Thursday, February 6, 2014

Choosing a Beatle

In Honor of Beatlemania 50 years ago - This is an excerpt from my book, Confessions of a Not-So-Good Catholic Girl, on the magical night that changed pop culture forever . . . February 9, 1964: I don’t know what television event finally brought our parents out of their funk [over Kennedy’s assassination] - maybe the soothing regularity of offbeat sitcoms like the Beverly Hillbillies, Gomer Pyle, and Bewitched, or perhaps the reliable comfort of I Love Lucy - but for us baby boomers, the sky opened up that night in front of our 10-inch black-and-whites, and a beam of light shone down right there in front of us in our living rooms like some cosmic entity. Miraculously, for one brief shining moment, old Ed Sullivan was suddenly very cool. He’d brought us a savior. Or rather, four of them. Prior to this, kids didn’t have much in the way of enjoying our kind of music on TV. Mostly, we were forced to watch Lawrence Welk and his sea of bubbles, or Mr. Sing-Along himself, Mitch Miller (and that bouncing ball dancing merrily atop musical notes). Or our local music programs, the Gene Carroll Show (an amateur hour featuring hometown musical acts that often resulted in embarrassing yet wholly entertaining live screw-ups) and Polka Varieties (targeted for viewers of ethnic persuasion, but usually minus the amusing screw-ups). In 1964, most middle-class families had but one television set and the choice of three local stations, ours being channels 3, 5, and 8. The programming was targeted for adults, or small children (like Romper Room, which I grew to hate because Miss Barbara never, ever called my name). The preteen and adolescent audience was not even a consideration. Sunday night, especially, was out of the question. We couldn’t get away from Sullivan, who, until that fateful night, offered little for us by way of amusement, unless you count Topo Gigio, the quirky little Mexican mouse puppet. Or, I suppose, those periodically intriguing circus acts. The Beatles changed my generation forever. God knows what would have become of us had they not appeared in our lives. Sure, we had Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly. But by now, Elvis was considered old and making ridiculously corny B movies. And most radio stations no longer played Jerry’s records since he’d up and married his thirteen-year-old cousin. And Buddy Holly, the coolest of them all, was dead. After the Beatles appeared in our lives through that living room box, I, along with every kid in America, clamored for anything “Beatles.” We all fought to be first to buy new packets of bubble gum that boasted “Collectable” Beatles cards (with photos and revealing data of their lives, including their “secret” likes and dislikes). Our days were measured in songs—from “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” to “A Hard Day’s Night”—and we lived solely for those AM deejays to bring us “Beatles’ World Exclusives” and to buy their next record. And as would happen more than once in my life, I was forced to choose between guys. Maybe it was because I had an older brother, but I always preferred the company of males. They were entertaining and appealing to me, either by good looks, or the fact they made me laugh. And when push came to shove, I’d choose the latter. Now, due to some odd competition, I had to pick just one of my beloved Beatles as my unending favorite in order to answer the perennial query form girls, “Which one do you like?” As if we could actually have our pick. Like we were curvy, bubble-head bachelorettes forced to choose who’d be the next lucky bachelor on the Dating Game. Fat chance. Yet, after that Sullivan appearance, this monumental decision became a required part of the process of being a Beatle lover, and it took me weeks to decide. Every girl in school swooned over the obvious. Paul McCartney was instantly labeled the “cute one,” which for me, eliminated him right there. While I certainly appreciated cute every bit as the next girl, I wasn’t about to be like everyone else. It wasn’t my nature. On the other hand, Paul was left-handed like me, which certainly added points in his favor. Then again, my personal view of myself as an independent thinker would have none of that. So that brought it down to three. John Lennon attracted me because he was the songwriter (his writing partner now removed from the list). I, already a hopeful writer, bumped him straight into first place. Plus, I liked his attitude. He had that certain something that separated him from the rest of the band—even demonstrated his distinctiveness on stage, as he always stood a bit further apart from his musical colleagues. He would’ve been my ultimate choice had he not been married, which made him ineligible with all the girls who felt a moral obligation to honor his vows. Particularly if you were Catholic. It definitely had to be some kind of a sin to be a John girl. Two to go. I loved Ringo Starr’s sense of humor. Everything that came out of his mouth was funny and I found him charming in a Barney Rubble sort of way. He also shook his “mop-top” better than any of the others. Plus, I was drawn to drummers. Whereas most females tend to swoon over lead singers and guitar players, for me, there’s always been something about drummers (maybe it’s those muscular arms needed to pound those skins, or how their head bops to the music) that quicken my beating heart. So Ringo soon jumped into first place. That is, until shallowness got in the way. My measure of worthiness was still superficial when it came to beauty, and the fact that I found him not at all good looking (how could I’d have known how attractive he’d become in his later years? That somehow time and maturity—be it his or mine—would transform that nose into an asset rather than a liability). I had to, sadly, give him a pass. However, the shame at letting such as petty trait as looks get in my way of choice continued to nag me. So a few guilt-ridden months later, I honored the world-famous drummer by naming my new cat after him. This left George Harrison. George was perfect as my definitive choice. First of all, he was cute. Really cute. He, too, had that great British humor we American girls found so thrilling. And the fact that he was quiet (which normally would’ve wiped him out in my book since I liked the talkers) made him seem sophisticated, intelligent, and absolutely mysterious - three big bonus points with any hormonal male-loving girl. It was clear I’d made the right choice when he began contributing his own songs to the band, and I fell even harder after he took up with the Maharishi, started playing the sitar, and wore those cool-looking clothes. That new phase ultimately made me—having chosen him long before—appear wise and amazingly perceptive beyond my years to all those Pauly girls. Having experienced two of the most prominent moments in 20th century history in a span of a few months, I grew up with the notion that even the most horrendous of events can be followed by the most profound and enlightening ones. Which came in handy during a few of my own life traumas. When the Beatles brought us boomers out of our black-and-white existence, television—now airing music/dance shows like Hullabaloo, Shindig, and The Midnight Special— joined the radio jocks in providing us with a musical buffet, thus enabling my generation to inexplicitly separate ourselves from our Frank Sinatra/Lawrence Welk/Polka-loving parents. The Fab Four gifted us with the blessing of cherished childhood and adolescent memories, even for those who had few to go on. It wasn’t merely their shaggy heads, but their music—those love songs with the boy/girl hooks, and rock star fantasies. Their “long-hair” and Beatle boots’ appearance gave us license to rebel, with a new, albeit kooky, sense of fashion. They made us feel good, no matter what our pubescent angst. Giving us a new attitude. A new excitement. A new lifestyle that was our very own. Moreover, The Beatles gave parents something to complain about, siblings something in common, and made even the underdogs feel triumphant. In turn, thanks to our adoration, these “exciting lads from Liverpool” became the most prominent, influential, and beloved entertainers in music history. And more than forty years later, I can now admit, that to be perfectly honest, I secretly loved John, Paul, George, and Ringo the best.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

This Blog May Save Your Life

Have you checked your fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector lately?

I ask because my very life, and the lives of my husband and daughter, were literally saved last night. And we have our fire alarm system to thank for that.

So before you click off this site to answer the phone, or check another email, or return to your work, please do something today that may save your life. Check not just the batteries on your fire alarm and carbon monoxide detector, but make damn sure they work.

We hear about this all the time, especially when we get ready to change our clocks every year. But many of us really don’t think much about what could happen if we keep putting it off.

I now can speak from experience. At around 2 a.m., last night my family awoke out of a sound sleep by that loud, irritating sound of which I will never complain about again. My husband, Jeff, and I jumped up at the same time and already, our house was full of smoke. Thankfully, we were able to see just enough to move around and soon discovered the fire in our utility room. Our furnace was on fire.

Jeff went right into action and put out the blaze before it traveled from there. I went around opening all the windows and doors because my eyes were burning terribly, reminding me that it could’ve been worse. So much worse.

Later, as we both tried getting back to that blissful state of sleep, I couldn’t help imagining what might have happened if that alarm hadn’t shook us out of that sound sleep. Thankfully, I have a husband who takes care of things. He had just recently checked the alarms.

I also thought of all the times our kids were taught in school what to do in case of a fire. The number one rule was to have an escape plan. How long had it been since our family had discussed that? We should’ve become reacquainted with the plan, just in case. You can bet this was one of the first things we talked about this morning. If we had awoken later, rather than sooner, what should we have done? (My daughter said, “grab up my favorite clothes.” Wrong answer! But in fairness, I think she was kidding. I hope…).

It’s just too easy to stay so busy with our lives that we often forget the things we need to do to keep it. We also need to be thankful, not just on Thanksgiving day, but every day. I do thank God every day for my many blessings, but today, I thanked God that, besides being a little shook up, we are all alive and well, including our cat and dog.

Okay, now you can close out here, and go check that alarm! And if needed, spend the money for a new one. Do it for yourself and the people you love, who also love you.
Because life is precious.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Expanding Your World

I bought myself a guitar for my last birthday. What was I thinking? I’m in my 50s, can’t read music, and whenever I sing at home, the family—including the cat and normally devoted dog—scatter like roaches at the first sign of light.

It wasn’t something I even planned. Just caught sight of the pretty pink Fender Stratocaster in a music store, forgot all the logical reasons why I shouldn’t purchase such a thing, and proudly brought it home.

And why not, I told myself? I’ve been playing air guitar for years (and air drums, too—but unfortunately, when I tried the real thing once I discovered I have absolutely no sense of rhythm or timing).

Sure, it’d be a challenge, but I thrive on challenges.

I’ve only made it to nine lessons so far, got about six chords down, but I’m having fun. And that’s the thing. . . . I’m having fun expanding my world.

I have a colleague in one of my writers group who is 82 years old, just finished her second book, and has already started her third. I currently have an 86-year-old woman in my “What It Takes To Write A Book” class and she’s sharp as a tack. (Writers, please forgive the clichĂ©). She’s never written anything more than a grocery list but wants to write about all the things she’s experienced in her eight decades of living. I told her she practically has an obligation to do so. We all learn from each other and we can certainly learn lots from our elders. Her life is history.

We all have the means to bring new experiences to our lives but sometimes we get stuck in a rut because it’s comfortable. We’re afraid to try new things, and that fear robs us of some of the best things in life. Granted, you may not want to jump out of an airplane, but you might just want to build a model one, just to see how it’s done.

You can never run out of new things to do and that’s what living is for. And even if you find you’re not good at it, at least you’ll know what it’s like doing it.

So take a class, see a play, join a club, learn an instrument, go ballroom or line dancing, sit in on presentation at a library, community center, or the Rock Hall (yes, had to mention that!).

And try this: Read a book or listen to music outside your preferred genre. Keep an open mind. You might be surprised by your own reaction.

Expand your world. . . .

Because in doing so you’re bound to meet fascinating people, learn something interesting you didn’t know before, maybe even change your initial opinion about something or someone. All of which widens your mental, and often spiritual, horizons. You just might learn something new about yourself, too.

Take a tip from children, who see the world with fresh eyes, and dance, skip, and giggle whenever they feel like it.

It’s called enjoying life.

Okay, time to quit writing. I have a guitar that needs strumming.

Till next time, take the time to smell the flowers. It's summer!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

A Brother's Legacy

Last year I called my brother to wish him a Happy Birthday.
I wish I could do it again tomorrow.
But he died last September. A sudden, unexpected, death.

Boy, I never saw that coming. I’m sure neither did he. That’s a lesson right there. Live each day to its fullest. Be kind to yourself and others.
Go happy . . .
My brother did. He worked hard, but enjoyed his life, especially his last few years on earth. He loved playing bass guitar, even got his own band (with groupies!) and met some great people through his music. He loved sailing on his boat, The Witchdoctor. And truly loved his boater friends.

Soon after his death, I mentioned his accomplishments in this blog. But for what would’ve been his 59th birthday, I want to share with you a very cool story. It’s inspiring, and reminds us all, how each of us has the capacity, maybe even a duty, to make a difference in someone else’s life.

The story is written, in his own handwriting, in a letter discovered by his fiancĂ©, who shared it with me. (We have no idea why he wrote it, though it could’ve been for a position in teaching Karate).
Reading it once again, brings tears to my eyes. But they are proud tears.

It’s a 13-page document that holds much wisdom, on more than one subject. I want to share my favorite one, what he called his “life-changing awakening.” But only he can tell it properly. So here it is, as written, though because of its length, I’ll have to edit his work.
I hope he doesn’t mind. . . .

Here’s a lesson gleaned from a man who earned 6 black belts in the Martial Arts:

“As a young teen growing up without a father, I led a rebellious lifestyle and saw my life going nowhere fast. After I began training in Martial Arts, the intense training began to improve both my physical and mental outlook. As I became more involved, I met some of the greatest Karate and Martial Arts masters, and what impressed me most about these remarkable men was how humble they were. Through them, I learned that respect, true respect, was earned with hard work and devotion to one’s art from (as opposed to demanding respect because of who you think you are). Although the spiritual aspect of the training incorporated [many beliefs], it was not about what religion you believed in, but rather how you used the discipline and training to make you a better person.

As I began my Karate Kids program at YMCAs, youth centers and community programs, I realized I had to live my life honorably, not just during class. I ended up teaching to a wide variety of people, some - women and children, especially - who were victims of those who seemed to enjoy inflicting pain on them. . . .

During these early years in my training and teaching, I had a 16-year-old student, a troubled kid with a lengthy juvenile record involving drugs, gangs and violence. [Note: This was a juvenile probation program my brother founded, called “1st Strike” where he gave young offenders free Karate lessons to learn the art of respect for others].
I allowed him to enroll in my class, although the probation officer thought him unredeemable. After he joined, I had an almost nonstop battle about his bullying other kids and using bad language in front of young children. He was constantly downplaying the Karate he was learning from me, claiming he already knew Kung Fu. Finally, I’d had it. I arranged with the janitor to open up the gym for a “private” workout. When the kid showed up, I locked the door and threw him a pair of punching gloves and informed him I intended to see how good he can fight a grown man instead of punching little kids. He refused, saying he was under-aged and I wasn’t allowed to hit him, which I immediately did. Not enough to seriously hurt him, but hard enough to let him know I meant business. He put on the gloves and came at me. (Mind you, he was much bigger than me at 6’3, and a really big kid). He ended up begging me to stop fighting him, and I never saw him again.
Six years later, I was teaching at John Carroll and noticed a well-dressed black man with a business suitcase, watching my class, which was not uncommon. Afterward, he approached me and asked if I was Dennis Fedorko. I acknowledged that I was. He then asked me about a certain date in which I deliberately assaulted an underage juvenile. I looked at him in his $600 suit and said, “Do you mean that punk is going to sue me after all these years?
He looked at me and said, “No, I am not.”
I was absolutely floored! I asked what happened to turn his life around and he replied: “You did.”

He went on to say that because of his big size, everyone was always afraid of him: his mother, grandmother, teachers, other kids . . . so nobody ever said no to him, no matter what he did. After our encounter that night, he gave up drugs, got his GED, and decided to go to Case [Western Reserve] Law School. He became a lawyer, and was now involved as a childrens’ advocate for the court system.
That was the absolute best justification for all the sacrifice and training I did all those years.” . . .

I wished I could’ve heard Dennis tell this story when he was alive. But then again, to have this letter, written by him in his own handwriting, is a gift that keeps his spirit alive for me. And makes me so proud that he was my brother.

Happy birthday, Bro. Thanks for the great story. You did good.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What's on my Nightstand

Due to space limitations, this short book review was even shorter in today's Plain Dealer. Here's the complete version.
This is a really good read, I recommend it.

“Love is a Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song at a Time.” by Rob Sheffield

We all know how music, the proverbial “soundtrack of our lives,” can stir our emotions. But in his 2007 memoir, Rolling Stone contributing editor, Rob Sheffield, offers the reader more than a mix of memories on a cassette tape. It’s a pop culture love story void of a happy ending, but satisfying nonetheless. Sheffield takes us on a musical journey comprised of songs that enriched his life, while introducing us to the people that music gifts him with, including his wife, Renee. “When the bartender at the Eastern Standard put on Big Star’s Radio City, she was the only person in the room who perked up.” In 1997, six years into their marriage, Renee collapses one afternoon, dying from a pulmonary embolism, leaving the author a widow at thirty-one. At first he finds comfort in their shared love of music, “My mix tapes were the life rafts that I held on to.” Still, there are times when music can’t make it all better. One night as he’s driving along a highway, he switches on the car stereo. “The radio was playing ‘American Pie,’ but I only made it a few seconds before I had to change the station. I got Jerry Lee Lewis on the oldies station. He’s still alive, I thought. Reagan is, too. The Pope. I turned off the radio and left it off.”

While many of us haven’t experienced his kind of pain, we can relate to it.

Love is a mix tape, indeed.

And as Sheffield ultimately learns, while not always a happy note, it's still a worthy listen.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Books (and Music) Still Make Great Gifts!

I don’t care what “they” say about the popularity of reading newspapers, magazines and books online, I know there are many of you who, like me, wouldn’t give up the feel, and scent, of printed paper to save your soul! (Well okay, maybe to save your soul). True book lovers (I call them “Bookies”) want the real thing—and we’re not talking Kindles (though I do appreciate their appeal). And I’m obviously not alone in this passion. In Sunday’s Plain Dealer, the book section (my favorite, if you haven’t guessed) reports that this year the total book titles PRINTED worldwide will exceed one million, up from the past few years. A very good sign. After all, even if you own a Kindle (and I do know some bookies that love them), it still can’t replace real books (and the covers are often so interesting and appealing. I have been known to, yes, judge a book by its cover).
The Plain Dealer also noted their 20 favorite books of 2009, and while I haven’t read all of them (yet) I can attest to the greatness of “Lit” by Mary Karr (this is her third memoir and she is simply brilliant. I admit to gushing like a rock groupie upon meeting her in New York a few years ago), and “Await Your Reply” by local author, Dan Chaon, who has received much international praise for his work.
And he is just one of many great, talented writers in the Greater Cleveland area. Some of them you are familiar with because they are nationally known, such as Michael Ruhlman, Mary Doria Russell, Joe Eszterhas, Thrity Umrigar, Richard Montanari, Sarah Willis, John Stark Bellamy II, Gail Bellamy, Ted Schwarz, Cinda Chima, Kristin Ohlson, Paula McLain, and Les Roberts.(Can you believe there are so many?!) I could also mention all of their works but that would definitely exceed my word count for this blog. Besides, they are easy to find.
But there are some local authors that if someone didn’t tell you about them, you’d miss out because they don’t get the amount of press others do. So let me do the honors.
If you’d like to enhance your literary world, treat yourself - or the Bookie in your life, to these local authors (Google them for their web sites or to order their books):

Casey Daniels – her mystery series include her latest: “Night of the Loving Dead.”
Erin O’Brien – her “Voice” and humor is her best asset and shows itself in her book, “Harvey & Eck.”
Carole Calladine – “Second Story Woman: A Memoir of Second Chances.” Good read for all, but especially those with Diabetes.
Anne Southworth - "Next Friend: The Journal of a Foster Parent." Documents many of the complexities of being a foster parent.
Peter Chakerian – “Browns Fans’ Tailgating Guide.” His new book is coming soon.
Scott Lax - "The Year That Trembled." Takes readers back to 1970s love and war.
Bill Warnock – “The Dead of Winter” Great for those interested in World War II.
Doris O'Donnell - "Front-Page Girl." Good memoir about the newspaper world of yesterday.
Joyce Dyer - "Gum-Dipped: A Daughter Remembers Rubber Town." Good history on Akron Ohio, but also about family.
Then there are these two, who prove it’s never too late – or too early – to become an author:
Aileen Gilmour, who published her first novel, “The Valley of Nevaeh” at age 80.
R. Jarrett Dowd, who published his first novel “Phases of Reason 1: The Eight Ball" at age 27. You'll be hearing more of him. . . .

And don’t neglect local favorites John Gorman, Michael Heaton, Michael Olszewski (who has a new book coming soon!), Terry Pluto (who has a new book out about LeBron), and Neil Zurcher.
And of course there are others as well. Our city is rich in creativity!

Just one more thing before I go . . . remember all the (well-merited) uproar about downloading music that cheat millions of deserving songwriters out of well-earned royalties? Well it’s now happening with books. There are currently lawsuits protesting the Internet’s infringes on author’s copyrights and it's sure to be an ongoing problem. Now you could argue that without the Internet many authors would hardly be recognized at all, but that's a moot point. Authors deserve every penny due them because being a writer is damn hard work and it takes years to write a book. And just think of all the joy we get from books and music. Plus, the fact that a CD and most books cost around $20 for this wide range of entertainment. So even if you’re on a tight budget, you can put a few dollars away each week (like I used to as a teenager so I can buy an album by my favorite rock group) and have it in your excitable little hands within a month!
Like many actors and visual artists, musicians and writers work hard at their craft and most will never get paid for all the time and blood, sweat and tears they put into it. Yes, they do it because they love it, but it's a tough way to make a living.
Because I understand this, I still go out and purchase a CD or book that I want to enjoy—and I enjoy it so much better knowing I’ve done my small part to support these talented people. Especially those who live and work in our hometown, it’s a way of saying thank you for enriching our lives. Because of each of the authors I’ve mentioned above and so many others (and all the musicians who have rocked my world!), I not only have great memories I can relive over and over at the turn of the page or press of a button, I have learned many things about life, love and how to have a really good time - through their words and music.
So enjoy this season of peace and love and I recommend you give a gift that will keep on giving! Merry Christmas!

Monday, October 12, 2009

Hate-Mongers . . .

So guess what, or rather who, this blog is about?

Up until last week, believe it or not, I had never seen Glenn Beck in action. I watch little TV and when I do it’s rarely FOX News. And when I listen to the radio, it’s rarely talk radio (well except for “Car Talk with Click and Clack” on Saturday mornings at 10 a.m. on NPR - These guys, and their callers, are hilarious! Even if you’re not into cars, this show is SO much fun to listen to!). But I’m not so out-of-touch that I hadn’t heard about Beck. I just didn’t know what he looked like until the day I was waiting for a Roman Burger (like McDonald’s Big Macs, I eat them faithfully - once, maybe twice, a year).

Anyway, so I’m in the waiting room and the TV is blaring with this seemingly crazed man ranting, raving—and in a horribly irritating tone—spewing about Obama this, Obama that. And while I’m all for free speech and such, this guy was annoying (to use my teen daughter’s favorite word) as hell.
In fact, he was acting just like I'd picture a devil would. This guy was so bent on trying to convince people that we are all in grave danger if we didn’t believe in what he was saying (he even showed a video which he continually pointed to in a seemingly desperate effort to prove his point but which only made him look like some bully kid who insists that he is right in his convictions, and that his bad behavior is directly caused by someone else. “He made me do it!” And “See, Seeeeee?." "Now do you believe me, huh? Just look at this!!”

For the first time I realized we Americans really are in grave danger. The hate spewing from this guy (the man next to me shaking his head at the TV told me this talking head was THE Glenn Beck) is indeed a huge danger to all our well beings as Americans.

This is not about whether you are Right, Left or Sideways (I tend toward the latter), it’s about trying to get people on your side in a vengeful, hateful, vile manner that can only bring about more vengeful, hateful, and vile (and bile) behavior. Even if you believe everything that comes out of this guy’s bitter mouth, it’s his mean-spirited delivery that should offend you. It sure does me. After all, the truly smart people who are passionate about their cause are also compassionate about others and can wisely make a point without coming across like a school yard bully.
I don’t like this guy and I don’t like what he’s doing to Americans.

Like Obama or not, whatever happened to the days when we at least respected the office of the Presidency of our United (remember THAT word?) States? Isn’t that part of being a true American?
And while none of us are always going to agree on the same issue – there is something in which I think we all can concur:
Glenn Beck will never get awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But I believe there’s still hope for Click and Clack. . . .