indiscernible blather from the crowd was like a loud rumble through the aisles.  I stood waiting for the next performer as Paul McCartney was splayed across the screen, the white noise of thousands of conversations droned over it.  The clip ended with his proclamation “John Lennon, you made it.  Tonight you're in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” And out of nowhere, the seemingly ambivalent crowd of more than 65,000 simultaneously broke into uproarious applause so astonishing that I’m convinced even the Rolling Stones fans had joined in.
From just that simple sentiment.

John, we’re still coming together -right now- over you.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Story of a Life

I love old-timers- their candor, sense of humor, wisdom, experiences, and mostly the way that nothing seems to faze them after all they’ve seen and done.
When the economy slowed down, I used the opportunity that fewer work hours allowed to volunteer at a nursing / retirement home.  Utilizing its volunteers to the best of their abilities, I was asked to write the life histories of the residents- beginning with those in the early stages of Alzheimer’s- to be gifted to their families.  Eventually, I would speak with the other residents as well.
It surprised me how many people did not believe they had a story to tell. 
They did not believe they saw, did, or experienced anything worth writing about.  
So I would just sit and chat with them, asking about details that make everyone’s life interesting. 
Everyone has experienced triumphs -no matter how insignificant they seem. 
Everyone has encountered tragedies- no matter how alone we feel while going through them.
This particular generation had also seen a world war and the great depression.
Some had achieved greatness in their industry (one had a patented invention that is still in use today).
Others had been born into a time and situation where society limited what they could achieve, but they pressed on and made the most of it anyway (one man had played for Negro League baseball). 
Some had accomplished the improbable by making the most horrific of situations a little more pleasant (a WWII vet had created his own version of a gourmet restaurant for his comrades on the front line. He refused to talk about fighting in the war, only the food he served the men after it was over). 
And some simply survived (one mother escaped war-torn Europe with her family; a struggle that took years).
There was a school teacher who traveled the world and began theater classes where there would have never been any, and a centenarian who currently spends her time in Internet chats with young students teaching them about what life was like when she was a child.
I would sit listening in awe to all of them as they spoke matter-of-factly, sometimes nonchalantly, about situations and circumstances –highs and lows- joys and pains- hopes and fears- none of them realizing how truly amazing their lives had been.
I always ended the interviews with the same question, and strangely enough I would always get the exact same answer.  I would ask, “What do you consider your greatest accomplishment?”
And these people, from different countries, different races, different backgrounds, and different experiences, all uniformly answered “My family.”

So now, in addition to everything else these individuals have succeeded in throughout their lives, they can add to it inspiring me to begin my own family. 

Friday, October 1, 2010

Music’s Greatest Decade Keeps on Truckin’

In honor of Alice Cooper’s recent Rock n Roll Hall of Fame nomination, I’ve decided to shine a spotlight on the greatest decade in music: the 1970s!

Not being old enough to have lived through the 70s, I base my opinion on completely unbiased facts. 
Not nearly as classy as the big bands or crooners of the 40s; not the 1950s witnessing the birth of life-altering rock-n-roll; many see the 70s as an extension of the youth in revolt/ sexual revolution of the 60s. 
Yet so much more than an extension, the 70s was music.

For members of my generation and those younger, the 1970s evokes yellowing photographic images of people who made poor hair choices and dressed in polyester leisure suits with wide collars and large glasses. They are often roller skating to disco music in our imaginations. Forget the Dorothy Hamill haircuts, for a minute, though, and dig this.

Music was a monarch in the 1970s; a utilitarian dictator who refused to share its reign with any particular fad or fashion.  No matter who you were- there was something for you.
Every generation has “its music,” except for the 70s, where its music was ALL music.  

Emerging from dense smoke, distorted guitars resonated hard rock through our bones. Acts like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Blue Oyster Cult, Aerosmith, AC/DC, Thin Lizzy, Ted Nugent, The Scorpions, Uriah Heep, and UFO have remained anchored in rock n roll history ever since.
The Who went from just a member of the British Invasion to rock gods in their own right, and each of the Beatles proved that they could hold their own after the Fab Four.  Icons already, bands like The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan released what many believe to be their best albums in the 70s with Exile on Main St. and Blood on the Tracks.
Then, there were the indefinable bands that defined a generation: Queen; Pink Floyd; Warren Zevon; Tom Waits.

Glam rockers like David Bowie, T-Rex, Lou Reed, The New York Dolls, Roxy Music, and Mott the Hoople made androgyny sexy, performing in full make-up, women’s clothing, and platform boots.

Punk rock slithered out of dirty garages to buck the establishment more than any folk song could have hoped to. Its fearless leaders- The MC5, The Ramones, The Clash, The Sex Pistols, and Iggy and the Stooges- playing their antihero roles to perfection, as The Cramps sat perched on their own rockabilly revolution.

Parliament Funkadelic, Rufus & Chaka Khan, The Isley Brothers, The Commodores, Earth, Wind, and Fire; and Sly and the Family Stone took funk into the mainstream, and brought jazz greats Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock with them as genres began to fuse and Chicago and Steely Dan made jazz radio friendly.

Musical structures, patterns, and textures were redefined by progressive bands like Rush; King Crimson; Yes; Genesis; Jethro Tull; Styx; and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

Black Sabbath, Rainbow, and Judas Priest played dirges so heavy they shook the core of your very soul, while disco gave even wallflowers a reason to get down.
And Alice Cooper and Kiss put on shocking, bloody shows through all of it.

Singer/songwriters like Jim Croce, Harry Chapin, John Denver, and Gordon Lightfoot were taking folk music to levels it had never hoped to soar, while Cheap Trick, Journey, Foreigner, Boston, and REO Speedwagon were producing a sound so big it took an arena to contain it.

Lynyrd Skynyrd and The Allman Brothers Band steamed out of the bayou with their own brand of southern rock, while The Eagles put a western spin on it.

Curtis Mayfield and Al Green ensured the nation had soul, while Carly Simon, Carole King, and Todd Rundgren created songs for the easy listeners.
And the radio belted out new hit singles from Elton John, Neil Diamond, Billy Joel, Fleetwood Mac, Supertramp, and Tom Petty that would remain in the public’s consciousness for decades to come, while ABBA brought its brand of Euro pop to the states.

Bob Marley and the Wailers were introducing reggae to the new world, as Brits like The Specials were bringing ska over from Jamaica.

Country acts like Willie Nelson and Linda Ronstadt even saw crossover success.

Sure, teeny-boppers may have been displaying posters of The Osmonds, and The Partridge Family on their bedroom walls, but the savvier in the generation stood witness to the formation of art rock with bands like The Talking Heads, Brian Eno, Pere Ubu, Patti Smith, and Elvis Costello. 
 By the late 70s, the album Suicide was creating would inspire indie rock for generations to come.

Blondie, The Buzzcocks, and Joy Division were paving the way for new wave, and Michael Jackson was coming into his own as a solo performer.
And in New York City, a musical and artistic culture soon to be known the world over as hip hop was originating.

Music was everywhere. It was filling stadiums, festivals, trendy night clubs, classy piano bars, and sleazy watering holes. CBGBs held its finger on the pulse of a musical revolution.

The decade charged in like a freight train with Led Zeppelin III, Paranoid, After the Gold Rush, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Layla & Other Assorted Love Songs topping the charts. 
With no signs of slowing, London Calling, The Wall, Damn the Torpedoes, Off the Wall, and Highway to Hell pulled that train into the next decade.

Many will cite the 1960s as paving the way for the 70s, and that is very true.  The 70s would not have existed without previous generations blowing the doors off of many stigmas and conventions- musical, moral, and social. However, the climb to the mountain's summit is not as amazing as the view from the top.

Music was everywhere and everyone was part of it- whether you played, participated, or just listened. It was the decade of music fans, and its legacy lives on and on.

This is, by no means, meant to be a complete list of the artists in the 70s, nor is it a reflection of my favorites. It is simply an example of the varied success of the music of a generation.

Looking for a Few Good Men

Upon contemplating how to teach my soon- to- be- born son how to be a good man, I have been considering what makes a man.

OK- we all know the obvious anatomy.  But what about the less tangible traits? The honor, the courage, the strength of character?  How do we teach these abstruse attributes?

I thought back over history. In this country we have the Founding Fathers. Who can say anything bad about them?  These men risked certain death to fight an unfair system, not for themselves as much as for future generations.

Thomas Jefferson wrote that all men are created equal, and created the Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom, but then there were the sexual harassment accusations early in his career, not to mention his outspokenness against women’s suffrage and women in politics.  When under attack, he deserted Virginia instead of protecting it as its governor.  He was one of the originators of political mudslinging in the campaign of 1800. He stood on a platform of small government run according to a strict interpretation of the Constitution, yet he passed special legislation to allow him to implement the Louisiana Purchase, which lacked constitutional precedent and doubled the nation's size. He owned and sold hundreds of slaves throughout his life.  He began a sexual relationship with his 14-year old half sister-in-law slave, and when she tried to make a break for freedom in France, he kept her by promising freedom to their children. They were to be the only slaves he freed (although even some of them not until after his death). He never freed their mother.

John Adams was a man of his word.  He was the only one willing to give the British soldiers who fired into the streets of Boston a fair trial after the greatly exaggerated “Boston Massacre.” He was possibly the only founding father to marry for love not money, not to mention one of the few to seek out and respect his wife’s thoughts and opinions at a time when women had very few rights.  He stressed civic virtue, and was one of the only presidents to never be involved in any scandal, but how do you overlook the Alien and Sedition Acts? 

We’re taught at an early age that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, but the teachers seem to skip over the parts where he suspend the writ of habeas corpus, arresting and imprisoning thousands of suspected Confederate sympathizers without warrant; disbursed funds before appropriation by Congress; implemented a Union blockade; and all but abolished freedom of the press, excluding newspapers from the public mail, confiscating  newspapers, having publishers and editors arrested, and censoring telegraphic messages.  And let’s not forget his less than admirable rise to the presidency, although climbing out a window to prevent a quorum and passage of a bill to which one is opposed does require a certain nibble flexibility…

How can I teach my son to advocate this hypocrisy?
Do as they said, not as they did?
If the end result is favorable, who cares what virtues you had to abandon or destroy to accomplish it?

Sure, there are fictitious characters: Atticus Finch is an ideal; even good ole’ George Bailey who saved an entire town from ruin without even knowing it.
But I don’t want him to believe that being good is fiction.

I’ve decided to write him a collection of short stories consisting of events where average men and women showed true bravery, character, and humanity.  The people and situations I have chosen exemplify Harper Lee’s description of courage in To Kill a Mockingbird being “when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway, and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Are these people flawless?  Most assuredly not.  However, they managed to only exist in the public eye for a brief moment in time when only their heroism was glimpsed.

People are human, sometimes they are extraordinary, and occasionally, they slip into a position of an idyllic archetype. And for these brief, shining moments, they become something to which we all should aspire.

I’m Not Afraid to Have Children; I’m Afraid of the Places I’ll Go

Sometimes other people annoy me.
The way these people raise their children annoy me. 
Their children annoy me.

Until now I have been reasonably able to avoid these people. Sure, I’ve been stuck behind one or two at the odd check-out line or in the dentist’s waiting room, but for the most part I do not frequent the places where these people congregate. 
Local concerts- no kids there.
Galleries, lectures, old black and white movies- just try to get kids to go there. 

I’ve enjoyed my adulthood. 
I’ve traveled and indulged in hobbies; I’ve joined in philosophical discussions, and critiqued art and literature.

My ever expanding belly; however, reminds me of one thing- I will soon be required to attend kid friendly places.  And kid-friendly places means kids- and the people who raise them.

I walked into a chiropractor’s office today fifteen minutes early for my appointment.
The overwhelming odor of a dirty diaper smacked me in the face as I opened the door.
There is no way this child’s mother cannot smell it.  Why has she not been changed?

I look for a chair; one child is lying across three while another is using one as a discarded toy chest.  Their mother and grandmother have the other two occupied as a third child runs wild. 
I squeeze into the corner.  I pick up a magazine, but I cannot read it due to the droning apathetic sound of “Maverick, don’t do that.”  “Maverick, help your sister.”  “Maverick, fix your sister’s dress. No with your hands.”  (The short purple tutu referred to as a dress did not cover her panties even when “fixed,” and the bright pink cowgirl boots it was paired with made one wonder if the family was preparing her for the inevitable eventuality of stripping for  a living.) 

“Don’t pour that on her.” (This was said of a cup of water from the cooler.) The boy just laughed. The mother got up, poured herself a cup of water from said cooler and dumped it on the boy. Now both boys’ laughter was joined by the grandmother’s. 

Finally the doctor called them into the exam room. 
They did not go, though.
The mother needed to take a camera phone picture of her smelly diapered, sopping wet, stripper attired 2-year old first.  These are the moments, after all, that one could not afford to forget.  However, the child, ever oblivious to her mother’s attempts, just wondered aimlessly as the mother followed after her, phone erect and ready.

It was then it occurred to me, I will be seated next to these people at a Chuck E Cheese one day.  I will look up from my perch at the local splash pad to see them scurrying toward my own child.  I will be hosting a birthday party at a kiddie park when these hoodlums will be terrorizing the smaller children in the ball pit, or their dirty diapers will be stinking up the bounce house. 

These are the people with whom my free time will henceforth be spent.
I did not sign up for this.  My kid- sure- but other people’s kids- no sir.

Why Lady Gaga is a Genius while Katy Perry is a Twit

Lady Gaga wore a meat dress to a video awards show; Katy Perry wore a bustier on a children’s show. Why is one a brilliant and the other a fool?

Simple, while both seeking attention, Gaga chose to do so at an adult forum where artists are encouraged to push boundaries, express themselves limitlessly, and walk the precarious tight rope on the cutting edge.  She shocked at a venue where rock stars are supposed to shock (not that I don’t find the dress disgusting, but I’m putting that fact aside for this).

Perry, on the other hand, chose a children’s show at which to be brazen. What was her objective- to titillate a 3-year-old muppet? Or was it done for the dads watching at home? More than likely, it was the knowledge that anything she records will make the annals of YouTube or other Internet broadcast video sites, and she does not have the confidence in her talents to perform without selling sex.

A show of confidence vs. a show of insecurity.  And although both were showing off flesh, only one made herself the piece of meat.

Marriage is So Gay

I have never heard a single good argument against gay marriage.

I have no idea why what two consenting adults choose to do behind closed doors concerns people so much.

In a nation with a supposed separation of church and state, the laws of marriage must be viewed from a legal standpoint, not a religious one. So "it's against God" doesn't count as an argument (there are no laws against atheists, pagans, or even Satanists marrying).
If churches do not want any of these groups marrying in their buildings- that’s one thing- but in a free country, the government should not be able to make it illegal.

Remember, it was once illegal for an interracial couple to marry, which, by today’s standards is wrong. Why then are we repeating history with homosexual marriage?

People say marriage "is for procreation/ the cornerstone of family," but people who are infertile are allowed to marry, as are people who just don't want children, have taken permanent birth control methods, or are past childbearing age.

People can legally marry for power, position, money, security, safety, lust, benefits, pension, etc. Arranged marriages, and drunken Vegas weddings are legal, but gay people marrying for love is not.

I believe that one day generations will look back at us and think why was it even ever a debate?

As an addendum about the “God hates gays” discussion- the same bible being quoted also condones incest (Lot), and a “good and just man” offering his virgin daughter up to an angry drunken mob to rape (Judges). So, are the same people using the bible as an argument that homosexuality is “against god” stating that incest, molestation, and child prostitution is “god’s way”?
Also, if one believes in a traditional god, they must also believe that god is the creator of all things (including Adam, Eve, AND Steve). How can believers be so arrogant as to pick and choose what their god did or did not create?

Amber Ambrosia

Cleveland is uniquely beautiful in many ways; Cleveland is also beautifully typical in as many ways.

Ohio, the heart of it all. The mid-west, where the vast majority of Americans live.
Cleveland has been used as a testing town for new music because its listeners are indicative of the country as a whole. It has been the location of many an “any town USA” story from the Wonder Years to the Drew Carey Show.

Then there are the things that have made it stand out: Alan Freed coined the term Rock n Roll here, and John D. Rockefeller began Standard Oil Company in the city’s flats in 1870.  The city has given birth to President Garfield, Paul Newman, Bob Hope, Wes Craven, and Halle Berry.

I often look around, and appreciate things I assume to be uniquely Cleveland. 
Are we the only city who commandeers school buses to shuttle people to bowling alleys? Probably.
The Polka Hall of Fame? There can only be one.

But recently a co-worker brought to my attention that WE are also the keepers of the stadium mustard.

Really? States elsewhere don’t have stadium mustard?

I quickly searched my memory banks- the countless cities I’ve visited in the 45 states I’ve traveled- had I never eaten stadium mustard in any of them? Had it not been offered to me in Boston? Chicago? Did Nathan’s not present it as the crème de la crème to top their world famous hot dogs?

Baseball is this country’s national past-time, and somehow all its fans don’t pass their time with a crisp juicy dog slathered with the spicy brown indulgence?

How could this be?

I’ll take a foot long, please.
Ketchup or mustard?
Yellow or stadium?

Was this not the most natural progression of words in the recreational world?

Had I not heard them across the country?

But, alas, I had not, for only in the hard-working rust belt where people are proud to drink their beer out of cans can such simple perfection be truly appreciated. 
Make fun of our burning river all you want, but only in C-town do citizens recognize the glory of a softly smoldering pulp on a boiled dog.

How could this golden concoction have remained within our city limits all these years?
How have we kept this sacred secret from leaking?
How had we prevented this magical genie from escaping?

I didn’t care how.
It is ours, and we’ll keep it where people know how to appreciate a decent frankfurter.

Miami, you can have Lebron James; we have stadium mustard.
Can any other city even attempt to call itself a sports town without it?