Nostalgia

DAY OF THE MONARCHS

We named our little sailboat Gwaihir, the wind lord. Really, she was a wind lady and the name was a bit pretentious for such a tiny boat. Somehow, I thought it would be a lucky name. She was a 16-foot Soling with a centerboard. She drew a mere 16-inches with the board up. I used to tell people Gwaihir could sail on a wet hankie and I believed she could.

Soling Drawiing

She was a surprisingly stable craft. We carried a 5 HP outboard motor so when tide and wind were against us, we could still get home. In the old days, sailboats had to drop anchor and wait for one or both to shift. Today, we have to get home for dinner … so we have outboards.

When my husband had the time and felt particularly frisky, we took Gwaihir out through Sloop Channel and Jones inlet into the ocean.

Even a 3-foot roller looks big when you are on the deck of such a small sloop. My then-husband was a madman on the water. He would sail through thunder squalls because he liked the challenge. His father had been equally insane, so I guess he came by it honestly.

Mostly, I piloted her through the salt marshes and canals off Long Island. She was perfect for shallow water sailing. We could sail through nesting plovers, herons, and ducks, silent except for the soft flapping of the jib. The birds were undisturbed by our passage and went about their business, white sails wing-like in the breeze.

One bright day with a warm sun lighting the water and the sky blue as a robin’s egg, I anchored on the edge of a shallow, reedy marsh. I drifted off to sleep as I watched little puffy clouds scoot across the sky.

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I awoke a while later and our white sail was covered with thousands of monarch butterflies. I had drifted into their migration route and they had stopped to rest on my little boat.

I didn’t move or say anything. Just looked up and watched, thinking that if ever there had been a perfect day, crafted for my delight, this was it.

Then, as if someone had signaled, they rose as one and flew onward to complete their long journey, and I sailed home.

Check out AMAZING MATHILDA, Bette Stevens’ inspirational tale of a Monarch butterfly and her meadowland friends. This award-winning children’s book follows the life cycle of an endangered butterfly. It’s a beautiful read and learning experience.

GARRY’S FAVORITE FILMS

Picking just a few movies as favorites is always tricky. There are so many others that could just as easily be on this list. But … sometimes one must choose, so here we go:


 The Searchers

I love westerns. This may be the best ever made and it’s Duke Wayne’s finest performance. My director idol, John Ford, said of his masterpiece, “It’ll do”.

Casablanca

Everyone’s go-to movie easily could be number one. I remember chatting with Julius Epstein, one of the co-screenwriters, who told me how crazy it was on the set with revised scripts rushed in every day as they set up shots.

Epstein said Bogie was never fazed and usually nailed his lines on the first take. Director Michael Curtiz, on the other hand, was very “upset”, according to Epstein.

The Best Years of our Lives

Wonderful film but, admittedly, a sentimental choice here. The very FIRST film I ever saw at a movie theatre.

It was 1946. My Dad had just returned from the war. He was dressed in his uniform. He seemed ten feet tall and very heroic. The theme of the movie, GI’s trying to cope with post-war life, is timeless. Little did I know that it would be an issue in my family.

The Magnificent Seven

Another great western. I saw it numerous times when it opened in 1960. I know all the lines.

Cover of "The Magnificent Seven (Special ...

Cover of The Magnificent Seven (Special Edition)

The cast of then relatively unknown actors was terrific. Steve McQueen was my movie hero — next to Duke Wayne. I even tried to dress like McQueen. Didn’t quite work out. Years later, I had a sit down chat with James Coburn who related how wild things were during the shooting of “Seven”. He told me how McQueen used to drive the nominal star, Yul Brynner, crazy with upstaging bits of business. Charles Bronson was described as “one very quiet and strange dude”. Coburn admitted everyone was sneaking in “bits” trying to outdo each other.

The Great Escape

Think “The Magnificent Seven” as a World War two prison escape war movie instead of a western. James Coburn said he marvelled at how director John Sturges kept control of the “boys”, including several of the “Magnificent Seven” cast members.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t single out Elmer Bernstein’s distinctive musical score in both films. Those scores or “themes” would achieve their own celebrity over the years.

All About Eve

I’ve always loved this one!! The cast, acting, dialogue, and script are superb. It’s about the theater world. But anyone who’s had a professional life in the public eye can relate to the characters and the plot. Bette Davis was at the top of her game (role was originally slated for Claudette Colbert who had to pass).

Cover of "All About Eve (Two-Disc Special...

Cover via Amazon

The wonderful supporting cast included Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Gregory Ratoff, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, a young Marilyn Monroe and the estimable George Sanders in his career-defining role. I shared Bloody Mary’s with Gary Merrill when he was in Boston (that’s another story) and had me laughing about life on the set of “All About Eve”. He and Ms. Davis fell in love while making “Eve”. However, the  theatrics within the theatrics were something to behold, Merrill recalled. Everyone was trying to upstage everyone else but nobody upstaged Bette Davis. Gary Merrill grinned as he refilled my drink. And, George Sanders, Merrill said, was George Sanders on and off camera.

Yankee Doodle Dandy

Cover of "Yankee Doodle Dandy (Two-Disc S...

Cover via Amazon

Oh, how I adore this movie and WHY didn’t they make it in color?? Had the great fortune to meet James “Call me Jimmy” Cagney in the early 70’s on Martha’s Vineyard. I was awestruck. He was very kind. Seems he had caught my work as a TV news reporter and just wanted to say he liked what he saw. Over coffee, we talked about the joys of doing what we loved and the frustration of dealing with “suits” or executives. I mostly just listened. He talked about the making of “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and how, clearly, that was his personal favorite “job” in his long career. He was glad to do the music biopic and show off his dancing chops which he’d always had but were rarely used in previous films. He credited his unusual dance movements to mannerisms of his old street pals in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen where he grew up.

My favorite scene in “Yankee Doodle Dandy” is near the end where Cagney/Cohan, dances down the stairs at the White House.

My wife Marilyn and I usually replay this scene three, four, five times whenever we watch the film.

Shane

Another classic western. Alan Ladd’s shining hour and another gem in director George Steven’s illustrious career. The photography and editing are wonderful. Victor Young’s music is evocative. Perhaps my favorite sequence is the burial of “Reb”. The dialogue is muted and the plaintive harmonica music,  “Dixie” and then “Taps” is contrasted with Reb’s dog softly wailing over the grave and two youngsters nearby — oblivious to the tragedy — playing with a horse. The continuous scene then pans down to a long shot of the nearby town ending with an ominous dirge. Powerful, poetic stuff!!

The final scene of Shane — slightly slumped in saddle — riding away to the mountains with the young boy calling after him is the stuff of movie legend.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Another John Ford-John Wayne classic. This is Ford near the end of his career. It’s his homage to the ending of the west as he’s depicted it for most of his professional life, dating back to silent films. Shot in black and white on a small budget, Ford is more concerned about characters than action.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Duke Wayne and Jimmy Stewart, teamed for the first time, are the perfect choices, albeit a little long in the teeth, to play the contrasting leads. Wayne is the rough tough cowman. Stewart is the sensitive lawyer who wants to see justice meted out by the court rather than Wayne’s six-shooter. Lee Marvin’s “Liberty Valance” borders on parody but that’s okay.

Great supporting cast including Edmond O’Brien, Vera Miles, Andy Devine, Lee van Cleef, Strother Martin and Woody Strode (why did they have to call him “Boy” in one scene). The “print the legend” theme is so ironic and haunting. Ford is trying to break his habit of printing the legend but the public doesn’t want the facts.

The haunting theme at the end of “Liberty Valance” is the same mournful theme Ford used 25 years earlier in “Young Mr. Lincoln”.

The Quiet Man

Ford and Wayne again — this time in Ireland. Ford’s tribute to his birth place. Wonderful photography!! The green hills and pastures of Ireland never looked lovelier. Just watch out for the sheep dung. The music is memorable. “Wild Colonial Boy” pub sequence is pure John Ford. The Wayne-McLagen epic fight is in Hollywood’s hall of Fame.

Marilyn and I visited Cong and the remnants of “The Quiet Man’s” cabin during our honeymoon in Ireland in 1990. That’s when we found out that — guess who — has Irish roots.

Will Penny

Another western and a relatively unheralded film. It’s Charlton Heston’s realistic take on the life of an aging cow puncher. Had the genuine pleasure to “hang out” with “Chuck” on several occasions and he was a very nice, down to earth guy (just ask Marilyn). This was the pre-NRA Heston. Anyway, during one of our sit-downs, he talked about making “Will Penny” as a personal project.

He had done several traditional westerns and wanted to do one that was authentic and free of Hollywood glamour and happy endings. “Will Penny” is perhaps Heston’s best acting work. It is understated with Heston showing a range of emotion not usually apparent in his more typical epic screen characters.

S.O.B.

Terrific Blake Edwards film that angered Hollywood insiders — with good reason. Again, if you’ve had a professional career in the public eye, you will absolutely love this movie. You know these people. You’ve worked with and for these people. William Holden’s talk to his depression-ridden pal was all too real and could easily have been Holden’s own eulogy.

Most of the ensemble star cast, plus Edwards, stopped in Boston to promote the movie. The behind the scenes arm-twisting coming out of Hollywood was trying to kill the film. On that memorable Saturday morning, I was with only one or two other reporters (who also left after 5 minutes or so to chase more meaningful stories), listening to William Holden (a few sheets to the wind), Robert Preston, Craig (Peter Gunn) Stevens, Loretta Swit, Blake Edwards and others chat about making “S.O.B.”. It sounded more like a “Bitch session” than a movie promotion. In fact, it sounded very familiar to me.


There are so many other films on my list. “To Kill A Mockingbird”. Atticus, I believe, was rated the most popular movie hero in a recent poll. Then and now, “Mockingbird” resonates on so many levels. The movie does Harper Lee’s wonderful book full justice. That, alone, is a miracle.

There are so many favorite films and stars about which I also have a few personal “war stories” or anecdotes. Musicals, romance, comedies. “So many movies, so little time” takes on new meaning. All great movies. Just not the only great movies.

DREAMY TEACHERS IN THE REAL WORLD

Dream Teacher

You can choose any person from history to teach you any topic you want. Who’s your teacher, and what do they teach you?


I don’t need to find some historical teacher out of history. I had real-life, real-time teachers to whom I will be eternally grateful. They taught me to learn, to love reading, to make up stories and write them down. To write non-fiction that was complete, accurate and unbiased. To find humor in physics. To love history, religion, archaeology, philosophy and all the mysteries of our world.

P.S. 35, Queens

P.S. 35, Queens

They encouraged curiosity, imagination and creative thinking.

Mrs. Schiff, 4th grade teacher at P.S. 35, who suggested I write “diaries” of historical people and learn to put myself into their worlds. Thank you. You made me feel special and talented and those lessons have traveled far and wide.

Dr. Silver, who taught English Literature and Linguistics at Jamaica High school. He forced me to parse sentences and respect punctuation and grammar while making me laugh. His doctorate in Linguistics helped him make our language intriguing, like a giant mystery to unravel. I’m still unraveling it.

Jamaica High School

Jamaica High School

Mr. Wekerle, head of Hofstra University’s Philosophy department. He believed in me. He taught phenomenology, History of Religion, Philosophy of Religion, but more importantly, saw through my bullshit. The first — and ONLY professor to give me a grade of D-/A+ … D- for content, A+ for style. He didn’t let me get away with anything. He made me fill in all those leaps of logic even though I whined vociferously that “everyone knows that stuff.”

Wekerle said “No, they don’t. You know it. Now tell them about it.”

And I did and from that I got a 40 year career.

Hofstra_University_5 (1)

Hofstra University

Dr. Feiffer — my high school physics teacher — taught me even I, the least mathematically inclined student ever could be fascinated by science.

I never got together with numbers, but I learned to love science and I still do. The logic of it, the truth of it, the importance of it have stayed with me an entire lifetime.

I didn’t and don’t need teachers from the mists of time. I got what I needed from dedicated teachers who worked for crappy salaries to teach dunderheads and wise-asses like me to think, write, research and love learning.

Bless them all. The gifts they gave me were precious beyond words!

IN GLORIOUS BLACK AND WHITE

Thoughts on colorful movies shot in B&W by Rich Paschall, Sunday Night Blog

If I asked you to list your favorite movies, what would they be?  Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Transformers?  Maybe Batman, Spiderman, X-Men, Iron Man or Captain America?  Is it a 3D Surround Sound, computer enhanced spectacular? Or just fast and furious?  Do special effects and color make a movie great? Or might it be a brilliant script and amazing performances?

If you’re under 30, does your list include anything in black-and-white?  If you’re under 20, have you seen a black-and-white movie?

That’s right, black-and-white movies, like black-and-white photographs, have no colors, just shades of gray covering the gray-scale. It may seem to some that black-and-white movies were only made because color was not perfected until later, but that’s not true. Long after color was standard for all kinds of film, some directors chose black-and-white.

Some shot in black-and-white to evoke a feeling of another time and place. Raging Bull, the break-out performance for Robert DeNiro in 1980 was shot in black-and-white to evoke the era of Jake La Motta, the boxer and film’s subject.

Steven Spielberg’s 1993 Academy Award winning Schindler’s List was done in black and white not only to make it feel like a World War II movie, but also to emphasize the darkness of the subject matter. American History X, Broadway Danny Rose, Stardust Memories, The Elephant Man, all were made in black-and-white for effect, for mood, for a certain cinematographic grittiness. If you never heard of any of the aforementioned, in 2012, the Academy Award for Best Picture went to The Artist, filmed in black and white to recall another age.

casablanca-poster

Here are my top 5 black and white movies. These are required viewing before you report back next week: Casablanca is definitely number one. I know some will tell you that Citizen Kane is the best movie of all time. I watched it. I liked it. I have no need of seeing it again. I could watch Casablanca over and over.

Set during World War II, it’s the story of an American (Humphrey Bogart) who fell in love with a beauty (Ingrid Bergman) in Paris.  Forced to flee when the Nazis invaded, he is stood up at the train station by the woman he loves as the rain pours down. He winds up running a casino in Casablanca amidst a cast of shady characters … when guess who shows up? The movie includes one of the great movies songs of all time, As Time Goes By. And before you ask, Bogart never said, “Play it again, Sam.”

As a child, Psycho scared the heck out of me in the theater. It was one of many Alfred Hitchcock classics filmed in black-and-white. Anthony Perkins gave a deliciously creepy performance as the proprietor of the Bates Motel. If you have seen any other version of this classic, you wasted your time. See the original! Perkins reprises the role a number of times in sequels after he was typecast as a weirdo psychopath. Too bad; he was a solid actor.

When the Music Box Theater in Chicago was restored and started showing vintage movies, I took my mother to see Sunset Boulevard. We had both seen it on our wonderful 19-inch, black-and-white television. This was a chance to see a restored print in a restored theater. Writer William Holden is found dead, floating in a swimming pool. The story plays out mostly in flashback.

Silent film star Gloria Swanson, appropriately plays a former silent film star and manages to chew up the scenery in a fabulous performance. A list of Hollywood notables make cameos, including H.B. Warner in the Paramount film, song writers Ray Evans and Jay Livingston (who wrote music for the movie), and Cecil B. DeMille. As Norma Desmond would famously say, “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.”

highnoon2

High Noon is everything a western should be. The town marshal is going to resign — on his wedding day — when bad news arrives. A dangerous outlaw is coming to town, and the new marshal has not yet arrived. The old marshal appears to be no match for the younger guy he had earlier put in jail. Gary Cooper distinguished himself as the sheriff willing to face down the bad guy even if it costs him his life. An A-List of Hollywood stars passed up the chance to make this movie for which Cooper won the Academy Award.

The movie genre that used black-and-white, light and shadows for maximum effect was (is) the detective story. The shine of a street light through a window that throws a shadow on the floor which contains the lines of the window frame and perhaps the detective’s name help to create the scene. Black-and-white emphasizes composition, shadow and light, contrast and mood in ways color can’t.

Top movie of this type is The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart chasing his partner’s killer and the elusive Maltese Falcon. It costars Peter Lorre and Sydney Greenstreet, both of whom will turn up a year later with Bogart in Casablanca. The ending has one of the dumbest movie speeches, but paradoxically, one of the great closing lines. Altogether, it’s a great movie.

FADING FLOWERS AND LONG MEMORIES

Who left the little flag and the fading flowers by the old tombstone? It could have been anyone in this town, where memories are long and roots run deep.

The cemetery is in the center of town, across from the dam and just a hundred yards or so from the river. It’s up on the hill, so it never floods, even when the rivers rush over their banks. The people who chose the land for the cemetery knew the river. They picked a beautiful spot, but dry and safe for bones and memories.

old cemetary in uxbridge

An old cemetery, dating back to the early 1700s. It contains traces of many generations of those who lived and died in this town, this valley. Folks who lived along the Blackstone and its many tributaries, fished in its lakes and streams. They fought in our wars and are buried here — Revolutionary War soldiers, Civil War veterans as well as those who fought in all the American wars since.

Every Independence Day, Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day, the cemetery blooms with bouquets and flags. The schools bring the children here, so they will remember too and traditions will be maintained. They bring bouquets of wild flowers or from the back garden. Lilacs and lilies, scarlet poppies … and always a miniature American flag. Even if there’s no special holiday, the cemetery always shows signs of caring, remembering.

Maybe it’s easier to remember here, with such a small population. Is that it? Or it’s just part of the air, the character, the history. Remembering is what we do in the Valley.

The cemetery is one of my favorite places. We’re newcomers after all, only living here 13 years. Our ancestors — Garry’s and mine — come from Sligo, Antigua, Minsk, Bialystok … from tiny villages in Ireland and the West Indies and the shtetls of eastern Europe.

Valley people have been here longer. Many came from French Canada in the late 19th century to work in the mills. Another large group formed the dominant Dutch population. They built churches, businesses and factories, dairy and truck farms, shops, horse farms and sawmills. Their names are prominent wherever the rivers run.

Newcomers like us have no ancestors in the cemetery, at least none about whom we know. Anything is possible in America. The valley is the only place I’ve lived where the majority of families have lived in the town or in a nearby villages for three, four, five generations.

“We’ve always lived in the Valley,” they say, meaning as long as anyone can remember. If gently prodded, they may recall at some point, long ago, they came from somewhere else … but some can’t remember when or if it’s true.

OUR TOWN IN THE VALLEY

Blog Your Block

In this week’s writing challenge, you are invited to write about the block on which you live.


We don’t really have blocks or sidewalks. Or streetlights. We have trees, rivers, lakes, ponds and a rich variety of wildlife … but blocks? That’s a city or suburban thing.

75-LibraryGA-NK-5

This is the Blackstone Valley, part of the Blackstone Valley National Historic Corridor. Where America first built working mills using the Blackstone River to power them. Eventually we also had a canal, then a railroad. Stuff made in the valley was carried to the world. Then, as the 20th century dawned, the mills closed. The work went away and so did many people. The town went to sleep.

Our town hasn’t made it into the 21st century. It never entirely accepted the previous century either. It crawled forward — unwillingly — until the mid 1950s, then dug its heels in and said “Hell no, we won’t go.”

There we stayed. A pretty, quiet town. Very few shops, no movie theater or bowling alley. No public transportation — not even a taxi . No cute little coffee shops or sidewalk cafés.

Canal in spring - May

If that’s not enough, Boston’s an hour and a bit away. Worcester is just up the road. You can get to Providence in about 45 minutes. Depending on traffic. Other than natural beauty, an abundance of churches and a beautiful if underfunded public library, whatever you want probably isn’t here.

We have a new high school. Twenty years of arguing about it and after allocating millions of dollars to upgrade the old high school — and having those funds vanish with nary a trace — we were told we had to build a real High School or lose accreditation which would have made it tricky for our grads to get into college. So we built a high school — and our taxes have gone sky-high.

There is a mythos surrounding small towns. Cue “The Andy Griffith theme. On TV and in Hollywood, people disagree but everyone has the best interests of the town at heart. Good will always wins the day.

Here, the combination of nepotism, bullying, and a willingness to make life impossible for anyone who gets in their way has enabled a few families to keep a stranglehold on the town.They take what they want and the rest of us can stick a sock in it. Town meetings end in fistfights and verbal brawls that generate enough bad feeling to last into the next decade.

UU Church 44

I didn’t understand the intensity of the acrimony until I covered — for a local paper — debates preceding town council elections. The level of venom was a wonder to behold! Each candidate was nastier than the next — closer to Stephen King than Andy Griffith.

Yet, I love the valley and our strange little town. Our village is home to many wonderful people. Caring, smart, and good hearted folks. Sadly, they aren’t in charge. The other wackos run the place.

And life goes on. White picket fences and green lawns. Big shade trees, lots of room for children to play and safe streets. Only two traffic lights in town, one of which is probably redundant. It’s a pretty place to live. Just avoid the politics and enjoy the scenery. Things are not quite what they seem.

HOW TERRIFIC WERE THE GOOD OLD DAYS?

Once upon a time, I cooked rice in a pot with a lid. I used a manual typewriter and if I wanted a book to read, I had to go to a book store or the library. Televisions received (maybe) half a dozen channels — fewer if you lived in the country — and none of them came in clearly.

For your listening pleasure, you bought vinyl records and played them on tinny record players or, if you were lucky, on a hi-fi. You had to defrost the freezer and when the temperature rose in the summer, you turned on a fan. And sweated.

When you were away from home, you were out of touch. Completely. Nothing beeped, rang, dinged or vibrated.

iPhone 4There were good things and bad things about those pre-gadget days. The best part was not having a cell phone or beeper because if you got on your bike and rode off with your friends, you were free. Until you came home. Which better be in time for dinner or you’d be in big trouble.

The other stuff? The first time I got my hands on a computer — really, it was a dedicated word processor — and realized I could correct mistakes without re-typing the entire document (again), I said to myself: “This is a better way.” Almost 40 years later, no matter how annoying computers can be, I haven’t changed my mind. It is a better way. No way do I want to return to carbon copies and changing ribbons. And endlessly re-typing drafts.

About 12 years ago, I got my first rice cooker. I had a Chinese friend and she said that if I cook rice often and like it a lot, I simply had to have a rice cooker. “What’s a rice cooker?” I asked. And she told me. My first rice cooker did exactly what you’d expect: it cooked rice.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMy latest rice cooker is also a slow cooker and will perfectly bake cakes, steam veggies and who knows what else. Mostly, I use it to cook perfect rice, every time, without needing to stand over the stove-top with a timer. It’s my all-time favorite kitchen appliance. I can imagine — remember — life without it, but it’s better with it.

Televisions are much better than they were and certainly the quality of the video is light-years ahead of those old TV sets. I’m not convinced the quality of television shows is better. My 1000 channels gives us about half a dozen channels we really watch. Just like in the old days, but now we can record stuff and zap commercials. That’s big! Commercial clusters have gotten increasingly annoying and intrusive, but DVRs and TIVOs let us ignore them. It’s an ongoing war between viewers and corporate owners.

TV equipment at home

The best part of today’s television are movies. Sure, we got movies in The Old Days, but they were usually of poor quality, frequently interrupted by commercials. As often as not, they were chopped up by bored engineers who mindlessly removed chunks of film. A lot of the movies I saw as a kid, now that I’ve seen them again … it really is seeing them for the first time.

My least favorite modern development is the ubiquitous mobile “device.” You can’t really call them telephones because they aren’t any good at making phone calls. They do manage to be extremely intrusive. You never get to genuinely disconnect from the world because buzz, ding … it’s the phone. A text? A reminder of something you need to do? Whatever it is, most people are electronically leashed.

It’s just like 1984 … only we did it voluntarily. Pity because we’ve surrendered our privacy. We gave it away for toys.  We’ve lost the rapture of silence, the pleasure of being far away and out of touch. Sure it’s nice having emergency communications, especially when you are on the road, but I’m not sure it was a good trade. We need time to be disconnected, unreachable and unavailable. A time to recuperate from the endless noise of the world where we can rediscover ourselves and enjoy the moment undisturbed.

That being said, I can’t imagine going backward and doing everything “the old way.” I love computers. Probably that’s why I have so many of them. I love my Kindle, my big screen high def TV and so many other things. Life is easier with technology. Maybe what I’d like back is just being young. I wouldn’t mind a bit of that.

NEVER APOLOGIZE. IT’S A SIGN OF WEAKNESS.

No Apologies – What’s the one guilty pleasure you have that’s so good, you no longer feel guilty about it?


That’s what Gibbs says. And that’s what The Duke always said. It turns out, in reality, most of us do a great deal of apologizing for all kinds of stuff. But never because things we love are currently out of popular favor.

This brings me to guilty pleasures via the back door. In our household, that phrase has a very specific meaning. It means movies or television shows we love and watch no matter what anyone else thinks of them. Into this category fit all kinds of stuff — from movies we loved when we were teenagers to reruns of TV shows about vampire cops in Canada.

a-summer-place-movie-poster-1959-1020460974For me, “A Summer Place” with the music of Percy Faith and hunky Troy Donahue. Oh how I swooned. I was only 14, so what do you want to make of it? To balance the ledger, I got so addicted to “Law and Order” for a while, I couldn’t go a day without at least one viewing. Fortunately it is always playing somewhere on one of our thousand channels.

Have_Gun–Will_TravelFor Garry, it’s old TV cowboy shows. Pretty much all of them. They get replayed by the various oldie channels in waves. One year, we got the entire run of “Have Gun, Will Travel” and sang along with the theme song. It was swell.

And now we come to the “guilty” and “apologies” section. Golden oldies like us do not apologize. If you don’t like our choices, feel free to not watch them. If you think our taste in television is weird, bizarre, trite or simply not classy enough, or if you would hate to admit to your film group that you even know people who watch this crap, we’ll be your guilty secret.

KINDNESS FROM STRANGERS — WHEN IT MATTERS

The Kindness of Strangers

When was the last time a stranger did something particularly kind, generous, or selfless for you? Tell us what happened!

Since this is a rerun of a prompt that’s been run I don’t know how many times, I thought I’d publish a rerun of the last piece I wrote on the subject. With some editing, of course, so it isn’t exactly the same.

It was a good post and frankly, I don’t have a new answer to the same old question. Happy Mother’s Day all you moms out there!

 


It was an ordinary day in the suburb of Jerusalem where I managed a weekly English-language newspaper. I had fallen into the job when the previous editor quit — after his paycheck bounced. Twice. Me too, but I wanted the paper to succeed, and was willing to work for free if we might save it. Most of us kept working without pay. We were optimists in the midst of disaster.

Israel was in turmoil, Years of bad blood between Arabs and Jews, an awful economy, soaring temperatures. The predominantly Arab areas were seething. The Jewish population was none too happy either. It was bad, but when has it been otherwise?

Jerusalem’s diversity is part of what gives it its unique character. The Jewish population is diverse — from secular and anti-religious, to ultra-Orthodox and everything in between. There are also Christians of every stripe, every flavor of Islam. Bahai, Samaritans … and sects I never heard of plus more than a few wannabe Messiahs. I sang along with the Muzein when he called the faithful to prayer. I loved the chanting, loved the traditions, the clothing, the markets, everything. Not everyone loved me.

The newspaper was broke and the Israeli economy was a disaster. Trying to keep the newspaper alive, I volunteered to take the pages from the office to the typesetter in Givat Zeev which was right next to Ramallah.

There’s a rumor that Jerusalem has just one road, but it winds a lot and if you keep driving, you’ll get there eventually. That’s not quite accurate. You can get close — but close can be very far when I’m the navigator. I have no sense of direction. When I hear the fatal words “You can’t miss it,” I know I will miss it. Which is how I wound up in downtown Ramallah in the middle of a small riot in late August 1983. I didn’t know what was going on, but I was pretty sure I shouldn’t be there.

ramallah-2

I had no idea how to get back to French Hill and going forward wasn’t an option. So I pulled to the curb and sat there, wondering what to do next.

A few moments later, two Arab gentlemen jumped into the car with me. No, the doors the doors weren’t locked. If they wanted to break into my car, they might as well use the doors as break the windows. Was I about to be murdered? Abducted?

“You are lost,” the man in the front seat said.

“Oh, very much,” I agreed. The two men conferred in Arabic. I picked out a couple of words, one of them being “American.” (That’s the easy one as it’s the same in almost every language.)

“Okay,” said the man in the front seat. “You need to leave. Now.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” I responded. We swapped places. He took the wheel and drove me back to French Hill.

“You must be more careful,” he chided me. “You must not go to dangerous places.” I thanked him with all my heart. He smiled, and the two of them headed back, on foot, to Ramallah. Offering them a lift didn’t seem the thing to do.

As a final note, their act of kindness was a genuine act of bravery. They could have come to real harm for their generosity. They didn’t have to help me, but they did … at considerable risk to themselves.

COME BACK, MR. CHIPS! – Garry Armstrong

No more classes, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks!

The refrain will be familiar if you’re of a certain age. The end of another school year is imminent in the United States.

There are still final exams, prom plans and other rites of spring, but many students have already packed up their computers, iPads. Stored away their shoulder and back packs. They’re ready for summer and memories of the academic year are quickly becoming a blur.

While a number of students relegate the past year to computer trash bins, some teachers wonder if there’s any point to returning for another year. Many feel their courses are doomed for those trash bins before the next class or new year.

Those of us who remember wooden desks, ink wells, pens, pencils and composition books also recall at least a few teachers who made school interesting. They took us beyond dull text books to bring to life flesh and blood people, characters who were part of the past. If the teachers were really good — and some were — we could imagine ourselves living in those days, usually seen only in movies.

Marilyn 6th Grade class

I called one of my teachers Mr. Chips. He reminded me of the idealized teacher in the movie, Goodbye, Mr. Chips. Mr. Rich was my Mr. Chips. He was my history teacher for several grades in elementary school. Mr. Rich would frequently have us close our text books. Then he would tell us stories about George Washington and Abe Lincoln’s struggles with other politicians and the news media. He shared stories about the Civil War, the Great Depression and the two World Wars as if we were sitting in our secret club house talking about sports and girls.

It was stuff I’ve never forgotten. Like the fictional Mr. Chips, Mr. Rich inspired me to read almost anything I could find about history. My grandfather, per Mr. Rich’s suggestion, filled me in on lots of first-hand historical events and the surrounding social climate. The early part of the 20th century became very real to me.

P.S. 35

Sadly, the time came for me to say goodbye to Mr. Rich. We were cutting the cord as I moved on the exciting new world of junior high school. I would return to see Mr. Rich several times over the intervening years. He never forgot me. He said I was one of his boys, part of his family. There was no underlying cynicism about those words when my world was still relatively young.

I would think about Mr. Rich often in the years to come. His words fueled my passion and curiosity for knowledge beyond books and newspapers. Mr. Rich was with me as I pursued my career as a radio and TV news reporter. When I was praised for my diligence in dealing with formidable establishment figures, it was really Mr. Rich whispering in my ear.

It never gets old.

A few years back, working as a substitute teacher, I was appalled at the lack of interest and knowledge in students. To be fair, the curriculum was less than interesting and the text books were very old. I dodged the usual fate of sub teachers and morphed into my engaging TV reporter character. Recalling Mr. Rich’s approach from long ago, I shared the story of the Pilgrims’ transatlantic voyage to young America. It was ripped from today’s headlines!

I spun a tale that could’ve been boat people trying to make it to U.S. soil from Cuba. Some of the pilgrims might have been aspiring baseball players, driven by the lure of free agency and the fabled streets of gold to be found in the new land. I whispered gossip about some of the folks aboard The Mayflower. I also told the students that descendants of those pilgrims try to cover up what happened. Just like TMZ. Mr. Rich would have been proud!

Alas, my sub efforts were not favorably received in some administrative quarters. But, to this day, former students stop me and thank me for getting them interested in history. That’s just from a handful of sub classes.

It’s sad to see young people with little interest in history today. Sadder still to see talented teachers give up in frustration and move elsewhere. Every time I watch Goodbye, Mr. Chips, I think of all the Mr. Riches in the world. I think of today’s young people and the generations to come.

Come back, Mr. Chips!

TIME TO CELEBRATE!

It’s going to be “one of those days” for little old Serendipity. Today I pass the 150,000 hit mark and I’m not at all sure what that proves, if anything. I missed the day when my blog followers (not counting followers through other channels) topped 3000 … I think I was busy being sliced and diced. Something like that.

75-serendipity-150000

It’s also my son’s 45th birthday. Aside from any other sentiment … how did I get old enough to have a middle-aged son? I remember one day I was sitting with my mom and she looked at me … got this weird look on her face … and said: “You’re going grey!”

“Yes,” I admitted. “I’ve been going grey for quite a while.”

“But,” she said, “You’re my daughter.” She looked sort of stunned and I didn’t understand, but I do now. I have a giant son. Tall and big, going grey and bald and looking so much like his father sometimes it catches me unawares and spins my brain around like clothing in a dry cycle.

It’s also the day the leaves are finally going to pop. I can see it from my window. Green fuzziness atop the maples. Spring is finally — about a month and a half late — springing forth. I think it may be too late for a lot of the flowers, but maybe not. I hope not. We don’t get a big spring around here, but however brief, it is the showiest time for flowering trees and spring blooms.

Apple Blossoms

I’m in favor of all seasons. When I was living in Israel, more than anything else, I missed seasons. Autumn especially, but also the rhythm the seasons make. When you grow up in a 4-season world, you body synchronizes itself to the seasons and it make the passage of time orderly. It feels right.

So, here we are, still on Serendipity. Garry and I need to get out today with a couple of cameras. I’m not up to anything strenuous, but we both need an airing, me especially. We are in the grip of cabin fever and only a trip into the world will help.

Thanks to everyone who has passed this way for making this such a fun place to hang out … and to everyone who has become a friend and supporter through some very rough times. I couldn’t have made it through without your help!

And happy birthday, son! The torch is definite in the hands of your generation now.

HANGING OUT – GREENWICH VILLAGE IN THE 1960s

Garry and I watched a documentary on Netflix titled Greenwich Village: Music That Defined a Generation. It was about Greenwich Village in the 1960s. Both Garry and I were there. He was already a working reporter, but young enough to enjoy the very special culture of this wonderful corner of New York.

greenwich villagge 1960s

I was still a kid. A teenager. In college. I was with my first boyfriend. He was into the Village scene. I took to it like a proverbial duck to water.

From the old Italian coffee houses that really sold coffee and other non alcoholic drinks (I was too young to drink and never liked the stuff anyhow), to the tiny, dingy coffee houses where folk music was born. It was the Heart of Hip and everything was a 15 cent subway ride from home. The world was mine.

New York on ones doorstep if you are a teenager is fantastic, but Greenwich Village in the 1960s? That was the stuff dreams are made of.

From Bob Dylan and Tom Paxton, to Pete Seeger and Judy Collins … they were all there. The famous, soon to be famous and a few infamous people. All young, making music and passing the basket.

I’d take the subway and get off at Bleecker Street, alone or in the company of friends. It didn’t matter whether you brought company or went by yourself. There were always people to meet. You didn’t need much money — good because none of us had any. We were kids, mostly without jobs and still in school. Those of us not still living with parents lived in apartments shared with lots of other people to make the rent and afford something to eat now and again.

All I needed was subway fare — 30 cents round trip — and a few more cents for a hot (or cold) chocolate at the Reggio. For this pittance, I could spend an entire day and evening in the Village. Hanging out.

“What do you mean “hanging out?” asks my granddaughter.

“You bought a coffee or a chocolate and just sat. Read a book or a newspaper. Watched people coming and going on the street, hoping you’d see someone you knew or wanted to know.”

“That’s it? You just sat around?”

“Yup. Just sat around. That was the definition of hanging out. No one hurried you or told you to buy something or leave.

Bleecker and MacDougalYou could sit with your coffee and book all day if you wanted to. No one would bother you. When it got dark, you went to one of the places where people sang. There were usually no entry fees. Hopefully you had enough money to drop something in the basket for whoever was performing. Sometimes, you had no money. More to the point, you had exactly enough to buy a coffee and a couple of subway tokens. But that was okay. It was the 1960s. We were cool.”

No cell phones. A lot of people had no phone, period. People rode bicycles with naked guitars strapped to their backs. Car? I think most of us didn’t have driver’s licences. I didn’t. That was years in the future.

People were friendly, funny and convinced we were going to change the world. Maybe we did. We sure did try.

Out near Hofstra in Hempstead, where I was going to school and was a music major, my soon-to-be husband and his best friend decided to bring culture to Long Island and opened the AbMaPHd (pronounced ab-ma-fid) coffee-house. They brought in the guys and gals who were playing in the Village. Dave Van Ronk gave me my first good guitar strings. He even put them on the guitar for me.

What did I do there? Hung out, of course. Sat around, meeting friends, drinking something, listening to music, meeting musicians. Just hanging. No one was texting, computing or phoning. There was no electronic background noise (unless you count the squeal of feedback from the mikes). No beeping, dinging, or strange wailing noises of incoming calls. The noise was human. People talking, laughing, fighting, singing, discussing. Eating and drinking.

It was a wonderful time to be growing up and if I hadn’t been there, I’d envy me for having been a part of it.

WELCOME TO KINDERGARTEN

There I am. Probably the youngest kid in the class. I’m only four, but somehow, here I am anyhow. I’m certainly the smallest. All the others seem awfully big. I don’t know it yet, but I will always be either the shortest or next to the shortest kid in every class for the next six years.

P.S. 35 looks gigantic. Monstrous. Many years later, I will come back here and it will seem tiny, a school in miniature. Even the stairs are half the height of normal stairs.

But I don’t know about stairs yet because kindergarten is always on the ground floor. They don’t want the little kids getting run down by bigger ones.

The windows go all the way to the ceiling, which is very high. To open or close them, Mrs. O’Rourke has to use an enormous hook-on-a-pole. I wonder why they don’t have normal windows like we have at home. Our windows open by turning a crank; anyone, even I, can open them.

The teacher is kind of old and she’s got frizzy grey hair. She talks loud and slow. Does she think I’m stupid? Everyone in my family talks loud, but no one talks slow.

Now it’s nap time. We are supposed to put our blankets on the floor and go to sleep, but I don’t nap. I haven’t taken a nap ever, or at least not that I can remember. And anyway, I don’t have a blanket because my mother didn’t know I was supposed to bring one. I also don’t have a shoe box for my crayons. All the other kids have them. I wish I had one because I feel weird being the only one without a blanket and a shoe box.

Worse yet, I don’t have crayons. I wish I had some because the ones they have that everyone can use are all broken and mostly, the colors no one likes. My mother didn’t know what I was supposed to bring. She’s busy. I just got a new sister who cries all the time and mommy didn’t have time to come to school and find out all this stuff that all the other kids mothers know.

There were no air conditioners when I went there. We just sweated.

So I sit in a chair and wait, being very quiet, while every one is napping. I don’t think they are really asleep, but everyone goes and lays down on the floor on a blanket and pretends. It give Mrs. O’Rourke time to write stuff in her book.

It’s a long day and I have almost a mile to walk home. My mother doesn’t drive and anyway, she doesn’t worry about me. She knows I’ll find my way. It’s just the walk is all uphill and I’m tired. Why do I have to do this?

By the time I know the answer, I am in third grade.

PLASTIC SMILES – YESTERYEAR’S DOLLS

Not Los Angeles. Nor old movie stars full of Botox to make them “look younger” (really makes them look like corpses, but I digress). It could be a metaphor of that West Coast city and many of its inhabitants.

Margaret O'Brian by Three

I’m talking about My World. A small, form-fitting world populated by beautifully dressed, if slightly dusty hard plastic people. Mostly girls, a few men and boys. The girls are my favorites because they take me back in time and spirit as effectively as any wormhole in the fabric of time. When I hold one of my dolls, I’m young again …and it is a time and place when my best friends were dolls.

You must not blame the girls for their plasticity. They are not plastic by choice, after all. I wonder, had they been given their druthers, if they would have preferred living flesh. I don’t know. As it is, they have stayed young long after time would have ravaged their beauty. You never know. So many “real” people choose to emulate my plastic pals, perhaps they are the model for women of the future as the world drifts to them. They become iconic images of past and future.

I have an awful lot of dolls. When I start taking pictures of them, I inevitably find myself concentrating on those I can most easily access, the dolls on easy-to-reach shelves. Others are high above my head, often crowded together and difficult to photograph in situ.

My collection is mostly hard plastic dolls from the 1950s. Some are from the 1960s and a very few from later, the early 1970s. I also have quite a few older composition dolls. These were made of sawdust, glue and paint and typically come from the 1930s and early 1940s.

It’s interesting to see how the concept of dolls changes through the decades. It’s a reflection of how girls and childhood are viewed by society as a whole. From the grownup, almost motherly dolls of the teens and twenties, to all the pretty long-haired girl dolls who dominated the industry from the 1940s through the early 1960s — you can tell what people thought of girls by the dolls with which they played.

Suddenly, in the mid 1960s, dolls looked either as if they’d taken bad acid or became fashion dolls resembling Hollywood stars. The dolls industry has always been in love with Hollywood, of course. Shirley Temple, Margaret O’Brien, Sonja Henie were just a few of many dolls based on movie stars. Book characters have been a long time favorites too as well as historical characters. Today’s American Girl dolls come with books of their own and the tradition continues.

The trend to fashion dolls moved from Hollywood to the ubiquitous Barbie … probably the longest lasting fad in doll history. I don’t understand it having never liked Barbie. Maybe it’s an age thing. By the time Barbie appeared, my doll-playing days were over and my collecting days were long in the future.

Today’s dolls range from very weird to traditional, soft-bodied girl dolls. Despite endless attempts to turn dolls electronic, dolls have stubbornly resisted. They have remained toys requiring imagination, not batteries. Everything else appears to have fallen to some version of computerization, but dolls are still silent little plastic people to whom little girls can talk when no one else will listen.

Are they spooky, my silent friends? Not to me. To me they are merely peaceful and quiet, lacking any mechanism for speech. Yet they are also eloquent. They watch. They see. All the decades through which they have survived are captured in their oddly expressive glass eyes. Their sweet, sometimes sad smiles.

Do dolls covet and yearn? I think they want only to be cuddled by some little girl. A little girl enchanted by having finally found a friend who listens and never interrupts.

And will in stillness dwell.

LONG AGO AND FAR AWAY

Teen Age Idol

I’m too old for this. Teen age idol? Aw, c’mon.

I was madly in love with Johnny Mathis (who?) then traded him in for Marlon Brando who I thought was very cerebral and deep. I loved (still love) the Beatles. the Doors and the Stones, but they weren’t my idols … just great bands I enjoyed.

I had a bit of thing for Harry Belafonte, but he was hot.

72-Beatles-Imperial_02

it was more than 50 years ago. Seriously. That’s half a century.

If it was ever relevant, it has long passed over into mildly amusing trivia of the distant past.