Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Random Thoughts

If I had to live in another time and place, it would be England in the late 1880s. The English were so civilized and the British Empire was at its height. Of course I would have to be an aristocrat (a minor Dukedom would do) because the common man really didn't have much of a life. 

In a perfect world, the four food groups would be pizza, ice cream, chocolate and wine.

I don't get the Hasidic Jewish community...they are up in arms and demand police action when someone chalks a swastika on the sidewalk, but they continue to shield child molesters in their clergy. The Catholic church does the same thing. They all need to be held accountable.

Charlie Rangel reelected again despite being 82, out of ideas, and with a raft of ethics charges hanging over his head. We will never progress as a society until people stop voting for candidates because they are the same color and choose them instead for their brains and integrity.

I think intra-city sports rivalries are a good thing up to a point. I'm a lifelong Yankee fan, but if the Mets make it to the World Series, I'll be rooting hard for them. It isn't necessary to hate one team just because you like another. We should stand up for our city no matter who's representing it.

This Sandusky affair in Pennsylvania is just too hard to bear. This man abused children for decades and nobody saw fit to take action? I just saw the state Attorney General making a self-serving statement about people asking: "Who Would Believe a Child...we would." Well honey, that belief took about 20 years too long to act on. Shame on anyone who turned the other way.

Just heard on the radio about a man in Queens (last name Munoz I think) who in the past few years has cooked and served 70,000 meals for people who need them using just donations from those who care to help. It's stories like this that keep me from being a complete cynic. God bless this angel.

We push kids too fast to grow up. Parents are obsessed with getting their children into "gifted and talented" pre-schools. How can you tell if a kid is gifted when he's still pooping his pants! Give kids a chance to be kids for a while...the cold, cruel world will intrude soon enough.

Mayor Bloomberg should be worried more about Costco than large size sodas. Ever see the beauties prowling those aisles? Their wagons are overflowing with 90 oz. peanut butters, the six-dozen size Snickers, and buckets o' butter. They line up for little cut-up samples of anything...they don't care as long as its food and free.

Who makes toilet paper for commercial rest rooms? They put it on these gigantic wheels and it is impossible to find the end where the paper begins. You sit there like an idiot rolling this wheel around in the hope that somehow the end will become unraveled and you can finally go home.

Ever see toll collectors in action when someone's EZ Pass doesn't work? They move like they were wading through molasses. It takes them forever to make that long trip two toll booths over in their best "I'm here all day so it doesn't matter how fast I work" stroll. Cretins.

Self-checkout aisles at super markets seemed like a good idea when it first started. When you have three items and you get in line behind the woman shopping for her entire extended family, you look for any way to just get off that line. The system has its problems though. How often do I hear: "Please remove item from the bagging area" when there's nothing in the G.D. bagging area? Then there is the joy of rotating that price sticker every which way and waiting in vain for the scanner to beep its approval. As a way of paying the store back for these inconveniences, I put high priced items of produce on the scanner and push the little pictures of the cheapest produce on the screen. The stupid machine dutifully accepts my little deception. It helps even things out.


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

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Warning: Dangerous Weather

This morning my trusty (not) weather man issued a somber-faced warning: weather conditions will be dangerous today. My gosh, what's coming? Tornadoes? Hurricanes? Gale force winds? Nah, just a hot day in late June. Dangerous?! Is he kidding!? When did hot summer days in June cross over into the "dangerous" category? To understand this you have to understand what high drama broadcasting the weather has become. In the old days, the weather man (or girl) was almost an afterthought on the newscast. They would come out with their little sketch pad and pathetically simple maps and say what there was to say in 30 seconds. People like Tex Antoine who was drunk half the time, and the perky Carol Reed, the first female weather broadcaster on national television, were familiar faces who told us what we needed to know without ever using the word "dangerous".

Now, because the nightly news has become so dummed-down that Justin Bieber's new album gets covered before war in the Middle-East, weather reporting has become an extravaganza. Weather forecasts take up maybe fifteen minutes in a one hour news show. Weathermen and women have promoted themselves to "meteorologists" to underscore the importance of their place in our lives. No more paper pads and magic graphics are now supplied by computer systems powerful enough to launch space probes. The weather geeks stand there and with the flick of a finger, show us the weather conditions in Montana. (Why we should give a s**t about Montana weather is still a mystery to me.) We see fronts moving in and out of California, twisters forming on the Kansas horizon, dust storms in New Mexico...hey putz, I just want to know if it will rain tomorrow in Staten Island!

Another interesting development is the kind and quality of information we are given. On the one hand the forecasts appear to be super-precise: "Manhattan will see a light shower tomorrow between 2 and 3 in the afternoon". On the other hand, you never saw so much cover-your-ass waffling in your life. "It will be mostly sunny in the City today, but with some clouds and a chance of showers". Well hey, that pretty much covers everything except locusts. The reason they allude to every possible weather outcome is that, despite all their computers and meteorological gobble-de-gook, they just don't know. It's as if you were an accountant and went in to see your boss with the following data: last quarter was a good one for the company; we made a profit but there's a chance it was a loss. (Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way to the unemployment office.)

We now have an entire channel dedicated to the weather.These folks are celebrities with fan clubs and websites. (I find it amusing by the way that at least half of them mispronounce the word "meteorologist".) Not content with just giving us what the weather might be tomorrow, they banter with the airhead news anchors. The whole dynamic news team meets the night before to discuss what... the critical issues of the day? No, it's to color-coordinate their little outfits so that they don't clash on camera. One time the jumbo electronic map projected behind this weather girl just went blank, and the look of panic on her face was delicious. It was as if her power of speech had been taken away. She stood there frozen until one of the anchors rescued her with some giggly banter. 

I miss Tex and Carol. They were wrong as often as the current crop of forecasters, but they didn't take all day about it and they didn't try to scare me with words like dangerous.


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

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Crossroads of the World

Times Square in New York City is one of the most famous places in the world. If you don't believe me, just try walking through there around curtain time in the theater district. 

The area, centered where 42 Street, Broadway and Seventh Avenue intersect, acquired its name in 1904 when Albert Ochs, publisher of The New York Times, moved the newspaper's headquarters to a new skyscraper on what was then known as Longacre Square. The name stuck, even after The New York Times moved across Broadway in 1913. Following the area's development, people moved to the square in droves, and with them came brothels, pickpockets, and streetwalkers. Soon, in a foreshadowing of its later fate, the area turned into a veritable red-light district. In 1895, Longacre Square had a new tenant, Oscar Hammerstein, who developed a large entertainment complex in the hopes of rekindling an interest in opera. This complex, called the Olympia, occupied a full block on 42nd Street and featured three theaters.

Celebrities such as Irving BerlinFred Astaire, and Charlie Chaplin were closely associated with Times Square in the 1910s and 1920s. During this period, the area was nicknamed The Tenderloin because it was supposedly the most desirable location in Manhattan. However, it was during this period that the area was besieged by crime and corruption, in the form of gambling and prostitution. The general atmosphere changed with the onset of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Times Square acquired a reputation as a dangerous neighborhood in the following decades. From the 1960s to the early 1990s, the seediness of the area, especially due its sleazy bars, sex shops and adult theaters, became an infamous symbol of the city's decline.

(Above information from Wikipedia and the Times Square Alliance websites.)

I first began going to Times Square in the 1960s. The area was bustling, but not the kind of place you wanted to find yourself after dark. Mixed in with the more adventurous tourists were hookers, panhandlers and con artists. People from Nebraska felt their jaws drop as they got a peek inside the neon porn palaces that dominated Times Square at the time. People on their way to the theater district lowered their heads and walked straight ahead, avoiding eye contact with the shady denizens who haunted the area. The once legitimate night clubs, restaurants and shops that thrived in better days were finding it harder and harder to make a living. Movies like Midnight Cowboy painted a grim but sadly accurate picture of what Times Square had become.

Reclamation of the area began with the commercial real estate boom in Manhattan during the 1980s. Desirable tenants like Disney began opening theaters in the area and brilliant new signage (Jumbotrons) began appearing including the Toshiba billboard directly under the New Year's Eve ball drop, the curved seven-story NASDAQ sign on 43rd Street and the Coca Cola and Samsung signs that flooded the night sky with light.  Mayor Rudy Giuliani led an effort to clean up the area, increasing security, closing sex shops, pressuring drug dealers to relocate, and opening more tourist-friendly attractions and upscale establishments. Advocates of the remodeling claimed that the neighborhood was now safer and cleaner. Detractors (idiots) countered that the changes  homogenized or "Disneyfied" the character of Times Square. In 2009 Mayor Mike Bloomberg de-mapped the streets from 42 to 47 along Broadway and closed them to automobile traffic, thus completing the transformation of the Crossroads of the World.

On December 31, 1907, a ball signifying New Year's Day was first dropped at Times Square, and the Square has held the main New Year's celebration in New York City ever since. On that night, hundreds of thousands of people congregate to watch the Waterford Crystal ball being lowered on a pole atop the building, marking the start of the new year. It replaced a lavish fireworks display from the top of the building that was held from 1904 to 1906, but stopped by city officials because of the danger of fire. The ball drop has continued except during World War II, when a minute of silence, followed by a recording of church bells pealing, replaced the ball drop because of wartime blackout restrictions. I went once as a teen to watch the ball drop, but is was less of a big deal then. Ever since I've been content to watch the event on TV along with millions of others around the world.

As a New Yorker I am always gratified when a once rundown neighborhood is reclaimed for the people. The new Times Square represents one of the best examples of what can be done when government, business and private citizens work together for the common good. I still get excited when I walk through the Square, and I'm proud that it now stands as one of the iconic places for people from around the world to gather in our great city.




  Craniofacial Association  

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Father John Comiskey

Got some sad news in church today...Father John Comiskey, (far right in photo) a weekend associate at St. Anne's, is in the Calvary Hospice in the Bronx and is very sick. We love attending Father John's masses because he is a no-nonsense, no-singing, old-fashioned priest who just gets on with it. The 7 o'clock mass, which begins at 7 on the dot, is usually over by 7:30. If you have any trouble finding a parking space, you are likely to miss the Gospel reading. We very much appreciate his brevity, but in looking back, there is a lot more to the man than a speedy Sunday service. 

Father John is in his late seventies, but leads a full and active life. In addition to his priestly duties, he also teaches math and computer science at Msgr. Farrell high School here on Staten Island. He is a lover of theater and would often make mention of Broadway shows in his homilies. His somewhat stern, dour countenance would seem contrary to such interests, but he was a man of many parts. His religious philosophy was strictly by the book; I don't think there was much wiggle room in his adherence to church dogma. One of his favorite homily themes was about today's moral message of "if it feels good, do it." He would often remind us that as Catholics we should be more Christ-like in our lives and less tempted to go with the societal flow.

His homilies were sometimes interesting, especially when he shared his knowledge of what everyday life was like for the Hebrews when Jesus walked the earth. He seemed to be well versed in the historic, religious and cultural customs of the time, and was at his best I think when articulately expounding on them. He had a habit of routinely checking his watch after every homily as if he had set a time limit in advance and wanted to check how close he came to meeting it. Sometimes, when he seemed short of material, he would use the common priestly practice of paraphrasing what we had just heard in the readings. Most priests resort to this tactic as if they are being paid by the word instead of how well the congregation gets their message.

Our Pastor, Father Joy Mampilly, is a sweet man from India who loves to sing. (Sadly he was saddled with two serious impediments to this passion...a high, reedy voice that is very hard to listen to, and the inability to carry a tune.) Father Joy's voice held some emotion when he made the announcement about Father John. Last we heard he was taking some time off for knee surgery. Only this morning did we find out that his condition is much more serious. It wouldn't surprise me if he knew how sick he was, but chose not to share or complain about it. His admonitions to us to live more like Christ he probably applied tenfold to himself and would be inclined to bear his burden alone and soldier on.

Men like Father John Comiskey (and women too) who devote themselves to their God and to helping others are all too often taken for granted. Theirs is pretty much a 365/24/7 calling and we expect they will be there for us when someone needs last rites, a funeral prayer or just a sympathetic ear. My young life was shaped for the better by men like Father John, and I can never thank them enough for their dedication. Too often we only hear the bad things about priests but rarely do we appreciate the services they faithfully perform for us day in and day out. They comfort the sick, give hope to the despondent, share the joy of our Baptisms, Communions, Confirmations and Weddings while sacrificing so much in their own lives to bring us closer to God.

I'll pray for Father John that somehow he'll pull through. If he doesn't make it, he can go to his maker knowing he lived by the book and that his reward will surely be waiting. (He'll be checking his watch.)


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