Sunday, February 07, 2010

The Superbowl is over and it was, actually, a pretty good game. Now for the commercials:

My favorites:
Snickers with Betty White was very funny and I loved Abe Vigoda's cameo.
Tim Tebo "Choose Life"....While I don't agree with the message it is well done. I had thought this was going to be a whole series of ads during the game.
Doritos - Keep Your Hands off My Momma and The Casket were the best; the others weren't as funny.
NCIS - Head Slap....I don't watch the show but this was effective and broke out of the normal show promo formula.
Simpsons/Coke - did Fox know about that? - wasn't funny until the hot tub at the end
Budweiser - Bridge Out.....a very good sight gag
Letterman Promo...I give points to Leno for doing this even though we all know Dave will win.
Career Builder - Casual Fridays...I laughed my ass off at this one!
Bud Light - plane crash.....I first thought it was going to be a "Lost" parody; very funny.
Dr Pepper - Kiss....This was a nice expansion on the Gene Simmons commercial. The Mini-Kiss was kewl. WOW
Intel - Intel 15 and the depressed robot was cute
VW - Punch Buggy EXCELLET
Google - relationship by search was very smartly written
Budweiser - kleisdales ALWAYS win
Audi - Green Police Excellent

The ones that sucked:
Dove for Men....did not living up to the hype before hand
Carmax with drama gopher would have been funny 4 years ago
E Trade - I am tired of the talking baby
Census - this ad made no sense at all
Doritos - Dog collar....stupid
Taco Bell - Could do without Barkley rapping
Bridgestone - bachelor, nice punchline of tossing the whale but I could see it coming.
Dockers - no pants...could have been placed at a better time than after a much funnier Career Builder spot

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Anyone who thinks Rahm Emanuel's comment was "appalling...insensitive" and akin to a racial slur IS a retard.

Before you get voodoo dolls out; let me explain.

First, I was raised in a house where I learned tolerance. There is no one single person on this planet who is one iota better or worse a person that you are regardless of who they are, what they look like, how they live their lives or any mental or physical difference or limitation. One of my best friends has a son with Autism and Spina Bifida. I camped out for the opening of Star Wars Episode I and raised money for Spina Bifida charities. Another good friend is confined to a wheel chair and I think of him as a friend; the chair is a non-factor of our relationship. When I was a teenager my mother and I worked with a group of patients from a state run mental institution; meeting with them weekly in an arts and crafts therapy group.

No one could say I am insensitive to the life of someone who is either one of "God’s children with cognitive and developmental disabilities — and the people who love them".

Here's how I see what is being referred to as "The R Word". Being of the same generation as Mr. Emanuel I can draw on the cultural history to believe this is probably how he views the word as well.

I used the word "retard" when I was a kid. It was a word I used when I had a limited and short focused view of the world. I used words like "pussy" and "faggot" and many others that a pre-adolescent uses to lash out in ignorance at the world around him. To call someone a "retard" would mean that they were the stupidest person alive. By using the word we also attached ourselves with a certain amount of "coolness" because we were using a word we knew wasn't parentally approved; we were saying something "bad".

In those 30 some-odd years since then I have become a more worldly person; respectful of others and empathetic towards those who have had a harder life than mine. When and if I use the word "retard" I am not associating the target of my insult with any actual person or person(s) but that outdated image of a stereotype and the juvenile way I thought of it at that time. If I call you a retard I am not associating you with what I know to be a person who has honest to goodness challenges to their life; to that would be an insult to someone with a disability. If I call you a retard I am saying not only are you stupid but are as stupid, if not more, than that redicilious and outdated caricature from the past.

OK, I may be over-thinking this and I may only be explaining things as I perceive them; it's a lot like trying to explain a joke to someone who doesn't get it. Another thing to remember is that Mr. Emanuel made this comment in private; it's not as if he printed it on White House stationery. Also, the people to which he was referring were "stupid". To think this is a reason for him to be fired from his job fill in the blank.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

I guess one of the reasons I haven't blogged so much in the past few months would have to be Facebook.

I had signed up on it a long time ago but didn't really start using it until this summer. I quickly got in to the habit of those simple, little updates. I could spit out an opinion in 10 seconds and get on with life; so much easier than typing a whole dissertation here.

But then I started missing the depth to which I could write here. Sure, I had fun lighting a liberal fire and pissing off conservatives with one or two words but not everything can be covered in a quick little blurb. So, don't worry...the blog will continue.

I have enjoyed what has to be the best part of Facebook; connecting with old friends. This has been so much easier than it was on MySpace and I haven't figured out why. Maybe its because Facebook is so much more low maintenance than MySpace was. No designing a home page and adding all kinds of crap; everyone's page is the same. Sure, there's the distracting games and quizzes but those are easily ignored.

If you've been reading this for a while, then you know how much a nostalgic person I can be. Facebook feeds that perfectly.I have reconnected with old school friends, neighbors and more. There are some people who know people I know and add me but I haven't got a clue who some of them are but it doesn't seem as annoying as the game of "adding" people as there was on MySpace. I have found my first wife and "almost" third wife. I tried connecting with the first (never heard back from her) and never felt the need to reach out to the other....yet.

OK, so maybe nostalgia can be a little dangerous!

Friday, January 01, 2010

OK, almost three months of no posts is going to be too much to update. My non-posting has been a mixture on little motivation and lots on the plate. But now the holidays are over and I just spent the most amazing 20 minutes with my son.

I missed attending his graduation from Navy Basic Training; which sucked, and then missed plans screwed up not being able to have a weekend with him on his first bit of leave since leaving months ago. So, on his bus ride back to Pensacola he had a short stop just up the road. I grabbed his Christmas gifts and headed off for the bus station. A few minutes late the bus rolled into the parking lot and I stood waiting in the cold for him. What got off the bus was not the same child I saw over the summer.

A tall, well-self-carrying, handsome man in a Navy khaki uniform walked toward me. It was the same feeling I had when I held him in my arms as a newborn and looked into his eyes for the first time. Only this time, I had to look up to make eye contact.

He and I know exactly how to buy for each other; I had gotten him a hardcover Mad Magazine book and flash drive loaded with The Beatles newly mastered catalog for his MP3 player and he got me a beautifully framed graduation photo and Simpson's Bartman collector doll.

Since his time was limited, he had to go inside to get a drink and snack before the bus took off again. I just had to step back and watch him. He moved with a confidence I had never seen in him before. Every move he made was amazing to me. To look at this man and to know he was the same person I used to carry on my shoulders was an indescribable joy.

His girlfriend was traveling with him as far as Orlando, so I got to say final goodbyes to the both of them. He is going to be in Pensacola for another 5 months or so before getting his assignment so there will be opportunities for us to visit together before he goes where ever Uncle Sam sends him and I can hardly wait.

I hugged him goodbye and turned away from the bas back towards my car. I was using the excuse of the cold wind irritating my eyes for the tears that came. Yeah; that was a believable excuse!

Friday, October 02, 2009

The focus of my trip to RI was a reunion of the Warwick Vets High School Chorale Tour of Yugoslavia from 1984 and this was an amazing weekend. My friend, Wayne picked me up at Greene Airport. It felt as if yesterday was the last time I had seen him and this was a feeling that went through the whole event.

I had the chance to relax at my sister's house before we got into the whole wake and funeral for Uncle Mike. The first real reunion activity was a social gathering as a pool hall and bar in nearby Cranston. We all caught up with each other and compared notes on the trip we shared together and our lives since. Only about half of those who went on the trip made it but that did not take away from the joy of seeing these friends again after so long.

Saturday morning was our rehearsal. It was the first time I had been back in Vets in decades and it was an overload of memories. Each step sparked another image from the past. I cold picture what I did on a certain area, who I had talked with and what we had said. The richness of these memories was amazing.

The backstage door to the main auditorium was ajar and I couldn't resist. All of the rehearsals, concerts, plays, stage crew meetings, drama club and times I ditched class hiding in the maintenance access room added up to the most time I had spent in any one room in the whole building. The floor creaked in all the same places and the sound was comforting. The same spotlights hung overhead and it actually looked as if they had replaced the wing curtains I tried throwing away in 1980 although the main curtains looked familiar as did the frayed ropes which opened and closed them.

I stood at center stage and looked down and what must have been some of the same tape markings that had been there when I played the Cowardly Lion, Charlie Brown and Sherlock Holmes. In my mind I ran through lines from each of the plays I had done on that stage. For old times sake I broke into the opening to a number from "you're a Good Man, Charlie Brown" which I had frozen on in front of hundreds of my classmates and remembered every word. It felt good to be there again.

I walked into what had been Uncle Mike's office. It had been changed into a piano practice room with six electric keyboards filling the space. As I stood in the doorway all I could see was Uncle Mike's desk. Covered with sheet music and in one corner a small cactus and a porcelain figure which bore a certain resemblance to the man behind the desk. This was also the room from where I had done the morning announcements all four years. I couldn't move past the threshold for fear my presence would dissipate the memories. I stood there and the tears started. I was missing Uncle Mike all over again.

Rehearsal was ready to begin and proved an even stranger experience. We were handed our music and took our places on the risers. I don't have the best posture while sitting and enjoy my life of slouching in my recliner at home and my throne sized executive chair at work. It wasn't until we were halfway through rehearsal before I noticed that simply out of habit, because I was there to sing and it was what Uncle Mike expected, that I was bolt upright seated on the edge of my seat. Habits that had been pummeled into my head 30 years ago came back like DNA encoding.

Also ingrained in our brains were the words and notes to each song. When we finished each time we all looked at each other in amazement that we seemed to sound just like we did "in the day".

All of my feeling of nostalgia were evaporated the moment the members of the current Vets Chorus entered the room to join us. They are little CHILDREN!!!! INFANTS!!!! I had seen my son grow through puberty, so seeing kids this age was nothing foreign to me. This was different! They were here in the same place I used to hang out. We all looked as if we still belonged there...not these children. We could never have been that small, that thin or that gawky. They were the interlopers! They were the new kids playing in our sandbox.

We all sang together and actually blended very well. The concert at the reunion was shaping up to being something special. I'll get into that in the next post. After rehearsal I found out my sister had been rushed to the hospital the previous evening with what would end up being kidney stones. I called her and told her that if she wanted to avoid spending time with me while I was in town she could have just told me.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Funerals suck. I think we can all agree on that. I had missed a number of important ones in the past few months but circumstances and borrowed money put me in the right place and time to be able to fly back to Rhode Island for Uncle Mike’s. I knew it was going to be an emotional one but I wasn’t quite expecting some of the emotions I went through.

As soon as we walked into the funeral home memories started flooding in. On the PA system they were playing our old Chorale recordings. All around the sitting rooms were photos from all stages of Uncle Mike’s life.

And then there were the people.

Old friends I had not seen in almost 30 years filled the room. We hugged, we caught up and we even laughed over old times. I think we also laughed at how old we had all gotten. As more and more came in it was a game to see if you were able to put the current face with the person you remembered from back in F-Wing. My ears perked up when I heard a familiar voice that hadn’t changed a bit, “Jimmy! Where’s Bevans!” I looked around following the same old, scratchy voice, “Why is Jimmy’s voice coming out of that old guy’s head?!”

Mrs. Brown, our accompanist, looked exactly as she did the last time I saw her in the late 80’s. I thought there must be a “Dorian Gray” portrait of her somewhere until a friend reminded me that she was probably using just as many cosmetics now as she did back then.

I was fine with all of these reunions and was glad that none of the grief bubbled to the surface as I had felt would come with this funeral until I glanced up and made eye contact with an old and special friend.

Jill and I had dated back in school and even after we broke up stayed friends and deepened that friendship. While we hadn’t talked in over 20 years we had reconnected on Facebook there was something about looking into her eyes. Across the room I felt as if we immediately felt and shared the grief of our loss of Uncle Mike. Also, in just that momentary glance, was all of the emotion that tied us together back when we walked the same halls, the sadness of a friendship lost over time and the joy of being together again.

All that took place in 3 seconds; the time it took me to look up, stand up and plow my way across the room and sweep my arms around her. And then we cried. As I hugged her tighter I could feel my sobs shaking against hers. “Damn you”, I said “I was fine till you got here!” We laughed, dried our tears and, after she went through the receiving line, caught up with each others lives.

The receiving line? Oh, yeah the real reason for being there.

Uncle Mike looked exactly as I remembered him. I held my tears pretty much in check, although with a huge lump in my throat holding them back. Just like with the other reunions happening in that room it was good to reconnect with the rest of the Kroian family. They all were very appreciative of my having come all the way from Florida.

There was this one moment that happened just as I was preparing to leave which shows how deep the influence Mike had on me. As I stood at the casket before I left, one of the old Chorale songs was playing. With the familiar tune playing and Uncle Mike there before me more and more memories came into focus. I could see his hands massaging the sound and his face either emoting or wincing. Suddenly, I starting singing along. I caught myself before others noticed but it was enough to make me smile at the memories.

The funeral the next day was a traditional Armenian service. The funeral procession was one of the few which came close to equaling the size of my father's as we wound our way from Warwick to Providence and back to the cemetery in West Greenwich. The weather held out with a bright sun and gentle autumn breeze as we filed past leaving flowers on the tomb cover as we left Uncle Mike at his final resting place.

Because there had been a years time to prepare for this, the family seemed able to deal easier with the loss. Added to that the reunion feel to seeing old friends at every turn took much of the sting out of this funeral and the Yugoslav reunion was a perfect coda to the whole things.

But that is tomorrow's blog.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

It has been two days since I got back from my trip to Rhode Island. I have gnawed my way through the loaf of Portuguese sweet bread, one of the three cans on Narragansett Beer, a quart of coffee milk and my New York System hot weenie meat sauce is simmering on the stove. It was quite a trip.

The reason I had not posted soon is due how emotionally overwhelming this trip was. This may actually take more than one post to cover everything about the trip; let me start with the reasons for the trip.

Originally, it was supposed to be John and I going home to show him off to family before he goes into the Navy tagged onto a reunion of the 1984 Warwick Vets High School Chorale Yugoslavian Tour. Then Julie happened, money got tight and I couldn’t afford to bring John. Then it looked as if I wouldn’t even be able to attend the reunion; as of two weeks ago; I was ready to throw in the towel.

Then Uncle Mike died.

Mike Kroian was the director of the Chorale but his influence went way beyond simply his hunching over a music stand and waving his arms at us. For the 9 years I was actively associated with the Chorale and since, Uncle Mike had taught me “life lessons”.

I showed up for his summer rehearsals having no idea what involvement with the Chorus and Chorale would mean for me. While I could carry a tune I could barely read music and had nothing near to level of ability those in the rest of the practice room had. However, Mike Kroian took me in.

All around me were people like me; artistic, expressive and, at one level or another, talented kids. They all called the director “Uncle Mike” as if it were a family. As I continued to attend rehearsals I heard a new language; the F-Wing Language. Strange words like “Zubar” and “Ah-Fa-Bo” were common place and I wanted to learn them all.

I’m always amazed that Paul McCartney can tell you the first words he said to John Lennon at the church fair where he met John Lennon. I don’t know how it happened but within days I was sharing a locker with Jay Kingston; a junior who would be an important part of my life for many years before a rift not unlike that which destroyed the Beatles.

In the midst of all this was Uncle Mike. Trying to sum up all of my experiences or finding the most poignant is like picking your favorite child. I remember when he was livid with me for oversleeping on the Yugoslavian tour and missing our first concert there. I remember the look in his eyes when he finally, in my senior year, let me join the Chorale even though my voice wasn’t really at its best. It was my last chance and he knew how hard I had worked each year and how much it meant to me. I remember a drive in his two seat MG. It was just him and me and he shared his own problems growing up with an illness and how he overcame it. With him it was polio and mine was asthma. I took his example as inspiration and it gave me the determination I would need later in life.

He took me places on this planet I never dreamed I would see. I stood with him at the tomb of David Ben Gurion and looked out onto the Negev desert. At the Diaspora Museum he talked about the Armenian Holocaust and I felt his ethnic pride. I danced beside him in a pub in Austria and heard him laugh with that beaming smile. Those and thousands of other memories; some good and some bad, because life isn’t always perfect, will stay with me forever. I can still feel his large hand resting on my shoulder. I can hear his voice booming at me for doing something wrong….again. I can hear his laughter. The excitement in his voice sharing a letter from college from alum, Mike Cheney. I can see those hands moving in front of me as the coerced a particular sound and intonation during a performance as if he could reach into me and mold it. I can also feel the last hug I got from him on a visit home 5 years ago.

That’s as best I can do to try to sum all of the emotions and memories I have of Uncle Mike. It’s inadequate, I know because those memories are a deeply rooted part of me. Those memories of all my time in F-Wing went into making me who I am today and I have no possible way of fathoming how different a person I would be if I had never met him.

In my next post I’ll talk about the funeral itself.