something about everything

The REAL World Championship

Soccer – futbol – seemed to me to defy evolution. The hands are the instruments of progress. The opposing thumb distinguishes us from other animals. Hands painted the Sistine Chapel and put Neil Armstrong on the moon. Hands perform life-saving surgery. So how perverse, I used to think, to design a game that forbid the use of hands? It made no sense to me for a long time – until I started to pay attention to the incredible skills of soccer players.

I only knew about Pele; but my soccer acumen improved when I watched the U.S. hosted World Cup in 1994. I loved the national spirit. Players from all over the world came home to play for their countries. The U.S. team, of course, was nowhere to be found. So I rooted for Italy, since I am of Italian “extraction” – even though that sounds like a dental procedure, you get my drift. Then the Italian team’s pony-tailed, Buddhist star, Roberto Baggio, who carried the team on his foot against mighty Brazil, blew his penalty kick and Brazil won the World Cup.


When I went outside to face my Portuguese neighbor, an ardent Brazil fan, he was wearing the biggest smile I ever saw. It was a source of ethnic pride for him as it would have been for me if Italy had won.


When I was in high school, soccer was a foreign sport, played by immigrants. Just about the whole soccer team spoke in broken English, as we called it then. But while Americans were fanatical about football and basketball and baseball, there was a groundswell of support in the changing community for soccer, especially the World Cup.

In 2006, while the U.S. team made a good showing, it finally lost. Italy won the World Cup in penalty kicks against France, and when my wife Alexis and I went to Italy for a three-week vacation a couple of weeks later, pictures of the Italian National Team were everywhere. It was bigger than sports.


I’m not sure my interest in soccer will lead me to watch teams in league play, because then it is just like football, basketball and baseball – a business that showcases good athletes.

But the World Cup, the real world championship, will always pique my interest.

images-2Germany 2014


How many schools told their students about the significance of D-Day yesterday? In my small sample of five school districts, the answer was none. My guess is that it was a rare school that even requested a moment of silence for thousands of soldiers who gave their lives to bring the world out of the darkness of Nazi Germany.


The children of today are locked into a world of iphones, iPads, iTunes, and other technology. Corporations like Apple and Samsung and all the rest are pumping out these gadgets as fast as the United States pumped out tanks and planes and bombs and missiles during World War II.


It’s a funny thing though: Countries are still pumping out tanks and planes and bombs and missiles. For every App that gets launched…there’s a missile that gets launched…



It really happened…whether or not we tell each generation of children about its significance.

Oh, I’m sure a corporation will conjure up a high-tech game that will have kids all over the world shooting down German soldiers on the bluffs of Omaha Beach and Utah beach.

But what would be missing is WHY they had to be shot down. If we don’t tell them why that event 70 years ago had a direct result on their lives…and the freedom to download any App they might want, then…


…And we keep repeating it, over and over again.


 The Liberation of Paris, August 25, 1944




What the Grammys Gave Us

What did the Grammys actually give us last night? A glimpse into the future.

Certainly it was an array of the full range of musical expression and a synthesis of the most unlike forms of music: Take Metallica and Lang Lang: Who could have guessed?  Who would have believed they could play on the same stage?  It was a musical marriage that no one could have foreseen.


…And then there was another kind of marriage that the Grammys gave to the world last night:

ADDITION The 56th Ann_Cham640Audience members participate in a same-sex wedding during a performance of “Same Love” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the 56th annual Grammy Awards at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Thirty-three straight and gay couples lined the aisle dressed in wedding finery. They exchanged rings near the end of Sunday night’s show televised on CBS.

It was a glimpse of the realization of the great American experiment of democracy and equal rights. It was the real meaning of “All men are created equal.”

That’s the way it’s going be everywhere someday.

No doubt, the extreme right will try to stop it; but they can only slow it down, just the way they slowed down every progressive movement on the trajectory of equality:

Women’s right; minority rights; gay rights…and any other “rights” struggle that doesn’t conform to their rigid beliefs.

I hope I live to see what I saw at the Grammys in every town, in every city, in every country on Earth:

The commitment of love, called marriage: Color-blind, Gender-blind, every-difference-among-the human-race blind.

“The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

All’s Well that Ends…with 50,000 Words! @NaNoWriMo

It started as an idea that expanded into a story.  It went from nothing to something.

It was a world that didn’t exist until I wrote it.

I made characters come to life; I strung words together into conversations; I connected story lines into a plot.

“Goodbye Woodstock” is in the books.


It was a powerful experience.  It was more than writing.  Much more.

It was setting a formidable goal and persevering through the resistance.  It was keeping self-doubt at arm’s length when it accosted me with a barrage of reasons why I couldn’t do this.

Self-doubt failed.

I succeeded. End of story.


My limitations are self-imposed; but my imagination is limitless.

So are yours.

Ploughing through the Middle – #NaNoWriMo

If you drive cross-country on U.S. 80, you have to drive through Nebraska.  It’s inevitable.  Get out your favorite music, because you’re about to drive four hundred miles of the dreariest landscape you’ll ever see.


That’s what it feels like when you reach the midpoint of your NaNoWriMo challenge.  That’s where I am…about to reach 25,000 words.

The excitement of the beginning of my story has faded; the thrill of an ending is still far in the distance…sort of like the Wyoming border when you’re halfway through Nebraska.  You know it’s coming; but you have to push yourself to get there.

The middle of my novel seems dreary. It seems to be flat, colorless and seemingly endless – like Nebraska.


But I drove through Nebraska on 80 from east to west one year and then west to east the next year.  I made it through the middle and then on to Wyoming and the Rockies. I beat the resistance, as Steven Pressfield might say. I’ll beat it again in my novel.

My goal is to reach the equivalent of California and the Pacific in my novel…


…and have an ending as spectacular as Big Sur.

Cruising with My Characters at 15,000 Words – #NaNoWriMo

My writing soars and obliterates the second week doldrums. I’m surprised myself. Today will be my most productive day so far.  I’ve already written 3,000 words in three hours, sure to reach my goal of 5,000 words today with ease.


Because I’ve done this much by noon, I’m in a great mood. I just raked leaves.  It was a breeze, because I thought about my story and ideas for its development. And with my internal editor still banished, my story takes twists and turns but always moves forward.

My characters, and what they do, have taken over my story. I’ve put them in the forefront, something I haven’t been very good at doing.  They are the story.

The greatest lessons I’ve learned so far are that I can tell a long story, and that I realize why it takes writers years to craft a compelling novel. But I’m not discouraged by that realization.  Ironically, the knowledge of the hard work ahead moves me forward now to write, build characters, and keep telling a story that is pliable, shifting and unpredictable.


Every first draft is shit – Ernest Hemingway

Writing “shit” is freeing.  If you’re a writer, try it.  Do NaNoWriMo.

For me, it’s been instructive…and wonderful.

In the Foothills of 50,000 Words

Creativity has me in its grip. Five days and 5,000 words into NaNoWriMo and I find myself moving into the foothills.


The story I’m writing is unfolding and coming alive in a different way than I thought. I expected this to happen after I exiled my internal editor.  I’m free to create without judgment.  This goes for characters as well.  People I knew show up in my thoughts. People I know stand in the forefront of my thoughts, as if they’re ready to audition for my story.  People who are dead talk and laugh again because of my thoughts.  I pick and choose their characteristics to create my characters.

I struggled on the first and second days of writing because I felt the anxiety of the blank page.  On the third day, the idea to change the way I would tell the story floated into my thoughts like a dream, which set the stage for some good writing on days four and five.

For sure, there are bumps in the read ahead. Challenges galore. Like the infamous second week of NaNoWriMo, when you seem to “hit the wall” like a marathon runner.

But no real challenge is easy and without risk.  And when there is no risk, there is no real satisfaction when you achieve your goal. And for those of us who committed to writing 50,000 words in November, we press on like the marathoner who “busts” through the wall and finishes the race.

Unknown-1…Even if it’s not pretty, he still finished!

And so as I climb the foothills, the peak will start to seem lower and eminently reachable.  Even if it’s not pretty when I do.

Chasing 50,000 Words

Do you know what it’s like to write 50,000 words?  How about in one month?  That’s what I’ll be doing in November, a worldwide phenomenon called National Novel Writing Month.  If my ambitious goal piques your curiosity, then I’m opening myself up to public scrutiny by giving you a window to watch me as I forge on.


It’s my version of a reality show.

Your window into my writing will be my blog, Meandering49. Every five days I’ll tell you all about the exhilaration; the frustration; the soaring and the sinking; when I’m “in the zone” and when I’m ready to jump out the window; when I feel like I’m the next Hemingway and when I feel like I’ll never be able to quit my day job.  I’ll give you six blog posts in thirty days and my final thoughts.

I know it will be daunting.


So far, I’m equipped only with an idea and a few incomplete characters. But that’s okay, because the magic comes from writing.  You start writing and your brain goes into high gear trying to figure out what you’re doing.  When your brain is firing on all cylinders, then your imagination takes over.  And then you soar.

I want my writing to soar. I want to explore.  I want to take risks and write with abandon.  My first action, though, has been to send my internal editor into exile for thirty days.


With him out-of-the-way, I can explore ideas and create characters and scenes with no second-guessing about whether or not they are good enough.

I’m counting down to November first…should I open that window for you?

I promise the experience will be anything but boring!

A 9/11 Memory

I still think about the people who jumped from the towers.  A report said they were going so fast when they hit the ground that the impact caused the blood in their smashed bodies to “splash” high into the air and create a pink film that hung in the air.

That image, more than any of the horrible images of that day, hasn’t left me because it was the result of the unthinkable choice each person had to make:  To be incinerated by the unbearable heat or to jump from so far above the Earth that survival was impossible.

But was it really a choice?  Did the searing heat make them jump, even though they knew it meant certain death? Was the pain so excruciating that they could only think about relieving the pain by jumping?

Witnesses said that some of the people held hands as they jumped.  I hope this gave them something when there was nothing left.


The Fountain of Youth…at Memories in Margate, NJ

I’m a watcher. An observer when I’m in a dance club. One who stands on the perimeter to watch how others “dive” right in.  In Memories, on a Saturday night in Margate, New Jersey, I watch Jerry Blavat dive right in.  The gray hair belies his primal energy: The years have done nothing to diminish his drive and passion for music. I watch him in his elevated Disc Jockey pulpit, playing his rock n’ roll sermonettes – the songs from the past. He keeps the crowd moving, admonishing them, sometimes in English, sometimes in Italian, sometimes just mimicking or creating “new” lyrics for the old songs.


He never lets up, sending forth a barrage of music, a medley of the best parts of each song. He knows there’s no time to play each one from start to finish, there’s too much to hear.  So he hones in on the “heart” of each song, the refrain, because that’s how he reaches us in the cherished place in our memories.  And when he reaches us there, when we hear the refrain of a song like Heat Wave – which takes me back to a house that my parents rented on Cresse Avenue in Wildwood in the summer of ’63 – he takes us on a magic carpet ride, flying us back through time to bring to life events that shaped us.  And these times are more than just exhibits in the “museums” of our lives: For a few hours on a Saturday night in Memories on the Jersey shore, we feel what we felt then, so long ago.

There is a throng of people at Memories. There are young people who weren’t born when the songs at Memories were popular; there are people who grew up with the music that Jerry Blavat plays; and then there are some who grew up with popular music that was prior to the music at Memories. There are straight and gay people. There are people who hope to meet people…there are men ogling the women who wear tight dresses and high heels.  There’s a woman in white shorts and calf-high boots who has all the moves that leaves you looking for the pole; there’s a guy with a white sport coat who looks like a cross between a character on the Soprano’s and the driver of a Good Humor truck; and there’s a guy standing in front of me with an unlit cigarette, who seems to be itching to light up like in the good old days of smoke-filled clubs.

It really doesn’t matter though, because we are all characters in our own ways, aren’t we? Most of us come to a place like Memories to listen to music and dance…and to forget about the anxieties that fill our lives.  But the “Geator with the Heator” gives us more than that…he gives us our childhood again.

The dancers dance on, their gyrations adapting  and changing with the tempo of each song.  Jerry Blavat recreates the span of rock ‘n roll, from Jackie Wilson to Michael Jackson; from Gloria Gaynor to Gloria Estafan.  Some dancers are diehards, never leaving the dance floor, like the woman in white shorts.  Others take breaks and head to the bar or search for the group they came with, all of whom have staked out areas in the crowd.  The colored lights shine down on the long, flowing hair of the female dancers.


As the night goes on, the numbers of dancers swell.  By midnight, they move beyond the dance floor, taking in more territory and pushing the non-dancers back, like a rising tide forces sun worshippers to retreat back on the sand.

But the time is short-lived and before we know it, we leave and eventually return to our everyday realities. I will remember it as a special night, and the culmination of a weekend in which old friends, new friends and family converged for a weekend at the shore.  Sharing the sun at the beach and the music at Memories, we are a group of people whose differences seem to melt away like an ice cream cone on a hot summer day.

And for all of us who were at Memories on that Saturday night, I wonder if we will remember how much we are really all the same.  And I hope that if we meet someone in our daily routine that seems to be different, someone we may not understand, that we think of the music and how it teaches us that what we share as people will always transcend our differences.

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