Thursday, May 31, 2007

Fortune Cookie Wisdom

Sometimes we seek wisdom from the most unlikely sources. Through the years I've collected fortune cookie fortunes - those little strips of paper placed in fortune cookies from Chinese restaurants. I have over a dozen of them in a small pile, readily providing ancient insights about my world and myself.
Fortune cookie fortunes are not deeply prophetic, nor do they reveal anything mystical about our origins or futures. They're universal enough to apply to everyone, and that's refreshing in a way when you think about it. Everyone is equal in the eyes of the fortune cookie.
Here's a list of some of the fortune cookie wisdom I've amassed. Remember, these are real fortune cookie fortunes:

You will be advanced socially, without any special effort.

Do not mistake temptation for opportunity.

You will be spending time outdoors, in the mountains, near water.

Every man is a volume if you know how to read him.

Good things are coming to you in due course of time.

You will be called upon to help a friend in trouble.

Go after what you want: there's no time like the present.

You are an exciting and inspiring person.

You accumulate property - use it wisely.

Your life will be happy and peaceful.

Don't be over self-confident with your first impression of others.

You will soon be crossing the great waters.

Your happiness is intertwined with your outlook on life.

You have a natural grace and great consideration of others.

And my favorite fortune cookie wisdom of all time:

Confucious say: show-off always shown up in showdown.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Star Wars

In 1977 my father took me to see Star Wars. We hardly ever did anything together because he was so busy working at his drycleaning store. I was eight years old and had only a steady diet of old animated Walt Disney movies at the time. Little did we realize what was in store as we sat in that darkened theater. We saw a new myth presented in celluloid, one of faraway planets and insideous aliens and fantastic spaceships. We saw a modern science fiction pulp, one where the good guys battled the bad guys all over the galaxy. At the time, I thought R2-D2 was the best robot I'd ever seen. Maybe I was an impressionable kid, but I thought C3-PO, R2-D2 and all the other droids in the film were real robots.
Oh, to have that childlike wonder again!
My father, who wasnt really a science fiction fan, came out of the film totally impressed. I remember he told his parents about the special effects in the film, which were lightyears ahead of anything anyone did.
My dad liked Darth Vader. He liked the villain of the picture. He also liked Obi-Wan Kenobi, the Jedi Knight. Years afterards, even until this day, whenever I face something difficult, my father instructs me, "Use the Force."
I saw The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi with my dad. It was the only set of films we liked watching together. Some dads take their kids to the ballpark and share that experience. My dad took me to see Star Wars.
Now that it's 30 years later, the magic of the original trilogy remains fresh. The three "prequel" films, though they have better special effects paled in comparison to the original films. The priorities of filmmaking changed, and the three "prequels" were all about merchandice and cash. I'd give anything to have Jar-Jar Binks purged from my memory forever.
George Lucas spliced and hacked and digitally manipulated the orignal films, adding new footage and enhancing it with computer effects. These newer versions didn't make it a better film. The classic movies were a bit dated and cheesy, but they still hold up. They are masterpieces worthy of preservation in a time capsule or vault for all time. When historians 1,000 years from now want to know about the 20th Century, they'll have three things to represent us: the automobile, television and Star Wars.
That's who we are. The film became a cultural event, iconic and stamped into our collective memories. Characters like Darth Vader, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia and Yoda all have something to say to us. The original Star Wars used humor and playful banter between characters in a way the "prequels" failed to do.
Star Wars also ushered in a new collectible craze. After I saw the first Star Wars, I collected the action figures. I had almost all of them, but over the years, these little plastic action figures from characers in the movies got lost or thrown away. I do have Boba Fett after all of these years, in nearly pristine condition. Turning that action figure over and over in my hand I realize how important Star Wars was and childhood, only for a brief moment, lives on and I'm aboard that X-Wing Fighter with Luke Skywalker as he destroys the Death Star one more time.
Happy 30th birthday, Star Wars!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007


What a horrorshow weekend I had, my brothers. I took this devotchka, a dorogoy droog I’ve known since skolliwoll, to the bolshy city. I viddied her cantora, some bugatty place with a chasso behind a desk and you had to sign in before pushing the knopka on the lift to her floor. She went on about her rabbit and where her fellow workers had a chasha chai. We were out of raz, so we rushed skorry to the sinny and viddied Spiderman, a real zammechat moodge. Me and the cheena had a bit of a mounch at the show. I wanted to shvat her sladky sharries, but the better angels got hold of me, O my brothers. We went to a Chinese place and peet some chai and had pischcha. The room was filled with sarky bratchnys. We yeckate through the black nochy, away from the lewdies and their merzky buildings. We went back to her domy where she has tree koshkas. I kissed the cheena’s litso, and she shvat my yarbles. We got all pyahnitsa and nagoy and had a little of the in-out in-out. What in the name of Bog was she playing at?

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


Stoned Evil Monkey. Thank you, Seth MacFarlane.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

The Insomniac Philosopher

When I can't sleep, I usually write. I couldn't sleep last night, so I just sat at the kitchen table and wrote the following observations:

I don't believe in therapy. I think we should confront our problems head on with resolve. I'm not here suffering so some shrink can take my money and buy a Lexus.

The good thing about being eccentric is your eccentricities are your own.

The highest form of evolution is feeling comfortable in your own skin.

When I was a boy, they told me men don't cry. They told me second place was for losers. They told me monetary success was the American dream. Guess what? They were all wrong.

I've always wanted my words to be read a century or more after I'm dead. I want to achieve immortality that way, that a person living in the future will read my writing and say, "I get what he's saying. It's so universal." Universal truths and literary brilliance resonate 500 years into the future. If you don't believe me, look at Shakespeare.

I'd rather be the weirdo with a pen than the prosperous everyman who sells insurance.

Maybe life is not an arena for achieving an impact on the masses but a chance to collect special memories significant only to you and others. We recollect the strangest, most insignificant things but in the end, they end up having profound meaning. The more I think, the more confident and comfortable I am with myself and the more I realize what it means to be human.

Everything we do we should do with the full measure of being alive. We should seize every opportunity given to us to better ourselves and utilize our talents to the maximum extent of our being. That's what New York City means to me - a workshop for realizing the person we want to be.

Inspiration doesn't knock on your door and politely ask to be let in. It kicks the door down in the middle of the night and drags you out of bed.

There was this eccentric man who kept a journal filled with writings, jottings and musings on life. Everyone called him a madman and a lunatic. I called him a philosopher.

All of your education, background, and social status cannot replace common sense.

Nothing I ever write is original: It's all been done before in other cultures, in other centuries. I'm only making it palpable for my time.

Even the worst poetry has some beauty to it.

There are things we must learn firsthand in life through trial and error: how to love another person, how to forgive others and how to tie our shoes.

A writer reaches down in his gut and pulls out the profound, dusts it off and puts it on display.

I could wall myself up in the citadel of academia and live trapped in an ivory tower, but I don't want to. I'd rather be free among the masses, writing with a wild heart, soaking up humanity.

We have so much to learn and so much to teach.

Political partisans are shallow hacks. They claim only the Republicans or Democrats will save America. I don't think this country can be saved by elephants or donkeys, but by humans cooperating with each other.

We have a tendency in this country to under-think. I call it the death of curiosity. We've stopped wondering and wallow in cynicism and ignorance, which is a shame because there are still many things to be discovered.

Don't lament the time you've wasted. It wasn't a total waste. It brought you to this moment of clarity.

The biggest misconception about writers is they live lonely lives. How can they be lonely when there's a whole world of humanity to inspire them?

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

The Jihad in my Backyard

The FBI arrested six men on Monday night who planned to attack Fort Dix. The six men were identified as Mohamad Shnewer, Dritan Duka, Eljuir Duka, Shain Duka, Serdar Tatar and Agron Abdullahu. Shnewer and the Duka brothers lived in Cherry Hill. Tatar lived in Philadelphia and Abdullahu lived in Buena Vista Township. Shnewer was from Jordan, the Duka brothers and Abdullahu were from the former Yugoslavia and Tatar was from Turkey. All were Muslims and all were waging war against the United States.
Except this wasn’t a conventional war. It was a stealth war, a hatred cloaked in radical Islam and vehement opposition to the citizens of this country. They would wage jihad inside the United States by attacking the military.
The terror cell conducted surveillance on several possible targets – Fort Monmouth, the Philadelphia Coast Guard Base, the Dover Air Force Base and Fort Dix. They settled on Fort Dix because a family member of one of the would-be terrorists owns a pizzeria next to Fort Dix and he delivered food into the base.
The group practiced shooting automatic weapons at a firing range in the Pocono Mountains. They videotaped themselves training and downloaded the last will and testament from two of the September 11 hijackers to use as models for their own wills.
But their plot was foiled when one of the members took a videotape of their training exercises to a camera store to be transferred to a DVD as a recruiting tool. A store clerk notified the FBI and surveillance of the terror cell began. This was 16 months ago.
The last part of their plot involved obtaining automatic weapons including AK-47s, M-16 rifles and rocket propelled grenades (RPGs) to overpower the guard posts and storm Ft. Dix, where they would “kill hundreds of American soldiers.”
Fortunately, the FBI infiltrated the group with a confidential witness, who surreptitiously taped the meetings outlining the plot. The FBI and Joint Terrorist Task Force arrested the suspects and foiled the plot.
Though the plot and the goals of the terror cell are disturbing, what’s even more troubling is its proximity to where I grew up.
Cherry Hill is my old hometown. My family lived there most of my life. My parents still live there in the same house they have lived in for 30 years. I graduated from Cherry Hill East High School in 1988. I hung out at the Cherry Hill Mall. I remember the Ellisburg Circle, walked around nearby Haddonfield, jogged in Camden County Municipal Park and liked the quiet tree-lined suburbia of Barclay Farm.
Cherry Hill was always a safe haven, a security blanket wrapped up in the model homes and affluence and shopping centers. It’s a very diverse place, where residents came in all colors, nationalities, political, and religious affiliations.
And it’s where a group of Albanian Muslims met at the 500 Park Boulevard where Dritan Duka lived and plotted to kill American soldiers.
Eljvir and Shain Duka lived in the 215 Mimosa Drive, a residence neighbors in Cherry Hill dubbed “The Terrorist House.”
Shain Duka graduated Cherry Hill West High School in 1997, Tatar graduated in 2001, and Shnewer graduated in 2002.
Nobody suspected them of planning anything of heinous and so violent, or where their true loyalties were. It’s a weird feeling that the town your grew up in and the place you thought immune to terrorism housed radical Islamists. Terror cells were shadowy, secretive things, hidden in small back rooms in ethnic neighborhoods near mosques, plotting and planning in private. They were in New York and Boston and Chicago. They were in Midwestern backwaters and remote communities where they could hide unnoticed.
This is a dangerous and chaotic world we live in, and terrorists live in our backyards. They plot and scheme and train and receive e-mails and good wishes from Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden and Hamas and a number of militant groups. The day after the suspects were caught, U.S. Attorney Christopher Christie told a group of businesspeople at a chamber of commerce meeting in Ocean City, “They didn’t come from some foreign land and parachute in here all of a sudden. They lived among us in Cherry Hill, New Jersey in a typical New Jersey suburban community.”

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Practical Advice

Hey brothers, now and then
There's something that oughta move you
More than a pen
You don't need no school or knowledge
You've got something else to lend
All the people in the world
Can make it better again

And it ain't easy, yes I know
It's a hard and rugged road
Don't be swindled, don't be fooled
Just be honest and stay cool
'Cause you got to be there brothers, yes you do

- Cooper’s Lament
Arlo Guthrie

On the last day of college classes, my journalism professor pulled me aside and told me that I was too talented to be in her class. She said the rest of the students "pulled me down" and I should have gone to the University of Pennsylvania instead of Glassboro State, that I was too good a writer to be in her class.
That's the trouble with hindsight - we're comfortable prognosticating what has already gone before and live in the "shoulda" or "coulda" instead of the now.
In hindsight, Vietnam was a really bad war. At the time, we were doing our patriotic duty killing commies and stopping commies from infiltrating southeast Asia. But years later do we realize it was a quagmire and cost thousands of lives.
The trouble with life is we convince ourselves our decisions were either good ones or bad ones. If everything works out, we don't chalk it up to luck, we merely call it a good decision. If everything goes wrong, we live with the shame of a bad decision. The problem with most of life is we never really know what's around the corner. Are we making good decisions or bad decisions. I don't know. I'll let you know in ten years.
Case in point: journalism class, 1992. Had I magically known I was wasting my time in Glassboro, I could have transferred out and gone to the University of Pennsylvania earlier, say in 1990. Yet I didn't know that. So I plod along in Glassboro only to be told by my journalism teacher what I should have done with my life.
We humans have absolutely no control over our lives than we think we do. Everything we do is careful planning, but it's a dance upon eggshells, a futile exercise of convincing ourselves we're in control.
God has a funny way of stealing control from us. One moment we're delusional enough to think ourselves indestructable, the next moment, we're in an automobile accident or are stricken with some disease. Man is, by and large, arrogant and confident. This bravado is what gets us up in the morning, forces us to work and to invade other countries in the name of democracy and freedom. Little do we know, despite all of our trumpeting and confidence in mankind as dominant and supreme, God has other ideas.
The best survival technique is to realize certain indomitable truths and realities:
1. We're all just passing through life. We won't be here for 150 years, so don't get used to longevity.
2. The best thing we can do is be honest and nice to other people.
3. Don't quarrel too much. Arguments about religion and politics and nationalism are wastes of time. Why bother converting anyone happy in their own mindset? If Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter or Sean Hannity upset you, shut off the TV.
4. Read many books and watch many movies and open yourself up to new ideas. Be curious and explore the world.
5. Find the thing that makes you happy and do it. Be the best at the thing you love doing.
6. Don't worry about not having the best job, the biggest house or the largest paycheck. Money, in the end, is only a tool. There are plenty of rich people in this world and when they die, they're the same as all the other skeletons in the boneyard.
7. Give of yourself to others. People are alone because they choose to be.
8. Love is the greatest force on Earth, even more powerful than all of the atomic bombs and forces of destruction. Everyone is capable of love.
9. Realize we stand on the shoulders of those who've come before us. Our civilization is ours for the saving or destroying.
10. When you are alive, it is your time. Savor it.
If more people realized these truths, there would be less strife, guilt, sorrow and anger. Humanity would be - dare I say it - well adjusted enough to stop killing each other in the name of Allah or Uncle Sam or Great Stalin's Ghost and we'd all realize we have more in common than the differences propagated by our leaders.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

All Hail Queen of the May!

Every May Day (May 1) I dust off my copy of The Wicker Man and watch it. The 1973 British film is one of my favorites, and explores the ficticious pagan island of Summerisle. It is Christopher Lee 's finest hour as an actor in my opinion, and a role that made me an instant Lee fan. Edward Woodward played the stuffy, pious Sergeant Howie perfectly. The film is unlike anything I've ever seen and is both stylish, haunting, bizarre and if you've watched it as many times as I have, funny. Everything about the film is good: Anthony Shaffer's story, Paul Giovanni's soundtrack, the locations in Scotland, and the supporting cast, which included Britt Ekland and Ingrid Pitt.
There was a modern remake of The Wicker Man starring Nicolas Cage. I didn't see that. Maybe I'm a purist, but I've read things about that remake and it looks so ridiculous. Remakes are never as good as the movies they imitate.