Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas

Spending my holidays with my family..and a cold. Picked up a few unwanted presents on Saturday, namely a sore throat and runny nose, so I'm medicating that. Plus, I'm rebounding from a stomach flu from last week. Anyway, I'm drinking tea and eating nominally and taking it easy. I did manage to play with my cousin's kid last night. Kids have an infinite amount of energy and can function hyperactively for hours. The kid was literally into everything and scampering around the house, tormenting the cat, and switching off the Christmas tree lights. Anyway, it's good to be with family during the holidays.
I recently watched a few holiday classics: Miracle on 34th Street, A Christmas Story and It's A Wonderful Life. I think Hollywood will never make a great Christmas movie again. Those three are completely perfect in expressing humanity and putting life in perspective. Each one uses Christmas as a way to say something greater about us, about the need to reach out and touch the lives of others and to embrace families and those around us. Kris Kringle, Ralphie and George Bailey are three different characters speaking with individual voices, but through each of them you get a few distinct messages: imagination, preservation of youth and memories past and doing the right thing for your fellow humans. Today's crass commercialism and the bullshit tug-of-war over "Keeping Christ in Christmas" these intrinsic things espoused by these movies gets lost. We're left a lot colder and hollow this time of year instead of filled with a sense of compassion and compelled towards goodwill. We're left thinking about material needs and social battles instead of uniting in charity and love and sharing the warmth of a fire or a hearty meal with those closest or not so close to us. We're shouted at about secularization, the ludicrousness of "holiday trees" and "happy holidays" from Christians who do anything but turn the other cheek. We're left with comparisons of the Grinch and Scrooge instead of Jesus, who wanted people to love their enemies and be more charitable and just. Does it matter that Christmas originated as a pagan festival of Yule, celebrating the winter solstice, the darkest time of year, when people gathered together to stay warm? Maybe the true warmth of this time of year is coming together and sharing the love of family and friends and celebrating making it through another year. Life's too short to argue about petty political talking points. It's about what Kris Kringle, Ralphie and George Bailey went through in their travails - learning that people matter. They really do, and the older you get you realize how the family you couldn't stand when you were a teenager, the idiot neighbor or the stranger you bump into on the subway actually are a part of you and have value and worth. Knowing this, and realizing we're all sharing a one-way ride on this spinning planet should fill you with humility, compassion and a newfound respect for life.
Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Hope in Humanity

A Brooklyn man, Walter Adler and his friend, responded to someone wishing them "Merry Christmas" aboard the Q train with "Happy Hanukkah". To his surprise, Adler was surrounded by people who didn't appreciate his mentioning Hanukkah. Maybe he was annoyed by hearing Christmas, or "the new C-word". Maybe he just wanted to mention Hanukkah and give it recognition and notoriety, after all, it is an important Jewish holiday celebrated around Christmastime.
Adler found himself cornered. One man showed Adler a tattoo of Jesus and said, "Happy Hanukkah. That's when the Jews killed Jesus."
Adler was surrrounded by 14 people who berated them with such gems as "Jew bitches" and "dirty Jews".
The fact that this shit is happening in modern New York is disturbing.
Here's what's hopeful about this story.
A Muslim man, Hassan Askari, jumped into the fray and tussled with Adler's attackers. Given the animosity between the two religions, this was a really good story. Askari, asked about the incident, replied, "I did what I had to do. My parents raised me that way."
One of the good things about this is their ages. Adler is 23 and Askari is 20. I like when young people throw off the prejudices of their fathers and embrace each other as equals. It's the way it should be. It doesn't matter what religion you are, how much money you have, the color of your skin or where you're from. What matters is the goodness you carry with you and whether you do the right thing.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Alien Invasion

They invaded my town, arriving without warning in the dead of night. I see them everywhere. They’re short, odd-looking and speak in a strange tongue. They’re assimilating, but you know they’re from Somewhere Else.
They’re aliens.
Illegal aliens.
They’re from Mexico and South America and they’re all over America. They’re hopping fences, crossing deserts and taking Greyhound Buses to get to your humble God-fearing town.
Okay, so it’s not a science fiction or horror movie, but if you listen to the pundits like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, you’ll think it was.
They’re breaking the law coming here, but what are we doing about it really?
Undocumented Mexicans are here in great numbers, but if this were really an issue of national security, you’d have them rounded up in the dead of night and shipped back to Mexico.
That’s not happening.
There’s been a lot of fear-mongering and paranoia over illegal immigration, as if these Mexicans are bogey men who’re stealing our jobs. What a joke that is! Like the line to apply as a lettuce picker or landscaping assistant is long. What about the much-coveted jobs of pumping gas or dish washer?
Sure, we have to pay for the health care, education and incarceration of illegal immigrants. But if they were citizens, we’d still have to pay for them. So let’s get down to what this argument really is about –foreign brown people are here, and that scares the shit out of many.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, 57 percent of illegal immigrants (5.9 million) in the United States are Mexican, with 24 percent (2.5 million) from other Latin American countries. So we’re not talking about an influx of Eastern Europeans here. Since the mid-1990s, the number of new unauthorized immigrants has equaled or exceeded the number of legal immigrants. About 80 to 85 percent of Mexican immigrants are illegal, according to a 2005 report by the Pew Hispanic Center.
Two-thirds of illegal immigrants live in eight states: California (24 percent), Texas (14 percent), Florida (9 percent), New York (7 percent), Arizona (5 percent), Illinois (4 percent), New Jersey (4 percent) and North Carolina (3 percent).
The report gives a profile of who the illegal Mexicans are: most are families, young and mostly all are employed. They’re poor, have low education, and low insurance
Illegal immigrants from Mexico crossed the United States’ southwestern borders to get here. Some overstay their visas when they’ve found work and keep working. Men, women and children came because America has opportunities Mexico lacks. They’re not Rhodes scholars or college graduates. They’re dirt poor immigrants who live shit lives. Some of them are criminals who fall into gangs. Yet most are just people who want to work hard and assimilate into their ethnic communities. Their kids learn English in our schools. Most of them don’t want to sell drugs or kill people. They just want a better life raising their families in America.
The American Dream.
Remember that? Remember getting a good education, hard work and prosperity?
Me neither. Those days are gone, replaced by the need to accumulate more status symbols and paying bills just to keep your head above water.
What are the jobs these undocumented, illegal Mexicans are taking from us? Farming, cleaning, construction, food preparation, drywall installers, grounds maintenance, packagers, maids and housekeepers, agricultural workers, dishwashers, cafeteria attendants, janitors, construction laborers, roofers, and painters.
Undocumented workers have an annual average income of $12,000 compared to natives who make an average of $24,000 annually. The average annual income for an undocumented immigrant family is $24,000 compared to $47,700 a native family earns.
The presidential candidates are asked about illegal immigration in every debate. Their responses vary, but most of them want illegals documented or deported. Some want to construct a physical fence along the borders, like this would stop anybody from crossing. Remember those drug smuggling tunnels under the border?
We can’t handle the problem of illegal immigration ourselves. We need to reach out to Mexico and solve this dilemma. We need to get Mexico to improve standards in their country so their own citizens have employment, good services and a better life there instead of here. Isn’t that what America currently specializes in? Telling other countries what to do?
Maybe we need to eliminate sanctuary cities and enable local authorities to enforce federal immigration laws.
If the government can dedicate officers, equipment and resources to stop a stoner from smoking a joint, why can't the government deport people who came to this country illegally?
But why would they?
Just think of the benefits of having illegals here, working under the table for low wages. It’s every unscrupulous employer’s dream. Of course some employers like illegal immigrants. It means they can pay them under the table and don’t have to pay taxes on them. Think of it as slavery without repealing the 13th Amendment: brown people doing shit work for meager reward.
Hey, it’s not like the government wants to hold employers accountable for hiring illegal immigrants. Heaven forbid!
Another fear is the Mexicans are streaming over the border in an attempt to seize control of the American Southwest and take back Aztlan, the ancestral home of the Aztec people. According to legend, the states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas are part of a vast territory called Aztlan, and that the Mexican immigrants are populating them on the pretext of an invasion.
Oh, no! They’re taking over the southwest one minimum wage job at a time!
The bottom line is this: if you really want to solve this problem of undocumented workers, solve it. Don’t dither and bitch about how the Mexican illegals are here and streaming across the borders.
Do something about it. Find them, deport them and fine the people who hired them. If you employed a serial rapist and you knew they were a serial rapist, guess what? You’re harboring a serial rapist and you should be held accountable.
We can solve this problem easily and not turn it into a political football. We need a leader who’ll stand up and do the right thing instead of paying lip service to special interests or xenophobes.
I’ve been told if you break the law in this country, you should be punished accordingly, unless you’re a celebrity and have the cash and influence to get out of trouble.
If the undocumented Mexicans who come here looking for work broke the law, then they should be deported and given a chance to legally become citizens.
Isn’t that what America is – a haven for freedom and place where people can better themselves and their families? Or was that whole “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breath free” just something to fill space at the Statue of Liberty? Should it even apply to Mexicans in the 21st century?

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Epiphany

The first snow of the season fell today, first in soft flurries, then in larger drifts covering Ocean City in a mantle of white wetness. Asbury Avenue resembled a Norman Rockwell Christmas card, holiday decorations hanging from the streetlights and the shops pimped out with Santas and evergreen garlands. Still, the gray day had a distinctive chill and snap to it. As I made my way to the convenience store, I felt the headcold I’ve nursed for the last few days return in a wave of muted sniffles. Nobody was in the store when I entered, besides a rotund guy behind the counter. Tattoos decorated his arms and he had pierced ears and a ring on every finger. He greeted me enthusiastically, “Hey, buddy how ya doin’?” People like that should ween themselves slowly off their meds, I thought as I placed the Styrofoam cup beneath the plastic nozzle of the hot chocolate dispenser. “Hey, pal! What’s up?” the man said, beaming.
“I’m okay,” I replied.
“That’s great!” he said jovially, and took my money.
Over my shoulder, as I exited, I heard him exclaim “All right! Yeah!” as he threw a wad of paper into a trashcan.
I made my way from the store, heavily burdened with ennui. What the hell happened to this country, the United States of America? We used to be a beacon of hope, a paramount civilization others aspired to emulate or join. We were the good guys, a bulwark of freedom, opportunity and fair play.
An insane dance between the left and the right fill the airwaves, blaming each other for the degradation of our culture and values and the destruction of America. Baby boomers, not content with retirement and living their lives in gated over 55 communities are fighting Vietnam over again, the counter culture unfurled their tie-dye T-shirts and are waving them in the establishment’s faces, however, they are the establishment. They make the rules. The ones who never questioned authority have become authority. No wonder we’re a nation of unblinking, unfeeling robots and automatons.
Republicans claim the liberals are turning America into a nightmare circus of gay sex, mindless political correctness and a cultural swamp, while Democrats blast conservatives for creating an atmosphere of fear, hatred and ignorance at the hands of Bible thumpers, warmongers and corporate greed. A lazy, indifferent and corrupt media airs the disputes, pettiness and trivial controversies nonstop.
No wonder why we’re so jaded.
No wonder we’re all fed up.
Viewing people as abstractions or by political affiliations, sexual preferences or national origins is far easier and convenient than accepting them as Americans.
This is what the corporate status quo really wants: divide us up by making us afraid. Instead of cooperating with each other and viewing each other as Americans, the peddlers of shit want to sire a nation of frightened, pissed off consumers and ideologists dedicated to the extreme right or extreme left.
Logic, reason and questioning will soon be forgotten. Debates won’t be decided by the most articulate or intelligent positions; they’ll be won by who yells the loudest.
Hot-button issues, fear and faith instead of what's best for everyone.
Civility and national duty are replaced by discord and selfishness.
Time was, America had it all. We had the best ideas, inventions, technologies and universities. We were an economic strongman and extremely prosperous. We gave our resources to those who were less fortunate and helped our allies even if they didn’t ask for our assistance.
Perhaps we never were these things and all of those educational films from the 1940s and 1950s were raw bullshit and brainwashing propaganda. Maybe a generation of kids who grew up listening to “duck and cover” mental hygiene films and read Boys Life magazine were lulled into manipulation by the status quo that abhors change and social progress.
Thing is, we’ve got to survive. The nation has to change for the better. We’re never going to do that if we’re clawing at each other’s throats.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Aristocrat

My Peculiar Aristocratic Title is:
Emperor Eric the Overdecorated of New Scagglethorpe
Get your Peculiar Aristocratic Title

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No News is Bad News

Harvard University’s Center for Public Leadership National Leadership Index surveyed 1,207 adults nationwide and found the press ranks at the lowest of 12 sectors surveyed, far beneath the Executive Branch, Congress, Local government, Business, Religious organizations and the Military.
Asked “How much confidence do you have in the leadership of the following sectors?” participants ranked the sectors from 1 (none at all) to 4 (great deal). Out of the 12 sectors measured, participants ranked the Press as the lowest with 2.26 compared to the Military, which garnered the highest ranking at 3.15. The Executive branch was second to last with 2.43, followed by Congress at 2.53. The Supreme Court was the third highest ranking with 2.90, followed by Medical at 3.02.
Of those surveyed, 40 percent believe the press is liberally biased, 21 percent conservative biased and 30 percent found the news neutral and 9 percent unsure.
According to the poll, 64 percent polled didn’t trust presidential campaign coverage; 88 percent believe the campaign coverage focused on trivial issues and 84 percent believe the media coverage has too much influence on American voting choices.
Among those polled, 70 percent said coverage of negative ads wasn’t important; while 67 percent said the embarrassing “gotcha” moments weren’t important and that 68 percent felt there were too much coverage of “gotcha” moments.
Americans want campaign coverage to focus on candidate’s values, ethics, policies and political philosophies instead of trivial coverage.
I’m not surprised by the results, but just what is meant by the term “press”? To me, “press” means newspapers and magazines and the written word. Media is a combination of that plus television news.
I’m a journalist. Been one professionally since 1994. Won a few awards for my writing and I’m proud of that. Given my background, I’ve seen the business changing, especially from the newspaper front.
Putting it bluntly, journalism in this country as a craft and public service is in trouble.
Dwindling newspaper readership and circulation losing to the Internet and the multiple 24/7 news cycle, staff reductions and the struggle for profitability are causing many newspapers to retool and re-imagine themselves for the new millennium.
Ownership of newspapers is changing. Publishing conglomerates and private families owning newspapers are selling out to corporations, who gobble up newspapers like they're going out of style.
News Corp. acquired Dow Jones & Co., publisher of the Wall Street Journal. Philadelphia Media Holdings LLC acquired the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News from the McClatchy Company, who in turn bought the papers from Knight Ridder.
Newspapers are changing hands and being reworked to (hopefully) prosper as investments.
But is it working? Studies have shown young people don’t read newspapers. Newspaper subscriptions and circulations are decreasing. The much prognosticated future for newspapers is online. That’s where you’ll get most of your written news, via the Internet.
As to journalism’s past impact and trustworthiness by the American public, it just isn’t there anymore.
Right-wing pundits discredit the press and journalism, saying they’re liberally biased. Left-wing critics maintain the press is corporate controlled and not aggressively questioning authority like they used to.
A story like Watergate changed the nation and showed what a vigilant free press could do and created a boom for journalism schools as budding reporters hungered for newsroom experience. Could the Watergate story be written today and would the public appreciate that scrutiny of the Executive Branch?
The White House Press Corps, weary of questioning the president during wartime, remain obedient lap dogs while abuse and scandal go unchecked. Any investigative reporting or criticism now is painted as liberal media bias or discredited as an ulterior motive.
The problem with journalism is there are few real journalists left. The news is dominated by entertainment and trivial non-stories. Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan? We’ve got their latest escapades! O.J. Simpson acting up again? We’ve got it covered! Fed on a steady diet of fluff and bullshit, no wonder why people don’t take the media seriously. It used to be shit like Good Morning America the Today Show served up trite stories and softball questions. Now it’s every cable news network and newsmagazine. The only real bastion of serious news are major daily newspapers, but even their news coverage is slipping and favoring entertainment-driven stories.
We live in the culture of the celebrity, where all is shallow and thinking a liability. News coverage should be balanced and fair, representing all sides of the story instead of a he-said, she-said shallowness and idle gossip permeating the news today.
I’m a news junkie and I occasionally flip around the cable news networks but have grown jaded by the rising superficiality of the coverage. The best and most informative television news program is the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS and BBC News.I won't watch the network news, Fox News, MSNBC or CNBC. I tolerate CNN, but loathe their news anchors. Most cable news channels are punditry and opinion.
For newspapers, I read the Sunday New York Times and the local daily, the Press of Atlantic City. I’m also a voracious reader of the online articles and the Drudge Report, not for Drudge's politics but as a repository of global news on one site.
As time passes, the media outlets increase. Where we get our news is changing, as is the actual content.
Maybe the correlation between the press' lack of inspiring confidence and its output of celebrity slop and gotcha journalism make sense.
How do we build trust? Is that even an issue anymore given the huge profits to be made? All we can do is watch helplessly as the corporations saturate the market with spineless stories of celebrities and political coverage that reads like a high school newspaper or tattle sheet. Only then, when objectively informing the public becomes a secondary goal, does the death knell of journalism toll.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Novel Winner

I won National Novel Writing Month by writing a 50,000 word novel before the Nov. 30 deadline. Though the book has a ways to go, passing the 50,000 mark got me the win and a groovy certificate from National Novel Writing Month's director Chris Baty. The blue bar tracking my progress now is purple and they labeled me a winner. I also have cool badges I can stick on the blog:



I've been asked by certain friends and family members about the novel, but I don't want to reveal anything other than it's a contemporary satire. Recently, I'm finding humor easier to write, especially if it mirrors the absurdity of today's current political and social climate.

So yeah, I won the 2007 National Novel Writing Month, by writing 50,000 words of a story I've had floating around my head for five years. I'm still working on it. The contest was a way for me to get it down on paper instead of procrastinating.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving



"Happy gobbler day, America!"

Funny. He pardons a turkey but executed mentally-challenged humans.

Even though we're living in a chaotic world run by madmen and filled with carnage and ignorance, take the time to remember just how lucky you are. This Thanksgiving, be thankful for your family, friends, health, jobs, talents and abilities. The people and things we love keep us grounded, sane and happy.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Don't Squeeze My Credit



Actor Dick Wilson died this week at age 91. The actor, best remembered for his characterization of grocery store clerk Mr. Whipple, admonished women too cozy with toilet tissue, "Ladies, please don't squeeze the Charmin!"
This bit of fluff would not really phase me much if Mr. Whipple didn't have a local connection. I was told by an editor that an Ocean City man, Norman Schaut, who once worked at New York advertising firm Benton & Bowles, coined the trademark slogan "Please, don't squeeze the Charmin."
I really don't care about stories like this. If Dick Wilson were an immortal and never died, would we really care who wrote the slogan? But because Mr. Whipple is dead, now people take a sudden interest in an advertising campaign that hasn't been on TV since the 1980s.
The story doesn't end here: John Chervokas, who also worked at Benton & Bowles, claimed it was he, and not Schaut, who wrote "Please, don't squeeze."
Let's put this into perspective, shall we? Two grown men are fighting over a slogan to an ad where a grumpy store clerk yells at women not to molest toilet paper. I'm sure Dick Wilson's family is happy that the memory of their loved one is being preserved through a pissing contest by two crusty ad men.
But let's really put it in perspective: the death of Mr. Whipple is a tragic national event. Not since the demise of Clara Peller, whose "Where's the Beef?" stirred us out of our social ennui during the beleaguered Reagan years, or the untimely death of Michael Vale who played Fred the Baker whose classic line "Time to make the donuts" filled America with joy, has one's absence been so keenly felt in our cultural psyche. 
Someone had to tell those grabby housefraus not to feel up the merchandise. We only wish you'd be around to yell at a new generation of nutty women.
I know there's another star in Heaven tonight. God bless you, Mr. Whipple. God bless you. 

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Philcon 2007

Spent the weekend geekin' out at Philcon, a big science fiction convention held in Philadelphia. I spoke on three panels; one about creating characters in role-playing games (RPGs) and fiction, one about creating worlds in RPGs and fiction, and one about designing and selling RPGs. The panelists and questions were interesting and I brought a rough copy of The Ravaged Earth Society, my pulp game from Double G Press. I enjoyed myself at the con, picking up some classic pulp (Operator #5) and meeting author C.J. Henderson and getting a few books from him, notably his Kolchak: The Night Stalker fiction anthology and an anthonlogy of stories about The Phantom. Henderson signed all of his books, including one called Breaking into Fiction Writing, a good resource for writers like me who want their novels published. I also served on a panel with game designer Tony DiGerolamo, who autographed his fantastic Mafia RPG.
One of the highlights was a party thrown by the Science Fiction Writers of America, where I met several wonderful people and got tips on the publishing industry from professional science fiction writers.
The big event for me was actually running a demo of the Ravaged Earth Society! My slot was for Sunday morning and I had three people play and they had fun tracking down an Anasazi prayer stick and a Navajo shaman before a greedy archeologist did. The pulp adventure's players consisted of a gadgeteer, a private investigator and a masked avenger and the group had fun turning a Las Vegas casino upside down in pursuit of the artifact. It's exciting when people like your game. I want to give them a really fun and memorable gaming experience with TRES. As a game designer and writer, that's the ultimate goal - tell a great story and have the participating heroes enjoy themselves.



"Game with the Designer" I finally arrived!

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

More Writing

I've spent my spare time hunched over my laptop, cranking out the novel for National Novel Writing Month. I've made considerable progress. I don't think I've written this much in a long time. It's really taught me to set goals and work towards them. Writing is a discipline and I appreciate the craft more than ever now. I might be prolific or just write a lot of longwinded crap. Maybe a little of both. I don't care. Tonight I passed 34,000 words in 13 days. I'm over halfway done my goal of 50,000 words. I think the book will run longer than that.
The plot thickens...

Friday, November 9, 2007

Novel November



I'm participating in National Novel Writing Month, a challenge pitting writers against themselves and each other. Novelists have only 30 days - the entire month of November - to write a 50,000 word novel. It's day 9 and I broke 21,000 words. I spent most of my free time writing and I've never been this driven to finish something before. I broke out fairly early and if I keep a steady pace every day, I think I'll reach the goal by month's end. I have a general plot sketched out, characters developed and right now it's progressing nicely.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Election Results

So we in New Jersey's First Legislative District now have a new state senator and assemblyman. And they're all Democrats for the first time. I think it has a lot to say about Republicans nationally, that people are fed up with the party nationally and want a change locally. Republicans in New Jersey complain the state is tax and spend happy - which they are - but the people overwhelmingly voted for Democrats in a Republican stronghold.
Based on a need for change, independent voters chose Nelson Albano and Matt Milam over Republicans Norris Clark and Michael Donohue, two very intelligent, articulate gentlemen with plans to help fix the spending mess in Trenton. Just because someone is a Republican doesn't mean they reek of sulphur and have horns. Some are actually moderates and not rabid evangelicals with a hard right-wing agenda. Clark and Donohue were moderate Republicans, yet voters chose Albano and Milam, two working-class guys who are, shall we say, less polished or articulate. Not that every elected official must undergo extensive ditciton lessions, but it would be nice to hear a sentence that sounded like it wasn't coughed out on a loading dock. Our new seantor-elect, Jeff Van Drew, who is articulate and intelligent, referred to his saltier compatriots as "citizen legislators". Okay, so you don't need a doctorate from Yale to represent people in New Jersey, but at least run someone who is knowledgable about the issues enough to expound about them on the fly when asked and not sound like memorized talking points. The editorial board interviewed all of the candidates so we got a closer look at them than most people.
To have the Democrats beat Republicans this badly in Republican territory is a sign something is wrong, especially when the Democractically-led Congress has abysmal approval ratings. All of those smug Limbaughites must have choked on their dry martinis when they learned Milam beat their candidates.
Only time will tell if these "citizen legislators" can get us out of this financial mess in Trenton.
Oh, and one more thing: Republicans who whine about the Democrat's overspending on the campaign should look to history and shut the fuck up. This year, Democrats in the First District spent $2.1 million, mostly donations from Democrats elsewhere in New Jersey, while the Republicans spent around $200,000. Yet the Republicans forget during the 1990s, when they were in power, that they had all the cash and were obnoxious assholes. Now, a decade later, the Democrats in power have the money and are obnoxious assholes. See how politics is cyclical?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Call The Police

Went to The Police concert at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City last night. I booked the tickets back in July and have waited for this for months. The group did not dissappoint: they played all of their hits (the ones I wanted to hear anyway) and sounded great. I first heard The Police back in 1983 when songs from their album Synchronicity received heavy airplay. When I learned they were reuniting for a world tour, I had to see them. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity for me to see a band that's been out of circulation for about 20 years.
My seat was up in the nosebleed section, but near the stage. What did people do before jumbo television monitors? Squinting seems a good guess. Snagged a T-shirt for $35, a little steep but I wanted to take something home from the concert besides temporary hearing loss.
The Police put on an excellent show. Sting, Andy and Stewart rocked the house with an assortment of their greatest hits: "Message in a Bottle", "Walking On The Moon", "Roxanne", "So Lonely", "Every Breath You Take", "King of Pain", "Wrapped Around Your Finger", "Don't Stand So Close To Me", "De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da", "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic", "Can't Stand Losing You" and "Synchronicity II". I left Boardwalk Hall satisfied I witnessed musical history. This was my first Police concert since I missed them when they were togetether during the 1980s. I noticed all of the people sitting around me were all in their 30s and 40s. That's funny. No screaming twentysomethings or teenagers. At concerts with younger people, there's a lot of screaming, yelling and standing up. Everyone in my section all sat down and enjoyed the show. I guess the older you get, you don't want to scream and jump around: you just want to sit back, relax and appreciate seeing live music.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Winning Quizzo

After playing Quizzo at a restaurant in Somers Point for the past month, my team, the Killer Rabbits finally won tonight.
O glorious day!
We won by ten points and played against ten teams, so the competition was really, really fierce. The saving grace was the team I assembled was really strong. Playing pub trivia, you need to have a team of as many people as possible. After playing with a few players and coming in third place for the last two weeks, I decided to invite everyone I could. As the de facto team captian, I asked people I thought could help, people with knowledge in sports, entertainment and science. The strategy worked. Our team had eight people with varied interests and knowledge. We blazed through the rounds and struggled with some questions, but in the end, the Killer Rabbits prevailed! We won a gift certificate for $25 we used to pay the $110 tab. Easy come, easy go.
Now I know that some who read this think Quizzo is extremely petty and worrying about something like winning pub trivia is kind of obsessive, but I've never been a competitive person. My entire life, I just coasted by, not really caring about sports or competition or winning. Lately, I'm doing things where I like competing to win. I think it makes one focused and creates discipline and inner strength you can use in other areas of life. So if I was very nervous and take Quizzo seriously, it was because I really wanted my team to win. When they announced the winner, the team all shouted and hugged each other. I liked that. Everyone was really happy about the accomplishment, like we won the World Series or something.
To the Killer Rabbits team: Zack, Sam, Kristen, John, Ryan, Lynn and Suzie: thanks for coming out and competing at Quizzo. You've made me extremely happy and proud.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!



This is so wrong. So damn wrong...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Killer Rabbits



Tonight my trivia team, the Killer Rabbits, came in third place at Quizzo again. Zack, Pam and a newcomer, my friend Sam all joined in and we gave our best. The questions were tougher and there were more teams, but we managed to break 700 points and came in third behind Nightwing and the Dream Team. Pam thinks I take Quizzo a little too seriously. I'm just in it to win, I guess. We nailed the picture round and the entertainment round and got six questions right in the sports round, a new high for the team. Everybody contributed and we played the best game ever, and netted us another $10 gift certificate!
I love Quizzo! Going out to a bar is fun, but combining it with a team trivia contest is better. It was only four of us this time facing teams of up to eight people, an unfair advantage but all the more sweeter when we come in third place. The teams beating us are really good and hardly ever miss questions. I've got to brush up on my useless knowledge...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

1970s Memories

Some of my fondest memories as a kid during the 1970s...









Saturday, October 20, 2007

Another TRES Adventure!

Talisman Studios is doing layout on my RPG, The Ravaged Earth Society. It's been a long process, and the sample proofs were very encouraging. I can't wait to see more chapters! It's been a few years in the writing and editing stages and now Talisman is involved, I'm very optimistic at their expertise to get the project looking sharp.
Double G Press released a free TRES adventure I wrote, "Mystery of the Anasazi". It's the second official release from DGP, the first being last year's successful "Search for the Fountain of Youth." "Mystery of the Anasazi" takes players to the American southwest to Las Vegas, the Boulder Dam and Chaco Canyon. I'm very proud of this one and Peter's final layout, which is excellent! Check it out at www.doublegpress.com.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Quizzo

Played Quizzo at a local bar with my roommate Zack and his girlfriend Pam last night. For those not from the Philadelphia area, Quizzo is a pub trivia game, where patrons create teams and each team answers seven rounds of ten questions each. I named our team Killer Rabbits after the killer rabbit in the movie Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
This was the third time the Killer Rabbits played in Quizzo. The first time we were pummeled, the second time we were slaughtered and the third time, well, we came in third place out of eight teams! We won a gift certificate for $10 at the bar!Pam contributed greatly to the team’s effort – she’s incredibly smart and knew things I didn’t know, which is what you want in a trivia game – people competent in different areas of knowledge. The seven rounds were: general knowledge, geography and history, sports, a picture round where you have to guess the identities of celebrities pictures, a music round where you have to name songs they play, entertainment and another general knowledge round.
The top three teams were: Killer Rabbits with 710 points, Nightwing with 720 points and the Dream Team with 820 points. Third place! An excellent showing for three people, considering the teams that beat us were comprised of six or seven people each!
We aced the picture round and did very well on other rounds except the sports round. Some of the questions I got right:
Q: What was the name of the comic strip Ted Knight drew on “Too Close for Comfort”?
A: Cosmic Cow
Q: What is the fictitious Minnesota town where Rocky and Bullwinkle were from?
A: Frostbite Falls
Q: Who said “You can have it in any color as long as it’s black”?
A: Henry Ford
Q: Eddie Van Halen’s wife, Valerie Bertinelli was on what sitcom?
A: One Day at a Time
Q: What body of water separates Great Britain and Ireland?
A: Irish Sea
Q: What groundbreaking event happened on Aug. 24, 79 AD?
A: Eruption of Mt. Vesuvius
For the last question, we had to name 11 members of the original cast of Saturday Night Live. I guessed nine out of the 11. Who the hell are Michael O'Donoghue and George Coe?
So the Killer Rabbits won third place in Quizzo. I look forward to the challenge again!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Right Message, Wrong Time

Congress is withdrawing its support from the Armenian genocide resolution because threats made by Turkey to not allow the United States access of its airspace and roads. Turkey is America's ally on the so-called "War of Terrorism" and the United States needs all the friends it can get. After heavy lobbying by Armenian-Americans or the genocide versus heavy lobbying from the Turkish government, and weighing the political realities and military ramifications of passing the resolution recognizing what happened to the Armenians as a genocide, Congress is withdrawing its support.
The resolution is long overdue and is the right message, but made at the wrong time.
I wanted to see the resolution pass and wrote about it in a previous post. But losing another ally is a big setback for the United States and we're sucking worse than the Philadlephia Eagles right now.
Why bring the resolution up in the first place? Was House Speaker Nancy Pelosi persuaded to back the resolution after receiving a case of paklavah from a bakery in Glendale?
Like Congress would think a resolution marking the Armenian genocide wouldn't anger the Turks. Turkey hasn't admitted to what happened to the Armenians for generations and are steadfast in their denial the genocide ever happened. It's okay to live in denial if it makes you comfortable. I have an uncle who denies Woodstock ever happened.
The problem with this resolution is that it was destined to fail given our current political reality. These are pretty fucked up times, especially in the Middle East. Though Armenians are from that general region, they're Christians. Talk about being a minority! But it's not the Christians we're trying to appease - it's whichever Muslims are not trying to blow us up. If Turkey fits the bill, so be it.
So Congress backed off the resolution and wisely so. Let's finish things in the Middle East and then revisit the Armenian genocide issue at a later date, say in another century. It'll be OK though: the Armenians are used to bitching about the genocide. It's the only issue that unites the Armenians. In fact, growing up, that's all my family ever talked about. My great-grandfather died in the genocide and my grandfather was torn from his family for a time, but it was great. Made swell stories to tell the grandchildren. Besides, it got my grandfather out of that Third World hellhole and to the United States where he thrived and prospered.
If anything, Armenian-Americans should be thanking the Ottoman Empire and Young Turks for creating the Armenian diaspora.
Mehmed Talat Pasha, I raise my glass of Budweiser to you, sir!
Turkey is kind of like the homely chick you take to the prom because she'll go with you when all of the good girls are taken. Yeah, we'll dance with Turkey but when it's all over, we'll dump her for someone better. That's what we're doing with the "War on Terrorism". We like Turkey because it gets us close to Iraq. It's a great jumping off point and a strategically brilliant area.
But at the end of the day, do we really give a shit about Turkey? Of course not!
We're fighting a war against religious fundamentalists who use violence against anyone they perceive as a threat, and because President Bush gets an instant hard-on when he sees soldiers in uniform, we're probably going to be committed to Iraq for many years.
And when we finally attack Iran, which you know will happen, we're going to need Turkey even more. So we're in bed with Turkey, because we have to be, not because we want to be. It's all about fighting a greater evil than a genocide perpetrated a century ago by guys with huge mustaches.
I'd rather watch Bea Arthur naked and straddling a Sybian than see my country capitulate to the administration in Iran. Do I want to see the United States attack Iran? No, of course not. But when you have a maniac in the White House who did cocaine, anything's possible. Remember the final scene in Scarface where Tony Montana buried his face in the big pile of yeyo, then went berserk and shot up his mansion as the Colombians attacked? That's where we are right now. We're only a few months from Bush sneering "Say hello to my little friend!" before blowing the door down.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Ten Questions

I used to watch Inside the Actor's Studio which featured a real interesting gentleman named James Lipton, who's been parodied by Will Ferrell, Mike Nelson and David Cross. At the end of each segment, Lipton asks his subjects ten questions made famous by French interviewer Bernard Pivot, on Bouillon de Culture. The ten questions were supposedly what Marcel Proust asked his guests and provide an opportunity to think about yourself. For simple questions, they provoke complicated and intellectual responses about who you are.
In the interest of full disclosure, I answered the ten questions:

What is your favorite word?
Kerfuffle. It means disheveled, a commotion or upheaval.

What is your least favorite word?
Nigger. With the ‘er’ and not ‘a’. The word screams hatred.

What turns you on, excites, or inspires you creatively, spiritually, or emotionally?
Nature, good conversations, experiencing works of genius (books, poems, movies, music, art), spending time with close friends and loved ones. I channel all of that experience (and some negatives ones as well) and funnel it into this Zen-like state that helps me write.

What turns you off?
Bigotry, ignorance and people with no sense of humor.

What sound or noise do you love?
Babies laughing. It is the sweetest music.

What sound or noise do you hate?
Loud, high-pitched screaming and shrieking. It’s why I never went on spring break.

What is your favorite curse word?
I’m a big fan of all the usual curse words, but it depends on the context and situation.
Some days, it’s pussy, others it’s cunt;
some days it’s dick while others it’s cock;
and some days I screw and others I fuck,
but in the end we’re all shit out of luck.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I’ve always wanted to either be a movie producer or a director, or maybe a CIA operative. I think I can hustle a film idea in Hollywood or strangle a guy with piano wire for my country.

What profession would you absolutely not like to participate in?
Anything involving raw sewage, rotting animal carcasses or working for Rosie O’Donnell.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
“Welcome! Open bar and buffet for all eternity and your grandparents are waiting on the veranda to explain the meaning of life.”

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Burned!

Another reason I shouldn't cook: I was heating something in the oven today and I set the oven to 425 degrees. While the oven got hot, I opened the drawer under the oven to retrieve a cooking sheet. Metal baking sheets get hot when the oven is on, but I didn't know this. I felt no need to don potholders and as the fingers on my right hand touched the hot metal, I was burned.
It hurt like hell. After screaming something about Jesus and fucking and a few other expletives, I ran my hand under cold water, but the damage had been done. I suffered second-degree burns on my right hand, as evidenced by blisters and rough, red skin on my ring and midle fingers and thumb. The palm of my right hand also had some burns, but not as severe as the digits.
So I consulted the guru of all knowledge (the Internet) and found a medical site that suggested to seek help immediately for second degree burns on the hands. I went to Shore Memorial Hospital and they put silver sulfadiazene cream on my burns, then dressed my hand in gauze. So my hand looks like a mummy and I have to wear gauze for the next two to three days all because I was too stupid to not use a potholder.
I don't know how this will effect my job, because I can type with two fingers (both index, which are thus unaffected), and I am left handed.
There's getting burned and "getting burned", and you don't want either happening to you.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Get with the Pogrom

The first modern genocide of the 20th century was between 1915 to 1923 when the Young Turks in the Ottoman-controlled government of Turkey massacred hundreds of thousands to 1.5 million ethnic Armenians. The pogrom has been formally recognized as a genocide by 22 countries. The United States is not among them.
Officially, the Turkish government rejects what happened to the Armenians as a genocide, and claims the Turks of Anatolia experienced a genocide by the Armenians.
The U.S. Congress introduced a resolution calling on Turkey to officially declare what happened to the Armenians as “genocide”. But President Bush recognizes Turkey is an ally in the War on Terrorism and wants the resolution squashed. Presidents as far back as Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton also opposed legislation to recognize the Armenian genocide.
Okay, let’s get some things straight. I don’t think the Armenians are saints. They’ve been at war in the neighboring Nagorno-Karabakh region in Azerbaijan for a long time, over a territorial turf war over land they claim is theirs.
Growing up, I’ve seen Armenian kids whose parents told them to hate the Turks for the genocide. Understanding this blind, absolute hatred of all Turkish people and culture as a youth, I now know how the Palestinians hate the Israelis and vice versa. Conditioned hatred is the worst.
Armenian writer Ara Baliozian (one of my early mentors as a writer) criticized this conditioned loathing and historical hatred when he wrote; “Armenians enjoy reading about Turks because they love to hate.”
I never bought the argument modern Armenians should hate modern Turkey because of the genocide. It was a different government at a different time. Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which went into effect in 2005 makes it a crime to insult “Turkishness.” Ferit Orhan Pamuk, a Nobel Prize-winning Turkish novelist was prosecuted under Article 301 for telling a magazine “Thirty thousand Kurds and million Armenians were killed in these lands and nobody dares to talk about it.” The charges were later dropped.
Turkey claims that 1.6 million figure of Armenian dead wasn’t by genocide but by wars and displacement. So it isn’t mass extermination by government, but a series of unfortunate events. Kinda like they were in the wrong place at the wrong time type of thing. Like you have one world war and there goes the neighborhood.
Using this logic, you could say during the early 1940s the Nazis gave Jews homes, jobs and a way to contribute to the war effort. They also made lampshades out of their skin, but we won’t mention that.
We’re probably going to attack Iran, whose leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad denies the Holocaust. So how’s that different with Turkey denying the Armenian genocide?
I guess denying the Holocaust is bad, while denial of the Armenian genocide is politically convenient, especially when you have to use Turkey’s airspace and roads.
America should deny something uncomfortable from its own past. Like slavery. The purposeful servitude and degradation of Africans for personal profit? Didn’t happen here. No, sir! How about the displacement and slaughter of the American Indians? That really didn’t happen either; they love living on reservations. It’s like camping to them.
By denying painful chapters of your history, you’re depriving future generations from understanding your culture. Nobody has the luxury of being an infallible civilization. Nations experienced their dark periods, downslides and times of strife at the hands of murderers and madmen. Just ask the Russians who endured Stalin, the Italians who suffered through Mussolini, or Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge. Then there was that whole Dark Ages thing with bubonic plague and barbarian hordes.
Sociologist Anny Bakalian wrote in her 1993 book “Armenian-Americans”: “In 1915, the deliberate and systematic policy of the Young Turk government was to annihilate the Armenian people and eradicate their presence from their ancestral lands. Seventy-five years later, the trauma of the Genocide and deportations continues to hover in the forefront of Armenian collective consciousness.”
Armenians keep pushing for public recognition and Turkey doesn’t want to yield. This whole thing is a frustrating exercise in stubbornness. Ignorance and hate feed off each other and both sides are vilified by the other, yet the dead remain dead and history a remote and sketchy thing, carried in the minds of people who remembered.
Like my grandfather, who was born in Turkey in 1916, at the height of the genocide, and who survived because a Turkish woman kept him safe while his mother fled to America. He and his brother were later reunited with their mother in the United States, but their sister vanished, a probable victim of the genocide.
Turkey doesn’t want to admit their glorious history hit a snag during World War I with the Armenian genocide. But it’s the 21st Century. Turkey can do the world a favor and still retain its national dignity. It can admit, “Hey, the Ottomans and Young Turks killed these people, not us. Things got a little nutty here between 1915 and 1923, and lots of people died. It was a genocide, but that’s not going to happen here again, because we’re not the Ottomans. So if you’re planning a vacation, visit Istanbul. We’re all that’s happenin’ on the Bosporus!”

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Slingin' Mud

“A good politician is quite as unthinkable as an honest burglar.”
- H.L. Mencken

I agree with the Sage of Baltimore on this one. The more politicians and would-be politicians I meet, the more I favor having a monarchy. As a reporter, one of my much-dreaded tasks is campaign coverage. Every year, around the start of September, they creep forth from the woodwork, begging bowls in hands, holding press conferences and sending out press releases.
The candidates.
Both the incumbents and challengers want the same thing: to get elected. How they achieve this is twofold:
1. campaign hard;
2. distort like crazy.
Both the Democrats and Republicans are guilty of this. Why do they find it too difficult to be candid and honest with voters and hold a civil campaign? I don’t think they believe the voters are stupid; they only treat the voters like they’re stupid. Every October my mailbox is filled with colorful mailers from candidates and political parties degrading, berating and distorting the opposition. Over the years I’ve seen plenty of these mailers and unlike a majority of Americans who simply toss them into the garbage, I read them. See, I want to understand, as a writer, the Machiavellian tricks of persuasion and how to reduce your opponent from a flesh and blood human into deconstructed bits of ideology and concepts.
For example, Democrats are liberals. Liberals are bad because they (liberally) tax you and spend. They also (liberally) bloat the size of government. Liberals are also against religion and are proponents of abortion, gay marriage and legalizing marijuana. So, if you vote for a Democrat, you’ll get a stoned, atheistic homosexual abortionist.
Republicans are conservatives. Conservatives are bad because they conserve things, like money. They only want their rich friends to have tax breaks while the middle class and everyone below that margin pays taxes. Conservatives, despite their name, want to glut governmental programs and liquidate the ghettoes, building condominiums they can sell as active adult communities. Conservatives don’t like gays, nor the environment, and have a hard-on for wars providing their kids don’t fight in them. If you elect a Republican, you’ll be forced into an interment camp where you’ll become a Southern Baptist and have fun crucifying members of the American Civil Liberties Union while singing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.” until your tonsils bleed with rapture.
How did it get to be this way? Was there ever such a thing as a “gentleman’s campaign”?
In 1934, former Socialist-turned-Democrat Upton Sinclair (yes, the very same muckraking writer whose The Jungle forced the government to reform the meat-packing industry) ran for governor of California. Sinclair’s opponent, the incumbent Republican Governor Frank Merriam, had the backing of California’s conservatives and with it, money. The Republicans spent millions to defeat Sinclair, who they portrayed as a dangerous Socialist.
Sinclair’s big idea – a movement he called End Poverty In California (EPIC) – would have established cooperative farms to put the unemployed to work. Though Sinclair met President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the White House did not endorse the candidate and preferred to stay out of the race. Some Democrats fielded a third-party candidate into the race.
The Republican money machine, backed by the film studios who were largely conservative – produced films designed to sway public opinion. The films depicted Sinclair supporters as foreign, Russians and migrants, and showed scores of unemployed rushing for California’s borders if Sinclair won. Print ads decried Sinclair for spreading Bolshevism into California. Though many of the ads were propaganda and distortion, the campaign showed the power of film and mass media to persuade voters. Sinclair lost with 37 percent of the vote, while Merriam garnered 48 percent and Raymond Haight of the Commonwealth Party took 13 percent.
We are the descendants of Merriam’s campaign – negative attack ads, cheap shots and mud slinging. When the electorate demand issues, candidates give them bullshit.
Bullshit, they think, is easy to digest. Rally around the flag. Don’t question our ability to lead. The queers are bad. Vote for us.
Harnessing a mass media that is both liberal and conservative (it all depends on which corporation you like), candidates shell out money, hire consultant firms and bash the shit out of each other.
If people don’t ridicule negative campaigns, the campaigns will just stay negative. Millions will be spent on snarky popularity contests instead of substantive campaigns where candidates tell the voters why they should elect them and what their vision is for the future.
Instead, the candidates get lazy. They hide behind handlers and press secretaries. They sink into shallow water and become superficial; mere empty suits and smiles on a placard. This breeds cynicism, mistrust and cheapens the political process.
I’m not a betting man, but I'll wager this isn’t what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they created this Republic.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Rudy!

Rudy Giuliani came to Cape May County today, and the gaggle of reporters, cameramen and local politicians followed. Rudy stopped at Dino's Diner in Seaville to meet and greet customers, sign autographs and pose for photos. Television cameras and reporters mingled with local officials outside the diner when the black Cadillac Escalade with New York plates pulled up and Giuliani got out, smiling and immediately started shaking hands.
Patrons in the diner immediately burst into applause when Giuliani entered. He worked the room, moving from booth to booth, shaking hands, posing for pictures and talking to customers. He sat down with the Upper Township Committee and gabbed about baseball (the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees specifically) before turning his attention to politics and the battle of New Jersey. The GOP has to capture the Garden State, he said, in order to win the presidency.
Just think: my state could be as vital as Florida was in 2000. How depressing!
My editor and I walked away not with a sense of awe at his raw charisma, but at his "down to earthiness" and ability to communicate to the common man. Here's this flashy New Yorker in a pinstripe suit sitting at the table across from you talking baseball. It was refreshing seeing a politician who wasn't plastic and phony.
Critics claim Giuliani was a monster as mayor, a tyrant and dictator, the Mussolini of Manhattan. Before 9-11, his critics claimed his efforts in cleaning up the city were superficial. Critics also charge Giuliani for profiting from 9-11, collecting an exorbitant amount of money in speaking fees. I chalk the last point up to this: Italian, from New York, just wants to "wet the beak" and collect a little slice of what's rightfully his.
Whether people expect he'll be Superman during the next terrorist attack, rip off his pinstripe suit and be wearing a blue skintight suit with a giant red "R" emblazoned across the chest might be wishful thinking. People are buying into the myth Rudy is the one man who'll keep the bad terrorists from our shores. Personally, I don't think one man can fight terrorists. It's a collective effort, and if the right security agencies and enforcement agencies and military aren't communicating, fighting terrorism will be as effective as stopping a tank with a peashooter.
One other thing: I got his autograph. He signed a bit of campaign literature, 12 "commitments" he's making to voters: keep America on offense in the Terrorist's War on Us, end illegal immigration, restore fiscal discipline and cut wasteful Washington spending, cut taxes and reforming the tax code, reforming the legal system and other boilerplate promises. Here's the thing: he signed the bottom of the brochure, underneath the 12 "commitments". I'll treat this as a contract, and hold him to it.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pen & Pencil Club

Went to the Pen & Pencil Club in Philadelphia last night with Kristen, an associate editor at the Ocean City Sentinel where I work. The Pen & Pencil Club is America's oldest press club, founded in 1892 with the merger of three journalist societies. Membership is private, but I'm a member, and Kristen wanted to go.
We wanted to catch the King Tut exhibit at the Franklin Institute beforehand, but we arrived at the museum to discover tickets were sold out. So, we treked from the Franklin Institute to the Philadelphia Art Museum to see the Renoir exhibit and arrived just in time for the museum's closing. Disheartened, we decided to go to dinner and headed to Buca di Beppo, an excellent Italian restaurant where we had bruschetta and gnocci in a blush sauce. I haven't eated Italian in a while, so this was a real treat. After that, we headed to the club.
The odd thing about the Pen & Pencil Club is its location. Tucked away in an unmarked building on Latimer Street, you don't know you've stumbled across a journalist's society unless you're actively searching for it. You make your way past a few parking garages, an abandoned building and restauant and see a nondescript fascade with an iron wrought door. Pushing your way through the door, you're in a small lobby with a neon "P&P", an door with an electronic keypad lock and a security camera. I knocked on the door. The bartender opened it and looked at us.
"I'm a member," I said.
"All right," he said with a shrug, not even asking me for a press pass as he let us in. "You picked the slowest night of the week. Nobody comes in on Saturday," he said.
Kristen and I made our way into the club's bar, a wooden paneled room with eight tables covered in white tablecloths. The bar also had a wall-mounted jukebox and an electronic trivia game. The bartender took his place behind the bar, near the door, where one patron sat eating a pizza and watching coverage of the Phillies game on TV. Kristen and I sat down and ordered drinks, then I flipped the bartender my card and we talked about the Jersey shore, how tourists come down to the Jersey shore and the plethora of special events hosted in the offseason at the Jersey shore.
An electronic Scorpion 9000 dart game occupied most of our attention, and we played a round of darts. The machine itself proved challenging to understand and the scoring system totally alien, but we enjoyed throwing the darts at the target.
The club has photographs from photojournalists on the walls, a nice touch and a way to showcase their work. The Pen & Pencil Club also has another tradition: a heated pot filled with hot water for cooking hotdogs. Hotdogs are a Pen & Pencil Club tradition, but alas, no hotdogs were cooking during our visit.
The club was a mainstay for some famous writers and journalists, including sportswriter Red Smith (1905-1982) and newspaperman Damon Runyon (1884-1946). The Pen & Pencil also hosts events like winetastings, photography exhibits and lectures by editors, writers and politicians.
I'm a fan of clubs and societies. I think they're needed for fostering friendships and as places you go for comfort and brotherhood. A club for editors and journalists is an excellent idea. We need a place like the Pen & Pencil Club to remind us of our mission as reporters; a place where, at the end of the day toiling in the jungle of reality, we can crawl to and share drinks with colleagues and talk about the profession and exchange condolences or support.

The club charter.



Old typewriters (Underwoods, possibly) in the lobby.



Scorpion 9000 electronic dart game. Personally, I prefer cork-board pub darts.



The Angry Reporter looking angry for no reason.



Kristen not looking angry at all.



The Double P.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

The Value of Nostalgia

Recently I purchased Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians' "Globe of Frogs" CD on Amazon. I'd listened to the cassette tape in high school and hadn't heard those songs since. Feeling a bit nostalgic, I purchased the CD. I'm not one given to sentiment, but recently, with the move to the apartment and taking on a roommate and the realization that I'm getting older, I'm staring into the past for some solace and comfort.
I spent my teenage years in Ronald Reagan's 1980s, a time of optimism, money, superficiality and sugar-coated banality. Anyone alive back then remembers just how saturated pop culture was with glib, meaningless slogans: "Just Say No", "The one who dies with the most toys wins", and "No pain, no gain". When authority couldn't sell us the bullshit, they had the youth do it. Being a teenager in the 1980s was tedium mixed with false euphoria. It was like being on a drug that lit you up and sent you to the mall, then let you slowly crash while realizing just how plastic and artificial the world around you was. All of my friend's parents had important jobs in offices and carried titles. It's all part of the gated communities in suburbia - planned developments with manicured lawns and swimming pools.
Yet there's something innocent and lost in those youthful days - MTV actually played music videos, Michael Jackson was the King of Pop instead of a twisted freak, and you could go to the movies and watch pablum like The Breakfast Club and not feel like a complete retard.
In recent years, I've submitted to a guilty pleasure of listening to and collecting 1980s music for my iPod, since my vinyl records are obsolete. All of the songs I thought were pop drivel, I'm savoring with a longing for school dances past, when the youth of the 1980s socialized in their gymnasiums filled with balloons and streamers and danced to Duran Duran of all things. The spiked haircuts, the skinny neckties, the colorful pins on denim jackets. Who's The Boss, The Cosby Show, ALF. Jesus Christ - ALF! It was a freaking Muppet! Too Close for Comfort, Three's Company, Mr. Belvedere. If sociologists in the future gauge the nation's mood by the television shows, they'll probably surmise everyone in America between 1980 and 1989 were either intellectually stunted or had absolutely no worries.
There were the hair bands, heavy metal, punk, and New Wave. A Flock of Seagulls. I'm sorry, but that band has become the whipping boy for all of the bad New Wave bands of the 1980s, yet their song "I Ran (So Far Away)" is an iconic representation of that time musically. Same with Tommy Tutone's "867-5309 / Jenny". Older people think 1980s pop is akin to the ebola virus, yet those stupid songs and fly by night bands led to the musical transformation in the 1990s, when New Wave gave way to grunge and pop rock and guitar bands still vibrant and successful today. But we kids during the 1980s were stuck with crap like Rat and Motley Crue. Yet a gem would come along, like Twisted Sister or Talking Heads.
I used to think the old farts with their greaser bands and stupid leather jackets and finger-snapping doo-wop were dinosaurs searching for pure nostalgia; pathetic has-beens thirsting for their bygone youth. Then I woke up and realized I'm one of those people, peering back into the looking glass to see a younger version of myself, a skinny kid wandering the halls of Cherry Hill East High School, lonely, rejected and clutching a notebook filled with short stories for the school's lit mag. The reason I'm wallowing in this swamp of nostalgia is I received an announcement my 20th high school reunion is slated for next year. Let that sink in for a moment. Twenty years. Two decades. The class of 1988. For those in the early 21st century, 1988 seems as remote in time as the Industrial Revolution. How the hell did this happen? Once a gangly teenager, now a man paying bills and writing for a living.
Why do we long for our pasts, our age of purity, of innocence? Was there ever an America not bitterly divided, cynical, ignorant? Was there ever a time before terrorists destroyed skyscrapers in New York, a time when we weren't at war, a time when music and movies weren't decided by focus groups? Was there ever a time when corporations didn't control everything we read, see and consume? A time before television pundits, before politics glutted with money, stole something from us? A time when songs about rape or murder didn't saturate the airwaves and you could hear dippy pop songs?
I'm not saying the 1980s were a pinnacle of human evolution. Far from it. But as a kid, they were far better than what kids have to grow up with now. No Columbine. No Virginia Tech. No rootless anger or fierce rage.
We didn't have the technology we have today; no Internet or cellphones. We made due with what we had. We interacted with and relied on each other.
The value of nostalgia isn't vague reminiscence of ages gone by; nostalgia is remembering how things were in relation to how we are today. It's recalling where we were to better understand where we're going.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Writer's Life



Some men are musicians, some are orators, some are craftsmen working with their hands. I am a writer. It is the only gift bestowed upon me and I take the writing craft seriously.
As far as a talent, it's a pretty lame one. Face it, everyone should know how to write. Everyone communicates in language and can imprint characters on paper in some fashion, making letters and words and sentences. Yet everywhere I go I hear people tell me, "You're a writer? I wish I could write!"
Writing doesn't seem to be a problem for most people. Writing well is. Now I'm no Shakespeare by far. I'm only an average writer at best. I don't claim to work miracles with my prose or stupefy with my verse. But I'll tell you one thing, Charlie - I'm no hack.
During college I corresponded with a writer from Canada named Ara Baliozian, an Armenian writer who wrote books about the Armenian diaspora. Most of his stuff was bitter and stark social commentary, a fish-out-of-water tale of immigrants dealing with the phonies in their own immigrant communities. We wrote letters to each other for years. This was the neolithic age of communication, before e-mail, when people actually wrote letters, what's commonly referred to today as "snail mail." So Ara and I wrote back and forth, exchanging war stories about writing and how undervalued and under-appreciated writers in America were. He sent me his books to review which I did for the Armenian-American newspapers. I've been published in papers from Massachusetts to California.
Baliozian offered the following advice to young writers: "Even if you were to write with the wisdom of Socrates and the compassion of Jesus Christ, there is no guarantee that you shall escape the hemlock or the cross. But if you write as most writers do, don't be surprised if you are dismissed as an idiot by idiots, a jerk by jerks, and a Turcophile by Turkish gypsies parading as superpatriotic Armenians."
Another one of Baliozian's statements concerning writers: "Writers are a harmless a bunch; all they do is scribble, scribble, scribble. They are a threat to no one, except perhaps to the prestige of riffraff parading as noble specimens of humanity."
Baliozian was a political writer, a dissident who enjoyed reaching out to young writers. He lived in poverty with his mother in Canada, refusing to work and receiving money from a benefactor who published his books.
To me, at 23, the guy was living out his dream of the writing live, a bohemian existence where books and words mattered and where material success a frivilous daydream.
I saw my first story in print in 2000 in a game publication called the Deadlands Epitaph. It wasn't really a story, but a scenario for a roleplaying game called Deadlands. I wrote a lengthy article about Fort 51, the 19th century equivalent of Area 51, a secret fort in the Nevada desert. It's my only contribution to the Deadlands product line.
In 2005, I sold the rights to a roleplaying game I designed called the Ravaged Earth Society, a game currently being published by Double G Press.
I never set out to write roleplaying games; that opportunity fell into my lap. What I really want to do, my ultimate goal as a writer I think, is to maximize my creativity and produce plays, screenplays and novels. I have so many projects under my belt and seemingly not enough time to do anything.
Working as a reporter for a local newspaper, I'm writing every day, staring at the computer screen, that flourescent cyclops blinking back at me. Hoping and praying I'd get enough time to transcribe the multitude of ideas in my head onto a blank page. Predictably, something always crops up and distracts me from my work.
I've got plays and novels in the works. I've got notebooks filled with scribblings and notes that don't make sense to anyone buy me. They beg me to decipher them. Alas, I never find the time.
The greatest book on writing I've read was Stephen King's "On Writing." I can't recommend it enough. King ploughs through all of the bullshit other writing books tell you and he lays it out bare and clean. You've got to have it in your veins to be a writer, you've got to have that urge, that desire, that crazed mania.
I can tell you this: the money sucks, the lonliness is unbearable at times and the respect is non-existent. The moment you do write something good, you're proud of it. You want to show the world. Nobody, not even your priggish 8th grade English teacher, can take that moment from you.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Path to Happiness

The older I get, the more I think the Buddhists got it right – life is a cyclical pattern of pain, sorrow and disappointment with intermittent episodes of happiness thrown in to remind us just how rare happiness actually is. I’ve noticed that in my professional and personal life how many people let me down and how frustrating life can get; people don’t harbor good feelings towards you or you go to the supermarket and they’re all out of a particular item you want or you’re paying more for something due to “hidden charges.”
Life is basically an uncertain adventure fraught with danger, pain and frustration, but once in a while you experience brief periods of elation and happiness. Translation: you get laid.
Still, philosophers and mystics have for millennia pondered the deep mysteries of existence and all of them are about as effective as guessing where the light switch is in a dark room. Nobody really knows; it’s all just a hunch and we’re improvising. The more truthful doctrines are ones acknowledging that life doesn’t always go our way. You may meet someone you think is a diamond in the rough, but they turn out to just be just smartly polished glass.
An anecdote to such disappointment should be the realization that life isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. If you fall in love, you’re going to eventually lose that person. How, when and why are variables, but love doesn’t last forever.
Neither do humans. We’re all going to die. It’s inevitable. Only the factors change, whether it’s through extreme old age, cancer or being struck by the Number 7 bus from Parsippany.
The problem is, we carry on as if none of these factors exist, blithely plodding along life unaware that around any corner we might be killed by a pack of wolverines or, for some unexplainable reason, might spontaneously combust.
Which brings me back to the point that the Buddhists might have gotten it all right when they say there is Dukkaha, or sorrow and suffering in life caused by desire. This is explained in the Four Noble Truths, which make more sense than any televangelist on Sunday morning. Essentially:
1. Life means suffering
2. The causes of suffering are attachment, anger and ignorance
3. Suffering can end
4. Ending suffering comes following the Noble Eightfold Path
Though the Noble Eightfold Path sounds like something L. Ron Hubbard thought up in his basement lair, it really is quite simple:
1. Right view – seeing things through and understanding things for as they are
2. Right intention – a commitment to self-improvement and resisting desires
3. Right speech – honesty, openness and rejection of lies
4. Right action – don’t harm living beings, don’t steal, don’t kill and don’t fuck everything that moves
5. Right livelihood – make money honestly and not in a way that hurts others
6. Right effort – abandon unwholesome thoughts and strive for perfection
7. Right mindfulness – View things with a clear consciousness and not with muddled perceptions
8. Right concentration – Inner discipline through meditation
In other words, don’t go through life a selfish, greedy bastard. Other people share the Earth with you. Billions of them, in fact. So instead of adopting this Darwinian “the strongest shall survive”, be kind, be courteous and remember not everything will go your way. You’ll lose money, you’ll experience heartache and you’ll have health problems. You’ll have your share of sleepless nights. You will be depressed. Maybe suicidal. Just remember that all of the shit you experience is fleeting and will pass and you will be happy, maybe for a week or a few days, but you will be happy, so don’t go stocking up on strychnine.
Everyone has their good days and bad days. Everyone. I’ve experienced constant frustration at life, tiny niggling things like gridlocked traffic, idiots at the supermarket with more than 12 items in the express lane, and psycho telemarketers on the phone. Still, I get by, hopeful that the traffic will move, the fat lady buying Doritos and Clorox will bag her products and get the fuck out of the store, and that the telemarketers will spontaneously combust.
And that's my brief moment of happiness…

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Requiem for a Nation Wounded

Six years on and we’re still numb and grieving
Through the smoky haze and the yellow ribbons
Plastered on automobiles like they sprouted naturally
Cold graveyards still beat tumultuously with mourners
Filing past their solemn candlelit vigils
Weeping millions huddle confused and puzzled
Meekly asking God for solace and guidance
As brains burn with the memory
Of that harrowing September morning

Beneath a blue sky, the thunder roared
Death fiercely delivered on metallic wings
Crushing the soul, destroying dreams
Raining steel, glass and ash on Manhattan
People frightened, gasped horror-stricken
Pulses pounding, quivering in doorways
At this thing delivered swiftly with cunning
A Trojan horse violently exploding with fiery pillars
Angry young men babbling about divine war
Smiting enemies vengefully while cackling threats
Box-cutters, cellphones, bloodcurdling screams
“Let’s roll”, jetliners, tearful goodbyes
Firefighters raising a tattered flag
Over a smoking crater of charred hopes and dreams
As America died and resurrected itself

Realm of abject hopelessness, ruined land of death
Sprung again to life with charity and breath
Nations are not mended with concrete and iron
They are bound by blood, flesh, sinew and muscle
Teeming masses united in strength
Raised up the hulking, shattered husk
Cleared away the dead and swept away the dust
Heal the wounds, create heroes from men
Revere uncommon bravery and praise those lost
Calm the frightened, the tempest-tossed
Treasure the principles we took for granted
Makeshift hospitals, donating blood, giving time
Guilt and pain washing through, a baptism by fire

A man will never again see his wife
A mother never again her son
Photographs of the missing, the victims
A collage of faces, a desperate attempt
Phone calls never made, messages go unanswered
The nervous pacing across floors and corridors
The guilt, the uncertainty, the sorrow
Just an employee at a cubical, a desk, an office
Now a casualty in the trenches
Whose unfinished lives sadly linger
In notations and promises and dreams

Shoulder to shoulder, American brothers and sisters
Varying races, creeds, colors, religions
A spectrum of humanity lashed together by fate
Standing united, hearts thumping in synch
Amidst falling skyscrapers and flaming fuselages
Clench our fists and grit our teeth
As sorrow gives way to heated rage
We were Pearl Harbor
We were London during the Blitz
We were the Gauls facing the Romans
Invaders shrunk the world and in one moment
On one violent day, our grim future cast
Before us in a cataclysmic eruption

With a steady, frigid stare we realize our task
Song of vengeance, of resolve and retribution
Battle Hymn of the Republic, a call to arms
The eagle soars with talons sharp
Emboldening and mightily we reach across the Atlantic
Piercing the heart of the jackals skulking in their lair
A phalanx of rogues, warped by dogma, fortified by hate
Afghanistan tortured by scimitar and crescent
They know Hammurabi’s Code, “An eye for an eye”
So they understand our vengeance, our thirst for justice
What would the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
Think of this clash with the infidels,
Of alien cultures, of democracy versus theocracy
Of incinerated humanity, twisted metal
Ground Zero, the Pentagon, a field near Shanksville
Hijacked airplanes, pepper spray, young Muslim men
Screaming “Allahu Akbar” reverberating
Like a morose death knell spelling doom?

An arrow struck the American breast
Defiantly we grasped the shaft and plucked it out
As innocent blood spewed forth for 3,000 dead
Wounds heal over time, yet scars never fade
A grim reminder of that chaotic day
When America died and was reborn
Will our descendants a century on
Ensconced by time’s comfortable distance
Ruminate on a September day early in the 21st century,
A dawning age of terror and fear
Pay their respects with flowers and humble encomiums
For those thousands of civilians fanaticism killed?

Though rain beats on graves of the fallen
And monuments and medallions fade with age
The names of those departed etched in marble
In the living rock, in our collective memory
Never shall be forgotten, but preserved and
Sanctified by history
As a grateful and empathetic generation
Lays a red rose on the icy, wet slab
An offering for souls long gone
Taken from a simpler, gentler time
Before America was reborn anew

Friday, August 31, 2007

Happy 38th

Today I'm 38.
Hold your applause.
Truth be told, I like the concept of people celebrating my birthday - Kristen from work baked me a cake, I'm having a lobster dinner with my parents and I snagged a few birthday cards and gifts along the way. I guess what I don't like is the getting old part. Oh, birthdays were fun as a kid with cake, ice cream and presents. Birthday parties were fun celebrations, full of magic and whimsy. Even in my 20s, birthdays were fun, with beer replacing soda. Still, back then I was something I'm not now: young.
I am getting old. I can see it in my thinning scalp, in the extra pounds, in my general demeanor. Yet with age comes wisdom. That's the real rub: the older we get, our bodies sag, droop and faulter, yet on the inside we get smarter and savvier with experience. If the world doesn't dull us or leave us jaded, it makes us tougher and more resilient. Nietzsche said it best: "What does not kill me makes me stronger."
What made all of those years tolerable, at least what made the birthdays tolerable was a stupid plastic record my mother bought me what I was six years old. The record, In 1976, the American Broadcasting Co. offered a record containing a personalized birthday song. Sung by Stewart Sloke, the song depicted Captain Zoom, a spaceman who sings a song to children on their birthday. It's a cheesy, campy and overtly stupid song and my mother always played it on my birthday.
And I mean ALWAYS. Every single birthday from the time I was six until now. Every August 31 she'd break out the plastic record and I'd hear:

“Hey, Eric it’s your birthday
I’m in charge of the stars and I’m here to say
Hey, Eric, you’re the big star today
My name is Zoom and I live on the moon
But I came down to Earth just to sing you this tune
Cause Eric, it’s your birthday today!”

For the last 30-plus years I've heard that song. I always shunned it; embarassed, thinking my mother was trying to humiliate me. Yet just this year I've really embraced the song. Call it nostalgia or senility or whatever old people get that makes them long for the past. I don't really mind holding on to that now. It's the one constant in an ever-changing existence for me: a childhood birthday record that once was ridiculous and silly suddenly having profound meaning as a link to my past. So instead of running away, I listened to Captain Zoom all the way through and loved every silly second of it. Thanks, Mom!

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Writing Room

My writing room is important to me, a sanctuary where I can sit and create and just unwind in front of the keyboard. Everywhere I lived I carved out a special room, just for me, where I can go and think and write. Stephen King's brilliant book, "On Writing" suggests all writers must have a room they can go and close the door and write. My new pad has a back room, a bedroom I converted into my private office/library/inner sanctum/study/writing room. I put my tiny Mac laptop there, along with a printer and books. The Gadsden flag is my favorite; telling all not to mess with me.
I still need to get bookshelves for my books, but overall, the writing room is functional.



Cuddly Cthulhu and Sock Monkey just hanging out.

Friday, August 24, 2007

The Pad, Part 4

The living room is finally taking shape with today's arrival of the loveseat. It fit into the room, unlike the large sofa that came last week. So now I have somewhere comfortable to sit. Finally!



The loveseat also dampened the enormous echo that permeated the room, due to a lack of furnishings. People don't really think about furniture until they need it. For the last week, I sat on the coffeetable while watching TV, which wasn't really comfortable at all.



Angry Italian Bas-Relief Head says ""Ciao!"

Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Pad, Part 3

Okay. A lot has happened with the Pad recently. The bedroom is coming together nicely. I'm going for an Asian/Oriental/Far East look to it with furniture from Pier 1 Imports to compliment my ginormous bed that takes up 60 percent of the room. I have this comforter with a royal dragon and phoenix on it, so now the entire place looks like an opium den or San Francisco Chinatown brothel circa 1890. No matter. It's a look that says exotic and swinging bachelor, which is what I'm going for.



The arrival of my dresser rounded out the entire bedroom and gave me a place to put all my holy relics/religious statues/totems. They all look happy together, don't you think? From left, the Ark of the Covenant, the Holy Grail, Anubis, Jesus, Ganesha and Buddha.



The week has had its disappointments. The chocolate brown sofa I ordered arrived on Saturday, but the damn thing was too big to fit. The delivery guys couldn't negotiate the narrow hallway and the door was too small so I had to return it and order a loveseat instead. I did manage to get a coffeetable, but still have nowhere to sit in my living room, except the floor.
On the plus side, the cable guy came out today and hooked me up with Comcast. I have cable TV and Internet service, so for now I'm happy.
The writing room/home office/library/inner sanctum is still a mess, but at least I have access to the Internet and carved out a corner of the room that is mine for writing. The rest of the room is a chaotic jumble of stacked boxes and books, and is a work in progress.