Monday, September 19, 2011

Gloria Vanderbilt, now more famous for spawning our favorite Grey Fox, Anderson Cooper, than she is for her once-fabulous jeans, recently pondered over the loss of her other son, Carter, to suicide in 1988. Carter was 23 when he jumped off the balcony of the family's penthouse right in front of his helpless, horrified mother.

"You never get over it, but you learn to live with it," she said, adding that she thinks about it all the time.

Numerous interviews where Anderson recalls his mother fondly indicate that she bucked up and remained strong for the sake of her still-living son.

"I wanted to follow him over that balcony but then I thought of you and I didn't", she recalls to Anderson, of watching Carter plunge to his early death. Those words and that attitude are harder than anyone can imagine.

Losing a child is truly a life-changing event. My mother lost her only son when he was 18. From then on, life was divided into two distinct chapters. Relating a story or memory was always preceded with, "this was before Charlie died, so it must have been 19--" or the opposite. Experiences "after Charlie died" could never have taken place in that quaint bubble that Charlie inhabited with us.

Life became one of those "Sliding Doors" or "The Box" type movies where that one event beget the next in a never-ending game of Dominoes built on a keystone that was yanked away from its foundation.

Charlie and his buddy Randy were troublemakers of the Merry-Perri Hobbit-type mischief sort, but in a small New England town where "crime" is defined as putting out your mail without lifting the mailbox flag, Charlie was a moving target wherever he went.

Charlie's hijinx could be blamed on an absentee dad and a strict stepdad, or the sheer boredom of living on a farm pre-internet and Wii. Some blame the local sheriff with too much gun practice and not enough targets. The smaller the town, the greater the Power of One becomes, after all.

The made-up "what-ifs" don't matter. The reality is that a mother is never the same. Never. The. Same.

"There is never closure on something like this," Gloria told Anderson on his show. "Closure is one of those TV words."


Saturday, September 11, 2010


People of means do not eat rice. Risotto is a rich person’s dish, the name dressed up as much as the simple kernel itself. Fifty pound bags of granular substance are reserved for second and third world countries. To make a meal of rice is so un-American, it is justified only by the accompaniment beans and maracas.

Yet this snubbed food symbolizes home to me. Not because I am from a rice country, but because we didn’t have much.

For most people, a snowy day locked indoors in front of hot pine embers translates to mugs of hot chocolate and down filled blankets. It means reruns of black and whites and snow cones made from freshly fallen white stuff. Often, it also means bare cupboards since a trip to town is out of the question for several more days. Once the last bit of beef is cooked and the large storage freezer is empty, it is time to dig deep into the pantry, because if there is nothing else, there is always a bag of rice. Those who’d canned their own goods the season before subsist on jam, pickles, and beets smeared onto baking powder biscuits. Because there is always flour and sugar. There is always flour and there is always sugar and there is always rice. When all other stored goods are gone, a savvy New Englander knows how to turn flour and sugar and rice into three days of meals. And often, we did.

We did so not only because of winter’s vengeance, but because of unreliable jobs, manufacturing’s jaunt overseas, and the occasional deluge of medical bills when the health insurance safety net snapped free. Rice did not taste poor to me. It was a special cereal not sold in stores – a homemade kind. It was warm and sweet with butter, milk, and sugar. It was filling, nutritious, and yummy. It was comfort food.

Rarely now do I eat rice and milk. Indulging in the sticky stuff is reserved for Chinese take-out night then tossed with the leftovers into the garbage. A lack of food – or even a lack of a paycheck and health insurance – is far from my mind. Recently, though, there was nothing to eat. The fridge, freezer, and shelves were full, but laziness trumped any urge to cook something. But there in the back of the fridge was a week-old container filled with dried up rice. Jackpot.

Something from home filled my bones as I soaked it in milk, sprinkled it with sugar, and zapped it warm. But it wasn’t the same. It didn’t taste like home. It was crunchy not comforting, weak not warm, bland not bold. Perhaps because I didn’t have to eat it to survive. Or maybe it was the 70 degree air outside. It is possible, though, that it needed to sit on a back shelf and soak in sadness, poverty, despair and madness. When cooked with sour milk and disguised with sugar, it tastes like home.

More likely, the rice concoction always tasted like it did the other night. Maybe my life of means has changed my tastes into one that demands it be dressed up and renamed, served on fancy plates at sky high prices. I do love rice pudding, a treat I discovered in adulthood. Cooked with loads of expensive butter and cream and stirred by hand for hours on end, it is an annual indulgence enjoyed by the whole family. When my baby is grown, I wonder if the combination of cinnamon, rice, butter, and cream will paint home to him. And I wonder if it will taste the same or if he will have moved beyond such a humble dish. Most of all, I wonder how it will once again reinvent itself from rice to riches.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

51st State: Newest Mexico

In an age when illegal immigrants from Mexico aren’t deterred by barbed wire, gunfire, or Arizona’s legalized profiling, isn’t it time to redirect those millions of taxpayer dollars and invest them in a sure-fire plan?

Stop patrolling the border and instead, send those troops over to start a war with Mexico. Rather than watching with folded hands the bloody war that Mexico’s drug lords are waging and winning, the U.S. should declare marshal law. It wouldn’t even be a war but more like child’s play. We have the resources and the clear-cut advantage of a professional army. Let’s add another 7-day war to our history books and expand our lands.

For a year’s budget that goes to fighting drugs in the U.S. that slip from in Mexico, it could be stopped permanently with one swift military action. Why haven’t we then? Besides the international outcry of imperialism and bully-tactic Colonization, it’s really about economics. The Mexican economy is kept afloat by the drug trade. The current civil war aside, Mexico is generally happy as a pig in mud with their profitable exports, illegal as they may be here.

If we invaded and took over, our tax money would pour through that sieve we created into the Mexican economy for the next three decades. We’d be building roads, hospitals, schools, prisons, and housing. But we’d save just as many millions not fighting illegal immigration. In fact, most would probably voluntarily go home. Jobs, healthcare, and safety would be guaranteed back in Mexico, something they haven’t seen in their lifetime.

Moving manufacturing from overseas to local cheap intra-continental labor is the main answer to the economic woes. China and Japan, now First World countries, are becoming too expensive, forcing companies to move their plants to second and third world countries again. What’s better than a new, struggling Mexican economy? Without drug money and drug lord interference, North American manufacturing could boom once again. What might be slightly more in wages would pay off in cheaper transportation costs. No more month-long trips across the ocean or losing important (or hazardous) cargo to sea quells.

Tax dollars garnered from manufacturing plants on new American soil would be reinvested into Mexican infrastructure. Contracts and jobs would send people running to Mexico, boosting our own lagging economy and lowering our unemployment rate. Those workers would need housing, food, and entertainment, and the reinvestment of their wages into the local economy would pay off in spades. The American government could stop sending them unemployment checks and start collecting income taxes. The only losers are the drug lords, who would somehow find a way to ply their trade elsewhere.

Hell, with a new American-based education system in place there, companies could even move customer service and IT support from India to Mexico. A new frontier for casinos and lotteries would generate jobs, revenue, and tourism.

After a decade of sweeping reform, the land once known as Mexico could be broken down into multiple states, localizing government and creating a whole new fight for the Red and Blue. If it wasn’t already taken, I’d vote to call the first state “New Mexico” because it would, indeed, be a whole new world. And maybe we'd finally have a soccer team to be proud of.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Now Hiring: Chief Executive Transponster

Call me old fashioned, but I need to put my hands on the fruits of my labor. Our forefathers never had to explain what they did for a living – they’d simply point to something in the room and say, “I built that” or “I make the bolts that hold that together” or “I sewed your shirt.” Ask the average American now what they do and they’ll be as stumped to explain it as Chandler Bing’s character on Friends (“he’s a transponster” was the guess during the apartment-losing trivia bet).

Today, job titles range from the obscure (the “Fandemonium Director” created by to the ambiguous (the “Happiness Engineers” that work at WordPress) to the hubristic (the self-applied “iCEO” title held by Steve Jobs).

Engineers the world around with $50k in school loans and bigger brains than the average bear should be up in arms at how their hard-won titles are thrown around today to dress up run-of-the-mill work. From the home-based “Domestic Engineers” to the “Caffeine Distribution Engineers” found at Starbucks to the “Petroleum Movement Engineers” at the local gas station, Engineers are popping up on every street corner with an education far removed from AutoCAD and algorithms.

America is no longer the country that once produced tangible goods. Our main export now is entertainment, information, and money. We import our jeans, straws, even our hourly help. Today’s Jack and Jill have internet jobs moving around data in cyberspace and met in an invisible chat room; they have a robodog, an electric car, and a surrogate growing their baby in India because it’s cheaper than maternity leave.

It is no wonder the unemployment rate is so high. We don’t really know how to do anything. A hundred years ago, people built their own houses, grew and canned their own food, sewed their own clothes, and delivered their own babies. It is said that out of ten people in a room, one is homosexual, two are color blind, and eight will say their favorite color is blue. But none know how to reattach a button, make spaghetti sauce not from a jar, or change the oil in a car. Well, maybe one could sew a button.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Warning: Made in China

What if you declare war and no one shows up to fight? That seems to be what China’s mulling over right now. Caught up in a made-up war over in the desert, we neglected to heed the call to arms that China issued nearly a decade ago.

You gotta hand it to them; they’ve fought calculated battles, hitting our people and our infrastructure with minimal loss of their own. How is it that our media and our politicians have yet to realize they’ve been waging a quiet, deadly war against us? Why do we keep chalking up each attack to ineptitude when it’s obvious they’re trying to pick us off one by one – and succeeding?

This isn’t crazy conspiracy talk. It’s an actual conspiracy. The summer of 2007 saw a massive recall of lead-laced toys made in China. Hasn’t it been something like 40 years since lead was added to anything except gas? Then there was toothpaste. The FDA ordered the destruction of Chinese-made toothpaste for containing toxic amounts of diethelyne glycol, a sweet, syrupy poison.

The fall of 2008 brought melamine-tainted baby milk, eggs, sweets, and animal feed across Europe and parts of U.S. Suddenly deadly amounts of melamine showed up in all of those unrelated,Chinese-made products?

The latest bomb exploded in our housing sector, though it may have been the first one planted. Since 2001, Chinese drywall used in most of our new housing has been emitting hazardous amounts of sulfur gas. In lightning time, this corrodes copper, electrical wiring, air conditioners, appliances, makes people sick, and easily becomes airborne, thereby entering and lodging in lungs.

Our government just issued a warning to gut all drywall, insulation, wiring, circuit breakers, and gas pipes and replace them completely. How did the Chinese government – which directly manufactured this product – manage to hit so many Americans? Their Trojan horse came in the form of a ridiculously cheap price we couldn’t resist.

The Chinese didn’t need to fly a plane into our centers of commerce because we paid them to send bombs into our homes and the hands of our children. We forgive and forget each time, continue to buy their products, and close our eyes to the obvious.

We are at war. Instead of trained militants, it is postmen, teachers, accountants, and babies who are on the frontline. Laugh if you will, but mark my words, there will be more headlines. The only one we should be seeing from now on is this: Warning! Made in China.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Till Cold Feet Do Us Part

It was a rite of passage around ten or twelve or some age when parents finally decided you were tough enough not to succumb to childhood disease. If you’d beat the pox, scarlet fever, croup, pneumonia, and measles, then a parent felt obligated to contribute a few bucks to your continued survival. Henceforth, warm nights in New England were no longer limited to dying embers in the potbelly and hot water bottles under the covers. No, from there on out you got your very own electric blanket. It was usually a hand-me-down or picked up while yardsaling and about half of the wires worked. But it was warm and welcome.

As an adult with a thermostat-regulated gas furnace, no wood to chop, and insulated walls, there is little need for this New England bedroom staple. But like warm cookies and hot chocolate, it is a comfort, a guilty pleasure. But unlike such American staples as Star Wars and Corvette, the original benefited from its update: the electric mattress pad.

Anyone with backaches, arthritis, or a partner who won the thermostat war needs one of these babies. It envelopes you like a . . . well, a warm blanket. A hug. Loving arms that never fall asleep or fidget. Adjustable from 1-10 and split down the middle with dual controls for his and her comfort, the electric mattress pad is the best invention since electricity. It’s like being a kid again – without the chores.

Friday, February 26, 2010

I pledge allegiance to . . . Hubba Bubba?

In typical American slacker fashion, Bode Miller chomped gum during the national anthem as he stood on the medal podium at the 2010 Olympics. The next day, his teammates paid dearly. Lindsey Vonn crashed hard and broke a bone, causing Julia Mancuso to be stopped mid-run. Her cursed second run went poorly.

Hell hath no fury like a nation’s flag scorned.

Of the eight golds (thus far) that were privileged to be accompanied by our national anthem, I only noticed one athlete putting their hand over their heart. Not one attempted the song, though cross-country skier Johnny Spillane did mumble along some.

It’s been noted that our own President doesn’t observe all of the recommendations set out by U.S. Code 301. Is Nationalism dead? In this day of invisible boundaries where athletes from several nations are all wearing Nike manufactured Olympic gear, where the best Norwegian sleds are raced under a rainbow of flags, and where our most medaled winter Olympian hails from Japanese roots, is there even such a thing as nationalism?

The Pledge of Allegiance isn’t said in most of our schools anymore. Only Whitney Houston knows all the words to our National Anthem. Our nation hasn’t fallen yet for this lack of showy patriotism. But for God’s sake, spit out the gum, Bode. It’s just good manners. If we are nothing else, we are polite Americans, eh?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Once Upon a Faulty Gene

Children are programmed to love their parents no matter the harm inflicted upon them. It’s hardwired into their little brains and hearts to forgive and trust. It’s one of nature’s catch-22 scenarios, put there to ensure that a parent can doctor a child back to health and still hold esteem.

As a sick tyke, I often felt betrayed by my trustworthy folks as they held me down and put torturous drops into my painfully infected ears. How could they do that to me over and over, knowing how much I hated it? I now watch with sick regret as I have to do the same to my own little one. I look into his doe eyes, filled with surprise and accusation and thank God or Mother Nature for his ability to hug me afterward instead of running away. I will always be the bad guy, the one to scrape wounds clean and make him drink penicillin (aka poison to him).

The problem is that this “get outta jail free” gene is the same one that makes abused kids lie and defend their parents, afraid of being separated from them. How is a judge to know what’s best for a child when that kid can’t differentiate abuse from loving care and says with all sincerity, “I want to live with mommy”? If evolution weeds out harmful traits, how long will it take for society to be rid of bad parents? And if there were no more bad parents, could we even procreate? Or is selfishness just inherently human?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dear Conan,

Dear Conan,

Stop being a baby.

If I did my job poorly, got bad reviews, or didn't make my numbers, I'd be fired. All you got for doing a bad job was a shift change; although you still get to go in at the same convenient time in daylight hours to do that job. Your late night show doesn't actually require that you work at midnight, unlike the plant employees where I work.

If I made fun of my bosses on their dime, I'd be tossed faster than dice in Governor Paterson's back yard. So you feel lied to by corporate America who didn't come through on their word for your promotion. Welcome to my world. I don't get paid a few million to ease that sting.

Your refusal of the reassignment is simply Un-American. I don't know one person who would turn down a paying gig. I do know plenty of laid off factory workers who are funny enough to fill in for you if you think you're above it. I'd bet my next measly paycheck they'd bring in higher ratings than you. But if they didn't and NBC gave them a pink slip, they'd hold their head high and go stand in line at the unemployment office like so many others.

Ya see, Conan, this country is built on the shoulders of workers. Go work.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Russia Saves the Galaxy?

It wasn't too long ago that we were sure that Russia -- the USSR, CCCP -- would blow up the world. They beat us to space, we beat them at hockey. We raced to build arms with the foolish thought that if we had one more than them, they'd back down. In the end, they gave us their wall and we gave them denim.

Hearing that Russians stood in line for hours for toilet paper sorta whipped back the curtain and all at once, the big bad wizard behind the screen was just a little man with great manipulative powers. Russia became to the superpowers what Mork was to aliens.

So what does a nation do that's been all but exiled from Earth? Become the superpower in space. It's a lawless, unexplored front with no borders and little political history. Their space station is the Eagle's Nest of the galaxy.

Now with a crippled U.S. and our own status as a world superpower being questioned, it seems that Russia is once again making headlines with their influence on the world. The Earth, to be exact.

Russia's space agency just announced plans to attack a rogue asteroid, ala Armageddon. Is this more smoke and mirrors in Oz, or have they somehow managed to bring the nations of Earth to their mercy once again? When they're done playing Galactic Sheriff, will we let them back into our playground, thankful they saved the day? Will they even want back in? Russia may be quite content to rule us from a throne made of stars. While we continue to chase our tails here on the third rock from the sun, our one-time nemesis is becoming king of a new hill.

Be afraid. Be very afraid. Their version of Princess Leia doesn't look nearly as good in a gold bikini.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Biggest Brothers

Band of Brothers is not meant to be watched in the dark, alone. It is soul marking and its enlightenment should be realized in the shadow of tree limbs splattered with tiny lights as the snow falls outside.

Every Christmas I dust off my boxed set and pop it in. From its brilliant beginning, where David Schwimmer has his Glengarry Glen Ross moment, to the freeing of the camps, Band of Brothers delivers life lessons. It redefines friendship and family and reminds us the cost of freedom before bombs and internet warfare.

A great performance by Damien Lewis made me one of the two dozen people who faithfully watched his series Life before it got canned. Other great sightings: An unrecognizable Matthew Settle (before Gossip Girl fame) as the crazy Lt. Spiers, a premier performance by Hollywood royalty Colin Hanks as a rich West Point graduate trying to make good on the front line, ghost appearances by producer Tom Hanks as a British officer, and a very young James McAvoy as an unappreciated Replacement.

Somewhere around Christmas Eve as I wrap the last present and warm my feet by the fire, the 101st is spending their holiday dug into a trench in below-zero Bastogne, shaving with shards of ice and eating frozen bread to survive. I think how opposite those conditions are to the current warriors in the 120 degree deserts of Iraq, yet their fight is the same. The only thing that changes is the face of the enemy.

Our freedom is never really won. Like the Stanley Cup, we get to keep it for a short time until someone bigger and stronger comes along and takes it away. We will always need 19-year old boys who believe they are invincible. I think of this as I watch my nothing-scares-him baby boy sleep fitfully in his crib. Having no siblings of his own, I wonder if he will someday bond with his brothers-in-arms in a faraway land, believing that Freedom is worth it and equally convinced he will come home someday.

As I watch history unfold on my screen for the eighth year in a row, knowing most of them will be dead by the seventh hour of this miniseries, I find myself cheering, screaming, and crying anyway. I like these guys. Elizabeth Edwards said the only way a dead person lives on is through those who knew them and remember. Millions of people know these young men now.

They will truly live in infamy. And well they should.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

We Text You A Merry Christmas

Whatever happened to the Christmas card? The tree trunk's worth of glittery paper adorned with Coca-Cola Santas and too many rugrats that used to line my hallway at the holidays has dieted its way to a couple of generic "Season's Greetings" and the occasional form letter from a cousin. It's not that life has become too busy for my friends and family. If anything, their full lives give them more reason to send an annual "howdy" along with an updated photo we can all hold onto in case one is abducted.

Much like its cousin the Pen Pal Letter, the Christmas Card has been made extinct by Facebook, email, and digital cameras. My faraway cousins with whom I kept up only through my parents' monthly update and once-a-decade photo now inundate my Facebook page. I not only know their kids' grades and friends, I also know their latest Sudoko score and Virtual Mayoral duties. What I don't know is their address, phone number, or what their voices sound like.

Technology has brought us closer, shrinking our globe to M&M proportions. I'll probably never see the handwriting of my nephew although I'll "see" and "hear" him through some silicone medium. But then modern penmanship is a topic best debated another time.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Lucy -- one year gone

She died on Thanksgiving
She was my friend
my walking buddy
my meal companion
my foot warmer
my first baby

It was a cruel circle of life
I cleaned up after her as a puppy
and again as a senior when she couldn't hold her own
I helped her up stairs when she was too little and gangly to make it
and again when she was too old and arthritic
I crushed up her food before she had teeth
and again when they'd all fallen out

She died on Thanksgiving
and I was never more thankful

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Breakin Even

Growing up with a landscape of people as pale as the snow that capped the mountains that framed my State, I was oblivious to inner-city struggles, urban plight, and social welfare. “Gang” was just the four letter word that preceded “ly” when describing the boys in my town.

So when the single screen movie theatre – the only one in a twenty mile radius – showed Breakin’, we went in droves. Somehow I talked four different adults into taking me six times before it left town and was replaced by Karate Kid or Footloose or some other fish out of water story.

Rewatching it now with the wisdom of years, the experience of living near a big city, and the many gang articles seared into my brain, I’m as lost as I was then, just for different reasons. While I’m able to identify Adam as the flaming gay dancer friend – he just seemed unusually extravagant then – I’m unsure if gangs actually fought this way in the 80’s. Did they really dance it out, the best street corners going to the declared winner ala 8 Seconds? Or was Hollywood glossing over (or maybe oblivious to) the problem brewing right under their nose only a few miles away?

While the interracial relationships didn’t faze me – they’re just people of a slightly different color, albeit colors I hadn’t seen in person at the time – I now wonder if they were as easily accepted as the movie made them out to be. The only problem people seemed to have was “street” versus “trained” dancers. Maybe this was Hollywood’s way of slyly addressing the class differences in the hills and valleys of LaLa Land. Or maybe they just wanted to build that dance wagon everyone would soon jump on. If so, they were also early creators of the boy-girl-boy hero trio that’s still popular today (see Harry Potter).

Despite the movie not aging well (who the hell is Lucinda Dickey?), I was pleased to be able to identify Ice-T twenty five years later. He hasn’t aged a day. Now that’s some Hollywood magic.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Drunk Blog Dialing

One recent Friday night, I found myself bored with all my books, all two hundred TV channels,and every friend who might want to chat. I needed something different, unpredictable. A few years ago, I'd have hit a new club or called up my European entourage to entertain me for the evening. But since it's illegal to leave a baby unattended (go figure), I find myself at home on more weekends than not.

This is when I discovered drunk blog dialing. You don't have to actually be drunk, but it's fun to do a shot (or a sip of a shot) for every blog you like. Here's how to play. Go to a blogger site (like this one), then push the button at the top called "next blog." Blogger randomly moves you to another blog page.

For some reason, about ninety percent of them were German that night (this happens) but I did come across a few worth reading and some even worth following. Here's a highlight:

Fat Nat Sketches -- a kid with a good hand for drawing monsters.

Film Girl -- a girl with a love for old movies and the beatles. She reviews (and has great pics) of old, old movies. Very funny is the "spoiler" warnings she puts on each, as though these just came out last weekend.

Pittsbugh Daily Photo -- A nurse who went to art school in Pittsburgh and takes beautiful photos of the not-so-sh**burgh.

A Virginia Flyfishing Journal -- You don't have to like fishing or flies to enjoy the Garrison Keillor-esque writing this guy does.

Brooklyn Guy's Wine and Food Jouranl -- A great guide to local wines and food from a real person. Only slightly snobby.

I also came across some really cute family blogs, where I watched the kids grow up years in a matter of minutes of surfing. I didn't "follow" these, though, and won't mention them here. They're minors, after all, and if the kid goes missing, you know the police are coming looking for the weirdo cyberstalking them.

Next time you have a minute, click the "next blog" button a few time and see what you find. Maybe a gem.