Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

It's amazing how one's perception of the 'New Year' changes with age. It reminds me of song that Frank Sinatra sang late in his career:  "It was a Very Good Year". For me, the meaning of the coming New Year is dynamic, like the changes in a man's life as time rolls by. 

I remember as a kid getting excited as New Year's Eve approached. The magic of Christmas was already a week in the past, and I needed something to look forward to. We usually went to Grandma Camardi's on Hull Street to party. These were strictly family affairs where the three Camardi sisters brought their kids, and the Camardi son, Uncle Mike, brought his latest glamorous girlfriend. Grandma would cook up a big pot of fried zeppoles sprinkled with powdered sugar, and the kids played a game called "Put and Take" using pennies and a spinning top that instructed you to put in or take out of the pot. The adults all got a little tipsy on rye or homemade wine, and it was fun seeing their party personalities. The absolute best thing about these celebrations: kids got to stay up past midnight! Of course by 12:15 we were passed out on the pile of coats on the bed.

Then came the teen years. I would go to parties thrown by a friend's parents in a desperate effort to keep all of us close to home. Sal Bordenga, father of my sister's friend Phyllis, threw the best parties. Sal and his wife Agnes were the youngest, hippest parents on the block and made us feel very grown up hanging out in their apartment. Sal would slip the guys a watered-down highball and we knew then that we were men. One year we all rode the subway to Times Square to watch the ball drop. On a good year back then, maybe 5,000 people showed up. There was no New Year's Rockin' Eve, just Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians. If people felt festive in the cold night air, it was mainly due to the flasks they carried. Afterward we went to eat...pretty much the standard ending for all our adventures. The movie "Diner" captured that scene nicely.

The pre-marriage/dating years meant nightclubs and real dress-up parties. Places like Pep McGuire's or the Jade East in Valley Stream would throw these parties, and for a flat price, you got dinner, music and second-shelf drinks. We would dress up in our cool sharkskin suits with the tab collars and skinny ties, and do our best to have enough fun to cover costs. Drinking and driving were not such big issues back then, and when I think back on how I ever drove home, I shudder a little. The nightclub scenes from the movie "Goodfellas" nailed this kind of party. Of course they sat ringside at the Copa and we sat at the table near the wall radiator in the back. Also, we never shot anybody to cap off the evening; we were too shot ourselves.

Then came the kids. It was hard getting out for New Year's Eve since we had our first child (Laura) ten months after the wedding. In four years came Mike, and in four more, Matt. At first we stayed home and allowed the kids to stay up the way we used to. We'd all drink a toast at midnight and then put the kids and ourselves to bed. As they got older, we started going to Aunt Lulu's house on New Year's Eve. Her apartments tended to be small and we all crowded in sitting elbow to elbow. Lulu's husband Ralph, the clown in the family, always did some outlandish thing to amuse the kids while we ate Chinese food and drank. Being with family and watching all the cousins, nieces and nephews grow up is what I remember best about these parties. 

Now the kids are off celebrating New Year's Eve in their own way depending on their circumstances. The two of us and cousin Joan go to Jasmine's sister's home in Brooklyn for a quiet evening. The food is good and we drink wine now, but seeing in the New Year is a quiet affair. At midnight, the ships still sound their horns in the harbor and the neighbors whoop it up outside. We put on our party hats, blow our noise makers, and share a hug, happy to be around for another year. I think every guy lucky enough to make it to age 70 identifies very strongly with Mr. Sinatra's song. Every year is a very good year, maybe different, but still good. 

I feel blessed to have my family and friends, and wish them health, happiness and peace in the new year.



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Saturday, December 22, 2012

A Sad Story

 Like the rest of the world, I was horrified at the tragic shooting that took place in Newtown, Connecticut last week. I just can't get my head around the idea of murdering innocent children and those who would protect them. Why is our country becoming infamous for attacks like these? What is it that drives people to commit such atrocities. Many opinions have been heard from various quarters, but the problem is a complex one. I wanted to reflect here about some of the things people are saying. Maybe the saddest thing I read in the case was the words of one young victim's father who said at the child's funeral: "I'm so sorry I couldn't protect you." How indeed can we protect our children from the next horrific attack!

While the issue may be complex, for me, the need to immediately restrict access to military-style weapons is a must. There is no reason on earth why civilians should possess such weapons. The ones already out there should be retrieved with a buyback program funded by the government during a period of amnesty where no questions will be asked of those gun owners who come forward. When this period expires, continued ownership of such weapons should be classified as a felony with guaranteed jail time for violators. There is no downside for such actions other than ridiculous second amendment objections that are plain wrong. We don't want to ban all guns, just those meant only for mass killing.

Next we have to evaluate our systems for identifying and treating people with mental disorders who might have the potential for committing violence. There are many programs in place now in schools and the workplace, but they don't seem to have any consistency in terms of not only diagnosing disorders, but providing the right kinds of treatment. It would be easy to stigmatize people with such problems, and that is exactly the opposite of what is needed. Attitudes like that are what drive people with mental issues deeper inside themselves, eventually finding outlets for their pent up frustration and rage in violent acts like the ones we are seeing all too often in America. 

Blame is also being directed at some of the violent video games that kids play where killing is an integral part of the action. Violent movies and television programs might also contribute to the desensitization of people to violent acts. While targeting the makers of these games and movies might help, parents must also accept responsibility for what their kids are playing and watching. These products would not sell if there was no audience for them. We can't just plant our kids in front of a computer or TV and be thankful they're being quiet for an hour...we must monitor what they are viewing and exert our authority when necessary to keep them from seeing things that are not good for their development. 

It has been suggested that "a bad guy with a gun can only be stopped by a good guy with a gun," Using this logic, the head of the NRA believes we should hire armed guards for every school, and allow teachers to carry sidearms to protect themselves and the children in their care. Do we really want schools to become armed camps? How can we expect terrified teachers to shoot it out with a madman in the middle of a classroom? The idea is a dangerous one. Improving school security to keep guns from getting into the building makes sense to me. Not allowing any Joe Blow with the money to buy an Uzi in the parking lot of some gun show also seems smart. There are already too many guns in this country and we need to get them out of circulation.

I wish I could assure that grieving Connecticut father that we will learn from this latest tragedy and do a better job of protecting our children, but I can't. Pressure is mounting on the President and other politicians to finally take on the NRA. I hope they do before we have to witness more funerals.


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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What Ever Happened to Style?

We've all seen those hilarious pics of the Wal-Mart Martians wearing their bizzaro-world outfits. The thing is, their look is not so far removed from what we have come to loosely term "casual dress." It all started innocently enough, and with my generation, I am ashamed to say. Unwilling to be bound by the conservative dress standards of our parents, and eager to keep up with the youthful new "Mod" style in clothes, we strayed further and further away from convention. Jackets for men and dresses for women were out. Sensible shoes were replaced by footwear like flip-flops, brightly colored Crocs and sneakers that cost more than a car used to. Today, anything goes. People wear pajama bottoms, thrift-shop discards, pre-ripped jeans and funky hats. We have become a nation of slobs.

I am a big fan of the show "Mad Men". One reason is that it reminds me of the way people used to dress. In any place of business, even the kid in the mail room wore a tie. Men, from the CEO to the junior clerks wore suits and ties. Casual Fridays meant you were allowed to unbutton your jacket. Women wore dresses or blouses and skirts. They did up their hair and put on make-up. The workplace looked like a gathering of professionals, Christmas parties notwithstanding. Except for a few places that still maintain dress codes, office workers today look like homeless folk who wandered in to warm up. Even businesses that deal face-to-face with the public allow their workers to dress like bums. Exceptions are refreshing, like Macy's where the women dress in stylish black and the men in suits...I think it makes a difference.


Maybe the biggest decline in acceptable dress has been in the House of God. When I was a lad during the Grant Administration, parishioners at Our Lady of Lourdes showed up for church scrubbed and dressed. Even the less affluent always  wore their Sunday best. Ladies who were showing too much d├ęcollage were asked to pin lace hankies to their dresses in the interest of modesty. I see people in church wearing get-ups that would be considered daring at the beach. Bare midriffs, skin-tight jeans, plunging necklines, and those are the men! The pastor recently had to print a warning in the bulletin about inappropriate dress and deportment (there's a word you don't hear any more), but I'm sure his pleas will be ignored. 


Style was always synonymous with elegance, good taste and well made clothes. Public figures like movie stars wouldn't think of being seen anywhere looking like they had just come off a three day jag. Every guy I knew wanted to look like Cary Grant, suave, debonair, not a hair out of place. I see leading men in the papers today who look like beggars, unshaven, rumpled clothes, and dirty. Female movie stars looked stunning when they left the house, begowned, bejeweled and bedazzling! Who do we have leading the fashion parade today? Lindsay Lohan in an orange jump suit. I think Europeans put us to shame when it comes to casual dress. Of course many of them also have the figures to look good in whatever they wear.

I know I'm fighting a losing battle here, but can still hope against hope that one day those suits and ties will come out of the closet, and style will be in style again.


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Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Grinch Report

I thought it would be nice to write a rant based on things related to Christmas. Let it not be said that I lack holiday spirit. 

Christmas trees, a lovely tradition started by the Germans I believe, used to cost five or ten bucks. Some enterprising elf would set up in a vacant lot or on a street corner and have a supply of trees trucked in from God knows where. There was only one kind, Douglas Fir I think. You would wander down and find one that looked decent enough to haggle over. For a few dollars less, especially the closer you got to Christmas Eve, you could negotiate for the tree that had a bare side. Once home you could turn that side to the wall...who would know...and you'd be three bucks to the good. Now buying a tree is complicated. They have Christmas tree farms that grow a half dozen varieties, and all cost seventy-five dollars. They are all perfectly shaped so there is no bargaining with the tree guy around a fire blazing in the 50 gallon drum. Humbug.

Then comes the decorations. We used to dress up those scrawny trees with ornaments that had been in the family forever. The Christmas balls were beautifully made and sturdy. The colored lights were real bulbs that could be changed if they burned out. You could buy 4-watt bulbs or, if you lived not too far from the firehouse and craved adventure, the 9-watt babies. A few boxes of tinsel and a star would complete the job. Now tree ornaments are made so cheaply in China, and they break if you look at them too hard. Same for the crappy lights that come in a long string of 50 or 100. While safer to use, if one light goes, the whole set is useless. And the defective light never shows itself until the tree is up and fully decorated. And it is always the middle set of lights. Humbug.

It's a wonder there are any trees left given all the catalogs that start appearing in mailboxes around the holidays. I'm not exaggerating when I say we get at least 5 catalogs a day. Acorn Media sends me three a week in case I want another chance to order season 1 of the Inspector Morse mysteries. My favorite is the Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog that offers the most expensive yet wildly impractical gifts ever conceived by man, like the Porsche slot car racing set with precision detailed race cars for a mere $125,000. I also love the America's Heartland catalog that features outlandish items that I'm sure are found under many a redneck's Christmas tree..."three realistic duck decoys, two purple satin love pillows, and sweatpants that look like jeans." Humbug.

My final holiday beef is a musical one. Some radio stations in our area start playing 'all Christmas' music even before Thanksgiving is over. It sounds like a nice idea until you listen for a while. I'm going to throw out a number here, purely guess work on my part, that there are at least 3,000 Christmas songs available for play. When you consider that each one may have been performed by multiple artists, the number grows. My question is this: with all those songs to choose from, why do I hear the same few songs played over and over? Last Christmas, by George Michael, All I Want for Christmas, by Mariah Carey, and the much despised Holly Jolly Christmas by Burl Ives. I swear one day I will drive over a cliff lurching for the radio dial every time one of these comes on. Humbug.

Don't misunderstand, I really love Christmas. I look forward to decorating the house, I watch all the mandatory Christmas movies, I even go to Christmas day mass even though I know my regular seat will be taken by some jaboney who shows up once a year. Maybe this year Santa will hear all my Scrooging and send the ghost of Christmas Annoying to visit me.



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