Monday, June 30, 2014

Other People's Kids

Last night, I went to pick up my sons at a birthday party. Their friend from across our street was at this party, too. He was crying and mumbling to his father and his father's girlfriend; he was pointing out to the yard where my sons and some other kids were playing "freeze-tag." They left. But, as they left, the father's girlfriend mumbled something to me -- I think it was about my sons, but I didn't quite hear it and she walked away.

I'm not sure if it was about my sons. It could have been about the other kids. Something about them being "rough" or "tough on him."

We parents have to guard against being either too hard or too biased when it comes to our kids.

When my dad was a boy of 11 or twelve, he was collecting "half-balls" on the neighborhood roofs and a woman called the police, claiming my dad was "peeping" at her through the window while she took a shower. My grandparents, when the Philadelphia police showed up at the door, never considered listening to my dad when he swore he was only collecting half balls. They let the police drag my dad to the lady's door where they made him apologize for something he never did. (Years later, when I joked with my dad that he might have actually been peeping, he looked me in the eye and said: "Chris, I swear to you -- why would I lie now? -- that I was only collecting half balls. And, besides, if you had seen this woman, you would know there was no earthly reason why I would have wanted to have seen her naked.")

Friday, June 27, 2014

Amelia Rose Earhart: Why Aren't We Watching?

Amelia Rose Earhart is, right now, up in the sky, following the flight of the famous woman who disappeared in 1937.

It turns out they are not related. The current Amelia admitted that she once thought they were, but found out recently that they are not. Still, Amelia Mary Earhart was the current Amelia's namesake.

What is completely astonishing to me is that there seems to be no interest in this flight at all. I would think this would be a headline, at least for today. It has everything is needs: historical context; nifty name pyrotechnics; an attractive woman about to do something daring...

How is this not all over the Internet? I mean, you can find it, but... Jeeze. How am I one of the few people who thinks this is really cool?

I saw one oaf on a site call her another "blond, rich woman with nothing better to do." Ellen DeGeneres did a skit and made fun of her.


Thursday, June 26, 2014

Homer Simpson Syndrome

The dean.
I know that educated people like to downplay the effect media has on kids -- it's up to the parents to watch and correct, they say. And they are right. But media does have its effect. It give kids (and everyone) an implication of how they are "supposed" to react to things and what they are "supposed" to say in certain circumstances.

This, of course, does not happen directly -- something registers on a s subconscious level with the developing mind and even with the adult mind. People use each other as models for behavior. How much of the affectation of kids do you think comes from TV? Eye-rolling is a learned behavior; parents-as-dorks is television amplification. (I say amplification, because I think there are certain natural perceptions made by kids...)

But, like I said, it is not only kids. Adults catch patterns of thought and speech. It does not only come from TV. We are social animals, we humans, and we look for grooves to fit into; we look for our models of behavior, too. I can't claim to be different than anyone else in that regard. Hopefully, my personality is original, but there is no denying that it is a tapestry of all of the personalities I have seen and admired from birth to now. A say a million things the way my dad did; I use expressions my mom used; I joke in the style of my best friends; I present myself in the classroom in the vein of my favorite teachers from the past...

What we can't afford to do, though, is to forget to think about a situation. We need to reason it out before we parrot reactions that we have heard in similar situations.

Monday, June 23, 2014

WARNING! Your Car is not a Starship

I have always been amused by disclaimers in advertisements. Well, sometimes horrified and sometimes amused...

We have all see the drug ads on TV. They advertise an anti-depressant and then tell you to call a doctor if you have thoughts of suicide. Um...huh?

Zoloft, an anti-depressant can cause a whole slew of problems, including insomnia and impotence. Neither (and I am not psychiatrist) is going to make someone feel a whole lot less depressed. I won't list the other things [vomit, like coffee grounds] because they are too many and too [seizure] horrible to [hallucinations] mention [dry mouth and constipation].

This morning, however, I heard a series of commercials on the radio. Within one commercial break from the radio show, I heard three disclaimers -- disclaimers that convince me that we spend far too much time mirco-analyzing our world and, truth be told, far too much time in litigation; for, after, all what are these disclaimers but arse-coverers?

First, a car company bragged about the "reliability" of its trucks. Lots of deep, gravelly men's voices and some choice crunch-guitar chords in the background hyped up the testosterocity of the trucks. Which is fine. At the end, though, an announcer quietly explains: "'reliability' based on longevity." This, I imagine, is there in case some bean-counter questions the advertisers for making baseless claims and takes them to court...

Friday, June 20, 2014

Love and a Father's Dignity

I learned something about love.

When my sons were born, I realized (as many people do) that love makes doing even the most distasteful things (like chaging a diaper) not only possible but even pleasant -- at least insofar as doing these things brings a certain cool selflessness to the act; and the only reward is (and for me, it was an absurdly major reward) seeing your child walk or crawl off, comfortable and clean. It wasn't until having children that I learned what it really means to think of someone else first. Corny, but true.

One becomes eager to change diapers. Odd, but true. At least, it was for me. (Not that I wasn't grateful when Grandmom or Grammy offered to take one for the team.)

I have been back, a few times, on this blog, to the literal decline and fall of my own father -- his dementia and, ultimately, his passing away some six months ago, and I remembered a bit of an epiphany I had during all of that.

Albert Beirdstadt
At one point, my mother had surgery and couldn't really get around well. When I was over at their place, my dad needed to take a shower. At that point, he couldn't do it without help and he also needed a hand in dressing himself. My mother, obviously, couldn't do it for awhile.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Pre-Nups Make the Impossible Impossible

I guess a lot depends on what you think marriage is.

There are a lot of highly educated people out there who will smile a wry smile and tell me that marriage has, historically, been all sorts of things, not the least of which is a business arrangement. I do understand that, just so everyone knows.

But it is hard to refute the fact that, in Western culture as well as in some others. marriage has come to be known as a commitment born out of love; a promise of eternal fidelity and loyalty. A "till-death-do-we-part" kind of a thing.

Even though people seem to be treating it, of late, as a kind of not-really commitment, the general principal; the poetic vows; the expensive clothes and copious flowers adorning alters and daises seem to belie the fact that we still think, at least by definition, marriage is supposed to be a profound commitment.

If it were not so, why would the gay community, at present, be fighting so hard for recognition in the area. Business? Tax breaks? Partially. But most would argue there is more to it.

Just today, though, I was sucked in, as I usually am, to one of those listy sites that shows us stuff we didn't know about celebrities. This one was about pre-nuptial agreements.

I have to weigh in. I don't care if you are are a billionaire (or a thousandaire, like myself). A pre-nuptial agreement is an invalidation of the marriage vows. A pre nuptial agreement the "just kidding" below the last l uttered promise at any ceremony.

You can come at me, if you want, with a million practical reasons why pre-nups are a sound idea. It won't work.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Happy Monday the 16th All You Dads!

I suppose it is nothing new to anyone who reads this blog with any regularity that I am not a fan of Father's Day. I don't loathe it as I loathe Valentine's Day, but...I'm not too into it.

It's cool and all, but the day seems, as Valentine's Day does, artificial to me. Dads should not seek thanks or special treatment.

I know, I know: It's only one day per year; it is a celebration or parenthood. But...why?

Shouldn't being a dad be its own celebration? For me, it really is.

It's not that good stuff doesn't sometimes happen on Father's Day. I saw cool pictures of friends of mine doing fun stuff with their kids. But, in the holiday-driven, social media age, those things that should be a quiet, personal joy become public and they grow another branch: a branch out of the father/son/daughter relationship and into the public sphere.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Judgement vs. Criticism: A Meditation

Here's how it went down:

I posted this on Facebook:

All Christians should take a shot at reading the Gospels. They're really quite enlightening. Some may be surprised to read that the Jesus guy they are always referring to never once condoned hate, judgment of others or violence in any form. In fact, rumor has it He was kind of against all of those things...

This was received favorably by most of my friends, both religious and non-religious. I had posted it as a reaction to some moron in the news pulling some kind of Westboro Baptist Church nonsense. 

Then, I posted, on Monday, about Game of Thrones -- about how I was tired of the show and books and that it had started to wear thin with me because (among numerous other things) I stopped caring about a character who was, to me, heinous and unlikable. 

I shared the link on Facebook and some agreed and some did not agree with my assessment of the show, which is to be expected (and encouraged). But one of my friends pointed out that, in her opinion, what I said about the character in the show (about his being heinous and, therefore, unworthy of my continuing attention) contradicted my previous Facebook post against being judgmental. 

Did it, I wonder? Maybe. Maybe not, depending on the unraveling of semantics. (By the way, to a guy with a linguistics minor, "semantics" are not, as they seem to be to some others, trivialities -- they are important, fine shades of meaning.)

To me, there are two semantic issues here: 1) I think that being "judgmental" and being "critical" are two different things; 2) At a certain point, calling a person heinous for his actions ceases to be "judgmental" and turns into pointing out the way things are. Some things, after all, are inexcusable and should (to me) cause some kind of lifelong damage to a person's reputation.

Point the first: 

Monday, June 9, 2014

Why I am Finished with Game of Thrones

I made it through two books and I thought to myself, Okay -- that's enough. This would make a pretty good TV series, but I don't need to read it anymore. Then, the TV series came out and I though, Hm. This is pretty good, but I can see it wearing thin after awhile. Well, it wore thin. Last night I decided that I have had quite enough of Game of Thrones, in whatever form. 

Many people don't know that George R.R. Martin was a pretty reputable (and award-winning) science fiction writer before he began writing the A Song of Ice and Fire books (the series of which A Game of Thrones is the first novel). He's a pro and certainly no fresh-faced youngster breaking through with an accidental literary phenomenon. But...I like his sci-fi better than his fantasy.

A friend of mine stopped reading the series because he found it ugly. He quickly got sick of the preponderance of sexual content and the ruthlessness of some of the characters. He stopped after the first book. I went through the second, but bailed out after that.

The story started to mushroom out into directions that, instead of making it feel complex, made it, to me, feel diluted. I still question whether Martin can (or will even attempt to) draw his various lines to any kind of conclusion. There is always the argument that good literature doesn't seek out neat endings "because life just isn't like that"...that not every novel has to wrap up as neatly as a Dickens book...but, as in music, my mental ear needs to feel as if melodies are going somewhere...anywhere. I just didn't feel any sense of direction from the first two novels.

Friday, June 6, 2014


Lewis Hine, 1909
Now that I have decided to publish my "senior farewell" poems here, I suppose I will share last year's; kind of work backward. I will take a break after this one -- too many of these in a row could get tedious, I suppose.

One day, some time during 2013, I heard an old man ask his grandchild what he wanted to "be" when he grew up and it struck me how strange it is that we immediately think of jobs when we ask and are asked that question -- as if our jobs are our personal identity -- what we are. Why don't we ask, "What do you want to do?"In a way, it is a kind of brainwashing, isn't it? Well, not if you have a grandfather like Charlie's...


No one knew Grandfather was magical,
But Charlie knew.
No one knew Grandfather had a box with a secret, inside --
The way to be happy forever.
But Charlie knew.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The Trick Is Not Forgetting

This year, I'm going to do this. Year after year, as part of our graduation exercises at our school, I write the "Senior Farewell Poem." I read it to the senior class in front of the entire school and in front of maybe a hundred parents. It's one of my favorite writing tasks.

But, I admit -- I haven't published them here because I come from a long line of stuffy English majors who would see the kind of poems I write for graduates as a kind of "pop" poetry -- a little too "out in the open". But the fact is, these poems need to be grasped at a listening by an audience that is not reading along and that doesn't have time to explicate. That, in and of itself, is quite a writing challenge. And I have decided I am proud of (I think) accomplishing it each year. In fact, I plan to add a page to this site that contains all of my "Senior Farewell" poems over the last thirteen years. But now, my poem for the Class of 2014:

Monday, June 2, 2014

Of course! Of course! Of course!

Granted, I am more sensitive than many to language -- I mean, spend most days immersed in it, whether writing, teaching or reading. As a result, I often see things that seem not to be a big deal to others and then proceed to make a big deal out of them. This one is brand new and I am not sure if it has gotten out of New Jersey yet...

In my area, I have noticed that waitresses and waiters have become addicted to the phrase,"Of course." The other night, for instance, we went to kind of an upscale burger joint for dinner. It is in the town where I grew up; a town that has developed an inflated sense of its own importance as time has gone on -- so much so that they offer valet parking at what used to be a simple shopping mall with bike racks outside.

I kid you not with the following dialogue -- it is no exaggeration.