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Archive for the category “Popular Culture”

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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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:


“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.


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?


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.


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

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.

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.

The Winds of Love

The hawk lives in the wind around the Golden Gate Bridge.  When we lived in California, Alexis and I walked along a trail near the bridge and watched the hawk one day. It was suspended in air, in the high wind.


We watched it swoop down for food and then fly upward like a rocket to perch on the bridge.  Then it was in full flight, soaring on the wind toward the majestic hills of San Francisco.


The hawk knows every feature of the wind: How to glide in the summer breeze of shining days…how to navigate the wind in turbulent times… And when the Pacific fog buries its world, the hawk moves slowly toward the fog’s edge, waiting for it to lift.

APTOPIX Norcal Weather

When you fall in love, you live in a summer breeze;

when you stay in love, you learn to live in the winds of love.

Like the hawk, you glide together on the summer breeze of shining days. You navigate together through the times of turbulence, until it moves on and the beauty of your world emerges again. And when the fog buries your world and you lose sight of each other, you hold hands and move slowly toward the fog’s edge, waiting for it to lift.

When you learn how to live in the winds of love…when you learn that the shining days sometimes give way to the gusts and the squalls and the storms and the fog of life…only then do you stay in love.


Where Have You Gone, Bert Parks?

Yes its true.  In a time when a historic twenty United States senators are women, on a day when half of the Punt, Pass, and Kick national winners are girls, young women still parade around in bikinis and high heels at the Miss America Pageant.

No different, it seems, then in the days when Bert Parks sang “There She Goes, Miss America…


On Saturday in Las Vegas, shapely, beautiful young women strutted around on a stage as always. Yet something changed:  And what changed is the distance they can strut once they leave the stage. That is very different than in Bert’s day.

When Bert Parks serenaded a victorious Miss America as she walked down the runway in the mid-twentieth century, she could then strut onto a narrow road with limited exits and without even knowing it, she just might strut right into a cul-de-sac… called a kitchen.


But in the intervening years, that road and its destination was so confining that there were loud cries for better roads with new destinations.  And the builders of those roads succumbed to the pressure, and so they created those new roads with more exits and more palatable destinations.

So in 2013, long after Bert Parks sang his last song, the newly crowned Miss America looks out onto the roads that await her.


And if she can negotiate the speed bumps, which are the remnants of the roads from the days of Bert Parks, she can strut right onto the freeway.

And once there…who knows?  She just might strut right into the Oval Office.



What Can Obama Learn from “Lincoln?”

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the movie Lincoln opened as our country reels in a continuing crisis; but I believe there is an important message for our newly re-elected president. My wife Alexis and I saw the movie in a packed theater. As the son of a history teacher and a history major myself in college, I wondered how many in the audience understood the complexities that Lincoln faced as he tried to abolish slavery.

In his own party, the radical wing wanted Lincoln to punish the South after the war ended; the conservative wing did not want slavery abolished and threatened to side with the Democrats who were opposed to the abolition of slavery.  Both factions warned that if Lincoln didn’t acquiesce and give them what they wanted, they wouldn’t support his Thirteenth amendment. We know historically that this political and moral debate about slavery was escalating long before Lincoln.  Upon his election, the ugliness of what these politicians wrought behind the scenes exploded into the American landscape as the Civil War.

And as the annihilation of Americans by Americans raged on, a peace emissary of the confederate lost cause approached the nation’s capital. Prepared to negotiate the war’s end, the peaceniks, Lincoln knew, would demand that slavery, vital to the South’s economy, had to remain intact. How did Lincoln triumph in this climate where politics would decide if the killing of thousands every day would stop and if millions held in bondage would be freed? As the real Lincoln once said: “Be sure to put your feet in the right place.  Then stand firm.”  And then he used political maneuvering, brilliantly portrayed in the movie Lincoln. Is there a lesson here for President Obama as he confronts the looming fiscal cliff and the ferocious opposition of the 21stCentury Republican Party? Yes. You’re in the right place, President Obama…now stand firm…and maneuver politically.

I Won’t Have Another

Scratch “I’ll have Another” from the Belmont Stakes.  Too bad.  I was looking forward to the drama of a triple crown attempt.  Honestly, it’s the only reason I would watch the race.  I’m sure many people feel as I do.  I can imagine the groans from NBC executives when the owner of I’ll Have Another made the announcement.

I know little about horse racing.  I don’t recall ever watching a race that wasn’t the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness or the Belmont stakes.  I’ve only been to the track about five times, mostly out of curiosity.  And I’m not a gambler.  But I do like to watch horses run.  I always wonder if they know they’re in a race?

Yet I know I’m an important fan.  I’m the casual viewer who swells the audience for an event like this.  People like me who care little about horse racing make the case for advertisers to advertise and make NBC stockholders happy.

But they know they have a tenuous hold on me.  The enticement of the Triple Crown keeps us ready to watch; the loss of this possibility means I’ll be playing with my dog when the race is on. She doesn’t care about horse racing either.

I came close to going to the Kentucky Derby when I was nineteen.  I was going to school in Tennessee and a few of my friends talked about making the one hundred mile or so trip to Churchill Downs.  We never made it.  In that year, a horse named Forward Pass won but was disqualified because a drug was discovered during the mandatory post race urinalysis.  Dancer’s Image won instead.

I only know this because I  “Googled” the information.  What else would you expect from a casual fan?

Sometime this evening, I will have gone to Google again to find out who won this year.

Are You a Social Media Expert?

There are as many social media experts in cyberspace as there are bedbugs in New York City.  I know it’s not an appealing analogy; but you get my drift.

I wrote to one expert the other day and said I would buy his book because his friendly face gave him an edge.  It’s the kind of superficial edge we give when we really don’t know enough about a subject, isn’t it?

When I was young, I learned how to play the guitar. Over the years, I became proficient enough to understand how much I didn’t know about playing the guitar.

I’m reaching that milestone (I think) with social media. My learning curves for guitar playing and social media are similar.  But here’s where they diverge:

No one bothered me if I wanted to play the guitar…unless I asked for help.  But as I meander in the Twitter World, advice seems to be part of the fabric of Twitter.  It “shouts” for my attention in tweets and retweets.

In the Twitter World, sometimes I feel like I’m looking up at the night sky while tweets of advice rain down on me like a barrage of meteors.

Yet there’s something that entices me and I keep coming back: Tweets, like fuel that propels a rocket into outer space, leads me to other worlds that interest me.  Once I started to explore those worlds, I was hooked.

As far as experts…well I believe they’re trying to gain a better understanding and at least some of their advice reflects this quest. We’re all learners, as my wife would say.

“So I suppose one definition of an expert would be someone who doesn’t admit out loud that he knows enough about a subject to know he doesn’t really know how much.”      Malcolm Forbes

So I’ll follow a strategy that always seems to work: I’m learning by doing.

And if I need a little nudge…well then, I can call upon an expert.  They’re always there, always looking for a host…like a bedbug?

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