How many Beatles does it take to screw in a light bulb?

April 30, 2012 – Sorry, I don’t have a funny punch line here.

It’s just one of the many questions answered in the Martin Scorsese documentary “George Harrison: Living in the Material World”.

I thought I knew pretty much everything about Harrison since he’s my favorite Beatle, I’m an avid reader of Beatles memorabilia, and I’ve successfully played the Beatles’ version of Trivial Pursuit. That should practically make me a scholar.

But there was so much more to George’s public persona than I realized and I was captivated for the three and a half hours worth screen time dedicated to the quiet Beatle.

I never knew, for example, that Harrison wanted the song “All Things Must Pass” on the Let it Be album, but John Lennon and Paul McCartney were opposed to it. That happened to be the very reason George walked away from the group, something that he would later come to miss, and became a solo artist.

The documentary begins in the early years of the Beatles in Hamburg and is told through letters written by Harrison to his parents in Liverpool. The pearls of wisdom he shares are quite insightful for a young man of only 17. He apparently started on a spiritual path early in his life.

There are also lots of snapshots of George with a camera, capturing all he could of the Beatlemania hysteria that ensued in the early 1960s.

Even the most obscure of details is covered in this entertaining and educational documentary. In the movie A Hard Day’s Night, for example, there is a scene where a reporter asks Harrison what he calls his hair style. His reply was Arthur, which I always found humorous just because it’s silly. But truth is stranger than fiction. He actually copied his early hair style after of friend of his who’s name was Arthur. Harrison had an interesting sense of humor, which obviously made it on to the movie script.

Part two of the documentary delves into his life after the Beatles, his wife leaving him for his best friend, his solo recordings, the Concert for Bangladesh, producing movies, dealing with Lennon’s death, the Traveling Wilburys, and finally his battle with cancer.

And what’s the answer to the title question. It takes four Beatles to screw in a light bulb, of course, as asked and answered by Harrison himself with his trademark toothy grin.

Scorsese did a fine job making this documentary. He talked to just the right people, covered a lot that was previously unknown, and weaved together a story that is well worth experiencing.

NOTE: If this post looks familiar, you’re not crazy. I originally posted this back in October when the film debuted on HBO, but thought it was worth repeating since it will be released on DVD tomorrow.

Accidental Photography

April 27, 2012 – It’s time once again for the Penn Relays.

That means athletes from all over the world converge on my beloved city to participate in a track and field event that is the largest in the country, and a Philadelphia tradition dating back to 1895.

I’m not usually up on things of a track and field nature; the only reason I know is that while leaving City Hall last night, where I’m still serving as Juror #2 on the never-ending trial, I ran smack dab into several members of a running team from the Bahamas. And they have a memento to remember our meeting because they accidentally took a close up of me while aiming for the Comcast Building.

The boys in the Caribbean blue track suits with a yellowish orange trim were nice about our collision, and we chatted a few moments about the Comcast Building, which happens to be Philadelphia’s tallest building. And they were majorly impressed.

It’s not my first time being the accidental subject of a photograph. Since I began working in center city, I’ve literally run into several tourists who now have permanent images of me. It happens mostly in the old city area when they’re trying to snap a photo of a horse and carriage or the cobble stone streets, and instead get yours truly walking by.

I’m also a popular attraction around Independence Hall, especially while driving. If I’m stopped in traffic, or if I’m aware I’ll be in the shot, I often acknowledge the camera, and look out my window and wave and smile. That way, when the people get home and look at their photos, they may ask who the hell is this woman who ruined the photo, but at least they’ll know she’s friendly.

For someone who is actually quite camera-shy, sometimes I feel like the most photographed image in Philadelphia.

Red Hat Society celebrates founding day

April 25, 2012 – Today marks the 14th anniversary of the Red Hat Society.

Funny, but I thought those fabulous dames donning the fancy red hats had been around a lot longer. If you would have told me that today is their 100th anniversary, I would have believed you. Alas, it’s only 14 years ago, on April 25, 1998 to be exact, that the Red Hat Society was first celebrated.

Originally, the society was meant for women 50 years of age and over as a means of social interaction and bonding. Their mission is to support and encourage women in their pursuit of fun, friendship, freedom, fulfillment and fitness.

It all began when founder Sue Ellen Cooper gave a friend a red bowler hat as a birthday gift, and attached a line from poem by Jenny Joseph that read: “When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple with a red hat that doesn’t go and doesn’t suit me.” The gifts became a tradition for Cooper and her friends, and on April 25, 1998, several of the women held a tea party wearing purple outfits along with the red hats, and the society was born.

Today, the Red Hat Society is open to all women of any age, although women under 50 are referred to as “Pink Hatters” and typically wear hats of pinkish hues until their 50th birthday. That means “inside every red hatter is a pink hatter wondering what the hell happened.”

Learn more about these extraordinary ladies at www.redhatsociety.com.

P.S. Happy birthday to my wonderful niece! Just think Leigh, only 22 more years to go before you can be a Red Hat Lady!!

Spring at the cemetery, part 2

April 23, 2012 – Last week we virtually visited Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia’s “Underground Museum” and one of the only cemeteries in the country to carry the designation of a National Historic Landmark.

That same beautiful spring day, I visited Trinity Oxford Episcopal Church and Cemetery, which dates back to 1698, and is located a few blocks from where I grew up in the Lawndale section of Philadelphia.

I’d like to say it’s one of the oldest churches and cemeteries in Philadelphia, but back then this area fell outside of the city limits and was considered the outskirts or the suburbs. It is the same cemetery I walked through as a child, reading the gravestones over and over again. I also picnicked there frequently with friends, and was asked to leave many times by the groundskeeper, when we were caught. We meant no disrespect, of course, we simply loved the peaceful solitude and the shelter from the summer sun.

After visiting both Laurel Hill and Trinity Oxford, I’ve come to the conclusion that cemeteries remind me of chess boards. I didn’t notice this so much in person, but rather when I was looking at the photos, especially the next to the last photo of the Laurel Hill set. In a  match between eternal life on earth and an eternal resting place, the latter will win every time.

It’s my duty and I’ll serve if I want to…or even if I don’t

April 20, 2012 – I’ve been called to jury duty today to perform my once a year obligation to the city of Philadelphia.

When I lived outside the city limits during 2009, 2010 and 2011, I’m not sure the folks at the criminal justice center at 13th and Filbert Streets knew what to do. After all, we’ve been sharing the jury duty process together for many, many years, and suddenly I wasn’t there. Now that I’m back in Philly, for less than a year I might add, I shouldn’t be surprised that they called me again. Obviously, they missed me.

Perhaps they should have a program similar to the airlines’ frequent flyer miles program for jurors like me, although I may not like what the reward would be. A free trip to Holmesburg Prison, for example, doesn’t sound too appealing. I’m not sure how many times I’ve actually served, but I know I’m well into the double digits, up to 15 or 20 by now, and I’ve been selected for three different criminal jury panels in the process, one that had me tucked away at the Holiday Inn in center city with no outside contact for two and a half weeks. Can you imagine that I thought it would be an interesting experience? Silly me.

It all makes me wonder what constitutes an attractive juror. What makes me appeal to both the defense and the prosecution? Am I the intelligent choice, or do they think I’m stupid? Do I have sucker stamped on my head, making me appear to be an easy target? Do I look compassionate or like I’m ready to pull the switch on the electric chair?

I remember one juror asking the bailiff on the jury panel that had us sequestered why he was selected. He just shook his head and smiled, and then he turned to look at me and said, “I was in the room when they selected you.” He wouldn’t tell me anything more, which left we wide open to imagine all types of possibilities. I clearly remember when the judge questioned me alone in the courtroom. We got into quite a lively discussion about the death penalty, since it was a capital case, and I am opposed to it. He asked me if I had trouble following the law, a loaded question if there ever was one, and when I answered no, he said that’s all he needed to know, and about five minutes later, as I waited in the hallway, I was informed that I was selected as juror #3.

I’m asking that you send good vibrations my way today. I don’t want to be selected, and I’m not willing to compromise myself and lie just to get out of it. I always think that one day, God forbid if I need a jury, the karma of lying to get out of jury duty will come back and bite me. So, I’ll be sitting in that big juror room, watching game shows with other possible jurors, and most likely thinking the same thought as everyone else.

“When the hell are they going to let me out of here?”

More Americans are living alone for long stretches of their lives

August 18, 2012 – As Bob Dylan once noted, “The times they are a changin’.”

This may not be any more prevalent than in the living habits of American adults.

An essay written by NYU Sociology Professor Erik Klinenberg entitled “Going Solo, The Extraordinary Rise and Surprising Appeal of Living Alone”, shows this particular lifestyle pattern for many Americans has drastically changed over the last 50 plus years.

In 1950, for example, 22 percent of American adults were single, yet only four million lived alone, which accounted for nine percent of all households. Today, more than 50 percent of American adults are single, and 31 million live alone, amounting to about one in every seven households or 28 percent. And that 28 percent is a national rate; there are some individual cities, such as New York or Washington D.C., where 40 percent of the population lives alone.

That, according to Klinenberg, “is the biggest social change of the last 50 or 60 years that we have failed to name or identify.”

Why such a dramatic change?

One reason that today’s adult living alone differs from the solo adult of 50 years ago is that he or she probably made the choice to do so. They are opting to live alone, even though there are other solutions, such as living with a family member, finding a roommate, or living in an institutional home if they are elderly. Fifty years ago, any of those choices would have been the answer. But the majority of today’s single adults, even if they are elderly, choose to live alone.

This is a pattern more common for Americans, but it is also catching on across Europe and Asia. And the choice is more than economical — where in many poorer countries people cannot afford to live alone — it’s also cultural. In wealthy areas of Saudi Arabia, for example, there’s hardly anyone who lives alone.

The stigma of living alone

While many may associate isolation with living alone, Klinenberg’s research proves just the opposite. “People who live alone, whether they’re 30 or 40 or 75, are actually more likely than people who are married to spend time with friends and with neighbors, to go out in the city and spend time and money in bars and restaurants. They’re more likely to go to public events. They’re even more likely to volunteer in civic organizations,” he says.

Klinenberg states that in no way is his essay against the institution of marriage or cohabitation; rather, it is just a way for him to come to terms with the fact that more people today are opting to live alone.

He adds, “They may not aspire to it, but they’re not going to settle with living with the wrong person in the way that they might have 50 years ago.”

What is the appeal?

For me, living alone was a change that came with a big adjustment. I had gotten married young, and moved from my parents’ home to a home with my husband. I remember joking that I had to get a divorce to finally get a bedroom to myself for the first time in my life. And after that, I didn’t live alone until my son went off to college. I did miss him, of course, but I also quickly discovered I enjoyed living alone.

While I know several other single-parent empty nesters, or singles in general who feel the same way I do, I also know just as many who would rather share their living quarters with another person, whether it be their spouse, significant other, their kids, or friend. It’s pretty evenly split.

There is no perfect way to live your life. By now, we’ve all learned that living alone doesn’t necessarily equal loneliness, and living with a spouse and/or kids does mean you won’t feel lonely. Every lifestyle choice, whether you live alone, or have a family of eight, has its pros and cons, and its possibilities and limitations. And they are different for everyone.

It’s just nice to have the choice.

Spring at the cemetery

April 16, 2012 – If the title sounds a little like an oxymoron, you should know before you continue to read on that I believe cemeteries can be beautiful, peaceful places, and that they cry out to be visited, especially in the spring when life is beginning again. They are great places to walk alone with your thoughts and really put things into perspective. One glance at the picture below backs my theory.

I’ve always been fascinated by cemeteries, although I come from a family who doesn’t visit the graves of relatives. I used to enjoy walking through them as a child, reading the gravestones and wondering about the people buried beneath them and the stories they could tell. And as the years went on, that didn’t change.

After I saw the weekend weather report, I decided that Saturday would be a perfect day to visit Laurel Hill Cemetery, which describes itself as Philadelphia’s Underground Museum, with 78 acres rich with history and beautiful landscaping overlooking the Schuylkill River.

Laurel Hill, which dates back to America’s pre-Revolutionary War colonies, is one of the few cemeteries in the United States that carries the designation of a National Historic Landmark. It sits right off of Kelly Drive and its quaint Boat House Row, where it intersects with Ridge Avenue. It’s the final resting place for many famous Philadelphians, along with generals from the French and Indian Wars through the Civil War. Interestingly, on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, I also learned that there are six passengers buried there.

The cemetery is open daily until dusk, and visitors are welcome to stroll the grounds on their own, or with a tour group. The grounds are popular with joggers, bicyclists, nature lovers, and amateur photographers like me. Here are other shots from my visit: