HoC: (No spoilers.) – Is Frank Underwood Channeling Hannibal Lecter?

NOTE: This post contains NO SPOILERS.

F.U. Frank's Birthday Cufflinks

F.U. Frank’s Birthday Cufflinks

We all can surely admit to the brilliance that is House of Cards. Netflix hit it out of the park with this one, no doubt about it. It’s all most people are tweeting, reading, writing and talking about. Justifiably so. Rarely have so many been kept on tenterhooks for so long. House of Cards grips you by the short hairs and refuses to let go.

All this talk about bingeing and not bingeing seems absurd once you’ve watched the first episode of Season 2. I’m hard pressed to grasp how anyone could NOT binge at this point. Actually, I take that back. There was no way I could stop last season either. It was my first experience with a full-season roll-out and once I started I couldn’t stop. Honestly, I tried to have discipline and mete out an episode or two at a time, but it was hopeless. In under a week, I had digested it in total and was left begging for more.

People need to know what happens next. It’s too good. There are many twists. It pulls the rug from under you time and time again. Yet, you still don’t completely see it coming. This is the genius of the writing. You sense what’s coming, but so much happens so fast, you tend to shove your thoughts aside to simply watch and wait. Then BOOM, it nails you. Those of you who have seen Season 2, Chapter 14 know what I’m speaking about. Wow. Just, wow.

With that said, the characters are also remarkable. That Frank. That Francis. He seems unstoppable and so far he has been just that. Even though many are on to him. He comes close to being caught, called out, convicted; yet he escapes. Can it go on forever? We shall see. How long can he outwit and cajole? The game he’s playing is as old as politics itself. Do anything and everything necessary to get what or where you want, no matter the cost. He’s as sober as a heart attack, yet somehow he doesn’t take himself completely seriously. Which seems odd, but works. Well, maybe works so far. How can we not imagine that Frank’s fall is coming? It’s only a matter of time, surely. Or is it?

Something else hit me while watching Frank connive and scheme. I’m sure I’m not the only one to feel that Frank Underwood bears a stunning similarity to Hannibal Lecter. He has that same stare that eviscerates you. Its terrifying. He is always plotting. Calmly plotting. Frank is not quite as contained as Lecter. He shows stress at times, he pounds things, throws things and sneers in private, but when he’s plotting, we never see him sweat.

Speaking with fellow HoC viewers, I admitted to being embarrassed by how much I’m drawn to the character of Frank Underwood. Yes, I attribute some of this to the fact that I have loved Kevin Spacey for many years. But the character of Frank is so intriguing, so charismatic; the same things that make him a winner as a politician. Then we add a layer of nasty, conniving and evil like icing on a cake. Makes him even more, well, not likable, but something close. Maybe its me, but I am fascinated and yes, I actually sort of like him. Perhaps what I am attracted to is the incredible acting Kevin Spacey exhibits in the role. That’s what I am going to tell myself, at any rate.

Yet, I feel affirmed in my Lecter assimilation. Underwood is every ounce as charming and sinister as Hannibal Lecter. Only difference is he doesn’t eat his kill. .

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On Michael Hastings

I came to learn about Michael Hastings from Jack Gray, a writer/producer for Anderson Cooper 360, years ago. On Jack’s recommendation, I followed Michael on Twitter, especially enjoying his tweets from a writer’s workshop he attended in New England. Commenting on one of Michael’s tweets from the workshop, he responded and we ended up having a spirited chat about writing. I had recently been brave enough to put some of my writing out there and Michael was incredibly kind and encouraging during our exchange. It was thanks to his encouragement, along with that of family, friends and other writers that I eventually made writing my full-time career.

Although I never had the pleasure of meeting Michael face-to-face, he had an enormous impact on my writing endeavors and our exchanges are something I shall never forget. He took the time to answer and reach out to a veritable stranger because he loved writing and writers. It was who he is. It is who he was.

To all Michael’s family, friends and colleagues, my deepest sympathy. I have no other words at this time. They all seem incredibly hollow. I suppose we all have a guardian writer angel up there rooting for us. Much as he did here on earth. You will be missed, but you will live on in your writing and in our fond memories. Godspeed.

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I owe Baz Luhrmann an apology.

I am not a film critic, nor would I ever attempt to be. Not no way, not no how. But I put myself out there when I first heard that Baz Luhrmann was directing a new version of “The Great Gatsby.” It was going to suck, I just knew it. Large platter of crow, anyone? Anyone? Me? Yes, me. 

Perhaps I am a literary purist or imagined myself to be, at least. Perhaps I felt it was my duty to F. Scott Fitzgerald to detest a glitzy, glam jammed, over the top production of his most famous tome. With modern music, no less? Ugh. No way did I care to see this film. Not about to waste my time and money. Nope. But then something odd happened: people whose opinion I respect seemed to love it. Finally, a close pal whose daughter is a writer for the tv/film industry in Hollywood told me she had screened it and that it was great. She herself has seen it and loved it. She said, “Look, just go see it and check all of your preconceived notions at the door. See it for what it is, rather than what you intend it to be. I know you will enjoy it. Trust me.”

Okay, okay. My mother wanted to see it, so I decided to take her on my last day of vacation. A weekday, it just happens to be chucking down rain. Why not?

What do you say when you had every intention of hating something and you end up loving it instead? “I’m sorry Mr. Luhrmann?” Yes, I am sorry. The movie was phenomenal, actually. Much truer to Mr. Fitzgerald’s book for one thing. And DeCaprio humanizes Jay Gatsby in a way the Redford never has. After seeing Leo as Gatsby, the Redford version seems cold, unfeeling and more of a cardboard cutout than a red-blooded man in a love-of-a-lifetime romance that he has fully embraced as the center of his life. Redford’s Gatsby seems shallow; Leo’s Gatsby has heart, albeit a broken heart. The hurt is so evident in this latest version of Gatsby, it veritably oozes from his every pore.

Leo, hat’s off to you. You deserve the Oscar, my friend. You’ve earned it. And he has. Leo as Jay Gatsby serves up the hopefulness of a human being in a manner that is true not only to human nature, but more importantly to the depth of the character Fitzgerald wrote so eloquently. As I said, this film is leaps and bounds more true to the book than the 1970’s film.

Concerned that too much glitz and glam would spoil the story, I neglected to grasp the true history of the roaring twenties. Glitz, glamour and over-the-top was what it was all about. People drank too much, spent money like it was nothing, ranted, romped and went wherever the spirit moved them. From round-the-world trips to bedding whomever was in their line of sight at the moment. Doubtful there will ever be a time so free in future. Innocence lost. Gone, but not forgotten.

This film is deep. It is haunting, it is brooding, it is above all heartbreaking. With all the freedom, with the acceptable cheating and adultery and crude nature of the time, Gatsby loved one woman and dedicated his life; all he had or would ever be, to Daisy. Its apt when Nick Carroway says that he never met a man who was so full of hope and he knew that he never would again. Gatsby was one of a kind. He encompassed everyones wishes and dreams and in the end, he dies with his biggest dream unfulfilled. He fails to make Daisy his own. Although he had loved only her, she could not deny the fact that she had loved Tom. Never one to give up on his dream, Jay held on to her still, remaining hopeful that she would be his and his alone. Sadly, no.

The end of the film is well-known to all. The pool. The still hopeful Gatsby. Mr. Wilson and his gun. Ending two lives. Two heartbreaks put to rest once and for all. The ending here in Luhrmann’s film is more final, more hurtful, more heartbreaking than ever. You feel it in your soul. Its one of those moments that leaves you silent. Reflective. Smart films do that. This one does it well.

Although the scene in the pool is redolent not only of Leo as Jack in Titanic, slowly swirling and sinking in one more body a water; it also brings to mind the opening/ending scene in Sunset Boulevard. Another man shot and left to float in blood infused water. Another tragic ending. Another heartbreak.

Films like Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” restore ones faith in Hollywood. It’s refreshing to see a movie with heart and spirit rather than hollow junk laced with blood, guts and over-amped aggressors. Gatsby represents another time. It does a good job of representing a classic piece of literature. It gives us a glimpse of what it was like to inhabit the twenties: good, bad and ugly. But most importantly, it gives us hope.

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Sometimes life is just a little too tight in the crotch.

Sometimes life can get away from us. We’ve all experienced the fast pace of modern times, but with all the technology available to us in this day and age, we figure we have it all under control. Until we don’t. One day we notice that the majority of our interactions are conducted via email, text message, Twitter, Facebook and the like. We seldom actually speak to one another on the telephone, let alone find the time in our schedule for face-to-face interaction. We think we are winning, but frankly, we’re not.

Doesn’t matter where you are these days, major cities around the globe, a beach, the mountains, grocery shopping, anywhere there are people, the people are face first in one type of technological device or the other. Blackberries, iPhones, iPads, tablets, laptops, bluetooth headsets…all of us are anywhere but “here.” The great Fran Lebowitz once said, and I’m paraphrasing: “Doesn’t matter where you are, when you are doing this (mocks texting) that is where you are.” She went on to comment that no one seems to have the experience of the street any longer. Being one who does not own any of the aforementioned devices, she is always present in the moment and is observing the world around her. She mentioned that she experiences the street life of New York City and she is practically the only one who is doing so. Sad, when you think of it. Imagine being in an amazing atmosphere such as the one in New York City. Cabs buzz by, horns honking, sirens wail in the distance, fascinating people in all modes of dress pass by on the street, some speaking foreign languages. These are all the things that make New York City the amazing urban environment that it is. And most people are staring blankly into all manner of electronic devices, ignoring the world around them. Its tunred us all into introverts.

I have developed a theory about this. People seem to have no tolerance for others these days. No one remembers how to interact with one another in person. No one talks, no one seems to have manners. People on the sidewalk or in shopping malls walk literally right into you. They make no concession to step aside or to walk down one side of an aisle and up the other. There is no discipline, no consideration whatsoever. It makes being out in public a frustrating and irritating experience. It makes you never want to leave the house, which just exacerbates the problem.

What we have here is a nation, no…actually many nations full of people who each day become a tad less able to relate to their fellow humans. And have you noticed that there seems to be more and more anger in the world of late? My theory in that rests in our utter dependence on techie devices as well. Probably the last thing we may care to admit to ourselves, but we need each other. We need the interaction, yet all we do any more is use technology in order to avoid and ignore one another. When this interaction becomes more of a rarity, we withdraw into ourselves and further into our devices. Its human nature to crave human contact and when it is not forthcoming for whatever reason, we get antsy and antsy leads to angry. Eventually, everyone we meet face-to-face gets on our last nerve. Because everyone seems so rude. okay, not “seems,” ARE so rude. Its time we faced facts. We are swiftly becoming a rude race of humans. No one hold the door open for each other. No one even acknowledges one another! But facts are facts and its time we faced them. The first part of fixing a problem is admitting to it. So, there you go.

One of the first things people say about their devices is that it gives them something to do, it becomes a companion when we are stuck someplace waiting. Check out the waiting room of any doctors office or for that matter any metropolitan transit station. Wherever there are people waiting, there are people glued to an iPhone, iPad or insert-name-of-device-of your-choice here. Yes, I am as guilty as the next person at times, but here is the issue. We get hooked on this endeavor until we can’t stop ourselves. Good Lord, if you were ever wont to believe that humans have addictive personalities, simply observe people with their technological device of choice. Its shameful.

What you have are people who treat their device as their best friend, all the while ignoring the flesh and blood best friend seated across the table at dinner. I’ve seen it. I’ve done it. I mean, how shaming it is when you finally agree to meet a friend you have not seen in while and they have to remind you that they are THERE and it’s not necessary to text them? Abominable behavior. Yet it happens all the time. We really should all be ashamed of ourselves. I’m not kidding.

Frankly, I find it frightening to contemplate how far down this rabbit hole we will go with this. What is it going to take for the majority of humanity to put down the devices and get back to basics? How long do we continue to ignore each other? Until we are no longer capable to holding a conversation? Socially awkward people certainly find comfort in utilizing a device to communicate rather than having face-to-face interactions. Don’t believe me? Look at the success of social media platforms like Twitter. There are a good number of people who sit in their homes day after day casting off the “real world” full of “real human beings” and “real experiences” in order to talk to mostly nameless, faceless people on Twitter. It has been my experience that these folks are typically incapable of having “real” friends. They lack the confidence to interact with flesh and blood people, forming real friendships. This is all they are capable of. Its unfathomable to me that there are people who stay indoors away from others making this their preferred form of interaction. Contrary to what they may think, these are not real relationships.

So here is what I propose. Get up, lie the device down and go out to dinner. Head to the local coffeehouse, read a book, visit your local library, join a club…just talk to somebody! Interact with something other than a device. Sure, they have a purpose. But not one person from Steve Jobs on down ever intended their wonder devices to replace human to human contact. They never intended for our devices to take the place of friends and family. Yet, that is what seems to be happening.

All I know is we need to get a grip before its too late. Actually, we need to loosen our grip. On the iPhone, the iPad, the tablet, the BlackBerry and talk to one another. Before its too late. Before life becomes painfully tight in the crotch.

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Why I Write.

Why I Write.

Why do I write? How do I write? How can I write?

All my life I have been asked all the above questions and many more by friends, family and sometimes strangers. Maybe they were seated next to me as I scribbled with a pen on  paper. Sometimes it was my best guy friend who was annoyed by either the staccato report of my IBM Selectric and later the keys of my laptop he finally shamed me into purchasing after goading me for eight years. Yes, I said eight years. He begged me to finally give up the typewriter and jump into the twenty-first century by utilizing a computer. He could not understand what on earth I was waiting for. Shaking his head in frustration, he would wonder how I could insist on using a typewriter so classic (read “old”) that it didn’t even have correction tape. Barbaric, I know. To this day, I think he had the impression it would be quieter. It is, but marginally. He still stares at me across the room when I sit typing furiously. Then he giggles when I look up, see him watching and say “What???” I mean…your best friend is a writer. Deal with it.

My friend April and I had a conversation via text two days ago. I was getting my car serviced and took my MacBookPro with me to do some writing while I waited. I had mentioned to her that I had completed 1500 words with sourcing and one edit in a little over an hour. She is in school and is going through the dreaded “paper a day” phase. She simply could not fathom how I write for a living and still find the time to write when I am not at work. Or even more confounding is the fact that I write for “fun.”

What people who are not writers have a difficult time understanding is that writers HAVE to write. It’s not entirely a conscious choice. If I am happy, I write. If I am sad, I write. If I am lonely, stressed, anticipatory or simply attempting to work something out in my brain; I write. I’ve done it all my life. Doubtful that I could stop even if I wanted to. Surely, it doesn’t work that way.

To be completely transparent, once I got a full-time writing job, I did not write for pleasure for a while. By “a while,” I mean the better part of nearly two years. You can see the evidence of this if you check out the dates on my posts here on WP. I have been horribly remiss in posting. I am trying to rectify that. I am once again ready to share my brain-leakings on paper with the world. Scary? You bet.

Writing at the car dealership, I realized that not only had I missed writing outside of the work realm, but more importantly, I was stifling a huge part of who I am. Anyone who writes for any reason will agree that to progress you have to write. In other words, the more you write, the better you become. Clearly, when writing professionally one grows simply because we are constantly edited and critiqued. You would have to be a zombie not to take the advice and get the point when your editor points out a flaw. Or lots of flaws. There is no writer on earth who does not shudder when their “baby” is returned looking like it took a ride on the elevator in the Overlook Hotel. So marked with red it seems to be bleeding to death. So we write; we learn, we apply and we grow as writers.

Typically, those of us who write find it hard to grasp the fact that it does not come easily to everyone. Of course, we all have our talents, but it took me a long time to come to the realization that writing fell into the category of “talent.” Some even went so far as to call it a “gift.” All I know is that I love it. It is as necessary to me as breathing. I am never without a pen and paper no matter where I go. Yes, I have an iPhone and I can tap my thoughts into that as well, but some situations call for pen and paper. Anachronistic or not, sometimes I just have to write on paper. Besides, what if my phone battery croaks and I need something that’s on it? Having a backup is never a bad thing no matter the circumstance.

The conclusion that I have come to is that I have to write. I want to write. I live to write. Its far too easy to come home after a work day and vegetate. But life is so much richer, so much sweeter, if we forego television, Netflix and the like and get back to basics. Deciding to make a concerted effort to write more at home and read more is what I have chosen to do. It may work out fine; it may fail. We shall see. What is that famous saying? “The road to hell is paved with good intentions?” Nah, I prefer the Stephen King version. “The road to hell is paved with ADVERBS.” Yep, that’s the one.

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One Film Lovers Memories of Roger Ebert


Siskel and Ebert in their classic pose. 


I can honestly say that most of what I learned about films, I learned from Roger Ebert. Most of us from my own and subsequent generations can surely say the same. From his trademark “two thumbs up” to the heated arguments he had with fellow critic and “brother” Gene Siskel, Roger brought a true, pure love to his reviews that only a genuine lover of films can bring. Critiquing films was not just a job that Roger happened to stumble into, it was his passion and that was inherently clear to all who listened to, watched or read his work.

Honestly, I have listened to Roger for so many years, I cannot recall the first time I was exposed to him, but I can tell you that it was during his stint on PBS. I can still see the opening of the show. The cartoonish theater seat backs, the curtain in front of the movie screen and those famous silouettes of he and Gene against the screen. The fearsome twosome to every director and film studio in existence.

For those of us who truly love the medium of the film, Roger was a purist, one who “got” it. If he loved a film, he gushed like the majority of us tend to do when something strikes us as amazing. The purpose of film is to incite emotion. When a good film makes us run through a gamut of them, its one of those “the more the better” deals. A good film will leave you a spent emotional wreck by the time the credits roll. Think: Silence of the Lambs. When I left the theater after seeing it, I could barely walk and my entire body felt like a block of wood. I loved it. Roger got that. That made me love and trust Roger and his reviews. If he loved it, odds are I would. If he hated it, I’d hate it. Simple. Simple works. It still works.

Conversely, when he hated a film he was honest, brusque and loud about it. It sucked, I HATED it. And then the dreaded “thumbs down.” Its interesting to think that film production companies, producers, directors, cinematographers and actors lived in fear of Roger’s thumb diving toward hell. Surely this rating sent shudders all over Hollywood. Like an earthquake, Roger created his own ground-shaking fear. He was powerful because he was honest. He came from the same place that the rest of us did. He wasn’t doing it for effect or to get attention, he was doing it because he cared. He loved it or he hated it. It simply worked or it didn’t. I can’t recall a single time that he was completely on the fence about something. He always had an opinion.

So much had been written about the old guard and their embracing of social media. It seemed to me that social media came along right at the time that Roger needed it. When he was diagnosed with cancer that effected his thyroid, salivary glands and chin; when he could no longer speak, Roger took to the internet and social media to reclaim his voice. Writing made his problems disappear, he was the same person he always was. He told Esquire magazine in 2010, “All is well. I am as I should be.” As a writer, I can relate to this feeling. A writer speaks best in words on the page, be it a printed page or a page on a screen, it still works and we still have a powerful voice. Roger continued and some would agree that he was better than ever. It kept him going. It kept us going. We needed each other. It made me smile when Roger succumbed and became addicted to Twitter along with the rest of us. This is what made Roger so relatable. He was one of us from the start.

The best thing about his embrace of social media was yet to come. Roger became embraced and loved by a whole new generation of movie goers. If someone would have told me this would happen, I would not have been completely surprised, but the manner it would take may have surprised me. I would have seen him a old school and perhaps not as quick to grasp and utilize new-fangled technology. Had I really thought about it; however, I would have realized that Roger was first a foremost a writer, and when our fingers are finally pried away from our ancient manual or electric typewriters, embracing the computer to do our writing comes fast and easy. Always the comment “why didn’t I do this sooner?” I was one of the last holdouts, I get that part. So he was back and not surprisingly, more popular than ever. It made me so happy to witness. His snarky sense of humor on Twitter was a wonder to behold.

But, back to the beginning of this film buffs memory. . .Gene and Roger began working together the year I graduated from high school, 1975. They would go on to revolutionize film criticism with their collaboration. It all sarted at WTTW, the PBS station in Chicago where the name of the game was a show called “Opening Soon at a Theater Neat You.”And the rest, as they say, was history. The Chicago Sun Times took on the Chicago Trib. It was like the deathmatch of film critics. Everyone loved it, especially when it got heated. And boy, did it get heated. Like the fights at a hockey game, Gene and Roger arguing was a highlight of the show and no doubt the reason a lot of people tuned in.

Through several iterations, the show that most of remember came years after Tribune Entertainment purchased the franchise and the show became what we remember today “Siskel and Ebert at the Movies.” There they sat, our two heroes, ensconced in sweaters, sitting elbow to elbow in overstuffed armchairs. Let the games begin. Even with the somtimes on-air combativeness, it was clear that Roger and Gene weren’t just friends, they were family. Again, the genuineness of their rapport is what made the show golden. Roger restablished the ancient rating system once used in Roman times. Think Colloseum. Thumbs up or thumbs down. Roger thought of it, and it was Gene who realized it had become a trademark. And so it was.

The winning team was broken up in 1999 when Gene passed at the untimely age of 53 in 1999. As expected, it took a while for Roger to recover from such a deep loss, but a year later, Richard Roeper joined Roger from the Sun-Times and the show became “Ebert & Roeper.” Roger reclaimed his stride and the show was successful until health issues drew him away in 2008.

Roger left us with so much. So many great quotes were attributed to him. This is one of my favorites because as a film aficianado it rings so true: “Your intellect may be confused, but your emotions never lie.” Roger understood that no matter how many times we watch the same film, we see in it something anew each and every time. This is one of the things that makes a film great. Think Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, Out of Africa. Okay, that last one was mine.

Another of the great Roger moments that I will aways remember fondly was the time he raked Hollywoood over the coals due to their lack of support of documentaries. Roger felt that Hollywood had taken to utilizing cheap thrills such as digital effects and 3-D. He fought the good fight and garned lots of attention, but I sadly feel that Hollywood still overuses these and documentaries continue to be relegated to the back rows the the theater. Outrages me as much as it did Roger.

When I heard of Roger’s passing yesterday, it made me immediately sad, like I had lost a friend. Because I had. We all have. Its hard to pinpoint what I will miss most about Roger. Probably the first thing will be his absence on Twitter, where he was a force who consistently brought a smile. To keep myself from shedding a tear, I reminded myself that he and Gene are finally reunited in that no doubt fabulous theater in the clouds. I see them, seated side-by-side, silouetted against a giant screen. They are screening “Citizen Kane” and eating Haagen-Daz vanilla ice cream. Godspeed Roger, godspeed.


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To be yourself.

All my life, my Mom has told me “Be yourself, you can’t be anybody else.” Wise words, and when I was young I used to wonder what the big deal was. Who, as a child, did not long to at least partially emulate a mentor, a movie star, a singer, or a professional person who had the job you one day hoped to aspire to? Most of us, I would imagine.

 We dressed like Madonna. We sang into a hairbrush or curling iron, pretending to be the rock star of the moment. We donned cowboy outfits, fireman’s coats, safari gear; we were only limited by the boundaries of our imaginations. Frankly, any time we dress ourselves we are donning an outfit, or costume. It is how we perceive ourselves and project to others what we are all about. Some of us would not dream of venturing out our door sans makeup, while others could not possibly care less. What’s all the fuss about?

 Yet the question remains…can we decide to be someone other than ourselves? Actors do it for protracted periods of time, but I doubt that anyone can actually “become” someone else. No matters to what degree we may choose to emulate another, we cannot fully become that person. Everything we do, even imitation, reeks of our own personality and mannerisms. It is what makes us individuals. To me, the individual is something of value. If we were all the same, it is not a world in which I would care to dwell. Boring, boring, boring.

 So, this reflection on individualism brings me to wonder why, in this day and age, people still fear being themselves? Honestly, it took me a long time to be comfortable enough with myself to truly be the person I have always been. I like to look different than others. At my age I still wear Chuck’s (in primary colors, no less), have an affinity for unusual eyeglasses (I’ve been wearing academic nerdy glasses long before they became trendy), love menswear (ties, bowties, French cuffed shirts, vests, and heavy-soled oxfords). In the past I was intimidated to wear such things at times, now I wear what I want, when I want and care not what others may think. I’ve earned the right as far as I am concerned. Many compliment me on my individual style, which is nice; but that is not why I do it. It’s just me. I gotta be me.

 A great friend of mine recently noticed my lovely persimmon Coach Madison bag. I mean they went nuts over it. Ooh and aah and drool. “I looooove it! The color! The softness of the leather! It is perfect in every way! I’m so jealous! I so would carry that exact bag, if I were able.” I shook my head and replied, “So why can’t you?”

 You’ve no doubt discerned by now that my friend is male. Why can’t he carry the bag he loves? People do it all the time, especially in New York. But no, no, he wouldn’t dare. That just makes me sad. Sad and more than a little angry, frankly. It’s almost 2012, is this as far as we’ve come? To a place where a handsome young man can’t carry a tote style handbag? We should be ashamed of ourselves. And yes, I am all too well aware that this is simply the tip of the iceberg. I swear I am tempted to just buy the bag for him and then he will be forced to carry it so as not to hurt my feelings. Yet, I would not do something to make him uncomfortable or worse yet, a target.

 No matter how old and wise I become, I will never understand the mentality of a society that refuses to embrace the individual. Is it really society’s goal that we all conform and be alike? Dear Lord, I hope not. With all that is wrong in the world, the one thing that should be right is that we can be who we truly are. Thankfully we have progressed somewhat, but nowhere near far enough. Chaz Bono can finally be himself, but people still have hateful comments about it. That probably will never change. Sadly. Gay individuals can marry now. Slow progress, but still progress.

 I suppose what makes this subject a sad one is trying to answer the question of why one person can be themselves when another cannot? What makes one individual more safe, more easily accepted than another? Contained in the answer to that question are many people’s fears, prejudices, and hates. We all have them.

 It is almost New Years and I suppose that tends to make one reflective. There are many things I wish for in 2012: world peace, the return of true bipartisanship, a lesser dependence on oil, a stable economy…but most of all, I wish for people be accepted and embraced for who they are rather than who society wants them to be. And I wish to see my friend sporting the bag he wants to carry.

 “Be yourself, you can’t be anybody else.” Thanks Mom. I totally am.


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Chinese turkey for Christmas dinner

Fabled chinese turkey

To the kind folks who have continued to visit during my lengthy absense…my sincerest thanks. Due to the nature of my profession, I have had little time to write for fun. That will hopefully change in the next few months. Due to travel and professional obligation, I had given up my residential  internet connection, but this will soon change. My hope is to get back to writing what I care to write and to speak more about food, as this is the topic most of you have enjoyed here. So…turning over a new leaf — of paper — HA! I give you a new post about…what else…FOOD!

Ever since my family first viewed the eponymous “A Christmas Story” film, my mother has longed for a Chinese food Christmas dinner. This year Mom gets her wish.

Like many picky eaters before him, Dad would not eat Chinese until recently. Coming from an area where farms abound, he was the very definition of a meat-and-potatoes man. What changed his mind we shall never know, but after years of doing without, Mom and I are sinply thrilled  Dad has joined our ranks. Frankly, I would have bet a large sum of money this day would never come.

Having called ahead, Mom has gleefully reported that the local Chinese is, in fact, open on Christmas day. After twenty six years, she gets her wish. So excited is she, she has even invited several of her church-lady friends to join us. It should be quite the adventure.

I consider myself to be a rather adventurous diner. Lebanese, Indian, Pakistani, Thai, I love to try foods from cultures other than my own. But one admission. I am not a fan of fowl. Especially fowl of a gamy nature. So there will be no duck for this girl. Honestly, I only eat the white meat of chicken and turkey. Boring, but hey, to each their own. I prefer seafood.

As soon as I am able, I shall report back the details of Christmas dinner. In the meantime, my secret wish is to arrive home after the bacchanalia to behold this lovely sight beaming from the window…

Ah, the gleam of electric sex streaming from the window

Posted in A Christmas Story, Chinese Food, Christmas, cinema, city life, cooking, food, humor, Writing | Tagged | Leave a comment

It was the worst of times, it was the best of times.

I suppose the day after the tenth anniversary of 9/11, many people are still solemn and reflective. The anniversary events and the emotion are still very much on our minds, and that is as it should be. As I was traveling yesterday, I did not get to partake of the anniversary coverage until late last evening. Over the past weekend, I did catch several well done documentaries: one on PBS, and the incredible Time doc Beyond 9/11. Frankly I am hoping to catch that last one in its entriety, as the small part I saw was extraordinary. To hear the thoughts of first responders, those who lost loved ones, George W. Bush,  to the fireman who stood next to him atop a decimated hook and ladder truck as he spoke to the nation; all were represented and spoke eloquently about their experiences that day. Many shed tears as they shared, many also smiled and even laughed, especially those who were blessed to walk away from the disaster.

No matter how many years have passed, no matter how many times I see the footage, no matter how many times I stand at Ground Zero and see the evidence of absence stretch out before my very eyes, I simply cannot grasp it. After ten years, I’ve realized that I probably never will. Too many lives, too much destruction, too much loss. Not buildings, not people, not even a sense of innocence. We lost so much. but the most unsettling reality is that we lost some of our freedom, and one has to wonder if we will ever be able to recover it.

Don’t get me wrong, the United States of America remains the freest country . But think about what we are forced to go through as we travel. Yes, we all want to be vigilant and safe, even smart, but at what cost to our freedom? Clearly this is shaky ground. We have to look out for one another with all the threats that have and will be made against us. But fear is a terrible thing and once we get used to living in fear, once we allow fear to surpass common sense and lean over into paranoia, the other side wins.

Take the threats that came to light the evening before 9/11 this year. Intelligence revealed what appeared to be a substantiated  threat and everyone was momentarily on edge. Wisely New York City became a parking lot as trucks and other vehicles were stopped and searched. Armed officers and military were dispatched around the city in subways, in Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal, everywhere you looked. Times Square was full of fully kitted-out, armed men. It took on the surreal look of an action movie set. But this was no set, it was all too real and of course they were just there to keep us all safe as we readied to honor those lost on the infamous September morning a decade ago.

Ergo, my point about losing some freedom. In the moments after that report came to light, everything changed. We had to turn our attention from honoring the dead and the heroes of 9/11 to preparing to avoid another horrific incident. People in the city began to question if it would be wise to attend the ceremonies and events spanning the island.For those hours, the attention turned from grief and remembrance, to fear that something awful could happen again…at the worst time imaginable.

Nothing did, thankfully. The ceremonies went on as planned. The families who lost so much were able to assemble to see the beauty that has risen from the ashes and rubble of the World Trade Center. President Obama attended, as did former President Bush and many other dignitaries. Most importantly the reading of the names of the victims. Family members were granted privacy and the well deserved honor of being the first to see the memorial where the names of their loved ones have been permanently etched for posterity. It was the best day it could be. Solemn, somber, full of respect and healing. The fountains that grace the sacred ground where the twin towers stood are peaceful places of repose and reflection. Seeing the fountains and the museum made me feel better about being at Ground Zero. No longer a place of only tremendous sorrow and tears, it has become a hopeful place where life goes on.  Serenity. Trees, water, construction of a beautiful, strong tower. Growth. Moving forward. Never forgotten. Ever changed.

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Loss is a strange thing.

Life is funny sometimes. Sometimes it is not. And sometimes it just ends.

After my earlier post about regret, I never expected to be talking about loss, but when something disturbing occurred in my neighborhood this morning, I realized just how much the two go hand in hand.

Loss can encompass so many things: lost love, lost relationship, and worst of all, lost life. This morning, my elderly neighbor passed away. It happened suddenly because he had just come home from his morning run for coffee and a paper, and less than an hour later, the EMT’s came. When they sat at the bottom of the stoop, I had a feeling it was not good news and soon learned my neighbor had passed in his apartment. It made me very sad.

These days most people don’t even know their neighbors, especially in a large city. Do you know your closest neighbor’s name? Few people do. People tend to mind their own business and I suppose for the most part, that is a good thing; on the other hand, it can make a sense of community impossible to achieve. No one gathers on porches or stoops like they once did. Fact is, the only time I recall a large gathering of neighbors was on Sept. 11, 2001. Everyone talked to each other then, and it was nice.

Unlike many city-dwellers, I speak to people in my neighborhood when I pass them in our building. This particular gentleman lived in the next apartment, so we passed each other often. I got to know him a bit, and I knew his name. Like most older people, he had his routine, and I found it a comfort to know that he went out at a particular time and came in at a particular time. The most we ever conversed was during the winter when he would go outside and shovel the sidewalk. He didn’t have to do this; we have people to do this. But he wanted to do something constructive, to contribute, stay in shape and feel needed. We all loved him for it, as seldom did the service come before we had to leave for work. He did a lot of nice things around the building. He was a nice man.

I suppose most people would not even notice should something happen to their neighbor. A lot of folks would pay little attention, especially if they were not inconvenienced in some way. Maybe I am overly nostalgic, but this building, this neighborhood and this person…me…will be less without Tom. His name was Tom.

Godspeed Tom, we may not have known each other well, but I knew you were there and I will miss you. I’m glad we met.

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