If you could sit on this bench for one hour and talk to anyone, who would it be?

downloadMay 30, 2014 – I saw this question posted on Facebook other day, and it intrigued me.

Most likely, I’d pick someone who is no longer here, but part of me thinks it would be interesting to have a conversation with my 18-year-old self so I could tell her not to worry so much, or with my 75-year-old self so I can get a glimpse of what is to come.

The question also reminds me that we shouldn’t put off conversations with people who are still here because you never know what will happen. We seem to learn that lesson the hard way. Mine came when my aunt, the keeper of the family stories, passed away. Although we said we would, we never got together so she could share them with me and I could write them down.

The first person I thought of when I read this question was my grandfather; we called him Pop Pop, and he passed away in 1977. I was a teen at the time, and although I remember great conversations, we never talked about real life situations. I’d like to ask him questions about prohibition when I hear he made bathtub gin and visited a speakeasy or two. Or questions about his marriage. I’d also love to know his opinion on politics and religion, and other things that weren’t important enough for me to ask at 16.

Speaking of his wife, I’d love to sit and talk to her, too. She was my grandmother, but I never met her since she died when my father was young. I want to know everything about her, how she felt about her kids and her marriage, what it was like during the depression, and why she fell in love with my grandfather. Too bad I’ll never know.

Then there is my maternal grandmother, Gramsy. I was only 12 when she passed away, so I never had the opportunity to get close to her. I hear stories from my mother that her life wasn’t easy; she was poor and raised six kids during some tough times. I know she wasn’t alone; many were in that same situation back then. But what made her different was that she liked to gamble, and I hear she ran the number games in her neighborhood. What a hoot that must have been. I’d also like to know how she felt about things as a woman. My memories of her are few, but clear, and I’d like to hear what she’d have to say about the world today.

I never knew my maternal grandfather, either. He died when my mother was a teenager, so he’d be another interesting person to select. I know he was sick for most of his adult life, which prevented him from working, but when he was healthy, he was known in the neighborhood as a great baseball manager who may have made it to the minor leagues. After he got sick, he’d sit on the porch and sew baseballs to make a few bucks here and there and support his family. I’d like to fill him in on what’s been happening, and collect his thoughts on a few topics.

There are also relatives who have passed on that I’d like to see again, or perhaps someone famous who left us mysteriously, like either JFK or Marilyn Monroe. How about the creative souls, like da Vinci, Van Gogh, or John Lennon? I’d like to know what inspired them. Or, historical figures like Abraham Lincoln? He’d be interesting. The list is endless, and it’s almost an impossible question to answer.

For those of you with parents, spouses, siblings, or children who are no longer with us, the choice may be easier, but that also means you have experienced how sad the circle of life can be.

So, if you could sit on this bench for one hour and talk to anyone, who would it be?

Mad Men: It’s a wrap…almost

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May 28, 2014 – “Mad Men’s” half season ended Sunday night, leaving fans a bit frustrated. The episode was compelling and clever; the frustration comes from waiting another year to see how this critically acclaimed series ends. I don’t care that the split season worked for “Breaking Bad”. It’s a slap in the face to the faithful viewers.

The first seven episodes of the split season easily put the series back on the right track. The show began strong – seasons one through four had some of the best-written episodes of any show on television with arguably the finest character development ever. Seasons 5 and 6 waned slightly, although it was still better than most other television programs. The final episode of Season 6 last year, however, redeemed the series perfectly. Yet, there are two puzzling points that still seems off.

The first is Don’s firing. The Hershey meeting when Don explains to the executives what a Hershey bar meant to him as a young boy living in a brothel was startling, especially when he admitted he would pickpocket a john to buy a one. It also embarrassed his associates, but their reaction was even more startling. They fired him without an ounce of compassion, as if he was meaningless to the agency for all of those years. Was it really that awful? I don’t think it was as bad as Ted taking Sunkist executives up in a plane as he did in Sunday’s finale, and cutting off the engine claiming he wants to free fall to the ground? Ted got a good talking to by Jim and Pete about the incident, yet he remained employed, and he doesn’t even want the job.

There’s no doubt that Don needed to be fired for story line purposes, but I wish it would have unfolded differently. After working with people for so many years, they become family. After his confession, they all turned their backs to him. Sure, the advertising business is fickle, but an actual leave of absence to get help, and not one disguised as a firing, would have been enough. No wonder Don has trust issues and believes that no one cares for him.

The other puzzling point is the treatment given by those same co-workers now that he’s asked for another chance. It was difficult to watch the SCP board lay down their list of conditions he must follow if he does want a second chance, and it seemed as though they wanted him to reject those conditions. It was worse, however, watching Peggy and Joan mistreat him. Peggy and Don cleared the air, and he convinced her to deliver the sales pitch to Burger Chef, which she handled beautifully. However, Joan, who has been equally close to Don through the years, and who has known him longer than Peggy has, wants him gone for good, and reiterated that fact in Sunday’s finale. “I’m tired of him costing me money!” she snaps.

Gosh, Joan, partnership has changed you, and not for the better. Perhaps they should take it from you, and give it to someone more deserving. At least Peggy has a heart to go along with her head for business.

Those two points aside, the half season ended on a great note. Tying the episode into the moon landing was brilliant, and Burt Cooper’s send-off was a clever tribute that makes you wonder if Matt Weiner had it in mind all along when he hired Broadway star Robert Morse to play that role.

Where will the last seven episodes will take us?

  • Will we have a Woodstock themed episode, which occurred a month after the moon landing, in August 1969, or will it be the 1970s when the series returns?
  • What will happen with Betty and Henry? I’ve been watching old episodes again, and while she is a terrible mother, she’s grown on me, and Henry seems to be tiring of her childish ways.
  • Will we ever find out what happened to Peggy and Pete’s son, who would be about seven now?

Unfortunately, for these and other questions, we’ll have to wait until April 2015 to find out.

 

 

 

 

Flash fiction: Six word stories

downloadMay 23, 2014 – Ernest Hemingway once accepted a bet that he could write a novel in less than 10 words that was so good it would make people cry. He wrote:

“Baby shoes for sale, never worn.”

These six words do tell a sad and compelling story, so I’d say he won the bet.

Sometime later, other authors gave the exercise a try, including Margaret Atwood, who came up with this gem:

“Longed for him. Got him. Shit.”

I’ve been somewhat obsessed with flash fiction – the shorter the better – and by the writers who create it. Although it doesn’t capture the depth and feeling of the authors above, here is my first feeble attempt at the six-word story challenge:

“Tempting fate, she opened the door.”

I realize it leaves too much to the imagination. The stories from Hemingway and Atwood tell a complete story, and that is what I aim to achieve. My words would make a better teaser as the last sentence to a chapter in a mystery novel.

When my son saw my notepad of scribbled six-word story attempts, I explained what I was doing and he wanted in on the action. He wrote the nine-word story below:

“Science! No longer see the world through my eyes.”

I also explained that learning the art of flash fiction — or in this case micro fiction — makes you a better writer because it teaches you how to remove the unnecessary clutter. I’ll leave you with a couple more of the better of my many less than stellar attempts, and a promise that I will stick with it until I get it right:

“Bereavement. Pills. She’d join him today.”

“Rough sea. Capsized boat. Weatherman right.”

 

Movie review: God’s Pocket

MV5BMjM1MzgwODc3NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTAwMTg1MTE@._V1_SX214_AL_May 21, 2012 – Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows I write about Philadelphia whenever I can. I also tend to gravitate towards movies and novels about my home city. When I discovered that the movie “God’s Pocket” focused on a local neighborhood in Philadelphia, I had to see it.

The screenplay is based on the novel of the same name by Pete Dexter, and is the movie directorial debut of John Slattery (Roger Sterling, of “Mad Men”, who honed his directing skills on a few episodes of the popular AMC series).

Dexter, a columnist for The Philadelphia Daily News in the 1970s, wrote the novel after experiencing his own drama; a mob of locals from God’s Pocket beat him severely one night because they were upset about a column he wrote and how they were portrayed in it. Today, the area between center city and South Philadelphia, west of Broad Street, barely resembles the neighborhood depicted in the movie. Like many other areas in the city, it has regentrified, and now is known as the “Graduate Hospital” area, an upscale neighborhood with nary a seedy bar in sight.

Set in the late 1970s, the author tells the story of Leon (Caleb Landry Jones), a young street punk who is killed in an “accident” at work, his stepfather Mickey (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and his mother (Christina Hendricks). The story shows the underbelly of the former blue-collar neighborhood, and all of its bleakness. It unfolds over the three days following Leon’s death, leading up to his funeral.

No one’s talking about the “accident”, and you get the feeling a lot of residents stay quiet about such events. Mickey plans a quick funeral to bury the body and put it all to rest, but a local celebrity columnist begins to look into the matter after coaxing from Leon’s mother, who believes there is something more to the story. That’s when things get really complicated.

The talented cast makes you believe you are observing a slice of daily life for those who live in this tough community, and that incidents like this are the rule rather than the exception. Hoffman, in one of his last roles, plays his character low-key and stoic, and even though he appears to feel nothing, the audience feels for him as he struggles to do the right thing for his wife and stepson. The always pleasing Richard Jenkins plays the reporter, and John Turtorro is cast as Mickey’s friend and side-kick, who’s consistently in trouble of his own.

The film is touted as a black comedy, and although I did laugh at the irony in the story line once or twice, I think comedy is a stretch. Fans of realistic crime dramas in tough urban areas will like this film. It reminded me of the dramas that usually take place on the tougher streets of  Boston, (“The Fighter” comes to mind). Interestingly, Slattery grew up on in Boston, like Matt Damon and the Afflecks, who also like to tell these stories. I didn’t love the film, but I liked it enough, although I’m glad it clocked in at a short 88 minutes.

The Indy film is playing in select theaters now, and on Comcast, in On Demand’s Same Day as Theaters promotion.

 

Spring pilgrimage to Laurel Hill Cemetery

May 19, 2014Yesterday I made my annual spring trek to Laurel Hill Cemetery in the East Falls neighborhood of Philadelphia. The grounds are lovely any time of year, but spring and fall are my favorites.

Laurel Hill Cemetery is one of the most important cemeteries in the U.S., and the first to be named a National Historic Landmark.

Laurel Hill Cemetery is one of the most important cemeteries in the U.S., and the first to be named a National Historic Landmark.

Revolutionary and Civil War heroes are buried on the grounds, along with influential politicians, inventors and industrialists.

Revolutionary and Civil War heroes are buried on the grounds, along with influential politicians, inventors and industrialists.

This particular section of mausoleums reminds me of a cemetery I visited in New Orleans. The city sits below sea level, which means everyone in New Orleans is buried above ground.

This particular section of mausoleums reminds me of a cemetery I visited in New Orleans. The city sits below sea level, which means everyone in New Orleans is buried above ground.

The cemetery is open to bikers, dog walkers, hikers, and picknickers. There are also public tours available.

The cemetery is open to bikers, dog walkers, hikers, and picknickers. There are also public tours available.

Phillies broadcast legend Harry Kalas is buried here, with four seats from the old Veterans Stadium standing guard.(Picture courtesy of Bill Cannon)

Phillies broadcast legend Harry Kalas is buried here, with four seats from the old Veterans Stadium standing guard. (Photo by Bill Cannon.)

Here lies Rocky's wife, Adrian Balboa. At first I thought it was strange to have a fictional tombstone in the cemetery, but this is the city that also erected a bronze statue of the fictional Rocky outside of our sports complex.

Here lies Rocky’s wife, Adrian Balboa. At first I thought it was strange to have a fictional tombstone in the cemetery, but this is the city that also erected a bronze statue of the fictional Rocky outside of our sports complex.

Ranking Philadelphia: A top five list

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May 16, 2014 – Philadelphia is a fine place to live, work, and play, but it takes plenty of criticism from those who may not share the love. I perused through the files of www.Ranker.com to see how my fair city stacks up against others in several categories, and here is what I discovered:

5. Philadelphia is 19th out of 64 on “America’s Coolest Cities” list.
I have visited both the #1 and #2 spots (San Francisco and New York City), and agree they have a high cool factor; however, Philadelphia is just as cool and should place higher on the list. Aside from the usual attractions that offer a great history lesson, the birthplace of America features the unusual, too. The Mutter Museum, for example, highlights a history of medicine and an interesting display of medical oddities, and Eastern State Penitentiary, the country’s first modern penitentiary may not be active – it closed in 1971 – but it is open to visitors, and it plays a huge factor in the city’s Halloween fun every year. Laurel Hill Cemetery in East Falls, the National Historic Landmark and the resting place of Titanic passengers and Civil War generals, is another must see. Additionally, filmmaker David Lynch lived in Philly in the 60s and 70s, and shot his epic “Eraserhead” here, which had a huge impact on the city. Sections of Fairmount, where he lived and filmed, are known as Eraserhood.

4. Philadelphia is 5th out of 28 of the “Best Food Cities” in the U.S.
New York, Chicago, New Orleans, and Kansas City may come before Philadelphia on this list, but #5 is respectable for the City of Brotherly Love when it comes to the best food. With several establishments from premier restaurateur Stephen Starr scattered throughout the city, Philly can hold its own in the elite and trendy restaurant category. Whether you want to grab a quick bite at the swanky Continental with two locations in center city, a cheesesteak at Tony Luke’s in South Philly, or sit down and linger over a fabulous meal at Buddakan, the city has a place for everyone. Better yet, visit Citizens Bank Park. Philly’s baseball yard was recently given the honor of the best ballpark food in the country.

3. Philadelphia is 14th out of 25 on the “Most Intelligent Cities” list.
Quite a ridiculous ranking, if you ask me. Seattle and Minneapolis are nos. 1 and 2; I have visited both cities, live in Philadelphia, and I never noticed a difference. If anything, it rains nine months out of the year in Seattle, and it is bitter cold in the winter in Minneapolis which also lasts about nine months, so resident don’t seem very intelligent living in those climates. If the rankers are basing this on top universities located in these cities, I challenge them to name one more prestigious than The University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League presence located in the heart of downtown Philadelphia. Go ahead, I dare you!

2. Philadelphia is 5th out of 14 on the “Famous Firsts in U.S. Cities”.
Cincinnati and New York City are nos. 1 and 2 for their famous firsts of ambulance services and aquariums. Philadelphia falls in at #5, which again is respectable, but when you realize that our famous first is the computer, you will likely agree we belong higher in the ranking. Sure, ambulance services are important, and aquariums are nice, but considering most homes have at least one computer and the work force could not exist without them, the computer and Philadelphia should easily take that #2 spot.

1. Philadelphia is #1 of the 27 cities with the “Worst Sports Fans”.
The city has the lazy sports media to thank for this absurd ranking, since they keep the stories alive by consistently referring to throwing snowballs at Santa in 1968, and other exaggerated occurrences. Bottom line, Philadelphia is a great sports city with passionate fans who may exercise their right to boo, but Philly is the seat of our country’s democracy, so our rights are important. Ironically, Philadelphia also lists #7 out of 30 on the cities with the “Best Sports Fans” list. I think we belong higher up on that list, too.

View the complete lists at http://www.ranker.com/review/philadelphia/1792338.