Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Turkey Meatloaf: A Healthier Version of an Old Favorite

Article first published as Turkey Meatloaf: A Healthier Version of an Old Favorite on Blogcritics.

When I was growing up, meatloaf was part of the weekly menu. My Mom made it with ground beef from the butcher's shop, and I can remember sitting there and watching her prepare it. In my kid's mind, this seemed like some kind of magic because a dash of this, a pinch of that, and Mom had whipped up something truly delicious.

Well, cut to my adult life and the reality that we are trying to stay away from red meat completely in this house. We have been eating fish and chicken and then the usual non-meat things like pasta salads, pizza, and veggie omelets. All of this is healthy and we can come up with enough variety, but this old red meat lover felt nostalgic for some of those things from my childhood, especially good old meatloaf.

When I met my wife and she came to my parents' house the first time for dinner, she stunned everyone because she did not know what meatloaf was (besides a chubby singer who had a great hit album). She did come to appreciate this unique culinary experience to some degree, though she still believes that ground beef can be utilized more suitably as meatballs or hamburgers.

I got the idea to make a turkey meatloaf one day last week, and I went to the supermarket (we no longer have butcher shops in my neighborhood) where butchers are rarely scene and seldom heard. I did see a couple of guys behind a hazy partion in white aprons smeared with blood, but I decided against asking for their advice when I heard the slam of the meat cleavers.

Anyway, I sorted through many different varieties of ground turkey and chicken to be found in the refrigerator case, and was happily surprised to discover that ground turkey looks a lot like ground beef. I settled on two pounds of 98% fat free ground turkey, bought the rest of my ingredients, and headed home with my eighteen month old son, who was probably wondering what meatloaf was going to look and taste like.

Using a large bowl (the way Mom always did), I dropped the two pounds of ground turkey into it. I then added two eggs, three slices of crumbled white bread (you can substitute bread crumbs if you wish), two cloves of crushed garlic, one sliced and diced onion, a generous amount of parsley, a pinch of salt, a dash of red pepper, and half a cup of ketchup. Now came the fun part (and the one thing Mom used to let me do to help her as a kid). All of this mish-mash has to be mixed thoroughly by hand. As I mushed all the ingredients together, the memory of the experience in my mother's kitchen came back to me and the sweet smell of the mixture was exactly the same as it used to be.

Once everything is completely mixed, it is time to fashion the "loaf" part of this culinary endeavor. I decided on separating the mixture into two smaller loaves, but you can keep it all together and make one big loaf too. I happen to have Mom's reliable old meatloaf pan, which allows the grease to drip through holes in the bottom to a second pan, and I would advise you to use this kind of device that is available in stores or online.

Coat the pan with a thin film of olive oil, place the mixture into it, and pop the meatloaf into the oven at 350 degrees for one hour. The other loaf went into a large Ziploc bag and was stored in the freezer. This I also learned from my mother, and it is a good way to give yourself a second fresh portion for another dinner.

Once it is done, serve with whipped mashed potatoes and vegetables of your choice. My Italian father always preferred to have spaghetti with his meatloaf and put marinara sauce on top of it, which is a perfectly fine way to eat it. I prefer it served as it is as to not complicate the wonderful aroma of the meatloaf and its intricate flavorings that are detectable upon first bite.

This turkey meatloaf was a success. It tasted remarkably like what my Mom had made with beef, and even my son ate a few little pieces without squawking. It made us all happy to be enjoying something that was delicious and healthy too.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Replay Has to Be Considered for All Sports

Article first published as replay-system-has-to-be-considered on Blogcritics.

The time has come to bring a replay system to all professional sports for disputed calls that will impact the outcome of the game. In the past, I have argued for replay in Major League Baseball, based on an early June game involving the Detroit Tigers. But just in the past week at the FIFA World Cup games and in another baseball game involving the (bad luck) Tigers, there were some very bad calls that changed the outcome of the final score.

California's Maurice Edu

In the USA soccer team's game against Slovenia last week, Koman Coulibaly - a referee who, for all we know, has cousins working as umpires at major league baseball games - made a terrible foul call on American midfielder Maurice Edu's goal, which would have given his team a 3-2 lead in the 85th minute. We cannot be sure how that impending victory would have changed things in the game USA lost against Ghana last Saturday, and maybe it would have meant nothing, but such an injustice has to do things to a team in a psychological sense that causes a difference in their playing mentality.

An opportunity to challenge the call using some kind of replay system would have proven that there had been no foul. Clearly, such a system would have also helped Frank Lampard, whose disallowed goal for England against Germany on Sunday would have proven to be what it was: a total disgrace of a call and maybe one of the worst calls in the history of sports.

Now, back to baseball.

We had the terrible call by umpire Jim Joyce on June 2nd that caused a pitcher, Detroit's Armando Galarraga, to lose a perfect game. Then on June 27, Detroit got burned by a bad call again, this time by umpire Gary Cederstrom, who admitted he made a mistake when he called a game-ending third strike on Tigers batter Johnny Damon with the bases loaded against the Atlanta Braves, who won by a score of 4-3.

Watching the replay, anyone could plainly see that the final pitch was outside. Damon correctly took the pitch, should have had a walk, and an RBI to tie the game at 4-4. Cederstrom's apology is all well and good, but Damon is still credited with being struck out and the Tigers have another game in their loss column.

Why is this all coming to the surface now? I think it's because both fans and players want and deserve better from game officials in all sports. It is just not acceptable for a referee or umpire to adversely affect the game with amateur-caliber calls, leaving room later for them (and everyone else) to second guess what they did. Right or wrong on a call, an umpire or ref should be held accountable, because he/she is a professional and there is more at stake than wins or losses: it's the integrity of the game.

Tennis seems to be way ahead of the pack here with the usage of Hawk-Eye replay used for close line calls. Tennis umpires use the system to settle all questionable calls at Wimbledon, and it is a much more equitable way of doing things than asking an umpire to make the call from a distance when it may not be possible to be certain. The replay takes away the second guessing of the players and the fans and seems to be the best way to settle disputes quickly and decisively.

Something does have to be done in all professional sports to alleviate the human error that we are seeing become more of a reality these days. Tennis has its replay system, and so does the NFL. Baseball has been reviewing questionable home run calls and that has been embraced by fans, and I think the next step is pretty obvious to everyone.

A manager or coach should have the right to dispute a call that impacts the outcome of a game. There should be a comprehensive and collegial attitude across the board from all parties that this is nothing but good for the game in their respective sport. Human beings can make mistakes, and this will alleviate all the after-the-fact apologizing and wondering, "What if?".

All the apologies in the world - or lack of them for that matter - do not hand a team a championship trophy it deserved. It is time to use the modern technology available in the interest of equity for players, coaches, managers, and those officiating a game.

Friday, June 25, 2010

TV Review: Lost: Paradise Lost and Found

Article first published as Looking Back on Lost: Paradise Lost and Found on Blogcritics.

Physician, heal thyself.
-Luke 4:23

Now, after all this time, many of you have probably gone on with your lives AL (After Lost). I have been thinking about it for over a month now, and I have been able to deal with my loss of Lost. I have been going over the final episode, watching it several times, and I have tried to get my thoughts straight about all six seasons. I have reached a point where I can actually understand, if not be happy with, the way things ended.

In the very last second of Lost, we get to see Dr. Jack Shephard’s (Matthew Fox) eye close, as we saw it open in the very first episode. In essence then the story of the series has been everything that happened between the opening and closing of an eye; in this case, the eye of a man who was like a rock and (get ready for extended metaphor) the island itself, around whom the ocean of the story swirled, with all the other characters being rivers flowing into and sometimes away from Jack.

Jack collapses and dies at the spot where he woke up originally. Right before he dies, he sees the plane flying over head with new Oceanic Six (or Ajira Six, actually): Lapidus, Kate, Sawyer, Miles, Claire, and Richard (whose gray hair tells us that he is now mortal). They escape and go on to live their lives and, we suspect they will remember that Jack did indeed save the island before dying, and in doing so he leaves behind Hurley and Ben to take on this somewhat sacred duty.

So for me, this all seems to make sense, but I have been bothered by one thing most of all: what of the “sideways” world and what we saw there all during season six? I am sure many people have different theories about it, and I must admit mine was all wrong: I believed the "sideways" world was the world after the bomb. I came to realize while watching "The End" (the last episode in the series) again and again that the "sideways" world was a wish fulfillment zone, a place where the characters could have things they aspired to achieve: Sawyer and Miles became the good guys (cops), Jack a loving father, Ben a kindly teacher, and Jin and Sun happy new parents. There were also those who did not change their stripes like Kate, Sayid, and Hurley.

In all of those "sideways" portraits we saw shards of a shattered rainbow, a world of wishes that could never be but were played out by each person in some attempt to rectify wrongs, to make adjustments for lost opportunities, to eventually lead them to accept what could not be changed, and thus inspire them to (eventually) make their way to the church for the group meeting that became the last scene of the series.

As they all sat in the church after the extended group hug, I thought "Amazing Grace" should have been playing as Jack's father Christian walked down the aisle and opened the doors to the bright white light coming from whatever was next step for them all. Think how appropriate the lyrics would be for these characters, and especially for Jack Shephard: "I once was lost but now am found/Was blind, but now I see."

Jack, the man whose open eye started it all, spent most of the six seasons not seeing the truth. No, I don't believe they all died in the initial plane crash (as I heard people bouncing around at the water cooler the next day), thus making the island a sort of "limbo" or "purgatory" where they had to earn the next step. I think everything that happened on the island was real, the escape of the Oceanic Six was real as well, and then the return to the island brought everything back full circle. As Jack suspected all along, the island wasn't done with him (or his friends) yet.

Many fans were expecting some kind of metaphysical explanation of things, sort of like a Lost 101 meant to answer all questions philosophical or profound. Well, I have to tell you the truth: I am really convinced that it was correct for the writers not to divulge all the answers. What was the island? Who were Jacob and Esau (I mean Smokey)? What happened to Aaron and Sun and Jin's baby? And so on. The questions could be lined up ad infinitum.

I think the Lost writers and creators had an approach to this series that shaped it like a novel, with six distinct chapters that broke down the story over six seasons. Taking more than a page from Faulkner (who wrote "The past is not dead; it's not even past."), they were able to show us multiple points of view, time travel, flashbacks, flashes forward, and eventually sideways. In all of this there was a thread of continuity, and that was Jack Shephard (appropriately named to lead his flock).

Another great novelist, Ernest Hemingway, had the "Iceberg Theory," which I follow when I write fiction. He said the text of the story (the written words) was the tip of the iceberg; the rest of the iceberg was what the reader had to infer from the story. In the case of Lost, all six seasons were the tip of the iceberg, and now you can spend the rest of the time you want to invest on contemplating what everything meant and unravel mysteries to satisfy your own point of view.

Perhaps the greatest mystery at the core of this whole thing was not the cave of light, the smoke monster, Jacob's room, or the polar bears, but the unbearable angst suffered by Dr. Shephard and how he could finally arrive at some peace (Physician, heal thyself). Jack was so worried about everyone else, right up until the very last seconds of his life, when mortally wounded he walked toward the place of origin, passing the sneaker on the tree, and falling down and seeing Vincent (the dog) as he did originally when he woke up after the plane crash in episode one.

Jack's road to redemption or salvation or even inner peace is the story, with all the other twists and turns adding to it and making the ride worthwhile. The Lost title can mean many different things to many people, but I see it as how Jack Shephard, who lost his way, could find a road back. It is Jack with whom we identify as the center of things, the man who had the authority to lead by the sheer force of personality, but the one thing he could not do was lead himself to the truth.

In terms of what really constitutes a tragedy (for this word is so often misused these days), Lost‘s Jack Shephard fits the definition as surely as Shakespeare's Hamlet. Jack had all the characteristics of a tragic hero: he was noble because being a brilliant surgeon elevated him above the common person, he possessed inner goodness, and he also had a tragic flaw. Hamlet's was procrastination; Jack's was more the heft of all that he carried on his shoulders: failed marriage, his father's death, his mother's disappointment in him. Then he gets to the island and somehow sees the crash as his personal responsibility, and taking care of the survivors and leading them off the island as his destiny.

And like Hamlet, Jack becomes aware in the end of just how his flaw has done him in. What is different here is, unlike Hamlet, we don't have to imagine flights of angels singing Jack to his rest. Jack is supported by all those friends he made on the island. His father Christian tells him that time on the island was the most important time in his life (so, for all who thought they died in the first episode, wrong!). Jack learned about himself, about his limitations, and his amazing capabilities. He led by example, and thus he was the "shepherd" who saved his flock.

When Jack sees his father in the back room of the church, he grabs him and asks, "Are you real?" This reminded me of George Bailey in the film It's a Wonderful Life, who, after having his own sideways trip into a world that showed him what life would be like without him, grabs his wife Mary and asks, "Are you real?" Both need to confirm that what they are seeing is not an illusion, but more the rendering of amazing grace that has now opened their eyes.

So the series finale of Lost may leave many of us feeling that way. Having come to know these characters, loving some and hating some like real people, we now have to "let go" just as Jack had to let go in order to be finally free to move on. The last scene has that cathartic feel to it, the immersion in light that takes on the darkest night of the soul and dazzles it with unrelenting daytime.

The ending in the church also reminded me of the last scene in the movie Titanic. Though Rose went on to live her long life after the death of her lover (another Jack) when the ship sank, after she dies she is drawn back to the ship, where everyone who died when the Titanic sank now meets up with those survivors as each one dies over the years. It is a comforting moment in the film and also in the series finale; it is wonderful to know you will be welcome into the club.

Jack's father tells him as much. He says that some died before him (like Sun and Jinn) and some died after him (like Kate, Sawyer and Hurley), but they are all there waiting for Jack. As he enters the room there is redemption, there is forgiveness, and there is the unmistakable truth of seeing for the first time what could never be seen. So we should be able to take a deep breath and feel good about the way Lost ends, because for once a tragic hero has an opportunity to overcome the tragic flaw. Jack accepts his fate, takes Kate's hand, and is ready for whatever comes next. We should all be so lucky.

Jerry Seinfeld's SNY Booth Visit Was Refreshing

Article first published as jerry-seinfelds-sny-booth-visit-was on Blogcritics.

Most Mets fans know that comedian Jerry Seinfeld is a longtime fan of the team, but on Wednesday, June 23, 2010, they got to hear him enter the television broadcast booth armed with more than jokes. He actually displayed a nice flair for talking about the intricacies of the game, could do a little play-by-play, and came off like a regular guy from Queens who happens to be a comedy legend.

Jerry made it clear early on that he was there as a fan and what his focus was to be. He said he didn't like celebrities coming into the booth and chatting about everything but baseball. He told booth regulars Keith Hernandez and Gary Cohen, "So let's just talk about the game."

And Jerry did just that. He proved to be knowledgeable about the players, about the team, and stuck to his word, more or less. Of course, it was inevitable that the entertainer Lady Gaga (who recently attended a Mets-Yankees game at Citi Field, had a problem with the fans, flipped photographers the bird, and eventually landed herself in Seinfeld's private suite) would come into the mix. Seinfeld brought her up first and joked, "That's why I'm here."

Jerry didn't mince words about Gaga's strange antics. He said, "I did not like the finger." One can only imagine what kind of episode could have evolved out of this kind of thing on the classic comedy Seinfeld, especially if Kramer and Newman were in the mix. Needless to say, Seinfeld was a bit annoyed that to soothe the obviously disturbed Gaga that she was placed in his suite, but he went on to say, "She should make a nice apology to the Mets fans and I'm willing to forget the whole thing."

During the game the Mets showed they too had a sense of humor, with a Go Gaga for Wright promotion involving foam fingers given away to fans. The intention of this good natured gimmick was to inspire fans to use their appropriate digits to vote for third baseman David Wright for a place on the NL All-Star Team. Once again, Seinfeld must have been thinking how those twenty thousand foam fingers could have worked in an episode, or perhaps he'll reserve it for use in his stand-up routine.

Fans of the classic comedy should remember when Keith Hernandez, playing himself, was a guest star on Seinfeld and started dating Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). Seinfeld and Hernandez engaged in a light-hearted banter about that time, when the Mets and their fans were glowing after winning the 1986 World Series. As they spoke, you could hear how much Seinfeld admired the former Mets first baseman. Of when Hernandez came on the set to start filming, Seinfeld said, "I was most excited to meet Keith Hernandez of anyone I ever met on the show."

Over all, it was a pleasant experience that Mets fans will long remember. In the end, the broadcast was more about Jerry Seinfeld than the game (the Mets did win 5-0 over the Detroit Tigers), even with his coming in with the best intentions. Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

A Thank You to My Dad on Father's Day

Article first published as A Thank You to My Dad on Father's Day on Blogcritics.

When you go into a store to buy a card these days, it's interesting that many of them start with: "What is a Dad?" or "What is a Wife" or "What is a Husband?" It may seem like the greeting card companies are helping us to define what we already know, or it could be that they are helping us with words we cannot express.

As I was looking for one for my father, I encountered one such card. I read what was inside and, while it was nice but a bit cliche, the truth is that it didn't come close to capturing "what" my father is or has been to me. I don't think any one card written by someone else could accomplish that.

I am sure that many fathers are mythic figures to their sons as mine was (and is) to me. I looked up at him and saw a towering guy who had fought in World War II, became a New York City cop, and then started his own business. When I was growing up, I had pictures of him in his uniforms (both Army and NYPD) in my room and always wondered if I could ever get close to being anything like him. I still have one picture of him (when he became a sergeant) right over my desk, and often I glance up at it when I need a little inspiration.

When I was little, my father was my whole world. Don't get me wrong, I loved my Mom, but even she told me I would follow Dad around like his "little shadow." Dad has told me as well that he couldn't go anywhere without turning around and finding me there, watching him and what he was doing. This started when I was very small, like around two years old, and continued for a long time.

I have never realized it before, but what I was doing all that time was taking mental notes. I remember when I was five watching my father build closets in the basement. I noticed how he measured the wood, used the saw, hammered the nails, and it stayed with me. When I finished building a room in the garage last year, I saw myself in the mirror holding a few nails in my mouth as I was hammering, and it dawned on me that even the way I was doing this was just like Dad had done. I guess all that shadowing was good for something more than just spending time with him.

There are many more examples of how I do things like him now. In fact, I have saved money over the years, being able to do jobs in the house because I watched him. So whether it's installing a ceiling fan, fixing a faucet, putting in a new toilet bowl, changing a fan belt in my car, or painting a room, it all comes down to what I learned from him.

When I go about doing business or investing or even when I am balancing my checkbook, I call upon things Dad taught me. More importantly, when something happens with my son or daughter, and I hear myself talking to them, I sometimes am repeating verbatim what he once said to me. I catch it maybe when I finish a sentence, and I turn around, smile, and feel that connection to my father that makes me want to pick up the phone and thank him.

My Dad worked very long hours in his real estate business. He did this in order to provide the best possible life for us. Of course, that means he wasn't always there for dinner. He sometimes worked on Saturday and Sunday because he used to say, "When it's your business, you cannot take time off."

My father not only taught me that work ethic, but he also showed me that he could still make time for me. If I had a baseball game, I'd see other parents there, and I would be in the outfield and feel sad and all of a sudden I'd look up, and he would be sitting in the bleachers. I don't know how he did it, but he found the time to be there. He always did.

As a kid I often heard "No" when I asked for something. I didn't get everything I wanted, and this taught me that I had to earn the right to things by helping out around the house, doing well in school, and being a good person. Sometimes I faltered, but he never stopped loving me and always showed me the way.

When I was a teenager, I never got anything just handed to me. I wanted to buy a car, and he said I should work for it. I did get a part-time job at 15, and by the time I was 17 I had enough money to get that first car. I am glad he taught me that invaluable lesson about earning things and not just getting a handout. Later on, if my car broke down, my Dad would show me how to fix it. He always helped me when I asked, and he never qualified his help with an opinion on what I was doing right or wrong.

When I was dating girls and brought them home, my Dad never said anything about them. He knew I had made a choice and he respected that. If I got serious with a girl or had a problem with one, I never hesitated to turn to him for advice. Only then, once I asked, did he get involved and tell me what he thought.

As I was deciding what to do with my life, I always had an opportunity to go into his business. It would have been the easiest thing to do, but I saw another road I wanted to take (to be an educator and then a writer), and Dad may have been disappointed, but he never let me know or discouraged me from taking the path I wanted to take. I was thankful then and respect him more now as I look back on it because he gave me the freedom to be whatever I wanted to be.

Even now, as a man with two children, I still seek my father's advice whenever I am not sure about something. We talk about everything, and I can always confide in him and trust him. He has and always will be the best friend I have ever had, and now as I see myself with my own son, I understand all the things he did and find I am doing them too. I hope I can be as good a father as he has been, and I think I have a chance because I had such a good teacher.

So on this Father's Day, I just have to thank my Dad for everything he did and still does for me. I thank my father for having the courage to say "No" and the strength to show me the right way is not always the easy way. So, when I bought my Father's Day Card, it was a simple one, and I am inserting a copy of this article inside it. Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

A Return to Rock Rock Rockaway Beach

Article first published as A Return to Rock Rock Rockaway Beach on Blogcritics.

Chewing out a rhythm on my bubble gum
The sun is out and I want some
It's not hard, not far to reach
We can hitch a ride
To Rockaway Beach
-The Ramones

This song by the Ramones was playing everywhere when I was a teenager, and I loved the song and the band because they came from Queens like I did. When it was hot and we kids wanted to get to the beach, Rockaway was the place to go because it could be reached quickly and easily as the song indicates, even without hitching a ride. I have very fond memories of going to Rockaway Beach, but that was a long time ago in a place that seems very far, far away.

A while back I wrote about taking a trip down to Coney Island, and it was a positive visit for me. I mentioned that New Yorkers felt that it was their best beach, and I received a few complaints about that comment, noting that Rockaway Beach in Queens was as good or better than Coney Island. In the interest of fair play and refreshing my own rusty memories, I took my trusty camera and ventured down to Rockaway Beach (I've not been there in about 25 years) to see for myself.

The history of Rockaway Beach is similar to Coney Island in that it was considered a resort area in the early 1900s. The Indian name "Reckowacky" (the place of bright waters) became anglified, and because of the large numbers of Irish immigrants settling in the area, it was sometimes called "Irish Town" because they were the ones working in the hotels, bars, and Playland, the large amusement park that opened on the ocean front in 1901.

Playland as it was in the early 1960s before its sad decline.

The boom times for Rockaway Beach lasted until after World War II, and Playland with its roller coasters, numerous other rides, and Olympic-size swimming pool attracted millions of people over the years. By the late 1970s, the place was sadly in decline. While the amusement park still opened its gates to the public, everything seemed to be rickety and the luster of the old days was long gone.

It is just a short walk from the subway station to the beach.

Keeping that in mind, I headed down to Rockaway hoping things had changed for the best. As with Coney Island, the easiest way to get to Rockaway Beach is by subway. The A Train has it's last stop at B 116th Street (B stands for Beach), which is the heart of Rockaway Beach (which runs from B 3 Street to B 149th Street for a total 97 acres of beach). Though 116th Street is not the geographic center, it is the place that is considered the main "town" area.

One of the first things that struck me was how things had changed. Many of the old wooden frame buildings had been refurbished, and storefronts seemed bright and cheerful. I remembered 116th Street to be a more dour and grimy place in the past, with derelicts walking around and panhandling day and night. I must say I was happy to see none of this going on while I was there.

An old Irish pub on B 116th Street

Along the block and half walk from the subway station to the boardwalk, I passed two "surf" shops, a beauty parlor, several restaurants, and there remained one old Irish pub (there were more than a few on every block in the old days). A couple of the buildings were boarded up, and at the very end of the street only two old hotels remained, dilapidated legacies of the days when Rockaway Beach was a resort town in the same league as Coney Island.

The last of the once glorious old hotels from Rockaway's days as a booming beach resort.

At the very end of the street is the touching memorial to the 260 passengers and crew members who lost their lives on American Airlines Flight 587, which crashed not far from there in Belle Harbor, Queens (near B 131st Street), on November 12, 2001. All the names of those lost are etched on the face of it, and there are benches for family members and visitors to sit, meditate, or pray as they wish.

This is a beautiful tribute to those lost in the crash of American Airlines Flight 587 on November 12, 2001.

After visiting the memorial, I walked onto the boardwalk and it seemed to be in good physical shape. I turned right and went for a walk, finding cold water showers, bathroom facilities, and conveniently placed benches along the way. One thing that struck me immediately was how the housing developments were almost on top of the boardwalk, which is the most striking difference between Coney Island and Rockaway Beach. These hulking multi-storey buildings certainly do not add any aesthetic appeal to taking a walk along the boardwalk.

These large apartment buildings are very close to the boardwalk.
Returning to B 116th Street, I noticed a large restaurant adjacent to the boardwalk where all sorts of foods and refreshments were available. I walked in a eastward direction along the boardwalk, and still the encroachment of the buildings seemed to bother me more than anything else. The small shops, restaurants, and bars on the Coney Island boardwalk made for a much more amenable situation for a visitor.

The site where Playland once stood has apartment complexes and a strip mall. 

The thing I was looking for as I made my way along the boardwalk was gone. The amusement park known as Playland (I didn't realize that it closed in 1985) had been replaced by hulking apartment complexes with beautiful water views. How lucky for them and how sad for those with memories of a simpler time.

As I made my way back toward the beach, I remembered the purpose of my visit: answering the best beach question. I walked down to the water and saw lifeguards on duty in both directions. The surf was clear and cold, and the sand as pristine as that on Coney Island. On this beautiful June weekday, everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves on the sand and in the water.

Lifeguards are on duty overlooking the clean sands and water of Rockaway Beach.

When I thought about it honestly, Rockaway probably does have the better beach. First, there is more of it. Second, it seemed like the waves were bigger and stronger here, and then I discovered that Rockaway boasts the only "surfing beaches" within New York City limits (between B 67-69 Streets and between B 87-92 Streets).

That edge certainly makes Rockaway the better beach; otherwise, I believe Coney Island is still the better destination, especially if you are bringing the kids. Clean sand and surf are a wonderful draw, but there is nothing else for the kids to do at Rockaway. The many amusements and attractions at Coney Island promise a day of fun for the whole family. I guess it really depends on what you are seeking in your day away from the city.

This lone house is a reminder of the way it used to be as it stands defiantly amongst the looming hulks of the apartment houses.

Over all, it was a sad return for me to Rockaway Beach. As I walked along the boardwalk, the elegant old houses that used to face the ocean were mostly gone. The old houses have been replaced with those large multi-level dwellings. Even the Ram's Horn Diner, a fixture on B 116th Street for many years, is gone and replaced by a bank. The more things change the more they stay changed, I guess.

Something seems to be missing at today's Rockaway Beach. Perhaps it was the  mystique of an "Irish Town" that no longer exists, or maybe it is the thrill of seeing the old amusement park even in its fading glory. I was reading about how Mayor Bloomberg does want to improve the area, and while his Rockaway Waterfront Redesign project does sound promising, it does not bring back the amusement park or the atmosphere that once had people coming to spend their summer vacations here.

I guess we cannot expect things to stay the same, and I do grudgingly admit that the beach at Rockaway Beach is better than the one at Coney Island, but I'll leave it up to you to go see both places for yourself to decide where you'd rather spend the day.

Monday, June 14, 2010

No More Tomorrows for Little Orphan Annie

Article first published as No More Tomorrows for Little Orphan Annie on Blogcritics.

If you have seen the Broadway play, watched the movie, or caught the comic strip on a daily basis, it is probably hard to say goodbye to the little red-haired orphan girl named Annie but, after eighty-six years, as of Sunday, June 13, 2010, the comic strip Annie will no longer appear in daily newspapers.

Little Annie has been around a long time, as have her cast of characters that included Daddy Warbucks (so named because he made his bucks during the war- that is World War I), Punjab, the Asp, Mr. Am, Tom Short, and a long list of nefarious guys and gals out to get either Annie or Warbucks.

Born during the Roaring Twenties, Annie was the poor girl who got a big break: a really big break. She is adopted by Warbucks and gets away from the hard-knock life to live in a palace on Fifth Avenue. She brings along her faithful dog Sandy, who was loyal and could always be counted on for an "Arf" when the situation called for it.

My father remembers when Annie first appeared in the newspaper (the New York Daily News) as Little Orphan Annie when he was a kid. It seemed to become immediately popular, as the story of a little poor girl wandering the streets, living a tough life, and then getting lucky enough to be adopted by a wealthy man struck a chord in the public.

Dad also hit on what I think is the key to Annie's long-term popularity: despite Annie's good fortune, she never loses her down to earth personality and cares about the people and the place from whence she came. As the comic was first geared to little kids, he recalled that sometime during the Depression the story got more serious (no doubt because of the times), and Annie was thrown into a series of perils and long periods of separation from her "Daddy."

As she wandered the roads and towns of America looking for a way home, vagabond Annie survived by using her wits, lots of pluck, and sometimes the kindness of strangers. The comic strip certainly represented what was for many people at that time a real life experience because so many families lost their homes and were out on their own. It also appealed to kids especially as the fantasy that seemed a lot like their own.

In the 1970s Annie became a hit Broadway musical and gave many young actresses a chance to play the part and become famous (including Andrea McArdle and Sarah Jessica Parker). It was a tremendous success and eventually a movie would be made in 1982 starring Albert Finney as Warbucks and Carol Burnett as Miss Hannigan. In 1999 a TV movie with Victor Garber and Kathy Bates in those roles premiered, and that version has become a family favorite (I can't count how many times my daughter has watched it).

Through it all Annie remained the sweet but tough little girl who managed to escape an orphange, fight her way out of scrapes, stay on the run (whether by train, car, boat, bus, or just walking) and eventually find a way back into the arms of the "Daddy" who loved her.

One of the things I liked about Annie over the years was the adventurous nature of the strip. Usually over breakfast, I read the paper and the comics, while most of them are mildly amusing, they did nothing to satisfy my need for some action. Annie gave me that little adventure everyday, whether she was crossing the roads of America, getting mixed up with gangsters, or trying to help those less fortunate than herself. I looked forward to seeing that comic strip every morning, and now it is gone.

Sadly, Annie ends with a sort of cliffhanger, which I guess is apropos for a comic strip that very well could have been called The Perils of Annie. Annie is in the clutches of The Butcher of the Balkans, and he has escaped with her on a boat and is on the run. As her "Daddy" does everything her can to find her, she is stuck with a killer who will not harm her because she is a child. The strip ends with the words, "And this is where we leave our Annie. For now --"

Well, in a world where we can see last episodes showing Tony Soprano (The Sopranos) fade to black and Jack Bauer of 24 have to go off on the run, it just could be the fitting end the little red-haired heroine of the comics deserved.

Annie will be remembered fondly by children and adults and even senior citizens like my Dad who was a child when he first read the comic strip. Besides the movies and merchandise that will always be available, there is a promise of a new Broadway production of Annie to come our way sometime in the future. Will the show pick up where the strip left off? Will Annie find a way back to the "Daddy" who loves her? "Gee whiskers!" I wish I had the answers, but I have a feeling that we will be seeing her hugging her dog and Warbucks by the time the curtain falls.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

A Pleasant Surprise on My Return to Coney Island

Article first published as A Pleasant Surprise on My Return to Coney Island on Blogcritics.

Imagine, if you will, how hot New York City would have been during the summers of the early 1900s. My grandfather, living in a sweltering tenement on the Lower East Side of Manhattan (in a small apartment with his parents and seven brothers and sisters), had gas lamps lighting his rooms and there was no such thing as fans or air conditioners. To escape the heat he and his brothers sometimes swam in the East River, but it was like a vacation when they could make their way over to Brooklyn to visit a magical and mystical place named Coney Island for the day.

Coney Island was first known as a glitzy resort and then as a beach for the public: a people's playground where the poor, everyday working class could make their way to the beach, shed their knickers, and jump in the surf. Still, the "old" Coney Island (back when it was truly an island before the water was filled in for connecting roadways) was a bonafide resort for the wealthy too with hotels, amusement parks, arcades, and the wonderful sandy beach. My grandfather also remembered that during the Depression the hotels and amusement parks closed down, and a more risque side of things popped up: saloons, gambling halls, burlesque theaters, and circus sideshows.

Before I went on my excursion, I remembered the Coney Island I knew as a kid: the boardwalk appeared to be falling apart, the rides seemed to shake and rattle more than they rolled, and the establishments that remained seemed barely able to stand in the wind. Yes, I still enjoyed shooting pop guns at moving targets, eating cotton candy, and going on some rides, but it was the beach that attracted me most of all. What else does a kid with a shovel and a pail need?

With all this in mind, on a recent beautiful June day, I ventured down to Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York, to see how much it has changed since I was a boy. I am pleased to report that the wonderful beach remains as it was, but the grittiness of the surrounding area has been replaced by a shining bright and polished glow that makes it much bigger and better than I remember.

This is the subway station one block away from the beach.

Coming out of the subway at the Coney Island-Stillwell Avenue stop, you have a short walk down Stillwell Avenue to the boardwalk, but first look to your right and you will see a true New York City landmark on the corner of Surf and Stillwell Avenue: Nathan's Famous Restaurant.

The one and only Nathan's Famous Restaurant.

Yes, this is the Nathan's of the Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest (the names of winners over the years are listed on the Stillwell Avenue side wall). You will see people standing at the service windows on Surf Avenue waiting for their orders. Stop to take a picture of the retro metallic silver facade and the big yellow sign before you go, but remember to come back after your tour for a true taste of Americana: Nathan's hot dog.

These shops along the boardwalk offer everything from tacos to ice cream.

Once you get to the boardwalk (now looking as good as new), many more choices await you. I don't remember as many souvenir shops, snack bars, and restaurants being there when I was a kid, especially in the vicinity of the brick bathhouse (where you can use the facilities when needed), but they are there now. Everything seems very clean, spruced-up, and the store clerks, cashiers, and waiters are all friendly and ready to help.

A view of the Parachute Jump from the boardwalk.

When you come up the ramp and onto the boardwalk from Stillwell Avenue, turn right and you will see the impressive Parachute Jump from the old Steeplechase Park as it rises up to the sky. Obviously coated with fresh red paint to make this open steel structure (reminiscent of the iconic Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Park) stand out even more, the 260-foot Parachute Jump can be seen from near and far.

According to my father's recollection, the ride was originally featured at the 1939 Worlds Fair in Queens and moved to Coney Island later on. He said you had to put on a type of harness connected to a parachute, were yanked all the way up, heard a clicking sound, and then dropped as if you were jumping from a plane. He said, "You were very high up and the drop was exhilirating," and I am sure that it was. The ride closed in 1968, so I never got the opportunity to enjoy its thrills, but the structure remains and is now protected as a landmark.

If you continue walking toward the Parachute Jump, you will see MCU (Municipal Credit Union) Park, home of the Brooklyn Cyclones (a minor league team affiliated with the New York Mets). It is a beautiful new park (opened in 2001 as KeySpan Park) and is a wonderful setting if you want to see baseball something like it used to be in good old Brooklyn, where a team called The Dodgers used to play.

The famous Wonder Wheel is surrounded by other rides and attractions.

Turn back and head east along the boardwalk, and you will come to Deno's Wonder Wheel Park. At the center of it all is the famous Wonder Wheel (a Ferris wheel), and there are many other rides and attractions to keep kids and parents busy for as long as they want thrills and excitement. Admission to the park is free (how about that?) and rides are three dollars a pop. Parents can save money with "kiddie packs" for ten or twenty rides, so it is an inexpensive place to let go and enjoy everything more than once.

If you continue walking past Deno's you will see a few more shops, and then you will need to walk back up to Surf Avenue to reach the even more famous Cyclone, which is an old-fashioned wooden coaster on what is a surprisingly sturdy frame. Having stood strong since 1927, the ride is well-maintained and open every day at noon. The Cyclone is reminiscent of the old Coney Island and attracts new visitors and people like me who remember their first time on the harrowing sloops and sharp turns against a backdrop of sand and sea.

A short walk from the Cyclone is the new Luna Park. This is the inaugural summer for this amusement park that takes its name from the old one that burned down in the 1940s. There are nineteen rides, games, and attractions in this sparkling new venue that boasts a more family oriented atmosphere to attract visitors throughout the summer. Four-hour ($26) and six-hour ($30) wristbands are available for those who cannot get enough, and there is also a LunaCard available that is sort of like Disney's FastPass, helping you to avoid waiting on long lines for rides. There will be performances on the weekends by clowns, jugglers, and magicians to keep the large crowds entertained.

A reminder of the sideshows of the past still found at the Coney Island of today.

Not far from Luna Park is Sideshows by the Seashore located on Surf Avenue. They proudly proclaim, "They're here, they're real, and they're alive! Freaks, wonders, and human curiosities!" So, if you are into this kind of thing, you can get to see some of the performances to keep you amazed and enthralled. If you really want to know even more about the history of this famous place by the sea, go upstairs in the same building to visit the Coney Island Museum. It is fascinating for new and returning visitors to get a glimpse of the way things used to be for an old-fashioned kind of price of ninety-nine cents.

If you want to visit the New York Aquarium, you need to turn around and walk east along Surf Avenue for a few blocks (it is on Surf Avenue at the corner of West 8th Street). Set on 14 acres along the ocean front, the New York Aquarium can be enjoyed on its own or as part of your day at the beach. Featuring over 300 different kinds of animals, birds, reptiles, and fish, there are sea lion shows, interactive exhibits, and even an opportunity to witness shark feeding (don't get too close now). I have taken my daughter here and she loved it, so it is definitely a place to put on your to-do list for the kids (and you too).

As you come back down Surf Avenue and turn left on Stillwell and walk towards the beach, you will pass more souvenir shops. Everything you want is available: little surfboard key chains, T-shirts, and even the twenty buck replicas of the Cyclone that will let everyone back home know that you visited one of the most famous beaches in the world.

One of the playgrounds right on the beach.

Speaking of the beach, you should not forget to get down to the water. Walk along the close to three miles of pristine sand and clean surf, and get great views of all the ships going in and out of New York harbor and the coast of New Jersey across the way. The beach features not just sand and surf but also sports action (basketball and volleyball courts) and has playgrounds right on the sand. There is also a wonderful palm tree sprinkler as a place to be cool and wet before or after a briny swim. The beach is protected by lifeguards everyday during the summer season (Memorial Day - Labor Day).

The sprinkler palm tree brightens up the beach.

If you are planning a trip to New York City this summer, there is no reason why you should not take a day away from museums, theaters, and shopping in the hot city and venture to what New Yorkers still consider to be their best beach. Easily accessible by subway (D, Q, N, and F trains), you can get to Coney Island in about an hour if you are staying in a Midtown hotel.

The Coney Island Fun Guide used to promote the area includes a poster that proclaims: More Ooohs. More Aaahs. After my return visit, I can say there is more than a little truth in that advertisement. Hopefully, you will get a chance to go to Coney Island this summer for either the first time or a return visit. There are many things to make you "Oooh" and "Aaah," so come to this lovely place by the seashore where you can relax and have fun like a real New Yorker, even if it is only for the day.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Ollie Perez Starring in Another Fine Mess

Article first published as Ollie Perez Starring in Another Fine Mess on Blogcritics.

Mets lefthander Oliver Perez is reminding me more of Oliver Hardy (of the comedy duo Laurel and Hardy) these days than a pitcher. Some film buffs might recall Hardy telling Laurel, "Well, here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!" in the film Another Fine Mess. Of course, the truth was Hardy was blaming poor Laurel for problems he himself caused. This would be a perfect explanation of the Oliver Perez Mess that is currently playing out like a television drama at Citi Field here in New York City.

To say Perez is struggling is beyond an understatement; right now he looks like a kid who had been playing stickball plucked from the street and plopped on the mound at Citi Field. Gone is the guy I once saw pitch against the Yankees at old Shea and throw six scoreless innings. What has happened to him, I don't know; maybe he's not eating his Wheaties. Whatever is the case, he is got the Mets in a serious bind right now, and it looks like his team is going to keep suffering because of his selfishness.

As a starter this year Perez has looked lost on the mound. His fastball is mediocre at best and he doesn't have many other things in his repertoire to buttress his performance. Looking at the grim bottom line, Perez is 0-3 this season with a 6.28 ERA in 7 starts and a total 11 appearances. The guy who won 15 games in 2007 is gone, and Mets manager Jerry Manuel has faced the truth. Like poor Stan Laurel talking to Ollie, Manuel has tried to talk sense to his lefty, but to no avail.

The big drama now is that Manuel has put Perez out in the bullpen, and there seems no use for him except in a game when it is out of reach. The team wants to activate Jon Niese to start the game on Saturday against the Marlins, and what they had hoped to do was send Perez down to Triple-A Buffalo at that time. They need the space on the roster, but Perez has refused to go down (which is his right through baseball's collective bargained agreement).

So what are the Mets to do? If you listen to "talk radio" here in New York, the popular idea is to release him outright, but with what's left on his three-year, $36 million contract would be owed to him, so the Mets are not too fond of that idea. The manager (and apparently some teammates) have tried to reason with Perez. The pitch (pun intended) has been: go down to Triple-A, work on your cutter and your change and maybe another pitch, and then you can come back when you're ready.

Perez has seen too many pirate movies, no doubt, to think that walking the Triple-A plank is a way to a safe haven. He is probably afraid he will get stuck down there if and when he makes no progress. Judging from what we've seen of the guy, it looks like he is indeed washed-up at 28. Is it because of last year's knee injury which kept him out for most of 2009? Or is it, as some sports people here in NYC have suggested, all in his head?

We cannot be sure, but I am looking at it as a fan who doesn't understand the lack of team spirit going on here. Perez is not only unwilling to do what is best for his team, the guy is not even willing to do what is best for him. He is getting little or no work in the bullpen, and is simply becoming a nonentity out there. Obviously, no other team will take him off our hands, so the one thing he can do (according to the agreement) is declare himself a free agent. The catch is that he will not get the rest of his salary from the Mets if he does that, so it looks like he's going to hang around for awhile.

Scott Boras, his agent, is supposedly working with the Mets on this one (yeah, like he did in the A-Rod deal?), but it doesn't look promising. The team will have to send someone else down if Perez elects to stay out in no man's land in the pen. This means sending down an effective pitcher (probably rookie Jennry Mejia) in order for Niese to be activated.

So, Ollie, this is another fine mess you've gotten us into. Thanks for your gopher balls, your lack of team spirit, but most of all, thanks for nothing.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Ump's Call Blows Perfect Game: Proof We Need Instant Replay

Article first published as Ump's Call Blows Perfect Game: Proof We Need Instant Replay on Blogcritics.

There was a moment last night when Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga was one out away from immortality. Previously, centerfielder Austin Jackson (he of the trade for Curtis Granderson now on the Yankees) made a Willie Mays type catch to keep the perfect game alive. Galarraga gets a ground ball to first, goes to cover the bag, and makes the play. But wait a minute-umpire Jim Joyce called Indians' shortstop Jason Donald safe. Immortality will have to wait a while, but should it be that way?

Watching the video replay of the game, it is clear that Donald was out. Even Joyce admitted as much after the game when he said, "I cost the kid a perfect game." Well, gee, that's big of you Jimbo, but that does not put Galarraga into the elite class that he should be in this morning.

For his part, Galarraga just smiled and proceeded to get the next out, giving him a one-hit shutout and a 3-0 victory. His manager Jim Leyland and teammate Miguel Cabrera were more outraged than he was, but maybe he was still in a fog of not believing what was going on. Whatever the case, the Tigers and their fans should be outraged and screaming like the old Brooklyn Dodgers' fans used to yell, "We was robbed!"

I think more than ever we have a clear case of baseball needing to go to the video replay in games for big moments, not just homerun calls. This is a good example of how a manager could invoke use of the replay. Major League Baseball should not wait to institute some kind of edict that will allow umpires to review a big play such as this. Each manager should have one opportunity per game to do this (separate from the homerun call rule).

As for Galarraga, he just missed being in the exclusive club that no one ever forgets. My father was there in 1956 (he was a cop working the game) when Don Larsen threw his perfect game in the World Series against the Dodgers. He has never forgotten that moment and neither has baseball or its fans. There have only been 20 perfect games in baseball history; oddly enough, two of those have been thrown this year. This would have been number 21, but it will never be and that's a damn shame because an ump blew a call.

Now, it's baseball's turn to make things equitable on the field. Let's get it right from now on. Bud Selig should be able to do more than study the length of baseball games. Here's something that can improve the game right now. Come on, Mr. Selig, it's your turn to make the right call.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Book Review: My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ

Article first published as Book Review: My Life with the Saints by James Martin, SJ on Blogcritics.

When receiving a book as a gift, I often wonder if I will ever get to it, mostly because choosing a book is a personal thing, and I am not always interested in ones I receive. When I got this book last Christmas, I knew that I would eventually read it. Being raised Catholic, I have always had an interest in the lives of the saints; furthermore, this book’s premise fascinated me because it involved not just the stories of the saints but also their influence on the author, who became a priest. After reading this amazingly honest and emotionally moving book, I can say that it has changed my way of thinking about people in religious life.

James Martin’s story intrigued me from the start. What we both had in common was a childhood raised as Catholics and being sent to Catholic schools. Also, he seems to have been a completely ordinary kid who read comic books, played with “fake vomit,” and even ordered “Sea Monkeys” from an ad in a magazine like I did. Where our paths diverged, however, was that at nine years old he became fascinated with St. Jude and even ordered a statue through a catalogue. In this humble and somewhat casual way, James Martin’s life with the saints began.

What is equally intriguing is that Martin did not take the direct route to the seminary. He went to Wharton School of Business in Pennsylvania. While I found this surprising, apparently so does Martin. He tells us, “Why I decided to study business is difficult to explain and, at this writing, difficult even for me to understand.” He takes this road because, after consulting with his family and high school guidance counselor, it seemed that learning sound business practices would help him to “earn a living.” Of course, now he can identify what the problem was with his choice: his worrying about the “earning” part and not thinking enough about the “living” aspect of things.

After graduation he took an executive position at General Electric in New York City where he spent a few years “working almost around the clock,” but he derived no satisfaction from this. He also did not appreciate “witnessing daily examples of callous behavior from management.” Thus, being caught up in the drudgery and agony of the corporate world, Martin found himself only caring about making money and, even more alarmingly, he discovered the worst thing: “I couldn’t find a way out.”

His life began to change when he accidentally came across a documentary on public television about St. Thomas Merton. Inspired by what he saw, he ran out and bought Merton’s book, No Man Is an Island. Martin explains, “When I first read it, at age twenty-six, it stopped me in my tracks and then started me on the path that would lead me to the Jesuits.”

What draws Martin into the life of Merton is the similarity to his own. Merton (and no one else for that matter) does not just go out and become a priest. He did many other things before settling on the idea of the religious life, but then he bounced from order to order seeking the right place for himself, and he does not find answers right away. He is even initially rejected by the Franciscans, who no doubt saw a problem in his tentative feelings about religious life, but eventually Merton does find his way and his home in the monastery. Merton’s life story affects James Martin irrevocably: “When I finished the book late one night and set it on my nightstand, I knew with certainty that this was what I wanted to do with my life.”

In this very intimate and revealing memoir, Martin goes on to describe a life that was touched by so many saints. Starting with St. Jude as a boy and Merton as an adult, Martin tells us how the stories of the saints inspired, instructed, and guided him through some doubtful times in the seminary, as well as through all the rest of his life.

While every chapter is powerful and illuminating, I specifically found sections about Bernadette Soubirous (St. Bernadette who saw visions of Mary), Mother Theresa (known as the Saint of the Gutters), and Angelo Roncalli (the man who would become Pope John XXIII) to be parts of the narrative that flowed so magnificently. They were also the sections of this memoir to really shine a bright light on the humanity of Martin, helping us to understand the power and frailty of this human being who aspired to become a priest.

In St. Bernadette, Martin finds the strength of his convictions and his calling. Though so many people doubted Bernadette’s story about her visions of Mary, the young girl stuck with what she had said and remained very brave in the face of ridicule, even from her own family. Martin thinks of her constantly as people around him question his choice to be a priest, mock the church, and denigrate the work that he does. Her inner strength and amazing faith keep him steady through hard times.

Of Mother Theresa, Martin gushes, “I was a big fan.” He found himself envying people who had met her, even his own father who had shaken her hand. Martin tells the story of how he wanted to interview Mother Theresa for a book he was writing. He never got to meet her, and she declined to be interviewed, but she did send him a personal note. While this was a treasured keepsake, the more important gift he gets from Mother Theresa was a call to service: to work with the poor, the sick, and the destitute during a stay in Kingston, Jamaica. Thanks to her inspiration, he not only experienced satisfaction in this work, but great joy which, in the words of Mother Theresa, is “something beautiful for God.”

In the chapter concerning Roncalli, Martin goes into great detail about his struggle with celibacy. For lay people, it is hard to imagine this kind of life, and Martin understands that and initially has trouble with it as well. He admits, “Chastity may be the most difficult thing to explain about life in a religious order.” He makes it clear that being chaste is not simple or easy for him or others, but it is something that he learns to accept and also cherish as love for another person can be and is replaced by the love of God.

This memoir reveals many things about Martin’s life, including a time he fell in love as a seminarian. At first he is horrified by this because he feels that he will not be able to keep his vows and have to leave the novitiate, but he talks to his spiritual director who helps him make sense of the seemingly nonsensical. “Falling in love is a wonderful part of being human,” he tells Martin, “perhaps the most human thing you can do. It shows that you are a loving person. And that’s a wonderful thing for a Jesuit and for a priest.”

Martin survives this moment of doubt, gets over "the infatuation" with this person, and decides to stay a Jesuit. One of the most powerful messages of the book is that a priest is a human being, has desires and feelings, and yet he needs to find a way to rise above those things to be a man completely devoted to the faith in order to do the work that is placed before him.

In My Life with the Saints we see how Martin uses the stories of the saints as a framework for his own life. He learns from their actions, from their writings, and is inspired to do the work of God because of their examples. There are a wide array of saints covered in the book including Joan of Arc, Ignatius of Loyola, Thomas Aquinas, and Mary, the mother of Jesus.

Martin draws strength from all of them, but in particular he seems to have a fondness for the female saints. Seeing the difficulties imposed on them by society because of their gender and the sacrifices they had to make, Martin is called to understand the importance of women in the male dominated world of the church. In this he finds a way to connect to his own feelings of being different, of facing the sometimes unforgiving world, and knowing what he is doing is what needs to be done. Of Joan of Arc he writes, “Joan found a way to God by learning a language no one else could hear.” As Joan’s example teaches, Martin understands that the difficult road to living his faith is one he has been meant to travel down all along.

Martin has given us a splendid book in which we can learn things about saints we never knew before. Also, in its pages he has shown the courage to open up his soul to his readers, allowing them inside to see all his doubts and his fears, but he also highlights his ability to find personal and spritual strength through the saints and in that an affirmation of his calling.

Is this a book that is meant for only a Catholic audience? I think Catholics will appreciate this story because they will see many things in it that are familiar in their own lives; however, the book covers such universal territory that any reader can find inspiration it its pages. So I recommend this passionate, incisive, and intelligent memoir to all readers who not only want to get an idea about what it takes to become and stay a priest, but also to those who want to learn something about finding happiness and satisfaction in their own lives.