Make America Great? Again?

My country, t’is of thee,

Sweet land of liberty,


In honor of our country’s birthday, this article will be a subjective, personal, and individual assessment of the United States of America, and how it stands in my eyes. Your assessment may be different, but that too is one of the beautiful aspects of the U. S. of A.

My father was born in Stoke-on-Trent, England, in 1896. His mother was German; his father Polish. In 1901 Pop was just four years old when the family, he was the fifth of seven children, migrated to the area around Scranton, Pennsylvania. During the Depression he worked as a delivery man bringing cakes and pies to the small grocery stores scattered throughout Central Pennsylvania. He had a sixth grade education and worked on the cake truck until ill health forced him to take less strenuous work. He died two months short of his sixtieth birthday.

My mother was born in Czarist Russia in what is now Lithuania in 1904. She came to America as an infant in my grandmother’s arms less than a year after her birth. Her family also settled near Scranton. She was one of fourteen siblings, ten of whom survived into my lifetime. She had a tenth grade education followed by two years of nurses’ training, the normal amount in the 1920s. She lived into her seventies, although she was plagued with illness in her later life.

(About now some of you readers may be thinking, “Okay! So what?”  Bear with it just a bit more. As the magicians always say, “All will be revealed.”)

Although neither of my parents had any idea what constituted a college education, there was never any question that I would attend college. I did reasonably well in school, if I liked the teacher and the subject matter. The opposite, of course, was also true in classes where I did not like the teacher or the subject matter. Academic discipline and I were total strangers, as were most other forms of self-discipline.

In addition to my parents’ lack of understanding about what constitutes education, I had another problem at school in my formative years. I belonged to a minority religion, and I mean a small minority religion. The name ”Cohen” proved to be a dead giveaway to my being Jewish. To those who have trouble understanding the situation, let me put it in its proper context:  it is the late 1930s and early 1940s. I am the only Jewish kid in my school, not just my class, but in the entire school. Many, if not most of the other kids come from homes in which  German is the first language, and whose homes prominently display pictures of , not President Roosevelt, but of Adolph Hitler….that changed, of course, in December 1941 with the attack on Pearl Harbor and the declaration of war with Japan and Germany.

An eight to twelve year old does not get used to names such as “Kike,” “Dirty Jew,” and “Christ-killer.”  Nor does he get used to the bullying. I learned to run fast, talk fast, and use my sense of humor to ease tensions. Needless to say, I hated going to school. In 1949 I graduated from high school and, to get my mother off my back, I agreed to go to community college for one semester. My world turned 180 degrees; I now enjoyed school and found that learning can be fun. Twenty-one years later, after receiving my teaching credentials and teaching at the high school level, I finished my dissertation and was crowned with a PhD.  I certainly did not get rich teaching at the college level (Surprise!), but I made a decent living and my family enjoyed a comfortable lifestyle.

(To insure that no one interprets this as being nothing but self-promotion, I would like to add that I also wanted to be a professional baseball player, but had to admit that I could not hit the fast ball consistently nor the curve ball at any time. Over the years I also attempted to fix or construct things, but invariably finished the project with two extra parts left over or the “thing” had sides that were not parallel. One needs to know what he cannot do as well as what he can do.)

If my “success” story were unique or even unusual, I would not be telling it now. It is not. Similar stories can be told by the tens or even hundreds of thousands.  Not just about the person who goes into academics, does well, and enjoys life. Some of the successes are in quite different fields:  law, medicine, police, fire fighting, teaching in general, technical fields and especially in business. A person opens a small business or becomes an electrician and spends long, hard hours on the job, then expands and hires others, perhaps opening a second or even a third shop or restaurant. That kind of modest success has been repeated countless times in our country.

In our magnificent country no one asks, “What is your political advocacy?”  There is no “What is your religion?”  nor “Who is your father” test. I, you, and millions of others just have to show why their mousetrap is good or even better than the old one. Then he or she gets to “do their thing.”  Hopefully most will succeed and at least hit the curve ball occasionally.

Of the hundreds of countries on this planet, how many can boast of the success of the little, modest guy or gal? Simply count those nations that do not ask those useless questions. (Don’t worry, you probably will not need all ten fingers.) 

If you do not like counting on your fingers, just remember that for each individual who wants to leave this country, there are thousands who want to enter, seeking the opportunity to better their lives and their children‘s lives. I just have to go back as far as my parents to mirror that desire. Unless you are a Native American, you may have to go back further, but with most Americans that was the motivation for the past three or four hundred years.

In my opinion this success factor alone identifies the U. S. of A. as a great nation. When coupled with our strong economy and our military might, it makes us not only the greatest country now, but also the greatest in the history of this old, blue marble wandering about in space. We do not need to be “made great again.”  WE ARE ALREADY THERE.

Does that mean that the United States has achieved perfection?  Of course, not. When hundreds of millions of people are involved in anything, there are bound to be problems. Certainly the path to success that I enjoyed is not open to everyone—yet! Certainly there are inequities in our social systems and in our economics. When a billionaire’s secretary pays more in taxes than the billionaire, something is radically wrong. Anyone who thinks that we have achieved social and racial equity has a distorted view of reality. One homeless person or one child going to bed hungry is too many. When people who need therapeutic aid get punishment in prison instead, we need to ask why? and then make changes.

No question:  “We still got troubles, right here in River City.”  In my judgment, however, the goodness and greatness of the U. S. far, far outweighs the negatives.

During the civil rights unrest of the 1960s and 70s a story made the rounds about a backwoods, Southern, Black preacher who gave a brief, but magnificent, sermon to his tiny congregation. The grammar, in modern slang, sucks, but the philosophy applies to the entire country, even more today than it did fifty years ago…





What’s in a Name? Lies!

In recent years we have heard a great deal about renaming sports teams that have names considered offensive to Native Americans. The primary objects have been such professional teams as football’s Washington “Redskins” and baseball’s Atlanta “Braves” and Cleveland “Indians,” as well as smaller teams with similar names. We will not belabor that point which has been made so often and so emphatically. We will deal with other sports teams whose names do not precede our European, African, and Asian ancestors, but rather because the are either misleading or make no sense whatsoever.

With June marking the second month of the season and the indoor, winter sport of basketball finally coming to a close, the time has come to examine those team names involved in the National pastime, which is still BASEBALL. We might also take a peek at some other team names that make little or no sense.

Some team names make sense because of their location or an article of clothing.  For instance, Seattle borders Puget sound, the Pacific Ocean, and suffers with about 527 days of rain annually: hence, the Mariners. The American League Chicago and Boston teams identify themselves by the color of their socks:  White Sox and Red Sox , respectively, not to mention the original name of the Cincinnati Red Stockings, now just the Reds.  For the Houston, Texas, team Astros makes a great deal of sense.  (The space program, Tom Hanks, and “Houston, we have a problem!”)  The New York Mets play in the largest METropolitan in North America, as do the Yankees.  (We will not touch that one for fear of invoking another “Babe Ruthian” curse.)

Animal names try to indicate a fierce attitude that will not offend, but still give a fighting, tough image for the team. Are the Arizona Diamondbacks really poisonous and deadly?  (Probably not, at least until they get some better pitching.)  Florida’s Marlins suggests a laid back, “Let’s go fishing” attitude, while across the state the Tampa Bay Devil Rays suggest aggression again.

The business people in Chicago are torn between the Bulls and the Bears.  Perhaps they should just concentrate on the World Series championship Cubs.  In hockey the “Second City” returns to Native Americans with the Blackhawks.

Now it is incumbent upon the writer of this column to identify some of the mis-named or badly named teams.  (Anything to get away from politics for a while.)  To carry out that duty, we shall begin in our own backyard with the Oakland Athletics or A’s, who before coming west resided in Philadelphia and Kansas City.  When the old Pacific Coast League played AAA ball on the West Coast, Oakland had the Oaks, like the big strong tree. Why not once again?  Based on their performance in the past few years, let’s change from the A’s to the C Minuses.  (Once a school teacher, always etc.) For now, Oakland also has the Warriors. “Warriors?”  Perhaps the Finessers.  Or maybe the Show Timers #2, but not Warriors. They have too much fun to be WARriors. Anyway, they are another Philadelphia team that migrated west to the Promised Land.

Then we have the San Francisco 49’ers who play in Santa Clara.  Is there anyone living outside of an institution or a cave who would confuse Santa Clara with San Francisco? (The way the team played last season might get them moved to the Middle East or Ketchikan, Alaska.) 

Oakland Raiders?  Las Vegas Raiders?  Maybe they should have Bekins somewhere in their name. (Is it not strange the way winning covers up and even solves problems?) 

When we travel to our friends in Southern California, we really find the misuse of language in team names. In Northern Tiajuana–oops, that’s San Diego–we find the Padres. While many, if not most, of the original Padres were good men, some of them treated the Native Americans like slaves or like savage children, treatment vastly worse than naming sports teams irrationally.

It is in the Los Angeles, however, that we find the real naming culprits.  The original Brooklyn team received the name Dodgers because they had to dodge streetcars to get to the ball park. Has anyone ever ridden a streetcar in Los Angeles?  Has anyone ever SEEN a streetcar in Los Angeles?  (I actually did ride them back in the late 1940s and early 1950s.)  Perhaps a better name would be the L. A. Traffic Sitters or Freeway Parkers. Maybe simply the LaLas.

The other baseball team in So Cal is the Anaheim or Los Angeles Angels or Halos. At the risk of sounding like a mathematician, I say “Anaheim is to Los Angeles as Santa Clara is to San Francisco.”  They should follow the Disneyesque example of the hockey Ducks and become the Mice or the Mickeys.  (It ain’t gonna happen!)

Once again Los Angeles has the football Rams.  That is, of course, the Cleveland Rams who begat the Los Angeles Rams who begat the St. Louis Rams who . . . Sounds almost Biblical.  Pick a name, any name will do, although those ram’s horns on the helmets look really cool.

Which brings us to the basketball Los Angeles Lakers, long, long ago the Minneapolis Lakers as in Land of a Thousand Lakes.  Yes, there are lakes within the City of Angels; there is even a Silverlake District. To be consistent, however, they would have to be called the Large Puddles, which is not terribly masculine.  Call them the Valleys, the Freeways, the Tar Pits—anything but Lakers.

Finally, in round ball we come to the most egregious and absurd name in all of professional sports:  the Utah Jazz.  UTAH = JAZZ!  An oxymoron if there ever was one. The state of Utah has some magnificent scenery such as Bryce, Zion, and the Arches; tons of lovely mountains; salt flats; and in their lake full of sodium chloride. They have one of the world’s greatest choirs whose classical and show music has few peers. However, JAZZ??  When the team resided in New Orleans, that name made geographical and musical sense, even more than the current Pelicans.  (As one who frequented the Hermosa Beach Lighthouse while in college during his often misspent youth and still loves to hear real jazz, I find the concept appalling.)

But enough about basketball, the indoor, winter game still being played in June.  Certainly enough about four hours of commercials occasionally interrupted by a football game.  Hockey?  Booooring!  We have survived the long, cold, wet, empty winter months and BASEBALL is back and in full swing.  It does not really matter to this old baseball nut what we call the teams.  All we need to know are the last twelve words of The Star-Spangled Banner:

“Land of the free and the home of the brave, PLAY BALL!”

A Modern Dictionary

CYNIC: A blackguard whose faulty vision sees things as they are, not as they should be.  (An homage to Ambrose Bierce and “The Devil’s Dictionary,” ca.1880.)


1. A political body originally designed to discuss and solve political and governmental issues for the citizens.

2. Now, a political body whose sole function is re-election and avoidance of holding down real jobs.

3. A group of men and women who are convinced that compromise is immoral, illegal, and fattening.

4. Collectors of the largest welfare checks in captivity.


Huh?  (An archaic word with no meaning in the 21st Century.)


One who does it somewhere else.


An ancient and useless method of establishing a contract between two individuals in which they pledge mutually rewarding products or services.  Obsolete.  (Admonition: get it in writing.)


(Known as “celebration” in sports); a procedure in which superbly conditioned, well-trained, strong athletes appear to be self-centered three-year olds simply because they ran a football    for a big gain or touchdown, made a tackle, caught a forward pass or shot a basket, resulting in the athlete jumping up and down, dancing, running with arms wide spread, or other manner which screams, “Mommy, Mommy, look at me.” (Editorial  Note:  This condition could be cured by having the athlete stand  in the center of the court or field and forcing him or her to demonstrate the “Look-a-Me” dance every time he or she fumbles, misses the basket (air ball), drops a pass, or misses a tackle—It ain’t gonna happen.)


See “Courtesy.”


A label indicating that the producer of goods or services has discovered a way to make the product or service for 1) a cost of 5% less, while 2) charging 10% more , and 3) hoping no one realizes that the product is 15% less efficient or tasty.


A day in which stores, usually large department stores, sell special items at prices not usually available to the general public. The length of time between One Day Sales sometimes lasts as   long as forty-eight hours.


Archaic. It disappeared with the development of electronics.


(You want Einstein in a column that makes an attempt at humor?) The art of dealing with your relatives.  Most of mine live on the East Coast, one of the happiest factors in my life.


The offering of information, directions, and expertise to customers by authorized and knowledgeable staff.  Oddly enough it usually disappears as soon as a financial transaction takes place.

S.T.E.M., also STEM: 

An acronym for Scientists, Technicians, Engineers, and Mathematicians about whom the public hears of a constant need for more STEMs to clean up the air and water and to save the environment for future generations.  (One might note that much of the guilt connected with the despoiling of the planet can be attributed to Scientists, Technicians, Engineers, and Mathematicians.)


A red, octagonal, totally ignored artifact of modern life; many do not realize that is an acronym for the initials S. T. O. P.:

                        S = Slow down Slightly;

                        T = Take a Tiny peek,

                        O = Oh, phOOey, Others will stOp;

                        P = Press and Pound the Pedal.


1)  A method of repairing human beings whereby a common Individual allows a highly skilled and specially trained doctor to obtain his/her Mercedes or Lexus. 

2)  Something that is “minor” when another person has it, but “major,” frightening, panic-inducing, and horrible when contemplated for me.


A truck with a really, really, really neat toupee, and a great deal of plastic surgery, but, nonetheless, a truck.


A fun and entertaining method of presenting information about fires, murders, floods, mayhem, war, earthquakes, stupidity, sports, and weather to a public that is certain those who suffered deserved punishment and revel in knowing that it did not happen to them.  Those who report the “news” are called “anchors” because they sink as  low as possible until they hit bottom. (Whether the stories are real or fiction is totally irrelevant.) 


The dissemination of facts as opposed to lies, half truths, and opinion; it is avoided in daily life; it is mostly ignored in business; and it is unknown in politics.


A totally unused, decorative stem on the left side of a steering wheel used mainly to balance the important stem or stems on the right side.  (Use of the device might give important information or advice to other drivers, but “Nuts to them.”)


A collection of schools and departments of higher learning of the finest quality.  (Universities can be distinguished by athletic teams that consist of 68% students of color, while the general student body consists of 6.8% students of color.)


We’ll Keep Shylock

Recently an article appeared in a local newspaper in which the author suggested that we should consider eliminating Shakespeare’s “Merchant of Venice” from the literary canon of the great Bard’s plays.  The anti-Semitic portrait of Shylock, the Jewish money-lender, established the reason for the removal, or at least, for ignoring the play.  Shylock’s character certainly is thoroughly despicable, angry, vengeful and full of vitriolic hatred.  He is also, however, the most interesting character in the play, with only Portia coming even close.

As a not very religious but committed cultural Jew who has experienced anti-Semitism first hand, I would like to oppose any attempt to “banish” Shylock or the play.  And as one who has acted, directed, produced, written, and studied theater, literature, and Shakespeare for over half a century, I would extend my opposition to any play, novel, short story or any other work of art, so long as it does not advocate or incite any violence or threats.    

Shylock is, no question, despicable.  Even in his famous and sympathetic speech:

“Hath not a Jew eyes?   Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons. . .”

He loses his appeal, however, on the final line.  After his empathetic comparisons of Jews and Christians, Shylock states that if a Jew wrongs a Christian the result is revenge. He then states:                  

“The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction.”

Hardly a conciliatory ending to his appeal for equality. He follows the threat with his insistence on getting his “pound of flesh” because Antonio cannot repay the 3,000 ducats, both terms which were agreed to in the loan documents.

He gets some sympathy all right, but then twists it into the threat. At this point we might note that other Elizabethan authors and playwrights fashioned Jewish villains that make Shylock almost a lovable pussy cat. Christopher Marlowe’s Barabbas in “The Jew of Malta,” is a prime example, along with Thomas Dekker‘s “The Jew of Venice.”

In other Elizabethan and Jacobean drama, Jewish money lenders “enjoy” such names as Gripe, Hornet, Bloodhound, Lucre, Moth, Perfidious Oldcraft, and Sir Tyrant Thrift. Those names make the characters hardly seem like people we would want to invite to dinner or go with to a ball game.

Earlier writings such as Chaucer’s “The Prioress Tale,” established the horrible stereotype, and Dickens continued it centuries later with his Fagin in “Oliver Twist.” 

Shakespeare based the play on an Italian play called “Il Pecorone” (“The Simpleton“) in which the evil money lender has no name. Gianneta, the merchant, has only about 2000 words, and the equivalent of Portia has her suitors not simply give her gifts to woo her to marriage, but they must sleep with her and if they do not please and satisfy her, they must forfeit their own fortunes and property. (Sorry, but no English version of “Il Pecorone” exists, at least not as of a few years ago when I did the research.)

Shylock is a stinker, no question, but banning him and the play poses the threat of a word I personally despise: censorship.  If we can censor a work because it offers a horrible example of a Jew, what is to prevent someone else from censoring another work because it offers too pleasant a picture of a Jew? Once that Pandora’s box has been opened, how do we close it?  We all know the answer to that question: it stays open.

The plays of August Wilson and Lorraine Hansberry, as well as  countless others, might be censored by some as being too human a picture of African-Americans. How about a thoughtful and sometimes gentle Asian absolute monarch?  Goodbye “The King and I.” Will we also “banish” Shakespeare’s “Richard III,” which gives an unnecessarily evil portrait of Richard, because the grandfather of Elizabeth I, Henry VII, killed Richard and usurped his throne?

Under no circumstances do we need clergy, lay people, government officials or anyone else deciding what adults can write, present, or read because once that snowball starts rolling downhill, it is not long before it becomes an avalanche. We need to remember the lessons taught to us in the 20th Century by people named Hitler and Stalin, not to mention our own American/un-American H. U. A. C.

In my totally fictional novel, By Any Other Name, I have an imaginary discussion between Christopher Marlow and the man who, in the novel, writes the plays attributed to Shakespeare. They discuss the images of Shylock and Barabbas. Marlowe, whose Jew was even more vile than Shylock, insists that the primary decision of depth of evil lies with the audience for whom the work was written. There can be no question that the Elizabethan or Jacobean audiences were vastly different from those of 21st Century America. Audience members in the 16th and early 17th Century had probably never even seen a Jew; Edward II banished all Jews from England in 1292.  It was not until the middle of the 1600s that some were allowed into England.

Will some go away from a production of “The Merchant” thinking and even saying aloud, “Yep, all the Jews are like that.”  Hopefully others will realize that it is a play written over four centuries ago and not a true reflection of life as we know it or a depiction of an entire culture.  It is a play; a work of art, not sociology.

Shakespeare himself had a narrow “religious” line to walk.  He came from a devout, involved Catholic family at a time when England still smarted from Henry VIII’s abandoning the Catholic Church and establishing the Anglican Church.  He dared not enter the conflicted world of religious strife in England within his plays. Jews made excellent villains, and the theater needs villains in order to contrast with the heroes.

Finally, I patently reject the suggestion to have panel discussions after the final curtain of “Merchant” or any other play, as the author of the article posited.  As Willy himself once said, The play’s the thing.”  We hope that audiences will find food for thought after “Merchant,” or any other play or novel. The play must, however, in the final analysis stand on its own as a work of art.

Because it is April, let’s all wish the Bard a happy birthday and commemorate the 453rd anniversary of his birth.  Not too many people still make us think, as well as entertain us, even after four centuries.

 HAPPY 453rd




Yummy!: Memorable Meals

Most of us experience meals that are especially memorable from time to time.  Sometimes the food tastes or is presented so wonderfully that we remember those factors, perhaps even forgetting the occasion. Then there are the times when “yummy” was not enough, but something special happened or a celebrity or famous person appeared or was nearby.  Perhaps a simple meal changed into a memorable one simply because of the circumstances.  Here are a few “Memorable Meals” that have brightened and highlighted my life and remain important in my memory.

When I was a small child in the 1930s living in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, I saw little of my father during the week. The Great Depression brought hard times to virtually everyone, and my father was fortunate to have a job that put bread on the table for his wife and bratty little kid (me), paid the rent, and kept the wolf from the door.  He arose at 5:00 AM and was out of the house by five-thirty six days a week.  He did not return home until sometime between 7:00 and 8:00 PM daily.  But HE HAD A JOB; many others did not.

He would load his delivery truck with packaged cakes and pies, drive into the anthracite regions of Central Pennsylvania, and service “Momma and Poppa” grocery stores in towns like Shamokin, Mount Carmel, Shenandoah, and Paxinus.  (I am not certain of the spelling of the latter, but to this day I remember the small bridge leading into and out of the town that frightened me every time we crossed it.  Bridges do not usually bother me, but just thinking about that one bridge still gets me queasy some seventy-five years later.)

When I matured to the ripe old age of eight or nine, on summer days with school out, my father would wake me at five. I got dressed and ready, and got to watch him shave.  Then we headed out to a small diner on Fourth Street where we always had the same breakfast: ham and eggs with toast, coffee for him, and milk for me. After breakfast we, really he, loaded the truck then drove out for the small towns and little stores.  (Super markets did not exist yet, at least not in that area.) I helped him carry the cakes and pies into the stores where the proprietors would make a big fuss about “Cohen’s kid.”  Then they plied me with candy, pretzels, and soft drinks in every store.  I was a “man” helping Dad and working.  I believe I slept most of the time while Dad drove, but I was as happy as any kid on the planet. (To this day, just thinking about those special breakfasts puts a smile on my now old, wrinkled face. Often when something bothers me or some family crisis hangs over us, I manage to get to an old fashioned diner and order, you guessed it, ham and eggs. Breakfast, lunch, or dinner? It does not matter, although I do not recall ordering it more than once in any day. Ham and eggs remains my number one comfort food, only with English muffins and iced tea instead of milk.)

In April of 1950 I was nineteen years old and a student in junior, now “community,” college. A buddy of mine from high school had joined the Marine Corps Reserves and played on their baseball team.  While we were playing catch and hitting fungoes to one another, he told me that the Reserves had a good team, but lacked a first baseman. I played first quite well defensively and hit all right, at best.  He told me that if I joined the Corps, I would have to march around once a month, get $10, and could play first base on their team. I agreed to sign up on a Saturday morning that April.

For the life of me I cannot remember what the occasion was or why I had to go, but that Saturday there was some sort of brunch at my college and I had to attend. I, therefore, did not enlist in the Marine Corps Reserves in order to play baseball. The fateful day was in April 1950, in June the Korean “Police Action” broke out, my buddy and his group were called up to active duty immediately. By August they had suffered 50% casualties. (I do not remember the occasion, the food, or anything else about that brunch, but I thank my lucky stars for that MEMORABLE MEAL.)

In August 2016 my wife Shirley and I celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary.  In addition to a brunch for family and close friends, we treated ourselves to an Alaskan cruise. We had taken the Alaska cruise before, so sightseeing was not our primary motivation.  We had had a relatively difficult year and wanted to be pampered. Someone else would prepare meals, clean up after them, make the beds, and generally take care of the little daily, household chores we wanted to leave behind for ten days. 

For those not familiar with cruising, meals are quite sumptuous, well prepared, usually delicious and plentiful, plentiful, plentiful. Those so inclined can easily enjoy three to six fine, large meals every day as part of the basic fee for the “room and board” on the ship. Most ships also have specialty restaurants where, for an additional charge, one can be served ethnic foods in large portions and delightfully presented. Shirley and I had never bothered with any of the specialty restaurants in our many cruises.

When we arrived at our stateroom as we boarded the ship, we found an envelope outside the room with an invitation to enjoy a special dining experience at the Steak and Seafood specialty restaurant. It was, indeed, special!  The courses and portions could have fed us for two or even three dinners, although we managed to pack away most of it.  The preparation and presentation of the various courses were just delightful.  The taste, or rather, “tastes”? Tres Bien!  Molto Bene!  Delicioso!  In other words: a heck of lot better than our usual fare. It capped our two week celebration of our fiftieth in fine style.  (Thank you, Princess Cruises, for a delicious, memorable meal that greatly added to our already memorable celebration.)

 About ten years ago Shirley and I visited Venice, Italy, for four days.  It was our first, but not last, time in Venice.  We were on a three week Grand Circle tour that included Rome, a week in Sorrento, a week in Montecatini near Florence, and an optional four days in Venice.  Our hotel was an ancient convent that had been renovated, modernized, and made comfortable and inviting. Venice consists of many islands and we stayed on Lido Island.

We decided to take a sightseeing walk around some of the island and search for a place for lunch. We found a place in Italy that served a wonderful American food: PIZZA.  Although Shirley eats chicken, fish, and some beef, she could easily become a vegetarian.  To me, pizza is Hawaiian—ham and pineapple, period.  The restaurant did not have individual sized pizzas (pizzi?), so I asked if we could have one half veggie and half ham and pineapple. One would think I had asked to desecrate the Italian flag or vandalize a church. All the server said was a resounding, “NO!”  Slowly, in English with my newly acquired ten words of Italian, I tried to explain that it can be done and how it is done, using, of course, many gestures.  The server relented enough to say he would ask the boss, his attitude indicating that there was no way for it to happen.  A few minutes later he came back with a puzzled expression and hesitantly said, “Okay.”  We got our half and half pizza.

The pizza was good, not great.  There some places here in the East Bay that, in our opinion, are as good or better, but it was tasty and palatable. (We remember that lunch fondly, however, because we felt that we had changed the course of Italian culinary history.)

When I was about fifteen or sixteen, my family lived in Atlantic City, New Jersey.  People were just settling into life that did not center on war and the wartime economy that predominated during World War II.  Radio was our primary, indeed only, means of immediate communication with television a few years off in the distance. When I could, I enjoyed listening to Arthur Godfrey over the AM, simple, scratchy quality radios available then.

One day on his show, Godfrey told the story of Ginsberg, a Jewish tailor from the Bronx who had no wife or family and was ready to retire. He decided to give himself a retirement present of cruising back to Europe and visiting the graves of his parents. The first day on ship he was seated with a Frenchman who also was alone. At dinner the Frenchman arrived first, sat at the table, and greeted Ginsberg with “Bon appetite!” as Mr. Ginsberg sat down. Speaking no French, he simply replied “Ginsberg.”  The situation repeated itself at every meal until a steward overheard the two men unable to communicate in a common language. The steward took Mr. Ginsberg aside and explained that Mr. LeBlanc was saying, in essence, that he should have a good satisfying meal, which embarrassed the retired tailor. At the next meal he made a point of arriving first and when the Frenchman sat down, he proudly said, “Bon Appetite!”  To which the Frenchman replied, “Ginsberg.”

When Shirley and I got married, I told her the story and it became a family joke.  (Recently in the dentist’s office, I spotted a copy of the magazine “Bon Appetite,” and said to Shirley, “Look, there’s Ginsberg magazine.”  The receptionist who overheard had a puzzled expression on her face which seemed to ask, “A magazine named Ginsberg?”)   

About twenty years ago when we still lived in Daly City on the Peninsula,  early one morning we got up, drove to the airport, flew to Vancouver, Canada, rented a car, and headed for Banff National Park. By about three-thirty in the afternoon we had not had lunch and both of us were exhausted and famished.  We found a rustic, upscale restaurant high in the Canadian Rockies where we each ordered a salad. It seemed to take forever to prepare the salad, and we both were losing patience when the server finally appeared.

He placed our meals before us and, with a touch of attitude, said, “Bon Appetite!”  Simultaneously we both blurted out, “Ginsberg,” and both of us started laughing hysterically with tears streaming down our faces. The poor server could not understand, asked if something were wrong, and lost his “tude.”  We tried to explain between the laughter and the tears, but we were not too successful.  The memory of that meal was worth every penny of the extra tip I left the bewildered young server.

So to you, dear Reader, when you sit down to dinner tonight, we wish you “Bon Appetite!”  You know the response!

The Trip of a Lifetime

In February I celebrate my eighty-sixth birthday, and at eighty-six we celebrate every one of them as though it could be the last one. Shirley, “the Boss,” and I will be going through the Panama Canal from San Diego to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  We did the trip from East to West several years ago.

Although the Boss and I have traveled extensively once the kids were on their own, we were confined mainly to the U. S. and Canada prior to that. I have visited 49 of the 50 states, some during my bachelor and Army days, while Shirley is just a few short of that number. We have been to at least 16 European countries, all of North America, most of Central America (we are not sure about El Salvador), and three nations in South America, as well as Israel, the Palestinian Territory, Turkey, and Morocco. Not as much travel as some, to be sure, but more than many others. All our trips were, in various degrees, exciting, adventurous, educational, and, most important, enjoyable.

One trip that I was fortunate enough to be part of occurred way back in my bachelor days, a few years before the Boss and I even met. In terms of personal growth and expanded learning in my chosen field, as the old saying goes, “It was a TRIP!”

I had taught drama, speech, and English for two years in high school in Southern California when, in 1959, I decided the time was ripe for me to become rich and famous as an actor. After teaching two years, I moved to a residential section of Hollywood and started making the rounds of agents, producers, and auditions. Although I had some success, I saw quite early on that I did not want to continue the lifestyle that I was then living. I also missed the classroom and interaction with students. I, therefore, enrolled in the graduate school of theater at UCLA in late 1960, and began classes toward my master’s degree in January of 1961.

Although I felt the program was a bit too regimented for my taste, the classes were excellent. I was cast, however, in the musical “Finian’s Rainbow” based on my reading four lines from the ancient Greek play “Antigone” by Sophocles, a casting I did not then and do not now understand. My sheer dumb luck, however,  came through with flying colors. A student had to be in residence in the Winter Semester to be eligible to audition that Spring for a show sponsored jointly by the University, the U. S. O., and the Department of Defense.  The show was scheduled to tour a variety of service bases in Asia, and, indeed, we did exactly that.

As a student, I had been strictly a commuter, living with my parents and later in my own tiny apartment. For the four to six weeks of rehearsals and early performances I rented a room in a fraternity house, learning to live with the odor of perspiration and beer constantly in the air. Our company fortunately received permission to perform George M. Cohan’s “Forty-five Minutes from Broadway,” using the script written for a performance honoring Cohan’s 100th birthday and shown on the great television show “Omnibus.” Some of us who became cast members also performed songs about U.S. cities and states between scenes and to open and close the show. I became the villain in the play, spoke directly to the audience at the beginning as MC, and then ended the show singing and scatting “Route Sixty-six,” with the entire cast joining in the finale.

During the rehearsal period an undergraduate student at UCLA who was of Japanese descent taught us a few expressions in that language including “Where is the bathroom?”  “Please,” “Thank you,” “Where is a restaurant?” and “Can you tell me where I can find a teaspoonful of toilet paper for my horse?”  (I never got to use the latter one, but the others helped.) Incidentally, the undergraduate student’s name was George Takai, better known today as Mr. Sulu of the original “Star Trek.”

The director, the cast of twelve (including the director’s wife), and the pianist were allotted a total of ten steamer trunks in which to pack our sets, costumes, and lights plus one suitcase each for personal belongings. It was tight.  We had rented our costumes from Western Costume in Hollywood, and I wore a suit worn by a minor star in a long forgotten movie. That was as close as I came to becoming “rich and famous.”

After a few trial performances at UCLA, we played a few more at service bases around Southern California, then boarded a gigantic, slow, propeller cargo plane for the interminable trip across the Pacific Ocean. In the next six weeks we traveled some 45,000 miles, did 46 shows, and visited Japan, Korea, Okinawa, Guam, Wake Island, and Hawaii, performing in the hot, humid summer both indoors and outdoors.

Every place we played had different sized stages. We did one show on a stage no more than fifteen feet wide with yet another on the stage of the Toshi Center Hotel in Tokyo, which at that time was considered the most modern theater in the world, with a stage some 50-60 feet across. The dancers, of course, had to practice on every stage because some stages demanded giant steps and movement while others required little baby steps.

On a personal note, even the act of eating a meal meant new horizons for me.  Although my father was the better cook, my mother did most of the cooking, as did most women in those days when Dad worked from early morning to mid-evening.  My tastes remained stagnant with my mother’s style of cooking: vegetables boiled until they were almost a paste; meat well done until it bordered on leather.  (All right, so I exaggerate a little bit.)  Knowing that I would not be returning soon to this part of the world, I asked the waiters to bring me something good, but not to tell me what the ingredients were until after I ate. It worked; I tricked myself and expanded my culinary horizons greatly. At the service bases where we often ate, indigenous laborers served the food in cafeteria lines.  I quickly learned to ask for rice, not potatoes, because the natives then included me as one of their own, and gave me extra portions of meat also.

Our audience sizes varied greatly from about twenty to a few thousand.  The base which had the fewest audience members was located 100 yards from the Communist lines near the 38th parallel. The men were not permitted to discuss what kind of electronic work they did, but any serviceman, regardless of how long or short his time there had been, could simply say he needed  to transfer and it would be arranged immediately. Anyone who ever served in the military knows how unusual that is. The men there also served our troupe a delicious chicken dinner with all the trimmings. The following day, when we were at our next venue, we were informed that those men had gone without dinner so they could feed us.

Our show was a completely clean, wholesome performance, which was not always the case with USO shows. Some had young, and not so young, women in skimpy costumes showing a lot of skin and telling off-color jokes with strong sexual content. We were amazed and delighted at the number of servicemen who thanked us, saying that our clean show was the way they preferred to remember their wives, mothers, girl friends, and sisters.

Occasionally though, we did have problems. In one scene the male lead danced around each of the four chorus girls and kissed each one on the cheek.  On Okinawa we were informed that there had been race riots between black and white service men. Because one of our chorus girls was black, we were obliged to cut the kiss in that particular scene. The racial tensions prompted the Army to station men with clubs backstage to protect us. Once, just before I went on stage to speak to the audience as MC, our “protector” said to me, “If there is trouble, you can have my club, because I’m getting my butt out of here.” Not too heartwarming when one is just getting ready to go out to face an unknown audience. Thankfully, we never experienced any of those problems.

Although we had racial problems on Okinawa, we had two incidents that qualified as unusual and frightening theatrical situations. One of our chorus girls, Jan, sang “The Boston Beguine” between two of the scenes. The comic song basically deals with a man and a woman who do not know what to do with their new found love because all of the books they should have read were banned in Boston.  The song, written in 1952, ends, “Land of the free, home of the Braves, home of the Red Sox, and home of the Boston Beguine.” The Boston Braves baseball team had moved to Milwaukee, and John Kennedy was President, so Jan changed the ending to “Land of the free, ex-home of the Braves, home of the Red Sox, home of Jack Kennedy, and home of the Boston Beguine.” 

The baseball references usually received a chuckle and the Kennedy reference mild applause. One night in August, however, “Home of Jack Kennedy,” got all the servicemen and women on their feet, booing, and shaking their fists.  Jan, naturally was shocked and shaken.  Between performing, traveling, and sightseeing none of us followed world news, and on that fateful day, the Russians raised the Berlin Wall and President Kennedy had extended duty for all service personnel an extra six months.  Needless to say, Jan cut out the Kennedy reference for the remainder of the tour.

Because of an administrative foul up (Yes, those things happen in the service), a large group of servicemen were told we would perform at noon, but we were not scheduled until two o’clock.  The men, all of whom had records as petty criminals, fighting and minor thefts, had been sitting in the hot, humid tropical sun for two hours when yours truly came on stage alone to start the festivities. I learned a great deal in a great hurry about handling a hostile audience, but I survived and the men enjoyed the show once we started.

After several shows in Okinawa, we flew to both Guam and tiny Wake Island, the scene of intense fighting during World War II. Our efforts on those outposts drew enthusiastic applause and appreciation from those stationed there.   Then it was back to the “good ole’ US of A.”

Although we had the chance to relax a bit in Hawaii, we also did three shows there before returning to the reality of our normal lives. (“Reality?” “Normal? Los Angeles? A contradictions of terms.) Exhausted and worn out from our travels and constant performing, we returned to our separate lives with new insights about theater and performing;  new understandings and appreciation for other cultures; and, at least in my personal case but I suspect for all of us; expanded horizons  as performers and, more important, as ourselves.




I Wish I had Said That

(Actually I have said that, but I was not the first.)

Greater and, sometimes even lesser, minds than mine have uttered sayings that have stayed with me over the years, and in some cases, changed my life or at least some of my attitudes toward life. Some are so simple as to be almost obvious, and yet they all bear a bit of profundity. I share them with you, including comments when appropriate.  (They will not be on the final exam.)

“Life is too important to be taken seriously.” Oscar Wilde.  (On a magnet attached to our refrigerator.)

*     *     *

“I’m not the man I used to be; and I’m not sure I ever was.” Sammy Davis, Jr. (Dealing with reality can be so depressing.)

*     *     *

“For years I searched for the perfect woman. Then one day I found her. Unfortunately, she was searching for the perfect man.” Groucho Marx.  (Now there is some real philosophy.)

*     *     *

“Do the best you can with what you’ve got.” John Warren, my Principal at Downey Senior High School where I taught ages ago.  (He said it to me many times and I in turn said it to my students and to my own children many, many times.)

*     *     *

“Tomorrow, tomorrow, I love you tomorrow. You’re always a day away.” From “Annie” by Charles Strouse and Martin Charnin.  (How did they know about my exercise routine?)

*     *     *

“You are never guilty of a crime you did not commit; you cannot lose something you never had.”, Robert Penn Warren in “All The Kings Men.”  (This one dramatically changed my life–for the better.)

*     *     *     *

“I did not come to America to eat grass.” By a dear friend who escaped the Nazis and is no longer with us.  (Although I was born in America, I share his disdain for vegetables and salads.)

*     *     *

“Politics: from the Greek ‘Poly’ meaning many, and ‘Tics’ meaning blood sucking parasites.” Kinky Friedman, folk, singer, poet, and sometimes politician.  (A bit cynical, but I love it.)

*     *     *

“Belladonna: In Italian, a beautiful woman; in English, a deadly poison; showing the similarities between the two languages.” From “The Devil’s Dictionary,” by Ambrose Bierce. (To my lovely wife: “Just kidding, dear!)

*     *     *    

“If you take away all the phony tinsel in Hollywood, underneath you will find the real tinsel.” Fred Allen, radio comedian long ago. (Probably still true.)

*     *     *

“The first thing we do is kill all the lawyers.” Dick the Butcher in “Henry VI, Part 2” by William Shakespeare.  (A bit drastic!  How about just the ones who want to go into politics rather than working for a living?)

*     *     *

“My whole family has been bothered by immigrants ever since we came to this country.” Senator Rawkins in “Finian’s Rainbow.” (I am the child of immigrant parents.  Unless you are a Native American, you are one of us also.)

*     *     *

“Oh, dainty duck, oh dear!” Bottom the Weaver in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” by some guy named Shakespeare. (I had to include at least two quotes from old Will.)

*     *     *

“Mann tracht und gott lacht.” Old Yiddish proverb which translates to “Man thinks and God laughs,” somewhat like Robert Burns’ “The best laid plans of mice and men . . .”

*     *     *

“Grandchildren are the reward for not having killed your children.” Unknown source.  (We are fortunate to have two wonderful children, but there were times when . . .  I wonder if they ever had thoughts about us and wanted to  . . .  never mind.) 

*     *     *

“I don’t give ‘em hell, I just tell the truth and they think it’s hell.” President Harry Truman.  (Elected Official speaking Truth????  What an archaic thought!)

*     *     *

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.” The first twelve words of “A Tale of Two Cities,” by Charles Dickens. (How in the dickens did Dickens know what life would be like in the 21st Century?)

Random Thoughts

… while Watching Electrons Exciting Pixels

            PROFOUND CONJECTURE #1. If Apple announced that they were introducing an I-Buggy Whip next Thursday, by next Monday lines would already be around the corner so that one can “Be the first on my block to have an electronic buggy whip.”  (Next question:  What’s a buggy whip?)    

            VISION OR A MIRAGE? #1. One day last week I actually saw (Ah seen it with mah own eyes!) an SUV make a full stop at a red octagonal sign. The guy in the Prius behind him almost rear-ended the SUV, then floored the Prius, drove around the truck (that’s really what an SUV is), and saluted the SUV driver with 20% of a full hand salute. My heart simply skipped a beat at such a momentous occasion.

            OPINION #1. Kaep, you blew your credibility by not voting. It is not only a right, it is a duty. Try taking a knee on the national anthem of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, or 67.38% of the other countries of the world–no matter how well you play football.

            OPINION #2. Does anyone know how many shootings, stabbings, poisonings, garrotings, blastings, and other forms of making people dead appear every week on television?  You will never see, however, a mother breast-feeding her small child. That beautiful act of love, of course, is rated immoral and not fit for consumption by our genteel, sensitive American public that worships television violence and football. Half the adult population of the world has those thingees, and the other half get induced to buy cars, beer, and other commodities just by glimpsing them.

            PROFOUND CONJECTURE #2. How do you protest an election unless you know of some violations of the law or other hanky-panky. The purpose of an election appears to be the gathering of votes on an issue or candidacy and a good percentage of the electorate will be disappointed every time. The only person I know of who has claimed that the Presidential election of 2016 was rigged, turns out to be the guy who won. Maybe the protest should have been directed toward the Electoral College, an antiquated system that resulted in two of the past three Presidents, both Republican, winning despite the other candidate having more votes. What are the chances of a Republican Congress and President overturning the E. C.? (Hey, those are my initials.)

            PROFOUND CONJECTURE #3. If Apple came out with the I-Buggy Whip, how long would it be before Samsung, LG, and others flooded the market with less expensive versions?  One month? Two? (I can see a young couple on their first date in a lovely restaurant. Both have phones in their right hands with thumbs flying at supersonic speeds. We will not ask what they are going to do with the I-Buggy Whips in their left hands, but we may ask how they will get the food into their mouths.  I find the vision unappetizing and frightening.)

            VISION OR MIRAGE? #2. Later the same day I saw the SUV come to a complete stop at an octagonal sign, I was waiting for a traffic light to change so I could turn left. Of the twelve cars waiting, one of three with turn signals on, was a certain German luxury car–yes, with its turn signals just blinking away like Christmas lights. I was unaware that German cars have turn signals. As Hamlet said, “They are more honored in the breach, than in the observance.”  (He was not referring to turn signals.)  I will not identify the maker of the car, but its initials are the same as Matzo Balls.

            SIMPLE SOLUTIONS #1. If you are opposed to same sex marriage and, like me, find the thought of being intimate with a person of the same sex to be totally undesirable, marry someone of the opposite sex and stay out of other people’s lives.

            SIMPLE SOLUTIONS #2. If you are opposed to abortion, do not have one. This particularly applies to men who are extremely vocal in their opposition, although when I think of it, I cannot recall knowing personally any man who has had an abortion. (I have known a few that I felt should have been aborted.)  For those who insist that the Bible stands opposed to abortion, I would like to quote from the Good Book:  Genesis 2, 7:  Then the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living soul.”  A fetus cannot enjoy the breath of life until it exits Mommy’s tummy and gets slapped on its bottom. (I am aware that I have not convinced or changed even one person’s opinion, but that ends my sermon, except for repeating “stay out of other people’s lives.”)

            SIMPLE SOLUTIONS #3. The election is over; live with it. I personally have voted only for Democratic Presidential candidates since 1952. Somebody always wins; someone else always loses. Donald Trump becomes the 45th President of the United States for better or for worse, and we should all hope it is for the better. He deserves a chance to make that happen. If, however, you identify as a Muslim, Hispanic, or Black, you might want to be especially watchful and vigilant. That is based on campaign rhetoric by politicians, and we all know how little truth is dispensed in those speeches by ALL parties.  As a Jew, I thank those groups and Ivanka’s marriage and conversion for taking some of the pressure off us. We are usually first in line for grief. (If by some chance there should be a second term or if he has been crowned “Emperor for Life” by the senior Senator from Kentucky who evidently thinks the Constitution is just another piece of paper from Charmin, then we too can join in the vigilance. Oh, dear, that makes two sermons.)

            SIMPLE SOLUTIONS #4. Is Donald Trump perfect?  Are all Muslims?  Hispanics?  Blacks?  Jews?  Democrats?  Republicans?  Brits?  Any human beings–other than my grandchildren?  We all know the answer to that question, except when it refers to ourselves. I think the words of the great philosopher Marx apply here. No, not Karl. Groucho, who once said the following. “For years I searched for the perfect woman. Then one day I found her. Unfortunately she was searching for the perfect man.”

            VISION OR MIRAGE? #3. On the same day, the very same day, that the SUV came to a full stop at a stop sign. Yes, the same day that the MB flashed its turn signals, I surfed the television that evening and saw another amazing sight, in addition to those two traffic experiences. On a Spanish speaking station I saw, honest, a flat-chested woman. What a day that was!  I could hardly sleep that night.

            SIMPLE SOLUTIONS #5. There are no simple solutions.

This old Democrat wishes good judgment, good decisions, and good luck to President Trump. If he does well, then you, I, and this magnificent country all do well. Can we ask for anything more than that?

Happy 2017!

Reality & Happy Holidays

Whether we like it or not, on Friday, January 20, 2017, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th President of the United States of America, the richest, most powerful, and, in my opinion, the greatest nation on the face of the earth now or in the history of the human race. 

Saint-petersburg, Russia, candidate to president USA 2016, concept editorial illustrationI freely admit that I did not support Mr. Trump’s candidacy, I voted for Hillary Clinton, and I blanched at the thought of his becoming POTUS. The citizens of the U. S. have spoken with ballots and, for better or for worse, I, and everyone else on this little blue ball in space, must accept the fact that Mr. Trump will become our Leader, regardless of our fears and trepidations.  For whatever it is worth I welcome him, wish him well, and hope and pray that his Presidency will be fruitful, well-intentioned, successful, and peaceful.  He will be my President, as well as yours, and I pledge my support to him.  (“Support” does not necessarily mean agreement.)

The analysis of Mr. Trump’s election victory we must leave in the hands of the pundits, historians, and those who feel that if we insert enough information in a bank of computers, the result will be WISDOM.  It is not.  (I seem to remember that in the early days of the electronic revolution there was an expression GIGO:  Garbage In; Garbage Out.)  The geniuses and political analysts on radio, television, and other media stumbled all over themselves trying to understand how Mr. Trump won. The real issue is not how, but the acceptance of the fact and the need for all Americans to give a sincere pledge of support.

All of us, regardless of ethnicity, party affiliation, or depth of interest can probably and should agree on one factor: the process of electing people to major office has become divisive, rancorous, mean-spirited, and just plain old ugly. It seems like the opponent of any elected official from the most modest to the President has been characterized as un-American, subversive, child molester, or terrorist.

Why anyone would even want the job puzzles me.  (Does the word egomaniac” come to mind?)  The path any candidate faces is indeed a daunting one.  Our first President, George Washington had to deal with just thirteen states.  He had a budget smaller than most major cities today.  His only major international challenger was George III of England.  Today, the Prez must deal with fifty states and whole mess of territories.  Does anyone really know how much the national budget is today?  How much is a trillion of anything?  Moreover, he has to deal with umpteen nations run by fellow egomaniacs that have ascended to power by birth, by election, or by killing a few hundred thousand of their fellow countrymen, women, and children. Some groups even exist outside of traditional national boundaries and controls. Any President must know business and finance inside out, be a psychologist, be a diplomat, be an expert on everything there is know about military life in the 21st Century, and must be willing to put his/her finger on the button that will in moments exterminate the human race as well as a few other species that do not deserve annihilation.  Those of us more modest in our ambitions must just hope for the best and wish our leaders well.

Regardless of political affiliation, almost everyone I have spoken with agrees that our election process must be shortened and that the disgusting, immoral amount of money spent must be reduced.  (The exception to those who wish these changes lies with, of course, the media.)  Perhaps the country can establish a procedure whereby the entire election process must occur within six months, June to November.  All candidates can say what they have to say at least three hundred times in that period of time—before it gets too repetitive and obscene.

Perhaps a list of twenty-five acceptable charities could be provided to all candidates. For every dollar the candidates spend, they must contribute a dollar to one of the charities.

To be sure, shortening the season and controlling spending would be contingent on Congress acting on these proposals.  Djdfikekdjdfuerksklj  (Excuse me, but the thought of Congress acting on anything got me so excited that I could not control my fingers on the keyboard.)

This timeless prose was written November 9, the day after the election.  You, of course, are reading it in December.  I would like to make a prediction relative to political happenings between November 9 and now. I predict the following will have announced their candidacy for 2020:

FIVE Members of Congress who have never accomplished anything;

FOUR White supremacists;

THREE Defrocked college professors who are Holocaust deniers;

TWO 72 year old men dressed in tattered jeans, tie-dyed tee shirts, with gray hair in long pony-tails, and carrying signs that read “VEGAN LIVERS MUTTER;”

ONE 61 year old woman from Genoa, Italy, to whom Cristofo Columbo appeared in a vision, touched her inappropriately, and told her she was born in Sunbury, Pennsylvania, and is, therefore, eligible to be POTUS;



Oops, I forgot Carly and Bernie


Giving Thanks for Old Memories

The number of people who affect our lives can be quite large, although it will vary from person to person. Parents, siblings, other family members, clergy, teachers all contribute to whom we become in our adult lives.  Many change our lives, for better or worse, in such small increments that we may not even be aware of them. Often they too are unaware that they have initiated change in people they barely know, may have totally forgotten, or, indeed, never even met. 

Derelict old photographs being sold at an antique shop in Istanbul, indifferent memories.

I should like to pay homage to some who affected my life in ways that they probably never knew.

JIMMY GRIGGS:  Because Jimmy also would be in his mid-eighties and we have not seen each other for seventy plus years, I seriously doubt that he would remember me. While his contribution to my life was not a major life changer, it was important and perhaps even profound. I was small for my age in the pre-teen years, but Jimmy was even smaller. While I could outrun just about anyone and could use my sense of humor against just about everyone, Jimmy just had to act tough, so quite often he would chase me home after school, never catching me, but letting me know what would happen if he did catch me.

Third Street in Sunbury, PA, is an unusual street. The Pennsylvania Railroad (we called it “The Pennsy”)  tracks run through the middle of the street, southbound on the west or river side, and northbound of the east side, with sidewalks on either side of the tracks. Jimmy and I were twelve or thirteen and he was chasing me north on the east sidewalk when I decided I had had enough running. With no real plan of attack, I was neither fighter nor lover at twelve, I turned, made a stern face, held my clenched fists shoulder high, and started to move toward Jimmy. Drum rolls, organ music, and flashing colored lights are appropriate here because, you got it, Jimmy, my nemesis, turned and ran away from me.

He had taught me a lesson about bullies that I never forgot. Nor was I ever afraid of such people again. Better yet, never did I ever have to fight anyone.  Although my mouth occasionally got me into trouble, it never failed to bail me out from bullies. Thank you, Jimmy!

MRS. MADVIG:  Mrs. Madvig was my final senior semester English teacher at Washington High School in Los Angeles. She was, in my opinion, a fine teacher and person, so I did good work in her class. Doing good work in class was not my usual modus operandi. Indeed, I did not do much good or even poor work in most classes unless I liked the teacher and subject.  I, like many teens, was lazy, angry, sullen, withdrawn, and, unlike others, with a sharp sense of humor that was often mean spirited. I had just three interests: baseball, basketball, and looking at girls (while scared out of my wits that they might look back).

One day in class Mrs. M. had us do a read around of some work long forgotten. When we finished, she said, “Edwin, may I see you after class?”  When the bell rang, I went up to her desk where she said, “They are having auditions for a play in room 201 after school today. I think you should tryout.”  The guys would play ball without me that day while I “tried out.”  The play was an old-fashioned melodrama with two acts one hundred and fifty years apart, so only the vampire appeared in both acts.  Guess who got the part of the vampire?  Come on, guess! 

I not only got the part, but I found I could make people laugh without hurting anyone. I discovered the recognition as a person that I longed for.  Through my teacher’s simple request to try out, I found my lifelong passion.  For the next fifty years plus I studied theater, acted in well over fifty plays, compiled two readers theater full length plays, directed and produced many plays, and, most important, taught theater in high schools for eleven years and in universities for over thirty. Through Mrs. Madvig’s simple request, this poor, unfocused kid experienced a profound, life changing path that led to a productive, positive, and enjoyable life and career. I am sure she had no idea, but thank you, Mrs. Madvig, from the bottom of my cothurni!  (Look it up.)

STEVE ALLEN:  Mr. Allen and I never met or even corresponded. To the great star of television, I was just another of the tens of millions of dedicated, unknown fans. Yet he too, or his old radio program in Los Angeles, had a real and positive influence on my life, an influence that began long before he was a nationally known star.

In the spring of 1948 my parents and I were living in Carlsbad, California then a small village along the Southern California seacoast—not the fine, well populated resort it has become. I was seventeen and in my junior year at Oceanside-Carlsbad High School. One evening a buddy and I walked the two miles to Oceanside to see a movie. By the time the movie was over, we had some doughnuts, and walked back to Carlsbad, it was well after eleven o’clock.

When I entered our apartment, my father was sound asleep, but my mother was doing something strange in those pre-television days: staying up and listening to the radio. I, of course, asked what she was listening to and was surprised by her answer:  “This young guy claims to be a disc jockey, but he doesn’t play records. He plays the piano, interviews Hollywood celebrities plus the audience, and he is really, really funny.”  She was referring, of course, to a quite young, unknown except locally, Steve Allen, and his late night radio show “Breaking All Records.”  Both Mom and I, late risers and sleepers, became fans instantly and followed him through his rise to fame and success.

At that time Al Jolson reigned as the leading entertainer in the U.S. and probably the world. He appeared one night on Allen’s show, and in the course of the interview remarked that he had been to the Hollywood Ranch Market the night before and bought a bunch of bananas.  While it may not sound so astounding to adults who have experienced television and the internet virtually all their lives, it was a moment of wonder for a seventeen year old naïve and unworldly kid. AL JOLSON, A DEMI-GOD OF SHOW BUSINESS, WENT TO THE MARKET TO BUY BANANAS! He was an ordinary human being just like all the rest of us. Wow!

That summer my family moved to Los Angeles, I entered my senior year of high school, and discovered that on Friday nights Allen would fill the Jack Benny radio studio and do his show from there with a real audience. In high school and community college it become almost a pilgrimage after the Friday night football games to drive to Hollywood and be part of his audience. One night Allen had two young performers on the same show. The first was a radio actor who talked about the new police show that he was developing. His new program would show police life as it really was, not through romantic Private Investigators. The actor’s name was Jack Webb, and the show “Dragnet,” which soon radically changed the picture of police work on radio and television.  “All I want are the facts, Ma‘am.”

Allen then interviewed a young, rather small but highly energetic Black man who sang, played drums, tapped danced, and did imitations that were spot on.  The young man just was beginning to get a reputation in “the business.”  He and his father appeared with his uncle’s jazz band, The Will Mastin Trio. The father’s name was Sammy Davis, Senior.   (I wonder what ever happened to “Junior“?)  

If we take the insight that performers were simply people with special talents and combine it with the newly acquired passion I received from Mrs. Madvig’s simple request, one can easily understand the effect on an impressionable teenager, an impression that has lasted a lifetime. Thank you, Mrs. M.!  Thank you, Steverino!

BASEBALL:  Through the ups and downs of my life (thankfully a lot more ups than downs) my family and baseball remained the rocks and constants in my life. How can I say it?  I can’t. Instead, please listen to James Earle Jones’ speech before he ventures into the cornfield in “Field of Dreams.” He says it all, and with that unique voice.  (Sadly, we cannot capture that magnificent sound on paper.)

I give bundles of thanks to those listed above, to my family, and to the countless others who contributed to whatever constitutes the person known today as  “Edwin Cohen“.