Monday, December 31, 2012

Video Review: A Christmas Story - I Triple-Dog-Dare You To Find A Way Not to Laugh

Article first published as Video Review: A Christmas Story - I Triple-Dog-Dare You To Find A Way Not to Laugh on Blogcritics.

There was an old box that I found filled with video tapes I had recorded, which in and of itself was a nice surprise. There were so many old TV shows that I had forgotten about. You would be amazed how good Jake and the Fat Man (starring Joe Penny and William Conrad) actually was. I had taped several episodes for my Mom, and now all these years later have discovered it was a great show.

What is really wonderful is when you get a surprise within a surprise. I was watching the last of these shows, and when it was over I forgot to stop the tape. When I came back to shut off the old VCR, I was stunned to see the opening credits for A Christmas Story, the legendary 1983 film directed by Bob Clark that takes the myth of an ideal mid-Western Christmas and turns it upside down. I had completely forgotten taping it and had not written the title on the tape label, so I got a nice little after Christmas present (so much better than three French hens or six geese a-laying).

On the surface A Christmas Story is deceptively simple. It is the story of a nine-year-old boy named Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), an Indiana kid who dreams of getting one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB gun. It is the 1940s and the small town setting is wonderfully realized, with old cars plowing through the snow and everyone appropriately dressed for the time and place; however, the traditions of Christmas are picked apart piece by piece, but the result is less social commentary and more meant for continuous opportunities for laughing your head off.

Ralphie makes his desire for the BB gun known to everyone. His Dad, played by Darren McGavin (in a subtly powerful performance), seems too cranky and distant to approach. Mom (a hilarious Melinda Dillon) is a bit softer touch, but she quickly discounts his wish by saying, “You’ll shoot your eye out.” This is still not going to stop Ralphie, as he figures Santa Claus will fulfill his wishes.

The film is narrated by Jean Shepherd (writer of the original story), and his delightfully raspy voice as the older Ralphie adds a wistful dash of authenticity to the proceedings. He fills in the gaps as to what the little Ralphie is thinking when he is about to get beaten up, has his mouth washed out with soap, or watches his friend Flick (Scott Schwartz) get his tongue stuck to a frozen pole after being triple-dog-dared by another friend Schwartz (R. D. Robb).

Why this film has become a holiday classic is because it covers so many things about life that are universal. Though it is the 1940s, people in 1983 could relate easily to what transpires, and having watched it again I can say the same thing in 2012. Certainly, there are many outdated things depicted, including the matronly school teacher Miss Shields (Tedde Moore), the Orphan Annie Decoder Ring, the unkempt department store Santa, and the snow suits that make kids look like the Pillsbury Dough Boys, but none of these things actually derail the story but rather add a unique flavor to the magnificent recipe for cinematic gold.

One of the most hilarious elements of the story involves Dad winning a prize: a lamp in the form of a shapely leg in fishnet stocking. Dad decides to display this lamp in the house’s front window, much to the horror of Mom and the rest of the neighborhood. Why Dad wins this contest (he is always entering them in the newspaper) is never explained, but the destruction of the lamp by Mom, who accidentally knocks it over while dusting, is addressed by the narrator. I couldn’t stop laughing.

When Ralphie finally gets to see Santa (Jeff Gillen) at the department store, it is his last chance to state the case for the BB gun. Of course, as with everything else in the film, there is no romanticized Miracle on 34th Street stuff going on here. Instead, Santa is a gruff, drunk, and rude old elf who knows the store is closing and wants to go home. He quickly gets rid of Ralphie’s little brother Randy (Ian Petrella), but Ralphie will not go quietly into the crowd. As he starts falling down a slide away from Santa, Ralphie struggles back up and asks Santa for the gun. Of course, he is once again told that he will shoot his eye out. For good measure, Santa shoves Ralphie down the slide to add insult to injury.

The rest of the story plays out with similar disregard for holiday tradition. The family turkey is stolen by neighborhood dogs (ones that are forever harassing Dad), and thus the clan heads to the only restaurant in town that is open – a Chinese place where Peking Duck is dubbed “Chinese turkey.” This scene once again had me laughing so hard that my kids came down the basement to see what was so funny.

I watched the film all over again with them, but my preschool age son got a little upset with the depiction of Santa Claus. He liked the rest of the story though, but this is not just a children’s film; rather, it is one for adults who wish they were kids again. A Christmas Story can take you there, at least for 90 minutes.

If you have a chance, try to watch this film at least once before the season is over. I triple-dog-dare you to not laugh all the way.

Photo Credits:

Sunday, December 30, 2012

National Geographic Channel's Doomsday Preppers : The Scariest Thing on TV

Article first published as National Geographic Channel's Doomsday Preppers : The Scariest Thing on TV on Blogcritics.

I recently discovered National Geographic Channel’s Doomsday Preppers, and I have to say that it is scarier than any episode of AMC’s The Walking Dead. No, we don’t get blood thirsty zombies crawling across the screen, but there is a palpable sense that this kind of life altering event is exactly what these “preppers” are getting ready to face, or maybe even something more grim than imaginable.

I have seen only a few episodes, and they shook me up quite a bit. You get to see these regular people, some of whom you probably work with or know socially, who by night are preparing parts of their homes to be underground bunkers in case of disaster. The prepping involved is extensive and, in most case, seems carefully thought out and executed. The problem is that NGC’s “experts” then evaluate the preppers, and the results are not always positive.

In all of these episodes I have seen these people are working their butts off to get things right. They stock potable water, tons of food, and all the other necessities. Many of them are armed to the teeth with all sorts of weapons. Despite all the prepping, there always seems to be a flaw in the plan that the experts reveal at the end. Many of the preppers then respond to these experts, and some seem to try to make up for deficiencies in their planning.

I guess the thing that scares me the most about this show is not all the difficulties of planning or even all the expense incurred, but rather that no matter how carefully these folks prepare, there is bound to be something to get in their way. One family planned to stick it out in the bunker over a period of time and then hightail it to a boat to escape to an island. The experts picked at the flaws in this plan that seemed obvious: they had to avoid obstacles on the road to the boat and then had to hope their boat was still there.

All the preparation in the world seems to only help people for a certain time. Whether it is six months or a year, supplies will run out. If there is some kind of “zombie apocalypse” to deal with, it seems that everyone will eventually be forced to do what the characters on The Walking Dead must do – find a way to survive off the land and what has not already been foraged. It would seem that this planning will bring everyone back to square one, so you wonder about what good it is to do it in the first place.

I remember in the great George A. Romero film Dawn of the Dead (1978) one character tells his girlfriend: "We have to survive; someone has to survive!" It is not like I don't get that attitude, but my fear would be survival at all costs only to be overwhelmed by the post event realities. If only you and your family survive, what kind of life will that be? If you run out of food and water, do you start eating contaminated food and drinking spoiled water? What happens to the children when they grow up and you die?

All of these questions and more run through my head as I watch these episodes. I think the answers are ones that should make all of us feel uneasy. In the old days when the Soviet Union was in an arms race with us, kids were told to cover their heads under their desks in school in case of an nuclear attack. We all know how that scenario would have turned out in a real attack – there would have been a lot of kids found dead under their desks. In this case I think these people feel they need to do something to survive, but when the event is over and they come up out of their bunkers, they might be shaken by what's left of the world, if there is any world left at all.

If you visit the Doomsday Preppers website, a free preppers’ app is available. I don’t know about you, but even this benign little cartoon scares the heck out of me. Who wants to look at their phone and get a daily reminder of how unprepared they are?

One thing is for certain: this is a show that can be addictive, but it also sets up the premise that it is better to be prepared than not, but in the end there may be not much of a difference for any of us, and that is why I find this show to be the scariest thing on TV.

Photo Credits:

Friday, December 28, 2012

After Christmas “Play” Is Definitely the Thing

Article first published as After Christmas “Play” Is Definitely the Thing on Blogcritics.

Everyone knows the line from the song “It’s Beginning to Look A Lot Like Christmas” that goes “And Mom and Dad can hardly wait for school to start again.” Truthfully, since I became a parent, I have always taken exception to that line. For me being home with the kids is just about the best Christmas present ever. With the bad weather we have been having here in New York, it has also given us a time to really get to do one thing I never do in the real world of work: play! I am enjoying every minute of it.

We adults just do not get enough time to play. Walk into any Pre-K classroom and you will see the kids getting some work done, but then they get to have playtime and that develops different (and sometimes more essential) skills such as sharing, creating, and building. Pre-K kids also take a nice nap midway through their day, and that’s another thing we skip because we are just too busy.

Getting back to playing, I have been doing so much of it. Santa was very good to my children, and I am reaping the rewards of his generosity. My daughter’s American Girl doll (McKenna) is a gymnast by trade; therefore, I have seen every outfit imaginable that this active little girl could wear. I have also put on and taken off her cast seemingly a hundred times. Apparently, even dolls can break an ankle in gymnastics.

My son has gotten toys I could only imagine as a boy. The first thing he got was a cowboy town by Playmobil that includes a Bank and a Sheriff’s Office. The details are fantastic on these toys, and the characters come with revolvers, rifles, a safe with money, and a jail cell (with a locking door). We have had so many shootouts, bank robberies, and escapes from jail (the wall breaks away to let prisoners escape) that allow the game to start over again and again. What a great toy!

The next thing Santa must have had a hard time getting. My son likes the Nick Jr. show Mike the Knight, and he put it on his list that he wanted the castle and characters. I exhausted a search in toy stores here, but I hoped Santa would find it (apparently he went all the way to the U.K. to acquire it). Two sets came (the castle and a Viking adventure) that my son and I have enjoyed playing with. Mike comes with a horse and two friendly dragons that help him save the day against the mean Viking warrior. We have been saving the day a lot lately.
Another amazing toy is the Bat Cave from Fisher Price’s Imaginext line. The details on this toy are amazing. When I was a kid I could never have dreamed of having a Bat Cave like this. It has a working elevator, a cannon, rotating motorcycle bay, a jail cell, and many other features. Santa really knows how to pick a winner. I can’t tell you how many times Batman and Robin have beaten the bad guys up, thrown them in jail, and then gone to the Krusty Krab (part of another great play set) to have a Krabby Patty after a busy day of crime fighting. The only bad part is the bad guys always escape while Batman and Robin are visiting SpongeBob and friends. When will they ever learn?

I could go on and on, but isn’t that the whole point? In these days after Christmas, playing is definitely one of the best things about my time off with the kids. Since my son is in preschool, he gets the bulk of the playing time because my daughter (in middle school) wants to also explore her new iPod and use the computer, but her new Wii games do provide an opportunity for the three of us to interact and play together, as do new Furbys who are much, much more evolved since the old ones hit the scene. These Furbys never stop interacting, and during the night one of them sometimes says something in Furbish (the Furby language) and gets the other one going. Oh, and there is no way to turn a Furby off. Thanks so much, Santa!

Overall, these days off with the kids provide us with hours of entertainment and enjoyment of discovering new toys. We are exploring new worlds of Vikings, cowboys, superheroes, undersea friends, an outstanding gymnast, and alien creatures (I’m pretty sure a Furby is not of this world). I am having so much fun I feel almost guilty, but then I realize that is the whole point of playing.

We adults who work so hard should definitely take the time to really play. If you don’t have kids, this could extend in all different directions. Find a hobby. A good friend of mine builds excruciatingly detailed models of the Titanic, the Empire State Building, and spaceships from Star Trek. Perhaps you like to sing, so get thee to a Karaoke club. Like to draw or paint? Take a class or just get out to the park and start your masterpiece. You can also get into sports. I know people who love to loose themselves on the golf course; if that’s not just like kids playing, I don’t know what is.

These days are going too fast. Soon I will be back to work and I will miss the time I have with the kids. In the real world there is always homework in the evening and early bedtimes, but we can sneak in a little playing here and there until the weekend comes. I will look back fondly on these days as will my kids, and the most important thing we are doing is building memories that will last a lifetime.

Now, I must get back to more important things. Batman and Robin just left the Krusty Krab, jumped in the Batmobile, and are making their way back to the Bat Cave. Bane has just released the Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Two-Face from jail and my son and I have work to do.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Jack Klugman Dies – His Oscar Madison Was TV’s Ultimate Mets Fan

Article first published as Jack Klugman Dies – His Oscar Madison Was TV’s Ultimate Mets Fan on Blogcritics.

When I heard that Jack Klugman died, I felt a loss that seemed almost personal. Mr. Klugman was an accomplished actor appearing on stage, TV, and in movies. Whatever he may have done before or after, Jack will always be Oscar Madison for so many fans of The Odd Couple, the TV series adapted from the Neil Simon play and film with the same title.
For me, I identified with Oscar because not only did he love sports, but he also was a NY Mets fan. As a sportswriter he got to cover all sorts of games and meet athletes, and as a kid that seemed like an ideal job, but the fact that he proudly wore his Mets cap in many episodes made him a kindred spirit. How could we not like Oscar (and even side with him) knowing he was an underdog just like our team?

The set-up in The Odd Couple was always comedy gold. A neat freak photographer named Felix Unger (played impeccably by Tony Randall) moves into the apartment of his childhood friend (Madison) after his wife throws him out. The reason for the breakup becomes quickly apparent to the viewer: Unger would drive anyone crazy with his idiosyncrasies, but for Madison (at times uncouth, vulgar, and a confirmed slob) Felix becomes not only a butler but a chef, setting up a quid pro quo that forces Madison to keep him around despite Felix’s many annoying habits.

Klugman seemed born for the role. Following in the footsteps of Walter Matthau (who portrayed Madison in the film and on stage), Klugman gave Oscar a softer touch than Matthau, and Klugman’s Oscar did at times appear to like Felix. Despite many confrontations, Klugman’s Oscar seemed to know he was better off with Felix than without him.

When I think of Klugman now, I see him wearing that Mets hat, cigar firmly clenched between his teeth, banging out a story on an old manual typewriter. This Oscar was the typical blue collar New York guy, like most Mets fans, and we could identify with him as he tried to get the story done, many times while suffering the slings and arrows of the annoying Unger. Jack Klugman’s gone now, but I will always remember his portrayal of one of TV’s most indelible characters who just happened to be a Mets fan. Rest in peace, Jack Klugman.

Photo credits: klugman-;odd couple-

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A Great Song for the Day After Christmas - "All I Want for Christmas Is You" by Vince Vance and the Valiants

Article first published as A Great Song for the Day After Christmas – “All I Want for Christmas Is You” by Vince Vance and the Valiants on Blogcritics.

I don’t know about you, but December 26 is about sleeping late, unless you have kids like I do who get you up at an ungodly hour in order to get to the new toys that they haven’t played with yet. So as my kids sat here and played, I turned on the radio and what to my wondering mind would appear, but the incessant playing of Christmas music on my favorite FM stations was now gone. I could not find a Christmas song anywhere on the dial.

To remedy the day after Christmas blues and a musical vacuum of sorts, I sat down and finally checked out a song I had been hearing all December long: “All I Want for Christmas is You.” This is not the song made famous by Mariah Carey (co-written with Walter Afanasieff), but rather a completely different one performed by Vince Vance and the Valiants. Written by Troy Powers and Andy Stone, the song was recorded in 1989 and the lead vocal is rendered by Lisa Layne. Her distinctive delivery is what attracted me to the song, and the music has a hint of country twang that makes it stand out on a New York radio station.

When I sought out the video, I saw for the first time what the singer looked like. A beautiful girl who looks like a model, she seemed to be lip-synching, but then again that’s what most everyone does in videos, especially ones from the 80s. However, I was not satisfied and did some research. It turns out that the girl in the video in not Ms. Layne, but Lori Nunn, a former Miss Forth Worth. She certainly looks great in the video, almost incongruously because the storyline shows her pining for Mr. Vance, with his big hair and all his weird choices of clothing.

It is a strange video to say the least, but the music and vocals are what matter most here. Take a moment to listen to this great song. If you are feeling a little down with the after the holiday blues, I wager that this tune will lift your spirits almost as high as Mr. Vance’s hair. Enjoy!

Here is Lisa Layne singing it live in 2010:

Photo Credit:

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Video Review: Alastair Sim is the Definitive Scrooge in A Christmas Carol

Article first published as Video Review: Alastair Sim is the Definitive Scrooge in A Christmas Carol on Blogcritics.

Earlier this year I uncovered a box of videotapes I had recorded over a period spanning from 1985 through the late 90s. The eclectic collection included such TV shows as Magnum P.I., The A-Team, Columbo, NYPD Blue, and Seinfeld. There were also many movies in the mix, and most of them are in great condition for viewing. When I found A Christmas Carol starring Alastair Sim as the miserly Scrooge, I put it aside as a Christmas present to be watched closer to the holiday.

Having just viewed the movie, I understand why Sim is called the “definitive” Scrooge by many critics. The film – released as Scrooge in the U.K. – realizes the essence of the characters and London of that time period, but more importantly Sim rises above the rest of those who have portrayed Scrooge due to a multi-layered performance that captures the wicked brutality of the man but also his underlying good heart.

Even in the first portion of the film before he is visited by the ghost of Jacob Marley (Michael Hordem), Scrooge spouts “Humbug” but Sim allows us to see underneath the veneer. We realize this is a man who once celebrated Christmas as well as anyone but was changed somehow. He fights against that former self when his nephew Fred (Brian Worth) visits his office and invites him for Christmas dinner. So ingrained is the greedy nature that has subsumed him, he scoffs at the offer and complains about Fred’s marriage to a poor girl. Later, as he leaves Bob Cratchit (an excellent Mervyn Johns) and makes a snide remark about “retiring to Bedlam” (since Cratchit is so poor and yet says “Merry Christmas”), we can see that he is a lost soul heading out into a dark night to mark Christmas all alone.

Sim begins Scrooge’s remarkable transformation slowly, but on film it takes a deft actor to achieve the nuances so well. As Marley shakes his chains and Scrooge cowers on the floor, we already see the ice that encases his heart start thawing. Then, as each spirit takes Scrooge on a journey of “reclamation,” his layers are peeled back, his cold heart warmed, and he starts thinking of his fellow human beings again.

It didn’t hurt Sim to be surrounded by so many fine actors (even Patrick MacNee as a young Jacob Marley). There is also a slam-bang musical score by Richard Addinsell, and Brian Desmond Hurst’s direction is topnotch. The entire feel of the movie is just right, taking us to that cold and dreary London of the 1830s where the poor kept getting poorer and dying, just as Tiny Tim (Glyn Dearman) would most surely had if not for the change in Scrooge’s heart.

When Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning a changed man, Sim is a revelation as his face shows a transmogrified spirit, almost as if he has shed his skin and become a new being. His enlightened expression and happy demeanor scares the housekeeper Mrs. Dilber (a delightful Kathleen Harrison), who thinks he has gone off his rocker, but he chases her down the stairs, gives her money, and a kiss. We see the new Scrooge not just as a happy man but as the one he was always meant to be.

I think most people know this story and have seen a film version or two, including the most recent one with Jim Carrey. But no one has seen A Christmas Carol the way it was meant to be (as close to the text of the novella by Charles Dickens as it can be) unless they have seen this one. Sim will make you cry as you see him watch his sister die for a second time and ask for her forgiveness, but in the end we are left with the catharsis that no doubt Dickens wanted us to have when Scrooge walks with a healthy Tiny Tim down a London street.

This is a man who indeed knows how to keep Christmas, and Sim brings us there and leaves us smiling. If nothing else, you should see this film to witness a great actor inhabit a role and leave an indelible image of that character in your mind. Whenever someone says something about Ebenezer Scrooge, I envision Sim in his top hat grumbing “Humbug!” After you watch this film I believe you will too.

Photo Credits:,

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Media Coverage of Connecticut Funerals Appallingly Insensitive

Article first published as Media Coverage of Connecticut Funerals Appallingly Insensitive on Blogcritics.

There are some things in this world that should be private, and among them is saying goodbye to a loved one. If Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson dies, one can understand the public nature of the services and the media’s need to cover the proceedings; however, even then there is a rush to highlight the emotions of other famous people in attendance, and the feeling is one of invasion during what should be a private matter.

The tiny, quiet village known as Newtown, Connecticut, had no illusions about becoming anything but what it was (small-town Americana at its best) before the horrific events of December 14, 2012. Since then, the media has descended upon this town like buzzards in the desert flying around a dying man. Not only is this continued presence causing discomfort for the families who have to lay their loved ones to rest, but it also has become a source of frustration for the other residents of the hamlet.
I can imagine that each morning the people of Newtown wake up, look out the window, and feel like they are living a recurring nightmare something like Bill Murray’s character in the film Groundhog day. While that movie was played for laughs with some dark undertones, this current situation is nothing funny and is actually becoming more gruesome with each passing day.

Sometimes I catch a couple of seconds of some coverage, and I wince as I witness Erin Burnett of CNN’s OutFront chattering with townsfolk as if this is something we should be watching every day. I quickly change the channel, but she is not the only guilty party, and I find the same thing happening on other networks. It reminds me of the media camping out and waiting for the OJ verdict or some other journalistic shark feeding. The problem is that this is not “news” but rather the saddest chapter in the lives of these families, and they deserve to be able to say goodbye without the hovering of reporters, photographers, and curious tourists from other places who get some kind of vicarious pleasure out of this kind of thing.

During this week since the shootings I have refused to watch the TV coverage, mostly because it seems to be geared to getting more ratings than anything that is worth reporting as news. I also feel it is incongruous to continue to do pieces on the killer and his family and find these reports offensive. I know this attracts the voyeurs and oddballs who like to know what makes a nutcase tick, but there is an even more nefarious side to this: the next mass murderer is probably recording all of this and plotting his own big move, confident that he will get the same media coverage as this guy.

For this reason I have not mentioned the killer’s name, nor will I. We should not be enhancing his stature to the wannabees out there, to the psychopaths who feel this is a twisted form of glory. Quite frankly I do not care why he snapped, what his motivation was, or anything about his life. He is only in the news because he did something so disgustingly inhuman that it makes me truly sick. The only thing I wish I heard about him was that he had blown his own brains out before he hurt his mother or went to that school.

Eventually, all the dead will be buried in Newtown, and the insipid media types will pack their bags and cameras onto trucks and leave the town to mourn in silence. It will be too late then to change anything, to make it right is past being possible, and the families will be staring at their lost children’s pictures for years to come wondering why. There is no satisfactory answer and there never will be, and the next tragedy awaits and the cameras and reporters will be there too, like roaches when the lights come on.

Everyone always talks about rights, but grieving families most certainly have rights like anyone else. We have seen an egregious case of abuse perpetrated by the media in Newtown. Something should change that would allow people in a case like this to have a chance for privacy and to grieve out of the media spotlight but, as long as there is freedom of speech and of the press there will be no respite from the glare of lights and the droves of reporters eager to get that story. I would like to think that common human decency would prevail in such matters, but I am learning the hard way that this will never happen, just asthe residents of Newtown have during this media blitz.

I feel such sorrow for those Newtown families that lost loved ones, but I am angered by the networks that have perpetrated this continuing coverage and those viewers who have a need to watch as this mourning unfolds on TV. Why do they need to see these funerals or to have reporters talk about it? What have we become and how have we gotten to this horrific place? I fear the answers may be just too hard for us to take.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Connecticut School Shootings Shake Up Parents and Educators

Article first published as Connecticut School Shootings Shake Up Parents and Educators on Blogcritics.

The school shootings in a quiet Connecticut town have shaken us all up. Parents, children, teachers, and school administrators everywhere are asking “Why?” President Obama became teary eyed as he spoke about it, no doubt thinking of his own children as all we parents are right now. Inevitably, this becomes a political football for the gun control people as well as the people at the NRA. Each side will stake its claim, and I am certainly not writing about any of that. My purpose here is to react as a parent and as a school administrator to what has kept me awake the last two nights.

Let me say straightaway that there is no making sense of this because there is no making sense of it. The very nature of such an act of brutality is beyond comprehension for rational people. We go about our lives doing everything in our power to sustain life, to keep our children safe, and to take care of those near and dear to us. We also, if we are in such a position, sometimes must take care of those other than our family members.

As a school administrator, I am always thinking about school security (besides the hundreds of other things that need to be done). When I heard that Dawn Hochsprung, principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, was shot trying to stop the gunman, I understood immediately the place from which Ms. Hochsprung got her motivation. She reacted just as the firefighters who went upstairs in the World Trade Center on 9/11 while everyone else was coming down. This goes beyond the call of duty because it is a truly sacred mission that pushes you forward.
in loco parentis. This basically means that we educators are “in place of the parents” during that school day, and you can get no better example of that than these brave individuals who sacrificed their lives for their students.

There is so much for us to think about now as parents. I have talked with my kids this weekend, ascertaining their level of understanding of the situation. My pre-school child has no idea what happened, so I have said nothing to him. My middle school child is more than aware of the situation, and we have spoken about it a bit, but she seems like she is thinking deeply and probably has to process it more. We have definitely limited the TV to watching benign things such as a few Christmas specials and the shows my little on likes on Nick Jr. and Disney Junior.

I cannot help but to keep thinking about those 20 lost children as I watch these shows with my children. No doubt these little ones watched these same shows, were excited about the impending holidays, had written their letters to Santa, and had visions of the toys and games that he would bring. Their parents must have wrapped gifts, decorated houses, and now they sit in the silence of mourning in homes that should have been brimming with festivity. How can this Christmas, and all the Christmases to come for that matter, ever be anything but a time to grieve?

I know that so much more will be said about this horrific story in the days and weeks to come. As someone who lost a family member on 9/11, I know how a story just doesn’t go away. The same thing will happen for these people who have lost loved ones. December 14 is their 9/11 now and every year forevermore. People used to say that you have to get over it in reference to 9/11, but as anyone who lost someone that day knows, there is no getting over it. The same will be true for the parents, friends, children, and spouses of those lost.

An even more daunting task awaits all of us tomorrow. Children came home from school on Friday in a normal state of mind. They will board school buses tomorrow differently. Those older ones will be thinking about what happened, wondering if their schools are safe, and waiting to hear something from their principals and teachers. There may be some children (perhaps many) who are afraid to go to school. We as parents must ground them in the notion that this was an aberration, something that happened that is isolated and far removed from their schools and lives; however, as we say this we parents also know the truth: that it can happen anywhere, as this incident so chillingly proves beyond a doubt.

There is one thing of which you can be certain: teachers and administrators will be ready tomorrow to deal with the students and their concerns. School district leaders and administrators have learned so much since 9/11, and much of this has been realized in better crisis management plans and increased security. Unfortunately, all the enhanced security that was in place at Sandy Hook did not stop that madman. This is a reality we face and a vulnerability that continually needs to be understood and addressed.

I overheard people talking this morning outside on the church steps after Mass, and one of the men said something that seemed almost equally scary as the attack. He said that every school needs to become like a high security prison, with an armed guard at the entrance and metal detectors. I did not want to get into a conversation like that, but I kept thinking on the way home that this is beyond a nightmare scenario.

Do our schools need to become so secure that they are shuttered and locked down? My fear is that we will become so adept at keeping people out that the students inside will feel incarcerated more than educated. It seems like a high price to pay for peace of mind, but it may become inevitable in the coming years. How sad for our children; how sad for us all.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Knicks-Nets New Rivalry Reminiscent of Baseball’s Dodgers-Giants

Article first published as Knicks-Nets New Rivalry Reminiscent of Baseball’s Dodgers-Giants on Blogcritics.

It is clearly early going in the NBA season, but one look at the standings and we see the Knicks (15-5) atop of the Atlantic Division of the Eastern Conference, with the Nets (11-8) in second place. Both teams have been playing well enough to gain attention of the locals, even those who are not big basketball fans. It used to be quiet around here when the Knicks played the Nets (having a lot to do with the Nets being almost forgotten over in New Jersey), but now the city is abuzz with the new rivalry between its two basketball teams.

My father made a comment that looking at the standings reminded him of the good old baseball days when the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers played in the same division and maintained a healthy (but heated) rivalry. Looking at the newspaper the teams were listed as New York and Brooklyn, and the truth is that hasn’t been possible to see around here since 1957. The New York Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets clearly are the city’s teams and the fans are excited about them again.

Long ago I used to be a Nets fan. As a kid my father took me to the games in the old Island Garden, a small and intimate arena in West Hempstead where you really felt right on top of the court. My heroes were Rick Barry, Bill Melchionni, and Julius Erving (the great Dr. J who played all too briefly for the team). As a Queens boy I enjoyed the idea that the team was in a rival league (ABA) to Manhattan’s NBA Knicks, using that red, white, and blue basketball, and had a player (Dr. J) who grew up on Long Island. When the Nets won the title in 1974, I was ecstatic. However, my joy was to be short lived as the inevitable ABA-NBA merger would send Dr. J packing.

When the team left for New Jersey after the 1977 season, I knew I could never root for it again (little did I know my Jets would soon follow a similar path). I switched allegiance to the Knicks and have been a fan ever since. Now, being a Knicks fan all these years has had its ups and downs, but even though the Nets are back in New York, I feel no inclination to change hats again; however, I do like the idea of a home team in Brooklyn, and Barclays Center is not far from Bedford Avenue and Sullivan Place where Ebbets Field used to stand.

We have excitement again about two professional sports teams that are legitimately New York teams – unlike the Jets and Giants. The rivalry is starting to get cooking, though the Nets have stumbled in their last four games and the Knicks are starting to look less than invincible.
In a year when the NHL has without question disappeared off the radar, it is nice to have basketball games that matter again to get us through the winter after the last football snap.

Perhaps in the spring we will have a race for a division title by New York and Brooklyn teams, and that has as sweet a sound to it for New York fans than anything they have heard in a long time.

Photo Credits: and

Monday, December 3, 2012

Cop Buying Homeless Man Shoes - A Great Christmas Story

Article first published as Cop Buying Homeless Man Shoes - A Great Christmas Story on Blogcritics.

It reminds me of something right out of Dickens, or maybe even more appropriately O. Henry, where a selfless gift is seen not just as an act of kindness but a microcosm of all that is good in us. Anne Frank once famously wrote that despite all that happened “I believe that people are really good at heart.” As if meant to confirm this, here in New York City we have a young cop buying boots for a homeless man, getting caught on a tourist’s camera doing so, and becoming something of a celebrity.

This is probably an even greater story for New Yorkers coming in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and right at the start of the holiday season. People like to think New Yorkers are tough and uncaring, but we really all want to rise above that reputation established by the media, movies, and TV. New Yorkers do show they care all the time, and in those desperate moments like 9/11 and the hurricane, the best of the city always shines brightly as neighbors help neighbors and strangers too.

We can only wonder what Police Officer Larry DePrimo thought when he first saw 54-year-old Jeffery Hillman sitting barefoot in the cold. He could have shrugged it off as just another homeless guy on the beat and walked away; he could have also given the man a hard time or forced him to go to a shelter. With the cold night approaching, frostbite and even death were distinct possibilities.

The story gets to us as we hear that the cop asked the man if he had anything for his feet. Hillman told him that he did not and, in fact, that he never had a pair of shoes. Hillman started walking away, but DePrimo did not give up on him. He followed the man and went into a nearby Skechers store and bought the pair of $100 boots, with the store manager giving him an employee discount to cut the price in half. DePrimo went outside, gave the man the boots, and then Arizona tourist Jennifer Foster took the picture that everyone is talking about. It seems a certainty that DePrimo did this selflessly and expected no fanfare, but now he has gone on the Today show and CNN to talk about his actions. Even tourist Foster made it clear that what the cop did was “an act of human kindness and he had absolutely no intention of receiving any credit for it.”

Of course, there are always naysayers. I heard people complaining on talk radio here in New York that the cop should have been doing his job instead of buying a guy shoes. Another questioned the impropriety of getting the employee discount, and still others felt he knew that the woman was there with her phone ready to snap the picture.

Not to be let it end there, other reports came out about Hillman suggesting that he was a petty criminal and a scam artist. He had been arrested many times for drug possession and other things. It was also said that the man frequently walked around barefoot to get money from sympathetic passersby and tourists.

This negativity seems just an attempt to ruin a perfectly good story about a good guy doing the right thing, but we New Yorkers are not letting these Grinches and Scrooges get to us. We know Larry DePrimo did this for all the right reasons, and he should get a commendation or whatever else the NYPD can do to recognize this fine fellow.

As for Mr. Hillman, I heard on the radio tonight that he has two siblings who were shocked to see his picture in the newspaper. His younger brother told a reporter that he hopes that Jeffery will come home for Christmas. For this story to have a really happy ending, we have to hope that Mr. Hillman will go back to his family. At least we know that he will be wearing a nice pair of boots if he does. Ah, yes, wouldn’t that be the O. Henry ending and then some.

Photo Credits: DePrimo and Hillman-hollywoodgossip;

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Mets Make the Wright Move

Article first published as The Mets Make the Wright Move on Blogcritics.

A long time ago they used to call NY Mets pitcher Tom Seaver “The Franchise,” meaning that he was the face of the organization. Seaver was everything a manager, the ownership, and the fans could want from a ballplayer: photogenic, charismatic, and a talented pitcher. He spoke eloquently and passionately about baseball, and he always represented the organization well. That is probably why I (along with so many other Mets fans) was crushed when he was traded.

Flash forward to 2012, and the Mets have now found their new face of the organization as they have offered David Wright a seven year, $122 million dollar extension to his contract. In doing so the Mets have made their most lucrative deal with a player ever (going beyond what they spent on Carlos Beltran). They have made it clear to Wright that he is now the second coming of “The Franchise.” It is up to him to meet the terms of all the expectations associated with that.

Over the years it was always said that Jose Reyes and Wright were the new blood of the Mets. It seemed like they were the Dynamic Duo of Flushing, and upon their shoulders rested the hopes and dreams of the team and the fans for a new championship. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have a happy ending the way we envisioned. The team became disillusioned with Reyes, questioning his work ethic, even though fans continued to love him. When he left, many fans were scratching their heads and worried that Wright could be gone too.

The team has made an enormous commitment to Wright, and now he must return the favor. By bestowing the largest contract ever offered by the team on him, the organization is saying that he is their man. They are saying he is the anointed one, the one who will bring a championship back to Flushing. Now Wright must do everything in his power to honor this trust and return the favor.

I really like Wright and always have. He is not the greatest everyday player the Mets ever had (that is Beltran), but he is a very fine player with great skills and a wonderful attitude. His amiable personality has endeared him to fans, and it is clear that the Mets were willing to invest in him largely because he is willing to be the spokesperson for the team just as Tom Seaver always was.

David Wright is now “The Franchise.” He follows in the rather large footsteps of Met legend Tom Seaver. Yes, those are enormously big shoes to step into, but I believe in Wright and I think he is the man to do it. Now, he cannot do it alone, so the team must now sign R.A. Dickey, get a true closer, and some outfielder with power. There is much to be done before spring training, and now they must show the fans they are not just willing to do the Wright thing once. They need to make more moves to do right by their third baseman and the fans and compete in 2013.

Photo credit: AP