Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Memories of New Jersey: The Eighth Grade Dance

After reading Kid Radical`s post on Michael Jackson, which so elegantly summed up his youth in relation to the phenomena that was MJ, I got to thinking about eighth grade.

I did not grow up in a mill town like KR, but in a small commuter suburb, Rutherford, about 30 minutes outside the greatest city in the world, New York. The town was, in some ways, millions of miles away from the Behemoth Apple, however. For example, Rutherford is a dry town, meaning that, even today, alcohol cannot be served. Some restaurants have cleverly worked ways around that ordinance, but that is beside the point. Rutherford`s nickname is the City of Trees. There are quite a few. And the public schools, while not idyllic, are sheltered to a large extent from the tensions of a major city.

I grew up in a small town on the edge of a really big one. But it was easy to forget that the really big one, New York, even existed...especially at a school dance.

In eighth grade, was going to Pierrepont School, which was about seven blocks from my home. I would walk there every day, and was usually late. (one month I got in-school suspension for my oft-repeated tardiness and had to perform hard labor, lugging sand bags for the kindergarden sand boxes. ) I really don`t remember how often we had school-run dances, but I do remember, I think, that we had Halloween dances. And it was at one of those yearly affairs that I remember the legend of Michael coming into play.

Walking into the school gym was, at the time, a nerve-racking affair. I was 13, starting adolescence, and overall, a nerd (still am). I don`t remember my costume, but if I was 13, it was 1990, and Jackson-fever was in full-effect. I do remember feeling like everyone was staring at me, and I quickly searched the room for some familiar face to sidle up to. That of course being another guy, because the one thing I will never forget is how segregated these dances were.

Of course, I did not grow up in a small town in Georgia, so that segregation was not along race lines. It was completely along gender lines. Boys and girls you see, at least at the outset of any school dance, never, never, grouped together. It just didn`t happen. And that meant I headed immediately into the growing lump of boys stading by the bleachers, trying to look cool, while the opposing lump (the girls) pretended not to stare over at the boys.

It was so simple, when I think about it. There was a formula to it all. As the dance started, some brave soul, like my friend Roland, who was probably dressed like Michael, and was probably the most popular guy in the school, would start to dance. he really could dance, including the Moonwalk. Then, slowly, other guys would attempt to copy him, moving toward the middle of the gym floor. Slowly, the girls would do the same, with minimum eye contact between either group. As everyone loosened up, the numbers grew.

Until a slow song. When any romantic tune was played, both sides would quickly return to their home bases, and the few, the proud, the cool would go ask a girl to dance.

That was hardly ever me.

The Honduran Coup is Troubling

The Honduran leader, President Manuel Zelaya was swept away yesterday in military coup by those trained at the infamous "School of the Americas." Obama's response, and Secretary of State Clinton's response (although Clinton's was better) appeared tepid in comparison with other world leaders. General Romeo Vasquez is a graduate of the School of the Americas, trained in the U.S. for specific reasons, maintaining ties to the U.S. Military and gradually improve their ranks in their respective countries. Jeremy Scahill indicates it is a major reason why we train these "graduates."

The President of Congress has declared himself the new President, Roberto Micheletti. On the Friday before the coup, the elected President, Zelaya called Micheletti a second-class congressman, a "pathetic congressman" who only has a career because he attached his coattails to Zelaya. To read more great analysis go here. This is surely a left vs. capitalism coup as the ambassadors of Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua have been arrested. Conditions are also deteriorating.

The elected President was no radical, he is a business man elected from the Liberal Party in Honduras with respect for indigineous peoples rights, however he did have left leaning economic and social policies. He earned praise from labor unions and "civil society groups" and forged alliances with the Bolivians and Venezuelans, very left leaning countries in South America.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez insinuated the U.S. was involved. Who knows what happened behind the scenes, Obama insinuated the opposite, but from what we know, how the CIA operates, how the military and others operate in this country (similar graduates have orchestrated similar coups) this might not be far from the truth.

And the beat goes on.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Remembering Michael for His Music

On August 16, 1977 I arrived home, nine years old and newly moved to the working class town of Methuen, Massachusetts. My father and mother sat at the table, my father in his signature T and my mother, after calling in sick to her waitress job, tears in her eyes unable to speak. "The King is dead," he said when he finally could. "Elvis died today." "Really?" I spoke. "How?" "A heart attack," he said. Later to be thought induced by prescription drug use. He was older, fat, way past his time, but still an icon. Still, I couldn't believe my parents would cry over him? What for? What did he ever do? He sang songs, so what? Well, June 25, 2009 I now know how they feel.

I turned on the television and there it was: "Michael Jackson, dead." The coverage that will never stop usurping the headlines of the brainless and obviously penis envy Republican party. Still, I was mesmerized for a while, Michael Jackson dead. If you are a nine year old today, I think you might have the same feeling. Weirdo. Jack-O. He got weirder and weirder as the days moved on. Skin color changes, molestation charges, marrying the King's daughter. The King marrying the King I guess. Many might say, what is all the fuss about?

One of my favorite songs as a young boy was "I'll Be There" one of the only "black" records in my house, outside of Nat King Cole. I loved watching the Jackson Five cartoon as well, one of the only cartoons I enjoyed. My mother is probably most responsible for my love of Michael. She adored Michael Jackson at every stage. This was not really common where we grew up. Up until the late 1970's in my hometown the Jackson's were a novelty act. They were still Motown and considered "black music." Michael was the bonified star, but it wasn't rock 'n roll. As I grew up we listened to more and more "hair metal." Ratt, Motley Crue, Twisted Sister and the like. This was what was popular and I listened, not always enjoying it often incredulous at the ridiculousness of this "LA composition."

Michael Jackson was still pleasing the R&B charts with "Off the Wall." I loved "Rock With You," a beautiful song. He won several "black" awards for R&B music at the American Music Awards. I listened with no one else, but my mother. My mother continued to adore Michael Jackson, "his talent is supreme" she would say and I remember specifically when "Thriller" came out she said: "This is your Elvis." It was released in 1982 with much fan fare and his elusive moonwalk at the Motown awards. I listened to "Billie Jean" over and over as a 45 single, not the entire album, and finally MTV relented and allowed "Billie Jean" to be played on MTV, changing the musical landscape forever. This allowed "black music" to be played paving the way for Prince and other black artists like Whitney Houston to be allowed in to the mainstream charts. I still can't believe for the first three years of MTV we were watching segregationist television. By the shear force of Michael's music he changed that.

Still, my friends were not impressed in the mill town I grew up in, Michael Jackson was black. His music was still black and I was an oddball amongst them, listening to his music incessantly at home under cover with mom. Then, the next single released off the album was "Beat it" hyped (especially in my hometown) by the fact that Eddie Van Halen played the guitar piece. My older brother's best friend at the time Gary Lacroix drove to our house, didn't knock and ran into the house calling "Rich, Rich, John!" I came running. "What?" "You gotta hear this." "What, Gary?! Michael Jackson's latest single, "Beat it." He put it on and we were awestruck. Listening to it over and over. Gary had the cassette tape of Thriller and not long we were listening to the entire album. And then the videos of all his songs began playing on MTV of which he became the master - telling stories, some arguing killing radio. "Beat It" in my mind still stands out for its cool choreography and beautiful rhythms and yes, the guitar of Eddie Van Halen. I didn't always understand what was happening and at times it felt foreign, but I knew this thing that we were watching was magical and the future.

At school, soon everyone was talking about Michael Jackson, some dressing like him, girls going absolutely crazy for him, like the old videos of the crowds going nuts for Elvis. Thereafter I was hooked and followed his career, usually alone in my adoration in my "crew." But, knowing I was far from alone, I loved everything he did from "The Way You Make Me Feel" to "Dirty Diana" to "Black or White" to the beautiful song from Free Willy, "Will You Be There." Disappointed in many of the accusations over the past 15 years, cringing at the changes, mostly feeling for someone who suffered a cruel existence under a cruel father. Growing up in front of all of us could not have been easy and I choose to remember his music and his genius.

I have shut off the television and turned on the music.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hypocrisy Watch

He doesn't want to be more libertarian on gay marriage, but just marriage in general right Mark? So, if we can re-define marriage, i.e. fly to Argentina for a booty call, can we at least allow anyone who wants to marry to marry?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Those Were the Days?

What seems like a long time ago, but wasn`t really, I wrote some short pieces about when I was growing up in New Jersey, and I had a good time doing so. So, I thought I would see if I could reach back into the murky depths of my muddled mind to jot down a few more mundane moments in my life.

I went to high school at St. Peter`s Prep in Jersey City, and took the train from Rutherford every day. I lived about six or seven blocks from the train station in my hometown, but never seemed to find a way to leave enough time to be able to just walk to get the train. Every morning, with about 5 minutes before the train arrived, I would bolt out of my front door and streak down my block, down a short hill, and take a left, past the commuters waiting for the 190 bus to Port Authority and head straight down Orient Way. The whole time I ran, I kept repeating the same words: not yet. It was an attempt to will the train to slow down and not screech to a halt beside the platform before a got there, panting and disheveled. Sometimes I beat the train, and sometimes the train beat me. I remember the satisfying feeling of sitting beside some guy in a suit that had probably been on the train longer than I had been awake...since Suffern or something like that. But I also vividly recall watching the train pull up at the station while I was still almost 3 blocks away, and feeling like crying.

The next morning, the routine repeated itself. One positive side effect: it was hard to get fat.

Think Locally, Buy Locally

I read on the Jersey City Independent this morning a post in conjunction with NEW magazine that when we buy local we contribute to the local economy almost double than when we buy at a chain store. They make the analogy as we are navigating to the commuter station, do we buy our coffee at a local coffee shop or do we go to Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts. When we eat do we go to the local hang or do we go to TGIFridays. Thank god there isn't much of that in Jersey City.

When we spend $5 at a locally owned business (this is all on average mind you) $3.40 of that will go to the local economy. If you spend that same $5 at a chain store or a non-locally owned business it falls to $2.15 going to the local economy. That is pretty hefty. It also found that locally owned businesses pay higher wages, gave more to local charities and were more likely to purchase needed items from other locally owned businesses.

Someone asked me the other day, "do Urban Enterprise Zones really work?" Here is your answer. Urban Enterprise Zones encourage growth in the local economy and make us spend our dollars locally. The article makes it clear that these so-called UEZ zones are doing the trick. Read more of the article here.

So, when we go and see that Starbucks or even a Dunkin Donuts is close to everything, oh they are so convenient aren't they, know when you buy from them you are contributing to the destruction of your own local economy. But, when you buy locally you improve your neighbor's pocket book, local charities and that purchase helps other locally owned businesses as well. Think Locally, buy locally.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Health Care Bound to Fail

Why is healthcare bound to fail? Because we have representatives that do not represent the public pure and simple. If you want crude analysis on why it is going to fail read Paul Krugman's column on the "centrist" democrats who he blames for the derision. They are certainly to blame, but there seems to be a lot of blame to go around. The Republicans of course flail their hands in the air and scream "Socialized Medicine" the same tactic used since Harry Truman. The Democrats have nothing to add at all. How about that nearly 72% of Americans want a so-called "public option" in their health care (another poll said it was 76%). That doesn't seem to move the elected officials that currently inhabit the most beautiful building in Washington, DC.
It doesn't seem to matter to these sycophants. The entire capitalist system almost falls on its face, we have to prop them up via nationalization and corporate giveaways and still the Republicans and many Democrats cry socialism because we want a health care option that is not the private sector? It is stunning and shocking to me. It is also important to note that the cost that has been so publicly repeated as one trillion dollars could easily be paid by removing the Bush tax cuts, a cost of 1.8 trillion. Iraq? Afghanistan? Shall I go on?

I have no confidence that the public option will be used and be in a final reconciliation bill, my bet is it will be a bunch of nothing, including subsidies and lower costs provisions and we will receive nothing except a temporary measure in deflating healthcare costs and millions still uncovered. Doing it half-assed is not doing it. President Obama campaigned on this, his signature issue besides ending the Iraq war (don't get me started on that one). If he fails and it certainly looks like he will, he may be a one-term President beaten by propaganda and a lack of will on the part of democrats. We are not arguing for Single Payer healthcare here, it is only a request to have competition in the market place, something unfettered capitalism abhors apparently.

It also begs the question of real reform. And I mean campaign finance reform, and I mean publicly financing campaigns completely tearing the money from the system. That is the only way to remove lobbyists and of course our "Public Representatives" out of the public coffers. It is a subject I have been screaming from the roof tops since Bill Clinton's second inauguration, an issue that grows in importance as we see corporations laud more power every year. For a great website discussing Campaign Finance Reform visit the Brennan Center (also a place that wouldn't hire me), tremendous discussions on what is happening around the country. It is not all that hopeless, a groundswell is occurring.

Whatever Works

Entering the cinema to see "Whatever Works" I didn't expect much. I thought the lines delivered on the previews were less than stellar, but it turns out I was wrong. It was a highly enjoyable film with a wonderful cast. Patricia Clarkson steals the show of course (as she usually does), but everyone else was very good. Some leaps have to be taken by the viewer, but I think the film overall is very funny and one of Woody's best in recent memory.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

“hid (IN) hoboken” at Eureka Market Art Gallery

“hid (IN) hoboken” at Eureka Market Art Gallery

The hob’art cooperative gallery has announced a new exhibition, “hid (IN) hoboken” opening on June 15th at the new Eureka Market Art Gallery, 259 First Street, Hoboken, which will showcase artwork by many members of the non-profit organization. The Eureka Market is sponsored by Traders of Babylon to encourage the arts and the artists in Hudson County. Liz Cohen, President of hob’art is curating this show.

There will be an opening reception on Friday, June 19th from 6 to 9 p.m. Ndaje, an African Drumming group will perform during the reception. On Monday, June 22nd, at 6 p.m., the Garden State Dance Project, a renowned dance troupe will perform modern interpretive, hip hop, and break dancing. There will be a small entry fee.

During the exhibition, the gallery will be open Monday thru Friday, 9 am to 7pm, on Saturdays, from 9 to 4 pm, and the show can be viewed on Sundays by appointment. The closing date for the exhibit is July 15th.

For additional information, please visit www.hob-art.org and www.romance art.biz. You may contact Liz Cohen at conchart@aol.com or 201-424-1275. The art gallery can be contacted through Traders of Babylon, 201-659-0802, babylon@pipeline.com.