Sunday, January 17, 2010

It's Poetry Time- Ode to the Bear Bar

Ode to the Bear Bar

Ode to the Bear Bar
Where we squandered our precious youth,
With actors, roadies, firemen
And a Rockette from Duluth.

Not quite Hogs and Heifers
But not all that far.
Give us your homely, your chubby, your Lazy-eyed
Adam will let you dance on the bar.

A sea of bridge and tunnel people;
Vulgar, violent and loud;
And Kylie’s breasts with a bedazzled message
High above the crowd.

For all the pretty girls we offered the famous
bottomless cup of Bear Juice;
Perfect for persuading them to take off their bra
And hang them on the moose (not Mitch)

Bartenders famous for their repartee
And heavy pouring hand
Let’s not forget the night they smoked up
With Ray Charles’ backup band.

The smell as clear as yesterday
Our memory never fogs
Wet wood, beer, tobacco
And Billy’s disgusting dogs

We never did find our New Years Eve coats
Though we always kept on hoping.
Who says all beer coolers need to actually open?

It’s been 15 years since we left there
And we are all still kind of grieving
We all remember going to the Bear Bar
Yet none of us actually remember leaving.

So, how is this family values?
The moral is to embrace your youth and enjoy the memories without judgment. And never have more than two Bear Juices…ever.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Zelda Fitzgerald Sings the Blues

Ten year ago Doug and I were at a dinner party and I briefly mentioned one of Plato’s dialogues because it was germane to the conversation. The gentleman I was conversing with looked quizzical and Doug pointed at me at laughed. “Beth,” Doug said, through bouts of bent over hysterics, “nobody actually read Plato but you and your geeky college friends.” The gentleman was quick to disagree, “Hey I think read it…the Cliff Notes.” Doug continued to laugh about the exchange for two weeks.
While I do not, by any means, consider myself the purveyor of high culture (unless you consider Campbells soup based slow cook casseroles haute cuisine), I am undeniably no a stranger to it. I am a graduate of Marymount Manhattan College. Need I say more? I do?
Marymount Manhattan College is located in a very exclusive section of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. 221 East 71st Street. There is a tree in Central Park located in quiet romantic spot far from the murmur of tourists clamoring to get their picture taken on the carousel and shove their family through the miniature zoo that lovers go to for an afternoon canoodle. On the base of the tree it is carved: Marymount Manhattan College loves Marymount Manhattan College …as if it really needed to be written. Everyone who knows the school is aware of its affection for itself. My college looked down its brownstone nose at, well, everyone. The one acceptation was our next door neighbor, the Daughters of the American Revolution. Now, I live on the north shore of Long Island. I’ve met some …people. Yet the sense of entitlement concentrated at 219 East 71st Street can be seen blue as Baby Dean’s eyes from the Clark belt. Marymount Manhattan finds them good company.
This is not to say I have anything but love in my heart for my alma mater. I pray that the girls choose to go there and I will try, with every propagandistic bone in my body to sway them over the Tri-borough.
Marymount Manhattan (Don't you dare call us Marymount) wasn’t just a college education, it was an education in culture with New York City as it’s campus and Central Park as it’s quad. I don’t know of anyone else who had Art Theory as a part of their core curriculum. And we didn’t just sit in a darkened classroom looking at slides; we were required to go to all the major museums and a handful of “important” galleries. Another core curriculum course was Understanding Theater where Thursday evenings we went to see a Broadway or Off Broadway play followed by drinks and discussion with our professor “Gordon” who always seemed to know someone in the show. For Contemporary World Cinema we were given a full access pass to the New York Film Festival. Marymount Manhattan was not your normal college. Nobody was skipping class (would you?) and everyone was prepared every day with whatever reading was required, whether it be an article, chapter or book. It was truly an amazing educational experience that taught me in five short years, culture at its highest snow crested tip.
It is because of this extensive exposure to the epoch of high falutincy that I feel justified and validated engaging in the lowest cultural activities.
Television- I can give, on command, an engaging two hour lecture on the invention of the television, beautifully and vividly describing Philo Farnsworth as a prepubescent farm worker in the early 1900’s plowing his daddy’s field and coming up with the idea for progressive scanning, the technology that made television possible (I have given this lecture to students at 8am- it really is engaging). I can theoretically discuss how television led to the creation of modern notions of masculinity. I can point to four different sources that argue, nay prove, that the television industry is the core of the American economy. Yet what do I watch? Masterpiece Theater? NO. Meet the Press? NO. Inside the Actors Studio (Sometimes). What I watch religiously; avoiding all social engagements that fall on that night; schlepping from library to library on the off season in search of an episode I may have missed is Ghost Whisperer.
Yes, Ghost Whisperer. How do I know that Ghost Whisperer is the bottom of the taste totem pole?Do you watch it? No. I have yet to meet anyone who watches it. I surround myself with highly intelligent people (good looking to boot). None of them watch it. Even the less intelligent people that destiny has surrounded me with look at me funny when I admit my fandom. People generally have the same reaction when I tell them; embarrassment. Not for themselves but for me. I have to admit it is hard for me to keep a straight face when I tell people I watch this show. In fact, I saw an interview with Jennifer Love Hewitt and her bosoms recently I they couldn’t keep a straight face when they talked about it either. It really is silly. I have to follow it up with a more credible and culturally accepted show that I watch, The Girls Next Door.
Theater- This is the original reason I conceived of this posting. “Motha” and father went to see Mama Mia on Broadway and were so enthralled (much like Klein) that they were moved to call me during intermission. “We are getting you and Doug tickets to this for Valentine’s day” Motha squealed. To which my response was “NO THANKS.” I have not use for live theater. To me live theater is like a low budget film with poor distribution. There is a highly intellectual reason for my distain for live theater: my media consumption is based on the escapism qualities of the text. I engage in media that saturates the senses thus leaving little need for suspension of disbelieve. There is also a less intellectual reason: Plays suck.
Literature- Shakespeare is MY category on Jeopardy. I started out as an English major and was seduced, much like a middle aged man to an eighteen year old blond, to the study of Communication. But I racked up enough hours on the fifth floor of 221 East 71st street to study my share of the greats. The week before my first winter break, inspired by a conversation with our brilliant chair about The Catcher in the Rye, several of us book junkies took a personal walking journey of Holden Caulfield’s path through Manhattan (…jealous much?) My first college paper that I earned an “a” was comparing early Vonnegut to late Vonnegut. Last week I placed my order for the most recent Jackie Collins novel, Poor Little Bitch Girl. I was so excited I could hardly click enter. Thank god she wrote another one. JC pumps out two a year now and as time rolls by so does her apparent regard for grammar and syntax. Yet much like my daily 4:59 pm glass of chardonnay, I really can’t resist the allure.
Film- This may be the most embarrassing of all. My first gig as a college professor was teaching Advanced Film Theory and Criticism at Marist College. This is the class where students learned about Soviet Montage Theory on the first day- literally. I had to show Das Cabinet Des Dr. Cagliari, a German Expressionist film from 1920, not because we were going to be studying it, but because I would be making fleeting references to it throughout the semester. I recall the day my chair asked me what movie I had seen most recently. My answer was Bedazzled- Elizabeth Hurley and Brandon Frazer! Well, it was my turn to pick the movie and I have a girl crush on Liz Hurley. Sadly, I have no excuse for seeing Dude Where’s My Car for ten dollars a pop or seeing Bring It On on opening night. My saving grace is that I can point to a myriad of professional journals that can explain why these films are popular with the masses. Also, I refer to them as films as opposed to movies which proves I is smart.
Clothing- This is my real guilty pleasure. Recently I applied for a position teaching at a CUNY college. I got the job, but I was required to submit three letters of recommendation. One of them was from one of my favorite former collegues, a Fulbright scholar, who sent me a copy of the letter for my perusal. This colleague, bless her heart, wrote a whole paragraph about how stylish I was. Think back to your professors in college. Would you describe any of them as “fashionable”? No? As a general rule fashion and an interest in it beyond writing papers about how it subjugates females is looked down upon in academia. I can’t help it. Fashion is in my blood. My great grandfather was a ragman- if that doesn’t spell haute couture I don’t know what does.
The moral of this posting, and what I hope to pass on to the kids is that you can like whatever you want but learn everything you can so you can make an informed decision and argue your point of view with credibility.
A few years ago Doug and I went to another dinner party and somehow on the way we started talking about Zelda. Doug never heard of her. Zelda Fitzgerald…he still had no clue. When I told him it was F. Scott Fitzgerald’s wife, muse and inspiration the character of “Daisy” in the Great Gatsby he responded with vague recognition at some of the words. He then defied me to find one person at the dinner party that night who knew who Zelda Fitzgerald was. Thank you Jared- the only person, out of twelve college graduates sitting around a fancy table at a swanky steakhouse on the north shore of Long Island, a stone’s throw from West Egg who knew who Zelda was. In disbelief I turned up my nose and dug into my cheese burger and Malibu Bay Breeze.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

We Are Not The Cosbys....

As you probably have figured out by now, we are not The Cosbys.

Remember when there were just a few cable channels and we all watched the same thing. Wasn't that great? I watched the Bill Cosby "Himself" concert over and over again for months. Great concert! It was on the same VCR tape with another favorite of mine (I'd watch that right before watching "Hair" the movie - another discussion entirely). From the concert the show was created and when Theo came down the steps singing "Night and Day", I (1) immediately became a Ray Charles fan and (2) thought does this really happen? Maybe someday, this is what it would be like.... It is not.

But traditional family values don't come from a doctor marrying a lawyer or all the kids going to the best colleges. I was a pizza bagel (Remember how good they were, what happenned to them? Why don't they serve them at parties anymore?). I would sit around the Chanukah table in Forest Hills, Queens eating matzoh-ball soup one night and then a different table in Marlboro (near Newburgh) with sausage and meatballs (on top of pasta of course) the next night for Christmas Eve. What a difference between the two tables. The Chanukah table had people talking one at a time. One person would ask a question, another person would answer, and everyone else would listen. Not much talking loud and very few arguments that I can remember. The Christmas Eve table had 15 people or so around it with 13 of them talking at the same time. The volume was always loud with Sinatra usually being drowned out in the background. And yes there were a few more arguments.... ok, maybe more than a few. Neither one of them, The Cosbys.

My wife Beth, her family, also not The Cosbys.

We are also not the Bunkers. the Stivics. the Bradys (Mike and Carol or Bo and Hope). the Drummonds. the Keatons. the Petris. the Waltons. the Munsters or the Adams. We are not the Simpsons, the Griffins, the Jetsons, the Flintstones, or Carton's Mom. We are not My Two Dads (we are much funnier than that), Ms. Romano, Mrs. Garrett, Mr. Belvedere or Benson.

My father always said, "Do as I say, not as I do". I won't say that. "Take the good from us and learn from the bad". That's what he said, so thats what I did.

traditional family values from an untraditional family...... thats why Beth is the writer in the family. she knows how to say it. I'm going to try and keep up.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It's Storytime Everyone! Today's Tale: The Pot Farmer's New Basketball Sneakers

Gather ‘round kids. Today’s story is how grandpa getting dumped in the mid sixties led to Baby Dean perfecting his downward dog… at 18 months.
Yes, my father got dumped. Your father got dumped. You got dumped. Everyone gets dumped.
When Barbara ditch dad and moved to “Frisco”…wait I ‘m getting ahead of myself. Barbara gave dad the dreaded ultimatum…marry me or I am moving to Frisco. Dad of course never thought she would go through with it. Off she went.
So, when Barbara ditched dad and moved to “Frisco” he was distraught. With good reason. The krodacrome of his mind captured her as the hippest Jew broad Brooklyn had ever birthed. She seemed to have popped right out a of a Kerouac novel (and not “On the Road.” One of the cooler obscure works that all those hot misunderstood art punks in high school toted around under their arms in attempts to legitimize their general distain.) Barbara was surely the muse of one of the better beats. She had six feet of moxy stuffed into a kickin five foot frame and an unspellable last name. To top it off she lived in a cramped Greenwich Village apartment with 100 other young hipsters each paying like 3.50 a month to live a block from Washington Square Park. She was by all accounts a college kid from the borough’s dream girl.
But she left (men, take a note-sometimes it is not just an ultimatum)
I was lucky enough to meet Barbara once. I sat between her and my mother at dinner one night years later. She regaled me with tails of the pot farm in Northern California where her and her husband lived off the land. I understand the allure. For the next six months I was convinced she was my real mother (sorry mom).
As is the fate of all men stupid enough not to accept a woman’s marriage ultimatum, Dad fell into a deep depression. He discovered that going to work every day and watching your bank account slowly grow because no woman is there to spend it was not as fun as it sounded in the brochure. It was depressing. As he puts it “it was a very dark time.” In the sixties there were not the psychotropic quick fixes that there are today. You couldn’t just pop a Prozac until you were better able to cope. There was really just the ever popular stewing. And so, Dad stewed for a few years. During the ski season he lifted his head up out of the SAD STEW to go skiing and nail a few young snow bunnies (my family is very detail oriented when we have storytime) but during the off season he was back to Chez Stew.
Cue the inspirational music…
Until one day in the spring when for no apparent reason, after sulking all morning, he put on a pair of basketball sneakers he had laying around (in Brooklyn pickup basketball is a religion). Well, rather than playing basketball he jogged around a park. A very small park- they recently had the whole thing carpeted (sorry quick Arthur joke). It took him all of five minutes to run it. But he felt OK. The next day he jogged around it twice.
Flash-forward to 1982. His wife (not Barbara) and three charming offspring perched near the finish line of the New York City Marathon. And here comes Dad in his big 1970’s Art Garfunkel afro (yes it was the 80’s…we tried to tell him the look was over)waddling down the lower loop of Central Park, leaning exhaustedly toward the left. How did I know it was the lower loop? We waited at the same spot every year for him to finish the marathon for over a decade. In fact, all our weekends were spent waiting at various finish lines throughout the Northeast to see that left leaning waddle.
Dad discovered that as long as he ran the depression (Which he just called “dark times”) never came back. So, he ran and we all watched…and cheered…and eventually ran too.
All our family plans revolved around “well, first daddy is going to go running, and then…”. He never looked at a day and said “can I run today?” he looked at it and said “when can I run today?”
Flash Forward even further to this morning. It was 22 degrees here in New York. I put on a pair of pantyhose, faux acid wash leggings left over from Jr. high, Hard Tail foldovers in a color I am sure I must have been temporarily color blind to have even entertained buying and fleece pajamas. On top I had a truly unnecessary sports bra, a long sleeve t-shirt and thermal long sleeve t-shirt, a Ralph Lauren cashmere sweater that Doug must have been temporarily color blind to have even entertained buying for me and Doug’s grey Champion sweatshirt circa 1988, worn inside out (how else would you wear it?). I waved bye-bye to Baby Dean and Grandma “A” who watch me jog off at the front window every morning and I ran. I have no reason why. I just do. I have a treadmill but when asked why I don’t use it I give the same response that my father used to give. I shrug and say I like the road.
You would think that the kids are too young to exercise (I did not formally start until I was six and my mother gave me access to her Jane Fonda cassette and corresponding booklet). But alas the kids say “Mommy let’s do yogurt” and we go through the fifteen yoga positions they know. Baby Dean tries, but so far he has only mastered the pencil, the eraser and the downward dog ...typical male.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Thank God My Daughters Have My Ass

Thank god the girls have my ass. It’s pretty great. Plus it makes me feel a little less guilty about all the other horrible characteristics genetic destiny has burdened them with. My twin 3 year old daughters have PDD, or what I like t call “autism-lite”. Each and every characteristics that the possess that classifies them as pdd they get from me, but back in the 70s and 80s kids who had these characteristics were just called “a handful” or “rambunctious”. My mother always said she hoped I got one just like me so I could see what she went through. I got two of me.
Carly Simon is the younger one. Like me she is highly sensory. Carly does not just want to eat the pudding; she must rub between her fingers and see how it feels on her nose. Her hugs are so tight it feels like she will break you…and mind you she is only three.
Sam Malone is a minute older. Her issue is social. She likes her world very ordered and controlled so dealing with other people is problematic. As we know, people don’t always like to be controlled…especially by a three year old.
Though these are by no means the extent of their pdd traits I am comforted by the fact that I am as highly functioning as I am. Other parents of kids at similar levels as Sam and Carly are also comforted by how functional I am. I tell them as the kids grow up they will learn to control many of their characteristics and become simply annoying. Ask Doug…I am annoying. But for each annoying behavior there is a pdd characteristic that is being kept at bay and that is good. For example, my back teeth are rotted out because during college I found I could sit through a lecture and pay attention if I had an Atomic Fireball in my mouth. The strong flavor gave me enough stimulatory input to concentrate for hours on end. Would I like a nicer smile? Of course. But I graduated magna cum laude because of the Atomic Fireballs.
I don’t worry about Sam and Carly. They will learn to deal with their lot with exercise, candy, cigarettes or whatever else will help…and very tight jeans.