Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Eve 2010: Blowing on Old Embers

The New Year's beans and greens are simmering on the stove. All the fixin's for cornbread are laid out. Snow is still banked up along the streets, but at least the sidewalks and avenues are passable. No matter, because I'm not getting out today.

It's New Year's Eve in New York City. Good-natured craziness is rampant, and I just don't feel the need to add to the chaos. After such a busy Thanksgiving and Christmas season, I'm quite content to stay inside today with a stack of movies and a good book or two.

Actually, I feel the need to do a little self-inventory-taking. Not resolutions, mind you, just a much needed passion-check. Of late, I've felt a little blah about almost everything. The exception to the blahness is my new GrandBoy, of course. But on the whole I seem to have lost a spark (or two) that drives me forward. I'm not expecting any major revelations or insights, but I do think I need to make an honest assessment of what I want to put my soul into.

So over this New Year's weekend, I plan to go it alone, testing myself on this or that, trying to stoke up some life-energy passion for something.

Hand me that poker and bellows, please.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas from Dixie

And from Atlanta, Georgia, there's peace on earth tonight.
Merry, Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Ode to the Bubble Light

O, bubbly delight
Festooning the tree,
Your taper deserves laud and praise!
The orangy-red liquid
Is churning away,
A-lulling us into a haze.

No greater invention
Has e’er come our way.
You fizz up our frothy-less gloom.
No iPhone or iPod,
Or iAnything
Compares to your bubbly plume.

Let your light so shine,
The Good Book says;
To hide it can cause real trouble.
So when I shine
A light for me
I hope to Heaven it’ll bubble.

Pull down those tasteful
Little LEDs
Their wow-ness is, oh, so slight.
Shun the chic!
Embrace the glory
Of the wondrous Bubble Light!

Friday, December 03, 2010

Christmas Card Reality

A great big bright old-fashioned Christmas bulb went off over my head as I pawed through available Christmas card options during lunch hour. That light soaked through my brain, and here's the wisdom it imparted:

Mary. Stop. You do not have to send everybody a Christmas card this year.

It took a few minutes for me to realize what was happening, standing amidst the glorious array of damn expensive cards.

Really, O Great Bulb? Are you telling me that I do not have to figure out the exact right card that expresses my spirit of the season and plunk down loads o' cash for, say, three or four boxes of cards and first class postage just because I've always done that?

I was experiencing Epiphany pre-Christmas. Right in the middle of the Hallmark store on 2nd Avenue in the most Christmasy city on the planet.

Could it be? Could I somehow cull my ancient list of names and addresses and limit myself to - oh, I don't know - 24?

I say 24 because there were a few boxes marked "Value" with 24 cards for $7.99. My mind was a-whirr. Hm. 24. I mentally flipped through my address book (yeah, I still have an actual address book, though I'm sure there's an app for that).

Hey! A goodly number of these friends follow my every movement on Facebook now. They've seen all my cute GrandBoy pictures. They know what I've been doing all year. Dare I drop at least some of them off my Christmas card list this year?

Yes, the light was beginning to sink in. Might there be others that could slide off the list, as well? People I see fairly often? People I haven't heard from in ten years? I just might pull this off!

Now, I know you're saying to yourself, "Why send any cards at all?" Well, two reasons. One, I like to send Christmas cards. And two, I like to get Christmas cards. I love, love, love getting Christmas cards. I love all the picture cards and the notes. I never throw a card away (yeah, I have a huge box filled with old cards, and, yes, I go through them every year).

So. I am now in possession of 24, count 'em - 24, value-boxed Christmas cards. I went kinda cutsie, since I'm a grandmother now, and grandmothers do that kind of thing. The other options were just boring holly and stuff. I will stop by the Grand Central Post Office on my way home and purchase 24 Christmas stamps, plus extra postage for the two that absolutely must fly off to the UK. I will pop in a Christmas movie tonight, address the cards with much love and affection, and get them in the mail by Monday.

To those of you not amongst the 24: Please know that I still love and cherish you as family and friends. It's merely an economic-stress issue, so don't take it personally. And if you drop me from your list this year, I, too, will survive. Though I really, really like getting your cards.

Thank you, O Great Bulb, for descending on me in the middle of the Hallmark store on Second Avenue in New York City, USA.  I think I can manage it from here.

Thursday, December 02, 2010


Hang onto your bed curtains, and let the Scrooge-fest begin!

As our reality television world gets weirder by the minute, I'm shutting off the news and Biggest Loser to settle in with all things Christmas Carol-y. Last night I pulled out the first in my Scrooge collection, 1938's A Christmas Carol. Yes, it's black and white, and yes, the Tiny Tim is over-actingly sweet (as they always seem to be, eh?), but there's much to love about this version. Why, Ann Rutherford alone, as that minxy little Ghost of Christmas Past, is worth your while.

I have a great stack of Scrooge movies, starring the likes of Mr. Magoo, George C. Scott, Bill Murray, Alistair Sim, and Miss Piggy. I'm a stickler for all the famous lines: "Every idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips, should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart." Or "'If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population."  And "I will honour Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me." Sometimes the scriptwriters have played a little fast and loose with the quotes, but for the most part they pop up in every version.

Between now and December 25, I'll pace my viewings to make sure I see all of the renditions over the course of the holidays. And I'll watch any version (yes, even Ebbie with Susan Lucci) except for the ones with Patrick Stewart and Kelsey Grammar. Beyond that, I'm game for whatever wacky casting - live, cartoon, claymation - you throw my way.

I've asked this before, but I'll ask again: What's your favorite film/TV version of "A Christmas Carol"? Or are you just a big humbug who thinks Christmas is a poor excuse to pick a man's pocket every 25th of December? Hm?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Eve

'Twas the night before Thanksgiving, and all through the house:
The turkey is prepped.
The cornbread dressing is just waiting for tomorrow's turkey drippings.
Various casseroles are in the fridge.
New tablecloths are ready to be spread out on the tables.
The dishwasher and clothes washer are both a-washin'.
The baby's fast asleep, with visions of cranberries dancing in his head.
His mama and daddy are having a night out with friends.
And I'm in my jammies, seriously considering an adult beverage or two.
Tomorrow: family, friends, food, parades, football, and turkey-coma.
But tonight? Thanksgiving anticipation.
All through the house.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Travel Trauma Update

I love La Guardia airport, even though it's one of the rattiest places around. You'd think a city like New York would have a first-class, shiny, Emerald City-like airport, but it doesn't. JFK is even sadder. But I digress. My point is that I figured the last place in the country to install the new full body scanners would be La Guardia, and - whoo-hoo! - I was right.

No travel trauma this trip.

Word filtered through the security lines: No scanners! Relief all around. I think it's the first time in nine years I've seen folks glad to take of their shoes and walk through plain old metal detectors. Fast, easy, non-invasive. And not one of those planes had a terrorist incident!

I'm hoping by the time I go through security at Atlanta (a real first-class, shiny, Emerald City-like airport) next Tuesday, the rules will have changed whereby the full body scanners and aggressive pat-downs are used more sparingly. We'll have to wait and see, I guess. I won't even complain about having to take off my shoes.

However, the terrorist snow globe ban is still in effect. Just warnin' ya'.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Shorty's Thanksgiving Rules

Since Thanksgiving Day is rapidly approaching, I want to remind you of the rules of the holiday according to me, Shorty PJ's. Pay attention because the Great Pumpkin, the Enormous Turkey, and Santa Claus are watching. Memorize, take to heart, and live accordingly:
  1. If you're on a diet or are a vegetarian/vegan, keep it to yourself. No lecturing, eye-rolling (as we pile our plates full), or playing the martyr at the Thanksgiving table. Nobody wants to hear it.
  2. Know the words to - and sing over the course of the holiday - at least one Thanksgiving song, be it "Over the River and Through the Woods," "We Gather Together," "Come Ye Thankful People, Come," or any of the harvest tunes in ye old American songbook.
  3. Wash your hands before preparing any of the feast-food and/or setting the feast-table(s). Spy-cams are set up in randomly selected bathrooms around the country. Do not be caught unawares.
  4. Use cloth napkins. It's the Thanksgiving meal, for goodness' sake! Show a little class. Besides, life is too short to only use paper napkins.  
  5. Be on time for the meal. Late-comers are not guaranteed seats at the table or food on their plates. This is the Olympic event of meals. You'd better be there when the gun goes off.
  6. Carve the turkey before bringing it to the table. I know everyone likes that Norman Rockwell picture but trust me, your life will be so much easier if you do it ahead of time. Plus, if you carve it correctly (which is impossible to do at the table), you'll get a lot more meat off that old bird.
  7. No table conversation about politics, religion, Justin Bieber, or any reality television program. It's actually a good time to try to weasel deep, dark family secrets out of elderly relatives who are in a turkey stupor.
  8. If you didn't bring something to the feast (side dish, dessert, drinks, rolls, etc.), you're out of the left-overs lottery. Only food-contributors get to divvy up what's left after the onslaught.
  9. No Christmas anything - decorations, movies, carols - until the day after Thanksgiving. The one exception is the original "Miracle on 34th Street" (Maureen O'Hara, Natalie Wood) since it features Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.
  10. Be thankful. Take time to really think about all your blessings. Don't be afraid to let people know why you're thankful. Appreciate your life. Stop whining. At least for one day.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Colors of Autumn, New York Style

A cool, beautiful November Sunday. The perfect time to stroll through Central and Riverside Parks and enjoy the colors of Thanksgiving week - before the marching bands and giant balloons take over!

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Travel Trauma?

All the news about full-body scanners and 'way more than pat-down searches at airports right now is making me more and more uneasy in the run-up to my flight to Atlanta for Thanksgiving. I feel in my bones there's just something not right about it, security aside. What will I choose to do when I get to the security lines on Monday - scanner or "pat"-down?

I was mildly concerned last month before my trip to the UK. A few days before I was scheduled to leave, it was announced that the new full-body scanners were in place at JFK, the airport I was flying out of. I'd decided ahead of time to do the pat-down, because I just don't trust the body scanner approach. But I worried needlessly. Not a body scanner in sight, just the plain old metal detectors. And leaving Aberdeen and Heathrow? Same thing - regular metal detectors, plus the added benefit of NOT having to remove my very safe looking suede flats. Whew.

Fast-forward three weeks. While I still do not like the body scanner idea, the so-called "pat-down" is not the light, cursory pat-downs of old. Too many really inappropriate, humiliating  reports of this process have caused me to rethink my choice. And I assume that's the point of making the pat-down more and more invasive - to make people opt for the quicker, easier scanner. No, no. I don't mean to sound paranoid or like a conspiracy theorist, but I don't think you have to be either to reach that conclusion.

And that's what I don't like about this whole thing. I don't care if some TSA flunky is watching my full body scan in a back room. But it seems overly intrusive - crashing through simple rights of privacy. And I'm not convinced at all that any of this makes us more secure. If a brazen hussy like me starts feeling nervous and paranoid, then we've really lost this battle, me thinks.

I leave through La Guardia on Monday afternoon. Perhaps LGA's scanner/pat-down system isn't in place. One can only hope. Maybe it won't be as bad as portrayed. I'll report back.

I will, however, be wearing clean underwear (as always), just in case.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Sweet Spot of the Year

Every year ends in the best possible way. Even the lean, mean years taper out though golden-leaved light and into bright icy blue air that twinkles red and green. The oppressive heat and humidity of the summer and early autumn give way to the fresh, the cold, the invigorating.

But it's more than changes in light and temperature. It's a time that wraps its arms around family and sweet traditions.

Much of it depends on childhood memories and trigger-emotions created and nurtured early on by our mothers and daddies, aunts and uncles, cousins, grandparents, good friends. Consciously or unconsciously, family and friends-like-family played out those Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas traditions year after year, adding a little here, a little there as new members were welcomed into our lives.

Now, the calendar pages peal off toward December 31. The smells, the stories, the DNA-bred-in-the-bone feelings come together to anchor and inspire us. The golds of autumn and the red and green Christmas lights remind us to connect. To embrace. To give thanks. To laugh. To love.

And I need that internal assurance that I'm a part of a whole - a closely woven fabric of family and friends. It's what makes this the sweet spot of the year.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

My Kind of Funeral

We were sitting in the upstairs flat of Jean's friend Lena, when Lena mentioned the recent death of a mutual acquaintance.

"She's having one of those humorist funerals, you know."

I slid my eyes over to Jean, thinking perhaps I had misheard her friend's thick Scottish accent. Judging from the expression on Jeannie's face, I had heard correctly.

The two women went on discussing the funeral, with Jean calling it "humanist" and Lena calling it "humorist." I zoned out, as my mind drifted to exactly what a "humorist" funeral might entail. By the way, I am not the least interested in a humanist funeral, as I expect a full-blown Episcopal Book of Common Prayer, booming pipe organ, Alleluia-sort of thing. But a humorist funeral? Hmmm. I might be able to get into that.

I'm thinking a few paranoid words about death from Woody Allen, then a phone call to God from Bob Newhart, as Lily Tomlin's Ernestine works the heavenly switchboard ("one ringy-dingy, two ringy-dingy"). Maybe Amy Sedaris as Candy could stumble in to say something inappropriate. I don't know. The more I think about it, the more I'm liking the "humorist funeral" idea.

Wonder how I can work that into a Prayer Book event?

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Poppies, della Robbia, and fish and chips

I just got back from nine days in England and Scotland, a trip that was mostly business with a little free time thrown in. Time spent connecting and re-connecting with missioner colleagues in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion is always a joyful learning experience for me. And despite news stories to the contrary, there is much affection and respect for The Episcopal Church. Though most of my days were scheduled to the hilt, I did find a little time to mooch around London, visit with friends, and relax on a couple of long-distance train trips.

The Victoria and Albert Museum held me captive for the better part of a rainy Halloween Sunday. It's been decades since I've wandered around the place, usually opting for the National Gallery or the British Museum, so I'd forgotten what a lovely place the V&A is. There's so much to see there that it can be over-whelming (as with most museums), but the glazed terracotta della Robbia pieces caught my attention, in particular. The colors stood out among the duller pieces of the age. As I was taking a picture of one of them, a man was sketching and noticed that though the flowers were lilies and daisies, the leaves were birch. Ah, well, call it artistic license.

Poppies - little paper ones in remembrance of World War I - are everywhere this time of year in the UK as Armistice Day approaches. I proudly wore one on my coat in honor of my old friend Walter Wildgoose. Remembering Walter lead me from the V&A toward Chelsea and a stroll through the grounds of the Royal Hospital where Walter spent his last years. The grounds, as always, were beautiful - green, green grass and fall colors ablaze outside the barracks and in Ranelagh Gardens. The Royal Hospital and all the poppies remind me of how fortunate I was to get to know Walter and his story.

Food. Yes, always important wherever one travels, and in the UK I demand a full English breakfast (eggs, bacon, sausages, beans, tomatoes - the works), good Indian food, and fish and chips. It goes without saying that gin and tonic or a cold cider is part of the mix, as well. It's hard to find a slap-up English breakfast anymore, but my little hotel in Earls Park did a decent job.

As for Indian food, I met up with blog pal Jo and her son Thomas for a really fine meal down in Addleston. We took our time, savored the spices, and talked our heads off. (Poor Thomas!) My Lamb Ceylon was hot and yummy, just the way I like it. I managed one other Indian meal while I was in London - nice food, but cramped quarters, and not nearly as companionable an atmosphere as the meal with the Moores.

And fish and chips? In nine days I woofed down four f&c meals - all delicious, though the prize has to go to the two I had in Stonehaven, a little fishing village on the North Sea near Aberdeen. The fish was fresh and cooked to perfection. I also discovered cullen skink, a smoked fish soup made with double cream and thinly sliced potatoes. Must find a recipe and try to whip some up.

Any trip that combines strengthening business connections as well as personal friendships is hard to beat. My visit with the Moores and my few days in Scotland with dear friend Jean give life a needed spark. I'm still trying to recover from the time-zone change, as well as two - yes, two - daylight savings time switches (UK on Oct. 30 and US on Nov. 6), but it's all in a traveler's stride.

Perhaps a gin and tonic or a cold cider would help?

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Ooooooh, Let's All Be Scared!

Even though I'm in London on this All Hallows Eve, I am trying to keep the good ol' American(ized) Halloween spirit in my heart today. It's rainy and gloomy here (good, good - adds to the atmosphere . . . ), so I'll probably forego a day of cemetery-tromping and opt for a museum. However, that will not deter me from reflecting on the scary stuff of 2010. Here's my list:
  • Justin Bieber's hair. Every time I see this 10-year-old boy posing as a teen heart-throb, I want to jump into bed and pull the covers over my head. What is with that creeeepy hair? *spine-shiver*
  • Everyone running for political office. I'm terrified of all of you. You are not our best and brightest. You are our greediest and dumbest. Will someone please wake me from this election year nightmare?
  • That dancing cougar-woman in the Chico commercials. Sends me running from the room every time  the ad hits the TV. The problem is that her look-alike cougar-zombie pals roam the Upper East Side in packs, even in broad daylight. True. *cringe, whimper*
  • Bedbugs. Though I haven't had the thrill of meeting any of the little critters yet, all the news reports keep me awake at night thinking, Okay, what will I do if I get bedbugs? *itchy, scratchy*
  • Charlie Sheen. 'Nuff said.
Okay, now you. What's scaring you this Halloween? My suggestion is to settle in with a good horror flick and reminisce about those good old innocent scary days - pig's blood at a prom, blood-sucking Transylvanians, and satan-spawned devil-babies. That should take your mind off Justin Bieber's hair.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Hanging Out With The Astors

I don't want to brag, but I spent yesterday afternoon with the likes of John Jacob Astor, Clement Clarke Moore, and John James Audubon. They were absolutely perfect company - they're all dead and buried in the Trinity Cemetery and Mausoleum. Trinity Wall Street in Lower Manhattan ran out of buryin' room in 1842 and acquired some nice property at the northern end of the island to accommodate all the folks needing a posh place to be interred. Much of the land was the original estate of Audubon (now the site of The Church of the Intercession).

Hanging out in cemeteries is one of my favorite things to do, as long as I'm not there on official business, if you know what I mean. There's so much to be learned from the information people choose to put on their markers. I'm always sad to see markers with lists of small children - usually four or more names of babies all under 3 years of age. Families just carried on after all that death, I reckon. And of course some families have huge mausoleums or massive statues. Oy, look at us! 

The weather was gorgeous, and I was the only one around, except for a few folks working at the church. The cemetery is split in two by Broadway, with the eastern division taking up the blocks behind and alongside the church, and the western division running along Riverside Drive. Views of the Hudson and the George Washington Bridge were exceptional.

Former mayor of New York Ed Koch, though not yet dead, has his place all staked out and the marker and bench already in place. Talk about planning ahead! And I found a George Bartow buried atop a hill in the western division and wondered if he might be a Yankee branch of our own Bully Bartow family tree. The only marker I couldn't find was Jerry Orbach's (yes, they still bury folks in the communal mausoleums at Trinity). 

Hanging out with dead folks can be a pleasant thing to do. In the bright sunlight.

Children's marker. I saw 4 or 5 of these in cemetery.

Former mayor Ed Koch has planned ahead. (He's not dead yet.)

John James Audubon's resting place

The Proof is in the Puttin'

Proof-reading. Ugh. Almost as bad as an algebra test. And yet, it is part of my job. Not the fun part. It's a tough discipline, one that requires total concentration on spelling, punctuation, and grammar alone.

Now, I'll admit that I am by nature and education a picky spelling/punctuation person, and there are certain grammatical errors that have a positively physical effect on me (mixing up "less" and "fewer," for example). Still, I'm also one to get drawn in by whatever I am reading, and unless the errors are glaringly obvious, I stop being Comma Queen and focus on the subject matter.

If, on the other hand, the material to be proofed is mind-grindingly boring, my mind wanders into Never Never Land instead of focusing. Yes, proof-reading is a no-win situation for me.

So I thought I'd take this little break from proofing a training manual (quite interesting topic, actually) in hopes of clearing my head before slogging through the rest. Maybe a cup of tea. Or a full-on apartment cleaning. Or a lovely root canal.

Yes, the proof is in the puttin' - puttin' yourself away from all distractions and into the nitty-gritty specifics.  Hm. I've just felt a raging need to scrub the toilet.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I can complain all I want

I voted. Since I'll be at a conference in England on election day, I cast an absentee ballot. Marked it. Mailed it. So I've earned my right to complain, thank you very much. And sometimes that's about the only reason I find to vote. I really would hate to give up my Constitutional right to complain. That is in the Constitution, right?

Truth is, I lost my political efficacy around 1998 and have yet to rediscover it.  I feel totally powerless, politics-wise. Yes, I can vote, but whichever way I go from election to election, other Powers That Be have more impact than I - multi-gazillionaires, big insurance, big banks, media-yammerers. It doesn't matter which political party is in power, there seems to be too many outside forces pulling the (real) strings. My one little measly vote simply can't compete.

Politics has always been a mean game. If you know your history, you know that to be a fact. Shameless behavior is nothing new. But it does suck the life out of good citizens over the long haul. There is a great temptation to throw up our collective hands and say "To hell with all of it." Yet, I have no idea how to fix the meanness, other than requiring everyone - candidates, citizen groups, lobbyists, etc., - to act honorably. Can we not at least find our way to "honorable"? Sigh.

But, I voted. I've done all I can do in this political cycle. It's not much. But I have the feeling that the only thing I've won is the right to complain.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Good Day/Not Good Day

It's been an interesting day. As I sit with my feet up, I'm weighing all the pros and cons of the day. Let's see which list is longer, "Good Day" or "Bad Day," though I think I know how this will turn out.

Good Day:
  • Morning phone call from Daughter and GrandBoy. Always a delight to catch up on his latest antics.
  • Apartment still clean from last weekend's super-clean-up and a week's worth of being a good girl, cleaning as needed. Allowed me to have a relaxing day.
  • Perfect weather, bright blue sky and just enough breeze to keep things comfortable.
  • Great podcast walking tour, Made in NY, highlighting movie and television locations in Tribeca and Lower Manhattan. And, yes, that is a picture of the Ghostbusters firehouse. Must do Part 2 sometime soon.
  • Made a totally delish applesauce-cinnamon-walnut bundt cake.
  • Did not receive any bills in the mail today. Nothing. Total junk mail.
  • Remembered to take a book back to the library on the exact due date. Whew.
  • Did not wait over two minutes for any subway train today. That must be a record for a Saturday, when train schedules are so wonky.
  • Still relishing the come-from-behind win of the Atlanta Braves in post-season play-off game in San Francisco last night. Keep surprising us (in a good way), Los Bravos!
  • Jane Lynch is hosting Saturday Night Live.
  • Stayed healthy and safe. No stomach virus, plague, headaches, or other catastrophes.
Bad Day:
  • Well, it was just a matter of time, right? My beloved Alabama Crimson Tide suffered a totally embarrassing thrashing at the hands of South Carolina. Sad, sad. Still love ya', though, Tide - now, buck up for the rest of the season. Roll Tide!
  • Remember the applesauce cake I made? Well, I really wanted it to be a pumpkin-spice-walnut cake, but I could not find one single can of pumpkin in all of Spanish Harlem. Seriously. And, sure, I could've tracked down a real pumpkin and done it from scratch, but I was not about to go that route. So I settled for applesauce cake. Great, but I was craving pumpkin.
  • I did not win the lottery. Of course, I didn't play, either, but I didn't find a winning ticket on the ground or anything.
Now. Which list is longer, hm? Of course, the "Good Day" list. But we knew that all along, right? I can rise above Bama's football loss and having to make the applesauce-pumpkin trade-off. And if I'd wanted to win the lottery, I shoulda' bought a ticket. So I won't even dignify it as a "Bad Day," but as a "Not Good Day" list. And just look at all the fabulous "Good Day" stuff!

Countin' my blessings, folks. Countin' my blessings.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Just in Time for Halloween: New Horror Flicks

Disappointed at the pitiful lack of solid-good horror films over the last few years, I submit for your approval several concepts that should increase the horror movie box office take:
  1. Invasion Of The Giant Thing Overhead: Mild-mannered, middle class couple goes through a variety of degrading horrors before boarding a plane for Central City, Mid America, only to find an unspeakable terror awaits them as they try to stuff their luggage into the overhead bin. Filmed in Head-Bang-A-Vision. Audiences will thrill to the feeling that heavy back-packs and tote bags are repeatedly falling on their heads!  
  2. The Bloody Cult Of The Sudden-Stoppers: Unsuspecting citizens in Metropolis are terrorized by a cult of ignoramuses who stop dead-still at the bottom or top of escalators, causing total carnage as folks pile into them. Be warned! We are not responsible for audience heart attacks or puking during the bloody escalator shredding scenes.
  3. Revenge Of The Money-Hoarding ManiAx: Monstrous bankers hold hard-working customers hostage by placing 5-day holds on deposits, upping bank fees, and forgetting to credit direct deposits into accounts. The ax-wielding men in pinstripes leave trails of broken heads, broken hearts, and broken dreams. Gauze and adhesive tape will be given to each theatre-goer to soak up the incredible rivers of blood. 
  4. The Creature Screams Among Us: Passengers settle into their seats in the train's Quiet Car. All is calm, all is blissfully silent. But, oh ye passengers, do not get too comfortable. A cell phone rings. A loud-mouth, brainless fool answers. Thus begins two hours of hair-raising horror, as the Creature holds an entire train hostage to his brain-exploding, skin-peeling phone conversations. Shot in Ear-Bleed-O-Vision.
  5. Attack Of The Deadly Burrito: It looks so harmless, with its luscious refried beans packed inside a soft flour tortilla. But it contains all the stuff that will send you straight to the toilet - for days on end. We cannot give away the frightening running-out-of-toilet-paper ending. Bring an extra pair of pants or wear an adult diaper. Life-like smells will stay with you for years. And you'll never look at a bean burrito the same way again. 
See? No need to remake classics like Halloween, Friday the 13th, or Night of the Living Dead. Leave them alone, and create a few new horror classics. Mwahahahahahahah! Mwah. Ha. Ha. William Castle lives!

Saturday, October 02, 2010

A Few Modest Proposals: Education

Dissecting the problems of the American education system is all the rage now. It happens every few years. Nothing much ever comes of it, other than a few newfangled, often silly programs for math or reading or bulletin board design. As a former student and a former high school teacher, I feel uniquely qualified - well, as qualified as anybody - to impart my solutions to the education "crisis." Learn and do:
  1. Let teachers teach. Parents, stand in support of them. Most of my teachers were outstanding, but I did have a few awful ones along the way. Mother and Daddy always stood solidly in the teacher's corner, good or bad. I knew that. That parent-teacher support also ensured classroom discipline. Parents, use your helicopter skills outside the classroom to encourage reading, play time, and to make sure homework assignments are done. And if your little darling has a lousy teacher along the way? Well, welcome to the real world, with the occasional lousy boss or supervisor. Learn to function and carry on.
  2. Stop teaching to these ridiculous standardized tests. Nothing is gained by it, and it keeps teachers from really teaching and students from really learning. Use them for their original purpose, but stop putting so much emphasis on them. No more SAT tutors!
  3. Arrange the students' desks in the time-honored system of rows. No more circles. No more cushions or learning centers. Rows. Facing forward. Sitting in rows eliminates (as much as possible) distractions. The teacher can see each little face. Rows are safe and functional. Rows.
  4. Provide sturdy, comfortable desks for the students. Have you tried to sit in one of the unstable, molded plastic monstrosities filling today's classrooms? Who on earth could concentrate for more than 5 minutes in those awful things? Go back to sturdy, solid seats with desks large enough to spread out a notebook and textbook. Same for little kids. Give them solid chairs and desks.
  5. Concentrate on basic grammar and spelling skills. Effective communication isn't possible without the proper tools. All we do is yammer on about math and science, math and science, when the real problem is that foundational, everyday communication skills are lacking.
  6. Put away the beans and buttons, and unpack the flashcards. Students, especially the little ones, have a great capacity for memorizing and learning via rote. This is not a bad thing. Tap into it while you can. To this day, whenever I have to add, subtract, multiply, or divide, I see the appropriate flashcard pop up in my head. Unpopular, I know, but face it, a lot of what we know as adults we memorized as kids. I suggest using the beans and buttons for art projects, not math.
  7. Teach handwriting skills. Handwriting, especially cursive, gets a bum rap these days as everyone taps out stuff on a keyboard. But proper handwriting is a good discipline to acquire and can be applied to lots of other areas of learning. Plus, everyone needs a fabulous way to sign her/his name, eh?
  8. Get rid of backpacks. Why load down students with so much stuff? No one should have to tote all of their textbooks and electronic goodies around all the time. Require a notebook or tablet (real paper, not electronic), pens/pencils, and, if necessary, a USB flash drive for bringing electronic work (even electronic textbooks) to and from classroom and home computers. Set our children free!
  9. Demand courtesy in the classroom, in the hallways, and on the playing fields. This goes for teachers, students, administrators, and parents. We must become a civil society or education is useless. Be nice.
  10. Enforce school dress codes. I don't like school uniforms, but I'm all for stricter dress codes. This goes for teachers, too. Start dressing like adults in the business world. Grow up, cover up, brush your teeth and hair. Works across socio-economic lines.
Schools can't be all things to all people. We have to stop expecting teachers to be parents and law enforcement officers, as well as effective teachers. Parents, do your job. Teachers, do your job. You can't make schools safe with metal detectors; you make them safe when teachers and parents work in tandem.

Several things stand out about my fifth grade class picture. One:  it was lily white. A very bad thing. Yet the students were a real socio-economic mix - some wealthy, some poor, lots in the middle. Two: 29 kids. Our classes were usually 28-32, considered too big today. But I guarantee you that Mrs. Peters had very few discipline problems. And she was such a sweetie! Three: sitting in sturdy desks, in rows. Four: actual chalk on actual chalkboards (I hate the dry-erase stuff). Five (and maybe the most important thing): the PTA Attendance Banner that meant our class had the most parents attending PTA meetings.

So, there's my 2-cents' worth on the education miasma. A longing for the 1950's? Perhaps. But more a longing for courtesy, civility, and solid classroom learning. Just fix it before GrandBoy Liam lands at the schoolhouse door.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

I took advantage of the Smithsonian Media's free Museum Day yesterday by printing out a ticket for The Morgan Library & Museum. Friend Barbara has always raved about it, and it's one New York jewel I'd not explored. So, Desire + Free + Saturday = Shorty Hits The Morgan. There was only one massive disappointment, but I'll get to that later.

Seems old Pierpont Morgan, Sr. was quite the collector of manuscripts and artifacts, and fortunately Pierpont, Jr. saw fit to give the public access to these treasures in 1924. It seems kind of a hodge-podge of buildings. Well, hodge-podge isn't the right term. Maybe, "distinctive" is better.There's a big old brownstone, the McKim buiding, a museum annex, and a new Renzo Piano expansion.

Current special exhibits feature Roy Lichtenstein drawings, Mark Twain manuscripts and letters (what splendid handwriting the man had!) , Degas drawings and sketchbooks, and photos, film, and artifacts from Anne Morgan's volunteer work in France after World War I. As a WWI aficianado I found the Anne Morgan exhibit really interesting and quite a tribute to the women who went to France after the war to set up libraries, schools, and hospitals in one of the devastated areas.

My big disappointment is that the McKim building is undergoing renovation and won't open again until the end of October. I was looking forward to seeing Mr. Morgan's study and library and the rest of that gorgeous building, but, alas, it was not to be. Not this time. Sigh.

The Morgan is one of the few places in NYC that doesn't allow photography inside the building, so I can only offer you a few exterior shots. But check out the museum's webside for lovely pictures of the interior and exhibits.

And a reminder: Do yo'self a favor and check out free Museum Day next year. Seems to be a great selection of museums all over the country, so start planning now to make out like a bandit. I mean, what J. P. Morgan paid a gazillion dollars for, I got to see for free yesterday.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Moonful of Sugar

There's not much "sugar" in the "medicine" of having to get up at 3:00am in order to strike out by 4:00 to catch a 4:40 train to Washington DC, so I wasn't expecting much on my pre-dawn ride from East Harlem to Penn Station. I dragged my sleepy butt into the spot-on-time, pre-scheduled car in the hope that I would rouse up enough along the way to crawl through the station and roll onto the (right) train.

But, you know what? As the car turned left onto Fifth Avenue at 115th to zip down to 33rd, there was no way I could close my eyes and lean back. On my right, a huge, nearly full moon grazed the tops of the Central Park trees. "I'm with ya', kiddo," it called out to me. "At least, until we get to all those Midtown skyscrapers." We caught all the lights just as they turned green, so it was smooth sailing past the park, the Guggenheim, the Met, the toney Upper East Side rich folks apartments.

The Plaza and its fountain were lit up and looking end-of-summer spectacular. Bergdorf's, Tiffany's, all-night Duane Reades and diners had store windows ablaze. And, yes, the City That Never Sleeps offered us plenty company in the form of traffic.

Bottom line, it was worth waking up for. A moonful of sugar helps the waking-up-at 3am medicine go down. Spectacular city!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Season of the Cigar Box Smell

Reams of paper, books, new leather shoes, a box of crayons. The air is teeming with back-to-school smells right now. Walk into any big box store, drug store, convenience store, or office supply establishment, and all those fine, scholarly odors whack you right upside the head. Such memories!

Oh, the possibilities! (Yeah, those possibilities were usually dead by the mid-October, but still.) Just deciding which 3-ring binder to buy was a major kid-decision. I remember having a great zippered binder that was a laminated map of the world (very useful that year). So much to choose from: How many dividers? 16- or 24-count Crayolas? Paste from the school store or Woolworth's? Pencil box or vinyl case that hooked into a notebook?

And don't get me started on making the all-important school shoes and raincoat/windbreaker decisions! I repeat: Oh! The possibilities.
But the most evocative back-to-school smell has to be a fresh, clean cigar box. Sturdy and compact, a cigar box was the perfect container for school supplies. Seems like it was something that only Daddy could bring home (who knows where daddies got 'em?), and seems like the box was always King Edward brand. Ah, the smell! I don't like the smell of a cigar being smoked, but the smell of the cigar box is just heavenly. And so, well, school-y smelling.

I miss back-to-school shopping, but it's so much more complicated and expensive today. And, shoot, probably politically incorrect to keep one's school supplies in a cigar box. But back in the day, back when school didn't start until the day after Labor Day, we'd turn up in our neat school clothes with King Edward cigar boxes packed with pencils, erasers, crayons, paste, and scissors, all ready for some book-larnin'.

I think I'm going to stop by a smoke shop to see if I can get a free King Edward cigar box. For my "school" supplies, doncha' know.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Man With The Sign

It's good to remember in this time of clashing voices and absurd accusations, 1) there are lots of ideas and opinions on who owns the facts and truth, 2) polarization is the rule not the exception in our history, and 3) hey, the man (or woman) with the sign (with the message I abhor) is a friend of mine (though I hope none of them would hold the signs in the picture. Yikes!).

How many of us have good friends and family with whom we disagree about political, social, or religious issues? It's hard to keep these disagreements out of the limelight sometimes, but there must be something upon which we agree, right? For the sake of family and friendship?

No one explains it better than Sheldon Harnick in this song. Read it all, even sing along to the tune of Stars and Stripes Forever. And calm down.

The Man With The Sign
lyric by Sheldon Harnick/To the tune of "The Stars and Stripes Forever" by John Philip Sousa

In a town today, not far away,
A shabby little man is marching proudly
Round about and quite without
The music of a marching band.
No drum provides the rhythm for his left---
(not a piccolo)
(not a clarinet)
Not a single Sousaphone in sight
Yet he marches on.

But as he goes around he shows
A shabby little home-made sign that tells me
Here's a man who favors
An unpalatable point of view.
It seems to me he's absolutely WRONG!
(his opinion is)
(my opinion is)
He and I could never get along
In a million years.

BUT the man with the sign's a friend of mine
All alone in his proud endeavor
And as long as I fight for this man's right
That's the glory of the stars and stripes forever.

Yes, the man with the sign's a friend of mine
All alone in his proud endeavor.
For the sign says to me, "This man is free!"
That's the story of the stars and stripes forever.

My flag is a full-throated choir
And it sings with the voice of a nation.
When each in a voice can be heard
Then the music is strong and clear.
My flag is a full-throated choir
And each voice adds a vital variation.
And this is the sound I revere:
The stirring music of the stars and stripes forever.

Time and time again, the voices clash!
(I hear the independent voices)
Time and time again, the cymbals crash!
(and time again, my heart rejoices)
When I hear the contrapuntal singing
Then I hear the sound of freedom ringing
When I hear the music swell
Then I can tell
That all is well
Because I know:

My flag is a full-throated choir
And it sings with the voice of a nation.
When each separate song can be heard
Then the music is strong and clear.
My flag is a full-throated choir
And each voice adds a vital variation.
And this is the sound I revere:
The stirring music of the stars and stripes forever.

© Sheldon Harnick