Monday, May 30, 2011

Memorial Day: It's Not About a Sale

Today, this Memorial Day, I've been thinking about Louis, Phil and the rest of the nearly unbelievable stories I read in Laura Hillenbrand's World War II epic, Unbroken. When my mother told me about a story of fallen heroes in our local paper, she said couldn't believe how young they looked, a sentiment I always feel when I see the sailors in town for Fleet Week in New York City. I remembered Owen Meany's reflection in John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, set partly in the Vietnam era, that children fight our wars. And I thought of the English poet Charles Causley's Nursery Rhyme of Innocence and Experience, one of the poems Natalie Merchant brought to sonic life on Leave Your Sleep, where a young boy begs a sailor bound for war,

'Sailor O sailor
Will you bring me
If I give you my penny
And my apricot tree

The sailor promises to bring presents back from the sea. Three long summers go by, and when the ship returns,

All round her wake
The seabirds cried
And flew in and out
Of the hole in her side

The sailor is not on the war-torn ship. His fate is implied, and when a sailor's shipmate tries to give him the gifts, the disillusioned child asks why he's brought him children's toys (so coveted just three years earlier in youth) and where the sailor is. How to answer that question to a child.

While I completely appreciate and understand how overworked Americans are and we need coveted rest and family time at the beach, barbecues, and parks, I'm a little saddened to think our fallen veterans are not getting at the very least some moments of respect and recognition. The most deplorable thing is that it's turned into another sale day for retailers. Salute our war dead: go buy a new television or summer dress made by underpaid labor in China, 25 percent off!

I like to attend a Memorial Day parade to cheer on local veterans and other heroes: police, volunteer fire and ambulance personal. This year, I went to one in Dumont, New Jersey. It was an extremely muggy morning, but at times when I feel discomfort, I think now of Louis and Phil floating in that raft in the Pacific fighting off sharks after their search plane went down and think, stop feeling sorry for yourself!

Historic reenacters remind us of those who scarified for our freedom from England and later to keep our nation unified. Just down the street is an old church with a cemetery where some laid to rest fought for the Revolution.

I wish for peace for future generations. If that's a childish wish, so be it.

"Life was cheap in war," said Martin Cohn, an ordnance officer in Oahu in Hillenbrand's Unbroken. Let's not ever consider life to be cheap, and to not forget the sacrifices.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Retro Matinee Double Feature: Viva Las Vegas and Rebel Without a Cause

My new favorite four letter word: king. As in THE king!

Sometimes, all your Friday night needs is spaghetti, and a little Elvis Presley.

Immediately after watching Viva Las Vegas, I:
...felt like I've lived a fuller life.
...Could not believe I've never seen this before, and immediately wanted to watch it again. Several of the musical numbers I did watch again. I adored the dance scenes, and always think it's sad that though we're increasing watching dance on television, we don't dance socially really like we once did.
...Had red hair envy looking at Ann-Magret. I colored my brown hair blonde and then red over a decade, and could pay for an all expenses paid trip to Vegas with a stay at the Palms for a weekend with the money I spent (ahem, wasted).
...Wanted to go to Vegas! (which isn't high on my list usually, and I've never been to).
...Went straight to the library for an Elvis documentary and greatest hits. I do have one album of his number one hits in my CD collection. Must get more!
...Above all else, longed for days when Elvis and not Gaga (who doesn't seem very lady-like!) ruled the charts.

Save for maybe seeing some Elvis movies as a child on television which I barely remember, I haven't seen any of his films.

Have you seen many Elvis films? Are there any you think I must see? Moviefone listed its picks for top 10 Elvis favorites, and King Creole took its number one spot.

I didn't know Elvis idolized James Dean (imagine Elvis - idolizing someone!) and just happened to see Rebel Without a Cause around the same time. At 35 years of age, in less you really seek these films out or we exposed to them by someone, this just wasn't my generation, which is precisely why I'm exploring films trough this column (and to run, run far far away from today's reality-crazed culture). I still need to see Dean's other greats, like Giant and East of Eden. With so much bullying in the news lately, I couldn't help think of this film.

What was most eerie was a studio promo that came with the film, in which Dean was interviewed about reckless driving and looked into the camera and said something like, Be careful kids, the life you will save might be mine). It was chilling given his fate of death by automobile accident.

I also found this Wikipedia item curious when researching Dean:

Dean avoided the draft by registering as a homosexual, then classified by the US government as a mental disorder. When questioned about his orientation, he is reported to have said, "No, I am not a homosexual. But, I'm also not going to go through life with one hand tied behind my back."

I'm always finding reminders like this about not romanticizing the past, but if only we could take some of past back. Can't we have some of the innocence but not the ignorance?

Do you enjoy watching old films? Do you have any favorites you'd like to share?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Pinkster Fest: A Colonial Celebration of Spring

History comes alive at the Bergen County Historical Society's events, as it did at their Pinkster Fest, a colonial celebration of Spring, in River Edge, New Jersey. Dancing around the May Pole took place near a batting cage center and a BP Gas station on a very busy road leading to a mall, a Target and a major highway. History seemed to rubbing up against the present, flirting with modern day inhabitants to come back.

The spring and the return soon of summer is worth breaking out into dance for, wouldn't you agree?

From the BCHS web site:

"Pinkster is the Dutch name for Whitsunday or Pentecost, when a flower-crowned May Queen and King led merry-makers from door-to-door, gathering dyed eggs, butter, bread, cream, coffee, sugar, and tallow candles in baskets for a festive supper and dance. Toasts with buttermilk, known as "white wine," and recital of the Pinkster Ode welcomed the return of summer."

The bust of Oratam is tucked away in another part of the house. Remembering, always, whose traditions were gone. He became chief of the Hackensacks after the Dutch eliminated the leadership of his community in 1643 in the brutal massacre of Pavonia, and lived to be nearly 90 years of age, according to a BCHS plaque.

Admiring the baskets, some made using Native American techniques, historian Kevin Wright reminded me in our age of plastics and cardboard, we forget how baskets were used to hold all manners of things, from eggs, to fruits to even pigeons. It saddens me when I see them discarded in the trash so easily, and have a newfound appreciation for them.

When I look at the bed at one of their historic homes (with roping on the frame and a mattress filled with hay), I long for a more uncluttered existence. Clutter so fills my life, as it does many other's. Think of the amount of time we spent acquiring, organizing and later disposing of our clutter.

Who needs gadgets to entertain? It was nice to see so many children at the event, who seemed to enjoy games their colonial counterparts would have played.

This barn has always intrigued me, and Kevin told me it was reconstructed from a brewery in 1889.

Did you know Bergen County was a strawberry capital? Schools were closed the first two weeks of June for pickings and festivals. Kevin said the earliest reference to strawberries was a girl killed by a snake picking them in 1693 in Bergenfield.

These baskets would be ones sent to the markets of New York City, and contained markings on the bottom so they could return to their rightful owner during transport back.

Reading material in the outhouse. Learn more about the fascinating history of the Sears Roebuck catalog. American consumerism would soon be well on its way.

Whole foods adorn the table in the Dutch out kitchen: hazelnuts, grapes, Brussels sprouts. Not any list of ingredients you cannot pronounce or spell like today.

Shall we have some lemonade in the tavern?

The end of winter for most of us in modern life often means a more comfortable commute to work, less bulky clothing and more activity outdoors, it was in earlier times a true cause to celebrate. One really did endure cabin fever. Fields were now to bear their harvest once more, providing the fruits of life we take for granted. Think high food prices are an inconvenience now? Imagine if you had to grow and harvest your food yourself, and the elements impacting your survival. While I worried about would I have to wear my clunky rainboots another day, Mary, a farmer at Abram Demaree Homestead where I picked up pea soup, strawberry jam and other goodies, had a more pressing complaint: the last days of rain mean she couldn't plant in her very muddy fields.

I celebrate the return of spring and summer, and the bounty that will soon be on our tables thanks to our farmers. I give thanks to the Bergen County Historical Society, for another merry and informative event.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Letter on Connections and Current Events

Dear readers,

I'm writing to you again to keep up promoting letter writing (beyond e-mails of "How's it going? Same here") and putting more time into our thoughts and interactions, celebrating the word and to discuss to some current events on my mind.

I've been thinking about this New York Times article on Facebook taking the personal touch out of birthday well wishes.

"People feel so good about themselves for acknowledging you with a token 'happy birthday,' but it's part of the world's great migration away from true connection. And then the birthday person writes back, 'Thanks so much for remembering.' But I didn't remember.'"

The migration away from true connection, yes, that is exactly what is plaguing our nation socially! How little valuable time do we make for each other? Is social connectivity about a numbers game or limiting our time we invest in one another? I hope not.

Are there any articles on your mind? A few weeks ago, I read this article about how solar panels are popping up in neighborhoods in New Jersey (there's a state mandate that by 2021 power providers get 23 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.) I was extremely excited when I spotted them in my neighborhood. Well as it turns out, the American vanity obsession extends to our telephone poles. Some New Jerseyans are annoyed and see them as an eye sore and want them removed. Well, Owen Meany – THE VOICE! – would have something to say about that. "JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN'T SEE POLLUTION DOESN'T MEAN IT DOESN'T EXIST. PEOPLE BELIEVE IN GOD BUT THEY CAN'T SEE HIM. WHY DON'T PEOPLE CARE ABOUT THE POLLUTION TO GOD'S GREEN EARTH? WOULD YOU RATHER SEE THE PANELS, OR HAVE THE INVISIBLE POLLUTION?"

I read that Kindle eBooks are now outselling printed books on Amazon. What do you make of this? Don't think publishers aren't glad you can't pass on a favorite book.

A town in New Jersey by me, Northvale, will see the shuttering of its 54 year old library since voters didn't want to increase property taxes to fund it. The VOICE says, "WELL THAT DOESN'T MAKE SENSE, BECAUSE YOUR PROPERTY VALUES WILL DROP WITH NO LIBRARY IN TOWN, PROBABLY MORE THAN THE COST OF WHAT YOU WOULD HAVE HAD TO PAY!" I wouldn't move to a town with no library, would you?

I need to turn to books to escape this madness. Are you reading anything wonderful? A book group I belong to at work just read "Let the Great World Spin" by Column McCann, which was a recommendation from Cate at Liberal Simplicity.

Some of the passages still sit with me...

"Let this be a lesson to us all...You will be walking someday in the dark and the truth will come shining through, and behind you will be a life that you never want to see again."

"The only thing worth grieving over...was that sometimes there was more beauty in this life than the world can bear."

And this passage on New York City:

"It was a city uninterested in history. Strange things occurred precisely because there was no necessary regard for the past. The city lived in a sort of everyday present. It had no need to believe in itself as a London, or Athens, or even a signifier of the New World, like a Sydney, or a Los Angeles. No, the city couldn't care less about where it stood. He [a judge] had seen a T-shirt once that said: NEW YORK F*CKIN' City. As if it were the only place that ever existed and the only one that ever would."

Thinking of the solar panel objectors, I considered how some fellow Americans act just as New York City is described with regard to our impact on the environment, animals and our fellow citizen. Not caring on the ground where we stand. Because we have little regard for the past. Like we're the only people that exist or matter.

As for those who don't use the library who voted against it: What about the children who went there for homework or to find life-forming books, job seekers, seniors, weary workers seeking refuge? I don't like high taxes either, but some things are worth paying for.

Next we're reading The Paris Wife by Paula McClain, but I've got another book I'm reading and can't wait to share with you, but it's worthy of its own letter.

There is so much beauty in this world – which I'm glad didn't end May 21st! True story: I wanted to take the family dog to the park around 5:15 (the world was supposed to end around 6) and my sister and mother both protested, "NO! Just in case!" Two hours later, Scotty and I were enjoying a sunset stroll in the park. Besides, I think the animal kingdom, in their own way somewhat smarter than us, would have sensed any disaster more than some false prophet.

On that note, hope you are enjoying spring, and are connecting with those whom you love and value: family, friends, sweethearts, pets.


PS: I'm holding off on doing any more Mad Men Mondays columns for now. I may discuss the series and themes in less frequent posts, but have many other things I want to share, and too little time.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Origins of an American Closet

"They're closing down the textile mill across the railroad tracks.
Foreman says these jobs are going boys and they ain't coming back to your hometown."
- My Hometown, Bruce Springsteen

International Ladies Garment Workers Union. Union Made AFL-CIO. That was the label on a vintage yellow coat (Best and Co., Fifth Avenue, New York City), which I acquired for $30 at the CATS Resale Shop in Westwood, New Jersey.

Only when I look at vintage clothes do I see union labels, like this one on a hat at the buy and sell shop of Abram Demaree Homestead in Closter, New Jersey.

Very few things that we buy are necessities. Food and clothing are. Can we even find the countries our clothes are produced in on a map? Do we think about who toils away so we can have: cheap, excess, dispose of it? It's the same situation as our food supply: pretend if we don't think about it, no one suffers in poor labor conditions, the environment isn't impacted for the worse. It's all about us, right?

I acquire the vast majority of my clothes second hand (clothing swaps, consignment shops and charity thrift shops). I don't want to support labor conditions I don't know of, I want to lessen my impact on the Earth, and I'd rather pay a fraction of the cost, or nothing at all.

Consignment shops are a great addition to the dwindling American main street (more about that in a future post), and I love supporting charity shops like my two favorite, CATS Resale (supporting homeless cats and dogs) and Housing Works (benefiting homeless and low income New Yorkers with HIV).

Since I'm acquiring already produced items, I don't look at the labels as closely, but here's a random sampling of my most worn items in my closet. I encourage you to look at yours as well.

Purple H&M dress: Romania, $40. From H&M. Several years old.
H&M rain coat: Romania, Estimated $60. From H&M. Several years old.
Black Cynthia Steefe Skirt: China, $5. Housing Works, Hell's Kitchen, New York City location
Gap jeans: Canada (of USA fabrics); $5. Our Thrift Shop, Westwood, New Jersey
Forever dress: USA, $8. Revived Attire consignment shop, Hillsdale, New Jersey
Banana Republic black wool cardigan: China, Free. Clothing swap
Banana Republic white cotton top: Vietnam, Free. Clothing swap
Anthrolopogie dress: China, $25. A Beautiful Little Secret consignment shop, Dumont, New Jersey.

Some recent second hand acquisitions:
Blue Albert Nippon skirt: Thailand, $7.50. Housing Works
Old Navy black and white polka dotted cardigan: China, $1. CATS Resale Shop
Guess sunglasses: Unclear, $2. CATS Resale Shop
Victorian Classics white cotton nightgown: India, $4. CATS Resale Shop
Miss K yellow sleeveless blouse: Thailand, $5. Housing Works.

I do need to do better with shoes. I find some through thrift or consignment shops, and I got a nice dress pair at a swap, but do go to Payless a few times a year for shoes - all of which are made in China. Since the female shoe obsession skipped me, I don't buy many. I am going to make more of an effort to get them secondhand.

Do you look at the labels of your clothes? Does it bother you so few "Made in the U.S.A." labels exist? Are there any we can support?

Do you go lightly donating or selling your clothes, swapping, hitting garage sales, freecycle, consignment shops or thrift stores? Find a charity shop through

How about fixing or altering things? I found a whimsical daisy top at Housing Works for $3 that was a very odd length which I suspect fit no one (and why it was only $3), but had it shortened by a tailor for $10. I'm also a big supporter of local shoe cobblers, and keeping that trade alive (remember how few craftsmen and women there are anymore).

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: History Forgets

Anger fills Roger Sterling's heart at the thought of doing business with Japanese businessmen for a Honda Motorcycle campaign in 1965 on a season 4 episode of Mad Men. Memories remain in his heart of friends lost in World War II. The world has moved on, Roger, so should you. Let it go.

I couldn't help think about Laura Hillenbrand's Unbroken, the nearly unbelievable story of Louis Zamperini and his fellow servicemen in World War II and the suffering inflicted by the Japanese on our troops and our allies. We hear much of the German atrocities, but relatively little in contrast of what happened in Japan and of the nations they conquered.

I read Unbroken as part of a book group club, and will tell you if you know what happened to Zamperini and his fellow servicemen, you are a better person for it, and a better American. Their story will stay with me always. And while I don't think anyone should redirect anger on civilians who may have had nothing to do with the war, Roger Sterling's anger how quickly the world moved on can give you pause if you think about it coming from someone who served in the war. As Gregory Peck said in the film "The Man in a Gray Flannel Suit," about a World War II vet, you went from catching the train every day as a civilian, to the horrors of war, to come home to catch the train every day.

Consider in Japan, just a wink of an eye in the scheme of time really after the war ended,

"By 1958, every war criminal who had not been executed would be free, and on December 30 of that year, all would be granted amnesty. Sugamo [the prison where so many endured a fate too cruel to imagine] would be torn down, and the epic ordeals of POWs in Japan would fade from the world's memory."

All those who caused untold suffering on American troops - savage beatings, starvation and dehydration, infliction of diseases sometimes for medical experimentation, outright torture and death - would be forgotten. Given the time - 1965 - it is quite possible Roger Sterling or his friends could have faced those across the conference room on the battlefield. Wasn't it so that America moved on as now it was expedient to use Japan as an ally, and Honda was a much needed account for the new firm?

Lest we think America has a clean conscience, Lillenbrand reminds us of quite the opposite. While she a bit bewilderingly didn't include the internment of innocent Japanese civilians in American camps, she does highlight this during Louis' youth:

"In the 1930s, America was infatuated with the pseudoscience of eugenics and its promise of strengthening the human race by culling the "unfit" from the gene pool. Along with the "feebleminded," insane, and criminal, those classified included women who had sex out of wedlock (considered a mental illness), orphans, the disabled, the poor, the homeless, epileptics, masturbators, the blind and deaf, alcoholics, and girls who whose genitals exceeded certain measurements. Some eugenicists advocated euthanasia, and in mental hospitals, this was quietly carried out on scores of people through "lethal neglect" or outright murder. At one Illinois mental hospital, new patients were doused with milk from cows infected with tuberculosis, in the belief that only the undesirable would perish. As many as four in ten of these patients died. A more popular tool of eugenics was forced sterilization, employed on a raft of lost souls who, through misbehavior or misfortune, fell into the hands of state governments. By 1930...California was enraptured with eugenics, and would ultimately sterilize some twenty thousand people."

Do you worry or wonder what could be happening in present times? Do you think history too easily forgets? While for Roger it might have been about forgiveness, I viewed it as about forgetfulness of our own history - so short in time as span, yet so quickly faded. We concern ourselves so much with the present and what's beneficial to just us - not looking forward at potential consequences, or to the past for lessons learned, and for perspective.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Disposable Nation: A Cautionary Essay on Waste

"Can you blame nature if she's had enough of us?" - Tori Amos, Father's Son

For the past few years, I've volunteered with a local group in New Jersey, Hackensack Riverkeeper, picking up trash in parks and directly from the river itself. As they boldly and rightly declare, "Not in my river. Not on my watch."

More than the hours I've given to these cleanups, they've given me an invaluable perspective on how truly reckless we are with protecting our rivers and the life (not only us) that depends on them.

I participated in a cleanup of local woods by the riverside in Paramus, New Jersey. After about two hours, the trash bin runneth over.

The woods behind a Route 4 McDonald's. I thought not only of the waste constantly produced by our eating on-the-go society, but that in a time of high gas prices, people were running their fuel-inefficient cars in a drive through instead of walking into the restaurant.

The woods after the cleanup.

On Earth Day, there was an offensive full page ad in The New York Times that somehow this is a green bottle since it's partly plant-based instead of petroleum. I see nothing "green" about taking filtered tap water (or other companies who rob local communities of their water supply), bottling it, covering it in more plastic casing (which won't be recycled), shipping it long distances, drinking it, shipping it out to a landfill. The vast majority of bottles don't get recycled.

Bottled water to me should be an emergency product for disasters, yet it seems the majority of society (including my loved ones) drinks it. As Ted from On Loving Animals pointed out to me once, George Carlin said, "What ever happened to taking a drink of water before you left the house?"

At a restaurant, I say "no straw please" for water, lemonade and soda. I'm not on Facebook, but if you are, check out No Plastic Straws (Plastic Straws are For Suckers). They remind us:

"That straw, that was unwrapped from a paper wrapper
and unboxed from a box,
unloaded from a truck that drove from the docks
where a ship had carried it from faraway lands
or a railcar had chugged through the once pristine sands
of the Gulf Coast-
Home of the US Petrochemical Industry
and the petrochemical-contaminated fisheries
and the cancers that carry misery..." and so on.

Remember the scene in The Graduate when someone is talking about his future to Dustin Hoffman and had one word: plastics! Was he right. They are everywhere. Think of how much waste we produce with disposable coffee lids.

Remember that how we all gripe about greedy oil companies (I'm no fan of them either), but we refuse to change our consumption of petroleum based-plastics...
Bags that no one remembers or bothers to use.
Reusable coffee mugs that are too much trouble.
Water bottles that are supposedly better than reusable ones (but who knows what is seeping into your water from those single-serve ones).
Plastic utensils that are allegedly more sanitary than real silverware (but the factory farmed and pesticide laden food it's putting into our mouths: well, we choose not to think about that)!
Plastic to-go containers for our carryout food. When I dine out, I've been bringing reusable containers for leftovers to eliminate waste.

Not long after the BP Oil spill, singer Jimmy Buffet, who has a hotel property along Florida's coastline, was assessing the damage of the man-made disaster and said what I completely agreed with: "We're all guilty. We're all using this oil." It's not just in our cars. We are all contributing to the demand for oil and petroleum products that lead to: drill faster, get more, give it to us cheap.

Think of how quick we are to eliminate any species we think is a nuisance. Despite budget shortfalls, New Jersey and New York taxpayer money was used this year to eliminate geese in the dark of night from local parks. While they supposedly cause a risk to airline flights, their droppings were cited. Good thing for us no species can execute us in the cover of darkness for our destruction of the environment.

Consider how much waste you produce. Would the planet be better off if people acted as you did, or worse? How do you go lightly on the Earth?

Please respect the planet for yourselves, your fellow citizen, the other species on the planet, and future generations. Please share this post if you can and keep this message going.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: Reflections on the Past, Good and Bad

The clothes and glamour, the music, even those pink bathrooms: much seems alluring about the 1960s era of Mad Men.

While I frequently still want to build a time machine, I try and remember the progress we've made as a nation since that time. Here are five major reasons why I'm glad that it's 2011 and not 1961:

1) Consider the lack of diversity on the show, and how minorities on it are relegated to elevator operator or cleaning crew. It's a sea of white at Sterling Cooper. When Paul (a Caucasian) starts dating African American Sheila, he has a picture on his desk. A child someone brings in the offices asks, "Is that your maid?" My father recalls memories of the segregated South when in the army training camps. When I see Barack Obama, I consider how far we've come.
2) No character seems to pull on the heartstrings more than Sal, the closeted gay man at Sterling Cooper. Consider all he has to navigate (actually marrying Kitty), listening to his coworkers disparage Kurt who announces casually he's gay, deal with unexpected advances. I think of my friends who just happen to fall in love with people of their own gender, and consider what the world would have been like for them in 1961. In 2011, American society is pushing ahead with state recognized rights for people to commit themselves to whom they love. Isn't that a family value?
3) Choices for women. When Joan was getting married, it was just assumed she would step down from her role at Sterling Cooper. Some women embrace domestic life (I think of Pete's wife Trudy), and others seem not. Joan seems to fit in the latter category.
4) What if you were an alcoholic amid all this hard boozing? Duck Phillips was, and constantly had to deal with offers of drinks. Comedian Jim Gaffigan makes a joke that if you don't drink, everyone wants to know why. He said you don't do that with other things: "You don't use mayonnaise, why? Are you addicted to mayonnaise? Is it okay if I use mayonnaise? I could go outside." His point is right on. Why can't you just not want to drink? A neighbor says his idea of a tall cold one is an iced tea.
5) Smoking! My parents both worked in office building in the Mad Men era, and said, yes, people really did smoke that much. My mother recalled a friend who would have multiple cigarettes going at one time, and my father remembered a hole being burned in the desk. In 2011, you can't smoke in bars and restaurants in New York City, and it's becoming banned more and more. For non-smokers like me, that is a good thing.

Do you look longingly on some earlier eras? I do this with some, like the 1920s, 30s and 40s, but then think: would I really want to live through the Depression (consider an unemployment rate of 25 percent, and all your savings in the bank, poof, gone). Through world wars? No.

But I still do wish we could regain some things, particularly a lost innocence with childhood. It seems just accepted they are fair play (more like prey) for marketers. Why do American children need to be clutching to phones and text messaging? I don't think everything is necessarily "progress" - particularly in this area. Do you think that innocence can be recaptured?

I think of Don Henley signing in the End of the Innocence, "Now we've come so far so fast. But somewhere back there in the dust, that same small town in each of us." I think a lot of us want to recapture or long for times that were just more simple.

Listening to the love songs of the 1920s and 30s each week on The Big Broadcast, I wish there was more romance, a fading art. Love letters, does anyone write them? Do you have "a song" with your sweetheart? Go out for a night of dancing on the town? Were you courted, or did you court? Do gadgets come out during one-on-one dinners with your loved one?

I also wish we weren't as wasteful a culture as we are now. Growing up in a generation that hasn't really known widespread lack, I think we are far too wasteful with our money and overall unappreciative with what we do have. Luxury items (the highest end cable packages, gadgets, flashy gas-sucking cars and such) seem entitlements.

What do you think? Are you happy in 2011 as an American? Or would have rather been part of an earlier generation?

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Retro Matinee Double Feature: Bye Bye Birdie and How to Marry a Millionaire

On my couch at the end of the year watching some pretty horrible films (like Land of the Lost, sorry Will Ferrell!) I decided I was going to become acquainted with more classic films I haven't seen far too many of.

Retro Matinee Double Feature or Feature Showing will be a regular installment, as I look to our rich American cinematic history. I hope you'll enjoy it! They don't all have to be Gone with the Wind or Wizard of Oz-level classics. For now, I'll be looking at the 1970s and backward, or more current films on classic figures.

Bye Bye Birdie mocked the very hysteria of the teen idol, about the mass hysteria caused when a Birdie is drafted and Ann-Margret wins a contest to give him a farewell kiss on Ed Sullivan. Yes, I watched it because I saw it on Mad Men.

Consider this from Wikipidia,

"The teen idol is primarily a phenomenon of 20th century mass communication. Its first manifestation (often referred to as matinee idol) may have been Rudolph Valentino, whose good looks and winning way with women featured heavily in such silent films as The Sheik. Valentino was so popular with young women, many of them went into mass hysteria after he died at the age of 31 in 1926. Judy Garland's pin-ups adorned many a high school male's locker after her sudden rise to fame. But it was probably Frank Sinatra, whose early career is often linked to his appeal to bobby soxers, who is generally regarded as being the first true 'teen idol'."

Who were your teen idols? I fully admit to once bringing a picture of Tiffany to a hair dresser for a body wave (it was the 80s, don't judge me!) In 1989, I was planning on being Mrs. Jonathan Knight of New Kids on the Block fame (you know, You've Got the Right Stuff, I'll Be Loving You Forever, Hanging Tough!) I wasted hard earned Shop-Rite bagging money on Bop and Tiger Beat, asked for t-shirts and button sets for my birthday and Christmas (I think I even had a velour jacket, eesh!) and had their photos even on my ceiling (at 35 years of age, my Dad will still not let me forget that!) But it's also a testament to the consumerism now attached to teen idols.

If you watch Mad Men, you'll also know there was a show where all the women were in hysterics over the death of Marilyn Monroe. Even though Betty Grable and Lauren Bacall had equal billing and screen time in How to Marry A Millionaire, Marilyn made the cover.

While there's always another teen act in the making, I don't know if we have any real icons today like Marilyn. Can you think of any? I scratch my head at the people who are famous today. Kim Kardashian? For what? As Dancing with Stars came on after Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution one night, I asked my sister, "Where are the stars?" Not sarcastically - I meant it. Stars? It seems no talent at all is required today.

What do you think? Will we ever see another Marilyn again? Do you have any favorite films from her? I favor Some Like it Hot and The Seven Year Itch, and want to see Gentlemen Prefer Blondes.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Mad Men Mondays: In Praise of Motherhood

She is a giver of life; teacher; healer; protector. She has the immense power to influence what course your life will take. Do you love history? Are you interested in science? Can you play an instrument? Are you sowing seeds this spring - all because of her? She is one of the most undervalued of all of life's professions.

She is a mother. She has to mother her own children, and often in life's confusing role reversals, has to act as a mother to her own parents in their later stage in life.

Mad Men like many popular works in the past few years takes often at the cynical look at the 1950s and 1960s (i.e., A Single Man, Revolutionary Road, Far From Heaven, and The Hours come to mind), including to me, its portrayal of motherhood. Betty complains about being at home with the children all day. When Don arrives and she's eating a meatloaf or casserole, red wine in hand, with the two children, she's numb to the world around her. She remains passive about her situation. Look at the fun Joan and Peggy are having out in that working world!

Consider how much Joan and Peggy are defined by their jobs at Sterling Cooper. In our age of layoffs or fears of them, I don't know if we are as defined by our professions, or shouldn't be. Our families aren't going to lay us off if we aren't pulling our weight during a quarter or we're costing them too much money. No secretly wondering who they value more: us or the shareholders?

While maybe Mad Men is saying many women didn't have the choice to go to work and had to fight when they wanted to get ahead, how many women I know in 2011 want to stay at home with their children but are unable too because they need the health insurance or salary, or have to pay exorbitant taxes. After just six weeks off with a newborn, it's back to work for many. If Don wasn't the philandering, controlling husband we know he is, Betty Draper's life wouldn't look so depressing on the outside looking in.

My favorite television mother: Carolyn Ingalls from Little House on the Prairie, a cherished childhood show which also invokes nostalgia, as my sister and I watched every episode after school. No chugging hard cider from the barrel when Charles came in from the fields for her. Life was a lot harder on the prairie than it was for the housewife who can shop at the store and not have to worry about a hail storm ruining their crops. Remember when Carolyn gave up a sky blue polka dotted cloth to make Laura and Mary new dresses instead of having a new one herself? Think of all the things our mothers gave up so we could have a better life - most sacrifices we'll never really know.

My mom stayed home with me and my older sister. We had the American dream as Pete Campbell defined it: a house, a car and a color television. We took summer vacations to visit family in Switzerland, or to go to Florida, California and even Hawaii. But I can't imagine that life would have been possible if they lived the way so many do as the "American dream" has exploded into now: with two pricey gas guzzling cars, upgrading gizmos, constant home improvements, designer clothes, and more, all on credit. I wouldn't have wanted that any way. I can't help think of how the Mad Men of today have sold families on lifestyles beyond their means, robbing them of their choices (like a mother staying home if she wants to). Too many mothers I know are paying off debt.

As we are about to celebrate Mother's Day, reflect on what you love that was the gift of your mother. Howard Pyle, the American author of The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood who was born in Wilmington, Delaware in 1853, loved pictures in storybooks as a young boy, including Grimm's German Fairy Tales and Arabian Nights. He said, "My mother taught me to like books and pictures, and I cannot remember the time when I did not like them; so that...was the beginning of the taste that led me to do the work I am doing now." Imagine if she hasn't planted the seed, we may have never had this storyteller.

Imagine how different your life would have been, without its shaping by your mother. I hope you had a positive experience, and know in reality many children don't, and have the courage to plant better seeds with the next generation.