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Monday, April 30, 2012

PASS it on OVER!

A review of three great books just right for Passover (or for any other time of year).

I was going to originally write this post during Passover.  Though, I didn't quite finish one of the books in time and I wanted this to be a review of some good literature not something 'hokey pokey' just for Passover.  Just because the three books happen to revolve around Passover somewhat, they are very different.  What makes one book's usage of Passover Seders different from others?  Let's find out.

The Matzo Ball Heiress 
by Laurie Gwen Shapiro

This book is all about the dysfunction and family drama that arises at Passover time.  For those who aren't 'members of the tribe', at Passover, Jews sit down and have a Seder, which is like a Jewish Thanksgiving.  The only differences is that on Passover, there is lots of reading, lots of waiting (for food), and lots of drinking (of wine).  You can see how things can get a bit melodramatic, what with a bunch of Jews together who are all starving and drunk.  You get the picture!

Heather Greenblotz, the main character, is the heiress of the Greenblotz Matzoh company fortune.   However, she doesn't want to merely sponge off of her inheritance; her main career is being a documentary film maker with her friend and business partner, Vondra Adams.  Despite her family pedigree, a Heather Greenblotz Seder consists of her eating a ham and cheese sandwich in front of the tv, alone.  Thus, the whole non-Seder and the fact that  Heather doesn't talk to her family much, contradicts the Greenblotz franchise motto: 'Buy Greenblotz-Because family is everything'.    

Heather's life begins to unravel when she agrees to televising a Greenblotz family Seder (the first in a long long time).  Obviously, Heather doesn't think this is such a good idea; her family fights like cats and dogs on Creatine (which makes you super aggressive, ps).   Between a matzoh ball and a hard place, Heather must try to track down and gather her crazy family together for the first ever televised Greenblotz Seder.  This, however, is much harder than it seems.  

Heather's father, Solomon Greenblotz is now an openly gay man living in Amsterdam with a Dutch erotic photographer.  Heather's mother,  Jocelyn is taking an Amazon cruise to study with shamans and healers.  Jake, her cousin, is cohabiting with a non-Jew, Shioban who, to the public, is always introduced as Shoshanna Greenblotz.  Greg, Jake's brother, lives in Florida and loves women, fishing, and having fun in the sun.  It doesn't help that Greg's current girlfriend is named Amy Hitler.  So, having slim pickins, Heather must try to find non-family members to attend the Seder. Throw that in with the project of taking on: a smarmy stoner high school film intern, having a complicated romance with the kosher camera man, and also having to lie about the whole truth of the Greenblotz family- these circumstances make for one very Tums inducing Passover Seder.

I give this book four out of five matzoh balls.  It is funny and quirky, laugh out loud at times.  However, I also cannot help to identify it somewhat as 'chic lit'.  Now, I don't believe so much in that genre, but there are books that appeal more to women than men.  There's a steamy (in my opinion), all too graphic sex scene.  Sex really perfumes this book and keeps it into the land of light reading.  What also keeps Shapiro's book from being more highbrow is the light-hearted fluffiness surrounding the female protagonist's perspective.  Women in this book seem only to think about sex (so do the men by the way).  The characters, however, are wild, fun-loving, and very cleverly drawn out.  The whole Seder debacle reminds me of a Christopher Durang play, wacky with intelligent dialogue.  I can see many scenes of this book, by the way, playing out on a theater stage.  My wife tells me that there is rumor of a stage production in the works of Shapiro's book.  How splendid!  I think this book would translate really well to the stage and I'd pay good money to see it, like Jerry Springer meets Shalom in the Home.

These Days Are Ours
by Michelle Haimoff


I love this book!  It is rare to find a piece of fiction that can fit inside so many genres of literature.  This book is first and foremost 'Jewish' in that most of the characters ARE Jewish.  However, it is  definitely a commentary about how social class and religion cohabit within American society.  The book is also 9/11 fiction, as it is set in post 9/11 NYC.  There are not many books that can pull of existing in multiple worlds, but this book does just that.

I had a hard time putting this book down.  Instantly, I identified with the main character, Hailey, a wealthy post-college grad living in New York's Upper East Side.  However, Hailey is a lot more than just a 'Jewish American Princess'.  She strives to be something and wants to get a job so she can earn her own keep.  She doesn't want to rely on her parents' fortune from their work with Conde Naste magazine.  Hailey wants to do things on her OWN terms.  That is something any 20 or 30 something can relate to; breaking away from one's parents and past is never easy.

Hailey basically only has her friends, Randy, Katie, and Jess, to rely on.  They go out to hung-over brunches and stay out at bars for late night drink-a-thons.  However, these friends all share the similar experience of growing up within the upper crust circle of New York City, so they understand each other.  Hailey may not like the fact that her friend, Katie, texts her brother, Adam and that they have an on again off again booty call relationship.  Hailey freaks out when she hears that her brother almost OD's and hears it from Katie, not Adam.  

The lack of direct communication between characters makes for quite complex and fragile relationships.  Which, while we're on the subject, brings me to point out how much I appreciate the relationship between Hailey and her mom.  I find it sad that Hailey sits in an often empty apartment and turns on music in different rooms in order to feel less alone.  Hailey's mom is one of those people who acts busy in order to feel fulfilled and less empty.  She goes to Barney's and drops money on shoes like it is her job to do so.  Hailey pines for the days when her family was a unit, but now they have been pulled apart from divorce.  What makes it worse is that Hailey doesn't hear the truth about her parents' divorce from her mother or father.  She hears it from Adrian, a guy she meets at a Passover Seder and then falls in love with.  It seems unreal that she would hear about her dad's affair through gossip, but in New York's upper crust society, this is totally possible. 

Hailey deals with both the pressures of 'keeping up with the Schneiders' and worrying about getting blown up.  Being rich in post-9/11 New York is quite a tall order.  It is interesting that through the book, Hailey has to fight her fear that is a result from 9/11.  She secretly hopes the terrorists will strike again so she can run through Central Park and fall into the arms of Brenner, a perfect Jewish ten in her book.  She, however, realizes, like with everything else, that Brenner and his family are not perfect either.  Their photograph with a Golden Retriever and white picket fence is only a glossy veneer.  Hiding beneath are the same imperfections and dysfunction within Hailey's own family.  Hailey learns that Brenner's mother is trapped in a marriage she wants out of, as she confides this to Hailey drunkenly during a party.  Nothing is at it seems, which is a theme I definitely appreciate.

Hailey faces difficult turmoil as a result of hiding what people don't see and living up to other people's expectations.  Being rich is not worry-free in Hailey's mind; if she wants success, she must earn it.  She Hailey wants to get a job so she can prove that she isn't just another wealthy trust fund baby who shops by day and drinks/parties by night.  She also has to deal with the less than perfect family dynamic.  Hailey, luckily, finds solace in her relationship with Adrian, a boy from outside New York City who has more realistic qualities than Brenner, the guy Hailey is obsessed with and wants to marry.  Soon, however, Hailey realizes that her fantasy about Brenner is a little girl crush.  It is her relationship with Adrian that begins to form substance, as he consoles and listens to Hailey; he seems to be the only one with his head on straight who offers good advice.  I actually identified as much with Adrian as with Hailey.

Which brings me to point out how much I like that the voice is not distinctly male or female.  Usually, you can tell what gender the author is.  However, in this case, Michelle Haimoff might as well have been a pen name.  The female voices are authentic, but so are the male ones.  Both genders have their issues.  I applaud Michelle Haimoff, especially in that she is a feminist blogger.  However, it is refreshing to see that she is an authentic feminist in that she understands the complexities and complications behind men and women.  She doesn't rail against men the entire time, nor does she present women as superior (though they are) and flaw-free.  There is a balanced and truthful portrayal of both men and women in this book.

I give this book a definite five out of five matzoh balls.  It seems, at first glance, to be another book about rich people and their problems or post 9/11 New York.  However, there is so much hiding underneath the surface, much like the characters themselves.  I could easily see this book being made into a movie.  The scenes are well described and I can picture these characters walking the streets of NYC.  Truly a must read!

All Other Nights
by Dara Horn

What I love most about this book is the merging of seemingly divergent topics, The Civil War and Judaism.  Why don't people often put these two things together?  After all, Judah P. Benjamin, a character in the book was an actual person AND the very first Jewish Cabinet member in this country's history.  He was a Confederate politician who, toward the war's end, argued that slaves in the Confederacy should be freed.  Benjamin was also only the second Jew to serve in the US Senate (for the state of Louisiana).  At Southern succession, he was made attorney-general of the Confederacy, then Secretary of War, and lastly Secretary of State.  Just to read about real people from history, who are also Jews, who played a very significant role within the context of the Civil War is thoroughly riveting.

Therefore, the opening scene, where Jacob Rappaport (the main character) sits in a barrel on a boat to Louisiana having enlisted with the Union army.  He does this to escape being married off, as a business transaction, to a 'homely' 17-year old girl who still plays with her dolls.  Jacob's family are wealthy mercantile New York Jews who are engaged in export/import on the East Coast.  Jacob soon discovers that he is talented as a Union soldier, and he is soon enlisted as a spy.  So, as he arrives in New Orleans, he has one mission, attend a family Seder to track down and kill Harris Hyams, a Confederate spy who is also his Aunt Elizabeth's husband.  Judah Benjamin will also be attending the Seder, as he is Harris's first cousin.  Should Jacob betray his family bloodline or his country?

Jacob's next mission is in Richmond, Virginia where he must win over the heart of one Eugenia (Jeannie) Levy who, with her sisters is involved in a Confederate spy ring.  Jeannie's family is also Jewish and involved in the business world which makes Jacob's job even easier, as he helps Philip, Jeannie's father, fix his books and save his business to which he is indebted and softened concerning   Jeannie's courtship by Jacob.  Jeannie's sisters are all quirky: Charlotte (Lottie) has been engaged multiple times, Rose speaks in cryptic code, and Phoebe is an expert whittler.  These are all separate skills that the Levy sisters use to operate their spy ring.  Adding gravity to the matter is the fact that Jeannie's ex-fiance discovers Jacob is a spy and will sell him out in order to win Jeannie back.  

Jacob soon discovers that the Levy sisters (at least most of them) have actually been spying for the Yankees and not the Confederacy.  However, Jeannie's true identity is mistaken and suddenly Jacob's wife and the mother of his unborn child is thrown into a Union prison.  Jacob must continue his work as a spy working with the Union, each passing day pining after Jeannie Levy, a mission that he fell in love with.  The book has many quick twists and turns that keep you reading.  You never are sure what will come next.  How will the now looming situation that Jacob is in, resolve itself?  Will Jeannie and Jacob see one another again?  This book is a labyrinth of suspense and spy-tingling mystery.

I give the book 5 out of 5 matzoh balls.  I read it a year ago, and still, the scenes and characters are vivid in my memory (which is not typical since I have really bad detail recall).  This book uses facts from history, as Dara Horn was once the fact-checker for American Heritage magazine.  Did you know, for instance that General Ulysses S. Grant sent out a proclamation to expel every Jew from the Department of the Tennessee, which included parts of Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi, solely because Grant believed them (ALL Jews in the area) to be 'war profiteers'.  So, yes, Ulysses S. Grant had some anti-Semitic beliefs. Dara Horn expertly merges fiction with fact, and cleverly weaves a plausible historical fiction.  Most of the events in the book did not happen, but they could have.  If you are a history buff or just love a good spy novel, then this book is surely for you.  It is smart, well-written, and tells a great story (very similar to how Big Fish is told as a piece of film).  The Civil War and Judaism do not keep exclusive company anymore!

matzah-tastically yours,


Saturday, April 28, 2012

There's something in the water!

Nowadays, women don't think twice about being able to do the same things as men.  I mean, in the sense that women can become police officers and judges, they can vote and become CEO's, and many women earn much more than men do.  However, what if there was a place where none of women's liberation ever happened.  What if the glass ceiling and equality fought by 'pink collars' in the 70's and 80's was a blip that became erased?  WELCOME TO STEPFORD!

I'm sure many of you reading this have seen the recent 2004 film re-make of The Stepford Wives with Nicole Kidman, Matthew Broderick, Glenn Close, Faith Hill, Christopher Walken and Bette Midler.  However, not only is that movie kind of hokey but it totally downplays the creepy factor of the original 1975 movie with Catherine Ross, Paula Prentiss, Tina Louise, Peter Masterson, and Patrick O'Neal as well as the 1972 novel by Ira Levin.

I just watched both the 1975 film and read the novel for the first time (the latter first).  I have to say that if you are a virgin to the Stepford Wife story, DO NOT see the 2004 film (at least not first).  It pales by comparison to the original movie AND novel.  The novel is brilliant.  Though short, only 123 pages (the 2002 edition I read), it is a masterpiece of literature.  I am surprised that this book is not taught in more curriculums in college classrooms and even high schools.  It could definitely be added to any 60's/70's counterculture class, science fiction class, or feminist/women's movement literature class.  I LOVE this book!

It might be because I have a soft spot for fucked up dystopian novels about suburbia and the 'American dream' in all of its lovely perfection and glory (smell my sarcasm?).  The book isn't just commenting on a dark suburban town that transforms women into robots/zombies to domesticate and shut them up.  It is a commentary on the silencing of women in general and looks at an alternate reality where women didn't care about burning their bras and marching for equal rights and pay.  There are realities where this exists, though Stepford is a far cry from most people's daily reality.  Believe me when I say that where I grew up, sometimes I wondered if places like Stepford were too true.   That's another story for another time.  Though, I do think it peaks my interest in the story behind this book.  Women who only exist to be beautiful and stay home to cook and clean.  Certainly there are men out there (cough Rick Santorum).  There was a lecturer (her name escapes me) who came to my college on the platform that women should stay in the home, not going out to earn a living.  In fact there are whole websites devoted to the anti-feminist female perspective: Anti-Feminist Females

What's interesting is that it is a more recent phenomenon for women to work outside the home.  Take my sister and myself.  We are distanced by six years.  We went to the same preparatory high school.  In my class, very few of the mothers worked a full-time job.  My mom was one of the few, and she went back to get a law degree in her 40's.  Mom, you rock!  By the time my sister was in high school, I'd say that it was peculiar if one's mother stayed at home making cupcakes.

Look, I'm not devaluing being a homemaker and housewife.  My wife stays at home with our two year old son right now.  It is a job that is not paid and where you work 24-7.  All mothers, and women for that matter should get a round of applause.  Women who are full-time mothers and/or work outside of the home deserve more credit than they get.  Though, I'm a little biased because I generally think men are pigs and should be kept on short leashes.  Yes, I just said that and I am a man.  Get over it!

Going back to Ira Levin's novel, one can see why I am so enthralled with the premise.  Take a New York family, the Eberhardts and transplant them to a Connecticut town, Stepford.  At first glance, it seems that things are peachy-keen.  The taxes and crime are low, the schools are great, and the women are obsessed with cooking and cleaning.  Sounds normal, right?  Not for Joanna Eberhardt, a native New Yorker with two small children, Pete and Kim.  She is a hobby photographer who has a yearning to be the next Annie Leibotvitz or Dorthea Lange.  What's more is that her husband, Walter, is a lawyer who completely digs women's liberation.  He is level with Joanna's passions and aspirations, at least in the book, he is.  The problem is that his feminist tendencies wain as he joins the seemingly only social organization in Stepford, the Men's Association.  Though, Walter makes a plan and promises Joanna to make the Men's Association co-ed. 

Joanna also will try to start a local NOW (National Organization for Women), which began in 1966.  However, Joanna does not have many female friends, as the women aren't interested in socializing together beyond trivialities.  Joanna makes friends with Bobbie Markowe who says that 'given the complete freedom of choice' would 'just as soon not squeeze the Charmin' (17-18).  She also makes friends with Charmaine Wimperis, who loves playing tennis on her own backyard clay court and reads about astrology.  With Charmaine and Bobbie on her side, Joanna tries to get the women of Stepford to organize a women's group.  However, they find out that this was already done.

After digging in the library, Joanna finds out that the town of Stepford had a League of Women Voters and a Woman's Club.  In fact, the Woman's Club mysteriously disbanded and lost its fifty plus members after Betty Friedan came to speak to them.  For those not in the know, Betty Friedan wrote The Feminine Mystique which was published in 1963 and help spark the women's lib movement.  It was at this time that the Men's Association began and takes in the men of Stepford, who are ironically all inventors as well as computer and chemical engineers.  Spooky!

Joanna then realizes that her friends begin to change.  It begins with Charmaine, who is very independent and free thinking but then tears up her clay court to make room for a golf course for her husband.  Now, she is obsessed with pleasing her husband and is too far wrapped around cleaning her house than do anything else.  Then Bobbie changes; one minute she wants to get out of Stepford and drinks bottled water, wanting the Department of Health to investigate.  The next minute, she wears lacy frocks and suddenly cleans up her house; her only worries are to look pretty and keep a spotless house for her husband.  Joanna's only hope is an African American woman who just moved to town, Ruthanne Hendry, who hasn't become a 'housefrau' yet. 

However, Joanna realizes that time is running out, as she figures out that the women of Stepford get only four months until they 'change'.  Walter thinks Joanna is stark raving mad crazy and sends her to a shrink.  Joanna begins to sound more like Mia Farrow as Rosemary Woodhouse in the 1968 film, Rosemary's Baby (the book was also written by Ira Levin in 1967; creepy irony!)  So Joanna is left between a rock and a hard place.  This could be a metaphor for how a battered woman would feel before the age of equal opportunities.  Actually, I volunteered for Legal Aid of Eastern Missouri, and did intakes for the battered women's unit.  I will never forget the stories I encountered.  Women told me about how they called the police and were told they were crazy or drunk.  One woman said a police officer told her 'drunk bitch, get back in the house.'  So, Ira Levin's fiction isn't too far off from reality.

What happens to Joanna Eberhart?  You'll have to read the rest of Ira Levin's book.  Also, read the books before you watch either film.  And, if you watch the film, watch the 1975 version first.  The 2004 version strays pretty far away from the book, and I was disappointed in it.

The 1975 film paints the characters pretty vividly.  You get the sense of time and place.  Even though the movie came three years after the book, you still get a sense of the 70's woman.  I also like that the women of Stepford are sexy 'housefraus' but they are not overt.  In the 2004 version, they're all airhead blow-up dolls.  In the 75' version, the women just seem lost in outer space, like they've been drugged/brainwashed or turned into cleaning zombies.  The science-fiction element hasn't been erased; the '75 film is submerged in it.  The Stepford women are shells of their former selves, taking no interest in activities other than cooking, cleaning, shopping, and looking good.  I like that in the '75 version, the women dress modestly in public, with floor length skirts and tasteful outfits.  You get the sense that whoever is behind turning these women into robots, wants them to be the ultimate 50's housewife, 'housefrau'.

I also like the alternate book ending in the '75 version.  The 2004 version didn't know which concept to choose (robots or computer chips), and had a very different, happier ending, which didn't sit right with me.  I like the darkness and eeriness of the book, and it was lost in the 2004 movie.  The 2004 version also had the women be more modern in the sense that all the women of Stepford are 'retired' CEO's and successful career women whereas in the '75 version, they're just smart, assertive and wear pant suits.

What I like best about the book, though, is how the women of Stepford are described.  Joanna says this about the women of Stepford: 'They never stop, these Stepford wives..they work like robots all their lives (64).  Joanna's friend, Bobbie says this at wanting to move away: "I wanted to buy in Norwood all along; too many WASPs, he said.  Well I'd rather get stung by WASPs than poisoned by whatever's working around here" (58).  In the 1975 film the idea of the women as freakish 50's housewife sitcom drones is played-up.  As Joanna tries to organize a woman's meeting, one Stepford wife can only talk about cleaning products, "Is it that good?  Well, if time is your enemy, make friends with Easy-On, that's all I can tell you.  It's so good that if ever I became famous and the Easy-On people asked me would I do a commercial, not only would I do it, I'd do it for free.  That's how good it is."  Then the best line in the 2004 film, is when Glenn Close's character says, "'Where would people never notice a town full of robots?  Connecticut!'"

So I've told you here.  Read the book, see the 1975 film, and then maybe watch the 2004 version.  I'd also read and watch Rosemarys' Baby.  Actually, I kind of want to read all of Ira Levin's stuff now.  It is appropriately sinister and creepy.

*Levin, Ira.  The Stepford Wives.  New York: Harper Collins, 2002.

   Works of Ira Levin (1929-2007):

      BOOKS-                                                     PLAYS                                   
   A Kiss Before Dying (1953)                   No Time for Sergeants (1956)
   Rosemary's Baby (1967)                        Interlock (1958)
  This Perfect Day (1970)                         Critic's Choice (1960)
  The Stepford Wives (1972)                    General Seeger (1962)

  The Boys from Brazil (1976)                 Dr. Cook's Garden (1968)

  Sliver (1991)                                          Veronica's Room (1974)

  Son of Rosemary (1997)                         Deathtrap (1978)

                                                                  Break a Leg: A Comedy in Two Acts (1981)
      MUSICALS                                        Cantorial (1982)
 Drat!  The Cat! (1965)

Literature-ly Yours,


Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day is EVERY DAY!

So today was Earth Day, and I am a little bothered to notice that a lot of places are doing discounts and giving out freebies.  Now, I love a freebie as much as the next person.  My motto is: 'If it's free it's for me; if you have to pay, stay away.'

 For a reference to what I'm talking about, look at this Yahoo News link: Earth Day Deals

I just don't see the point in giving out free cups of coffee or a 20% off of merchandise.  Some stores are even saying, oh spend $25 dollar and then get the discount.  This isn't Black Friday here.  It's Earth Day.  Now, I like the idea of handing out seeds or giving out reusable bags, but the whole idea of Earth Day is not about being a consumer.  Actually, of anything, we should consume less and think about how we can make less of a carbon footprint.  Maybe we could start doing a letter writing or occupy your state capital day where people ask for better green legislation.  Maybe we should go out there and get our hands dirty planting a neighborhood/community garden or holding a demo for kids/adults on composting and recycling benefits.

The environment is one of my hot button issues.  I care a lot about it.  Let's face it, if we don't all do something individually right now, well, tomorrow we won't see any of the green grass and colorful flowers.  We take our parks and forests for granted, really, we do.  In my neighborhood in Brooklyn, there is garbage/litter everywhere on the street: potato chip bags, soda cans, tumbleweave, dog shit.  Maybe it blows out of the trash can when it piles up, but I really think that some people really don't care.  They walk through the Brooklyn Botanical Garden or Prospect Park, but do they really think about how each and every action will have an impact on our environment.

By the way, I don't care what others say about climate change; it's happening, folks.  The thing about it is that scientists can only predict, estimate how our bad habits have impacted the environment.  The thing about the eco-system is that it's super fragile.  Changing one little thing, changes something else, and eventually it's a runaway landslide of negative events.

Already, we are seeing strange weather patterns emerge.  In many parts of the US, seeing 15-20 tornadoes at once is becoming typical.  And, I'm not talking about little ones, either.  These are record breaking tornadoes, like F5/EF5 funnel clouds.  Some parts of the US are in a drought and others are flooding.  Some parts got tons of snow and others (like NYC) got barely anything.  I didn't even feel like we had winter, really.  Europe had record breaking cold and snow.  It was snowing in Southern Europe too, in places like Italy and Greece (places where snow is unusual).  Australia is seeing some major effects too.  They have faced both extreme drought and flooding.

 Many species of plants and animals are dying out.  In NY state, alone, there are 19 species of animals on the endangered list and 6 species of plants.  Check out your state and see how it fares: Endangered species by state.  The chimpanzee, polar bear, tiger, snow leopard, black rhino, Asian and African elephant, Blue Whale, panda, gorilla, and the list goes on.  These are not animals no one has ever heard of.  These are animals that one would see in the zoo, mainstream animals that everyone recognizes.

It is alarming to see the state of our world, environmentally.  On Earth Day, I try to think of all the things we can all do in order to have less of an impact on the earth.  After all, we have one earth.  We mess it up, and there's no going back.

I will suggest some way in which everyone can be greener and more mindful of their daily actions:
  • Re-use plastic jugs, boxes, magazines, etc for craft projects.  I just got a book ReMake It: Recycling Project From the Stuff you Usually Scrap by Tiffany Threadgould.  She has a website: Tiffany Threadgould's website where you can buy the book and get other helpful tips about reusing materials for art projects.  She is the queen of turning trash into treasure.  She even sells some of her craft projects ready-to-use.  However, I'd rather try the projects myself.  I met her at NYC Earth Day, and we talked at length about reusing things for art projects.  I have been trying to do this in my own art by taking old magazines and calenders to use in decoupage projects.  I cover old jars, plastic jugs, Pringles cans with collages and then spray it with shellac (which isn't so environmentally friendly, I know).  I also have been turning ice cream containers into bags/purses.  I've really been trying to incorporate recycled art projects into my life.  Tiffany has tons of great ideas, though.  She has projects for making a t-shirt rug, CD case picture frames, magazine beads, a soda tab belt, matchbook notebook.  They are novel, unique ways to reuse things that you'd otherwise throw out.  Plus, you will make really cool gifts for the holidays and birthdays.  I am a big fan of recycled art! 
  •  Bike, carpool, take the bus/subway.  Try to use your car as little as possible.  We live in a nation where people drive here and drive there.  Even if something is ten minutes away, we drive.  I'm from the Midwest, so I know this phenomena well.  But, folks, it's not good for the environment or our health.  It's made us fatter and lazier.  Why not walk down the street to run errands or bike downtown to the farmer's market?  I am lucky; I live in New York City.  When moving here, I gave up my car and made a pledge to ONLY use public transportation.  I also made a pledge to learn how to ride a bike (yes, I shamefully admit that I don't know how to ride one).  I feel a freedom from not driving anymore.  I hated it.  So, if I ever move somewhere again, where I need a car, I'll ride a bike or walk when I can.  Then, if the nearest town is a 30 minute car ride, I'll try to condense all of my errands into one trip.  I think it's a good idea to make a daily list of what you need to do, how far each errand/event is, and map the mileage.  If you can avoid driving, do it.  If you have to drive, just make the fewest trips possible.  Ask yourself, do I really need to do all of these things TODAY?  You'll spend less money on gas and be less stressed out, believe me.  The less time you spend in a car, the happier you'll be.
  • Conserve and save.  Recycle glass, plastic, aluminum, and paper.  Find out how to recycle in your area.  If there isn't a well-organized system, start one up!  Turn off lights except for the rooms where people are awake and doing things in.  If you are home, not every single light in the house has to be on.  When you leave, make sure every single light in the house is off.  Don't leave electronic devices on or plugged in over night and during extended absences from your home.  I would even go as far as to say that we should all have a weekly day set aside as a 'Sabbath'.  Only, instead of leaving lights on the whole time, turn them off.  Don't use electronics either, like the computer or your phone.  Try to go at least 12-24 hours without using any device that plugs into a wall.  Maybe you do this on a Sunday and tell people ahead of time so they know not to call/write e-mails.  You could use the time for family time, you know, like in the olden days.  You could also try flushing the toilet only when you go number two.  I know, this grosses a lot of people out.  Try it though.  Or, try to cut down on how much water you use.  Some people do laundry in their bathtub and/or air dry their clothes.  Or, if you have too busy of a lifestyle, just be mindful of how much electricity, water, etc you are using.  Do you need to open the fridge ten times in 20 minutes?  Do you have to leave the shower running while you pick out clothes?  Think about it.  Want not, waste not.
  • Consumer power.  Try, as much as you can to buy organic and natural produce.  If you live in an area where you can join a co-op or CSA (community supported agriculture) then do it.  If you live near a Farmer's Market, go, no matter how lame it seems.  Plant your own garden.  Or, if you have to go to the grocery store or say, Wal-Mart to shop, then why don't you speak to the manager about getting some organic options.  Pesticides and hormones, no matter what you read, are not good for you or your children.  I don't want to tell you how to live your life, but I don't want you to die from cancer (your loved ones would agree with me).  I truly believe that cancer is a result from the poison we put in our bodies, both from food and beauty products.  Write to companies and tell them you don't want this crap in what you buy.  As consumers, we have lots of power.  If we don't buy or use it, the company has to answer to us because otherwise they'll go out of business.  The big corporations and factory farms think that this is what people want.  That and people are kept in the dark about their food.  This must end today!  Get educated about chemicals and what they do.  READ, READ, READ!  Read multiple sources and books.  
I can recommend some authors and films here (this is just to start):
             Michael Pollan, Food Rules, Omnivore's Dilemma, In Defense of Food
             Morgan Spurlock, Don't Eat This Book
             Eric Schlosser, Fast Food Nation
             Jonathan Safron Foer, Eating Animals

   movies: King Corn, Food Inc., Fast Food Nation, Super Size Me, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead

The suggestions I made above are just a few options.  There are tons more actions we can all take.  Listen, I am not standing on a soap box here saying that me and my family are perfect.  I try the best I can each day.  That's all any of us can do.  But, we HAVE to change the way we live.  We HAVE to change our lifestyle.  We cannot continue to consume and worry about tomorrow later.  Tomorrow is today!  If we don't change anything then tomorrow will never come.  I hope you follow my logic and try to do as much as you can to be green and conserve.

When I was doing some outdoor environmental education a few years ago with Land for Learning in Southern Illinois, I realized some very important lessons.  As I looked around at the trees and the lake, I realized that generations of humans had walked on the same land.  In order to keep and preserve the memory of past generations and share the link in time's echo.  If we want future generations to be able to enjoy trees and flowers, rivers and lakes, insects and birds then we have to make changes.

I will now recommend some organizations you can get involved in and more books to peruse:
  Land for Learning Institute- I love this organization.  Big Al, Shannon, and Curt are amazing individuals.  If you live nearby or you 're in the area (Missouri/Illiniois), check them out.
  Teva Learning Center- Some of my friends have worked with them.  They are a Jewish environmental organization.  They travel around the US in an eco-bus and educate Jewish schools and synagogues about being greener.  (Upstate NY)
Mercy For Animals- I spoke with them at NYC Earth Day Fest and watched their video on animal cruelty.  Now, they propose that people consider going vegan/vegetarian.  However, know that there are options to buy meat that is from a place where animals are treated ethically. 
Magen Tzedek- Ethical Kosher Food- They formed in 2008 out of the Conservative movement in an effort to better educate and promote ethical treatment of animals and workers within the kosher food world.
 Just Food- An NYC non-profit organization that provides people and farms together so that everyone can promote healthy eating from local sources.  They are behind organizing CSA's in and around NYC.  They educate and promote healthy food programs to all so that power may be given over to the people to have control over and have a say in what they eat.

Books: Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
            The World Without Us by Alan Weisman
            An Inconvenient Truth by Al Gore
            Walden by Henry David Thoreau
            The Control of Nature by John McPhee
            Life is a Miracle by Wendell Berry
            Journeys in the Wilderness by John Muir

A better tomorrow, starts today!

  It's not easy being green,

Saturday, April 21, 2012

ARTsy FartSY

When you think of eccentric artists, who comes to mind? Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Vincent Van Gogh.

One name is missing from your list. Possibly one of the most genius artists who exists in the world of photography AND fashion, snapping photos of clothes is Bill Cunningham. I would argue that he is by far one of the most revolutionary and important artists/photographers of the 20th/21st century. The man is in his mid-eighties and still rides around the city of New York on a bicycle taking photographs with a non-digital camera (that is a camera that still takes film that one gets developed). He lives alone; he isn't married nor has he ever been in a significant romantic relationship. Probably a lot of people think he is 'gay', but to me Bill is Bill. He defies conventional definitions and cannot be boxed in. His sexuality isn't something Bill Cunningham thinks about often or really has time for. He isn't sad at never having started a family, nor does he seem regretful about his life. He lives his life doing what he loves and seems content.

After watching the documentary about his life, made one year ago, in 2011, Bill Cunningham in my new hero. It is 85 minutes that you will not regret. Bill Cunningham New York. Do yourself a favor. Watch it. Now! (PS: It's on Netflix!) He lives by his own rules and not by other people's expectations. Growing up, his Catholic family did not really want him entering into the fashion world because it isn't a man's territory. However, rather than being a banker or businessman like other men in the 50's and 60's, he took pictures of clothes. He is one of the last true artists of our generation. He has defied being conventional and mundane by being unique and reaching outside of the box. Labels defy him, they bounce off like bullets.

For the last 40 to 50 years, he has been riding around NYC on his bike taking pictures of street fashion, high society galas, and runway shows. He has been to Paris many times, and he is on a first name basis with many socialites and designers. However, Bill Cunningham is everything but pretentious. He is so humble, that it is almost hard to believe how modest he is. He gets hundreds of invitations to functions that are typically reserved for the socially elite and well known celebrities around New York City. He, however, chooses the ones where he is inspired by the charity and finds something intriguing about their cause and work. What's more is that he doesn't sup at these events. It would be anyone's dream to sit down and eat caviar and sip expensive wine while rubbing elbows with New York's rich and reputable. However, Bill Cunningham refrains from touching anything, even sitting, at these events. He is there to photograph clothes and make honest reflections and societal commentary, through his pictures, about the story that clothes and people tell. He has upper crust NY eating out of the palm of his hand, yet he prefers to eat at the corner deli.

He doesn't buy the most expensive equipment. In fact, he uses the same camera he has for years and often reuses materials instead of buying something expensive and new. He just doesn't see a point to spending money frivolously. Bill Cunningham also lives in a very modest apartment above Carnegie Hall, or at least he did at the shooting of the film. As he went apartment hunting in nicer, loftier, more expensive looking places, Bill looked rather embarrassed. Bill also has a very small work studio. One would think that for a man with his prestige and credentials that he'd have a whole floor of a building to use as his work space. Bill Cunningham is not a man of pretension and artifice. Though, he admits in the film the irony of how he lives his life since it contrasts with the fact that he loves to photograph clothing.

He has worked with the New York Times since 1978 and still has a regularly and popularly read section. His career began with the Chicago Tribune, and during that time he also worked with Women's Wear Daily. However, despite being the toast of the town for his photos, he stopped with work with Women's Wear because they were doing things with his work that he didn't approve of. For example, Bill has always taken photos of street fashion. He especially likes to profile regular non-model types wearing runway clothing. In Women's Wear, they took the opportunity to make fun of and mock the regular women wearing designer looks. They also would use Bill's pictures to point out the 'worst' and 'best' dressed. Bill Cunningham, however, would not have this. To him, no one is 'better' or 'worse' because a person wears or doesn't wear something in particular. He takes pictures of the elite and mundane people as a way to equate them. What people wear on a day-to-day basis is just as artful as what the runways premieres. To Bill Cunningham, all of fashion is art.

What inspires me the most about this man is that he is completely humble. Every designer around the globe knows his name. He can get into any fashion show and rub elbows with the crème de la crème of the fashion world. However, to Bill, it's just life, c'est la vie. It doesn't get to his head. He likes going to fashion shows and being allowed to photograph because, to him, it's fun. This is his livelihood. He still goes to church every Sunday. He admits in the film that he goes to church 'to hear music' since he wouldn't have time for music otherwise. Photography and fashion is what he eats, sleeps, and breathes, literally!

I think the biggest compliment ever would be if I were walking around Manhattan and I see Bill sidle up next to me in his blue smock and bicycle snapping shots of what I'm wearing. That would be the greatest honor of life, just because the very act of acknowledging my clothes as art would acknowledge me as a person. Bill Cunningham's art is empowering to people of every race, class, and culture. He has captured NY history through clothes. He has photographed major fashion trends from the hippified, bohemian sixties to disco seventies to flashdance/volumized eighties to grunge/alternative nineties. Bill Cunningham's art has transcended time. He has captured movements and styles that will be forever remembered. He takes the notion of whether everyday people create fashion as art or fashion instructs all of us to wear what we do.

One quote from the movie really struck a chord with me. Bill Cunningham said, "The wider world that sees fashion sometimes as a frivolity that should be done away with in the face of social upheavals and problems that are enormous. The point is, in fact, that fashion, you know it is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don't think you could do away with it; it would be like doing away with civilization."

I never really thought of fashion in this way. We all deal with what life throws at us through clothing. It reflects every mood and event in our life. In a world seemingly out of order, our clothes are one thing we can always have control over. More inspiring is that we are all empowered, as artists, through our clothes. It is our way to show who we think we are to the world. We can create a character for ourselves, we can reinvent ourselves, we tell others what to think through our clothing. For Bill Cunningham, he truly enjoys the art of taking photos of clothes because it is the clothes that speak about who we are as people and individuals. He doesn't do it to be famous or noticed. He shies away from public recognition. He acts just like someone's fun-loving grandpa or eccentric uncle, so down to earth.

He can exist within every level of society, multiple worlds. This is a gift that most people never attain. He can slip in and out of high society functions. He is the only photographer who people like Anna Wintour will stop and pose for. He was good friends with Lady Astor. He is one of the last bastions of old artist New York, as he lived in Carnegie Hall with Editta Sherman (photographer/dancer) and Toni 'Suzette' Cimino (artist), the last artistes to reside above Carnegie Hall. Bill Cunningham is a legend and an inspiration to artists everywhere. He lives for his art, and makes his work passion. He is unassuming and lives the same way an NYU film student would live (penny to penny). For year he didn't want to get paid the full worth of his photos when he shot for Details magazine. To Bill, money ruins everything and as an artist, without it, you are more powerful.

Bill Cunningham is like a infusion of Mister Rogers mixed with The Mad Hatter. By the way, he was a milliner, hatmaker; he used to design and make his own hats. I would seriously give my left eye to meet this man and shake his hand. Through his art, he is a revolutionary, a rogue, a visionary. He defies the labels of class through his photos and equates all levels of NY society through their clothing. A street punk, street performer, and art student are just as important fixtures of NY society as any Rockefeller or Carnegie. Through his photos, he blurs the line between fashion, art, and sociology/history. He is a true maverick. I can proudly say that Bill Cunningham is my new hero. In an age where heroes are dead, I have found one worth looking up to and aspiring to be.

Bon nuit,

Further resources/reading:
=The Film site
=Bill Cunningham's NY Times column
=NY Times article on Bill

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Zombie Jesus

I have to prelude the following short story that I wrote by explaining what gave me the inspiration to write it in the first place. Right now, our society is caught in a zombie obsession. There is even a renaming of Easter as Zombie Jesus Day. There are websites and t-shirts/stickers for such an occasion. I think the phenomenon may have arisen (ha) from South Park. Zombie Jesus Day site

However, I've had the idea to write the following story for awhile. For about four or five years I have had this story stuck inside of my head. It started by having the image of the church service with a zombified Jesus entering and eating the churchgoers inside. Gory, yes. However, the point was to also make a social-political commentary about America's growing obsession with religious fanaticism. Jews, Muslims, and Christians alike are being bitten by the bug of extremist religious doctrine.

Personally, I feel that when any society becomes entrapped by the dogma of extremism, of any kind, that we become doomed. So, since Easter just passed and we are now in the middle of Passover, I felt the need to finally write down the following tale. I hope you enjoy it. And, please either write constructive feedback in the comment section or e-mail me personally and tell me what you think. This is obviously an early draft (it's the second incarnation of the story), and I will continue to make changes. Thanks. Enjoy!

((this is my original writing and any attempt to copy or replicate needs my express written consent))

Mary always loved Easter; it was her favorite holiday, next to Christmas that is. Though Mary preferred her holidays less commercialized, more religiously authentic. Yes, Easter has chocolate bunnies and Peeps, but people generally act more pious around Easter than Christmas (at least in her opinion, anyway). Easter was definitely Mary’s true favorite. So today, being Easter, she jumped out of bed and willingly threw on her church clothes. She put on a floral print dress with a doily collar and a pair of white stockings. She got out her black leather saddle shoes and put pink ribbons in her braided, dish blonde hair. Her golden cross lay peacefully on her collarbone.

Then she got out the most important item of all, her very own leather bound King James Bible. She hugged the bible to her chest. This was her Nana Ernestine’s present to her before she died. It was Mary’s most prized possession. At thirteen, Mary wasn’t like other girls her age. For starters, Mary’s mother still made her dress like a six year old. Mary obeyed because she did not like to fight. She was the peacemaker in the family. Mary also preferred the clothes her mother picked out to the tarty outfits that other girls her age were wearing. Mary was glad that her family still had meals together, had board game night, and didn’t use swear words. Aside from her brother, Chris, everyone of her family members were devout Catholics.

Speaking of her loving family, everyone in the house was still sleeping at this point. So Mary took in the calm, quiet atmosphere while it lasted. Soon, everyone would be rustling and getting ready; the shuffle getting to church services would be intense. The services began promptly at 9 a.m. Mary’s parents always made it a point to be at church on time. Therefore, the few minutes of peace and quiet would soon be shattered. Mary had just enough time to soak this moment in, as if time itself were frozen.

Mary liked Easter for this very reason. She cherished the stillness of Easter morning. Now that spring was in the air, you could literally just sit listening to the birds chirp all morning long. Mary looked out her window; no one in the neighborhood was awake yet either. Cars were still parked in driveways up and down the street. Multi-colored plastic Easter eggs still hid behind bushes and in-between flower beds. Bunnies rustled to and fro in backyards while the morning dew slowly evaporated off of each blade of grass. Mary wanted to imbibe the feeling of newfound spring and Easter by taking in the peacefulness out of doors; there, she would get the full effect.

Mary crept out of the house, letting the door quietly shut behind her. She walked down the street, looking at daffodils and tulips growing in her neighbors’ gardens. Each bulb peeped out of the soil as if this truly were the first day of spring. Mary looked inside her next door neighbor’s window and saw silhouettes of people getting dressed for church, putting on suits and dresses, silk ties and expensive hats. The air had the smell of linen and fresh cut grass. Mary smiled to herself. She crouched down to the ground to smell a yellow daffodil.
However, as Mary got back up to a standing position, she noticed something strange, at the end of her street. It appeared to be a person lying down in the middle of the street. As this individual came into view, she noticed that the person was a man. This man definitely was not moving. She had to see if he was dead or alive, if he was alright or if he needed help. Mary, however, couldn’t shake the feeling that something seemed out of place. She ran over to see about helping the man on the ground.

Something told Mary not to get any closer; this man was dangerous. She knew deep down inside, though, that he was probably harmless. Then, Mary began to change her mind as his appearance suddenly came into focus. He was bleeding on his neck like he had cut himself shaving (as he were using a chainsaw). In fact, his whole shirt front was covered in blood; the shirt was white so the crimson of the blood was hard to ignore. Then Mary noticed that the man was missing his right hand up to the wrist. The man had bone exposed on his left knee. There was flesh hanging loosely from his thigh as if he had just been hit by a passing car. Mary had no idea what to do. This man definitely needed an ambulance. Then suddenly, she saw the man’s face; it was covered in maggots and worms. Mary felt like vomiting. The sight was like something out of a horror movie (the type of movie Mary had no reference from). Mary screamed and cried for help, but nobody was around to hear her. Just then the man’s arm grabbed her and pulled her by the hair. At that moment, everything went black.

Just then, Mary heard an alarm bell sounding far off into the distance. Mary’s vision went all blurry and she saw a flash of light. Mary was in her bed again, and her clothes were resting, folded on her chair. Mary had been sleeping, dreaming in fact, and was having a terrible nightmare when, thank goodness, the alarm her mother set the night before, woke her up.

Mary was glad to hear shuffling downstairs and down the hall. Her parents and brothers were all getting ready for services at St. Aloysius Catholic Holy Christ Eucharist Church. Even though there were 9 am morning services as well as noon services, the Waltons always went to the early Easter church service because it was considered good manners to be in church bright an early on Easter Sunday. Any other Sunday, and the Waltons would be okay with a later service but not today. Today was Easter Sunday; and the only people more excited than Mary about going to church were her parents.

The Walton’s house had crosses in every single room (even the bathroom). Mrs. Walton always said that evil could be especially devious when one was alone and vulnerable in the ‘lavatory’. Mrs. Walton didn’t say ‘toilet’ or ‘crapper’; even such words as these were vulgar and common. The television had cable television access but the majority of channels were blocked. The only shows one could watch were of an educational or religious nature (or both). Mary always wondered why her parents paid for so many channels to only watch six of them. Mr. Walton always explained that many of Sunday’s sermons were no longer available on local access, as many of the channels had gotten rid of them to make room for cartoons and teen drama series.

Mary got dressed (for real this time), put on her golden cross, and opened the door of her bedroom to see her two brothers, Chris and Teddy fighting over a baseball card.

“Hey lame brain, get off of me. You’re going to ruin my suit!”, Teddy yelled.

“You’re such a spaz! Now, give me back my Derek Jeter autograph rookie baseball card. NOW”, Chris yelled back.

“Fine. Here. I was just looking at it. No reason to start pounding on me”, Teddy replied.

Even though Teddy was ten, five years younger than Chris, he always acted more mature about things. Mary, being the middle child, was very careful to observe the behavior of everyone around her. She didn’t like when any feathers were ruffled, and was the type of thirteen year old who felt that everything and everyone had its place. This rough housing on Easter morning, however, just would not do!

“Stop it, both of you”, Mary commanded. She often liked to play mother between Chris and Teddy, especially when her parents were preoccupied, which was often.

“What are you going to do about it, fart face? Don’t give me another lame Bible quote. The only reason I’m going to church today is so I can get my Easter basket and hopefully twenty bucks from Aunt Amelia. Church is so boring, especially on Easter”, Chris confessed.

“That is so immature. I can’t believe you. I think the Easter service is the most beautiful and harmonious of the year. It’s even better than the Christmas service”, Mary replied.

“At least at Christmas I can get through the long service by thinking about all of my presents under the tree. If we got presents on Easter, then maybe I’d be a little more excited about going to church”, Chris retorted.

“I can’t believe you. At least act like you care. I bet if Anna Rose were singing in the choir, you’d be a little more motivated about church”, Mary exclaimed.

“Wait. Anna Rose is going to be singing at St. Aloysius today? Oh man, I might get more into the service than I thought. I just hope there’s not too much standing if you know what I mean”, Chris joked.

Mary snickered, “Uch. You’re so crude. Can’t you behave like a Walton for once?

Teddy chimed in, “Yea, Mary’s right. Don’t be such a butthead on Easter! Right Mary?”

Mary agreed, “Right. Today is the day Christ returned from the dead to atone for our sins. What if Jesus Christ himself came back today?”

“Don’t give me that bullshit, Mary. We all know it’s a made-up story. It’s a hoax!”, Chris guffawed.

“Ha, that’s twenty-five cents for the cuss jar. By the way, it is not a hoax. Jesus died for your sins and today commemorates the miracle of Christ rising from his grave”, Mary retorted.

“Yea right. Okay, if Jesus came back from the dead, then he had to have been a freakin’ zombie. And if Jesus comes back today, then you better run for your life, Mary. Run, Mary. Run, Mary”, Chris laughed while jogging in place.

All of a sudden Mary remembered her horrible dream. The man lying on the ground, the blood all down his shirt, the wound in his neck. The worms and the maggots on his face. Mary ran into the bathroom feeling like she would retch. She could still hear Chris cackling outside the bathroom door and Teddy’s footsteps running downstairs and yelling for his parents.

The car ride over to St. Aloysius Catholic Holy Christ Eucharist Church was a quiet one. Mary stared out the window, still a little sick to her stomach at remembering her dream. Chris was reading a Christian comic book while Teddy texted on his Android phone, a gift from Christmas. Mary’s parents had the radio tuned to a Christian station and were listening intently to the sermon for Easter Sunday.

As their red Toyota pulled into the church parking lot, Mary noticed that most of the spaces were filled. It seemed like the Walton family picked the very last open spot, or at least one of the last. The parking lot had about 85 spots all in all, and on a typical Sunday, only about 30 of those spots were full. Only ten of them were usually set aside for church clergy and volunteers, so really only twenty of the spots were filled with regular church goers on a typical Sunday (people who weren’t forced to be there). The Waltons were one family out of six that were at church every single week.

The Waltons all got out of the car one at a time. Mary had to grab Teddy’s comic book away from him and had to nearly carry him out of the middle back car seat. Chris sat on the hood of the car laughing and texting.

“You guys, let’s go. We don’t want to be late”, Mary chided.

Teddy didn’t move. Chris shuffled his feet and kicked at the pavement. Mary finally started walking toward her parents, not wanting to be late. Teddy followed her. When Chris finally realized he’d look ridiculous texting alone in a church parking lot, he followed too.

The church was packed, even for an Easter Sunday. It was like the priest was giving away brand new televisions or sports cars. The rising humidity and abundance of body heat made things feel wilted. The air had a stiff, damp quality like stepping inside of a tomb.

Father Charlie was giving the sermon today. He was a short, stout man, mostly bald with patches of graying black hair and a funny push broom moustache that made Father Charlie look like a Muppet. Father Charlie was very animated during his sermons. People liked to watch his hand gestures and the way he articulated certain words like ‘fathuh’ or ‘smaht’. He was from Boston originally, so all of his ‘r’ sounds sounded like ‘ah’ with no ‘r’ sound audible.

Mary sat with her parents and two brothers toward the end of a pew right in the middle of the sanctuary, next to an antechamber door, the room where the choir rehearsed. Mary was at the end of the row, which she preferred because she got more elbow room and was closer to the collection plate when it passed by. Mary loved to pass all of the change and crisp bills toward the collection plate; it made her feel prestigious. That and she could also get up noiselessly to use the restroom rather than holding it or disturbing other parishioners.

The service was beginning. Teddy somehow got a hold of his comic book and Chris was beginning to dose off to sleep. The organ started playing ‘Easter Flourish’ and everyone stood up. Mary had to poke Chris to stand, as he was already half asleep. However, at noticing Anna Rose singing in the choir, he rose to new life as if being woken from a winter slumber. Chris stared at her strawberry blonde wavy shoulder length tresses and bright aquamarine eyes. If it weren’t for Chris’s strict views on dating, he would ask Anna Rose out on a date in a heartbeat. He brushed off his shirt and fixed pieces of hair into place. Chris popped in a breath mint and even began singing along to hymns he would usually role his eyes at.

The service was beautiful. The choir sounded heavenly. The whole congregation was passionately singing and becoming moved by the service, most of all, Mary. Mary was on the verge of tears. She clasped her golden cross, but for some reason she began to think of the terrible nightmare she had the night before. As the organ began to play ‘Alleluia, Christ is Risen’. All of a sudden the two wooden church doors opened and the blinding sunlight hid the figure, in the doorway, from view. Somehow everyone already knew who this ‘stranger’ was, though.

Everyone turned, as no one came this late to Easter Sunday service, not at St. Aloysius Catholic Holy Christ Eucharist Church. Mary looked too. She couldn’t tell if the figure was a man or a woman, but it looked like someone she knew very well. It seemed that everyone was having the same internal thought process at once. Everyone else noticed the similarity too, as they all stared with mouths agape and hands clutched to their bosoms. Some ‘hallelujahs’ were screamed out along with ‘praise the lord’ and ‘save us, oh lord’. It seemed that what Mary warned her brother Chris about had really come true. Jesus had finally come back; Christ had risen.

Mary noticed a devout parishioner, Mrs. Clark, get up out of her seat and run squealing down the aisle to the figure. She bent down beneath his robes and started to kiss this man’s sandaled foot. Mrs. Clark didn’t notice the figure’s hands reaching out to touch her hair. All of a sudden the familiar bearded face looked like it was going to speak to Mrs. Clark, give her a revelation from God himself.

Instead, however, the figure grabbed Mrs. Clark by the hair and started biting into her face. Mrs. Clark looked up one last time with flesh hanging from the side of her face, blood everywhere. She fell to the ground with a thump. Blood soaked the linoleum floor beneath Mrs. Clark’s lifeless body. It was like a Transubstantiation ceremony gone wrong.

Instead of mayhem breaking just then, however, other parishioners rushed to take the place of Mrs. Clark. One by one, devout members of St. Aloysius Catholic Holy Christ Eucharist Church lined up to take this perverse and irregular variant of communion. Anna Rose ran down the aisle in her white robe and knelt down by the figure who was still standing near the doorway. She crossed her chest and looked up, closing her eyes in silent prayer. As she bowed her head in devout reverie, however, the figure placed his hands on her head in suggestion of a shaman healer. Anna Rose looked up Chris’s direction, and at that moment their eyes locked. Chris noticed, however, that Anna Rose was no longer the saintly image of purity and virgin sanctity. She was foaming at the mouth and making animalistic, guttural grunting noises like a wounded animal. At that moment, all hell began to break loose.

People began running to and fro; they looked confused and upset. All of a sudden everyone was screaming and jumping over pews. Father Charlie, himself, walked down the aisle to talk to the figure. It looked like he would reason with this stranger, though still keeping his distance. Just as he approached the look-a-like Jesus, a hand grabbed his leg from below. It was Mrs. Clark; she wasn’t dead. She bit into Father Charlie’s ankle. As blood gushed out from his foot, he fell to the ground screaming in unholy agony.

Everyone was really scared now. They were trying to duck into aisles and vestibules, hiding behind saints and relics. The only door open was the antechamber door right next to Mary’s family. Mary looked over and saw her own father eating the earlobe off of my mother. Her two brothers looked like they were fighting again, but when she got a closer look, Teddy was gnawing on Chris’s jugular vein. It was really happening. All Mary could hear was her brother’s proclamation in her head, “And if Jesus comes back today, then you better run for your life, Mary. Run, Mary. Run, Mary.” She could barely think of what to do next. She had to get away from the ensuing chaos. She had to leave her now screaming, half-eaten family behind. Mary had no choice. ‘Run, Mary. Run, Mary.’ She opened the choir room door, and she locked it behind her. ‘Run, Mary.’ She was shaking and sweat had soaked through the front of her dress. ‘Run. Run. Run, Mary.’ She wasn’t prepared for this moment.

Mary barricaded the door with any furniture she could find: chairs, tables, bookshelves, music stands. She looked for an exit, any exit. There were four small windows at the top of the wooden wall opposite her. She had no choice but to try one of them. All of them were locked, all but one that someone had left open to allow a breeze to come in through. Thank goodness for menopausal old women.

Mary heard rustling on the other side of the door; screams were muffled with moans and unearthly, beastly grovels. Mary pushed a desk under the open window. She climbed on top, but the window wasn’t open wide enough to let her through. She was a tad too short to reach the latch. She needed something to pull on the latch to force the window ledge open more. She looked around the room and noticed the fixtures, she placed against the door, would soon break. She had to think fast. ‘Run, Mary. Run.’ Suddenly, she clutched the gold cross around her neck and snapped the chain free. She hooked the necklace around the latch and pulled the window down. It was now open wide enough that she could easily and safely climb through it.

As Mary ran away from the church, she realized that her religion had indeed saved her life. Mary reflected how funny it was that once this relic was used to ask for forgiveness and sanctification from the very same figure who almost ate her brains. The cross had saved her life, a lucky chance. Only this one time. Perhaps the only time. This particular time, she was saved by a cross. But how many other times would her religion be able to save her? She knew that the same couldn’t be said for the rest of the parishioners and church goers who all became reborn, infected with Jesus’ revelation.

Yes, Mary knew that from this day forward, only her growing disdain for religion could save her from the spreading poison, the plague of proselytizers who would stop at nothing until every living creature was ‘converted’ and ‘saved’. The irony: she was now saved while everyone else was damned.

What had God given her? A pair of long legs and an ability to think fast on her feet. This is all she would need from now on. This and an arsenal of heavy artillery.

Yes, next time would be different. She would have more than a golden cross to save her from Jesus’ undead army. She would have more than faith and a Bible. Mary Walton would have stamina and an AK-47 to boot. That’s the only kind of faith she needed now. This, the one and only faith that would truly save her.

Thank you for reading. Of course, my intention was not to offend. I hope you found the story intriguing. I will continue writing short stories like this one and hopefully, I will post most of them in my blog posts.

Beware of zombies,


Sunday, April 8, 2012

Want Ads: Part II

This post continues the train of thought from the last; who would make the best king of rock? Obviously, all of my rock heroes have something in common; they were/are all rogues, pioneers, revolutionaries, eccentric, and outlandish. Nothing is too dramatique or strange for any of my heroes of rock.

D) FRANK ZAPPA: Frank Zappa, like my other heroes, was born in 1940; he died in 1993. It is funny that all of my heroes mentioned so far were born in the same decade. I guess good things did come out of the 40's. Usually, I think of the 1940's and associate it with Nazism/Communism/Biggotry/Isolationism/Racism. In Frank Zappa's case, the 40's produced a musical genius, a madman euphonic savant. He was able to create fusion between the genres of rock, jamband, jazz, classical, psychedelic, doo-wop, blues, and avante-garde. In his lifetime, he released 60 albums with his band, The Mothers of Invention, who joined together in 1965. They produced their first album, Freak Out, in 1966. What's more insane, is that he didn't only have his own music project; Frank Zappa produced and worked with: Grand Funk Railroad, Captain Beefheart, the London Symphony Orchestra, and Jean-Luc Ponty to name a few. This man live, breathe, eat, sleep, and shit music 24-7! Frank Zappa also challenged the idea of living the lush lifestyle of an artist. He also pushed for independent recording labels beginning Straight and Bizarre imprints in 1969. He later created the DiscReet, Zappa, and Barking Pumpkin labels as a way to give more power and autonomy to artists. Frank Zappa isn't known for Billboard hits (except for 'Valley Girl' really) or for making music for popular culture. He did things on his own terms; he beat to his own drum. People always ask me, woah, how many drugs did he do? The thing is though, he didn't ever do drugs. He actually disagreed with his band mates because they were doing too many drugs. He was all about the music, man. His genius created songs like: 'Don't Eat the Yellow Snow','Muffin Man', 'Valley Girl', 'Brown Shoes Don't Make It', 'Trouble Every Day', 'Jewish Princess', 'Dancin Fool', 'Willie the Pimp', '200 Years Old'. Frank Zappa really didn't give a shit about being foul or offensive. He mocked middle-class values, racism and inequality, disco, new-age, religion/Judaism, and elitist materialism. Zappa wrote a disclaimer on one of his records to protest the music industry's usage of warning labels on offensive and obscene content. His mock-warning goes like this:
"WARNING! This album contains material which a truly free society would neither fear nor suppress. The language and concepts contained herein are guaranteed not to cause eternal torment in the place where the guy with the horns and pointed stick conducts his business. This guarantee is as real as the threats of the video fundamentalists who use attacks on rock music in their attempt to transform America into a nation of check-mailing nincompoops (in the name of Jesus Christ). If there is a hell, its fires wait for them, not us."
Truly a proverbial 'fuck you' to the music industry capitalists. What's more, he HATED rock journalists. Zappa was once quoted as saying that music journalists are 'people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.' Frank Zappa completely pushed boundaries and tested limits with his music. His songs are organized chaos, a brilliant cacophony of dissonant yet harmonized sound. And all of it was done drug-free. Frank Zappa stood out against American stupidity, zombified ignorance, and consumerist greed. Truly a rogue, truly my hero!

Frank Zappa talking drugs:

Frank Zappa on Charlie Rose (1988):

Frank Zappa's 200 Motels (1971):

(~) sources
(=) further reading

~Rock Hall Frank Zappa bio

=Official Frank Zappa site

E) DAVID BOWIE: When you ask about rock icons, who is it that stands out for every teenage boy and girl? Who defies sexual boundaries and continues to make musical brilliance? David Bowie. I really don't know anyone who dislikes David Bowie and his music; if they do, then they're a twat. Seriously! How can you not like David Bowie, even if you don't like what he represented. His music is halfway in this world, halfway in the next. It's like he really did channel it out of a different universe or plane of existence. He created a character, Ziggy Stardust, who came to earth in order to save the human race through music. He had a whole genius storyline where Ziggy gets distracted with earthly delights and has a fall, ending up the epitome of epic/tragic heroes. Before Nicki Minaj and Lady GaGa, David Bowie was the original multiple personality rock star. Before Madonna and Prince, he was the gender bending glam superstar. He admitted to being bisexual, sleeping with both men and women. He made teenagers dealing with their angst and sexuality feel okay in their skin. What's more is that he had actual madness running in his family. His brother, Terry, was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He used music as an outlet. Born in 1947 (another 40's generation baby), he started playing the saxophone at 13 (just like me actually). He joined bands with names like the King Bees, the Konrads, David Jones and the Buzz. He had to change his name, however, as there was already a rising star by the name of Davy Jones (of The Monkees fame). Then, enter Marc Bolan, of the band T. Rex who helped give Bowie ideas to fuse elaborate costumes and make-up into his act. Bolan also introduced Bowie to Tony Visconti, a producer. It wasn't until 1971-72 that Bowie came up with the brilliance behind the storyline of Ziggy Stardust. He is known for hit songs like 'The Man Who Sold the World', 'Changes', 'Space Oddity', 'Hunky Dory', 'Fame', 'Heroes', 'Ashes to Ashes', 'China Girl, 'Let's Dance'. His music spans five eras; it is timeless. Every teenager should know David Bowie; he is a fundamental piece of rock/music history. I would even go as far to say that I'd name a high school after him. David Bowie High would be a school for 'misfit' and 'broken' toys, a place where misunderstood kids could be themselves and shine through the arts. David Bowie will always be, hands down, the coolest mother fucker to grace a stage anywhere.

David Bowie and Freddie Mercury, Under Pressure':

David Bowie with Queen playing 'Heroes':

David Bowie in 'Labyrinth' (1986)

~Rolling Stone David Bowie bio

=Official David Bowie site
=Bio Channel on David Bowie
=David Bowie fan site

F) STEVEN TYLER: The master of freaky deaky and wild child antics. Sadly, it is only he and David Bowie who are still alive of all my rock idols. I think I would just about keel over if I ever met either Steven Tyler or David Bowie face-to-face. Part of the reason I would NEVER try out for American Idol, besides the fact that I don't want to be a Billboard pop/rock/country star, is that if Steven Tyler told me I sucked at singing, I would be crushed. By the way, I can sing and I am very musical, though I would be way too gun shy to ever perform in front of Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. Aerosmith opened the Pandora's Box to the world of rock n' roll for me when I received their Get a Grip album for my 12th birthday back in 1993 (thanks Deborah). I fell in love with Alicia Silverstone because I would watch the videos for 'Cryin', 'Amazing', and 'Crazy'. Those videos launched her career until the 1995 movie, 'Clueless'. I digress.

Steven Tyler (Tallarico), the 'Demon of Screamin' is known for his outlandish style and crazy ways. In fact, if he weren't a judge on American Idol, I really wouldn't give a shit about the show at all. I started reading his biography 'Does the Noise in my Head Bother You?'. I had to stop reading it though because the more I read, the more I realized that we were soul brothers. Seriously! He grew up around the music scene of 1960's Greenwich Village. He hung out with all of the cool cat rockers and songwriters; he was an original scenster on the East Coast counter-culture hippie scene. He is the original and true 'hippie' free spirit in my book. Steven Tyler wanted to be a musician so badly that he lived that lifestyle. His idols and rock heroes were Mick Jagger, Jimmi Hendrix, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Bob Dylan to name a few. He loved the strangeness of NYC. He would peruse record shops and used clothing stores to get inspiration for both music and fashion. You have to read his memoir, which I need to finish. Seriously, I had to put his book down because I found we had so much in common. He constantly makes asides in the book about how the reader probably cannot follow his seemingly random train of thought. However, I found it very easy to follow him and even vicariosuly lived through his stories of growing up in the 60's.

Thank goodness that Steven Tyler found his bandmates, Joe Perry (who lived six miles from Tyler) and Tom Hamilton (who was in the band Jam Band with Perry) while playing gigs in Sunapee, New Hampshire. He had been playing in bands since junior high with acts like Chain Reaction and William Proud. Tyler then got together with Joey Kramer (who went to the same high school in Yonkers) and with Perry and Hamilton, they all lived in Boston together and began to early stages of Aerosmith. Brad Whitford joined them all in 1971. In 1972, the boys of Aerosmith signed with Columbia Records for $125,000. Aerosmith released their first self-titled record in 1973. They followed this up with Get Your Wings (1974), Toys in the Attic (1975), and Rocks (1976). Their early hits were songs like 'Dream On', 'Sweet Emotion', 'Toys in the Attic', 'Mama Kin', 'Big Ten Inch', and 'Walk this Way'. At the end of the 70's, at the height of success, and into the 80's a motorcycle accident, drug abuse, internal fighting, and bandmates leaving (Joe Perry and Brad Whitford) almost tore the band apart. They had some hits into the 80's like 'Janie's Got a Gun', 'Love on an Elevator', and 'Angel'. However, it was really with Get a Grip that they made a huge comeback.

For me, Steven Tyler and Aerosmith represent the epitome of success. He has fallen down and gotten up so many times that you can easily question how he is still alive. He has battled drugs, divorce, depression, alcohol, and tragedy; any other person in his shoes would have given up. He, however, has reinvented himself and his career a hundred times over; he is the cat with nine lives! Instead of going on a tangent, I will just end with saying that Aerosmith is one of my all-time top three favorite bands. Steven Tyler is probably my biggest rock idol (of all the living legends). I feel like I'm his long lost son! Does that sound crazy!? What is crazy? My crazy feels on par with Steven Tyler's. If one day I meet him, I might have to check into a mental institution because my mind would melt and then explode.

If you think this post is long, you're only scratching the surface, my friend. I have actually already written a whole other blog post just on Steven Tyler and Aerosmith. You can find it here-

=Another blog post on Steven Tyler

~Rock Hall Steven Tyler bio
~Stephen Tyler and David Dalton. Does the Noise in my Head Bother You? A Rock 'N' Roll Memoir. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2011.

=Official Aerosmith band site
=Official Aerosmith fan site
=Steven Tyler site
Steven Tyler on The Ellen DeGeneres Show:

Cryin' from Get a Grip (1994):

So, I hope you have enjoyed hearing about my own rock idols. Hopefully, you can find inspiration from mine.

Rock on,