Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Of Power and Pizza

A few weeks ago I sat on the living room couch and watched Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed, a History Channel documentary on the entire Star Wars series, with my oldest daughter. This was great because Devra, who’ll be off to college in a month, not only tolerated my presence in the living room with her as she watched, but also allowed me to make comments without her shushing me down.

But as we got to the part where they talked about the lust for power that both Anakin and Senator Palpatine shared, I was taken back to a question I had asked back in 1980, when I first saw Superman II. I could understand Lex Luthor wanting to be filthy rich from real estate in the first movie, but I just didn’t understand the lust for power held by General Zod and his companions. To me, it boiled down to one very simple thing:
Once you know that you don’t have to clean up your room, that you don’t have to go to work in the morning, and that you can have a sausage pizza delivered to you any time you want it, what’s the big deal?
I mean really, what’s the point of being able to rule the world, or the universe for that matter, after a few simple desires are taken care of? Where’s the thrill in being able to crush Mrs Rosenzweig for making you stay after school for something you said under your breath to a sub 46 years ago? Where’s the joy in making everyone in France declare that you, and not Jerry Lewis, are a genius?

What does that kind of power get you personally?

Does it get you the girl?

If you’ve seen the entire Star Wars cycle, then you already know the answer to this. If you haven’t, well then I’ll give a small part of the story away, and tell you that the more power he got, the farther Anakin moved himself from Padme, as she was repulsed by what she saw him turning into.

And, as the genie alluded to in Aladdin, you can’t force someone to fall in love with you.

That girl next door who always thought you were a jerk, and wouldn’t give you the time of day? Well now she’ll just think you’re a jerk with power. She’ll give you the time of day, but she won’t like it, and she won’t like you.

And the girls it does get you…well, can you say “Lady Macbeth?” They don’t want you, they want access to the power.

Which brings me back to the question of “What’s the point?”

Maybe the problem is that I’m just too nice of a guy, and that’s why I don’t get it. I don’t have any enemies I want to destroy. There are no people I want to silence because they disagree with me. To be sure, there are people who have made my life miserable; stick around and I’ll give you a list of the ones who’ve done it lately; but I don’t want to destroy or silence them. I just want them to leave me alone, and to listen to me. I suppose that if I ruled the world I could say, “Let’s try it my way and see what happens,” and they’d have to listen.

But having armies at my command to do whatever I wanted? Nah. Doesn’t interest me. I guess I just wasn’t meant to rule the world.

But that pizza’s sounding pretty good right about now.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

You'll Shoot Your Eye Out with That Thing!

A few weeks ago, my eight-year-old daughter came home from school with a gun.

OK, let me rephrase that. My daughter came home from her summer program, at school, the other day with a gun. A gun she made herself. Out of paper. And she was quite proud of it.

And I didn’t go ballistic.

This was no simple piece of cardstock cut out into the shape of a gun. It was made up of two pieces of paper rolled up into tubes and taped together to be the barrel and handle, and another two pieces of paper taped to them to be the trigger and trigger guard.

She was a little confused about terminology, though. She had thought that the “lever” (her words) you pull on was called a pistol, but when I informed her that the gun was the pistol and the level was the trigger, she was surprised.

Not just surprised that she was wrong, but also that I knew so much about guns.

“How do you know so much about guns?” she asked.

“Because I played with them when I was a kid. Everyone played with them when they were my age. And some of those guns shot plastic bullets!”

It’s true. If you grew up in the 50s and 60s, you played with guns. Whether it was cowboys and Indians, cops and robbers, or secret agent, you played with guns. I have home movies of a bunch of boys – and girls – in my aunt’s basement at Christmas, having a good old time playing with the latest cowboy rifles. I didn’t get the official James Bond secret agent attaché case with the hidden gun, but I got the Secret Sam knockoff that did the same thing. I remember the look of surprise on my cousin Ricky’s face when I shot his hat off.

I was pretty surprised too – because I normally couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn.

But yes, we all played with guns. Girls too. Dale Evans was right out there shooting along with Roy Rogers. We all played with guns because we all understood that people had them. In our world, guns were like steak knives: they were morally neutral. Everything depended on what you were using the gun for. With that in mind, if you were going to pretend to be a police officer or a cowboy, you needed to have a gun. Similarly, if you were pretending to be the bank robber or the cattle rustler, you needed to have a gun.

But something happened over the last 40 years. Toy guns and pretending to play with guns got a bad rap. It was felt that playing with guns would make you grow up to be violent and want to shoot people in real life. Schools discouraged kids from playing with guns or pretending to play with them. In fact, schools discouraged children from having toy weapons of any kind – even as part of their Halloween costumes. Knights couldn’t have swords, Luke Skywalker couldn’t have his light saber…and cowboys couldn’t have guns.

And this is all because now we see the weapon itself as evil, and not the potential use of it.

Now, don’t get me wrong here. I’m no rabid NRA “everyone should have a gun, or three, or seven” type. I know how many people are killed as a result of gun violence. I’ve known people who've been killed by guns. I’ve looked down the barrel of a gun once or twice myself. I know that there’s no such thing as a drive-by stabbing. But I also know that most people who played with guns as kids didn’t turn out to be criminals, and I’ve seen reliable figures that show that more children die from accidental drowning in swimming pools than from accidental shooting.

I say we should get a grip, and rethink our gun phobia.

And by the way, I think my daughter did a pretty good job.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Married, Not Dead

One of my favorite restaurants is the Spaghetti Warehouse. We’ve gone to the one here in Syracuse for years. When we visited Pittsburgh a few months ago, we tried to visit the one there, but the wait for a seat was too long – there were people lined up outside.

Aside from the fact that the food is really great, we love the décor. I guess I’d call it “retro eclectic.” Our favorite place to sit when we go there is the trolley car. Yes, there’s a trolley car inside the restaurant – or at least a replica of one. And there are old tin signs for all kinds of products that you’ve never heard of, but that your grandparents might have.

But this isn’t about the trolley. Or the signs. Or even the two working typewriters sitting in the lobby, that I had to explain how to use to my daughters (“How does it work if there’s no screen?”).

It’s about the confessional.

Yes, the confessional.

There’s an old confessional in the lobby – that probably came from when some Catholic church was being decommissioned. They were being used as phone booths until cell phones rendered them pretty much obsolete for that purpose. So now they just sit there as curiosities, and a place for my younger daughter to play while we wait to be seated.

On this particular occasion, she convinced her mother to sit in the middle booth, as the priest, while she sat on the left and I sat on the right. As I took my seat, Cheryl looked through the sliding door and said with a smile on her face, “I already know what you’re confessing. You’ve lusted after everyone in the world.”

“Wrong,” I replied, “I don’t do guys, so it’s 50% max.”

Whoa! Did she actually say that to me, smiling? And did I actually admit to possibly lusting after half the people on the planet? And she didn’t blow a gasket?

Well, yeah. Because it’s realistic. Well, OK, maybe the figures are unrealistic, but the idea that I think that other women are attractive is very realistic.

But let’s talk about those figures first.

To begin with, it’s not the “usual suspects” or for the “usual reasons.” There are “drop dead gorgeous” women or “perfect 10s” who just do absolutely nothing for me. And I just feel sorry for the women who need counterweights in order to stand up straight. By the same token, there are plenty of “Plane Janes” who I would follow around like a lost puppy.

But if you know anything at all about me, you know that I’m a bit of a geek. And we geeks like to try to be able to quantify what we say with hard numbers. I figured the best way to figure out how many women I really lusted over was to do an unscientific survey of all of my female Facebook friends. I have 237 of them, out of which I’ve “lusted in my heart" over 28 of them. That’s a mere 12% of females, and 8% of friends in general. That’s a long way from everyone and still a long way from all women.

But how can Cheryl and I have a conversation like this without either one of us going ballistic? It’s simple – the saying around our house is that “we’re married, not dead.” This means that as long as either one of us is breathing, we’re going to find other people attractive…too.

Did you get that last word? Too. It means in addition to, and not instead of. More people in more relationships, be they marriages, domestic partnerships, or simple boyfriend/girlfriend (boyfriend/boyfriend, girlfriend/girlfriend) relationships, would be a whole lot happier if they’d ditch the idea that if the person they’re involved with “really loves them,” they’ll never find another person attractive.

Because that is so much male bovine excrement.

Cheryl knows every person I have a crush on, and agrees that they’d be good matches for me. Similarly, I know every person that Cheryl has a crush on, and I agree that they’d be good matches for her. Heck…sometimes a woman will walk across the street while we’re waiting at a traffic light, and we’ll both watch as she goes by.

Nice to know that we have the same taste in women.

But seriously, the important thing is that because we talk about this, we have nothing to worry about.

We’re married, not dead.

Hmm…our anniversary’s coming up. Maybe I’ll take her to the Spaghetti Warehouse.

I bet you can fit two people into one of those confessional booths...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Can't Find My School

I can’t find my old school. OK, I know that the “old building” of Ashland School burned to the ground over 20 years ago, but the new building is still there - I can see it on the map; I just can’t find it in the directory. And even though their buildings may also still exist on the map, I can’t find the schools my friends went to either: Kentopp, Lincoln, Elmwood, and others.

Why? Because the names have all been changed.

At some point in time, after the City of East Orange became 89% black, we exercised our right to rename all the schools after famous African-Americans; people like Althea Gibson, George Washington Carver, Johnnie Cochran, Langston Hughes, Toussaint Louverture, Benjamin Banneker, Gordon Parks, Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Cicely Tyson, and Sojourner Truth. This would be fine with me if these people actually had some connection with East Orange, but most didn’t.

At least the old names were in honor of people who had actually lived in East Orange and had done something for the school system. I’m talking about former principals and Board of Education members like Henry Kentopp, Vernon L Davey, and Clifford J Scott. And if the schools weren’t named for someone within the school system, they were named by their location. Hence Ashland School in what was originally the Ashland district, Elmwood School on Elmwood Avenue, and the Eastern School on the Eastern side of town.

But the current names mean nothing to me. They reflect nothing of the town history, and they seem to only reflect a desire by the African-American community to say “We get to name the schools now, and we’re naming them all after black people.”

Even though most of them were never in East Orange. Even though some of them who were really don’t deserve it. I mean, come on now, Whitney Houston?

OK, at the time it probably seemed like a good idea. But you really need to be careful naming a school after someone who’s still alive, because she might just embarrass you. And Whitney Houston has indeed done that.

So what names would I suggest using for the schools in my hometown? Well, I made a quick visit to Wikipedia find out what notable African-American former East Orange residents have not publicly embarrassed us, and first of all, tennis player Althea Gibson and singer Dionne Warwick get to keep their schools. Trombonist Slide Hampton, State Assemblyman LeRoy Jones Jr, and poet Naomi Long Madgett get to have schools.

But let’s open it up to any notable and worthy person from East Orange, and not just the African-Americans. How about Clara Maass, who died volunteering for experiments to study yellow fever? Or Albert Vreeland, US Representative from New Jersey? What about William Wiley, co-founder of the publishing company John Wiley and Sons?

Or how about we just admit that there really aren’t that many nationally famous people from East Orange who are worthy of having a school named after them, and name them instead after local heroes, and then have some sort of display in the school building explaining who this person is or was.

And most of all, how about not changing the names of existing schools. I almost don’t care what you name a new school, but changing the name of a school that’s existed for decades seems almost spiteful. It’s also confusing to old people like me.

Wait…I think I found my old school. It looks like it might be the Edward T Bowser Unique School of Excellence (how's that for a mouthful?). It’s located right about where I remember the “new building” of Ashland School being. But maybe I’m wrong, and it’s a brand new building and a brand new school.