Meandering49

something about everything

America in 500 Feet

It rises out of the ground floor by floor.  Cement trucks arrive like locusts to deliver the mixture that will hold the enormous weight of the 56-story building. The construction workers begin to look like ants as each floor reaches toward the sky. The sun shining on the corner of Arch and Eighteenth streets will soon be a thing of the past.

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A homeless man sits against the fence of the Arch Street Presbyterian Church. His hair is dark and unkempt. He stares ahead, oblivious to the massive structure rising in front of him. In his hands, he holds a dirty cardboard sign that says Homeless but not Hopeless. On the ground is a wrinkled baseball cap holding change and a dollar bill.

Around the corner, the original Comcast Center stands higher than any building, and when the new Comcast Tower is completed, they will dwarf the skyline of Philadelphia.

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The homeless man wants something to eat. In the near future, a restaurant 900 feet above him will light up the night sky and look down upon William Penn on top of City Hall. After the last French truffle is served, the garbage dump will overflow with enough food to feed a thousand homeless people.

What it could look like

The Caviar Crowd Look Down on the City

Someone said that 10,000,000 television watchers around the world, most of whom could never afford to eat in the top floor restaurant, paid for the cost of each floor.

In the 500 feet between the homeless man and the Comcast Tower and what it represents, all of America exists.

Where are you on this continuum of American life? Most of us are closer to the homeless man than we would like to believe; but you can only see it…if you open your eyes.

Cuba Mc-Libre?

Lately, there’s been a salivating epidemic in America. But curiously, it affects only CEOs of major American corporations. And it’s not because of the aroma wafting through their corporate food courts. It’s because they smell a gigantic untapped market of over 12,000,000 people. We call them Cubans.

Since Presidents Obama and Castro met and forged a new direction for their countries, the salivating CEO’s want to forge a new relationship with the Cuban people. It would go something like this:

We sell a lot: You buy a lot. We make jobs for you; you buy even more.

Fast-forward a bunch a years to a free Cuba. One of the triumphs of freedom, of course, is freedom of choice. And the choices for the Cuban people will go something like this:

Want a burger? No problem. Big Mac or a Whopper. There’s a McDonald’s or Burger King on every block. Want to try some Mexican food to expand your palate? No problem: Chi-Chi’s or Taco Bell. Want some Italian food? No problem: Olive Garden or Pizza Hut. You live on an island. Want to try something new from the sea? No problem. Red Lobster or Long John Silver’s.

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Need a new dress? No problem. Check out JCPenney or Macy’s. Need some tools to fix up your house? No problem. There’s a Home Depot or Lowe’s in your town. You say you need a one-stop shopping place? No problem. Wal-Mart is everywhere! And if you crave a good cup of Cuban coffee? No problem. Just walk over to Starbucks and try their Cuban Blend.

Even with the most private issues, the salivating CEOs will give you the freedom of choice. Men – can’t get it up anymore? No problem. Just go to CVS or Rite Aid and get your prescription for Cialis or Viagra. Are you depressed? No problem. Get your Lexapro or Cymbalta or Prozac or nine million other antidepressants and be like Americans. What? They don’t work for you? No problem. Top off your antidepressant with Abilify.

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It’s incredible how far we’ve come since the Cuban Missile Crisis, isn’t it? Too young to remember it? No problem. “Thirteen Days in October“ will be coming soon to a Regal or AMC cinema near you. Buy some popcorn, drink a coke, sit back and watch the movie.

Enjoy the freedom of choice – just like an American.

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Landing on Boardwalk

When you were playing Monopoly, you dreaded landing on Boardwalk if another player has raised the property value by adding three hotels. That could probably drive you into bankruptcy and out of the game.

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Last Sunday, my wife Alexis and I came into Atlantic City on Pacific Avenue and passed one of the first abandoned hotels, the Atlantic Club Casino Hotel. Like dominoes, other casino hotels fell this year. We parked in an outside lot that was nearly deserted and ate, nearly alone, in Carmine’s Restaurant. There were a few people milling about outside, yet there was the quiet of emptiness, broken only by the occasional sound of human voices and cars going by.

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In my mind’s eye, I could see a ghost town looming in the future, as the gamblers that once roamed the casinos and challenged “the house” at blackjack, craps and roulette left for casinos in other states. They won’t be back.

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If the Monopoly game reflected the Atlantic City of today, you could land on Boardwalk and not face bankruptcy, because the hotels on the property had beaten you to it – they were bankrupt. So you could sail right by, pass Go, pick up a get-out-of-jail-free card, and try to win the game, even while the city on which it was based, was losing.

Not Another New Year’s Resolution

This isn’t my New Year’s resolution. This is me becoming resolute about writing. I’m going to sink my teeth into the New Year as if it were a succulent piece of beef and I was a starving carnivore.

I’m going to create my own January thaw by pumping creative heat into my writing, which has been on life supports due to neglect, fear of failure and other excuses. And then I’ll persist through the February freeze and beyond.

So I didn’t follow through with my writing time and again. That was yesterday. What I should have done is in the past, which only has the power over me that I give it. I’m taking that power source away by shutting it off today…

…and turning on the power source within me that will light up my writing.

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Enough said. It’s time to write. I have something to say with words…and if I don’t say it now, when will I say it?

“I have realized that the past and future are real illusions, that they exist in
the present, which is what there is and all there is.”  Alan Watts

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The Shadows of Things that Must Be?

This year, Black Friday laid claim to part of Thanksgiving Thursday. Throngs of people all over the country abandoned their family dinner tables and morphed into salivating shoppers, lured by deep discounts.

It won’t be long before Black Friday swallows Thanksgiving Thursday faster than a family consumes a turkey dinner. And Christmas is next.  Could Santa Claus, Jolly Old St. Nick, become the poster boy for shopping?

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Usher in the Era of Perpetual shopping.  The megastores stay open all day on every holiday, shopping takes precedence over family gatherings, and greed keeps the meaning of Thanksgiving and Christmas on the run. But it’s really just good business, right?

“It’s just that we were good businessmen, Jacob,” Ebenezer Scrooge once said to Marley’s ghost.

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.

“Business!” cried Marley’s Ghost. “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.

…well Scrooge listened; but others didn’t. And for the megastores today, mankind is their business; but only as consumers.

But alas, there is a new voice, and a warning similar to Marley’s:

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“We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.”

Can we put business in its proper perspective? Scrooge hoped he could change the course of events in his life…

"Are these the shadows of things that must be, or are these the shadows of things that might be?

“Are these the shadows of things that must be, or are these the shadows of things that might be?

…and he did.

Can we? Or will consumerism cast its shadow of things that must be for humankind?

The Sky Pointers

Since we’re in football season, we’ve already been subjected to a rash of sky pointing. You know, football players who point to the sky after they score a touchdown. Quarterbacks seem to do this more than others.

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The pointing, of course, is a thank you to God…as if God cared enough to take time in his Universe-managing responsibilities to help an earthling move an oddly shaped ball down a field until it crosses a white line in the hands of another earthling? And all this on a speck of dust in the Universe.

Yet when you watch one of these players point up to the sky after a touchdown, you get a feeling that the sky pointer thinks he has an intimate relationship with God…the football fan?

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And what about the sorry defender who was beaten on the play? Does God play favorites? Or does God use a sport like football to demonstrate power? God couldn’t be that shallow. Could he?

Maybe quarterbacks should just play football and realize that their successes have a lot more to do with their skills and the skills of their receivers, their offensive lines and a series of other random acts that have nothing to do with God.

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But sky pointing works for them because, just maybe, giving credit to God shows that they are not as egotistical as they seem.

Marching to the Calendar of Life

I learned of her death in a text message. In the final days of her life, she only wanted to share with the people in her life. She once wrote, over 30 years ago:

We cry of things instead of beings
We want, we want, yet its never enough.

Last week, I talked with her on the phone. She was happy that I was coming for a three-day visit. In the past, I composed songs from her poems and we sang together. She said she still had a guitar and we could sing again. Then she said my visit would be too short. But how do you tell someone who is dying, who is finally free to live in the moment that you are not free, that you still have to apportion your time and march to the calendar of life?

Lost in the daily grind of wheels
On hardened steel, on hardened souls
of materialistic needs.

I knew that when I saw her again, I would be free to live in the moment with her. But I had measured my time as never-ending, and couldn’t grasp that her time was ending. I watched her battle with cancer from a distance, because the memories of what she meant to me remained buried under the weight of the passing years. And then her time ended before my visit.

Where is the time we frittered away?
Where the nights, where the days
Of ecstasy and peace?

Since I learned of her death, I have been thinking of her, and like a camera that zooms in on a scene, I remember how she smiled, and laughed, and wrote about the world as she saw it.

What is the message that we send to the world?
Where is the kindness, where the caring
For lost and bleeding humanity?

From the poem in this post, I composed a song for us to sing. It is now part of  my memories of her.

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Goodbye, old friend.

The Meaning of “Wife.”

My wife is an artist. She finally recognizes that. I’ve known it for quite a while. So have others in her life. It’s her color schemes and shapes and lines, all hints of the beauty and complexity that fill her mind.

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Her art adorns our living room, so I see her all around me. She speaks to me here, without words. I feel the quiet inside of her, like the depths of the ocean; and I feel her angst, like a swift-moving tide rushing onto the shore.

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She tells me she can’t stop her mind from the never-ending thinking that keeps her awake at night. Thoughts come at her like a straight-line wind and make her heart pump wildly, in the misguided preparation of flight or fight.

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 Yet from this turmoil is the wellspring for the creative bursts that free her.

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Surrounded by her art, I’m in a satellite orbiting the spherical edges of her mind’s eye, peeking into its core, capturing glimpses of the unknowable parts of her, trying to build my understanding of her. It remains a work in progress…like her art.

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Her art adds meaning to her life. She has found what she must do. And for me, her art teaches me about her, and the meaning of “wife.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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D-DAY: IT ISN’T AN APP!!!

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.

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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.

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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…

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D-DAY ISN’T AN APP!!!

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…

“THOSE WHO DON’T LEARN FROM THE PAST ARE CONDEMNED TO REPEAT IT – GEORGE SANTAYANA.

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

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 The Liberation of Paris, August 25, 1944

 D-DAY: IT ISN’T AN APP!!!

 

 

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