Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Friday, March 25, 2011

Bill Ayers - A Bundle of Contradictions

I didn’t go to Montclair State University (in N.J.) last night to hear Bill Ayers speak.  I went there to protest this cop-hating radical’s presence on the campus, designed to inculcate future educators to urge their young students on to disobedience, civil and uncivil.  My understanding of his lecture was that it was by invitation only and that we “protesters” would have to stand outside.

The university police had the barricades sent up for all those violent tea partiers.  Our organizers encouraged us to bring home-made signs.  I had piece of signboard handy and magic markers.  I designed a sign with an American flag that read:  “Americans for a Federated Republic.”

But when I arrived in front of Montclair’s University Hall, where the lecture was to take place, I found myself asking that age-old question:  “What if they held a protest and nobody came?”  Finally, I asked one of the officers where everyone was?

“They’re all inside,” he said.  “You can go in, too.”

So in I went.  The Tea Partiers were all waiting in line to go into the lecture.  I spoke with a few of my fellow Tea Partiers whom I hadn’t seen in awhile as they meet the same night the band rehearses.  Some of them took a picture of me in my hat with my sign.  Even the school newspaper, the Mont Clarion, took my name and photo.  No one else had brought a sign.  I was very disappointed.  We were told we wouldn’t be allowed to say anything even in the hallway and if you can’t hold up a sign or say anything than what’s the point?  I preferred to go back outside in the cold with my sign, than sit warm and safe – and silent.

Back out I went.  I was the lone protester; I had the barricaded area all to myself.  Everyone who went by (and it was quite the busy spot) could clearly read my sign; I had no competition.  For awhile I stood in place and spoke with the cops who were on duty, four or five of them.  I also took to marching around the enclosure like a real protester, although I didn’t chant anything.  I have a soft voice that doesn’t project well so no one would have heard me anyway.

As I stood there and spoke with the cops, I noticed one walking around with a bomb-sniffing German shepherd.

“It’s kind of funny, isn’t it,” I remarked, “taking a bomb-sniffing dog around a building to guard a guy who used to blow up police stations?”

“Oh, we’re not happy that he’s here at all,” they said.  “Our chief protested his appearance right up to the last minute.”

“The dog isn’t sniffing to protect him, ma’am,” another said.  “It’s to keep the other people safe.”

The poor cops were freezing out there, and all just to protect me.  I decided I’d give them a break and leave around 8:30.  One officer asked me if I wasn’t cold?

“No,” I said, “I’m used to it.  I’m a marching band musician.  But if you’re cold, I’ll lend you my hat (the tricorn hat).”

Well, they just got the biggest kick out of that.  They were laughing about it all night and telling the story to the new cops who came on duty.  But it was getting too cold and I just getting ready to leave when the campus police chief approached me.

He said he thought everyone would be better served if I went inside to the lecture, especially wearing my hat.  He assured me that the Tea Partiers were being allowed in and that I could go inside, too, although I would have to leave my sign with them.

Never one to argue with the law, I consented.  “Well, I’ll go in, although I was just going to go home.  But I’m not sure I really want to be in the same room with this guy.”

They laughed and said, “Neither do we!”  The chief thanked me and escorted me inside.  Once in the lecture room, I discovered they hadn’t even started yet.  The officers had said there weren’t any students there, that the school paper had done a survey and found that the majority of the students didn’t even know who Ayers was.  They said that there were faculty members in attendance.

However, there was a small group of education students seated on one side of the room.  I expected as much since Ayers billed this as discussion about education reform.  On the other side were the “adults”, my friends.  I took a seat up at the top.

Ayers finally got around to talking.  He told the audience that he was ready to go at 8 p.m. and that he didn’t know what the hold-up was or why a police presence was necessary.  The cops told me they were there at the request of the college and the campus SDS (Students for a Democratic Society).  It was now 8:45.  I had an uneasy feeling that I was the unintentional hold-up.  Yikes.

Ayers appeared in his best red star tee shirt.  Conservatives immediately criticized it and Ayers went on a harangue about judging whether he was a big or little “c” communist simply by the shirt he was wearing.  If it wasn’t a symbol of communism then what was he advertising?  Macy’s?  The Red Star Line (a now-defunct shipping company in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  One of their ships was featured in The Godfather 2)?

He dismissed his objectors as know-nothings who had drunk too much Kool-Aid and certainly were not educational experts, he added with a sniff.  The considerable number of experienced teachers in the room soon put him wise to that error.  Strike one for Ayers.

Informing the audience that the lecture was primarily to pontificate on educational reformed, he announced he would address himself mainly to the education majors in the room, and he promptly turned to face them.  He spoke about poverty being a major factor in causing the current educational decline.  Then he enumerated the talking points from America’s Promise Alliance, without actually mentioning that umbrella organization’s name:  caring adults, safe places, and effective education.  He didn’t bother much with the other two promises:  a healthy start and opportunities to help others.
The adult portion of the audience asked him what role he felt parents should play in their children’s education.  None, judging by his answer.  Parents, apparently in his view, are simply bad luck cards kids get stuck with; it’s up to the teachers to “save” the children.

If he was hoping that his adult audience was ignorant about America’s Promise, he had judged at least one adult member wrong.  My company is a featured partner of America’s Promise and I’ve been to, photographed, and written about many of the organization’s affiliate events, the latest of which are 26 seconds and Grad Nation (I just did a story about it last week).  

Teach for America was another America’s Promise volunteer group, I believe.  College students volunteer to mentor kids in reading and corporations donate books so I’m sure these university students were aware of it.  I personally donated eight books to the drive at the New York Public Library’s Mid-Town branch.  Though Ayers wasn’t aware of it, it was Strike Two for him.  At that point, I wanted to ask him if we could discuss the importance of white matter and myelin in early cognitive development.  But I couldn’t get his attention and I didn’t know how I would explain such a concept to someone who’s admitted he doesn’t believe in homework.  I wondered if he even subscribed to Scientific American.  You’d think educators would want to keep up with the latest scientific advances and discoveries regarding the human brain.

He bashed standardized testing, criticizing the constant drilling necessary to get information into kids’ heads.  In fact, he didn’t believe in filling students’ heads with facts at all.  Creativity and self-expression are the Ayers’ key to opening young minds, all the while deploring the fact that children can’t draw a map Bahrain or Tunisia.  Notice the distinction.  But if you gave them a map of the world, without the names, they probably could.  I could.  Then, too, I had the advantage of having worked for an oil company.  We used coffee drippings to make a coffee map of the Gulf States.

Discipline was another quality he found wanting in classrooms.  Then he went on to cite the example of a colleague named “Joe” who advocated allowing students to chew gum and wear caps in class, so long as they “respected” the teacher.  Sounded like buying the kids off to me.  I immediately thought of Charles the band director and what he would say to a thing like that.  He told us once that the cacophony of simply chattering drove him crazy.  I mused on how Charles, who teaches in a middle school, would react to 30 gum chomping children all chewing gum in concert. 

So I decided to ask Ayers how he would deliver a lecture to such a classroom.  He couldn’t hear me because I have a useless voice, so one of my Tea Party friends relayed the question to him.  The Tea Partiers laughed and I heard titters from the teachers of America.

“Oh it wouldn’t be a problem,” he said dismissively, shaking his head.  “No problem at all.”  But I had a mental picture in my head of Charles, a real teacher, chomping on his baton and grasping his hair, as we adult musicians have known him to do when we all start talking at once.  As I eyed Ayers skeptically, I must have telegraphed that message because he took a hesitant step back.  I’m sure no one noticed it but me.  Strike Three for Ayers.

There was a lot of back and forth arguing between the experienced teachers and the student teachers, who were, let’s face it, still students.  The kids didn’t like being told they didn’t know it all yet.  The adults didn’t like being laughed at for some gaffe on their part that I didn’t catch.

Ayers asked them the classic question, “How many of you entered teaching for the money?”  On cue, they laughed and giggled at the notion.  Had I been in control of the microphone, I would not have asked them if they’d entered the teaching field for money, but rather, for job security.  I think I would have gotten embarrassed silence rather than laughter.

Our guest speaker deplored the poor pay and benefits that teachers get.  Pity I don’t pay the violin.  I hadn’t even brought my bells.  This, more than anything, riled up the Tea Partiers, including those who are teachers.  This is where the exchange was at its hottest.  Ayers did his best to rile them up with other controversial topics like paying teachers instead of shooting missiles at Iraq.  Nothing.  His ploy about the inequality between the suburbs and the cities fell flat.  Our Tea Party spokesteacher told him nobody wanted to see urban school standards raised more than we did.

Charter schools hit the mark though, which he also discounted as failures.  He said it wasn’t fair that only some kids would get into those urban schools; that the standards of all the schools needed to be raised.  Boy, I hated to agree with the building-bombing, cop-bashing son of a gun, but I thought he was right about that.  However, that’s up to those school districts.

That argument gets into a whole societal, capitalism versus socialism issue.  Had businesses not been driven out of the state, had unions not priced the workers out of their jobs, and if somebody had just taught the first set of urban students, later to become parents, how to read, and encourage them to do so, the neighborhoods and the schools would be a lot better off.  Ayers was certainly careful not to mention a particular scourge central to this educational evil across all social spectrums – drugs.

At any rate, one young female student with a head full of steam and a sheaf of papers was prepared with her data damning the failure of charter schools.  I wish I could have told him about New Heights Academy in New York City’s Washington Heights.  Those kids looked to me like they were on their way to success.  The hallways are painted with the names and school shields of top colleges.

New Heights has the rules Ayers so petulantly eschewed – lots of them.  No running, no shouting.  No gun-chewing.  No hats.  No bling.  The kids had school uniforms.  We spoke with some of the kids and the teachers.  The kids were grateful and relieved to be there, free from the chaos of the New York City public schools.  If you want to know what those schools are really like, maybe you should ask some of the kids.  Apparently, the biggest problem is – the other kids, the troublemakers, the kids who don’t care about learning.

Ayers said he didn’t believe in rules.  But apparently he believed in raising hands.  He may advocate chaos – but he doesn’t condone while he’s speaking.  When the entire flank of Tea Partiers objected to some statement he made, he complained about all the noise they were making, trying to speak at once.  He became annoyed with our Tea Party Teacher when she spoke beyond what he considered her allotted time.  When I cocked my eye at him in amusement, he backed off and let her speak.  Authority defiance isn’t all it’s cracked up to be when you’re the one in the position of authority.

After the gun-chewing comment, the Tea Partiers realized what a true hypocrite he was.  Tea Party Teacher was taking him on at that moment when he wanted her to stop speaking.  She called him a hypocrite to his face.

“You’re a hypocrite,” she charged.  “You’re telling these students that they should maintain discipline in the classroom, that they should control their students, but then you tell them you believe children shouldn’t follow the rules, that they shouldn’t respect authority figures like their teachers.  What do you think you’re doing to these students?  The amazing thing is they’re listening to you.”

They were indeed, soaking it all up.  Hopefully, TPT’s remarks gave them pause.  Ayers knew and so he diverted the conversation to unionization, a sure-fire divider between novices and experts.  The young students, finding the adults were not bowing obsequiously to the students’ obviously superior arguments, stormed out in a mass, leaving the adults to resume the discussion more evenly.

I looked at my watch; it was 10 o’clock and I had an early morning photo appointment.  If I expected to get up anywhere near on time, I would have to leave the party. I’d heard enough, anyway.  I put on my coat and walked down, thanking TPT teacher for her help in relaying my question to the speaker.  I got the feeling he was staring at me, but I couldn’t tell because I just shrugged it off and left.  I had no voice for asking any further questions.  I’d heard enough.

Outside the building, I encountered the party of students blowing off steam with some particularly uneducated language.  Oh to be 19 again.  One of them was vowing to storm back in there and tell those Tea Partiers, especially the Tea Party Teacher, off.  Out of the corner of her eye, one of the students noticed me coming up casually from behind to pass them, and they all fell into a hush.  Still, one girl was determined barge back into the building and her classmates had to physically stop her.

Finally, they must have decided the better part of valor was to return to their dorms.  They stalked off sullenly ahead of me, though they never said anything.  Class was definitely over.  Meanwhile, I had retrieved my sign from the police officers, who were now sitting warmed up in their police SUV.  I kept the sign to the inside as the student group passed by.  There was no need to provoke them any further.

Judging by their silent seething, they’d learned some lesson that night that they didn’t like.  Which meant we’d done some good in there.  As for Bill Ayers, we’ll see in the future how inclined he’ll be to underestimate his adversaries as know-nothings.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Not Just Another Pretty Face

Yesterday, actress and silver screen legend Elizabeth Taylor passed away at the age of 79.

According to Wikipedia, Elizabeth Rosemond Taylor was born in 1932 in Hampstead, a wealthy district of North West London, the second child of Francis Lenn Taylor and Sara Viola Warmbrodt, who were Americans residing in England. Taylor's older brother, Howard, was born in 1929.

Her parents were originally from Arkansas City, Kansas. Her father was an art dealer and her mother a former actress whose stage name was "Sara Sothern." Sothern retired from the stage when she and Francis Taylor married in 1926 in New York City. Taylor's two first names are in honor of her paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Mary (Rosemond) Taylor.

A dual citizen of the United Kingdom and the United States, she was born a British subject through her birth on British soil and an American citizen through her parents. She reportedly sought, in 1965, to renounce her United States citizenship in an attempt to shield much of her European income from U.S. taxes. According to news reports at the time, officials denied her request when she failed to complete the renunciation oath, refusing to say that she renounced “all allegiance to the United States of America.”

At the age of three, Taylor began taking ballet lessons with Vaccani. Shortly before the beginning of World War II, her parents decided to return to the United States to avoid hostilities. Her mother took the children first, arriving in New York in April 1939, while her father remained in London to wrap up matters in the art business, arriving in November. They settled in Los Angeles, California, where Sara's family, the Warmbrodts, were then living.

Through Hedda Hopper, the Taylors were introduced to Andrea Berens, a wealthy English socialite and also fiancée of Cheever Cowden, chairman and major stockholder of Universal Pictures in Hollywood. Berens insisted that Sara bring Elizabeth to see Cowden who, she was adamant, would be dazzled by Elizabeth's breathtaking dark beauty. The girl was born with a mutation that caused double rows of eyelashes, which enhanced her appearance on camera, the famous “Elizabeth Taylor eyes.”

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer soon took interest in the British youngster as well but she failed to secure a contract with them after an informal audition with producer John Considine had shown that she couldn't sing. However, on Sept. 18, 1941, Universal Pictures signed Elizabeth to a six-month renewable contract at $100 a week.

Taylor appeared in her first motion picture at the age of nine in There's One Born Every Minute, her only film for Universal Pictures. Less than six months after she signed with Universal, her contract was reviewed by Edward Muhl, the studio's production chief. Muhl met with Taylor's agent, Myron Selznick (brother of David), and Cheever Cowden. Muhl challenged Selznick's and Cowden's constant support of Taylor:

“She can't sing, she can't dance, she can't perform,” he thundered. “What's more, her mother has to be one of the most unbearable women it has been my displeasure to meet.” Universal cancelled Taylor's contract just short of her tenth birthday in February 1942. Nevertheless, and in spite of her stage mother, on Oct. 15, 1942, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer signed Taylor to $100 a week for up to three months to appear as “Priscilla” in the film Lassie Come Home.

After “Lassie,” Taylor’s first assignment under her new contract at MGM was a loan-out to 20th Century Fox for the character of Helen Burns in a film version of the Charlotte Bronte novel Jane Eyre (1944). During this period she also returned to England to appear in another Roddy McDowall picture for MGM, The White Cliffs of Dover (1944). But it was Taylor's persistence in campaigning for the role of Velvet Brown in MGM's National Velvet that skyrocketed Taylor to stardom at the tender age of 12.

Then Taylor grew up. The incredibly beautiful girl became a stunningly beautiful young woman. When released in 1949, Conspirator bombed at the box office, but Taylor's portrayal of 21-year-old debutante Melinda Grayton (keeping in mind that Taylor was only 16 at the time of filming) who unknowingly marries a communist spy (played by 38-year-old Robert Taylor), was praised by critics for her first adult lead in a film, even though the public didn't seem ready to accept her in adult roles.

Taylor's first picture under her new salary of $2,000 per week was The Big Hangover (1950), a box office flop that also failed to present Taylor with an opportunity to exhibit her newly realized sensuality. Her first box office success in an adult role came as Kay Banks in the romantic comedy Father of the Bride (1950), alongside Spencer Tracy and Joan Bennett. The film spawned a sequel, Father's Little Dividend (1951), which Taylor's costar Spencer Tracy summarized with “boring… boring… boring.” Still, the film was received well at the box office

Taylor's next picture, A Place in the Sun, set the course for her career as a dramatic actress. The film became the pivotal performance of Taylor's career as critics acclaimed it as a classic, a reputation it sustained throughout the next 50 years of cinema history. The New York Times' A.H. Weiler wrote, "Elizabeth's delineation of the rich and beauteous Angela is the top effort of her career", and the Boxoffice reviewer unequivocally stated "Miss Taylor deserves an Academy Award". She later reflected: "If you were considered pretty, you might as well have been a waitress trying to act – you got no respect at all.”

In 1960, Taylor became the highest paid actress up to that time when she signed a one million dollar contract to play the title role in 20th Century Fox's lavish production of Cleopatra, which would eventually be released in 1963. During the filming, she began a romance with her future husband Richard Burton, who played Mark Antony in the film. The romance received much attention from the tabloid press, as both were married to other spouses at the time.

Taylor’s eight marriages and affairs with married men burnt up the gossip pages of the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies. Her many betrothals (twice married to Richard Burton), were the stuff of late-night comedy jokes. Back problems she inherited after being thrown from a horse during the filming of National Velvet when she was young led to subsequent drug abuse, alcoholism, and weight gain. Gone was the slim, pretty young bride of Father of the Bride.

Her extraordinary appearance could not save her from the ravages of Hollywood pressure, the Sexual and Drug revolutions, addiction, and age. Succumbing to the temptations of the Sixties, her sweetness vanished over time, until all that was left was the shrewish wife in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.

Once her film career ended, she tried to redeem that goodness and kindness that you could see in her eyes as a child actress by championing various, hopeless causes. Fans were appalled that she would shelter someone like Michael Jackson. I don’t think it had to do with Liberalism, in her case; I think it was simply maternal instinct. Say what you will about her morals (and they were certainly loose, to say the least), she never seemed to be a mean person.

We’re cautioned not to be beguiled by loveliness or the standards of Hollywood. Actors are thrown into a moral pool of confusion and contrariety when they take up that profession. It’s more a pity for them than anything else, wealthy as they are in material possessions and misguided in their politics. That’s not to condone their behavior. But we ask for it, apparently, and they give it to us.

The last Jane Eyre film before the current movie came out, showed that Jane and Mr. Rochester making out on a bed. A far cry from Charlotte Bronte’s noble heroine who eschews mortal happiness for a clear conscience. Who asked for such a salacious scene that never happened in the book? A young audience brought up to believe it’s okay, that’s who.

Elizabeth Taylor was a product of her times and also a participant in that wrong-headed revolution. Beauty is only a prop for a happy, fulfilled life. Neither she nor her contemporary, the highly-stylized Marilyn Monroe, found that happiness. Taylor was tougher underneath, though, than the emotionally fragile Monroe, who killed herself at 36.

Those who would thrust the Christian values upon Taylor that she clearly lacked should either remember or know that Taylor converted to Judaism when she married Eddie Fisher. That’s not to say that Judaism condones sin, but they don’t believe in Hell or the Devil, if I recall my Judaic theology correctly.

She couldn't sing or dance, but despite the husbands and the scandals, the drugs and the booze, the jewels and the wardrobes, she gave us what she had to give: one of the most beautiful faces in the world – and a lesson about how beauty can be corrupted, wasted, or lost (in her later years, she subjected her beautiful porcelain skin to tanning, ruining her looks and bringing on skin cancer).

We should not worship false gods or goddesses. But this was a lovely goddess and at least towards the end, she regained her sweetness.

RIP, Liz.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Turning Off the Light Bulb

Obama and Gang Green are trying to keep Americans in the dark, literally and figuratively. By Jan. 31st of next year, you will no longer be able to buy incandescent light bulbs on the open market. The last light bulb manufacturer in the United States is closing its doors – and moving to China.

My family has used fluorescent bulbs in our kitchens for decades. They were great energy savers and as we were poor, this was a great thing. My grandfather installed a fluorescent light fixture in the ceiling and above the kitchen sink for my mother.

As they were quite well fixed in place, there was no danger of them breaking. They were easy to remove and easy to dispose of, if my mother had wanted to. There were no environmental regulations as far as I know in 1962. But she knew they had mercury in them and as she was a stay-at-home mom, she didn’t mind driving down the hill to the town dump to get rid of them.

As we got older, my older brother, ever keen on saving electricity and thereby money, loved the new fluorescent compact bulbs. They were expensive, he said, but would save a greater amount of money in the long run.

But, there were problems with the bulbs besides expense. You couldn’t simply throw them in the garbage, and then if they broke, well, chaos would ensue. One night my brother was visiting, the bulb in the lamp somehow broke, and all chaos broke out.

“Open the windows!”

“Turn off the air conditioner!” (It was April; it was my birthday and he had given me the bulbs as a present)

“Put the cats in the bedroom!”

“Get the vacuum cleaner!”

“Get a plastic garbage bag!”

“A bucket of water, no soap, just warm water! Hurry!”

My mother and I watched, appalled, as my brother anxiously cleaned up the hazardous spill. He’s a facilities manager so he knew from fluorescent bulbs and what one had to do. When he was through, everything went into the plastic bag – the broken bulb, the rags and paper towels, the sponge, the contents of the vacuum cleaner.

“That’s the only problem with these bulbs,” he said, finally. “They’re great. But you’ve got to be really careful with them.”

I’ve never put another one of those things in my lamps since. The bulbs are in a box in my basement and will never see the light of day again. They’re hidden away, somewhat like the ark in “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

No matter how you look at it, this whole light bulb business is a boondoggle. First, and worst, we’ll be forced into buying an expensive light bulb that doesn’t last as long as they claim. My fluorescent didn’t last any longer than the incandescent bulbs did. Then, whether they break or just burn out, you have to dispose of them. In case of breakage, the clean-up is a major project and you can be sure that the government will institute more regulations to force people into calling a special clean-up company to dispose of the remains. More money.

If you want to save money on electricity, turn off the lights when you’re not in the room. If you’re the forgetful type (I am), there are new switches that turn the lights off automatically when the devices senses there’s no one in the room (it also has a manual switch as an option). This gadget won’t “burn out” and won’t spill mercury all over your carpet, causing a five-alarm hazmet catastrophe. Whatever the price, at least it will last the lifetime of your house, rather than a fluorescent bulb outlasting an incandescent by a few months.

Meanwhile, stock up on your incandescents while you can. I have a secret cache of them hidden away in a remote location waiting for the embargo on incandescent light bulbs.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Patriot Woman

Yesterday, we pondered Weird New Jersey and that strange place, named in more innocent times, “Pleasureland.” Today we ponder weird questions. posted an article about weird interview questions. Some of the questions are from the CNN writer; others were questions posted by readers:

• If you were a superhero, who would you be and why?

• On a scale of one to ten, how weird are you?

• If you saw someone steal a quarter, would you report it?

• What would be your theme song?

• If you were a professional wrestler, what would your stage name be?

• If we asked you to wear a bumble bee costume, walk around and hand out candy to employees, would you do it?

• If a movie was made about your life, who would play you and why?

• If you were a tree, what kind of tree would you be?

We had a lot of fun in our office answering these questions. Some of my co-workers are too young to even know who McGyver was. One young lady did have to wear the company mascot costume when she first started in our Public Relations department. She didn’t have to hand out candy to employees but she did appear in public. Her paws were too big to manage pieces of candy so she just waved instead. One of the mascot rules is that someone has to escort the mascot so they don’t trip and fall, and so kids don’t punch them.

If I were a superhero – heroine, actually - I would be Patriot Woman. My mission in life would be rescuing abandoned American flags. That’s been my mission for most of my adult life, anyway. Being a parade musician, I’m in a unique position to rescue flags that people, particularly little kids, drop on the ground. I’ve volunteered as flag retriever for the Tea Party rallies. When they asked me what I wanted to do to help, I instantly said, “Pick up American flags.”

I have a collection of rescued flags. I found one flag lying on the side of the highway, as I was returning from a parade. Clearly, it had fallen off one of the fire trucks that had been in the parade. I pulled off onto the shoulder and ran back to get it. Fortunately, it was already on the side of the road.

Yes, as Patriot Woman, I would instantly transform from my band uniform into my red, white, and blue costume. I’d simply step out of the line of march to tie my shoe. Once behind the crowds, I’d transform. Nothing short or revealing, mind you, because I’m way too old for the mini-skirt nonsense, although my legs are still in pretty good shape. I rather fancy a tea length skirt with a gold fringe, a modest but frilly white blouse with poofy sleeves, and of course, the obligatory cape, which would be red with a gold fringe, with an embroidered American flag on it and an inscription, “Never Forget.” Oh, and white boots. I’d love to have white boots. Plus, I’d wear my honorary tricorn hat, the one I earned in high school.

If I saw someone drop an American flag, or carry it the wrong way, or do something disrespectful to it, I would spin around in a blur until I was in costume, then with a tap of my magic mallet, crying the words “E Pluribus Unum!”, I would summon my faithful glockenspiel, “Gloria”, to bear me aloft. I’d stand upon this shield like a magic carpet or a skateboard, and it would wing me to the scene of the “crime.” Just a wave of my magic mallet marching along would be enough to lift up a child’s drooping flag. After rescuing the flag, I would lecture the offender firmly but kindly, if they were a child, that the flag is not a toy, and more seriously, if they were an adult – this is the standard of our country.

I would also give lectures at schools and at Tea Party meetings and rallies, leading everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. In my spare time, in between rescues, I would search out flags that were worn and neglected, and deliver them up to the nearest VFW post for proper burial or disposal.

I would also teach one and all about the importance of American history and why we owe the greatest of debts to our military. Finally, I would offer my services fighting terrorist guys to Homeland Security which, in good comic book form, they’d spurn. I’d foil terrorist plots single-handedly and earn the everlasting ire of the law enforcement authorities. Still, in my heart, I’d know I was doing my duty, though no one would ever learn my secret identity.

Everyone would just think I was kind of a simple-looking, mild-mannered reporter/photographer for a great American insurance company. Little would they know the truth or believe it! Alas, that is the lot of all superheroes and heroines. They must sacrifice fame, fortune, and glory for the greater good of the United States of America.

If the soldiers at Bunker Hill, Gettysburg, the Meuse River, Utah Beach, Iwo Jima, the Chosin Reservoir, Da Nang, Tora Bora, and Basra could make the ultimate sacrifice for our country and freedom, how much of a superhero do you have to be, what kind of superpowers do you need to show love and respect for America and liberty? If the word “freedom” is kryptonite to the enemies of freedom, then let the word always be on your tongue, at the ready.

Monday, March 21, 2011


When the glaciers receded back up towards the North Pole ages ago, they left the state of New Jersey pockmarked with endless lakes, streams, rivers, beauty – and flooding. Until the George Washington Bridge was finished in 1931, thousands of New Yorkers yearning to breathe free for a summer, started vacationing here. They built little summer cottages with no heat or basements along New Jersey’s endless lakes and especially her rivers. If those rivers were prone to flooding, well, no big deal really.

But after World War II came the Baby Boomers and their parents, looking for less expensive lands and homes, and lower taxes. My own parents found themselves taxed right out of hoity-toity Westchester County. The owners of the rental cottages converted them to permanent home status and sold them to bargain-hungry homeowners who had no idea of the history of the places to which they’d moved. The houses were cheap and the areas were pretty.

In the summertime.

My parents were too smart to buy a home in the plains; they bought a house on a high hill, with a steep driveway. But my grandfather bought one of those converted summer cottages on Bergen Boulevard in West Paterson (now Westwood Park) right on the Passaic River. The 1968 flood was particularly bad. There aren’t enough people who are even old enough to remember it anymore. Here at home, the flood washed away the Bloomingdale Cornet Band’s bandstand. Grandma and Grandpa’s house was spared; the house was built on a high foundation and they only had basement flooding. But they couldn’t get out and we had to get Grandma out in a rowboat. The houses across the street were completely flooded over though.

My grandparents have long since passed away, but I checked on their old house during the 2007 flood. Everything looked just the way I remembered it. Meanwhile, in the 1968 flood the section of Oakland along the Ramapo River known as “Pleasureland” was completely underwater. Route 287 hadn’t been built yet and Route 202 was the only way to get to the New York State Thruway.

Then in 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers built floodgates on the Ramapo River at Pompton Falls, between Wayne and Pompton Lakes, which also suffer from flooding. Now, in Pompton Lakes, flooding regularly occurred at the junction of the three rivers – the Ramapo, Wanaque, and Pequannock, which altogether eventually form the Pompton River. But not in the section below the falls. Whatever flooding occurred there was only minor.

Until they put in the flood gates. There’s a dam at the end of Lower Twin Lake, too. However, there’s also a stone levee leading along the brook until it reaches the Wanaque River. Those living along the levee are fine. Once the Post Brook waters reach the Wanaque, that section of town also winds up under water.

A co-worker and friend lives just past Pompton Falls. She’s a 28 year resident of Pompton Lakes; she grew up there and so did her husband. When they married, they bought her grandmother’s house. Only once in the grandmother’s ownership of the house did she ever experience flooding (in 1984) and then, her granddaughter says, it was only minor. It’s not like “they didn’t know”. The couple did know; that section did not flood. Until 2007.

During last year’s March flooding, with the floodgates operating at full-roar, the couple was completely flooded out. They lost all their appliances, carpeting, flooring, furniture was all ruined. It cost them approximately $40k to repair the house. The force of the water crashed through their backyard fence. Churches and charities donated clothes, toys, and even some appliances. FEMA paid the rest.

Nine months after that flood, around December, the repairs to their house were finally completed. They were just waiting for the snows to melt so they could begin moving the donated items into their house. Before they could do so, another very heavy rainstorm came along, and destroyed the lower portion of their house again. They had enough time this year to move their belongings to the second story of the house and put their appliances in storage.

Once again, though, the carpeting, flooring, the brand new paint job in the kitchen and living room and their new staircase were damaged. The water came at the house so hard that it cracked their front door. Their front window still bears the FEMA permit stickers from the last flood. Now they must wait for FEMA to finish assessing the damage. Meanwhile, the couple is living in their church’s safe haven home with their two sons until the house can be properly cleaned and sanitized. All the donated items in their detached garage had to be thrown away. Anything that bore signs of rust was condemned.

Meanwhile, the “Pleasureland” section of Oakland has sat high and dry for five years. Some bitter residents noted that five years is FEMA’s term limit to build on flooded land. If the land stays dry for five years, the owner can rebuild. But the mayors of the town have discredited that rumor, and indeed, anyone who would try to build on the “Pleasureland” property would have to be out of their minds.

According to the Weird New Jersey website: In the 1930s, Oakland was a popular vacation destination. People flocked there to swim and fish in the pristine waters of the Ramapo River and stay in one of the dozens of inns that lined its banks. At the height of its tourism age, the number of people in the town would swell to four times that of its regular population during the summer months. The former farmland was developed into recreational facilities. Restaurants, hotels, inns, bars and gas stations sprang up to accommodate the influx of vacationers. Small cottages were built and rented out in the “Pleasureland” section of town, sometimes referred to as “The Colony.”

There were a dozen “beach” resorts lining the banks of the river in all. Historians can’t agree on who opened the first resort, but they generally acknowledge that Muller’s Park (a former horse farm) was one of the very first. Located between Pleasureland to the south and Sandy Beach to the north, William Muller built the first public swimming pool in town in 1935.

Oakland’s tourist industry lasted about 50 years. Then in the early 1960s, with the closing of Sandy Beach, the area started to decline sharply. The clear waters of the Ramapo had become polluted due to the poor septic systems, which were originally built for summer cottages. Those cottages were increasingly being converted into year-round dwellings. As Oakland became more of a permanent residential town, tourism dwindled and one after another the beach resorts shut down.

By 1985 there were only two left, FRG Sports Complex (located on the former site of Muller’s Park) and Pleasureland, which were adjacent to each other. Because FRG no longer attracted area residents as patrons, its owner Frank Gallo began soliciting guests from New York City Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens. On Sunday, Aug. 4th 1985, one such group was bussed in to celebrate Jamaican Independence Day.

Ten months earlier, Gallo had gone before the Oakland planning board with a proposal to rezone the tract and construct a huge complex of 1,000 luxury high-rise condominiums. The planning board absolutely rejected his proposal. This high density project - two nine-story buildings, and at least two 7-story buildings would be in the middle of flood plain and the planning board said absolutely not. So if Pompton Lakes residents are a bit suspicious, they have good reason to be.

Right next door, just on the other side of an eight-foot tall chain link fence was the adjacent FRG Sports Complex. Some 3,000 people had gathered at the 50-acre park to picnic and enjoy the resort’s pools, volleyball, badminton, and table tennis facilities. Most of the visitors were brought in by charter buses from the New York City boroughs. All seemed to be going well, until around 4:30 in the afternoon.

A man who had been sitting in a covered pavilion area, where guests were listening to music and dancing, suddenly stood up and began firing an automatic weapon into the crowd. According to a local newspaper reporter who happened to live nearby, a blue van moved slowly through the entrance gate of FRG and parked just a few feet off the driveway near the pool. Without warning, the door burst open and several men leaped out and sprayed the area with machine gun fire. Then the van drove away. Next door in Pleasureland, 500 people panicked trying to climb over the resort’s fence to get away. Before that horrific day was over, two people, one a bus driver who had brought one of the groups in, were dead and nearly twenty others injured.

The police found 65 handguns, machetes, and knives. It looked to the police like the combatants had come prepared for a war. Of the 3,000 people, 1,968 had come out as a part of a charter out of Brooklyn. The name of the group was the West Indies Cricket Club. Police and the reporters believed, although they couldn’t confirm it that the gunmen were members of Florida-based drug and gun group that had links to Brooklyn.” The two gangs were, allegedly, The Showers (Jamaican Shower Posse) and The Spanglers.

Local residents had been complaining about the noise from the big parties Gallo bussed in. The “Oakland Massacre” was the last straw, though. Seven men, many illegal Jamaican aliens, were arrested and held at the Bergen County jail, charged with possession of handguns, aggravated assault and attempted murder, with bail being set at $100,000 to $150,000.

According to the book “A History of Oakland: The Story of Our Village,” by Kevin Heffernan (The History Press 2007): After the gun battle, FRG never reopened after the day of the shootout and the land on Route 202 remains vacant to this day. Frank Gallo reportedly moved to Florida.

Pleasureland, the last remaining vestige of Oakland’s bygone era as a resort town, closed soon after.

In order to save the homes up on Pompton Lake and farther north along the Ramapo River, the Army Corps of Engineers installed the floodgates. However, flooding has worsened along the Ramapo below the dam, flooding areas that had never flooded before, and worsening the flooding farther downstream, all the way to the Passaic River.

Gov. Christie and FEMA must now decide whether it’s worth preserving the remains of the abandoned Pleasureland and the homes along the Ramapo in Oakland at the expense of homes that stretch for nearly ten miles below Pompton Falls. Or buy them out and raise the foundations of the affected homes in the area just below the falls. The floodgates were an expensive project, paid for by both state and federal taxpayers. The choice is either buyout a relatively small number of homes above the dam or forever bail out the homes below it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The First Day of Spring Cleaning

Today is the first day of Spring. Spring is always a time of new beginnings. I’m busy transforming my small study from its primary as a photography station into a true study. All the project materials that sat on my shelves have been removed and replaced by most of my history and reference books.

Some friends have been cleaning up from the early March flood in which the Ramapo Rive rampaged through their home, as well as those of their neighbors. Someone donated a rocking chair to them during last year’s flood. The couple never got a chance to use it; the chair fell victim to this flood.

According to FEMA regulations, they must dispose of anything that came in contact with the flood, as this rocking chair did. There are some cracks in its rockers that can be repaired and it needs cleaning, obviously. But otherwise, it’s quite a magnificent chair.

When I moved into my home, I discovered another rocking chair. Quite a handsome piece furniture, it took needed a little repair work on its rockers, which we did. The chair’s gold leaf decoration needed some sprucing up, so I bought some gold leaf paint and touched it up. The chair is now the centerpiece of my living room.
The trouble is, my brothers are huge. Charlie especially loves this chair, but he’s six foot five. I’ve seen the chair bend under his weight. When I examined the chair upon contemplating this other, larger rocking chair, I discovered that Charlie had, indeed, cracked the wood at its joints. My beloved chair, “Mr. Jefferson”, can be repaired, but he’ll have to be retired to the study and the larger chair, once it’s cleaned up, will take the other chair’s place. When you have huge brothers fond of rocking chairs, you need a huge chair to accommodate them.
There’s more to tell about the March flood and the couple that let me rescue the rocking chair. All this collecting and moving about, though, prevented me from writing today’s blog.

One item in the news bothered me, though, and I must say a word about MSNBC host Lawrence O‘Donnell declaring that the Bible’s Book of Revelation is a “work of fiction” about a “truly vicious” mass murdering God that “no half-smart religious person actually believes.”  Somehow people like O’Donnell believe that God can’t or shouldn’t get mad when He watches humankind flouting all His commandments. A Japanese government official was chastised for reflecting that the quake and tsunami were God’s punishment upon the Japanese. He was forced to make a public apology.

I don’t know anyone who has an extended lease on life. We are on God’s good humor. How do we know it was God, anyway, and not that “other guy” causing all the problems? But for those who are afraid these events are “acts of God,” there’s a simple solution.

Pray.  I knew I needed a Charlie-sized rocker but had no idea how I would get one.  Ask and you shall receive.