Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson: Man in the Mirror

Yesterday I sat and watched coverage about Michael Jackson's death. Today every paper, television and radio station have nothing but headlines and stories about this. Today the world is down a wonderful performer. Today his music will be played and people will sing and dance and remember where they were when a given song was first played. Today the world is down a pedophile.

About a year ago, I had a conversation with someone about Michael Jackson and my response to her was "I'd listen and enjoy his music, but I would never buy anything of his ever again." Why would I contribute to the continued success of a man who preys on little boys? The reaction to the loss of the musician can not be denied, but let's not call him names like hero. I saw a scrolling story that received no headline that 16 soldiers had died in Baghdad. I do not know if they were American or Iraqi or some other soldier from another country. These men's regardless of which side, are heroes. Why is Michael Jackson a hero? A hero is a person of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities. Michael Jackson does not personify this. Does he?

This whole outpouring of love has made me question people's ideals. Look at the people that are idolized in today's society. Michael Jackson - a pedophile. Kobe Bryant - a rapist. Every Major League baseball player - cheated and committed a felony by obtaining steroids and bringing them into the country. Politicians- who seem to cheat on their wives at a ridiculously frequent rate. There are people like Ray Lewis who played a part in a murder only to become the face of the NFL. There's Matthew Broderick of the Producers who got away with vehicular homicide in Ireland. My point is these people did horrible things and got away with it because of their celebrity status. We as laypeople should be horrified by this, but instead we nearly canonize them. I actually heard someone say "he made a mistake." How do you accidentally molest a child? I'd like to think that if someone did this to a child I knew, that he would accidentally fall on the knife I was holding, not go on to continue his monstrous money earning career. Why does money allow us to put these people on a pedestal? Why is it when a rich celebrity accepts a plea bargain we assume they are innocent, but when someone fights for themselves, we call them guilty?

Today is the first day since Michael Jackson died. He will be remembered as a great entertainer by everyone. Let's not forget that he had some dark secrets too. Just because it wasn't your son he fondled or your daughter that Kobe Bryant raped, or your child who did steroids to get ahead, or your child who was killed by the actor or shot by the player. Maybe we should look in the mirror and before we praise these people say "what if it was my child, what if it was someone I knew, what if they weren't able to spend millions to make it go away." Look in that mirror and ask yourself, would you want your neighbor to be any of these people? Would you want to have to live with the ghosts and the fear and the shame that these people live with? Then, after all that, if they deserve your praise and admiration then so be it. I know my mirror doesn't allow that.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Thank You Dad

Today is Father's Day. A silly holiday, made up by a greeting card company to sell product. Such it is with most holidays. I myself am not a father, but I do recognize the joy that these days bring parents. When their young children present them with the little knick-knack they made at school or breakfast in bed. The card with the stick figure drawings of the big guy and the little guy. It's a big deal for Dad.

Today is my father's 38th such event. I'm sure he's awake right now, in his bathrobe and slippers, scampering downstairs to make breakfast for his 96-year old mother, who despite being of an eerily sound mind (not that it was ever truly that sound), is recovering from a fall. I'm sure his day will include reading the paper, having a nice chat with his cat, Goku, checking his e-mail, maybe a bike ride if the weather is nice. If he's lucky a swim. He may go for a walk and take in the nature in Ithaca. A trek over to see on e of the gorges maybe. His day will end with a wonderful meal that he'll probably pair with a fine wine. If he didn't already play it in honor of the summer solstice, Vivaldi's Four Seasons will play during the preparation of this meal. He'll watch a movie and off to bed. It will not be any different than any other day, despite the label appointing it his day. Unfortunately, his two sons are 200 miles away. One preparing for a wedding and the other typing furiously while also listening to Summer.

Today, I awoke and went to get myself breakfast. Down to Garth Road Bagels, a trip my father made numerous times for me. I wished I could share the meal with him, but he's in my thoughts. I think back to all those Sunday mornings where we'd have breakfast, then off to hit some balls, shoot some hoops, play some tennis. The rainy days spent in museums. The car rides that took forever, but would result in us coming back with ears of corn, maple syrup, and usually some useless piece of furniture or trinket my mother needed to have. Seriously, who grew up in a house with a dulcimer, a buoy, a human skull and a kabuki mask? These moments, some not enjoyed at the time, shaped my life. I grew an appreciation for those things that aren't standard. I enjoyed things that could be taken in without lots of money. I'd like to think, I'm a better person, a wiser person because of it.

As is the case with growing up. Things weren't always rosy. We had our disagreements. My parents were sticklers when it came to education. I could not just go through the motions. There wasn't a paper, a report, anything that wasn't checked. Those times were strenuous, but I look at myself now, and when I see how others spell, write, speak, I smile and thank my parents. They bit the bullet financially to send me to private school for as long as they could. Those five years made me more informed than any years spent in Eastchester High or Manhattan College. Then again, I could have never stepped foot in a school and been smarter than most. My father had so much to do with that. For that I am most grateful.

My father showed me the importance of respect, admiration, and appreciation of everything. I always said thank you upon receiving anything and didn't have to be told. My parents did it, so I followed suit. Moms and Dads out there...if your kid doesn't say thank you, it's probably your fault. Before I was ten I could tell the difference between a Merlot and a Beaujolais, I knew that escargot was delicious and that Johan Sebastian Bach was the Elvis of the Baroque period. As a youngster my parents would read a novel and then hand it to me. Maybe Requiem for a Dream as a twelve year old was a bit much, maybe my knowledge of limericks a bit too broad, and maybe my 10th birthday gift of a playboy with Bo Derek in it was a little advanced...oh wait, that was my grandfather who gave that to me! Regardless, my parents didn't put up walls, they let me crash through them. If I showed interest in something they nurtured that exploration. My love of sports consumed me at a young age. My father would buy me books, take me to games, buy me cards. I've forgotten more than most people will ever know about baseball. My father allowed me the resources to learn about these things, long before the Internet ever existed. Whatever I showed an interest it, my father would stand beside me and make it so I could know everything and anything about the subject.

My father also shaped many of the traits I posses. Some might disagree on the positive aspects of some, but I feel they are important and virtuous. Sure my father followed suit on the anniversaries, Valentine's day and birthdays, but my father would come home on a random Tuesday and present my mother with flowers, not necessarily because she had a bad day, but maybe because he did. He showed me that forced actions aren't that sincere, but when you do something because you want to, it makes it all the more special for others. He showed me that making a card, regardless of your artistic ability is the way to go. His humorous drawings were always special to me, although they all but killed my belief in Santa, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy at very young ages. My father insisted that meals were a time to be spent chatting away about anything. There was no television allowed during meals. I learned more about life, history, and people's nature sitting at the dinner table, either with my parents or when we had company. I learned to eat what was put in front of me. Something that caused me great frustration as a child, but something I am most appreciative of now. At times it was torture, but when I look back on it I laugh. How many parents have you heard say "no television until you finish your osso bucco (or saurbraten or paella)!" Every meal was an introduction into another culture for me. As we ate, my father might tell me a story about the country or some great battle that took place on the ground where the wine we were drinking was manufactured. These are the things that are missed when you eat a meal watching repeats of Friends and Seinfeld.

As an adult, I guess it's sad in ways I don't have a little one to torture with wisdom like my father did for me. Maybe my brother will have a child and I can show him the things our father showed us. Today is a day for a special person. No coffee cup or tee shirt attributing #1 status is needed. No Hallmark greeting with a talking animal or play on his age will do. No, today doesn't even need words, because today isn't different than any other day. I don't love, respect or admire my father any more today than I will tomorrow or did yesterday. Today is the third Sunday in June. For nearly thirty-nine years I've been thankful for the fact that I was blessed to have such a man as my father. Naming a day for him, doesn't make me know that any more or less.

Thank You Dad

Monday, June 15, 2009

A-Z of what is pissing me off

Angelina Jolie - remember 1999? That was the last time she was in a good movie.
Bill O'Reilly - hasn't said anything shameful recently, but he will.
Cable - why do we have to pay when there is nothing good on?
Dieting - why can't this be enjoyable?
Edible Arrangements - something is just weird about this actually making money.
Fuel prices - they've very quietly risen 66 cents in the last six weeks.
Grey's Anatomy - making people stupid since 2005
Heath Ledger - alright already, he was no James Dean, hell not even a River Phoenix!
IRS - for making me a lot poorer than I should be. OK it's my fault, but come on.
Joaquin Phoenix - for being one of the best actors not acting. Stop being weird. Act!
Kohl's - for advertising way more than you have to.
Lost - for confusing my smart friends and for making my dumb friends explain it.
Money - for me not having enough of you.
Night - the only time I'm wide awake.
Obama - for saying "change" when you should have said "fix what Bush did."
Promotional Mail - I don't want any more magazines for $6 a year.
Queens - for being just far enough away that I'm too lazy to eat there every day.
Reality TV - for sucking the tiny brains out of Americans everywhere.
Scientology - for making John Travolta negligent.
Twitter - I don't even know what it is.
Universal health care - for being so complicated that republicans can't understand it
Verizon - do I even need a reason?
Weather - for being such a stirring topic among the mindless. Hot or cold - riveting!
X-rated - for not having anything to do with my life.
Zero - what I feel I accomplished today. Oh yeah I started a diet. Zero enjoyment!

Monday, June 8, 2009

Poetry

If there is one thing I have never had any ability in doing, it is writing poetry. I think it's because every time I might have had a thought, it came out as too corny or I took a humorous spin. It just never works. My mind can never rest on one subject long enough to put down a concrete thought. Just this morning, I awoke from a deep sleep, with thoughts of childhood hijinks in my mind. Unfortunately, I had hit the caps lock button and the results ruined my train of thought. Here are the results.

I RUN,
I SKIP,
I HOP.
PANCAKES?

Maybe I have ADD....Adult Dunkin Donuts?

Making A Plan

Woody Allen once said "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans." I say, if you want to make me laugh, yell at me for hating to make plans.

I hate plans. Plans are optimists ways of hoping they can do something at a given time. Plans are a pessimists way of setting up for an imminent failure. I'm a realist and plans mean only one thing to me. Plans allow others to let you down. Sure, I can hear the rumblings. I'm just a pessimist calling myself a realist. I disagree. Look at what we plan for. When we are younger we plan on play dates. Sickness comes along and we're stuck looking out a window at what could have been. When I was younger I spent all day in school planning on a sport being played on my block. Then the afternoon shower would come along and while it didn't bother me, so many times I'd receive that distant yell telling me to come inside. As I got older I planned my weekends with friends. Friday morning, my mother would tell me how we were all going to some museum or to visit some distant relative who I'd never see or care about again. Sometimes they weren't that distant either. We start to mature and we are told to plan for our future. Well let's see how well that works.

You're parents have a mortgage or rent and car payments, but they are planning your college education. You are making minimum wage and trying to figure out if you can afford a six pack and a bag of weed for the weekend, not trying to figure out a better way to go into debt for $100,000 in four years. You start dating that special girl and you plan on marrying her. You then find out she's been fucking her ex-boyfriend who just got out of jail or just needed someone to talk to one night. Maybe it's not that severe. Maybe you just realize after a long courting that if this is the best it can get, it's not worth it. Maybe you aren't worth it. Who knows? Seriously, if you are in a relationship and you aren't married and you ever utter the words "I couldn't be happier" you should run for the hills. Hopefully if you marry someone, you will be happier. Chances are you won't be. Sad, but true.

So what's my big problem with plans? It's quite simple. The more time there is between the moment you make the plan and the actual event, the more chance there is it will not come to fruition. Think about it. You make plans to go away with a group of friends. Let's say ten people are going to split a house for a long weekend. Well you plan this in December and it's for July. Everything is perfect until someone loses their job, gets herpes, or dies. NOw it's gonna cost you more money and you hadn't planned on that. You're angry! You don't mind the wake, but did they have to die during the NCAA tournament? Honestly, I plan on watching that stuff every year and I make sure that only work and death comes between me and Billy Packer. Seriously, if you're going to die or get married, could you have the decency to do it either in February or August. Probably the two worst months for sports. I'd prefer February, because wearing black in August makes me sweat and nobody wants to drip sweat on a corpse or dance the night away and look like a sweaty Richard Simmons sans the big top styled shorts. Where was I? Oh yeah, plans.

Let's take the most simple thing. A romantic dinner. You have the food in the oven, you've popped the wine, the candles are lit. You have everything timed perfectly. Then you get the call. "I'll be home in a few, I just had to pick something up at the store." You try and calm down, because you don't want to give away the secret, so you play it cool for as long as you can. It's about two minutes away and then you make the call. You find out she's five minutes away, so you turn the heat off. Five minutes in girl speak is actually 10-15. So now you start thinking about what the hell she could have gotten that is taking so long. You call again and now you give it up. You say dinner is waiting to be served and that's when she tells you she actually stopped somewhere else that will take a few more minutes than she said. Dinner is basically ruined. She comes in and you know it's cold and she knows it's cold. She politely tells you how great it is and how much she appreciates it and the whole time you wish she'd choke on something and you could taunt her as she takes her last breaths. During dinner you don't want to talk, but you have to. So you do the small talk move and ask her what she had to pick up. She prefaces her tale with a little comment about how if you would have told her you were making dinner, she would have stopped earlier. So now it's your fault she ruined dinner and you have to wait to hear her mindless story about her shopping spree. You get up mid sentence and start to get the dessert out. You've gotten her favorite and as you prepare it, you try and tune her out. You hear something about pompoms and poke your head out from the kitchen and give a quizzical look. Then she repeats it. "Tampons." Great! The fancy dinner, the wine and special dessert just got washed away by the Red River. You don't know whether to grab the coffee and dessert or the remote control. The night ends with you in a big argument, when you are deemed insensitive for making a Shakes the Clown reference when Michael J. Fox appears on the television. Meanwhile you'd rather yourself be stricken with Parkinson and be molested by the creepy scientist in Back to the Future than spend another minute with the entree-ruining love of your life. All this could have been avoided if you hadn't made a plan. Next time, forget the surprise, make your attempt well known beforehand and then try and execute the same delightful meal without the element of romance. Just remember, this time she'll be telling you the flame is too high or you've added too much salt, and either way, by the end of the meal you'd wish you'd stayed home and the closest you came to cooking was looking at photo shopped porn pictures of Rachel Ray.

The next time you want to make a plan. Think about the repercussions. Do what I do. Wing it. Chances are someone will ruin your day that way too.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Pizza

Ask any child what their favorite food is and a large majority will say pizza is their favorite food in all the world.. Kids seem to love it. Dough, tomato sauce, and cheese. So simple and yet kids go crazy over it. As we become adults we start to enjoy pizza with toppings. Some are traditional like pepperoni or sausage. Some are a little adventurous, such as ham & pineapple or lasagna. Some are just odd, like egg or shrimp. Regardless of your topping preference, chances are you love pizza.

A funny thing has happened as the years have gone by. I really don't love much pizza. Sure it's easy and convenient, but honestly, when was the last time you had a delicious slice of pizza? I live in a town where there are about 12 pizzerias within 2 miles of my home. Many are good, but I don't know if I'd classify any as great. Sure certain places have their specialties or their signature slice, but honestly, there aren't too many places I've been that are great across the board.

It seems to me as a child, when each neighborhood had one or two places, they were much better. I think it's because back then people took more pride in their product. Now don't get me wrong, if you travel to any other state in this nation and order a pizza, the best slice isn't going to compare to some of the lesser slices in the NYC area. It's all about our wonderful NY water. So why are pizza places in Yonkers, which is rated as the #1 water in NY so bad? I have no idea.

I don't go for all the hyped places. Johnny's thin slice in Mount Vernon is crap. Thin crispy crust which has no flavor topped with bland tomato sauce and barely enough cheese to taste. Sal's in Mamaroneck was good in the 80's, but last time I was in there I wouldn't even call it above average. Now while I haven't been to any of the world famous places in Brooklyn like DiFara's or Grimaldi's, I had Ray's Famous (the original one) back in the day and it was heaven. Today there are 50 Ray's pizzerias and they are all the same.

So what am I looking for? I want a nice crisp crust, but not thin. I want the dough to hold the toppings without flopping all over the place. I want to taste the sauce and be able to pick out the seasoning. I want the cheese to be perfectly melted and if the sauce is good, it doesn't have to be smothered in cheese. I want to be able to add just a bit of garlic and peppers and not have to mask the taste with these condiments.

I have many local places that make slices I enjoy. My friend's place Chubby's makes a simple sicilian slice called Barbara's Special that contains basically three ingredients; basil, tomato and fresh mozzarella. So simple, yet so delicious. I usually eat it cold at home with some oil and vinegar. Amore in Scarsdale makes the best chicken parm slice. I don't even love chicken parm, but this slice is delicious. Up near Westchester Community College on Virginia road there was a place that I believe is still there, but they made the best lasagna slice around. They also made a tuna salad slice that was odd, but wonderful. S&J on Garth Road, my old stomping grounds made the best salad pizza I ever tasted. To this day, I've yet to have one better. I have no idea why it was so good, it just was.

So what's my favorite slice. What's the one place I'd travel to for a slice. The slice I actually miss on occasion? Let me first say I don't like Sicilian slices. I actually hate them. I didn't even like the thought of ordering one. Then one day I tasted a Sicilian slice from a little bakery at 2240 31ST St in Astoria, Queens called Rose & Joe's Italian Bakery. It's a simple slice. Perfectly cooked, thinner crust than your traditional Sicilian slice. Nicely melted mozzarella and the sauce. The sauce is the pis de resistance. Every time you go, it tastes a little different, but the smell and the flavor of the rosemary and other Italian seasonings just pops in your mouth. Every bite is better than the previous one. It's so good that when I have a pie in the fridge. I will eat a cold slice while waiting for the others to warm. The first time I ever had it, I ate eight slices. While anyone reading this is screaming, Glutton! I dare you to stop eating this. My brother, who has much different taste buds than mine also loved it. So far, I've given it to a few people and nobody has disliked it. Maybe it's over hyped by the time I give it to them, but it's still loved by everyone who has it.

Only one thing beats having it at home. Having it there, while standing in the bakery. Smelling the fresh baked breads and cookies, the local women yelling their orders in Italian. The care that goes into the simple act of cutting your slice. The tastes of one slice while waiting for a pie. I've never been to Italy, but for a brief moment, I am someplace that is not Astoria. For a brief moment, I'm in a special place. Maybe a kid again, loving pizza for that moment. More than anything in the world.