Saturday, April 30, 2011

Portrait of the Artist

About a year ago we attended a lecture by an extraordinary local artist named Greg Perillo. He spoke about his childhood growing up in Greenwich Village. His father would fire his imagination with stories of cowboys and Indians, and Greg began to use his God-given talent to draw scenes of the Old West. The only drawing paper he could afford were the brown bags in which he carried his lunch to school. When his teachers began to notice Greg's talent, they encouraged him and supplied him with clean, white drawing paper for which he was so grateful. (Can you imagine even the poorest kid growing up today being so happy just to have drawing paper!)

Greg's family moved to Staten Island when he was a boy. He spoke of what "the Island" looked like in the 1940's, a rural, sparsely populated place whose open fields and low hills made the perfect playground for a boy smitten with cowboys and Indians. Greg's father, being a pragmatic Italian-American, began to find "regular" jobs for Gregory, and talk him out of this crazy notion of becoming an artist. Greg worked to please his father and to help the family financially, but he never stopped drawing and painting. The young Perillo enrolled briefly in art school, but played hooky and joined the Navy in 1944, serving for two years on the U.S.S. Storm King. On one leave, he went home with a Navy buddy to a ranch in Montana where he first spent time with Native Americans.

Back in New York, Greg married and began attending evening art classes. In 1950, the couple headed West, and in Sedona, Perillo met William Leigh whose work Perillo had seen at the Grand Central Galleries in New York. Leigh had a studio in New York, and Perillo began visiting him there and spent the next five years, until Leigh's death in 1955, studying with him. In the 1970s, he began making sculpture, ultimately creating nearly thirty pieces. After Leigh's death, Perillo began selling his work in earnest, especially through his association in the Hudson Valley Art Association, galleries in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, and the Wally Findlay Galleries in New York.

What struck me about Mr. Perillo's remarks were his sense of modesty and the joy he clearly felt when discussing his family and Italian-American roots. His art is a romanticized rendering of his love affair with the Old West and its inhabitants. Greg's realistic technique and sense of color bring his subjects to life. On viewing his paintings and sculptures, one almost expects them to move, as if being viewed through a window. He is a remarkable draftsman, and teased abstract artists a bit in his lecture as turning to that school of painting only because "they couldn't draw worth a damn." Troubled by America's treatment of Viet Nam vets returning home, Perillo created a series of 40 oil paintings called "The Vietnam Soldiers: The Unsung Heroes." They’re based in great measure on what the artist learned from a New Jersey friend, Charlie Loccisano, who saw action in two Vietnam tours of duty.

Here's what bothers me. We have a gifted artist like Gregory Perillo living among us on Staten Island. His award-winning work is known throughout the art world, and hangs in museums across the country. Do I see Greg's story being told on television, maybe to inspire young people to follow their dreams of becoming an artist? No, I see "Staten Island Mob Wives", idiot women whose claim to fame is being married to local hoods. Shows like these not only denigrate Italian-Americans and hold up terrible role models for young women, but also take up valuable air time that could be used to celebrate men like Gregory Perillo.


Children's Craniofacial Association  

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Shhh, It's a Secret

The American press delights in revealing secrets about United States Presidents, citing as their justification that over-rated cliche that "...the people deserve to know." They proudly stand on their First Amendment right to Freedom of the Press when revealing things about our Commanders in Chief that might be better kept quiet. I think their less altruistic motive is to sell newspapers. It wasn't always this way. There was a time when the Fourth Estate used the power of the press a little more discretely. We've had a number of Presidents in our history with problems that were known to journalists, but never publicized for fear that the President's ability to govern would be compromised. Most of the time, the secrets come to light only after the term, or the death, of a President. No such restraint from journalists today. They make the tacky "National Enquirer" look tame.

This is an age of instant communication and electronic gadget addiction; people have an almost pathological need to know everything. Their personal communication devices never leave their hot little hands as they wait for the next "train wreck" announcement about Lindsay Lohan, Charlie Sheen or, even better, some juicy gossip about an incumbent President. Will Obama ever produce his birth certificate? What love-struck intern did Clinton have sex with today? OMG, they have to know! Very often the secrets revealed are based on incomplete or incorrect information. Also, in the past, even if newspapers went against tradition and published a story that would put a sitting President in a bad light, they used to triple check their facts. Now, if the President's gardener's dry cleaner leaks a bit of gossip, it's treated as gospel.

One particular area that was always treated with kid gloves was the President's health. There are numerous instances in history where an incumbent President experienced a serious health crisis that was never made known to the public. The man (or maybe one day the woman) in the White House is the symbol of America's strength, and needs to be perceived as robust. On March 4, 1841, to perpetuate this image, newly-elected President William Henry Harrison decided to deliver his very long inaugural address on a bitterly cold Washington, DC day without an overcoat. He subsequently caught pneumonia, and a month later, died. Numerous secret medical crises have confronted U.S. Presidents over the years, but few people knew because of the restraint shown by the press for the greater good.

Abe Lincoln is said to have suffered from Marfan’s Disease, a condition that affects the connective tissue which literally holds the body together; the severe alcoholism of Andrew Johnson was never made public; the cover-up of Grover Cleveland’s secret surgery for cancer of the jaw; Woodrow Wilson’s incapacitating stroke which made his wife the de facto President for almost two years; FDR's paralysis from polio; and the complete suppression of the facts by John F. Kennedy when he took office with then-fatal Addison’s Disease that had also made him, in effect, a drug addict. These men and the people around them went about their duties and the country prospered. Would knowing about these conditions have made Americans any better off for the knowledge: no. 

Not that the question of journalistic discretion even matters any more; that ship has sailed. Some reporters. like the traitors at WikiLeaks, would risk the security of our country just to be first to publish classified secrets for the media junkies that need their fix. We like to think we have a "transparent" government where no back room deals get made. Yeah, right, if it ever became known what kind of wheeling and dealing goes on in secret in all Presidential administrations, there would be an uproar from the Left. Diplomacy is a shadowy business, and sometimes secrecy is necessary to get things done for the greater good. Not to oversimplify this, but it's a little like when you were a kid and your parents told you only as much as they knew you could handle.

While I don't advocate for an underground government, I do understand that sometimes, for very good reasons, including national security, we don't always have to know everything. I can accept that.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, April 21, 2011

At the Theater

Broadway theater is better than ever. In the midst of a lingering recession, the Great White Way is lit up like a Christmas tree with one great show after another packing them in every night. New Yorkers and tourists alike flock to the world's mecca for live theater. Some shows have been running for ages: Phantom of the Opera, 9700 performances ; Chicago, over 6000; The Lion King, over 5500; Beauty and the Beast, 5400; and so many more. What's nice is to see is children watching live theater. True, some of shows are aimed at them, but we see kids at other shows too. What better gift to give a child than an appreciation for live theater. That's the silver lining, now here's the cloud: the way people behave at the theater.

You know I have very little patience, but even normal people are hard pressed to excuse the terrible rudeness exhibited by modern theater-goers. Let's start with punctuality. My mother was a stickler for being on time, and I guess it rubbed off on me. I would rather be 20 minutes early for any event than risk being late. When you travel into Manhattan, you need to budget extra time, especially if you are driving. Theaters have already shamefully surrendered to late arrivals by starting shows ten minutes after the scheduled curtain time, yet still these morons waddle in 30 minutes late. Instead of being so accommodating,  theaters should return to the traditional rule: if you arrive after the curtain rises, you stand in the rear until intermission. Why should the actors and the audience be disturbed because you are so thoughtless.

Many New York City theaters are old, and therefore the seating is tight. They were built at a time before people felt compelled to eat every meal as if they were going to the electric chair the next day. OK, fine, I know I'll be cramped and I'm more than happy to meet you better than half-way on things like armrest etiquette. It's what civilized people do. Then in walk these behemoths who need to be coated with Vaseline before they have even a prayer of getting into a seat. Invariably they are wearing bulky, Mount Everest-worthy parkas that they proceed to drape over the back of the seat into your space. They wheeze through the entire first act because the strain of walking erect has been too much for them to bear. Memo to theaters: we need "fat people" seats. Charge more if necessary, but get these walruses away from me. 

And what don't you understand about the perfectly clear announcement: No photos please. Aunt Ida back in Sheepdip, Montana will not die if she doesn't see a blurry, off-center picture of you grinning like a fool. Even worse is the bane of theaters everywhere, the cell phone. They make these cutesy announcements at the start of the show to turn off all cell phones. It's their nice way of telling you not to be an a**hole. That doesn't stop anybody. "Yes, we're at the theater now. The show is about to start." Is that information so important to the person at the other end of the line? Are violent kidnappers holding your son hostage and threatening to kill him if they don't get that phone call? The frenzied texting at intermission gives everybody's face an eerie, greenish glow like they were passengers on the Starship Enterprise. Put the stupid toys away and act like grownups.

We saw Million Dollar Quartet last night and enjoyed it despite witnessing all of the above. Two women sitting near my wife disturbed the entire row to get to their seats. After exactly one minute, they got up and left again to use the bathroom, repeating their insincere "excuse me's" all the way up the aisle. One had a giant satchel that she kept banging off my wife's head. What's with the backpack...who are you...Lewis and Clark! I used to suffer these indignities in silence. Now I speak up, much to my wife's delight. I'm too old to suffer a**holes any more. If they don't know they're a**holes, somebody has to do the world a favor and tell them.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Random Thoughts

To all those complaining about cuts in federal spending to get the country off the road to ruin, there is an amazingly simple solution for making up the losses. Get a job.

They just opened up the ninth sneaker store in our local mall. How we ever squeaked by with only eight I'll never know.

Ever wonder what happens to 3-year old magazines? Doctor's offices.

It's been tough, but I gave up watching "The View" for Lent. Just one more week and I get all the Joy Behar and Whoopi I can stand.

Great show on PBS...MI-5...about British Intelligence operations. It will have you on the edge of your seat and scare the crap out of you.

Can they make the plastic that bottled water comes in any thinner? In the name of saving the environment, the material they now use is so flimsy it barely qualifies as a solid.

Don't you love that commercial where that dilligent, caring pharmacist discovers the error in grandma's medication and calls just in time to save her life. I just left the winning crew at my local pharmacy...wonder how many people they've killed over the years.

Never take good pizza for granted. Ask people living any place other than New York City. Same for Italian bread and pastry.

Nicolas Cage arrested for spousal abuse and disturbing the peace in New Orleans. He's got a modicum of talent and has made millions on bad movies, yet the feds are after him for millions in back taxes; ex-wife suing him for millions; his accountant says he refused to heed warnings about living way beyond his means. Just another Hollywood ego about to be deflated.

Hard to line up behind NFL players in the impending strike. These guys, most of whom have s**t for brains, make seven-figure salaries for playing football. Take the money and shut up.

I'm watching a TV series called "Human Planet" about folks who eke out an existence in the harshest regions of the world. Compared to what they endure, we are such weenies.

My opinion about the younger generation not being as strong as past generations has two notable exceptions...parents of special needs children, and service men and women risking their lives to keep us safe.

Every time we lose a legendary movie star like Liz Taylor I wonder who will be the film icons of tomorrow. Meryl Streep is the only legitimate actress I can think of worthy of that mantle. Maybe Jack Nicholson for the guys.

Some Staten Island bimbo, who was collecting a nice monthly alimony check and living in her ex-husband's house because she said "injuries" kept her from seeking work wins this week's Jimmy Award. She posted videos of herself belly dancing and bragged on her Facebook page about how dancing kept her body so young and healthy. Hubby saw the videos, took them to the she loses the alimony and has to move out of the house. Duh.

Mets have lost 7 straight. My predictions of their success this year are not looking good. Is there no one who can breathe some life into this team?

Just starting Hockey playoffs in April. Why not just play year round. Sports seasons are just too damned long.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

It's Over, America

If you want evidence of how far down the evolutionary scale we've slid, just take a few minutes to watch the Maury Povich show. The show often veers into what critics call trash TV, and is known for a segment called "Who's the Daddy?" during which men who are denying paternity (or who wanted to know if they really were the father) are given DNA tests and the results revealed on the air. I came across this show the other day when students in a class I was teaching were watching it while on a break. I thought I had seen the worst television had to offer until this crap crawled across the screen.

Most of the "contestants" I saw were Black or Hispanic, not exactly a ringing endorsement for the lifestyles of these groups. For the segments I watched before I felt my breakfast coming up, the women came out first and told Maury their stories. Often there was another woman on stage, a past or current girlfriend of the mystery daddy, who either was also wronged by this man, or who is there to defend his virtue. The two women sometimes scream at and threaten each other, all the while holding a poor bewildered child who looks on in confusion, the unfortunate victim of these lunatics. The mystery daddy then comes out and tells his side. More accusations and screaming. Then comes the magic moment when Maury announces the DNA results. More screams, crying, sometimes vigorous physical assaults, a-a-a-nd CUT.

The phrase "Have you no shame" immediately came to mind as I was watching this garbage. Clearly the participants on the show are picked for their flair for the dramatic, and then encouraged to crank it up when the cameras roll. The mothers all look like sad but dumb ho's clearly taken advantage of by greasy Lotharios who haunt the Hood looking for easy pickings. One man had fathered children with three other different women besides the one accusing him on stage. He seemed proud that he had impregnated all these idiots who then gave birth to children the State had to pay for raising. He was smarmy and cocky and I wanted to put my foot through the screen to wipe the smirk off his face.

How sad that Maury Povich, once a respected journalist and news anchor, has sunk so low. It must be hard for these egoists when the spotlight gets turned off. I don't know what else could explain their willingness to go on a show that parades these misfits before the public. Even sadder is that there is an audience for this muck. How f***ed up is your life that you need to waste time watching this trailer-park freak show. I know these lowlifes are out there leading their dysfunctional lives; it's bad enough I have to pay for their folly, do I have to watch it unfold in my living room! If you're feeling brave, here's a sample. Ugh.


Children's Craniofacial Association

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Bitchosaurus

I'm officially a dinosaur. I guess if you wanted to give me a scientific classification it would be Bitchosaurus. The reason for my constant complaining is that I see what used to be the greatest country in the world sinking into mediocrity. We're not there yet, but the elevator is definitely going down. If the present trend continues, the United States will have drifted so far away from the principles and ideals of our founding fathers that they would not recognize the country they fought to establish. What has brought us to this state? Mediocre leadership, an increasingly ignorant and apathetic citizenry, capitulation to policies of the "politically correct", and finally, the abandonment by individuals and government of the fundamental rules of financial responsibility. Let's take these in order.

America has produced some of the world's greatest leaders, starting with men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and Abe Lincoln. In the last century we have elected strong leaders like Franklin Roosevelt, his cousin Theodore Roosevelt, Harry Truman and Ronald Reagan. These were men of principle who had a clear vision for this country and acted decisively to do what they thought was right. We are now saddled with a President who has no moral compass. He governs by consensus and seeks not to build on the policies that have made this country great, but to avoid giving offense. When events call for decisiveness, he waffles. The crisis in Libya is the latest example of the United States sitting on the sidelines while other world leaders step up to the plate. We are losing respect in the eyes of the world.

Our educational system is failing because it strayed from a proven curriculum of English, History, Math and Science to a dumbed-down menu of socially relevant, self-esteem building claptrap. (There's a dinosaur word for you.) Many parents have abandoned all responsibility for educating their children, and dumped it on the schools. As if that was not bad enough, they insist on interfering with educators by demanding changes in the curriculum based on no other justification than their belief that it is the right thing to do. This fiasco has resulted in people growing to adulthood with no foundation in the skills they will need to cope with life. Their ignorance spawns a lack of interest in government, and allows the same crooks and incompetents to keep getting re-elected. All they have to do to keep the people at bay is to provide more freebies like welfare, endless unemployment insurance, and free health care. In ancient Rome this philosophy, which was referred to as 'bread and circuses for the masses' led directly to the collapse of the empire because people no longer cared what their government was doing. We are on that path.

The PC police are everywhere. We can no longer speak the truth because it might offend somebody. Every human failing is blamed on someone or something else. If someone stands up and says that a disproportionate percentage of crime in this country is committed by African-Americans, they are labeled as racists. When courageous African-Americans stand up and acknowledge these truths and call on their leaders to recognize the problem and take steps to deal with it, they are vilified and called 'Uncle Tom'. Phonies like Al Sharpton have a vested interest in the status quo. If there were no 'downtrodden and misunderstood' young thugs terrorizing our streets, he would have no reason for being in his self-appointed role as their guardian. Men like Sharpton, who steadfastly deny where the blame for the high crime rate among blacks rightly belongs, have done more to hold back African-Americans than any white man.
Finally we come to money. The current national debt in the United States is $14 trillion dollars or about $128,000 per taxpayer. That number has grown by an astonishing $4 trillion since President Obama took office. When I can't afford that new car I want, I look wistfully at a picture of the shiny car in a magazine and say: maybe next year. Our government, and many individuals, show no such restraint. The housing mortgage crisis that plunged America and the rest of the world into financial chaos was the direct result of such behavior. Illegal immigration costs taxpayers an estimated $113 billion annually, and those costs are on the rise. When will it stop? As Margaret Thatcher said: "The trouble with Socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people's money." Well guess what folks, we're there.

I wish we were leaving our children a better world. The only slim hope I see is for people to wake up and, like the news anchor played so beautifully by Peter Finch in the movie 'Network', holler out: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take this anymore." I guess that's what the Tea Party is trying to do. Like the group of patriots they are named for, they are demanding radical change in a system that has lost its way.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children's Craniofacial Association

Friday, April 1, 2011

Reality Check

I can tend to be a "glass half-empty" kind of guy if I don't take a reality check once in a while. I complain about anything to anyone who will listen. My long-suffering wife is clearly the person usually exposed to my rants, and for that I apologize. Politics, traffic, the weather, my aches and pains, thoughtless people...the list goes on. Even if it only reins me in temporarily, I try to get a "glass half-full" perspective every now and again. It's really easy to be reminded how good I have it, all I have to do is look around me at what others in the world must endure.

I live in the greatest country in the world, bar none. I am free to do what I like within the law, and that includes disagreeing with my government. I have the right to marry who I please, practice any religion I choose, do anything I like for a living, and not fear that someone will bang on my door in the middle of the night and take me away for my beliefs. Our forefathers called it "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness". As Americans, we are born with these rights, and sometimes take them for granted. We have only to look at what's going on in Egypt, Libya, Iran and Afghanistan to know how lucky we are that our system protects us from such despotic and fanatical leaders.

I've been whining all winter about the cold and the snow as if a little bad weather was the worst suffering a man had to endure. What about starving people in disease-ridden Africa with no hope of a better life for their children; earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan now contemplating an even greater fear of nuclear fallout; flood ravaged families in Queensland, Australia who were lucky to escape the rampaging waters with their lives; hurricane victims in Haiti whose world was turned upside down overnight...I ought to be able to manage a little winter without bitching and moaning.

I take every traffic jam or missed light as a personal affront. I fidget when people drive in front of me as if they had nowhere to go and all day to get there. I curse the morons who tailgate or cut me off. I mentally flip-off the dangerous clowns who run red lights or pass me on the right. I forget that driving is a privilege. People in other parts of the world walk miles to fetch water. Villagers scale mountains to visit relatives in the next town. Poverty-stricken natives ride on overcrowded buses and trains in the company of goats and chickens to get where they're going. Maybe that pot hole on the Belt Parkway isn't the end of the world after all.

My back aches in the morning and my sinuses fill up at night. While these minor health issues don't keep me from leading a full life, including walking three miles a day and playing a round of golf every week, that doesn't mean I'm not going to complain about them. What I need to do is look around at folks coping with life-threatening diseases, or even health problems that greatly impact their quality of life. I need to look at my granddaughter who's had more surgeries than I can count in her eight short years of life, and yet finds joy in even the smallest things. I should emulate my daughter and son-in-law, who cope every day with the challenges of having a special needs child, but don't obsess about it. They do what must be done, and get on with their lives.

It's so easy to fall into a rut. I wish I could say that reflecting on these things will cause me to have a St. Paul-like epiphany and change my ways for the better. Maybe I can at least make it to dinner time.


LOOKING FOR A WORTHY CHARITY? TRY THESE FOLKS: Children' sCraniofacial Association